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Haight Street smells like bong residue left on a beer-soaked couch overnight. The smoke from sandalwood incense wafting out of the Liquor and Vitamin store adds to the reek. Me and Edge sit on the cement outside Amoeba Records panhandling for change. Edge has a cardboard sign that says, “This is a stick-up,” mine says, “Got money?”
Last night we slept in the park with our buddy, Ramone. He works as a runner for this guy who sells bad weed to tourists. He can make a hundred dollars in an afternoon talking up high school girls with their Gap hippie ensembles, fake tie-dye, and designer bindis. They come to the Haight with their Daddies’ money, buying up all the rainbow glass pipes and Fillmore posters, trying to be Grace Slick for a day. Then they go back to their six-bedroom homes in the suburbs and smoke the cheap shake Ramone sold them.
I’ve been in the city since June. Me and my girlfriend Holly spent the summer in Golden Gate Park with other raggedy-ass skater kids. We had our own fort built into a bush near the Tea Garden where all these Chinese ladies practice their Feng Shue Do or whatever. We’d all be on acid, watching these Asian grandmas waving their arms like Bruce Lee, taking these totally Ninja-like steps. One time when we were on X we went right up to them, trying to copy their moves. They just kept swirling, totally calm, like they didn’t see us at all.
Holly went back to her mom’s house in August to finish up high school. She’s one of those girls who can go off the deep end then get it together real quick. I have no plans except to get stoned every day. Like Bob Marley, I believe that the herb is a sacrament, and I am incredibly faithful to my religion. I guess you could say I’m a priest.
The other thing I do is skateboard. After Holly left, I spent my days skating this hill near the Haight that looks over the city. I like the speed and the wind in my ears when I’m riding downhill. I even love that black hole feeling I get when some biker dude pulls out in front of me and I have to yank to the side with all of my weight to get out of his way. The moment after that happens is awesome. I almost die, and when I don’t, it’s like this Mariachi band starts beating their drums and playing their horns so loud I can’t think. The rest of the day, I walk around with a grin on my face.
I have more time on my hands and no money since Holly went home. I’ve never been too good at stealing, so begging for change is my hustle. Ramone and Edge are real cool about sharing. We’re sort of like Communists, each to his own, or however they do it. Things were just fine until one day the forces that be threw a wrench in our plans.
I don’t know what Sept. 11th looked like if you weren’t high, but I can tell you me and six other dudes watched it on this TV they had in a gas station, and we were like, holy shit. We saw one plane hit the trade tower, BANG, then the other plane hit the next one, BANG. Then the whole buildings burned up and fell to the ground. We were all stoned, and a couple of kids started laughing.
On that day a lot of things changed. To begin with, Ramone said he couldn’t smoke pot any more cause it made him too paranoid. I was stoked when he gave me the leftover shake from his work. Edge went the opposite way. He said if the world was ending, he might as well party. He started drinking King Cobra at ten in the morning and kept it up until night.
Our main hobby got ruined. We had been going to the knothole at Pac Bell Park for the last six games because Barry Bonds was close to hitting the home run world record. Me and Barry have always been tight. We’re both from San Carlos, and I played in the same Little League he did. Also, my nickname is B.B., because my name is Brian Bohmer, which is sort of a random coincidence. Me and my stepdad Eddie used to watch all his games on T.V.
After Sept. 11th, the baseball games were postponed. If you were ever given a chance to see history and it was taken away, you’d be sort of bummed. Especially if you were people like us who go to the knothole, this fenced-off place at the back of the park where we watch the game free.
On September 16th, after barely scraping together six bucks because the rich hippie girls weren’t coming into the city any more, Ramone said he was checking himself in to this young people’s shelter on Haight Street. Ramone was our meal ticket. If he was leaving, Edge and me would have a hard time on our own.
“Come with me,” Ramone said.
Edge put down his 40-ouncer. “Dude, that place is hardcore. They make you do chores and have curfew.”
“It’s temporary,” Ramone said. “The whole world is about to explode. Aren’t you sick of this shit on the street?”
In a way I was. Without Holly or Bonds, my life wasn’t as fun. The only thing I did now at night was get stoned and look at the stars. Even that wasn’t great since I’d traded the telescope Eddie gave me for pot. Still, that didn’t mean I wanted to live in some barracks with other gross kids. Not to mention those places had lame counselors who never did shit with their own lives and took out their problems on people like us.
“No way,” Edge said. “That place is funded by the CIA. You get in there, sign a contract, next thing you know they ship you off to Afghanistan.”
Ramone shook his head. “Fine. Stay on the street if you think it’s so great.”
“I’ll try it,” I said. I didn’t know what else I could do. When Holly left, she took her ATM card with her.
“Shit!” Edge said, trying to laugh as we picked up our blankets and coats. “You guys are sell-outs. You’re lost, man, you’re indoctrinated. You’re like the living robots. Have fun selling your soul. I’ll be right here. You’ll know where to find me. Have a great time in Afghanistan.”
The youth shelter was lame, but it had real beds and hot showers. We had to do chores, but they weren’t really hard, and they hooked us up with jobs to earn money. My counsellor Mark was OK. He kept giving me the third degree about my family like they were some hidden gem that he needed to polish. I told him there wasn’t much to report – my mom was a slut and my stepdad moved to New Mexico.
One day in October I was walking home from my third day at work when I noticed a newspaper. The headline said “70.” When I got to the shelter, I ran to Ramone’s room. He was on his bunk listening to his Walkman, reading a K-Force comic.
“Dude!” I said, as he took off his earphones. “Bonds hit 70! He’s one away from the world record!”
“I heard that,” he said. “He’s gonna go all the way.”
“Come on. There’s still time to get down there.”
“It’s curfew. If we leave now, they’ll never let us come back.”
“Don’t be a douche, it’s once in a lifetime!”
“No way, man. Just take a time out.”
“Time up,” I said, and like that I was gone.
Back on Haight Street, I went looking for Edge. A group of dirty kids with a pit bull were sitting on the sidewalk in front of Amoeba records. Edge was slumped against the wall in his khaki jacket.
“Edge!” I said. “Dude, wake up.”
His eyes didn’t open. He was lying there, passed out or asleep, so I kicked him.
“Edge, it’s me, B.B. Barry Bonds hit 70, man. We’ve got to go to Pac Bell.”
“B.B.?” he said. His eyes were half-open. “You got five dollars?”
“No, man. Come on.”
“Can you lend me ten dollars?”
“Dude, Bonds hit 70. Tonight’s the big game.”
He managed to wobble onto his feet, then tried to grab me by the shoulders. “I’m sick, B.B. Give me ten dollars!”
I pushed him off and he fell to the ground in a heap.
“You fucking cheapskate!” he said as I bailed.
I hopped on my skateboard and started up Haight Street. The traffic was heavy, and the wind was blowing against me. I tried pass a big bus and then had to totally dive when this mini-car swerved. I finally got on the sidewalk. For once, I needed to make it somewhere without getting killed.
It took me a half-hour to get to Van Ness. From there, I passed through a really bad hood. The thing about skating is nobody fucks with you. They figure you’re just fast enough to outrun them, and too poor to rob. I get in this groove with my left leg pumping so fast I don’t even feel it.
Outside the park the streets were jammed. The game wasn’t for hours, but thousands of people were already there. I picked up my skateboard and weaved my way through. Music was playing, and flags that said “70” were hanging from every building.
To get to the knothole, I had to walk in back of the park alongside the bay, where kayaks and boats were already waiting to catch Bonds’ homerun. There’s a fence you can peek through to see who’s batting for free. I forced my way into the crowd of people standing behind lucky bastards whose faces were pressed up against the wire mesh of the fence. If I kept my position, and nobody moved, I might be able to see Barry’s feet. Then again, if some people left, I might get in closer.
The first inning L.A. was at bat. One of their balls hit the fence, and we all screamed as the Giants right fielder ran towards us. When their turn batting was over, we stood on our tip-toes because we knew Bonds would hit fourth.
By this point I could not see the field. Everyone had pushed in closer, the tall people had grown, and the short people were wider. Bodies and heads blocked my view. There was one little place I could duck towards and just see home plate. When I did that, the kid near me pushed.
“I’m trying to see,” I said.
“Knock it off,” he said, not looking at me.
When the third batter struck out, hip-hop music started playing and a loud cheer went up. Suddenly all of us were rammed from behind, as folks started forcing their way towards the knothole. I was smashed into the kid, and by stepping just one foot in front of him I could see perfectly.
“Move,” he said sharply, and shoved me.
“Man,” I said. “Just let me stand here for Bonds.”
There was no getting around him. He was younger than me, but half a foot taller. I had no time to waste. “Dude, please. I’ll give you my skateboard.”
“Just this at-bat?”
“Yeah,” I said, and handed my skateboard to him. He looked at it and stood back while I moved eight inches in front where I could see everything.
Bonds took his position behind home plate, swinging his bat a few times. The crowd started chanting again. The pitcher brought his right hand in front of his face, then pulled it back, arching his arm. He stepped forward and threw a hard fastball. My eyes were on Barry’s chest, his black glove, and the twitch of his head under his helmet. The ball crossed home plate and he swung.
After Barry connected, he took a step back and just watched. The ball shot into a high arc over the field. As it continued to climb, the gasps in the crowd became screams. A jolt of electricity surged through my body. As I jumped up and down with everyone in the knothole, Barry’s ball left the park. We all whipped around, bouncing and screaming and saw it drop into the bay.
If people could burst into flames, I would have. My entire being exploded. The sky lit up with fireworks, which sounded like bombs and trailed like rain over the bay. Music was blasting, the ground was rocking, and I couldn’t hear myself scream. My head was on fire. My penis was hard. In fact, I probably came.
I was in the middle of a human sandwich, crushed inside the embrace. Everyone in the stands was waving American flags like Bonds had hit the ball straight into the face of Osama bin Laden. I fell behind the people in front of me to the back of the knothole.
By the end of the game, Barry Bonds had hit one more homerun, beating the world record at 72. I filed out of the park with thousands of people, hoping to find an empty phone booth. Out on the streets, everybody was shouting, and cars that went by were honking. I walked along the bay, yelling and waving back, until I found a phone. I picked up the receiver, looked out towards the bay and held up my finger to dial.
I wasn’t sure who I should call. The person I most wanted to tell was Eddie. He would be totally psyched. He had promised to get us Giants tickets when Pac Bell first opened.
But that was back then. In those days I still had my telescope Eddie had bought, and he still planned to adopt me. My name was going to be Brian Quinonez, which sounded so cool, and I would call Eddie Dad. But that was before mom slept with Alex, before Eddie went to New Mexico, and before he found out that he had a son. A son of his own, a real son.
I didn’t know before then that people were like planets in orbit. I thought they were more like the moon, waxing and waning, but still always there. When Eddie told me he was staying in Taos to be with his real son, a boy even older than me with his same black hair and brown eyes, I had no way of knowing that I would fall out of his solar system like an asteroid hitting the earth.
I held the phone in my hand and looked at the water. A brown beer bottle was floating on top of the bay. What was the beer bottle to the bay? Nothing. That’s what I was to Eddie.
I put some change in the phone and called Holly. Her mother picked up.
“Holly’s not here. Who is this?”
“B.B? Do not call this house again. Do you understand me? Do not call her. Don’t you ever come near her again.”
I hung up. I didn’t have any more change, so I called mom collect. When the operator asked if they’d accept the charges, I heard Alex’s voice say, “Yes.”
“B.B., where the fuck are you?”
“Let me talk to mom.”
“Your mom’s not here, where the fuck are you?”
“I didn’t call to talk to you, I called to talk to mom.”
“You don’t need to know where your mom is. She’s been out to the city three times looking for your little punk ass.”
“Give me her number.”
“You get your ass home right now.”
I hung up on him and sat down on the cement railing.
People were still flooding the streets coming out of the ballpark. A family in orange, all in Bonds sweatshirts, were laughing and walking in my direction. They had two boys who couldn’t have been more than eight, waving their orange balloons.
I didn’t know where to go next. I was too beat to get back to Haight Street. Near Fisherman’s Wharf, I turned left and found a small park with some trees. My legs were so sore, I dropped right down on the grass.
A car screeched by on the street in front of the park. Teenagers were hanging out of the window, yelling, “72!” I don’t know if they saw me, but one of them pitched their beer bottle in my direction. I ducked, and the thing hit the tree, shattering over my head.
That’s when I started thinking.
What the fuck did Barry Bonds care if I stood there watching him hit 72? He had millions of people screaming his name. He wasn’t thinking about some loser kid in the knothole when he crossed home plate.
And what the hell did I care? I didn’t hit it, I wasn’t the one getting millions of dollars, seeing my name up in lights. I was sleeping under a tree with broken glass falling on me. I didn’t even have my skateboard or someone to call.
I slept in the park that night and woke up cold with my stomach in knots, thirsty and needing to pee. I scrounged the trash for half-eaten sourdough bowls and plastic cups melted with ice and ate them on top of a newspaper that said “72” on one side and Taliban on the other. I walked six miles back to the Haight and found Edge who was still jonesing hard.
“You got any dope?” he asked when he saw me.
“Fuck off,” I said.
“Can you lend me ten dollars?”
“Don’t have it.”
He rubbed his eyes and managed to open one fully. “Did you see the big game?”
“I saw it.”
He looked at my feet. “Where’s your skateboard?”
He shifted his knee under his army surplus jacket. “Did you meet Barry Bonds?”
“If I did I would kick his prick ass.”
Edge slapped me five. I hocked a lugie for Mark and Eddie and Alex and Barry, four guys who hadn’t done shit for me. I sat down near Edge and we panhandled chicks for the rest of the buttsucking day.
Leah Griesmann was a 2010-2011 Steinbeck Fellow in Fiction at San Jose State University. Her stories have appeared in Fourteen Hills, Toyon, Swink, Paradigm Volume 3: The Best of Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry 2009, Lady Jane’s Miscellany, and The Cortland Review. She earned her MA in Creative Writing at Boston University and has taught writing and literature at Boston University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is currently finishing a novel and a collection of short stories.