Hello. I am an Earth Ball, also known as a cage ball, a large inflatable ball most often seen in junior-high-school locker rooms and used as an exercise aid when weather does not permit outside play. School is just beginning; as soon as the fall rains arrive, I’ll be back in business.
I would like to say that, in these highly charged times, with a presidential election just around the corner, I have been thinking about Barack Obama and John McCain. That would make me seem like I am carrying around a red onion in my fist. This is an expression I learned from an old basketball. His skin was nearly peeled raw. The expression means that a man, or a ball, has a firm grasp on the world’s complexities. But it would be untrue. There is no red onion in my fist. For the most part, in fact, I have been thinking about Coach Parker, who is a source of concern. I have known Coach Parker for a long time. He was working here when I first came to the school, and he has been here nearly every day since. He keeps me company, but these days he is making me lonely.
Let me explain. For years, Coach Parker has conducted an on-again, off-again affair with Coach Ortega, who runs women’s softball and volleyball and has a beautiful amount of straight dark hair. These days, the affair is off, and as a result he is dating a new woman. Her name is Julia Fortownson, which is a silly thing to call a person, and he knows it, because he doesn’t call her “Julia” or “Julie” or “honey.” He calls her “Julia Fortownson,” the whole name, every time, and, while this may appear polite, it comes over time to feel like an insult of sorts. Julia Fortownson is small and blond and pretty and wears a strong perfume that makes me dizzy; of particular interest are the two large soft balls that sit upon her chest and the two that ride just beneath her lower back. This is just a joke: I know what balls are and what balls aren’t. I mean, I am one. But “two large soft balls that sit upon her chest” is overly formal, like “Julia Fortownson,” and, because of that, funny, right? I told this joke to Barnaby, the old air-conditioning unit set into the door above Coach Parker’s desk. “Funny, kid,” he said. But he didn’t mean it. He thinks he’s the only clever one in the room and he wheezes when he laughs and the air that comes from him when he does smells like mildew.
“Julia Fortownson is cute,” Barnaby said yesterday. “Coach Parker might marry her. And, if he does, you’ll see even less of him. Marriage is like a club.”
“Because it makes people more private?” I said.
“No,” he said. “Because it beats you to death.” He wheezed; I had to spin the other way to avoid the smell.
Julia Fortownson is wrong for Coach Parker. Why? Simple: Coach Ortega is right for him. I have watched as he ran his finger lightly down her spine, or as she smiled at him. Coach Parker spends plenty of time with Julia Fortownson. He tells her how much he likes her, but when he does so he rarely smiles, and when he smiles, the smile is just as formal as the way he speaks her name, and just as artificial. Julia Fortownson doesn’t seem to notice. Her perfume fills the room. I do not understand the mechanism behind their relationship, not exactly. Maybe Coach Parker is worried that Coach Ortega will no longer accept him, so he is shoring himself up with a less gratifying but more stable relationship. Maybe he is trying to gain control over the ways that sadness is produced in his daily life. Maybe he is simply moving forward.
If it is not yet apparent, I am listening to lots of radio therapists these days. I listen to them because Julia Fortownson switches them on while she and Coach Parker are having sex in his office. I should clarify: They do not actually have sex. Mostly, she moves her perfumed hair aside with a perfumed hand and inflates him by means of his valve, if you catch my meaning. In this regard, too, the relationship seems stuck in an infantile place. Radio therapy again.
The shift in radio habits bothers me more than I am letting on. There is a man named Sean Hannity; he hosts a daily syndicated political radio show and nightly television show. For years, Coach Parker has tuned in regularly, largely to disagree. Julia Fortownson has no interest in politics. Coach Ortega was the opposite in that regard; political talk radio was yet another thing that bound them together. I imagined them as an elderly couple, listening to Sean Hannity III on the radio as space cars zipped by outside their window. Now, Coach Parker must wait until Julia Fortownson stops inflating his valve and leaves. Then he gets himself a cup of coffee, puts up his feet, and listens to Sean Hannity. I join him.
Sean Hannity discusses many things each day, but really he only discusses a few things. This is his method. He finds an issue (let’s call it a “nail”) and discusses it (let’s say “hammers away at it”) for days on end. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang: he hammers until the nail is down in the wood, not caring if his angle of attack is wrong, if the nail is left straight or bent, if it has effectively joined the wood to the piece of wood next to it or not. This week, Sean Hannity is broadcasting live from Denver, the site of the Democratic National Convention. Between reminders that Democrats are both manipulative and ineffectual and that Michelle Obama is anti-American, Sean Hannity has hammered away at Barack Obama’s selection of Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware as his vice-presidential nominee, deriding Biden for being “mean, angry, and self-important,” mocking Biden’s protracted pronunciation of the word “judgment” (which may have something to do with Biden’s childhood stutter), and then, without irony, echoing Biden’s criticisms of Barack Obama during the Democratic primary. “This is the same guy who said that Obama isn’t ready for the presidency.”
The first time Sean Hannity tried to criticize Barack Obama with the words of Joseph Biden—a man, remember, whose opinion he disrespects prodigiously—Coach Parker was on the other side of the room with a bag of volleyballs. The second time, he was in the shower after a visit with Julia Fortownson, washing off the perfume. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth times have been lost to history. The seventh or eighth time, Coach Parker was sitting in his office. “Holy shit,” he said, pounding the table with the heel of his hand. “Did you effing hear that? I mean, Biden and Obama were running against each other! What if McCain puts Mitt Romney on the Republican ticket? Will Hannity run all the things that Romney said about McCain?” He spun around in his chair, one full revolution. He was gleeful in his rage. A few minutes later, Hannity noted that Barack Obama has “abandoned his poor brother,” who is in fact a Kenyan half-brother, who in fact has never had an adult relationship with Obama, who in fact has not been abandoned. “When this guy talks, I’m surprised the words don’t turn and fly back into his mouth like starved, exhausted birds,” Coach Parker said. It was the kind of thing he would have said to Coach Ortega.
I turned to Barnaby. “I agree.” What I meant was that I was bursting with joy to see Coach Parker like this.
Barnaby waited and hummed. I knew that he was going to make a joke. “I don’t understand why they call it a ticket,” he said. “It doesn’t get you anywhere.”
I laughed politely. I let Barnaby think that I liked his joke. Maybe that makes me as much of a hypocrite as Sean Hannity. I don’t know. I’m not carrying a red onion around in my fist.
Julia Fortownson eventually stopped by. She was wearing a very short skirt. She switched off Sean Hannity and switched on the radio therapist, who was talking to a man who believed that his mother-in-law was trying to convince his wife to leave him. Julia Fortownson extended a hand to Coach Parker’s zipper. “Julia Fortownson,” he said. “What are you doing?”
I turned toward Barnaby. “Tell me a joke,” I told him.
“Did you hear the one about the bald woman?” he said. I twisted from side to side slightly to say no. Mildew is bad, but perfume can be worse.