Uncle Jumbo's Playground

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–Illustration by James Dankert

Here’s the deal: years ago —years ago– I spent a few holiday seasons working at one of those sausage and cheese kiosks at a local mall. I did this, as I do most things, purely out of laziness. The employee discount was attractive to me at the time, and I thought: How hard could it be to sell sausage?

Pretty damn hard, actually, but thank God I wasn’t getting paid a commission. Six-and-half bucks an hour, straight up, which was like free money for sitting on my kiester all day with my nose stuck in a book. I have no idea how those places stay in business year after year, to be honest with you. I suppose the key to their survival is the fact that their customers are even lazier than I am –people who need some gift for somebody they don’t have any actual feelings for. Lazy bastards and senior citizens, that was basically the clientele for holiday sausage and cheese assortments. Apparently nothing says Merry Christmas to old folks quite like sausage and cheese. Lest you think I’m passing judgment on anybody, I should mention that I love both sausage and cheese, am a lazy bastard, and gave everyone on my gift list a cheese ball and a giant roll of sausage every year I worked at this place.

I mention this because though, as I said, this was many years ago, I’m constantly running into or hearing from people from my old hometown who say to me either, “I hear you’re selling sausage,” or “Are you still selling sausage?” This misconception has been propagated by my mother for over a decade. Granted, I have a sketchy job history and have worked many, many terrible and insignificant jobs, and I probably can’t expect my mother to stay on top of my employment status. For the life of me, though, I can’t understand why she continues to tell people that I’m selling sausage. For the last several years I’ve told her I’m in building administration, but for some reason it doesn’t stick.

That ‘some reason,’ if I’m going to be honest with myself, is that my mother is batshit crazy.

Anyway, I called into sick at work yesterday so I could take in the game against the Royals at the Dome. I have not been in a good mood the last week, and for six months of the year my moods are almost entirely dictated by the performance of the Twins. Zellar’s terrible, and I say this as someone who I suppose considers him my friend –my old man had a word for guys like Zellar: fullofbeans– but he’s at least done a serviceable job of documenting the ugliness of the last five games. You probably know all about it as well, but it’s one thing to know about something and quite another to see it in person and to have paid to see it.

By the second inning of yesterday’s game I had seen enough, but I’ve never left a game early in my life and I wasn’t about to set a dangerous precedent. So I sat there fuming, getting more pissed off by the minute, and eventually, yes, I suppose I was bellowing. I don’t throw things, as much as I might like to sometimes, but I do shout, loudly, and perhaps I jerk around and gesture aggressively. There are times, I know, when I’m no longer truly aware of what I’m shouting, and I become oblivious to the presence of people around me.

So yesterday I’m in the middle of what I guess you could call a fit when this woman in front of me turns around and says that I’m frightening her kids.

“If your kids were actually paying attention to the game instead of running up and down the aisles and shoving shit in their faces they’d have even more reason to be frightened,” I said to her, or possibly shouted. At which point a guy seated nearby says, “Relax, fella, it’s just a game.”

There is virtually nothing you could say to me in a baseball park that would make me blow a gasket quicker than, “It’s just a game.” I don’t have a clear memory of the particulars, but things got pretty ugly in a hurry. The yahoos out in the bleachers were turning on me in a hurry, but I had no intention of backing down. Next thing I know a security guy is jerking at my arm. “If you could just step out into the concourse for a moment,” he said.

I was furious, but I followed him up the aisle, accompanied by the applause and jeering of the yokels around me. When we got to the top of the stairs I paused and turned around so as not to miss a pitch in my scorebook. The security guy was standing next to me, blathering some nonsense, when suddenly he stopped mid-sentence and said, “Don’t you work at the Hickory Farms at Rosedale?”

Jesus,” I said. “I haven’t worked at that place in years. Are you from Blooming Void?”

I couldn’t blame my mother this time. The security guy, it turned out, worked at a calendar kiosk opposite my sausage stand one year. He remembered that I used to sit there on my stool poring over the Baseball Encyclopedia. I guess this odd common ground must have cemented some sort of bond between us in his mind, because after making this connection he couldn’t have been a better shit about the commotion I caused, and he actually walked me around the concourse and let me sit in one of the empty seats above the bullpen.

The rest of game was plenty ugly, but at least I didn’t have to lug a loss home with me. And now I’ll have the luxury of watching the games for the next week while sitting around my apartment in my underwear, drinking beer, screaming obscenities, and poisoning myself with frozen pizza and microwave chuckwagons from Super America.