I remember Lars talking about Oklahoma or maybe it was Nevada? A few weeks later, he was gone. It sucked. He was my best friend. I tried to track him down, but couldn’t remember how to spell his last name.
He had a brother – Leo, but we called him Veto as in reject, hoping he would disappear. He was two years older than us, not a bad guy, but always combing his hair and that was cool, but he never had enough time, not even to rag on his younger brother and that wasn’t cool because younger brothers needed ragging.
We assumed Leo would get first dibs on choosing a bedroom since he was the oldest, but dad said Lars gets first choice and before Leo could whine about it, dad screamed, “Because I said so.”
Dad moved ’em from an apartment complex into a small cottage house. Not a big deal to many kids, but to Lars and Leo it meant no more sharing bunk beds. Lars twanged the straps of his imaginary overalls, scanned the shag carpet and sighed. He picked the room across from Dad and no one understood why. The one down the hallway was obviously the best choice. It had an outdoor porch and gutter to slide down, easy escape to the outside world.
Lars needed his Dad close, just like he needed his mom before she passed away. He didn’t want freedom, didn’t know what to do with it. He preferred carpet space and shelving units, to store the leaves and insects, stamps, coins and baseball cards he collected. They were his compass and security blanket.
Dad moved the family during the same summer Paul Molitor threatened Dimaggio’s hitting streak – 1987. In reality, Molitor had only passed Ken Landreaux’s 31, but that was enough to wet our wipples.
Lars waved me closer one night and whispered to “keep quiet.” We waited until Leo slid down the gutter and when he was out of sight, Lars tiptoed into Leo’s room and “borrowed” the boom box stereo sitting on his night stand. It was better than the TV or the big family radio because it had batteries. We could move around.
I spun the dial to 620 WTMJ. We went outside. Lars had a Maxell cassette tape ready to lock and load and I guess, record the game. We listened like we had so many nights that summer, to Bob Uecker’s play-by-play. Molitor was on the brink of tying Ty Cobb at 40 games, only four more names till Dimaggio.
I don’t remember who was pitching for the Indians, but Molitor was on deck in the bottom of the tenth and still hitless, score tied 0-0 when Rick Manning hit a soft liner to drive in Mike Felder with the winning run. Brewers fans booed. It was bad enough that Gorman Thomas had been traded for Manning. Now he had to go and get the game winning hit with Molitor on deck and his streak frozen in time.
We went back inside. Lars pulled out a shoe box from under his bed. I wasn’t surprised to see how many games he had recorded. He was a collector after all, but the dedication – to slip into Leo’s room like a jewel thief every time? That took guts and precision. All of the games were labeled and in perfect order, from Marshal Edwards first career home run in 1982 to Mark Brouhard’s last at bat to Teddy Higuera’s 20th win in 1986 and now Molitor’s 39 game hitting streak would have a slot.
It was late, but we were too confused by what life and Manning had done so we played back the last inning hoping for a different ending, something like – Manning strikes out and Molitor gets another chance! But something even better happened!! The sound coming from the speaker was monstrous and slow like a 45 record stuck on 14, Bob Ueckers voice an alien transmission. The boom box or cassette had malfunctioned.
Lars and I raced down to the garage and waited until we heard Leo’s footsteps and when we did, Lars turned the volume up and pressed play.
Dad said Leo pounded the front door so hard his knuckles were bloody. Leo denied it, said he went back to his girlfriend’s house. He winked at us when dad wasn’t looking, but we had the cassette and within a few weeks our own boom box to play that alien sound when Leo entered the room.