Reading is one of the few things that calms my mind for any given length of time as concentrating on any one thing for long moments poses some serious problems. Losing yourself in a book is a fantastic escape from the everyday, and I also find myself being lost in the wordplay and turn of phrase by any writer with significant skills. I was recently going through some boxes when I found a dusty copy of Slaughterhouse Five with a baseball card tucked inside and I had to take pause.
I’ve dragged this “bookmark” around from mezcal soaked Tijuana watering holes where the prostitutes would whisper “primo” at me in an attempt to extract a few American dollars for an escort, extravagant Palm Springs hotels where I once kissed a model with a zit on her chin, and a hash-smoke laden Barcelona beach where a Muslim kid tried to steal my passport while I was sleeping. It has ceased to be a simple piece of cardboard to be merely used, thrown away or disregarded; now it is a dear friend full of memories with hilarious anecdotes to share.
I know very little about the player on the card and have certainly never seen him play. Tommy Harper was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, was a central figure in the troubled racial history of the Red Sox, and had a long but rather unremarkable career with 8 teams. (although he did hit 31 home runs for Milwaukee in 1970, making his only All Star game.)
Around Fall 2001 I was moving in to a new place with my girlfriend at the time; she was 21, petite, had short red hair, a great sense of humor, loved to eat cheese and watch the X Files. We moved to a studio in a dodgy urban area, but it was ours and we loved it–we were young and still trying to understand the internal world of our hearts and minds among punk rock music, modern art, drugs and used furniture.
One night we were behind our apartment building taking out the trash when we saw a small gray and white cat running around. After chasing the little rascal around for a while, we caught it and decided to adopt him, but we couldn’t decide on a name.
“How about Bip?” I said.
Leon Joseph “Bip” Roberts hadn’t been in the league for a couple of seasons, but at the time was announcing for the local AAA Sacramento River Cats and this predicated the name. Besides, the player Bip was sort of smallish and an underdog who only hit 30 homers in his career. (One for the Oakland A’s!) The cat “Bip” was smallish and an underdog as well. The name stuck. Bip is probably gone now and the relationship is long over, as things tend to do, but the memories will always last.
No word yet as if Bip (the cat) has hit any homers in the Big Leagues.
For those of you who aren’t A’s fans, catcher Bruce Maxwell was arrested this off-season after a delivery driver told the police a highly intoxicated Maxwell answered the door by pointing a gun to her face. Maxwell was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. That being said, I decided to interview a pizza delivery guy in order to figure out the typical responses when knocking on a strangers door:
The customers are generally cool but you have your fair share of lousy tippers and total assholes. There is always the thought in the back of my mind about the guys, a few years back, who called the delivery guy from an abandoned house and then killed him. Sometimes it takes forever on the phone to figure out what stoners want; when we start listing off the toppings we’ve got, they keep asking if they could get, like, Fritos or sandwiches on the pizza. Plus, there are always a ton of calls on hold, and we can get pretty stressed trying to get their order and move on to the next caller. Sadly, for millions of pizzas, interaction with non-stoned humans is simply not an option. Sometimes the customers further complicate things by making five phone made to the pizzeria to inquire about the status of their pizza. I’m like, dude, just chill, your pizza will be there any sec.'”
It’s my co-workers, not the company, that makes me feel appreciated. They greet me when I come back from runs, they say thank you often and ask how me how I feel. Generally they treat me like a person and not a robot that delivers pizza. I think they’re fully aware that it’s a choice for me to be there.
I was hanging out with a friend the other day when a stranger put a gun to my head. I thought I was dead. I told him I was leaving and thought he was going to shoot me in the back. The stranger let me go. I was shocked and disturbed and turned to baseball for assurance. It worked out well as Sean Manaea tossed a no-hitter. Life rolls on…..
My middle school science teacher was a die-hard Giants fan. Our class listened to the ’89 NLCS game 5 clincher against the Cubs and Mark Grace on a portable radio while she scored the game on the chalkboard. (do these specimens of archaic learning still exist? and does anyone actually score a game anymore?) I pretended to read about black holes and sun spots while my eyes glossed over, staring at absolutely nothing with a slack-jawed bovine expression. Someone had drawn a heavy metal logo on page 237. Perhaps they were enjoying my current landscape of foggy faux-meditation when they had a primal urge to draw something, anything.
“Yesterday we explicitly agreed to quietly do our work as long as we could listen to the game.” she said.
We knew that this was a faulty agreement as she was going to listen to the game regardless of whether we agreed to the shoddy terms or not, and besides, some of us weren’t Giants fans. I couldn’t give a toss about the Giants or science at that time as I was more interested in girls and boobs; not necessarily in that order.
We had spoken about Carney Lansford a few days earlier and his time with the Red Sox. Her boyfriend was a “Southie” from Boston; a second generation working-class, red-haired Irish Mick from a long line of drunks, thieves and lowlifes. He had escaped the sludge and went to some long forgotten East Coast university and he and his stoner buddies would go to Fenway Park on weekends where they had acquired an affinity for Lansford. Of course, she thought all of this was cute and clever and was terribly pleased by it.
“No offense Mrs. Cleveland, but besides Will Clark your team just isn’t very likable. Rick Rueschel looks like a fat, middle-aged divorced dad and Scott Garrelts looks like a skinny nose-picking dork.”
It was true. Both starting pitchers looked like the antithesis of an athlete but the perfect working-class early 20th century farm boy baseball player. Some fans, probably the nerdy, isolationist type can get behind that “average joe” persona and root for them passionately, but in the era of super athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders I would always inexplicably choose the latter over the former.
“Let us not forget that your friend Carney Lansford looks like an accountant,” she said as she swallowed what was supposed to look an aspirin to the general viewer. A few classmates had theorized that she popped vicodin on occasion because of her seemingly more “relaxed” state as the day wore on. This wasn’t a great choice as it ultimately led to bouts of throwing up in the garbage can.
Childhood often walks the fine-line between the blissful and boring, and Big League Chew was an integral part of the blissful “baseball experience” that my friends and I so desperately wanted to be part of as young boys. We would scan our stacks of baseball cards and see players like Lenny Dykstra and Tony Gwynn with a not-so-subtle, chipmunk-like slab of tobacco stuck in their cheeks as they posed, bat skillfully wielded in the lazy, sun bleached spring training summer–and we wanted to emulate that with pink, shrouded shreds of sugar-coated goodness. We were hip to the insider culture that only the pros knew about; at least in our own minds.
My parents were insanely cheap; and this didn’t seem to be strange at all as most parents of the 80’s seemed to adhere to this doctrine. My friends and I decided that we would have to be enterprising, so we would knock on doors and ask the neighborhood psychos if we could have the pleasure of raking their lawns for 5 dollars. The riches would be immediately spent a mere four blocks away at the appropriately named Happy Market for some Big league Chew and a couple of packs of baseball cards. The leftover dough would be used to rent a movie that was skillfully chosen in VHS form from the Movie Hut down the street for 1.99 a day, and if we were lucky had the name Schwarzenegger or Van Damme on the box. The solitary zit-faced teen wearing an Iron Maiden shirt at the counter would look up my mom’s rental information on the ancient IBM computer and oblige out of boredom or indifference.
I recently walked around the old neighborhood for the first time in over 20 years. The houses still looked the same, as if time had never happened. There’s where I used to wait for the bus. That’s where I got into a fight with Tim Crumrine. There’s where I used to shoot hoops for hours. That’s where a kid’s dad told another kid to “fuck off” and ran over his skateboard. It was a quiet neighborhood and I was hoping my younger self would walk out of my old house so I could tell him about all the wonderful adventures he would have in the future and warn him about all the mistakes he was going to make. I would tell him to forget his anxieties concerning adulthood and to enjoy the simplicity, lack of corruption and absolute wonder of his life at that moment.
Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” poured out of the Mustang in the driveway as Pete and Nick sat on the front porch. They had just torn open a few packs of baseball cards and decided to make a few swaps before the cards were relegated to a rubber band and the back pocket of faded dungarees.
“Ok, you like the A’s right? I’ll give you a Dave Hamilton for George Brett.”
“Are you kidding me! You must think I’m a fucking idiot. That’s not a fair trade; and besides, it looks like he’s taking a shit!”
Pete’s older brother, Craig, stopped washing his black treasure and walked over with kinked hose in hand.
“You turds need to shut the hell up before I hose you down. Besides, I got Amy coming over and you two dumbasses aren’t gonna ruin my chance at getting some trim.”
“You haven’t got a chance in hell,” Pete spat, shoving a brick-hard powdered slab of gum in his mouth.
“Keep talking big mouth and I’ll give both you and your stupid friend knuckle sandwiches. You’ll be spittin’ out teeth for a week”
Craig continued washing his car, alone with the hose, the suds, the black beauty and the privacy of his own young and perverted mind.
“He thinks he’s such a big shot.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait until I get older so I can kick his ass…so Dave Hamilton for George Brett?”
Carmen was destined to become an A’s fan from birth, born and raised in Oakland, the child of a 60’s era, black leather jacket clad Huey Newton revolutionary/Berkeley professor and a teenage beauty pageant queen and Cuban refugee. The professor met Zoe at a small community theatre in Palo Alto where his future wife was performing as “Bianca” in Othello. He loved her adaptation and asked her to dinner where they proceeded to eat oysters and wash them down with a dry Cabernet. The oysters must have worked as Carmen was thrust into the world soon thereafter, not even a year later.
The girl became an A’s fan at a young age and would hang out at the Coliseum often on weekends with her high school clique. They would sneak in alcoholic lubricant, snacks and a transistor radio while loitering in the bleachers on lazy Indian summers; sunbathing while listening to the Talking Heads and giving the bleacher creatures something to gawk at between innings. Her favorite player was first baseman Chris Carter because “he was this absolute monstrous, beautiful black man blessed with a pleasant expression on his face and an easy, almost lackadaisical ambiance.”
In the unfit roads of adolescence there are bound to be a few bumps on the way, and Carmen felt these at the hands of the Oakland police. “I had a malleable mind at the time and some friends had influenced me to steal clothing and such. I got busted stealing some door-knockers (earrings) that had my name in the middle. It was so obvious.” When she was busted a second time for stealing art books it was “time for a re-examination of the program.”
Hard work and diligence paid off in 2008 as Carmen graduated with a degree in economics from SF State. She now works as an editor at the San Francisco Weekly. “The Weekly is often given to smart-ass editorializing that seems more geared to getting a reaction than making a concrete point, but it’s fun.”
“I’ve learned that we can be one person’s saint, another person’s genius, and someone else’s imbecile; and this is exactly why I do whatever I feel like doing every day without even an inkling of what anyone else thinks about it.”
As I pull this baseball card from the pile it takes me on a long forgotten trip back to the 1990’s and the bottomless pit of purgatory known as Jr. High School. Everyone was growing into themselves, girls were getting boobs, fashion was suddenly important, and guys were suddenly sporting the haircut that concocted the term “business in the front, party in the back.”
The mullet was a popular hairstyle in the early 90’s as it was worn by everyone from rock stars, movie stars, wrestlers and even baseball players. With the 90’s being the cultural dreg that it was, it seemed the perfect time for the white-trash aesthetic to finally be embraced by the mainstream. Celebrities who rocked the hairstyle included John Stamos, David Bowie, Billy Ray Cyrus and George Clooney. My cousin had his mullet for YEARS complete with an army style flat-top. I still give him shit for it to this day.
I remember a friend of mine from Jr. High, Michael, would constantly run a comb through his dirty blond mullet while wearing his ever-present Guns N Roses t-shirt complete with naked girl on the back. (seems a bit extreme for a Jr. High kid today, seemed normal then before Generation X started having children and treating them like snowflakes.) Michael was sort of known as the dick of the neighborhood and would always try to steal other people’s “valuable” baseball cards. He lived in a ramshackle house, his mom was slutty with a new biker boyfriend every other week, and his baby sister always looked dirty with a bunch of dried food on her face. It was depressing. I soon outgrew baseball cards and Michael.
The 1990 Oakland A’s were no exception to the rule as Storm Davis and Jose Canseco had flowy, rockstar-esque mullets. Back up catcher Ron Hassey and second baseman Glenn Hubbard had their weird, curly, seemingly permed neck-fro’s. I’ve got to believe thet the most famous baseball mullet of all time goes to the great pitcher and ultimately most white-trashy looking player of all time…Randy Johnson. Today’s players, being forever trendy yet always a step or two behind hip fashion sport the hairstyle in a “post-ironic” way; these including Nick Swisher and Tim Lincecum.
Junior High was a crazy, fucked up, depressing and confusing time for me. I got into my second fight (and third), added the first girlfriend to my repertoire and discovered heavy metal, porn and keg parties. Thank you Storm Davis for bringing it back. I had almost forgotten.
It is a cold December night in 1972, and I am with Mike Epstein and his wife. We are exiting his cherry-red Ford Thunderbird and about to enter the Marshmallow Disco. The “Marshmallow” as it is called is in a dingy, industrial block of Manhattan. There are a group of homeless folks staring at us as we exit the car–a unwordly group with distorted faces that would make one either question their drug intake or the group’s relativity to the planet Earth. I feel safe as I am with a man who has a hulking presence and once kicked the shit out of Reggie Jackson in the locker room. Some would say that this dust-up has even overshadowed Mike’s baseball oeuvre. A drunk Puerto Rican woman approaches Mike and his wife shouts,
“Look, bimbo, he’s with me.”
The “bimbo” skulks off in a fit of hysterics and Mike growls,”Look, man, I don’t have time to hassle with that shit. I got my old lady with me.”
Mike steers his wife in the general direction of the VIP door. There are smokers gathered, sitting on high school cafeteria scratched iron chairs–their legs crossed, casting appraising glances every which way with primal, reptilian eyes. You can hear the O’ Jays and Sly and the Family Stone bumping inside. There is American dissolution in the parking lot as American decadence flails away in a cocaine-induced dopamine explosion inside. The alcohol turning once happy groups into an imminent decent of after-hours grotesque buffoonery. A woman grabs a man on the way inside.
“Every damn time we fuck I gotta listen to your bullshit after we’ve finished. Why don’t you let me enjoy my afterglow for a change?”