In the spring of 1990 I graduated from a small state college in northern Vermont, Johnson State. All the friends I’d partied with for my first couple years had dropped out or transferred by then. One of them, a short blond burnout named Iggy, had in his brief drug-addled tenure occasionally referred to the college as Johnson Skate.
“Because,” he rasped, “everyone here is just skating on through.”
The ceremony went on for a long time, several students from the graduation planning committee taking turns going on at length about their generic memories. It was in a tent and a light drizzle periodically drummed down on the canvas above our heads. I was hungover and starving. They draped some kind of sash over me when I went up to get my diploma, just as they had done for the others, and there was some tepid applause, as there was for everyone before and after me.
A few days later I started working on the campus maintenance crew for the second straight summer. One of our first jobs was to take down the graduation tent. My plan was to save up money throughout the summer and use it for a plane ticket back to China, where I’d spent my second-to-last semester. I’d finally lost my virginity over there, a miracle that prompted me to wrench my feelings of gratitude and lust into something very much resembling love. I planned to go back and live with the virginity-unburdener, a college student named Li Hong. I even had a job lined up, teaching English at the university where I’d studied during my semester in Shanghai.
This plan ended up falling through, and when it did I had no clue what to do with myself. I used my maintenance job money to travel to Europe for a couple months. I stayed in youth hostels, hitch-hiked some, took trains and buses when the hitching was too hard, ate gyros, beat off once in a while in bathroom stalls, went to many museums, sat around in churches a lot because you could just sit there as long as you wanted for free. Eventually my money ran thin and I started thinking about heading back. To what? I kept thinking.
This is Bob Hansen’s only baseball card. After several years in the minors he had gotten the callup the season before, 1974, and had done well, hitting .295 and, as the back of the card puts it, “time and time again [coming] through with key pinch-hits in clutch situations for Brewers.” He didn’t get back to the big club again until 1976, his .164 average in just 61 at-bats prompting neither the Brewers to give him any further looks nor the Topps company to produce any more cards in his likeness.
But at least he made the most of his one baseball card. Generally, players featured in the baseball card still-life of a batting stance convey either a wax museum lifelessness or a cringing uncertainty. On the other hand, the grizzled, faintly mirthful Hansen reminds me of Ernest Borgnine in the Wild Bunch, ready to follow William Holden into a hail of bullets.
More specifically, he’s like Borgnine in that very last slim moment right before the climactic gun battle. Holden’s character, Pike, has just shot El Jefe, and now Pike, Dutch (Borgnine), and the Gorch brothers (Ben Johnson and the incomparable Warren Oates) are about to face off against hundreds of El Jefe’s men. They are doomed. But the last sound you hear before the bullets start tearing into flesh is Borgnine’s giggle.
It’s good to be alive.