The nine or ten year old boy sat in his seat at Fenway Park, occasionally engrossed in the game. The score was tied at four, and they were somewhere in the middle innings; the Sox had clinched the wild card berth for post-season play, but grandpa thought it was nice to take his son’s family to the game nonetheless; he did not see much of Jamie and his other grandson Sam, now that his son had moved to the North Shore.
I must confess that I did not like the green sweater from the beginning. Little Jamie was the curious sort, forever swinging around in his seat to look at the stands behind him. Attractive kid, really: thick brown hair with a bit of a wave at the end of it sticking down from a regulation Sox cap, dark eyes, pinkish skin, squat but not really roly poly, obviously well cared for, the kind of kid you saw these days at the ballpark, what with seats around $100 each if you wanted to be able to actually see what was happening on the field.
The color, you know, was very — Celtic-like; it belonged in Boston Garden where the basketball team plays. There were a few grinning little leprechauns scattered across the front, each standing in a spray of four-leaf clover. But it was the message that got me; I suspected it violated my “Truth” rule. That is a rule that says that all shirts and sweaters and sweats and otherwise written-upon garments need to comply with several wholly logical standards: they must be in plain English, comprehensible to the average reader, and must reflect fact.
While this was not a blatant noncompliance – nothing as flagrant as someone from South Boston High School wearing a Boston College Eagle sweater – it did violate the comprehension test: just what DID it mean when it said “THE LEPRECHAUNS MADE ME DO IT”?
He had done nothing remarkable while in my view and yet his sweater was confessing and apologizing for him, all at the same time. For what? What had little Jamie done to need excusing? What indeed?
I watched him for a few innings. He went once with his mother for a long time and came back with souvenir baseball cards which he riffed through with some interest. He ate an ice cream from a vendor. He annoyed his brother next to him with his elbows. Not the stuff of which true Leprechaun mischief, as I imaged it, was made.
Those who know me are aware of my absolute dedication to the “Truth” rule. Indeed, I venture that it is not an overstatement to say that much of what is wrong and muddled in the world today grows out of imprecision. Now, only a madman would lay all this muddle at the steps of erroneously conceived shirt slogans, but on the other hand those sloppy slogans are clear symptoms of the same kind of loose thought that does lead to the dangerous brew of domestic and foreign affairs in which we these days find ourselves. In that sense, of contributing to the public malaise, these shirts need to be carefully monitored, and egregious transgressions dealt with.
My growing agitation was spiced by my fear that events would unfold in such a way as to deny me the ability to straighten all this out. The kid was with his family group, did not seem inclined to again leave his seat, and in any event the ball-park was sold out for the four hundredth straight game, some sort of baseball record—how could I deal with this if I could not even chat with the tyke?
At the top of the eighth, as Cleveland got up to bat, Jamie had a short conversation with his mother, during which he pulled slightly at his trousers. Jamie’s dad rose but Jamie said something and shimmied out of the row and began down the stairs to the aisle. I thought that perhaps he convinced his dad he could go to the men’s room alone; the dad leaned to the mother, said a few reassuring words and turned back to the field.
From my end seat, I was able to slip into the line of a few people drifting towards the ramp to the concourse below; Jamie was several people ahead of me but visible in the thin traffic. He wove purposefully through the crowd and walked into the Exit door of the men’s room under the first base stands; to avoid attention, I walked a few yards to the Entrance door and saw the lad eyeing the urinals and then, stroke of luck, turning the corner to the back row that shared a tiled walkway with the enclosed stalls. One door happened to swing open just between us, and in this manner I was able to scoop the boy in with me and close the door behind.
“Now before you get all upset, I am not going to hurt you,” said I. I am experienced in these kinds of situations. The youngster’s eyes darted around and I was afraid he was going to call out, loud enough to carry over the background crowd noises from the ballpark, so I had to take out the knife at this point although this was not my preferred plan.
“I told you, no one gets hurt here, so just don’t even think about wiggling out or yelling anything,” I said sternly but not in an unkind manner. “I just have one question to ask you, that’s all.”
The kid swallowed and tried to answer but it came out as a quiet croak: “What?”
“What did the leprechauns make you do, son?”
He stared at me. Was it a mocking stare? Hard to tell, but he was not ingratiating himself to me, I can tell you that.
“What did the leprechauns make you do?”, I repeated, more sternly but not with rancor. He stared as if he did not understand.
“Your shirt, your shirt,” I coaxed with some growing impatience.
“Your shirt says the leprechauns made you do something, I just want to know what bad thing they made you do that you have to apologize on your sweater for it.”
Brow knit, but now engaged by the question, the tad told me in an almost normal voice, “Nuthin.’ My grandpa gave me this when he went to Ireland. It’s nuthin I did.”
Well, you can imagine my growing anger at this. “Why the hell are you wearing it then?” I am afraid I snapped this a bit too harshly because the young tyke took a shuffle to the right and almost fell into the toilet bowl.
“It’s just a shirt. My dad thought my grandpa would like to see me wear it.” He paused, eyes assessing the unrelenting corners of the green painted booth in which he found himself trapped. “I’ll—I’ll take it off. You can have it. Here….” as he struggled to pull it over his head.
“No need,” I crooned to him as I gently put my hand on the top of his head and eased the sweater back down over his shoulders and shaking body. “No need, it’s your sweater, you wear it, wear it in good health. It’s just the slogan,—-what IS your name?”
“Robert,” he whimpered, his back pressed against the side of the stall.
“No sweat, Robert. It’s just the slogan. It’s not – accurate. We have to correct that. I will do that now.”
I reached over to cut the slogan out of the sweater with my knife, which I always keep quite sharp for moments like this, which arise with annoying frequency. He began to cry, poor dear, but experience has taught me that it is best to make the excision as quickly as possible and then everyone can go back to their respective affairs; the anomaly has been corrected and everything just returns to order.
The sweater was actually pretty tight over his belly, and I had to pull pretty hard to gather it away from his chest, so as not to prick him or accidentally cut him. As I pulled, the tag in the back of the sweater neck came up and, printed in bold black ink, on top of the washing instructions tag, was a single word: “Jamie.”
“What’s this tag in back,” I asked, momentarily halting my sawing cuts in the front of the sweater.
“What?” The child was whimpering, almost not audible.
“The tag that says “Jamie” in back,” I answered.
“Camp tag, camp makes you tag everything,” Jamie drooled out of the corner of his pert little mouth.
“So – you are NOT Robert as you told me?”
The young lad seemed to stop breathing, he surely stopped squirming. He looked up, and yes there was fear in his eyes.
“Uh yeh. Sorry mister. I made up my name. I was so scaaaaaredddd…” His low voice quavered and wailed off into a soft cry.
“Jamie! So you not only wore a lying shirt, but AFTER we met you even lied to me AGAIN?” No mistaking the steel in my voice, no irony here, just my righteous anger coming to the fore. But the poor child was now hopelessly lost and unable to guess what next to do that might save him from the peril in which he rightly perceived himself. He said nothing, his legs slid slowly down the wet tile and he ended up sitting on the floor, his back propped against the toilet bowl.
In circumstances of recidivism where the subject has had explained to him the general principles of honesty of words and nonetheless immediately and actively thwarts the principles of the Truth, there is little left to say. The principles need to be clarified by example, no matter how young and attractive the unfortunate perp may be.
So the matter was resolved midst the swelling cheers while the Sox recorded the last pop-out of their 5-4 victory in the top of the ninth. After I left, I realized I had not finished cutting out the lying slogan from the child’s sweater, leaving it a half-frayed garment with no neat corner or tie-off.
But then again, no matter, as Jamie will not be wearing it any more.
[Readers may see an eerie relationship to other stories in the “obsession” genre; particularly The Shirt Off Your Back. Both were written in 2008.]