Carl Yastrzemski, 1977October 26, 2007
(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1975)
Sometimes you ain’t got nobody and you want somebody to love.
I’ve never asked God to show me a sign, but when I was a kid I wrote a letter to Yaz. “Dear Mr. Yastrzemski,” I wrote. I may have used this 1977 baseball card to get the spelling right. I told him the Red Sox were my favorite team and he was my favorite player, then I asked him for his autograph.
I sealed and stamped the letter and took it out to our aluminum mailbox, flipping the red metal flag up to signal to the mailman that there was an outgoing letter. Later in the day, when I saw that the flag was back down, evidence that the mailman had made his daily visit in the four-wheel-drive Subaru required for rural Vermont postal delivery, I felt like gravity had loosened its hold just a little. My letter was on its way to Yaz!
In a certain way my real life began that day, my life in the world. To that point I had never wanted anything beyond what was close at hand, beyond my family, my home. I began waiting for something more. Weeks went by, months, years.
Then you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus,
You just want to see his face.
By 1987, a decade after I wrote the letter, I was still waiting, though the waiting had come to encompass more than a hope for a reply from Yaz. I don’t think I even thought much about Yaz anymore. He had retired four years earlier after popping out in his last at-bat, that at-bat and its disappointing result an echo of the disappointing Yaz pop-outs that ended the 1978 one-game divisional playoff against the Yankees and the 1975 World Series against the Reds.
I spent the summer of 1987 in California, farther from the Red Sox than I’d ever been. My brother met me out there at the end of the summer, and the plan was that he and his friend Dave and I would drive all the way back east together. Actually, I had not yet learned how to drive and was hoping (and dreading) that I’d get a chance to practice as we Kerouacked ecstatically across the vast continent. I’d been in driver’s ed at boarding school in 1985, but I’d gotten expelled from the school before completing the course. I probably wouldn’t have passed the course anyway; I was an awful driver from the start, profoundly tense and unfocused, capable of provoking a beady-eyed expression of fear on my instructor’s face even when we were inching down remote dirt roads. After the expulsion, I’d shied away from any chances to learn to drive. Though I was more comfortable being a passenger, and still am, I lived in fear that my inability to drive would turn out to be a tragic flaw, that I’d be called on to drive a guy having a massive coronary to the emergency room, and the last words he’d have to hear would be my apologies for never learning to drive a stick. I was hoping that somehow on the long drive across the country I’d free myself of all my limitations; somehow I’d no longer be myself, but someone better.
The car was an Audi that my brother and Dave had arranged to drive east for a relocating businessman, and it broke down before we even got out of California, on a long uphill part of the highway just outside Truckee. We’d detoured to a Grateful Dead show the night before (obviously something not mentioned in the agreement signed by the businessman) and had during an acid trip bought three buds of peyote from some guy. I think we were probably hoping to try the peyote in a spectacular locale on our drive home, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon. Instead we ate them in a cramped hotel room in Truckee as we waited for the Audi to be repaired. They tasted so awful that we had to crush them up and shove them into ham sandwiches and wash each hideous bite down with several chugs from our stash of Budweiser tall boys.
Once we finally choked them down we began to wait. During the acid trip the night before we’d passed the peyote buds around and agreed that they seemed to be pulsing and glowing in our palms. Now in the hotel room we thought about that glowing pulse, now presumably inside us, and we waited for the inevitable moment of liftoff. We waited to soar to other worlds.
We’d find out the next day that the engine of the Audi was damaged beyond repair, causing us to abandon our cross-country drive and fly home. By then we’d have realized the peyote was bogus. But that night with the repulsive taste of it burning through the cheap beer on our tongues we sat in that hotel room and stared at one another, giggling, waiting to see the face of God.
(to be continued)