Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #291 The Gift

This appears in the Monday December 26, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

The Gift
by rick olivares

The old man pulled up the collar of his grey overcoat to fit more snugly. The December chill stabbed at him and at once made him feel all of his 59 years. The PATH train station junction at Journal Square in Jersey City was deserted on Christmas Eve. Not a soul was stirring. Not even a mouse. Everyone must be at home having some hot chocolate, ham, and maybe some pie, thought the old man who worked as a night watchman. He loved buko pie especially those brought to America from the Philippines. It was a slice of home.

Home. That struck a nerve.

The radio was on and there was this man on the radio lamenting being loveless at this time of the year while some shrink imparted advice. The old man switched off the radio a little too late. The problem with being alone and with not much to do is the mind forces you to reminisce. Now he was confronted with memories that were best packed away with old stuff in the attic.

He arrived in America some five years ago as part of a petition by his former wife’s brother. His family had looked at moving to America as an opportunity for a new beginning. But it was a tough time as the country was in the midst of a recession and still trying to find its footing after 9/11. His inability to land a good paying job eventually told on his family. His two sons first worked at the nearby IHop before deciding that joining the military was their best ticket into assimilating themselves in their new country. One was stationed in Guantanamo, Cuba while the other was in Fallujah, Iraq. Their only daughter kept mostly to herself and preferred to stay in the room. His wife worked at a nearby college and it was her salary that mostly kept their family afloat. Working as a used car salesman wasn’t panning out. Even when old cars were priced at $500 no one was buying. Not in this terrible economy.

But what kept them on the edge was staying up at night following the war in Iraq. At that time, the fighting had been heavy in Fallujah and they stayed glued to the news in some form of morbid watch where they hoped for the best but expected the worst. After a particularly nerve wracking week, they received news that their son was doing well. But the fighting had spilled over Stateside as his relationship with his wife got worse. She finally kicked him out of the house and told him to expect to hear from her lawyer as she filed for divorce.

The old man grew up in Bicol and played baseball until his college days. There wasn’t much news about major league baseball in the pre-internet age especially if you lived in the provinces in the Philippines. Once in a while there were box scores in the dailies. Come October and the World Series, the coverage was better but that was about it. He would cut out those news reports and he’d stick them into a folder after having memorized every name to go with their batting average. When he got married and had children he introduced baseball to his sons. Boy, how they loved it as well and they soon made the school team.

When they arrived in America, one of the first things the old man did was to take his sons to Yankee Stadium to watch a game. That set them back by almost a hundred bucks much to his wife’s chagrin. The sightseeing can come later when they had more money that was in short supply now, she argued. He took the barbs but it was money well spent with his boys whom he was close to.

But that was then. The old man switched the dial of his radio to another station where they played classical music. He fixed himself some coffee and when he took a sip he felt some life return to his numbed limbs.

A taxi pulled up just outside the station and the old man watched a passenger alight. The passenger moved briskly towards the entrance. “We’re closed,” croaked the old man as he smacked his dry lips. He took another sip at the java to find his voice. “Station’s closed early for the holiday.* You’ll have to take the cab if you need to get to the city.’

“Papa,” gingerly said the passenger.


It was his son back from Iraq. The old man opened the gate to let his son in. They shared a tender embrace and the father felt his eyes sting from the tears. “I brought some food and hot chocolate,” said the son who also fought back the tears. It was his first time to see his father since he shipped overseas and the first since his parents’ marriage dissolved.

“Papa, look what I found in the attic,” interjected the son sounding suddenly excited. It was a pair of old well-worn baseball mitts. And a ball. “Want to play catch?”

On a cold Christmas Eve, father and son played catch for a few minutes. They smiled and talked baseball. They shared a simple feast and caught up well into the early hours of Christmas morn. It was the best gift the old man had ever received.

* This is a true story about people who I know. Names have been changed. Prior to 2006, the PATH Train would operate until 730pm on Holidays as a result of 9/11. The trains now run once more 24/7. And the old man now has another job and remains in close touch with his children while living in Jersey City.

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