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?”
“The tears I shed yesterday have become rain.”
A psychiatrist analyzes Billy Martin: He acts out our own anger. The athlete in America is a hero figure because we can sublimate our anger through his action. It wouldn’t be socially acceptable to slug somebody at a bar. It would be socially acceptable conduct to sit in the stands and egg Billy Martin on against an umpire; an authority figure. He fights our battles for us with no loss of status and with no pain. Heavy alcohol use directly affects brain function and alters various brain chemical and hormonal systems known to be involved in the development of many common mental disorders (e.g., mood and anxiety disorders). Thus, it is not surprising that alcoholism can manifest itself in a broad range of psychiatric symptoms and signs. Alcohol abuse can cause signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior, both during intoxication and during withdrawal. At times, these symptoms and signs cluster, last for weeks, and mimic frank psychiatric disorders As Freud believed, conflicts are part of the human condition and certain ego functions may become conflicted by aggressive and libidinal impulses, as witnessed by conversion disorders, speech impediments, eating disorders, and attention-deficit disorder.
January 24th, 2006 was a sad day as actor Chris Penn died at the age of 40 in his Santa Monica condo from apparent heart disease. Penn was a much-loved actor mostly known for his parts as “Nice Guy Eddie” in the 1992 classic, “Reservoir Dogs”; and “Nicky Dimes” in another Quentin Tarantino classic, “True Romance.” Being a fan of witty and lowbrow humor, I enjoyed this scene from the former aforementioned movie with another favorite of mine, Harvey Keitel.
Nice Guy Eddie: The chick got tired of him beatin’ her so one night she walks in the guys bedroom and super glues his dick to his belly. Ambulance came and had to cut the prick loose.
Mr.White: Was he all pissed off?
Nice Guy Eddie: How would you feel if every time you had to take a piss you had to do a fuckin’ hand stand?
A couple of days later I’m looking through my stash of baseball cards and I came across a player who was a bit ahead of my time but looked a bit like…..can it be…. Chris Penn!? Who in the hell was this Rich McKinney?
Rich McKinney played seven seasons in the bigs for the White Sox, Yankees, and A’s. He retired after the ’77 season with a career average of .225, 20 dingers and 100 RBI’s. (not a bad full season) McKinney often acted like such a space cadet that he was nicknamed “Orbit” by his teammates. The label fully fit his aloof, detached-from-reality personality. He is best known for his propensity for making errors, even committing four in one game as a Yankee. (and i thought smoking doobies gave you the ability to focus) Strangely enough, he played seven different positions in his career: 3rd, SS, 2nd, right field ,DH, left field, and first. Prior to arriving in Oakland, McKinney reached the pinnacle of goofball behavior. After the White Sox traded him to the Yankees, McKinney joined the team for its annual winter caravan promotional tour. Within minutes of meeting the Yankees’ public relations director, the respected Marty Appel, McKinney asked him where he could score some marijuana. Flabbergasted that a player would ask a front office official such a question, Appel responded that he didn’t know.
Sadness permeates me for some unknown reason as I shove Mr. McKinney’s card back into the pile, perhaps never to be seen and contemplated in the future. A single thought haunts me, settles in my mind and then tumbles the way only a fresh and abstract thought can: there is a dignity in honest mediocrity.