“Throw a ball into the ether and it’ll come back to you. This is the promise of everlasting life.”
— Baseball: A Film
The Peanut is a bar on a corner, its door opening onto neither the one street nor the other. It is the little lord of the block, a true meeting place of pavement and people. Every time I walk outside to smoke, I am walking toward the crossroads, which belongs to no street, no place in the city.
My girl tells me the Peanut used to be a speakeasy, which for all its prominence makes no sense. Neither does its name. Still, Kansas City is full of these secret places, palimpsests of a time when the mob built a nether-city beneath a prohibited one, a network of hidden doors and hidden words for the desires of those people then, whose ghosts uttered a password while their bodies slept above.
The last time I was in this city, she and I went to the house of a friend. In a greatroom of books and deep seats was a hidden door and a hidden stairwell and a hidden room. The long-dead rich gathered down there to drink as though the world above them were being bombed away.
We come to the bar for game five of the World Series, and even if the bar wasn’t nowhere I still wouldn’t know where it was. I have been in Kansas City only long enough to understand that a twelve-minute drive will take you to a different place to drink.
Kansas City seems to be only two places: the place where I live with her, and all the other places we go, which are all different and colorful and alive, but which seem to be the same type of elsewhere. The place where we live is constant, and the roads are constant, but the places at the other end cycle through a great wheel, as though we’re driving down a barrel into one of many chambers of a revolver. There’s an old revolver in a closet in the place we live. It’s her grandfather’s, rusted shut and gone from its purpose, too.
The bar is mostly a bar with a corner at one end. There, a boisterous drunk declaims and bellows for his friends, who themselves cycle though every time I look. Different friends connected only by the drunk’s voice, kind of the way you can never step into the same river twice.
At the stretch the drunk stands and sings God Bless America in a fine, clear baritone. Soon we’re all singing it, and afterward I step outside to smoke. When I do, he is right behind me. By way of explanation (or absolution) he says that he’s trying to cheer up his friend in there, whose wife had a heart attack last night.
Is she okay, I ask. No, he says, and taps his forehead. Brain damage.
Keep it light, I say.
Exactly, keep it light.
Then other friends emerge, and he is a boisterous drunk again.
He sings God Bless America again in the voice of Ethyl Merman, blasted to fragments now, out on the corner. His friend, not the friend with the wife, but a different drunk, keeps saying Purple mountains, Purple mountains, Purple mountains.
The last inning is tense. Runners cross home plate, another place with a roof at an intersection, a true meeting place of the beginning and the end. It’s quiet enough for me to hear the boisterous drunk leaning in close to his friend, the one with the wife, himself big and lost in a gone, secret place, head bowed over thin bones on a plate.
I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, the drunk says, but it’s gonna be alright. It’s gonna be alright, he says. Life is a tough motherfucker, he says.
After the game the music comes back up, and the bartender reminds the guy next to me, apropos of nothing I remember, that we’re right in the middle.
Kansas City, he means, the country, he means, and I think now of that corner at the center of a great flat world whose center is everywhere. I think of my friend, who is from around here somewhere, and for whom I came to this bar to see this game. And who, but for the secrets of geography and circumstance, could be here now, could be the one writing this down.