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Larry Cox

April 4, 2008
  
My conscious hours are featureless, my sleep ragged, unearned. I’m a proofreader. Misunderstandings and hurt riddle my dreams. I’m served food I can’t eat, take vague transcontinental airplane voyages with people I haven’t seen in decades. I wake feeling clammy. I ride with strangers, each of us walled off by personal electronic devices. I arrive on time. I sit in a cubicle. I eliminate mistakes. My mind wanders. Mistakes slip through.

Huron, Spart’nb’g, Tidewater, Spart’nb’g, Ral.-Durham, Reading, Eugene, Eugene, Reading, Hawaii, Reading, Eugene. Litany of a nobody. Putrid averages, few games played. Larry Cox kept slipping through.

When I was 19 I tried to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac but was too timid and just rode a bus the whole way, his hallowed continent reduced to a stock footage scroll across the Greyhound window, mountains giving way to plains giving way to mountains, everything leaden with brown pot and boredom. By the time he was the age I am now the dew of his writing had evaporated and he stayed at home with his mother and watched television drunk.

When Larry Cox was 19 the Phillies signed him to a professional contract. Was it a mistake? He hit .219 his first minor league season, which he wasn’t able to improve upon, and then only slightly, until five years later. He eventually had a few at-bats in the majors, but by his late 20s seemed on the way back down, spending an entire year in Tacoma. But instead of disappearing he was bought by a team that did not yet really exist. When he heard the news did he even know of this team which had yet to play a game? Did he wonder if the whole thing was some kind of a mistake?

When Jack Kerouac was 29, the same age as the blurred figure in the imaginary hat at the top of this page, he sat down and out of the desperation of not ever being able to say what he truly wanted to say started hammering words down onto a long scroll of teletype paper. The first line he wrote contained a mistake, a stutter, an inadvertent repetition of the word met, the kind of thing that, had he been typing on a computer, would have produced a squiggly line beneath it, an automated alert that already rules had been broken, but he was saved this niggling indignity and anyway there was no time for corrections, life too short, death too close, the only thing to do just move on, a hungering heartbeat:

“I first met met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had to do with my father’s death and my awful feeling that everything was dead.”

Kerouac wrote those words April 2, 1951, by chance exactly fifty-seven years to the day before I read them in my new copy of On the Road, The Original Scroll. From there he did not stop but gripped the story in his mind as fiercely as a story has ever been gripped and got it all down in a rush, barely sleeping, pouring everything he had onto the scroll from April 2, 1951, to April 22, 1951. I once hoped for similarly immediate deliverance. All through my twenties I ruined days by sitting down at a desk with the hope that I would just start writing and not stop until I emerged from a trance three weeks later looking gaunt and Dostoyevskian and holding a glowing work of genius in my hands. It never happened. I got jobs to get by. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I kept trying. I stopped trying. I stopped trying to stop. I pray for mistakes.

19 comments

  1. 1.  I have to write a big-ass memo by the end of the day today and I have no interest in the subject matter. I’m planning on copying and pasting a few Cardboard Gods entries and hoping that the audience can somehow relate them to law firm economic strategy.


  2. 2.  1 : Ha!

    FYI: Some good comments are still trickling in on the Jim Wohlford post, especially a sidesplitter by Ennui Willie Keeler about the minor league game that wasn’t.


  3. 3.  Does On the Road, The Original Scroll come in its own Holy Ark?


  4. 4.  3 Yeah, which makes it a real bitch to haul around on public transportation.


  5. 5.  Josh, they started the game back up not long after we left. There was a power outage. Here’s the game story:

    http://www.courant.com/sports/baseball/minors/hc-rockcats0404.artapr04,0,3838180.story?track=rss


  6. 6.  5 : Nice. Looks like Masterson deserves the honorary golden tuba award for his yoemanly work.

    But special mention to my new favorite minor leaguer, who got the scoring started with some clutch hitting:

    “The Sea Dogs scored their first run in the eighth against Armando Gabino, the fourth Rock Cats pitcher, on an RBI single by Bubba Bell with two outs.”


  7. 7.  Actually, the original, real scroll was on display at the NYPL recently in a great exhibit, “Beatific Soul,” which ended March 16.

    In addition to lots of notebooks, scribblings, letters, typescripts, photos, and rough drafts, the display included a look at the fantasy baseball league Kerouac created and played from childhood on.

    He made up the teams and players, played out the games, kept stats and standings, and even wrote newspaper articles and columns about the league, as if it were all real.

    I have a feeling Kerouac would have loved Cardboard Gods.

    http://tinyurl.com/6lmlus

    http://tinyurl.com/59jj2a


  8. 8.  7 : I went to a similar exhibit at the NY public library a few years ago and stood for a long, long time in front of the display of his homemade tabletop baseball game–the cards, the newspaper writeups, etc. One of my dreams–which I characteristically have not lifted a finger to pursue–is to play the Kerouac imaginary baseball game.

    He wrote at some length about the game (which he invented as a kid) in Desolation Angels. In that book he plays the game to keep from going stir crazy while spending a summer all alone on a mountain as a fire lookout.


  9. 9.  Josh, Bell is from Paris…..

    Texas

    My brother made the mistake of wearing nothing warmer than a hoodie. It was cold last nite. We’ll check out Portland in MAy, when it is warmer.


  10. 10.  Kerouac is also the longtime left fielder (and former manager) of the Dharma Beats of the Cosmic Baseball Association. Some team history here: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/96dbr.html, and this year’s roster here: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com/08dbr.html


  11. 11.  The famed On the Road scroll was part of a traveling Kerouac exhibit in Santa Fe last fall and I made my pilgrimage. It was quite something. I can only think of how much it cost to custom make the temperature-controlled, two-by-forty foot case in which it resided.


  12. 12.  10 I’ve come across this Cosmic Baseball Association before, and though I like what I saw I was never quite sure what I was looking at. At the risk of sounding obtuse: What’s it all about?


  13. 13.  I just wanted to add that I have really enjoyed this post along with the interesting road the commentary has taken. All while listening to the super soulful Beach Boys record “Carl and the Passions, So Tough.” I am having a beer(s) for you all right now.


  14. 14.  13 It takes a mess of help to stand alone.


  15. 15.  12 To be honest, I’ve never tried to figure it out too deeply. I take it pretty much at face value, and marvel at the philosophical exercise. The non-humanoid teams are particularly good.


  16. 16.  I have absolutely no basis for saying this, but I have harbored the notion that the fantasy baseball league in Robert Coover’s novel “Universal Baseball Association” is based on Kerouac’s.

    Baseball gamers Brien Martin and Ted Turocy have created an open source version of the game, inspired by the Coover novel, which is available here:

    http://econweb.tamu.edu/turocy/WTGWR/


  17. 17.  The Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays were the first expansion teams to come into existence when I was old enough to be aware of them. Expansion teams were still virtually completely stocked with “has been” and “never would be” players. I remember Diego Segui being in the rotation for Seattle, for example. I’m not sure if the rules changed, but when future expansion teams were added, they seemed to be more competitive from the start.


  18. 18.  More on Kerouac’s fantasy baseball game here: http://www.thecolumnists.com/isaacs/isaacs69.html


  19. 19.  16 , 18 : Much thanks for those links.



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