(continued from Big League Brothers)
Years after my brother was apprehended trying to steal an Elvis Costello cassette, I finally followed his footsteps into shoplifting, stealing easily pocketable items from a small grocery store in Santa Barbara, California. This was in 1987, a decade removed from the heart of my childhood, which had been located somewhere not far from this 1978 baseball card of a young man with everything still in front of him. By 1987, of course, whatever promise Bob Stanley once possessed had been pummeled to microscopic dust.
That summer Greyhound announced a deal allowing passengers making a purchase a month in advance to travel anywhere in the country, one way, for $29.99. I happened to be poor and aimless, so I bought a ticket from Vermont to California, where my old boarding school friend Bill was going to college. The ticket was the size of a James Michener novel, its pages filled with the names of cities I’d never been to: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cheyenne, Boulder, Provo, Sacramento, San Francisco. At that point, besides a family trip to Mexico when I was five, I hadn’t seen anything beyond the northeastern United States. But in the previous couple years, ever since getting the boot from boarding school, I’d become a disciple of Jack Kerouac, whose writing made me believe that even a life adrift could have beauty and meaning, that if you wandered far and wide enough you’d eventually find a mythic heartbeat centering the scattered days.
I brought a couple books with me for the long ride that reflected this Kerouackian bent, Woodie Guthrie’s Bound For Glory and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. I finished the first breezy, enjoyable tale within a few hours, before I’d even crossed into Pennsylvania, which left me alone for the ensuing days and nights and nights and days of spine-eroding bus seat monotony with nothing but some cheap brown marijuana and the latter book’s anti-narrative nightmare of unrelated scenes always seeming to eventually work their way around to the strangulation of pubescent lads shooting cum from their penises as they died. After I spent the majority of a week in this manner, Bill met me at the bus station in Santa Barbara. He was barefoot and tan. He had a friend with him, Tex, who was also barefoot and tan. They had brought along a dog, Luna, who though not tan was also of course barefoot and contributed to the general feeling of untroubled health and cheer, her nails clicking happily on the grimy bus station linoleum as she jogged closer to smell the stench of alienation radiating off of me. I was pale. My coordination and balance seemed irrevocably damaged. My inability to converse must have made it seem to the tan barefoot fellows swarming me that I’d spent the previous several years in a cave.
In the ensuing days and weeks I had trouble finding work. I probably gave people the creeps. Finally I took a job canvassing for CalPirg. They took anybody, but the catch was you only made money on commission, taking a percentage of whatever contributions you could wheedle out of people. I’d done a similar job the summer before for Greenpeace and had both loathed it and been terrible at it, so I guess I must have been desperate.
There were some lean days in Santa Barbara, both before and after I started not making any money with CalPirg. So I started stealing from a grocery store near Bill’s apartment. I mostly swiped rectangular packages of cream cheese. The store had security mirrors everywhere, but there was one blind spot near the back. News of this blind spot had spread. Sometimes there was a line to the blind spot, shoplifters queuing up with their pocket-sized items.
Occasionally on the way back from the store I spotted a newspaper in a trashcan. I’d fish it out, find a bench somewhere, and read the sports page while dipping flour tortillas into my stolen cream cheese. Baseball seemed a million miles away that summer, farther away than it ever had. Baseball had ended. Everything had ended. The sky was blue. The Red Sox sank in the standings, a little farther with each garbage-tainted sports page. Days passed. I stole some more cheese. The sky remained blue. The Red Sox sank lower. Bob Stanley’s name showed up in the box score from time to time, an L beside his name.
(continued in Tom Burgmeier)