Jerry AugustineSeptember 22, 2008
The Two Freaks
(continued from Phil Mankowski)
This is the last of the Two Freaks. You can see evidence of their strange, flickering, barely consequential presence in Jerry Augustine’s sideways double-take. As the pitcher lifted his hands above his head and prepared to look straight into the camera the Two Freaks darted one last time across the edges of the playing field, one last time across my childhood.
Like most of those visited by the Two Freaks, Augustine began drifting toward the margins in the aftermath of the visitation. He was still young in this 1980 card, still seemingly capable of becoming a notable figure in the baseball world. He hadn’t set the world on fire, but he’d had his moments, winning 13 games two years earlier and making a successful shift from the rotation to the bullpen one year earlier, with nine wins and five saves. But after the Two Freaks infused his card with hints of other, stranger worlds beneath this one, Jerry Augustine gradually drifted toward the fringes, as if following the hints. Appearances dwindled, earned run averages ballooned. Though still logging some innings here and there as a lefty reliever in both of the Brewers playoff seasons of 1981 and 1982, Augustine was never called on to pitch in the post-season in either year. He was granted free agency by the Brewers at the end of 1984, but no one picked him up.
By the time of his release I was in boarding school. Senior year. Reagan was steamrolling toward reelection. Most of my classmates had an eye on the future. They filled out applications to colleges. They have families now, careers, houses. I smoked bong hits and listened to songs from the era of the Two Freaks.
In the summer of 1985, while Jerry Augustine was adjusting to a new life outside the major leagues, I began filling up notebooks with words. The first thing I wrote about, I think, was my expulsion from boarding school, which had happened a couple months earlier. I couldn’t get it right. The words weren’t capturing the moment. I kept at it though. I’ve been at it for twenty-three years. Where has it gotten me? No money in the bank. Precariously employed. I haven’t really roamed the land that much, not in the Kerouckian sense that I might have hoped for when I was writing my first thick-tongued notebook prayers twenty-three years ago, but I don’t have any roots either.
Jerry Augustine has roots. He played his entire career for the team in his home state. When done he started an insurance agency in Milwaukee, and later he became a college coach in that city. He’s a beloved coach, a trusted insurer, a father of five.
I have started to understand that having a family, being a father, is probably beyond my capabilities. I can barely take care of myself. The stress of keeping myself clothed and fed is more than enough. The older I get the weaker I feel, and the more anxious I get about the uncertainty of daily life, even little things like finding a parking spot or calling the phone company, my stomach aching like there’s a corrosive zero inside me, growing bigger and bigger. I always vaguely figured I’d have kids and be a Normal Guy. I’d play catch with them, give them some advice, eventually cling to them with my skeletal liver-spotted hands when death comes to claim me. But the truth is even without kids I feel uneasy and nervous, like I’m on the mound, all alone, about to single-handedly blow a huge lead. But at least now the stadium is pretty empty. Who needs more asses in the seats? Who needs anyone counting on me?
But back to this 1980 card. I got it when I was 12 and everything was still a hypothetical for me. Judging from the faint stain in the lower left-hand corner of the card, I must have looked at it for a while, long enough to spill something on it. Maybe I was drawn to the tremor Jerry Augustine’s expression provides to the card, the slight aberration of his sideways glance in the otherwise sky blue idyll. Maybe I sensed the disappearance of a wider, shaggier world, a world that had visible rips in the fabric, other worlds leaking through. The Two Freaks believed normal everyday existence is a veil. They tried to be the loose strands, the beginning of an unraveling. After a while they gave up, disappeared into government jobs. I saw one of them behind the counter at the post office not so long ago, gray hair in a ponytail. I was waiting in line to mail a piece of writing that would later be rejected. He was wearing a uniform and tending to customer demands with institutional slowness. He seemed to have developed a facial tic. A tremor. A loose thread in the veil.