By Bob Liter
"I'm just naturally drawn to you, Amy, because of your 68 percent waist-to-hip ratio. Means you're fertile."
Barry Cartwright, the big lug, had nursed a draft beer for half an hour in Central City’s Lazy Hour Tavern on Third Street behind the courthouse before springing that statement on me. I moved behind the bar to the only other customer, an old guy named Armstrong, and served him his third glass of beer. He would down it soon and say goodnight.
Then, if Barry would shut up, I could get back to studying South American geography, a college course I thought would be a snap. No such luck. The professor, a geek named Omar Thomas, who always needed a shave and wore leather pants, expected his students to study. So that's what I was trying to do on this slow Monday night.
I mumbled to myself, "Montedeveo, capitol of Uruguay, almost fifty percent of the nation's population. Modern metropolis with historical old town. Surrounded by white sandy beaches. Highlights include Ciudad Vieja, OldTown, with its 18th century buildings, bustling commercial activity and its theaters, museums and art galleries."
"How come you talk to yourself but won't talk to me?" Barry whined.
"I'm trying to study for a test."
"I may have a job at the University of Illinois this fall if I want it," he said. "Where you going to school?"
"ICC, the junior college here."
I picked up his glass, wiped the bar with a soft white rag that was ready for the laundry, and said, "Won't the girls be thrilled. Especially the ones that measure up to your fertility standards. I'm surprised you're interested in a females' pregnancy potential. You want to be a father?"
"Sure," he said, "eventually."
“Won’t some girl be lucky?”
He sipped beer, gazed at me with his serious blue eyes, and said, "Hey. Why be pissed at me? What did I ever do to you?"
"You insulted me, that's what. And, to make it worse, I bet you don't remember."
He put his elbow on the bar, rested his chin on his hand, and said, "Why would I insult you? When? I never insulted you."
"At the Century Movie House during the summer before you went away to college."
"Whatever I said, I'm sorry."
"It was a romantic movie and you fell asleep."
"Hey, I remember now. I was tired. Stayed out too late the night before. Was so tired I couldn't sleep at home. That's why I was there. Wasn't like a date or anything. I just happened to sit beside you. How did I insult you?"
"You were such a big shot. Got a baseball scholarship to Illinois. I was thrilled to be sitting beside you. Next thing I know you're snoring."
He moved his hand away from his chin and sipped a bit more beer.
"A lot's happened since then," he said as he gazed right through my blouse.
I said, "To you. Not to me. I'm still stuck here trying to graduate so I can amount to something."
He lifted his face, straightened his shoulders, and said, "Looks to me like you amount to something already. The hip, waist ratio for one thing."
He was making me nervous, like he did in high school during assembly when he noticed I was looking at him. I turned to the sink and washed beer glasses I'd already washed.
"Aren't bartenders supposed to talk to customers?"
I dried my hands and said, "What are your plans now that you blew out your arm?"
"You know about that?"
"Sure, everybody around here that's half alive knows about it. You get a million dollar bonus for signing with the Cubs, work your way up to the majors and after two wins your shoulder gives out. Doctors say you're through."
He looked down at the bar, drew a circle with his glass and said, "It wasn't quite a million dollars. I didn't believe the doctors at first, but now I know I'll never be able to pitch in the majors again."
"A rotten break," I said. "But I hear you've been bowling a ton of games at Crossroads. Doesn't that hurt your arm?"
"You seem to know a lot about me."
"I tend bar. Guys talk about sports. Besides I like sports. Plan to be a sports reporter. Majoring in journalism."
He stretched his left arm across the bar. "Doesn't hurt except when I throw overhand. Bowling doesn't hurt. Difference motion. Need to be able to repeat the same mechanics though to be successful in either sport. I'm gonna try the pro bowlers' tour."
"Anything to avoid work, huh."
I ran the soapy water out of the sink behind the bar, wiped things off and said, "Well, it's time to close. Good luck on the tour."
He slid off the bar stool, stretched his arm again, and said, "I'll be back."
At the door he turned and smiled.
I pretended I didn’t notice.
He came back to the bar often that summer, mostly just an hour or so before closing. We talked when there was time. He didn't drink much in spite of all the offers from guys to buy him drinks.
I couldn't ignore him, even when I was busy. How can you ignore a guy who has measured your pregnancy potential with his eyes and keeps checking to be sure he was right?
One night in the middle of August he said, "I'll be watching the sports pages for your stories. I'm going down to St. Louis to work with some of the pro bowlers down there, get ready for the tour."
A couple of days later at Crossroads Lanes I asked the manager, a guy named Kurt Weaver, about Barry Cartwright.
"I'm studying to be a sports reporter and plan to write an article about him," I said.
I asked Kurt how he spelled his last name, even though I knew. It's a trick I learned working on the high school paper. Indicate the name of the person you're questioning will be in the article and they'll usually tell you what you want to know.
Kurt said, "Barry's good. Can string strikes here. Probably the best bowler in town. But he's gonna see a lot of different lane conditions on the tour. They dress them different ways. What favors some guys kill others. The best ones can adjust, and in a hurry. And conditions change from one lane to the next during qualifying and match play."
I held up a hand to slow him down, caught up with my notes and said, "Do you think he can make it?"
"Never know." He brushed a hand over his closely cropped hair and continued, "Nobody from around here ever has. Several have tried."
I gathered more information from Barry's baseball history, from a couple of professional bowlers I contacted by e-mail, and wrote the article. I sent it to the local paper, the Gazette, and they printed it. No pay though. They said they would print more of my stuff maybe. I said, "No thanks." No pay, no play, that's my motto.
The tour opened the last week in September. I read the results on the Internet. In the first tournament Barry finished 87th and failed to qualify for the finals. The next three weeks he also failed to qualify. Once he averaged 212 a game and missed qualifying by ten pins. After that his name never appeared in any of the results.
I moped around the campus, turned down several offers for dates from guys who may or may not have realized my pregnancy potential, and looked forward to graduation and the day I could go after stories, including whatever happened to Barry Cartwright.
Graduation ceremonies were the last week in May. My parents came up from Florida. Some aunts and uncles were there. Even my brother, the doctor from back east, came to see me get my diploma.
And I got a job as an intern sports reporter for the Chicago Times. I covered some crap assignments well enough, apparently, to get assigned to write features about the University of Illinois football and basketball teams. I saw Barry one spring day as I hung around the athletic director's office trying to find someone who knew about a change in the football team's schedule.
He smiled. Where the hell had he been after giving me that come on at the bar. I knew, of course, that it was nothing more than that. Just a come on and only a half hearted one at that. Still I had been seeing his smile and his serious eyes in my sleep. Had been daydreaming about him coming to get me, about my pregnancy ratio and how it was going to waste.
I'd even dated some guys, but it was no good.
"Hi," he said. Like he'd just seen me the day before.
I gulped and managed to say, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm the assistant baseball coach. Gonna teach these kids how not to ruin their arms."
"Too bad someone didn't teach you."
"They tried to up in the bigs, but it was too late. How you been?"
"Fine. Just fine. And you?"
His skin was darker than I remembered it. But his blue eyes gazed at me in the same serious manner.
"Montevideo," he said.
He recited the stuff I had mumbled in the bar that night that seemed so long ago.
"The part about the white beaches got me. After I flunked out on the bowling tour I went down there for a final fling. Layed around on the beaches for a month."
"What were you doing, checking the fertility ratios of the beach bunnies?"
"Yeah, that, and I did some thinking too. Decided to get on with my life. Gonna study more about coaching, maybe some other stuff. And start a family. I been keeping track of your career."
My heart fluttered just a bit.
"Gee, won't some girl be lucky now that you've decided to start a family."
"Yeah, maybe. Let's go get something to eat and talk about it."
He was right about my fertility potential. We've been married three years now and have created three wonderful children.