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in another time’s forgotten space

May 10, 2022

What are your ways into joy? I’ve had a few. Mark Fidrych was one. Another was the world he came to me from, baseball. Another was the main way that world came to me, baseball cards. Then as I got older, left childhood, there was music. And then certain drugs became a part of it, until the openings they helped create formed rusty, serrated edges. I kept trying to push myself through the openings for some time after all they did was snag me, cut me.

Joy flowed in childhood, yelped and gasped in my younger adult years. Now I mostly see it in murmurs, echoes. It’s also there in moments with my kids, deep and fleeting, pulsing with love and ruined by worry. Always with them: what next? So sometimes I miss the illusions from my young and stupid years of some more permanent joy. Baseball flowing through me, or music. Yesterday, nothing stronger in me than coffee, I walked my dog around the block while listening to “Franklin’s Tower” from the Grateful Dead’s 4/23/77 show in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a version where you can hear the crowd going berserk, in whoops and scuffed-up hand-clap rhythm, and the band rides that wave. I started skipping a little as I listened. Skipping! Or maybe sort of a stiff-limbed skip-jog. Imagine what this looked like. I’m 54, tall, pale, beady-eyed: an ostrich. If I looked out the window of our building and saw someone doing something similar, I’d mock them. “Hey, family,” I’d say to my family, “check out this hideous display coming down the sidewalk.” But I had no visible witnesses. So I indulged joy’s echo.

That Springfield show was part of the band’s renowned spring 1977 run. The dates of that tour ring out among the fans of the band as if written on large white signs, none more prominent than 5/8/77, the Barton Hall show at Cornell University. If you’re not a fan of the band, it’ll no doubt seem like the same unpalatable tangle of overcooked wheatgrass linguine as everything else these hippies have produced. But for those who count the band as one of their portals into joy, this 5/8/77 show presents the musicians at one of their nimble peaks. But the prominence of the show in the band’s mythology also stems from some random dice rolls of community and technology. No one would have known about the show beyond those who attended it if not for the practice that had grown around the band in which fans taped the shows and then traded (like baseball cards) the tapes, and that show in particular would not have risen to legendary status over the years had it not been one of the vibrant, crisp recordings captured by Grateful Dead sound engineer Betty Cantor-Jackson. Even if you weren’t there, you can go there, again and again. I’ve been going there a lot lately. I keep burrowing back to these fragments of the past. Listening to 45-year-old recordings. Imagining baseball based on a 45-year-old season. Imagining the Bird.

Is there joy in this burrowing? I don’t know. There’s breaking into a brief skip-jog, there’s a half smile. There’s compulsion, a slight numbing, maybe a brief abating of worry. Sometimes I think of this burrowing again and again into the past as wormlike, an aimless tunneling through dead matter, around and around to no purpose but to remain within the familiar, eating it, shitting it, tunneling then through the shit. And then sometimes I think of it like I’m an ostrich. Jamming my head down into the ground to avoid the present, the future. What now, what next? I don’t want to know. I don’t want to see.

***

Fuckin Ostrich, Bill Lee is thinking. He’s just given up a 3-run first inning home run to Larry Parrish. It’s the day after he, Mark Fidrych, and Dan Thomas ended up, on a whim, taking a hitchhiker all the way from outside their team’s home stadium in Worcester to Cornell University, through a fucking snowstorm no less, and after making a wrong turn and going through Cooperstown with the spirit of Rube Waddell whistling through the goddamn pines, so that the whole thing started to take on a mythic edge, especially after the introduction of some small cardboard tabs that the glaring weirdo hitchhiker provided to the baseball players as he was leading them into the concert. They were circular and tiny, no bigger than the head of a small nail, and with a design on them of a clock centered by the many-armed Indian deity Krishna, which Lee figured, as he placed the tab on his tongue, meant that fairly soon the time was, finally, after all these years, going to be ABSOLUTELY NOW. And it was for the duration of the concert, that birthing galactic cataclysm, a now that was past and present and future all at once, and this lasted also through the drive back, though starting to singe at the edges, and all through the rest of the night and into the next day, crumbling, crumbling, until, as game time neared, a more customary presentation of space and time finished accruing itself around Lee, and it was at that point that he found himself in his team’s clubhouse, sitting on a bench, looking into the pale, beady-eyed face of his manager, Josh Wilker, who was informing him that he, Lee, was going to be the starting pitcher in that day’s game.

“I’m what?” Lee said.

“You’re up. You’re the guy,” announced this incompetent. “Or is there a problem?”

“Problem?” Lee said. You’re the problem, he had thought. I can fall out of a helicopter into a volcano and be ready to pitch. You’re the mumbly know-nothing of this operation.

“Just give me the ball,” Lee said.

But now, watching Larry Parrish lumber around the bases, Lee is fuming. The Ostrich doesn’t look my way but once or twice the whole goddamn season and then the one day when I’m trying to sort out my ass from my elbow just a little after seeing into some Truths that, if he ever pulled his head up out of the ground and got a peek at them, would have him shitting his pants, THAT day he’s gotta send me out to the hill? When maybe I could have used a minute to reflect and realign my cosmic navigational system just a little?

But fuck it, Lee says. You can’t count on management.

So he settles down and, despite having to steer around periodic after-flashes of the night before (it’s a little like pitching during a lightning storm), Lee authors four scoreless innings to keep his team in the game. When Parrish gets to him again, this time just with a bloop single, Lee reluctantly glances over at the dugout, and, goddamn it, sees signs that his day is ending. As usual Wilker is refraining from entering the field of play and is instead, the bureaucratic coward, sending out one of the flunkies on his coaching staff, who all seem so devoid of personality as to be flat, computerized extensions of the manager, who is himself not exactly Sammy Davis Jr. wowing them at the Sands. Lee gets one final aftershock from the Krishna acid, and it makes him shudder, as if he’s seeing a final bleak flash of the future, the last thing we’ll all ever see in this screen-glow burrowing we now think of as life: the robotic pitching coach approaching the mound to take the ball from Bill Lee’s hands is revealed to be a humanoid swirl of 0s and 1s.

***

Worcester Birds notes, games 25 through 30:

  • G25: L 3-2
    • Lee surrenders only a 3-run homer in first but team can’t recover. They leave the tying run in scoring position in 6th, 7th, and 9th. Campbell with another strong, wasted stint (3 scoreless innings)
  • G26: L 5-4 (16)
    • Crushing loss; after Fidrych has nothing (13 hits in 4.1 innings) heroic bullpen effort (10 2/3 innings, 1 run) wasted; Morgan, Munson, Soderholm all injured; would-be go-ahead run stranded in scoring position in inning 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 15. Lopes scores on a grounder in 16th after singling and stealing two bases off of beleaguered backstop Ed Kirkpatrick 
  • G27: L 12-4
    • A shit show. Garbage man Mike Marshall is battered (12 hits and 7 runs in 4 IP); Ed Kirkpatrick allows 6 stolen bases and commits 2 errors 
  • G28: W 9-5
    • Munson returns, restores order (2 hits, 1 HR, 3 RBI), McClure with 3.2 scoreless innings and a win 
  • G29: W 3-0
    • Tiant with 6 shutout innings (now with no runs allowed in his last 16.1 innings), Campbell with 2.1 scoreless (and Tekeulve with 2 outs for the save)  
  • G30: L 6-2
    • Stanley gets swatted around. Campbell strong again in relief

Standings:

One comment

  1. Spaceman sent me his autograph on the same letter I sent him back in 76. Wish I still had it!! He never really recovered after that brawl with the Yankees.



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