He knew something was wrong, because the line hadn't moved for a good fifteen minutes. Not at all--not even a few people slowly trickling through the passenger boarding bridge. Nothing. He was stuck.
Unbelievable, he thought. Three hundred and thirty-seven dollars for this.
Thankfully, there was a solution, and he knew it well: first, audibly register your displeasure to those in your immediate vicinity. This is to gather support for when the employee at the gate comes over to check on the hubbub. Then, with the face of the airline standing on trial, you berate them for their incompetence. And afterwards, something something something, and then you get your way. Perfect, he thought. Now just to think of something to say. He thought. Thought hard.
Despite this moment of eloquence, nobody turned their heads to agree with Herbert "Hank" Jepsen, diehard Yankees fan and former New York townie spending out his middle years in the postmodern paradise that is California, approximately 3,000 miles from Carol. And once the nearly inaudible announcement garbled its way through JFK's overhead speakers--something about engine trouble--Hank knew he had a three-hour date with the nearest bar in Terminal 4.
He chose Buffalo Wild Wings.
Thankfully, the screens were all tuned to that afternoon's game between the Mariners and the Yankees, set three inconvenient hours across the globe but at this moment, exactly when it needed to be. Hank missed most of the first few innings, his boys getting on the board early with a few runs, but by the time he plopped his bag down someone named Martin was standing on second base for the Mariners. He knew it probably wasn't going to be a big deal--we're talking about the Yankees, after all. It wasn't.
"Can I get you a beer?" he heard, a fresh coaster tossed inches from his chest.
"No, just a coke for me," he said, hoping someone would overhear, so he could tell his story. Nobody did, but he turned to a nearby gentleman in a disheveled suit to tell it anyway. It went something like this: he used to drink. Drink a lot. It made him do things that he is, today, ashamed of: losing his job, treating Carol like no one deserves to be treated. He pulled out his iPhone, and showed him The Picture:
But then, Hank said, it all changed. First, it was a text from Carol, and then, one of those mornings standing in his underwear and looking at the reflection of something that looked like an invader in his house. An invader with a front door key. "Look at that!"
Hank turned to see the bartender with a coke in hand, pointing up at the television. Hisashi Iwakuma had run into a bit of trouble, loading the bases and giving up a sacrifice fly to Brett Gardner, giving the Bombers their third run on the afternoon.
"They had to win this one," Hank said, to anyone in earshot. "Get last night, get tonight, get these young guys some encouragement."
The disheveled businessman, himself from the suburbs of Detroit, was shocked by this coming from a fan of the Yankees. He turned to Hank, asked him if he really believed that--or more, he was asking God if it was true that there was a middle-aged casual baseball fan from the Bronx who actually had the temperament to project rationality onto ensuing years, willingly accepting a momentary span of obsolescence.
"Five years ago, no," he replied. "But I was throwing my life away. Heck--I had already." Then, Hank stopped to stare as a series of Mariners continued to flail around Leonys Martin and Robinson Cano getting on base. Robbie Cano was still The Worst, but for the first time in his life, Hank was at peace with himself and everyone around him. He didn't realize that with this came a new kind of profound confidence, the kind that left you yelling at low-level airline employees--but at least he was talking to Carol again, and waking up without a hangover. And it didn't help that the Yanks had this Gary Sanchez kid, who was currently being intentionally walked by Arquimedes Caminero.
"I gotta give it to you," Disheveled Businessman said. "This isn't what I expected to hear after you sat down next to me.
"Buddy, when you've been through the shit I have, you start to realize that it's up to you to change. You know that whole thing, our neighborhood, our boys, that kind of New York shit?"
"Lemme tell you what, none of my boys wanted to help me out when I was down low where I was. It was just a thing we said to point out how those other fuckers don't get it, they aren't one of us. But when one of yours fucks up, when one of yours needs some help, where are they? Where do they go?"
"I don't know, I--"
"They weren't shit. Look, you gotta take care of yourself, and you gotta realize you're important." He pointed to Robinson Cano up on the television, walking back to the dugout after wasting a single in the eighth inning.
"I used to hate that guy there. Hate 'im. But you know what? You gotta look out for You. And the best way that you look out for You is lookin' out for your guy too, because he could be you."
"I know, you showed me the--"
"He left us but you know what, the problem is that that Cashman guy wouldn't pay him. He wouldn't give him what he earned, er, uh--deserved. I don't blame him one bit."
In the ninth inning, Tyler Clippard returned and managed to get Mike Zunino to fly out to end the game without a run, falling to the Yankees 5-0 and capping off two extremely important games in the Wild Card race. Disheveled Businessman turned to Hank.
"So what do they do?"
"Yeah, the Mariners?"
"I don't know, they'll figure it out." He slurped down his Coke and promptly ordered another.
Afterward Disheveled Business man paid his check and walked down the terminal and got on his flight and it left the ground during the same numbers his ticket said it would. He thought about what happened and he wondered about this strange person who had just entered his life, albeit briefly. It seemed he was a bit of a mess before--strangely innocent, but ostracized from both the people who loved him and a future that held him anything. On the other hand, it seemed the only way out for Hank was to embrace something...something else altogether. Was it better? What was he doing in New York, anyway?
He didn't have an answer for any of these questions. But thank god the Mariners lost, he thought. For his Tigers are nipping at their heels.