Back in the 1970s, people went off to find themselves. Where did they go, exactly? And what did they find? I can’t really say. I picture some chanting, some hirsute nudity. I was a kid then, and unlike other fads of that fad-crazed time, such as the Pet Rock or the mood ring or feathered haircuts or Wacky Packages, the idea of going off to find yourself was not kid-friendly. It was something adults did alone. Adults hit a certain point and felt as if whatever game they had been playing had pushed them to the sidelines. They wondered, as they never had before, what could possibly come next. A question hit them with the force of something they’d long been subconsciously avoiding: Who am I?
I imagine that the moment before a guy went off to find himself looked a little like this 1978 card of Jim Fregosi. (Women went off to find themselves just as often as men, but I imagine their pre-departure look as being more weepy and forlorn than the angry male grimace of Fregosi.) Here he is on the margins, bat at the ready, waiting for his name to be called, beginning to understand that his name will probably not be called. More likely, if the manager notices him at all, it will be with surprise, much like the surprise I had when I came upon this card in my pack of Pirates yesterday: When did Jim Fregosi become a Pirate?
He became a Pirate, it turns out, right at the end, riding the bench for half a season in Pittsburgh in 1977 and doing the same in 1978 before they gave him his release so he could pursue a managerial opportunity with the team that both he and Mets fans might agree he never should have left in the first place, the California Angels. This seamless transition from playing to managing made Jim Fregosi an anomaly not just in the baseball world, where retired players don’t generally ascend immediately to major league manager jobs, but in the world of the 1970s as well. Though he looks in this card like he’s realizing that he doesn’t belong in the world he thought he belonged in, and that the next befuddled, disgruntled step in the life of this man approaching middle age might be to relocate for a while to Oregon to learn origami and bluegrass mandolin and try to “figure things out,” the truth is he was still intensely and narrowly focused on the game at hand, plotting his next move. He had, unlike most in that beautifully aimless decade, figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up.
From my own experiences with adults in that decade, I’d put Jim Fregosi in the one-third minority of adults along with one of the three figures in my trio of parents. My dad knew pretty early on in his life that he wanted to be a sociologist. By the time he got to the 1970s, he had been working in that field for a while, and that’s where he stayed. He was beyond the age of those who most often went off to find themselves. He’s a member of the generation that grew up in the depression and served during World War II; that generation did not go off to find themselves, at least not on a broad scale (one member, Jack Kerouac, could be said to be a godfather of the idea of going off and finding yourself). My other parents, my mom and her boyfriend, Tom, were younger, and during the late 1960s and 1970s they, among other things: worked as a firefighter in Alaska (Tom); took painting classes (Mom); went away for a couple months to learn to be a blacksmith (Tom); worked, sporadically, as an elementary school art teacher (Mom); worked, sporadically, as a blacksmith (Tom); worked at a newspaper (Mom); worked in a lab (Tom); started a sign-painting business (Mom); worked at a woodstove company (Tom); took a computer class (Mom).
It always ended, the decade-long search to find oneself, with the taking of a computer class. Maybe it began with a hit of acid or crested with a trip to India or involved “shacking up” for a while with a longhaired ceramics instructor who was into primal scream therapy, but it always ended with the taking of a computer class. Thusly, the 1980s began.
That latter, leaner, meaner decade was the one where I first edged into an adulthood that I still have yet to really embrace, all these years into it. I started working, but never with the commitment that Jim Fregosi brought to his own chosen field. I scooped ice cream, I pumped gas, I sold liquor. Once in a while I went off to find myself and wherever I went I ended up squinting at myself in the mirror. You. Then I came back and started up again with the jobs. This job, that job. I spent enough time dealing with the crushing stress of unemployment to be thankful whenever I had a job, and this drew a certain level of commitment out of me, but I have never gotten free of that feeling of being on the outside looking in, and have never gotten free of the lure of going off to find myself. It’s as if I’ve been trapped in the 1970s all my life, trapped in the moment that I projected onto Jim Fregosi in his 1978 card: Who am I supposed to be now?
(Love versus Hate update: Jim Fregosi’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)