E On DC

During the last days of baseball one could find me yelling at the television. I wanted to reach into the screen and take the ball away from Soriano and Storen. Those guys were closers. What were they doing blowing a lead? The closer is the one who finishes strong. There is no room for a mistake. The closer pitches the ninth inning. Things that happen in the first or fifth innings mean nothing. At the end of the day it only matters if the closer gets the save.

This month, I will celebrate another birthday. Next year I’ll turn 65. It’s time to think like a closer. All I have to do is look at my bank account and I know that I’m on a team that doesn’t score many runs. But why has my life been filled with so many errors?

When I was growing up 65 was the age of retirement. I often heard my parents talking about it as if it was a number you gave to the local bookie. I remember when my father retired. He was suddenly home, sitting in the back room talking to himself. My father, who worked nights in the postal service, appeared to never take a break or call in sick. He hated sports and so he never knew what it meant to go the distance. My father knew how to take care of his family and turn even the smallest paycheck into a win. When he died he left my mother in good financial condition. He saved her from moving into a smaller apartment or someplace where one hides the elderly.

Lately I’ve started downsizing and preparing for the next phase of my life. It’s time to be a closer. As a literary activist there are many things I plan to save and protect. In my second memoir, “The 5th Inning.” I openly discussed what I consider to be my failures. Even with more education than my parents I seem to have saved less than they did. I live in a house on a quiet street in Northwest Washington. I guess I’m on the bottom rung of the black middle class. I must be in the group without the prepared conference badge labels. I can’t afford the vacation trips to South Africa or Brazil. My house has only small pieces of African sculpture. Someone tried to place a “Bowser for Mayor” sign in my front yard but I took it down. I know I’m entering the late innings by how I react to race matters. I’m beginning to feel (and sound) like those old black men that stand in front of funeral homes and give directions. 

Yet, what I have saved are books and literary documents. I’ve given many things to the Gelman Library at George Washington University, where I sit on the advisory board. I wonder how much my children will understand the importance of my personal library. I also worry about the future of the book and book collecting. Too many institutions are simply discarding printed things and going digital. Everyone has a smartphone and a computer. Everyone is looking at a screen as if it was one big scoreboard. 

We need closers to save a way of life. I recently read about the destruction of culture in places like Iraq and Syria. I am a witness these days to troubling times. I am running out of seasons. My arm is hurting and I’m still learning how to pitch, one day, one strike at a time. Don’t talk about tomorrow when the real game is today. You either win or lose.


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