The Late J.D. Salinger, from The Laughing Man...
One afternoon in February, just after Comanche baseball season
had opened, I observed a new fixture in the Chief's bus. Above
the rear-view mirror over the windshield, there was a small,
framed photograph of a girl dressed in academic cap and gown.
It seemed to me that a girl's picture clashed with the general
men-only dÈcor of the bus, and I bluntly asked the Chief
who she was. He hedged at first, but finally admitted that she
was a girl. I asked him what her name was. He answered unforthrightly,
"Mary Hudson." I asked him if she was in the movies
or something. He said no, that she used to go to Wellesley College.
He added, on some, slow-processed afterthought, that Wellesley
College was a very high-class college. I asked him what he had
her picture in the bus for, though. He shrugged slightly, as
much as to imply, it seemed to me, that the picture had more
or less been planted on him.
During the next couple of weeks, the picture - however forcibly
or accidentally it had been planted on the Chief - was not removed
from the bus. It didn't go out with the Baby Ruth wrappers and
the fallen licorice whips. However, we Comanches got used to
it. It gradually took on the unarresting personality of a speedometer.
But one day as we were on our way to the Park, the Chief pulled
the bus over to a curb on Fifth Avenue in the Sixties, a good
half mile past our baseball field. Some twenty back-seat drivers
at once demanded an explanation, but the Chief gave none. Instead,
he simply got into his story-telling position and swung prematurely
into a fresh installment of "The Laughing Man." He
had scarcely begun, however, when someone tapped on the bus
door. The Chief's reflexes were geared high that day. He literally
flung himself around in his seat, yanked the operating handle
of the door, and a girl in a beaver coat climbed onto the bus.
Offhand, I can remember seeing just three girls in my life who
struck me as having unclassifiably great beauty at first sight.
One was a thin girl ina black bathing suit who was having a
lot of trouble putting up an orange umbrella at Jones Beach,
circa 1936. The second was a girl aboard a Caribbean cruise
ship in 1939, who threw her cigarette lighter at a porpoise.
And the third was the Chief's girl, Mary Hudson.
"Am I very late?" she asked the Chief, smiling at
She might just as well have asked if she was ugly.
"No!" the Chief said. A trifle wildly, he looked at
the Comanches near his seat and signaled the row to give way.
Mary Hudson sat down between me and a boy named Edgar something,
whose uncle's best friend was a bootlegger. We gave her all
the room in the world. Then the bus started off, with a peculiar,
amateur-like lurch. The Comanches, to the last man, were silent.
On the way back to our regular parking place, Mary Hudson leaned
forward in her seat and gave the Chief an enthusiastic account
of the trains she had missed and the train she hadn't missed;
she lived in Douglaston, Long Island. The Chief was very nervous.
He didn't just fail to contribute any talk of his own; he could
hardly listen to hers. The gearshift knob came off in his hand,
When we got out of the bus, Mary Hudson stuck right with us.
I'm sure that by the time we reached the baseball field there
was on every Comanche's face a some-girls-just-don't-know-when-to-go-home
look, And to really top things off, when another Comanche and
I were flipping a coin to decide which team would take the field
first, Mary Hudson wistfully expressed a desire to join the
game. The response to this couldn't have been more clean-cut.
Where before we Comanches had simply stared at her femaleness,
we now glared at it. She smiled back at us. It was a shade disconcerting.
Then the Chief took over, revealing what had formerly been a
well-concealed flair for incompetence. He took Mary Hudson aside,
just out of earshot of the Comanches, and seemed to address
her solemnly, rationally. At length, Mary Hudson interrupted
him, and her voice was perfectly audible to the Comanches. "But
I do," she said. "I do, too, want to play!" The
Chief nodded and tried again. He pointed in the direction of
the infield, which was soggy and pitted. He picked up a regulation
bat and demonstrated its weight. "I don't care," Mary
Hudson said distinctly, "I came all the way to New York
- to the dentist and everything-and I'm gonna play." The
Chief nodded again but gave up. He walked cautiously over to
home plate, where the Braves and the Warriors, the two Comanche
teams, were waiting, and looked at me. I was captain of the
Warriors. He mentioned the name of my regular center fielder,
who was home sick, and suggested that Mary Hudson take his place.
I said I didn't need a center fielder. The Chief asked me what
the hell did I mean I didn't need a center fielder. I was shocked.
It was the first time I had heard the Chief swear. What's more,
I could feel Mary Hudson smiling at me. For poise, I picked
up a stone and threw it at a tree.
We took the field first. No business went out to center field
the first inning. From my position on first base, I glanced
behind me now and then. Each time I did, Mary Hudson waved gaily
to me. She was wearing a catcher's mitt, her own adamant choice.
It was a horrible sight.
Mary Hudson batted ninth on the Warrior's lineup. When I informed
her of this arrangement, she made a little face and said, "Well,
hurry up, then." And as a matter of fact, we did seem to
hurry up. She got to bat in the first inning. She took off her
beaver coat - and her catcher's mitt-for the occasion and advanced
to the plate in a dark-brown dress. When I gave her a bat, she
asked me why it was so heavy. The Chief left the umpire's position
behind the pitcher and came forward anxiously. He told Mary
Hudson to rest the end of the bat on her right shoulder. "I
am," she said. He told her not to choke the bat too tightly.
"I'm not," she said. He told her to keep her eye right
on the ball. "I will," she said. "Get outa the
way." She swung mightily at the first ball pitched to her
and hit it over the left fielder's head. It was good for an
ordinary double, but Mary Hudson got to third on it - standing
When my astonishment had worn off, and then my awe, and then
my delight, I looked over at the Chief. He didn't so much seem
to be standing behind the pitcher as floating over him. He was
a completely happy man. Over on third base, Mary Hudson waved
to me. I waved back. I couldn't have stopped myself, even if
I'd wanted to. Her stickwork aside, she happened to be a girl
who knew how to wave to somebody from third base.
published in Nine Stories...