Here is a slugger miraculously, awe-inspiringly oblivious. He is at the end of the road, clad in the uniform of a team he just joined and will within a matter of days be released from. His surroundings seem barren, bush league, speaking of the silences we all try to avoid and obscure. The tale in numbers on the back of the card is one of encroaching decay, early years of sturdy cohesion giving way to the spindly, fractured records of a faltering itinerant. The slugger is beyond even the faintest awareness of his apparent demise. Give him a bat and a uniform to leave jauntily untucked and some object to prop one foot up on and he will strike a biceps-displaying pose and project an aura of complete calm certainty. Jose Canseco, at the time of this photo, is finished. There would not be another card in his likeness, or another major league game in his future, and all the numbers on the back of his card, which by the time of the card had already begun to seem pretty iffy, would soon enough in the minds of many be rendered as insubstantial as the promised riches in a collapsed Ponzi scheme. Even the team whose uniform he is modeling for likely the one and only time would soon be erased from the face of the earth. Jose Canseco is finished. The Expos are finished. Everything is finished. But Jose Canseco remains utterly free of doubt.
I can’t say the same. I always get the new year off to an enervating start by trying and failing to bring time itself to a halt, and my inevitable failure to do so always delivers me back to real life in a particularly agitated, fearful state. I attempted the impossible task of stopping time this past weekend, as I usually do when one year collapses into another, by moving as little as humanly possible and eating mounds of salted fatty starch and watching various television marathons depicting the end of the world. As I went back and forth between Twilight Zone episodes, a plodding 1994 miniseries version of The Stand, and, most terrifyingly, a Jersey Shore marathon to which my previously uninitiated eyes were drawn as if to a flaming multicar wreck on the highway, everything eventually blurred into one seemingly endless meandering narrative shifting back and forth from black-and-white to color and from lonely cold war paranoia to leaden post-pandemic Christian fable to a particularly hideous nightmare vision of the End Times in which leather-faced 20-year-olds with the rigid cartoon-hideous builds of plastic 1980s action figures are incarcerated in a brutish Sisyphean loop of teeth-baring, preening, slap fights, and grunting zoological copulation. The latter dystopia, identified periodically as “Season Two,” seemed to be situated in Miami, Florida, which as it happens is the place listed on the back of this Jose Canseco card as “Home.” Canseco’s self-satisfied smirk, his tan, his necklace, and his unnaturally bulging musculature all mark him as a prototypical member of the race of orange dim-eyed humanoids doomed to survive into the senseless mutant aftermath beyond the apocalypse.
Anyway, the reentry into everyday life after my year-opening orgy of ominous television marathons is always difficult, but this year seems particularly tough. The defining thread of this year’s narrative of global collapse was, after all, a “reality” show, set not in the future but in the present, suggesting that we may already be living through the apocalypse. Put another way, this does indeed seem to be Jose Canseco’s world.
The card at hand suggests as much, and it also implies that the best way to endure the insistent idea that everything is finished is to ignore it completely, as Jose Canseco did the day he was asked to pose in the uniform of the Montreal Expos. Jose Canseco continues to smirk in the face of doom to this day, this new year, nine years after he took his last muscular cuts. He has not appeared in a major league game since the photo for this card was snapped, and for most of that time it seemed certain that this would be his last baseball card. But lately the 46-year-old has been campaigning to get a spring training tryout from any team that will have him. The slugger ensures all prospective employers that he can still, as he last did twenty years ago, “lead the league in home runs.”
May we all imagine such preposterous glory forever.