Somewhere I Lost Connection
(continued from Larry Harlow)
Memory is supposed to work this way, at least in this land where the narrative of triumph reigns supreme. You are supposed to go from rags to riches. You are supposed to remember the good times and forget all the moments of painful aimless wandering, or at least reframe them as rungs in the golden ladder that has delivered you to the high cloud upon which you presently stand.
I have a feeling that we are entering into an age where the narrative of triumph is no longer possible to sustain. Everyone is losing. The stories we tell will be more about communal survival than solitary triumph. Memory might start working differently to serve this purpose. The forgotten stops, the shipwrecks, the sojourns in Lodi, all the passages that may have dropped off the back of the ideal untroubled rectangle of cardboard might start to reappear. The type on the backs of our cards will grow smaller to include more and more memories returning from erasure as we remember, out of need, all the times and places we thought we might never escape from, yet somehow we did.
I don’t know how it is now, but in 1990 when I hitched a ride into Berlin the city was like the kind of baseball card I’m most drawn to, slick and thrumming with life on one side, riddled with evidence of complicated history on the other, the elements of the two sides feeding into one another until the whole card feels as if you could hold it to your ear, like a conch shell, and hear the moaning howl.
My first steps in Berlin were taken on that back side, among the gray bullet-riddled walls of the half of the city that less than a year earlier had been beyond the world’s most notorious divider. The driver with the Lech Walesa mustache hadn’t understood that I’d wanted to stop in Berlin, so we plowed all the way through the west side and deep into the east side before I somehow convinced him to stop his car long enough for me to throw myself and my backpack out onto the cracked concrete. He grumbled something and sped away.
Who knows how far he would have driven me? Maybe I should have stayed in the car just to see. I’ve never gone far enough. I’ve always turned back, always eventually started groping blindly for the imagined safety of home.
Dan Spillner was born in 1951, the sweet spot of the baby boom, when all boats were rising in the west. Will there ever be a higher water mark for capitalism than the span of Dan Spillner’s years from his birth in 1951 to end of his major league career due to owner collusion in 1985? The west got slicker and ever more lively and strong, while the east trudged in place stolidly like an elephant strapped with powerful explosives. The contrast between east and west was never clearer to me than while I was drifting around Berlin, east to west and back again, the winning side in rich, autumnal designer-label color, the losing side in shades of breadline gray.
The east side made me homesick, just as I’d been the previous year in China, for the numbing amnesiac diversions of the west. Communism, even in its aftermath stage, made me long to forget myself in Hershey bars and box scores and beer. My first dusk in Berlin, after I fled the east side and found a place to stay on the west side, I sat on a bench and drank warm beer and ate chocolate and stared at the ruins of a bombed-out church. On the east side the ruin would have been just part of the scenery, something on an endless list of things that would never be fixed, but on the west side the ruin was maintained in its ruined state intentionally, as a historic landmark, complete with a bronze plaque explaining its significance in many languages. Fashionably-dressed people walked fast past the ruin, their lives pulled taut with appointments, while bums lounged on other benches all around me, nowhere to go. As I caught my beer and chocolate buzz I silently counted the dwindling number of travelers checks I knew I had in my wallet, which was just another way of counting the days that separated me from bumdom.
I could throw as hard as anyone. I could stand on the mound, and you knew what was coming, and it was, “Here it is, now try and hit it.” It got me into professional baseball. I was in the big leagues for three years before I threw a curve. – Dan Spillner
I was 22. When Dan Spillner was 22 he had put Lodi behind him and was on the brink of a major league career that would last twelve years. He could feel his power in his fingers. He knew where he was going: Forward. Upward. I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to go backward. I always want to go backward.
(to be continued)