Just shy of his 50th birthday, Jarvis Bagley’s life has become an awful cliché. Long divorced, long single, estranged from his children, working an unfulfilling job, Jarvis has long since dropped courtesy and decorum for acrimony and rancor.
So lost is he in his contempt for others, that he finds his most meaningful relationships interacting with his favorite craft beers and the anthropomorphized caricatures he turns them into.
His lone solace is competing Tuesday night trivia at Grendel’s Tap & Pub. His greatest dream is winning the coveted Saxon Keg—the Pub’s prize awarded to the best trivia team of the year.
But if he wants to win the Keg, and maybe put his life in some kind of order, he’s going to have to put together a winning team. Worse yet, he’s going to have to get along with the real people who will form it.
Chapter Three: Jarvis Sees Dorian Stout’s Portrait
Saxon Keg Point Standings—Early April:
- The Ken Dolls: 490
- Jarvis Bagley and “Friends”: 370
- Isaac Newton’s Missing Apple: 360
- Make Trivia Great Again: 330
- Saxophones and Saliva: 90
- Zen and the Art of Beer: 80
- The C-Chord Walk Downs: 30
- Off-Road Commuters: 30
- Others: 20
Okay folks,” Paul announced. “Your final question tonight is this: Put these Major League Baseball players in order according to total career base-hits, from the most to the least.”
I loved listening to Paul work the mic on trivia night. He was a vocal master when he read his questions. He uttered the first name of each ball player with a hard, rising inflection. When he segued to the surname his voice reached a crescendo on the first half of the syllable and promptly fell. He was brilliant, showcasing the instinctive nuances of a three-ring master.
“First,” Paul continued, “we have Derek Jeter. Again, we have Derek Jeter…”
Jeter’s career began a couple year after a players’ strike had nixed the ’94 World Series. I missed most of Number 2’s work at second base because, for the next 20 years, I was all but done watching professional baseball. Some drama brought me back, however. The home-run chase in ’98 put in me in front of the tube every night. But the real drama went down five years later in both the National and American League title series.
Two nights after Steve Bartman’s colossal goof had made it somewhat clear that the baseball gods hated their underdogs, I watched Jeter and his Yankees remove all doubt in 11 innings against the hapless Red Sox.
I’ve never been a Yankees fan, and I have always been suspicious about anyone who claims to be one. I understand why they appeal to people. Since the 50’s in particular—and you could take that back almost a hundred years if you wanted to—the Yanks were the New England Patriots of baseball.
But honestly, something about the post-strike years has always smelled to me. How Derek Jeter walked out of that massive, Performance Enhancing Drugs debacle with his boy scout reputation unvarnished is mystifying. When I got sucked into the spectacle of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa’s single-season home-run chase in ’98 I allowed myself to be mesmerized by it.
I should have noticed that McGuire had bulked up like a badly drawn Marvel superhero since the night my Reds clobbered him in game four of 1990 World Series. I also should have scratched my head at the fact that not one, but two muscle-bound caricatures were spraying dingers all over the far-end bleachers as if they were swatting flies at the Sunday picnic table. I didn’t notice, however. For starters both McGuire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa won me over with their own versions of “Aw, shucks!” But I also wasn’t quite as cynical back then. As a matter of fact, many of us weren’t cynical at all.
A decade later, all those clowns found themselves sitting in front of Congress squirming in their chairs as they awkwardly let the world know that they’d pumped themselves full of enough hormones and steroids to pick up a Dodge Ram and throw it across the Wabash River. Out of that walks Jeter, who racks up over 3,000 hits, a legion of fans, and a first-ballot trip to Cooperstown.
I sighed. A long one, the kind that come when you realize how far down the rabbit hole your thoughts have taken you. I cupped my hand around my pint of Dorian Stout. Scarlet Lane Brewing puts out several varieties of this signature beer, but my favorite has always been the cocoanut-tinged mixture sitting at the tips of my fingers. I nursed a sip from my glass as Paul continued.
“Next we have Paul Molitor. Again, that’s Paul…Molitor.”
In the summer of ’87 Molitor was threatening Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Those were the early days of ESPN’s SportsCenter, and every episode led with Molitor. The day the streak died, at 39 games, I was moving into my dorm—a terrified would-be college freshman about to spend his first legitimate night away from home. I sat in a crowded dorm room, huddled with a dozen other fellows I’d met for the first time at watched all them moan as both Molitor’s run at history ended on the same day that the American basketball team lost badly in the Pan Am Games…in Indy, no less.
Molitor had a drug problem early in his career. Well… by “drug problem” I mean he was hooked on cocaine. It’s kind of like saying that O.J. Simpson had “a problem” with kitchen cutlery or that Bill Cosby was too insecure to stick with Tinder. But Molitor admitted his fuck ups, took responsibility for them, and as far as anyone can tell, he went on with his life playing solid baseball.
“Then we have Pete Rose. We can’t ask a question about ‘baseball’ and ‘hits’ without mentioning Charlie Hustle, right…?”
I was 16 years old when Pete Rose knocked his 4,192nd hit to shallow left field. Eric Show, the San Diego starting pitcher who surrendered Rose’s single, dejectedly sat on the mound resting his forearms on his kneecaps while Riverfront Stadium lost its mind for the next 15 minutes. And why wouldn’t he? From that moment on, every corner bar conversation about baseball for the rest of history would include Rose’s record. And the next question they would ask is who gave up the hit.
I would like to think that Show breathed a sigh of relief a year later when Bill Buckner let that ground ball roll between his legs a year later in the World Series—something else for all the barstool experts to prattle about. Or maybe he really exhaled something special when Bart Giamatti canned Rose for the rest of his playing career? Who knows? We can’t ask him. Nine years after sitting on that mound, Show was found dead in his room at a drug and alcohol rehab center.
A lot of folks say over and over that Pete should be allowed into the Hall of Fame. I get it. I mean, I grew up a Reds fan, for starters. I can barely remember my first game (sometime in the late ‘70’s…don’t remember who they played…do remember that they lost). My grandma took me to that game. A devoted Johnny Bench groupie, she introduced me to the Reds and spent every single summer afternoon parked by her AM radio listening to each pitch. When she told me that the team had traded away Tony Perez, she uttered with deep sorrow. It was the first divorce in my family. By the time Rose bolted for the Phillies all the fun in the world had been sucked off into space.
I thought it was great when Pete came back to Cincinnati. Hell, even Perez returned eventually. Then they snagged Dave Parker, and Eric Davis, and Paul O’Neil, and an on-fire reliever named John Franco. The team that would sweep the A’s in ’90 was coming together, and Rose’s big hit late in ’85 had set the whole thing up. Almost as if it was a screenplay for Anspaugh and Pizzo.
Then all the gambling shit happened. I still don’t know what irritates me the most about all of it. Hell… all of it irritates me. Bart Giamatti’s mobster persona filling up the screen during his press conferences. Watching Rose’s face contort like a guy getting kabob stick shoved up his ass when he denied betting on Reds games. All those clowns on ESPN throwing Rose onto the subway tracks with the smug conviction they were doing the honest work of a Woodward and Bernstein. It was horrible.
So there sits Rose at the top Major League Baseball’s all-time hits list, his name shaded in white on Wikipedia… An asterisk somewhere else… They all say the same thing: “Yeah, he holds the record, and yeah he actually did hit all those balls into play, but…”
“And finally, we have Ty Cobb. Once more, our final name is Ty…Cobb. Put those four in order, from the most hits to the least.” With that, Paul flipped a switch on his control board, and (fittingly) Don McClean’s “American Pie” flooded the pub.
Ken Burns all but painted Ty Cobb as a racist asshole, and a violent one at that. Since then other writers, often at the behest of the Cobb Estate, have argued otherwise. Go figure. All the rumors that he sharpened his spikes are probably bullshit, but he was still a savage fighter who would barrel into the bleachers and clobber hecklers in a blind rage. Maybe Cobb had a genial side. Maybe he was a charitable soul when removed the stirrups and pinstripes. But I doubt it. You don’t grow up the son of a mother who killed his father and not find yourself moderately fucked up in the process. The irascible, combative asshole on the diamond was no doubt equally a dick in sum and total in his saddle-shoes and double-breasted blazer.
Before me, Dorian Stout leaned against the pint glass bearing her name. She looked slender and polished. Her trousers tapering the length of her legs, wrapping snuggly around her two-toned, button-down Madisons were accentuated by her perfectly fitted topcoat. The lapels crossed her breasts with the slightest curve as they angled their way from her collarbones to the bottleneck at her waistline. Her black locks stopped at her shoulders, curving in waves that revealed splashes of soft gray and even white. She had tipped her top-hat a smidge toward her forehead. With one hand—from the same arm leaning against the pint glass at the elbow—she casually fiddled with the hat, moving it slightly back and forth. The other hand was wrapped around her stylish cane.
She said nothing as she eyed me. While her pale nose, her reddened cheeks, and her obsidian eyes entranced me, I ignored her likeness etched on the glass. That Dorian sat in the pint glasses’ portrait window looking haggard and wrinkled. The black hair flooded with wisps of white and seas of gray. While the eyes standing beside the glass seduced me, those on the glass harbored cruelty and bore upon me with the piercing sort of hatred you get from a scorned lover—a gaze I knew all too well.
Slowly I moved my line of sight from the lithe figure on my booth table and turned it to the names on the paper before me:
- Pete Rose
- Ty Cobb
- Paul Molitor …?
- Derek Jeter …?
I let out a breath and shoved the list to Max and Sarah for their approval.
A month has passed since Maxwell Beauregard Anderson hurled his fist into my nose. It still hurt, at least it did when I sneezed, or when I would push firmly against my nose. I’m not really sure why I did that so often, but every ten or fifteen minutes, suffocating anxiety would flood me, and I’d need to push against it…I guess to make sure it was still there.
When Grendel’s first launched trivia, they determined who won The Saxon Keg by adding up each week’s point totals. That turned out to be a disaster. When Team Zen pulled off a string of three consecutive wins in the summer of ’14, two of them came on impossibly hard nights. Name the four longest rivers in the world…? Match each famous psychologist with his particular school of thought…? Who was the woman who formed an organization opposed to Dungeons and Dragons…? Shit like that.
We all crawled out of those bloodbaths with measly totals. Team Zen won one contest with fewer than 60 points. So, when our team—my old team, that is—won the next two weeks scoring almost 200 points on a slew of “Disney-Level” questions, Team Zen weren’t feeling much like turning the other cheek about it.
Out of that drama—which included a smidge of shouting and maybe one pale ale down the back of Aldrich Evenson’s corduroy sportscoat—a point system was born. First place bagged you 50 points for the season, regardless of the game total. Second earned 40, third 30, fourth 20, and fifth got you 10. It was fair. If you showed up and got your wins…? Great. If you missed a week or two…? That was on you.
Such was the case for a number of teams throughout the school year. Thanks in part to middle school basketball games, sick grandparents, and bouts of the flu, the leaderboard shuffled considerably in the four weeks since Max tagged me in the face. But as the late winter grey skies succumbed to bits and pieces of sunshine so too fell the frequent absences. Too bad for The C-Chord Walk Downs. After a pair of good weeks finishing “in the money” against a reduced field, Team Zen had reemerged from hibernation and the Make Trivia Great Again crew was back to full force. Well… as “full” as they would ever be without me.
I still don’t know why Max and Sarah sidled into the same booth with me the week after the punch-out. But they did. That said, life also didn’t go on as if nothing had happened. Max deftly kept all of the conversation on the game, and Sarah—who clearly didn’t want to be near me—said a whole lot of nothing…verbally, that is. She said plenty with her eyes. None of it good. Amid the tension, to put it bluntly, we killed the field.
Well, most of it. The “Ken Dolls” spent March methodically tearing apart every question Paul threw at us. But try as might, I never caught them Googling a single answer. Not a goddamn one. Their brilliance utterly befuddled me. It’s not like Ephraim College thrived on a 7% acceptance rate. Hell no. They took in almost 70% of the kiddos who applied, and probably a third of those were legacy types, minted for four years thanks to pops and granddad.
For his part, Max still played the game with the same, enviably childish vigor that he’d played before the fight. When Paul threw a Spaghetti Western question to the field, he nailed Sergio Leone as the genre’s most celebrated director.
“Ha!” he cheered when Paul announced the answer. “I knew it!” I tapped on the table with my index finger and looked at Sarah, who gave me about two seconds of eye-to-eye contempt before averting her gaze.
Halfway through the game, Paul routinely hits everyone with a “Gambler’s Question.” The point values are doubled, but unlike normal rounds, this question comes with risk. Get it wrong, you lose the points. Easily the most conservative member of the team, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to talk teammates out of betting away all our points on stupid answers.
“Do you know this for sure?” I would ask. “A hundred percent? Ninety-five?”
“What Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife was also the patron god of lost souls and the helpless?” Paul asked.
“Anubis!” Max snapped excitedly. “It’s Anubis!”
“You’re sure…?” I asked. Automatically.
He was. We bet the full amount—sixteen points. It was Anubis.
“Ha!” Max exclaimed. He was about to roll his fist in the air a let out a “whoop,” but Sarah reached for his forearm and further restrained him with her expression. I flashed her a grateful nod. I think I even smiled. Once more she looked at me just long enough to let me know how much she hated me, then she moved her eyes to the Butler-Xavier game on the TV screen mounted over my shoulder.
An hour later, Max pushed my list of baseball players back across the surface of the table. He nodded and shrugged ambivalently.
Why it was that Catharine Addleson-Smith abruptly sat down beside me remains a bit of mystery. I say “a bit” because plenty of circumstantial reasons exist. For one—and this can’t be discounted—Grendel’s was a packed house that evening. Seating spaces were at a premium on Tuesday nights, especially during the school year. Catherine Addleson-Smith was a woman who looked fit enough to stay on her feet for a long time. Most of the day, most likely. But her face bore all the signs that she had crossed her threshold.
For another reason, Catharine Addleson-Smith and I had been “digital friends” since at least Obama’s reelection, and casual acquaintances before then. A science professor (of some sort) at Ephraim, her online history is chock full of all that esoteric gobbledygook that college types like to share with the rest of us: Condescending editorials from The Guardian, five paragraph analyses of Claude Lorrain and J.M.W. Turner paintings, and excoriating teardowns of all my favorite Netflix shows. After she essentially told my I was stupid because I thought Star Wars was symbolically relevant, I moved her to “Unfollow” status.
She was probably two or three years older than me. Like my own hair, hers bore the earmarks of aging, appearing stiffer and scratchier that it probably looked when she wore it in that long, blonde braid I once saw in one of her rare, sentimental posts. She deftly placed her index finger on the list of ball players before us and drew it toward her. She tilted her chin up and peered at the names through the bottom third of her eyeglasses.
“That’s not right,” she said. Max and Sarah sat transfixed. Moderately befuddled.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’ve got Jeter and Molitor reversed,” she answered.
“No way,” I said. “Molitor got a base-hit in 39 straight games. There’s no way a guy that productive gets outhit by Jeter.”
“So what?” Catherine Addleson-Smith muttered, waving me off with a dismissive flip of her wrist. “Babe Ruth isn’t even in the top 40.”
“Yeah…” I said defensively, “I know that.” I had no idea, of course. I assumed Ruth was at least a top-20 producer, if not in the top ten. Turns out he’s currently 45th.
Moments later, as Paul read the correct answer to the crowd, Catherine Addleson-Smith sat calmly, her arms folded, a subtle grin pursing her chapped lips. Max whooped and cheered as he tallied the points. Sarah, meanwhile, shot passing glances toward Catherine, rolled her gaze over the top of my head and planted her vision on the television, desperately trying to engross herself in two schools she cared nothing about playing a game she loathed.
On the table before me, Dorian Stout twirled her cane and shot me her own grin, one far more soothing than anything coming from the likes of my teammates. And on the pint glass beside her, that older and life-worn version of Dorian Stout had morphed into something uncomfortably familiar. Carefully I threw quick glances from Catherine Addleson-Smith to the woman appearing on my pint glass. Slowly, I took a few deep breaths and ignored the growing similarity between the two.
Image Credits: Dorian Stout image via Scarlet Lane Brewing