Say you own a small shop of some sort and you’re a baseball fan and your team’s game is on the radio and your star pitcher is throwing a perfect game through six innings and it’s an afternoon game so the shop is open.
Small means you have no employees and you pride yourself on keeping a shop that’s quiet except for shoppers, which means very often it’s completely quiet because there are no shoppers. At other times there are shoppers browsing. It’s a bookstore and you keep it quiet because each book has a voice at the ready and if a customer opens a book you want nothing audible contesting the writer’s voice. No distractions from the product.
But a perfect game is oh so rare and your team and you yourself could so use the boost a phenomenal performance like a perfect game would bring. You’ve been a fan for decades of this team, the Seattle Mariners, so have suffered plenty, most certainly suffered plenty the last few years. And wouldn’t you know it a shopper comes in and the pitcher’s through seven innings throwing a perfect game.
You feel the need to explain to the shopper why the radio is on and though it’s low you will not keep it inaudibly low, no you won’t. You say Felix, meaning the pitcher Felix Hernandez, has retired the first twenty-one batters he’s faced, which is a coded way of explaining what a marvelous situation is taking place since saying directly that Felix is throwing a perfect game is considered to be a jinxing thing to do and wouldn’t you feel awful if you said it to the prospective shopper and then there comes a hit or walk or error? You sure would.
And when the customer who is in fact a fairly important member of the American poetry scene and the store I’m writing about is mine and my wife’s so it’s poetry-only and has a bit of a face itself on the national scene if you accept there is a national poetry scene . . . and this customer looks at you after your explanation with the expression a terrier would give you if you’d asked it a complex question and used its name, you realize this customer is not a baseball fan.
Oh should you turn the radio down? Perhaps. Will you? No way. Felix has it going through eight. If there was no one in the store you’d turn it louder and your partner in all things who’s listening on another radio in the office while she pretends to pay bills from the stack would join you on the sales floor and you two would listen to a ballgame in a way you have never listened to a ballgame before and likely never will again.
The curse of having an Open sign on a door and the door unlocked and its hinges oiled is that all you can do is hope no one else comes in. You contemplate not answering the phone if it should ring with the rationale that likely it would be some aggressive cold call sales pitch about driving people to your website, someone telling you you would have to be an idiot not to want that, wouldn’t you? The Mariners go down in their half of the eighth. Please don’t bring that stack of books you are piling up to the till right now dear customer because I will have to give you my terrier face and try to convey why my private life is taking over for the next few minutes and if Felix gives up a hit while you’re standing in front of me I will always think perhaps you yourself are a jinx. Better to break the laws of commerce than to have missed the last inning of what could be Felix’s perfect game!
And he the customer does not come up to the till and oh my God the final out of what is only the twenty-third perfect game thrown in the nearly eternal history of major league baseball happens! You hear it happen! Your partner gives a whoop back in the office and you can’t help but make one violent piercing clap of your hands. I couldn’t. Damn, a perfect game. You’re shining in your store because you got to listen to an utterly desirable thing while you did nothing to impede commerce.
You turn it down now. The radio. You can’t turn down the joy nor would you want to. When the customer shortly brings his load of books up to the till there is no sense telling him what happened. That is an upswirl of good feeling to keep your own body privately wrapped around. An oddly personal thing shared by thousands of people. He buys the stack of books and says nice things about the store. You love it here sometimes, your precarious place of being a shopkeeper in the public’s eye and a fan at thumping heart. Today you love it here.
John W. Marshall, along with Christine Deavel, co-owns and operates Open Books: A Poem Emporium, the seventeen-year-old poetry-only bookstore in Seattle. Marshall writes: “Baseball and writing go together very well and that is perhaps doubly true for poetry and baseball. A large enough number of our regular customers are fans. I think some year I will organize an Open Books outing to an M’s game and get a group discount.”