Archive for the ‘Carl Morton’ Category


Carl Morton

February 26, 2008


(continued from Bo Diaz)

Chapter Five

We drift down a spiraling river of television static. It feels vaguely familiar. Richie Hebner stopped paddling a while ago. He’s just been sitting there, staring straight ahead. 

I’m ready to go back now, I try to tell him. All I make is a tuneless humming noise, the throat-sound of a mute. Richie Hebner mimics the sound. He does it a few times. He builds the mocking repetitions into a simple melody. He starts tapping a rhythm on the raft as he hums. He adds words to the melody, singing, his voice reedy, barely audible above the sound of the static.

Well, I told the undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For the body you are carrying
Lord I hate to see her go    

He stops drumming on the raft. We drift for a while. The curves in the river are getting tighter, as if the spiral is approaching a point.

How do we get back? I try to say.

“Mm mm mm mm hmm,” Richie Hebner says, aping my throat sounds, then repeating them with a hint of the melody of the song he’d been singing. The river bends and the raft bumps into the river’s edge. We spin toward the middle, rotating slowly. Richie Hebner sings some more, his voice as flat as his gaze.

O will the circle be unbroken
By and by lord by and by
There’s a better home a-waitin’
In the sky lord in the sky

Our spinning slows to a stop and I see that the river has drained into a circular pool. We’re floating in the middle of it. Images flicker on the surface of the television static below us, faces appearing and vanishing so quickly they seem to be in the middle of howling.

What’s it going to take? I try to say to Richie Hebner. What do I have to do to get out of here? Click my heels and say there’s no place like home?

The static gives way altogether, as if a lost signal had suddenly returned, and the ground below us solidifies into chunks of frozen dirt. Our raft is gone. We’re sitting on top of a freshly dug grave. The sky is like predawn, overcast, the color of static.

There’s no place like home, I try to say. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

None of it comes out. It just bangs around inside my chest and throat, where it sounds less like the incantatory affirmation Dorothy chanted to get back where she belonged and more like a negation, the zero at the end of the equation of life. You’re born, you drift, you feed the worms. There’s no place like home.

At the rim of the wide circular grave is a red, hard-rubber running track with lanes marked by white stripes, a perfectly circular, perfectly empty version of the crowded oval I used to run on when I lived in Brooklyn during my early thirties. I used to go around and around, weaving through clumps of kerchiefed Ukrainian crones and chunks of concrete and Dominican homeboys and unleashed pit bulls and broken bottles and bespectacled white women pushing expensive jogging strollers and soccer balls bounding free from the dusty game roiling on the inside of the track and drunk guys gesticulating and arguing with phantoms. Round and round I went, feeling even at the time as if I was enacting some audienceless, and therefore meaningless, Sisyphean metaphor. The years went by. Round and round I went. I was waiting for something to grab me, to say that my life had begun. Round and round and round. Finally I decided to leave. Near my last day I went running at the track and my friend Pete came with me and smoked cigarettes on a stone bench, and each time I ran by he yelled at me with a thick, bogus accent, his version of an Eastern European track coach.  

“Rahn! Make strong! Only strong survive! Rahn!”

Within a week or so I had traded the oval track for some suburban streets in Racine, Wisconsin, where my girlfriend’s family lived. Our plan was to stay there until we found jobs in Chicago. Round and round I went, making a circle of the strange, quiet streets.

“You think you know baseball,” Richie Hebner says now. He hasn’t used his one-hitter in a while and I can barely see him. It’s as if he’s fading into the dim pre-dawn light.

“You think you know it as well as anything. You’ve hid in it, taken refuge in it. As you’ve drifted you’ve tried to make it into something like home.”

I can’t even see you, I try to say.  

“But you don’t know who the National League rookie of the year was in 1970, I bet.”

Bernie Carbo? I try to say. I’ve always hoped that my grasp of useless baseball arcana will someday come in handy, will perhaps free me from a troublesome situation. Maybe this is the moment. But I can feel even as I say my answer that it’s off, wrong, and won’t deliver me.

“Carl Morton,” Richie Hebner says. I can just barely glimpse him pointing his shovel at someone running on the previously empty circle, a pale guy with red hair and a mustache.

“Best rookie of 1970, a pitcher. Looked like it was going to be his decade. He did OK for a while, never as good as that rookie year, then in 1976 he lost it, and fast. One bad year and he was done.”

Carl Morton plods around the track. Where is he going? Around and around.

“Few years later, he’s 39, goes for a run,” Richie Hebner says. “Same age you are now, am I right?”

I stare straight ahead.

“Yeah, same age as you are now. Goes for a run. Sets off from his parents’ house, makes the whole circle. Goes and returns. The hero’s journey. Drops in his parents’ driveway.”

I want to go back now, I try to say. I want to live.

Richie Hebner mocks the sounds that come out of me. Carl Morton circles. Around and around and around and nowhere. The mocking does not disappear altogether as Richie Hebner steers his mimicry one more time into song.

O will the circle be unbroken
By and by lord by and by
There’s a better home a-waitin’
In the sky lord in the sky

(to be continued)