It is a rare body that distinctly displays the vices of its keeper.

But here is one that does just that, filling in the chipping plastic of the chair to Dad’s right. He has the limbs of a thin man—tendons, bouncing and twitching in ridges, running toward his ulnas; calves, beneath khaki cargo pockets, reaching the Achilles in elongated Vs—with fairly slim sides and pectorals that arc his nipples downward. It is only the third dimension that renders him overweight. His paunch has surpassed fleshy––it projects taut, domineering; a bowling ball bulging in a polyester blanket. Firmness, you remember, is found on both extremities of fitness. You are on neither.

But it was beer and steaks and general coolheaded gluttony, you can tell, that mutated what was once a runner’s body into what now sits by your side. And you need not witness the strange physique in motion to know its gait: you are certain it is casual, swaggering; leaning back, he keeps his shoulders cocked and rolled, displaying his belly like a hanging indentation in the way that only those who have gone from skinny to large—not the opposite—are fortunate enough to execute. An irony, you think—not a sad one, necessarily, though that is how it tends to be—that the person we become can never speak as loudly as the person we were.

You wish you were not looking at him. You wish you were focused on the pregame warmups, on the lurid stills of the billboards above them, on the left-field bleachers, filling in the thick August heat.

Or the noise. Quiet, loud, you have no idea. It is murmur multiplied, placid yet full of potential energy, sitting in the air like fog. But your mind is not on it, not on any of this, because there is a restless throb that is gripping your frontal lobe, stretching out your diaphragm like a broken slinky.

The Fat Man seems to completely evade it. He is one with his seat; it is his. You are not. And you resent him for that. This discomfort of yours is great enough to hold you down, steal your gaze from the scoreboard and the lights and the distant crackling of leather on leather that jumps from the field, where the top of the first will soon begin. It makes you envy not just the Fat Man—though he is the chosen target—but all the stadium goers around you. You eye them, with the scrutiny of a bully, the fear of a victim, as they find their seats or linger with Sharpies near the third base dugout. You try to exhume, from their visages and postures and imperfect physiques, any signs that they feel as out of place and queasy as you do.


Your actual seats are not bad. In fact, they seemed good. They were sixteen rows further back than the ones you currently rest in, almost at the rear of the ground-level platform; only a few rows removed from the frozen yogurt and beer stands of the concession row, upward from the visiting bullpen. In the truncated four-ish minutes you sat in the seats, dreading the coming suggestion from Dad that the two of you jockey forward, there was the sweaty air of garlic fries in your nose, and the second level hung above you, like an awning, shading from the heat that now presses on your neck. Dusk is nearing.

But then Dad said it. As you knew he would. “Let’s try to move up.”

“Can we just stay here?”

He nudged you playfully, pinched your hardening tricep. You wished you’d rested it in a state of firmness more declared. “Come ahhhhnn,” he said, contorting his right dimple and letting the words out the side of his mouth.

“The game hasn’t even started. People are still coming.”

“Look at all those empty seats,” he said, waving his veiny arm. “We’re not even in foul ball territory.”

“Can we please just stay here?”

“Come ahhhhnn.”

“What if people come? The ones who actually have tickets for the seats?”

“We’ll move!”

And so you jockeyed forward.

What you have never been able to articulate to your father is that this displacement robs you of almost all the ballpark tranquility that you covet so dearly, because the beauty of watching this game exists in conjunction with a role that is defined, steady. Like playing it. The exact location of the seats has never mattered. What is important is being here, distractions gone, rightfully filling your role in the rapture. And essential to it all is owning a glaucous piece of land, distinctly your own––loving and defending and accepting that little space like the right fielder does his patch of grass or Laura Ingalls does her little house.

But Dad did not grow up like you—comfortably—and he does not think like you—timidly. He is more like Charles Ingalls. Stagnation, to him, is decay––betterment is futile if not active. He grows antsy at the sight of greener grass––or at least, a closer view of it.

Maybe that’s not all. Maybe you also dread, with a might you don’t want to think about, the embarrassment that very well could arrive when you sit in seats that aren’t yours. Maybe your dread is mixed with hatred of the dread’s existence, which is wholly unnecessary––from the fact that if Dad would just relent, once, and agree to sit where you’re supposed to, the dread wouldn’t be there.

One thing you know: within this difference between you and your father lies the world.

Dad returns with two hot dogs, places them on your lap. He sits between you and the Fat Man––he knows you hate shared space, grazed skin, with strangers. His forearm quickly claims the armrest you share. The process lacks negotiation. Somewhere in the humdrum of years, your father’s elbows came to think for themselves, and the acquisition of a resting place is now automatic, disregarding whatever is in the way. Dad is not large like the Fat Man—whom you can hardly see any longer, with Dad in the way—but he is vascular and firm nonetheless. The two of them share a masculine abandon.


Between your father and no one. That’s where you sit, separated from the aisle by two empty seats on your left. The yielding to Dad of the armrest to your right gave you no option but to contract both shoulders, which of late have been widening rapidly. You could easily claim the left armrest—no one besides you is there to vie for it—but doing so would feel imbalanced. And so you have instead receded, slouched, into a concavity of torso and self that you have been used to for a long while, despite a recent and rapid growth of both.

But this is not the place to complain about such things; to ask your father to share. The salty thrumming of American worship has your ears and nose. Your posture and discomfort are concerns too paltry to sour the occasion. Though you still can’t really focus. Because you’re not in the seats you paid to sit in.

Enough. You love this team. You love this game. You love this stadium. You have possessed all this love since the fourth grade. That was the magical year when baseball became something more to you than off-inning snacks. When you came to revere the game’s disregard for the world’s ticking second hand; its vacillation from sloth to sheer purpose, then back; its black-and-white, high-socked, A Christmas Carol-speak-laid memory of times gone but resonant. It is a nephew of the urban sprawl––the slow-paced, grass-stained intersection of leisure, teamwork, rational self-interest. It happens and has happened when everyone lives too close.

You maneuver yourself forward and establish your elbows on the fronts of the armrests. They hardly have a place. The reign of Dad’s forearm extends from back to front. Again you recede.

Something in the corner of your eye. You lurch. A man has stopped at your row. He is looking down the two open seats. Don’t look his way.


Breathe. Just the Peanut Man. No thanks. He leaves.

“Buddy,” Dad says, smiling. “Loosen up! Hey! We’re at a baseball game.” He rubs your traps. Wriggle. “Come ahhhhhn. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone comes, we move. Am I wrong?”

He’s not wrong.

But what if a haughty couple—dressed in all black, donning none of the competing colors—approaches the seats? What if they start laughing at you—at the translucent gray-brown patch that has recently found your upper lip, at the fact that you’re here not with fellow adolescents but with your veiny, balding father—and the Fat Man joins in? What if the row behind you does too? What if none of that happens but the couple instead shares a patronizing smirk that says it all, nonetheless, and is just as cruel?

Dad can see the dread. He tries to distract you. “How was your Mom’s this week? Good time?”

Swallow. “Fine, yeah. It was good.”

“You like the new place?”

You nod.

“I think you’re startin’ puberty!” He grins. He can’t help it. “I’m seein’ some peach fuzz!”

Squirm a bit. What a talent your father is. Like none you’ve ever seen. The man can effortlessly––innocently––whack-a-mole all the topics you hate the most. All he has to do is say what he’s thinking.

Ignore his eyes’ importuning and shrug. But now he’s up close. “I see it there! That’s a mini little mustache! I think you’re losin’ some weight, too! You got pubes yet?”

“Stop,” you say, a bit too quietly. “Not here. There are people here.”

“What’s wrong? No one’s listening.”

“We’re in public.” Swallow a clumpy swallow. “People can hear you.” Your father turns and exaggeratedly scans the surrounding seats.

“If they can hear,” he says, “They sure as hell aren’t listening.”

“Please– just– stop.”

His smile deflates, which adds something new to your diaphragm’s tension; dread and anger have welcomed in pity. (How shitty is that? Those first two, they drive you; they push you to new limits; you can feed off them. But pity, time and again, is allowing someone to feed on you.) And now you’re following up. “I just mean that we’re in public,” you say. “I just don’t want to talk about it here. That’s all I mean.”

“Everyone’s minding their own business,” he says. “No one’s listening, buddy, not to us. They don’t care. We paid to be here! Let’s talk about whatever we want!”

“Shhh,” you say. You scan around behind you.

What if the actual owners come with a stout security man? Time to go, guys, the man might say, stroking his slicked black hair. The Fat Man might laugh. You might start to rise. No, not just back to your seats; time to go, the security man might say. And so then you’ll be forced to leave the stadium for sitting in seats you didn’t want to sit in––you’ll be exiled from the rapture.

“Come ahhnnnn,” Dad says. “Enjoy the game!”


You watch for two innings, talking with Dad sporadically about the team, about school. The game is a good excuse to avoid his gaze.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Dad says. A called strike three sends the Cubs back to the field. “Zambrano’s the ideal National League pitcher. Not only do you get an ace, but you also get another slugger when you send him to the plate.”

You nod. You’ve started to calm. Dad can tell. His gaze has stopped prying at your corners.

“But his clubhouse presence, the anger stuff, I don’t know,” Dad says. “On the one hand, I have to appreciate a guy who looks out for his teammates, someone who’s, you know, ready to stick up for his buddies if need be. But on the other, whipping out a belt when the benches clear? I don’t–” Dad stops.

A man is waiting at the aisle.

He smiles below a bushy brown mustache. He is short. In his hands are three hot dogs; three bags of peanuts; three bottles of water.

“Ah! You’re here!” he says.

He lowers himself next to you. Mustard dribbles onto his tucked-in polo. “Sorry I’m late. Huge delays on the Red Line.” He offers you a water. “Barnie,” he says.

You look toward your father. He glances from you to Barnie.

“No?” Barnie asks.

“Sure, I’ll take one,” your father says. He looks at you again, this time meekly shrugging. Look, two friends in a kooky situation, he seems to be trying to say. What can you do?

Look away. Try to. Breathe. You can’t––not that much, not that comfortably.

“The guys were tellin’ me at the office how much you guys love these Cubbies,” Barnie says. He laughs. “Hopefully we catch a good one here today.”

You keep turning to your right, away from Barnie, exchanging glances with your father. He seems to think you’re both in states of marvel, playfully astounded. That the disbelief is shared and inconsequential. But what you wish your eyes would say—what you’re afraid to say aloud—is: You tell him; I’m not doing it. He doesn’t get it. He just raises his eyebrows every time you turn, grinning with his veiny neck and closed mouth. His grin used to make you laugh. Now it yields a stifling collision of reflex.

Getting darker. But still not dark yet.

Barnie smells of onions and sweat and shoe polish. He makes you an alert, cramped version of sad. His mouth and nostrils and chin are compacted down into the bottom quadrant of his face––above his eyebrows, bushy, and glasses, rimless, is a vast and glinting forehead. Whereas Dad is balding into bunny ears, of sorts, Barnie’s hair loss is more classical; the hurricane began in an eye near the center of the sea and has since expanded outward—into a growing and permanent kippah—by leaps and bounds.

He keeps looking your way, smiling this smile that’s so totally unaware, so pathetically trusting, it brings you within a deep inhale of vomit, you’re pretty sure, every half-inning.

Indeed. You’ve stayed with this unknowing stranger an inning and a half now.

You’ve been able to discern that Barnie thinks he’s trying to sell your father something, though he hasn’t established what.

“How amazing is Wrigley?” he says to you, wordlessly offering peanuts. “No thanks,” you say. Smile impassively.

“The ivy, the dogs, the Cubbies– I’ve been here for concerts, job fairs. But none of it ever feels quite the same as the ballpark. That’s something I know, know what I’m saying? I’ll tell ya, I saw Boston here once, and the whole time I was watching, jamming out [motions air guitar with hands], all I could think about was, If I got taken here blindfolded, would I even know it was Wrigley? I wasn’t so sure.” He stops and wipes his brow. It is remarkably, visibly sweaty. “I mean, I probably would have. But the point is, it didn’t really even feel like Wrigley. I can say that from other times, too. It’s not Wrigley when there’s sound blasting in your ears; when people whose names ya don’t even know are walkin’ all over the field. It’s Wrigley when you’re sitting in the seat you got, holdin’ a beer, eatin’ a pretzel, silent until spoken to by a sweet swing or diving catch. It ain’t Wrigley if you’re not watchin’ the Cubbies like we’re all supposed to!” Barnie grins a desperate grin, toasts with his water bottle. “Cheers to us, guys.”

It’s a memorized spiel, you realize as he wraps up. Barnie has practiced it, probably, many times. Though his nerves obscure most signs of this.

He’s declined to take the shared armrest––the one you’ve left open. He sits passively—thighs touching each other from groin to knee—within the boundaries of his seat, torso turning toward you and your father when it’s time to say something new. His concave frame, you notice now, strikingly resembles your own. And the mild-but-noticeable fear, and the sleaziness, and the way he is looking at your Dad––trying to grin like a good salesman––and the mustard stain still on his wrinkled shirt, and the fact that you know what he does not: that he will soon feel like an utter fool.

“Well we’re happy to be here, man,” your father says.

Why exactly now, you don’t know. But here it happens.

You turn to Dad and try to move your mouth as little as possible.

“We have to go,” you say.

I know, he mouths. Soon.

“No,” you say. You move up your gaze and assert it onto his. There is a power you can feel within the motion.

Wait for bathroom, he mouths.

“Now,” you say, loud. The word runs up from your lungs, rushing out with blowback.

“Huh?” Barnie calls, over your shoulder. “What’s up, guys?”

Dad looks at you. A while. Then he swallows. He turns from you to the field and then back to you again. The shame that’s been missing is there, now, though it brings no satisfaction.

Dad grabs the armrests he’s hoarded and stands.

“We’re gonna go, man,” he says, extending out a hand. “I’m sorry.”

“Already? Oh, oh! Okay!” Barnie says. He stands with you. “Off already!”

Drifting to the aisle, you wait for your father. “Look,” Dad says, “we’re– we’re not– our seats are somewhere else.”

“Ah,” Barnie says. He nods and bobs. He doesn’t seem to process it. He shoots a smile, vacuous, your way. “Great time, definitely! Be in touch later.”

“We’re gonna go,” Dad says again, “I’m sorry.”

Barnie is still smiling. Why is he still smiling? He doesn’t understand yet. How does he not understand?

Briefly you and the Fat Man lock eyes. He is smirking, confused and amused by the scene.

“These aren’t our seats,” Dad says. “I’m really sorry.”

Barnie will get it soon. Perhaps the Fat Man will explain.

Up the steps you go, peanut shells popping with your shoes. It’s night now. Dad trails behind.


Beyond a few logistical points, you will not talk to Dad the rest of the game. Nor the ride home. He does not say sorry as you walk; he won’t for a few hours, at least, and it will take years before he fully acknowledges the strange and subdued awfulness that could be whiffed throughout your night here.

But padding up the steps now, before you return to W, a bathroom break. You enter the dim cement. In your ears is the patter of urine on tin, resonant and heavy, and you move to join the row of boys and men facing the wall––they listen to each other, sense each other; stare straight ahead. Their gazes find rusty metal; framed clippings; drywall.

You wish you could conquer this place.

If only you were shameless like Dad; assured like the Fat Man; clueless like Barnie. But what are you? Nothing yet. Something amorphous, maybe––but with nothing yet firm.

The man to your side is burping and swaying. His flow––a torrent upon the metal––began before yours and will end after.

Breathe. Zip. Wash. Stare at the face in the mirror.

Now leave and find your father, waiting in the swarm.