The Opening Day that Wasn’t

So me and Keaton were ‘celebrating’ what would have been Opening Day by watching what they had to show on the Dodgers Channel. It was some warmed-over interviews with the team from spring training…and it felt like they were mocking us. Although there were some interesting things (and we got to make fun of Mookie Betts’ dumbass hat – get a ball cap, dude), it wasn’t exactly the same thing as real baseball.

So we turned the TV off. It’s not like we’ve never done that before, but Keaton’s apartment did sound pretty empty. Everything sounds pretty empty these days: have y’all been outside (on an essential errand, of course)? I went into this one market – not the Kroger like usual – and they were running the place like a hospital. They made me spray my hands with alcohol on the way in, and there was this one chick handing out plastic bags to use like gloves in the produce department. I probably should have gone to Target or the Kroger, but I was interested to see what other places were like…and I wanted to go someplace different, just for a change of pace.

Oh…in addition to all that most everyone in there was wearing one of those masks. I think that the checkers are supposed to wear them, but I definitely remember the mayor on the TV telling us that regular people shouldn’t wear masks. I find someone in one of those masks coming at me to be really threatening. Maybe ‘threatening’ isn’t the right word…but I don’t like it when you can’t get any cues about how a person is feeling. If you can see somebody’s mouth, you can tell if they’re happy or angry or sad. If all you can see are their eyes peering out from over a mask, you don’t know what they’re feeling…so you don’t know how to interact with them.

Not that my usual habit of smiling at everyone is doing me much good these days. I still try, but, let’s put it this way, people ain’t smilin back much.

Keaton’s also taken to some pretty serious brooding, which ain’t good for him. He’s told me a few times that he’s gonna knock me on my ass if I don’t stop trying to be so gayass and cheerful, but I think I know him well enough at this point to know that he misses being able to go out. He works (I reckon he used to work…and ought to work again…I hope) at a very public place, and he’s used to having people around. I know he says he needs his alone time, but this is too much alone time for him. I can still go over to Joyce’s and hang out (staying 6’ away from your girlfriend is super weirdass though), or go play catch with one of my pupils, but Keaton’s got very few people to talk to. Juan Diego comes over to check on all of us, and I think he’s hung out a little with Keaton, but I don’t think that’s enough social interaction for him. His sex life is at a standstill, of course. He told me that Ryan (this isn’t the Ryan who’s the Parrots’ new pitcher; this is the Asian ‘Ryan’ who gets him most of his girls) is in deep financial shit and that his business is dead. He’s even asked good customers like Keaton to pre-pay for services for after the crisis is over. I know other places are doing that…but it’s kinda funny that someone in that business should be doing it too.

So, anyway, we gave up on the Dodgers channel and were looking for something to do. Food’s always a good idea, so we put in an order at Wingstop and headed out to pick it up. We both wanted to get out of the house, so we both went to get the food…but in 2 cars. I reckon I could of sat in the back seat of Keaton’s truck and we’d of kept 6’ between us, but that would have felt so fuckin weird, so it was just as easy to take both cars. It’s not like we were burning super expensive gas. (I’ve never seen gas below $3 in California in my life. It’s just one more piece of the weirdass shit that’s all around us.)

Although Wingstop was busier than we thought, the street outside was practically empty – and by ‘street’ I mean Colorado Boulevard. You always see college kids coming and going there – this is right across from Pasadena City College – but, today, there was nobody. It felt eerie and quiet and a little like a ghost town.

When we got inside the store, there were three people, two dudes and a chick, standing this close to each other and talking and laughing. Just what we were told not to do. I tried giving them a dirty look, but it didn’t work. Keaton says I’m too good natured for dirty looks.

Keaton, on the other hand, isn’t.

“Sorry,” he said, starting out polite at least, “but y’all are standing too close to each other. You gotta be 6’ apart. For everyone’s safety, not just yours.” It goes without saying that Keaton was 6’ away from them (and from me) when he said this.

Y’all know how stupid college kids can be. These were as stupid as they make ‘em.

“Who are you?,” one of the dudes asked, “a 6’ nazi?”

“Nope,” said Keaton, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m a 6’I” Texan. Which can spell a lot more trouble for you.” That danger look flashed in his eyes…and the three of them got it. Without saying another word, they spread out. Maybe not a full 6’, but it was way better than the way they were standing when we came in.

“Thanks,” said the dude working behind the counter when it was Keaton’s turn to pick up our wings and fries. “You have no idea how often I want to do just that.”

“Hey, I’m an unemployed bouncer. Y’all can hire me to keep people 6’ apart any time you want.”

“Only if you know how to run an industrial fryer,” he said with a laugh. “Now what can I get for you?”

“I placed an order on my phone,” Keaton said. “Name’s Penner.”

The dude went to look at the order slips.

“Got it. 5 Atomic, 6 mango habañero, 5 original hot and 4 hawaiian.”

“That’s because my buddy here is gay.”

“Fuck you, man,” I said, still from 6’ away. We all laughed from our distances. It was a lameass joke – I like a break between the hot wings so I can enjoy the heat more – but it was kinda what we needed to hear.

“Here, I’ll give you guys a few extra. You did your share for social distancing.”

“Thanks, man,” I said. That was real nice of the dude, although, after the people who were in front of us left, the store was pretty quiet and empty.

We took our wings and fries and headed back home. We each got our own beers (we each used our own penknives to open them even…that’s a little excessive, I know…but I’m still real pleased with mine from Christmas), sat down…and then we got quiet all over again. Ok…the atomic and mango-habañero wings do take your breath away for a few seconds, but we just couldn’t find anything to talk about. I know Keaton thinks my need for conversation is gay and he says that he’s cool just hanging out with me and not talking, but that’s usually when there’s sports to watch on the TV.

“Dude,” I said, “we gotta talk about something or we’re gonna go nuts. Do you realize this is only day 9 of this craziness?”

“You’ve been counting?”

“Kinda,” I said. “’Safer at Home’ went into effect on a Thursday. We’re the next Friday. 9 Days.”

“Fuck, bubba…it feels like forever.” That made him get up and get another Stella Artois. When he got back he said “you want us to sit around and talk about our feelings like some gayass group therapy shit?”

I wasn’t exactly expecting Keaton Penner to do that, no.

He clearly wasn’t planning it, either. He got up and gave the bag a few bareknuckle swings.

“Ok,” he said, “you want a story, bubba?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’d be great actually.” You don’t pass up chances at Keaton’s backstory lol.

“Fine. I’ll tell you a heartwarming story about little boys and puppies.”

“Ok, this I gotta hear.”

“Here goes.” He took a swig of beer, I reckon to lubricate his vocal cords, and started.

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