brewers baseball and things


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.



In that temporary dwelling

Parents were never mom or dad to us. They were pa-rentals and we were tenants. There were five of us friends and we fended for our own fun. We  climbed fire escapes, slept on rooftops, slipped under fences. We scooped up stones and tossed ’em at birds or anything that moved or didn’t move like our elementary school’s earth science window. We were half way home before the shattering and splintering stopped.

The school never found out, but our little brothers ratted. It didn’t matter anyway because parentals couldn’t do anything right, not even punishments. What they perceived as cruel, we grew to love. 

We had no interest in being Boy Scouts and wearing those ridiculous scarves and pledge pins and yet, our parentals felt all-powerful in denying us what they thought was such a “golden opportunity.”

And so they enrolled us in Indian Guides instead and we loved the names assigned each of us; leaping lizard and stalking bobcat. We were excited to trap squirrels and make fires, build tepees from birch branches and maybe most importantly, we met Jeff Minchkins. He was the sixth member of our assigned tribe and the only one without a father escort because Jeff came by choice, as an exercise of his own free will. He wanted to be an Indian Guide.

We met in each other’s basements. Jeff Minchkins was the only one who moved around, from black leather couch to bar stool, standing and then sitting, but not nervous, more graceful with no father hawking his every move and weighing him down. He talked about things other parents knew nothing about; like Moses J. Yellow Horse striking out Babe Ruth and a team of Mohawks playing in the Quebec Provincial League and the more Jeff talked, the more parents fidgeted and referred to the Indian Guides rule book. They insisted we call them “elders.” 

Each of our basements resembled a bar with a stocked mini fridge, a shiny wood rail and a massive beer can collection; typical Milwaukee relics. The McCauleys also displayed Hartland Baseball Statues and not surprisingly, all of them were Milwaukee Braves – Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn, but what was surprising was the number of them. There were 30 in all, but only of those three players…a battlefield of red, white and blue clones.

Jeff slipped around to the other side of the rail and sat beside a Blatzblatz statue Beer Statue instead. It was strange, almost eerie looking, nothing you’d find in an art museum, but I liked it just the same…a runner sliding into a pile of dirt that looked more like quicksand or vomit, a catcher reaching up to catch the ball or keep his head from pezzing off its axis – a stretchy freak house mirror at the carnival. An umpire in albino Mario stash signaling safe. All of ’em ankle deep in dirt. The catcher with one foot on land, bodies shaped like Blatz beer bottles; one can, one bottle, and the umpire with maybe a fat-mouthed Blatz barrel we didn’t know about?

It was wonderful and Minchkins thought so too because he stuffed the statue under his sweatshirt. No one said a word either. It all happened real fast the next day. We dragged real estate signs, a hammer and a bag of nails to the railroad tracks at the outskirts of town. We dug a hole, 3 feet deep. Minchkins dropped the Blatz statue in. We covered it up and went to work like squirrels, fast and furious, paranoid and industrious:

Fit abandoned railroad ties into 8×12 diamond shape.
Stake four smaller ties as corner posts.
Nail real estate signs to ties.
Incline smaller sign as roof.
Gather up evergreen and spruce branches and
nail them into side walls and roof as camouflage/cop repellent.

We plastered the inside walls with different things over the years –  baseball cards, album covers, beer labels. We drank Blatz beer in there, Miller and PBR as well. We ate all kinds of food. We called it “fort” but there were no wars fought unless inner ones count.

Minchkins stalked us throughout our 20’s and 30’s with postcards at every solstice, never saying much, but there was always a sketch of a tree or moon and a reminder that even our own bodies would come and go but “it” would last forever.

He never explained “it” and as much as it reeked of a religious message we all returned to the fort. I can only speak for myself, but being there aroused a sensation; of fetching water from a well and quenching a thirst I didn’t even know I had.