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Randy Johnson

November 13, 2018

Randy Johnson

For a while now, I’ve been having trouble writing. It’s as if something has attached itself to my face, my ears, my eyes, my mouth. Can’t see so well, or hear, or speak. I fantasize about somehow yanking it off, but in reality, even if I could put my hands on it, it wouldn’t come off easily. It’d rip away jagged swaths of whatever it had affixed itself to. You can’t separate yourself from your limitations.

I found this card in a corner of my house recently. If you’re into such things, you might be able to recognize that beneath the jarring defacement resides a card of some potential value, as it’s Randy Johnson’s Topps rookie baseball card. But any value it might have had is nullified, of course, as it’s now Randy Johnson’s Topps rookie baseball card with a lower-case letter a stuck to it. The letter resided for some time in a freezer bag full of letters with adhesive backing that my sons play with occasionally, or used to, and the baseball card resided for some time in a freezer bag of baseball cards that my sons play with occasionally, or used to.

I’m moving from present to past with my sons. They are now old enough to have things they used to do. When they first arrived, I ceased to be who’d I’d been all my life to that point. Or rather, the story that I thought defined me was shattered by a new story that they centered. I became a father of babies. So now that they’re not babies, what’s my story?

You can see one of Randy Johnson’s eyes clearly, while the other is obscured. You can see most of his mouth, along with some of his sparse facial hair. The bulge on the left side of the letter blocks out the lobe of the one visible ear while forming an exaggeration of Johnson’s cheek. It thickly overlays atop the gauntness of the adult pitcher a suggestion of the pudgy baby fat of an infant.

My boys moving out of the baby years could be one of the things partially smothering my ability to see and hear and speak, and by all that I mean my ability to write. But there’s no end to the reasons not to write. My last book kind of bombed. My father died. I work all fucking day. Netflix is beckoning. The world is murderous and aflame.

The back of this card shows that Randy Johnson has three major league wins to his name, meaning that from our current remove we know he has exactly 300 more to go, a massive number, connoting magnitude and longevity and even, using the parlance of the game in its reckoning of such numbers, immortality. But those wins have all come and gone, and this rookie’s career has been over for quite some time.

I saw Randy Johnson up close once, back at the beginning of this century. I was at Shea Stadium with my new girlfriend, whose father did business with a company that had a luxury box at Shea, and we got to go once in a while. The entry to the part of the stadium where the boxes were was the same as the players’ entry, and on the way out one day we lingered briefly with the fans waiting for autographs and were rewarded by the sight of the man who would a few years later become the tallest player in the baseball Hall of Fame. I have nothing really to report about this encounter except that as people called out his name he moved with his head down and walked fast, as if he was trying to get this part over with as quickly as possible.

The curve at top of the letter a is not altogether discordant with, just above it, the arc of the bill of Randy Johnson’s cap, and the straight right side of the letter a points down toward the piping of his uniform. This bracketing by the bright features of the defunct cap and the defunct uniform emphasizes the union of the half-hidden face and the alphabet letter obscuring it. If you are anything at all beyond the uniform you wear, you are language.

Actually I can’t be sure I have the story straight on the day I saw Randy Johnson up close. Did he actually sign a couple of autographs? He might have. All I know for sure was that seeing him up close made the moment crackle with importance. It’s the only thing I’m still connected to in relation to that day except the person who went to the game with me, who’s just finished getting our boys to sleep and is in the next room as I type this. It’s hard to stay seated at this table and keep writing. I want to go out and sit with her for a little while and stream some show and every once in a while look over at her perfectly flawless face.

You come out of the womb with a face, but an identity doesn’t start to form until you start to grasp that first letter, the beginning of a lifelong climb, letter by letter, word by word, through the eddying spirals of meaning and obfuscation.

2 comments

  1. Have your son sign that card, put it in a magnetic, and treasure the one of a kind masterpiece for all eternity.


  2. This is such a well-written piece. There is poetry in your prose as you talk about the characteristics of this card, altered but somehow created into something new by your sons and the stories that accompany it.



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