I missed a Reds game this week. On a summer night in a park in Cincinnati, a man sang and a band played, and the cicadas tried to butt in but became part of the chorus. I sat in a park with the full trees overhead and the wooden boards of the little amphitheater below. The only artificial part of the entire evening was the reflective flash of screens as various audience members held up cell phones, snatching a photo, a flicker of video. This was a waste of electrons and time. We all failed. You couldn’t really be there unless you were there.

The man was Mickey James, working with the Queen City Crew. You could hear exactly what they were playing from the parking lot, because what was happening here was enunciation and various instruments doing their jobs. ‘Hey. ‘Moondance,'” I said to Josh The Pilot as I dangled a backpack with one hand and reached for his fingers with the other. He’s home tonight. We’re home, the both of us, and here.

Sometimes Mickey James wore a Panama hat. Sometimes he did not. Always the band played music that was created, sung, and spun before any of us were born. Every now and then people who could pull off that sort of thing danced to either side of the stage. They look each other in the eyes. They take up space.

“First dance song,” I reminded my husband as “Come Fly With Me” began.

He nodded, but did not suggest that we join the dancers (“Not this arrangement,”) and I settled back into the boards still warm from the slanting-away sun. Well enough. Someday time and money and dance lessons would eliminate such objection. Someday I would wake up not wondering what day it was and which hotel I’d tumbled to sleep in and which flight to Cincinnati was sufficiently empty for me to hitch a ride, here in Roanoke or Greenville or Salisbury or wherever it was my laptop and I wound up this week in an effort to look up at my dance partner on the other side of the sticky little table at the hotel continental breakfast. For now, it’s the hotel in Greenville, North Carolina, or saying goodnight to a flicking image of my husband, his face in the palm of my hand but nowhere in the room.

And anyway this paragraph in a page of summer was drawing to a graceful close, with the sax and the piano and drums and the trumpet and MIckey there asking if there were any Bobby Darrin fans in the audience. That same night, up in Chillicothe, there was singing too. These guys were probably not Bobby Darrin fans. They did not wear their hats.

And well enough. I don’t know how this came to pass in Chillicothe– if the original singer canceled, if the bus carrying the school choir broke down, if the bullpen of the Chillicothe Paints actually was scheduled to open their own game with the National Anthem. All I know is, with the sun reaching low and the bleachers still damp with the air of July, a clutch of relief pitchers stood irony-free on the grass in Ross County, Ohio, and beautifully missed most of the notes of The Star Spangled Banner. And it was well enough.

Here in this midsized media market, there are blasts of noise at the ball park. It is understandable. Baseball is not a game of silence. It is defined by its sounds. Walk-up music, keyboard flourishes, and one-second bursts of Harry Belafonte slam down from above. They smash against the voices of the color commentators and the play by play men.

Yet the loudest, screamingist, most thousands-as-one sports moment of my life happened without a single prompt from a scoreboard– in Riverfront Stadium, when the Reds won in the 10th inning of Game 2 in the 1990 World Series. Our voices filled their absence from home plate. Somebody unfurled an entire roll of toilet paper from the red seats to the Astroturf. That really happened, I’ll remind myself every now and then. I leapt from my seat, right on the edge of the river, drowning out the loudspeaker, the noise bouncing back at us from the fake grass. The scene is washed-out and bunched thick out of shape when I look at tape of it. It’s a little like the humidity-faded photos I stole of Mickey James and the Queen City Crew on a summer night in a park in Cincinnati.

You couldn’t really be there unless you were there.

24 Responses

  1. RojoBenjy

    Wherever you go, that’s where you are.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Whenever someone on HGTV says “forever home,” I twitch a little. I’m in a mobile place right now.

      • Doug Gray

        Call me crazy if you want (it probably applies), but I want one of those forever homes, but also want to be able to travel. Basically, I want it all. I’m a monster.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Trick is to have a tiny home on an obnoxious trailer. You’ll have a forever home AND be able to travel. It’ll just be with a composting toilet.

      • Doug Gray

        No way!

        I have nothing against tiny homes. I think it’s interesting, and I probably subscribe to 15 different tiny home/RV living youtube channels. I really love what a lot of people are doing with it. Heck, I’ve kicked around the idea of building a “tiny home”, though on a foundation (something like 600 sq feet) in the future.

        But I want nothing to do with my home being on a trailer. I have lived in a trailer before. No thanks. Any time there’s a hint of a storm you’ve got to leave your home. I’m not planning on moving to San Diego, so that isn’t going to work.

      • Eric

        “My mother and I were in a tornado once. We were in a mobile home, and I think God must really hate mobile homes, Andy, because tornadoes always attack them first… they get very mobile.”

        John Caravella, aka Dr. Johnny Fever

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        The tiny house revolution is unfortunately not proceeding as advertised, because most places don’t allow trailers as domiciles without being parked in an RV/trailer park. Which brings us right back where we started with the overly mobile mobile homes.

        Josh and I are fascinated by tiny homes. We struggled for a year to find a place because everything was just too big, and the smaller houses tended to have crack in them. What we ended up with is still a floor too large. And because of all the above issues, to have a tiny home we’d have to buy land, clear it, build a foundation, etc etc etc….

  2. Scott C

    Sounds like a great evening. We are so blessed in this age to have the choice of a multitude of entertainment choices. That sounded like a beautiful night of music. In the back of mind, I was listening to “Come Fly With Me” the rest of the way through the article, however it was Sinatra’s voice singing. I am sure however that the personal experience of “being there” with Mickey James was as good if not better. You are absolutely right, the only way a night like that can be enjoyed is by being there. The right company makes it so

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Because this music is real music, it’s extremely difficult to pull off. Mickey and these guys are fantastic. I’m grateful to them for keeping it alive.

      (Our first dance was the Buble version.)

  3. Eric

    You really love that guy, don’t you? 🙂

    I mean Josh the Pilot…not Mickey James…

    But yeah, you’re right…there’s no substitute for “being there,” and that’s one of the things that makes baseball so unique: everyone’s “there” is also unique, and personal.

    Great stuff, MBE. Again. And again.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks Eric. Josh The Pilot just took me on a whole bunch of roller coasters for the day, and then shared the half of his chocolate chip cookie with the most chips with me, so i think I’ll stick with him. Really appreciate the kind words.

      • Scott C

        Anyone that would share half his cookie with you let alone the half with the most chocolate chips, you better hang on to.

    • Eric

      Eric. I just started posting yesterday. I checked in this morning and read things I said I don’t remember saying. From now on I’ll be Eric B. Watch out for those tornados!

  4. Jefferson Green

    Thank you, MBE. A delight to read. Sitting on my deck on a perfect summer day, reading great prose as the breeze blows through.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh thanks so much Jefferson! I don’t think a writer could ask for much more than that 🙂

  5. Bill Hedges

    You had me at “summer night in a park in Cincinnati.” It’s been way too long . . . and Arizona’s (even) dry heat at times is a bit overwhelming.

    Thanks MBE for taking us multiple places and even returning us home on occasion.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I am grateful you came along for the trip!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yeah, well, with this team we have to drink a lot.

  6. Mark Moore

    Josh is one lucky man. And we are very fortunate to have you writing for us MBE. It’s pieces like this that bring me back time and time again. Thank you for what you give us.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Blessed girl here! What a lovely way to start my day… thanks so much.