The company I work as a proofreader for recently moved its headquarters from one suburban highwayside location to another. The old location was in what was termed a Corporate Campus, a collection of low brick buildings with some paved walkways and a couple man-made ponds thrown in. At the edge of this Corporate Campus was a McDonald’s. I walked there for lunch once every couple weeks, stepping around the droppings from Corporate Campus geese. I bought a cheapskate lunch, the dollar double-cheeseburger and dollar fries, no drink. Sometimes if I happened to be feeling sort of hollow about the manner in which my life was unfolding, however, I also sprung for a small chocolate shake. Because, you know, I deserved it.
The new location of my company is in a gigantic building located in a snarl of crowded, high-speed roadways that are approximately as welcoming to pedestrian traffic as is the surface of Jupiter. In other words, there will be no more hollow-souled milkshake-longing strolls to McDonald’s. There is a Starbucks within the square-mile building, however, so maybe I can cultivate a new affinity for that relative newcomer to the brand-name malignancy game.
Let’s say just to make myself feel better that I am rambling in large part now out of sheer anti-capitalist spite, as if my incoherent flimsy associative style could be a stinging reply to the worldwide trend toward branding and sameness and cancerous, capitalist, pointed endeavors. Let’s say I want to be different. Let’s say I want to no longer weep with nostalgia for the pure loneliness and longing of childhood when I see McDonaldland images of white bags of French fries growing from green stalks like ears of corn (see yesterday’s digressions loosely centering on poor Willie McCovey). Just as my parents tried to walk away from that trend in the early 1970s, I am trying to walk away from it now, at least in this moment, by digressing ever further from any semblance of a point.
When I was in my early 30s, nearly the age of my mother when she tried to lead us away from McDonaldland, I spent a year in a cabin in the woods in northern Vermont with no electricity and no running water. As I have mentioned previously, this year was not nearly as Thoreauvian as it might seem on first mention. I did love it there, most of the time, but often I felt a gnawing longing for a point. My year at the cabin had been an attempt, in part accidental or merely an extension of the aimlessness that preceded it, to refuse to go from point A to point B, to refuse to acknowledge that there was a point at all, and the moments that gnawed at me were those in which I found myself wishing for someplace to go. A destination. A point.
Once in a while this undefined ache got so bad I had to leave the cabin. On one of these days I drove around aimlessly for quite a while, then finally stopped to buy a newspaper to read box scores. If I had acted immediately on the information that I found on the sports page–that a couple hours north of me, in Montreal, the Padres were going to play the Expos and, more importantly, that Padre great Tony Gwynn was one measly hit away from the majestic immortal plateau of 3,000–things might have turned out differently, but as I remember it I sat with the information for a while, unable to decide a course of action, unable despite the gnawing inside me to incorporate the idea of a point into my generally pointless mode of existence. But slowly the idea grew. “The days go on and on . . . they don’t end,” observed Travis Bickle. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go.”
Goddamnit, I thought, someplace to go. I had let several precious minutes slip away, but I decided that I still had time to drive up to Montreal to see . . . history. For once I was going to be at a historical game! Until that time, probably my biggest claim to being witness to a notable baseball event was that I’d been at a game in Fenway when the legendary Seaver racked up win number 308, which allowed him to pull into a tie on the all-time list with some old-timer named Mickey Welch. But nobody talks about that game–I mean, Seaver won three more games that year anyway. So this was my first real chance to for once be at one of those games that cannot be paved over, a game to be protected in the collective memory. A historical landmark.
My sense of having someplace to go infused most of my solitary charge north on I-89 and across the border into Quebec with a feeling that resembled in many ways the jittery breathless excitement of falling in love. Insipid pop songs on the radio made me laugh out loud with happiness, the road seemed downright Kerouacian, and the sky kept getting bigger and bluer as I left the claustrophobic green mountains for the wide flat plains of Canada. Tony Gwynn was coming to town, 2,999 hits to his name!
Above and beyond any numerical accomplishments, Tony Gwynn had already done the seemingly impossible. Willie McCovey had arrived too late in his career to do it. Ozzie Smith had left too soon to do it, as had Dave Winfield, pictured here in the nauseating late-’70s uniform of Ray Kroc’s McDonaldland warriors. But Tony Gwynn had stuck around, year after year, the greatest hitter for batting average since San Diego native Ted Williams, and in doing so had turned what seemed like a lifetime sentence on the Padres into an inspirational tale of triumph for these ignoble times. He had brought dignity to the Padres. In other words, he had brought dignity to McDonaldland. In other words, he had brought dignity to this carcinogenic drive-thru monotony we all call home sweet home.
But I got hung up in traffic on the outskirts of Montreal. As my progress slowed to a jerking crawl, I found the pregame show on the radio. When the game started with me still miles from the stadium I gripped tightly to the steering wheel and to the knowledge that even the greatest hitters, such as Tony Gwynn, only reach base via a hit roughly three times out of ten. I also recalled that the only other time I’d been intimately interested in a player’s 3,000th hit was back in the Cardboard God era with my thoroughly fallible, popping-out-to-Nettles hero, Yaz, who, as soon as he reached 2,999, seemed to begin aging at the same alarming rate as beleaguered President Jimmy “Malaise” Carter while going hitless game after game after game. Gwynn was due up in the first inning, but I figured he’d likely make an out, or draw a walk, or get hit by a pitch, or reach on an error, and then it would be a couple more innings before he came to the plate again, by which time I’d be seated in the clattering echo chamber of Olympic Stadium with a big plastic cup of 5 % Molson in my hands.
When the broadcaster described Gwynn lacing a clean first-inning single to centerfield, I turned off the radio, guided my car down the closest exit ramp, and pulled into a shopping center parking lot. I sat in silence in my car in the parking lot for a while. Eventually I steered out of the lot and found the onramp for the highway heading back south.
The border guard didn’t really understand why the duration of my stay in Canada had been so brief. I kept trying to explain, but after a while his eyes just kind of glazed over, and he waved me back into my country.