Seven Stray Days in May

1. We sidle halfway into the row. It's the bottom of the first, two outs. No one's happy about the timing of our arrival. Understand-ably. After all, our passing blocks each person's view for 1.3 se

May 24, 2001 at 2:06 pm

1. We sidle halfway into the row. It's the bottom of the first, two outs. No one's happy about the timing of our arrival. Understand-ably. After all, our passing blocks each person's view for 1.3 seconds and a game is only 10,000 or 12,000 seconds long. Sor-ry.

I'm carrying a hot dog and a beer; my nephew, Glenn, has opted for the crabcakes and a Long Island iced tea. Later, when he launches into his recurring lament about player salaries wrecking the game, I'll have to inform him that, personally, I believe his choice of ballpark refreshments (not to mention their availability) constitute a greater threat to the traditions of our National Pastime than if the infield grass were to be replaced with Saltillo tile.

He'll balk.

Roll his eyes. Argue. Because Glenn's grown up with a different game than I did. The DH, three divisions, wild card teams, the World Series wrapping up around College Bowl season — he's fine with that stuff. Whatever. One thing's for sure, though: By game's end, none of that crap'll matter and we'll be jawboning about the one subject all true baseball fans agree on — Bob Costas must be killed.

2. There's a tornado warning in effect until 8 p.m. (A tornado warning means conditions are right for frequent program interruptions by fear-mongering meteorologists repeatedly cautioning us of the potential for certain doom.) Lightning cracks. Thunder explodes. The house rattles and shivers. The dog trembles, looks to me with uncomprehending eyes. To this beast I am God, and at this moment he clearly expects me to do something Godlike. Pointing toward the fulminating heavens, I shout, "That, vile cur, is for the hunching of my leg last night." What can I say? I'm an Old Testament kind of God.

3. Dinner alfresco. How continental.

Most of our open-air companions are cigarette smokers. How very continental. Our waiter is indifferent, rude and largely invisible. Continental? Mais oui. The petite portions are a red cape waved in front of the snorting bull that is my appetite, yet the prices are staggering. C'est trés, trés continental, aussi.

We dine and dash. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

4. This day was made for a convertible. Not owning one, I head to my nearest Audi dealership. There, I ask to test drive a new TT Roadster. The salesman turns me down flat. And, for the first time, I'm screwed by a car salesman without any money changing hands.

5. I grab a soda from deep, deep down in the sweaty, ice-packed, galvanized tub. I sharply blow the clinging, frosty chips off the can top, then pop it, phttt. The cola's cold is vicious; the carbonation stings my throat with needles of painful refreshment. Oh-h-h, yeah. Picnics are so fine!

Over there, in the meadow, a Frisbee makes slicing sorties over butterfly airspace. The sweet slap of ball on mitt, the bright clang of well-aimed horseshoes and myriad birdsong create a fantasia en plein air.

Soon, gathered children will glow orange, faces reflecting a campfire's toasting embers. Chaste marshmallows will be violated by whittle-tipped sticks and plunged into the purifying inferno, while the scent of burnt sugar mingles with pine smoke to paint the languid air of creeping darkness ... .

"Umm, babe, don't let me have any more of those brownies from the 'grown-up' pan."

6. I pour a splash more coffee and look out the kitchen window at the backyard. The lawn needs cutting. The lawn needs fertilizing. The lawn needs weeding. And seeding. And aerating. Watering. Thatching. Edging. Jesus. (That last is an expression of disbelief; my lawn doesn't need Jesus. Probably.)

I upend my cup in the sink. Time to get to it. I want this kitchen window boarded over by noon.

7. Mom is ready to go to the cemetery. Make that cemeteries, plural. Her folks are in one; her grandparents are in another; her sister in a third. This is the same circuit Dad used to call the "Ritual Memorial Day Tour." Of course, that was before Dad became "Tour Stop No. 4." In the years since I took over as wheelman, I've re-christened it as "Mom's (End-of-the-) Road Show."

Graveside, it occurs to me what a lousy, stupid, pointless holiday this is. Visiting the dead. As if they care. I decide then and there that my time on this planet would be much better spent giving more attention, more care, more love, to the living. Of course, that means next year at this time, I'll have to come up with some tactful but airtight way to blow Mom off. ©