Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sand Lot Baseball, Altagracia, Dentista and the Guaguita

Sand Lot Baseball

         This morning I went with Niningo to watch him play baseball for the club where he is a member. To get there he led me through a section of the neighborhood where I had never been before down quiet little side streets and through a field and we came out on Ave. Charles DeGaulle on the other side of Olé and where there is a bus stop for the 5 peso OMSA. We waited a long time for the OMSA and finally gave up and squeezed into an overcrowded taxi van with no side door headed for Sabana Barrio
         The ball field had grass in both the infield and the outfield although it was very uneven and patchy and there was a small concrete grandstand and a concrete dugout on each side. Both the pitcher’s rubber and homeplate looked like they were made from cement and the bases were not brought out and tossed in place until just before the first game started. Groups of boys from about age 12 to 18 were playing pepper, taking infield practice, jogging in the outfield and lounging on the bleachers and there were squads of peewee leaguers running around in the farthest, overgrown reaches of the outfield. Eventually the fifty or so older boys were divided into four teams and the first game started.
         The umpire, who was usually one of the players waiting to play in the second game, called the game from just behind the pitcher and could often be seen giving the pitcher pointers or laughing uproariously at wild pitches or joking with the nearby baserunner on second base. There were many errors, both throwing and fielding, some of which could be attributed to the rough ground, but there were also many misjudged fly balls that fell in for extra base hits and nearly all the baserunners that reached first base quickly stole second and third-- home was stolen successfully five times. The final score must have been astronomical.
         Niningo is touting himself as a pitcher because, as he figures, all he has to do is get his fastball up to 85MPH and he can sign with a Major League team and because every team needs more pitchers than any other position his odds are mathematically better. He does not bat because they use the designated hitter here, or practice fielding much but he looked very smooth and cool jogging in the outfield. He started the second game but had not warmed up his arm or stretched and so-- after the first two batters reached base on errors on weakly hit groundballs and he got one to ground out to short-- he got shelled and had to concentrate so much on each batter that all his baserunners stole their way around the bases to score and he was lifted after a half dozen runs because of shoulder pain and before he was able to record a second out. The relief pitcher got hit so hard that he was replaced by the hard throwing third baseman before recording any outs. Niningo and I left after the third inning  and by the time we had walked from the field to the nearest bus stop he said that his arm was feeling a little better.

Sometimes Altagracia has unpredictable moods and they might be started by anything. Last night after borrowing my cell phone Altagracia tossed it on the bed and it two-hopped off the mattress and hit the cement tile floor and skidded under the night stand. The phone turned out to be okay but I was a little annoyed and said something like, “Sheesh, could you be a little more careful,” and, “and you wonder where Chavela gets the habit of dropping plates and glasses in the kitchen from?” and Altagracia went into a little sulk saying that she would never borrow my cell phone again and so forth but when I grabbed her from behind and tickled her and blew in her ear she laughed so I figured things were okay. But she came to bed late and wouldn’t talk and after lying in the dark for a while I could feel her trembling and she was crying and still wouldn’t talk until she finally said, “I threw your phone,” and I said that it was nothing, that I was not annoyed anymore, that there was no damage done but she would not say anything more and she was just as quiet in the morning when she generally chatters happily on while we are drinking our coffee and she refused to bring her cell phone to work which meant that she did not want me to call her during the day.

Chavela has been having toothaches and since Altagracia has been complaining about her fillings shifting and losing little pieces I took Chavela to Dr. Ingrid Lantigua who is the dentist up near the blue water tank. I was allowed in the room while she peered around in Chavela’s mouth counting cavities and appraising the damage of the two painful molars. She wrote out the estimate which included 8 cavities at 400-500 pesos (12-15$) and then went ahead and filled two and I was allowed to watch the process and even ask questions during. Because of the miracle of fluoridation in Massachusetts I have never had a cavity or seen one filled, so I was riveted although it didn’t seem much different than masonry work in miniature. I paid the 900 pesos and Chavela promised to visit one of the nearby locations that could x-ray the bad teeth and to bring them, the x-rays that is, with her on her next visit.

Daihatsu Minibus
I am a driver now in Santo Domingo. I bought a year 2000 Daihatsu minibus for about $4000 fresh off the boat from Japan. So far so good aside from nearly killing us on the first test drive when my foot got caught between the gas pedal and the brake-- which are inordinately close together-- and we were propelled into traffic prematurely. The woman driver who swerved to miss us yelled out her window that if she had a pistol she would have shot at us.
         We have taken to calling it la guaguita and it has a 3 cylinder, 660cc displacement motor so it is like a 4 wheel motorcycle and reportedly will get around 50MPG. It is a little more than 11 feet long and is 5 feet wide-- about the same proportions as a lunch box. There is also a pickup truck version which is built on the same frame and, between the two models they must nearly outnumber Toyota Corollas on the streets of Santo Domingo. The pickups are often equipped with loudspeakers and, loaded with platanos, eggs, bananas, potatoes, onions, avocados, oranges, rolls of toilet paper, mops and brooms, slowly cruise the residential neighborhoods loudly announcing what they are selling and for how much. The minibuses are often used to deliver baked goods to colmados since the bread must be kept dry and they are also used by small contractors who need to keep parts and tools secure.
         There are surprisingly few cars for sale privately in the classified section of newspapers-- many editions had no minibuses listed at all-- I assume this stems from a ‘drive’em till till they drop’ attitude-- so I searched the car plazas which are scattered all over the city which mostly sell used cars bought at auction and imported from Japan and the U.S. There is a customs regulation which prohibits the importation of any car older than 5 years old so there were many vehicles reputed to be year 2000 models to choose from and two or three plazas that specialized in the tiny Daihatsu. The plaza at the intersection of Carretera Mella and Avenida Charles DeGaulle (or La Charley, as it is usually called) was filled with vans and trucks in various stages of dis- and re-assembly. The floor was slick with motor oil and the air was filled with Bondo dust, fiberglass and resin hole and dent filler, and there were chunks of blue Bondo everywhere. The phrase chop shop came to mind. I left after I was told that the price was $170,000 pesos ($5,500) and no test driving was allowed.
         About two miles down Gomez from the blue water tank was another used Daihatsu mecca, Moto Plaza, and it was there that I bought the guaguita. They were much friendlier and I was able test drive at will, accompanied by their mechanic, Felix, at every stage of the multiple after-purhcase tune-ups, which included a radiator flush and carburetor adjustment. Before we paid the down payment Altagracia noticed a long tear in the headliner and Moto Plaza agreed to fix it. When we picked it up a new headliner was installed but the wires that run above the headliner to supply electricity to the two dome lights had been carelessly left unattached and too far back to reach to reconnect so the entire headliner had to be removed, the wires reattached, and the headliner replaced. I am on the road.

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