inessential by Brent Simmons

The Squirrel

It’s so hard to teach squirrels to play baseball. There’s this one squirrel who lives in a tree in my yard. We go down to the park just about every day. He runs out to center field and I hit him pop flies.

Look at him run! Such grace and speed, the kid can really move. He’s a natural. He gets a great break on the ball and just takes off — and then he’s there, feet planted under the ball, he’s there to make the sure, two-handed catch. I’m so proud, I didn’t even have to teach him that. The kid has instincts, I’m tellin’ ya. I’ve never seen anything like it.

But then, before I can even say boo, he’s buried the damn ball there in center field. His two little hands dig up the grass, make a ball-sized hole, plop the ball in there, replace the dirt and grass, and then he stops, ready for another one. And I’m aghast, again, at how he can’t seem to get the simple concept of throwing the ball back to the infield.

So I grab another ball from my basket, hit it way up in the air — and there he goes! It’s a site to see, something beautiful to watch, you gotta see him cover that wide-open space, tracking the ball with his eyes, his feet all a-blur, his athletic, sleek body just moving through space... And damn, he’s buried the ball again.

So I’ve lost about half the balls in the basket already — like every other day — and so we switch to ground balls. I hit ’em on the ground to him, and he’s wonderful, not surprised by any weird hops, a natural at reading the ground, totally great instincts. I mean, holy cow. But you know what happens, he buries each and every one.

So finally I’m just about out of balls — and the kid owes me like another 500 bucks in baseballs again — and I’m yelling out to him, “Throw the damn ball back to the damn infield! You’ve got to hit the damn cut-off man!”

He does this thing, instead of facing me right on, he turns sideways, so he’s looking at me with just one eye. He’s totally still, just staring at me, that one, unblinking eye.

I don’t get this, I never do. “What!” I yell. “I don’t know what that means! What!”

He doesn’t move. Finally I hit him some more grounders, and he fields them expertly, and expertly buries them in the field.

Until we’re out of balls. “Nuts!” I yell, a little frustrated. Delighted, yes, but frustrated too. He comes trotting in, and we pick up our equipment and start walking back home.

As we’re walking along the sidewalk, our equipment slung over our shoulders, he asks if we’re going out tomorrow.

And I’m like, “Are you going to throw the ball back to the infield?”

He stops walking, just gives me that eye again. Ah nuts. The eye, the one eye, unblinking, staring. “What’s that all about! What are you saying! I don’t know what that means!”

We just stand there on the sidewalk, me a couple paces ahead, looking back at him.

Finally, I shake my head, shake off the weirdness of the moment, and I go, quietly, “Yes, of course we’ll go out tomorrow.”

I don’t get it, I gotta say — I mean, he’s the one who wants to be a centerfielder so bad. I’m the one who’s helping him.


And then sometimes late at night he plays his stereo too loud. I go outside in my pajamas. “Keep it down for God’s sake!”

I can’t see him, it’s way too dark, but I know he’s giving me that eye.

At least, at least there’s this — he does turn the music down after a little while.