Chris ArnoldMarch 29, 2012
“Satori comes upon a man unawares, when he feels that he has exhausted his whole being.” – D.T. Suzuki
I’m exhausted. I’m pretty unaware, too. I’ve been banging into the sharp corners of things, tripping over things, walking out the front door without necessary things. Fucking things! Can we just abolish all things and live in a world of pure idea and sensation? What I mean to say is, can’t I just return to bed for a little while and fall back asleep, where there are no things? No? No, it seems the world is made of things, and life requires repeated departures from sweet unconsciousness to the tangled entrapments of things. So I wonder what things I will smash into and trip over and forget today. Yesterday I forgot my bicycle helmet. I didn’t use a bicycle helmet when I was a kid, but now that I’m riding every morning and night up and down a potholed city avenue crowded with swerving eyeless buses I do, and I felt strange as I started out riding yesterday without one and without realizing that I was without one. Something was different. A breeze massaged my hair, a sensation from childhood, and the vague sense that something was off ferried the feeling of implacable nostalgia into implacable dread.
The baseball season has begun, I guess. Way over in Japan. I didn’t pay much attention. I used to think I would someday not only pay attention to everything but master attention. Relatedly, I used to think I might, if I could muster the guts, end up in Japan, in a Zen monastery, my head shaved, my legs pretzeled beneath me, my spine straight, my mind no mind. Big mind. It never came to pass; if anything my unhelmeted mind keeps shrinking. This I suppose would fall under the category of a failure to live up to the dreams of my younger days. Is “dreams” the right word? Convictions, maybe, or perhaps arrogances. There is something arrogant about being seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, no skills, virginal and drug-addled and buried in adherence to beat generation yowling, believing that enlightenment, that is to say complete and unsurpassed understanding of the universe, is not only possible but near at hand. One more acid trip, a few more mornings of meditating in front of a cheap K-Mart candle burning on top of the cover for Bob Marley’s album “Uprising,” maybe a trip to Japan, and boom. Perfect connection. Satori.
This card from 1977 is the last Topps offering to feature Chris Arnold’s blandly handsome visage and includes the entirety of his major league exploits. He hit one home run his first season, 1971, one home run in 1972, one home run in 1973, one home run in 1974, then zero home runs in 1975 and zero home runs in 1976. It’s meditative somehow, like a mantra—one, one, one, one—that centers one’s thoughts until eventually all thought falls away to nothing. The card clutters the purity of this dissolving into zero with some text at the bottom circling back around to Chris Arnold’s earlier days in pro ball, before the majors, when in the Arizona Instructional League he “set all-time loop record for most Triples with 12.” That was back in 1970. In 1977 he returned to the minors, and in 1978 he joined that early wave of American journeymen who fought their encroaching disappearance from professional baseball by going far, far away, to Japan.
I was unaware of the obscure migration eastward of players at the borders of the majors that occurred during my childhood. It was only in my years of ridiculous conviction that I began to think about Japan. In my weathered copy of Dharma Bums, I read about Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder (or, rather, their stand-ins, Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder) looking east together. Those two went in different directions afterward. Kerouac became a suburban wine-addled recluse, withdrawing from the world, souring, bloating, while Snyder actually went east, to Japan, to be a monk in a Zen monastery for a while before returning and resuming his passionate attachment in words and deeds to this continent. Kerouac died young, while Snyder is still alive, one of the last beats standing, I guess, though I suppose—his genuine affection for Kerouac notwithstanding—he’d chafe at being considered a beat, or as any one thing. He was and is a lot of things, environmentalist, activist, family man, Zen monk, lumberjack, beat, what have you. I’m getting off track here. I was going to talk about baseball in Japan, or about my own enlightenment, or something. Who remembers? As Kerouac once put it, channeling his western dissolution through his eastern fascinations:
Well here I am,
2 PM –
What day is it?
Those four home runs Chris Arnold hit, one per year, they must stand out in his mind, little bursts of perfect connection. The superstars with bushels of homers every year, surely some of their glories blur into one another. Not so with Chris Arnold. His first home run came in his very first major league start and was struck off the most unusual, unpredictable pitch in baseball history, the knuckleball, thrown by the master of the mystical offering, Phil Niekro, a future Hall of Famer. His second home run was not as momentous, perhaps, as it was hit off journeyman Ron Schueler in a loss, but then again it was his second home run, proving the first was not a fluke. Then Chris Arnold really got cooking. His third home run was a grand slam pinch-hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that keyed an incredible comeback from a 7-1 deficit. His final home run also came in a win and was hit off another Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton. For good measure, later in the season Chris Arnold also stole his lone major league base off the battery of Steve Carlton and Gold Glove perennial Bob Boone. Consider the sweet lucky life of Chris Arnold, and of us all. We stumble into things, lose our grip on other things, go to Japan or don’t go to Japan, whichever would be more indicative of life’s tendency to expel us from our dreams, and yet once in a great while we connect in such a way that there is no feeling whatsoever, the bat meeting the ball just right, no mind, big mind, and we round the bases, tracing an imperfect oval with our route, a woozy zero, our misshapen bliss.