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Brad Ausmus

May 5, 2008
 

                                                        Golf Road
                                                     Chapter Two 
                                      (continued from Brandon McCarthy)

I lurched around grabbing up all the shreds I could find. After reading the name on the first piece I’d noticed—Brad Ausmus—I didn’t waste any more time looking at names. I just wanted to gather up everything I could before the bus came.

The pieces were light and jagged. They weren’t weather-beaten, but they were slightly curled, like old photographs. They were distributed over a fairly wide area, implying that they had either been tossed up into a breeze, like confetti, or had been moved more gradually by intermittent gusts after having been flung down. Either way, the lack of any further weather-related markings or discoloration made it seem likely that the cards had been abandoned just a few hours before my arrival on the scene.

As I gathered the fragments I noticed that they were physically different from the baseball cards from my childhood. The material seemed cheaper, flimsier, sharper-edged. They surely were easier to rip into pieces than a similar stack of cards from the 1970s would have been. It probably felt good, at least for a second, to shred them. To so easily say I don’t need you.

                                                       * * *

The first and third jobs I ever had were at East Dennis Shell, on the inside part of Cape Cod’s elbow. My second job, before I begged to pump gas again, was with a Greenpeace office based in Hyannis that sent me and other young people all over the Cape to knock on doors and ask for money. At one house a balding Jehovah’s Witness waved off my environmentalist spiel and lectured me at length about how the world was going to end soon.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” he said.

On another day a middle-aged woman in a gray nightgown stared past me and spoke of all the cars going and going, always, all the time, just going and going everywhere. After repeating this assertion for a while she finally leveled her watery gaze at me.

“Where are they all going?” she asked.

                                                      * * *

When I was done gathering, I stood at the edge of the bus stop shelter. I held the small mass of ripped cards to my chest lightly, as if I was protecting a storm-damaged bird’s nest. The traffic of Golf Road flew by.

People aren’t really meant to witness that kind of traffic so closely. If you ever do, you’ll sense a meanness in it. Everyone wants to get to what they imagine is their real life. Everyone wants to get through the places that are neither here nor there. Everyone roars past in a blur. Everything they roar past is a blur. This place is no place. This moment is no moment.

                                                    * * *

Where are they all going? Where is America? If you listen to the patriotic songs it’s in a brave battle for freedom and in God-blessed natural beauty and bounty. The prevailing cultural mythology of America extends these themes into a vision of a promised land of individual conquest and celebration. The American tames the wilderness. The American goes from rags to riches in the vibrant city. The American mows a flawless lawn behind the white picket fence of an alarm-secured suburban home. The American swats a home run in the bottom of the ninth to loose the democratic yawp of the masses across the sun-splashed green.

                                                   * * *

I could not field a very good team with the 22 players featured in the torn cards from Golf Road. Like many of the cards themselves, the roster has glaring holes, as there are no outfielders, no shortstops, and just one first baseman. Most of all: there are no stars. Brad Ausmus, the aging, light-hitting catcher, is probably the most well-known player in the pile.

                                                  * * *

Nowhere in the collective dream of America is there a pedestrian blurred into invisibility on a four-lane road, cars flying past in both directions, a drab brown nature preserve on one side, a string of bland corporate office buildings on the other, a cluster of chain restaurants off on one flat horizon, the opposite horizon dominated by the concrete overpass of an Interstate highway, traffic so thick it barely moves.
                                                 
                                                 * * *

I imagine the original owner of the cards growing impatient as he waits on Golf Road. 

When will this nothing moment end?

There’s no store anywhere around. He must have bought the cards at some earlier time, looked at them, brought them along with him to his job, put in a day’s work in a cubicle, and looked at them again to try to fight the monotony and meaninglessness of the moment that is not a moment. He must have leafed through the cards looking for meaning in them, looking for some connection to that persistent American dream of triumph. Looking for a star. Looking for somebody.

Nobody, nobody, nobody, is what he heard as a reply, in the cars flying past, in the faces of the cards in his hands, in the life he was leading, in the absence of the gods. It must have felt good, at least for a second, to tear all the slick bright nobodies to shreds.

(to be continued)

27 comments

  1. 1.  “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, They’ve all gone to look for America”
    -Paul Simon

    Beautiful. After reading some of your stuff, I feel ill equipped to use the language.


  2. 2.  I noted the material (double meaning intended) difference in the cards as early as the late 80s or even early 90s. In fact, I think the reason I hated Fleer cards initially was because the cards Fleer put out just didn’t feel like real baseball cards to me.

    Whatever you put in your hands first must feel authentic, and any future, material-changing “refinement” will probably feel cheap. This applies to just about anything.


  3. 3.  This is fantastic.

    I think baseball cards got progressively thinner throughout the 1980s, but it was not until 1988 that the material changed appreciably. This was when Score put out a set which featured, shockingly, color mugshots on the back. Then in 1989 Upper Deck came out with a set where the statistics were abbreviated to make room for a color photo which took up more than 50% of the space on the back of the card. The Upper Deck cards were really beautiful, but also the end of the baseball card world as we knew it. Cards were no longer crude vehicles for the delivery of statistics and baseball information, but glossy, stylish potential investments.

    IIRC, several California Angels were heavily involved as investors or spokespeople when Upper Deck started. I’m pretty sure De Wayne Buice, the crappy pitcher, was one of them.


  4. 4.  “After reading the name on the first piece I’d noticed—Brad Ausmus—I didn’t waste any more time looking at names.”

    This is really not all that different from the Astros’ current team construction philosophy.


  5. 5.  Re: 1

    Don’t forget the previous, achingly poignant lyrics in the last verse:

    “Kathy, Im lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
    Im empty and aching and I dont know why…”

    This is where the song seriously flirts with greatness, I think — right as it crashes into the chorus again.

    A nice backdrop for Mr. Wilker’s fine writing. Well-dreamt.


  6. 6.  That is a seriously great song. When I was a kid, though, the line about Mrs. Wagner Pies always confused me because they weren’t making them anymore and I had no idea what the hell a Mrs. Wagner Pie was.


  7. 7.  Wonderfully written, but I don’t think you’re cynical enough about the shredder. Suppose he just got fired and had packed up a box of his personal tchotchkes and was going through them while waiting for the bus to take him…where?

    Hopefully not to the end another S&G song related: Richard Cory.


  8. 8.  Re. Brad Ausmus:
    “I said ‘Be careful / His shinguards are really a camera.’ ”

    I have to admit: I liked Yes’ 10-minute deconstruction of “America” until I heard the S&G original.


  9. 9.  8 Yes performed a version of the original S&G song? Really?


  10. 10.  9 Yup. Recorded in 1972 for some sort of multi-artist compilation album. Appeared a few years later on the odds’n’sods compilation “Yesterdays.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yesterdays

    It is as bloated and flatulent as one would expect.


  11. 11.  Dude, are you seriously employed as a cube monkey? I’m one myself, but you’ve got a goddamn talent. Why haven’t you submitted these writings to a publisher? You’re more talented than MANY ‘best sellers’ I’ve read.

    Get a move on. I want to brag about reading your blog when you weren’t famous when finally you ARE famous.


  12. 12.  Waiting amidst the Golf Road traffic feels just like driving on the streets of LA.


  13. 13.  I also heard Simon & Garfunkel while finishing this peice. Dynamite stuff.


  14. 14.  13 : That song did come into my head at some point while I was writing.

    I never heard the Yes version (which I guess featured the artistry of the other Steve Howe).

    FYI: Ennui Willie Keeler offers an amusing anecdote in the comments for the old post on Mike Parrot (Seattle Mariners).


  15. 15.  Whenever I hear the line “Laughing on the bus / playing games with the faces,” I always think of the capital F Faces and get some funny image in my head of a young couple playing cards with Ronnie Lane and Rod Stewart on a bus.


  16. 16.  I kinda like the look of these cards. But being something of a font geek, I kind of wonder how they would string “diamondbacks” across the top without it looking all cramped. Maybe I can hope that a D-back (and if they use taht abbreviation on the card, I’ll be annoyed) will have also been ripped up at the bus stop.

    Relatedly, but not really having to do with this blog post, I’ve always been curious about team name evolutions. I’m not talking about the Rays dropping “Devil,” I’m tlaking about things like the years when Oakland referred to themselves as the A’s, or when the Philadelphia basketball team referred to themselves as the 76ers. Now they seem to be the Athletics and Sixers, respectively, and I’m guessing their cards reflect that. Wasn’t there a year or two when “Yanks” was on baseball cards as team name?


  17. 17.  I wonder if the Cubs or White Sox had a promotion day with a pack of free baseball cards for the “first 40,000 fans in attendance” or some such number like that? The Dodgers are having Topps night next home stand, and I am fairly certain I will go to that game. I am a sucker for promo nights and will plan my baseball game attendance according to that.

    Anyhow I imagine that some 10 year old kid was at the ball park, and the White Sox mailed it in that day and on the wait for the bus, he got fed up.


  18. 18.  16 : Things were never the same for me after the Super went out of the Supersonics.

    The fluidity of team names is really something to behold in the early days of baseball. It’s always good to have the ability to call a trivia opponent on a technicality when they mention the Red Sox as the answer to the question “Who won the first modern World Series?” (I believe Bill Dineen and company were most often calling themselves the Pilgrims in 1903).


  19. 19.  18 : On further inspection, it appears that the common conception that the Red Sox were once known as the Pilgrims is a myth. From Red Sox Connection (http://tinyurl.com/6ddfej):

    “I’ve scoured the Boston newspapers of the day, though, and find nothing which even suggests that there was a team known as the Boston Pilgrims in 1903. Or, for that matter, the Puritans. They’re both wonderful names, but I can’t find even a shred of evidence that they were names used by anyone in Boston at the time.”

    Baseball-reference.com has Red Sox going by the name Americans until 1908.


  20. 20.  I think this has come up in previous posts, but this reminds of grade school when some kid, frustrated with life, school, girls, parents, teachers, or whatever, would suddenly head out past the baseball field and wildly throw all of his cards into the air, 52-pickup style — no one would ever dare actually rip up cards — sending us all running to grab as many freebies as we could, pushing other kids out of the way, hoping we would get some cool new cards as well as some doubles so we could use them when playing colors, tossing cards, or flipping cards (http://tinyurl.com/6pmgya), in those glorious days before every card had a monetary value and, if worth something financially, placed in a plastic sleeve.


  21. 21.  I used to flip cards, but I’m guessing it would be beyond difficult today to convince a kid that such an activity is actually fun.


  22. 22.  Most of all: there are no stars.

    I imagine myself as a kid dealing with all the duplicates, particularly players I have no interest in. Christ, another fucking Brad Ausmus! as I rip all the unwanted cards up.


  23. 23.  22 The first cards I collected were the late series of 1970, gray borders, blue and yellow back. For some reason, we got an inordinate amount of hideous Jim Shellenback Washington Senators cards as our doubles. We had so may that we actually used several as BB-gun targets in the back yard. What would Josh make of finding a card with several BB holes in it?


  24. 24.  I had about a thousand Nate Olivers.

    My memory may be faulty on tihs, but I seem to recall in the mis sixties that one year Sandy Koufax was incredibly hard to get. tHe next year Topps flooded the market with Koufax’s.
    At least in Southern California..


  25. 25.  Great stuff as usual Josh. I’m going to have to make a trip to Wrigley soon, and dude, you are coming with me. I’ve never been to Wrigley, always dreamed of it, and even created a circa 1945 painting of it. And your philosophical Siddhartha-ass must join me in my experience!

    My first year collecting cards was the 1975 Topps set, which will forever be my “classic” set. Still love looking through them. I remember hating Teddy Martinez because it seemed like every damn pack I bought, there he was. A Mendoza-like batsman, with no ability to get on base and no speed. I never would tear up a card, but many of Teddy were clothes-pinned to the spokes of my bicycle.


  26. 26.  4 Very nice!


  27. 27.  I just read Josh’s older post on the 1976 Victory Leaders, discussing Jim Palmer and Randy Jones. Damn funny stuff! I encourage all to give it another read . . .



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