Jack finished his drink and ordered another. He played for time as he slid the empty glass back and forth between his hands. “You want to know about my dad?”
“Sure, it’s a good place as any.”
“What’s to tell? He survived the war.”
Fred put his hand on Jack’s. “Hold on boychik, surviving the war wasn’t like striking out a minor leaguer. It’s an accomplishment. He beat the bastards. My adopted mother told me my real father went to Germany before the war and didn’t come back.”
Jack met his gaze. “Why did he do that?”
Fred shrugged. “I have no answer. I think I became a reporter because I’m searching. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find who my real parents were. Names changed and memories disappear. It’s difficult to get survivors to talk about that time in their lives.”
Jack grasped his empty glass. It still felt cold. “Here’s the thing,” he spoke to the glass, “When your parent are survivors there is a separation between you and everyone else. It wasn’t because of the accents and broken English, although that didn’t help. It was the way they went about everyday living that singled us out. “My mother’s greeting whether answering the phone or in person was ’what’s wrong? Are you all right? That fear or anxiety was baked into me. Do you know what it’s like to be afraid, everyday?”
He looked straight at Fred. “My father, jeez, if there was an easy way to do something like a straight line between two points, he’d find the most difficult route. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Fred nodded. “Amen to that. There was always fear that something bad was about to happen. Where was your dad from?”
The bartender brought Jack’s third scotch. He pointed at Fred, and told him to freshen his drink. “You got to keep up,” Jack said when Fred protested. “You want to ask questions… drink.”
“I’ll keep up, I’m from good Polish stock. Vodka is like mother’s milk. Na zdrowie! Cheers.”
“My father was from Warsaw. We’ll be able to drink till morning.” Jack struck the table with his fist.
“I’m sure we could, but come game time I hit a typewriter, but you’ll have to throw a baseball for strikes.”
“Good point, but as you said, it’s only one game.” He burst into laughter. “One game, my ass. It’s what this whole damn thing is about.”
Fred took a sip of his drink. “What are you talking about?”
“Jesus Fred, follow the ball. All players tell reporters how meaningful a game is, if they don’t, management comes down on them, or they’re labeled ‘bad attitude’. But when that umpire shouts ‘play ball’, it won’t matter how many scotches I had, I know what it means.”
Jack bumped the table as he tried to get up.
“Where are you going?”
“What? No where, just making a point.” He sat down and reached for his drink. My father survived the arbite (work) camps and Dachau-- somehow. Seven years, can you imagine? Seven fuck’n years of death and starvation, but he did it. The U.S. army found him at Dachau and thought he was a corpse lying in the dirt. A soldier heard a feint hum. The son-of-a-gun was humming Chopin. He was a music professor before the war. It’s goddamn hard to believe. The Army doctors brought him back to life. As crazy as that is he met my mother there---Katalyna.”
“I’ve got a picture.” He reached into his pocket and struggled to pull out his wallet. “Hold on. Damn pants, everything has to fit tight. Here.” The picture was in between a faded and worn 50 Reichsmark.
“What’s this?” Fred asked and pointed to the German money.
“Oh. That? It was a gift from my Dad. He told me to hold onto it for luck. When he was taken to one of the many work camps he managed to hide some money. I don’t know how he did it or where the Reichmarks came from. But it saved his life until Dachau. Then thank God time ran out on the Nazi bastards.”
“Hell, Jack, this isn’t a story, it’s a book, a movie.” Can I touch it?”
“Fred reached for the money and picture. “
“Bar keep another round,” Jack said and pointed to the table.
Fred looked up. “Okay last one.” He looked at the picture. “When was this taken?”
“1945 or 46, they were living in Berlin.”
“Look at your mother in that Channel-like hat. She was a beauty and your dad. Wow. How old was he? His hair is all gray.”
“I think late twenties or early thirties.”
“Huh. They look happy like the war never happened.”
Jack leaned forward and studied the picture. “Yeah, I guess so at least from the outside. My mother never forgot. My father told me before the war she had been some sort of courier. She took unbelievable risks. But the war took the best out of her. She never forgot her suffering and fear. My father allowed himself to get on with life.”
Fred picked up his freshened drink. “To your parents and survival.”
“To mom and dad,” Jack clinked his glass and held it in the air.
“Is there more?” Fred asked.
“Did you want to add something to the toast?”
“Yeah, I do.”
His hand shook slightly. “When I get into the game, Fred, no matter what, I’m going to kill the Yankees.” He threw his head back and swallowed his drink.