Archive for the ‘by Josh Wilker’ Category

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reasons

October 31, 2013

we wonI intended for this photo to be right side up in this fucking post. I also intended before starting to write the post to Google the words “Sweet Jane” but I hadn’t slept much and was up early and had just named a document, the document used to create these words, “Reasons,” short for “Reasons to Live” or “Reasons not to Bail,” so instead of “Sweet Jane” I typed in “reasons” and the search window suggested these four phrases, apparently the top searches that start with the word reasons:

reasons my son is crying
reasons for missed period
reasons for divorce
reasons why I love you

I’m able to find the first one amusing only because at the moment my son is asleep and so is not crying. He has been around for a little over two years and he cries a lot, often for reasons I can’t understand and he can’t explain. This ongoing situation, my inability to help or even understand my own son when he’s suffering, calls to mind a line in Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson:

And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.

There’s a certain undefeatable core of estrangement in this life. You can feel it as the agitation behind each of the top four internet searches for reasons. How can I understand this person who came from me? How can I deal with a new needful life on the way? How can I understand a love that seems to be crumbling? How can I understand love at all?

How can we ever be anything but alone? I’m thinking of a line from a song, but not the one I set out to search for this morning: “I hate the quiet places/that cause the smallest taste of what will be.” That’s a line from “Candy Says,” by Lou Reed, who also supplied the lyrics to the song I wanted to search for today and also the song that provided the epigraph and title for Jesus’ Son. He passed away earlier this week, right when the Red Sox were in the middle of battling toward a win in the World Series, and so his songs of quiet places and loss and perversion, of life turned upside down and inside out, have been hovering eerily all around the loud bearded stomp toward triumph.

His songs make me happy. It’s hard to explain why. Easier to understand winning. The win by the Red Sox made me happy. My son was awake and naked, and when he saw the players jumping around on one another after the last out, he wanted to do it, too, so the two of us did a two-man version of the jumping up and down victory scrum. His nudity reminded me of a short, barrel-chested guy I met with my friend Pete while we were at a New York Rangers game way back in the early 1990s. It was between periods. This was before the Rangers had broken through to win the Stanley Cup in 1994, so the team was the longest suffering NHL squad.

“What will you do if the Rangers finally win?” Pete asked him. He considered it for a moment, or maybe he had the answer already set in his mind. I can’t remember anymore.

“Run naked and put up a sign,” he said.

You want to return to the days when you could run naked, I guess. You want to win, to feel all the limitations that have been piling up on you your whole life long to vanish in the winning.

And they do, they really do, for a second. The photo at the top of this page hangs over my desk (right side up). I sit at my desk every morning and write. What are my reasons? I am trying to hold on to something. I am trying to run naked. I am trying to put up a sign. Anyway, the picture hangs over my desk as a happy reminder, a reminder of happiness, and of connection. It was taken in Boston the day the Red Sox celebrated their 2004 World Series title with a duckboat parade. My brother had decked out his car as “the Yazmobile.” He came from Brooklyn and I came from Chicago. We’d been waiting for that parade our whole life.

Life in general is not in synch with such moments of connection and celebration.

“Some people like us we gotta work,” is how Lou Reed puts it in the song I still have yet to Google. Why did I want to Google “Sweet Jane”? Do I really think I’ll find the answer to why the song, from its first chord, always flicks some switch in my head that turns life from work to something else entirely?

I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. This last fucking paragraph is what my work is, more or less. Do you notice that it is in a different fucking font? I don’t know why it pasted this way into wordpress from my Word document. There doesn’t seem to be a readily apparent fix. I could spend a long time figuring it out, but I have to go to work and figure similar things out, one after the other, little stupid fucking problems that are beyond me. Like the upside down photo at the top of the page. I took it right side up, and sent it from my phone to my email right side up, and when it appeared on my computer upside down I used a program to rotate it back right side up, but then when I uploaded it to this post it was upside down again. I do not understand all the many tiny ways things go wrong and I am lashed to them every goddamn day. I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. No running naked. Unless you count these words written in a hurry beneath a photo of connection and joy, a photo I can’t seem to control. I can’t believe the win I always wished for happened once, and then again, and now three times. I’m happy about it and so not to be trusted. So trust someone who somehow imbued the lines “feel sick and dirty/more dead than alive” with an attachment to suffering life so stubborn as to be a kind of perverse, swinging joy. Trust Lou Reed, transformer of loss, when he sneers at anyone who says life is just to die.

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Add to Dictionary

October 20, 2013

rejubilation

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Pork Chop Pough

August 30, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422660 days until my next book comes out.

I have a lot of work still to do before my next book comes out. That’s why it’s 660 days from coming out and not about 365 days fewer than that, as was originally planned. Earlier this summer I officially missed the original deadline for turning in the manuscript of my book.

“Maybe I can still get everything together soon,” I said to my editor. My mental state was a little bit like that of the Henry Hill character in the latter stages of Goodfellas. Helicopters were following me. Still, I did not yet quite see that everything was falling apart.

“It sounds like you’re not that close,” he said. “Why don’t we just take our time?”

Is this exactly what he said? Probably not. But something like that. He was the reasonable person in the conversation, and I was the desperate one.

Writing a book in desperation doesn’t work so well with me. I have a lot of shredded notebooks dating back over the years to prove this. It’s better if I approach the writing playfully. The book I’m working on has grown only when I’ve been able to do this, and then whenever I try to force it forward, it stalls. It goes silent. I go silent. I start counting the days, as if I’m in prison.

It’s no way to go through life. Better to take notice of the here and now.

So here on the first day of my official countdown of the days, and before I turn to my manuscript, and as a way to try to turn to my manuscript in a playful mood, is Pork Chop Pough, who never quite made it to majors. He played in the minors for a long time. Near the end of his career he was a big part of an ESPN article on the Nashua Pride. He is asked in the article why he continues to chase a dream that appears to have expired.

“I still love the game,” he says.

In the background of the photo is my son dropping baseball cards into my guitar. The picture is a few months old. He used to do this more. My guitar was always full of baseball cards. He hasn’t done it much since. It was a little annoying to always be shaking baseball cards out of my guitar, but someday I’ll miss it, I’m sure. I’ll miss making a pork chop for him and cutting it into small pieces, like I did yesterday evening. He was out in the back of our building, playing with his grandma, my mother-in-law. He didn’t eat any of the pork chop chunks. He was too interested in wandering over to parked cars and touching the tires so that his hands turned black with tire grime. All he had on was a diaper and some sandals. He smeared his hands on his stomach.

“Good god, you’re growing up in a parking lot,” I said. I still had the plate of chopped-up pork chops in my hands.

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Bob Hamelin

August 29, 2013

hamelin from slate articleJosh Levin from Slate emailed me last week with this card attached to the email. I wrote back the following response:

This is a terrible thing to see at 5 in the morning in my underwear. I don’t know where to start. It’s so jarring and awful, a collision of unpleasant forms and surfaces. I fear for anyone dwelling too long on this card. There should be contests to see who can last the longest staring at it before screaming into the night. I fear for Bob Hamelin, too, that he will incur a massive paper cut on his jawline, that he suffers from amnesia and so carries not only his name under the brim of his cap but also on a large paper sign stapled to his chest. I pity him. I hate him. Is it his huge face crowding the frame? Is it his air of mournful need? The hint of a mullet on one possessing such a broad, smooth face and such clean, featureless glasses seems to speak of an age in which there is no rhyme or reason, no up or down. A mullet on Jose Canseco or Rod Beck I understand, but this? It makes me want to move my family immediately to a rural fastness far from any TGI Fridays. Oh, beauty, truth, where are you anymore?

Levin wrote a great article on the card, titled “The Worst Baseball Card Ever.”

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Ron Darling

July 18, 2013

darling houseThere are always people above me. As of this second, which finds me at a table in the basement where I write books or don’t write books, depending on the relative shittiness of my resolve that day or depending on the gods or on whoever or whatever is to blame for my failings, the people above me are my wife and son, still asleep upstairs. I got up in the four o’clock hour and have been doing so for a while to try to write my book before I go to work. As I write I brace myself for sounds of wakefulness above me. Sometimes it stays quiet for a while and I can get some words down. Other times it stays quiet for a while and I waste the time Googling Eugenio Velez. Eugenio Velez is still active in Triple A baseball, which means he has the chance to return to the major leagues and put a stop to his major league hitless at-bat streak, which currently stands at 46 at-bats in a row without a hit, the all-time record for non-pitchers. I don’t want to miss his call-up to the majors, even though it seems increasingly unlikely that such a call-up will come. There are always people above him.

In a short while, I’ll go to work, where the people above me are supervisors and middle managers and directors and vice presidents. I sometimes pass one or another of these personages as we are wending our respective way through the pasteboard cubicle maze. They are outwardly no different from me, especially in the preference to avoid eye contact while afoot within the maze. They are outwardly no happier or secure than me. There are people above them, too. This means, this always means, that decisions could be made somewhere, somewhere above, that result in things ending, by which I mean paycheck, insurance, etc.

This would be terrible. I dread it, the possibility of it. Sometimes it makes me angry that there are people above me, always, always the possibility that a decision will be made above me to send me packing. So I go to work, work all day, do what I can. I come home. My son, almost two, now runs at me when I come home. Not to me but at me. We go down to the basement. He likes it down there. It’s carpeted, i.e., a softer  landing spot for falling, and there are baseball cards and balls and my old guitar, which he likes to strum. Sometimes down there he orders me to participate in one or another of his rudimentary games. He’s above me, the one true boss of my life, so I have to comply. Other times he gets interested, inexplicably, in some random task that happens to be more solitary, such as dropping a pair of earphone buds again and again into the binder of a photo album jutting out from the bookcase. In those rare instances I either lie on the ground, exhausted, or, if I have some shred of life still in me, I fiddle around with his baseball cards, which are usually strewn all over the floor. Lately I’ve been building little houses of the cards. They don’t last long, these houses, because a certain party eventually gets interested and, even if he initially contributes to the house by laying a Dennis Rasmussen or Mike Proly on the roof, inevitably gives in to the joy of demolition.

But I managed to get a picture of one of the houses before it was destroyed. It would be nice to live in such a house forever, I sometimes think. To look up and see nothing above you but numbers, knowable and distinct. Maybe there’d be a faint scent of gum.

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Josh and Kurt Bevacqua

May 22, 2013

josh and bevacquaJosh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua watch the game and commiserate about how things aren’t the way they used to be. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua both hate all the noise at ballparks now, the constant blaring music and advertisements and T-shirt-bazooka assaults. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fear for the future. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fill a void in one another’s lives that’s been present for some years and that they can’t quite name. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua agree that they are lucky beyond words for the blessings that have come their way, for family, for fatherhood, and yet Josh and Kurt Bevacqua admit to one another that for some reason there are still days when life seems too much to bear, every pitch unhittable, every stick of gum tasteless, every bubble punctured. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua decide to take a day off and go to an amusement park. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eat cotton candy and ride the rides. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua scream while flying upside down on a roller-coaster based on a billion-dollar movie franchise. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home at dusk exhausted, the sky growing dim but still faintly illuminated. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua shake hands and say see you tomorrow, meaning for racquetball. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, anxious to mask the warm feelings for one another’s companionship, mock one another’s lack of racquetball skills, then one another’s sexual shortcomings, then one another’s general standing in life. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are just kidding at first, but their words gradually grow heated, for it has been a long day and moreover a long life that has, for all its blessings, not been without disappointments. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua come to blows. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are separated by strangers. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua thrash at the arms of the peacemakers and scream I never liked you, I never liked you, you don’t know shit about anything, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home and tend to their cut lips and scuffed fists. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eventually let go of their rage, then their grief. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, months later, run into one another at the racquetball facility. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua get to talking, then laughing. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua let bygones be bygones. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends.

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Jim Gott

May 6, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422I had stuffed animals as a kid. The dog shown here isn’t one of them. I don’t have them anymore. My favorite was a stuffed dog named Spot. He and I used to have brawls. I used to punch him and throw him across the room, and I’d pretend he was doing the same to me. The key element of the whole recurring fantasy was that Spot was beating the shit out of me as I was beating the shit out of Spot. I suppose I imagined that in the end I threw the final, decisive punch, but this victory was secondary to the central function of the whole endeavor, which was to pretend that I was in a horrible fight. I don’t know why I was so prone to imagining violence, specifically violence being done to me. There wasn’t any actual hitting of me or anyone else in the house I grew up in, besides my older brother sometimes becoming so exasperated with my incessant needling commentary and questions and need for attention that he’d punch me in a “phaser-set-to-stun” kind of way in the arm.

And yet, I still imagine my face getting smashed in on a fairly regular basis. Life is one fucking invisible worry after another, one thing breaking after another, one long day after another. And now, for me, there’s a small boy in the center of it, not even two years old, and it’s up to me to protect him, as if I could do so by draping my arm around him like the stuffed dog in this photo is doing to Jim Gott, one of the cards my son plays with sometimes. But I can’t protect him. I’m at the mercy of forces far beyond me.

Spot is in a landfill somewhere, I guess, probably all but disintegrated. He was full of white Styrofoam pellets. Because of all the fighting I subjected him to, he sprung several wounds and would bleed the little white pellets everywhere. I imagined bleeding all over the place, too. Then the two of us would lie there together in the wreckage, arm in arm, and make peace.

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Brayan Pena

March 12, 2013

brayan pena 001My son’s baseball cards reside, in theory, in a small wicker basket downstairs. My wife found this one in a completely different part of the house and brought it to me.

“It’s a baseball card, I guess?” she said dubiously, handing me the two larger pieces.

“Here’s his head,” she added.

Sometimes in the evening when my wife takes a brief break from her 24-hour-a-day job, I take my son downstairs and dump his cards onto the carpet. Sometimes I read the backs of the cards, which often prompts him to grab the card out of my hand and then look at me, grinning. Sometimes he handles some of the cards while I try to flip them one by one across the room and back into the basket. Eventually, he gets bored with the cards. Check that, I don’t know whether you can ascribe the feeling of boredom to him. He gets restless, interested in seeing something else. He’s walking now, so there’s always something around the next corner as well as a way to get around that corner. Sometimes he takes a baseball card with him when he goes, and sometimes he chews on it until it falls to pieces.

I pieced this chewed card back together and then poked around on the Internet in search of some details about the photo. I figured out it was taken during a moment that the subject of the photo hoped would change the fortunes of his struggling team for the better. In a game the Royals would end up losing anyway, Royals catcher Bryan Pena blocked Chase Headley of the Padres from scoring.

“I hope that that little thing will turn it around for us,” Pena was quoted as saying in the San Diego Union Tribune. “It’s for us to try and figure out and turn our luck around.”

The play didn’t really turn anything around. The Royals were a sub-.500 team before it happened, and continued to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the year. But maybe life isn’t so literal, so linear. Maybe everything is scrambled, a plaything, and we’re lucky just to hold on.

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The Tao of Expo

March 5, 2013

expo in guitarFor most of my life, when baseball cards came to me, I sorted them into teams. The majority of my baseball cards from my childhood are sorted by teams right now, each team wrapped in a rubber band. The exception to this general rule is in the cards that I’ve written about, which have been removed from their teams and are loose in the shoebox, as if the process of writing about the cards is a way to offer them back into the originating randomness of life. I vowed early on to write about every single card that remains from my childhood, and I still plan to keep that vow, but right now the shoebox with all my old cards is in a closet, out of my immediate reach for the first time in many years. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I’m using whatever small pockets of time I have for writing to work on a new book (that’s not about baseball cards). Another is that I don’t want my 19-month-old son to get his hands on those cards just yet. Finally, after writing about my baseball cards for several years, there’s something appealing to having them go away, get a rest from my exhausting attention, gain strength in silence, like they did all those years when they were in a storage facility.

But baseball cards are still in my life, more actively now than at any time since my childhood. They belong to my son, a heaping pile of loose cards, some new ones from 2012 and 2013 and some older ones that came as a gift to me from my wife’s aunt, who found the cards in a binder at a garage sale. They’re all from the late 1980s and early 1990s. My wife helped me remove them all immediately from the protective plastic of the binder, and we piled them on the living room rug like leaves, where our son Jack started doing something very much like the breaststroke through them. Then, the diaspora: the cards were gradually scattered all over the house. This is how things get sorted now, through play. I find a card in the bathroom, another on the cat scratch pad. A favorite site for cards is my guitar. Jack likes dropping them in there. He can’t say guitar yet, but he makes a sound that approximates the sound of a guitar being strummed. “Dao,” he says when he wants to play with the guitar, the same way you’d pronounce the Chinese philosophy of embracing the randomness and transience of life. He said this the other day, and when we got to the guitar a backup catcher from a defunct team was inside. Oh, to live inside music, holiness itself. Oh to be an Expo forever, free of the sorted world.

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Sabathia Crushed by Dump Truck

February 28, 2013

sabathia crushed by dump truck

It’s not my habit or talent to break news, and what’s more I don’t even care about news. I’m an “olds” guy, more interested in say, Ralph Garr’s batting average in 1974 against righties and articles about Mark Fidrych’s consultations with a hypnotist in 1979 than I am with anything whatsoever to do with the upcoming baseball season, or, for that matter, with any current events at all. But I figured it’d be irresponsible of me to not pass along a report of the event pictured in the photo to the right. It is difficult to make out the identity of the player in question, but I happened to have been an eyewitness and can confirm that it is New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia who is being crushed by a dump truck full of sliced apples. So, you know, you might want to cut him from your fantasy squad or whatever.

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Opening

February 20, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422

My son has been a little melty lately. As in, he is prone to melt downs. I think it has something to do with his being at the cusp of language. Something in his world isn’t how he wants it to be, or some feeling wells up that he doesn’t quite know how to manage. He can say a few words and knows the meanings of several more, but there is an infinite number of things beyond his grasp. It’s beyond anyone’s grasp, forever, but eventually we learn to make some kind of truce with our inability to translate the world into words. He hasn’t gotten there yet. When there’s something that needs to be said and no way to say it, he gets upset. When this happens, I try to get him thinking about something else. This photo is from a few days ago, when I handed him a pack of the new 2013 baseball cards. He got quiet, attentive, interested in what was in his grasp. I had to get the flap open a little, but he took it from there. We’ve opened packs before. Thanks to Jack, baseball cards, present tense—baseball cards for pure fun—are back in my life for the first time since childhood. When Jack got the wrapper off, he took it over to the sink and pointed to the cupboard below, where we keep the garbage bin. I opened the child lock on the cupboard and he put the wrapper in the trash. He had the baseball cards in his other hand, but he knew that the wrapper and the cards were different. The cards mean something. He started handing them to me, and I read aloud the names of the guys we got.

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George Brett

December 16, 2012

brett and roe

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)

Evidence

Three: Rocky Roe

Beside the Donnie Moore card and the fragment of Mr. October is a 1994 George Brett card featuring an unusual photo (for the genre). The card’s perspective is from behind the plate, its subject, George Brett, following through on a swing that has resulted in the ball bounding toward second base. In the background, the scoreboard is clearly visible, providing plenty of clues to allow the moment to be identified.

In an uncertain world, it’s nice to come upon hard evidence, even if the evidence doesn’t matter. Maybe this is what’s behind my lifelong attraction to meaningless baseball occurrences. Despite the complete lack of societal or personal need for any illumination whatsoever about the photo shown in George Brett’s 1994 baseball card, I found myself researching details about the moment it occurred. The card lent itself well to this wasting of time. That’s probably part of the draw. To waste time. To squander. But sometimes it also feels good to know something, anything.

I found the game (an 8–7 Royals win), and the result of the play (groundout, Brett’s last at-bat of the day; on an earlier pitch in the at-bat, Brett had fouled a pitch off his foot, injuring it), and the identity of the pitcher (Jaime Navarro, now a coach with the Mariners) and catcher (Joe Kmak, now a high school math teacher). The umpire is Rocky Roe. Roe’s prominence in the card, no less than the last card of an inner circle Hall of Famer, is unusual if not unprecedented in terms of baseball card portraiture. Based on the composition of the shot, the card could easily be for Roe, not Brett. But what could possibly go on the back of a card for an umpire? And who would want such a card?

Roe got his start as a major league umpire in 1982, as a replacement for Lou DiMuro. DiMuro had ascended above the general anonymity of his profession a couple of times in his long career, once for being smashed into and injured by the gigantic Cliff Johnson, and once a few years earlier for his role in a famous World Series moment. He was the umpire behind the plate in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series. After ruling that a pitched ball had not hit Cleon Jones in the foot, he changed his ruling when presented with evidence: shoe polish on the ball. This keyed a Mets’ rally, and the Mets won the World Series, arguably the most improbable World Series win ever, evidence to many of miracles, of magic. Thirteen years later, after umpiring a game in Texas, DiMuro was hit and killed by a car. Rocky Roe got a call, filled a void.

Roe was the home plate umpire in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS. As far as I can remember or recover through my compulsion to do pointless, time-consuming research, he did not make any controversial calls during the crucial moments of that game. One of his rulings during the fateful ninth inning, when it still seemed the Angels were going to surge into their first World Series, was that Boston batter Rich Gedman had been hit by a pitch thrown by Gary Lucas. It was not a disputed call.

Gary Lucas still feels guilty about the pitch. He was brought in specifically to face Gedman, lefty on lefty. After hitting the Boston catcher, Lucas gave way to Donnie Moore, who gave up a two-run home run to Dave Henderson. All these years later, Lucas still wonders about his role in Donnie Moore’s subsequent suicide. “If I do my job that night,” he told Los Angeles Times reporter Jerry Crowe in 2010, “perhaps he’s still with us.”

Guilt is one way to create a thread connecting one event to the next. Shouldering the world this way, as a burden, is an excruciating way to live, but the deep vein of guilt running through the collective human narrative suggests that we prefer suffering fictions to the alternative, a world without evidence, beyond our control.

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Reggie Jackson

December 10, 2012

reggie

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)

Evidence

Two: Mr. October

The Donnie Moore card has been on my desk for several days, waiting to be made sense of. Beside it is a small fragment of another baseball card. I recently fished the fragment out of my son’s mouth. He’s fifteen months old, which means I’m fifteen months into a new life, one more splintered and doubtful than what preceded it, more overpowered by love. He has a basket of 2011 baseball cards that we play with in the evenings. Most of the creased, beaten cards are of currently active players, and I’ve been surprised at how many of them I’d never heard of, more evidence that I’m falling away from the times with the slow but irreversible momentum of an untethered spacewalker. But mixed in are some cards featuring older players achieving milestones. Ernie Banks, Willie Mays. When I fished the fragment out of my son’s mouth, it took perhaps a second to process the limited clues available and recognize it as being from one of these “legend” cards. I could tell from the California Angels batting helmet, the wire-rimmed spectacles, and the gaze trained on the far distance that my son had bitten off a piece of Mr. October.

Mr. October got his name for his apparent ability to play spectacularly well when the games mattered the most. The narrative truth of this rests on his iconic three-homer game in the clincher of the 1977 World Series. He had paved the way for this moment to be a mythic apotheosis by anchoring three World Series championships with the A’s, and he added luster to its magic by again performing spectacularly well in a 1978 World Series win. His exploits, and the outsized personality that went with them, seemed to illustrate the notion that some guys are able to rise to a higher level during big moments.

It’s true that Mr. October’s career World Series numbers are phenomenal: In 27 career World Series games, he had a .357 batting average, a .457 on-base percentage, and a .755 slugging percentage). But if his ability to play better in crucial moments was truly unshakeable, why wouldn’t he have also hit well during his appearances in the American League Championship Series? In 45 games with the pennant at stake, he posted these anemic numbers: .227/.298/.380. Overall, his total postseason numbers suggest a slight increase in performance over his career numbers (in 77 postseason games, he had a .278 batting average, a .358 on-base percentage, and a .527 slugging percentage, all a little higher than his regular season splits of .262/.356/.490). The slight superiority of those postseason numbers could easily be attributed to most of his postseason appearances coming during the prime of his career, when his overall regular season numbers were higher, too.

These findings, if you can call them that, are in line with the general conclusions of all inquiries into the notion of “clutch” performance: Basically, as a sample size increases and thus becomes a more fully supported representation of reality, any seeming evidence of clutch performance tends to recede, if not disappear altogether. It seems a decent bet that Mr. October would dismiss this suggestion that his clutch abilities are imaginary, that he believed and still believes that he was in possession of a certain magic unavailable to his peers.

When I think of Mr. October as an Angel, I see him in a moment seemingly designed to demonstrate that magic, if it exists, is so migratory and random in nature as to be entirely beyond the grasp of human hands. He is in the dugout beside Angels manager Gene Mauch in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series, the Angels seemingly assured a pennant. In my memory, Mauch, who previously presided over the monumental collapse of the 1964 Phillies, is not smiling, but Mr. October beams broadly, winningly. He has removed his glasses, anticipating a pennant-winning victory scrum in which he apparently hopes not to have his glasses damaged. Some events transpire. Mr. October’s smile constricts. The game is once again in doubt. Mr. October puts his glasses back on.

(to be continued)

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Donnie Moore

November 28, 2012

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)

Evidence

One: Donnie Moore

Lately I keep finding myself in the midst of a routine motion gone strange. What am I doing? How did I get here? In these moments, I imagine I look like Donnie Moore as captured by his 1987 card. You’re doing something you’ve done all your life and suddenly it seems without purpose. You don’t even remember what you were doing or why.

Donnie Moore was an all-star pitcher with a long major league career, but he’s best known for surrendering a late lead in what would have been a pennant-clinching game in the 1986 American League Championship Series and for being so haunted by the failure that he ended his life. This latter point is a garish reduction of the complex reality of Donnie Moore’s life and death, and of the complex causes of suicide. Reductions tend to happen around sports. Playing sports, following sports as a fan, using sports as a way to tell understandable stories about ourselves: All of these things are ways of reducing and managing complexity.

For some years now, I have dealt with a certain mounting sense of powerlessness in the face of the complexity of life by immersing myself in old baseball cards and in information about the players on these cards. At some point in this immersion, I learned of a fly ball that never came down. I was writing about Joe “Tarzan” Wallis, who hit the fly ball in question during a minor league game in Key West, Florida. Several future major leaguers were on hand, including Bruce Sutter, Garry Templeton, and Tito Landrum. The pitcher who surrendered the fly ball was Lon Kruger, then in his one season of professional baseball, now the coach of the University of Oklahoma men’s basketball team. Kruger’s opponent, the game’s eventual winning pitcher, was Donnie Moore.

The right fielder, second baseman, and center fielder all ran toward where they thought the fly ball would come down. Upon each man losing sight of the ball, all ducked, covering their heads. They tried to follow the play from their cringes, and then came out of their cringes. No one saw the ball land. No one could find the ball. Joe Wallis hesitantly rounded the bases. The umpire upheld the notion that Wallis had hit a home run.

The identity of this umpire, the presiding authority on the mysterious disappearance, has been lost. But I found a box score for the game on page 33 of an August 7, 1974, edition of the St. Petersburg Times. Wallis’ name is written as “Wallace” in the box score, and in the short recap of the game, Donnie Moore’s name is written as “Donny” Moore. The mystery fly is not mentioned.

On the cover of that newspaper, the news is about pressure mounting for the presiding authority of the nation to resign and about this figure’s continuing defiance. But in two days, the president would buckle to the mounting evidence of criminal activity arrayed against him. I feel like I remember that day Nixon quit, remember seeing a newspaper headline, but all my memories are suspect.

What are the effects of seeing things of seemingly unimpeachable solidity disappear? It must shake your confidence in the world on some subterranean, tectonic level. There’s no presiding authority, no evidence of a thread from one moment to the next.

(to be continued)

h1

Butch Edge

October 1, 2012

(This post originally appeared on The Classical.)

Butch Edge Sent Me

1980, Vermont

Nada. That was the word on the license plate of our VW Camper. It means nothing. It means Mexico. It means love. But it’s gone. The Camper, the license plate. Now we have a new blue Toyota Corolla with a license plate that doesn’t mean anything.

This morning,Mom drove the Toyota Corolla to her job, and Tom drove his old black Saab to his job. My brother is at basketball camp. Little League ended a few weeks ago, my last season. The tennis ball I’m holding doesn’t have any stories in it. Some days it helps me make whole other worlds. I throw it at the duct-tape strike zone on the garage. It hits a rut on the way back to me and caroms into the front yard, rolling to a stop in the grass. I could go get it, try again. Instead I start walking down Route 14 toward Race’s.

I buy a couple of packs and walk home. I open the packs in my room. Nada. No Red Sox, no Superheroes. Mixed in among the doubles and the checklists and the nobodies is one of the Future Stars card, for the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are still brand new and still lose all the time.

“Butch Edge,” I say out loud.

 

2012, Chicago

I have a few small notebooks scattered around, each about the size of a pack of baseball cards. One on a table near some bills, one in a bureau near the bed, one in a drawer with my wallet and keys, one on a file cabinet next to a Future Stars card from 1980 featuring Butch Edge. I used to carry the notebooks around and jot down observations. I planned to channel all the notes at some point into Chekhovian masterworks. For a long time I lived for some vague life to come.I would be a Man of Letters, tirelessly churning the concrete details of everyday life into literature. This future hasn’t arrived. Now there’s the job, chores, a baby. The baby doesn’t sleep. At night my wife and I take turns trying to rock him into letting go of the waking world, but he keeps clinging to it fiercely, the misery of exhaustion amassing on his tiny shoulders but never completely overtaking his insatiable curiosity. Tonight after one of my failed attempts, I gather up all my little notebooks and rip out all the scribbled-on pages so as to salvage the notebooks for making grocery lists. The baby begins to cry. It’s late. I stand there in the kitchen with my hands full of disconnected observations. I feel a little tingly, disintegrating, like a Star Trek redshirt on a malfunctioning transporter pad.

1980, Vermont

Tom gets home from work first and meditates, and then he practices walking across the tightrope he strung across the inside of the garage. On my way out to the backyard, I catch a glimpse of him up there, teetering. I know he’s going to fall off because that’s what always happens, but I look away quick so the last thing I see is him still balanced a few feet above the ground, wavering, his arms straight out.

In the backyard, the sheep, Virginia, is munching grass on her side of the electric fence. Near one of the wooden fence posts, there are some of the long-stemmed wheat-looking weeds I like to pluck and chew on like a toothpick. I yank one up out of the ground. If you touch one of these stems to the electric fence you will get a jolt.

I take a deep breath, tense myself, and touch the stem to the fence.

Nada.

The fence must be shorted out again. Everything’s half-broken nowadays.

I break off a toothpick-sized stem and stick it in my mouth and pretend I’m U.L. Washington, the toothpick-gnawing shortstop for the Royals. All their guys are fast. That’s who they are. Fast and fierce and great. Who are the Blue Jays? Nada, light blue. brand new nada.


2012, Chicago

I stand at the kitchen counter, disintegrating. My baby’s crying. I look down at the little scribbled pages in my hands. What am I holding onto? As I flip them into the trash I catch glimpses. Fragments of dreams. Overheard conversations on the train. One page has some notes that I must have made while talking on the phone to Tom. The notes are about Tom’s tightrope walking. He learned to tightrope walk in 1980 as part of the skills he needed to play the lead role in the town’s production of Barnum, which climaxed with a walk across a tightrope suspended a few feet above the stage. He told me that while preparing for the role, the turning point was when he learned how he could incorporate a fall into the performance. I was going to make a big deal of this provision in my writing somehow, build a whole metaphor around it, but I never did.

He’s not with my mom anymore, and when they were together they weren’t married, but I call him my stepfather. He was there every day. I used to have night terrors as a kid. Books that cover the subject often say that these episodes featuring screaming on the part of the child are not remembered by the child, but I always remembered them. One of the ones I remember most was a later one, when they weren’t happening quite as often. Edging into the mid-’80s. The house was empty except for me and Tom. My brother must have been away at school by then, and my mom must have been on some trip. Usually, no one knew what to do with my screaming. No one could help. But Tom held my hand. It helped.


1980, Vermont

I hold out my cupped hand to Virginia across the top of the shorted-out electric fence, pretending I have a handful of grain. It’s a bad trick, but I want Virginia to come over. She does. She doesn’t complain when my palm turns out to be full of nada. She lets me scratch her forehead. She likes it. She can’t purr like a cat or lick you like a dog and her eyes are just dim black nada but she likes it and I love her.

My mom will be home soon. Lately the backseat of the Toyota Corolla is full of the bulbs of white flowers. That’s what it looks like for a second, like the car is slowly filling up with flowers, especially if I blur things by taking off my glasses. But put the glasses back on and they’re the tissues my mom cries into all the way home from her job.

2012, Chicago

My mom told me the other day over the phone that I’m a good father. But I don’t know what I’m doing. I guess she sees me being affectionate to the boy. I must have picked that up somewhere, from her, from my father, from my brother, from Tom, how it’s good to be cared for. But in general I feel like most decisions I make are mistakes. Also, my mind wanders. Earlier today, I was watching him at a playground and my mind wandered and the next thing I knew he was holding a bubonically ashen rodent carcass in his hands. I batted it away and carried him to my wife, who scoured his hands and arms with Purell. Even so, she stayed nervous the rest of the day. I was nervous too. How can you have a kid and not be ruined with anxiety every second? On the way out of the park we saw a lividly decaying bird corpse in the grass.

“That’s not a good sign, is it?” my wife said. “Things dying all over the place?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” I said, but my mind was reeling with visions of a mean, imminent future. The future used to be new blue nada, but now? Dead mice, dead birds, poverty, scarcity, epidemic disease. The world on a tightrope, wavering.

And tonight, my son can’t fall asleep. Midnight has come and gone, 1 a.m. has come and gone, 2 a.m. has come and gone. This happens all the time. I’ve started falling asleep on my feet, leaving this world for some other for seconds at a time before partially returning, bits and pieces left behind. Waking is now a new way of disintegrating, the present a provisional intersection of fictions.


Vermont, 1980

I stop scratching Virginia on the forehead and turn to go back to the house. A man is standing there on the lawn. He looks very tired. There’s the sound, somewhere nearby, of a baby crying.

“Butch Edge sent me,” he says to me. This man has glasses. He looks a little like my father, a little like my mother.

“Butch Edge?” I say.

“Butch Edge has glasses that look like your glasses,” he says. This is true.

“Your glasses!” he says, looking just above my head and speaking louder, like Tom up on stage booming out lines from a script. “The arm of them will break off during a fight for a rebound in an eighth grade basketball game!”

“Eighth grade?” I say. That’s in the future.

“You will get other pairs of glasses,” the man says,his voice back down to a mutter like my muttering dad. Now he’s looking down at the grass like he dropped something.

“I always come back here,” he mutters, like he’s talking to himself. “I always come back to this place.”

“I’ve never seen you,” I say. He looks back up at me. The baby is still crying somewhere.

“What I can tell you about the future is that all your glasses will break, actually, one after the other, or else will just not work after a while because your eyes will keep getting worse. Your glasses will get thicker and thicker.” He looks past me. His eyes widen. “Oh. Virginia,” he says. The way he says it, softly but with his voice going squiggly, wavering, it’s like my mom.

That crying baby. I want to do something about it, but I don’t know anything about babies. I try to think about something that I know about.

“I have to go sort my cards,” I say.

I can hear the Toyota Corolla pulling into the drive. There’s a little mist of sadness over everything.

“Butch Edge,” the man says,fading into the nada, the crying.


Chicago, 2012

And the crying gets louder and I’m back at the kitchen counter in front of several small narrowed notebooks with blank pages.

“Butch Edge,” I say.

In 1979, his only major league year, Butch Edge notched three wins. The last was a complete game 3–2 victory over Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and the eventual American League champ Baltimore Orioles. For a moment, the future through thick glasses: not bad. Butch Edge.

I go into the bedroom and take the baby from my wife. I can’t get him to sleep but after a while, through nothing I’m doing or not doing, he stops crying. He loves life, hates to sleep. He reaches for my glasses and pulls them from my face and goes blurry. One of his favorite comedy routines: He takes my glasses, I call him a bully, he laughs. In my arms this being of pure laughing light, free of the future and the past, nada light blue brand new nada. I’ll never know what I’m doing. Blind I hold on.

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