Beneath the glass counter at Bleacher Bums card shop lies a modern day reliquary for the memento mori of the only saints who matter any more. Rather than the knucklebone of Saint Andrew or Saint Felix the Eviscerated’s toenail, Bleacher Bums deals in the relics of sport’s saints, those enshrined in the Hall of Fame and those yet to be canonized. There are bits of game worn jerseys and scraps of game-used bats pressed into cardboard.
I hover over the artifacts from the patron saints of the north side. A swath of Andre Dawson’s all star jersey and a section of elastic band from Ryne Sandberg’s jockstrap offered by Topps Triple Thread. Only one of three in existence and a steal at the low price of two hundred and fifty dollars.
“Can I help you, fella?”
The guy running things looks old enough to have witnessed the last Cubbies World Series appearance. His shirt pisses me off immediately, two disparate tees sewn together down the center like a Windy City Frankenstein. The blue side bears the Cubbies insignia, the black side… The bullshit White Sox.
“You suppose to be some kinda Chi-Town Switzerland?”
Swiss Miss cocks a bristled eyebrow and crosses his arms above his Old Style keg of a belly. “You come in here to bust my balls? Or is there something else you might be needing? Cause Zambrano’s on the mound, buddy, and he’s carrying a no-hitter into the bottom of the second.”
“I’m hunting Kuntz. Rusty Kuntz. The greatest .230 career hitter ever to swat a lazy fly ball to center field with the bases loaded.”
“Hmph.” He braces his hands on the counter, flexing the beer flab in a vaguely muscular way. “Kuntz, you say?”
“Rusty Kuntz. I have the largest collection of Kuntz memorabilia in the country.”
Granted, that only encompasses about five years of baseball cards from the late seventies to early eighties. There are no game-used paraphernalia cards bearing Kuntz swag. I procured a Twins jersey worn by Kuntz for ten dollars and a half case of Schlitz.
“I seem to remember a Koontz coming up with the White Sox organization. Retired from the Tigers after the ‘84 World Series.”
“That’s him. Except it’s Kuntz. Like a vagina.”
“It’s Koontz. Like the writer of Phantoms.”
“Kuntz, I say. There ain’t no Os in his name.”
“So, you’re a Koontz expect?”
“I know a thing or two about Kuntz.”
“What? You a relative?”
“More like a brother-in-arms. They call me Philip Kuntz.”
“Yeah, buddy, I can tell by the way you’re standing, you couldn’t fill up a shot glass.”
We stand there on opposite sides of the counter, arms crossed over our chests. He stares at my forehead. I stare at a plaque of Nolan Ryan, blood dripping from his nose onto his jersey, as though the picture were saying “see, baseball’s not a sport for pussies.”
“You can’t tell that by the way I’m standing.”
“I can tell that by you being a thirty-something year-old man asking for the baseball cards of a man with a funny name.”
“All right, I’ll concede your point, old man. So you gonna get me all your Rusty Kuntz or not?”
“No. I don’t have any Rusty Koontz for you. You bought all the Rusty Koontz cards I had in the inventory when you came sniffing around here for Rusty Koontz last year.”
“You not remember having this same exact conversation with me last time?”
“I actually have this conversation all the time.”
“Yeah, I suspected as much. You see that bat hanging up there? The one autographed by Keith Moreland, Jody Davis and Leon Durham?”
“Yeah. Three hundred bucks is a little steep to be asking for it, ain’t it?”
“Next time you walk in here asking for Rusty Koontz–”
“Next time I catch you in here, I’m gonna take that bat off the wall and hit you in the face with it. Understand?”
“Good. Now fuck off.”
I walk out into the hazy sunlight and breathe in the refinery tinged air. There’s time to kill and not a lot of murder implements at my disposal.
Somewhere, Rusty Kuntz possesses a World Series ring and Ryne Sandberg does not. That’s the kind of world we live in.
Archive for the FLASH FICTION Category
Alvin Stone is headed home. Because of his flimsy slippers, he’s finding it hard to step in time with the music. It’s getting late. The warmth has left the sun, and he wants to reach home before nightfall. “This time Eve, my dear,” he promises, “I’ll take my pills. I’ll keep quiet. I swear—this time I’ll be good.” Alvin halts. His pulse quickens. Just ahead—his house.
…Patients in the ward turn toward the old man as he stops wandering the walls and cries out her name. They watch mesmerized as he runs his right hand up and down his gown pulling frantically at a non-existent pocket—searching for his house key.