Oddly enough, while the departure of the great Willie McCovey from San Francisco ushered in the aura of vagueness that engulfed the Giants for years to come (at least as I perceived it from my distortingly distant perch), his arrival in San Diego did nothing to pull the Padres out of a similarly obscure miasma. A few years later, McCovey returned to the Giants, but it was too late. They remained to me as they had been in his absence, a kind of grayness in which, as Travis Bickle might describe it, “one day [is] indistinguishable from the next, a long continuous chain.”
Nonetheless, the Giants always seemed to retain some semblance of dignity in their trudge from nowhere to nowhere, something that could not really be said for the Padres. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Padres were an expansion team, unlike the legend-rich Giants, and did not have a history to draw on beyond the futile muttonchopped one-man RBI barrages of slugger Nate Colbert. The rest of it has to do with the uniforms. Although I can’t find confirmation of this anywhere, it’s probably no accident that Willie McCovey is dressed here in colors that resemble those worn by McDonald’s wage slaves of that era. The year McCovey came to the Padres, 1974, was the same year they were bought by Ray Kroc, who’d made hundreds of millions of dollars developing McDonald’s from a small southern California restaurant chain into a shiny nationwide yellow and red clown-haunted malignancy.
Strangely enough, 1974 was also the year my family moved from the McDonald’s-heavy suburbs of New Jersey to rural Vermont, in large part to escape the encroaching paved-over sameness of strip-malling America. My mother and stepfather, high on the back-to-the-land visions in books such as Living on the Earth (“When we depend less on industrially produced consumer goods, we can live in quiet places. Our bodies become vigorous; we discover the serenity of living with the rhythms of the earth. We cease oppressing one another.”), were, symbolically speaking, fleeing from the Golden Arches. Ironically, if either I or my brother had been asked in the following years to provide an example of our agonized belief that we had been moved against our will by soy-loving hippies away from actual America to the middle of an unreachable nowhere, I feel pretty certain that we would have whiningly replied that there wasn’t even a McDonald’s within 40 miles of our house.
While drifting around the Internet with a vague hope that I could latch onto something that would lend coherence to this rambling tribute to Willie McCovey, I happened upon an article that includes links to and comments on McDonald’s commercials through the ages. The first ad features Ronald McDonald leading children through a wonderland where hamburgers and white bags of French fries grow in special hamburger and French fry patches. I had seen the ad years before, many times, and had longed to be one of those children, free to harvest bags of French fries at will. Seeing the ad again, especially the moment when the French fry patch comes into the view and then the reach of the smiling, skipping, throroughly untroubled children, actually made me emotional. People say stuff like “stay true to the dreams of your youth,” but the dreams of my youth were all about imagining weeping with joy at the discovery in my otherwise boring rustic surroundings of a thriving McDonald’s French fry patch.
In other words, yes, Willie McCovey. Yes, I want fries with that. Hold the dignity.