All right, I’m up, showered, fed; the kid is asleep, the dishes are all clean, and I’ve got a half hour to write before I have to climb on my bicycle and pedal to the bus stop and ride to work. This is it from here on out for a while, more or less, so I am not going to mess around with craft too much. Jack Kerouac, who my kid is named after, said that craft in writing is a kind of subterfuge, a way of avoiding honesty anyway. Then again, well, I don’t totally believe that and see that it can be a way out of doing the work needed to make a piece of writing be more than just someone’s spit-up. (Sorry, I have spit-up on my mind.) Also, Jack Kerouac’s writing lost momentum as the years went on, his writing lost life I mean, and his greatest book was written and rewritten many times and suffered for despite the myth that he spontaneously created the whole thing in a few weeks with no forethought or even any effort beyond what it took to crack open a bottle of benzedrine. Still, there is a time for carefully crafting stuff, maybe, and a time to just report from the bunker as fast as possible so as to keep a semblance of sanity and the human voice alive. This situation I am in is not—is actually the farthest thing from—holing up in a bunker. But it is relentless, dealing with a newborn. Of course, I am far from the front lines on this one (back to the battle metaphors again, I know) and am more like a guy running supplies to the ranks on the front lines, those ranks being my wife, a beleaguered army of one who nonetheless is all softness and love with the baby, and when he’s sleeping and giving her a chance to think, her mind is racing with worries that something might happen to him, to his tiny fragile life. As for me (I almost stopped writing to consider my next thought instead of just slamming it down first thought best thought beatnik style) I am coming down from the first high of the kid being born, when I thought I would be a different guy altogether forever, someone able to give myself over totally to complete holy sacrifice all the time, like fucking Gandhi or something, transformed by my love of the boy. Turns out I am the same as always, just more tired. I live for the kid now though. But when I get a little time here and there, I want to figure out what the hell is the shape of my mind. So here I am, staring at the third and final Steve Foucault card in my collection. My three Steve Foucault cards form a progression through the years, the 1975 card showing him looking in for a sign, the 1976 card showing him coming to a set position, and this 1977 card showing him just after delivering a phantom pitch. No ball is visible in any of the cards. Foucault wears a Texas Rangers uniform in various combinations, a long-sleeve undershirt disappearing then reappearing. His right pointer finger pokes out of his glove in all the photos. He has the same long mustache and thick sideburns every year. He looks off to his left in the first picture, off to his right in the second picture, and in the last picture he gazes straight at the viewer. The imaginary ball is out of his hands now and out in the world. Your turn now. He is looking at me, and looking at you. His right hand is in a fist, but it is loosening just a little, his middle finger itching to unfurl. The days are long and exhausting. The years fly by. You can’t touch this pitch. You can grow a splendid walrus mustache and sideburns but you can’t know what’s next. You can’t ever know.
Archive for the ‘Texas Rangers’ Category
Just under a month ago, Steve Foucault peered in for a sign. Now he is coming set. He’s in a different uniform—the away ensemble—and it seems as if his hair may be longer. He’s still working away on a big chaw in his right cheek, and he’s still got the walrus facial hair. In both cards, trees line the horizon, and in this card there also seem to be members of the Oakland A’s in the distance.
This weekend my very pregnant wife and I went for a walk. The doctor said going on walks would help get the baby in position, or something along those lines. I forget the specifics. I am finding it more and more difficult to process information with any accuracy. I’ve been reading books on pregnancy and labor and all the facts and instructions seem to partially or completely disintegrate on contact with my mind. Anyway, the walk was good. We ended up over by the lake, where there’s a small sandy beach. It was a gray day, not that warm, but some kids were still splashing around and playing Frisbee in the water. We sat on a bench on a concrete slab up above the beach, next to another bench that had a pair of women’s shoes sitting on it. One early morning a few weeks earlier, I’d been running on this beach when two young deer appeared around the corner of the abandoned-looking building at the edge of the beach. There’s nothing but big rocks around that corner, so their appearance seemed inexplicable to me. They followed me for a while. I kept looking back and there they were, clambering on their spindly legs up the beach, stepping unsurely on the sidewalk leading away from the beach, moving toward Sheridan Road. Sheridan Road is a busy street with a McDonald’s and a red line El station and homeless people and, on rusted racks, the bones of half-pilfered bicycles. I lost sight of the fawns when I turned the corner onto this street, and I don’t know what became of them. When my wife and I sat on a bench this weekend at that beach I thought of them and thought of this kid on the way.
When a pitcher comes set after getting the sign he most commonly focuses his gaze downward, or perhaps even inward, gathering himself, gathering resolve. In this photo Steve Foucault seems instead to be gazing off into the distance.
Sometimes I find myself kind of praying.
I studied poetry in college. That was my primary focus. I also played a lot of pickup basketball, wrote fiction fragments and long-winded essays, got a combined “anthropology/sociology” minor, drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of pot, though less so as the years went on, and was often fairly lonely, an emotion I channeled into poems, I guess, though I don’t remember ever writing anything directly and honestly about my own daily life. Instead I tried to write chiseled nature odes like Gary Snyder or yowling apocalypse rags like Allen Ginsberg. As I neared the end of college, a panic set in. I went around to different teachers I’d had and asked them what I should do with myself. They had no answers, at least none that I can remember, and the basic gist of the conversations was as follows:
Me: Um, well . . . help me?
Teacher: It was great having you in class.
Me: I don’t really want to leave.
Teacher: Have a nice summer!
I don’t blame them. In fact even moments after the conversations I’d feel ashamed of myself for trying to corner them into giving me an answer to something I couldn’t even frame as a distinct question. What were they supposed to do? I’m older now than most of them were then, and I certainly couldn’t give anybody any answers, and anyway it’s not the kind of thing someone can resolve for someone else. You can look in for a sign, like Steve Foucault is doing in his 1975 card, and you might even get one, but then you’ve got to straighten up, take a deep breath, and throw the pitch. And most likely things will be exactly as they are for Steve Foucault in this 1975 card: in truth there’s no one to provide a sign. You have to fake it.
I was 22 then and am nearly twice that age now, and I haven’t changed that much, in that I still would prefer to be—the crux of my problem then and now—somehow exempted from having to work. Can’t I just read and shoot hoops and occasionally turn in a paper on Zen meditation or the Deep Imagists? Last night my pregnant wife and I were talking about labor, how it’s brutal on the mother yet even more wrenching for the kid, though thankfully none of us remember this first trauma. Everything’s just fine in the womb, nice and warm, all the sustenance you need, then, wham, you start getting shoved downward toward a tiny tunnel, then through the tunnel and out into the cold and a blinding brightness. Life begins, and forever long as you’re alive that pattern is repeated, each moment or passage of time ending in an ejection to another transitory interlude until, finally, that one last ejection into some other world, or nothing, or who knows.
Steve Foucault seems to be without a black eye as he pretends to look in for a sign, suggesting that this photo was not taken around the time of the 1974 10 Cent Beer Night promotion in Cleveland, which ended in an on-field brawl/riot pitting players from the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians against a mob of drunken fans that had spilled onto the field. Steve Foucault was punched in the face during the brawl and got a black eye.
Moments don’t ever go the way you plan them. The Cleveland Indians front office did not intend to cause a riot when they came up with 10 Cent Beer Night. I don’t really know exactly what they were thinking, but promotions seem generally to be rooted in a sense of what people like, the basic question behind each promotion being, How do we help get people to the ballpark by giving them something they like? Following that logic, it would seem to be a no-brainer to seize on beer sold extremely cheaply, since many people who like baseball also like beer and the cheaper the better.
This same thought is behind the gimmick of the upcoming reading events I’ll be participating in over the next few weeks. It’s being called the Free Beer Tour. I’m not sure what exactly this will entail, but I’m pretty sure if you come to one of the events you will be able to get some free beer. I am hoping to drink some beer, meet some people, sell some books, and avoid getting my eye blackened by a punch in the face.
My thing lately, or really whenever life seems to be slipping out of my grasp, is to make to do lists and then to more or less ignore them. The latter part of that routine is not intended. My intention when making lists is to instead transform into the kind of fellow who soberly and calmly faces up to all responsibilities and moves through to do lists with ease and relentlessness, marking each completed task done with a single clean line through the task. My to do lists always have a few deep scribbles across the stray items that I manage to get done—usually these are the easy ones that I put on the list just to get myself going, to make it seem like I’m getting things done, in hopes that by marking off something like “take a shower” I will set myself in unstoppable motion, but in the end my series of little notebooks scattered around my home are full of incomplete lists, only the easy things marked out. Anyway, I made a whole list of what I want to do on this site over the next couple of months, probably because in the next couple of months I’m going to get on a plane several times, go to a lot of new places, and, near the end of the two months, if all goes according to schedule, become a father. I don’t know anything about how to do that last thing, so a lot of my difficult list items are pointed toward that looming eventuality. I guess it’ll be good to cross “Steve Foucault 1975″ off my list, so I’m steamrolling ahead through this post. You have to steamroll ahead sometimes. I tried to be a poet and kept revising and revising my attempts until I revised myself clean out of poetry altogether.
Poetry fell away from me. Several years after it did so, my last burst of poetry came when I wrote some poems to my wife when we first met, most of them attempts to get her to laugh. This worked better than the scary and obscurely self-aggrandizing works reeking of desperation I’d occasionally foisted on puzzled girls when I was in college. I kept writing, but not the kind of sculpted heightened lines I’d aspired to while in college but the kind of writing I guess a guy does when he’s trying to get by from day to day. Which brings us to today and work. I have to leave in a few minutes. A baby on the way: need money, gotta work. It’s not my dream job, but I never had a dream job. I never thought that way. I did want to be a poet though, a guy who wrote poems, and for the first years out of college I wrote poems in my notebooks, but none of them ever came made it out of a notebook, and more and more I wrote stories and long prose rants and prayers in my notebooks. Looking for a sign.
According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview
The Texas Rangers won the American League pennant last year, and a rational prediction of their chances this year would have to take that recent success into account. But rational is not how things work here. Here the idea, based on nothing, is that the 2011 Rangers squad will resemble the thoughts that arise from the consideration of 1987 card of someone named Mike Loynd.
I got this Mike Loynd card last year in a pack that came with a copy of the book Mint Condition that the book’s author, Dave Jamieson, sent to me. Near the beginning of the book’s entertaining exploration of the history of baseball cards, Dave locates the center of his own personal connection to baseball cards in the 1987 set, his favorite from childhood. My own childhood came a little earlier, so my first look at the 1987 set occurred when I opened the pack that came with Dave’s book. The pack had a piece of ancient gum inside it. I had never opened a pack of baseball cards with gum inside and not chewed the gum, but since the gum in question was over twenty years old, I hesitated. Generally speaking, food that old doesn’t do wonders for the human body. The thought occurred to me, What if I eat this gum and it kills me? Paradoxically enough, this question is what prompted me finally to put the decrepit gum on my tongue. I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die from gum in a pack of baseball cards.
The gum crumbled instantly from the slightest chewing pressure, and then, instead of reforming from crumbles into a chewable wad, it just dissolved. The jolt of sugar from baseball card gum is to me the primal accompaniment to the stretched moment of discovery of leafing for the first time through a new pack of cards, but in this case the gum was gone but for a stale, pasty aftertaste before I’d looked at more than a couple cards. When I got to this Mike Loynd card, I was vaguely thankful that I wasn’t convulsing on the floor like a poisoned medieval courtesan, but I was also a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to blow one last baseball card gum bubble. This is life, right? Most of the time you have to admit you’d rather be alive than not, but even so there’s a powdery residue on your tongue of some idealization of long gone sweetness. There’s a taste of disappointment.
With that taste on my tongue, I wondered, Mike Loynd?
How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part of 20 of 30: Revel in cardboard by reading the aforementioned Mint Condition and by watching MLB Network’s celebration of baseball cards tonight (3/29 at 10 p.m. EST): Cardboard Treasure (I was interviewed for this special, so if MLB TV’s editors are miracle workers you might see shreds of my aimless mumblings from that interview)
2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins; Atlanta Braves; Cincinnati Reds; Oakland A’s; Seattle Mariners; Chicago Cubs; Baltimore Orioles; [California] Angels
After a bit of a return to my normal life as a couch-bound shut-in, I’ll soon be leaving my house again to try to use my corporeal presence and astonishing ability to sign my own name to politely strongarm civilians into buying my book. On Saturday I’ll be sitting at a table with a stack of hardcovers and a Sharpie in the Barbara’s Bookstore on the lower level of Macy’s in downtown Chicago. A few days after that, at the request of the great Baseball Reliquary, my wife and I will fly to Los Angeles for a reading and signing at the South Pasadena library, and on Saturday we’ll be at the Upstart Crow Bookstore in San Diego. The following day, I’ll be back in Chicago, on a panel with novelist Billy Lombardo at the Printer’s Row Festival. (Please see my “book tour events” page for more details on those and other upcoming appearances.)
If you’re around for any of those events, I’d love to meet you. I honestly would! I don’t think of myself as a people person, but I really did like meeting people on my trip through the northeast. At a lot of stops, I saw people I hadn’t seen in decades, including some old high school buddies in Manhattan and one of my elementary school teachers in Vermont. I also got to meet people who are readers of the blog, and to talk with them and others about the joys of old cardboard.
One of my favorite meetings occurred with a fellow baseball card lover in my old hometown, East Randolph, where I hung out for a couple hours at the general store that had provided most of my childhood cards. Halfway through my visit, the son of Amy and Joel Messier, who now own the store, showed up, home from a little league game, and he and I spent a while digging through a lovingly protected selection from his baseball card collection. (Both of us were in uniform—Darrin in his little league Dodger duds and me in a Papelbon jersey.) He had some older cards of superstars and, being a fellow Red Sox fan, he also had several Red Sox cards from different eras. One card in this penthouse of his collection might not have seemed to fit in with such lofty company, but being from East Randolph, that little town that is really only a few houses along Route 14 in Central Vermont, I knew why there was a Pat Putnam card mixed in among the likes of Yogi Berra and Willie Mays and Wade Boggs and Dustin Pedroia.
Baseball was the center of my world growing up, just as it seems to be now for Darrin. I understood on some level how far from the action I was in East Randolph. East Randolph was not Mobile, Alabama, or some sun-drenched hotbed of talent in Florida or California, or San Pedro de Macoris. Baseball players did not come from East Randolph, Vermont. They rarely came from Vermont at all. Even Carlton Fisk, born in Bellows Falls, which was a long way from my town anyway, stridently defined himself as a native of New Hampshire, and not of Vermont, where he’d been born only because that’s where the closest hospital was located.
But Pat Putnam, somehow, some way, was born just down the road a few miles from East Randolph, the next small town over: Bethel.
“Bethel!” I said upon spotting Pat Putnam’s card in Darrin’s collection. Darrin’s father, Joel, said it, too.
“I couldn’t believe he was from Bethel,” Joel said, shaking his head and smiling.
Putnam had not, as far as I could ever tell, stayed in Bethel long. There were no local legends of his exploits as a child and teen titan of baseball prowess. I assumed early on that he and his family had quickly moved away to somewhere more populated and warm, and from there he’d begun his ascension to the big leagues. But he’d been there, in Bethel, at least for a second. And by making it to the big leagues, and making it onto a card, his birthplace immortalized on the back, he’d brought my faraway part of the world within reach of the gods.
I didn’t think to look at the odometer of my rental car when I started on my east coast book tour a couple weeks ago, so I don’t know how many miles I travelled. A lot. I drove from Chicago to Pittsburgh, then from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, then out to Huntington, Long Island, back to Brooklyn, up to Boston, then to northwestern Vermont, then central Vermont, then southern Vermont, central Vermont again, and then back to Chicago. My wife met me in Boston, so we shared the driving from that point on, and she was at the wheel of our regular car as we drove home from dropping off the rental car. We were both exhausted. A sedan spun out in front of us, the byproduct of a near-collision with a minivan. The sedan swerved onto a spit of land separating the highway from an off-ramp, a cyclone of dust kicking up. The car then swerved back into traffic, coming right at us.
A kind of complacency sets in while you travel all your miles. The monotony, hypnotic, lures you into believing that you’ll always be traveling this road. On the trip east, desperate to break up the boredom, I had listened to a speech on a religious radio station from ex-major leaguer Frank Pastore, who related how an injury to his pitching arm had led him to a religious conversion. Somehow this conversion ended up involving inflammatory anti-Semitic asides (during his speech he made sure to implicate “a Jewish tribunal” in the death of the central figure in his religion, exactly the kind of vitriol that catalyzed deadly pogroms for centuries leading up to the Holocaust). But I understand the need to search for some solid ground when the ground you thought was solid disintegrates. Later on in my long drive, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “You will meet God.” We all will live to see moments when the monotonous, comforting pattern of life suddenly gives way to a terrifying chaos. The defining quality of this chaos is that it will seem to have always been there, below the flimsy veil of everyday life.
The out-of-control car on the expressway came within a few feet of spearing us in the passenger side, where I was sitting. Somehow, it didn’t hit any cars at all, and as we drove on toward home the only aftermath was the sound of other cars honking to protest the disruption in the illusion that we will all go on forever. After a while, I told my wife I felt like Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction after he’d lived through a hail of bullets. It was actually the crystallization of a grateful feeling that had been building throughout the trip. I’ll try to write some more about the trip throughout this week, but even before the near accident at the end, I had already begun to get the feeling, repeatedly, that my life was passing before my eyes. People from all parts of my past reappeared in front of me wherever I went: friends from my twenties and early thirties, friends from college, friends from high school, friends from junior high, even one of my elementary school teachers. Even a couple of real-life Cardboard Gods. The fast pace of the tour blurred this procession into one long joyful and also faintly melancholy farewell parade, like you see in movies when someone is breathing last breaths and seeing everything ever seen and loved one more time before going. This life is a short, sweet blessing. Things will change.
Doyle Alexander surely began learning this lesson around the time of this singularly odd 1977 card, the only card I can remember seeing in which an attempt was made to doctor the cap and uniform of a player in the midst of an action shot of sorts. In all other cases that I know of, the practice of altering the cap and uniform to place a player on a team he’d moved to in the offseason was restricted to posed shots, which were certainly easier to manipulate into a new version of reality without creating as much of a profound sense of a figure being divorced from his environment as is shown here on Alexander’s card. I guess it’s the smudgy altered cap against the Rembrandtian darkness in the background at the top of the picture that goes the farthest in making Alexander into a flimsy provisional interloper in this mortal coil. Before the previous year, Alexander had played for several years with one team, the Orioles, but from that point on he became noted for being a well-traveled guy, often going (at least in my memory) from one team to the next during pennant pushes, his veteran steadiness called on to shore up fraying starting rotations. He became a traveler. It started around the time of this card, in which he seems easily removable, as if you could flick him loose from the picture with one fingernail, and then he’d flutter to the ground like a feather, still locked in his ambiguous open-mouthed pose.
Of the eighteen men in major league history who have thrown a perfect game, four have a lifetime losing record: Lee Richmond (75-100), who threw the first-ever major league perfect game in 1880; Charlie Robertson (49-90), the only White Sox player to hurl a perfect game before Mark Buehrle’s masterpiece yesterday; Don Larsen (81-91), author of the most famous pitching performance in baseball history, his 1956 World Series perfect game; and the fellow shown here, Len Barker (74-76). Barker’s was not the first perfect game of my lifetime, but it was the first one I was aware of. (Catfish Hunter, one of six Hall of Famers to have pitched a perfect game—Monte Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, and Sandy Koufax are the others; a seventh, Randy Johnson, is a shoo-in for the honor as soon as he’s eligible—was perfect a couple months after I was born.) I can’t give you any specific memories of Barker’s historic performance—I didn’t watch it or it listen to it on the radio (in fact, yesterday was the first time in my life I ever got to follow any part of a perfect game as it happened; after overhearing a co-worker say to another co-worker, “Buerhle is perfect through seven,” I checked the box score on my computer and then went outside to listen to the bottom of the ninth on my XM radio as I stared out at the cars in the parking lot and tried to imagine DeWayne Wise’s catch in my head). But I do know that my perception of Barker changed. Read the rest of this entry ?