Well, it's already been posted at Citizen of the Month, but here's the rest anyway.
It was one of those times in a young, impetuous man’s life when he mortgages the love of his family for the pursuit of an ignoble passion.
Philosophically, technically, I believe in the dominion of the intellect over the will and the will over the passions. If you ask me the order, that’s how I’ll answer: intellect over will, will over passions – that is, your passions impel you, but your will controls your submission to those passions; and your intellect determines the resolution of the will.
I’ve learned that from an early age, from 18 years of Catholic School. Yes, that’s right, eighteen years. But also, I believe in that pecking order of the personality (intellect, will, passions – repeat it like a mantra). It makes sense to me – that it should be true.
As a matter of course, as a matter of empirical reality, I know that sometimes things don’t work that way. I know this because I have an intensely addictive personality. I am addicted to drinking, smoking, sex and gambling. The only reason I’m not hooked on more serious drugs is because, thank God, I’ve never tried them. But don’t worry – addiction to drinking, smoking, sex and gambling is quite enough.
People have told me that a lesser man would have broken by now. I know that being a lesser man is the only thing that’s kept me sane. The reason I haven’t broken is because I bend. And it feels so good when I bend, stretch like a sapling under strong weight, and it hurts so bad when I snap back upright. The weight of addiction has bent me like an old man’s years bend him.
When I was younger, I wondered why old men didn’t just stand up! I wanted to straighten them out myself, flatten them on a table – lay them on their backs and push against pelvis and clavicle until they unfolded under my hands like a road map. I imagined that then they would breathe, freely, deeply, for the first time since their first Social Security check slipped through the mail slot in 1981.
Now I know it doesn’t work that way. Which is why I don’t try to unkink my own hunched back, just manage it; just make sure my shoulders aren’t banging on my knees, my forehead between my calves. Manage the bend, that’s my motto. Control my handicap.
It was gambling that got me into this mess, smoking and drinking that had made it worse. God knows where the sex would take me.
“Do you think you could make it onto the field during a Cubs game – for more than a full minute?” my friend Eddie had asked me five weeks before, while we were – wait for it – drinking. Of course I could. I knew I could. In the warm friendly haze of a dozen beers, I was certain.
I loved that haze; it made anything possible. It meant she loved you, your life was on track, your friends were the best in the world and you were strong, smart, good-looking. I’d written a poem a few years before
When the sun has gone down and the moon takes its place
And the revelers rise to give darkness new grace,
When the harshness of daylight has dwindled to night
And all beauty increases, by softness of sight,
Then the friends are more friendly, and enemies too,
Which is more than the unreserved drinking can do,
For there’s magic about, and it’s all through the air,
And as long as you’re with me, I long to be there.
That feeling. That fucking feeling was what made me take the bet – a thousand dollar bet, which was about nine hundred and fifty dollars more than I could afford to lose. That made me take the bet. That, and my certified addiction to gambling.
Every day I would think about calling Eddie, calling it off – knowing he wouldn’t mind that much. I’d pay him twenty bucks, he’d make fun of me, we’d be done with it.
And then every night, I’d drink until that feeling got me again, until I was past the point of talking myself into it. “I played baseball in college for four years,” I’d say. “Of course I can do it. I’m an athlete. Hell, I could do five minutes, let alone one.”
That was how my first attempt happened: July 8th, 2008 – the first month of the second half of the year: new beginnings. And I was celebrating by hefting my ass over the low fence to the left of the Cubs home dugout in the middle of the fourth inning. New beginnings. If you were watching the game, that’s why the commercial break took an extra thirty seconds or so.
It all started off well enough: a quick sprint and I was across the foul line, moving into shallow left field. Edwin Encarnacion, the Cincinnati Reds third baseman, made a half-hearted grab for me, but I was past him.
And then I ran out of gas. The two years of steady smoking since I’d last run regularly had an unbelievable effect. I swear I hadn’t gone more than fifty yards when I was sucking wind, slowing down, looking over my shoulder for the inevitable security. I dodged once, turned to my right and was immediately tackled and smothered. And I was so gassed I was almost relieved. Total time on the field: forty seconds.
Needless to say, the blue-coated security and ubiquitous ushers were on the lookout for my face the next few home series. Three times in the next two weeks, I was nabbed before even setting foot on the playing surface and then, once last week, I was denied entrance to the stadium. Denied entrance to the Friendly Confines that I know and love so well. I needed a new plan.
When I saw the flyer advertising for “specialty mascots,” I had a glimmer of hope. When I called in and heard that there was still one position unfilled, that hope swelled inside me. And when I arrived to interview to find that somehow, no one there recognized me as the would-be trespasser, that hope filled my heart and overflowed. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get the spot. I barely listened as they described the job, the position, my duties. I signed the waivers, the contract with a smile on my face. And last Sunday, July 27th, I reported for duty.
The game was at 6:00; I was there by three, knocking on the “Personnel Admitted” door right next to Gate 14. A girl about my age with a clipboard and headphones swung the door open. “Are you the red hot?” she said.
I was confused. The red hot? Was she coming on to me? What?
“No, you’re the red hot,” I said, and then added, reading from her nametag, “Amy.”
She shook her head but I could see the smile at the corners of her mouth. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me inside, spinning me in front of her down the hallway. I was smiling to myself in congratulations of my smoothness halfway down the walk when I remembered, “Red Hot! Fuck! That’s my job! Ohhh yeahhh.” I turned to say something, but she was talking on the headset, “I left it right there… Ok, I’ll be up in a second. Yeah, he’s here.” She turned to me, swinging me by my wrist to a door in the right wall, and with a hand over her mouthpiece, whispered, “I’ll help you with your costume. Strip.”
And then she walked away down the hall. I watched her go, her white sneakers susurrating on the cement. Not a bad-looking girl. Strip, huh? Ok, Amy, you got it.
I pushed my way into the cement room, decorated with green lockers on walls to the left and right. An old, and by the looks of it, unused vending machine stood at the far end of the room, some thirty feet from me, and on the floor in the middle of the room lay what looked like a red kayak with rounded bottom and edges, so rounded that it was basically cylindrical.
I took my shoes off, and my shirt, and then I stopped. Couldn’t mascots wear clothes under the costumes? Didn’t they all? Was it just too hot this time of year? I was paused with my belt halfway undone when I heard the door rasp open behind me. Amy walked into the room, closed the door carefully behind her and took off the headset, setting it on top of the first locker.
She shook out her hair with her fingers as she walked past me, blowing out a sigh. I turned, my fingers still on my belt, to see her hefting the kayak-thing and turning back to me. “Pants off,” she said, and then smiled, a full, not-just-corners-of-her-mouth smile. “Part of the job.”
I had no idea where this was going, not a clue in hell, but I was liking it so far. I kicked out of my socks and then slid out of my jeans.
“Whoah, does the smell in the locker room turn you on or what?” she said. I glanced down. “Must be something,” I said. She dragged the red thing over to where I stood, flipped it over to I could see another hole like the one on the top, except instead of being in the middle, like a kayak, this one was at one end.
“Hold this,” she said, handing me the end. It was round, and wide, about two and a half feet wide, no narrower at the end than the middle, with a little clip on the very tip, a small steel loop. I took this in quickly in the half-second before she reached over and pulled my boxers down to my ankles.
I passed off the “mmm” sound that escaped me as an “mmm-hmmm!” clearing my throat. This was weird. Amy looked up at me, a confused expression on her face. There was much to be confused about. “Aren’t you gay?” she said.
I looked down, narrowed my eyes, and tried to shrug, which was difficult with the giant red thing in my hands. “No,” I finally said, “I’m not.”
Amy stood up and looked at me. Then at her watch. Then she reached over my shoulder and flicked the power switch on her headset to ‘off.’
She was very energetic.
I was sure we were going to be late. I really didn’t want to be late. It must have been getting close to time when she told me to climb inside the red thing. “Are you nuts?” I said, but she was busy tucking in her shirt. “Hurry up!” she said. Ok, the dominatrix thing. Fine. I wasn’t into it, but I owed her, I figured. I started to climb headfirst into the top hole hear the end. It was slow going, my legs waggling in empty air. And then she smacked me, hard, right on my bare ass. I jerked and banged my head on the inside of the red plastic, then crawled out.
She was giggling, but obviously still in a hurry. “Oh, shit,” she was saying, “I left a huge welt on your ass.” Why would she worry about that? Ten minutes ago, she was scratching up my back like a damn leopard. I turned once and a half around, craning to try to see the welt, like a dog chasing its tail. She giggled again and pushed me back to the red thing. “Go!” she said, “feet first.”
“Feet first!” she said.
“…” I said.
Amy shook her head. “Did you even read the job description?” she said. She lifted my feet in the end hole and scooched me down farther. Soon my ass was in the tube. She kept pushing, telling me to “scoot!” until I was completely inside the red thing, staring out the opening at the cement ceiling where a bare light-bulb hung. I could feel the cool of the cement floor against my ass through the other hole, and slowly, gradually, the words from my job meeting started coming back to me.
Amy was at the door, opening it, and I could hear more people coming in. Three or four, maybe. There was a shuffle of feet and a clink of steel at the clip on each end of my red sarcophagus, and then I was hefted into the air. I could feel the rush of air across my backside.
As I was hefted out of the tunnel, squinting in the bright sunlight and hearing someone reminding me to “smile!” I remembered everything, and I realized why Amy had been so nervous about the bright hand-print she left on my ass.
I was the Chicago Red Hot. My job? To attract gay men to the park. My MO? To be trussed up like a giant sausage on a rotisserie next to the visitors bullpen, and rotate for nine long innings, cooking evenly in the sun and offering the crowd alternating views of my smiling face and my bare white ass. With Amy’s handprint gleaming on it.
I won the bet. Damn right I did. And I also boosted gay attendance in a big way. Already the section just up the line from the bullpen is known as “Queer Corner.”
But when my family found out, my conservative, traditional Catholic family, it wasn’t an easy thing for them to swallow. It was one of those times in a young, impetuous man’s life when he mortgages the love of his family for the pursuit of an ignoble passion.
Intellect, will, passions – I can say it like a mantra. But sometimes, when you live in a world as addictive as this one, an experience can turn everything on its head… or in my case, on its ass.