A beautiful swing, a compromised future

Published 5:51 pm Saturday, July 5, 2008

A couple hours to kill on a humid afternoon in a small town in Massachusetts and rather than sit looking at hotel wallpaper I took a little walk. A pretty town, well-kept, especially in the historic district where we tourists congregate — old shopfronts that once sold hardware, dry goods, groceries, now selling candles, collectibles and coffee, and old white frame houses that make you think of large happy families in a Norman Rockwell painting (he lived in Stockbridge, not far from here) with plump women in print dresses putting platters of food on a picnic table for the Glorious Fourth.

I liked a lot of Rockwell’s stuff because he was a liberal and he painted faces with great devotion. The faces shine through, as they should in a liberal’s art.

It didn’t take me long to get out of the picturesque district to where ordinary people live, and there, walking down a sort of suburban street (no sidewalk), I heard yelling and saw straight ahead a couple kids in white uniforms tearing across a field — Little League baseball — and I went straight for it. It’s July and I hadn’t been to a ballgame yet this year, the sign of a misspent spring. I got there just as the runner pulled up at second and the next batter came to the plate, a girl, the only girl on the field, and I climbed into the bleachers, a meager crowd, and the moment I sat down I knew I was sitting next to the batter’s father.

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He was silent and yet bursting with feeling. Rays of fatherly devotion emanated from him.

She looked good at the plate, nice easy stance, hands cocked behind her right ear, bat high and straight up.

“How’s she doing?” I said. He said she was doing great. He didn’t take his eyes off her. She took two low pitches and the third was a fat one down the middle and she put the wood to it and the center fielder, who had been playing her shallow, turned and ran helter-skelter toward the fence and got there as the ball caromed off it and the girl was steaming toward second with her mind on third.

We were both standing, clapping. I complimented him on her swing. “The thing is, I never worked with her,” he said. “She just really wanted to play. Turned down a chance to play girls’ softball and they let her play here.”

A ballgame is a great place to get to know somebody. You talk sideways during the interludes of which baseball has many, and since the game itself is so orderly, you can converse in non sequiturs, and after I told him about my 10-year-old girl, who loves to swim, and we agreed on what a great age 10 is and what intense pleasure a kid is capable of, we got to the grim business of What Do You Do For A Living. He said he was a cop. I said I was unemployed. (You tell people you’re a writer and they tend to clam up.)

“Tough times,” he said. I nodded. We might’ve gotten onto politics then, but we got onto music and Ireland and so forth, but I thought, “Here is a guy the candidates have to talk to this summer.” A cop is a realist and he knows where Rockwell leaves off and surrealism begins, and here is his girl taking a big lead off third base and he loves her so beautifully and unabashedly and wants the world to be there for her when it comes her time to fly.

I’m 65 and have a good life and can’t claim that the Current Occupant has done me much harm at all. It’s when I think about 10-year-old girls I start to get hot under the collar. This clueless man has dug a deep hole for them and doesn’t seem vaguely aware of it. He has spent us deep in a hole, gotten us into a disastrous war, blithely ignored the long-term best interests of the country, and when you think of the 4,000 kids who now lie in cemeteries, and for what? — you start to grind your teeth. For the sake of the girl with the beautiful swing, I hope we get a better president than the disgusting incompetent we’ve wasted eight years of our national life on. Think twice about who you put your arm around, Senator McCain.

Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.