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…
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.”
I wasn’t alive in the spring of 1969 but if I was, I like to think I woulda been 17 and woulda had a big crush on a girl with olive-colored skin, black hair and dark eyes, so dark that I could see the world reflected in them except at night. Then it would be downright spooky and my crush on her would grow. She would lead me all over town in say Brooklyn. Yeh, I would be living in Brooklyn, not too far from the Greenwood cemetery. And I would know that Henry Chadwick was buried there and I would know that Chadwick created the first baseball box score and that he questioned the thinking that lots of errors equaled “bad fielder” because it might just be a case of a defender having greater range, getting to more balls = more chances = more errors. I wouldn’t be 100 percent sure of all this because I would have overheard it from a conversation a bunch of old men with hats would have been having at the local pharmacy.
I would follow my beady-eyed babe over the black wrought iron gates of Greenwood cemetery in the hopes of a kiss. It would be amazing to just clear the spiky tops of the fence, and I would make it and she would hold my hand and then let go and I would run after her and she would hold my hand again and then run away again. I would eventually get tired and pass out and when I woke up she would be gone. But I would have a brother and we would be really close, really different, but really close. He would be a weed smoker and the occasional dropper of LSD and he would go see bands and he would have a massive music collection and I would be a baseball card collector and I would like astronomy and baseball and that would be about it. I would have a lot of friends, but not many dreams other than liking it when winter was over and spring came and baseball would be starting again. I would go to a lot of Mets and Yankees games with my friends. I would like the Mets better, but I would also like to see American League teams and their players and anyway the subway and bus reached both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium so I would go to both. And I would like 1969 because there would be talk of men going to the moon and there would be four new teams in baseball and they would be all over North America – Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City, and San Diego. And at some point I would get wind that Jim Bouton would be pitching for the Pilots in Seattle and that he had been assigned a task – to chronicle his 1969 season and I would think that was really cool because his chronicle would be like a diary and that would be like gratitude for living, an appreciation of every day, good or bad, drunk or sober, proof of a life lived, a sort of a thank you note to God or whoever. I would want Bouton’s Pilot’s baseball card, but there would be a problem. Topps would issue its cards in spring, but they would be for the previous season so the 1969 set would be about the 1968 players. There would be no Jim Bouton Pilot’s card that year, but it was right about that time that my brother would invite me to some concert in upstate New York. He would say things like, “You gotta go and don’t worry, I know exactly how to prepare you for the event.”
He would sit me down and hand me a small piece of cardboard, much smaller than a baseball card, much much smaller, and he would tell me that it was LSD and that I should put it on my tongue. He promised that it would make me want to hear music, to go and see live music. I would be kind of innocent and gullible, but it would be my brother and I would trust him. Nothing would happen at first, but then I would start noticing things that were always there, but they would be different like the colored shapes of the floor tiles and the turquoise colored ceiling. There would be rainbow colors around the light and my brother would put on an album and it would be Canned Heat and he would tell me about the origins of the name canned heat and we would be like holy crap – “How could anyone drink that!” and I would get to thinking that maybe there was a little magic in all of this and that maybe I should go with my brother to this music concert he called Woodstock which would be the town where the concert would be and maybe it was the LSD talking, but I would wonder and then really believe that there would be a Topps baseball card maker at Woodstock and that he would be making cards from the back of his VW bus, that all the players who would be playing in that 1969 season would have cards including Jim Bouton on the Pilots!
We would hitchhike, my brother and I from Brooklyn to Woodstock and along the way we would eat some more of these LSD cardboard tabs and I would start thinking about time being made up, about it being man made and that all that mattered was the sun and moon, night and day and I would feel even more excited about there being four more teams in baseball and when we would get to Woodstock, I would meet an old man with a radio, an AM transistor, and he would tell me that the Pilots were playing the Orioles in Seattle that weekend and I would know that and he would offer to drive us to Baltimore, that he had a Dodge Dart and we would listen to the game on the radio in Baltimore in his one bedroom apartment and it wouldn’t feel that weird or creepy because it would be Woodstock and I would trust everyone. And when I would say yes, he would say, “Maybe Bouton would pitch.” And it would feel so bizarre and magical that this old man would say such Bouton things, like how would he know that I had come to Woodstock to find some Bouton baseball card magic, but it would be really happening so I would tell my brother and thank him and he would understand because he would be a great brother and he would know things and we would get to Baltimore, me and this old man, on Saturday and the magic would just be starting because Bouton would pitch in Saturday’s, August 16th game and yeh, the Pilots would lose 16-3 and yeh, Bouton would give up three earned runs in two innings, but I would have heard Bouton’s name said over and over and I would imagine what he might do later that night and how he would paint the experience with words in his soon to be book and I would be excited about one day reading it. I would not remember how I got back home to Brooklyn, but when I would get there I would be more sure than ever that I would get that dark eyed girl to kiss me and I would still not know her name.
She’d been waking up early, before the sunrise and it wasn’t an alarm clock beep, a crow, or baby scream that did it. She just woke up and started wondering if maybe Allah was calling her because she had heard that Muslim Sufi Dervishes woke up early too and spun around and felt good. But she didn’t like to dance; she just liked the name Dervish because it was so close to Padres pitcher Yu Darvish. The silence and darkness of those mornings is what she loved; that’s when she didn’t think about nuclear bombs and radiation and melting flesh, when she didn’t feel like a useless scrap around the toilet bowl that refused to flush.
Harrietta Sickle wore an orange baseball cap. It was plain, no indication of a favorite team or if she preferred the National or American League. She related to the river and the way it never stopped, reminded her of her mind – an airport baggage carrousel of thoughts that never shut off, round and round and most of the thoughts were guillotines and electric chairs and overdosing on valium, but she had hope buried deep within her too – thoughts that her mind was maybe like a dog and it could be trained if she only had a whip.
She worked as a cashier in the local grocery store. She’d look away from her watch and then back at it and only 10 minutes had passed and so when a customer showed up in the line and talked about the weather or the price of corn flakes or the mayor of Suddville, she was grateful for the distraction. Time flew which was a good thing because it meant she was closer to last breaths and tombstones. Harrietta liked making up things to put on her tombstone like, “Born alone, die alone and so I feel lucky to have met you, in between” and it was true she did meet someone, but she slit her wrists and died.
Harrietta wore her hair in pigtails. She woulda quit her job in a second if a baseball team ever came to town. Yeh, she would work in the ticket office all spring and summer, sell tickets in a booth until the third inning and then go watch the rest of the game for free and since she still lived at home, she’d have enough money saved for the winter months, to help her dad out with rent.
Harrietta liked to walk to Fitzgerald’s Pharmacy in the morning, in those pre-sunrise Sufi Dervish “mawnings” as her Boston Aunt used to say. She went there because they had a bundle of papers beside the front door which was interesting because no one read newspapers anymore, and that got Harrietta thinking about food stamps, phone booths, and VHS tapes, and all the things she’d seen in old movies. Her dad made her watch old movies. He said it was part of his duty as a father, “to pass on the bridge.”
One morning the sun didn’t rise and there was a man at the pharmacy in a suit and tie, an old tie, a wide one, solid green and that green signaled GO! to Harrietta. She walked closer. The man had a full head of hair and none of them were grey so Harrietta figured he couldn’t have been older than 30, not that it mattered. He was sitting on a bench beside the papers, rocking back and forth and humming and when Harrietta inched her way closer, he winked.
“They had a team here once,” he said while rubbing his ear, looking like a third base coach sending signals to the batter and Harrietta liked the codes. “We live in Suddville and we ain’t got no team, but they used to call this town Desperado,” he continued, “and we had a team, yes we did. It was a bandit team and the players were all trespassers or boonswicklers.”
“What’s a boonswickler?” asked an excited Harrietta.”
“People who made their own moonshine,” laughed the man. “That’s what a boonswickler was and probably still is. We just don’t hear or see them anymore. Each one of them added a special ingredient to make that moonshine their own, give it a signature, ya know what I mean? Like ginger or garlic or cinnamon. They didn’t agree on much, those boonswicklers, only when it came to bubblers, ya know drinking fountains; they agreed on that, on moonshine replacing water and drunking the town and people punched each other in the face for no reason, but they danced with strangers too.”
The man stood up and bowed towards Harrietta.
“Do you know about baseball cards? Probably not since you’re a lady, a nice looking one if you don’t mind me saying so. I like them pigtails. Not often I see a lady with pigtails. I’ve been to hundreds of baseball card shows and there aren’t too many woman there. None that I’ve seen anyway. Yeh, the majors got that Kim Ng and the minors got their lady managers and the announcers aren’t all mini skirts and high heels anymore. You women got brains, baseball metric brains, not that I like metrics, but baseball cards? I never met a lady baseball card junkie. You wanna drink?”
The man pulled out a decent sized plastic bottle of whisky from his black bag and it was morning and as depressive and suicidal as Harrietta could be, she never bothered with booze in the morning or the night either. She preferred weed.
“I live in a big complex,” continued the man. He was talking fast. “I pay 300 bucks a month. Collect welfare in three different states so I can live in a drunk state too. I love the government or I like screwing them over anyway.”
They both laughed.
“Three different P.O. Boxes. Three different states,” said the man, still standing, “and friends that mail me the checks. I eat at soup kitchens. That’s how I have enough money to collect cards. Why don’t you come with me to a baseball card show? They got em twice a month, sometimes three, all of em at St. Alyosius. Ever been to St. Alyosius? I’m not much of a prayer guy, but they got a nice organ there. Anyway, you should come along. Here, take a swig or mind my manners. I’m sorry. it’s still morning. No good young lady drinks in the a.m. or do you?”
The man let out a loud laugh and it lasted for a few seconds, a belly laugh.
Harrietta thought maybe early morning booze was a key?
“The pharmacy will be opening soon,” he said. “We’ll sit at the half moon diner in there and I’ll buy you a coffee and spike it with some of this here magic corn.”
He let out another laugh.
Harrietta stepped back.
“But I don’t know you. Don’t even know your name.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll be surrounded by humans at the diner. Watch tower humans. Guardians. Protectors of the species. They know me there. I won’t even kiss you on the cheek. Promise.”
He bowed again.
“Call me Hillbilly.”
Harrietta knew about suicide squeezes and Mordecai “three finger” Brown, but knew nothing about baseball cards. The only thing she collected were toothbrushes and that was only because she forgot to throw them out. She took a deep breath and nodded her head up and down, a yes, she’d take some coffee corn. She had something to prove.
“What’s your real name?” asked Harrietta.
“My jewel and yours to discover,” said Hillbilly.
Into the pharmacy diner they went and there was no one there, only Felicia the waitress and she had no smile on her face, as always, secretly wishing the world would get angrier. Harrietta sat down, looked out the window, and whispered about Eri Yoshida, about her being a girl from Japan who worshipped Tim Wakefield.
“Who the hell is Eri Yoshida?” asked Hillbilly.
“Shes in wikipedia god dammit,” screamed Harrietta.
Hillbilly liked her edge and waved his hand to Felicia for some sugar towers. And while she was busy fetching the sweet drug, he removed his flask and topped off their coffee with some boozy whisky and the rest was blurry for Harrietta because she didn’t usually drink. Hillbilly had her where he wanted her – vulnerable, open to baseball card ideas.
“It’ s my anchor, these cards, far away from “why am I here?” questions. Puts my mind on something. Fixated. Free.
And that word – anchor – made sense to Harrietta. She needed one, to make this earth the stop, to dig in and enjoy something, anything and Hillbilly knew it and in a beautiful benevolent conspiracy sort of way, there happened to be a card show that day, a Sunday, a holy day. He led the way. They took the Mitchel street bus west and went to 92nd and Greenfield.
Gonzaga Hall was attached to the St. Alyosius church.
“Welcome to the land of boozy breaths” said Hillbilly.
The doors opened.
Harrietta took an immediate liking to 1971 Topps – the black border and the Thurman Munson card, especially the Thurman Munson card, not only because the team name was green and player was yellow, but that rookie of the year trophy and the photo, most of all the photo, the action, the dust of a close play at the plate. Hillbillly bought her the card and Harrietta held it in her hand and for a change, for a moment, she felt right in her skin.
There was still no team to cheer for in Suddville, but that night she dreamed of knuckleballs and when she woke up she realized that the pitch had nothing to do with knuckles. It was all fingernails. She laughed and reached for the Munson card, only 751 more cards to complete the set.
Thea Bannister didn’t like her first name. It was too close to tea and tea reminded her of China and she was afraid of Chinese people, especially old Chinese men because of the hair growing from moles on their naked arms. She had read in one of her mom’s Readers Digest magazines that Chinese mole hair symbolized wisdom. Thea was afraid of wisdom and perfection and power. She preferred gutters and drains and hunchbacks in corners talking to themselves.
Thea didn’t like her last name either. Bannister. Kids at school called her TB and Thea was no Einstein but she knew the TB were her initials and that to Thea was like cancer and not because she was born in the astrological month of Cancer, in July, like Andre Dawson and Mario Soto and hundreds, maybe thousands of other baseball players, but because TB upset people, got them whispering about boils, malaria, leprosy, polio, mumps, measles and how the world was suffering and that pissed off Thea. She didn’t want people to be upset and death was ok to her. She liked cemeteries; she liked the quiet and the sound of leaves on trees rustling from the wind and she liked frogs too. She saw one down by the swamp. No one believed here, especially her dad. He said there was no swamp in their town and even if there was, there would be no frogs in it, but she knew; Thea knew; she’d seen a frog and she never forgot the way it sat still for so long and those big eyes.
Thea’s dad said they had a great family name, that Floyd Bannister was the name of a former big league pitcher, a pretty good one too, not HOF good, but good enough to win 134 games and pitch 15 seasons, including one with the “winning ugly” White Sox 1983 season and daddy Bannister had dozens of them games recorded on old VHS tapes from that season and while he watched and cheered on the Sox and Bannister, Thea dreamed of becoming a sniper or a mercenary or someone who panhandled up enough change to fly to the Amazon and go searching for frogs.
Thea did share one thing in common with her father. She was drawn to the basement of their two bedroom house. It was humid down there, perfect for a frog and six feet under. Her dad liked it too. He built himself a makeshift bar and collected bottles and drank at night and sometime in the morning too. Thea grabbed one of her father’s middle age replica swords one late night and brandished the sucker high above her head like she was being yanked by a drunk kite, but she was in complete control as she slid her feet, sword still above her head, slid towards dad’s Hartland baseball statues lined up along the bar rail. There was Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn and a bunch of other Milwaukee Braves players. She wasn’t gonna do anything to them, just scare her dad and hopefully get him to go upstairs. She knew all the player names because when she was a toddler, they were her dad’s sweet lullaby equivalents, a roll call of Braves baseball players to help her sleep and yeh, she fell asleep, out of boredom, but now she was older and she practiced ways to get under her father’s skin and it worked. He did go upstairs the “night of the sword. Thea had the entire basement to herself, but it was late so she went to sleep and she had a nightmare of being chased down an alley by kids wearing Milwaukee Braves uniforms wielding baseball bats and mitts, cornering her under street lights and threatening to steal her milk money.
There really were boys at school who stole her milk money so this was no nightmare fantasy. This was reality and these boys were smart boys who always made Thea feel stupid in English class because she could never remember the prepositions and the teacher, a Mr. Edwin Hanover always called on Thea to sing the preposition song, “Aboard, about, around,” and so on and it wasn’t that Thea got tongue tied or suffered a brain freeze, she just didn’t know and that damn teacher used to raise his upper lip to his curled down nose and inhale heavily and shake his head at Thea.
Thea didn’t want to lose her milk money or get mocked by the teacher, so she didn’t go to class that day. She walked in the other direction of school, far away, to the other town whose name Thea always forgot, but she knew a man that lived beside the railroad tracks in a shanty with a blue plastic tarp. She had never seen him, but she had heard him. He spoke with an accent from inside the shanty. Well, on that day, he appeared and she watched him. The old man ran a hose through a fence and towards a wall and fastened it to a spout or whatever you call the place where water flows. Thea thought that was a nice thing to let the man have water like a restaurant or drugstore that leaves a sign in the window that says, “if you’re gonna sleep in the doorway under the awning, it’s ok, but when you gotta piss, use the empty bottle beside the window. Thanks.”
Thea walked closer to the man. He was small, smaller than Thea, and he looked Chinese and without any formal, hey, how you doing greetings, the Chinese man said, “DURING the storm and AFTER the war and ABOVE the clouds and Thea thought that maybe these were prepositions and she wondered how this old Chinese man knew and then he added, UP and DOWN, more prepositions, thought Thea and then it hit her and she wondered how she hadn’t known before, that voice, that broadcasting voice on one of her father’s VHS tapes, the voice of Chris Berman saying, Floyd “up and down” the Bannister and as she thought, this the Chinese man indicated with his hands UP and DOWN. He raised them high above his head and then brought his hands way down low and Thea didn’t know if this old Chinese man had mole hair, but she didn’t mind him at all because she mighta been barely 16, but she knew plenty about up and down.
Thea walked home slowly and the next morning she woke early and made coffee for her father, but she couldn’t remember if he liked milk or sugar in his coffee or both or nothing at all because she had never made coffee for him so she asked him and before he told her how he’d like his coffee, he told her about Eri Yoshida, that she once played in the Arizona Fall League and Thea had one question after another and so she asked them and her dad answered and they talked about Yoshida worshipping Tim Wakefield as a kid, about her wanting to one day throw a knuckleball like Wakefield and Thea drank the first cup of coffee in her life. She didn’t need any sugar.
I don’t have a very good memory, but the first baseball game I attended was at County Stadium in Milwaukee; a double header against the Red Sox. Dick Drago pitched at some point for the Sox. It was 1978 or 1979. It was my birthday. My dad told me to invite some friends to the game and so I did. He handed us kids our tickets, actual tickets, ones we could hold in our palms and look at.
I didn’t know the atomic number of too many elements on the periodical table or that much about space shuttle journeys or Shakespeare lyrics, but I knew that ticket was my key into the game, a real god damn game with players I’d seen on TV and heard grown men talk about. Do they even have tickets nowadays? Or is the proof that you paid digitally recorded on a cell phone? How do you collect ticket stubs on a cell phone?
Anyway, the man standing beside the turnstile ripped my ticket into two unequal halves. I never thought much about the half he handed me or I did, but not the small print on the back. Instead, I focused on the row, aisle, seat number information. It would be my home for the next 18 innings. I was too excited about seeing Cecil Cooper in his crouched Carew-like stance to care about small print words. I had met Cooper at Cody for Kids Shoe Store at Milwaukee’s Bay Shore Mall. He signed a black and white picture of himself batting. I put it in a frame (without glass) and mounted it on my bedroom wall.
After we reached our seats in the upper grandstand, I could have set my ticket stub free, let it float like one of those helicopter leaves to become part of the beautiful mess – the empty paper beer cups and peanut shells and hard cement floor. Yeh, I could have, but I didn’t, instead I kept that stub, stuffed it in my pocket and in the front of my mind knew with sudden urgency that I would start a ticket stub collection, not knowing why, not knowing that maybe years later, I’d look at the stub and remember what had happened at the double header – maybe a Moose Haas win, a Robin Yount stolen a base and opposite field home run? Lenn Sakata? Don Money? Ben Oglivie? I just thought about the stub and how cool it would be to have lots of them, how cool it would be if my dad brought me to more games.
I don’t remember much about that double header, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to pretend that during batting practice, it started to rain and I watched other fans study their ticket stubs and so I snuck a peak too and discovered the unthinkable – that sometimes rain didn’t stop, even at a baseball game and when that happened, the game could get cancelled, even a double header and how deceived I would feel, that I’d been tricked, that life wasn’t all birthday cakes and Cooper’s stance; that things didn’t always turn out the way I wanted them too….
and in this pretend scenario, as we walked away from County Stadium, rain soaking through our jackets, making them heavy like blankets; as we stomped in puddles towards the car, I would be filled with a very promising thought – that the ticket stub I had kept was like a psalm, a promise of a batter day, that the rain would stop and there would be another game and that I would be entitled to attend that game; that one day I would finally see Cecil Cooper and the Brewers, that maybe life wasn’t completely bad.
i hear it all the time…to never burn bridges and i’ve come to disagree. It’s better to blow them up! i was once walking across the north avenue bridge in milwaukee, walking west. a girl was walking east and we would have been ships passing in the day, but when i got nearer and she got nearer, we recognized each other. We knew each other from a class we were in together. we sometimes sat together. her name was Jean Osowski. she wore a green army jacket. the class was evolution and variation. it was a cool class. i once asked the teacher how long it would take for us humans to grow fins if we were born in water and stayed there our entire life, generation after generation in the water. how many generations would it take? he laughed and said, “a lot.”
anyway, Jean had just left her boyfriend’s house. they had broken up. she had tears in her eyes. i asked what was the matter. she told me the situation and confessed that she was walking back to his house. i didn’t need to know for what. I hadn’t had many love situations before, only one in fact, but i knew she was feeling super lonely, lonelier than before she met her current/old boyfriend. She wanted him back….needed him back…had no choice. the pain was too great. I mustered up some courage from god knows where and took the reins. I put my arm on her shoulder, a soft grip of some bone and turned her around. she didn’t resist. we walked in the opposite direction of her boyfriend’s place and when we made it to the other side of the bridge, I led her down the slope to the Milwaukee river and she cried and more confidence came to me once again from god knows where. i leaned over and kissed her on the lips. we stood up. we hugged each other. no more words were spoken. she walked away, in the opposite direction of her boyfriend’s place. I never saw her again. together, we had blown up the bridge and since this is supposed to be a baseball blog, i’m reminded of the Brewers 2022 season. couldn’t even make the playoffs in a year with three wildcard teams. i think i’ll write 2022 on a piece of paper and burn it, only because i don’t have any dynamite.