Sunday, August 25, 2002

A Day in the Park

There’s so much I don’t know how to put it in words. Scribbling here in the car again, this time on the back of the envelope that held Soo’s paycheck which I just deposited. Nate is snoring behind me. We went to Las Piedras State Park, it’s turned into a stunning day after a morning rain accented by one flash of lightning and one clap of thunder. Soo was hailed on walking from car to office. Trying to potty train Nathan was trying me, driving me potty. So, I threw him in the car and, resisting the temptation to go all the way to Puyarim, went to the north end of the island. Nathan was almost asleep by the time we got there, but he perked up as he always does when we made that turn and Puget Sound opens up before us, “Wa-rr,” he says. Water, indeed.
There was a caterpillar inching along next to our parking space, it had avoided death twice, once at the hands of my car’s wheels and once at the hands of my son’s hands. The park ranger came over and asked us to keep an eye open for a key he had lost. No one else was there. We walked past the tire swing and the slides, over the driftwood to the rocky shore where we picked up smoothed pebbles and threw them into the lapping waves. Hundreds upon hundreds of multicolored stones rolled against each other with the motion of the water jiggling and jostling in a miniature quarry’s moist cacophony. Nathan stomped and splashed throwing handfuls of small stones, oblivious to the water rolling over his little boots and moistening the cuffs of his overalls. A man walking a dog named Dylan stopped by to let Nate get licked. Some people had pulled into the parking lot, a man and a woman lugged photography equipment from a van. Too much coffee for me forced us to dash to the bathroom. A man with two small children was playing on the jungle gym. His little girl was talkative and active, a younger boy, Kendall, sucked on the man’s empty coffee cup. We said nothing to each other except the requisite “Hellos” as Nathan and I watched them play. Nate was staring. He doesn’t know that it’s rude. I was staring even though I do. I wanted to ask the man if he was full-time or if today was out of the ordinary for him. Did he always watch the kids? Did he feel like I feel? A bit lost, a tad insecure, OK, hopelessly inadequate, an abject failure. He avoided my gaze. Was my desperation so apparent, so repellant? He helped his girl build a mound of gravel so she could reach the lowest bar on the jungle gym. Then she wanted to reach the next bar, but it was too high, explained the father. There wasn’t enough gravel to build a mound high enough so she could reach. “Kendall needs to take a nap,” he said (which is how I knew the boy’s name). “We have to go home.” So, after a normal amount of complaining and resistance she was trucked off to the minivan.
As I watched them leave, I heard an odd birdsong. Behind and high above them an eagle circled a tree, in which another eagle perched. I wanted to scream, “Look, look over there at those magnificent birds,” but I could not or would not. They drove off. I wanted to show the birds to the people taking pictures, but their subjects had shown up, casually ruggedly dressed old white men. Probably a photo shoot for the new Chamber of Commerce, I thought. Even Nate was oblivious, running after a crow and trying to replicate the actions of the little girl, reaching up to the jungle gym bar and pushing gravel around.
I stared dumbly at the eagles. We drove near them on the way out of the park. Massive birds, sitting regally on their wooden thrones. American icons, ignored.
Nathan fell asleep on the drive to the bank. I backed into a parking space across from the ATM, so I could see him in the car while I made the deposit.
The two deer that are driving Soo mad by eating all our foliage were lounging on our lawn as I pulled up our driveway. They scampered off, but not far. One has returned and is watching me now as I write.
I could have sworn I saw the eagles fly high overhead, riding the undercurrent of a thundercloud which has expanded to eclipse the sun momentarily. Patches of blue sky in the distance promise enough dryness to make the lawn mowable this afternoon, if Nathan’s sleep schedule obliges. He’s still snoring and I’m still scribbling, watching the surviving hummingbirds at play and wondering how long this will last. How long will he sleep? How long will the money hold out? How long before someone gives me a job? How long before all this useless beauty drives me mad? How long to sing this song? How long before you too are overwhelmed by this well watered world of wonder? Or is it illusion?

Tuesday, August 20, 2002


I used to think I knew about guilt because I was raised Catholic and survived 12 years of Catholic school. As much as learning about man’s immense potential to sin and even accepting an original sin you had nothing to do with and then learning to confess those sins when and if you commit them can teach you about guilt. But, one doesn’t really know guilt until he understands the difference between culpability and responsibility. I think it was Brother Mark that tried to drive that point into my head Junior year of high school. Except what does a 16-year old know about responsibility? Your average 16-year old can shirk responsibility as naturally as a bird flies. Real guilt arrives when you fail to live up to a promise you’ve made to someone you love.
I feel guilty when I’m enjoying the time I’m spending with Nathan, as much as I feel guilty when I complain about being stuck with him. Because the fact of the matter is, I love being stuck with him. He drives me nuts and there have been moments where the things he’s done has put him in danger of physical harm (from me. [Let’s see you not react violently when human teeth draw blood from your flesh]). Despite those moments, despite all the frustration and angst, I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have this time with him. However, (and there’s always a “however,” a “but,” some disclaimer or modifier in conjunction with each good phrase, each good feeling) I’m constantly reminding myself that this is being made possible because my wife is working. My lovely, intelligent, capable wife (who is not reading over my shoulder, but who might be soon) is the one who goes to work each day while I take Nate to the park or play with him in the yard. Guilt.
People say it’s a wasted emotion, that’s a bunch of Protestant poppycock. Guilt makes the world go around. I’ll galdarn guarantee you Martin Luther felt guilty when he defaced Church property way back when. Not because he felt like he was doing the wrong thing, but because he was running against the people he loved. It’s a fair bet that just about everyone Martin Luther knew was a member of the Church he was railing (and nailing) against. So any grief he had with the big body would affect in one way or another all those little bodies that were close to him and that he loved. You see, guilt and love are inextricably mingled. They do a daily dance and they waltz together through history.
If you doubt this is true, ask yourself why you do what you do every day. Do you love doing everything you do or do you do some things because you think they are the right things to do? I’ll grant you we do do (hee hee) some things we don’t love because of the people we do love. Yet, how does that leave the people we love feeling? Giving and receiving may be different sides of the same coin, but you can be darn sure the person doing the giving feels better. Hindu mendicants might be able to convince themselves they are providing a valuable spiritual service by giving givers a chance to give. It’s a different ball of wax for the American male.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m complaining. If there’s any inequity here the scales are surely lighter on the female side of this equation. As Soo has pointed out, if I were working and she were staying at home, I’d be seeing dinner on the table a fair bit more often than she is now. The guy at home can get away with murder just because he is not supposed to be at home. There are lowered expectations and that’s not fair.
None of this is new. It’s not like I’m the only stay at home Dad, this week’s Newsweek has “She Works, He Doesn’t” on the cover for crying out loud. I’m sure there are thousands of men who have quit (yes, in a fit of pride induced ignorance I quit a job in this economy) their jobs, sold their homes, moved their families to insular islands in the Pacific Northwest and are now grappling with what it means that they are the house-husband living off the sweat of their wives’ brows.
No matter how I try to phrase all this it still comes out sounding like ordinary whining, which, I suppose, is another key component of guilt. You don’t hear of too many people silently suffering in their guilt (then again you wouldn’t hear people silently doing anything). I’ve taken to using a baseball analogy, a convenient American metaphor to address what I’m assuming (most likely inaccurately) to be a uniquely American experience. You always hear ballplayers saying, we’re all just doing our part for the team, I’m just happy to be able to contribute. If there’s a runner on first and nobody out, you need somebody to bunt him over. I’m that guy. I’m doing the little things, making lunch and going to the store. Deep down, though, I don’t feel like a leadoff hitter. First, I’m no Maury Wills. I don’t have the skills or the speed. I’m a slow white guy, a traditional power hitter in the mold of Eric Karros or Duke Snider (I don’t really have those skills either, but at least I have the build). Second, I’ve convinced myself (or I’ve been convinced) that my role is not as the supporting player. I guess like everyone, I always imagined myself as the star, maybe not the superstar, but at least capable of hitting 30 homers and driving in 100 runs a season. Instead, I’m the big letdown, the guy who signed the fat contract and is now underperforming so he’s on the bench. I’m Bobby Bonilla.
A sobering and depressing conclusion to come to so early in the morning. Then you have to wonder, how must Bobby Bonilla feel?
This from
“If Bobby Bonilla put together a resume, it would surely begin, "Have bat, will travel. Position negotiable." Mixing a sunny smile and a genuine love for playing the game with a sometimes sour disposition, Bonilla's personality is part Ernie Banks and part Albert Belle. While his potent offensive numbers have always kept him in demand, defensive problems and a sometimes surly demeanor have kept him on the move. In fifteen major-league seasons, the switch-hitting Bronx native has played for seven different teams.”
I have no idea what he’s doing now and I only hope that he managed to save enough money during those 15 seasons in the bigs to not have to worry about such things for the rest of his life. I doubt he checks his bank account and thinks to himself, “Hmm, I didn’t really deserve the money I got from that last season.” The problem is ballplayers are different. This self same idolatry (there might be a better word) that I’m practicing here, this study and knowledge of a game and its players has created a world where they get paid great amounts of money and attention. This makes them different. I could expound on the reasons and dangers of this for days, start making comparisons between America and ancient Rome, far off battles being fought while the populace is entertained by gladiators at home, a society buckling under the weight of its own hubris and all that, but I won’t (not yet, at least). My imagination has been captured by the image of Bobby Bonilla pottering around the house, making lunch for the kids, mowing the lawn, and maybe, maybe contemplating the greatness that he never achieved.
One of the fantastic things about baseball is the way it inspires great writers (myself excluded). In my search for Bobby Bonilla info (I did a Google search on “Mets fat losers”) I came across the following transcript of the Jim Lehrer NewsHour from October 26, 1999. Read or scan what you will, all errors are the transciber’s:

A special look at winning and losing, in baseball and in literature. Elizabeth Farnsworth leads our discussion.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In New York tonight, it's game three of the last World Series of the century, with the Yankees leading the Atlanta Braves two games to none. The Yankees destroyed the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox to get here, and have won nine of ten games in post-season play this year-- all this from the team that has already won more pennants and World Series than any other team ever. And this record inspires strong feelings in fans, including among our NewsHour regulars, as we hear now from essayist Roger Rosenblatt of the "New York Yankees," and poet laureate Robert Pinsky, once of the Brooklyn Dodgers, now with the Boston Red Sox. Robert Pinsky, why not love and admire the Yankees for all those wins?
ROBERT PINSKY: These are excellent athletes. Anybody who doesn't love Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, El Duke. They're wonderful players. Yankee fans sometimes make the mistake of gloating about what is really a privilege. And the dignity in defeat, going back to the era of Robinson and Hodges and in the present era of Garcia Parra is something I admire. And imagination that gets us involved in things like sports teams has finer food than victory. Even the Yankees lose more World Series than they win. They don't win the World Series more often than not. As with any other form of affection or involvement, one has to realize that these-- though they're the excellent, best athletes imaginable-- they're mortal and fallible.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, do you love them because of all the wins?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know. Maybe I'm in danger of gloating because of my privileges. By the way the Yankees actually do win more World Series than-- it's getting into the World Series that they don't do in a majority but no team does. As for the fans, I'm trying to think of the times that I've enjoyed the civility of the Mets fans or the Red Sox' fans or the Cubs' fans or any of the fans that are associated with teams that don't win as much. And I'm sort of at a loss to do so. I just love the Yankees. The whole idea of the demonstration of excellence in anything, there seems to be only a penalty in sports. I wouldn't want to hear an opera singer hit a wrong note. I'd hate to see a ham actor come out on stage. Why should I lower my standards or anybody for that matter in the matter of baseball?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, you just happen to have a poem on this subject.
ROBERT PINSKY: I think it's said that Roger falls into the fallacy of confusing excellence, which is such a beautiful value, with the more paltry value of success. It reminds me of the public figure or politician who gloats or crows about starting a successful business and is complacent about the fact that the family had money... his father had a successful business or the family had a lot of associations. The privilege of having a rich market and of having a lot of money should be something that's not vaunted. The poem you're thinking of is Yates' wonderful poem to a friend whose work has come to nothing. And the lines I'm thinking of begin "bred to a harder scene than triumph." I think we're all as mortals bred to a harder thing than triumph. In the end the players all get fat, weak, and we all get old. You don't win in the end. Yates says, to a friend whose work has come to nothing - "Bred to a harder scene than triumph turn away and like laughing string where our mad singers play amid a place of stone, be secret and exult because of all scenes known, that is most difficult."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Roger, have you got a dueling poem or can you refute this in prose?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I don't know if reputation is what I would achieve but I would like to add the words of at poet Laureate, Tennyson who talked about Ulysses at the end saying "Although we are not now the strength that in old days that moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong and will to strive to seek to find and not to yield."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Pinsky, do you think success is just not as interesting as losing? I'm thinking of a line in your poem, the Night Game, that refers to Whitey Ford. You say about whitey ford, quote, never a player I liked or hated, a Yankee, a mere success. "Mere success"?
ROBERT PINSKY: Well, one needs an awful lot of successes. Success for all of us is temporary. Transitory thing. I do thing there are values in sports and in life that are more interesting than success. The most moving athletic events are the ones after which the players-- the players who have a code for the most part, certainly in baseball if not gloating-- the players say it's a shame anyone had to lose. It was a shame that anyone had to lose that one. I thought Roger read those Tennyson lines beautifully. And they're quite germane. Ulysses is well on in life. He's seen a lot of heroes. The Victor Achilles goes down the same way the loser Paris goes down. Hector goes down. Success is not as interesting as striving, as in the Tennyson lines. And success does seem to me a paltry value. When we have it, we should be humble about it.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, it's hard to be in the position of having the braves down two zip and yearn for humility. I'll try to do it on a general virtuous basis, but I often find that the people who say it's too bad somebody had to win this game are the guys who won it. As for the beauty of defeat or effort, even in tragedy, you know, Hamlet wins before he loses his life. I'm kind of stretching to make something great and noble out of the beauty of sport whose simplicity as a matter of fact is defined by whether someone does win or lose since most of the rest of life is too complicated or too nuance to show us that. The beauty of games, for those of us who play them or those of us who watch them, is that there is a winner or loser and there are clean things to make it up. If you make an error, you are likely to lose, as the Red Sox made several errors in the series against the Yankees. If you don't, you are likelier to win. So there is-- Robert may wish to make a distinction between excellence and success, but in most cases, certainly in sports, the more excellent, the more success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Roger Rosenblatt, Robert Pinsky, thanks a lot.

Of course, Bonilla was on that 1999 Mets team that lost to the Braves who went on to lose to the Yankees. What is he doing now, I wonder? No Achilles. No Paris. Just a man. A man with a lot of money. Hopefully. Is that mere success? Having enough money to sit around and watch other people play games on TV, or enough money to be able to do whatever you want, enough money to take care of your family. It may not be success, but it’s something I want. Am I bred to a harder scene than triumph? Who thinks about such things? You just get a job and work hard and make as much money as you can because the alternative sucks.
Guilt is a wasted emotion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002


Multitasking was a popular word way back in the good old days of the 1990s. I used to think I was pretty good at it. I could write press releases, schedule a press tour, monitor the competition, talk on the phone, answer email, edit a white paper, and all the while know how the Dodgers were doing. Now I only have one phone to answer, I have no one reporting to me, and I’m operating on a significantly reduced budget, yet I find, at the end of each day, I’m more exhausted than I ever was when I had a “real” job. My multitasking now includes, preparing lunch, changing diapers, doing laundry, and chasing a 30 pound ball of energy around, all the while trying to sneak over here to document the thoughts I’m having (for reasons that remain unclear), and scan the job boards.
I heard a story on the radio yesterday afternoon about a guy who has been out of work for nearly a year. He’d been an engineer for nearly 20 years, he designed computer chips, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs to be precise). Intel laid him off. He has a new wife, she moved from Scotland to be with him and they were married a few months before he lost his job. He said he’s been having trouble sleeping, that sometimes he wonders if he’ll ever get a job. He talked about how his brother died of a heart attack and that he worries that he might just get so stressed out that he’ll have one too. There was another story on the radio yesterday morning about a support group for unemployed professionals, college graduates with lots of experience. They said it’s easier for a person with just a high school education to get a job now. Companies aren’t hiring as many seasoned professionals. They finished the piece by saying the people who do get hired are the people who keep looking. That was inspirational. (Sarcasm).
Keeping a good attitude is important. I heard these stories coming from and going to the zoo with my wife and child. Keeping perspective is important. In the immortal words of William Forsythe from Raising Arizona, “You’re young, you’ve got your health…what do you want a job for?” It’s a tempting philosophy. It’s also voiced by an escaped convict in a work of fiction. The fact is you can never forget you don’t have a job, especially when you have people depending on you. Does it make any difference that you have some money in the bank or a network of supportive family and friends? A little. But in the quiet moments when you’re alone (or at least not in the company of a human that answers when you repeatedly ask “What are we going to do?”), it is impossible to forget.
The matter grows increasingly complicated when you start factoring in ideas like the historical roles of the sexes in the home and the delicate psyche of the American male. If a guy in this country doesn’t put on a suit and tie or a pair of work boots, or, at the very least, tote around some sort of firearm, he’s viewed as a pansy. Child-rearing, homemaking, et cetera, are simply not man’s domain. Dads take their kids to the zoo on Saturdays. Dads go to the office every day and do important stuff. Dads go to the work site and operate heavy machinery. Dads go to battle. Dads don’t go shopping, not in the middle of the week, not in the middle of the day.
I know, I know, a lot has changed, we’re in the 21st century. Women fly helicopters and smoke in public and vote. A wife and mother can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, but where does that leave Dad. Standing in the supermarket staring at 14 different lunch meats wondering which is the one to get while junior melts down impatiently at his feet, that’s where. A variation on this scenario is slightly more problematic for me. A white guy walking quickly through the market carrying a screaming Asian baby looks suspiciously like someone who snatched a kid from the candy aisle. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. I worry too much. Lots of guys stay at home with the kids these days. Why should I care what other people might think. I’d like to see those working Dads spend a month as the day to day caregiver, without the knowledge that it’s only going to be a month. I think that’s an important point. Living with the fact that things might always be like this can wear on the most stable man, it’s hard to stumble through that dark tunnel if there’s no light at the end of it. So, there’s not much else to do, but just keep stumbling. Stumble and change his clothes, stumble and go buy more milk, stumble and scrape squashed raisins off the kitchen floor, stumble and hope I find a real job soon.

Friday, August 9, 2002

Chasing the Cat

When Nathan gets bored with foraging under his high chair for remnants of his last (four) meal(s) or riffling through the bathroom drawers for a tampopsicle or tugging at my sleeve pulling me away from the computer as he’s doing now, when all these options are exhausted, he chases the cat. He often chases the cat, it’s his fallback pursuit. He pesters the cat relentlessly. We actually have two cats, but Buca is the quintessential scaredy-cat and she just runs and hides whenever Nathan is on the rampage. Oso is the regal, gray Persian who runs our lives. Nathan abuses him, hugs him, sits on him, tackles him and darn near flattens him under what is now not an inconsiderable weight (at least to the fluffy feline whisper we call Oso).
Oso fails repeatedly to avail himself of escape opportunities, and when he does get caught and the gawdawful cat yawling doesn’t bring freedom then the cat will resort to violence. Nathan’s scratched face will attest to that. Yet, no mere flesh wounds will deter Nate. He motors on, despite the fact that he has no idea what to do with Oso when he gets him. Oso has been remarkably patient, but all patience eventually wears thin. The cat has attempted several prison breaks. While not exactly Steve-McQueen-flying-over-barbed-wire-Nazis-gunning-at-his-head-death-defying, they do run some risk.
Nathan has learned to open the doors to the outside, so, on occasion, Oso will manage to slip out if we neglect to notice Nate has left the door open (of course, with our superior parenting skills this rarely happens, ahem). This presents a painful temptation for Oso. He can linger around Nathan when Nate is near a door, but he risks the aforementioned abuse. Hence the dilemma: risk getting trampled for the chance at freedom. Not that Oso knows what to do when he gets outside, every last feral morsel has been ruthlessly domesticated out of him. Oso looks about as comfortable on the grassy savannah of our lawn as a Palestinian would at his own Bris.
This all may sound very sweet and amusing. Well, let me tell you when someone calls, a recruiter, for example, and you see your 18-month old son wandering outside chasing a furry gray cat across the deck, and you begin to calculate how much time you’ve got before one or the other comes to harm and you try to figure the damage you’ll do to your reputation in the eyes of the person on the end of the phone if you curtail the call or admit you must go pry a cat out of your son’s grip – you do that a few times and it’s not cute anymore. I’ve had time to think about such things, to worry about what other people think, of me, and our situation. What do people really think of Mr. Moms, the stay at home Dad, house-husband, unemployed leech. When you’re on the phone and the kid is screaming, do people think, “Not only can he not get a job, he can’t even do this one, and that doesn’t pay.” He can’t even take care of his own kid.
And, it’s at such moments, that I think, I just want a job, any job, just get me out of here and back in an office. Staying at home and parenting a kid is hard, really hard. It takes more than a village idiot. Watching a child is comprised of moments of terror surrounded by hours of brain numbing monotony. Those monotonous times allow for mind-wandering, which, for me, can be a dangerous thing. I’ve come to imagine myself as Nathan and Oso as a job. The way I’ve pursued my “career” is analogous to the way Nathan pursues the cat. There’s a tendency towards indifference if there’s something more interesting to do, but once my mind is set I won’t rest until the job is done. Of course, like Nate, I have a habit of holding on too tightly once the object of pursuit is in my grasp. And jobs, like cats, can react unpredictably when faced with such enthusiasm. Cats are naturally suspicious. They look out for themselves. They watch their backs. But, they can be moody. One moment they’re responding positively to your attention, then, without warning, they’ll turn and bite you. A cat will turn its claws on friend and foe alike. A scratched face can damage self-esteem. A child doesn’t think about pride being a sin, yet an adult might spend sleepless hours weighing that truism against the cost of sustaining repeated damage to his face by holding on mindlessly. Cats can also sense desperation.
I had a job interview on Tuesday of LAST week. I did my research. I looked at the web site. I examined the financials. I talked to former employees, for chrissakes. I thought I nailed the interviews. I was charming, well-spoken, highlighted my strengths while retaining modesty. I sent the requisite clever “Thank you” emails. And, I’ve heard nothing. NOTHING.
Maybe jobs are like dogs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Stinging Graig Nettles

Two months go by, twenty-five years go by. I neglected to mention a mishap Nathan had the second day we were here, the day the movers arrived. It was my turn to keep track of the boy and we were exploring the end of the lawn, the beginning of the woods, when he took a misstep and fell face first into what looked like harmless soft soil. He started crying, I laughed a bit and picked him up. The crying turned into more than you’d expect from a simple fall, and Soo came over to see what was wrong. By which time white welts had appeared on Nate’s face and neck. They continued to grow (along with our anxiety), and Soo ran inside to call the only person we knew on the island, our realtor. Before she could finish saying, “Nathan fell in the woods and…” Jackie said “Stinging Nettle.”
We went back to check out the scene of the crime and sure enough there was a sprig of something that fit Jackie’s description that could have brushed Nathan’s face as he fell. The good news is that the swelling goes down and the itching stops after a few hours, the bad news is that as we started looking around the woods we saw the stuff everywhere. I had flashbacks of all the times I picked up poison oak growing up and roaming through the hills around our house in southern California. Nathan will (unless we fail to get jobs and must move again) be coming home time and again sporting white, itchy splotches from his exploits in the woods. At least this stuff goes away relatively quickly, a bad bout of poison oak could last weeks. I believe that is Dante’s eighth circle of hell: October 1977 in LA, covered in red scabby corpuscles watching the Dodgers lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series as Graig Nettles steals hit after hit with otherworldly glove work. It happens over and over again, which, in fact, it did, the very next year.
So, one day last week when Nate was napping I went out to do battle with the Nettles. It had grown considerably, taller and wider, creeping relentless. There’s nothing to stop the growth up here, not even a napalm strike. Rain and sun, rain and rain and sun, and rain, we all know I’m no botanist (don’t even play one on TV), but the pattern seems to be very conducive to plant growth. Armed with the clippers, gloved, shod, and every square inch of skin protected, I went to battle. Mindless, violent work is fertile ground for the imagination to sow its seeds and before 15 minutes had passed I’m lopping the head off Craig Nettles over and over again. Was it 25 years ago? Should a grown man care about a game with such unforgiving, unforgetting passion? I’ve often thought my devotion to the Dodgers was exaggerated due to the fact I was named Billy, it was abhorrent to me that I had the same first name as Billy Martin. Kind of like an immigrant to America who is exceedingly patriotic lest anyone doubt their loyalties.
I can still conjure up Billy Martin’s weasely face if I wish to torment myself. (Twisted self-loathing?) I can remember it all like it was yesterday, the way the camera zoomed in to the top of Graig Nettle’s cleats where he had painted E5 on his toes as a constant reminder of his potential failure, the shots that Garvey and Cey and Lopes (well mostly Garvey and Cey) sent screaming down the third base line only to have them snagged miraculously by a diving, sprawling Graig Nettles, and then the bastard popping up and throwing beebees to Chris Chambliss as Cey’s little penguin legs pumped futilely, a split second too late, and Garvey’s Popeye arms flailed in exasperation witnessing another casual out signal from the first base umpire. Dashed childhood hopes, dashed adult hopes.
Has it been 25 years, has it been two months? Still no job. What is it that people always say, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? What if you love sitting on the couch drinking beer and watching TV, is what I always ask. “No one, on their death bed, ever said ‘I wished I had worked more,’” is another good one. I guess nobody records the last words of that guy freezing to death on the street. I’ve got no cause for such melodrama, though. As my sister once told me (and which I promptly wrote down and placed in my wallet), “You have no right to be miserable.” And I don’t. I’m the luckiest guy in the world, that’s what makes feeling like crap so much worse. In the words of Elvis Costello, “For all of the courage we never had, I’m just about glad, just about glad, just about glad…”
That doesn’t mean in our private moments of gardening fury we can’t wreak vengeance on the dasher of childhood dreams, because it is just the dreams, it’s not the hopes, the hopes must always remain. It is so much more gratifying to physically expel the (faux) demons, than to assuage them with sweet aphorisms. And it is infinitely more culturally acceptable to redirect anger towards our paid, televised game-playing gladiators than to scream at the petty bosses that represent our tarnished and vanishing dreams. But at the end of the day, words like “dreams” and “hopes” are just pretty words, and what we should really be thinking about is protecting the ones we love, and if that is done by sucking up our pride and doing what it takes to make a living then so be it. All this is just the sort of rubbish that pops into one’s head when out in the yard attacking vegetation disguised as an old baseball player (or is it an old manager), yet as Mr. Costello says “nonsense prevails, modesty fails, grace and virtue turn into stupidity, While the calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise, And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts, they still think they’re the gods of antiquity, If something you missed didn’t even exist it was just an ideal…Is that such a surprise?” No, it’s just useless beauty. What shall we do? What shall we do, with all this useless beauty.