Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cricket in Pullman

I play in the North West Cricket League and most of our games are within a 20 mile radius of where I live. Yesterday's game was, well, not quite. We set off from Redmond at 5AM and drove 288 miles to the town of Pullman to play the students of Washington State University in a 40 over game. I was able to escape the driving duties on the way to Pullman, and slept through most of the drive - except waking up at one point to talk about my frailties as an opening batsman and then falling asleep immediately after assuming I had made my point. Last season, we'd driven 5 hours to play a cricket match in Spokane where we were greeted by a ground that was so small that we had to play with 2G rules (2 runs granted, like if the ball hit the baseball batting cage behind the keeper). It also didn't help that the matting pitch at the ground in Spokane was 11 yards long. So it was surprising in a wonderful way, like when you trap a batsman plumb in front and the umpire is competent enough to agree with you, to see that the ground in Pullman had an all-weather pitch and a freshly mowed outfield.

We lost the toss and I was made to wonder if I'd dreamt my discourse in the car about how I'm not a good opening batsman when I was told to pad up and take first strike. When one is in doubt of one's batting abilities, it's always good to have an attacking batsman playing alongside - he'll get the runs while the nervous batsman does his best to 'well left' the ball and bring down the run-rate. My opening partner was this guy, who as a rule walks down the crease before the bowler has reached his and tonks the ball, when it arrives, over the mid-wicket boundary. Either he has scant respect for the new ball or a severe allergy to the batting crease.

Ever since I moved to Seattle, my batting performances haven't been great and the quiet college town of Pullman turned out to be the ideal place to let loose. The first ball I put bat to sped to the point boundary, a shot that would have got me 0 runs on our home ground. The shot should have got me 0 runs on this ground too but the fielder missed the ball completely and used the oft quoted 'bad bounce' excuse. The 'bad bounce' card, much like the 'preserving Indian culture' card, can be used whenever by its wielder and cannot be disputed. The wicket was a bit tricky to bat on when the ball was delivered on a good length - it tended to stop a bit - but the WSU bowlers bowled at least 2 hit-me balls every over and I was able to find the gaps. Things were going so well that at one point the keeper told the umpire to signal a four in spite of the fielder claiming that he had stopped the ball before it had crossed the mid-wicket boundary. It turned out to be a simple case of the keeper misjudging the sound of the fielder hitting the fence to be the sound of the ball hitting the fence.

When you haven't played a significant knock in a while, getting close to a 50 can make you yearn quite a bit for the milestone, for the shouts of "bat up!" from the 'pavilion' so that you can act like the 50 is no big deal and that you're raising your bat only because the 'pavilion' insists. I'd reached 47 in around the 13th over and the bowler bowled a widish delivery that I went after. The ball hit the bottom of the bat and lobbed slowly towards the point fielder who ran towards it as if he wanted to obliterate it with his chest. His hand, following his forward momentum, pushed the ball away but the force of his desire was so intense that he stumbled and enveloped the ball on his downward passage towards the grass. He rose with the red cherry in his hand, surprised and delerious, and I walked back to the 'pavilion', surprised and dejected.

We finished our innings with 297 in 40 overs, the highlight of which was the final over which read '4 6 4 4 4 4'. The batsman, getting to his century in the process, ended the NWCL bowling career of the bowler who commented at the end of the carnage that such big hits were only expected in the last over of the innings. The WSU team, though, never got to the 40th over of their batting innings as they folded for 128 runs - the highlight of which was the 16 runs they smacked off my third over. One of the sixes in that over went so far out of the ground that it took ten minutes to find the ball, causing the fielder who chased after it down a never ending slope such pain that he told the captain that he would never field in the deep again.

The 16 run over probably won't end my NWCL bowling career, fingers crossed, but it did end my spell for the day as I was summarily dispatched to the deep from where I witnessed the rest of the WSU innings. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

On the Road

I read most of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ while road tripping across the state of Oregon – a 1300-mile trip that took my friends and I to Portland, Crater Lake, Crescent City and Coos Bay. It was a long drive – six of us in a mini-van – but a comfortable one, and hardly comparable in scale to Kerouac’s, or should I say Sal Paradise’s epic trips across the American continent, like the time he journeyed from New York’s “cloud of dust and brown steam” to the “fog and whiteness” of San Francisco and then back east, punctuated by numerous pit stops along the way, some by design – meeting with his Denver crew of Chad King and Tim Gray but most importantly the insane and incredible Dean Moriarty who becomes in a way Sal’s muse and whose character is best captured by poet Carlo Marx who says when asked of Dean’s whereabouts:

“Dean is in Denver. Let me tell you.” And he told me that Dean was making love to two girls at the same time, they being Marylou, his first wife, who waited for him in a hotel room, and Camille, a new girl, who waited for him in a hotel room. “Between the two of them he rushes to me for our own unfinished business.”

– and some by accident, like when he falls in love with Teresa, “the cutest little Mexican girl” who is introduced to us in a passage that would make most readers stop and reminisce their own love-stories-that-could-have-been:

She was in one of the buses that had just pulled in with a big sigh of airbrakes; it was discharging passengers for a rest stop. Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious; her hair was long and lustrous black; and her eyes were great big blue things with timidities inside. I wished I was on her bus. A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.

On our way back to Seattle, driving east down the 38, we hit a stretch of road where we were accompanied by a dark green river, misty mountains and nothing else. The road winding like the river, a path paved through a land that I imagine was once all forest but there was still beauty that’d been left alone; the clouds descended and obscured in a translucent haze the peaks of the mountains giving the area an ethereal feel, and us a lesson in smallness. As I settled back into the book in hand, the trio of Dean, Sal and Marylou too stumbled on a winding road, albeit navigating it a bit differently:

Then we started down. Dean cut off the gas, threw in the clutch and negotiated every hairpin turn and passed cars and did everything in the books without the benefit of accelerator. I held on tight. Sometimes the road went up again briefly; he merely passed cars without a sound, on pure momentum. He knew every rhythm and every kick of a first-class pass. When it was time to U-turn left around a low stone wall that overlooked the bottom of the world, he just leaned far over to his left, hands on the wheel, stiff-armed, and carried it that way; and when the turn snaked to the right again, this time with a cliff on our left, he leaned far to the right, making Marylou and me lean with him. In this way we floated and flapped down to the San Joaquin Valley. It lay spread a mile below, virtually the floor of California, green and wondrous from our aerial shelf. We made thirty miles without using gas.  

We passed through a bunch of small towns, stopping over at a few for coffee or gas. The Picnic Basket Delicatessen made it seem like all that the people of Shady Cove do is fly-fish. It looked a tiny shop from the outside but as I made my way towards the restroom, I realized that at some point between dodging fishing equipment and walking down stairs I'd entered someone’s house. The presence of fish ornaments everywhere but mostly the unfathomably animatronic fish surrounding the toilet added to the strangeness of it all. Nothing like the cafes in San Francisco that Dean and Sal rejoiced in, consumed by the blasting and booming jazz:

He’d go from “ta-tup-tader-rara … ta-tup-tader-rara,” repeating and hopping to it and kissing and smiling into his horn, to “ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP! ta-tup-EE-da-de-dera-RUP!” and it was all great moments of laughter and understanding for him and everyone else who heard. His tone was clear as a bell, high, pure, and blew straight in our faces from two feet away. Dean stood in front of him, oblivious to everything else in the world, with his head bowed, his hands socking in together, his whole body jumping on his heels and the sweat, always the sweat, pouring and splashing down his tormented collar to lie actually in a pool at his feet.

I would find myself sometimes skimming through portions of the text before landing on an adjective so unusual but apt in a long, rambling sentence that it’d make me go back a page and read slower, and noodle over the craziness that Kerouac zoomed in on:

Marylou was watching Dean as she had watched him clear across the country and back, out of the corner of her eye—with a sullen, sad air, as though she wanted to cut off his head and hide it in her closet, an envious and rueful love of him so amazingly himself, all raging and sniffy and crazy-wayed, a smile of tender dotage but also sinister envy that frightened me about her, a love she knew would never bear fruit because when she looked at his hangjawed bony face with its male self-containment and absentmindedness she knew he was too mad.

We drove through Oregon to view the tremendous blue, a road trip that revolved around Crater Lake. Sal Paradise’s trips though were in quest of the people who inspired him, whose insanity, self-love and joy of living kept him on the road: 

and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Kerouac’s prose, oh how it crackles!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Café Tales VII

From atop one of the mountains that contain the lake, I sight the water through a rare gap between the trees. It reflects the white cliffs and the clouds above, but its color isn’t the beautiful turquoise seen on the cover of my travel brochure. The chills, though, arrive as advertised. It’s the silence, the wonderful absence of human chatter. I push past icy branches and shrubs, and as I sense the “wide, magnificent view” approaching, my right foot slides deep into the snow, jerking me forward. I fall to my side, and instinctively push against the ground to pull my leg out only to send myself tumbling down the slope. My eyes shut in self-preservation as the snow slams my face. Plants and rocks try in vain to get in the way of my gathering momentum. There’s a second of nothing but air journeying with me, and I open my eyes. A blue wall appears.


More tales this way.