Archive for the ‘Dock Ellis (Pit.)’ Category


Dock Ellis

September 2, 2007


Chapter 7 (continued from Tom Burgmeier)

Where do you see yourself five years ago?

Five years ago I was living in Brooklyn. It was less than a year after 9/11. I’d been in New York, New York for most of a decade. If you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere. I hadn’t made it there. I wanted to leave, try somewhere new.

My girlfriend and I had spent two weeks that summer on a road trip, in many ways the best trip I’ve ever been on: I was in love and I was loved, and we went to baseball game after baseball game. In Chicago we also went to the Art Institute and spent a lot of time looking at the museum’s large collection of Joseph Cornell boxes. You have to bend down close to look at Cornell’s work, like you’re leaning in to hear the words of a person whose voice is almost gone. Below the glass tops of the wooden boxes are miniature dream worlds built from thrift store objects, sand and glass, shreds of newspaper, maps. These little worlds whispered to me. I said to myself: there’s life here, and everywhere, everywhere a mystery, the future wide open. I said to myself: I could live here.

Where do you see yourself five years before that?

In 1997 I was in my first year of grad school, writing stories, essays, going into loan debt that I still haven’t dug myself out of. I was paying my share of the rent on an apartment I shared with my brother in Brooklyn by writing young adult books. I wrote Revenge and Retribution and Confucius. I think my brother was still working as a travel book editor. Before long he would quit that job in order to write a travel book about adventure sports (kayaking, mountain climbing, etc.) in the mid-Atlantic region. I learned years later that the months he spent writing and more significantly not writing that book (he never finished it) made up what he considered to be the “rock bottom” period of his life. I didn’t think he was having a great time or anything, but I had no idea it was that bad. My brother and I had been sharing apartments, with a couple short interruptions, for about seven years, and on face level were closer than most other adult brothers. But we never really talked about anything. We talked about sports. Basketball, baseball. It had been that way all our lives. Sports was what bound us together. As we got older this connective tissue seemed more and more incidental to our increasingly separate albeit adjacent lives.

I have few specific memories of 1997, but I do remember watching the Yankees get eliminated in the playoffs with my brother. When the Yankees were champions, as they had been the year before and as they would be in the following three years, New York, New York seemed even more than usual like the city where we weren’t making it. In our beleaguered imaginations New York, New York was a food chain with happy successful world-smashers in Yankee caps on top, and the useless and lonely on the bottom. Guys like us. In the ninth inning with two outs Paul O’Neill got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double, and that was that, the Yankees were done. My brother and I exhaled.

“Thank god,” I said.

“Amen,” he said.

We clinked our Budweiser tall boys together, finished them. A few minutes later, no more sports to discuss, my brother got up and went into his wreckage-filled room, his rock bottom, and closed the door.

Where do you see yourself five years before that?

1992. Our first apartment in Brooklyn, my brother and I. We’d been priced out of Manhattan, having to leave an apartment on Second Avenue and Ninth Street. The apartment in Brooklyn was so close to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that the floor shook. Because our mom was in France working on her PhD dissertation we had inherited her cats, two sweethearts, one thin and gray and the other an older fat black and white longhair. They lay together a lot, sleeping in one another’s arms. My mom had gotten the gray one, Alice, in 1988, which I am able to recall because I remember the Red Sox going on their long “Morgan Magic” winning streak after the All-Star break when she was a kitten. The older one, Annie, dated all the way back to my childhood. I’d been in seventh grade, working on a report on lions, when a friend of the family had come to the door with a black and white kitten in his arms. He was trying to give the kitten away. Nobody else was at home.

“She’s real cute,” he said. He held her out to me. “What do you say?”

“OK,” I said.

She was wild at first, darting all over the house, hiding, almost unpettable, but over the years she got sweeter and sweeter and fatter and fatter. In that apartment where the floor shook I didn’t have a bed, just a thin roll-up mattress on the floor. Every morning Annie would come over and lie on my chest, waiting for me to get up and feed her. She was heavy by then, but it felt good. I was 24 years old, had nothing going on in my life, a man just floating nowhere. So it felt good to be pinned down once in a while by love, or at least a purring facsimile of love.

But at some point that year she started puking and shitting all over our highway-shook floor. We took her to the vet. He gave her steroids. It slowed things down for a while but eventually she started shitting and puking again everywhere. I was young, wound-up, frustrated. I mean in general. Given to tantrums. Screaming at myself, punching walls. One day I got mad at Annie for shitting on the floor. Screamed at her. She scuttled under the couch, frightened.

The next day my brother and I grabbed her, stuffed her in a cat box, and took her to the vet. He told us there wasn’t much else he could do.

I held her. The doctor inserted the needle. My brother petted her on the head with just his thumb. She was purring.

When it was done we walked out onto Carroll Street with the empty cat box. Two grown men in the bright afternoon, the younger one weeping.

Where do you see yourself five years before that?

1987. The end of summer. I was barefoot and tan.

And like Dock Ellis in the story most often associated with him, I was tripping my brains out.

My brother and his friend Dave had picked me up in Santa Barbara, the two of them at the halfway point of a boomeranging cross-country road trip. They’d driven out together and I was going to join them on the way back. To this point we’d just traveled a few hours north, to Calaveras County, to see a concert, Santana and the Grateful Dead. The line getting into the parking lot was immense, neverending, long enough for us to purchase three hits of acid from some guy, long enough for us to talk it over, weigh the options–we didn’t have tickets to the show that day, but did for the next day, so it made sense to wait to take the hits just before the concert, but it also was true that at the present moment we were bored out of our skulls, inching along at a mile an hour if we were moving at all. Finally we decided, fuck it, we’d just go ahead and drop the acid while still paralyzed in traffic.

It was a long night devoid of stories. Dave had a particularly bad trip and he kept saying that he was cold, so cold. Even after we got into the parking lot we spent a lot of the night in or very near the car. For an eternity I sat on the ground against the car, leaning on a tire, and stared at my pant leg. I remember feeling happy when the pant leg finally began to reflect the light of dawn. As the sun started to rise my brother and I left Dave in the car still shivering under all his clothes and went to an open area and threw a frisbee.

To be alive is to be adrift. Before you are born you are one with the universe, after you die you’re one again, but when you’re alive you’re like a piece of the whole that’s come loose and is falling. That’s how I felt for most of that acid trip: A chunk of flesh plunging through the dark. But when I played catch with my brother I no longer felt that way. There was just a connection, the disc a bright shared pulse in the dawn.

(continued in Steve Henderson)