Brandon McCarthy

May 2, 2008

                                                    Golf Road
                                                  Chapter One

Sunday I found a Steve Howe card in the mud. Monday, I wrote about it, and while I was doing so I discovered that it was the second anniversary of Steve Howe’s death. The coincidence made me wonder if I was part of some wider, unfathomable plan. Maybe there’s something beyond the self. Maybe there’s a wholeness surrounding all our ripped, scattered pieces. I don’t know. Tuesday I went to work. It takes quite a while to get there. A long walk up Western Avenue, a wait, a train, another wait, a bus, then a short walk to the corporate complex from where the bus lets me off on Golf Road.

I work all day in a cubicle in a large room full of cubicles. I’d say the hours pass slowly, but that’s not quite accurate. I try to do a good job, and I guess I do OK; four years now and they haven’t sent me packing. But even so there’s a part of me that I learned a long time ago to tear off and toss aside on the days I punch a clock. I remember my first job, pumping gas at a Shell station on Cape Cod. There the hours passed slowly, tortuously. I hadn’t learned how to leave pieces of myself behind. That was over twenty years ago. I’ve gotten much better at it since then.

So on Tuesday the hours passed. At quitting time I shut off my computer and bolted for the door. I hustled across the parking lot and through the pack of lazy, malevolent geese that use the wide corporate lawn as their toilet, then I came to a stop at Golf Road. It can take several minutes to cross the four lanes of heavy traffic; many times I’ve been waiting for my chance to cross while my bus flew past in the farthest lane. Sometimes there are brief gaps in the traffic in the two lanes closest to me, but there are usually cars backed up on a smaller road just to my left, waiting at the long light to turn onto Golf, so any attempt on my part to make a dash to the center median would end with me getting shoveled up onto the hood of a car making a white-knuckled right on red. 

But on Tuesday I was lucky. There was both a small gap and an unusual lack of cars stopped at the light, so I scuttled like a light-startled cockroach to the thin strip of concrete separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. You have to stand straight and suck in your gut on this median or risk getting disemboweled by a speeding sideview mirror. While on this median I always find myself thinking about all the many times I’ve let my mind wander while driving, the car drifting beyond the margins of the road. 

I got lucky again with a second gap and scurried the rest of the way. Sometimes there’s someone already at the bus stop. There are no buildings on that side of the road, just a drab, flat nature reserve patronized solely by car-drivers with bikes, so if there’s another person waiting for a bus he or she had to do what you just did to get there, and upon your arrival the two of you exchange the sheepish glances of the hunted.

But on Tuesday I was able to enjoy in solitude my small, lucky feeling of getting across Golf Road without dying or, worse, watching the bus go by without me. I wonder if moments like these ever make it into the court proceedings in the mind of the suicide ponderer. Does the underpaid court-appointed public defender of Life ever rush disheveled in his cheap tan suit through the courtroom doors amid speeches of terrible eloquence by the dark-garbed Prosecutor on cancelled dreams and loveless nights and hopeless endless afternoons to yell “Hey, wait”–his voice cracking–“don’t you remember that time you made it through the subway doors just as they closed? Or the time you got change for a ten when you used a five? Or the time when the freezing drizzle allowed you to move down to the good seats for once in your life, so close you heard the sound of a guy sliding into third?”

Well, I don’t know if these little flickers of light ever make it into the internal To Be or Not To Be conversation. I’ve fantasized as much as the next guy about how my death would cause millions of beautiful women to weep, but for all my chronic gloominess I’ve never really stared down that awful corridor. All I know is that life is pretty much a losing proposition, so it stands to reason you should celebrate the rare victories, however small.

And so on Tuesday I had that tiny extra lift of getting across Golf Road quicker than usual and without missing a bus. I have to think this lift allowed me to look twice at one of the many pieces of trash littering the fume-sickened grass around the bus stop. Most of the time I walk through the world blindly, objects appearing before me without ever registering. But I was feeling lucky, lucky to be at the bus stop, which is not that different, really, from feeling lucky to be alive. So I was able to notice that the piece of trash had somehow, distantly, signaled to some part of my brain that it was not just a piece of trash.

And it wasn’t. It was half of a baseball card. I picked it up. For the first time in all the days I’ve spent waiting at that bus stop I studied the ground all around me. There was another ripped piece of a baseball card a few feet away, and beyond that another, and beyond that another. There were ripped pieces of baseball cards everywhere.

(to be continued)


  1. 1.  I like where this might be going.

  2. 2.  It is the little things in life, isn’t it? Sometimes life is hell and you go to bed with the feeling of a leftover gut check, but if you hang in there the little things save you. Today, I just want to make it until 6 PM PST so I can listen to Vin Scully call a game in what might be his last season.

  3. 3.  Just from McCarthy’s name, blue Texas Rangers’ shoe, and the Yankee tarp behind him, you can figure out that this is a 2008 card (looks like the new Topps design) and that the photo was taken during this game:


    Oh, and he’s throwing a four-seem fastball.

  4. 4.  Hey Josh, the mention of Golf road makes me think you take a Pace bus to work, just as I do. I work for a company that collects sports statistics, mayhaps that is something you’d be interested in?

    The bus schedules online are pretty good, sometimes they’re a few minutes late but never early!

  5. 5.  3 : Nice sleuthing. The Yankee-pounding surely must have been one of the high points of McCarthy’s 5-10 season.

    The fragmentary back-of-the-card text of the torn card still manages to get across the flavor of McCarthy’s career thus far:

    full season of health from
    g prospect. Between injuries
    uns in his last 10 starts.

  6. 6.  4 : Right, I rely on Pace and the CTA.

    A sports-stats company, huh? Intriguing.

  7. 7.  The whole card: http://i16.ebayimg.com/08/i/000/ed/ac/b336_1.JPG

  8. 8.  7 Josh has the best part.

  9. 9.  Oh, the agony!!! Josh, I have just started following your fantastic writing in the last 2 months. I have read several of your multi-part dramas, but never “in real time”. Can’t wait for the next chapter.

    By the way, along with everyone else here, I really love your writing. Keep up the great work, it is one of the highlights of my day!

  10. 10.  Hopefully, the morbid coincidences will stop and we won’t wake up tomorrow to learn that Brandon McCarthy died as a result of being cut in half.

  11. 12.  Sorry about pulling the comment page over with my link. Feel free to axe that post, as I will put up a reminder of the offer at my site next week.

  12. 13.  12 : Below is Scott’s original comment in 11 , with the link shrunk using tinyurl. Now I’m going to try to figure out how to delete the original post in 11 so as to get the page reined back in a little…

    Scott’s original comment:
    “When I graduated/left college, my first real job was in Woodfield Mall, right off Golf Road, running a department store photography studio for Marchall Fields. It was the worst job I ever had… and I’ve had some pretty bad jobs. I worked long hours, including most weekends, working with people I had nothing in common with. It was a very lonely existence where my highlight of the day was often at the food court. Yeah, that bad. The commute I had in my car took 50 minutes each way and I hated it more than anything else.

    “I went back to the scene of the crime for the first time in 2006, after not working there since 1989. I was performing comedy at the IMPROV club located in the Mall. It was a nice step-up, but I still felt a sense of depression being there, as it reminded me of my worst time of my life.

    “Now watch me transition this story into a plug. I will be headlining in the Chicago area next Thurs-Sat and have set up a deal with the club to get 2 for 1 tix on Thurs or Friday for any blog readers. Contact me at my email, if this appeals to anyone. The shows are in the Western Suburbs (Aurora) and I have a link to where it is at. http://tinyurl.com/5fbs5g

    “Finally, a note on Brandon McCarthy. I think he could be a solid no.3 starter in the NL West, as his success is completely controlled by giving up gopher balls. He has pitched in his career for the 2 teams who play in the best parks to hit homers. Someone should steal him from Texas.”

  13. 14.  13 (which of course means ol’ dear departed 11 ):

    There’s some kind of a comedy venue–or at least a venue that at times has comedy–at the Woodfield Mall now. Last year I noticed Paulie Shore’s name on a marquee next to the Chinese chain restaurant where we were having a department lunch.

  14. 15.  Yeah, it’s the IMPROV. They are the top comedy chain in the country and the club there is the nicest one I’ve ever performed at. The IMPROV generally only brings in TV star type comics who otherwise only do theater shows. I am not a big enough draw to headline the IMPROV’s. They have a different biz model than pretty much all the other clubs.

    I can’t guarantee I am funnier than some comics, but I can definitely guarantee I’m funnier than Pauly Shore. Of course, he still manages to draw people who want to attach themselves to the early 90’s Weasel character. Entertainment is part talent/part marketing. Sometimes it turns out that the former is most important, but generally it is the latter that wins out.

  15. 16.  cubsin07 probably works at Stats.inc since they are in your area i believe.

    perhaps someone is strewing material in your way so that we can keep reading your great writing? LOL


  16. 17.  B. McCarthy is stuck on the median with a bum elbow and can’t get to the other side of the street to start the season. He’s missed the bus to the beginning of the season with the best kind of elbow problem to have, if you’re going to have one. The placement of the tear on card is just below the elbow…

  17. 18.  Maybe it’s my background (east coast, & the last few years in Europe), but I’ve always found the American suburban shopping mall/corporate campus world to be the most dehumanizing environment imaginable. No sidewalks, no shade, no room for pedestrian crossing in the traffic signals. If you’re not in a car you’re nothing, a flyspeck, a piece of flyaway trash.

  18. 19.  Hmm…Brandon McCarthy?
    Who knew they still made baseball cards?

    Still your insights resonate.
    You sound like a Bokononist.

  19. 20.  Wasn’t McCarthy supposed to be good? I haven’t followed his career, but I recall him being a touted prospect for the White Sox. Of course pitchers are risky due to the nature of their part of the profession.

  20. 21.  19
    Got a black magic woman?

  21. 22.  Josh, it’s writing like this that makes your blog — pound for pound — the most well written and thoughtful commentary around.

    I was in Chicago three weeks ago and got to stay at the Drake (it wasn’t on my nickel; my firm paid for it). I went up to Wrigleyville and WOW, what a great atmosphere. I wish the Cubbies had been in town. That night I took clients to US Cellular and was really impressed with the ballpark, all things considered. But they sure did locate it in the middle of freaking nowhere.

  22. 23.  Josh,

    I just read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. (I know, I finally got around to it . . . I recognize most people read it in High School). It really struck me. Siddhartha moving through life trying to find purpose, meaning, and striving to understand himself in relation to this strange F’d-up world. It had answers to humanity’s most perplexing questions.

    After reading your latest post, I started to believe you are the neo-Siddhartha! Like Siddhartha, you’re on a pligrimage, a journey, you’ve been to many places and experienced many things, and you share with us your great wisdom, in eloquent verse and meter.

    Like Hesse, you’ll be getting your Nobel Prize for literature at some point, I’m sure. I tip my black fedora in your direction . . .


  23. 24.  Maybe I went to a substandard high school, but I don’t recall anyone reading Hesse.

  24. 25.  19 : “You sound like a Bokononist.”

    Not an Onanist?

    20 : I also recall McCarthy being pretty highly regarded for a while.

    22 : I think Comiscular Park is a good place to see a game. We had a lot of fun grilling up food and drinking beer in the parking lot before a game there last year, which is not an option in Wrigleyville. I love going to Wrigley Field, but I generally skip the surrounding neighborhood bacchanalia. Guess I’m getting old.

    23 : I’ve read Siddhartha a few times, but not in a while. I think the last time I read it I found myself relating to and sympathizing more with Siddhartha’s buddy.

  25. 26.  25 Josh you just sent me running for the dictionary for “bacchanalia”

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