Unfortunately, the new Bamboo Ridge Press site is not yet ready for unveiling, but Jim Harstad’s next chapter is. So here we go : )
ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty-Five
“I didn’t think you looked too good when you left the house this morning,” Carrie opined over dinner.
“Didn’t sleep much,” I offered.
“Worked up about the game?” Whitey asked. Nice of him to give me an out. Probably believed it.
“What did you do this weekend?” Carrie asked, hinting suspicion.
“Nothing. Mostly read.” A fat school library volume of “David Copperfield” sat conspicuously in the middle of the coffee table. “Really got into it.”
“Took a drive Sunday with Fred up by the lakes. Couple hours.”
“She stopped by. Didn’t even get out of the car. Had to get it back home.”
“Was she at the game.”
Yeah, didn’t notice at eye level right behind home plate, laughing at some cute thing with Brad “Beecher” Mead, the tennis star. A rival. Like everybody.
“There’ll be other games,” Whitey said.
“Not the end of the world,” I agreed.
But as things turned out, there were no more games, at least for me, and it really was the end of the world of baseball. For me. Legend I was not and would not be. Campfire audiences would not be regaled by telling and retelling how I’d trained for my spectacular success against those Port Angeles Losers by fucking, drinking, and immersing myself in icy water — lost the weekend then won the game — from hypothermia to diamond stardom in one gloriously improbable swoop. The
stuff of legends, to be sure.
But it didn’t work out quite that way. Control was my long suit, but I walked the first two batters. When I managed to get the ball over the plate, I got it slammed past me, through the infield. For an inning and a half, our outfielders never rested. Every batter patient enough
to wait me out walked. Actual putouts were few and far between. Second inning, runners on first and third, no outs, coach pulled me out. That out proved permanent, though I wouldn’t suspect it then.
Taking a seat at the end of the bench while my reliever warmed up, I glanced at the stands behind home plate. Beecher, the tennis star, was gone, and, no surprise, so was Primrose. I needed a beer.
Lifetimes ago, it seems, but it’s only a decade and here I am, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds in this unreality, this strangely alien desert land, once home to my childhood imagination, now sere and threatening. Cowboy movies and music. Keep a’movin Dan, he’s a devil, not a man. Hollywood picked up where Uncle Wiggily left off, a conspiracy to make me think the world was a much nicer place than it seems to actually be. (Split infinitive? Why not?)
Nice? How about Stromboli? Or any number of wicked stepmothers? Enough thugs and hags to go around, for sure, but you always knew the white hats would prevail. Usually. Not so with Robin Hood, of course. Or with equally legendary, Lou Gehrig, the quiet hero. And whatever did finally happen to Huck Finn? Maybe the conspiracy was just to get me to read more books so more people could make more money writing books, etc.
Would Carrie have taken such pains to acquaint me with the cultural items lacking in her own first-generation Polish childhood in a household that spoke only Polish until her first grade in a school where they spoke only English if she had not had that painful experience? Doubtful.
It was tough sledding for her, and she was determined it would not be tough for me. It wasn’t. School was easy. Lots of other things were harder. Why was I surprised? Wasn’t school supposed to prepare you for hard things? School taught you to read. If you could read hard books
by smart people, wouldn’t that make you a smart person too? Had reading Clemens, Hemingway, and Kerouac made me smarter? I thought so then. But now?
Now I’m somewhere out in some flat hot desert, not likely to happen upon Kerouac and his avant buddies or anyone else destined to point me toward a future satori or any future at all beyond the bright lights of Las Vegas, where I seem to be heading. Will I find Kerouac there? Or God.? Or maybe it’s time to refresh the vision with a large bag of good desert weed?
Still drifting along like a tumbleweed and I wonder what a map of this area might look like if I drew it from memory, maybe starting back at the Oregon Coast and following my path down the coastline and heading east, then northeast, then due north? Good luck with that, old sport. Then following my course as best you can might only lead to confusion, heartbreak, and remorse. Beware all ye who enter. I’ve read my Dante, and it ain’t pretty.
Of course as an English teacher and sometimes aspiring writer, I’ve thought of keeping a journal so when it comes time to do the real thing I’ll have a cache of well-chosen words that accurately describe and record in an orderly fashion. Perhaps too orderly? Perhaps stiff and artificial? Schoolmarmish? And perhaps the keeping of a journal might leech away the all-important spontaneity of the trip itself, actually dictate that the itinerary be neat and orderly, planned, plotted, and utterly predictable? Er, but didn’t Lewis and Clark journal?
Screw L & C. By not keeping a journal, my trip’s highlights will emerge from the foggy banks of memory and explode on the page!! Memory will tell me what is important. Forget the rest. Reconstruct and splice as needed. Anyway, who has time to journal? I can’t even strum guitar or hum blues harp. Did Twain write “Huck Finn” with notes from a journal? I think not.
Everybody knows that “Huckleberry Finn” is Twain’s most important book, everybody except Twain himself, who considered his later book on Joan of Arc his masterpiece. But why would anyone in his right mind read such a book, except Twain scholars and true-believer English jocks? Like me.
My reading showed impressive evidence of Twain’s serious scholarship, an objective respect for his subject, and a formal clarity of purpose and presentation. In other words, it’s really good. Joan of Arc, her followers and archivists, obviously believed. So, obviously, did Mark Twain. Who’da thunk, but it’s good enough for me. I’ll believe. Maybe.
There’s a sign up a ways, I pay no mind to what it says. Vegas thataway. Personal hygiene getting to be a problem.