Benny Jay: Not Dead Yet

April 15th, 2009

We’re about half way through game one at bowling, when Cap breaks the news: Harry Kalas, the longtime announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, died this morning.

“Just dropped over,” says Cap. “Heart attack….”

“Damn,” says Norm. “I didn’t hear that….”

Mark Fidrych, too,” I say. “You know, The Bird.”

“Heart attack?” says Norm.

“Naw — crushed by a truck,” I say. “He was fixing a truck and it fell on him….”

“A truck fell on him? Damn,” says Norm. “I was just a shorty, but I remember Fidrych. I loved The Bird — he be talkin’ to the ball and shit….”

We’re silent. “Marilyn Chambers also died,” I say. “But, man, you probably don’t remember her. She’s a little ahead of your time.”

Norm flashes his annoyed-with-me look. “C’mon, Benny. Don’t get it twisted. I know Marilyn Chambers — `Behind the Green Doors.'”

“Damn, Norm,” I say. “You know your porn.”

What follows is a one-or-two minute discussion of great porn movies of the `70s. I got to give Norm credit — he knows his stuff. I make a mental note to send him Milo‘s opus on fake tits.

All this talk of death gets me kinda gloomy — I’m bowling lousy. Can’t pick up my spares. Feeling old and tired. Checking my pulse rate. Worried. Don’t get enough sleep. Too much running around. Gotta take it easy.

But Young Ralph‘s got the answer. He leads the team to the bar and buys us shots of whiskey. He lines them up — five shot glasses in a row. The whole team looks at me. They know — when it comes to drinking, I’m the world’s biggest wuss.

“C’mon, Benny,” says Young Ralph. “Try it.”

“Oh, all right,” I say. They cheer. And the five of us — me, J-Dub, Norm, Cap and Young Ralph — click glasses and knock `em back. Or they knock `em back. I take a sip — almost gag.

“That’s not how you drink it,” says Young Ralph. “You gotta knock it back.”

So what the hell. When in Rome, and all that stuff. I take a gulp and knock it back. It burns like hot oil running down my throat. But, damn — it’s got a kick that fires me up. I come back to the alley, braying like a beast.

“Now you know why all these mutha fuckas drink,” Cap tells me.

I roll a strike. I pick up a spare — finally. I start singing to the Led Zepplin Young Ralph’s playing on the juke box: “Dazed and Confused” and “A Whole Lotta Love.” He ups the ante, switching to Hendrix: “Foxy Lady,” “All Along the Watchtower, ” “Voodoo Chile.” Me and Ralph are jamming on air guitar. “Check it out,” I tell him. “I’m playing with me left hand — just like Jimi.”

The tamale man comes in — a chubby little dude who sells homemade tamales out of a lunch box. Norm and he have a special relationship. Norm talks to him in a babble of English mixed with every Spanish word Norm knows, most of them curse words. The dude seems to love it.

He sells a few tamales and turns to leave. Norm catches him before he’s out the door. “Why you leave-oh without saying by-oh,” he bellows.

J Dub and I are cracking up. “I guess you call that Spanglish,” says J Dub.

“There’s nothing Span about it,” I say. “Just English with a funny accent.”

He laughs. I laugh. We’re all laughing. Our team gets hot and wins the last two games. Feeling good, feeling strong. No more talk about gloom and doom. What’s that song Dylan sings about those not busy being born are busy dying? Forget that, we ain’t dying — we’re living. Fifty-something years old, but my life’s just getting started.

It’s amazing what one little shot of whiskey can do for you.

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