Ray Corbin

December 19, 2007

“…it seems I might have stumbled onto [Cardboard Gods] just as the author has reached a fork in the road, and rather than take it, it appears to be taking him…” Exploded Views, 12/18/07

I can certainly understand how someone could get the impression that I have hoisted myself upon the fork of life, cooked. I’ve always given off that impression. I remember one time, long ago, when I was sharing a small apartment with my brother in Manhattan, on Second Avenue and Ninth Street. I was working part-time at the liquor store, which meant most days I had nothing in particular to do until my shift started in the evening. Some days I’d write, some days I’d try to write, some days who the hell knows what I’d do. Watch TV, sleep, pace, channel Onan, worry, do a few pushups, stare out the window. Anyway on one of those days I spilled out of the apartment building door a few minutes before my shift began. (Oh, how good I had it and I didn’t even know it, work a five minute walk away.) A couple young tough-looking Hispanic guys were sauntering past.

“Damn,” one of them said to me. “Look like you getting your ass kicked by life.”

Another night I was moping down Ninth Street after work, and a woman from the bar I hung out at happened to walk by. I didn’t notice her, since I was staring at the ground, but she stopped me and told me that I looked like I was on my way to find a corner to curl up and die in.

“Really? I’m fine,” I said.

A few years later I quit the liquor store the day after a particularly confrontational encounter with a gang of shoplifters. I’d been ambivalent about the liquor store job for a while, and getting involved in another in a long line of racially charged, violence-fringed encounters with a pack of teenagers trying to steal Alize was the straw that broke me. When I told the owner I was quitting he was disappointed, not just that he was losing an employee but that I was admitting defeat. By this point I had come to consider the owner, Morty, like a member of my family. I think he felt the same way about me.

“I feel sorry for you, Joshua,” Morty said quietly. “Backing down like this. It’s not good. You’re setting yourself up for a hard life, Joshua.”

I don’t remember how I replied to him, but in my revisions of the moment I explain to him (or to myself) that fighting off teenagers trying to steal bottles of sickly sweet liqueur isn’t my battle. After I quit I spent the summer in Vermont going slowly nuts. I hoped to write a novel, but had no ideas and instead inched through each day by reading old issues of Sports Illustrated in a nearby college library until the evening, when sitcom reruns and beer took me the rest of the way. At the end of the summer I went back to New York City and begged for my ex-girlfriend to take me back and begged Morty to give me my job back. They both agreed, but after a few months my girlfriend showed up one night at my apartment, handed me a Budweiser tall boy, and told me that we had to talk. For a couple months after that I took my liquor store pay in bottles of Maker’s Mark and listened to a lot of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, but then when that got old I quit the liquor store, this time for good. I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no skills, no prospects. I didn’t see a fork in the road. I didn’t see any road at all.

But yet on I went, so to speak. I kept writing, fell into significant debt going back to grad school, taught a little, kept writing, lived for a year in a cabin in the woods, came back to the city, kept writing, worked various low-skill jobs, fell in love, kept writing, got married, got a scanner, started scanning pictures of the baseball cards I grew up with, kept writing.

I still don’t really see a fork in the road. I guess I never really have. Maybe this is the reason people occasionally tell me I seem to be in the final stages of an irreversible capitulation. But perhaps writing every day is a way to strike a pose as if there is a fork in the road, and as if there is some idea of how to deal with that fork in the road.

As usual my Cardboard Gods offer a model for this notion. Here stands Ray Corbin, forgotten hurler of yore. He is at a crossroads of life, though he may not be fully aware or at all aware of it. He is four seasons into what will be a five year major league career. In his first season, 1971, he won 8 games and struck out 83 batters. In his second season he won 8 games and struck out 83 batters. In his third season he won 8 games and struck out 83 batters. An incredible feat! Yet here he stands after his first season in which he did not win 8 games nor strike out 83 batters. But if Ray Corbin is aware of any omens of uncertainty and transience in the ending of his unusual streak of comforting sameness he does not show it. Similarly, his beaming upward-looking gaze shows no cognizance that the end is near. Instead he stands there, striking his pose with the assured solidity of a bronze statue. It doesn’t matter to him if there is a fork in the road or not, or even if there is a road. If there is a mountain in front of him, so be it: On he will go, cutting a path through with his indestructible chin.


  1. 1.  Ambition is the root of all evil.

  2. 2.  You said it, Brownie.

  3. 3.  Hell, Ray Corbin doesn’t even seem to notice how grossly off-center his picture is in the larger framework of the card.

  4. 4.  1 , 2 : Charles Bukowski put it best on his gravestone epitaph: “Don’t try.”

    3 Yeah, Ray Corbin is invincibly cheerfull even as his world teeters.

  5. 5.  Jesus, this is good writing. There is a book in here, and I’m going to keep saying it until the men in the white coats come and put me into the jacket that’s all sleeves.

    I am reminded of the immortal Homer J. Simpson, when he said, “Trying is the first step towards failing.”

  6. 6.  5 : Also from Homer J.: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

  7. 7.  I wanted to make a LeRoy Neiman comment in the last entry, but I guess that I’ll do it here. (did he ever paint his brother from another ‘stache Randy Niemann?)

    Ray Corbin is having his Donald Karabetsos moment in this pitcher, the one where he doesn’t knock down all the pins, but he doesn’t realize it.

  8. 8.  7 : “Ray Corbin is having his Donald Karabetsos moment in this pitcher, the one where he doesn’t knock down all the pins, but he doesn’t realize it.”

    Odd that you mention that movie. I just this past weekend rented The Big Lebowski after not haiving seen it for awhile, watched it once attentively, then watched it again while nodding in and out of a series of shallow naps. From here on out I’m Duding my way through any and all situations. Or I’m at the very least going to order a White Russian at my next convenience.

    Maude Lebowski: What do you do for recreation?
    The Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.

  9. 9.  BTW, this is topshelf stuff, Josh.

  10. 10.  hey, I’m a Maker’s Mark Ambassador!!!


  11. 11.  This past Sunday night my 12 year old daughter was player goalie in a high-comp soccer game and took a hard kick to the side as she dove to cover a shot. I didn’t see the actual incident as I had stepped out momentarily. She was carried off the field and after the game was in too much pain to walk, highly unusual for her as she’s a tough kid. We brought her home and she seemed to get a little better. The next day my wife took her to the doctor who immediately sent her to the hospital because she had blood in her urine, indicative of kidney damage. They did a CT scan and took a series of blood tests and determined that she had a hairline fracture in her rib and a torn kidney, which was causing the internal bleeding. They admitted her for overnight observation and drew blood every 6 hours to see if the kidney was healing, otherwise surgical repar would be needed. My wife and I spent an anxious night that night. Seeing my girl in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV was one of the most heart wrenching things I’ve ever gone through. The next day the tests showed she was healing and we brought her home after they prescribed 2 weeks bed rest, not easy for an active 12 year old. However, no surgery is needed, she is not in much pain and she will be home with us for the holidays.

    Count your blessings, everyone, and have a happy holiday.

    -Chris Mc.

  12. 12.  11 : Man, that is scary. I’m glad everything’s going to be all right, Chris. I guess Christmas is as good a time as any for an active kid to take it easy and heal. Here’s hoping she gets better soon.

  13. 13.  How has no one yet been amazed at the-best-way-for-a-chick-to-break-up-with-a-guy-I-have-ever-heard-of?

    I’ve gotten the phone break up after more than a year, the calling her cellphone and having it answered by the guy she’s sleeping with at 2am, and the lets talk because its you and not me, but never did she bring me a beer to help me cope.

    And it was a tallboy, not even just a beer, but a tallboy. Impressive.

  14. 14.  13 : Well, this really is a whole other story, but she happened to break up with me on St. Patrick’s Day, which was a nightmare. When you get broken up with, it is a law of nature that you must immediately go to a bar. But you want a dark, empty bar, which does not exist on St. Patrick’s day, and so you must wedge yourself in with the hammered, near-puking masses while the sound of bagpipes wails in your ears. It’s not recommended.

  15. 15.  Morty said the same thing to me!

    It’s interesting to read what happened to you after I filled your shoes and continued the cycle.

  16. 16.  15 : Wow, that’s funny, David. Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know Morty gave you that same spiel. Sometimes I think we 8th Street liquor clerks were all the same guy in different guises.

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