(continued from Brandon McCarthy)
I lurched around grabbing up all the shreds I could find. After reading the name on the first piece I’d noticed—Brad Ausmus—I didn’t waste any more time looking at names. I just wanted to gather up everything I could before the bus came.
The pieces were light and jagged. They weren’t weather-beaten, but they were slightly curled, like old photographs. They were distributed over a fairly wide area, implying that they had either been tossed up into a breeze, like confetti, or had been moved more gradually by intermittent gusts after having been flung down. Either way, the lack of any further weather-related markings or discoloration made it seem likely that the cards had been abandoned just a few hours before my arrival on the scene.
As I gathered the fragments I noticed that they were physically different from the baseball cards from my childhood. The material seemed cheaper, flimsier, sharper-edged. They surely were easier to rip into pieces than a similar stack of cards from the 1970s would have been. It probably felt good, at least for a second, to shred them. To so easily say I don’t need you.
* * *
The first and third jobs I ever had were at East Dennis Shell, on the inside part of Cape Cod’s elbow. My second job, before I begged to pump gas again, was with a Greenpeace office based in Hyannis that sent me and other young people all over the Cape to knock on doors and ask for money. At one house a balding Jehovah’s Witness waved off my environmentalist spiel and lectured me at length about how the world was going to end soon.
“There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” he said.
On another day a middle-aged woman in a gray nightgown stared past me and spoke of all the cars going and going, always, all the time, just going and going everywhere. After repeating this assertion for a while she finally leveled her watery gaze at me.
“Where are they all going?” she asked.
* * *
When I was done gathering, I stood at the edge of the bus stop shelter. I held the small mass of ripped cards to my chest lightly, as if I was protecting a storm-damaged bird’s nest. The traffic of Golf Road flew by.
People aren’t really meant to witness that kind of traffic so closely. If you ever do, you’ll sense a meanness in it. Everyone wants to get to what they imagine is their real life. Everyone wants to get through the places that are neither here nor there. Everyone roars past in a blur. Everything they roar past is a blur. This place is no place. This moment is no moment.
* * *
Where are they all going? Where is America? If you listen to the patriotic songs it’s in a brave battle for freedom and in God-blessed natural beauty and bounty. The prevailing cultural mythology of America extends these themes into a vision of a promised land of individual conquest and celebration. The American tames the wilderness. The American goes from rags to riches in the vibrant city. The American mows a flawless lawn behind the white picket fence of an alarm-secured suburban home. The American swats a home run in the bottom of the ninth to loose the democratic yawp of the masses across the sun-splashed green.
* * *
I could not field a very good team with the 22 players featured in the torn cards from Golf Road. Like many of the cards themselves, the roster has glaring holes, as there are no outfielders, no shortstops, and just one first baseman. Most of all: there are no stars. Brad Ausmus, the aging, light-hitting catcher, is probably the most well-known player in the pile.
* * *
Nowhere in the collective dream of America is there a pedestrian blurred into invisibility on a four-lane road, cars flying past in both directions, a drab brown nature preserve on one side, a string of bland corporate office buildings on the other, a cluster of chain restaurants off on one flat horizon, the opposite horizon dominated by the concrete overpass of an Interstate highway, traffic so thick it barely moves.
* * *
I imagine the original owner of the cards growing impatient as he waits on Golf Road.
When will this nothing moment end?
There’s no store anywhere around. He must have bought the cards at some earlier time, looked at them, brought them along with him to his job, put in a day’s work in a cubicle, and looked at them again to try to fight the monotony and meaninglessness of the moment that is not a moment. He must have leafed through the cards looking for meaning in them, looking for some connection to that persistent American dream of triumph. Looking for a star. Looking for somebody.
Nobody, nobody, nobody, is what he heard as a reply, in the cars flying past, in the faces of the cards in his hands, in the life he was leading, in the absence of the gods. It must have felt good, at least for a second, to tear all the slick bright nobodies to shreds.
(to be continued)