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"Pinky" - Gary F. Brown


Arthur Frederick Haley (1865-1963). My Mom’s father. Crazy Irishman. My childhood hero. He and I beat the absolute hell out more than one guy together on the Gillette Friday Night Fights from our front row seats in front of the television at 123 Cloverdale Apartments on the north side of Watertown. It was the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Life was easier. Entertainment was simpler.

His nickname was “Pinky.” Pretty big ears for a 5’6” 135 pound guy. “Like a cab going down the street with the doors open” his friends used to joke. He did box a little at the Air Brake garage in the 1930’s. When he got hit in the side of the head his ears would get red. Pinky.

Part-time boxer. Part-time softball player. Part-time worker. Full-time drinker. I was the “little shit” of a grandson who at the time knew nothing real of those days. Just the stories. The good ones that got a little better and a little bigger each time. And I wanted to hear them as often as he was willing to tell them.

His 1963 obituary in the Watertown Daily Times spoke of his family, his work – what of it there was – his Army duty in World War I and contained the phrase “conspicuous sports spectator.” Nice way of saying big mouth.

And he was. He and I would cruise the north side bars. Emphysema from years of Camels was tearing him apart still never stopped him from telling the biggest guy in the bar to go to hell. The fullness of his face and the quality of his diction had a direct relation to whether or not he bothered to put in his teeth that morning. He shaved about twice a week. Took too much air, he said.

Pinky and I spent a lot of time watching semi-pro and businessman’s league softball behind North Junior High. Free entertainment for two guys with no money. I was seven years old. Skinny. Glasses. A perpetual butch cut. Hand in hand we’d go. It was only about four blocks. He could do it if we took our time and stopped once or twice.

The crowds were always pretty good. Fifty to a hundred people in the stands depending on the game’s importance and who was pitching. We always sat down the first base side, almost to first base and up about eight rows in the bleachers. “Can see the strike zone better from here,” he’d always tell me. He really was not there to watch their game. He was there to play his own. Pinky knew everyone in Watertown, and they knew him. Especially the umpires. Come about the second or third inning Grandpa would start: “Strike? Aw, bullshit!” Once the umpire glanced over at us, the real game was on. “What the hell are you looking at?” he’d ask the ump. They never answered the first time. Just kind of stared at him while the rest of the crowd stared at us. Pinky was a poker player. He never showed his hand too early. The idea was to wait until the game was either getting real close or real lop-sided. They’d pay more attention.

“Jesus H. Christ,” he’d holler. “Strike? What do you mean strike?” Right about then the center fielder would tell him to shut up before the umpire got around to it.

“Pinky, I told you last week to keep quiet or I’d throw you out of here. Last warning. Right about now some bozo in the crowd would decide to side with the umpire. “Yeah, shut up old man, or get the hell out of here.” Pinky wanted in the worst way to tell the ump and the fan where to go, but it was way too early in the game. Once in a while, he would give somebody the finger. Mostly he would shut up. This was way too much fun.

After all these years, I now know what his criteria were for deciding when to go ahead and get us thrown out. These were wooden bleachers. He was sick. When his ass got sore or his breathing got bad – or both – it was about time to go. If there was a play at the plate that was always a good opportunity. The guy could be out by three feet. “Out! Out? You blind bastard, he was safe by a mile!”

“Pinky, I’m done. Take that little shit of a grandson and head back to Cloverdale right now, or the Shanty’s going to forfeit this game because of you. They’re the home team. You’re one of the home fans. You know the rules. Now get the hell out of here, or I’ll do it!”

Pinky smiled like someone just handed him a free beer. He came on a mission. Mission accomplished. We stood up and hand-in-hand started for the bottom of the bleachers. “This game stinks anyway, Gus. Let’s go home and get a piece of apple pie.” And so we left. Slowly. The ump was always leaning against the chain link fence waiting for us to leave. Pinky now had even more control. “I’m calling the game here Thursday night, Haley. I don’t want to see you here.” Pinky smiled and looked down at me. He reached into his back left pocket and retrieved his gray sportsmen’s cap. Cocked it over his left eye just so.

“What time’s the game start, Augie?” he asked.

“What do you care? You’re not going to be here anyway!” Augie said.

“The hell I’m not, Augie. You’re an umpire – and a pretty damn bad one at that – but you’re not a cop. We’ll be here. You can’t stop us.”

Nobody wanted to stop him. He was a fixture. Part of the fabric of the softball games behind North Junior High. “A conspicuous sports spectator” whose funeral was attended by a bunch of “blind” umpires, dozens of ex-ballplayers, and one heartbroken little shit.