Jeff, Baseball, and
My First Pat Metheny Concert
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!
I spent sixteen years shackled to corporate America, incarcerated in a mind-numbing purgatory merely because I’ve been shaped throughout my entire life, via various social media, especially television, to sell my soul to Capitalism.
(noun): an egocentric, self congratulatory fantasy, speciously disguised as erudition that falsely proclaims: a singular, masculine, geriatric, white, omniscient and omnipotent deity (who looks anawful lot like Charlton Heston in his prime) has put humanity in charge of our planet’s “eternal” supply of exploitable resources used to immediately satisfy our society’s whims; that one should over-indulge because of Capitalism’s golden rule: He who dies with the most toys, wins!; that waste is a sign of deity-approved opulence, morally earned and measured by the stock exchange; that purchasing numerous, cheaply-made and-sold baubles will always positively stimulate the economy, which will help everybody, especially the downtrodden; that trickle-down economics is utilitarian; that the poor are the enemy of a healthy economy; that poverty is a choice; that homosexuality is a choice; that women who get abortions are whores, but the men who got them pregnant are merely uncontrollably
; that there will always be the poor so ignoring them is not only morally acceptable but strongly encouraged; that Reagan was a great president; and that ketchup is a vegetable.
Thank the omniscient and omnipotent deity (or metaphoric equivalent) that I was fired... I might’ve been encouraged to believe all this bovine feces. Actually, my incarceration into the festering bowels of the corporate world wasn’t as bad as I have delineated... well, during the time when I was actually experiencing the soul draining microcosm of social ennui... at least that’s what I have tried to convince myself; although, it did afford me the opportunity to hone my writing and singing skills in my spare time.
Of course, I worked with many wonderful people who enriched my life in very positive ways, but there were people employed by the corporation whose deaths wouldn’t cause me to lose any sleep. I am, however, sincerely grateful that the folks in the gilded upper echelon of corporate cupidity gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities. As to whether or not I earned my keep is not for me to say; I was a Senior Programmer, and my work was challenging and satisfying, which are two qualifiers by which I consider myself a success, and really, who cares what other people think?
Not long after I started working, I met a young man my age who has become one of my better friends. Jeff Smith told me that he played bass guitar. Throughout my life, I’ve heard countless people tell me that they play musical instruments only to find out later that they struggle with rudimentary chord changes, so I just nodded without thinking too much of what he had said; however, when I went to hear him play, he blew me away, and I am now one of his biggest fans... literally! I’ve always liked all kinds of music, but Jeff has helped shape me into a real fan of jazz!
It’s sort of interesting that my collegiate graduation and ensuing employment occurred about the time the Atlanta Braves became a very good baseball team, although I don’t deserve any recognition for stimulating this winning attitude. Few will recall that the professional baseball club from the Empire City of the South was the worst team in Major League Baseball in 1990―the worst! This was one year before the exciting game 7 against the Pittsburgh Pirates when Sid “leave-‘em-in-your-dust” Bream slid safely home in the bottom of the ninth against his former team (and his former manager Jim Leyland) to help the Braves capture the 1991 National League Championship over the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don’t want to take over Ken Burns’ job as baseball’s historian, but it was a pretty exciting series and especially more exciting because I have been a Braves fan ever since 1986 when I received an autographed baseball from Dale Murphy... and it’s currently on the entertainment center right next to my collection of porcelain figurines depicting the Kama Sutra.
So October rolls around in 1993 just as it does every year, and for the third year in a row, the Braves look like they’re headed for the playoffs. Jeff comes up to me one day and says, “Hey, you Genghis Khan looking mutant... ”
He really did like me at the time even though he made me pay him to be his friend.
“You want to go to a playoff game?” he asked.
“OK. But you gotta get the tickets. There’s nothing left but handicapped seats.”
Jeff took a lot of ribbing from some of our colleagues, but he is a pretty sharp individual, and he didn’t let it bother him in the least. Even though I still have to pay him so that I may call him my friend in public, he did allow me to sing at his wedding; maybe he did feel guilty about using me like a rented mule to get tickets to the game.
On our way out of the mega-metropolis of Columbus, Georgia, the Fountain City, we stopped by Mr. Bee’s Package store and picked up a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. The drive to Atlanta was relatively uneventful, and we entered the concrete jungle on I-85 anticipating an exciting evening that we would remember for the rest of our lives and possibly write down in an autobiographical manuscript delineating the lighter side of quadriplegia. Jeff found a parking spot where we could unload. Fulton County Stadium! It is now a parking lot for Turner Field, but this night it was to hold game 5 of the National League Championship Series. [Obviously, this passage was written before the Braves moved to their newest stadium in north Atlanta, but it’s still a wonderful story.]
The Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves were tied at two games apiece, so this was a crucial game for the home team. As soon as Jeff and I unloaded, we hid the bottle of rum behind my left leg, supported by the calve-rest of my wheelchair. The first thing we did after we passed the bronze statue of Henry Aaron and we entered the hallowed gates through the clamoring turnstiles, was to purchase a large cola. Next it was to the bathroom where we assiduously seasoned our beverage; then, like cats stealing through the Asian rain forest, we sinuously made our way to our seats (of course, I brought my own... seat, that is).
The game was great! Every half inning I would yell something derisive about Tim McCarver because he, in a word,
as a sports commentator. Actually, many sports announcers grate on my nerves because of their banality and incessant overstating of the obvious: “You know, Ed, catching the football is an integral part of the passing game.” Talk about your social welfare, but I digress...
There were a couple of young men about three rows in front of us, and they were very vocal Phillies fans. This, also, added to the fun; I am quite sure that the rum added nothing to the festive atmosphere... really!
Curt Schilling, who ultimately won the 1993 NLCS MVP, held Atlanta to four hits through eight innings, and the opposing team carried a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but a walk and an infield error put two men on. Our Phillies fans had been less vocal at this crucial point in the game but regained their playful and plangent animosity when Mitch “Wild-thang” Williams came in the game to relieve the Phillies’ very effective starting pitcher; however, Mitch allowed a trio of singles that tied the game... in the bottom of the ninth! Dreams of victory overtook us; Jeff and I began to deride Tim McCarver even more aggressively. Our Phillies fanatics were struck silent, but they had the last laugh. In the top of the tenth inning Lenny Dykstra’s solo homer restored the Phillies’ lead.
After the crack of the bat, our Phillies fans jumped up and started doing a limp-wristed tomahawk chop lethargically raising their arms above their heads and slowly bringing them down towards their respective crotches, mocking Atlanta in an almost vulgar and spastic manner. I yelled out to the two, “It looks like you’ve been practicing that move... alone!” The young men looked quickly and aggressively back at me, but when they saw the
poor, little, innocent crippled boy’s
smiling at them from his demilitarized wheelchair, they slithered back down in their seats trying to shield themselves from the laughter of two ingenues sitting just in front of us. (Incidentally, the girls laughed at our comments about Tim McCarver, too, but never looked back; or maybe they did look back once and decided at that moment not to take the chance again of making eye contact with me, eye contact that might require an obligatory greeting and subsequent minor conversation with me, a crippled mutant troll bent on the destruction of an abrasive, yet innocuous, sports announcer.) Veteran reliever Larry Andersen blanked the Braves in the bottom of the tenth, striking out the final two batters and preserving the win for the Phillies.
My friendship with Jeff grew through the following years, so much so that he allowed me to sing with him in the Eclectic Band. Elwood Madeo played guitar for the second incarnation of the band together with another good friend John David, who still plays a mean set of drums. Early in January 1995, I heard about a Pat Metheny concert at the fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta. After I told Jeff about it, we made plans to gather some friends and go check out the magic of one who has become my favorite guitarist.
We gathered three more friends to join us on our excursion to Atlanta: Robert Orr, the best guitarist I’ve ever met and actually know; Mark Parker, a very talented percussionist; and Mark’s wife Marion. We took my van, obviously because of its wheelchair lift, and, once again, traveled I-85 to the concrete jungle. The ride up to Atlanta was a riot with Robert and Jeff in the front seat parodying everything, so the actual journey itself seemed short. When we pulled onto Peachtree Street (well, at least one of them!), Jeff showed my handicap parking permit to the policeman controlling traffic, and the officer directed us into a parking lot adjacent to the fabulous Fox Theater―an auspicious harbinger of a wonderful evening of, if I may be so bold, musical enchantment.
We unloaded, but I crossed the parking lot instead of taking the sidewalk that ran alongside the theater because I like to ride on large flat areas instead of assiduously maneuvering my large electric wheelchair on slender sidewalks where a slipped belt or a spasm could cause me to careen off the five inch sheer drop onto a concrete or asphalt bed. Five inches may not seem much to a vertical, but I have no desire to kiss any adamantine surface that might cause me permanent damage; I think quadriplegia is a good enough challenge at this point in my life; although, I’ve been toying with blindness; it’d be kind of funny to have to learn Braille with my nose because I am unable to feel the bumps of Braille with my fingertips.
When we got near the facade of the building, I noticed that a police car, one of three clustered at the entrance of the parking lot, was blocking the ramp that was my access back onto the sidewalk. I said rather sarcastically, with my voice slightly elevated, “Oh good! A government vehicle blocking the ramp,” and I quickly turned around to head back to the sidewalk ramp that was nearer to where we had initially parked, the same sidewalk and ramp I had forgone moments earlier; however, one of the officers called after me and told me that he would move the car.
I felt a twinge of guilt as I turned back around because that officer was so humble and amiable about the whole thing. As I approached the ramp, not quite four feet away from it, another officer extended his rigid pointer finger to my obvious destination and said in a voice that I interpreted as haughty and captious, “There’s the ramp” with an implied
as the subject of his derogatory sentence. Without hesitation and while still looking at the ramp, I retorted, “I can easily see the ramp; I just can’t walk.”
Keep in mind that this wasn’t far removed from the infamous Rodney King beating, and the police were wrongly viewed as potential thugs instead of the public servants whom I admire and for whom I'd pay extra taxes to remunerate more generously for putting their lives on the line every day. Be that as it may, my friends and I immediately hastened toward the box office without any further incident involving our boys in blue―another favorable omen forecasting a great evening.
When I bought the tickets for the concert I went through a second-party vendor, and I requested an aisle seat. I told the vendor over the phone that I was in a wheelchair, that I would arrive at the concert early and transfer into the seat with little trouble—The handicapped seating area at the Fox is far to the right of the stage behind massive columns and not very good seats from which to see a show, so this is why I lied to the vendor.
I knew that I might have a little trouble when we actually got to the theater because the ushers at the Fox claim that it’s a fire hazard for a wheelchair to be parked in the middle of the aisle, an aisle in which three large wheelchairs can fit side by side. This, as you might expect, got me to thinking: where, pray tell, is a wheelchair going to be if a fire happens during a show? Is the poor wheelchair-bound patron destined to become a conflagrant example of political absurdity because she’s not allowed in the aisle? Would it not be safer for the wheelchair to be already in the aisle, more prepared to move out when a fire breaks out? Obviously, I have no qualms with not adhering to this insipid rule, and I figured that if I talked to the person in charge, she’d see the situation more clearly and allow me to sit in the aisle near my friends’ seats. I merely expected a good seat from which I could enjoy the show
be near my friends.
We entered the magnificent building and, sure enough, the usher questioned our seating arrangements. As I was mentally prepared for this, I amiably asked the usher if I could speak to her supervisor. I learned long ago that arguing with the lower echelon of any place of business is as useful as asking a Baptist preacher for a loan or to lower the rent on his rental property. Basically, the usher was following orders and could in no way approve anything I may have questioned or wished changed. The usher was very pleasant and asked me to follow her. As we made our way through the imbroglio of people, Jeff stepped into the restroom; I suppose he was a little tired. When we stopped before a closed door, the usher asked us to wait as she went in to perform the secret mandatory obsequies involved with seeking an audience with her supervisor. We waited patiently but were getting a little anxious because show-time was quickly approaching and we didn’t want to miss any of it.
Finally, a man in a business suit came out, handed another usher some tickets, and whispered something to him. He then faced us and requested that we follow the usher with whom he had just spoken and that the usher would take care of us. As we started toward the auditorium, Jeff rejoined us and asked where we were going. I thought I heard the man in the business suit say something about the orchestra pit, so I whispered to him, “I think we’re going to the front.” We made our way past many seats toward the front of the stage, our smiles growing larger as we moved closer to Bob Ucher’s seat. As Thor is my witness, we were escorted to the
! and since practically everyone else was behind us, the Pat Metheny Group (PMG to the hip) seemed to play exclusively for me and my friends!
The music was ineffably magical, and I can say without a doubt that it was the best concert I had ever been to. I have since seen The Pat Metheny Group twice more, and a trio with Pat Metheny, Christian McBride on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. I enjoyed myself beyond expression. I’m not sure what kind of celestial influences, if any, created this perfect evening, but I would like the thank whatever forces involved, and to quote Willie:
T’is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are pleased with fortune—often the surfeit
of our own behavior,—we give credit for our
pleasures the sun, the moon, and the stars, as
if we were honest on necessity, lucky by
heavenly compulsion, lovers, dreamers, and
enchanters by spherical predominance; artists,
musicians, and dancers by an enforc’d obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are grateful in,
by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his good fortunes
on the charge of the star!
In the end, the concert was perfect. I’m not sure if any spiritual or celestial force was the impetus of the magic we experienced, but there was a special force that brought our group closer together. Maybe it’s the power of music, or the power of Atlanta, or the power of friendship... or maybe it’s the power of quadriplegia, that ineffable force that can develop and nurture a peace between two possibly irrevocable adversaries even though it is still ineffective when in comes to mastering stairs.
Peace Through Music
 The true MLB home run leader unassisted by PEDs and unaffected by unjustified megalomania
 A nickname for those of you who walk upright.
 It’s a joke! Get it? Tired... REST-room?
 King Lear (I.ii.118-128)