I; 1. The server at Acapulco's gently places a kid-size poolful glass of margarita on my table, the periscope of a straw staring into me. I pluck it out, lick the part of the straw soaking in margarita, then sip, watching grains of salt float into my mouth slowly. It burns away the knots in my neck and back. I look at the menu for something that won't punch me in the stomach later.
"Thank gawd that bahstad's dead." Someone at the bar yells before beer bottles, mugs, shot glasses, margarita glasses clink. I look over and see a photo of George Steinbrenner on the TV, glaring over his shoulder, the Yankees cap making it more cutting. Beneath it reads "1930-2010". I raise my glass, think about pouring a little on the floor before taking another sip. The Boss isn't getting a cut of this.
Walking back to the hotel, I see traffic flowing normally. I'm thinking if I was a little closer to Boston, traffic would be at a standstill, people running through the stopped cars hugging and yelling and celebrating the death of Steinbrenner, like he was hung out for all to see and the people could throw rotten fruit, people burning him in effigy. The hotel lobby's quiet and groggy. I punch "5" and head up to my room.
The local TV stations regurgitate the bursting of Steinbrenner's heart but nothing about the streets of Boston flowing with beer and blood, no pyres made of Yankees merchandise or Seinfeld DVD sets. I thought these people hated the Yankees. I'm disappointed by this lack of celebration.
2. "What kind of faggy shit is this," my father yelled. I put my hand over Leona's mouth, whisper "shhh" before removing my hand.
"Reg, what the fuck was that about?"
"We need to get our clothes on. Now. We have two, maybe three minutes before he'll be up here."
I threw the comforter off of us. I scrambled all over the room, stumbling into my pants, my shirt. I looked over and Leona's already dressed though I can see her nipples teasing me through her shirt. We opened our history textbooks and notebooks. Our pens hovered over the college ruled paper when three knocks slammed at my door before it flew opened.
"Goddammit Reggie, there is some faggy shit going on right now, you need to come see."
"Dad, I'm in the middle of homework."
"Fuck your homework. Get your ass downstairs to the living room, right now."
I followed my father downstairs to the living room and there was Alex Rodriguez karate chopping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove.
'What kind of fucking faggy shit is this? All this fucking money just to have a guy who can't hit worth shit and can't even be man enough to get tagged for an out? Godfuckingdamnit." Over my father's shoulder and veins, I watched Leona creep down the stairs and then wave quietly before slipping through the door.
3. "Keep your eyes on the road, Reggie."
I-275 scared the shit out of me being over all that water, the possibility of losing control of the car and having nowhere to go but down.
"I am, dad, I am."
"You better not get us killed on the way. You know how long it's been since I've seen the Yankees play?"
"Don't roll your eyes at me, motherfucker. Keep them on the fucking. road."
"What kind of shit is this? A stadium with a roof?"
We stared at Tropicana Field from the parking lot, dad the Marlboro dragon huffing ash and smoke, windows closed.
"Happy birthday..." Dad puffed harder. “What the fuck is so happy about it? We're at a fucking stadium with a dome which probably means these fucks play on AstroTurf, too."
"How do you know that, dad?" His right hand hit me on the back of the head like a leathery toy shovel.
"If you’d actually keep up with the game instead of listening to noise and chasing pussy, you'd know most indoor stadiums use AstroTurf. Doesn't matter what the sport is. If your field is made of AstroTurf, your team is a fucking pussy."
"If that's your theory dad, then that means the Yankees should trample these assholes." Dad squinted like he wanted to tear out my throat and use the new hole as an ashtray.
"I don't like easy games, boy. I like close ones, games won and lost by pitching and defense, not this power hitting bullshit. Fuck Mantle and Maris. The Yanks need more guys like Whitey Ford breaking bats and spirits."
"You wanna get out of here then?"
"No..." Dad finally opened a window, threw a butt out. "You bought the tickets and drove us all the way out here. The least we can do is go inside and raise some Hell, maybe even sneak you a beer or two. Maybe I can get you drunk enough to help your old man fuck with these assholes."
I got out of the car and opened the door for him. We walked through the parking lot, dad the Marlboro dragon leaving a trail of ash and smoke in his wake.
4. "I'm so sorry about your dad." The sentence lobs over my shoulder, smacking against my dad's closed mahogany coffin. Fingers grip my shoulders gently. My muscles remember that touch and I turn and standing in front of me is a petite, firm man with a crew cut, thin brown facial hair, a tasteful black three piece suit, and green eyes I remember waking up to. "It's been awhile."
"Reg, it's Leon. It's been Leon awhile now."
"What are you doing here?" I fight to keep my voice treading a whisper.
"To say goodbye to your dad and...maybe run into you."
"Reggie, who are you talking to?" My mother shambles over, using me as a crutch to keep her steady.
"Um...this...is my buddy from college, Leon. We were in the same grad program. He's here to pay his respects."
"He was always disappointed that you never played baseball or any sports." My mother extends her hand. "Leon, thank you so much for coming." I watch Leon's rehearsed grip as they shook hands before my mother works the room, hugging other family members.
"Reg, wanna step out and get some air?"
I forgot what Semoran Boulevard was like at 5:42 on a Friday night, traffic lights as plaque to the multicolored, rusted blood cells, trees bulimic from all the carbon monoxide. Leon takes a flask out of his inner right pocket, hands it to me. I try not to spew the acid out, then hand it back to him.
"What the fuck is that," I gag.
"Corn whiskey. Like it?" I shake my head. "Too bad. That's all I have to drink." Leon takes another hit of the flask before offering it to me. I take it from him, another face puckering swallow or two. "Why did your mother bring up the whole never playing sports thing?"
"She has this weird thing about pointing out my shortcomings around other men."
"Classic Edith Bunker type."
We sit on the stoop of the funeral home, watching the start and stop of traffic. Leon's left arm, the flask hang.
"When did you..."
"Reg, this is not the right time. If you want to have that discussion, we can do that another day, if you're gonna stick around."
"I'm here for a week to help my mom settle things. Monday, we go to the probate lawyer to read the will. From there, I don't know."
"When you need a break from your mother, we should have a drink sometime."
"Aren't we having one now?"
"I mean away from the funeral. I know you're curious."
"Was it..." Leon puts his finger to my lips.
"Not now, Reg. I told you. Say 'yes' and when and we can talk then. I promise."
5. "What did your father say?" My mother asks.
"It's just between the two of us. It's your turn to go in now." My mother brushes past me into the probate lawyer's office. I step outside, sit on the stoop of the law office, take the flask of Jameson and ginger ale out of my sport coat and sip. He survived accruing three million Marlboro miles and left them to me. That would be great if I wanted a canoe, an oversized pack of Marlboro as a boombox. That would be great if they were worth something. He said he’d give me something else instead if I did him one last favor.
"Steinbrenner did a lot of things. He made the Yankees great again and I'm grateful for it. However, he made the biggest mistake of his life by letting Cashman sign A-Rod. It was because of him that the Red Sox finally won the World Fucking Series. I blame that fucking fag and his karate-chop action bullshit for the biggest collapse in Yankee history..."
"Did he really say all this?" The probate lawyer nodded. "And you have to read all of this?"
"It's part of his Last Will And Testament. He paid for me to read it." The probate lawyer cleared his throat. "And so, my son, I ask this favor from you, because this is the right thing, the only thing that can be done. You have one year from today to break into where Steinbrenner is buried and you are to dance on the fuckers grave and you are to video tape it and put it on the Internet'. The probate lawyer used air quotes around the Internet. "I have a stock portfolio, kept it hid from you both. Half of it will go to your mother. The other half is yours if you pull this off. I know you could use the money. Do this, and I will finally think of you as a man."
"Why don't you seem the bit surprised?"
"I've been practicing. He actually provided a separate copy of the text outside of the Will. He paid me to practice, also. Dancing on someones grave isn't a crime. A societal no-no, but not a crime. This is probably one of my more fun wills. The possibility of watching someone dance on a grave, let alone Steinbrenner’s...your father was quite the twisted man."
"When does the clock start?"
"Ten minutes ago. Email the link to the video to this address when it's done. I must be able to verify that it is you that is dancing on his grave or else you will not get what you are owed." The probate lawyer handed me his business card. "Good luck, Mr. Lownd. You will need it."
II; 1. Leon walks into the bar wearing a generic Express t-shirt three sizes too small, his pecs and abs trying to claw their way out of it. He sinks into the deep black leather chair across from mine.
"What... is this place? I can actually hear people talk at a regular volume."
"The Milk Bar. I figured it would be a good place for us to catch up, Reg."
We open the thick black menus on our tables. I'm looking for the thing that will keep me numb and open enough to ask all the right questions but all I see are beers and wine with long, foreign names and ABV percentages in the high single digits and low teens.
"Where's the booze?"
"This is a beer and wine bar. I didn't want you to be all slobbery and shitfaced when we talked. A little loose, yes, but not drunk. I know how you can be when your drunk. By the way, how's your elbow?"
"It aches and gets stiff when it's cold. How's your passenger side window?"
"I sold that car years ago. I needed the money to help fund my transitioning."
"Have you decided what you wanted yet, Reg? I think we need to have something we can put in our mouths to help us not say anything we might regret later."
"The Trappistes Rochefort 10 is a solid punch in the throat, just strong enough to relax you."
"You were always more into wine when..."
"Things change, Reg. Things change."
The masked wrestler bounces off the ropes and hits the Hulk Hogan wannabe with a flying elbow, knocking him on his ass. The camera pans and shows the smattering of people sitting in the bleachers around the ring clapping. One cheers and it echoes. The masked wrestler runs back to the ropes, jumps on the middle one and back flips onto the supine Hulk Hogan wannabe. He rolls away at the last moment and the masked wrestler lands hard on his stomach, rolling and clutching his stomach in pain.
"He was supposed to take that move, that fucking asshole." Leon growls.
"Reggie, duh. Like I would have you back at my place just to watch shitty local wrestling. This is what I've been mostly up to for the last few years."
The Hulk Hogan wannabe pulls up the masked wrestler by his head and starts punching him, stomping out of time with each swing. The masked wrestler breaks the hold, jumps back and kicks the Hulk Hogan wannabe in the stomach. The masked wrestler kips up, puts the Hulk Hogan wannabe in a headlock and jumps backwards, skull smacking the mat, then rolling the Hulk Hogan wannabe to his back and the referee counts the pin. Leon shuts off the TV.
"What does this have to do with me exactly and what my father asked?"
Leon turns to me. "I have tryouts with Florida Championship Wrestling in a couple of days. The tryouts also happen to be Tampa, where Steinbrenner is buried. You could come with me and I could help you out."
"I dunno if I should even do this."
"What are you talking about? You need that money don't you?"
"I do but I hate the Yankees. Dad was obsessed with them. Hell, he named me Reggie Whitey Lownd after his two favorite Yankees players. And there's something inherently wrong with dancing on someones grave."
"What if you pretended it was my grave instead?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Leona's dead, isn't she? Leona's the one who left you, the one who said no to marrying you, the one who hurt you. Doesn't all that hurt make you want to dance on her grave?"
"But you're still Leona, just without tits, and facial hair, and can kick my ass."
"Like I couldn't kick your ass then."
"I mean you can kick my ass even more now. I was mad and hurt but after explaining everything, I get it now, I do."
"I thought you wouldn't understand then."
"You never gave me a chance to try and understand."
"You're right." Leon sighs, puts his hand over mine. "I still love you, y'know. Like you said, I'm still the same person, except without tits, and facial hair."
"And a dick."
"I didn't go quite that far."
"But if I understand this right, that would mean I would have to be gay to be attracted to you since you identify as a man and last I checked, I'm not."
"That's not what your pants are telling me." I take my hand out of Leon's and slide away from him.
"I still think of you as Leona when you touch me. Let's not make this awkward again. We just got back to speaking terms, o.k.?" Leon clears this throat.
"You're right. Look, you can't do this alone. You need someone to record you dancing on someone's grave and who else are you going to trust to do this with you? Think about it. You could make a lot of money."
"Or it could be worth as much as those millions of Marlboro Miles he originally left."
"That's just a risk you'll have to take.
2. "What the fuck are you doing buying all the shit you need here?" Leon glares into my shopping cart, the Kodak 5.3 MP video camera, tripod, memory card, and batteries settling. "Don't you know you buy the things you need all at separate stores so no one notices anything weird?"
"You watch way too much Law & Order. It'd be a little weird if I bought a camera in one store, a tripod in another, and the memory card and batteries in a third store. Plus, it's a waste of gas. This looks perfectly normally, even in an office superstore. The fact I'm buying all this shit in an office superstore just means I'm completely ignorant from a techie standpoint."
"But what if you get caught?"
"We're not doing anything illegal, just something distasteful."
"Well, I don't want to get caught. Could fuck my career up."
"Of grappling with sweaty men? Short of murder or molesting a child, I doubt dancing on someones grave's gonna fuck up your wrestling career."
"Can I help you find something?" The blimp in an yellow Polo floats over to Leon and I, a walkie-talkie attached to his belt slapping his upper thigh.
"No, I think we've got everything we need."
"Sir, if I may, that camera takes terrible video." He walks away from us, coming back with a petite, yet thick rectangular box. "This is the Flip HD Video Camera. These things take great video and are cheap since Cisco's not making them any more. You'd be paying the same thing and getting a far superior video quality than you would with the Kodak."
"Isn't the requirement that you're clearly seen, Reg?"
"Yeah, it is...alright, we'll take this one." The blimp takes the Kodak out of the cart, places the Flip HD Video Camera box in the cart carefully.
"An excellent choice, sir."
3. "Ma, what is Alex Rodriguez doing here?"
A man that looks like Alex Rodriguez stops over at my father's coffin, looks at where his face would be if the lid was open. He caresses the coffin, trying to hold everything back until the sob cuts through the whispers, the hugging, the conversations. My mother walks over to him, rubs his back, then leads him out of the parlor.
"Ma, who was that man crying at dad's funeral?" My mother sits still, hands folded in her lap, as I weave through the last of the rush hour traffic on Semoran Boulevard, back to her house in Baldwin Park.
"He was...a good friend of your dad." She forces the words out of her mouth.
"I've met all of dad's friends and that was the first time I've seen that one. When did they meet?"
"Late 2004, early 2005, I think. Why does it matter, Reggie?"
"A strange man is crying at my father's funeral and you ask me why does it matter. Were they fucking or something?"
I pull into the Taco Bell parking lot just before University and Semoran and cut the ignition. "Mom, they were fucking weren't they?" She nods, tears starting to roll out of her. "How long did you know?"
"Your father always had needs I couldn't meet. As long as he took care of us, I looked the other way. He didn't really go out and find what he wanted until after the Yankees lost against the Red Sox in 2004."
"So... he was fucking a guy that looked like Alex Rodriguez because he felt Alex Rodriguez fucked over the Yankees?" My mother nods stiffly. "Is that..."
The engine coming back to life drowns out my mother's broken trumpet nose blows into wads of tissues. I focus on us getting back to her house alive.
4. I walk through the cemetery, baking in my faded black buttoned up shirt and jeans. I look like a rejected member of Color Me Badd trying to blend in with all this sadness. I kneel down to place flowers on a random grave as I quietly take video of the Steinbrenner crypt. I walk around, capturing the empty torches, columns, iron bars.
"Excuse me, sir, but what are you doing?" The groundskeeper yells across the way.
"I want to show the folks back home where the Boss was buried. My dad's a huge Yankees fan. He collapsed on the carpet when he heard George died. He only cried one other time when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004. I told him I'd get some video for him, snuck out of a conference even just to do it. I might get fired but to see my dad smile but it'll be worth it."
"I understand completely. My dad's a big Jim Morrison fan. Went to Paris finally last year to visit his grave..."
"Jesus fucking Christ, this thing is a fortress," Leon says to the TV as we watch the video from earlier. The ice packs strapped to his knees rattle when he adjusts himself on the edge of the bed.
"I know. Even in death, the Boss is surrounded with stone and iron. How am I supposed to dance on his grave when I can't even get inside?"
"Have you thought about dancing on top of the crypt?"
"It's a little hard to break into a cemetery at night with a ladder. Also, the roof is slanted. How the fuck am I gonna dance on a slanted rooftop?"
"Carefully. But what are your other options?"
"Crowbar the gates open and dance in the crypt?"
"Dancing on a grave isn't a crime. Breaking into a crypt on the other hand probably is."
"Fuck indeed." A knock at our hotel room door punctuates the indeed. Leon and I look at each other.
"Leon, who else knows we're here?"
"No one. All my friends know is that I went to Tampa for tryouts, that's it."
I slide off the bed and look through the peephole to see an Alex Rodriguez lookalike with three suit bags slung over his shoulder.
"What the fuck is he doing here?"
"What the fuck is he doing here?" Another knock slaps the door.
"Who? Who? Reg, who? Who is at the fucking door. You're freaking me out over here."
I take a deep breath and look over my shoulder, into Leon's eyes. "The man who killed my father, that's who's here."
J. Bradley is the author of Bodies Made of Smoke (HOUSEFIRE, 2012). He lives at iheartfailure.net.