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.