Please, Nolan Ryan

I see Nolan Ryan through a sunburst halo of fireworks walking through the eastern concourse of the airport. There are some places you want to be, but there are also some people.
I wake up from a dream about chemical warfare to find Nolan Ryan sitting next to me. Capitol guy, riding coach. Don’t worry buddy, I’m not gonna try anything weird. But listen, I wrote this haiku about you. Not interested? That’s cool. But rap at me for a minute. Anybody that can throw a ball as hard as you as often as you and for as long as you must know a lot about life, right? What do I wanna know about? Well, women, of course. What else? Sure, sure, you can have my Chicken Kiev. It’s not like I love Chicken Kiev, and mostly only fly so that I can eat it because there isn’t anywhere else in the world that has Chicken Kiev like that. So help yourself. Take my heart, too, and my pain.

Nolan Ryan is smoking three cigarettes simultaneously and there is no one in the world that would stop him.

Other passengers—non-smokers, pro-lifers, tobacconists, anti-tobacconists—are offering him more cigarettes, more lights, coughing—no problem. He says to me:
“Women are vampires, son. They do whatever it takes to make you to give up the things you care about, and then when they look at the sacrifices you’ve made for them, that gives them the strength to leave you.”
I say “Geez, Mr. Ryan…”
“Call me Lynn.”
“Alright, Lynn…”
“No, stick with Mr. Ryan. I like to be called Mister.”
“Mr. Ryan, that’s some pretty strong language, you can’t really believe that?”
“Believe it, you sonofabitch, that’s Tolstoy.”
Somehow I don’t mind being called a sonofabitch, so long as it’s Mr. Nolan Ryan that’s doing the saying.
“Tolstoy? Where did he say that?”
“It’s the only thing he ever said. Take my former wife, she spends years getting me to give up calf-wrestling just before she up and leaves me for some French Philosophy professor. Now I can’t even look at a calf without feeling sick to my stomach.

Do you know what that’s like? To have your world taken away from you?”

“Well maybe you should have given up cat-wrestling in the first place. On your own, I mean.”
“I said Calf-wrestling, boy!”
“I’m sorry, it’s hard to understand you with all those cigarettes in your mouth.”
“You could never understand, because you don’t know shit and you aren’t shit.”
I see Nolan Ryan wrestling calves in the red dirt after the sun and everything in the world is painted like blood, with an empty house to his back and the pastures dried up and barren and no diamond in the world to shine on that old face. His hair is wet and matted under the baseball cap that he doesn’t take off even when sleeping or showering, and his eyes are two knotted crescents that are just plain tired of seeing. The pictures have been taken down and there are dirty squares on the walls—I don’t want this burden, Mr. Ryan. I just want to fall back asleep and pretend this never happened. I was saving my money to come visit you, Mr. Ryan, but now I’m just gonna spend the money on booze.

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About Eli Hopkins

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