"kelso's swing" [chapter 16]
Penny’s husband, Don, walked up to Marstrulavich, who sat at his usual spot up front in the Tampico Tides, and offered his hand in an official manly manner. Marstrulavich slipped his thumb over the side of Don’s thumb to keep from getting his hand purposely crushed and looked the guy in the eye, thinking he must squeeze rubber balls to have a grip like a vise. Don then sat down beside him on the stool usually occupied by Kelso.
“So where’s your buddy the coach?” he asked off-handedly.
Marstrulavich took a leisurely drag from his cigarette and sipped his Cutty/water, checked out Don’s massive biceps. “He’s down at Murphy’s Pub, tryna get laid.”
Don nodded, turned partly away, swigged from his mug of beer, kept his eyes on Marstrulavich in the back-bar mirror. “So…is it…Mar-STROO-la-vich?” When Marstrulavich nodded, he asked. “What kind of name is that?”
“It’s not my real name, Don. My real name’s Marshak. When I was in the seventh grade, Kelso started calling me Marstrulavich. He thinks it makes fun of me, makes me sound stupid and foreign. I tried for years to shake it. I kept telling everybody I was Marshak, but Kelso wouldn’t let it go, he kept insisting I’d made up Marshak because I was ashamed of Marstrulavich. Christ, even my coaches started calling me Marstrulavich.” Seeing that he had Don’s attention, he dashed out his butt, went through his elaborate ritual of lighting a new cigarette. “What really pisses me off, though, is that Kelso’s real name isn’t Kelso, his grandfather changed it from Kelsikov, and I never call the prick Kelsikov, out of respect for his father, who won a batting championship in the big leagues.”
A bit flummoxed by this flow of conversation, Don drained his mug and motioned to the bartender for another, and one for Marstrulavich. When the drinks came, Marstrulavich clinked Don’s mug and thanked him in a manner indicating he was taught courtesy by his mother.
“Hey, my pleasure,” Don said. Then, without looking at him, he asked, “So, what do you do?”
Marstrulavich blew out a smoke ring and watched it dissolve. “As little as possible, if I can help it.”
Don paused, drank. “You don’t…work?”
“Oh yeh, I work, from time to time, usually when my savings and unemployment checks run out.”
“What kind-a work?”
“Oh, I cooked at the diner in town, and at the Sunset, worked in a car wash up on the high way, did some janitorial stuff, tended bar right here a few years back, with Kelso. That was a good summer. We made good money, met lotsa nice girls.” He smoked. “During the day, Kelso and I played wiffle ball on the beach and surfed.”
Marstrulavich nodded, blew out smoke.
“I play wiffle ball. Right here on the beach, with my partner. We’re pretty good, in fact.” He glanced at Marstrulavich. “You two any good?”
“We were pretty fair, I guess. We haven’t played in five, six years. Kelso’s got a wrecked shoulder—rotator cuff. He’s a rag arm.”
Don nodded, sipped his beer. He withdrew some tungsten darts in a leather case from his pocket. “You shoot darts?”
“From time to time.”
“Let’s play for drinks, huh? Keep it interesting. You okay with that?”
“Sure. I’m not very good, though, compared to some of the hard-core dart throwers in here.”
Marstrulavich, who had his own tungsten darts at home, picked up the plastic house darts. He knew, from talking to his boss, Flanagan, who was front-man for the syndicate and drank around the corner at Ryan’s, that Don played volleyball on the beach, rugby with some ex football players, and shot darts fairly well. He knew also that Ryan’s bartender, Ross, a friend of Flanagan’s and a degenerate gambler and alcoholic, claimed Don and his fellow LAPD pal, Buzz, were the best wiffle ball players around and had won tournaments throughout the county. Supposedly, they were undefeated in Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches.
Marstrulavich, losing consistently and being a good, compliant sport while buying rounds, was every bit the hard-nosed competitor Kelso was and owned a smashed-in nose from head-on collisions in football as a high school defensive back. When at last Marstrulavich had had enough, he said, “If you’re anywhere near the wiffle ball player as you are a dart shooter, you must be unbeatable.”
Don placed his darts in their case. “So, your friend Kelso, the coach, he as good a ball player as he thinks he is?”
“Oh, he has his good days and his bad days, like all old injured guys. He throws a lot of off-speed junk.”
Don watched Marstrulavich light a Pall Mall. “Well, how’d you two like to play Buzz and me in a little wiffle ball contest?”
He finished his drink and leaned against the bar and yawned. “Sure. What the hell, why not?” He sipped his drink, placed his cigarette in an ashtray. “How’s about we play for a little something, Don? Say, a case of beer and a fifth of tequila gold? That’ll make it a little more interesting.”
“You got it, pal.” Don’s smile beamed. “I’ll set it up.”
Later that night, Marstrulavich visited Flanagan in Ryan’s and bet a $100 on both he and Kelso. Flanagan took the bets and then several more from the primarily sports-frenzied crowd, and bartender Ross, all on Don and Buzz.