“Throw the Bum Out!”
By Robert Arellano
"And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket." — Ivan in Book V, Chapter 4 of The Brothers Karamazov.
It was an oversized “Wally cap,” so-called after the Red Sox’s green-monster mascot, that got snatched off a little boy’s head in front of the Granstand 12 hot-dog concession at Fenway Park on the evening of Thursday, May 1st, 2014, which triggered in this writer a cross-country epiphany.
Thursday was my travel day, and I left Medford, Oregon at 6 a.m., touching three airports to arrive in Boston at 5:20 p.m., where my best old buddy Duke picked me up with his two sons, Isaiah (8) and Oskar (3). We drove straight from Logan to Fenway in time for a beer and a pretzel before the 7 p.m. first pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays. At the bottom of the 5th inning, while searching for ice cream, we heard a woman yelling in front of the hot dog stand, and Duke, an afficionado of 19th Century Russian literature, did not bother to check in with me before making a beeline for the disturbance; Isaiah and I, holding Oskar’s hands, obligingly followed.
As hats go, the Wally balloon cap is not pretty. In the impaired judgment of the snatcher, it might have started innocently enough—grab at a goofy nuisance as it passes by, make his buddies laugh—but in this little corner of the universe, for him, the kid, the kid’s mother, and the half-dozen people who witnessed the incident, time briefly stopped. The mom let the guy have it: “You bum! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
A small crowd was gathering. I could barely see the guy at this point, but I could just feel how badly he’d like to disappear. He was Public Enemy Number One, backed up against the hot-dog stand, and he wasn’t going anywhere until the mother was good and finished.
“Pickin’ on a 10-year-old! He’s just a kid!” Police were standing by, but they weren’t going to interrupt the mother before she was done. “And this is his first major-league game! Shame on you!”
The mother looked around for the nearest ammunition, found it in the snatcher’s own hand, grabbed it, and splashed the contents of an entire collectible cup (nine dollars worth) of beer in PE#1’s face. Finally, a small mob of cops and baseball fans escorted the beer-soaked culprit to the exit, and we joined them, chanting: “Throw him out! “Go home!” “First game!” and “Shame!”
Satisfied, Duke smiled at me, and we resumed our search for ice cream.
As we drove away from Fenway that night, Duke and I elaborated for his boys on the great tradition, as both a remedy and deterrent for minor offences, of public humiliation. For instance how, in some languages, shame is used more regularly as a verb than as a noun.
In Oregon, victim, perpetrator, and bystanders would have crowd-sourced our karmic powers for collective healing and gone our separate ways contrite but a little wiser; but here in Boston, this early in the season, that wasn’t going to do it for this boy’s mother.
“Duke,” I cried, “Oregon needs Massachusetts!”
The next day, at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference, I told people about many good things happening in Oregon letters. I talked about the writing community around Literary Ashland, the title of an excellent and open blog edited by my friend and coworker Edwin Battistella, whose new book from Oxford University Press is titled Sorry about That: the Language of Public Apology.
I told people about Nicholas deWolf, just this year launched the Oregon Story Board, a statewide initiative to create “a collaborative community of digital storytelling innovators.”
And I told people about Literary Arts, Oregon’s community-based nonprofit literary center, whose mission is simply (and ambitiously) to engage readers, support writers, and inspire the next generation with great literature. If you live and write in Oregon, you need to know that the deadline to apply for the 2015 Oregon Literary Fellowships is on June 27 this year. And wherever you hail from, we’d like to invite you to Portland in September for Literary Arts’ 30th birthday celebration, an evening with Elizabeth Gilbert & Calvin Trillin at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
At the Muse and the Marketplace, I asked everyone I met whether there was one thing they’d like to see Grub Street develop further. One instructor who has been teaching workshops for years dreamed of a mini-sabbatical program that would allow exceptional teachers one workshop’s worth of compensation to make progress on their own projects, reminding me a little of the Oregon Literary Fellowships. I met several students who said they would be interested in “master classes” that could be taught online by working writers from outside the Boston area. And an office manager from Harvard who has taken a multi-week extended Grub Street workshops suggested three-day intensives around themes like “jump-start your story” and “the map to finish your MS.”
Oregon needs Massachusetts. And Boston needs Portland. We’re sister states, in a way, mirror cities on the continent, and spiritually connected in areas we’re just beginning to explore: in rich literary and cultural traditions; as incubators for youth and innovator opportunities; by injecting the arts into technology education, thereby turning STEM into STEAM. And finally, permeating it all, in our love of good stories, and of the people who bring them to life.
I’m still not sure that Wally-hat snatcher deserved a soaking, but he was lucky to get off without a tar-and-feathering.
Robert Arellano is Oregon’s 2014 Leslie K. Bradshaw Fellow in Fiction.See other articles by Robert Arellano