HOUSTON Astros (53-106) vs CHICAGO Cubs (60-99)
October 1-3, 2012
1060 West Addison St.
Chicago, IL 60613-4397
CHICAGO (SnS) – If there has ever been a less meaningful season-ending series than this one, you’ll have to tell me about it. Two 100+ loss teams – two pretty unlikeable teams – going absolutely nowhere. Facing off against each other, with lineups full of unknowns, of wannabes and never-wases, of has-beens. In a shit-pile stadium, full of – collectively – some of the dumbfuck-est, most imbecilic and moronic specimens of humanity ever produced in human history, most of them stupid drunk on shitty-tasting beer by the fifth inning … Who the fuck wants to watch that?
Well, I probably will. Just because it will be my last chance to do so, if nothing else. I have been a passionate Houston Astros fan for most of my life, and I think of my emotional break from the team now as something akin to breaking up with a long-time girlfriend. You put her out of your mind immediately afterward, and try to avoid her. Then a good while after the split, you get the news she is moving away from your town for good, and she’d like you to come by and see her, just one last time. For the memories.
And you know you are being used, in a way; being manipulated by her once again, just like you always were when you were together. But you go, anyway. You don’t love her anymore, your emotions for her no longer run hot, but down there in the pile of cold ashes in your heart where your love for her used to be, down at the very bottom of the pile, there are one or two coals that haven’t quite gone completely cold yet. You get out some old pictures of her you kept, some old pictures of the two of you, and it feels so weird to look at them now. You don’t feel love, or longing, but there is some shadow of an emotion, still lingering. There is something still there, flickering. It is not nearly enough for a flame to re-ignite, and it will die out soon enough, and those coals will go cold and dead, just like the rest of those in the pile. But for the moment, you cannot deny there is some little something, still there. And then you look away from your collection of photos, and gaze out the window; at the branches of a tree just starting to drop a few leaves. Fall is just around the corner, and then winter after that. You involuntarily shiver a bit, just at the thought of it.
And so you go. You go to see her off. The meeting is pleasant, and light. You discern none of the old feeling for you in your old girlfriend, and you feel none in yourself for her. Just some small sympathy, a bit of favor, for one you once loved so much, and spent so much of your time with.
And then after some little time of exchanging pleasantries, she tells you it is time for her to be going, and she kisses you lightly and emotionlessly on the cheek. And she tells you goodbye, for the last time. And so you walk away from her; and you discern no urge in yourself, as you go, to turn and look back.
She is gone now.
She is gone now, and you are gone now, too.
Monday October 1, 2012 — 7:05 p.m. CDT (FS-H)
Tuesday October 2, 2012 — 7:05 p.m. CDT (FS-H)
Wednesday October 3, 2012 — 1:20 p.m. CDT (FS-H, WGN)
Fly, Midnight Flyer
Fly, take it higher …
The song boomed out of the stereo speakers in the beach house at top volume. It sounded pretty fucking good, too. The LP it came from, Hot Wire, was the latest in a series of good and mostly underrated albums released by Trapeze in the first half of the 1970s; either that, or it was the band’s last gasp, depending on how one looked at it. Hot Wire was the band’s fifth studio LP, released in 1974, right in the middle of my high school career, and Trapeze actually kept it together long enough to release a couple more after that. But I belonged to the school of thought that everything after Hot Wire was for die-hards only.
It was a couple of years after that LP came out that I found myself hearing it one night, at a party at the beach in the cabin of some friends of mine. There were 60-70 kids moving around and in and out of the cabin, talking and drinking and raising hell, so that Trapeze at 110 dbs did not boom out over the top of all the ambient party noise, but rather was down in the mix of it.
Still, it sounded good. Trapeze is one of those mid 1970s bands no one talks about anymore. I tend to think are under-appreciated, though. They could fucking kick out the jams, party-style, back in the good old days.
Get down to the good times
We’re gonna have a ball
Get down to the music
We’re gonna have it all
The night air was fetid. It was thick with humidity, and infused with malodor. One’s olfactory senses were assaulted by a combination of smells – from rotting vegetation, to chemical refining, to the byproducts of cattle production. It was late spring-early summer, and we were parked on a grassy spot alongside Dishman Rd, out among the rice fields and canals and farms (and chemical refineries) out west of town. We were in the front seat of my 1971 Buick Skylark … sky blue, with a white textured vinyl top. Fat Firestone 60s, raised white letters, and chrome mags. We had the stereo playing on the auxiliary; but with the engine (and air conditioner) off, it had got a bit stuffy inside the car, and we’d rolled down all the windows in hopes of capturing a refreshing zephyr blowing across the nearly treeless, nearly featureless landscape.
But, no luck. The air that night was still, and there did not seem to be any sort wind to speak of. Just a sticky, moist blanket of humidity, which quickly enveloped us, once the windows were down. Along with it came various aromas, wafting in; the dank, vaguely sulfurous smell of nature decaying part of itself, and the stench of men and their processes, working steadily to decay the rest of it.
I will have to admit, at that moment my mind was mostly elsewhere, and not dwelling much on existential ideas and the nature of decay, or of mankind’s role in all of it. I was seventeen years old, near the end of my junior year in high school, and I was sitting in the front seat of my car with my girlfriend. Her name was Liz, and she was fourteen almost fifteen. A freshman.
Liz and I had been hanging out in the West End earlier that evening. It was a weeknight – a school night – and after a time we determined that no one else in our peer group was out and about; so we rode around aimlessly for awhile, drinking beer and maybe smoking a doobie or two, listening to music on the 8-track player. I had picked Liz up around 7:00 that evening, after dinner. Her (single parent) mom thought I was just the greatest, a wonderful guy for her youngest daughter to be dating. I told her Liz and I were going to the library to work on a research paper, and she smiled widely and bussed me on the cheek as we went out the front door.
As always, Liz looked great when I picked her up that night. She was one of those girls who did not spend a lot of time on makeup or hair preparation or picking just the right outfit to go out in. But, she didn’t need to. She just looked good, naturally. She would hit the makeup a lick, drag a brush once or twice through her straight, shoulder-length brunette hair, and throw on something, whatever – on that particular night, flared Levis, white Dr. Scholl’s sandals, and an off-white, rather sheer peasant top, with (after we left her house) no bra on, underneath. She was of medium height, and slender, with everything else on her in even proportions. She had the nicest, heart-shaped backside, which I never got tired of looking at when she was lying on the living room floor watching TV or something. Liz was mostly of mixed British ancestry, except for her paternal grandmother, who was from France, a WWII war bride. So Liz had a little of that French thing in her, and … ooh la la. She always looked like a million dollars to me. We had begun dating midway through my junior (her freshman) year, and she would be my steady girlfriend through the rest of my high school days, and even for awhile after that.
I loved practically everything about Liz. She was mature beyond her years, and beautiful. Smart, and funny. Quite limber. She liked to drink, and get high. In other words, Liz had almost all the things one would want in a girlfriend.
About the only thing we did not agree on was music. I had and have a fairly wide range of music I will listen to, but at the time I was in my rebellious, teen-aged phase – a phase I have not entirely grown out of yet, to tell the truth – and my main musical focus was heavy blues rock, the Rolling Stones and all their various descendents. Meanwhile, Liz favored the sort of folky, sensitive singer-songwriter types. She would put up with my Aerosmith and Foghat and Trapeze and Savoy Brown and the like for awhile, and then I would in turn try to tolerate a moderate amount of Dan Fogelberg and James Taylor, etc. Or another one, an obscure guy I just now remembered for some reason, named Jimmy Spheeris, I think. Kind of a folky hippie, a real navel-gazer. Boy, did he suck ass. I used to cringe when I heard him coming on over the stereo. But, I held my tongue and forced a smile, while meanwhile trying to keep my brain from turning to mush. It is funny, how much really crappy music a guy will listen to, in the name of love. Or in the name of lust. Whichever.
The one area of truly common ground Liz and I had, musically, was Todd Rundgren. I liked Todd a lot, since his Nazz days; and I was pleased and surprised to find out Liz was a huge fan, too. There is no explaining it, but who cares? We had something we could listen to together, and both enjoy. Maybe Rundgren was our number one lowest common denominator?
Anyway, that’s what we had playing in the 8-track in my car that night. Todd Rundgren. Something/Anything? probably. We had it turned up fairly loud. Even with the windows down, we were unlikely to be bothering anyone with the noise. The place where we were was ground zero for taking one’s date “parking”, as it was called then. One of the main attractions was that the area was sparsely populated. Also, it was just outside the city limits; so while I guess it was still technically within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city cops, one hardly ever saw one out there. No county cops, either. Nice.
While we had Rundgren playing – hopefully something like “You Left Me Sore”, although I really don’t remember – we were meanwhile heavily engaged in the time honored sport of blind teen-aged lust, there in the front seat of my car. Without going into explicit detail, I will say we’d been at it for awhile, we were both somewhat less than fully clothed, and we were engrossed in attempting a difficult and rather complicated gymnastic maneuver, just about the time I looked up and saw the flashing red and blue lights out of the back window of the Skylark.
“Goddamn! Fuck!” That was all I could get out, but it was enough to spur us both into quick and furious action, untangling ourselves from each other while Liz got her blouse back on – more or less – in record time; and I pulled up and zipped my jeans. Just then the Beaumont cop poked his head and flashlight into the driver’s side window and asked us just what the hell we were doing.
I mumbled something about just talking and getting some fresh air, and I thought I saw the slightest sympathetic smile flicker across the cop’s face. I sure hoped so. All I could think about was the half gone lid of Maui Wowie in my glove box, and the half-drank 12-pack of Budweiser on the floorboard between my girlfriend’s feet. My 14-year-old girlfriend, that is.
The officer walked around to the passenger side and asked Liz to get out of the car. Sometime in the midst of the earlier goings-on she’d flipped her sandals into the back seat somewhere; but now, not wanting to draw any further attention to the interior of the car, she got out barefoot, and walked across the rough gravel and detritus on the road’s shoulder to back behind the car, where the cop wanted to question her. I watched her intently. She didn’t freak out at the prospect of being questioned, and she didn’t flinch at all walking barefoot across that gravel and caliche and roadside flotsam and jetsam. I felt a sense of intense pride welling up in me. She was very fucking brave.
Liz told me later the cop asked her some basic questions – her name and age, where we’d been that night, did she know me and was she there of her own volition, etc. After that she walked back across the rough ground to the passenger side and got back into the car. The cop came back around to my side. He said he could understand us just wanting some privacy to talk and enjoy the night air, and he appreciated it that we were good kids, and not out doing anything illegal. He said he hated to bother us at all, but up the road a farmer had a cow get out, and it was running around loose out there and had almost been hit by traffic a couple of times already, and had we seen any loose cattle going by?
“No sir, we sure haven’t,” was all I could come up with at the time. “Well, if you do, please report it,” he said. “Now, y’all have a good night.” With that, he walked back to his cruiser, got in, and drove off down the dark road, into the night.
Liz and I sat in silence for awhile, kind of stunned. She told me how badly it hurt her bare feet, walking around out there; and I told her I knew it hurt her and I knew why she endured it, and I thanked her. I told her that cop was nice not to bust us, but I couldn’t figure out why he felt compelled to make up the story about a loose cow as an excuse for checking us out. He was almost apologetic about it. It was weird.
We went on like that for awhile, and drank some of our by then warm beers. I didn’t think either one of us would be in the mood for romance anymore, after all that. But after awhile, Liz moved over and got in my lap, and we began kissing. Tentatively at first, then more deeply. It wasn’t long before I was fully engaged again. I was thinking about how much fun Liz was, how most girls would have been completely undone by the cop’s visit, and would have asked to be taken home right away. Not my girl. I was thinking about this and just beginning to slide my right hand up under her blouse, when I had the strongest sensation we were being watched by someone, or something.
I don’t know where that sense comes from. My guess is it originates in the brain stem, where all the primal instincts reside. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck. I don’t know if she sensed this or not, but right then Liz pulled back from me a little bit. I had turned a quarter-turn in the front seat, to the right, so that Liz could sit in my lap. The driver’s side window was behind me, but Liz was straddling me and looking directly at it. And her eyes got really big and scared looking. All I could think about was the Zodiac killer, or that guy up in Texarkana they never caught. Either way, we were history. Two young lovers, alone in a car out in the sticks, just enjoying life and each other … only to have their lives senselessly snuffed out, by some mutated serial killer.
That is what I was thinking in the time it took me to wheel around and see for myself what terrible thing was at my window, come to murder me and my baby. My brain stem was in overdrive by then, and as I was turning I was also trying to figure out a way to put myself between whatever the horrible thing was and Liz, to find some way of sacrificing myself to give her at least a chance to get away. All this was going through my mind, along with a large jolt of adrenaline, when I turned around to confront our attacker.
And what I saw, of course, was a fucking cow. Or rather the big, stupid-looking head of one. Part of it was sticking through my window, and that bovine-looking motherfucker just stood there, looking bored and chewing his cud or whatever, staring at us.
Just then, Liz let out a scream, or more of a yell, really. Either way, it startled the steer, and he banged his nose pulling his head back out of my car. Pretty goddamn funny, though I’ll admit it was a few minutes before I could come down off of my fight-or-flight buzz, and really laugh about it.
But I did. We did. After we watched the ass end of that cow as it clip-clopped on down the asphalt road into the darkness, following the same path the policeman had awhile before, off into the night … after that, we laughed. We laughed really hard about the events of that evening; we laughed together, from down deep. I don’t know what-all Liz was laughing at exactly, but in my mind it was funny on a couple of levels. Most prominently the visceral one – seeing that cow jerk his head out of my car in fear was really fantastic. But also, I was thinking that maybe some greater force, or existential being, or maybe even Jesus or one of those guys, was really, really determined that Liz and I would not have sex that night, and went to these hilarious, ridiculous lengths to ensure we did not. And, if so, he/she/it got its way, too. After that second jolt to the senses, we were done for that night, lustfully speaking.
But it’s the funniest thing, maybe the funniest thing … sitting there in my front seat together, collapsing in laughter into each others arms, laughing about this totally retarded thing that happened to us – I don’t think I ever felt closer to Liz than I did on that night. My feelings for her were deeper than even if we had actually made love. Soul deep.
It was too bad we didn’t get to reach the zenith of our mutual physical attraction that night in my car. Though there would be other nights, a lot of them, it was always a negative to miss the opportunity.
On the other hand, we got a terrific story out of the deal, one that I (and I am sure Liz) have told and re-told many times. Including me. Here. Now. So, one cannot say something positive did not come from it.
Everything has a bad side and a good side, I guess. Depends on how you look at it.
Monday evening – Mostly cloudy, with a low of 55⁰
Tuesday evening – Mostly clear, with a low of 57⁰
Wednesday afternoon – Sunny, with a high near 79⁰
My friend David and I were riding down the beach highway one spring evening, in his 1970-something Toyota Celica. We had the windows down and the stereo turned up, but we were pretty quiet, otherwise. Pensive. We were headed southwest down the Bolivar Peninsula from Crystal Beach proper, in the general direction of Port Bolivar and the ferry landing. But we were really only headed to a bar about halfway between the two beach towns; and as we rode along, taking in the serene atmosphere all around us, we felt happy and at peace. It was April or early May and it hadn’t got hot yet, so the night air was pleasant and breezy. We were headed to a beach dive where some other friends were already getting started on that night’s partying, so we had that to look forward to. And we were both 21 years old or so, and didn’t yet give much of a fuck about anything. Carefree.
Anyway, we were going along like that when we saw this guy walking down the side of the highway, headed in the same direction we were. He had his thumb out, and was trying – unsuccessfully – to get someone to stop and give him a ride. For whatever reason, Dave pulled over to the side of the road and motioned to the guy, indicating he should hop in the car with us.
So the dude slid into the back seat, what there was of one in that Celica. He was a young guy, probably only a few years older than us. Short and kind of stocky, but muscular. His name was Herve or Jorge or something like that. He said he was from Guatemala, I think, and he was working on a big shrimp boat/trawler that was docked in a small cove across from Bailey’s Fish Camp in Port Bolivar … and could we take him there?
Port Bolivar was beyond our intended destination, but it wasn’t that far out of our way; so we told him yes, we would take him to his boat. It was a ten minute drive, and along the way Dave and I peppered our passenger with questions about shrimping, what it was like to go out into the Gulf every day, and like that. Herve seemed pleased we were so interested in the fine details of his occupation, and the trip passed quickly, while he filled us in on what went on in a shrimper’s life.
My cousin and I were out riding around one afternoon in his pickup truck, around the rice field roads out west of town, drinking beer and listening to an Astros game. We really enjoyed doing that. There was just something so peaceful and calming about riding around those empty two-lane roads, some of them barely paved, some of them no more than caliche and dust, riding around on the front end of a buzz and listening to the game. We would do that for hours. Out there, we were just outside the city limits; so we didn’t have to worry about cops, and there was just enough rural-ness about to make it seem like we were really out in the country, even though in most places we were no more than ten to fifteen minutes from town. Still, sometimes we could ride along for miles and never see anything but levees, irrigation canals, rice fields either flooded or fallow, rows of tallow trees along the fence lines, and every so often a collection of farm buildings and a house. I suppose the lack of visible clutter lent to the calming effect, that and the cold beer. But the Astros announcers – Gene Elston and Dewayne Staats on that particular day – lent to the good feeling, as well. We’d been listening to those guys broadcast Astros games on the radio, in one configuration or another, since we were kids.
One of my clear childhood memories is of being eight or nine years old and lying in my bed one night, listening to Elston and Harry Kalas and Loel Passe broadcasting a game against the Dodgers. I was listening on this Philco radio I had. It was larger than a transistor but still portable, and I was listening under the covers with it turned down low, because it was past my bedtime. It was late in the game and the Astros were down by a run. They were up to bat, and had made two quick outs, but then had got a man on. And up to the plate came Jimmy Wynn, The Toy Cannon. He was the Astros last, best hope, for that game anyway. It seemed like Elston’s play-by-play during Wynn’s at bat, and the commentary from Kalas, just heightened the tension of the moment. The entire time I lay there with my fingers crossed on both hands, and my toes crossed on both feet, hoping against hope that Wynn would get hold of one and really drive it. I was giving it everything, everything I had, as I am sure Jimmy Wynn was … but, alas, on that night it was not to be. Wynn went down on a weak pop up; one could sense the disappointment in Gene Elston’s otherwise even tones. Dammit! The Astros were on their way to another close loss.
Of course, had I been more sensible back then, I’d have realized that the late, dramatic home run was pretty rare, probably a silly thing to wish for. But I wasn’t that sophisticated in those days. Had I been, it might also have occurred to me that baseball was full of disappointments, particularly if one was an Astros fan. But I didn’t realize that yet, either; and in retrospect, I am kind of glad I didn’t. Most of life’s disappointments were still ahead of me, and I was always naïvely hopeful when it came to the Astros. Good for me.
Now here we were, a decade later, all-knowing teenagers driving around drinking beer in a pickup truck. Still listening intently to the game, creating our own mental images of the action to go along with the commentary, as the countryside passed us by. I have often felt that one of the only true connective threads running through my by now pretty long and often turbulent life is my affiliation with and affection for the Astros. It is poignant to me to think that all along, no matter how fucked up I or my life was – or how un-fucked up, for that matter – I always kept up with the Astros, made as many games in person as I could, listened to the broadcasts when I couldn’t. That day out in the rice fields is just one example of it.
On that particular day, a gloomy Saturday afternoon and drizzling rain where we were, the Astros were taking on the Cubs, I think at Wrigley. The game had been going along for awhile, and it was tied or maybe Houston was behind by a run. We’d been through most of a six-pack and were coming around a ninety degree turn on one of the farm roads in the rain when the back tires skidded across the pavement and the truck spun out and ended up nosed in against a barbed-wire fence, facing across some guy’s field. It wasn’t any big deal, we hadn’t been speeding or anything. I think the beer and a preoccupation with the game on the radio had caused my cousin to forget to compensate for the fact the asphalt was wet and slick, and we sort of gently skidded partway off the road.
We sat there and collected ourselves for a moment and kind of laughed; a quick moment of reflection before my cousin would put the three-speed in reverse (three-on-a-tree, remember?) and back us onto the roadway again. He was about to do just that when we saw it. Out across this field we were facing, almost all the way to the back of it, was a gray wolf, standing there in the straw, looking over to see what the commotion was.
I’d seen red wolves before, out duck hunting; but they were pretty small, and very elusive. Pretty much the most I’d ever seen, in the half light, was the ass end of one as it disappeared over the side of a levee and off into the marsh. But this was a big wolf, and gray, no doubt about it. I don’t know what it was doing out there – I don’t think big wolves have ever been indigenous this far down, and this was pretty close to the city, too, which wolves generally avoid. Anyway, it didn’t matter. It was an amazing sight. My cousin and I sat there for several seconds, mesmerized. Then, before we knew it, the wolf was gone; and almost immediately we went about trying to confirm with and affirm to each other what had just happened. I don’t know why, but we were almost giddy about it for a minute or two. Eventually, though, the moment passed, and we got back to our beer, and the game. The Astros rallied late that afternoon, and pulled one out, in the end. Yes!! Fuck the Cubs!
I never told my cousin, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that wolf, for a long, long time. How he was free, but not really. He was being fenced in, and he was probably not long for this world. But he had it in him to be free, he knew what it felt like. I couldn’t get over that. I kept thinking if I could have just looked into his eyes for a few moments longer, I would have been able to feel what that felt like, too. Ridiculous, but that is what I thought. For many years after, on the odd occasion I had to pass by that field, I would stop my vehicle and get out and look. I didn’t really expect to see a wolf again. But sometimes I would see one, just as it turned from looking at us, not caring at all, and loped off across a field and then faded into the brush, as the pipes and flares from the Mobil Chemical refinery rose off in the distance, through the gray and misting rain, beyond the rice fields.
Maybe it was the ghost of that wolf I saw. Or maybe I was a ghost of myself, back to see that wolf again. I’ve never been able to work it out, and after awhile I get really confused trying to. But, God … I am haunted by a wolf I barely saw, over thirty years ago. I am haunted by a freedom I never had, was never meant to have, never will have. And, too, I am haunted by the ghost of myself … which, in a way, is the scariest ghost of them all.
HOUSTON: Lucas HARRELL (RHP) 10-11, 3.88 – Harrel has been a nice surprise, a pick off of the scrap heap, one man’s trash becoming the Astros treasure. He might be 15-6 this year with a good team.
CHICAGO: Jason BERKEN (RHP) 0-2, 5.14 – Berken is a 28-year-old righty who has been in Baltimore the last several seasons, pitching mostly out of the bullpen; with mixed results. He got rocked by the Rockies in Coors his last time out. For what that is worth.
HOUSTON: Bud NORRIS (RHP) 6-13, 4.82 – I used to have hopes this guy would become a solid major league starter. But by now, those hopes have pretty much flown.
CHICAGO: Chris VOLSTAD (RHP) 3-11, 6.64 – Volstad is a humpty. The Astros should knock him out of the box by the third inning. But they probably will not.
HOUSTON: Edgar GONZALEZ (RHP) 3-1, 4.15 – You fill in the blanks. I am embarrassed to say I have watched the team so little over the last couple of months, I am not really sure who this guy even is.
CHICAGO: Travis WOOD (LHP) 6-13, 4.39 – The Cubs were kind of cagey about announcing their starter for the final game, for whatever reason. I just learned this morning Wood will get the nod.
“Jesus Fuck! What am I gonna do?!” I was in the men’s room of the bar inside the Gallagher’s restaurant, fronting up a urinal. Leaning into it, actually. My joint was resting in my right hand, and my left forearm was resting against the wall above the urinal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I needed $20, like, right away; and I had no fucking idea where I was going to get the money from. But I had to have it before I left that restroom, that was for sure. And even though I was full of bourbon and really, really needed to go, there was no way I could whiz long enough to save myself from my fate. Unless I could somehow manage to piss out twenty bills, that is.
By then, I had been a clerk at one of the larger law firms in town for a couple of years. I had initially got the job through family connections, and I liked it because it was easy, and there was always a lot of gorgeous women around – legal secretaries, court reporters, all the babes working in the county clerk’s office, etc. Also, the law clerk job paid way better than the menial jobs most of my college friends had. I was able to go to school full time, pay rent and utilities for a small, austere apartment, and pay a new truck note and insurance, and still have enough left over to party a little bit, and wine and dine some of those attractive women I was always seeing, as I perambulated around in my job. All solely on the income from an after school job at the law firm.
I had even managed to get my employment classified as an internship; and since I was technically a pre-law major, it earned me three credit hours a semester, just for going to work. I had to write a 2-3 page paper at the end of each term about an interesting case I’d done work on, and I would get an A. Sweet.
One summer, I think it was 1980 but I’m not sure, I had the assignment to get up early one morning and drive one of our partners, and an attorney co-consul from another local firm, and his assistant, to Houston Intercontinental so they could catch a plane to New York. It was basically just a chauffeur’s job, but I did all kinds of shit like that for my firm. I figured it was a blow off day – drive our partner Paul’s LTD Brougham and everyone on board over to the airport, dump them off, then tool around Houston for awhile before heading back to Beaumont, taking the long, roundabout way back; down I-45 South through Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, then back up FM 124 to I-10. I figured I’d stop along the way at one of the places along the seawall in Galveston, for fresh oysters on the half shell and a few beers, before catching the ferry across to Port Bolivar. Just an easy, pleasant day, and all on the law firm’s dime.
That is what I did, too. It was a nice, sunny, uneventful but fun day, mostly. The only thing that made it remarkable, and kept it in my memory, was the co-consul’s assistant. She was a year or two older than me, a not necessarily striking but really decent-looking blonde. Her name was Jennifer, and the other firm’s attorney I was chauffeuring, the one she worked for, was her dad. His name was Dave, and he was some big deal partner in the most prestigious firm in town, and he and Paul (and Jennifer) were off to New York take or sit in on depositions, in a deceptive trade practices suit I never really understood the details of.
It turns out what I had imagined would be a quiet, mundane trip over to Intercontinental that morning was anything but. For one thing, Dave turned out to be the loud, garrulous sort, used to holding the floor, and he jabbered non-stop from Beaumont to Humble, while meanwhile filling the passenger compartment of the LTD with thick cigar smoke, from the fat heater he kept jammed into one corner of his mouth. Also Paul, who was generally quiet as a monk around our offices, apparently had another side to him. The whole way over, he was in the front seat with me, telling me stories about his acid-taking days at Stanford in the late 1960s, and about how he and his wife Lettie – who was quite attractive in a middle-aged kind of way (and quite flirty with a certain law clerk at the firm’s occasional social get-togethers) – used to practice “free love” and all this shit, before they settled down to the straight-laced upwardly mobile genteel life, with three kids and a big fancy house in the tree-lined West End. Meanwhile, he was changing tapes in the 8-track player after every song.
The cacophony from Dave in the back and Paul in the front, the loud music, and the cigar smoke – sometimes so thick I could barely see out of the windshield – were distracting and a bit off-putting, actually. Several times along the way I stole a glance in the rear-view mirror at Jennifer in the back seat, to see how she was taking it all. She seemed to be doing all right, and she caught me looking a few times, too. When she did, she would just roll her eyes in her dad’s direction. I felt like we formed sort of a silent bond that morning, drawn into kinship through our mutual suffering.
When we finally got to the airport and I let everyone off at the terminal, there was a minute or two while all the luggage was being taken care of, etc., and I went over to Jennifer and we laughed for a minute about Dave and Paul. Then she told me they’d be back from NYC by the end of the week, and would I call her then? And I told her that, yes, I surely would. As soon as she got back.
We were naked on the sectional sofa in Jennifer’s living room, in each others arms and panting a bit; after having made love for quite awhile, it seemed like. Right there on the sectional. The thing was, Jennifer’s house was two stories, and the living room was in the middle. The upstairs was all bedrooms, and the upstairs hallway had a railing all around on the inside, where one could stand and look down on the living room, which was sort of a two-story atrium, I guess. When Jennifer had suggested we do it right there, in the living room, I had balked. I like sex as much as anyone, but I am not a sexual thrill-seeker, or risk-taker. I don’t need the chance of being caught in the act to get me off. Still, when she insisted … I found I was not really distracted by the risk factor once we got going, and I will admit the thought of her dad or mom or one of her siblings getting up in the middle of the night to take a piss and looking over the railing and seeing naked Jen and I down there, going at it hammer and tongs, so to speak … it may have actually added a little to the arousal factor for me. I am not saying it did, but I am not saying it did not.
That was on our first date, by the way, after Jen had got back from her New York trip. I had picked her up from her house and we’d gone straight to a bar, and what I found out right away was that my date liked to drink. A lot. That only endeared her to me more, and before long we were both three sheets to the wind and headed back to her house, for some sloppy, high-risk sex on her parents’ living room sectional. Most of our dates that summer followed a pattern similar to this.
We lay there in each others arms that first night, post flagrante delicto I guess you could say, on that sectional; and as Jennifer buried her face into my shoulder, I gently traced my fingertips across her naked back, all along the lines of the multiple scars that were there, and my mind drifted back …
We had gone to the same elementary school, way back when, though Jen was a few grades ahead of me, and I don’t think we really knew each other then. One day I was sitting in class, maybe second grade, looking out the windows at the street that ran past the north side of our school, and I noticed there was a lot of commotion down at the corner, cars stopped and stuff. The next thing I knew there were a couple of ambulances screaming by down that street, and then they stopped at the corner, too. It turns out the fourth graders had been at recess or something, and Jennifer had wandered out into that street and had been run completely over by a car.
I didn’t remember everything about the accident, but I had heard that the girl who was hit had broken her back in several places and had lost a lot of blood, spilled right out onto that street in front of our school. I heard she nearly died – it was touch-and-go for several days. But she hung in there and, remarkably, endured a series of surgeries on her back that eventually made her whole again. If you didn’t know her history, you might not even realize what had happened to her. I knew, because I was there, as a barely-conscious-of-it 9 year old. And because 10 years later I held her naked in my arms, and traced the ridges of scars along her back (which she seemed to enjoy, by the way.) Other than that, she was left with an almost imperceptible limp, the result of one leg being slightly shorter than the other (after the accident.)
She was also left with, I thought, a bit of sadness in her. A bit of world-weariness. I cannot really explain it, and I never talked to Jennifer about it. I just felt like there was some darkness in her; and I was attuned to that, being the bearer of so much darkness, myself. And I guess it was a good thing in the long run that Jen and I were only together for part of one summer, while she was home from school (Vanderbilt, I think.) Her darkness, and her serious devotion to John Barleycorn, fit perfectly into my fucked up view of the world at the time, and I was quickly enthralled by her, and I could easily see us falling in love; or more likely into a terminal embrace that might not have eventually killed one or the other of us, but surely would have left us both worse for the wear. As clueless and lost as I was back in those days, I still had the sense that someone dark and fucked up like me should not be seeking out a woman with the same traits; though I almost always did, anyway. I’ll admit, I still find that sort of thing attractive. Even though I know now and knew then that what I need is someone bright and good, to offset my darkness. But I guess part of me was always looking to do the worst thing for myself, to jump off into the deep end with someone like-minded, not caring one fucking bit where we ended up.
I still have some of that in me, too.
But all that is really too heavy to be putting off on Jennifer. I liked dating her that summer. It was so … easy. Go out somewhere, get loaded, then go home and make love, for hours.
Once during that time I had gone down to the beach for the day with friends. We sat down there all day drinking beer and getting seriously fucked up. We finally headed back to town at dark. On the way back it suddenly struck me that it was Jennifer’s birthday, and I hadn’t got her anything, even a card. What to do? What to do?
When I got home I took a quick shower and then, still smelling of the coconut oil that had apparently seeped down into my skin, I hauled ass for the liquor store. I got there about ten minutes before they closed, and bought a fifth of Jack Daniels Black Label. The liquor store guy fished around in the drawer behind the counter and found a slightly disheveled red stick-on bow for me, and I put it on top of the bottle of Jack. Then I headed for Jen’s house. When she opened the front door, I handed her the fifth without saying anything, except for a sheepish and mumbled, “Happy Birthday”. She took the bottle and looked at me, blinking; and then she started to cry, it looked like. She was so happy that I remembered her birthday, and gave her a fifth of a gallon of her most favorite thing in the whole world. I couldn’t believe how smoothly I managed it, how easy it was. Neither could I believe the supremely positive effect my perfunctory gesture had on Jen. That night, she started taking off her clothes almost as soon as we got in my Jeep, almost before I could get off of her street, even.
Jennifer was a Jack Daniels aficionado, for sure. She told me later, half-jokingly I think, that one of the main reasons she chose Vanderbilt was because it was only 70 miles or so from Lynchburg, where the Jack Daniels distillery was. When she first got up there, her and her friends made the pilgrimage every weekend, for the distillery tour, and especially for the hospitality room afterward. I mean, I loved whiskey and all, but she really, really loved it.
That’s how we ended up in the bar at Gallagher’s one night. Back then, Gallagher’s was a chain, some kind of franchise operation. It was supposed to be an Irish steak house or something, although I don’t recall ever having eaten there. And the bar in the restaurant was about what you’d expect. Not much, no décor or atmosphere or anything. No business to speak of. It was briefly popular only because they’d instituted a 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., 3-for-1 happy hour on Thursday nights. Instant atmosphere. Suddenly plenty of business.
We were meeting friends there that night, and I figured a 3-for-1 deal would save me some money, especially the way Jennifer put away the whiskey. Once we’d got there and settled in, I started ordering 3-for-1 call drinks, JD and water, and I was getting blitzed. What I didn’t realize was that Jen was bypassing the 3-for-1 deal, and ordering two fingers of Jack on the rocks, neat. Expensive drinks, and she was putting them away, too.
That night sort of went like most of them did back in those days – it started off fun and coherent, and then somewhere along the way it veered off into chaos. It ran off the road and got stuck in a mud hole full of craziness. And, I loved that so much. I loved chaos in my life back then. I think it was how I got away from some of the stuff going on that I didn’t really want to deal with. There was a song on Ric Ocasek’s solo LP, which came out a few years later … “Keep It Out Of Control”. That was my modus operandi. The more fucked up and crazy and dissonant and chaotic my life was, the better.
Of course, even then, reality would pop up here and there. Like at the end of the night at Gallagher’s, when the waiter brought the tab for me to settle up, and I realized it was $15 more than what I had in my pocket. I excused myself for a moment to go to the men’s room to take a piss, and try to get myself together.
After having moped at the urinal for awhile, I was at the nadir of my despair, and I realized I would just have to go back out there and face the music, and admit to the waiter (and my date) that I could not cover my bar tab. I was about to gather myself up and go do it when a friend of mine named Gary came staggering into the restroom to take a piss. “Hey, man,” he said.
“Hey, Gary, do you want to save my life?” I said.
“Yeah, man. Sure.” he said. “What can I do?”
“Loan me twenty dollars.”
“Sure, no problem.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out $20 and handed it over.
“Dude, really. You just saved me, “ I said, and then I went on to thank him profusely.
Then I marched back out into the bar and settled up my tab and even left a smallish tip. My girl was impressed with me, I imagined; though in reality she was barely coherent by that point. No matter.
I called Gary the next day and thanked him again, and promised to pay him back on my next payday. Twenty bucks was no small change to a poor college student back in those days.
But Gary said to forget it, that he owed me at least that much for the night I’d saved him. I could not recall what he might have been referring to, and so he reminded me.
One night a few years prior, when we were high school juniors, Gary had simultaneously got hold of the new Rush LP, 2112, and also a quarter-lid of Oaxacan that was supposed to be really kick-ass. His parents were out of town that weekend, so several of us gathered at Gary’s house, along with his little sister, who Gary was supposed to be baby-sitting, to smoke cheeba-cheeba and listen to this new album everybody thought was so great. (I thought it sucked; but I figured kick-ass weed could make almost any record sound good, even Rush; so … ) Then Gary realized he did not have any papers to roll with, and no pipe or anything else to employ as a smoking apparatus. Party plans ruined, except I had wandered out into his garage to his dad’s work bench, and found a piece of pipe, called the J-pipe I think, a pre-fab piece used for putting together a P-trap under a sink. I took that back into the house and got some aluminum foil out of the kitchen drawer to cover the opening on the short end of the “J”, and then I poked holes in the foil. Then we put a clump of weed onto our impromptu foil screen, and lit it. Sucked on the long end of the “J” and, voila!, we had a pipe to smoke weed with.
It worked pretty well, except for at first, when you would suck and get smoke from the Oaxacan mixed with dust that had accumulated inside the pipe over however long the time was it had sat on Gary’s dad’s work bench. After a few pulls, though, it was pretty much cleaned out, and everything was copacetic. It was agreed by all, in the easy hyperbole that often characterizes the conversations of dedicated pot-smokers, that my McGyver-like inventiveness had truly saved the day.
And Gary said it was easily worth $20 to him, what I had done; and that he had been waiting for the occasion to pay me back.
And, you know, God works in mysterious ways, I guess. He put Gary in that restroom to take a piss and give me the twenty dollars I so desperately needed to pay off my bar tab, while simultaneously giving Gary the opportunity to pay me back for piecing together a means to smoke ganja at a party at his house one night, several years before.
Yep, the Lord works in mysterious ways. And one day, when He has some time, I’d like to sit down with Him and talk about that a little.
I was going to try and link to the injury updates, but … fuck … this is stupid. No one gives a fuck about injuries now. IT IS THE LAST FUCKING SERIES OF THE SEASON, PEOPLE. THIS TEAM HAS DROPPED 106 GAMES. ALL IS LOST. QUIT WORRYING ABOUT FUCKING INJURIES.
When we got to Port Bolivar, our hitchhiker directed us down a shell road off of the highway, on the Galveston Bay side. The road wound around for a bit, between some decrepit-looking trailer homes, past a rusted out boat or two up on racks, with high sea grass and shell and sand all around. Finally, we emerged into a small cleared area paved with seashells, and before us was a small, man-made inlet off of the Intracoastal Canal, with a few docks lining it here and there. There was a shrimp boat at one of the docks, a big boat, and Herve told us that one was his.
I had been a habitué of that area for most of my life, and was familiar with most everything in the vicinity of Bailey’s , but I didn’t think I’d ever seen or been aware of that little inlet before. In the evening light it was rather beautiful. It was protected from the bay and there wasn’t much wind, so the water was as smooth as glass. There was high grass on the levee on the far side, and beyond that the Intracoastal, and beyond that Galveston Bay. One would occasionally hear a tugboat pushing barges going down the canal, and be able to just see the top of the boat’s stacks, over the grass on top of the levee. The evening light played off of the smooth surface of the water, and like everywhere else in Port Bolivar, one heard seagulls all around.
Herve walked us over to his boat. We could tell he was proud of it. The captain and the rest of the crew were staying somewhere on dry land while they were in port, but Herve lived right there in his workplace. He was insistent about showing us his quarters, too; so what could we do? We climbed aboard and then walked around the front of the wheelhouse on the main deck and came to a stairwell which went down into the darkness, into the hold of the ship. Herve told us his crib was down there somewhere, and Dave and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.
Dave started down the stairwell with me right behind, and our new friend followed behind me. I had the briefest thought flash across my mind – that maybe we were too gullible, and this guy Herve was really luring us into his killing chamber, where he had chainsaws and axes and shit, where he could do his grisly work in private, down in the hold of this boat. Later on, David told me he had almost exactly the same thought, that Herve might be hiding an axe behind his back as he headed down the stairs behind us, just waiting for the right moment. I asked why he didn’t mention it at the time, and Dave said, “Well, you were between him and me. I figured once he started chopping on you, I’d have time to run and try to find a way out of there.”
Turns out our concerns were baseless. Herve showed us his small berth below the wheelhouse, then he went into the captain’s cabin and came back out with a cold six-pack of Molson’s, in cans. We headed back up to the deck, and Dave and I sat down on a gunwale and started popping open the beer, while Herve ran up a small set of stairs into the wheelhouse. I don’t know if anything could have seemed more incongruous at the time, but the next thing I knew, we were hearing Transformer-era Lou Reed – in all his androgynous, junkie, glam rock glory – boom out across this peaceful cove, while meanwhile a flock of herons took off in the opposite direction from the levee on the other side of the inlet.
Herve came back down the stairs and grabbed a beer. He told us they had a kick-ass stereo system on the boat; which by then we could hear for ourselves. I saw two huge weatherproof speakers mounted up on the sides of the wheelhouse, which I had missed before.
It was so weird, and cool at the same time. Here we were, down at Bolivar, in some cove I’d never known about before, sitting on the deck of a shrimp boat, drinking Canadian beer with a Guatemalan fellow we’d just met about 30 minutes before. And all the while, Rock And Roll Animal was playing at top volume, rolling out across the natural landscape and displacing the placid quiet of the inlet with what I consider to be Lou Reed’s finest solo work.
I am tempted to say it was bizarre, but what it was, was fucking awesome.
I loved my life so much back then, as I do now. And I loved the way I lived it … just drifting through it, really … going with the flow. Because of that, things like the shrimp boat thing would happen from time to time. With no warning, out of the blue.
Just a minor, forgettable experience along the way, of no consequence whatsoever. But it made a lasting impression on me. As I sat there on that boat, cracking open my second Molson’s and just beginning to feel the faintest hint of the start of the beginning of a nice buzz, the song “Rock And Roll” was playing, and Steve Hunter’s (or was it Dick Wagner’s?) epic guitar solo in the middle of the song was reverberating off of the water and all around the darkening cove. Jesus, I thought, does it get any better than this?
The answer is, no, it doesn’t. And, it’s funny. I was as happy there in that spot at that moment as I would have been doing anything else, anywhere else in the world.
Some men are born to greatness, to achieve great things, to garner great wealth, to ascend to great fame. These things are held out as ideals of accomplishment, and who am I to ever question it? But the thing is, I only know what I know.
Somewhere along the way my DNA got crossed up, and as I grew to manhood I realized I really wasn’t all that interested in achieving great things, or earning great wealth or fame. Some men are born to greatness, some are born to admire great men.
Me, I don’t care much about either. I‘m just out looking for great times. You can keep the rest of it.
Monday – Salute to Big Ten night. Whatever.
Tuesday – Salute to Big Ten night, again. Whatever.
Wednesday – Cubs Oktoberfest. In an effort to encourage their fans to drink more beer, which they don’t do enough of already, after the game the Cubs will give away ceramic Cubs beer steins to any fan with a ticket stub from the bleacher seats. That’s because it’s especially the stupid fucking Cubfans who inhabit the bleachers who need to be encouraged to drink more beer.
On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night. May god bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.
Well, we are at the end of it now. At the end of a historically bad, fucked up, piece of shit season, with regard to your favorite team, if that team is the Houston Astros. Although the final won-loss record will prove it, we don’t need to look at any numbers to know this is the worst Astros team any of us have ever witnessed, by a pretty wide margin.
In the SnS “Race For the Lid” contest at the beginning of this season, I picked the team to win 51 games, and I thought that was high. I suppose I can say they exceeded my expectations there. And if we are using high-low poker rules, or more specifically 2-or-22 rules – closest to the optimal number wins, inside beats outside – then I think I have a good chance to win the damn contest this year. Which is kind of funny, if so. The prize is an authentic Astros cap. And I’ll finally won one, now that there is literally no way I could possibly care less about the Houston Fucking Astros.
This is going to be the strangest and most confusing off season I have ever experienced. Without the Astros to anchor my hot stove interest, what will I do with myself? Will I pick another team to follow? Or just naturally gravitate to one that subtly earns my interest? I don’t know. I know I still love to follow and watch baseball. It is just hard to imagine doing it without much of a personal emotional stake involved.
Whether I’ll still be hanging around the fringes of SnS anymore after Wednesday is an open question. I just don’t know. I guess I’ll just do what I feel like, when the time comes. I am putting no preconditions on it.
Same thing goes for writing Series Previews. I kind of like writing them, and I am truly grateful for the positive responses they get. But I think they should be written by a fan of the team, right? And I am certainly not one of those anymore. I’ll probably leave that question open, too. But I suppose I should acknowledge here that this may be the last Series Preview I ever do.
If so, I want to say it has been a hell of a lot of fun. And again, thank you all for your kind responses and commentary along the way.
I’d like to be clear on a couple of things. One, I am not mad. Seriously. With regard to this franchise, I processed myself through that emotion long ago. By now, I have simply lost interest, that’s all. I am nearly bereft of any emotion vis-a-vis the Astro at all anymore..
Also, the move to the AL really wasn’t the ‘last straw’ for me. I would prefer the team stay in the NL, but I think the adaptation to AL play and all that is involved with it will be easier than some think, and that is coming from a fan of NL baseball tradition here. I just don’t think the league switch, on the face of it, is all that big of a deal. Now, if you want to get into the details, and the sleazy behind-the-scenes machinations that brought it all about, then you have a discussion. On the other hand, that subject is about the deadest horse there is, and I for one have no desire to stand around and watch anyone beat on it anymore. Enough is enough.
What started the process that killed my love for the Houston franchise began several years ago, when Drayton was still around. It is too psychologically complicated to get into here, but somewhere in there McLane’s masked briefly slipped, I don’t remember the exact circumstances; but I saw the lizard face behind it for the briefest second, and it sort of horrified me. I had no idea of what the details would be, but I knew at that moment the team was doomed, that McLane would do his level best to kill it once his attention began to wander and he lost interest. And that is pretty much what happened, in my eyes. The sordid details of the sale to Crane, et al, and all the clauses and sub-clauses involved in that deal, some of which probably haven’t even kicked in yet, well … hell, we all know how this story goes. By the time the deal finally came down, I had been waiting for it for a long time, meanwhile quietly enduring the shoddy way the team was run in McLane’s last years. And once practically every player of any familiarity was stripped away (which I am willing to believe was the smartest thing to do, baseball-wise), I just let go. I had no emotion left for the Astros. My baseball heart and mind had, of their own accord, moved on.
Lastly, I do not wish for anyone to follow me on this, in this winter of my discontent. I believe I have seen the direction of the commentary at SnS take a subtle turn over the last month or so, as we contemplate the end of the Astros final season in the NL. While at first, after the news of the league change became public, the overwhelming sentiment here seemed to be entirely negative, now I see hard-core fans saying, well, let’s wait and see. And I am glad to see it. I hope the team moves into the AL West and at some point gets itself back together and starts kicking asses and taking names, particularly where the Rangers are concerned. And I hope the SnSers are right there with them, balls to the wall, heart and soul, just like we always have been with the Astros.
It’s just that I won’t be along for that ride, is all. My heart is black, and my lips are cold, and I don’t love the Houston Astros anymore. And I know, deep down, that I never will again.
I am truly, truly gone. Gone for good.
Astros lose the series, 1-2.
How did I get so far gone?
Where do I belong?
And where in the world did I ever go wrong?
If I took the time to replace
What my mind erased
I still feel as if I’m here but I’m gone