The Cardboard Gods Ass Backwards ABCs of Parenting
Z Is for Zisk
This morning, the start of my 48th day as a parent, while groping around in my shoebox of cards, exhausted, unmoored, looking for some kind of anchor, I randomly pulled free this Richie Zisk card and started thinking—because of the unusual first letter of his surname—about the alphabet, and at that moment in another room of my home my son began to cry, a sound that spikes the air with barbed invisible question marks, and I began to wonder as I hurried toward the sound what it might be like to know everything I need to know. What if—instead of knowing nothing at all—I knew the terrain of parenting backward and forward? My life has been nothing if not an exercise in palliative fantasies, so why stop now? And so we begin a Cardboard Gods ABCs of parenting at the end, with Z, first things fuckin’ last, to use the phrasing of Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs, when he was trying to piece together the details of a situation that had gone completely to shit and was clearly only going to get worse. Am I hinting with this cinematic reference that parenting for me has been like a botched, bloody heist scheme threatening to destroy everyone involved? Are you imagining that me, my wife, and our baby are currently in a Mexican stand-off, weapons drawn and cocked, shirts stained with the liquid of soured internal processes, eyes reddened with fatigue and weeping? Well, it hasn’t been like that, or at least not all the time. It is one moment at a time, some better than others, each a volatile enigma. Yesterday, the boy took a break from a long stint of red-faced grunting unhappiness and smiled up at me for a few minutes. Two days ago, he gnawed on a Red Sox pacifier and seemed content, briefly. Three days ago, when I was almost done with my bike ride home from my commute, I spotted my wife on the sidewalk, carrying the boy in a baby bjorn. I got off the bike and fell in slow step with them, the three of us meandering around the neighborhood for a while on a mild fall evening, an awareness falling down on me that in moments like this I could not be more blessed. (Key detail: just before my arrival, the boy had abruptly stopped screaming and fallen unconscious.)
Anyway, on to today’s lesson, while I still am within this narrow gap of time between tasks that have otherwise banished my writing to regions so distant and hypothetical as to border the hoary regions of frustration in which occurred my long-gone pubescent imaginings of sexual intercourse with the intangible pop culture sex symbols of my youth, such as Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman and Bailey and Jennifer from WKRP in Cincinnati (yes, the gnawing ache of knowing that in reality I would never be able to fondle Cheryl Tiegs’ boobs has now reentered my life as a yearning for having time to sit down and write, say, a literary ode to Cheryl Tiegs’ boobs): Z is for Zisk. Z is also for zero, as in nothing. When I became a parent, I suffered the feeling of being back at zero, knowing nothing. I suffered unto feelings of despair, no lie, sprinting past fantasies of Cheryl Tiegs or writing about Cheryl Tiegs to imagine scenarios of sheer desperation involving the witness protection program or the foreign legion. And it’s not accurate to put these statements in the past tense. That feeling of zero is with me right now and from now on, probably. I will always be at zero as a parent, always knowing nothing, a tenuous and agonizing way to be when someone is looking to you and depending on you to know what to do.
So Z is for zero but Z is also for Zisk, and in terms of this 1977 Richie Zisk card this can only mean good things, possibilities, unpredictable but not necessarily negative changes. The year this card came out, Zisk, after logging a few years as a prototypical good-hitting, dubious-gloved member of Pittsburgh’s vaunted Lumber Company, shifted over to the city where I now happen to live and where my son was born, Chicago, and had the best season of his career. Sometime during that season, Topps included Zisk in its line of cloth stickers, and in that product the picture shown here has been airbrushed so that Zisk is shown as a member of the White Sox. That year was the best of the decade for the White Sox, as they led the American League West deep into the summer before succumbing to the charge of the dynastic Royals. The team was one of the oddest in history, in that it had been consciously built by owner Bill Veeck as a desperate one-off, the roster fortified through trades for players acquired at bargain prices because they were on the brink of free agency. Veeck knew he would soon lose these players (most significantly Zisk and Oscar Gamble, the heart of the team’s slugging attack), but he apparently figured one brief shot at glory was better than none at all. And it almost worked. The following year, Zisk indeed cashed in on a free agency deal with the Texas Rangers, and White Sox fans had to pack away the bedsheets that they’d carried with them to the ballpark in 1977 festooned with these words: “Pitch at risk to Richie Zisk.” This slogan has stayed with me since I was a boy, and has always imbued the name of the player shown at the top of this page with a sense of sizzling hazardous excitement, all the good qualities of the unknowable and unknown.