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Bruce Bochte

July 27, 2007
 

A few days ago I was traveling south in a rental car on I-89 in Central Vermont, headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, for a flight home to Chicago. I had given myself extra time on the drive in case I felt like detouring down memory lane, and because I am always in the mood to detour down memory lane I exited the highway at Randolph so I could descend into the valley of East Randolph and stare at the house I’d grown up in. I’ve done this before, several times. I always pull over and sit there for a few minutes, listening to the engine tick and waiting for something significant to happen. Then I move on, feeling dumb and empty. Perhaps because I knew what was in store for me I added new complications to this latest detour, delaying it, first deciding to stop at the general store in town and then on my way to the general store deciding to take back roads that would take me by Buster Olney’s stepfather’s farm, where I once labored throwing haybails and also played whiffle ball and Stratomatic with the future nationally known czar of baseball insider info. I drove for what seemed like an inordinately long time down a narrow dirt road, thinking that I’d gone and gotten myself lost in the closest thing I have to a hometown.

But then the farm appeared. I drove by at about ten miles an hour. No one was in sight. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe Buster lolling around the driveway in some sort of completely uncharacteristic moment of disengagement. In truth he always was and surely still is constantly and passionately occupied, but I guess I was hoping he’d be just sort of standing there, perfectly open for a surprise visit from a friend out of his past. We’d greet one another enthusiastically, ask about one another’s family, laugh about the good old days, and then eventually the conversation would get around to my favorite way of feeling like a piece of shit: my lack of success as a writer.

“Stop worrying, I’ll make some calls,” he’d say, staring at me meaningfully so as to let me know that within weeks I’d be cashing royalty checks, fending off voluptuous baseball card memoir groupies, and appearing on The Daily Show, Fresh Air, and Mike and The Mad Dog. “Now let’s go throw a few bails for old time’s sake and then play some Strat and eat chocolate chip cookies, old pal,” Buster would then say.

Anyway, a few minutes after rolling by the quiet farm I pulled in at the general store in East Randolph. Since this store was where I had bought the great majority of the baseball cards shown on this site, I planned to buy a new pack there and then tell you, dear reader, all about it. Also, a couple days earlier, Barbara, the long-time family friend who painted the picture of my old house shown on this site during the Mario Guerrero chronicles, told me that the store had recently been bought by a local married couple that included a girl from my grade that I remember very well. In fact she was the girl most often featured throughout my teenaged years in the 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind.

This 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind opened around the time I got the 1980 Bruce Bochte card shown above. I was 12 years old and in 8th grade and as I believe I’ve mentioned before I had recently discovered that the girls around me were bulging through their clothes in hauntingly interesting ways. My god, how I clung to box scores and the Sunday batting averages in those days, clung as I never had before and never would again. I specifically remember clinging to Bruce Bochte, to his name that is, which had in previous years not been among the league leaders in the batting average list printed in the Sunday paper, but now suddenly here he was, an exciting new arrival in the land of Carew and Brett. Though in later years he would recede into a haze that would have me confusing him with Bruce Bochy (who I in turn confused with Bob Brenly, who was nominally entangled with Bruce Berenyi), at the dawn of my troubling, painful puberty Bruce Bochte rang like a bell through the fog, trying to guide me back home, and I in turn tried to walk toward the sound as best I could but more and more just ended up ducking into the aforementioned 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind, where the future owner of the general store in the closest thing I have to a hometown was always shedding her tight 8th grade gym clothes and running toward me with voracious enthusiasm.  

Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot of the general store, mumbled a hello to three younger guys sitting on the bench on the porch (in truth the word I uttered was a stiff, fakely folksy, flatlanderish “howdy”), and walked inside, prepared to confront my past crashing in on me from various angles. There was a pale gnomish lady in her fifties at the register and three other females behind a deli counter in back. I lurched up and down the aisles conspicuously, stealing glances back at the deli counter. I saw two skinny teenagers and a woman who looked to be in her forties. Maybe the latter woman was the girl I’d known, though in that moment I was convinced she wasn’t. She seemed far too old. Far too unhot. She was smiling though, and seemed happy, which aligned with what I recall of the good-natured girl I’d sort of known, or at least had chronically leered at. At any rate I didn’t talk to anyone in the store except for a brief and anonymous back and forth with the employee at the register, on my way out.

“Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“Do you sell baseball cards?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

You know the phrase “It’s all water under the bridge”? Last night at a restaurant a friend had intended to say that but instead got the words mixed up and said “It’s all bridge under the water.” It’s my favorite new phrase. It seems to me to be a much more accurate portrayal of the past than the phrase she’d intended to say. The past is not water safely below you and you’re not standing on some firm bridge. No, you’re adrift. And if there ever was something that carried you across the water it’s now crumbled and broken, sunken, stripped of utility and purpose, and if you want any part of it you better break out the scuba gear, because it’s all in sludgy chunks at the bottom of the river. But even if you dive down and locate it, what are you going to do with it? East Randolph, Buster Olney, my old house, the sunny girl at the center of my teenaged masturbation fantasies, even Bruce Bochte: It’s all bridge under the water. If you’re trying to cross over, you better find some other way. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.

20 comments

  1. 1.  Took a lot of courage, IMO, just to ask if they had baseball cards. Were it me, I’d have covered my tracks by bringing $30 worth of stuff I don’t need to the register first.

    I confused Bochy and Bochte in a writing assignment once, morphing them into a single player, “Bruce Bochty.” I’m not sure if it ever got fixed.


  2. 2.  Took a lot of courage, IMO, just to ask if they had baseball cards. Were it me, I’d have covered my tracks by bringing $30 worth of stuff I don’t need to the register first.

    I confused Bochy and Bochte in a writing assignment once, morphing them into a single player, “Bruce Bochty.” I’m not sure if it ever got fixed.


  3. 3.  Yes, I was strongly tempted to pose as a “normal customer” by buying a few items to gnaw on for the remainder of my drive, but (a recent bank-account leveling trip to Holland aside) there really are few impulses inside me stronger than cheapness.

    What was the writing assignment?


  4. 4.  Bruce Bochte played 12 seasons in the majors and not once was he on a team that finished a season with a winning record.

    I believe that is a major league record.


  5. 5.  This story really connected with me, as baseball card collecting and masturbation were my 2 favorite memories of being 12 years old. Truth be told, they would also top my 10 and 11 years as well. Let’s just say by 13, I wasn’t as interested in baseball card collecting.

    Raise your hand if you think I gave out way more info than anyone was comfortable in learning. (I know my hand is up in the air.)


  6. 6.  I don’t have anything to add other than to say this is one of my very favorite Cardboard Gods posts (which is saying a lot indeed).


  7. 7.  The assignment was a series of sentences on “baseball lingo” for a kind of generic baseball history book. Bruce Bochte, the one in the card, is by some accounts the guy who came up with the term “The Mendoza Line.” But for whatever reason when I was writing that I couldn’t separate my Bruces and I delivered the piece saying “Bruce Botchy” was responsible. We shall see if this book ever ever comes out whether they caught it.


  8. 8.  “…my lack of success as a writer.”
    As my old-timer friend says, and I paraphrase,
    ‘Your definition of success may need some re-tooling.’
    You, Josh Wilker, are a resounding success to those of us who read your scribble.
    “Cardboard Gods” will be on bookstands in due time, and it’s legion shall grow accordingly.
    Until then, know you are filling a void for a select few, of which I am but one, steadily humbled, admirer.


  9. 9.  To the guy in number 6, I agree whole heartedly. To the guy in number 8 and to you as well Josh, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you need a “Cardboard Gods” book to make you a successful writer, and in fact prefer it that way. I would like to think that you are slightly better hidden away, at least from those with whom your resonance doesn’t quite sound. (that was an awkward phrase wasn’t it?)

    Have you ever heard a live recording of your favorite musician in his early days before he made it big? The one where he’s sitting in a smoky bar and people are talking and ordering crazy shots and not paying a damn bit of attention to the beauty that is being bestowed on their existence? Where you wish you could go back to that moment and smack some people around and say, “Hey! This is some amazing shit your are listening to. Put down the pitcher of Miller High Life and appreciate what this man can do!” This is what you are for me, at least for the moment. What you write is being thankfully given to the world, yet the frat boys at table 14 are ordering cheese fries and buttery nipples. Is it any less a success of the craft? Is it any less meaningful or beautiful to those who stop and listen?

    As far as the piece itself. It is all bridge under water. Heidegger (I know, I promised I would stop) points out that we are thrown into our “there.” We are determined by our past, adrift in its river as it were. I can’t agree with you more. Are you sure you aren’t a bit of an existentialist?


  10. 10.  4: Great fact, Bob. I knew Bruce Bochte was worthy of my worship.

    5: “(I know my hand is up in the air.)”

    Yes, but where’s your other hand?

    7: The “Where are they now” Sports Illustrated I read on the plane to Holland included a visit with freshly fired Mexican League manager Mario Mendoza that mentioned the theory that Bochte was the first to mumble the words Mendoza Line, then (so the theory goes, if I remember correctly) Bochte’s extroverted teammate Tom Paciorek built it into a “thing,” and/or George Brett caught wind of it and passed it on to the greater world, or something like that.

    8, 9: Thanks for the good words. I really appreciate it. I’m a little embarassed by it, too, because I wonder if I subconsciously throw out the failure whinings to fish for compliments, which if true is nauseating. More likely I lapse into failure whining because it’s just part of my nature, or oddly comforting, or like picking a scab, or even some kind of addiction. When you’re adrift in these existential waters you end up clinging to anything you can, I guess, and I periodically cling to the “I’m a loser” mantra.


  11. 11.  Jesus CHRIST, this is so fucking good I can hardly stand it. The way you hit all my personal touchstones-baseball, longing, melancholy, awkwardness-it’s like you’re me. Only way more talented.

    Seriously good shit here.


  12. 12.  While I understand the point Paulz (9) made, let me put a vote in for wanting Josh to get a much bigger audience. An audience that would pay the bills and enable him to just write and not have to proofread the less talented. (This is just a guess, maybe Josh is proofing John Irving or Phillip Roth, but I doubt it.)

    As someone who has made a living doing something creative, I can say that I’m glad that I don’t have to wait tables anymore to supplement it. I think the struggling artist thing is really overrated.


  13. 13.  I dug how Bochte took 1983 off. I did too, much to the chagrin of my parents and teachers.


  14. 14.  I would have to agree with you Mr. Long (12) that I do wish Josh could live solely off writing. Frankly, I’m curious what musings he comes up with from things other than baseball cards. I know that may be sacrelege (how does one spell that word?), but frankly I enjoy his style just as much as if not more than his musings on baseball.

    However, the starving artist maybe overrated to those practicing the arts, but for those of us lacking the same creative flow it can be quite romantic. We being finite creatures (if you are inclined to believe we are indeed created) often seek out that which lives beyond our finitude. (is that a word?) While not often appreciated wholly in their time, those with lasting impressions often find renewed appreciation regardless of their financial success while creating. I do not wish to imply that Josh will be appreciated only after he is dead (what else would enlighten me during my summer out of the classroom?), but rather I don’t think the starving artist bit is a total drawback. Josh, I’m sure you would disagree with that, but frankly, I wonder if the same feeling/vibe/lacking-the-correct-word-here would come through if you didn’t have to struggle to find time to write and work to pay the bills. Maybe I’m totally wrong and way out of line, but it’s a thought.

    I do appreciate that you are sharing this with us in some form as opposed to pulling an Emily Dickenson. I don’t think the hermit life would fit the person I imagine typing on your keyboard.


  15. 15.  Well said, Paulz. It would seem that the blog is the greatest enabler for starving artist writers. Hopefully a few like Josh will break through into bulemic artists.


  16. 16.  Here, I was peacefully reading a great little story about a trip down memory lane (mental and in person), and you smack me with the “bridge under the water” description.

    Wow. Powerful stuff there.


  17. 17.  I remember Bochte taking 1983 off, but I thought it was because he didn’t want to play for the Mariners. He had to wait out a season for his contract to expire before he could be a free agent. Then I remember him sucking for the A’s for a couple of months before he disappeared. I also remember mocking him for screwing up his career like that and for having a stupid name.
    Baseball Reference proves me all wrong. Bochte was a free agent after the 1982 season, and he had three fairly successful sasons in Oakland. He was the A’s first baseman the year before Mark McGwire took over.


  18. 18.  This would be a friggin’ perfect post, except for one thing:
    It brought to mind the face of the girl who starred in my own eighth-grade fantasies, and whom I had succeeded in mentally blocking out in recent years.

    Damn you.


  19. 19.  I guess the Minnesota Twins season is now “bridge under the water?”

    ouch.

    Damn your precognitive powers, Joshua.


  20. 20.  And this here is my last day working in the wire room! It’s over and I wanted to record the fact somewhere, so why not one of my favorite things to read. And on such a wonderful post. Life moves on. Far out. Time for a beer.



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