Alistair Harrington Bland
at Ebbets Field

    The one event Alistair Harrington Bland had promised himself not to miss on his first trip to America was a baseball game about which he knew absolutely nothing but had been fired up to see by the Yanks he had served with in the recent war against the Kaiser. Though from a family of uppercrust connections, Bland was one of those agape young Englishmen who regarded the world from a constant state of surprise and vacuous delight, forever taken in by its fabrications. When one of his American buddies informed him that the houses in California looked so colorful because their owners used striped paint, Bland couldn't believe it but did.

    Now, finding himself climbing the stone steps of Ebbets Field, the stadium where the irrepressible fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a.k.a. "Dem Bums," awaited the opening pitch, his excitement mounted. These were the fans that put their team only second to God but abused it like the devil. They came to the games prepared to commit mayhem and murder at the slightest provocation, such as a successful bunt by the opposition or a decision by an umpire against their team. It was happening all around him on this hot July day and the game hadn't even begun yet. Amidst the cries of the frankfurter vendors, "Hot dawgs, hot dawgs, mustid and sauerkraut!" and the calls of the lemonade dispensers, and the peanut sellers, the crowd yelled, "Come on out and play, bums!"

    Wearing a high crowned beige summer hat, a white jacket over an open-collared shirt and a light ascot, Bland searched for a seat high up in the rapidly filling stands. He spotted one next to the occupant of the aisle seat.

    "Beg pahdon," he said in his lofty, clipped accent. "May I?"

The leathery, suntanned fellow in an undershirt wore a soiled white cap angled sharply over his suspicious, the very short end of a butt thrust out of the corner of his lips. "Hunh?" he inquired staring up at Bland's lanky figure and long faced, innocent look.

    "I say, may I acquire the adjacent accommodation?" Bland asked

    "Wazzat?"

    "That seat? Is it vacant?" "I don't see nobody sittin' in it. It's yer cherce if ya want it."

    "Pleasure!" Bland said, crossed by him and before he sat down surveyed the field. "Rather a splendid convocation, wouldn't you say?"

    "Hey. Wait a minute. Yer an Aussie, ain't ya?"

    "Oh, no, no, no, no! British."

    "Yeah, well, I knew right away you wasn't normal. I had an Aussie in my cab last week. He didn't speak English eeder. I bet ya never seen a baseball game before."

    "Veddy perceptive of you, I must say!"

    "Does dat mean ya did or ya didn't?"

    "Did or didn't?" "Yeah! See a baseball game."

    "I must apologize, you know. I did mean to see one."

    "Well, if yuh ain't seen one, yuh come to duh right place. Yuh know who's pitchin' tuday?"

    "Pitchin'? No, what's that?"

    "Yuh know dere's a pitchuh and a catchuh, don't yuh? One guy trows and de udder guy catches."

    "Oh, yes. Yes, although my knowledge stops theah. Tell me, what is the numerical content of each team?"

    "I'm not sure of dat, but dere's supposed to be nine men on each side."

    "And are theah?"

    "Never. Nine on ahs but ten on deirs."

    "My word! What an unusual arrangement. That sounds rather unfair."

    "That's duh way it is. De umpire's always wit' dem." He stood up and put his hands to either sides of his mouth and bellowed, "Watch out youse umpires! Because we're watchin' youse!" This received a raucous agreement from the surrounding seats and brought on a spate of additional threats and handclapping.

    "Is that customary?" Bland asked.

    "Widdout doubts. Day and night," the chap in the cap assured him. "Y'see, if yiz don't let dem umps know youse is watchin' 'em, dey'll rob duh pants off yuh. By duh way, what's yer moniker?"

    "I don't believe I have one. What is it?"

    "What yer old lady calls when she wants yer."

    "Oh, my, how natural! Pussycat."

    "Pussycat? Dat's yer name?"

    "Actually, 'tisn't, you know. You ahsked what my mother calls me. That's Pussycat. Sometimes when she's in a rosh, just Pussy. My name is Alistair Harrington Bland."

    "No wonder she call yuh Pussy."

    "Ha ha ha. That's veddy amusing. I'll have to mention that to her."

    "Jack's my moniker. Short n' sweet. Jack Stack, if yuh want duh whole."

    "Pleasure," Bland acknowledged. A roar from the crowd accompanied the appearance of the teams on the field from the clubhouse.

    "By the way, who's the man in the iron mahsk?" Bland inquired.

    Jack, who was concentrating on a newspaper clipping with the team lineups replied without looking up, "I ain't sure. Probably Douglas Fairbanks."

    "Not really!" Bland exclaimed. "Talented isn't he. Plays baseball as well, does he?"

    "Who plays baseball as well?"

    "Douglas Fairbanks."

    "I never hoid dat," Jack said, shaking his head. "Ah, dere he is! Greatest pitchuh in duh woild! Hey, Dazzy! Dat's Dazzy Vance! Watch him warm up! He got a spitball could kill ya! Attaboy, Dazzy!"

    "And what do the others out theah do?"

    "Well, see dat guy just in back and to duh side of Dazzy? He's duh short stop."

    "He is rahther small."

    "Yuh don't get it. He stops duh ball short, see?"

    "And aren't his colleagues also supposed to stop the ball short?"

    "Yeah, of course. Dat's duh whole idea."

    "Then they are all short stops, are they?"

    "Whattaya talkin' about? How can they all be short stops? Over dere is duh foist baseman. Duh foist baseman stays on foist base to trap duh runner. Nex' is duh sekin baseman who does duh same on sekin. Then dere's duh thoid baseman, duh same on thoid. Hold on! Here comes duh foist pitch!" The multitude suddenly became still as if some holy moment had occurred, and then breathed a sigh as the umpire made his call, strike one. Then came the second pitch.

    "Ball one!" the umpire cried, raising a finger on both hands. "One and one!"

    "Booooo!" retorted the crowd.

    "What happened?" asked Bland, startled.

    "The umpire said he trew a ball, dat's what!" Jack said.

    "What was he supposed to throw if not a ball?" Bland demanded.

    "The pitchuh got two cherces. If he trows it not so good, it's called a ball. If he trows it good, it's a strike. Well, he got a toid way, too. He can trow it and hit duh batter in duh head."

    "I say, I wouldn't call that cricket, would you?"

    "No. I'd call it hittin' the batter in duh head. He gets on base for free for dat. Den he could take his revenge by stealin' a base. He could steal all duh bases."

    "But there are thousands of witnesses. Shocking. What does he do with them?"

    "Are you a cuckoo? It means sneakin' from foist to thoid under duh nose of duh pitcher who tries to catch him in between. If he doesn't catch him, he runs home."

    "He runs home? That early in the game? I say, that's odd!"

    "Wait a sekin! Dat's Hank Cotter at bat dere. He's duh Cubs lead-off dis game. He's liable tuh get a hit." And the crack of the bat hitting the ball brought the stands to its feet. Cotter ran to first base as an outfielder scooped up the ball and threw it to the first baseman. The ball and Cotter both seemed to arrive at the base together, Cotter sliding in.

    "Safe!" cried the umpire. The crowd howled in despair. "Ya blind as a bat ya bum!" Jack shouted, backed up by the stands. "Did ya see dat?" he demanded of Bland. "He wuz so far out, ya coulda run a truck between him and duh base!"

    "What would have been the purpose of that?" Bland asked. "And which one of the short stops would drive it?"

    By the fifth inning Bland had acquired a tangled version of the rules the way Jack Stack interpreted them. At the seventh inning stretch, during which Jack stepped into the aisle and did twenty pushups, they indulged in refreshments.

    "Hot dawgs is duh angel's food of baseball," Jack informed him, while Bland insisted on standing treat on behalf of all the information he had received.

    "My regimental commahnder was a duke," Bland confided, "and inadvertantly I discovered frankfurters were his favorite. He would have been delighted with these although he used catsup."

    "Catsup on hot dawgs is a sin. But I'll tell ya somepin'. I had my cab filled wit' oils last week."

    "How often do you do that?"

    "It just happened. I was outside duh Plaza hotel droppin' off a fare when dese tree guys, dressed real fancy get in. Each an' every one of 'em was an oil, would yuh believe it? All oils."

    "Oils?"

    "Each and every one a dem, a business man from a family of oils."

    "Remarkable. Standard Oil?"

    "I didn't aks them. I didn't aks 'em nuttin. Dey sounded a lot like youse, only woise. I didn't get dat dey was in de earl business, but yuh never know."

    In the ninth inning with the score tied, each team with two runs, Zack Wheat, the great Brooklyn outfielder, hit a home run and won the game. The cheering crowds departed hugely satisfied after a roaring sendoff to their beloved Dodgers. Jack had his cab parked in a lot and insisted on driving Bland to a more distant subway station to avoid the mob.

    "Your taxis are veddy different from the London cabs, you know," Bland said from the back seat.

    "I seen pitchers of dem. Dey look more like a hoise than a taxi."

    "What a quaint observation! You Amedicans have always been a riddle to me. But some day I'm going to catch on to you."

    As the cab moved slowly through the traffic, Jack cocked his head back and asked, "How'd yuh like tuh hear a real Brooklyn riddle before yuh retoin to Egypt?"

    "England," Bland corrected, politely. "I would be utterly delighted to take that back with me. Please."

    "Okay, dis is it: It ain't my fodder, it ain't my mudder, it ain't my sister, it ain't my brudder. Who is it?" Jack waited, chuckling at the wheel as the cab rolled on and Bland, laughing in the back seat, tried to guess the answer. Finally giving up, he admitted his failure.

    "No, I cahn't guess. Who is it?"

    "It's me!" Jack cried, victoriously. "Jolly good! Jolly good, old man! Oh, I'm certainly not going to forget that one, I promise you!"

    At the station, they shook hands. "Pleasure making your acquaintance. I would never have known anything, including foist, sekin, and thoid, as I now do and will explain it all to my ignorant companions!"

    "Have a great trip!" Jack called in parting and shouted back as he pulled away, "And don't hit any iceboigs on the way back!"

    "Ice what?" Bland cried. But the taxi was too far away for him to be heard. He took the subway back to his hotel.

    When he arrived in London his friends accorded him a grand reception and at a spate of parties he was the featured guest, everyone demanding accounts of his adventures. But he was so full of stories about tours of New England, and especially of Valley Forge, where a local man sold him a bottle from the original water over which Washington had crossed the Delaware River, that it was not until a few weeks later when he recalled the riddle at a boisterous gathering of most intimare friends. They insisted he tell it to them at once.

    It happened at a boisterous gathering of his most intimate friends. They insisted he tell it to them at once. "Now you must listen quite closely, you know, chaps, because this will give you an academic headache in your effort to elucidate the ahnswer. Are you ready? Here goes: it's not my father, it's not my mother, it's not my sister, it's not my brother. Who is it?" He beamed at his audience standing around him holding their cocktails and smoking their cigarettes in positive ignorance, looking at each other and giggling. Hunching their shoulders and finally demanding he tell them.

    "Come on, Alistair! You must tell us! We can't get it? Who is it?"

    "Some bloody cab driver in Brooklyn!" he cried.

-Al Geto




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Copyright August 3, 2000-

 

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