The night of the day my son was born, I cracked open a cool pilsner and leaned back on the rear legs of my vinyl hospital chair with one eye on the door: so I wouldn't get busted by some fresh third-shift nurse/ contraband hound dog. I had the sixty dollar bouquet for a backdrop, my greasy hair tickling the vase glass, feeling it slide just a little back on the wide vented windowsill; the rooms they stick you in an hour after the kid arrives: you either put the flowers under the window looking out at other people's rooms, or you put 'em on the toilet with the lid down. That's the only two choices. So, when I popped back in with my beer bottles clinking away in my jacket pockets, and bags of cheese and olives and hummus, I moved right towards the windowsill and nudged a little space in between the box of granola bars and the keepsake New York Times from Henry's birthday and set the flowers I'd bought for my wife down into their little clearing there.
Then, we smiled and talked and kept looking over at the plastic bassinet, at the new baby sleeping off the long strange trip. I'd break a wad of feta off the block with my fingers and shove it in my mouth, watch the door, sip my beer, tuck it down in its hiding spot on the cold tiles.
Letterman came on. The Letterman music. Happy horns. I wasn't paying that much attention.
Then I heard that announcers voice say Hank Aaron.
My heart cannonballed into my gut pond.
Monica looked at me, startled.
Hank Aaron, I said. Hank Aaron! HANK FUCKIN' AARON!
It was all just too strange, too cosmic to believe. I'd never seen Hank Aaron on Letterman before. Or on any late night shit really. I'd seen a lot of Foo Fighters. And a tractor trailer load of Seth Rogans. But, Hank Aaron: no.
My chest started caving in on itself. I really couldn't talk or understand what was going down.
I slugged down the rest of one beer and ripped the cap off another. I stopped worrying about the door, about the nurses.
Sometimes things happen for reasons. Unexpected, surprising you with hot blasts of synchronicty and kismit, you are sitting there exhausted next to your sleepy wife in her hospital get-up and all of the sudden God or the Gods or somebody decides that you've been cool today, you been decent somehow, and they tilt over off the side of a throne the size of a dozen suns and they jiggle their fat God fingers and sprinkle a little magic glitter dust down through the stars. Down past the spinning planets and the martians zipping around out there in their Le Cars, down through the solar winds whipping across the black wilderness of forever, so that by the time it rains down on your tiny unimportant soul breathing in and out between a jug of supermarket Kalamatas and lukewarm brewskis, its just a few flakes is all.
But, man, a few flakes of that shit is all you need. Trust me.
So, my gift came in the form of Hammerin' Hank. The same dude I'd spent the entire morning watching on YouTube videos swatting drug-free pure rockets into the sweltering Atlanta nights long ago, as the chemicals slow dripped into my wife's veins and my boy began the long slide home. I'd been obsessed with Hank the last few weeks, as we'd settled more and more on naming our son Henry. We'd toyed with other names: tossed them around and felt them in our hands and our heads, trying to figure out whether he was maybe a Charlie (Charlie Brown). Or an Oliver (Oliver Twist).
But Henry was the name that kept showing up neon.
Henry: the son of a friend, an eighteen year old kid, gorgeous kid with a mop of black hair and an acoustic guitar under his arm in a million pictures I'd seen of him.
Henry: Hank. Hank Williams: the greatest loneliest voice who ever sang a song.
Henry: a king's name if there ever was one. Henry The Fifth. A Shakespearean guy. A name with power, and infamy.
Henry: the conflicted soldier in the best Civil War story ever written. The Red Badge of Courage.
Henry: Hank. Hank Aaron. The greatest long ball hitter who ever played the game. And more than that, a young guy who stared hate and odds in the face with dignity and quiet peace. A beautiful guy, I kept thinking. A great great American.
When all of that swirled up in my head, I just turned to Monica one Saturday afternoon about three weeks before her due date and told her we had to name our little buddy Henry. It just made all of the sense in the world. His name was Henry.
It always was.
It just takes awhile sometimes.
Monica got a little grin on her when she saw how giddy I'd become. I was a little buzzed on my beers and my new daddyhood and she could probably see a little boy there right beside her on either edge of her mechanical bed for a minute or two. She didn't say much that I remember. She just watched me. I liked it.
I kept talking through Letterman's monologue and the commercials and all. I kept jabber-jawing about how I just couldn't believe what a sign this was. How the hell did these people come up with Hank Aaron as a guest on the night our boy came into this world. How the hell did they know. Hank didn't have anything to promote. No books or salad dressings. He wasn't the new coach of the Yankees or anything. Hell, spring training was just getting underway; baseball was still just some tapered icicle hanging off the carport for cold weeks now.
But there he was. Here he was. Hank Aaron.
I don't even remember what the hell he said, to be honest. I remember he was charming and radiant. I remember his big beaming smile and his soft southern drawl washing over me and my new son and my wife and our cheese and our flowers, as if the room was pumped full of real night air, real chilled lovely natural air. Letterman was bigger and better than ever too. He knew what he had there on the couch. He knows shit like that. He likes Bradley Cooper and all, respects them and all. But still, after all this time, he knows where the gold is hid.
I remember Hank's big grin when his time was up. Him and Dave shook hands. Then they cut to a commercial and just like that he was gone from the room.
I slipped another cap off another bottle and eyeballed the door. I changed the damn channel too.
Little Henry, he understood.
They weren't gonna march out some band or some actress that we were gonna give a shit about after all that.
We just watched the late news instead, my heart doing little girl cartwheels, one right after another, way down inside of me tilted back in my hospital chair.