THE RULES OF THE GAME
PHIL AND ELLEN CHASE LOVE BASEBALL. Tradition Field, where the Mets play their Florida spring training games, is 45 minutes away—just bearable to Phil, who gets no pleasure out of driving. In fact, he hates automobiles and longs for the days when those old rickety, but very environmentally friendly, trolley cars were running along tracks, safe and sound.
Ellen packs up a low-fat lunch, puts it in a white plastic container, shoves a couple of bottle of water in a bag and off they go. Phil is a careful driver, and a defensive one, too, so the trip is no fun, just something annoying they have to do to get where they have to go.
“Look at that idiot,” Phil says, watching a tailgater on U.S. 1.
“Stay away from him,” Ellen says. She points: “There’s another guy weaving through lanes.”
“I see him. I see him.”
“Why are they always men?”
“They’re not,” Phil says. “They’re both women drivers in those cars.”
“Well, they’re learning from men.”
“Put anybody in a tinmobile and they go crazy,” Phil says. “They have to release their fury somehow. Put some music on.”
“No. You’ll be distracted.”
“I won’t be distracted, Ellen. Put some goddamn music on.
“What do you want?”
“Absolutely not. Not that noise.”
“All right, then, Bill Evans.”
“Bill Evans I can live with,” she says as she shoves a CD in.
“Are we having fun yet?” Phil says as his body begins to relax while his brain computes Bill Evans’ plangency.
“Watch out for that asshole,” Ellen shrieks.
“I’m watching, Ellen. Calm down.”
When they arrive at Tradition Field and pay five dollars to park, Phil is already making fun of the name. “Tradition Field? It just opened. How could they call it Tradition Field?”
“It’s just a name, Phil,” Ellen says. “Don’t be so analytical.”
They’ve bought tickets in advance and through the milling fans, they approach the entrance gate. A guard asks to examine the container Ellen carries. He opens it and sees food.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “you can’t bring food in.”
“Can’t bring food in? Ellen says. “This is our lunch.”
“I’m sorry,” the guard repeats, “but you can’t bring food in here. It’sthe rule.”
“But we can’t eat ballpark food,” Phil says.
“I’m sorry, You’ll have to eat it outside the park.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Phil says. “This is my food and I want to eat it during the game.”
“Sir, you’re holding up the line. I’m only telling you what they tell me. You can’t bring food into the ballpark.”
“But we don’t want to eat ballpark food. We’re vegetarians.”
“Well, not entirely,” Ellen says. “We do eat fish and chicken.”
Phil gives his wife a look that says this is no time for splitting hairs.
“Ellen, please!” he says. Then to the guard: “We’re vegetarians!”
“Sorry sir,” says the guard. “You’ll have to….”
“I want to talk to somebody. Is there somebody….”
The guard points to a door. “Go over there. Ask in there.”
Phil grabs the container and walks to the door with Ellen.
“This is some bullshit. You have to eat their garbage or you can’t get in!”
“I never heard of such a thing,” Ellen pouts.
A sign on the door says PRIVATE. They open it and see two people, one woman sitting behind a desk and one standing. They seem surprised.
Can I help you?” the seated one says, somewhat irritated at the naked intrusion.
“We want to talk to someone,” Phil says. “The guard won’t let us bring food in.”
“That’s right,” the woman says. “It’s the rule.”
“What rule?” Phil says. “This is our lunch.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman says, looking suddenly helpless at the attack.“You can’t bring it in.”
“We have a special diet. We can’t eat ballpark food.”
“It’s the rule,” she repeats. “You can only eat what’s at the concessions stands.”
“Is there a vegetarian section?”
“Vegetarian?” the other woman says, coming to her colleague’s assistance. “No.”
“Well, then, I want to talk to somebody.”
“I’ll have to phone someone,” the seated woman says.
“Please do,” Phil says. “I’d like to get this settled before the game starts.”
“Ed,” the woman says into the phone, “can you come down here? We’ve got a little problem.”
“He’ll be right down,” she says, hanging up.
Ellen opens the container and displays the contents.
“All we have in here are some carrots, celery, soy cheese and rice cakes….peanuts.”
“Peanuts are all right,” says one of the women.
“I’m sorry,” the other woman says, “but I’m not permitted….”
The door opens and a heavy-set man with a crew-cut comes in.
“What’s up?” he says, looking suspiciously at Phil and Ellen.
The seated woman gets up.
“These people want to bring food into the ballpark.”
The heavy-set man shakes his head.
“You can’t do that. There’s a rule against bringing food in.”
“I know there’s a rule,” Phil says plaintively this time, “but we can’t eat concession food. We’re on a special diet. Can’t you make an exception?”
“Well,” the man says, “if we make one exception….”
“No, it won’t,” Phil says, anticipating the rest. “Everybody eats concession food. Everybody loves concession food. It’s just us. We’re weirdos. If you say no, I’ll have to go…who’s the boss here?. It’s silly.” He points to the container. “We have carrots and celery and soy cheese, and…..”
“I see what you have,” the man says.
“Oh, let them go, Ed,” the originally seated woman says. “Nobody will know the difference.”
“We’re on a special diet,” Ellen pleads.
“Well,” Ed says, examining Phil and Ellen….
“We’re baseball fans, we’re Mets fans,” Phil says. “We love the game, we come all the time, it’s just that…”
“All right, just this once. But that’s it.There are rules here.”
“Thanks,” Phil says, closing the container and picking it up. “Thanks very much. What’s the name of whoever’s in charge here?”
Ed gives Phil a card. They climb to their seats in the reserved section on this beautiful baseball day in Florida.
“Boy,” Phil says, reading the card. “They’re going to hear from me.”
August (Gus) Franza is a writer who has produced 20 novels, 30 books of poetry, scores of short stories and many plays. Before retiring, he taught English for 35 years in high schools and colleges. He has 13 novels in print. “Ballpark Food” is a selection from his short novel, Condomania!!!! You can contact Gus at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website, www.augustfranza.com
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