Heaven, the idea of it, creeped me out when I began to really think about it for the first time, which was when I was about the age of the player pictured here. I had recently finished college and was working as a truck loader on the overnight shift in the UPS warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen, and during my ten-minute break every day I read Dante’s Divine Comedy, the third part of which, Paradiso, seemed to me to depict heaven as much more static and frozen than the roiling lower realms. You just kind of hung there forever in bright light, free of suffering and sin but with nothing to do and nowhere to go. A celestial meat locker. Better if heaven were a place where we might be capable of inhabiting our most graceful selves. Beyond disappointment and wanting and blundering and wandering, of losing and getting and losing again, we come back to some moment beyond and before results, when it was all beginning.
The year is just about done, but I want to write about one more card before saying goodbye to 2010. My desk is a mess, like my mind. Most prominent is a pile of baseball cards, all new to me. My wife’s aunt gave them to me a couple of days ago, for Christmas, in a big ziplock bag, and I spent parts of the rest of the day leafing through them with curiosity and hope and excitement. Near the pile of cards on my desk is a smaller pile of bills to pay, and next to that pile is a stack of things I have to get to at some point, or throw away, or file. From all the clutter I’ve pulled free this Dwight Gooden card from 1988, hoping for it to inspire something pure.
I don’t know if “pure” is ever possible. Everything is tangled up with everything else, at least a little. But I like dwelling on the idea of a moment when something is just beginning. This card captures that, a 22-year-old phenom lightly rocking back on his left foot to start his windup, which for a little while seemed like just about the purest physical act a human could ever be capable of: balanced, focused, without the slightest tremor of wasted motion or anxiety or doubt.
My UPS loader shift ended in the morning, and I’d leave the building with my clothes and hands and face covered in a thin film of dark gray dust from handling packages all night, and the sun had just come up, and I started my 40-block walk home through the city that Dwight Gooden briefly but toweringly ruled. It was 1990, so his reign was ending. Nobody rules anyway. Once in a while during my walk home, building the relief of quitting time and my exhaustion and the bright morning light into a faint, shaky euphoria, I’d stop worrying about my life and revel just a little in being a 22-year-old dipshit shambling home, where I planned to conk myself unconscious with a couple of beers and sleep all day. I liked to read the box scores as I drank my morning knockout beer. On the mornings after Doc Gooden had pitched, I’m sure I scrutinized the Mets box score for signs of a miraculous return to grace.