brewers baseball and things


new spring Goudey

She did more than stare at trees. She talked to them and it wasn’t in English or Spanish or some other language I’d heard riding city buses. There were grunts and cheers and she ended all sentences on a high note.

I first spotted her west of the river. I took an easy swig from my vodka flask and walked closer. She didn’t seem to be bothered.

“What tongue you be speaking miss?” I asked in a fake southern accent.

“My tongue is my treasure,” she snarked back. “Yours to discover,”

We were both on the grass. I had no interest in courting her. I’d been burned too many times by what my friend James called the love mine field and I knew it took courage to be romantic and I was far from cocksure, but she was talking to trees and so I took another swig from the Captain Karkov Vodka bottle and walked even closer.

“You’re The Magnet,” I declared and she began to dance, as if she knew she had me.

“These trees have names,” she explained, “And not just scientific ipshin takis weltis genus and species names, but names I can see in each tree’s branches and bark and the direction its leaves sway.”

She went on to tell me that some are male and some are female and some are neither and that some needed water on quarter moons and others needed even more water on half moons.

“And what about full moons, Miss Magnet?” I asked.

“I don’t know about full moons,” she said. “I stay inside and dance to music, all kinds of music.”

She had olive-colored skin, on her face anyway. There were also patches of peach on her arms and black on her legs. She had dark eyes…..eyes you could never know, like outer space, and infinity and all that. I figured she had a bunch of cats, clipped coupons, and loved simple black coffee.

“You can tell a lot about someone the way they park their shoes for the night,” she continued, “the two facing different directions, one towards Bismarck, the other towards Galveston.”

God I loved her in that moment and then it got even better.

“I glean things from the Salvation Army,” she revealed.

“What kind of things?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, like sweaters, silverware, old books, boots, whatever I feel like. Changes every day.”

I was hooked. I was screwed. I loved her. I told her I had to go. It was all happening too fast, but it was serotonin spike real.

“Well, now you know where I am,” she said and began that dance again, a dance that stayed in my mind like a walk-off grand slam.

It was spring and I started thinking about train station scoreboards and unknown destinations and The Marshall Tucker Band echoed in my mind, that song, “Can’t you See” and I wished it was a full moon and I was at The Magnet’s apartment listening to all kinds of music, to The Marshall Tucker Band, so she would know what she was “Doing to Me” but I’m sure she already knew.

She coulda been 55 or 25 and either way I would have loved her. I was no priest.

I shook my head as I walked away, one shake after another, shakes of starry skies and tombstone weeds because I knew what I was in for, the same as last time – beautiful trouble. I crossed the Locust Street Bridge and there was a Sentry grocery store on the other side and I needed a distraction; I needed people, other people to cure me and there beside the magazine rack, reading the Farmer’s Almanac was Andy Watts. He had given me a book of his poems a few months back. He had one poem about rewriting the 10 commandments and two of the commandments were the same – to love more than your significant other. He decorated his car on the outside with sculptures he’d made, mostly human heads with animal bodies. He talked to strangers. He hung out at diners and was glad to see me. He didn’t waste any time. He invited me back to his apartment. That’s what I loved about the world. You could meet people and yes, mom was right, don’t take candy from strangers, but that was only part of the story. Not everybody drives around in hearses with a megaphone strapped to the top, screaming end of the world…….no, there were actually some pretty god damn cool people and yes, they had to pay bills and deal with bullshit, but they were also going for it, trying to hook up with others and compare notes and make love and what not.

Andy bought the Almanac. He said he liked reading the parts that predicted the weather. We walked along Downer Avenue to his little apartment near the lake. Andy never locked his door. He invited me to sit down at the kitchen table. I offered him a drink from my flask. We passed it back and forth for a few swigs. And then he disappeared and returned with some cardboard. I had no idea Andy loved baseball cards. I had no idea he loved baseball. I had no idea he knew I loved baseball and baseball cards.

“You know Enos Goudey?” he asked.

I squinted my eyes, a signal for Andy to continue.

“These are Goudeys,” he explained and he went on and on about the cards being from 1933, about the beautiful colors and player poses, and the gum company’s founder, Enos Goudey being from Nova Scotia.

“The baseball cards came after Goudey sold the company. Pick one. Take it to her,” he encouraged.

“To who?” I asked, defensively, shy, embarrassed, refusing to admit that everyone knows.

“Bring it to her.”

Andy spread the cards out. There were colors everywhere.

“Take your time.”

I liked them all…..really gave me goose bumps like it might do some other kid at the Louvre, but Edgar “Sam” Rice caught my eye, not only because I loved rice, but because of the look on his teeth; he looked a little like a rabbit or maybe not, but he did to me and well I knew about rabbit habits when it came to love making and I had “The Magnet” on my mind.

“Take it and go well young lover,” said poet Andy and well, I never trusted orders, but this felt like a blessing so off I went, to cross the Locust Street Bridge again, to see “The Magnet” and when I got there, she wasn’t dancing or talking to plants, she was stomping like an angry kid who had missed Christmas morning and crying too and when she noticed me, she indicated with a wave to get lost. She was kicking me to the curb. We hadn’t even kissed yet and already I was in her dog house and I loved The Magnet even more. I flashed her my Edgar “Sam” Rice Goudey card.

“And don’t come back,” she added.

But I knew I’d be back to see her again and again and again and I’d bring her more Goudey baseball cards and she would talk to them too and I knew The Magnet would once again talk to trees as well and spring and summer would warm up to humid and all the world would be loose and me, I mean we, The Magnet and I would drink Vodka and walk along the forbidden railroad tracks and trespass in cemeteries and spend hours at Burger King, making a deck of cards out of empty cigarette packs we had collected and her horse mane hair would shine and there would be new day coffees and spots under the abandoned highway 770 overpass and the view from Charboneau hill, ahhhhhhh, The Magnet, just daydreaming about her was better than beer and bible Wednesdays at old St. Hedwig’s even if The Magnet apparently never wanted to see me again.



surviving strike three

Damon lived a few houses south of us, on the other side of the street. 6136 was the address. We never talked, not until he mounted what looked like a skeleton on his leather jacket shoulder. Then I suddenly wanted to know him and so I did whatever any 13-year-old kid would do; I struck up a conversation, my curiosity fueling my social bravery. He told me he had a cat and she killed mice and would leave the skeleton on their back porch, as a token of its appreciation for taking care of it and that he mounted the skeleton on his shoulder in appreciation of his cat. I liked that.

We talked about music. He had an older brother named Mitchel who had a record collection that snaked around his room. We immediately liked the Clash and the Psychedelic Furs. It was our entry point into the massive family tree of music. We used to hang out in his basement and listen to records. We cut our hair off with a sewing sheers. We drank Port Wine, three dollars a bottle. Mitchel bought it for us. We kicked over garbage cans and fences and collected expired candy and chips from a trash bin behind the 7/11.

It sucked when Damon went away to summer camp. It was a Jesus, religious camp. Weird because he wasn’t the last bit religious. In fact, he used to mock his mom when she would barge in on us, early in the morning sleeping off a port wine night and say, “Today is the day the lord has made.” Damon would roll over and tell her, “Yeh, but he’s gonna make tomorrow too so let us sleep.”

He went because of a girl – Sandra Boyce. I knew her. She had black hair. She walked pigeon-toed and liked music too, comic books, cars, even baseball. She loved the Cubs and the White Sox because her father had moved to Chicago after the divorce and took care of her every summer so they would go to a lot of games. I could understand how Damon got smitten or whatever by her. Sandra invited a bunch of us over to watch boxing matches on pay per view tv and she didn’t even make us pay! Her mom paid. But to follow a girl to a Jesus freak camp? It struck me as kind of desperate. I was jealous.

Anyway, he sent me a few postcards, funny ones in his patented sarcasm, “Had 20 cents to waste so I though I’d send you this card.” The summer went slow, really slow. I was bored and it was 1981 so there was no baseball in July. The strike was on. I remember how stupid or cruel it all seemed, that word, “strike.” I had grown fond of the Brewers Rollie Fingers knack for throwing strikes that first half of the 1981 season and now that word STRIKE. I didn’t even want to play little league anymore.

But like a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, all things, good or bad, come to an end and so the baseball strike ended and Damon came home from Jesus camp and he had changed, not physically; he still had those bowl cut bangs and long hair in the back and still had the mice skeleton mounted on his leather jacket shoulder, but he was smiling a hell of a lot more and that laugh of his. It was loud and lasted a long time. I told him it sounded fake and he said I was right, that it was fake, that he was faking it until making it. That was his new expression – “Fake it to you make it”

Damon wound up hosting a radio show on the far left side of the FM dial. We lost touch. I wonder if he married Sandra Boyce or if he goes to church? I doubt it. But I’m glad I met him, glad he went to Jesus camp and than came home and I’m glad there was a baseball strike and then an end to the strike. It instilled in me hope that tomorrow might be better.


on the way to Woodstock

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.


knuckleball dreams

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.


and there were cocktails…

She came from a place no one had ever heard, from Crapshoot, meaning “in memory of the risks we once took,” she explained in her native Crapshootian tongue.

The local geography maven, Spencer Guinness, sat at the rail every night. He rattled on about Siberian hills and Madagascar waves and small towns in Nebraska and parks and streets in their hometown of Springfield. Now Spencer stood up, pitcher of Blatz in his hand, and waxed on about Crapshoot, about its mountain peaks and views and tent town under the Steeltoe Bridge beside the Ruminate River. There were singers there, strummers and students too and retired insurance salesmen and folk who talked about the people with the long necks. Spencer liked to hear that name Crapshoot so he said it often and bought everyone beer too and this inspired them to learn more about the lady from Crapshoot….

…so tall and yet legs so short, arms so long, and her neck, jetting up like a giraffe’s causing people on Springfield’s east side, home of the local university, to talk about a hybrid birth – half human/half giraffe and this had geneticists and biologists and sociologists and all kinds of “ists” concluding that she came from lands where giraffes walk, that she was from Chad or Somalia so they named her Chadalia. It was all over the papers and the local bar patrons liked the name Chadalia too.

Chadalia didn’t know about bars and didn’t read the papers and yet, she swung her hips like she was playing Hula Hoop and she walked and walked and ran out of breath at the LastStraw Saloon’s front door so she went inside and talked with the nice bartender who was its owner too. His name was Jack. They talked about traffic lights, specifically why there were only three lights and not four and what color would the fourth be and what would it cause people to do. They talked about parking tickets and stop signs. Chadalia loved cars, especially ones from the the 1950’s. She never left the bar. She sat down, her long neck almost touching the X-shaped ceiling fan. She liked the dark so when the lights went on, she ducked her head and slipped downstairs, to sleep in a small room, compliments of Jack the bartender.

Jack hadn’t felt so excited since Grimpy the Drifter recited all that Irish poetry by heart. He announced a walk-off seance, a beer and booze binge fest to welcome the new Chadalia to town, for everyone to walk-off their jobs for a day or a night if they were graveyarders, to drink for free, to dance, sing, argue, fight…

“Like 5 cent beer nights,” exclaimed Jack the bartender.

Hank Cavanaugh knew about walk-offs, from “Small Mouth” Watson’s walk-off bunt in the pre-civil war game, back when it wasn’t even called baseball; he knew about Aaron Pinterest’s school yard walk-off walk at Sunday Church baseball in Boise, Idaho and he knew about the regular season not so memorable names who hit walk-off’s. There were even a couple of wild pitch walk-offs and of course he knew about Bill Mazeroski and Chris Chambliss and Joe Carter post season walk-off home runs. He’d never actually seen one in person, but he had a friends with old VHS tapes and he read about others from books, the way everyone enjoyed some collective euphoria and how sometimes stadiums actually swayed. Hank invented his own play-by-play calls. He never had a mother or father to read him bed time stories so he sang the walk-offs out loud at night like some roll call lullaby prayers to help him sleep, but he seldom slept. He was too excited.

Hank once stayed awake for 97 straight hours. He walked all over town and ultimately ran out of breath at the LastStraw Saloon’s front door, exactly like Chadalia had and he too went inside. And Jack’s bar wasn’t too big so Hank eventually met Chadalia. And Hank didn’t waste any time. He began reeling off one walk-off moment after another and this impressed Chadalia, the sing song, lilt in Hank’s voice.

“Walter Johnson was nicknamed “Big Train” and Rube Waddell liked his booze and once upon a time there were no batting helmets,” said Hank, causing everyone in the bar to whip their necks around and stare at Hank because he was no longer reciting walk-offs.”

“And Tony Phillips walked 132 times in 1993,” continued Hank and “Maury Wills played 165 games in 1962.” Hank couldn’t stop; he didn’t want to. There was baseball data that needed to be downloaded into Chadalia’s mind.

“Drafts are more than wind gusts sneaking under blankets,” said Hank. “And Pie Traynor helped Larry Doby get a footing in the outfield and Fernando Valenzuela’s eyes and Bill Buckner almost catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run or at least climbing the wall and trying. Chadalia didn’t know a pitcher’s rubber from a fungo bat, but she knew a one track tornado and she asked Hank to dance. Hank had never danced before.

“Cocktails on the house,” sang Jack.

And with that, Hank stepped away from his stool and extended his arms and open hands and began to sing about “infield hits and suicide squeezes and he had more fuel in the tank. Chadalia grabbed his hands and spun young Hank around and Hank felt something old arouse inside him.


another ancient chinese secret

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.


suicide alternative

Billy Tourniquet tried his hand at pool and pinball. He rode the rails and clipped coupons. He worked with migrants up and down the California coast. He completed a plumbing program. Got certified too! He learned about fiduciary matters. He handed out beer to homeless people. He sang in midnight Christmas church choirs. He befriended young ladies and they trusted him and so they drank coffee together, at fast food restaurants, outside. They watched people. They talked.

But there was one thing Billy Tourniquet couldn’t do. He couldn’t dance. He took all the courses too… in Tango, Polka, Samba, Salsa, Hip-hop, even break dancing, but he was too stiff. His back hunched. But then over at the bazaar, the Climkin’s weekly bazaar beside the horse stables, he bought a mystery box and inside were baseball cards and there was a crescent moon that night. He studied the backsides of the cards and learned about the acronyms – ERA and HR and SB and he got smitten and did some research and the wick ignited into a flame and soon a baseball forest fire in his mind. He hit up used book stores and bought baseball books and read about shifts and reserve clauses and Ted Williams and the more he read, the more he got that wanderlust. The locals said it was on account of there beings no clock in baseball and the the potential for a ball to travel into outer space.

Billy walked along the highway shoulder with crows waiting to pounce on road kill and those crows weren’t afraid of Billy and Billy wasn’t afraid of the crows and one of the crows said something soft to Billy and he felt encouraged so he walked and walked and walked some more. He toured towns and took a vow to keep on moving until he reached a baseball diamond and there were plenty of golden McDonald arches and Pentecostal churches and traffic lights and then finally, there were was a diamond and that very night a game and he watched one batter, the number nine hitter peruse the infield before stepping into the batter’s box and then he hit the ball where there weren’t any fielders and Billy listened as a few members of the crowd, older gentlemen all said, almost in unison, “that a way Wee Willie, hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

That very same night, Billy Tourniquet wandered into the woods, picked up a stick about the size of a baseball bat and before stepping into the imaginary batter’s box, he impersonated that batter, that number nine hitter. He perused the scene. He stared at the trees and birds and squirrels and then he stepped in and took a few pitches and then poked one between short and third and then he ran and when he reached what he thought was first base and the umpire signaled safe, Billy rolled his hands around in a circle and hopped on one foot and then jumped up and down and as he did, he felt pleasure on the bottom of his feet and the sensation lingered; it moved like acupuncture jolts up his spine and into his mind and he thought about trades and free agents and suicide squeezes, but he didn’t want to commit suicide. He wanted to bat again and there was no shortage of sticks for bats and space for a field so he batted again and again, for both teams, inning after inning, rolling his hands around in a circle and hopping on one foot and jumping up and down after every at bat.


and then pangea happened…

you’d think a walk-off home run woulda sent the young fan to his knees, especially since it was Easter Sunday, but it didn’t. Wily Barrel stood up so he could see the blast but after the winning run crossed the plate, he sat back down, frozen, lost in the impossibility of it all – a team, the Hillsborough Haymakers trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes, and then two hit-by-pitches, a pitching change and a three run blast into the teeth of a 37 mph spring breeze to tie the game followed by a four pitch walk and another blast to win it extending the team’s winning streak to eleven game in a row!

Wily Barrel never forgot that day, that game, that ending. you could say it doomed him. It was just a home run, “a kid’s game,” pleaded the shrinks – “get over it,” but he couldn’t and years and decades passed and like anyone else, Wily slipped into a routine, imprisoned by a pattern he couldn’t control, – at the rail every night, at the end of the bar rail sipping one beer after another, chin in hand, feeling like he’d spent most of his life trying to recapture that feeling, that being present during those home runs, that walk-off, the smell of bratwursts and beer suddenly so present as well as the body odor of fellow fans, that cold spring breeze massaging his face and the colors; everything seemed brighter…. he had never felt so tapped into reality and even those wide-eyed baby newborns had nothing on his heightened perception that day and so there was booze, lots of it, and LSD and cocaine, all kinds of drugs and religions and meditations to recapture that feeling, but nothing worked, only the pining remained and it was this pining that led him to pangea.

Wily woke up one drunk morning and the word was on his mind, this pangea and he had no idea how it got there. He repeated it a few times and as he did, he remembered a definition from some old world book encyclopedia browse or a national geographic magazine, this pangea, a super continent, the idea that all of earth’s landmasses were once one giant blob, but maybe it was more than an idea; maybe it was a fact? Wily wasn’t sure. he wasn’t there when it happened, paleolithic, neatropic, demontrific. Were there humans back then?

He kept this thought of pangea in his mind, tucked it like a good luck rabbit’s foot in his noggin, over and over he said the word like the mantras he had learned about in his study of one of the religious isms. And like his grandpa Clint told him – to think it, see it, and you’ll find it and sure enough he found himself at Henry the coke dealer’s river west apartment and there was an album on the floor……Pangea by Miles Davis.

Henry the coke dealer knew his music. He attended shows and played a few instruments too. He was the kind of man who had sympathy for paranoiacs. He skipped subtleties and spoke direct and Wily appreciated this. Henry the coke dealer wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but he was interested in everything and he knew Wily was a fan so they talked about the Haymakers and foul poles and balks and there were all kinds of questions and this made Wily feel like he had an identity, that he was a someone, a baseball fan. Wily picked up the album Pangea and as he did, he didn’t exactly feel one with universe, but he realized how different him and Henry were and yet, they had come together through a discussion of baseball and the connection was getting bigger and bigger as they talked about going to a game.

It would be the first game Wily had been to since The Walk-Off Game so many years earlier and they did go to a game and Wily did more than smell bratwursts; he bought one and then another for his friend Henry the coke dealer. He bought a program too. The two of them sat, in pangea togetherness, as Wily explained to Henry how to keep score. The 6-4-3 scribbles. It was like riding a bike….after so many years, Wily still had it.


Davillo removes the curse

there was mold on the bathroom wall. the kitchen clock was broken. severe weather sirens echoed at noon every day. Cliff Longhouse called it “the great decline,” said it started when his mom and dad drove him home from the “miracle” maternity ward and continued through the years, but it was something other than tombstones he thought about as a teenager that had him putting a book down before finishing a page.

light poured in through his bedroom blinds….shadows too and together, side by side, light and dark, they reminded Cliff of prison bars. He could have moved out, found an apartment on one of the other sides of town, joined a church choir, clipped coupons and flirted with a dreamy looking cashier at the local grocery store, but he couldn’t and he knew why. it was because of the curse a middle-aged Danish lady once put on him. She didn’t wave a wand, but she promised that he would grow old and lonely and scatter brained, be unable to focus on anything, not even during Do Something Different Day, the most cherished day in Hankerville.

The day was announced on both AM and FM radio, spontaneously, sometimes three times in the same month and other times, only once per year. The rules were simple – do something different. walk to work up or down a never before street. Drive around in a rented hearse. Wear a red hat. Walk with a hippity-hop in your step. Sing out loud. something, anything different.

no one knew who or where the judges were, but they were there because friday night, at sun down, the winners were announced and rewarded with 10 tickets to Tubman’s Movie House. Most winners waited till the first of the month, when the new movie came out, to use their tickets. That gave them something to look forward to for 10 months. Cut the town’s suicide rate down by five percent.

there was one memorable Do Something Different Day that came when leaves had already turned yellow and red, broke free from branch home, and begun their wild see saw sway to the ground. And as they did their death ritual, a voice came, at first undecipherable, but once out on the street, all ears turned towards the place where no one had previously looked – megaphones sandwiched between tree branches and light poles… a voice with a southern drawl….

“Two boats been discovered at the bottom of lake makeawish.”

mothers and fathers made a bread line rush for the lake in search of something new – a Kansas City Athletics hat, a Montreal Expos t-shirt, a pliers, an anonymous family photo. kids left their bikes behind….everyone under a spell – the sudden need for something different, everyone ready to dive and discover.

And Cliff? he heard the words too, but they slipped in one ear and out the other, that damn scatter brain curse, his mind switching to thoughts of beer, to Hedwigs Pub and so that’s where he went. he sat in a booth beside Bobcat, Train Track Tom, Vandy the vampire and The poet, as always, lingered at the end of the rail, sipping from his customary pitcher of Blatz, no glass needed, reading from his latest poetry publication – “Hagar’s Kin.” he stopped in mid-poem and said – “Cliff, turn yourself into a pretzel, become solstitial,” the poet clearly under the effects of Do Something Different Day……the poet suddenly an alchemist.

Solstitial, thought Cliff, as in solstices, as in two polars, as in change, as in lack of focus, as in up and down, as in happy and sad, an all over the place way of being. Cliff laughed, an out of his mind laugh, so long and loud that he thought he had replaced his old mind with a new mind, a laughing mind, that maybe he’d been saved, but then he stopped laughing and thought about rivets and erector sets, his mind still operating like a baggage carrousel on the move.

“I’ll call my old friend Rilo Davillo,” said the poet. “He’ll be home and he never turns down a beer, not on Do Something Different Day day and don’t you worry Cliff, he’ll bring a bag of balls. And a bat? Look no further than our family doctor, the bartender, Hector. He always keeps one beside the grey goose vodka in case one of those punks high on energy drinks jumps the rail in search of a freebee.”

Rilo arrived in less than an hour and he was a beer drinker. it was in his DNA, stretched back to the beer baron ancestor days on his father’s side, but this was Do Something Different Day so he dangled a flask of Jamesons Whisky in front of Cliff and led him outside, up 4th avenue, to the Food Emporium parking lot where the lights stayed on all night.

“Take the bat and stand by the wall,” instructed Rilo.

“Give me that flask and I will.”

Rilo handed him the flask and counted off 60 feet six inches.

Cliff took a nice healthy swig, swiped his feet on the cement, spit on his hands and waved that bat like carney lansford and on the first pitch, he took a wild swing, low and outside, way out of the strike zone, and on the second pitch, he tried to check his swing, but couldn’t, inside, almost hit him. amazing that he was even able to swing, more than enough fodder to inspire Rilo, typically quiet and humble to offer advice.

“You got a lay off the useless, wild ones; they do you no good? Like those thoughts of yours, that distraction-itis. The poet told me all about it.

“I hate Do Something Different Day,” screamed Cliff, “Turns a poet and his friend into a buddhist Tony Robbins. I’m going back to the bar.”

Cliff drank beer all the way until 2 AM bar time, and that’s when he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and studied the room like a weather vane studies the wind, to know if there were an after hours party to attend. there wasn’t so he asked the bartender Hector for a bag of peanuts and Hector, on the Do Something Different Day frequency, handed Cliff a bag, no charge, and added two cans of miller beer. Cliff, already drunk, stumbled a while, but his GPS guided him up 5th avenue, then down 5th avenue, then across the Green tree bridge and sliding down the hillside.

He sat under that Green Tree Bridge, beside the water, and the sound of Lake Makeawish came to him. He forgot all about the peanuts and beer. Instead, he thought about the two boats at the bottom of the Lake and then his mind, his ears, turned towards that sound of water. he listened to it and for a change, he had no other thoughts except that sound.


aluminum baseball paradise

to a toddler it didn’t matter. His mom collected cans for a living and so he learned to collect cans and love the activity too, like one would learn to catch fish or gut a buffalo and offer thanks through song.

he liked the locomotion of walking around town, digging through recycle bins and scoring treasures as he called them …….the father was no where to be found. Took off with first whispers of an embryo so it was mom who had dibs on what to name him and she never hesitated. Called him Tundra to honor the short growing season regions, a reminder to seize opportunities which in can collecting parlance translated to knowing where to find cans – outside the local university fraternity houses, back alleys of bars, and houses with heavy beer drinkers. Tundra’s mom knew them places like an angler knows rivers.

Momma held Tundra up at the grocery store so he could stuff one aluminum can after another into the machine and he loved the crunch sound. He held the printout in his hand and he exchanged it for some magic coins. Tundra smiled and so did the cashier, mom too, a secret ritual paradise born.

but the world is cruel and as Tundra grew, kids at school found out that he lived in a shelter and that he and his mom collected cans and they taunted Tundra and doubt creeped into the boy’s mouldable mind. Tundra’s back slouched. His gait slowed, but he endured and became a teen and one summer day, he and his mom waited outside a bar, for cans, like they did at most bars because bartenders were much kinder than Tundra’s classmates. And this particular bartender made it vocal that he respected can collecting. He likened it to 49ers searching for gold, as legit as any other employment and in a way, even better, choosing your own hours.

The bartender invited them in for a complimentary beer and the fates were kind, because it was an old man’s bar and the drinkers knew about life being a “tough row to hoe.” One of the men, wearing a green, John Deere hat, pointed to a tv hoisted above the tapper, but he didn’t really need to point because Tundra got sucked in from the moment he walked into the bar, sucked into this game of bat and ball being played. No one said a word either, only the bartender, an invite to come and see more games whenever “momma says it would be alright.”

They were there every Saturday and Tundra took his new love into the week, to the library, where he read up on the game and along the information way, he stumbled on pictures of statues, baseball statues, Hartland baseball statues, nothing more than plastic figurines, but the players, he soon discovered were old, from the late 1950’s, long before Tundra’ time. And he liked the history of it, of him being part of a larger family and his gratitude worked like a charm, unleashing ideas in the young boy’s mind, to create aluminum figurines of his favorite players and to sit outside after school and sell them. His mom, initially rejected the idea as blasphemy, ruining a good can and losing 5 cents and in some locations 10 cents! But Tundra begged and momma surrendered at one point, “But only two cans,” she insisted.

Tundra spent the rest of the day cutting, twisting, and curling the can, very carefully so as to not suffer an injury and he modeled his first player after his favorite Hartland Statue – Warren Spahn – his glove and throwing hand high above his head. Then he made an Ichiro, bat head aimed towards third base, the beginnings of an inevitable, opposite field double down the line.

It wasn’t easy to part ways with his aluminum statues, but Tundra wanted to pay respects to his mother and so he sold the two statues, made some more, and gave the money to his mom. She admitted she was wrong and felt a surge of pride as a can collecting mother. And the boys at school? Well, they switched sides like a fickle fashion and wanted to be Tundra’s friend.