Archive for the ‘Beyond the Shoebox’ Category



October 31, 2013

we wonI intended for this photo to be right side up in this fucking post. I also intended before starting to write the post to Google the words “Sweet Jane” but I hadn’t slept much and was up early and had just named a document, the document used to create these words, “Reasons,” short for “Reasons to Live” or “Reasons not to Bail,” so instead of “Sweet Jane” I typed in “reasons” and the search window suggested these four phrases, apparently the top searches that start with the word reasons:

reasons my son is crying
reasons for missed period
reasons for divorce
reasons why I love you

I’m able to find the first one amusing only because at the moment my son is asleep and so is not crying. He has been around for a little over two years and he cries a lot, often for reasons I can’t understand and he can’t explain. This ongoing situation, my inability to help or even understand my own son when he’s suffering, calls to mind a line in Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson:

And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.

There’s a certain undefeatable core of estrangement in this life. You can feel it as the agitation behind each of the top four internet searches for reasons. How can I understand this person who came from me? How can I deal with a new needful life on the way? How can I understand a love that seems to be crumbling? How can I understand love at all?

How can we ever be anything but alone? I’m thinking of a line from a song, but not the one I set out to search for this morning: “I hate the quiet places/that cause the smallest taste of what will be.” That’s a line from “Candy Says,” by Lou Reed, who also supplied the lyrics to the song I wanted to search for today and also the song that provided the epigraph and title for Jesus’ Son. He passed away earlier this week, right when the Red Sox were in the middle of battling toward a win in the World Series, and so his songs of quiet places and loss and perversion, of life turned upside down and inside out, have been hovering eerily all around the loud bearded stomp toward triumph.

His songs make me happy. It’s hard to explain why. Easier to understand winning. The win by the Red Sox made me happy. My son was awake and naked, and when he saw the players jumping around on one another after the last out, he wanted to do it, too, so the two of us did a two-man version of the jumping up and down victory scrum. His nudity reminded me of a short, barrel-chested guy I met with my friend Pete while we were at a New York Rangers game way back in the early 1990s. It was between periods. This was before the Rangers had broken through to win the Stanley Cup in 1994, so the team was the longest suffering NHL squad.

“What will you do if the Rangers finally win?” Pete asked him. He considered it for a moment, or maybe he had the answer already set in his mind. I can’t remember anymore.

“Run naked and put up a sign,” he said.

You want to return to the days when you could run naked, I guess. You want to win, to feel all the limitations that have been piling up on you your whole life long to vanish in the winning.

And they do, they really do, for a second. The photo at the top of this page hangs over my desk (right side up). I sit at my desk every morning and write. What are my reasons? I am trying to hold on to something. I am trying to run naked. I am trying to put up a sign. Anyway, the picture hangs over my desk as a happy reminder, a reminder of happiness, and of connection. It was taken in Boston the day the Red Sox celebrated their 2004 World Series title with a duckboat parade. My brother had decked out his car as “the Yazmobile.” He came from Brooklyn and I came from Chicago. We’d been waiting for that parade our whole life.

Life in general is not in synch with such moments of connection and celebration.

“Some people like us we gotta work,” is how Lou Reed puts it in the song I still have yet to Google. Why did I want to Google “Sweet Jane”? Do I really think I’ll find the answer to why the song, from its first chord, always flicks some switch in my head that turns life from work to something else entirely?

I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. This last fucking paragraph is what my work is, more or less. Do you notice that it is in a different fucking font? I don’t know why it pasted this way into wordpress from my Word document. There doesn’t seem to be a readily apparent fix. I could spend a long time figuring it out, but I have to go to work and figure similar things out, one after the other, little stupid fucking problems that are beyond me. Like the upside down photo at the top of the page. I took it right side up, and sent it from my phone to my email right side up, and when it appeared on my computer upside down I used a program to rotate it back right side up, but then when I uploaded it to this post it was upside down again. I do not understand all the many tiny ways things go wrong and I am lashed to them every goddamn day. I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. No running naked. Unless you count these words written in a hurry beneath a photo of connection and joy, a photo I can’t seem to control. I can’t believe the win I always wished for happened once, and then again, and now three times. I’m happy about it and so not to be trusted. So trust someone who somehow imbued the lines “feel sick and dirty/more dead than alive” with an attachment to suffering life so stubborn as to be a kind of perverse, swinging joy. Trust Lou Reed, transformer of loss, when he sneers at anyone who says life is just to die.


Josh and Kurt Bevacqua

May 22, 2013

josh and bevacquaJosh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua watch the game and commiserate about how things aren’t the way they used to be. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua both hate all the noise at ballparks now, the constant blaring music and advertisements and T-shirt-bazooka assaults. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fear for the future. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fill a void in one another’s lives that’s been present for some years and that they can’t quite name. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua agree that they are lucky beyond words for the blessings that have come their way, for family, for fatherhood, and yet Josh and Kurt Bevacqua admit to one another that for some reason there are still days when life seems too much to bear, every pitch unhittable, every stick of gum tasteless, every bubble punctured. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua decide to take a day off and go to an amusement park. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eat cotton candy and ride the rides. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua scream while flying upside down on a roller-coaster based on a billion-dollar movie franchise. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home at dusk exhausted, the sky growing dim but still faintly illuminated. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua shake hands and say see you tomorrow, meaning for racquetball. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, anxious to mask the warm feelings for one another’s companionship, mock one another’s lack of racquetball skills, then one another’s sexual shortcomings, then one another’s general standing in life. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are just kidding at first, but their words gradually grow heated, for it has been a long day and moreover a long life that has, for all its blessings, not been without disappointments. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua come to blows. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are separated by strangers. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua thrash at the arms of the peacemakers and scream I never liked you, I never liked you, you don’t know shit about anything, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home and tend to their cut lips and scuffed fists. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eventually let go of their rage, then their grief. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, months later, run into one another at the racquetball facility. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua get to talking, then laughing. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua let bygones be bygones. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends.



February 20, 2013


My son has been a little melty lately. As in, he is prone to melt downs. I think it has something to do with his being at the cusp of language. Something in his world isn’t how he wants it to be, or some feeling wells up that he doesn’t quite know how to manage. He can say a few words and knows the meanings of several more, but there is an infinite number of things beyond his grasp. It’s beyond anyone’s grasp, forever, but eventually we learn to make some kind of truce with our inability to translate the world into words. He hasn’t gotten there yet. When there’s something that needs to be said and no way to say it, he gets upset. When this happens, I try to get him thinking about something else. This photo is from a few days ago, when I handed him a pack of the new 2013 baseball cards. He got quiet, attentive, interested in what was in his grasp. I had to get the flap open a little, but he took it from there. We’ve opened packs before. Thanks to Jack, baseball cards, present tense—baseball cards for pure fun—are back in my life for the first time since childhood. When Jack got the wrapper off, he took it over to the sink and pointed to the cupboard below, where we keep the garbage bin. I opened the child lock on the cupboard and he put the wrapper in the trash. He had the baseball cards in his other hand, but he knew that the wrapper and the cards were different. The cards mean something. He started handing them to me, and I read aloud the names of the guys we got.


The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad

July 19, 2012

I haven’t been sleeping much, writing much, or doing anything much except spotting my never-sleeping 1-year-old as he careens around on his wobbly new walking legs as if maniacally intent on smashing his head against every sharp corner in creation. I get a few minutes here and there and spend them working through the recently added Netflix stream of season 4 of Breaking Bad. (My one criticism of the show: the fucking baby on there is completely unrealistic, no more demanding to take care of than a cactus.) Anyway, it’s a weird life, living episode to episode, especially given that I worry about what happens when I run out of episodes. I’m so wrapped up in the story that it’s like being an addict. So this morning I was casting around in the Netflix streaming new arrivals, trying to line up my post-Breaking Bad methadone, and I noticed that The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training had joined the list. I already own the DVD, so this discovery didn’t make me whoop with joy, but it was nice, like seeing an old pal. And it worked on my mind in weird ways. Long story short, I got a multimillion dollar idea for a crossover project.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #1: The Bears’ van would have passed through New Mexico on the way to the Dome.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #2: How’d the Bears get home from the Dome?

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #3: Maybe they get the van out of impound and go for one last adventure.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #4: The van breaks down in New Mexico.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #5: While going for help, Ogilvie and Engelberg stumble upon an RV.


Scene 22.
Jesse [whispering]: I’m just sayin’, yo, we need a crew.
Walter [whispering]: But they’re just kids.
Ronzonni: Hey, whoa, who you callin’ a kid?

Scene 34.
Jesse: Yo, I told you I don’t have any more of that shit.
Amanda: Come on, man, just a taste.

Scene 46.
Ogilvie: To pay for Lupus’ treatment, we need to move 37 pounds of the product at a rate of—
Engelberg: I’m starving.

Scene 47.
Engelberg: Three grande family meals, pronto.
Gus: Very good, sir. May I ask where did you acquire that very tight-fitting Kenny Rogers T-shirt?

Scene 59.
Ahmad: We’re goin’ to the joint! We’re goin’ to the joint for sure!
Rudi [noticing ad on bench]: “Better call Saul”?

Scene 63.
Rudi: But I don’t wanna get hit by a billy club.
Saul: Hit? Lightly grazed. Smooched, practically. Hey, kid, you wanna win this case, doncha?

Scene 72.
Mike Ehrmentraut: If you’re gonna do something, you better not miss.
Kelly: I don’t miss.

Scene 94.
Walter Jr.: Y-you guys s-suck at baseball.
Tanner: I’ll fucking kill you, you cruddy cripple.

Scene 107:
Walter: Well, we finally meet.
Buttermaker: Look, mister, I clean pools, but this is ridiculous.
Buttermaker: Is that an eye?


For more on the inexhaustible wonders of the Bears, please check out my ode to The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.



June 6, 2012

Over the past year I’ve seen my wife struggle and sweat through pregnancy, scream in searing pain and terror through a day and a night and a day of labor, and become the tirelessly loving albeit perpetually exhausted personal 24-hour 7-11 food store for our son. Witnessing all this in the slack-armed, mouth-breathing pose of the helpless bystander has confirmed suspicions I’ve long had about my gender’s limited biological purpose in terms of furthering human life on Earth. We men have balls. That’s about it. Balls and a dick, I guess.

This leaves plenty of time for other things, such as, chiefly, the ball-draining consumption of porn, but also the following of sports and the customizing of personal effects. The line between balls and porn is self-evident. Though slightly less obvious, a line also connects balls and sports. Sometimes the line in the latter case is made abundantly clear, such as when Derek Lowe, upon recording the final out in a 2003 playoff series against the A’s, looked to the Oakland dugout and histrionically grabbed his nuts. He was saying, I guess, “My testicles are splendid, clearly much more potent and desirable than yours; in fact, my balls are so excellent that they make your own balls irrelevant, and from here on out I will be handling all your impregnating duties, and you will in terms of species survival be rendered purposeless.”

The A’s reacted negatively to this assessment.

In fact, Lowe was generally criticized for pantomiming with such obviousness that he had superior testicles, but it seems possible that all sporting contests between males are aimed, at their core, at determining the relative worth of the testicles of the men involved in these contests and, by extension, the relative worth of the testicles of the men who are fans of the men involved in these contests. Lowe merely made this plain. His act was deemed “classless,” as if one’s place in the social strata is determined in part by the distance or lack thereof you are able to keep from openly acknowledging balls.

And on that note, consider the photo at the top of this page, which features large simulated testicles hanging from the back of a truck. I took the shot with my cheap cell phone yesterday while catching a ride home from work with Rob, author of the Blue Batting Helmet blog. Incredibly, the first thing I’d noticed about the truck was not the balls but the fake bullet holes in the paneling of the truck. Though difficult to see in the photo, there is also a wolf wilderness scene in the back window. An additional feature, not viewable in the picture, is an eagle license plate frame. I don’t know what this all means—wolves, bullet holes, eagles, balls—but it seems to be a distinctly American collection of imagery. In day to day American reality, life is absurd and tedious, like being stuck in traffic behind a moron. But in American dreams maybe life is full of purpose, a gun battle to be won by the wild and big-balled.


Sad and Beautiful World

June 4, 2012

Here’s a photo of Morty Gaber, my friend and former boss, who died a month or so ago at the age of 87. I mention this photo in an essay up today on The Classical.

The last time I saw him was in the early 2000s. I ran into him on the street one day near his apartment on 9th Street by University Place. I was with my girlfriend, now my wife. I’m glad he got to meet her and that she got to meet him.

I first met Morty sometime in the mid-1980s. I must have come by the store he owned, located in Manhattan on the south side of 8th Street between Mercer and Greene, to visit my brother, who had gotten a job there through a posting on a bulletin board at the NYU employment office. I have written about first meeting Morty many times, but these writings, like much of my obsessive writing about the past, are fictions built out of a need to see life changing. I don’t remember meeting him. I look back, and at a certain point he was just there. Now he’s not.


Nine Innings with Andy Strasberg

March 22, 2012

I received an advance copy of Baseball Fantography just as I was finishing the recent series on Cardboard Gods that had been inspired by a photo on the Fantography™ website of Padres pitcher Dave Freisleben and Topps photographer Doug McWilliams. I am dipping into the beautiful book slowly, savoring it. My favorite photo so far is one of Lou Brock in a leisure suit shaking hands with a couple 1970s yayos, one of whom is in a cutoff Black Sabbath T-shirt. And then there’s a section that expands on the “making of” photo of McWilliams snapping the baseball card portrait of Freisleben. Many more images from the 1975 Padres photo shoot (including one of Tito Fuentes with his “Tito” headband) surround an essay by none other than Doug McWilliams, the man behind many of the images that, weirdly, joyously, anchor my life. Baseball Fantography would be worth the price of purchase for that section alone, but the whole book is spilling over with colorful images from the beating heart of the game.

The author of Baseball Fantography, Andy Strasberg, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book and about his long and eventful life in baseball. 

1. I’m really looking forward to the Baseball Fantography book (due out April 1, 2012). It seems like a book that needs to exist, and one that will help highlight the unique voices of individual fans at a time when the big business of baseball is tending to flatten out and obscure those voices. What was the key moment in the development of the idea for the Fantography site and the book? When did you say to yourself something along the lines of “this idea has to be done, and I have to do it”?

1997 was the year that I came up with the concept and called Marty Appel who agreed immediately that it was good idea.  Our plan was to have fans send their originals to a PO box and we would have them copied and then return them.  We both agreed that it would not work because people would not risk sending their treasured photographs in the mail for the fear of it getting lost. Then in 2000 I thought that fans with photo could go into Kinko’s and have them scanned and emailed to me . . . but that too was a lot to ask of fans. Then in 2008 I felt that there were enough home scanners and people using digital photographer that they could do it from their home and I was right.

2. I know you’ve spent your whole life around the game, first as a supremely dedicated fan and later as a vice president for the Padres. Some would be tempted to assume that you’ve “seen it all.” In gathering the images for the site and the book, what photo most surprised you, and why?  

I LOVE the snapshots of players before they enter the ball park.  I have hundreds of snapshots of players walking down the street as far back as the 1940s. I can only imagine how excited a fan was to capture a photo of a player in street clothes walking down the street in Brooklyn on the way to Ebbets Field.

3. I believe that in your work with the Padres from the 1970s to the 1990s [Strasberg was the vice president of marketing for the team], you were involved in many promotional events. What part, if any, did you play in Kurt Bevacqua catching a ball thrown from the top of a building in downtown San Diego? What can you tell us about that immortal day? 

I was given credit for the idea but actually adapted the concept from the 1908 Gabby Street Washington Monument event. My favorite part of setting up the event was that I asked permission from our GM Jack McKeon who said he was fine with it as long as Dick Williams our manager approved of it. So I went to Dick and asked him. He said it was OK and then I warned him that Kurt could possibly get hurt and Dick didn’t pause for a second and said, “I know.”

4. Also, when Bevacqua came to the Padres, he had already featured in one of the greatest moments in Topps baseball cards as the 1975 Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ. Did you ever witness any residue of this feat? I’m praying there are stories of young gunslingers constantly challenging the weary champ to bubble gum blowing duels. Short of that, any other anecdotes about Bevacqua would be greatly appreciated.

I never saw any one challenge Kurt in a Bubble blowing showdown.

One of my favorite “Dirty Kurt” stories happened during the 1984 World Series. We were in Detroit for game three and I was in the dugout just before introductions. Kurt bet me $10 that he would purposely slip coming out of the dugout.  I told him he wouldn’t and the bet was on. His name was announced by the stadium PA and he tripped on the top step and then turned around and shouted at me that I owed him ten bucks.

5. I first became aware of the amazing Fantography website when a writer, Greg Hanlon, let me know about a particular photo on the site. It’s the one that you took of Doug McWilliams’ snapping the portrait that would appear on Dave Freisleben’s 1976 card. For someone like me, who has put such importance on the baseball cards of the 1970s, it is an amazing moment, a singular glimpse behind a magical curtain, and I thank you for capturing it. What are your memories of that moment?

I could not use a flash so all of my photos came out dark because of the shadows. I also tried to capture the exact moment that Doug shot his photos and from an off center angle. I knew that I wanted to capture the exact moment a baseball card photo was being born.

6. It seems from looking at the 1976 Padres cards that several photos may have been taken that day. Do you recall whether that was the case, and if so, can you give us some sense of how the photo shoot proceeded that day? Was there a lot of waiting around and/or bored horseplay? How long did McWilliams generally take with each of his subjects?

Doug took perhaps less than 3 minutes with each player but sometimes waited as long as 20 minutes waiting for the next guy.  The entire shooting process took hours.

7. What did the players think of the baseball card photo shoots?

Most enjoyed it, others seemed to be somewhat bothered by the distraction and interruption of their spring training routine.

8. I love Doug McWilliams’ work. As someone who obviously also has a knack with baseball photos, what you can tell us about Doug McWilliams as an artist from what you saw that day or from other experiences with him?

Doug is one of the nicest and classiest guys in baseball. He’s kind, low-key and very considerate. We became friends quickly and have remained so after all these years. A baseball writer told me after I got my job with the Padres that even though he knew I was a collector of baseball memorabilia he said that the best thing I will collect will be the friends I make. At the time I thought he was crazy . . . but after 20 plus years he was right and Doug is one of those cherished friendships.

9. In addition to your work in the game and as a baseball historian and author, I believe you are also a passionate collector of baseball memorabilia. What piece from your collection would you be most reluctant to part with, and why?

When I was 17 years old Roger Maris gave me one of his bats in 1965. It was a confirmation from my childhood hero of a promise he made to me earlier that season. At that point it was the greatest day of my life!



March 15, 2012

Tour Guide


Some tour I’m leading here, huh? Imagine going on such a tour, the guide leading the group past a few featured pieces in a steady rhythm and then just, like, stopping, maybe staring blankly off into space for minutes, hours, or, in this case, days. Were you on this tour, and several days had gone by without any guiding, you’d begin to wonder about its existence. What brought us here? What’s holding us together? Most of life, maybe all of it insofar as we are able to perceive it, is a construct no more impervious to dissolution than cardboard. I intended to get to this penultimate stop on this tour last week, before my seventh-month-old son started running a high fever that eventually led to trips to the doctor and a trip to a hospital and, finally (everything is okay now), a 4 a.m. trip to the ER. I just said it, but allow me to say it again, for my own sake: everything is okay now. But I’m still shaken up. Every once in a while you are shown that reality is actually shapeless. All art is a hoping in the face of this reckoning.


In the early 1970s, right around when Doug McWilliams began taking photographs of figures and blue sky for Topps, my mother painted the portrait at the top of this page. It was of her friend Beth. Beth and her family lived next door to us.

This is when we were all living in a house in Hopewell, New Jersey: me, my brother, my father, my mother, and my mother’s boyfriend, Tom. I don’t have the time right now to once again explain this experimental hippie-inflected arrangement, but it was imperfect and based in hope and love. It was a complicated, hopeful, loving, impossible moment. I see all that in my mom’s painting of human beauty and sky. Eventually, we splintered. Dad to Manhattan, the rest of us to Vermont. Cold winters, little money: my mom drifted away from painting.

Years later, with my brother and me out of the house, she came back to art, not as a creator but as a student. For her, more hard years and little money. Eventually, she made it to the big leagues. I remember the day. She had a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably the greatest museum on earth. It was a temporary position but it lasted long enough that it would have merited—if working in a museum were like major league baseball in all its particulars—an appearance on a baseball card. I was thinking this past week about the closest thing to an equivalent to a baseball card, the photo ID badge that allowed her to walk past security and into even the most hidden corridors of the museum. My mother happened to be visiting this past week while my son was sick. During one of the moments when he seemed to be feeling okay I asked my mom how it felt to wear that ID badge and walk into the greatest museum on earth as an insider, a pro.

“Nerve-racking,” she said. “I was nervous there.”

She explained that it was a charged, pressurized environment. People were climbing over one another to get ahead. Departments battled one another. Some years later, after that temporary position had given way to another and then another, she would finally get a permanent museum job, at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it would be more to her liking: there, everyone was in it together.

But she admitted it did feel good to have a moment within that pinnacle of the museum world. Her highlight there was her contribution to the museum’s retrospective on Honoré Daumier. She wrote the chronology for the exhibition catalog and led tours through the exhibit. I went one day and stood among the gathering looking to her as the tour began. My mom introduced herself. She was wearing a dress. When she finished her opening spiel on Daumier an old guy in the tour piped up, addressing my mom.

“Nice knees, Jenny,” he said.

There was a staggered pause, a kind of communal eye-blink, and then my mom, the pro, pressed on, launching into the body of her tour guide presentation, and though I don’t specifically remember anything she said, I remember that I was very proud of her and then I was simply engrossed in her talk. She was a great tour guide. She made Daumier come alive. People were looking at old art and laughing.


I walked my mom to the train on Monday. The 4 a.m. trip to the ER had come and gone. My son was starting to feel better. There was blue sky.

“It was so good that you were here for this,” I said.

She had not been a guide through the crisis, because no one could have been, but it was very good for my sanity that she was there. She had been through similar tribulations. Under a doctor’s recommendation, she’d once dunked my brother, when he’d been an infant, in ice cold water to try to bring his fever down. She’d lived through broken legs and broken arms (my brother) and a falls down a well and off a cliff (me). It didn’t translate to anything specific beyond a presence that I could feel. My mother knew what it was like to have a sick kid. I tried to tell her some short version of all this, my gratitude for her presence, as we said goodbye.

“Well, I wasn’t a perfect mother,” she said. Disparagement of her own mothering abilities is something of a mantra for her. Her fallibility, her mistakes. I don’t care about that. I try to tell her, but I know how it is to have self-lacerating mantras.

She was and is a good mother, and she was and is a good artist, too. Most recently, she painted something for my son, a beanstalk climbing into the sky. She affixed a length of measuring tape along the right-hand border of it. We put it on the wall of his room and have started to use it to measure his progress up into the blue.


Highway to Hell

February 15, 2012

A few days ago I finished a great book by Joe Bonomo on Highway to Hell, the AC/DC album that debuted in America five days before I saw my first concert. I put down the book, put on some headphones, and turned up some AC/DC so loud that for a few moments I couldn’t hear anything else. Bonomo tells the whole story of Highway to Hell, unearthing details of its creation, illuminating its magic, and revealing the absences and needs of both adolescence and adulthood that might keep bringing a deteriorating, searching mind back to that loud sound again and again. You should check it out. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s something eternal about adolescence, about its promises and deceits; and about the adolescence, blinking into light so bright that the horizon is obliterated. A teenager is pulled in many directions at once: between sensation and substance; between impulse and responsibility; between innocence and guilt; between shallowness and depth. Highway to Hell and the panting scenarios therein are sensational, impulsive, and shallow, and no less human because of it. When I listen to the songs now, my brain can go into sleep mode, and my body can listen and move, and that’s a great pleasure—one of the great pleasures that rock & roll gives us—and it’s a different thing altogether from pining for lost youth or regretting moves not made, girls not chased, drinks not downed. That Bon Scott was thirty-two when he wrote the lyrics suggests that he was an eternal adolescent, but the longer I live with the songs, the more I felt that he was blessed by this state more often than he was burdened by it. He allowed himself access to a youthful pulse that beat into a future lifting with fun, not collapsing under regret.

Somewhere in this giant expanding dumpheap of memories and obfuscations I’ve talked about the first concert I ever went to. I went back to that story in my book, in a chapter on, among other things, the 1980 card of White Sox pitcher Fred Howard and Disco Demolition night and my brother and my father and regret and disconnection and stupidity. I used to think my life was one story, some form locked within stone, and once I chipped away at the stone long enough and skillfully enough I’d have it, the truth, but now I understand that I’ll never be done telling what happened, and what happened will change each time I tell it, and each time I tell it new absences will form, and the absences will call me back for yet another return, and so, for example, I’ll always be 11 years old tagging along with my big brother with our father—his ears wadded with cotton—as chaperone to Madison Square Garden to see Ted Nugent only to find out afterward that we never saw Ted Nugent at all but only saw the warm-up band before our father led a ferocious charge toward the exits, all of us under the impression that the concert was over despite the lack of any other fellow attendees leaving. My brother was the first to put the story of that night in writing, for a ninth-grade English essay, and he was the first to alter it in the telling, still too ashamed at that point about missing Ted Nugent to admit our fuckup in the essay; the teacher praised the level of detail in the first part of the essay, which described the warm-up act, and critiqued the strange vagueness of the essay’s concluding sections. “More details needed,” she wrote in the margins next to my brother’s fraudulent Nugent bloviations. In a different age, time would have made every part of the story vague. Everything becomes vague anyway, but I think my generation, perhaps the most backward-looking generation yet to walk the earth, is the first blessed with ample concrete evidence and artifacts of what, in earlier times, would have been the utterly transient particulars of fleeting youthful experiences. Whenever the story starts to feel vague, more details can be found instantly, in video and audio and print form. The borders of my mind have deteriorated and merged with Google. I am constantly searching.

I can locate the exact date of my first concert. According to multiple sources, it was August 4, 1979, at Madison Square Garden. I have not been able to find the exact setlist of my first concert, but the band I saw appears to have played the same setlist throughout their summer tour, and so it is reasonable to assume that the setlist below corresponds to the sonic assault that terrified me and made me feel awful and regretful about my father’s suffering presence beside us. It was his worst nightmare come to life. The sheer piercing force of the sound—I couldn’t even understand it as music, and in some ways it was an experience so forceful as to be beyond memory, like the whiteout moment I experienced some years later after careening off the side of a cliff while mountain-biking. But I do remember a few things about the sound: 1) it’s loudness; 2) the older teenage and early 20s burnouts all around us nodding to one another approvingly about what they saw as the undeniable high quality of the warmup band (I could not hear what they were hearing but I distinctly remember witnessing this approval); 3) the presence of the repeatedly screamed lyric “Sin City.” This last detail was what allowed my brother and me to confirm the following day at Crazy Eddies on Sixth Avenue that we had officially not seen Ted Nugent but had seen the band who had a song called “Sin City” on one of their albums. All three of these memories may have become suspect, as all my memories are, but I am able to find corroboration for all three with my deteriorated searching co-opted mind. Taking the memories one at a time: Yes, they were fucking loud. This is corroborated in an explanation from the Ten Most site for the ranking of AC/DC as the second loudest band of all time:

No question regarding it these guys are systematically the loudest indoor arena rock band from the Bon Scott years all the way through the Brian Johnson era Angus and Malcolm Young are the loudest guitar combo running through their marshall stacks both sides of the stage running them clean & overdriven getting that pure marshall sound – you can’t top that.

And yes, they fucking rocked surprisingly hard as a warm-up act. The Ten Most appreciation of AC/DC continues:

I saw AC/DC with Bon Scott open for Ted Nugent at Madison Square Garden in 1979 and they altogether stole Ted’s thunder (altho Ted was very loud too)

And yes, in all likelihood they played “Sin City” when I saw them on August 4, 1979. Yes, I can even go back and watch a performance of every single one of the songs they performed that night, not from that night, exactly, but from that era.

Live Wire
Problem Child
Sin City
Bad Boy Boogie
The Jack
Dog Eat Dog

One other thing I recall from that night is that the guitarist got up onto the shoulders of the singer. This memory was cast into some doubt when someone else who’d seen them back then recalled that when he saw them a roadie was the one giving Angus a piggy-back ride. But the photo at the top of this page, taken from the 1979 tour, suggests that what I thought I saw actually did occur. Bon Scott was not averse to carrying some weight in the name of rock & roll.

I can’t say I hated AC/DC the night of August 4, 1979, but it was something like that. I was not ready for it, and it hit me like violence. Our little trio of me and my brother and my father, it was fragile. We only saw our dad every so often and only saw him for an extended period once a year, a two-week visit every summer. We were in the middle of one of those visits, the first such visit where one of us, my brother, had edged over the border from childhood into something stranger and estranging. I liked the feeling, fragile as it was, of the three of us all being in something together, but that concert, that violent assault of sound in a huge arena of lidded-eye cool guys, disallowed any closeness between us. None of us understood what was happening, and none of us were happy, and nobody could say anything to anyone and nobody could be heard.

I don’t know why I soon gravitated to AC/DC. Within a year or two I had almost every record they’d produced. I’d been moving toward them anyway in my own musical tastes. I already owned several KISS records and was gradually commandeering my brother’s soon-to-fade interest in “hard rock” as my own, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc. He never did become an AC/DC fan, branching off instead into bands more clearly marketed as punk and New Wave, so AC/DC became “my” band. I liked everything about them. I liked the simplicity, the loudness, the hooks. I blasted the songs in loneliness and confusion and they blasted loneliness and confusion, blew it away. I liked that the center of the band was an older brother and a younger brother. I still like that. It’s my favorite part of a band I still love. Two brothers putting down a twin riff so tight and together it is like an artery rushing beats of rich blood from one heart.


Robert Hegyes

January 28, 2012

Welcome Back, Kotter debuted in 1975 and ran through 1979, the sweet spot of my childhood. It was my favorite show. I loved all the Sweathogs, Epstein most of all. He had a funny swagger, a giant afro, a maniacal look in his eyes, a (Chico) Marxian air of absurd careening pomposity-leveling chaos. He was half-Jewish, just like me, but unlike me he was proud of whatever parts made up all of him. I’ll stop there—I don’t want this to become some kind of serious sensitive self-exploration. Welcome Back, Kotter was no more and no less than exactly my idea of fun back when I was just becoming a member of the human race, and Juan Epstein was the heart and soul of the fun.

The man behind Juan Epstein, Robert Hegyes, died this past Thursday. I spent some hours yesterday and today poking around his website, where he has written several thoughtful and interesting notes about his life and about the show that made him famous. The site is organized in a somewhat unorthodox way, but be sure to check out the Kotter show section (start at this link and then click through to other pages with the “next” button at the bottom of the page). The highlight of that series of pages, at least for this constant searcher on the seas of memorabilia, is a scanned version of the feature on Hegyes, in its entirety, from Dynamite magazine. The only magazine that eclipsed Dynamite for me back in those days was Mad Magazine. On another page on Hegyes’ site I discovered that he, like me, had been raised on Mad:

I grew up reading Mad Magazine and laughing my ass off. Alfred E. Neuman for President, was my motto. I still think he could beat George W. Bush to this day. One day someone walked in and said, “Hey look, you guys are on the cover of Mad Magazine.” Forget TV Guide, People, and the National Enquirer. I knew I had made it.

In another section of the site, Hegyes writes with great warmth and humility of a chance meeting with George Harrison. If anyone has ever met a hero, they’ll recognize Hegyes’ internal monologue as he walked away from his brief moment with the Beatle. If I’d ever met the man behind Juan Epstein, I would have been reeling in the exact same way:

“I thought of a hundred things I wanted to say, but nothing I could have said was more important than, thank you.”



Free Beer Tour begins tonight

June 1, 2011


If you’re in the neighborhood of Naperville, Illinois, this evening, come on out to Anderson’s Bookshop, where Lagunitas will be provide the beer, Pete Nelson will read from his hilarious and moving novel I Thought You Were Dead, David Anthony will read from his blistering Sal-Bando-haunted page-turner Something for Nothing, and I’ll read from Cardboard Gods.


For more info, please see Anderson’s Bookshop’s event page.



Book Cellar reading tonight (5/5)

May 5, 2011

The image at left, from one of the great live albums, has little to do with the day I have ahead of me, except that I’ll spend some of it reading Keith Richards’ excellent recent autobiography Life and listening to the Stones, and then tonight I’ll be “live, in concert.” I don’t think any Ya-Ya’s will be involved, but I’ll be reading from Cardboard Gods tonight at the Book Cellar, a great independent bookstore here in Chicago (see full listing for the event below or on my “book tour” page). The event will also feature Billy Lombardo, Jonathan Eig, and  James Finn Garner, and is sponsored by Goose Island Brewery. Admission is free, but please note the following from the Book Cellar’s page for the event: “You WILL need to RSVP if you want to attend. E-mail us ( or call (773-293-2665) to put your name on the list. (It’s free!)”

The Book Cellar, 4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625
Dudes Night” (Josh Wilker, Jonathan Eig, Billy Lombardo, and James Finn Garner)   
Free and open to the public


Here’s an early clip of the Stones chugging through a Chuck Berry number and then “Tell Me.” There are glimpses of some members of the rising global army of screaming, weeping teenage girls that, when amassed in large numbers, terrified Richards, according to his account of those years in his autobiography. (Three of the these girls are brought onstage at the end of the clip.) At one point around this time, after a concert, Richards was set upon by a battalion from this army that in communal blind ecstasy battered him unconscious.



April 27, 2011

No actual post today but not from lack of trying. For some reason, I can’t get the comments function enabled on a post I have been trying to do on a 1976 Ed Halicki card. The automatic check in the “Allow comments” box on the “new post” page disappears whenever I go to publish or update the post. Frustrating.

So, until that problem gets solved, this blog is fucking broken.

I do have some other writing available elsewhere, namely a short story titled “Danny.” It’s got some stuff about baseball, memorabilia, and brothers, and you can read it in the latest issue of the online magazine Stymie.


Bullpen Cart

April 22, 2011

It’s gray and rainy today, and I wish I could spend the day riding around as a passenger in a baseball-headed bullpen cart. Maybe a baseball-headed bullpen cart version of Neal Cassady, much less frenzied and wild-eyed than the original, prone not to blazing 100 mph down rural roads shivering with hunger and amphetamines and roaring about Nietzsche but instead to puttering around slowly and aimlessly while gazing off into the middle distance, will pull up outside my window in a bullpen cart and bleat the little horn, and I’ll go out and join him for a day of mild, pointless bullpen cart meandering.  

Probably this won’t occur, as the era of the bullpen cart has come and gone. Still, I can at least ponder the bullpen cart, as I am wont to do. Along those lines, I have an article on Baseball Prospectus today that (among other things) touches glancingly on my love of the long lost on-field conveyance shown here, apparently on the brink of failing to save a couple Mets from the indignity and strain of walking.

For more on the history of the bullpen cart, see Paul Lukas’ 2007 article on the subject. And while you’re meandering bullpen-cart-style around the Internet, you could also check out a couple of nice reviews of my book that have just been posted, at Baseball Reflections and Batter Chatter, respectively. Also, last week, Joe Bonomo (author of a book on AC/DC’s Highway to Hell that is very high on my “must read” list) posted an interview with me and Dan Epstein (Big Hair and Plastic Grass) at his site No Such Thing As Was.

Finally, I have updated my “Book Tour Page” with info on upcoming events, most of which will feature FREE BEER. (Has there ever been a better use of ALL CAPS than the one used at the end of the preceding sentence? Please allow me the pleasure of using it once again: FREE BEER.) No word yet on whether this FREE BEER will cause the literary gatherings to devolve into chaotic homages to 10-Cent Beer Night. I also have yet to figure out if I’ll be able to travel from Chicago to Naperville to Milwaukee to Oakland to Boston to Austin and back to Chicago in a baseball-headed bullpen cart.


Opening Day Starting Nine

March 31, 2011

Today the book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness is running a little Q&A with me that includes a question about my top five authors that I expanded (following Charles Bukowski’s lead) into a starting nine. Here’s my opening day batting order:

1. Denis Johnson, SS (dazzling in the field; .297/.398/.412)
2. Anton Chekhov, 3B (always makes perfect contact; .313/.402/.498)
3. Jack Kerouac, CF (think Fred Lynn in ’75 but forever; .325/.413/.545)
4. J.D. Salinger, RF (glove has poems scribbled on it; .286/.374/.529)
5. Bruce Jay Friedman, 1B (hilarious infield chatter; .302/.397/.502)
6. Frederick Exley, LF (erratic and powerful; .264/.342/.512)
7. Charles Schulz, C (always there when you need him; .282/.367/.423)
8. Raymond Carver, 2B (key when things get rocky; .272/.372/.402)
9. Franz Kafka, P (baffling, overpowering stuff; 2.08 ERA)

What’s your starting nine?


For more of Me, if you can stand it, check out an interview today at the New Yorker book blog The Book Bench; a new music-tending interview at Rock Town Hall; and a new podcast conversation at Baseballisms.


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