A few days ago I was traveling south in a rental car on I-89 in Central Vermont, headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, for a flight home to Chicago. I had given myself extra time on the drive in case I felt like detouring down memory lane, and because I am always in the mood to detour down memory lane I exited the highway at Randolph so I could descend into the valley of East Randolph and stare at the house I’d grown up in. I’ve done this before, several times. I always pull over and sit there for a few minutes, listening to the engine tick and waiting for something significant to happen. Then I move on, feeling dumb and empty. Perhaps because I knew what was in store for me I added new complications to this latest detour, delaying it, first deciding to stop at the general store in town and then on my way to the general store deciding to take back roads that would take me by Buster Olney’s stepfather’s farm, where I once labored throwing haybails and also played whiffle ball and Stratomatic with the future nationally known czar of baseball insider info. I drove for what seemed like an inordinately long time down a narrow dirt road, thinking that I’d gone and gotten myself lost in the closest thing I have to a hometown.
But then the farm appeared. I drove by at about ten miles an hour. No one was in sight. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe Buster lolling around the driveway in some sort of completely uncharacteristic moment of disengagement. In truth he always was and surely still is constantly and passionately occupied, but I guess I was hoping he’d be just sort of standing there, perfectly open for a surprise visit from a friend out of his past. We’d greet one another enthusiastically, ask about one another’s family, laugh about the good old days, and then eventually the conversation would get around to my favorite way of feeling like a piece of shit: my lack of success as a writer.
“Stop worrying, I’ll make some calls,” he’d say, staring at me meaningfully so as to let me know that within weeks I’d be cashing royalty checks, fending off voluptuous baseball card memoir groupies, and appearing on The Daily Show, Fresh Air, and Mike and The Mad Dog. “Now let’s go throw a few bails for old time’s sake and then play some Strat and eat chocolate chip cookies, old pal,” Buster would then say.
Anyway, a few minutes after rolling by the quiet farm I pulled in at the general store in East Randolph. Since this store was where I had bought the great majority of the baseball cards shown on this site, I planned to buy a new pack there and then tell you, dear reader, all about it. Also, a couple days earlier, Barbara, the long-time family friend who painted the picture of my old house shown on this site during the Mario Guerrero chronicles, told me that the store had recently been bought by a local married couple that included a girl from my grade that I remember very well. In fact she was the girl most often featured throughout my teenaged years in the 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind.
This 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind opened around the time I got the 1980 Bruce Bochte card shown above. I was 12 years old and in 8th grade and as I believe I’ve mentioned before I had recently discovered that the girls around me were bulging through their clothes in hauntingly interesting ways. My god, how I clung to box scores and the Sunday batting averages in those days, clung as I never had before and never would again. I specifically remember clinging to Bruce Bochte, to his name that is, which had in previous years not been among the league leaders in the batting average list printed in the Sunday paper, but now suddenly here he was, an exciting new arrival in the land of Carew and Brett. Though in later years he would recede into a haze that would have me confusing him with Bruce Bochy (who I in turn confused with Bob Brenly, who was nominally entangled with Bruce Berenyi), at the dawn of my troubling, painful puberty Bruce Bochte rang like a bell through the fog, trying to guide me back home, and I in turn tried to walk toward the sound as best I could but more and more just ended up ducking into the aforementioned 24-hour pornographic movie theater in my mind, where the future owner of the general store in the closest thing I have to a hometown was always shedding her tight 8th grade gym clothes and running toward me with voracious enthusiasm.
Anyway, I pulled into the parking lot of the general store, mumbled a hello to three younger guys sitting on the bench on the porch (in truth the word I uttered was a stiff, fakely folksy, flatlanderish “howdy”), and walked inside, prepared to confront my past crashing in on me from various angles. There was a pale gnomish lady in her fifties at the register and three other females behind a deli counter in back. I lurched up and down the aisles conspicuously, stealing glances back at the deli counter. I saw two skinny teenagers and a woman who looked to be in her forties. Maybe the latter woman was the girl I’d known, though in that moment I was convinced she wasn’t. She seemed far too old. Far too unhot. She was smiling though, and seemed happy, which aligned with what I recall of the good-natured girl I’d sort of known, or at least had chronically leered at. At any rate I didn’t talk to anyone in the store except for a brief and anonymous back and forth with the employee at the register, on my way out.
“Can I help you find something?” she asked.
“Do you sell baseball cards?”
You know the phrase “It’s all water under the bridge”? Last night at a restaurant a friend had intended to say that but instead got the words mixed up and said “It’s all bridge under the water.” It’s my favorite new phrase. It seems to me to be a much more accurate portrayal of the past than the phrase she’d intended to say. The past is not water safely below you and you’re not standing on some firm bridge. No, you’re adrift. And if there ever was something that carried you across the water it’s now crumbled and broken, sunken, stripped of utility and purpose, and if you want any part of it you better break out the scuba gear, because it’s all in sludgy chunks at the bottom of the river. But even if you dive down and locate it, what are you going to do with it? East Randolph, Buster Olney, my old house, the sunny girl at the center of my teenaged masturbation fantasies, even Bruce Bochte: It’s all bridge under the water. If you’re trying to cross over, you better find some other way. You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.