Ramon VasquezAugust 13, 2008
As with the collecting of baseball cards, my brother preceded me as a clerk at 8th Street Wine and Liquor. He found a listing for the job at the NYU employment center and worked there throughout college, then when he was tapering off at the store I started my ragged tenure. Years later, after I’d come and gone at the store, he needed extra money and started picking up some shifts here and there. One night as he entered the store, which by then was on its last legs and almost always empty of customers, the owner and my brother’s coworker for the night were sitting at the desk in the back, site of almost all the billion bullshitting sessions that made that place into one of the best shelters from the relentless passing of time I have ever known (I feel the urge to digress as I talk about it—even talking about it in the first place is a digression, for I meant to speak only and briefly and pointedly about last night’s Red Sox-Rangers game, but sometimes the passing of time seems too cruel and I digress from the point before I even take one step toward making it and no wonder I end up talking about the liquor store, site of years of digression, of sideways expansion, of ingrown soulnails, not just for me but for many other aimless young men who passed months and years leaning on a broom and pretending to know something about wine, and for that reason it should be a historical landmark, or maybe an anti-historical landmark, a shrine to a place where nothing ever really happened, but instead it closed years ago and after a lingerie store came and went the site is now a Korean manicure joint with no trace of the old store visible), and heard the owner, Morty, a World War II combat veteran, speaking quietly, even tenderly, to the young man across the desk from him. My brother, hearing what was being said, paused with his hand on the open door in the classic gape-mouthed fashion of a lowbrow sitcom.
“Listen, Petey,” the owner was murmuring. He reached one of his combat-toughened mitts across the desk. “I too have shit my pants.”
Shitting one’s pants has got to be one of the great anxieties of a young human’s life; even if we somehow avoid that ignominy in those early pants-wearing days, we hear of others who have not been so lucky, their names forever welded as the indestructible subject in the sentence whose predicate is shit his pants. And so there is always that terror deep inside us that our very first and most profound lesson in the passage from lawless infant to anxious cog in society will in some unpredictable spasm be undone. A humiliating loss, a crushing burden. (Not to mention the stench.)
As far as I can recall, and it’s certainly possible that I am repressing some horrible memory, I avoided this undoing until somewhere deep into last night’s putrid, thrilling, ridiculous, laughable, exhilarating, and exhausting 19-17 Red Sox win over the Rangers. The game, which tied an American League record for most runs scored, seemed at first to be just what I needed. I was already worn out from going into work despite being sick and had filled my body with a trash bag full of cough drops, enough cold pills to stun a gorilla, and so much tea that my eyes were sloshing in their sockets. I felt trampled and queasy. So I was glad to see the Red Sox take a seemingly indestructible ten-run lead in the first inning. A laugher! Wonderful! It was all I could handle in my weakened state.
The player picture in the torn card at the top of this page, Ramon Vasquez (one of the least damaged cards from my Golf Road find a couple months ago), did all he could to help me out, most notably contributing to that ten-run inning by bungling a double-play grounder that allowed six of the ten runs to be unearned. Much later he was also unable to handle a throw by one of the Rangers’ relievers, Wright, that allowed another unearned run to score (though in that case the error was charged to Wright). In between all that he collected a couple hits but was one of the few players on either team to neither score nor drive in a run, stranding a team-high five runners on base. Not a good night for Ramon Vasquez.
Not a good night for me either, as it turned out, for as the Rangers began to batter and bludgeon a Red Sox bullpen that seems intent on proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this year is not the Red Sox’ year, I sunk below the line that separates us from the animals. I lay on the couch, moaning, whining, coughing, choking on mucous, cursing. Somewhere in that infantile fugue I attempted to express my disgust with the Red Sox’ feckless hurlers by going beyond words to loose what I intended to be a burst of angry flatulence. But my regal trumpet blast of disgust took a bad turn about three-quarters of the way in.
All of this is just to say I wish the liquor store was still around. Ever since I left that place I have harbored the fantasy that one day, after some vaguely imagined worldly success on my part, I would go back there and burst through the door with cigars for everyone, good jokes for everyone, a big shot bellowing about book tours, celebrities, movie rights. But now I just wish I could go and sit in the back and talk about baseball until the real story came out, at which point Morty would reach across the desk to tell me that he, too, had shit his pants.