Friday, April 17, 2009

"Play Ball!"

[this past Tuesday]
My mother: “Are you still alive?”
Me: “Yesterday was a long one.”
My mother: “The game was actually pretty good.”
Me: “There was a game yesterday?”

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Home Opener; it has become a yearly tradition for my friends and me. And it is quickly growing into one the city’s biggest annual events. I’ve gone to three of them now, and each year the crowds seem larger than those of the year prior.

We were surprised to hear, at around 8 a.m. that Monday morning, that our traditional tailgating location was closed due to construction. While this didn’t spell doom (most of Pittsburgh’s “North Shore” is a series of parking lots surrounding Heinz Field and PNC Park), it did mean that we were not going to be anywhere near our beloved 222 (the “Triple Deuce”), the dive bar that we pile into every year for rounds of cheap shots of Jack and Beam.

On the plus side, however, we had nearly doubled our numbers over last year’s party. The larger number of people and the change in location led to the new logistical headache of trying to coordinate everyone. TJ and a work buddy got to the parking lots around 8:30 a.m., a full two hours before I finally arrived. In between those two points in time were:
  • a stop for me at a grocery store to pick up burger buns and cheese;
  • me sitting in my car in the parking lot outside of Esq’s very upscale apartment building, taking swigs of Johnnie Black Label from my monogrammed hip flask [thank you, baby] as I awaited the arrival of my traveling group;
  • a dozen relayed text messages and phone calls between myself, Dupa, Chief, Baby Joey, and an increasingly agitated TJ.
Dupa met up with TJ while I was en route in a cab, and called to ask if anyone from our crowd was already down there. I told him that our friend Mudd had gotten down there early and set up camp; but, because neither he nor TJ had met Mudd before, I had not tried to coordinate their forced introduction to each other from my remote location. In passing I added, “He’s a large Black man in a cowboy hat.” 45 seconds later I got a text from Dupa: “We found Mudd, we’re at the spot.”

TD, Baby Joey, and I walked into a beauteous scene: our party stretched about five parking spots wide, and was flanked in every direction by others of similar sizes. Music was blasting from one of the SUVs in our section, and a large table next to it was filled to the edges with food, plates, utensils, drinks, and cups. Grills churned out smoke, games of beer pong raged on two tables that had been set up side-by-side, and everyone everywhere was tipping back some form of nectar. It was downright spiritual.

Pakistanimal, who was at another party nearby, stopped by with a friend of his for a little while. When they had left to go back to their party, someone said about the friend, “I don’t like that girl.” I responded, “I don’t hate her, but I don’t really care about her either. I nothing her.”

My boy, “Beard”, was on hand, which meant a bottle of Jim Beam was, too. Beard is a great character: muscle-bound but quiet and easygoing, he maintains a calm and steady presence, no matter the situation—and no matter his style of the moment. Two years ago, he showed up for the Home Opener with a thick Fu Manchu mustache and beard, and when I spotted him he was chewing on a turkey drumstick while wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses in 40 degree weather. This year he wore a wool ascot cap and shades, and had grown his beard into that of a cartoon devil’s, replete with a streak of gray running the length on either side.

He handed me the fifth of Beam, and as I took one long chug from it, I turned back towards TJ and his boy from work. TJ cracked up, and his friend had a look on his face like, “Who are these people?” And if that image wasn’t enough to freak him out, then the sight of Mudd, standing in the bed of his pickup—cowboy hat and all—popping and locking to some random song, had to be the tipping point.

Familiar faces from all around were gathered for the festivities. Tony arrived, as did Stacy and some of her girlfriends. Nate eventually joined us, as did Shock B. (who had slept through much of the morning). CJ made it for a second year in a row, rocking his routine guise of an overcoat, a cigarette, and hilarious sarcasm. We all ate, drank, and took turns knocking each other off the beer pong table. Chief roamed the party wearing a large pirate-like eye patch. I successfully haggled a guy selling Pirate gear down to $10 for a fitted cap marked at $31. Hollywood made an appearance, although he seemed much more reserved than usual—possibly to avoid repeating the embarrassment of some of his recent exploits. Dupa lifted girls into the air—including TD and her sister, who posed on his shoulders simultaneously—with drunken glee. Pakistanimal, having returned from the other party, inhaled a couple cups of Captain & Coke before deciding he wanted to wear a nearby traffic cone as a hat. Mudd bounced around with a special concoction in a large apple juice bottle, making sure everyone took multiple chugs, but refusing to reveal the recipe. As intoxicated as our shenanigans were, however, none were more ill-conceived than those of a certain girl at the party.

About midway through the day, I noticed a new partygoer. I don’t know whose guest she was, and I had never seen her before, not even earlier that day. She was a blonde of average height and well-above average weight. She seemed to be somewhat in denial about her dimensions, as she wore a t-shirt that was a couple of sizes too small. All too often it revealed her ample midsection and back—sprawled across which was a large tribal tramp stamp. An enterprising guy in our group (I don’t know him personally; I think he was part of Mudd’s extended crew) decided to make use of her self-esteem, which was almost as low as her alcoholic tolerance. I glanced over to the opened hatch of the SUV where he was reclined, receiving a…mouth hug…from Miss Stamp. As this was taking place in plain view of our entire party (and anyone else—including cops—walking past through the parking lot), she reneged shortly after beginning, and it seemed like that outrageous story had come to an end.

But this just wouldn’t be an “On the Rocks” party if it did. About ten minutes later the two of them had moved to the SUV’s passenger side door. She danced and grinded on him while he sat facing out of the open door. A couple of minutes later, she was back at work, her head bobbing up and down in his lap. Suddenly it seemed like everyone had a camera in their hand. People snapped action shots from any angle they could find, all while staying discreet enough to prevent Stamp from realizing that she was on Candid Camera. I stationed myself on the other side of Mudd’s pickup truck (which was next to the SUV) and got a couple of pictures, with Recipient looking directly at me and smiling for the camera. Dupa, approaching from a 90 degree angle, managed to get a much more XXX capture. After several minutes, Stamp came up for air, and in doing so noticed someone near the hood snapping photos. She called it a day—as though she had any dignity left to save.

Unlike in past years, the police set a sort of curfew, coming around not long after the game had begun to shoo away any tailgaters remaining in the lots. We packed up and headed across the street to Calico Jack’s. CJack’s almost always has scores of girls dancing on top of their bar. But there was a lack of female patrons doing it on this day, so some of the staff—most of whom wore black short-shorts and revealing Pirate-yellow tank tops—danced on top of the bars to compensate (right).

We partied at CJack’s for a while, and then moved to McFadden’s. My memory takes a sharp down-spike about this time, and since Pakistanimal was with us, I’m guessing shots were to blame. We lost Nate, Tony, and most of the others over time; eventually Pakistanimal, Dupa, and I were dining by ourselves at Hyde Park, toasting glasses of wine. Picturing our slurring, likely loud and inappropriate antics, I keep flashing to the restaurant scene in “Belly” where DMX toasted the slumped body of his soldier LaKid.

When we left the restaurant, Pakistanimal caught a cab home. I know that I walked across the 6th Street Bridge; Dupa swears he was with me, though I remember being alone. But the next thing he remembers after that is waking up naked on the couch in his apartment in the middle of the night, and hurling all over his bathroom, so I don’t know how well I trust his recollection. As for me, I ran into Baby Joey, CJ, and Chief just down the street from the bridge. I hopped into a cab with them, and we went to Primanti Brothers in the Strip District. We bought sandwiches and then went back to Esq’s, where Joey stealthily disappeared into the spare room and passed out under a blanket on the floor—next to a fully-inflated air mattress. After eating for a second time in less than two hours (don’t judge me), I regained some comprehension and headed home, another Home Opener conquered.

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