Archive for the ‘Beyond the Shoebox’ Category

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White Shadow memories: #10. Mike Warren

March 24, 2016

woo0-064In tribute to the late, great Ken Howard, and his fictional counterpart Ken Reeves, I’m spending the day counting down my ten favorite White Shadow memories.

10. UCLA national champ Mike Warren guest stars

A huge part of my love of The White Shadow rested on the basketball action being a close enough proximity to the real thing to keep the fictional reality afloat. Coolidge, Thorpe, and Coach Reeves could all play, and the others were for the most part close enough to not mangle the whole presentation. (This can happen—see: William Bendix in The Babe Ruth Story, DeNiro in Bang the Drum Slowly, every second of Teen Wolf up until Michael J. Fox’s stunt double for the wolf scenes starts mincing the opposition). The verisimilitude factor hit its peak in the episode guest-starring Mike Warren, who played on consecutive national championship teams at UCLA in 1967 and 1968, earning All-American honors in the latter year. On The White Shadow, Warren played a street ball legend who joins the team briefly before his irreparably damaged moral compass sends him back to other, darker eventualities. The morality tale for the team—even the most talented ballers can fall—was backed up by—and also somehow secondary to—the visceral thrill of watching someone who could really play the game.

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Ken Reeves

March 23, 2016

Reeves

I’ve never loved a TV show as much as I loved The White Shadow. As a kid I couldn’t believe it existed, that something so specifically appealing to me was out there. It was the story of fictional Chicago Bulls wide-body Ken Reeves, who after wrecking his knee while vying for a rebound (the picture above is, I believe, his fateful last moment in the big leagues) ends up coaching the Carver High basketball team. The show first aired in late November of 1978, just a month after the seminal moment of my childhood sports fandom occurred—the one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees. I was probably looking for something else to love around then.

***

Here are the stats for the players on that team, as I imagine them (and I have been imagining them for almost forty years):

Thorpe, point guard, 12.3 points per game, 5.7 assists per game, 2.6 steals per game
Hayward, shooting guard, 8.9 point per game, 2.4 assists per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, 1.8 steals per game
Jackson, small forward, 9.6 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game
Reese, power forward, 10.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game
Coolidge, center, 18.8 points per game, 15.6 rebounds per game, 3.2 blocks per game
Salami, guard-forward, 8.2 points per game
Gomez, guard, 2.8 points per game, 0.9 steals per game
Goldstein, forward, o.7 points per game, 2.5 fouls per game

***

I was ten when it first aired. I wasn’t even following pro basketball that much, but my older brother had started to play on a junior high team, and Tom had nailed a hoop up outside our garage, so I’d started shooting baskets.That was to be the main pursuit of my life for the next ten years. It worked its way into my bones.

***

There’s a basketball hoop outside the building where I work. I’ve never seen anyone use it. On Monday I was walking from my building to the next building, which has in it a little sundries store where I buy gum. I’ve been working on a novel in which a character starts noticing out of the corner of his eye basketballs sprouting up like little mushrooms around the fringe of an unused outdoor court outside his workplace. On my way to buy gum, I glanced over at the court this fictional court was based on and spotted a basketball. It was sitting in a bed of dirt next to the outdoor court. It was cold out. One or two people were staving off cubicle-related heart disease by trudging around the manmade pond by the court, but other than that no one was around. Everyone was inside working. I’d been planning to get gum and return to my cubicle for the rest of the day. But you see something like that, some manifestation of your inner life, you better follow it a little.

So I went and picked up the ball. It was a little low on air and in the cold weather was not very bouncy. Still, it felt good in my hands. Basketball, the game, is in my bones. I love basketball. That thought came into my head today as I was driving home, and I don’t even know where it came from. I wasn’t thinking about shooting at the hoop outside work, and I hadn’t yet learned the news that Ken Howard, the actor who portrayed Ken Reeves, had died. I shot a few baskets. I don’t have any spring in my legs anymore, and I don’t have any range on my shot, so I stuck in and around the key area and sank most of my shots. Ka-swish, ka-swish, kas-swish. What else can instantly connect you to your childhood like that?

***

I remember the first moment when I fell in love with the show. It was in the first episode when the team was helping the coach move. Coolidge is driving the moving truck. Thorpe asks him something about his driving, or about whether he knows how to drive a truck. I can’t remember the set-up, but I remember Coolidge’s reply.

“I ain’t got no license,” he says, smiling.

My brother and I fell out. For weeks we were saying it to one another, two white children in rural Vermont. Our new mantra.

I ain’t got no license. I ain’t got no license. I ain’t got no license.

***

I loved Coolidge, Thorpe, Salami. All of them. But it was the coach that centered the show. I watched the show through my first years playing organized basketball, and the coaches presiding over my own experiences fell far short of the guidance, warmth, and cool of Coach Reeves. The varsity coach in my town was a militaristic shithead who only had two things to go to in his coaching toolbox: caustic berating and hoarse-voiced screaming. The JV coach was a distracted post-college guy with a mustache who seemed to want to be elsewhere. And the junior high coach would be hauled away to prison some years later when discovered to be a child molester (the worst I got was a surreptitious knee-groping on the bench after I scored two baskets in a row). So these were the coaches in my actual life. Luckily I also had Ken Reeves.

If he needs help moving on to the next world, I want to be right in there in the moving truck beside Coolidge.

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The Benchwarmer Interview

August 25, 2015

Benchwarmer cover finalThe Benchwarmer Interview

The following is a roundtable discussion about my new book, Benchwarmer, with a series of versions of Josh Wilker. (This was inspired by David Ebenbach’s post about his new book of poetry.)

Seventeen-year-old me: You wrote a book? Is it like On the Road? [lights bong]

Current me: No, it’s not really like that. It’s off the road. It’s about when I became a dad. The first year or so of that, kind of losing my shit and whatnot.

Twelve-year-old me: Whatnot? What is whatnot? And when did you become a dad? No way you were as old as Dad when it happened. That was one thing I never wanted to have happen, be a dad that old.

Current me: I was even older! It took me a long time to, I don’t know, get my shit together. Not that my shit was together when the baby came. In fact, that’s when I realized how far from having my shit together I really was.

Eighty-two-year-old me: You wasted your life. It’s right there in the book—getting so upset with yourself that you punched yourself in the head. Who does that? Nutjobs, that’s who. And you know who’s paying for all the blows to the head?

Current me: Who?

Eighty-two-year-old me: What?

Current me: Who is paying for all the blows to the head?

Eighty-two-year-old me: What are you talking about? Where . . . where am I?

Twenty-four-year-old me: Wait, is this your first book?

Current me: No, I’ve written a few. Two “real” ones, and by real I mean they are both intended to be—sorry for the pretentiousness—literary, plus they also have the theoretical element of one day involving royalties, plus another short one that’s also real and that I love but it’s really short so I hesitate to count it, and I know all this talk about counting is ludicrous. Anyway, there were also a bunch of nonfiction children’s books that I wrote for practically nothing when I started getting sick of dealing with belligerent gangs of teenage shoplifters at the liquor store.

Twenty-four-year-old me: Yeah, tell me about it. I’m surprised to see you, actually. I figured we’d be shot in a holdup by now. But so why are you punching yourself in the head? What the fuck are you complaining about? And the kid—he’s your biological kid? Yeah? So you got laid at least once and possibly even with at least some regularity and are maybe even married, yes? Happily? Yes? Jesus Fucking Christ. You got laid, you’re in love with your wife, you’ve written books, and you’ve got a kid to, you know, love and everything and—

Current me: Two kids now.

Twenty-four-year-old me: Two kids! To stand there by your bedside when you’re this guy [uses a thumb jerk to indicate eighty-two-year-old me as the latter is meandering blearily out of the conference room] and about to check out. So what’s the problem? Do you know how lonely it is to be me, and how fucking frustrating to be filling up notebooks day after day with pure shit that no one will ever read? I’m the guy who should be punching himself in the head.

Current me: You did punch yourself in the head. If memory serves—and my memory is already going—you were the one who started the whole practice. Or somebody did. Maybe it was even earlier. Did you start doing that?

Twelve-year-old me: I don’t know. Last year I almost got hyperthermia walking in the ice storm for six miles the day I was so mad that little league team practice was cancelled.

Current me: Yeah, that’s the same basic idea. I don’t know why we want to punish ourselves.

Seventeen-year-old me: [blows out bong hit, coughs for several seconds] So the whole book is, uh, you punching yourself? That’s where I end up? What about beauty, dude?

Current me: No, it’s not just me punching myself. But the few people who’ve read the book seem to seize on that as its defining aspect. I just wanted to honestly show what that first year was like. The thing I wanted to get across more than anything was the beauty. It was way beyond anything I’d ever seen, and it almost wrecked me.

Twelve-year-old me: Ugh. I like funny stuff. Is it funny? Does it have sports? If it doesn’t have funny and sports I’ll just stick with my stacks of Mad Magazine and Sports Illustrated.

Current me: It’s actually all about sports—it’s an encyclopedia of sports failure. It was the only way I could think of to talk about that first year, to use losses large and small to talk about my life. To get through it. Some people think it’s funny. Some people think it’s sad. I laughed while I was writing it.

[Eighty-year-two-old me re-enters the room. He seems surprised that there are people in the room.]

Eighty-two-year-old me: I thought this was the way back outside.

Current me: No, uh. But I think we’re wrapping up, so—

Eighty-two-year-old me: I must tell you in all honesty that I seem to have defecated in my pants.

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Bill Walton

July 2, 2015

1986-celtics-t1You Are the Eyes of the World

Conclusion

When Bill Walton first met the bench, he greeted it with utter dejection. You want life to be one unbroken moment of play, but it won’t be. Sooner or later, you’ll be benched. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to come off that bench again. This happened to Bill Walton when after a long exile as an oft-injured Clipper he joined the Celtics, my favorite basketball team. When this transaction occurred, it was for me like when, a few years earlier, Mark Fidrych was signed to a minor league contract by the Red Sox. Both had been legends of the 1970s not only for their truncated, spectacular professional accomplishments but for the way the two longhaired free spirits represented the wide, spazzy wonder of the times. Fidrych, despite my hopes, never made it back onto a big league field, a failure that weighted the acquisition of Walton with pessimism. Beautiful comebacks never occur, I believed. I had been in junior high school, that national institution for pessimism, when Fidrych arrived for his futile last stand at Pawtucket, and Walton’s arrival in Boston occurred three years later, in the fall of 1985, a few months after my expulsion from high school. I wasn’t sheltered in any kind of institution, pessimistic or otherwise, for the first time in over a decade, was living in Boston with my aunt and uncle, had nowhere to be except to wander around town and smoke pot from a one-hitter and pretend to look for a job and fish the Globe out of the trash, which is probably how I found out about the pulling of Bill Walton into my world from oblivion.

Please just let him be healthy for one season, I said. I remember the words if not the specific moment. Probably I was holding the gleaming garbagecan news in my hands. Call it a prayer.

And it worked. For that one season, 1985-86, Walton’s faulty body miraculously held up, and the Celtics had a dream season just when I needed it most. I’ve never enjoyed anything in sports more than that team, that season, and when I think of that season I think of Bill Walton flicking a behind the head pass to Larry Bird on a backdoor cut. I think of Bill Walton’s uncanny vision, the way he could see the court with something bordering on omniscience. I think of Bill Walton awakening. Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world. I think of Bill Walton beaming with joy.

My guess is that the picture at the top of this post is from the following season. The starting five all show evidence of having been in a game, but Walton, the Sixth Man for the ’86 Celts, seems to have not taken off his sweats in a while. He’s benched. This is what happened to him after that one miraculous season—his body started breaking down again and he never managed to stay on the court for long. It was a disappointment, especially since it contributed to the Lakers being able to beat the Celtics in 1987 and claim the “team of the decade” crown. But Walton mainly seems to have taken it in stride. Sooner or later, you’ll be benched. If you’re lucky, you’ll realize how lucky you’ve been, or maybe even how lucky you still are to have a seat so close to the action.

This past weekend something happened that I can’t quite put my finger on. I was at a golf course where my wife’s parents spend a lot of time. My four-year-old, Jack, likes it there. There’s grass, for one thing, which he doesn’t get a whole lot of in the city. Also, there are golf carts. He loves riding around with his grandpa. So the thing that happened was nothing special, really: Jack rode off in a golf cart with his grandpa. I was on the bench, as it were, to see it. More exactly I was sitting at an outside table overlooking the course. I knew that Jack knew he was about to zip out into the wide greenness and go bouncing over bumps. He was wearing the Avengers baseball cap he had picked out for himself at Target, and it was a little askew, and he was sitting straight up, attentive. I’m at a loss to explain my joy. To see my son happy!

I’m lucky. I’ve been benched, my life defined by the bench, and this has all been through no doing but my own. But to be benched and to see such a thing, to see my life open in such a way.

This weekend I’ll spend all the time I can with Jack and with my other son, Exley, who just turned one and is on the brink of walking, and on Sunday right before they go to bed for the night I’ll be heading to Soldier Field to see Bill Walton’s and my favorite band, the Grateful Dead, in what’s being billed as their last show. My friend Pete will be there with me and has been asking me what I think they’ll play. I’m trying not to think too much about that so that whatever they play won’t have to battle in my head with any hopes and expectations. But I can’t help hoping I hear Eyes of the World. Life is a long, gradual benching, but in that benching, I believe, there’s the possibility of awakening, of seeing, of joy.

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The Astrodome Bench

May 24, 2015

BadNewsBears-300x168You Are the Eyes of the World

Four

I thought my life had more or less taken whatever shape it was going to take. I thought I’d seen all I’d ever see, and anything in my path from here on out would be familiar repetition. I didn’t have the courage to push past that resignation.

Here’s a scene from a game that never happened on a bench that no longer exists. It’s from The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, a 1977 movie with which I’ve long been obsessed. In the movie, generally considered to be a notably inferior sequel to its 1976 predecessor, The Bad News Bears, the titular little league team travels without parents in a customized van from California to Houston to play an exhibition game against the best little league team in Texas in between games of an Astros’ doubleheader. The Texans pummel the Bears for a few innings, and then suited functionaries hustle onto the field to call the game early.

“Time’s up,” one of them says. The head umpire awards the game to the Texas team, which begins to celebrate. The Bears, stunned and disappointed, walk off the field, with one exception.

I can feel myself getting choked up as I start to think about the exception. It’s been this way for thirty-eight years, ever since I first saw the movie in the Playhouse Theater in Randolph, Vermont.

My new book came out a couple of weeks ago. It’s about my eyes, how they were wrenched into seeing something new despite my failing nerve, my resignation. It’s about my first year or so as a father. It’s about my son Jack. I took the day off from work on its release date to celebrate with Jack and my wife and our own little spin-off sequel, a second boy named Exley. We went to the children’s nature museum and both boys had a great time. When it was time to go, Jack didn’t want to.

“Where’s everybody going? We’re not finished!

These are the words spoken by the one player, the Bears’ shortstop Tanner Boyle, who refused to accept that the game in the Astrodome was being called to a halt. It could also stand as the message vibrating through every fiber of Jack’s body when it’s time to move on from a moment he’s enjoying.

That’s life, right? You have to just accept that sometimes the game, the fun, is just over. Right?

Consider a sublimely talented player pictured on the bench in the background of the photo. On the left, in the warm-up jacket: that’s J.R. Richard. In the years directly following the filming of the scene he would become one of the most dominating pitchers in the game. Then in 1980 he would suffer a stroke and never pitch in the majors again. This is more dramatic but not essentially any different from anyone’s story, which is: the game ends.

However, in the moment shown here, the bench has begun to react to a push back against this eventuality. Tanner has begun eluding the two men in suits who’ve been ushered forth from some invisible authority to pull him from the field. The Bears have begun enjoying themselves again. In a moment the Astro on the far right, Bob Watson, will say, “Let the kids play,” and the lone non-uniformed figure in the picture, Mike Leak (William Devaney), the star player’s estranged father, who has recently been enlisted as the previously, luridly unsupervised team’s coach, will pick up the notion and begin rallying the crowd with a chant that will become what the sequel is known for, if it’s known for anything:

“Let them play!”

The chant builds, Tanner keeps eluding the suits. Every time I see this, and I’ve seen it hundreds of times, my eyes moisten.

This past weekend my family went on a charity walk that involved one loop around a big lake. Back in the days when I’d thought I’d seen all there was to see, one loop around this lake would have been nothing. But the sun was beating down and the baby kept yanking off his sun hat and beating his head against my wife’s chest and Jack kept wanting to sprint everywhere but along the route we were supposed to be taking. There were dandelions everywhere, and he wanted to pick them and gather them and blow on them because he remembered that dandelions in another form were capable of this dispersal. I explained that dandelions go through a process, going from one thing to another, and only when they’ve changed to gray dusty bulbs can you make a wish and blow their seeds everywhere.

“The seeds scatter and go into the ground and make more dandelions,” I said.

“Dandelions make dandelions?” he said.

“Right.”

“Why do dandelions make dandelions?”

How do you answer this? Dandelions make dandelions make dandelions. But why?

“Come on, we’ve got to get around this lake,” I finally said.

“But why do dandelions make dandelions?”

I thought my life had more or less taken whatever shape it was going to take. Now I know I have no idea where it’s going or even why. Sometimes—to be honest more often than not—I feel like the suited functionaries trying to wrestle Tanner Boyle into complying with their rules. It’s time to go. Why? Because! But sometimes from where I sit I’m beginning to see, even enjoy, unstoppable endless dandelions seizing the field.

To be continued.

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reasons

October 31, 2013

we wonI intended for this photo to be right side up in this fucking post. I also intended before starting to write the post to Google the words “Sweet Jane” but I hadn’t slept much and was up early and had just named a document, the document used to create these words, “Reasons,” short for “Reasons to Live” or “Reasons not to Bail,” so instead of “Sweet Jane” I typed in “reasons” and the search window suggested these four phrases, apparently the top searches that start with the word reasons:

reasons my son is crying
reasons for missed period
reasons for divorce
reasons why I love you

I’m able to find the first one amusing only because at the moment my son is asleep and so is not crying. He has been around for a little over two years and he cries a lot, often for reasons I can’t understand and he can’t explain. This ongoing situation, my inability to help or even understand my own son when he’s suffering, calls to mind a line in Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson:

And therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person’s life on this earth. I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.

There’s a certain undefeatable core of estrangement in this life. You can feel it as the agitation behind each of the top four internet searches for reasons. How can I understand this person who came from me? How can I deal with a new needful life on the way? How can I understand a love that seems to be crumbling? How can I understand love at all?

How can we ever be anything but alone? I’m thinking of a line from a song, but not the one I set out to search for this morning: “I hate the quiet places/that cause the smallest taste of what will be.” That’s a line from “Candy Says,” by Lou Reed, who also supplied the lyrics to the song I wanted to search for today and also the song that provided the epigraph and title for Jesus’ Son. He passed away earlier this week, right when the Red Sox were in the middle of battling toward a win in the World Series, and so his songs of quiet places and loss and perversion, of life turned upside down and inside out, have been hovering eerily all around the loud bearded stomp toward triumph.

His songs make me happy. It’s hard to explain why. Easier to understand winning. The win by the Red Sox made me happy. My son was awake and naked, and when he saw the players jumping around on one another after the last out, he wanted to do it, too, so the two of us did a two-man version of the jumping up and down victory scrum. His nudity reminded me of a short, barrel-chested guy I met with my friend Pete while we were at a New York Rangers game way back in the early 1990s. It was between periods. This was before the Rangers had broken through to win the Stanley Cup in 1994, so the team was the longest suffering NHL squad.

“What will you do if the Rangers finally win?” Pete asked him. He considered it for a moment, or maybe he had the answer already set in his mind. I can’t remember anymore.

“Run naked and put up a sign,” he said.

You want to return to the days when you could run naked, I guess. You want to win, to feel all the limitations that have been piling up on you your whole life long to vanish in the winning.

And they do, they really do, for a second. The photo at the top of this page hangs over my desk (right side up). I sit at my desk every morning and write. What are my reasons? I am trying to hold on to something. I am trying to run naked. I am trying to put up a sign. Anyway, the picture hangs over my desk as a happy reminder, a reminder of happiness, and of connection. It was taken in Boston the day the Red Sox celebrated their 2004 World Series title with a duckboat parade. My brother had decked out his car as “the Yazmobile.” He came from Brooklyn and I came from Chicago. We’d been waiting for that parade our whole life.

Life in general is not in synch with such moments of connection and celebration.

“Some people like us we gotta work,” is how Lou Reed puts it in the song I still have yet to Google. Why did I want to Google “Sweet Jane”? Do I really think I’ll find the answer to why the song, from its first chord, always flicks some switch in my head that turns life from work to something else entirely?

I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. This last fucking paragraph is what my work is, more or less. Do you notice that it is in a different fucking font? I don’t know why it pasted this way into wordpress from my Word document. There doesn’t seem to be a readily apparent fix. I could spend a long time figuring it out, but I have to go to work and figure similar things out, one after the other, little stupid fucking problems that are beyond me. Like the upside down photo at the top of the page. I took it right side up, and sent it from my phone to my email right side up, and when it appeared on my computer upside down I used a program to rotate it back right side up, but then when I uploaded it to this post it was upside down again. I do not understand all the many tiny ways things go wrong and I am lashed to them every goddamn day. I have to go to work today, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow. No running naked. Unless you count these words written in a hurry beneath a photo of connection and joy, a photo I can’t seem to control. I can’t believe the win I always wished for happened once, and then again, and now three times. I’m happy about it and so not to be trusted. So trust someone who somehow imbued the lines “feel sick and dirty/more dead than alive” with an attachment to suffering life so stubborn as to be a kind of perverse, swinging joy. Trust Lou Reed, transformer of loss, when he sneers at anyone who says life is just to die.

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Josh and Kurt Bevacqua

May 22, 2013

josh and bevacquaJosh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua watch the game and commiserate about how things aren’t the way they used to be. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua both hate all the noise at ballparks now, the constant blaring music and advertisements and T-shirt-bazooka assaults. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fear for the future. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua fill a void in one another’s lives that’s been present for some years and that they can’t quite name. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua agree that they are lucky beyond words for the blessings that have come their way, for family, for fatherhood, and yet Josh and Kurt Bevacqua admit to one another that for some reason there are still days when life seems too much to bear, every pitch unhittable, every stick of gum tasteless, every bubble punctured. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua decide to take a day off and go to an amusement park. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eat cotton candy and ride the rides. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua scream while flying upside down on a roller-coaster based on a billion-dollar movie franchise. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home at dusk exhausted, the sky growing dim but still faintly illuminated. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua shake hands and say see you tomorrow, meaning for racquetball. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, anxious to mask the warm feelings for one another’s companionship, mock one another’s lack of racquetball skills, then one another’s sexual shortcomings, then one another’s general standing in life. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are just kidding at first, but their words gradually grow heated, for it has been a long day and moreover a long life that has, for all its blessings, not been without disappointments. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua come to blows. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are separated by strangers. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua thrash at the arms of the peacemakers and scream I never liked you, I never liked you, you don’t know shit about anything, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua go home and tend to their cut lips and scuffed fists. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua eventually let go of their rage, then their grief. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua, months later, run into one another at the racquetball facility. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua get to talking, then laughing. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua let bygones be bygones. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua play racquetball together and afterward grab a beer. Josh and Kurt Bevacqua are now friends.

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Opening

February 20, 2013

Exif_JPEG_422

My son has been a little melty lately. As in, he is prone to melt downs. I think it has something to do with his being at the cusp of language. Something in his world isn’t how he wants it to be, or some feeling wells up that he doesn’t quite know how to manage. He can say a few words and knows the meanings of several more, but there is an infinite number of things beyond his grasp. It’s beyond anyone’s grasp, forever, but eventually we learn to make some kind of truce with our inability to translate the world into words. He hasn’t gotten there yet. When there’s something that needs to be said and no way to say it, he gets upset. When this happens, I try to get him thinking about something else. This photo is from a few days ago, when I handed him a pack of the new 2013 baseball cards. He got quiet, attentive, interested in what was in his grasp. I had to get the flap open a little, but he took it from there. We’ve opened packs before. Thanks to Jack, baseball cards, present tense—baseball cards for pure fun—are back in my life for the first time since childhood. When Jack got the wrapper off, he took it over to the sink and pointed to the cupboard below, where we keep the garbage bin. I opened the child lock on the cupboard and he put the wrapper in the trash. He had the baseball cards in his other hand, but he knew that the wrapper and the cards were different. The cards mean something. He started handing them to me, and I read aloud the names of the guys we got.

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The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad

July 19, 2012

I haven’t been sleeping much, writing much, or doing anything much except spotting my never-sleeping 1-year-old as he careens around on his wobbly new walking legs as if maniacally intent on smashing his head against every sharp corner in creation. I get a few minutes here and there and spend them working through the recently added Netflix stream of season 4 of Breaking Bad. (My one criticism of the show: the fucking baby on there is completely unrealistic, no more demanding to take care of than a cactus.) Anyway, it’s a weird life, living episode to episode, especially given that I worry about what happens when I run out of episodes. I’m so wrapped up in the story that it’s like being an addict. So this morning I was casting around in the Netflix streaming new arrivals, trying to line up my post-Breaking Bad methadone, and I noticed that The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training had joined the list. I already own the DVD, so this discovery didn’t make me whoop with joy, but it was nice, like seeing an old pal. And it worked on my mind in weird ways. Long story short, I got a multimillion dollar idea for a crossover project.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #1: The Bears’ van would have passed through New Mexico on the way to the Dome.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #2: How’d the Bears get home from the Dome?

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #3: Maybe they get the van out of impound and go for one last adventure.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #4: The van breaks down in New Mexico.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Bad thought #5: While going for help, Ogilvie and Engelberg stumble upon an RV.

Excerpts:

Scene 22.
Jesse [whispering]: I’m just sayin’, yo, we need a crew.
Walter [whispering]: But they’re just kids.
Ronzonni: Hey, whoa, who you callin’ a kid?

Scene 34.
Jesse: Yo, I told you I don’t have any more of that shit.
Amanda: Come on, man, just a taste.

Scene 46.
Ogilvie: To pay for Lupus’ treatment, we need to move 37 pounds of the product at a rate of—
Engelberg: I’m starving.

Scene 47.
Engelberg: Three grande family meals, pronto.
Gus: Very good, sir. May I ask where did you acquire that very tight-fitting Kenny Rogers T-shirt?

Scene 59.
Ahmad: We’re goin’ to the joint! We’re goin’ to the joint for sure!
Rudi [noticing ad on bench]: “Better call Saul”?

Scene 63.
Rudi: But I don’t wanna get hit by a billy club.
Saul: Hit? Lightly grazed. Smooched, practically. Hey, kid, you wanna win this case, doncha?

Scene 72.
Mike Ehrmentraut: If you’re gonna do something, you better not miss.
Kelly: I don’t miss.

Scene 94.
Walter Jr.: Y-you guys s-suck at baseball.
Tanner: I’ll fucking kill you, you cruddy cripple.

Scene 107:
Walter: Well, we finally meet.
Buttermaker: Look, mister, I clean pools, but this is ridiculous.
[Pause]
Buttermaker: Is that an eye?

***

For more on the inexhaustible wonders of the Bears, please check out my ode to The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.

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Purpose

June 6, 2012

Over the past year I’ve seen my wife struggle and sweat through pregnancy, scream in searing pain and terror through a day and a night and a day of labor, and become the tirelessly loving albeit perpetually exhausted personal 24-hour 7-11 food store for our son. Witnessing all this in the slack-armed, mouth-breathing pose of the helpless bystander has confirmed suspicions I’ve long had about my gender’s limited biological purpose in terms of furthering human life on Earth. We men have balls. That’s about it. Balls and a dick, I guess.

This leaves plenty of time for other things, such as, chiefly, the ball-draining consumption of porn, but also the following of sports and the customizing of personal effects. The line between balls and porn is self-evident. Though slightly less obvious, a line also connects balls and sports. Sometimes the line in the latter case is made abundantly clear, such as when Derek Lowe, upon recording the final out in a 2003 playoff series against the A’s, looked to the Oakland dugout and histrionically grabbed his nuts. He was saying, I guess, “My testicles are splendid, clearly much more potent and desirable than yours; in fact, my balls are so excellent that they make your own balls irrelevant, and from here on out I will be handling all your impregnating duties, and you will in terms of species survival be rendered purposeless.”

The A’s reacted negatively to this assessment.

In fact, Lowe was generally criticized for pantomiming with such obviousness that he had superior testicles, but it seems possible that all sporting contests between males are aimed, at their core, at determining the relative worth of the testicles of the men involved in these contests and, by extension, the relative worth of the testicles of the men who are fans of the men involved in these contests. Lowe merely made this plain. His act was deemed “classless,” as if one’s place in the social strata is determined in part by the distance or lack thereof you are able to keep from openly acknowledging balls.

And on that note, consider the photo at the top of this page, which features large simulated testicles hanging from the back of a truck. I took the shot with my cheap cell phone yesterday while catching a ride home from work with Rob, author of the Blue Batting Helmet blog. Incredibly, the first thing I’d noticed about the truck was not the balls but the fake bullet holes in the paneling of the truck. Though difficult to see in the photo, there is also a wolf wilderness scene in the back window. An additional feature, not viewable in the picture, is an eagle license plate frame. I don’t know what this all means—wolves, bullet holes, eagles, balls—but it seems to be a distinctly American collection of imagery. In day to day American reality, life is absurd and tedious, like being stuck in traffic behind a moron. But in American dreams maybe life is full of purpose, a gun battle to be won by the wild and big-balled.

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Sad and Beautiful World

June 4, 2012

Here’s a photo of Morty Gaber, my friend and former boss, who died a month or so ago at the age of 87. I mention this photo in an essay up today on The Classical.

The last time I saw him was in the early 2000s. I ran into him on the street one day near his apartment on 9th Street by University Place. I was with my girlfriend, now my wife. I’m glad he got to meet her and that she got to meet him.

I first met Morty sometime in the mid-1980s. I must have come by the store he owned, located in Manhattan on the south side of 8th Street between Mercer and Greene, to visit my brother, who had gotten a job there through a posting on a bulletin board at the NYU employment office. I have written about first meeting Morty many times, but these writings, like much of my obsessive writing about the past, are fictions built out of a need to see life changing. I don’t remember meeting him. I look back, and at a certain point he was just there. Now he’s not.

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Nine Innings with Andy Strasberg

March 22, 2012

I received an advance copy of Baseball Fantography just as I was finishing the recent series on Cardboard Gods that had been inspired by a photo on the Fantography™ website of Padres pitcher Dave Freisleben and Topps photographer Doug McWilliams. I am dipping into the beautiful book slowly, savoring it. My favorite photo so far is one of Lou Brock in a leisure suit shaking hands with a couple 1970s yayos, one of whom is in a cutoff Black Sabbath T-shirt. And then there’s a section that expands on the “making of” photo of McWilliams snapping the baseball card portrait of Freisleben. Many more images from the 1975 Padres photo shoot (including one of Tito Fuentes with his “Tito” headband) surround an essay by none other than Doug McWilliams, the man behind many of the images that, weirdly, joyously, anchor my life. Baseball Fantography would be worth the price of purchase for that section alone, but the whole book is spilling over with colorful images from the beating heart of the game.

The author of Baseball Fantography, Andy Strasberg, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book and about his long and eventful life in baseball. 

1. I’m really looking forward to the Baseball Fantography book (due out April 1, 2012). It seems like a book that needs to exist, and one that will help highlight the unique voices of individual fans at a time when the big business of baseball is tending to flatten out and obscure those voices. What was the key moment in the development of the idea for the Fantography site and the book? When did you say to yourself something along the lines of “this idea has to be done, and I have to do it”?

1997 was the year that I came up with the concept and called Marty Appel who agreed immediately that it was good idea.  Our plan was to have fans send their originals to a PO box and we would have them copied and then return them.  We both agreed that it would not work because people would not risk sending their treasured photographs in the mail for the fear of it getting lost. Then in 2000 I thought that fans with photo could go into Kinko’s and have them scanned and emailed to me . . . but that too was a lot to ask of fans. Then in 2008 I felt that there were enough home scanners and people using digital photographer that they could do it from their home and I was right.

2. I know you’ve spent your whole life around the game, first as a supremely dedicated fan and later as a vice president for the Padres. Some would be tempted to assume that you’ve “seen it all.” In gathering the images for the site and the book, what photo most surprised you, and why?  

I LOVE the snapshots of players before they enter the ball park.  I have hundreds of snapshots of players walking down the street as far back as the 1940s. I can only imagine how excited a fan was to capture a photo of a player in street clothes walking down the street in Brooklyn on the way to Ebbets Field.

3. I believe that in your work with the Padres from the 1970s to the 1990s [Strasberg was the vice president of marketing for the team], you were involved in many promotional events. What part, if any, did you play in Kurt Bevacqua catching a ball thrown from the top of a building in downtown San Diego? What can you tell us about that immortal day? 

I was given credit for the idea but actually adapted the concept from the 1908 Gabby Street Washington Monument event. My favorite part of setting up the event was that I asked permission from our GM Jack McKeon who said he was fine with it as long as Dick Williams our manager approved of it. So I went to Dick and asked him. He said it was OK and then I warned him that Kurt could possibly get hurt and Dick didn’t pause for a second and said, “I know.”

4. Also, when Bevacqua came to the Padres, he had already featured in one of the greatest moments in Topps baseball cards as the 1975 Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ. Did you ever witness any residue of this feat? I’m praying there are stories of young gunslingers constantly challenging the weary champ to bubble gum blowing duels. Short of that, any other anecdotes about Bevacqua would be greatly appreciated.

I never saw any one challenge Kurt in a Bubble blowing showdown.

One of my favorite “Dirty Kurt” stories happened during the 1984 World Series. We were in Detroit for game three and I was in the dugout just before introductions. Kurt bet me $10 that he would purposely slip coming out of the dugout.  I told him he wouldn’t and the bet was on. His name was announced by the stadium PA and he tripped on the top step and then turned around and shouted at me that I owed him ten bucks.

5. I first became aware of the amazing Fantography website when a writer, Greg Hanlon, let me know about a particular photo on the site. It’s the one that you took of Doug McWilliams’ snapping the portrait that would appear on Dave Freisleben’s 1976 card. For someone like me, who has put such importance on the baseball cards of the 1970s, it is an amazing moment, a singular glimpse behind a magical curtain, and I thank you for capturing it. What are your memories of that moment?

I could not use a flash so all of my photos came out dark because of the shadows. I also tried to capture the exact moment that Doug shot his photos and from an off center angle. I knew that I wanted to capture the exact moment a baseball card photo was being born.

6. It seems from looking at the 1976 Padres cards that several photos may have been taken that day. Do you recall whether that was the case, and if so, can you give us some sense of how the photo shoot proceeded that day? Was there a lot of waiting around and/or bored horseplay? How long did McWilliams generally take with each of his subjects?

Doug took perhaps less than 3 minutes with each player but sometimes waited as long as 20 minutes waiting for the next guy.  The entire shooting process took hours.

7. What did the players think of the baseball card photo shoots?

Most enjoyed it, others seemed to be somewhat bothered by the distraction and interruption of their spring training routine.

8. I love Doug McWilliams’ work. As someone who obviously also has a knack with baseball photos, what you can tell us about Doug McWilliams as an artist from what you saw that day or from other experiences with him?

Doug is one of the nicest and classiest guys in baseball. He’s kind, low-key and very considerate. We became friends quickly and have remained so after all these years. A baseball writer told me after I got my job with the Padres that even though he knew I was a collector of baseball memorabilia he said that the best thing I will collect will be the friends I make. At the time I thought he was crazy . . . but after 20 plus years he was right and Doug is one of those cherished friendships.

9. In addition to your work in the game and as a baseball historian and author, I believe you are also a passionate collector of baseball memorabilia. What piece from your collection would you be most reluctant to part with, and why?

When I was 17 years old Roger Maris gave me one of his bats in 1965. It was a confirmation from my childhood hero of a promise he made to me earlier that season. At that point it was the greatest day of my life!

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Beth

March 15, 2012

Tour Guide

Beth

Some tour I’m leading here, huh? Imagine going on such a tour, the guide leading the group past a few featured pieces in a steady rhythm and then just, like, stopping, maybe staring blankly off into space for minutes, hours, or, in this case, days. Were you on this tour, and several days had gone by without any guiding, you’d begin to wonder about its existence. What brought us here? What’s holding us together? Most of life, maybe all of it insofar as we are able to perceive it, is a construct no more impervious to dissolution than cardboard. I intended to get to this penultimate stop on this tour last week, before my seventh-month-old son started running a high fever that eventually led to trips to the doctor and a trip to a hospital and, finally (everything is okay now), a 4 a.m. trip to the ER. I just said it, but allow me to say it again, for my own sake: everything is okay now. But I’m still shaken up. Every once in a while you are shown that reality is actually shapeless. All art is a hoping in the face of this reckoning.

***

In the early 1970s, right around when Doug McWilliams began taking photographs of figures and blue sky for Topps, my mother painted the portrait at the top of this page. It was of her friend Beth. Beth and her family lived next door to us.

This is when we were all living in a house in Hopewell, New Jersey: me, my brother, my father, my mother, and my mother’s boyfriend, Tom. I don’t have the time right now to once again explain this experimental hippie-inflected arrangement, but it was imperfect and based in hope and love. It was a complicated, hopeful, loving, impossible moment. I see all that in my mom’s painting of human beauty and sky. Eventually, we splintered. Dad to Manhattan, the rest of us to Vermont. Cold winters, little money: my mom drifted away from painting.

Years later, with my brother and me out of the house, she came back to art, not as a creator but as a student. For her, more hard years and little money. Eventually, she made it to the big leagues. I remember the day. She had a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably the greatest museum on earth. It was a temporary position but it lasted long enough that it would have merited—if working in a museum were like major league baseball in all its particulars—an appearance on a baseball card. I was thinking this past week about the closest thing to an equivalent to a baseball card, the photo ID badge that allowed her to walk past security and into even the most hidden corridors of the museum. My mother happened to be visiting this past week while my son was sick. During one of the moments when he seemed to be feeling okay I asked my mom how it felt to wear that ID badge and walk into the greatest museum on earth as an insider, a pro.

“Nerve-racking,” she said. “I was nervous there.”

She explained that it was a charged, pressurized environment. People were climbing over one another to get ahead. Departments battled one another. Some years later, after that temporary position had given way to another and then another, she would finally get a permanent museum job, at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it would be more to her liking: there, everyone was in it together.

But she admitted it did feel good to have a moment within that pinnacle of the museum world. Her highlight there was her contribution to the museum’s retrospective on Honoré Daumier. She wrote the chronology for the exhibition catalog and led tours through the exhibit. I went one day and stood among the gathering looking to her as the tour began. My mom introduced herself. She was wearing a dress. When she finished her opening spiel on Daumier an old guy in the tour piped up, addressing my mom.

“Nice knees, Jenny,” he said.

There was a staggered pause, a kind of communal eye-blink, and then my mom, the pro, pressed on, launching into the body of her tour guide presentation, and though I don’t specifically remember anything she said, I remember that I was very proud of her and then I was simply engrossed in her talk. She was a great tour guide. She made Daumier come alive. People were looking at old art and laughing.

***

I walked my mom to the train on Monday. The 4 a.m. trip to the ER had come and gone. My son was starting to feel better. There was blue sky.

“It was so good that you were here for this,” I said.

She had not been a guide through the crisis, because no one could have been, but it was very good for my sanity that she was there. She had been through similar tribulations. Under a doctor’s recommendation, she’d once dunked my brother, when he’d been an infant, in ice cold water to try to bring his fever down. She’d lived through broken legs and broken arms (my brother) and a falls down a well and off a cliff (me). It didn’t translate to anything specific beyond a presence that I could feel. My mother knew what it was like to have a sick kid. I tried to tell her some short version of all this, my gratitude for her presence, as we said goodbye.

“Well, I wasn’t a perfect mother,” she said. Disparagement of her own mothering abilities is something of a mantra for her. Her fallibility, her mistakes. I don’t care about that. I try to tell her, but I know how it is to have self-lacerating mantras.

She was and is a good mother, and she was and is a good artist, too. Most recently, she painted something for my son, a beanstalk climbing into the sky. She affixed a length of measuring tape along the right-hand border of it. We put it on the wall of his room and have started to use it to measure his progress up into the blue.

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Highway to Hell

February 15, 2012

I.
A few days ago I finished a great book by Joe Bonomo on Highway to Hell, the AC/DC album that debuted in America five days before I saw my first concert. I put down the book, put on some headphones, and turned up some AC/DC so loud that for a few moments I couldn’t hear anything else. Bonomo tells the whole story of Highway to Hell, unearthing details of its creation, illuminating its magic, and revealing the absences and needs of both adolescence and adulthood that might keep bringing a deteriorating, searching mind back to that loud sound again and again. You should check it out. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s something eternal about adolescence, about its promises and deceits; and about the adolescence, blinking into light so bright that the horizon is obliterated. A teenager is pulled in many directions at once: between sensation and substance; between impulse and responsibility; between innocence and guilt; between shallowness and depth. Highway to Hell and the panting scenarios therein are sensational, impulsive, and shallow, and no less human because of it. When I listen to the songs now, my brain can go into sleep mode, and my body can listen and move, and that’s a great pleasure—one of the great pleasures that rock & roll gives us—and it’s a different thing altogether from pining for lost youth or regretting moves not made, girls not chased, drinks not downed. That Bon Scott was thirty-two when he wrote the lyrics suggests that he was an eternal adolescent, but the longer I live with the songs, the more I felt that he was blessed by this state more often than he was burdened by it. He allowed himself access to a youthful pulse that beat into a future lifting with fun, not collapsing under regret.

II.
Somewhere in this giant expanding dumpheap of memories and obfuscations I’ve talked about the first concert I ever went to. I went back to that story in my book, in a chapter on, among other things, the 1980 card of White Sox pitcher Fred Howard and Disco Demolition night and my brother and my father and regret and disconnection and stupidity. I used to think my life was one story, some form locked within stone, and once I chipped away at the stone long enough and skillfully enough I’d have it, the truth, but now I understand that I’ll never be done telling what happened, and what happened will change each time I tell it, and each time I tell it new absences will form, and the absences will call me back for yet another return, and so, for example, I’ll always be 11 years old tagging along with my big brother with our father—his ears wadded with cotton—as chaperone to Madison Square Garden to see Ted Nugent only to find out afterward that we never saw Ted Nugent at all but only saw the warm-up band before our father led a ferocious charge toward the exits, all of us under the impression that the concert was over despite the lack of any other fellow attendees leaving. My brother was the first to put the story of that night in writing, for a ninth-grade English essay, and he was the first to alter it in the telling, still too ashamed at that point about missing Ted Nugent to admit our fuckup in the essay; the teacher praised the level of detail in the first part of the essay, which described the warm-up act, and critiqued the strange vagueness of the essay’s concluding sections. “More details needed,” she wrote in the margins next to my brother’s fraudulent Nugent bloviations. In a different age, time would have made every part of the story vague. Everything becomes vague anyway, but I think my generation, perhaps the most backward-looking generation yet to walk the earth, is the first blessed with ample concrete evidence and artifacts of what, in earlier times, would have been the utterly transient particulars of fleeting youthful experiences. Whenever the story starts to feel vague, more details can be found instantly, in video and audio and print form. The borders of my mind have deteriorated and merged with Google. I am constantly searching.

III.
I can locate the exact date of my first concert. According to multiple sources, it was August 4, 1979, at Madison Square Garden. I have not been able to find the exact setlist of my first concert, but the band I saw appears to have played the same setlist throughout their summer tour, and so it is reasonable to assume that the setlist below corresponds to the sonic assault that terrified me and made me feel awful and regretful about my father’s suffering presence beside us. It was his worst nightmare come to life. The sheer piercing force of the sound—I couldn’t even understand it as music, and in some ways it was an experience so forceful as to be beyond memory, like the whiteout moment I experienced some years later after careening off the side of a cliff while mountain-biking. But I do remember a few things about the sound: 1) it’s loudness; 2) the older teenage and early 20s burnouts all around us nodding to one another approvingly about what they saw as the undeniable high quality of the warmup band (I could not hear what they were hearing but I distinctly remember witnessing this approval); 3) the presence of the repeatedly screamed lyric “Sin City.” This last detail was what allowed my brother and me to confirm the following day at Crazy Eddies on Sixth Avenue that we had officially not seen Ted Nugent but had seen the band who had a song called “Sin City” on one of their albums. All three of these memories may have become suspect, as all my memories are, but I am able to find corroboration for all three with my deteriorated searching co-opted mind. Taking the memories one at a time: Yes, they were fucking loud. This is corroborated in an explanation from the Ten Most site for the ranking of AC/DC as the second loudest band of all time:

No question regarding it these guys are systematically the loudest indoor arena rock band from the Bon Scott years all the way through the Brian Johnson era Angus and Malcolm Young are the loudest guitar combo running through their marshall stacks both sides of the stage running them clean & overdriven getting that pure marshall sound – you can’t top that.

And yes, they fucking rocked surprisingly hard as a warm-up act. The Ten Most appreciation of AC/DC continues:

I saw AC/DC with Bon Scott open for Ted Nugent at Madison Square Garden in 1979 and they altogether stole Ted’s thunder (altho Ted was very loud too)

And yes, in all likelihood they played “Sin City” when I saw them on August 4, 1979. Yes, I can even go back and watch a performance of every single one of the songs they performed that night, not from that night, exactly, but from that era.

Live Wire
Problem Child
Sin City
Bad Boy Boogie
The Jack
Rocker
Dog Eat Dog

One other thing I recall from that night is that the guitarist got up onto the shoulders of the singer. This memory was cast into some doubt when someone else who’d seen them back then recalled that when he saw them a roadie was the one giving Angus a piggy-back ride. But the photo at the top of this page, taken from the 1979 tour, suggests that what I thought I saw actually did occur. Bon Scott was not averse to carrying some weight in the name of rock & roll.

IV.
I can’t say I hated AC/DC the night of August 4, 1979, but it was something like that. I was not ready for it, and it hit me like violence. Our little trio of me and my brother and my father, it was fragile. We only saw our dad every so often and only saw him for an extended period once a year, a two-week visit every summer. We were in the middle of one of those visits, the first such visit where one of us, my brother, had edged over the border from childhood into something stranger and estranging. I liked the feeling, fragile as it was, of the three of us all being in something together, but that concert, that violent assault of sound in a huge arena of lidded-eye cool guys, disallowed any closeness between us. None of us understood what was happening, and none of us were happy, and nobody could say anything to anyone and nobody could be heard.

I don’t know why I soon gravitated to AC/DC. Within a year or two I had almost every record they’d produced. I’d been moving toward them anyway in my own musical tastes. I already owned several KISS records and was gradually commandeering my brother’s soon-to-fade interest in “hard rock” as my own, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc. He never did become an AC/DC fan, branching off instead into bands more clearly marketed as punk and New Wave, so AC/DC became “my” band. I liked everything about them. I liked the simplicity, the loudness, the hooks. I blasted the songs in loneliness and confusion and they blasted loneliness and confusion, blew it away. I liked that the center of the band was an older brother and a younger brother. I still like that. It’s my favorite part of a band I still love. Two brothers putting down a twin riff so tight and together it is like an artery rushing beats of rich blood from one heart.

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Robert Hegyes

January 28, 2012

Welcome Back, Kotter debuted in 1975 and ran through 1979, the sweet spot of my childhood. It was my favorite show. I loved all the Sweathogs, Epstein most of all. He had a funny swagger, a giant afro, a maniacal look in his eyes, a (Chico) Marxian air of absurd careening pomposity-leveling chaos. He was half-Jewish, just like me, but unlike me he was proud of whatever parts made up all of him. I’ll stop there—I don’t want this to become some kind of serious sensitive self-exploration. Welcome Back, Kotter was no more and no less than exactly my idea of fun back when I was just becoming a member of the human race, and Juan Epstein was the heart and soul of the fun.

The man behind Juan Epstein, Robert Hegyes, died this past Thursday. I spent some hours yesterday and today poking around his website, where he has written several thoughtful and interesting notes about his life and about the show that made him famous. The site is organized in a somewhat unorthodox way, but be sure to check out the Kotter show section (start at this link and then click through to other pages with the “next” button at the bottom of the page). The highlight of that series of pages, at least for this constant searcher on the seas of memorabilia, is a scanned version of the feature on Hegyes, in its entirety, from Dynamite magazine. The only magazine that eclipsed Dynamite for me back in those days was Mad Magazine. On another page on Hegyes’ site I discovered that he, like me, had been raised on Mad:

I grew up reading Mad Magazine and laughing my ass off. Alfred E. Neuman for President, was my motto. I still think he could beat George W. Bush to this day. One day someone walked in and said, “Hey look, you guys are on the cover of Mad Magazine.” Forget TV Guide, People, and the National Enquirer. I knew I had made it.

In another section of the site, Hegyes writes with great warmth and humility of a chance meeting with George Harrison. If anyone has ever met a hero, they’ll recognize Hegyes’ internal monologue as he walked away from his brief moment with the Beatle. If I’d ever met the man behind Juan Epstein, I would have been reeling in the exact same way:

“I thought of a hundred things I wanted to say, but nothing I could have said was more important than, thank you.”

***