I didn’t mean to mislead anyone who’s read this far. Just to be clear: My life didn’t change, or at least not in the way I’d believed it might as the golden rays streamed in that hotel window in San Diego. This all happened several years ago, this California sun visitation, this intimation of California sun immortality, and I’m still here with Dave Roberts in Chicago.
Is Dave Roberts in Chicago? That’s the implication of this well-handled card from my childhood, but of course the blotchy coloring is an indication that the white home uniform and Cubs cap are artificial coverings of reality. Dave Roberts, in reality, is elsewhere.
Am I in Chicago? Maybe I am now, now that my two boys are around, both of them, like Augie March, Chicago born. But they arrived some years after I started living here, and for a long time I felt like I was walking around in a doctored world, my real location obscured. What was that real location? I was from the east coast, but I’d worn out the grooves of a habit formed during my childhood in Vermont with a father in New York City. For years and years I boomeranged back and forth between the big city and the Green Mountains, leaving one place for the other for no real reason, or for loneliness, or because I was broke, or because one place had started to feel like a doctored world, or because the other place had started to feel like a doctored world.
And then came the California sun.
I don’t know why this Dave Roberts card got so beat up in my childhood. I wasn’t a Cubs fan, and he was no superstar, and the card itself wasn’t anything special, such as a rare action shot that I would have been attracted to. It’s one of those doctored cards, where some Topps functionary had to glob some paint around to account for the player’s recent move from one team to another. Maybe I was drawn for some reason to that, to the feeling of transience and unreality in these kinds of cards, which you never see anymore. Everything is slick and seamless now, and that world of journeymen caught in garish misshapen netherworlds is gone. That was my world, so maybe that’s why I handled this card so much. Or more likely there’s some other reason that I’ll never be able to reclaim from the past. Anyway I did this to cards quite a lot, held onto them until they lost something, that newness, that crisp, bright articulation of possibilities.
I held onto the California sun like it was the best card I’d ever gotten, like it was as capable as the greatest treasures of my childhood collecting of rocketing me out of my doctored world. People in the television business—people with sprawling IMDB pages, people with Emmys, people who knew people—wanted to do a show based on my book about growing up in the 1970s. There was an option! A contract! A stunning decision to hand me the reigns to take a crack at writing the pilot! Emails zinging from the far coast to set up teleconferences! Teleconferences!
Oh, sure, after these teleconferences I would always come away cringing about some of the things I’d said, things that struck me in retrospect as so dull-witted or misguided as to be intentionally set forth to telegraph to the successful TV people on the call that there was a laughably incompetent imposter in their midst.
“What I think I’ll really need to get the tone of the show right,” I heard myself saying at one point, “is to just, like, immerse myself in old episodes of H.R. Pufnstuf.”
Still, the teleconferences continued. What felt like an unstoppable momentum continued. The key player in the project, a very nice man who’d directed juggernaut television shows, even went out of his way to meet with me again in person in Chicago. I can’t remember if it was at that in-person meeting or during one of the teleconferences that he said what turned out to be the last words he’d say to me.
“Get ready, Josh,” he said, “because things are going to start happening fast.”
Things do happen fast. I’m talking about our time on the planet. For example, this Dave Roberts is dead. He was a boy, a teenager, probably a phenom, a promising rookie in the golden San Diego sunlight, an elite pitcher, at least for one season, when he finished sixth in the race for the Cy Young, then more of a journeyman, bouncing like all Dave Robertses eventually do from one team to the next. Soon enough he’d be out of the league, on to his life in the aftermath of baseball, and how long would that go on until one day, zip, the switch goes off, and he’s gone? Things happen fast, and your life will change. What are you living for? Here he is somewhere in the middle, not really anywhere, oblivious to the nowhere. Here he is smiling.
Long after the phone calls and emails petered out I kept holding onto the California sun like it was a baseball card I carried around in my pocket. Whatever I was doing, whatever suffering or disappointment or annoyance or gnawing ache that was upon me, and whatever I wasn’t doing, whatever hopes and dreams were still beyond me, I could fondle that secret card in my pocket and imagine that the call I was waiting for was still to come, that things would start happening fast, that there would be money, enough finally to cancel the unending worry about money, that with the money there’d be time, enough time to build a life of unending creativity, no more days given over to an employer, or, worse, days given over to scrambling and begging to get within the yoke of an employer. Most of all, no more days of thinking that I wasn’t amounting to much. That was part of it too, if I’m really being honest. I always fondled the illusion the most when I was feeling like a nowhere nobody. Just wait, I’d be saying. My life is about to change.
I do this to illusions quite a lot, hold onto them until they lose something, that newness, that crisp, bright articulation of possibilities.
Just wait, I keep saying.
The secret card of California sun in my pocket eventually verged on having no value at all, but still it didn’t disappear. Like a card it just kept softening, and I kept holding on.
To be continued.