Archive for the ‘by Josh Wilker’ Category

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Jim Christensen

December 10, 2018

Jim_Christensen_in_color_3

Played

2.

I wake up every morning and against my will play.

“Let’s play, Daddy. Daddy, let’s play. Daddy, Daddy. Daddy, play!

I’d rather not play. But I play. Lately it is Disasters (where I throw pillows and blankets at them and shout “tsunami!” or shake the bed and shout “earthquake!”) or Crazy Bonkers Disasters (similar to above but now volcanoes erupt peanut butter or we’re besieged with fartnadoes). It’s exhausting thinking up scenarios. I’m usually the conduit through which any given chapter of play begins to feel burdened with the gravitational pull of boredom. The chapter starts fraying at its edges.

“What now, Daddy? What do you want to play now, Daddy?”

“How about catch?” I say.

Uuuggghh—no!”

Seven years now I’ve been waiting to play catch with my sons, to fall into that soothing heartbeat rhythm of my own childhood. I was one of two brothers, just like my sons, just like John Christensen and Jim Christensen, and playing catch with my brother was more than a favorite activity for me. It was certainty itself. I wonder if that’s why John Christensen looks uncertain in his 1988 Topps card. He’s playing catch, or something like catch, but it’s not like it used to be. His brother isn’t there.

***

As noted on the back of John Christensen’s 1988 Topps card, John Christensen’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball. Two baseball cards confirm this, one showing Jim on the Toledo Mud Hens in 1982 and the other capturing him in 1983 as a member of the Tacoma Tigers. I’m especially drawn to the latter card. For one thing, it shows him in his last season of professional baseball. That year, at Triple A, surrounded by once and future major leaguers, he hit .286 with 16 home runs and 58 RBI while splitting time between second base, shortstop, and third base. He was just 25 years old and had been showing a similarly valuable combination of pop in his bat and infielder versatility throughout his professional career, his 1983 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage split of .286/.361/.450 in line with his overall career mark of .298/.361/.471. Why wouldn’t a player who could hit and play all around the infield not have gotten a shot at the majors? And why did he stop trying to do so? In 1983, the Tacoma Tigers’ parent club, the Oakland A’s, went nowhere, and their second baseman was Davey Lopes, who was 38 years old. The following year, they also went nowhere, this time with 40-year-old Joe Morgan at second. Why wouldn’t Jim Christensen have been given a shot, if not to unseat the geriatric carousel of 1970s National League West All-Stars than at least to battle the likes of Donnie Hill, Bill Almon, or Steve Kiefer for a spot on the bench? I don’t know why, but after 1983 he disappeared from public record, save for that note on the back of his younger brother’s major league card. He made that journey from playing, present-tense, to played.

***

I’ve only gotten my two sons to try throwing some sort of ball back and forth with me a handful of times, and each time has quickly devolving into a giggling, anarchic attempt by my partner or partners to drill the orb into my testicles. The preference around here is instead improvised narratives, fluid and frantic, hinging on hurricanes, jaguars, Pikachu, superheroes, collisions, connections, death, instant resurrection. I can sometimes lock in for a little while but my mind and heart ossified long ago when it comes to this kind of play. It’s pretty much all an effort. Play is work.

When did this happen? When did I stop playing? When did “I play” turn to “I played”?

***

I can’t hold the 1983 Jim Christensen card in my hands. But these days anything is available at some kind of remove. It’s easy enough to view Jim Christensen’s 1983 card online. You can even buy it. I considered doing that. I like Jim Christensen’s stance on that card: the classic infielder crouch. I like that his left foot is cut off by the border on the poorly centered card. I like that his eyes are not looking straight toward the viewer but are instead veering off to the side, giving him a look of melancholy distraction. He’s already thinking about what’s off to the side, out of the frame. There are fairly dark shadows cast by his arms and legs. There are two players off in the outfield beyond his right shoulder. He looks wiry and solid and quick, like he knew what he was doing on a baseball field. He looks like he was probably a good brother to have.

But I didn’t buy the card. I don’t really collect cards that way. I play with them.

I wanted to find a way to play with the Jim Christensen card. I wanted Jim Christensen himself to keep playing.

(to be continued)

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John Christensen

December 5, 2018

John Christensen

Played

1.

John Christensen doesn’t look like he’s playing. Maybe he’s being played with. Maybe two other guys keep faking like they’re going to throw to John Christensen and then instead throw to one another, smirking. Even if this wasn’t exactly what was happening, John Christensen, circa 1987, looks hesitant, doubtful. Why wouldn’t he? After being selected in the second round of the 1981 draft by the Mets, he had performed well in the minor leagues throughout his first three years of professional ball, earning extended time in the majors in 1985. But he began to struggle at that point, hitting just .186. In November, the Mets traded him and three other young players to the Red Sox for two similarly marginal young pros and one veteran left-handed pitcher with a mediocre record. The deal seemed destined to rapidly disintegrate in the collective memory: a few leaky ships passing and then sinking in the night. The same could be said for a deal a few months later that also, eventually, included John Christensen. John Christensen wasn’t initially among the names in this second multiplayer deal, which originated in August of 1986 and included a solid but little-known Mariners outfielder and a light-hitting Mariners shortstop coming to Boston for a light-hitting Red Sox shortstop and an unidentified quantity of players to be named later. Two of the players to be named later, Mike Brown and Mike Trujillo, went to Seattle just a few days after the trade, and since these two Mikes created a plurality of players, it could have been fair to assume that the deal was done, but in fact several weeks later, John Christensen was added to the deal as a third player to be named later. Perhaps there had been some protests by the Mariners that since only one first name, Mike, had been named later, there legally needed to be another name involved, and the Red Sox, eager to be done with the whole seemingly meaningless endeavor, reached for the Triple A roster at Pawtucket and grabbed whoever. Here you go, assholes: a John. In most circumstances, both of these multiplayer mosaics of marginalia involving John Christensen in the months leading up to the photo shown at the top of this page would have amounted to nothing of any lasting note, but then in October of 1986 the solid but little-known outfielder in the second deal, Dave Henderson, catapulted to glorious sudden fame with a dramatic home run in the 1986 American League Championship Series, allowing the Red Sox to stave off seemingly certain death, and then added more heroics in the World Series that brought the Red Sox to the brink of a seemingly inevitable World Series victory. This shimmering Valhalla of long-awaited triumph (and with it the crowning measure of Hendu’s glory) was then abruptly demolished in a terrible collapse centered in its critical early stages by the forlorn mien of Calvin Schiraldi, another member of the John Christensen trade club. A few years later, a third member of the John Christensen trades, the aforementioned lefty veteran, Bobby Ojeda, who had merely pitched very well in the 1986 World Series, avoiding any cataclysms of sudden fame or infamy, was the lone surviving member of a boating accident that took the lives of teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews. I only mention that last part because I don’t know how anyone, anywhere, can have an aura of sureness. I don’t know how anyone can just play.

***

But I still turn to these cards for play. It gets harder and harder. That’s why I barely ever write anything about them anymore! I can’t remember how to play with the cards. Life has turned me into someone who is being played with. But I did remember to look at this card, and to turn it over. And to look at the back. There’s one line of text at the bottom.

“John’s brother, Jim, once played minor league ball.”

I’ve made a living for some years now as a copyeditor, so when I turned over this John Christensen card and read that lone sentence at the bottom of John Christensen’s promising minor league statistics and progressively dubious major league statistics, I did what copyeditors often do: I scrutinized the commas. There are two of them, one on either side of the word “Jim.” They identify that name as something inessential to the core meaning of the sentence; John Christensen has one and only one brother, and the name of this one and only brother is a supplemental bit of information that, had it been fumbled out of the sentence altogether, wouldn’t alter the meaning of the sentence but would merely rob it of some detail. If the commas weren’t there—if the sentence read “John’s brother Jim once played minor league ball”— the implied meaning would be that John Christensen had more than one brother, and that the one named Jim—his name called out as in essential piece of identifying information—is the one brother to John who once played minor league ball.

Curious to see if I could find some way of checking whether the gang at Topps had their copyediting game down, I put on another one of my professional hats and attempted to do some fact-checking. If I could determine that the implied fact—that John Christensen had just one brother—was true I could also verify that the sentence did not contain an error that should have been caught during a copyediting review.

It took a while, as there wasn’t much on the internet about John Christensen beyond his dwindling statistics, but I eventually found what was—considering John Christensen’s relative anonymity—a surprisingly long newspaper article about his struggles as a rookie, and it included the following lines:

“I went golfing with my brother and he asked me if everything was OK because when I’m not doing very well, I get a little more quiet. I said that I haven’t gotten off to this bad a start since I could remember.”

It’s not an ironclad support for the fact implied by the commas—whether John Christensen had just one brother—but absent any other information available on the matter, I choose to interpret John  Christensen’s own decision to leave out an identifying name for his brother as an indication that there was only brother he could have gone golfing with. Had he had several brothers, wouldn’t he have identified the one he had had such an intimate, meaningful moment with? I think he didn’t because John Christensen, like me, and like my two sons, has just one brother.

Once I verified this to my satisfaction, I also verified the larger fact in the lone card sentence on the back of this card: that John Christensen’s brother, Jim, indeed played minor league ball. There are even a couple of baseball cards showing evidence of this fact.

(to be continued)

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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.

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Nick Esasky

November 9, 2018

esasky

Nobody owns anything. Not your helmet or anything else that you might use for protection. Not your uniform or whatever else that might fix you for a while in a specific identity. Not your identity. Not your legs, your arms, your movements, your embraces. Not your eyes or reflexes or timing or swing or anything else that might bring you that fleeting feeling of connection. Not any feeling, not any connection.

My four-year-old, Exley, held this card in his hands a few weeks ago. It was still in one piece. Earlier that day, he and my older son, Jack, had asked me to get out a freezer bag of cards from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. They’d dumped out the cards, scattered them around, and pretended to bulldoze them across the carpet in imitation of bulldozers at a landfill. They used to play this game more, but they’ve mostly moved on to other games, and this time around they lost interest pretty quickly, an indication that they probably wouldn’t be asking to play the game again.

Anyway, we cleaned up most of the cards, but we missed a few. It’s always gone that way: some get stuck in the corners of the room, and we come upon them later.

Nobody owns these cards. They’re not mine. I have my box of cards from my childhood, and my older son, Jack, in imitation of me, has a smaller box of his cards, and Exley, in imitation of Jack, has an even smaller box of his cards. All three of us now mostly ignore these possessions. For quite a few years, the cards from my childhood, my first and most persistent possessions, had a lot to say to me, but they’ve grown quiet over the last few years. What more can they possibly say? The only cards saying anything at all to me lately are the ones from the freezer bag, the nobody cards, the cards touched by my boys.

Nick Esasky was one of the cards we found in the corners this time, maybe our last time playing with these cards. Exley found Nick Esasky and held him. I knew what he was thinking. He was grinning and tightening his grip.

“Don’t,” I said to Exley.

***

Nick Esasky owned a strong home run swing. He was in turn owned for several years by the Cincinnati Reds. I know this from memory and also from looking at the back of this sundered card. I know from memory that he came to the Red Sox and had his best year. I don’t remember if he then moved on from the Red Sox or if he was with the Red Sox when he started struggling with the vertigo that would make it difficult for him to move around in the world safely, let alone hit major league pitching. He was out of baseball as quickly as if some greater power had reached down and ripped him in half.

***

This morning I was late leaving the house for work. Exley had decided that he needed to wear the Batman costume he’d worn trick-or-treating, and I helped him step into the main part of the costume, but we couldn’t find his cape. My wife was in another room with Jack, and she could take up the search, but I didn’t want to walk away from Exley while he was standing there capeless. Ultimately I had to leave anyway, so that’s how I left him.

It was cold outside and the wind was blowing against me the whole way as I rode my bike up Clark Street. There was a flyer in the elevator at the building where I work:

Safety presentation today, Suite 427

Topics:

  1. Fire
  2. Active Shooter

***

The pieces don’t go together, not really. Capes go missing and then reappear but are ignored, forgotten. I thought about going to Suite 427 but got busy with work and forgot what time the presentation was anyway. The flyer was gone by the time I rode the elevator back down. I biked home in the dark, the light on my handlebars blinking don’t kill me don’t kill me to the traffic.

I wanted to get to my home, to my wife, to my boys.

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Mondale-Ferraro ’84

October 18, 2018

mondale-ferraro

In the first inning of Game 4 of the 2018 American league Championship Series, Jose Altuve struck a long, hard drive toward the right field stands because doing everything well on a baseball field, including hitting baseballs long and hard, is what Jose Altuve has been put on this earth to do. Mookie Betts sprinted toward the ball and made a perfectly timed leap because doing everything well on a baseball field, including sprinting fast and leaping high, is what Mookie Betts has been put on this earth to do.

What are the rest of us on the earth to do? I don’t know, but I guess most of my limited time has been spent watching, cheering, booing, feeling powerless, feeling amazed. Also: remembering. All the things that go into being a fan.

Mookie Betts was unable to catch Jose Altuve’s drive, apparently because a fan reaching for the ball caused Betts’ glove to close up just before the ball arrived. The initial ruling on the field was that this was a case of fan interference, and this call was confirmed by the remote team in the employ of Major League Baseball that is charged with reviewing such matters. If I were an Astros fan, I’m sure I would have been incensed by the ruling. But of course I was elated by it, because rooting arbitrarily for outcomes beyond my control to go one way and not another way is apparently what I’ve been put on this earth to do.

And now, the day after, I find myself thinking about the fan who became part of the game and, by virtue of the already classic status of the game, baseball history. He’s stuck in my mind because of his cap. As has been noted (but—to my astonishment—not at all delved into, or even wondered about!) in some recaps of the incident, the fan was wearing a “Reagan-Bush ’84” campaign cap.

Had I seen this cap in my young adulthood in New York City in the 1990s on, say, a skinny fellow with bad posture at a Pavement show, I would have read the cap as irony, but my guess is that it wasn’t worn in 2018 by this Houston Astros fan in irony but rather with straightforward nostalgia or perhaps more likely (judging that he wasn’t really old enough to remember that era) as an identifier, as in, This is who I am and this is the world I want: White American men reigning without ambiguity, without challenge.

So I don’t know, fuck that guy, I guess.

In 1984, I was 16, still too young to vote, but I would have voted for Mondale and Ferraro, those hopeless losers. God, they didn’t have a chance. That’s how it goes sometimes. The pendulum swings. But I didn’t know that then. I just thought there were winners and losers, and I had a pretty good idea which side I was on. Back then the Red Sox, those seminal shapers of my identity, were in a long, long stretch of, at least as I saw it, getting hosed continuously by “the breaks,” and in fact in 1986, right smack in the middle of the presidency championed by last night’s fan—just weeks before I cast at age 18 what I assumed, growing up rooting for Carter and Mondale, was a useless first vote in a November election—the Red Sox suffered the most painful chain of breaks of all when a series of relievers allowed a lead to erode and, finally, disappear altogether on a ground ball struck by a player named Mookie.

But that’s all in the past! Now even when a reliever looks for all the world to be on the Greyhound Bus to Schiraldiville, things somehow work out. Now the Mookies are on our side, hitting long hard drives and making impossibly difficult and beautiful plays in the field and even centering bizarre controversies that end up in our favor. So if that kind of thing can turn around, maybe other things can too.

What I’m saying is that a fan may or may not be something worthwhile to be, but all us fans, at least in the land of Mondale and Ferraro and Reagan and Bush and all manner of other absurdly divided polarities, still get a chance to be a part of the action, to determine the course of this game.

What I’m saying, among other things, I guess, since I’m feeling kind of hopeful today, is: vote.

rather

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Americans

June 26, 2018

Lazer_Moishe

Last Saturday night I dreamed about my father for the first time since he died. We were at a social gathering at someone’s house and it was time to go. He and I were going to walk together to the bus stop. Most of the dream slipped away from me upon waking, but I remember the feeling of assurance that he and I would be walking together. The bus stop was far way, but he would have the strength for the walk. We would walk. We would talk. But I got hung up in that house trying to find umbrellas for both of us. When I finally got outside with two umbrellas he had gone on ahead of me into the rain.

Later that day, Sunday, I told my older son what I could remember about the dream.

“But what happened next?” he said.

“Nothing. The dream ended. It changed to another dream.”

He looked at me with his blue eyes. Earlier in the night he’d been goofing around with crossing his eyes, and when he got tired of that he started messing with my watch, pulling the dial out to stop it. But he didn’t do any of that now. He just looked straight at me like the boys in the photograph at the top of this page are looking at you.

“Maybe you’ll dream the rest of it tonight,” he said.

***

My father is the younger boy, the one on the left. He’s about the age of my younger son, who just turned four, and the other boy, his brother Dave, my uncle, is two or three years older, about the age of my older son. The clothing they’re wearing seems like it’s from some far-off place. The photo was taken in 1928 or 1929, less than a decade after my grandmother and her two oldest surviving children, my Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen, fled the Galicia region in central Europe to reunite with my grandfather in New York City, who’d fled to America a few years before.

Fled.

As is common in the stories of how families come to live in America, fled is the correct word, illustrated most vividly by the family tale of the death of a third child born in Galicia to my grandfather and grandmother. In the story, which takes place during World War I, a soldier entered the inn run by my grandmother’s family and demanded food. My grandmother was holding the baby in her arms. She said that they have no food, that the last group of soldiers coming through took it all. The soldier pressed the blade of a bayonet to her neck. She had blue eyes, my grandmother. Maybe the soldier noticed this.

“We have nothing,” she said.

The baby fell sick and died soon after. The story goes that the sickness began with the terror flowing from my grandmother’s arms into the soft, warm flesh of the baby.

It was a time and place for such stories, according to “The Jews of Galicia under Austrian-Polish Rule, 1867–1918,” by historian Piotr Wrobel:

Jews who remained in Galicia under Russian occupation [during World War I] faced a worse fate [than those who had fled to Austria]. Their status was “equalized” with the legal position of Russian Jewry. Galician Jews were removed from self-government bodies and the civil service, they could not live in the countryside nor leave their districts. Their civil rights were withdrawn and their religious sensibilities insulted. Frequently, they were accused of spying or siding with the enemy. Almost every Russian unit upon entering a city, and later the last units to depart it harassed and robbed the local Jews. Some of these events turned into regular pogroms, which lasted several days and caused the death of many Jews. Collective responsibility was enforced; Russians took hostages and executed innocent people to terrorize the civilian population. The Jews were harassed also by bandits in “no man’s land” between the fighting armies.

***

Sunday, after I woke from my dream, the sun came out and stayed out. We went for ice cream. I got a chocolate cone and finished my younger son’s chocolate cone too. After that we went to a playground. My boys played together on a structure that they pretended was a spaceship and I sat on a bench with my wife. I looked at her and at my boys and could not understand what I’d done to deserve a day like this, a life like this. After a while she and I started looking at her phone for ideas for a sign to bring to a protest march next week. But I don’t know how to put what I’m feeling into words.

***

Neither boy in this torn photograph is smiling. Dave’s chin is tucked in, his head down just slightly, so he’s looking up at the camera a little, giving his expression a tone of intensity. He’s not without some apprehension, even fear, but he also seems determined. His hand is on the outside, covering the younger boy’s hand, protecting it. The younger boy, my father, seems more open, curious. The world for him would not be something to withstand, like a blow, and then overcome, but something forever baffling and amazing.

The two boys will discover the world together. They’ll discover art and books and Bach and Handel. They’ll discover beauty. They’ll survive their impoverished childhood, as will my Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen, but two of their siblings will not (in addition to the baby who died in Galicia, another baby will die in New York City). They’ll survive the Depression. They’ll survive the suicide of their father. They’ll serve their country during World War II. They’ll find work and work hard and find love and love deeply. They’ll have children of their own. They’ll have grandchildren. They’ll grow old.

At the end of Dave’s life, my mother drove my father to see him. Dave was just about gone, unable to talk, unable to open his eyes to see his brother one last time. My father reached out and held his brother’s hand. My father hummed Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” As he hummed he began to feel something in his own hand. His brother’s hand was moving to the rhythm of the song.

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Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd

April 13, 2018

harris and boyd

Here are several things wrong with The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book:

  1. The title. Good lord, what a long and difficult to remember title! I’ve been steering people toward it for many years, and for most of those years I had to look up the title every time. And that’s just when I was steering people toward it in writing. Whenever I had the ill-advised compulsion to recommend it verbally, I would get about halfway in and abandon ship. “The Great American Bubble . . . uh, the Baseball Card Trading . . . ah, fuck it, never mind.”
  2. The fact that two guys wrote it. Good literature can’t be co-authored; the medium depends too much on the singularity of voice. Somehow, however, Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd did it. The interplay of their voices seems exactly like what I imagine was the genesis of the book: two men in their late twenties cracking each other up late into the night over beers, reminding me of all the nights I got drunk and talked and laughed with my friends in the back of the International Bar near the pulsing jukebox and seemingly so far from the era of our childhood that we usually ended up talking about, just like Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd.
  3. Its lack of structure. Slapped between its covers are two longer essays in the front, one short essay in the back, and a bunch of scattered sketches in the middle. The essays are probably just fine—I don’t remember. I haven’t read them since I first read the book. On the other hand, the sketches, which take up under a hundred total pages—some pages jammed with text and the cards they’re describing, others with just a few words and asymmetrical chasms of white space, still others that are odd little thematic one-offs, such as a page with pictures of umpires backed by the word “Boo” repeated over and over, another populated by a long list of baseball nicknames—have brought me back countless times, never in any particular order. You can just open the book like the I-Ching and read any sketch and be lifted smiling out of the unstructured malaise of life. (It’s also arguably the world’s greatest book to read on the shitter.)
  4. The lack of an overarching narrative. All my favorite books—On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye, A Fan’s Notes, Jesus’ Son, The Basketball Diaries, A Mother’s Kisses—grab me and pull me through the story of a life. This book doesn’t bother with that. Why then do I love it so much?
  5. That it may have caused me to waste my life. I first read it in the late 1990s, on the recommendation of one of my International Bar cronies, Pete. I was about the same age as the authors, and their hilarious, skewering odes to the journeymen of their childhood surely had something to do with my decision, a couple years later, to stave off insanity while spending a winter in a cabin with no electricity or running water by writing about my own childhood journeymen in a notebook by the light of a kerosene lamp. It’s been nineteen years now, and I’m still writing about my journeymen. The longhairs who wrote this book did it once, got it right, and moved on with their lives. I keep trying to get it right, but the truth is no one will ever do it as good as these guys did.

* * *

In related news, I’ll be appearing alongside some great writers—Dan Epstein, Joe Bonomo, and Ricky Cobb—and will be reading from my own work and the miraculous output of Fred C. Harris and Brendan C. Boyd this coming Tuesday, April 17, at the American Writers Museum in Chicago. For more details please check out the link here.