Archive for the ‘Milwaukee Brewers’ Category


Ray Fosse

March 30, 2016

Ray Fosse_77The sun is always shining. The sky is always boundless.

I worked today, same as yesterday, same as the day before. Tomorrow: same. I get a little sliver of time in the morning with my boys. The younger one said “Daddy” this morning. He’s been slow to get rolling with the words. He’s a year and a half, a little past that, but he still gets what he needs by pointing, pantomiming, groaning. He’s kind of like Frankenstein, groaning and bashing his way through life. His few words, though, they slay me.

“Ball,” he says.

“Daddy,” he says.

When I left for work he and his brother climbed onto the couch to look out the window and watch me go. I drive to work, listening to Buddhist lectures. I work all day and drink enough coffee to reanimate the deceased. I drive home listening to podcast interviews with comedians. I’ve listened to hundreds of these things. I now know what it means to “middle.” Why the fuck do I know that?

I get a little sliver of time with my boys in the evening.

“What’s that word for measuring volcanoes?” the older one said. He’s four and a half.

“Volcanoes?” I said.

“A seismic monitor?” he asked. A second ago he was a tiny groaning Frankenstein too.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I don’t care. It’s nine p.m. and both boys are asleep and I’m going to spend this last little sliver of the day in gratitude, with the hopes that this 1980 Ray Fosse card, the image surely a product of wide blue sky psalmist Doug McWilliams (a disciple of Ozzie Sweet), can help me express this.

Ray Fosse was near the end with this one. You may know the story with him. Promising young catcher steamrolled by Pete Rose in the all-star game, injured, never the same. I think I’ve read about him expressing anger over the incident. If so, he’s not the only one ever to get angry at Pete Rose. I hope this anger, though certainly understandable, doesn’t completely cloud his memories of the big leagues. This is the danger all of us face, I guess: bitterness. We fall into a pattern of perpetually forgetting the sun is always shining, the sky is always boundless.

On the back of this card, below the mortality-aping list of dwindling numbers, there’s one line of text, referring to the very All-Star Game in which the most-told narrative of Ray Fosse was born, but the text makes no mention of the collision. It’s like a textual brother to the most basic tenet of Doug McWilliams’s photographic aesthetic: remove all clouds.

Had RBI in 1970 All-Star Game

Thank you, gods, for this one life.



Tim Johnson

July 7, 2011

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it.” – Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”

Here’s what seems beyond dispute:

1. Tim Johnson was born on July 22. I’ve been thinking about that date lately because it’s my wife’s due date. It’s close enough that the baby could come any day. Babies come out all slippery, so I’ve heard. I’ve built my life for over four decades on maybes, and now there will be this slippery, vulnerable annihilator of maybes, an unavoidable fact. I feel less than entirely ready. I have a pair of shaky hands and a lot of bullshit stories.

2. Tim Johnson was sure-handed, able to play any position in the infield. Despite a relatively weak bat (lifetime batting average of .223 with 0 home runs), he stuck around in the majors for seven seasons. Once his major league career ended, he continued on in baseball as a scout, coach, and manager. This phase of his career peaked in 1998, when he led the Toronto Blue Jays to an 88-74 record in his first season as a big league manager.

3. Tim Johnson was born in 1949. American men born that year or in the adjacent years would come to be defined, in one way or another, by the Vietnam War. This is ironic, given that the baby boom they were a part of has been attributed to post-war prosperity, a feeling that the days of war and suffering were over, and better days lay ahead. I guess we’re never very far away from war. I was born in 1968, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, but I reached eighteen long after that war was over, and the draft was over, and America wasn’t shipping thousands of boys anywhere to shoot at people and get shot. Tim Johnson wasn’t so lucky, but right around when he reached draft age he was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though some players from the Cardboard Gods era fought in Vietnam, teams seemed in most cases to be able to keep their players who were drafted into the military stateside, in reserve duty, so that the players could continue climbing up through the system. This is what seems to have happened with Tim Johnson, who served as a reserve in the Marine Corps, and who many years later said, “Friends of mine were going to Vietnam when I was going to spring training. While they were off fighting and getting killed, I was playing baseball. I’ve dealt with the guilt for 30 years.”

4. Tim Johnson was fired by the Toronto Blue Jays after his lone year at the helm. He admitted that during his stint as manager he had told his players war stories, casting himself in these stories as a hardened Vietnam vet. It’s not a crime to do what he did, but apparently at least some of his players felt as if they had been duped. It seems there were morals to Johnson’s stories. He told them to inspire and instruct. After being fired, Tim Johnson continued his life in baseball, the only life he’s known. He managed in Mexico and in the minors. He’s currently the manager of the Lake County Fielders, a Northern League team.

5. In this 1978 card, Tim Johnson is backed by a blue sky I am tempted to modify with the word “pure.” This past weekend, one of my last in my life of maybes, I went running in the park over by the lake, and at the end of the run I kicked off my shoes and shirt and went for a swim. I floated on my back and looked up into the blue. I felt pretty good. Everything is in question.


Tom Murphy

June 20, 2011

I saw the Brewers play the other day, back in the American League where they belong. The day I saw them, they were apparently so excited to have a designated hitter again they batted him leadoff, and he promptly launched a home run over the Green Monster. One pitch later, the next batter homered, too. I had barely pretzeled myself down into my seat. It was disorienting yet somehow vaguley familiar. For a moment it seemed like an old-fashioned American League Brewers rout might ensue. The Brewers came into focus for me in the late 1970s with the rise of the core that would become known, in their 1982 pennant-winning year, as Harvey’s Wallbangers, after the team’s tobacco-leaking manager, Harvey Kuenn, and the team’s ability to send batted balls hurtling toward, through, and over outfield barriers. Gorman Thomas, Sixto Lezcano, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount. A team like that tends to imprint itself pretty vividly on the mind, and it’s still the team I think of when I hear the words “Milwaukee Brewers.” The Brewers this year look pretty good, but I guess I’ll only ever really relate to that one Brewers era from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, and everything else before and after will pale in comparison.

Tom Murphy is from the shadowy Brewers years just before their golden era. They were neither here nor there. He was pretty decent, especially in the year just before this card came out, when he posted a 1.90 ERA out of the bullpen, but who remembers? I can barely keep my focus on him even while I’m staring at his card. Most of the time, my mind wanders.

According to, Tom Murphy is among 41 major league Murphys. The first Murphy surfaced in 1884, and that season boasted no less than five Murphys. There was Cornelius B. Murphy, known more commonly as Con Murphy or by his seemingly mutually exclusive nicknames “Monk” and “Razzle Dazzle”; John Murphy, who split time in 1884 between two short-lived teams in the Union Association, Altoona Mountain City and the Wilmington Quicksteps; Tony Murphy, who appeared in one game with the New York Metropolitans, champions of the American Association; Gentle Willie Murphy of the Cleveland Blues and Washington Nationals; and a player known in the baseball record books only as Murphy.

The Murphy who is listed only as Murphy played one major league game, on August 16, 1884. That day, for the Boston Reds, Murphy had four plate appearances and reached base once, by a walk. At catcher, he made 2 errors, perhaps prompting a switch to left field, where no balls were hit his way. He might be my favorite character in my favorite narrative, the one I first started to study back in 1975 through the Neft and Cohen Baseball Encyclopedia. That first baseball encyclopedia in my life didn’t actually venture in detail back far enough to include Murphy in its story of the game. It wasn’t until my twenties that I discovered Murphy. I was sharing an apartment with my brother, who got his hands on a copy of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, which included the name of everyone who ever made it into a major league game. I was leafing through it one day, losing myself in the vast story I’d been exploring since 1975. The story never exhausts itself. New mysteries are always opening. I was surely a little bored, flipping through the pages, and I came upon Murphy. He was anyone and no one. In a few hours I’d go to my job on the evening shift at a liquor store. It was one of those nameless days. The short entry for Murphy made me happy. After the discovery, I got on with my day: shower, subway ride, ring up some liquor sales, lock the gates, subway ride home. I wanted to be a writer, and the idea I had for my life at that time was that before each day at the liquor store I’d work diligently in the service of that dream. Some days took the shape of that intention, but more often I sat around in my underwear eating toast and engaging in what most people would classify as wasting time. But is it a complete waste of time if on one of those days you discover Murphy? I got this feeling every once in a while back then, sometimes when I thought I was in love, sometimes when a particular song had a hold on me, that there was something so beautiful in the world that it made me want to yelp out loud, an illiterate Whitman yawp I guess, this desire to sing crowding out all the words I might ever be able to say. Murphy was here.


Jim Gantner

March 10, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Milwaukee Brewers

Not much is built to last. I’ve been going through all my possessions, packing them up for a move, and though everything seems to be in varying states of disrepair, not many of the things are that old. Besides these baseball cards and a few yellowing books, the only things I’ve had with me for more than a decade or so are a guitar and a backpack I got in college. They’re both holding up okay. The backpack has come in handy often over the years. I used it on a post-college trip around Europe and on hiking trips on the Long Trail and around Isle Royale. When I lived in a cabin with no electricity or running water for a year, it was my way of carrying everything I needed up the long hill from where I parked my car, including one day when I nearly broke both the backpack and my back lugging up a large tank of propane. I played the guitar a lot in that cabin, too, more than ever before or since, mostly strumming and singing Hank Williams songs because I was lonely and maybe because those songs were built to last.

The cabin had been made from scavenged building supplies by a tightly wound hippie carpenter who owned several acres of land and hoped one day to develop a commune on the land. I don’t know what happened later on, but at that early stage I was the only one occupying his future forest community, which made it the opposite of a community. Anyway, the cabin was well-made and had good acoustics, and when I played my guitar and sang I imagined I was inside the wooden body of a larger guitar, a song flowing out and starlight flowing in, a higher kind of breathing.

But while I really did have these lofty thoughts, they themselves were not built to last, and soon scattered in the wake of my gnawing insecurities about dwindling money and growing debts and estrangement from other humans and waning employment as a glaring, terrified adjunct professor who reeked of the smoke from the woodstove I had to practically give mouth-to-mouth to every night and morning to get going because the shitty wood the tense hippie carpenter sold me at the beginning of the year was so green it actually sizzled whenever it first came into contact with flames.

Oh the long demoralizing sentences that spooled inside my brain that cold smoky year! There were moments of peace, as deep as any I’ve had, like when the light from millions of stars was filtering down through the birch trees, etc., etc., but because these moments were built from my own faulty, faltering awareness, they were not built to last, and back I always went down into aching loneliness and doubt, but the guitar helped get me through, as did the backpack. I’ve never really known how to use a tool, even one as simple as a hammer, but I suppose someone who does know how to build things will come to have a feeling of gratitude about certain tools. I imagine it’s kind of like how I feel about my guitar and backpack, though in neither case have I ever used these things with anything that could be described as expertise. But I’ve used them, and they’ve helped me, and they’re still here to help if I need it.

And all this is to say that Jim Gantner was built to last. He wasn’t the first thing you would have noticed at any time during his long tenure with the Brewers, but he was always there, always coming in handy. Since his heyday, the Brewers have been as provisional and transitory as any team in baseball. Players have come and a gone, no version of the team built to last, even the team itself changing leagues. I could have pulled any number of Brewer cards from the team’s golden age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it wouldn’t have been as good an omen for the team’s 2011 chances as this Jim Gantner card. Even stars, like starlight, like moments of peace, come and go. Is there something in your ever-shifting world built to last? I predict on the basis of this Jim Gantner card that for the 2011 Brewers there is.


How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 11 of 30: Read the baseball-obsessed smile factory that is Wezen-Ball, in which Milwaukee’s Larry Granillo investigates such things as where Duke Snider rates in terms of “The Charlie Brown Coefficient,” what game Ferris Bueller went to on his day off, and which baseball players best correspond to famous comic book superheroes (and that’s all just in the last month)


2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers


Sal Bando

May 4, 2010

If I were an Oakland A’s fan, I would have realized it was all over for good with this 1977 Sal Bando card. The exodus of stars from the Green and Gold had already been in progress for a couple seasons, and things had been going downhill, but the A’s had still managed to remain competitive. Catfish Hunter had been the first to leave, signing with the Yankees before the start of the 1975 season; in his absence, Oakland’s three-year run of championship titles came to an end. The following year, Reggie Jackson was gone, and the A’s, battling the up and coming Royals to the end, finally relinquished their half-decade rule of the American League West.

Then, this: Sal Bando ensnared in some sort of half-real, half-cartoon world, the cartoon encroaching upon the real, asserting its dominance, despite Bando’s confident fuggedaboudit smirk. Bando was an A, just like the blurry figure in the background of the card, but now he’s part of something else a lot flimsier, and if Bando can be seized by absurd cartoon reconfigurations of the world, then none of us are safe.

The other A’s who had been part of this scattering hadn’t been as troubling. Catfish and Reggie were colorful and cartoonish themselves, the kind of larger than life characters who could have had their own Saturday morning cartoon without anyone blinking an eye, like other real-life figures of the time such as the Harlem Globetrotters and the Jackson Five. But Bando was different. He didn’t have a colorful nickname or an outlandish personality. He even seemed to prefer to go without the customary Oakland A’s mustache.  

So when he showed up on this card clumsily doctored into Brewer garb, the Oakland kids my age must have suffered a gut punch that they would never be able to fuggedaboud. Sal Bando, the steadiest and realest of the A’s, had vanished in the decade’s perpetual and meaningless cartoonish migrations.


A couple more Bando thoughts. First, has there ever been a greater era for third basemen than the epoch of the Cardboard Gods? Arguably the three best to ever play the position, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Brooks Robinson, appeared during that time, in addition to several very good players just below that legendary echelon in Bando, Santo, Cey, Madlock, and Nettles. Second, has there ever been a less celebrated second banana among position players on a dynasty than Sal Bando? Ruth had Gehrig, Foxx had Simmons, Gehrig had DiMaggio, DiMaggio had Berra, Mantle had Maris . . . and Reggie had some guy named Sal.


I did some live radio yesterday for the first time since I was a college DJ mumbling in between playing “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh and the king of all “let me slip outside the studio and see if my one-hitter still works” songs, “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers (in other words, possibly my first-ever moments of live radio that I may remember). Click here to listen to me talking with RC McBride and Jim Fitzpatrick on their afternoon show yesterday on WJBC.


Finally, as mentioned in a recent comment by “Lonnie Smith for president,” the current issue of Entertainment Weekly has a review of my book, and also mentions it on their “Must List” for the week (note: these things seem available only in the actual magazine, and not on EW’s website). Here’s a Cardboard Gods “collage” from the magazine stuff:


Darrell Porter

December 15, 2009

During my four years of little league, I played every position on the field. In my first year I logged most of my innings in right or left field, then in my second year I played a lot of center, which was probably my favorite position, in part because I got to stand directly behind and cheer for our pitching ace, my big brother. In my third year I started bouncing around the infield, and in my final year while mostly playing third base I also pitched a few innings and, in one game, donned the tools of ignorance.

I understood that it was unusual for me to be a catcher—I wore glasses. No catchers wore glasses that I knew of, except for a couple major leaguers who sported glasses on top of heads that had superhero contours, their jaws seemingly chiseled from granite: Brian Downing and Darrell Porter.

I knew I wasn’t muscular and hard as granite. In fact, I even understood that I was kind of a sissy. In this as in all things I defined myself against my brother, and unlike him I shied from fistfights and other pursuits that seemed dangerous to me, such as skateboarding or downhill skiing or even sledding down really steep icy hills. Also, unlike me, he didn’t burst into tears every couple seconds. Even in baseball, my main defense against sissification, I had occasionally allowed a my true self to shine through, such as when I was in my first season and began weeping as I limped to first after being hit in the shins by a fastball from a 12-year-old with 5 o’clock shadow.

But I liked how it felt to wear the catching equipment. I liked how the mask fit over my glasses, canceling their customary vulnerability. The rest of the catching armor performed similar magic, making me feel unusually protected against the world. I remember being happy behind the plate, or happy and a little disoriented, or maybe happily disoriented. The equipment restricted my vision and my movements, but I also had a full view of the field, and this vision, coupled with the invulnerability from the armor, gave me a fleeting feeling of ownership over the game. Cutting against this feeling was my unfamiliarity with the demands of the position. But I was happy nonetheless, like a youthful invincible ruler stumbling through an inspection of his kingdom while just a little drunk.

Speaking of being drunk, I drank too much this past Friday night and wasted the whole next day as a groaning invalid. You’d think I’d know better by this point, now that I’ve put in 28 years of recreational inebriation since I acquired my first hangover when I was fifteen by getting drunk with a couple buddies on rum and coke, in a dark little league dugout a few feet away from where I’d had my brief moment as a bespectacled catcher. But Friday I got a chance to see a punk legend, Grant Hart, perform at a place right around the corner from my house, and it was fun to be blasted by the great loud heartbreaking melodies and the whiskey. Drinking, loud music: it’s a little like being a little league catcher to me. For a while, you’re wrapped in armor, surveying your kingdom, able to withstand anything.

During the winter of 1979, as I was waiting to play my final season of little league (and as a teenaged Grant Hart was beginning to play with Bob Mould and Greg Norton as Husker Du), Darrell Porter’s means of feeling invulnerable off the field was showing its grim limitations. Porter, who by then had established himself as one of the best catchers in the game, became paranoid due to increasingly heavy use of cocaine, and he began sitting by his front window with a shotgun, waiting for the arrival of the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, whom Porter was convinced would arrive at any minute and ban him from baseball.

Porter checked into rehab that spring. How do you replace the feeling of fake invulnerability? Porter became a born-again Christian. It’s unclear how long this allowed him to withstand the deep pull of addiction, but he seems to have led an admirably charitable and giving life throughout the rest of his baseball career and beyond. His good deeds seem even more impressive when considered against his enduring affliction, which ultimately claimed him in 2002, when an autopsy on his body found that he had cocaine in his system at the time of his death. High, he’d driven his car into a tree, then he’d stumbled from his car and down to a river where he soaked his leg, and he was struggling back toward his car when his heart stopped.

I knew even as I was enjoying myself behind the plate that I wasn’t really a ruler. I was no catcher. I understood enough about baseball to know that catchers were the toughest players in the game, and I understood enough about myself to know that I wasn’t tough. Bench, Fisk, Munson: those guys were tough. Even the rare catchers with glasses were tough. You could tell just from looking at their cards. Look at Darrell Porter in this 1977 card. Invulnerable. Tough. Like he didn’t even need any armor at all.


Paul Molitor

September 29, 2009

Paul  Molitor 79

At the Midwestern Booksellers Association trade show in St. Paul over the past weekend, while talking with people about my forthcoming book, I had several conversations about the worth of baseball cards. Mostly, people told me about valuable cards they either still had or somehow lost along the way. Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays. Occasionally I was asked if I had any doozies.

“What’s your most valuable card?” I was asked a couple times.

I didn’t have any cards with me, but I had a proof copy of the book close at hand, so I pointed to the photo of the Rickey Henderson rookie card that is among the sixty cards propping up my life story in the book. It’s the same card I’ve displayed on this site, and as you can see, it’s taken something of a beating in my loving hands, decreasing its value to the general level of all my other cards, which in total is priceless to me but to the world of commerce is worth no more than a pair of used downhill skis (i.e., what my brother sold his slightly larger collection to buy several years ago).

To me the cards are a way to catch at least some shreds of my life as it slips by. Every single card has traces. They are not done catching these shreds, either. This Paul Molitor card is catching them right now, at 7 in the morning on a gray cold Tuesday in late September 2009. It’s propped up on my keyboard, where all the cards go when it’s their turn to speak. I’m wondering about the traces in the card, and I’m imagining the first time I saw it. It was 1979 and I was 11, my first year in little league without my brother, a sunny year despite that change because I had baseball surrounding me, shining down like the sun lighting up Paul Molitor, a young shortstop (at least according to the card—in truth he had played more games at second the previous season and in all played only 57 of his 2683 career games at the position) in a scuffed helmet that had traces of its own, battles lost and won in the sun, Paul Molitor looking down at something and smiling. What’s not to smile about? There’s baseball to be played! On the flip side of the card is more sunshine, including Molitor’s status as a number 1 draft pick, the comforting duplication of his birthplace and current residence (both St. Paul, Minnesota), the one spectacular minor league season (a .346 average and 52 runs and 50 RBI in 64 games), the promising major league rookie campaign, and the dense paragraph of text describing an all-American hero of an athlete, a high school star in three sports (baseball, basketball, and soccer), a champion at every level so far, in high school, American Legion, and college with his home state university, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

I was never above wondering if one or another of my cards was worth money. I had a prominent fantasy that one day I’d sell my cards for a fortune. (That day, in my childhood mind, was impossibly far in the future. I’d be an adult, which meant to me at that time that I’d be about as old as the adults in the house. In other words, I’m now older than I could ever imagine myself being, the sale of my cards for a pile of money as far as I ever ventured into the future.) The Brewers started to get good when Paul Molitor came aboard, and as the team and Molitor himself continued to rise I may have wondered if his 1979 card would be one of the cornerstones of my future wealth.

By 1987, these cards had moved into a storage facility, out of my sight, but they were still capable of catching traces of the world. I know this because when I look at the 1979 Paul Molitor card on my keyboard I remember his 39-game hitting streak that summer. I was spending the summer in California pumping gas and reading about Zen and dropping the occasional hit of acid, but I still remember getting excited as Molitor continued to keep the streak alive. Is there anything better in the day to day life of a baseball fan than a hitting streak? The whole game is weighted toward failure just as much as life is weighted toward dying, and yet every once in a while there is this fantastic suspension of weight while a player keeps finding ways to collect a hit, game after game. I rooted for Paul Molitor that summer, and a little air went out of me when near the end of August I fished a sports page from an Isla Vista trash can and saw that he had finally failed.

Molitor went on, of course, to surpass 3,000 hits and breeze into the Hall of Fame, a distinction that added even more value to his rookie card, which I learned some time ago is not this card but a card that came out a year earlier and which I do not own. That rookie card is one of the greatest cards ever produced, featuring not only the Hall of Famer Molitor but also a player who should be alongside him in the Hall of Fame, Alan Trammell, and as if that weren’t enough it also features two figures—toothpick-chomping U.L. Washington and doomed-by-name infielder Mickey Klutts—with places of great honor in the minds of any kid who grew up loving baseball in the 1970s.

Even that, the lack of something, in this case the lack of a card I wish I had (and not because it’s worth a little money but because I’d like to hold it in my hands and prop it on my keyboard), becomes another trace of life accruing to my sunny 1979 Paul Molitor card. If you hang onto something long enough you start seeing traces everywhere, even in the places where there seems to have been an absence.

In a few minutes I’ll put this Paul Molitor card back in my shoebox, where it’ll wait for its turn at bat again. I don’t know what’s in the future, but I’d like it if I got another chance, some years on, to pick up this card and see what traces it whispered up to me. I’m thinking I’ll remember this weekend just gone by, when at a St. Paul place called Shamrock’s I ate a burger called The Paul Molitor that had melted pepper jack cheese not on top of the burger but inside it. Is there no end to Paul Molitor’s greatness?

Perhaps the memory of a blissful volcano of cheese might spiral into other memories of the weekend, little things that otherwise might be lost if not for this card, like the moment on the drive from Chicago to St. Paul when my wife and I stopped for gas in Wisconsin and walked into an obscenity-laced shouting match between a pale, slouching adolescent and the Indian guy behind the counter—”Go back to Iraq, you fucking [pausing to find the word] towel-head!” “Fuck you, white trash!” (apparently, the kid had gone on the attack immediately after he was asked to produce I.D. to buy cigarettes); like the discovery that I had to stop looking at the new proof version of my book, the first time I’d seen the work in something like book form, because it tampered with my ability to breathe; like the sight, in an area of the conference center adjacent to the bookseller’s trade show, of a huge room full of little girls in curly wigs Irish step-dancing in front of stern-looking judges who sat at tables taking notes; like the karaoke night occurring Friday night in the lounge in the hotel where we were staying, most of the participants over 70, crooning old standards, the best of them among the oldest: a bearded guy with a walker who had a way of hoarsely croaking the line in “Unchained Melody” that goes “I need your touch” that somehow made me glad to be alive in this imperfect doomed world; a black guy in a very sharp three-piece suit and a fedora who waited through several other singers, swaying to the beat on a stool at the bar, then absolutely nailed “Mack the Knife” and left immediately, breezing past us our table (I told him how much I enjoyed it) and out into the lit-up lobby of the St. Paul Best Western, a nondescript building along I-94 that is now home to yet another stubborn trace in my life as long as Paul Molitor remains within my grasp.