If you Google the word “happy,” you get 484,000 results. At the very top of the first page of results is a listing for “Happy Harry’s,” the name a national drug store chain uses to distinguish—and, judging from the drawing of the kindly, smiling man who appears in the Happy Harry’s logo, to humanize—that most lucrative section of their countless identical franchise branches. The slow-moving line at a chain store pharmacy has never struck me as a happy place, the day leaking away as you wait interminably amid moaning soft rock behind the depressed, the aching, the phlegm-ridden, the venereally diseased, but according to Google it’s the top place for happy in all the cyber-accessible world. Also topping the Google search page for the word happy is a Japanese pop band, a Wikipedia entry for “happiness,” the movie Happy Feet, a couple different incomprehensible tech-related pursuits, the “Happy Tree Friends” (“cute, cuddly animals whose daily adventures always end up going horribly wrong”), something called HappyNews.com (“All the news that’s fun to print”), which is running as its top story today a piece about good reviews for a new book about the genocidal Khmer Rouge (good times!), a USA Today article that passes on a psychological study revealing what makes people happy, and two different websites that claim to have the answer to the question of how to be happy.
If you Google “Steve Braun,” you get 59,900 results, the majority having nothing to do with the man apparently poking at a dead alligator carcass with his bat in the baseball card on the above left. But his page on baseball-reference.com does come up, and there you can view the 15-year veteran’s admirable .371 career on-base percentage. Two sites down on the Google search page is a link to Steve Braun Baseball, an organization determined to pass on the ballpark wisdom of Steve Braun.
If you Google “Steve Brye,” you get 3,730 results. Unlike the Steve Braun search, which quickly yields up words from the mouth of Steve Braun, or at least from the mouth of the baseball guru entity known collectively as Steve Braun Baseball (“Our mission is to ensure every player builds confidence and comprehends what it takes to reach their full potential”), the Steve Brye search requires the user to scroll several pages in before coming to an entry that gives Steve Brye a voice. It’s an article about a game between the Royals and Twins on the last day of the 1976 season that decided an usually tight race for the batting title between four of the game’s participants: Rod Carew, Lyman Bostock, George Brett, and Hal McRae. Brett ended up winning the race for highest batting average, but only after Steve Brye badly misjudged a seemingly catchable fly off the bat of the eventual champion’s bat. The goof-up, which was officially scored as an inside-the-park home run and which allowed Brett to edge into the lead by a hundredth of a percentage point, did not sit well with Brett’s teammate, McRae, who accused the Twins of conspiring, at manager Gene Mauch’s command, to hand the batting title to the white man, Brett, instead of letting the black man, McRae, win it fair and square, which from this remove at least seems an odd accusation, given that the two Twins contenders for the title, Carew and Bostock, were black. According to the article, Steve Brye was equally mystified, and even saddened, by McRae’s claim:
Brye was told later, at the airport, that McRae had inferred that the play was racially motivated.
“Whew,” he said, exhaling slowly and sadly. “No way . . . If any error was involved it was mine. Gene Mauch had nothing to do with it. Gene told me to play in shallow. The last couple of innings I played deep not to allow a ball to get over my head and keep alive the possibility of a double play if a man got on base. I was indecisive. I didn’t get a good jump on the ball. All during the series balls I thought would fall in front of me were going over my head. Cookie Rojas was jammed and hit one over my head once. It’s tough to pick up the ball here because there’s a gray background, plus you don’t hear the ball off the bat that well. It’s a very dead sound. When I play center field, which I usually do, I follow the pitch and the sound of the bat has a lot to do with the way I react. Then after I ran in I stopped because I didn’t think I could get to the ball.”
It should be pointed out that funny business involving late-season batting races was not unheard of in baseball history, most notably in the 1910 race between Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb (to read about the “chicanery” in that race scroll down to page 6 of the May ’01 issue of The Inside Game). And McRae was joined by black teammates Amos Otis and Dave Nelson in casting aspersions on Steve Brye’s supposed misplay (meanwhile, two of Brye’s black teammates, Rod Carew and Larry Hisle, were quick to dismiss the possibility of an anti-McRae conspiracy). I guess the only thing that could be said without any equivocation about the controversy was that nobody really came away from it (here’s that word again) happy.
If you Google the name of the least happy of that game’s participants, “Hal McRae,” you get 45,700 results. The second listing (after a Wikipedia entry) is entitled “Coach McRae Goes Nuts.”
Before I post the link to that site, and to the vivid portrait of enraged unhappiness offered by the YouTube clip on the site, however, I want to offer, free of charge, my personal four-point answer to the question of How to Be Happy:
1. Digress. Whenever life calls you to go from point A to point B, go to point C or point J or even Point Break, the ridiculous extreme sports action movie starring meatheads Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, the latter’s early films including The Outsiders, which was a favorite of a girl I daydreamed about incessantly in the pubescent years directly following my baseball card collecting years, which had brought the shabby but beautiful symmetry of these Steve Brye and Steve Braun cards into my life. Where is that girl now? Let me see. Hold on. From Google: “Your search – ‘maureen gaidys’ – did not match any documents.” Ah, the sweet sad lost ungoogleable lands of youth!
2. Procrastinate. This is really just an extension of point 1, above. And I actually had what I thought was a better idea for point 2, but first I really should go clip my nose hair. That will bring me sort of close to the kitchen, and there’s some chocolate in there that isn’t going to eat itself. It’s early yet. Is it too early in the day to take a nap? I read that naps are good for your heart. Maybe just a quick one then…
3. Oh, god. What time is it? Christ, coming out of naps is like trying to crawl out from under a giant wet carpet. Give me a few minutes here . . . OK, on to point 3: Don’t finish what you start. Who has the energy to anyway? And even if you did have the energy, why would you want to finish something? Who wants things to end? You? Then how happy are you going to be when the sun goes supernova eventually? Hey, it’s just finishing what it starts, happy completely-obliterated-in-a-cosmic-explosion guy. Enjoy!
4. Yeah, uh, about point 4: See number 3, above.
Now where was I? Who cares, really, at this point. Before I started weaving all over the road today I had it in mind that I was going to talk about the most aesthetically pleasing platoon in baseball history, that of Steve Brye and Steve Braun, and how the platoon and the mirroring 1975 cards which so aptly represent it make me wonder if being part of a platoon is the key to happiness in this annihilation-bound solar system. You do your part, someone else does their part, and together you make up a whole.
When I was writing in very loose relation to Hal McRae a couple days ago about the happy feeling of getting high at boarding school, I neglected to get across the huge part the communal feeling played into creating the happiness. Just prior to those couple years at boarding school, I’d been an isolated, lonely kid, filling up the hours playing solitaire Stratomatic and dreaming about the ever unreachable, ungooglable Maureen Gaidys. Then at boarding school I was suddenly part of a group, part of a team with the goal of communal inebriation and flight and deep wild laughter. Suddenly there was a Steve Braun to my Steve Brye, a Steve Brye to my Steve Braun.
Anyway, now, finally, three chapters into this longwinded saga, I’m finally going to get around to mentioning the titular subject: a boarding school friend of mine who I haven’t seen in over 20 years, Al Raymond. The title of this piece is based on his nickname: Happy Al.
A Google search for “Happy Al” yields 27,100 results. A Google search for “Al Raymond” yields 12,500 results. A Google search for “Alan Raymond” yields 21,800 results. None of the results for any of these searches seems to reference the friend who helped bring to my time at boarding school some of the highest, happiest, laughingest hours of my life.
But the top result of a Google search for “Allen Raymond” is a Washington Post article entitled “Former GOP Consultant Sentenced to Prison.”
The second result is a political watchdog webpage entitled “Who Is Allen Raymond?” I’ll report what I found out about who Allen Raymond is in the next and final chapter of Happy, but for now I just want to tell you who Happy Al is. Or was. Specifically I wanted to pass on the origin of his nickname, which stemmed from an event that occurred the year before I arrived at the school. I’m going to let another friend from those days tell the story as he told me in a recent email in response to the theory that he was called Happy Al because of the merry slit-eyed facial expression that he displayed when stoned:
Happy Al Raymond was named happy Al not because of smoking herbs. He was named Happy Al Raymond because he used to have phenomenal temper tantrums. We would wait outside his room and he would be in there freakin trashing his own stuff. He would really go off too.
At this point I want to offer as a visual aid the aforementioned and promised Hal McRae video. For a look at what one of my friend Al’s tantrums looked and sounded like, approximately, please click on this link of Hal McRae going berserk.
OK, have you put that in your [expletive] pipe and smoked it? You really owe it to yourself to do so, but if not, just imagine somebody ranting and screaming and throwing things around. Now with that in mind, back to the eyewitness account:
One day we were outside his room [during one of his tantrums] and Wags was like “we should call him Happy Al.” I cried laffing and that was that – HAPPY AL RAYMOND FROM NOW ON.
It kills me that he went to prison – for the GOP no less.
(to be continued)