You walk the two blocks to the ballpark, and get in line to buy a ticket. As you wait, thirty-one different people come up to see if you want to buy pirated DVD’s for a dollar each. You don’t. That’s okay with them. Then the line stops moving forward. It doesn’t start moving again for twenty minutes. This is because two people at the front of the line are arguing about who is the greatest hockey player of all time, and everyone else is waiting patiently for them to reach the compromise that will allow them both to save face: Bobby Orr.
Finally you reach the ticket booth:
You: I’d like one ticket for today’s game, please.
Ticket Guy: Okay, that will be six hundred dollars.
Ticket Guy: Four hundred dollars.
You: But you just said—
Ticket Guy: Okay, okay. For you: three hundred dollars.
You: That’s still way too high. Just yesterday I—
Ticket Guy: Best friend price: two hundred dollars each, or three for five hundred.
You: Still too high.
Ticket Guy: Sorry, that’s as low as I can go.
You: Okay, thanks anyway.
Ticket Guy: Wait! One hundred dollars, last price.
You: I’ll give you forty.
Ticket Guy: Forty! Too low!
Ticket Guy: Eighty.
Ticket Guy: Sixty-five.
Ticket Guy: Done.
You smile, pleased that at last you’ve got the hang of this haggling; you buy the ticket, thank the ticket guy, find your seat and sit down. You watch the pitcher warming up. Then you glance at your ticket, which, it turns out, has the price printed right on it: eight dollars. You realize that you will never, ever get the best of the ticket guys.
A food vendor comes by, singing, Eels! Get your eels here! Live eels, get your eels here, get your cold slimy live eels!
The game begins. The pitcher is chain-smoking. So is the catcher. So are all the other players, and both managers, the food vendors and souvenir-hawkers, the woman who sings the national anthem, all the bat-boys, and every one of the 36,008 fans in attendance.
The fans sitting to your left are extremely friendly, and want to know everything about you, and hug you each time something good happens on the field no matter which team benefits. The fans sitting to your right ignore you, and occasionally spit on your shoes.
None of the players adjust themselves in the groin area. However, all of them burp and fart loudly, with a certain regularity, and with quiet smiles of satisfaction.
Another vendor comes by. He has live turtles for sale. Right in front of you, he bumps into a vendor selling live frogs, and there is a protracted shouting match as the two vendors argue about which is better at curing liver cancer, turtles or frogs. They scream right in each others’ faces, but no punches are thrown. The fans around you watch amusedly, and then you realize that this has happened thousands of times before, this shouting, these same two vendors—it is all theater, and good theater at that.
There is an armed security guard for each row, but as far as you can tell they just watch the game like everyone else.
The players are outstanding, truly top-notch in every respect, except for the home team’s shortstop, who looks a little wilted, but would probably still taste good in a stew or something. The game is thrilling, and also exhausting, and you wonder how everyone finds the energy to keep doing this day after day after day for their entire lives.
An older couple is sitting in front of you. They are both wearing pajamas, and they are holding hands. From the look of their hair, they really did just wake up. Maybe they work graveyard?
The stadium itself is gorgeous, now that you look at it. It is made entirely of cypress wood, it is eight hundred years old, the ceiling is painted green and red and gold, and every single inch of the place is hand-carved—there are even little dragons sculpted on your armrests, and in low relief on your seatback, and fluting out from each corner of the gabled roof.
The older couple in pajamas offer you some tea. You are not a big tea-drinker, but you accept it all the same, and it is wonderful, somehow invigorating and sweet and flowery and dense all at once. You thank them, and they offer you some more.
The smell of dead fish comes wafting over from the fish section of the stadium, is immediately replaced by the smell of roses from the flower section, which in turn is replaced by the smell of clean cold earth from the vegetable section.
Now you have to go to the restroom. To get there, you have to push each of the several thousand people who stand in your way and do not move when you say ‘Excuse me,’ but they do not seem to mind being pushed.
The bathrooms are not nice places at all. You wonder why you ever thought they would be.
It is now the start of the ninth inning, and the score is tied, and the pitchers are unhittable, but the batters are unstrikeoutable, and every foul ball is fraught with 5000 years of history, literally 5000 years, each one lived day by day, second by second by an unthinkable number of people, and you know perfectly well that the odds of you ever understanding all the fraughtness are slim-to-none, but if you go to enough games, maybe you’ll understand some of it, maybe you’ll understand enough. Also, you’re starting to get hungry, and your scorecard is nearly full.