Amy Roma was in awe the way pedals opened in spring, the way birds built nests, ants hills, and bees hives. She greeted the sun every morning with a wave of her hands like a drunk Pentecostal. She stared at stars, learned the constellations, danced under the moon. Many stamped her as an itinerant preacher and then settled back in their brood.
Johnny Turin liked the Seattle Mariners, specifically the 1977 expansion squad because it marked the return of major league baseball to the Emerald City, after seven long seasons without. He liked the continuity of colors, the yellow and blue, the same colors the previous team in Seattle wore, the Pilots, who relocated to Milwaukee after just one season to become the Brewers, on account of the team going bankrupt, supposedly. It wasn’t that Johny Turin didn’t like flowers and cats and moon phases and pearls hanging from blades of grass; he just didn’t notice. He was too busy, gloating on behalf of Bob Stinson’s .360 OB% in 1977.
Amy Roma and Johny Turin met at a mutual friend’s funeral. Johnny knew he was a slave to his thoughts, but he knew they were medicine too, mellowing the sting of his dead best friend, that starting lineup of the 1977 Mariners serving him like a sweet lullaby.
“How’d you know him?” asked Amy Roma. It was the question you’d expect someone to ask at funeral, small talk, selfish in a sense, to make the one asking the question feel a little less alone. But Amy Roma wasn’t done. There were tall, stoic evergreens hanging over the hole where Henry Wobbler was being laid to rest. And there were squirrels playing their game of tag, racing around some other kind of tree and it was fall and so leaves were red and yellow and falling and swaying and it was intoxicating to Amy Roma.
“Let’s walk,” she said, almost insisted to Johnny Turin. He was thinking about Diego Segui’s 0-7 record in 1977 and dismal 5.69 ERA and yet he only allowed 108 hits in 110.2 innings, so he nodded and grunted “Uh huh” in confusion and followed her as if he were under some strange spell. They strolled and the damn life sprouts from death rule was in full effect with tall grasses growing wild and free above buried bodies and this tickled Amy Roma to wax on about cycles and photosynthesis and gravitational pull and eventually this gnawed at Johnny Turin’s mind, ruined his concentration, his pleasant obsession over the Mariners not losing 100 games in their inaugural season and three players on that team hitting over 20 home runs and to stop Amy Roma from gushing over skies and suns and planets, he recited their names…
“Dan Meyer, Ruppert Jones, Leroy Stanton” and then he said them in the opposite order, “Stanton, Jones, and Meyer” and when he was done with that he rattled off the names of a few pitchers, hoping to gain an edge over this Amy Roma, but she knew the names; she knew the Mariners of 1977 and 2022 too and wondered if they would make the playoffs and she also considered the assassination of John F. Kennedy and why, in 2006, had the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto to “dwarf planet” status and what kind of bat and ball games were played in ancient Egypt and as always, she wondered out loud and this mention of Egypt had Johnny thinking about his dead friend Henry Wobbler and how he had walked to the Nature Reserve on that Sunday as he always did, but that day he didn’t take in the cranes and turkeys and cardinals. He climbed the tower to get a better view of Mount Ranier, took a deep breath and jumped to his death.
“So how did you know him?” asked Johnny.
And she told him about the volunteering where they met and then about Eugenio Suarez and all the homeruns he had hit that season, “and with so few RBI’s” and than about “Logan Gilbert’s slider” and Johnny had questions and so it went, back and forth, Johnny not realizing that he was slipping further and further from the 77 Mariners and into 2022.
Amy Roma led them under the wrought iron Cemetery awning, like some ancient chuppa, into the rest of the day and the Mariners were playing that night and the two went to the game, against the Texas Rangers and the Mariners won 10-9 in 11 innings and it seemed fitting to both Amy Roma and Johnny Turin that it would go extra innings because they had a lot more to talk about and there was another game the next night too…
She was wearing a dark blue, ankle length dress. I figured she was part of some religious cult. I’m always a sucker for that type of species and the hope they engender, the challenge of it all, to sway her away from Jesus miracles into 24 hour donut shops and anywhere talk which is probably where Jesus would hang out if he were still alive, amongst the prostitutes, drunks, transvestites and the rest of us with no interest in sleeping, desperate to the endless possibility of connecting with humans. Do you wanna dance? Here. Right now!
Anyway, I’d been watching her for weeks, on the bus. She was always on it when I boarded. I didn’t bother thinking about destiny. I wasn’t looking to marry her. A conversation would do me just fine and then a coffee and a long stroll and smuggle a flask of Smirnoff into Estabrook Park and maybe we’d hold hands and kiss and exchange phone numbers, but the game was to collect more and more phone numbers and kisses. How many billions of people are there in this god damn world! Liechtenstein! Namibia! Pangea!
She had one of those old school trapper keepers which struck me as kind of strange because she was way older than high school. I had been being brave and sneaking looks at her as the bus rolled along and she’d smiled at me a couple of times. It was a nice, innocent little game we were playing, but the boxscore in my mind was incomplete; I wanted to know more about this developing trapper keeper situation. I hadn’t seen one in years. But I knew it was a trapper. I remembered those organizers and the Rick Springfield photos girly girlies slipped under the plastic so they could day dream about the mullet pop star model.
So, one morning I inched my way closer to the lady whose name I didn’t know.
“Is that a trapper keeper?” I asked with daring flair.
“I guess you’re old,” she replied.
I could barely hear her sarcasm. I was too interested in the photo she had slipped under the trapper keeper plastic front. I immediately knew the face. It was part Woody Allen, part Joan of Arc. It was Ty Cobb. It was unmistakable, that pear-shaped face and I felt a rush of empathy for Ty Cobb, a flash, a belief in my gut, that Cobb wasn’t ALL bad and neither was Genghis Khan or anyone for that matter and then I spotted a tattoo on the lady’s arm and I could feel her eyes looking at my eyes and I don’t know why but I started thinking about old baseball stadiums I knew, the names anyway, like Crosley and Forbes and so I told her what I was thinking and she didn’t know the stadium names or much about baseball; she just liked Ty Cobb’s face so I guess we had that in common because I like Ty Cobb’s face too.
I knew him as Pie and didn’t care too much about his real name because his family name was Kepinger and that reminded me of Kessinger, not Kissinger, the political guy, but Kessinger, – Don Kessinger, the White Sox player-manager in 1979 and where did player-managers go and what happened to the word hankering? I miss my grandfather.
Pie stood on third base looking like a virgin at 13th and Walnut – lost. He said he was guarding the line, “to prevent a double.” It wasn’t very convincing because Pie was facing the pitcher, not the batter and standing straight up looking at the sky, not really ready for a sharply hit ground ball.
I liked Pie. When everyone else dressed as an axe murderer or a skeleton for Halloween, Pie wore a brown monk’s robe, learned a few prayers and said them after receiving a Three Musketeers bar, but not for any other candy, only the Three Musketeers and we never knew why and this pissed off a lot of people, but not me.
I had heard of some empathy trick that if you collect a strand of someone’s clothing, from a shirt, pants, or socks and place the strand in a drawer with a pair of eyeglasses, you could reach Maximum Empathy Realization or MER as the psycho-scientists liked to call it.
And so I sat beside Pie in the dugout and put my arm on his shoulder and better than a strand of clothing, I got a strand of his hair and I bought pair of reading glasses at Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy and set the items in a drawer and as sure as a ghost, the next day I shrunk, as small as a blade of grass and slipped into Pie’s ear. But I didn’t stay small for long because there was room inside Pie’s mind. It looked like miles and miles of virgin forest and I figured that’s what experts were hinting at when they said we only use a small percentage of our brain. I was suddenly seated on a park bench inside Pie’s mind watching his thoughts fly by like the ticker tape trailing behind a small plane with messages – “should i pick up dirt and rub it in my hands? should I carefully drop three small stones on the base I’m standing on in some prehistoric superstitious ritual to turn the tide? Should I have not washed my game jersey? Should I scratch my crotch? Should I lean over, glove on the ground, flip my shades down, talk to the pitcher? Say something enthusiastic? Insult the batter?
It looked and sounded painful for Pie, the anxiety lullaby roaring on…
I eventually stood up from the park bench and exited where I had entered – Pie’s left ear and asked him why he was on the team and he said it had always been this way when it came to baseball and it all started with his father. Bastard never took Pie to a game and they lived walking distance from old Tiger Stadium so he missed the 35-5 start in 1984 and he never got to see Milt Wilcox labor or the batting stance of Johnny Grubb.
“We never played catch. He never bought me a pack of cards. He stuck me on this team. Dad likes it when I’m uncomfortable, out of my element,” admitted Pie.
A sick joke I thought, a cruel father, and that’s what made it such a miracle when exactly 90 days before Halloween, Pie crowded the plate and waved his bat like Carney Lansford, so eager, ready for the day like a rooster and Pie bunted down the third base line and it was a beauty, trickling along and stopping still and silent on the chalk. Pie stood and stared at the ball and when we all screamed for him to “go go go,” he looked at me and rolled his fingers towards himself, a sign for me to follow him so I did, along the left field foul line, all the way to the fence and over the fence and up the small hill to the railroad tracks, angling in both directions and all Pie said to me was “a martian made me do it” and I thought about that strand of his hair and the eye glasses and the bunt and the martian and nothing really mattered anymore. It all felt like some strange riddle that could never be solved.
Seeing Pie disappear over those tracks and down the hill hit me in the gut. Time was running out. School was starting in three weeks and I had to do it. I had been thinking about it for years, hankering for it, and the three weeks passed slow, but that first day of school arrived and I did it – I signed up for band and started learning how to play the tuba and with every sound I managed to make, I thought, we’ll see where this all goes….
i heard you’re into restoring victorian vases now and you wear sexy, great shoes and diamond earrings and your hair is the perfect color, some amazing mix of your natural beauty and synthetic crayola oils and curls at the end, perfect to stare at and twirl and i respect all that like i worshipped you a few decades ago and wondered where you got that necklace and your dark eyes and i know some work in diamond mines and others wear diamonds and i know i’m the one who has to work in the mines, but if i could go back, i would have softly held your hand and walked us over the tracks to the trestle and the unpredictable river where old philosophers had determined the same – unpredictable and we’d walk on and i would feel from your softness that you agreed and we’d finally smooch inside a giant, colorful cement tube on the kid’s playground where probably preschoolers did naughty things like we would do and the stars would agree and all of these trespasses from the simple touch of our hands, we’d sneak port wine into the cemetery and drink and I would proudly feel responsible for luring you into becoming the best damned viper in the world and we’d eat breakfast at Sal’s Diner, 1.99 for two eggs, toast, bacon and all the coffee we could drink and god, would we drink lots of coffee, us the kshhhh kshhhh of a needle that refuses to let go of the LP and you’d balance the sugar tower on sugar grains and i’d read the sports page, studying the boxscores and Joey Wiemer’s yesterday 0 for 3, but I’m sure he ran down a few fly balls and I’d totally forget about you and you’d kiss me on the lips and hug me because of my sudden absence and then I’d punch you on the shoulder for interrupting my brewers baseball reverie and we’d still both be feeling the previous night’s cemetery port wine high and it would be time to go to work and we’d send each other on our own ways, onto our own dance floors, spreading our own kind of love and maybe sneak some kisses with strangers and then we’d meet by the tracks after work and do it all over again come sundown whisky this time and sunrise back at the diner and sun would set and sun would rise and I’d know Viperette, as I would start calling you was bringing a little flamenco into the world, into me too…
It was the smell of pickles because nothing in the world smells quite like pickles or come to think of it, they weren’t yet pickles; they were in the beginning stages; they were only cucumbers, but well on their way, in the canning process which was something I knew nothing about as a 13-year old, but I had a hunch a jar musta leaked because the place reeked like vinegar. That’s what it was. Yes, vinegar. We were at Damien Murphy’s house or not his house, his parent’s house or pa-rental’s house as we called our moms and dads back then, pa-rentals, us the stowaway borders enjoying free food and rent.
Damien’s parents were out of town and they left his older brother in charge. Some charge. Benji bought us a case of fat mouth Mickey’s malt beer, the bottles like little glass grenades. I don’t’ remember the proof of the alcohol, but we didn’t need to know. We had all the proof we needed in knowing that we were on the slow journey towards a drunken attitude adjustment.
Benji left the beer beside the milk chute in the backyard, in some bushes out of sight from the Krosnoski neighbors. They were volunteers at the Zoo and liked to stick their nose where it didn’t belong. The beer being hidden added to the contraband feel of the night. We smuggled the beer and ourselves into the Murphy’s three story home. The back porch had four pillars which was very significant. It was the only house on the block with four pillars! We tiptoed in the dark, down the steps, into the basement. It added to the thrill.
Damian’s mother had the pickle jars in a back room in the same basement we were drinking in. There were 6 or 7 of us, four boys and a couple of girls. I remember Suzie Garcia more than anyone, remember her like it was yesterday because of that vinegar smell that filled that room. It’s stayed with me. What a crazy, wild, powerful sense is smell! One whiff of vinegar and I can see her again, that wacky Suzie Garcia. She had medium-length curly black hair and didn’t have big breasts or anything that would make us teens drool. It was the way she walked, on her toes, a hippity hop step and the way she ignored people, me included if she got bored by the conversation. I had never kissed a girl before. Fast forward 40 years and me, in drunken desperation, I try to track her down on facebook and I’m a hypocrite because I have no facebook account but I browse for old high school mates like Suzie Garcia in the hope she might digitally display her life through endless photos, but come to think if it, I’m glad I don’t find her. I wouldn’t want to find out that she had a husband, two kids, a dog, and a big house and was happy, because the Suzie I met that vinegar night was not happy; she was wonderfully distant and independent and seeing her happy would ruin the statue I’ve built of Suzie, the muse she’s become.
Suzie talked a lot about the Brewers which was an instant turn on. I had never been to a game with a girl, only one movie with Sarah Mankowitz, at the Bay Theatre, a James Bond flick, Never Say Never Again, a big mistake because of all that Bond macho shit…..left me no chance to score, not even a kiss. But now there was Suzie and she knew more than Yount and Molitor and Cooper. She did some heavy obscure name dropping like Thad Bosley and Dwight Bernard and with every name rolling off her tongue, I wondered how I would kiss her. All of us drank the beer and then we headed outside into a midwestern humid, swimming through apple sauce summer night. I still love that kind of weather.
If a genie came to me now….and offered me one magic wish, I’d slip into a time machine and return to that walk we all took, drunk on Mickey’s Malt and I would hijack Suzie Garcia and we would walk to the local yard and hop a train heading west and we’d sing and drink more beer and sleep in those boxcars and be brave like only teenagers can be. We’d catch squirrels and rabbits or Suzie would catch them with traps she’d make with her bare hands, a skill passed on by her hunter father and I’d have a bottle of Tabasco sauce that could turn any marsupial into a delicacy. We would talk and really get to know each other and she would sometimes ignore me and that wouldn’t bother me in the least because I would have my own private space too and best of all we would make it all the way to Colorado and Denver and only then would we realize that freaking 40 years had passed and that Denver had a baseball team and they were the Rockies and they were scheduled to play our very Brewers that night and that night would be tonight!
The Brewers lost last night 3-2. I didn’t’ see the game. I was asleep but I see that Freddie Peralta struck out 10 batters which almost matched the first outing of his pro career which was also in Colorado. He struck out 13 that night. Baseball has all kinds of these wonderful connections, enough to distract a human mind for an entire lifetime not to mention inspiring endless conversations with fellow baseball junkies like that golden Suzie Garcia.
And Suzie and I would go to batting practice tonight and we’d catcall Joey Wiemer and he’d walk over and sign our program. Joey went 0 for 3 last night, sending his average closer to Mendoza at .218, but he’ll keep getting penciled into the lineup and not only because Garrett Mitchell is done for the season, but because Joey takes incredible routes to balls and is fast and has a tremendous arm and I call him the Wiemer Schnitzel! Am I repeating myself? That’s what Suzie would say and then turn away and jot notes in the scorecard. I would never know entirely what she was thinking and I would love it that way.
I’ve never thought of myself as a rose. I’m too mental, too self-absorbed, too self-loathing, and like everyone else – terminal while a rose reappears confident every spring, growing colorful pedals, ones people like to dunk their snouts in and smell. No one asks to smell me and I don’t take selfies either. I do, however, try and be appealing to other people, no doubt an inherited syndrome of wanting to please everyone, a fear of the void and life having no meaning, other than a few years and bones six feet under as opposed to a belief in god which I suffer from. It’s an active god too, one who I can communicate with, but like in the 70’s movie, Oh God, starring John Denver, George Burns, and Teri Garr (i love Teri Garr) God in the end disappears, goes on an African safari trip and his parting words are “You talk and I’ll listen,” the selfish bastard.
But me a fool, I keep believing and as a result, I tend to see things with the glass half-full, even pitch counts and the pitch clock, that things, good or bad, happen for a reason and that reason is to strengthen us so we can deal better with the down times and the inevitable end which probably won’t be filled with noble words and instead a great big OUCH, but to not become desperate and angry, an old curmudgeon. This is what made it so surprising for me Sunday to be in such a pissy mood as I walked along the Lachine Canal in Montreal. Maybe I’ve been a liar most of my life, blind to how truly awful this life really is.
The Lachine Canal in Montreal has something to do with China or the name does anyway. It has to do with Europeans hoping to reach China and fill up their lives with whatever they felt their lives lacked, no doubt spices so when they arrived here, they thought they had reached China and called it Lachine which in French means The China. Did they really think they had reached China? I shouldn’t judge. I have a shitty sense of direction too. But those Europeans and their geographic boners. I’d rather trust an Egyptian.
I walk along the Lachine canal every weekend and it doesn’t strike me as much of a canal. There are no boats lugging cargo containers. In fact, in spring and summer, the only boats along the narrow passage are stupid boats, the kind where half-naked men and half-naked women lay flat on their whoring backs and cruise slowly in the polluted, PCB infested water with the boat’s obnoxious loud motor ruining any chances for me to hear what my mind is concocting, no doubt a delusion of some sort and that same boat motor inspires a dog’s barking frenzy and romantic couples to hold hands because they don’t care about noises. Nothing can knock them off their junky romantic high. They’re in love or pretending to be and if the motor is not enough, then the crappy music blasting from the boat is. I hate it when people blast music from boats like I hated it in the 80’s when people blasted music from their boom boxes. Did I ask to hear that music? No. It’s noise pollution. God made headphones. Do boat owners care? Doesn’t seem so as they drink beer or cocktails or probably smoothies to stay in shape. I miss John Kruk. Thank God for Daniel Vogelbach. I’ve never lifted a weight in my life. The least the boat owners could do is toss beers to us poor folks walking along the path. I don’t understand the thrill of boats, maybe a huge cargo ship makes sense, the supply chain situation like the one that rescued Tom Hanks in that movie Caste Away or maybe sneaking onto a ship and hiding in the galley under the sink, going where? No where in particular, but cruise boats and motor boats? Speed boats? Obnoxious boats! Like cars that rev their engines for everyone to hear at stop signs. I never understood auto racing either. Stupid sport. Or I can appreciate the culture inside the INDY 500 track, all those people gathering and spreading love in their unique ways like a dead show I guess, but that sound, men macho muscle sound. Scarier than a drill sergeant high on crack, not that I’ve ever been in the military. I missed that boat. Thank God for Joe Strummer and the Clash and their wonderful song, “The Call Up.”
At the Lachine canal there are also groups of anonymous fishermen. They don’t wear name tags. I don’t talk to them. They’re there every time I walk along the dirty water, in winter too. I have no idea what they’re hoping to catch? Some new polluted species of fish? Or maybe Carp? I’ve seen that nasty monster of a fish in the overly romanticized Lachine Canal, seen them beside bobbing coke cans and used condoms. I don’t get fishing which depresses me because it seems to be so tied to baseball or at least baseball players like Ted Williams and reporters too, maybe none more than Red Smith. He grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin so he’s a big deal in my home state state along with Hall of Famer Al Simmons and Harvey Kuenn and not to be out done, side armer Pat Neshek from Madison. But Red Smith had a cottage somewhere in Wisconsin and he loved to fish. I guess I get the potential peace involved in the pastime or sport or whatever anglers like to call it, like some zen monk meditating on a hill, but I have no inner peace, not this month or year or life anyway and it makes me jealous. I wish I could sit in a canoe and do nothing for 12 hours except stare at the water and drink beer or brandy. But I hate the movement of water. It leaves me at a disadvantage because the earth is covered by like 80 percent water or whatever, right? Fine by me. I’m not gonna live forever so I’ll spend my few days on landy, tumbleweed earth and take in whatever miracles I can find, probably not too many today.
But speaking of miracles, Ohtani hit a long homerun to centerfield against the Brewers on Sunday and he doesn’t even extend his front foot during the swing. He just curls it and still generates all that power. Ohtani is one of these miracles and so is Trout, not the fish, but the man, the player, the living legend, the future HOF’er and yet, I take it for granted he walks amongst us or flashes across the TV or lap tap or I-phone screen. I start thinking about Easter Sunday 1987 and the Brewers walk off win and how Rob Deer was like a god to me. Stupid nostalgia while Trout and Ohtani are alive and that should be enough reason for me to bow down like a mindless believer, grateful to be alive, but instead I complain, but then it happens or it happened Sunday, on the same day Ohtani went deep, Trout went 0 for 4 and struck out three times, the last time looking really fooled on an out of the strike zone slider by none other than the Brewers Tyson Miller. Who? Exactly. Heroes get tricked by no names too. And maybe I’m cruel but that’s reassuring to know that Trout is sometimes like the rest of us. He sucks. The Brewers got shut out 0-3, but they won the series against the Angels and now it’s on to Coors Field. My favorite Brewer, Joey Wiemer, has his batting average up to .226.
The grocery store I typically shop at is part of a chain of stores with the same name – Metro. It has been under renovation. I was curious why. A decision handed down from headquarters? Or one made by the specific branch? Was it like city-states? Could they do what they wanted without consulting the leaders of their respective empires? Ancient history is not my specialty so I turned my attention to mlb websites, if a team, for example, could design their own site and not follow the same format as all other teams. This is what I was thinking while roaming the new layout at the grocery store, not a great idea, because the potatoes were no longer beside the fish display. I needed to focus. It was like shopping in a where’s Waldo adventure.
I eventually found the potatoes and en route, noticed something I hadn’t seen before and I had no one to blame but myself. I hadn’t combed the store studying all it had to offer and so I had never seen the freezer filled with frozen vegetables which didn’t bother me at all because I don’t like frozen vegetables, but there was something beside them that inspired questions. There were packages of Buffalo Wings. I’m not one for philosophy, but I admire the way philosophy is written – wordy and confusing which I take personally as a reminder that I lack the brain power to understand what the hell people like Spinoza and other philosophers are talking about, but in this instance, of seeing Buffalo Wings, I had to ask the question – why? The latent philosopher in me had been aroused. Why are they called Buffalo Wings? Buffalo don’t have wings. Buffalo don’t fly. I know this because I’ve seen buffalo roaming. It was a few years ago. I saw them at a park within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park
I was in the Bay Area visiting my older brother. (He has been living in Oakland for almost 40 years) While I was there, I decided to ride the local subway called BART which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit. I wanted to visit the old hippy scene at Haight and Asbury so I mapped out my subway and bus and walking route from Oakland to San Francisco and made it to the hippy zone and there were some old hippies there and they told me that the real hippy scene was buried in Golden Gate Park in 1966 and that was news to me and all in all, it was a great cultural experience and eventually I made my way to that park, to Golden Gate Park and walked and walked and walked some more which is how I stumbled on these buffalo. It was a great and surprising discovery.
It was exciting to see a park dedicated to these buffalo. I had read a little bit about them, not much, but a little, about how important they were to Plains Indian’s culture and how the white settlers knew that if they destroyed the buffalo, they would succeed in destroying their culture, maybe like the Nazis burning the Jew’s Torah/old testament. Get rid of the buffalo, get rid of the Torah and the cultures would eventually disintegrate which reminds me of something I recently learned about – eugenics and the search of the so called perfect gene which makes no sense to me in that I believe in spices, in so many different kinds of spices, in all kinds of Indians, in all kinds of Jews, in blue-eyed people, brown-eyed, tall, small, men with pockmarks on their faces, midgets, monsters, cultures or religions that believe in god and heaven and other that don’t, girls who wear flowers in their hair and say hello to strangers and men who drive around in hearses with megaphones attached to the top preaching destruction and doom. Spices spices spices. Anyway, all this to say that the buffalo in Golden Gate Park did not have wings and did not fly.
I asked my girlfriend about this name – buffalo wings; I asked her why since they were just chicken wings and she didn’t answer; she was busy deciding on whether or not to buy ice cream which she didn’t buy, instead choosing to buy a second bag of oranges, a strange replacement for ice cream, but I didn’t bother asking her why, preferring to not know which got me excited to head outside and discover new things which is exactly what happened when my girlfriend asked me to help her remove windows so she could clean them, front and back, something new, something I never do at my apartment. I was happy to help her. And the air was great….winter ending and seasons changing and yet, it’s almost impossible to notice, to really notice, a bulb on a branch exploding into a green leaf like when does that exact moment happen? It’s like noticing our mood swings. It’ all so gradual or subtle, but then it’s there or there we are in a new place and this inspires memories of Greg Maddux and what he did when he was pitching for the Braves, how he would impose amnesia on himself after allowing a home run, to forget about the previous matter, the previous batter, to move onto the next one, to forget, to believe that he might make the right pitch to the next batter. It was all just hope and blind faith. I mean there was a chance that the law of averages would not return and Maddux would throw one gopher pitch after another, but he didn’t.
The Brewers Corbin Burnes applied a similar self-imposed amnesia on himself too, a few weeks ago. After suffering two bad starts to begin the season, uncharacteristically walking five batters in nine innings, allowing two homers, 11 hits, 10 earned runs, he said something to the effect of “not focusing on the negative of what’s already passed, to not go that route” and he’s been good, if not great ever since saying that, back to his Cy Young self, but this isn’t to say that it’s that easy, like some magic incantation, that tomorrow will be horror-free if you forget about yesterday’s terror.
Steve Blass serves as a potent reminder that it sometimes doesn’t work. There’s even a syndrome named after him, the sudden attack of “Holy crap, I can no longe throw strikes” and the damn lack of control never went away, derailed his good career, even after hypnosis, psychiatrists and god knows what else, but Blass went on to have a nice broadcasting stint with the Pirates. He endured the horrible changes that confronted him, “the syndrome” and carved a new path and the suddenness of Blass’s lack of control kind of reminds me of the sudden renovations at the grocery store, at first shocking and unsettling, but then, slowly, I had no choice, but to adjust because some things are too big to try and resist and when I stopped resisting, I noticed the buffalo wings and after writing about them here, I might spice my life up and try some.
I can see it now – couch, buffalo wings, beer, and Corbin Burnes.
The Brewers are 18-9, one and half games behind the 20-8 Pirates who are the surprise of the year so far and apparently in a state of amnesia over last year’s 62-100 season…..Make notice to self for possible epitaph – “forever trying to forget about yesterday’s triumph or turmoil. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.”
The man sitting inside the tobacco kiosk seldom smiled. The kiosk offered just enough room to swivel around and pluck whatever his customers asked for”…..cigars, cigarettes, kodiak tins, cloves, tiparillos. He had no hair. He always spoke baritone, “what can I get for you?” …..pleasant enough to not creep out parents who were eager to report him because of the pockmarks on his face and the way he stared at their 16-year old boys and girls. But he wasn’t doing anything forbidden. The legal smoking age in Saddick County was 14 on account of there being so many “back rooms” where those aware of the monster within gathered and gambled and smoked…..There was no Little League or Boy Scouts in town so kids played poker. Kids smoked. And with mortgage payments and the drudge of 9-5 at the Yield Plastics Plant, parents started smoking too.
This man was the only tobacco dealer in town, an occupation handed down for generations, the Turnicut tobacco family. He, like his grandmother and great grandfather and so on backwards to the launch of the very first plantation, devoted their entire life to tobacco, dealing out the delights to eager teenagers, ladies with lipstick, and slow walking elders with wide lapel suit jackets.
On a sign outside the kiosk, right under a sharpy doodle of a cigar, in small cursive writing, it said – “we sell confectionary too.” I had no idea what the word meant. I was there for the Ducado filter-less imports from Spain, but I liked that word confectionary. It had me playing word division and association. Got me thinking about confession and defection and that reminded me of the Spanish Catholic church and the colonization of Cuba and the defection of Cuban born players and that had me wondering if Luis Tiant defected, but my wonder didn’t last long. I closed my eyes and slipped into a little reverie of Tiant corkscrewing 180 degree around wind ups. I had only seen Tiant on old videos, but that motion stuck with me. I impersonated him outside the kiosk. I was never sure if the tobacco man knew who I was impersonating?
And then he said the words to me one day.
“Make yourself a solstitial personality.”
And when I shrugged my shoulders, he added in a whisper, “one day it might be Hendrix and the next day the Koran.”
I knew about Hendrix and had heard about the Koran, about the inner war of Jihad, that fight against one’s animal nature, but I liked birds, especially hawks, the way they soared so effortlessly, hardly ever flapping their wings. I wanted to be like them so I had no interest in fighting with my animal nature. I wanted to arouse it even more and then one day I might fly or wrestle a buffalo to the ground with my naked hands and kill it peacefully and say thank you and then cook it up at a campfire of my own making for my brothers, if I only had brothers, if I only knew how to make a fire.
And these thoughts of fire reminded me of Hendrix playing the electric guitar with his teeth and also a Muslim Sufi spinning dervish dance and I felt confused, but it struck a cord with me like the humble, hardworking strategy of a suicide squeeze and the arrogant pompous homerun trot, both of them sharing the same planet and that’s when the tobacco man’s words started to make a grain of sand sense to me, two solstices, to make myself a solstitial personality. To sense the incoming storm and know when to adjust the sails and change, adapt, and what not.
The Brewers, like all teams have suffered early season injuries. Centerfielder Garrett Mitchell went down with what they’re saying is a season ending shoulder injury/surgery. And this means the Brewers have to adjust. They have to activate a new solstice or maybe I’m stretching this metaphor too far? Or maybe it doesn’t work at all? In any case, Mitchell’s injury gives my favorite Brewer a great opportunity. It’s Joey Wiemer – 6’4″, 220 big with a mammoth, wild swing and yet totally under control, able to lay off sliders low and away and also freak in the field…super fast and takes great routes to balls and a missile for an arm in right field and now center field since Mitchell went down.
And what does all this have to do with tobacco man? Nothing except that I just got back from Milwaukee. I was visiting my mom and dad and my dad gave me a cigar.
He held the bat low and knew where to aim – down the lines, in the alleys, to the open spaces where there was only dirt or grass. There was no point in shading him right or left because Hans Van Drummer could hit to all fields, his hitting spray chart an everywhere dot of Jackson Pollocks. He musta weighed close to 250 pounds and he wasn’t that tall. Had arthritis in his back and hands, a slouch with pock marks on his face and burn marks up and down his left arm.
I heard about Van Drummer from my younger sister. She knew about him from her boyfriend’s older brother Reuben. It was kind of hard to not wonder about Van Drummer. My sister said Reuben told her that Van Drummer was small and fat, aloof and prone to stare at the bleachers like a horse does into a valley. She said it so fast, with so much gusto and enthusiasm, like she worshipped Reuben or Van Drummer, maybe both! I liked her idolatry, the believing in something outside her self.
I wanted to meet Reuben, thought maybe we could become drinking buddies and talk late into the night about skyscrapers, baseball cards, the apocalypse, and whatever else came to our drunken minds, so I followed my sister to her boyfriend’s house, to Reuben’s house and he was there, in the TV room, eating popcorn and watching Mr. Magoo. I introduced myself, made small talk, asked him if Mr. Magoo was his favorite cartoon and told him Road Runner was mine. He didn’t say a word, but my sister had the key, had the words to unlock Reuben.
“Hans Van Drummer,” she said and that’s all she needed to say. Reuben turned away from the TV, stood up, and skipped all “hey, how you doing, what’s your name?” formalities.
“When the Monticules play at home on Saturday afternoons I sleep outside Pill and Puff stadium on Friday nights,” he explained, “to get a close up look at Van Drummer when he arrives in the morning, at the way he steps out of his car and walks through the parking lot and stops to tie his shoes at the exact same spot every time, section F6, just like a ‘one flap down’ home run trot ritual and the way he leans, that arthritic back of his and that smile as if he’s saying, “no matter what’s bestowed me, I’ll live out my days.””
Reuben ran his fingers through long golden strands of hair, no curls at all, horse mane straight.
Reuben told me about vintage cars and port wine. I told him I hated cars and only drank whisky. Our differences were fuel to a fire. Reminded me of a time before inter-league play, back when the National league felt like a foreign country with its pitchers batting, the two leagues happy and content in their difference, like ancient Basque boatmen touching the Gaspe peninsula, trading a few items with the locals (the all-star game and World Series) and then turning around and going home, no need for colonization because there was nothing they lacked. The DH was fine. You have your pitchers batting, we have our motor city boppers, a peaceful solution to civil wars, bats replacing bayonets.
Reuben believed in the torch being passed from older to younger brother, showing the next generation how to deseed a bag of weed and buying Mickey’s fat mouth malt beer igniting an underage Friday night and my sister stood to benefit from all this generosity because she was the Reuben’s younger brother’s lover, enough of a reason for me to like, to trust Reuben.
I knew the way Strat-o-matic baseball fans went to Glen Head, New York, and camped out the night before that year’s cards were issued and now there was Reuben’s ritual pilgrimage to Pill and Puff Stadium and well, I wanted to go and see this Van Drummer. I didn’t even need to ask. I think Reuben knew that me hanging in there, listening to his enthusiasm, my 12 pitch at-bat; he knew I was on board.
That Friday afternoon, we walked, sleeping bags strapped to our backpacks; we walked amongst tall grasses, out to the road, highway 770 and waited beside crows eager to pounce on road kill. I hid in the brush, out of view from passing cars, to tilt the scales in our favor, a driver more likely to stop to pick up one, not two hitchhikers. And it worked, a pick-up truck stopped and it was heading our way, towards Millbrooke and Pill and Puff stadium. We sat in the back, the wind blowing every which way making it impossible to have a conversation which was good because there was the hills across the river to stare at and wonder about all the ancient people who had once lived in those mountains, hunting, gathering, and probably performing pilgrimages of their own.
The trucker dropped us off in Merryville, about three miles from the stadium. We were too eager to care about distance and talked about ancient Indians paddling for days and about Van Drummer and I had a hunch Reuben was guarding details about him and I felt like a miner with gold up ahead, imminent.
The parking lot had grills and lawn chairs sprinkled about, free to the public. We walked to a local survival store and bought a bag of charcoal, lighter fluid, hamburger patties, buns, chips, beer, and a frisbee. We cooked and ate and drank and tossed a frisbee back and forth and then, tired out, we stretched out on the lawn chairs, drifted off to sleep, and woke with the sun and ate some leftover buns. We talked about pitching staffs and the Iroquois Confederacy, if there was life after death, inside the park home runs and then it happened. Cars and people started pouring into the parking lot and amongst the mass, rumbled a Green Checker Marathon taxi.
“There he is,” said an excited Reuben. “Now watch.” It was exactly as Reuben had described – the belly, the slow saunter, the smile on his face, the stopping in section F6 of the parking lot, the tying of his shoes. I don’t know if I was mesmerized by his hypnotic movements and smile, seemingly filled with infinite gratitude or it being exactly as Reuben had described, probably both.
“Now this I didn’t tell you about,” whispered Reuben, his eyes squinted and mouth half open. It was the golden nugget, I thought. My head warmed.
Van Drummer stood up from tying his shoes, turned around, walked back to his Marathon taxi, opened the back door, and waved Reuben over, me too. The rest, oh the rest. He drove us around the parking lot for musta been 15 minutes telling us tales from the road, the ukulele and kazoo playing, the pranks, and the beer and also the quiet late night moments on the bus, the overhead lights shining down like a midnight moon, “those moments,” said Van Drummer, “when we talked about our lives in serious ways, the busted marriages and kids and how the past fades and names and faces get blurred, but we always ended up laughing, deciding jointly, that all of it was a gift, one we didn’t really deserve.”
He parked the Marathon in the same spot and then did what Reuben said he would do. He entered through the X concourse and before he disappeared into the dark tunnel, he turned and waved to us.” I thought about the promise a crocus makes, popping through the cold spring soil.
We bought bleacher tickets. Reuben said he always did, to save money and to be beside people struggling to survive. We talked about communism and I bought him two beers.
Van Drummer batted sixth and he struck out and singled and hit a pop fly and then it was the bottom of the ninth and the Monticules were losing 8-0 making the scene kind of quiet and gloomy, but it was Van Drummer and he sliced a cue shot towards first base, a strange sight, him being right-handed and it hurdled the bag and rolled and kept rolling and the stadium wasn’t so big, only 310 down the line, but the fielder got a late jump and the ball caromed out of his reach and then he slipped on the grass and like a locomotive, a 250 pound locomotive, Van Drummer chugged around first and second and didn’t stop, his mind made up for third and he ended his long roam with a miracle belly flop for a triple and Reuben sat back down, stunned, totally stunned by what had just happened, but not lost for words.
“That’s the first triple of his 15-year career. I love triples, so industrious and blue collar, all the effort and sprint, much more satisfying to see than the casual, arrogant, home run trot.”
Van Drummer was stranded on third. The inning ended. The game was over. We exited the stadium with a hippity-hop in our step. We smashed paper beer cups and enjoyed the echo. We bought more beer from the survival store and sat in the parking lot, in those lawn chairs and stayed until sunset and Reuben told tales of Sam “Wahoo” Crawford, that he was born in Wahoo, Nebraska and that he was the all-time major league leader of triples with 309, and Reuben even knew where he was laid to rest and nothing needed to be said. I had 150 bucks. Reuben had 55. Not much, but we had pilgrimage on our minds, hitchhiking to Hollywood, California and then to Inglewood, to visit the grave of Sam “Wahoo” Crawford.
Today was not like any other day, not because of a meteor shower or a man running naked up and down the steps of city hall. It was different because I spotted a crooked old lady, leaning to the right, walking slowly along the cement, holding an eggplant in each hand, her locomotion a thing of the past, but I bet there was a time when she skipped and jumped rope and smoked her first cigarette behind Terri’s Italian emporium. We passed each other. I nodded. She didn’t see me. She was busy, focused on her next step. God, life is weird. I remember when summer vacation felt like forever and now the days are slow, but the weeks are fast and the months and years even faster. I think I might return to McDonald’s and drink coffee and stare at strangers and if I’m lucky strike up conversations and get people high because I feel high because it’s been a while since three promising rookies cracked the Brewers lineup. it’s been since the early 2000’s with Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, and Prince Fielder and now it’s Garrett Mitchell, Brice Turang, Joey Weimer and spring really is the time for fracas and new beginnings and bulbs on branches ready to burst into green spiders and then leaves and dancing in the breeze is my determination to spend more time outside this spring and summer is enough to get me walking to the local survival store and buy a brew and take it to a secret place and drink it under the sky.