Ken LandreauxApril 7, 2008
They are tearing up my street. There is a big hydraulic crane ripping up concrete, and it’s really loud and it makes it hard to come up with anything worthwhile to say about Ken Landreaux. Also, my wife is in the bathroom puking. She woke up with some kind of stomach virus and even though she was puking she had to appear in court for her social work job. She’s back now, in the bathroom, steering the bus. I looked up stomach viruses on the Internet. I wanted to see if there was anything I could do. But what can I do? I’m pretty powerless. So I sit here trying to write about Ken Landreaux and when the roar of the crane two inches from my head abates every once in a while I can hear the sound of retching.
Actually, since I stared writing the crane has moved up the street a little. I just got up to check on their progress. The crane has carved a swath in the concrete that I swear they just recently put down. They’ve been tearing up and paving and tearing up and paving the street for months. Anyway the sound has quieted a little but as it abates I discover new kinds of resistance, new anxieties, new ways in which I’m unable to connect to today’s rectangular fragment from my past. There are no names for these anxieties, at least none I can identify right now.
Maybe some of it has to do with spring finally arriving. I feel like running around or weeping with laughter or sitting at an outdoor cafe in some faraway place with nothing to do and all day to do it as the gentle warmth melts me. But I also feel apprehensive. It’s been a long winter. I’ve been bracing against the cold for most of my life. So when the warm air comes I can feel all that melting and I can feel the fragile green tendrils of memory, the up-push of tenderness, and it pains me. Better to just stay numb. Better just to continue trying and failing to think about Ken Landreaux.
Maybe some of it has to do with Jack Kerouac, who I’ve been reading lately. Whenever I read him I brace myself for the effect. I’m going to start wondering if my life is too narrow. I’m going to start wondering why right this second I’m not napping in the sun after riding the rails down the California coast, a book of Buddhist scripture open on my chest, or why I’m not this second participating in a raucous epochal poetry reading with “the best minds of my generation,” or why I’m not feverishly writing the sincerest wishes from the depths of my soul in the form of a novel that will be published to great acclaim and change the course of American Literature instead of trying and failing to think about Ken Landreaux.
I can’t think of Ken Landreaux without thinking of Landru, the computer that dictatorially ruled an alien planet in an episode of Star Trek, brainwashing the creativity, individuality, and spirit out of all the inhabitants and making them a part of one “Body” until Kirk, Spock et al beam down and shake things up, Kirk eventually setting everyone free, as he is wont to do, by riddling the computer into smoldering self-destruction by feeding it an unanswerable contradiction. He did this on several other occasions, including in the tedious “Nomad” episode that seemed to be aired every other night when I was a kid. Anyway, maybe I’m just part of some Landru mind control and don’t even quite know it. This would explain the lack of creativity. Also, I watch a lot of television and spend a lot of pretty useless hours on the Internet, passive pursuits in which I am willingly subservient to one machine or other. Even when I take walks I have headphones in my ear feeding me stupid chatter, usually about sporting contests, i.e., surrogate dramas to take the place of any confrontations or contests in my own life. I am ruled by Landru, limp and docile, wordless and weak, marching in an acquiescent daze.
A few years ago I was playing guitar with this guy I knew, Paul, who was an excellent guitarist. We were in his room, noodling around with two of his electric guitars. He said, “Doesn’t it suck when it seems like every solo you play seems like something you’ve already played?” I still pull out my guitar from time to time and play blues licks, but it’s true: I’ve played all the blues licks I know. It’s stagnant, my playing. I remember there was an old poster on Paul’s wall that read “Let go and let God.” I wonder what would happen if I let go and let God.
Probably nothing. I just tried it for a few seconds, and still couldn’t come up with anything to say about Ken Landreaux, but then again maybe I was doing it wrong. Or maybe my problem is Ken Landreaux. I know this is out of line, blaming the subject. If you had Rembrandt paint anything on this earth, it would still be a Rembrandt. It would still be alive with all his pain and wisdom and gloomy reverence for this life. So it can’t be Ken Landreaux’s fault. But all I can think of is that he was traded for Rod Carew.
He was traded for Rod Carew. He and a couple other guys, actually, but he was the key element of the trade. He had been a first-round draft pick, had been a minor league player of the year, was still young, and could play centerfield. But the point is I do not have a single Rod Carew card in my collection. I don’t know how this happened. He may have been the best player of the decade, and in some ways he was the most prominent, especially to me, since my religion as a child was baseball and my most concentrated time of devotion was on Sunday morning as I studied the batting averages, and Rod Carew was always at the top.
Rod Carew was always at the top but for a couple of years after the trade Ken Landreaux was up there, too, and so it looked for a while like the trade was going to work out for the Twins, especially halfway through the season when the card at the top of the page came out, 1980, the previous season one in which he batted .305, just 13 points lower than Carew, the current season highlighted by a 31-game hitting streak (still the Twins’ record) that would send him to the all-star game and send his batting average skyrocketing as high as .366, surely so high that when I prayerfully studied the Sunday averages I envisioned a future in which Ken Landreaux would take over for Rod Carew as a steady presence in my life, someone who would remain at the top of the list that gave my life a sense that there was a structure to the universe, but instead Ken Landreaux spent the rest of the 1980 season floundering and was traded to the other league where he surfaced as a part-time player on a World Series-winning team, but by then I’d stopped caring so much and Ken Landreaux meant very little, if anything, to me, just a name that used to be a name that was going to be a name. What is there to say? Life unravels.