Dear Everyone,

Hello. A formal introduction is probably unnecessary, and yet, I will make one. It’s just the way I am. I am an Earth Ball, also known as a cage ball. I am a large inflatable ball most often seen in junior-high-school locker rooms. Much of the time I sit in the corner. Sometimes, when it rains, I am brought into the center of the locker room and batted back and forth by students. I live, as I have for years, in suburban Baltimore. It rained often toward the end of summer, but that was no help to me. Now we are just a few weeks away from the start of school, and I can’t wait.

This happens every year around this time. Summer school ends, and I’m blue. (I’m actually a kind of beige and brown, but you know what I mean.) The air inside me—the amount of which is easily calculated if you’re good at math and somewhat less possible to calculate if you are me—feels soggier and heavier. Then teachers and staff start to report for the beginning of the fall semester, and I almost jump out of my skin from excitement. Everything seems possible, even making friends with this year’s shipment of new baseballs. Of course, this is not true. To say that it’s difficult to make friends with baseballs is a huge understatement. It would be like saying that soccer balls made out of metallic materials are a little slow or that badminton birdies are free with their affections. Baseballs are the worst. They are rude. They have attitude problems. I don’t hate them, but they seem to hate me. A wise old tennis racket once said, “The harder the ball, the harder the ball.” I didn’t get it at the time. I was being a little metallic-soccer-bally. Now I know exactly what he meant. Last summer, around this time, I tried to make friends with one of the new baseballs that was delivered. Do you know what he did? He spit at me. I had never been so offended in my entire life, except for that one time when I was loaded into a pickup truck by the football team and driven out to a field, where I was used as a kind of cushion to prop up the quarterback’s girlfriend while the quarterback “found the receiver.” That’s his joke, not mine. I don’t even really get it. Anyway, baseballs are rude balls. This is annoying to me, because they are also very smart. Baseballs would know how to calculate the amount of air inside me. And they would also know how to argue with Sean Hannity.

I am sure that Sean Hannity does not need a formal introduction, either. He is a radio and television talk-show host who is on the air for three hours during the day (radio) and one hour at night (television). He has a conservative viewpoint and supports the Bush administration on most major issues, with immigration being a key exception. I first began to listen to Sean Hannity a few years ago, thanks to Coach Parker, who tuned the radio to the show every afternoon. I like Coach Parker, though I do not like that Coach Parker likes Sean Hannity. I guess you could say that I tolerate this difference because I have respect for him as a person. If anyone ever said anything like that on Sean Hannity’s show, everyone would laugh. Since the summer session ended, I haven’t been listening to as much of the Sean Hannity show. Now that teachers have reported, Coach Parker is back, and though he hasn’t been listening to the radio show every day, he has been watching the TV show, which is called Hannity and Colmes, in the evenings. I can tell that this is because he has broken up yet again with Coach Ortega, who used to like to find the receiver with him. Coach Parker and Coach Ortega have had a tumultuous history full of ups and downs, like what happens to an air-filled ball (but not, incidentally, a rude hard solid ball) when you drop it. So I have what I guess are mixed feelings. Coach Parker is here, which fills me with delight, but he has the radio on all the time, which fills me with the same feeling I get from the delivery of the new baseballs. It’s like a mixture of wanting to roll out of the room and wanting to roll over the radio and crush it.

The other day, on his television show Hannity and Colmes, Sean Hannity interviewed the Rev. Al Sharpton as a result of some kind of controversy surrounding another radio and television host named Don Imus. I was not familiar with this man, but he looked like the giant burlap sack that Coach Parker uses to collect equipment after a game of horseshoes. In the spring, this burlap sack had said something offensive about a group of female basketball players and lost his job. I don’t know the exact circumstances, so I can’t comment, but anytime someone who makes a living working with a ball is insulted, well, it earns my notice. Now, a few months later, this Imus person seemed to be on the brink of returning to the air, and Sean Hannity was interviewing the Rev. Al Sharpton about the matter. Was it an important matter? In a way, it was. There had been something like 50 American soldiers killed in Iraq in the two weeks before, which meant that the rate wasn’t going down as much as supporters of the war hoped it might, and frequently when that happens Sean Hannity will jump off of the question of the war and jump onto some other question to distract everyone. In that sense, the Imus issue was certainly the most important issue of the day.

I have seen the Rev. Al Sharpton on Hannity’s television show many times, and he always reminds me of a picture I saw once of a clown sitting behind a big desk in an office. It was hard to know whether he was an accomplished businessman who simply forgot to take off his clown makeup before he came into the office, or whether he was a clown who was making sport of the idea of the office by sitting there. The Rev. Al Sharpton gives no clues that help you to answer this question one way or another. Or, rather, he gives you clues that point you in both directions at once. The Rev. Al Sharpton was saying that Don Imus certainly had the right to make these offensive comments, but that advertisers had the right to pull their commercials from the show, and that the company had the right to remove him if they felt their business was suffering. This could have been the beginning of a moderately interesting discussion about corporate responsibility and profit motive. The Rev. Al Sharpton could have been asked how he felt about the fact that even though some advertisers pulled their commercials after Don Imus made his comments, even more advertisers pulled their commercials after Don Imus was removed from the radio. I might have liked to hear him, in his serious clownish way, grapple with that.

But Sean Hannity was the host of the program, and that meant that within five seconds he was off the topic of Don Imus entirely and on to the topic of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s own checkered past, specifically comments that the Rev. Al Sharpton made in the 1980s that seemed to insult Jewish and Greek people. This was somewhat amazing to me. It was a distraction from a distraction. If it had been a diving competition, the degree of difficulty would have been high. The Rev. Al Sharpton insisted that his remarks had been misunderstood or taken out of context, and that they were, at any rate, a long time ago, but that didn’t seem to deter Sean Hannity. He kept on coming, shaking the papers that were in his hand like they were a list of Communists in the State Department. The question, best as I could tell, had something to do with the Rev. Al Sharpton being a hypocrite because he dared criticize Don Imus even though he himself had made mistakes in the past. I guess that’s not a question at all. That’s how it goes in the world of Sean Hannity. So Al Sharpton eventually made some observations about Don Imus, and the two of them eventually laughed and said goodbye to each other, but the overall sense of the show was that Al Sharpton was on trial, and that Sean Hannity was sentencing him to the electric chair. I wish I could say that the whole thing made me tired, but the truth is that it was kind of exciting. I have to admit that I enjoyed hearing the two men shout at each other, one accusing the other one of racism on the basis of 20-year-old comments, and the other defending himself by attacking the intelligence and honesty of the first. I had to be careful not to get too excited: when I do, my air pressure soars, and sometimes I can even black out. Those blackouts last through the night, and I wake up smelling stale air and cordite.

The next afternoon, Coach Parker came in with Coach Ortega. They talked for a little while and then he put his arms around her. I was thrilled. But then Coach Ortega said “You don’t understand” and Coach Parker said “I’m trying harder than I’ve ever tried” and Coach Ortega put her head into her hands and left the locker room. As high as Coach Parker bounced when Coach Ortega let him put his arms around her, that’s how low he bounced when she left. I knew what was coming next. It was Sean Hannity’s television show, this time with the volume even louder than usual.

After discussing a variety of political issues, Sean Hannity got on to a story about a baseball player named José Offerman, who was hit by a pitch and charged the mound, where he struck the pitcher and the catcher with his bat. Offerman was charged with two counts of second-degree assault. To discuss the issue, Sean Hannity had a special guest: a former major league pitcher named John Rocker. When I saw the name at the bottom of the screen, I felt a tingle creeping across my equator. John Rocker, as any fan of any kind of ball knows, was an Atlanta Braves relief pitcher who stirred up controversy when he made some comments about New York City during an interview with Sports Illustrated for its January 2000 issue. Rocker’s comments were considered not only insulting to the city but possibly racist, homophobic, and sexist. What he said, specifically, was “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” I have never been on the subway, but the picture he painted certainly did sound depressing. It also sounded like maybe John Rocker had problems with people who were different than him. I was tingling with excitement, as I said, because only 24 hours before, I had seen Sean Hannity take the Rev. Al Sharpton to task for 20-year-old comments. Just think of what Sean Hannity would say to John Rocker about his seven-year-old comments! I noticed a baseball watching with me—baseballs love watching stories about baseballs—and I nodded at him! He didn’t nod back, but I felt hopeful! Maybe this would be a chance to bond! There were fireworks on the way!

Sean Hannity talked to John Rocker a little bit about José Offerman, and about the common practice among pitchers of throwing the ball hard and inside to gain control of the plate. He was just toying with him! I knew it! Any second now, he was going to spring up and accuse Rocker of racism and sexism! The heated argument couldn’t be far off now! The baseball next to me was excited, too! I could tell! His stitches were bulging! I even, strangely, found myself rooting for Hannity, maybe because I had always found John Rocker to be a highly limited and possibly reprehensible person. Come on, Hannity! Give it to Rocker! Just yesterday you proved with the Rev. Al Sharpton that you’re an expert when it comes to dredging up old comments and using them to tar someone with the brush of racism! The interview went on for two minutes, and then three. Maybe Hannity had forgotten. But that was impossible. No: he was just waiting for the best moment to pounce on Rocker! I got more excited! And even more! My air pressure was making me dizzy! Hannity was going to get Rocker any second now!

I woke up the next morning, smelling stale air and cordite. The television was off. The baseball was there. “What happened when Sean Hannity attacked John Rocker for his racist comments? Was it exciting?”

The baseball rolled away. His stitches looked drab and gray. He didn’t even spit at me.

Earth Ball