Photo courtesy of Flickr user Steve Winton
In the American South, no one says “little person”. Most people – especially Minor League Baseball fans – prefer midget, or, if they’re really drunk, elf guy. This is something I learned in 2010, when I spent the summer interning for a Minor League Baseball team in Tennessee.
Although I had never played baseball, I dreamed of working in a Major League Baseball team's front office. I thought I’d crunch numbers and horse around with Billy Beane, like Jonah Hill did in Moneyball. That was the plan. After one day in Tennessee, I realised that was not going to happen.
At the end of May, I drove 14 hours from my house in Brooklyn to Tennessee. The team wasn’t going to pay me (a red flag I ignored), but the owner promised to cover the cost of my apartment for the summer. The team set me up in a $200 studio at the River Hills Manor, which sounded like the home of a Disney villain.
It wasn’t a nice place to live. The exterior of the “Manor” was mud-brown. It had light-brown trim and brown-brown highlights. It stretched about 200 yards and looked like a funeral home but sadder. It remains, to this day, the longest building I’ve ever seen.
I pulled into the parking lot and noticed a man in his 50s wearing a mustard-stained polo, boxer briefs and pink Crocs. Sitting in a folding chair, he watched me park, and then he shuffled over to where I was unloading my car.
“I live down the hall,” he said, slurring his words. He smelled like bourbon and McNuggets.
“Okay,” I said. (Technically everyone at the River Hills Manor lived “down the hall”. There was only one hall.) He reached for one of my bags. His right index finger was missing the nail and – though I’m no doctor – looked infected. “Oops. No, thank you!”
“I live down the hall,” he said again, motioning for a bag. I figured I’d let him help as long as he didn’t touch me. We got to my door, and then he dropped my luggage on the floor. “Welcome to the building,” he said, as he touched my shoulder with his gross finger.
The summer wasn’t off to a great start, and it was about to get worse. On my first day at work, the team's owner (let's call him Charlie) asked me to make repairs around the stadium. I’ll never understand why he thought this was a good idea. I don’t know how to change a tire, and I get light-headed on those small stepladders people use to remove cereal from a shelf. No one has ever looked at me and thought, I bet that guy is good with tools. People look at me and think, Woah! Is that Ellen DeGeneres? She looks awful.
I tried to explain this to Charlie, but he wasn’t listening. “You ever seen this before?” he asked. He passed me a tabloid called Just Busted. “It’s wild.”
Just Busted is a publication that prints mugshots of everyone arrested in the area each month. It’s like Us Weekly but for drunk drivers instead of celebrities with strollers. The first pages of each issue have about 16 pictures – these are the lesser offences (domestic disturbances, DUIs, assaults) that are common fare for many small towns. As I flipped through the issue, I noticed the mugshots got bigger and the crimes more troubling – or, as Charlie put it, “more awesome!”
After a few minutes, I realised that Just Busted also published each suspect’s full name and home address. “How is this allowed?” I asked Charlie. Then I froze. On the last page, next to a picture of a man arrested for manslaughter, was my neighbour with the pink Crocs and gross finger. His crime: aggravated child molestation.
“Charlie,” I said, horrified, “this guy lives down the hall from me. That’s my address.”
He laughed. “Really?”
“This guy knows where I live! He touched my shoulder!”
Charlie ripped the paper out of my hand. He laughed so hard, he could barely breathe. He grabbed his radio. “Everyone come to my office!” he shouted. “Dorris lives with a child molester!”
Employees flooded into the office. Charlie cried with laughter.
“It’s alleged,” I reminded everyone, aware that even at 19, my skinny, childish body was in my neighbour’s alleged molestation wheelhouse.
“Alleged my ass!” Charlie yelled.
Eventually Charlie realised that I was an incompetent repairman and put me on mascot duty. In Minor League Baseball, mascots and promotional giveaways are vitally important because what’s happening on the field is terrible. (There's one main difference between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball: Major league players have enormous houses, drive fancy cars and have supermodels for wives, while minor league players aren’t good at baseball.) It was my job to walk around the stadium with the mascots and make sure they didn’t fall down the stairs.
The team had three main mascots who had enormous fuzzy red heads with oval eyes. The eyes’ pupils were little black beads that rolled around and occasionally got stuck, making the mascots look disturbed and unpredictable. The only difference between the three mascots was that one of them was four feet tall.
The mascots were the most family-friendly aspect of the team. A couple of teenagers played the two tall mascots. Between innings they snuck underneath the bleachers to smoke pot and give each other handjobs, sometimes with the mascot suits still on. The short mascot was everyone’s favourite, mostly because people loved arguing about who was inside the costume. One night I heard two fans arguing about this hot-button issue in the stadium concourse. A guy wearing a trucker hat that said “FUCK YOU” stood toe-to-toe with a man who wore a shirt that said, “I’M NOT FAT, I’M PREGNANT.”
“He's a child!” shouted the fat guy who wanted to make sure you knew he wasn’t pregnant. “It’s a little kid!”
“It’s not a child. He’s a midget!” screamed the guy wearing the “FUCK YOU” hat. “Look at how he walks – it looks like he’s on a boat!”
For those keeping score at home, the guy wearing the “FUCK YOU” hat was right: The short mascot was a surly little person. (Let's call him Jimmy.) I was terrified of Jimmy. He bragged that he was a celebrated porn star with a huge internet following. He routinely rattled off credits I pretended to recognise. I couldn’t believe that Jimmy wasn’t in jail or dead. He drove a dented blue pickup truck with a Breathalyser attached to the ignition. Since his car wouldn’t start without a 0.00 reading, Jimmy must have used some sort of fucked-up buddy system, because I can’t remember seeing him sober.
Miraculously, Jimmy’s alcoholism didn’t cause any problems until one night at the end of the summer– Used Car Night, the biggest game of the summer.
I’m not sure when Used Car Night began, but I can say it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. The premise of the night was simple: Every half inning, a random fan won a used car from a nearby dealership. Although some of the cars barely ran, others were pretty decent. For some reason, people went ape shit for Used Car Night in Tennessee.
The team had a ticket-selling policy that upset a lot of fans on Used Car Night – the policy was to sell more tickets than the stadium had seats. Ten minutes before the game, hordes of angry fans stormed the ticket office. A woman wearing a see-through tank top pressed her face against the box office glass. “There’s no more room!” she shouted.
“I’ll find you a seat, ma’am,” I said, repeating the line Charlie fed me a few hours earlier. “There’s always more room.”
Though part of the stadium was set aside for reserved seating, there was also a large general admission section with bleacher-style seating. The team sold GA tickets until angry fans complained that the section was full. Then they sold another 300 tickets.
I found a sliver of space for the woman and then watched a sunburned man wearing fake Oakley sunglasses throw a plastic cup full of beer at our box office manager, retrieve his cup, and demand a free refill at the concession stand. Another woman, who held a baby in her right arm, tried to hit a 65-year-old usher with her left hand and a curly-haired old lady called me a faggot.
As the game went on, the crowd became more barbaric. With each passing half-inning, more and mores fans realized, Shit, there are almost 7,000 of us here, and they’re only giving away 18 cars. I might not get a car!
The universal response to that revelation was to drink more beer.
After the game ended, I walked the mascots through the concourse to the main gate. It was my job to stand next to them while they signed autographs for fans. On most nights, people were patient and respectful, but this was Used Car Night, goddammit, and people were not going to be on their best behavior.
Five minutes into the signing, I noticed a ten-year-old fan who kept bumping into the short mascot. Jimmy, like most alcoholics I’ve met, has serious issues with personal space. Before I could tell the fan to step away, Jimmy grabbed the kid by his shirt and pulled him up to his mascot head.
“If you don’t back off,” shouted Jimmy, “I’m going to fuck you in the ass.”
Everyone heard. The kid started crying – his hero had said a no-no word to him through the creepy smile of the mascot mouth. The mascots were not allowed to talk. They were really not allowed to threaten to fuck anyone in the ass.
The kid’s mother was not thrilled. “What did he just say?” she shouted at me.
It was one of those questions that doesn’t have a right answer. “Look, what do you want to hear?” I asked her. “Both answers are wrong.”
I walked the angry mother to Charlie’s office. She complained that a mascot had threatened to “fuck her son in the ass.” Charlie thought her complaint was fair. He refunded her tickets and apologised.
I walked her to the stadium’s front gate. “If you come back,” I suggested, trying to be helpful, “maybe avoid Used Car Night.”
“Go fuck yourself,” she said. “I’m gonna get me one of those cars.”
“Good luck,” I said. And I meant it.
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