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.
Normally I like the rain. It works to my advantage. This past week, though, it has been ceaseless, and it has bothered me. Maybe I’m nervous about the upcoming election. The kids in school are picking a new student-council treasurer, and I have my heart set on Mark Linsey. Ha ha: that is not the election I meant, not at all. I am learning to joke. Anxiety is a great motivator. The election I meant, of course, is the presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama, which will take place tomorrow. I cannot cast a vote, as I am an Earth Ball. The students here can’t vote, either, but they have passionate opinions. Last week, on a rainy Tuesday, two kids debated the merits of the presidential candidates. One felt the other’s arguments were predictable. “Have your own evidence, dude,” he said. The next day, a rainy Wednesday, one kid denounced Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee, though he conceded that she was attractive enough to imagine naked. “That’s too much car for you,” another kid said.
Because I am anxious, I would not have remembered this dialogue were it not for Simon Wright, who is a shuttlecock. This is not an insult. A shuttlecock is an actual thing, a projectile used in badminton and fashioned from a weighted cork base and a trailing skirt of feathers or, more commonly, plastic. It is called a cock but looks a bit like a lady, which is confusing. Maybe that is why Simon Wright has such a deep voice, to clear up the confusion. “To clear up the confusion,” he said when I told him. “To clear up the confusion.” Simon Wright comes from England, where he was involved in some championships. It is possible that his success has made him arrogant and that this is the reason he says everything twice, although it is equally possible that he is damaged in some way, and that is why he blurts things out in duplicate. “Have your own evidence, dude,” he’ll say. “Have your own evidence, dude.” There is something unnerving about this kind of repetition.
I know I’m jumping around. I’m jumpy. My anxiety is due in part to tomorrow’s election, but it is due in even larger part to something that has recently occurred. I fell for a person. I feared this would happen. Much of my time has been spent around people. I respect the men and the women equally, though I find myself drawn toward the women in ways that I do not always understand. Before now, I had thought mostly that I was merely mimicking Coach Parker, who works with me in the boys’ locker room and has long had an interest in Coach Ortega, who works in the girls’ locker room. But now I have my own evidence.
The person in question is the older sister of one of the baseball players. She is of average height and average shape—well, average for a person, not for a ball, which would be round—but she has the most beautiful face and hair. One is white and the other is black. “Like the candidates,” I said to Simon Wright. Again, learning to joke. Again, anxious. I have learned that it is customary to say that a person is “most beautiful to you,” because that makes that person feel special while not trampling on others. Many people can be beautiful. But in this case the qualification is not necessary. This is the most beautiful face and hair imaginable, and it is not subject to debate or taste or time. Her name is Evelyn.
Evelyn has come into the locker room a number of times with her brother after hours. “Hale and pace,” Simon Wright said, the first time he saw her. “Hale and pace.” I guessed this was a British expression, or a badminton one. Last week, Evelyn came into the locker room and stood against the east wall, where the bats and gloves are kept. Her brother wasn’t looking at her, so she thought no one was, and she hooked her thumbs into the tops of her pants and leaned back a little. I have seen the word “quiver” and know that it means both a bag for holding arrows and a little tiny shake that begins at your base. But I had never fully experienced it until Evelyn stood against the east wall and hooked her thumbs into her pants. I wanted her to stay forever, or to gather me in her arms and take me outside. I quivered and quivered some more. It was too much car for me.
After a few minutes, she and her brother heard Coach Parker coming, so they escaped out the back door. It was good that they did. Coach Parker is in a foul mood these days. He broke his hand by punching the wall of the locker room, a decision that was made rashly when he discovered that Coach Ortega had spent the night with a man named James. He discovered it from Coach Ortega, and I was thankful that he went for the wall instead of her. He has a sling. Coach Parker, I mean. James does not, though Coach Parker has said that he’ll have his ass in a sling. “Ass in a sling,” Simon Wright said. “Ass in a sling.” An ass is the soft split part of a person beneath the back. It is more prominent on women, especially Coach Ortega. Now I am thinking of Evelyn again and it is making me jumpy, so I should probably move on.
Coach Parker’s broken hand affects his ability to fiddle with the radio, and that has meant more time with Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity, of course, hosts a daily syndicated talk show and a nightly television show on the Fox News Network. For a time, Coach Parker had grown tired of Sean Hannity’s poorly constructed arguments and repetitive tirades. He had switched over to music, but never one station for very long. When he hurt his hand, he couldn’t change stations easily, and he went back to Sean Hannity, almost as if he had been punished. In the past few weeks, Sean Hannity has grown increasingly desperate. He has tarred Barack Obama as an associate of terrorists, as a black radical, an opportunist, a socialist. I am not happy to listen to Sean Hannity, although it does give Simon Wright plenty of new phrases. “His best friend is an unrepentant terrorist,” he says. “His best friend is an unrepentant terrorist.” Or: “He will wave the white flag of surrender. He will wave the white flag of surrender.” Or: “Senator Redistribution. Senator Redistribution.”
Last week, Sean Hannity broadcast his radio program from Pittsburgh, because he was attending a rally with Sarah Palin. During the first hour of the show, the Pittsburgh local news reported that a young woman, a volunteer in the McCain campaign, had been attacked and mutilated. Someone had cut the letter B into her cheek. Sean Hannity discussed the episode at some length. It struck him as horrible and I agreed. Why should a young woman have a letter cut into her cheek? If I am cut, I deflate and am no more. If Evelyn had a scar on her face, it would still be the most beautiful face.
The next day, the woman’s story was exposed as a hoax. I was sure that Sean Hannity would denounce her for lying. I looked forward to hearing Simon Wright repeat whatever expressions Sean Hannity used for that purpose. But Sean Hannity never addressed the matter again. If you received all your news from his show, you would have no way of knowing that the original story was a hoax. “You can stand under my umbrella,” Simon Wright said instead. “You can stand under my umbrella.”
The day after that, federal agents broke up a skinhead plot to assassinate Barack Obama at the end of a murder spree intended to take the lives of 102 African-Americans, 88 by gunshot and 14 by beheading. The notion was so horrific that I permitted myself a mental picture of Evelyn, naked, as an antidote. Sean Hannity commended the agents for their vigilance and expressed admiration for any candidate willing to endure the dangers associated with public life. That lasted about 40 seconds. Then he started taking phone calls again, most of which suggested that Barack Obama was a danger to the American way of life. One woman said that she was alarmed that he might actually be elected, and that he had to be stopped.
Sean Hannity endorsed the woman’s alarm. “Fear is a great motivator,” he said.
“Fear is a great motivator,” Simon Wright said. “Fear is a great motivator.”
“It’s like irony was never invented,” I said.
The next day, Sean Hannity mocked Barack Obama’s half-hour network-television special, deriding it as, among other things, an “infomercial,” “misinformation,” and “propaganda.”
“Propaganda,” Simon Wright said. “Propaganda.”
“It’s like irony was never invented,” I said.
I want time to move forward, partly so that this election can be done, partly because each hour that passes is an hour that may bring Evelyn and her face and her hair back to the locker room. In the meantime, it is a lonely place, especially in the late afternoons, after school ends. It rains every day, and every day Sean Hannity is on the radio. I am beginning to believe one is causing the other. I wish the rain would stop. I want to go outside.