Ramon Vasquez

August 13, 2008
As with the collecting of baseball cards, my brother preceded me as a clerk at 8th Street Wine and Liquor. He found a listing for the job at the NYU employment center and worked there throughout college, then when he was tapering off at the store I started my ragged tenure. Years later, after I’d come and gone at the store, he needed extra money and started picking up some shifts here and there. One night as he entered the store, which by then was on its last legs and almost always empty of customers, the owner and my brother’s coworker for the night were sitting at the desk in the back, site of almost all the billion bullshitting sessions that made that place into one of the best shelters from the relentless passing of time I have ever known (I feel the urge to digress as I talk about it—even talking about it in the first place is a digression, for I meant to speak only and briefly and pointedly about last night’s Red Sox-Rangers game, but sometimes the passing of time seems too cruel and I digress from the point before I even take one step toward making it and no wonder I end up talking about the liquor store, site of years of digression, of sideways expansion, of ingrown soulnails, not just for me but for many other aimless young men who passed months and years leaning on a broom and pretending to know something about wine, and for that reason it should be a historical landmark, or maybe an anti-historical landmark, a shrine to a place where nothing ever really happened, but instead it closed years ago and after a lingerie store came and went the site is now a Korean manicure joint with no trace of the old store visible), and heard the owner, Morty, a World War II combat veteran, speaking quietly, even tenderly, to the young man across the desk from him. My brother, hearing what was being said, paused with his hand on the open door in the classic gape-mouthed fashion of a lowbrow sitcom.

“Listen, Petey,” the owner was murmuring. He reached one of his combat-toughened mitts across the desk. “I too have shit my pants.”

Shitting one’s pants has got to be one of the great anxieties of a young human’s life; even if we somehow avoid that ignominy in those early pants-wearing days, we hear of others who have not been so lucky, their names forever welded as the indestructible subject in the sentence whose predicate is shit his pants. And so there is always that terror deep inside us that our very first and most profound lesson in the passage from lawless infant to anxious cog in society will in some unpredictable spasm be undone. A humiliating loss, a crushing burden. (Not to mention the stench.)

As far as I can recall, and it’s certainly possible that I am repressing some horrible memory, I avoided this undoing until somewhere deep into last night’s putrid, thrilling, ridiculous, laughable, exhilarating, and exhausting 19-17 Red Sox win over the Rangers. The game, which tied an American League record for most runs scored, seemed at first to be just what I needed. I was already worn out from going into work despite being sick and had filled my body with a trash bag full of cough drops, enough cold pills to stun a gorilla, and so much tea that my eyes were sloshing in their sockets. I felt trampled and queasy. So I was glad to see the Red Sox take a seemingly indestructible ten-run lead in the first inning. A laugher! Wonderful! It was all I could handle in my weakened state.

The player picture in the torn card at the top of this page, Ramon Vasquez (one of the least damaged cards from my Golf Road find a couple months ago), did all he could to help me out, most notably contributing to that ten-run inning by bungling a double-play grounder that allowed six of the ten runs to be unearned. Much later he was also unable to handle a throw by one of the Rangers’ relievers, Wright, that allowed another unearned run to score (though in that case the error was charged to Wright). In between all that he collected a couple hits but was one of the few players on either team to neither score nor drive in a run, stranding a team-high five runners on base. Not a good night for Ramon Vasquez.

Not a good night for me either, as it turned out, for as the Rangers began to batter and bludgeon a Red Sox bullpen that seems intent on proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this year is not the Red Sox’ year, I sunk below the line that separates us from the animals. I lay on the couch, moaning, whining, coughing, choking on mucous, cursing. Somewhere in that infantile fugue I attempted to express my disgust with the Red Sox’ feckless hurlers by going beyond words to loose what I intended to be a burst of angry flatulence. But my regal trumpet blast of disgust took a bad turn about three-quarters of the way in.

All of this is just to say I wish the liquor store was still around. Ever since I left that place I have harbored the fantasy that one day, after some vaguely imagined worldly success on my part, I would go back there and burst through the door with cigars for everyone, good jokes for everyone, a big shot bellowing about book tours, celebrities, movie rights. But now I just wish I could go and sit in the back and talk about baseball until the real story came out, at which point Morty would reach across the desk to tell me that he, too, had shit his pants.


  1. 1.  Brilliant. Coworkers concerned over the laughter coming from my cube.

  2. 2.  I thought I was gonna shit my pants myself. That is funny stuff, Josh. And it seems as sick as you were, with the game going the way it was, there was to be only one epoch for that moment. Either the Red Sox lose, or you crap your dungarees. The fates decided on the latter, I guess it’s up to you to decide which was better. According to “Our Band Could be Your Life”, Mike Watt himself taped off the ankles of his pants back in the Minutemen van-touring days, pants-shitting got so bad for him. So, it could always be worse.

  3. 3.  2 : Hey, you put it that way and it almost seems like I had a hand in the win!

    I don’t remember that detail from Watt, but I do remember they had to constantly pull to the breakdown lane so D. Boon could immodestly erupt.

    FYI: New comments (by Brewer Bertram, as it happens) on Johnnie LeMaster (Giants) and Gorman Thomas, 1980 (Brewers).

  4. 4.  I was at the Oakland Coliseum last night, watching a game in which the two teams combined for only three runs, laughing at the absurd contrast each time something changed on the out-of-town scoreboard.

    Fortunately, I have no clothing mishaps to add to that part of your tale. Although, I took my kids bowling yesterday, and one of them got carsick and threw up all over the sidewalk just as we were about to enter the bowling alley, so there’s that.

  5. 5.  Beautiful.

    I was left with Ramon Vasquez as a utility infielder in a tabletop league once. Ugh. King of the two out, lost cause single.

    Would you PLEASE self publish this as a book? I’d buy it.

    My wife has a lovely word for what you did-“sharted”. I’m sure it’s not originally hers, but she’s the first person I heard say it.

    There’s some Mike Watt/ D.Boon stories in Henry Rollins’ “Get In The Van” too-a favorite book of mine.

  6. 6.  This post had me at “ingrown soulnails.”

    The pants-shitting was just a bonus.

  7. 7.  the first time i heard the unfortunate term “sharted” was from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie “Along Came Polly”. I do not know if it originated there or not.

  8. 8.  Holy cow Josh, that was hilarious! It really is a great experience to have a meaningless job where nothing really important happens ever in your youth. I myself played a lot of hackie sack and drank a lot of beer behind the plant nursery that my friends and I ran. As for the pants shitting, welcome to the club after all these years. At least you didn’t have to be hosed down in the front yard by your mom like I did.

  9. 9.  6 yes! josh – “ingrown soulnails,” is so absolutely brilliant! i would love to steal it and use it as a lyric, but i couldn’t do that. i’m kicking myself for not coming up with that on my own. truly brilliant!!!

    btw, i love this years series of Topps cards. best one since ’04. i’ve been buying packs whenever i see them; makes me feel like a kid again…

  10. 10.  The whole entry was wonderful, but for me this was the money phrase:

    “many other aimless young men who passed months and years leaning on a broom and pretending to know something about wine”

    Reminds me of Papa Hemingway.

    And your reveries about the liquor store reminded me of the words of David Byrne:
    “Heaven is a place / a place where nothing / Nothing ever happens.”

  11. 11.  Josh,
    The last time I saw you was in that very same liquor store. I was walking past one night and heard my name called out. I looked in and lo and behold it was you. I came in and chatted for a while and then went back out into the night to continue on to wherever I had been heading (probably to see a band).

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