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Giuseppe Fiorini

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“And it’s a deep drive into the gap between left and center,” said the announcer. “Fiorini running back…back…back to the warning track and—”

Grandpa sat there wide-eyed, motionless—staring at the old TV as if in a trance, his fingers nervously fidgeting with the curls of his big red beard.

“He’s got it!” He continued ecstatically, “A snowcone…he barely held onto that one…now here’s Henderson…tagging up…he’s rounding third…the throw from center…it’s…not in…no! What? I don’t believe it! I don’t believe what I just saw! Henderson is OUT at home…that throw was in time…Giuseppe Fiorini…saves the Barnstormers with an incredible throw from deep centerfield…oh, man! That’s gotta be one of the longest throws we’ve ever seen…wouldn’t you say, Woody?”

“Yeah, Bill,” the other commentator jumped in, “and you’ll probably only see it from this guy…that’s his seventh outfield assist of the season…and we’re not even a month into this.”

“I’ll be cowkicked and hornswaggled!” Grandpa exclaimed, leaping off the sofa and thrusting his arms into the air. Brooksie and I shifted aside to each arm of the couch. You always knew instinctively to do that when you had Grandpa sitting in between you. Grandpa was in rare form tonight.
Then again, Grandpa was always in rare form.

Every April, Mom and Dad would go off someplace faraway and celebrate their anniversary, which meant that Brooksie and I would get to spend a couple weeks at Grandma and Grandpa’s in the cozy, old-fashioned little town of Myopa, West Virginia in the Allegheny Mountains. And every evening, while Grandma would be out at the market or watering the garden or doing whatever “Grandma duty” there was to do, the two of us would lounge on the sofa with Grandpa and watch the Barnstormers.

“Fi—o—ri—ni!” Grandpa spelled out ecstatically. “I tell ya boys, never in my life have I seen a one-man show like this guy. Not even—not even joltin’ Joe Dimaggio! This guy does it all.”

There was a rattling of the door chimes.

“Land o’ Goshen, Pete!” came a nasally voice by the door. It was Grandma. “Keep it down in there, will ya? I was just out by the garage and I could hear you from all the way out there.”

“But you shoulda seen it, Ellie! You shoulda seen it! Fiorini, why, he threw out ol’ Rick Henderson all the way from the warnin’ track. Oh, Ellie! If only you’d been there to—”

“I’ve got some hands-on work for you,” Grandma butted in, and this was a routine thing she did, cutting him off like that.

Grandpa’s smile line and every feature of that hard, weather-beaten face drooped into a look of sour disappointment.

“Some—some what?”

“There’s been a problem with the car. Every time I come to a stop, it makes these beating, thumping noises, like I’ve got a flat. But I don’t.”

“Probably just a grease leak.”

“I’d like you to check it out. I’m sure your grandsons wouldn’t mind helping you do a little hands-on.” She turned to us. “Wouldn’t you, boys?”

We nodded our heads with mechanical enthusiasm.

“Oh, Ellie,” Grandpa said, “You just can’t believe this game here. Fiorini, why, he’s just—”

“Fiorini nothing!” Grandma scowled, her frail, sallow-colored hands on her hips. “What’s gotten into you this past month, anyway? All you ever seem to do is rave about this Fiorini guy. Gone are the days when you were a fan of everyone on the Barnstormers.”

“But Ellie, I mean, this is a one-man show we’re talkin.’ The stuff this guy does—he just isn’t human.”

“That’s all well and good. But I need the car running proper by tomorrow morning. I’ve got a 7:15 dentist appointment I need to be at on the dot.”

“Just call a mechanic.”

“Oh, Pete. You really mean to tell me that after all those years, after patenting all those invent—”

“I didn’t patent them,” Grandpa said, teeth grit. “They were failures.”

“Oh come on, Pete. They were brilliant. At least, I thought they were.”

The game came back on and Grandpa resumed watching.

Grandpa had led an interesting life, of sorts. About as long as the Altoona Barnstormers had been in existence, Grandpa had been a faithfully devoted sportswriter for the Altoona Mirror, faithfully churning out baseball columns year after year, his no-nonsense, satirical style making him a household name among locals back when he lived in the Altoona area. He received a handful of awards for his work, including Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year in 1973.

The odd thing, however, was that as great a sportswriter as he was, Grandpa never seemed to be overly enthusiastic about his writing career. He seemed to translate most of that enthusiasm over to being a freelance inventor and the holder of a number of technical odd-jobs over the years. Perhaps it was that his inventions were always a little out-of-this-world to the average manufacturer—such as bionic-eye implantations and an attempt at creating an orbital elevator suitable for space travel—but for whatever reason, Grandpa never got very far with this alter ego of his. He submitted a number of his contraptions to the London World’s Fair several times, but to no avail.
Despite the obvious disparity between his passions, Grandpa always got more kudos for being a sportswriter than for trying to be the next Nicholas Tesla.

And here he was, a 72 year old drink of water still as tall and bony as a twenty-something and as enthusiastic as a small child, sitting in front of that TV day after day, embracing the simplicity of retirement with the sole passion of being a Barnstormers aficionado.

Tonight the three of us sat watching the game just as we always did. When something odd happened…

It was the top of the eighth. Two outs, runner on third, A’s Terry Steinbach at the plate.

“And it’s a sharp drive up the middle,” came the announcer’s voice, “Fiorini coming in…he’s got it on the bounce…Canseco coming home…the throw…it’s…in time! Fiorini, with his second assist of the—”

All was quiet. For a moment I thought maybe the sound on the TV went dead. The camera focused itself on centerfield.

There, surrounded by a huddle of teammates, twisting and writhing in the grass as if in a convulsion, was Fiorini, his face wincing in pain. He was clutching his arm. It was his left arm, his throwing one…

The room was silent—utterly silent. You could’ve heard a mothball hit the carpet floor. Grandpa sat there frozen, lifeless—chest sucked in, jaw agape, his eyes as blank and expressionless as an ancient Greek sculpture’s. Even his fingers stopped fidgeting with his beard.

A team of medics rushed onto the field.

“G-Grampa,” Brooksie stuttered, “Is F-Fiorini alright?

Grandpa said nothing.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” I said, moving my finger quickly over my lips to give Brooksie the sign for silence.

The medics brought out a stretcher and lifted Fiorini onto it. His arm hung limp at his side, dangling there like deadweight, like it had been torn out of its socket. They hauled him off the field, leaving a stadium of some twenty thousand fans to almost total speechlessness.

The whole thing was a bit like watching a silent movie.

“So Fiorini leaves the game,” said the commentator, “for a reason we have yet to find out…looked like something got disjointed there…whatever the case, the medical crew will continue to investigate.”

“You know, Bill, the way he was holding his arm like that…that’s not a good look…there’s no telling how long the rookie will be out for.”

“Certainly didn’t look promising, that’s for sure…in the meantime Joe Dahlgren will take Fiorini’s place in center…crowd’s awful silent now…seats a little emptier here than they were a little while ago…a scary moment here in Altoona...Barnstormers and A’s will pick up after these ads…or try to, anyway…we’ll be right back.”

Grandpa went into his bedroom and shut the door.

“Where’s Grandpa?” Grandma asked, crinkling her eyebrows in confusion. It wasn’t every day that you walked into the living room to find Grandpa absent and the TV off.

He’s—in the bedroom,” I said.

“In the bedroom?”

“It’s Fiorini. He got hurt.”

“What happened? Did they bean him?”

“It was his arm.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Grandma stormed off down the hallway.

“Oh, I knew it was something to do with this Fiorini man again!” She said with bated breath as she flung open the bedroom door. “Ugh, just look at you! Ignoring your grandchildren the one time they come to visit us all year! And all because of a silly little incident on TV! All because of that silly Fiorini man! What kind of grandfather are you?”

The bedroom phone rang. Grandma picked it up.

“Hello…oh hi there, Dale! It’s been a while…how are things over at Tom and Tom’s? What’s that? You want to speak with Pete?”

She turned to Grandpa. “It’s Dale. From Tom and Tom’s.”

Grandpa seized the phone, frantic.
“Everyone—OUT!” Grandpa snapped throatily, slamming the door, and Grandma stood there for a moment looking indecisive, then walked away.
“What’s Tom and Tom’s, Grandma?” I asked.
“It’s—it’s a manufacturing company. Other side of town. Your Grandfather used to submit some of his contraptions there.”
“Does he still make stuff?”
“No. At least, not that I know of. His workshop is a paradise for cobwebs now. It hasn’t been occupied for about six or seven years now.”
Grandma began stirring something over the old wooden stove. She was trying to appear calm, I could tell, but her hands were trembling, and there was a certain uneasiness about her every movement.
“James,” she said, “Could you stir this for a minute?”
The tomato soup was hot and bubbling and I took the big spoon to mix it around.
Grandma crept over to the bedroom door and pressed her ear to a little crack in the wood. Grandma was hard of hearing, completely deaf in one ear, and it probably didn’t help that Grandpa talked in such a hoarse, rasping voice, like he had strep-throat all the time.
“I can listen in, Gramma,” Brooksie offered, but the conversation ended prematurely.
“What was Tom & Tom’s calling you for?” She asked, opening the door.
“Oh, nothing really,” Grandpa said. “Just—just business. That’s all.”
Grandpa’s face was pale as an oyster. He looked sickly, strangely sickly, and I’d never seen him this way before. By the look on Grandma’s face, I took it she hadn’t either.
“What business?”
“Oh, just catching up with an old friend, talking finances, how they’re doing over there. You know. The ordinary stuff.”
Something about Grandpa’s reassurance just wasn’t clicking with Grandma.
“Why don’t you go back and watch the game with your grandsons. I hardly think one player getting injured like that should keep you from having a good time.”
Grandpa said nothing. He remained in his bedroom with the door shut the rest of the evening.

For the next few days there was no further update on Fiorini. As calamitous as the injury had seemed the night it occurred, reporters remained unusually ambiguous whenever the topic arose. For the most part there was little mention of it. And when it was mentioned the only thing anyone ever seemed to be saying was that the doctors had the situation “completely under control” and that whatever they were doing the public could be assured they were “making good progress.”
But as long as the media remained so vaguely optimistic about the issue, it was hard to believe there was any progress being made. And as long as Altoona’s biggest star was out with an unidentified injury and there was still no timetable for his return, it was hard to believe in anything at all.
The rest of the week Grandpa spent in a state of solemn reclusion. He hardly spoke to anyone—most of the time he just grunted or shrugged his shoulders at us. He didn’t smile. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t even watch the Barnstormers. Except during meals—and even then he didn’t eat much—he remained in his bedroom from sunup to sundown.
He was altogether a different man.
Grandma began to worry—to really worry. She did all the little things to make the rest of our visit fun for us, took us to candy shops, a local zoo, tried watering down Grandpa’s extreme seclusion by telling us, “Oh, your Grandfather’s just having a hard time getting old,” but somehow, I had this sense that there was fear in Grandma, real fear. Everything she did, all the daily routines of old age which the Grandma we knew had so effortlessly embraced, the household chores, watering the azaleas, cooking her famous Venus De Milo soup, she seemed to perform now out of some unconscious fear motivator.
Something just wasn’t right with Grandpa, and she knew it. He just wasn’t himself. It simply wasn’t Grandpa to sit in solitary confinement like this for so long and not talk to anyone. It couldn’t just be Fiorini, could it? It couldn’t and she knew it couldn’t. This kind of para-social behavior would be understandable for a 13-year old girl, but a 72 year old man, especially one like Grandpa—that’s a different story.
But if it wasn’t Fiorini, what was it?
Grandma went to all the lengths she could, researching all the first signs of Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and just about every psychological disorder common in the elderly known to man. She even contacted a local psychiatrist—though I could hardly imagine Grandpa consenting to such an idea. The futility of psychiatrists was a topic Grandpa had preached on often. “Real men handle those things on their own,” he would say, every time an advertisement for Prozac or anti-depressants flashed up on TV.
Then again, Grandpa never had any notable psychological problem as far as I knew. So it was awfully hard to imagine him going into withdrawals over an injured baseball player that was only a part of his life through a TV screen.

It happened one morning, just when Grandma seemed to be on the verge of having a mental breakdown over the old man, something odd happened. As something odd is always bound to happen with Grandpa…
“Grampa, Grampa,” Brooksie whispered loudly, tugging and pulling at the bed sheets.
Grandpa mumbled something unintelligible into the pillow, eyes shut, and rolled over on his side. Grandpa was no early bird.
“Grampa! Grampa!” Brooksie said again, louder this time and right in his ear. “It’s Fiorini! The talk show’s on and they’re talking about Fiorini!”
Grandpa sprung out from under the covers. You would’ve thought the whole bed would collapse underneath him he came out so violently.
“What? What is it?” He asked, his eyes huge and glowing in the half-light.
“It’s Fiorini. The talk show’s on and—”
But that was enough for Grandpa. He clambered out of bed, nearly dragging the blankets with him as he stumbled out of the room, dazed, staggering like a drunk over to the sofa. Brooksie and I took a seat on either side of him.
“And although we have not received any further update on the condition of Fiorini’s injury,” the announcer said, “We do have one testimony that may yet give light to this cloudy issue. I’m here with Fiorini’s teammate, Hawk Moses.”
A tall, lanky, slack-jawed figure with frizzy blonde hair took a seat at the talk show booth.
“Good Morning, Hawk. Thank you for joining us. Now, tell us Hawk. You were there in left field when Fiorini made that throw. What is your perspective on the story?”
“Well, I was there to back him up on that line drive, and when he threw it, heck, I coulda sworn there was this weird clangin’ sound, and it seemed to be coming from his arm. I never heard nothin’ like it before. Coulda sworn it was his arm, though.”
“So this weird clanging sound, could you expound on it a bit? What would you compare it to?”
“I—I guess I’d compared it to the sound of metal, something high-pitched, sharp. It was weird, man, that’s all I can say.”
“And after you heard it, he was hurt right away?”

“I looked back and, heck, poor kid was writhin’ around like he’d been shot. I was scared, man, real scared. We were all scared. I just hope the poor kid’s ok.”
“One last question, Hawk. We have also received an inkling of some rather suspicious news passing around Altoona after last week’s game. Supposedly, a member of your team’s cleaning crew made a strange discovery while rummaging through Fiorini’s locker room a few hours after the game. Here is what he found…”

The screen showed a picture of a thin mechanical arm, about the same length as a human one, intricately hooked together by a series of wires and metal hinges. At the joint of the arm some of the cables were loose and torn up, like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it.

The commentator paused a moment, as if trying to gather what he was about to say.

“Now tell me, Hawk. Did you—did you happen to know anything about this arm?”

Hawk Moses looked confused.

“That, I’m afraid, is somethin’ I couldn’t tell ya.”

Outside, a soft rumble on the sandy driveway. Grandma. The old Volkswagen bus still making thumping noises as it pulled in.

“Did you see the phone bill this morning?” She said furiously, slamming the door.

“What?” Grandpa perked up.

“I checked it this morning and it was $117. Who have you been talking to while the boys and I have been out?” She asked, peering over the lenses of her wayfarer glasses.

“Eh, uh….”

“I hope this silly phase of yours ends pretty soon, Pete. I don’t know who you’re calling, or what you’re up to, but this business has got to stop. This has gone on too long. You’re telling me what’s up, or I’m taking you to a psychiatrist. That’s right—a PSYCHIATRIST.”

The emphasis on Grandma’s words made Grandpa cringe.

“Besides,” she said, “The Volkswagen is still making thumping noises.”

“Just call a mechanic,” he snapped. “I’m tryin’ to watch TV!”

Grandma heaved a long sigh and left the room.

“Currently, Altoona investigators are trying to delve deeper into this matter,” continued the commentator, “Although they haven’t given us full closure on the situation, they’ve been able to detect certain clues from this mysterious bionic arm—namely, licensed materials on it. Apparently, according to what is inscribed on the arm, the invention belongs to a certain Tom & Tom’s Manufacturing Company in Myopa, West Virginia.
“Tom & Tom’s, a private organization, admitted having ties to the contraption. Altoona officials, however, have made it clear that there will be no criminal charges against Tom & Tom’s. ‘Even though some may view this as a form of cheating,’ reported Altoona chief-of-police Stuart Sullivan, ‘this is not illegal manufacturing of any kind, such as the production of steroids or any banned substance, and there are no established laws against this kind of activity.’
“In the meantime, Tom & Toms has turned in the following information about the supposed inventor of this mysterious bionic arm…”

The phone rang in the bedroom. Grandma picked it up. “Hello…oh hi Dale…you want to speak with Pete? I’m sorry, but may I ask what this is about beforehand? What’s that…it’s top secret? What have you two been up to this whole time anyway? You can’t say?”

Grandma carried on like this for several minutes, then came into the living room. She didn’t come in to find any of us looking rather responsive, however.

We were all staring at the TV.

Grandma dropped the phone, the chord lying stretched around the bedroom door. “Pete…you there?” Came a droning voice, muffled by static, from the phone on the carpet. “Pete…are you watching this? Are you watching TV right now? You there, Pete? Pete?”

No one bothered to listen to the phone. We were all staring at a picture on the screen. It was a picture of a face. Brooksie and I knew that face. Grandma knew that face. Grandpa, also, knew that face.

Grandpa, as far as I could tell, was wearing that face.

“You know, Woody,” said the announcer, “this has really worked itself into quite the story.”

“You can say that again, Bill. An old retired inventor guy from rural West Virginia, creating bionic arms for baseball players? Sounds like good story material. This’ll be one of those legends that baseball historians will be pondering and debating for years.”

“The craziest things is—it actually worked. It almost sounds too good to be true!”

“Gee, I’d sure love to get this old guy’s autograph.”

“More coverage on this unique event after these messages. We’ll be right back.”

Grandpa pursed his lips, trying to hide a faint smile. Grandpa never was good at hiding a smile.

“Well, boys, sometimes even the old dog likes to show he has a new trick in him,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.



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