Déjà Voodoo

Updated: March 17, 2019

Here we go again.

Those were the first words that ran through the mind of David Goode when he awoke on the morning of April 3. Here we go again. The second words that gathered in the gloaming of his not-quite-awake brain were …

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

 He shook his head, ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and farted. What the hell is Yogi Berra doing in my head? he wondered. Goode had never met Berra, but he was playing for Yuma—the third time round—when Berra died in 2015. Like everyone else in organized baseball, he’d been invited to attend the public funeral, but he chose not to. Berra hadn’t meant anything special to Goode, just an iconic ball player from the heyday of the formerly great and now defunct MLB. 

So what was Yogi doing in his head?

He couldn’t puzzle it out. At least not before he had his morning cup of tea. Strong tea, black tea, Bigelow’s American Blend with extra caffeine. That’d clear the cobwebs out of his brain. And, hopefully, Yogi Berra.

Goode trundled down the mahogany staircase from his loft and across the cold tiles imported from Italy into the kitchen. A kitchen big enough for a whole ball club of chefs. Twelve million dollars will buy a lot of kitchen and a fancy two story home to wrap around it. Goode still couldn’t believe they paid him so much money to play baseball. A kid’s game! Made him a millionaire, and he was lousy at it! Big time lousy. Strike out with the bases loaded lousy—which he’d done a few dozen times in his ignominious career.

He filled the kettle with water and plopped a tea bag in his favorite cup, an old Texas Rangers cup from when his dad took him to a game in Arlington Stadium when he was a kid. Waiting for the water to boil, he couldn’t help thinking about just how lousy he was at this kid’s game. Never hit 20 homers, never drove in 60 runs, never hit .300. Hah! Never hit over .271—he knew the numbers by heart. A career .231 hitter, three years he’d finished below the Mendoza Line. Below it! And they’d gone right on paying him his $12 mil. Were they insane?

The kettle beeped at him, so he poured the boiling water over his tea bag and set a timer for four minutes. He liked his morning tea strong. Never took to coffee—god, how they teased him about that in every clubhouse he joined! What, Mr. Goody Two-shoes has to have tea? Why don’t you drink coffee like a man?

Goode had no idea why he didn’t drink coffee, well, why he’d never learned to drink coffee. He knew why he didn’t drink it today. Because it tasted like copper in his mouth, so bitter it made him spit and shake all over. But why hadn’t he learned to drink it like everyone else? His father drank it, his mother too on occasion, though she preferred V-8 before breakfast. And Goode had memories, nostalgic memories, of waking to the smell of coffee percolating. Sometimes the smell reminded him of his parents’ house and growing up. Those were pleasant memories, so why tea?

If he’d become a coffee drinker, would he have had a better batting average? He doubted it—but he couldn’t stop wondering.

The timer jangled and he pulled the tea bag out of his cup, scooped a heaping tablespoon of honey out of the jar and let it dissolve in the hot tea. Honey he loved. Craved the stuff. And he’d developed a pretty esoteric palate when it came to honey. Couldn’t stand the store-bought stuff, had to have his honey from local apiaries. Apiaries! Just listen to me, he thought. The words he’d learned because he shopped online for special tea and honey! Expensive stuff, the honey he ordered, ten to fifteen bucks a pound, but thick and rich and golden colored. Not quite as expensive as Tupelo honey, that stuff was like investing in gold, but for a guy who scooped spoonfuls of the stuff into every cup, the honey bill was sizeable.

Not that David Goode worried about such things as food prices. Twelve mil could buy a lot of ignorance about food prices. Twelve mil. It was still an inconceivable number to him. He never saw that much, of course. His accountant dispersed the money David needed, but still. Somewhere in his bank accounts those seasons of earning twelve mil were adding up, drawing interest, keeping David Goode so rich he never ever had to worry about the price of honey.

Were they crazy, the Florida GM who first offered him twelve mil and the Yuma GM who bought his contract from Florida, then traded him away to San Antonio only to buy him back again, this time from Reno, three years later? Well, the Yuma GM was certifiable, I mean the guy spent most of the year in some mental hospital in the foothills north of LA. But he hadn’t been crazy with other player contracts. What made him so extravagantly generous with David?

Was it generosity or was something else driving the Yuma GM? Goode often wondered about that, but his wondering never landed anywhere. He just didn’t know. And as he sipped the honey-saturated tea he’d just made, he admitted he didn’t really care. “Want a little tea with your honey?” his ex-wife used to tease him. But she was gone and the honey, and his taste for it, remained.

The caffeine and sugar combo woke up the sleeping cells of his brain and he realized, belatedly, what day it was.

Here we go again, he thought. Yogi was right. It was exactly like déjà vu all over again, this annual ritual of the first day of the season. Just one game, he told himself, one game in a long summer of 162 games. But he didn’t believe it. He knew it was different. No logic, no numbers, could persuade him otherwise. This wasn’t just another game. This was the first game. And first games were special, different, and always damnably difficult.

He wasn’t looking forward to this season. Hell, he hadn’t looked forward to a season since they first paid him twelve mil to play. He’d been such a disappointment that first year on the big contract—all those expectations and so little production—that he’d feared the start of every new season since then. Another chance to fail.

No, not a chance. A certainty.

If there was one thing you could put safe money on in Yuma, Arizona, it was the Bulldozers. They were a lock to lose. And lose big.

In his three years as manager, the team had won 130 games while losing 286. Pathetic. So why did they keep him? His contract extended three more years and David wondered what he would have to do to get fired? Lose every game?

David popped a slice of cinnamon raisin bread into the toaster and sipped more tea. The irony, he realized, was that as long as the Dozers were losing he had a job. As long as management’s expectations were low, they’d keep Goode on salary. He was cheap; he couldn’t argue for a salary increase very effectively when the club had such a dismal record. And whenever he hinted he wasn’t being paid the league average for managers, one of the owners took him out to dinner and, under the guise of recalling the “good old days,” reminded David of how much he’d underperformed as a player. The subtext was clear, if unspoken: you owe us.

He couldn’t argue. Yuma had given him a financially secure future and now he was giving Yuma … what? A cheap manager and and easy target when they needed to blame someone for their lousy record. David saw the writing on the wall—actually, what he saw on the wall of his kitchen was the splattering of red sauce from the last time he’d made spaghetti and a handwritten note he could no longer make out. What was he trying to remind himself of? He could just make out some numbers—a telephone number perhaps? But whose? If there had been a name on the note it had long since disappeared.

Who would he need to call? Perhaps Pam Postema, he thought, since she was GM—well, the acting GM, but she’d been running this club ever since David got promoted to manager. Still, David had no memories of ever calling her. They rarely spoke. Why would he post her number over his stove? No idea.

The toast popped up and David lathered butter on it until it dripped over his hands as he devoured it in four big bites. He loved this new butter he’d found, from France no less, much richer and sweeter than anything he’d ever tasted from the States. But he couldn’t buy it in Yuma, had to special order it, along with his honey. God, he thought, I’m becoming a foodie with elitist tastes!

He shook his head in dismay. Three more years living high on the hog and then they’ll release me. By then the latest cohort of rookies would be ready for the majors, and the owners’ expectations would rise again, hopes for another pennant would blind them to how mediocre the talent in their minor leagues, and they would hire a manager with a winning record on the naive assumption that managers can win or lose pennants. David knew otherwise. Every manager knew: the success of a team depended on the players, not the manager. Sportscasters, writers and owners—especially owners—exaggerated the importance of the manager. As if a few crucial strategy decisions could turn a losing squad into a winner! The only thing that could turn a perennial loser like Yuma into a winner was a half dozen sluggers and a half dozen first-class hurlers. Short of that, the Dozers would remain in the cellar.

David gulped down the last of his tea, the final mouthfuls always had more honey in them. He savored the sweet drink just as he savored the sweet salary he was being paid to babysit a group of talentless boys with dreams they’ll never realize.

It was a sad job, a hopeless one, but it paid the bills and kept the expensive honey and butter filling David Goode’s expanding stomach. He patted his belly and then he remembered. The phone number over the stove. It wasn’t Postema’s, it was the Old Man’s, the real GM’s, the whack job in the loony bin. It was Mayberry’s number and he knew it was time to call him.

The one person who’d ever believed in David now resided in a mental hospital—what did that say about David Goode? But he was also the only person who could help David, who might have ideas about what David could do next. 

He pulled the note off the wall and reached for his cellphone. What time was it in California? Arizona was on Mountain Time, but the crazy state refused to observe Daylight Savings—some argument with the federal government, David remembered reading—so half the year Arizona and California were on the same time, and half the year there was an hour difference. Problem was, David couldn’t remember if California had switched to Daylight Savings yet or not. It happened some time in the spring, but when? No idea.

And what time, he wondered, was it appropriate to call a patient in a mental hospital? Was it ever? Did patients get phone calls? Did they have phones in their rooms or did they share a public phone? David had no idea. He put the cellphone down.

He was suddenly hungry for more than cinnamon toast. What did he have? He looked in the refrigerator, saw a couple eggs and leftover rice, but nothing else of interest. He closed the refrigerator and realized he would never know when would be a good time to call the old GM, so why not now?

“Why not?” he said aloud, and picked up the cell phone. He squinted at the note he’d removed from the wall, thought he could read all the numbers, and punched the code into his cell phone.

Crazy, he thought, calling an old man in the loony bin. Crazy, but necessary. The number rang on the other end and David waited, having no idea who would answer or what he would say to them when they did.

It rang again. David waited. He wondered where the phone was ringing–in a hospital, in a private room, in a hallway or communal room? Or was he calling a number at the front desk? Do mental hospitals have front desks?

It rang again. David had no idea where he was calling.

Still he couldn’t help feeling he’d done this before, sometime a long time ago.

Déjà vu all over again, he thought and laughed.