I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back…

14 07 2011

“…Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip….”

 from “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

 I travel…on business, a lot. So how did I spend my Fourth of July holiday? I traveled. Off to Chicago, or rather, to the village of Glen Ellyn, specifically, a former place of residence. I spent the Fourth with long-time good friends and the next generation.

 It was a swell trip, with barbecues and great conversation mixed with good food and wine. The weather was hot and muggy, but what should one expect in the dead of summer in Illinois?

 The fireflies were delightful, or would have been were the Chicago mosquitoes a tad less aggressive and blood-thirsty.

 There was an old-timey Fourth of July parade in Glen Ellyn including ancient fire trucks, horses, bag pipers, tumblers, twirlers, and cheerleaders. Ha, and a drachma of politicians.

 I saw the interior of a Frank Lloyd Wright house for the first time…built in 1911, where we held a potluck on Fourth-night, just before the fireworks began.

 And, with my pal George, now Uncle George, I went to watch the Cubbies play. We brought along two of George’s nephews: Alex and Dexter. The younger of the two had only attended a baseball game or three in his entire life.

 Uncle George had the brilliant idea of teaching the youths (youts?) how to score a game.

 We hopped on the Chicago Northwestern train and headed east toward Lake Michigan and Wrigley Field. The train was jam-packed on the day before the Fourth and our party was separated.

 Now, I’m not saying George is gregarious, but he could make friends in a graveyard. By the time we reached Ogilvie Station, George had met an octogenarian headed for A Taste of Chicago. This fellow provided us with explicit instructions for getting to Wrigley Field.

 We boarded the underground, and as it steamed toward Wrigley, each stop brought more and more passengers festooned in baseball finery. This was not just any old game, it was an intra-city rivalry, the Cubs against the White Sox, and feelings ran high.

 The last couple of stops, the train became so packed that the heat and lack of air brought on a momentary hallucination…I was in Tokyo at rush hour and white-gloved workers packed us in tighter and tighter until we could not breathe…pant, pant, pant, and then the doors opened and the train expelled us into the street where we joined the thronging thousands treading toward one of the finest baseball stadiums in the world.

 Wrigley is famous for its ivy-covered outfield walls. And beyond sat small apartments. When I had lived in Chicago in the 1970’s, folks used to watch the game from the apartments, holding small baseball parties. Now, bleachers sat atop each apartment and spectators paid for the privilege.

 Our seats were terrific, just behind the White Sox dugout on the first base line. . Low clouds blocked the sun and made the weather nicely warm.

 An ancient couple sat in front of us, regular Cubs fans for many, many years. Several rows in front of them sat three rowdies, White Sox fans in enemy territory, daring the Cubbies to try something. The ushers spent much time keeping these fellows in hand.

 After a fine rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, the game began. The pitching was excellent. It was a tight game, one hit here, another there. Cubs fans and White Sox lovers jeered at one another and the game rose to a fever pitch.

 Finally, the Cubbies strung several hits together and pulled ahead 3 to nil. The Sox fans were silent, and sullen. A low muttering ran counterpoint to the cheering Cubs fans.

 Then came a signal moment. The Cubs starter was removed, having only given up two hits and zero runs. In came the beloved and much-injured fireball-hurling reliever…Kerry Woods. Oh ho, the tumult rose.

 But Woods was not the Woods of old, and a White Sox batter was on base. Next up was the aging Sox star, Paul Konerko, who was injured. Konerko in to pinch hit, fought off pitch after pitch and drove Woods out of the game.

 Tension rose…3-1 with the tying runs on base. Everyone stood. The rowdies were raucous and the din shook old Wrigley Field. But the new Cubs’ reliever held his ground and erased the threat.

 The Cubs had won, salvaging one single win from their cross-town rivals. The sun was shining and there WAS joy in Mudville on this very day.

 Baseball’s Sad Lexicon: Tinker to Evers to Chance

 These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

By Franklin Pierce Adams
New York Evening Mail July 10, 1910

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Froggy’s in the Well

9 05 2009

Frog in a wellSome years ago, one of my teachers described her childhood in China as being “Like a frog in a well.” When she came to the US her eyes opened wide at all the things this big old world might have to offer. And she was braver than hell, going off here and there all over the place just to see what she could see. That little froggy truly went a-wandering.

I am traveling quite a bit these days and I still feel like a frog in a well, just jumping from one well to the next. So far this year I’ve seen a lot of the South. I am growing to love Birmingham, Alabama with its hills and greenery and Golden Rule barbecue. If you want a great sliced pork sandwich, head on down to Irondale, Alabama, just east of  Birmingham. The people are friendly and the eatin’ is grand.

Golden Rule

Golden Rule

Then drive on up toward Nashville. They are so proud of their little downtown and their nightclubs and their music…but I like to pick up some Nashville barbecue, head back to the motel and watch some Nashville Public Television: WNPT. It always has swell music. My last trip I watched a black and white concert by Sam and Dave and Otis Redding shot in Sweden in the 1960’s. Sam and Dave gave, perhaps, the finest stage performance I have ever seen. It was so good, I called in a pledge.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge Nashville

Tootsies Orchid Lounge Nashville

Next came Baltimore. In my youth, selling books at Kroch’s & Brentanos’ Wabash Street store in Chicago, I worked with a Baltimore lad by the name of Sagar Petersen. One day I referred to Baltimore as “north.” Ha! I thought old Sagar, a Vietnam vet with a bit of a temper–he punched a fist-sized dent in a filing cabinet one day–I thought Sagar was about to be all over me like a duck on a June bug. I finally calmed him down by explaining that I was from Texas and Texas was south of Baltimore. He accepted that and we remained friends.

So Baltimore in April was cool and rainy and darn-it-all, with my egg allergy, I can no longer partake of their very fine crab cakes. The Inner Harbor is a nice little touristy area and I once had a delicious soft-shell crab (in Lousiana we called ’em busters) sandwich there. The DBD Sales force is a fine bunch of folks and there is nothing so fun as sitting around and talking about books.

Flatiron Building New York

Flatiron Building New York

I just got back from Texas and will talk more on that further and soon. Coming up next is the north with New York City and BEA and Texas Hill Country barbecue (not bad) in the Big Apple with a Lone Star pardner who settled in up there many years ago. Then Japanese food and great tea with one of my favorite book buyers. New York is the heart and pulse and breath of publishing. If you are in the business, you just have to go there from time to time to get a real whiff of what is going on.

Then, as summer moves along, Chicago and libraries. Bookstores and libraries are completely different breeds of cat. Their needs are different and they look at books in a completely different way. I used to call on a wholesale book buyer in Fort Worth, Texas who was a librarian at heart. She was very difficult to sell to in a mass market sort of way. She did eventually wander off and settle in at a library.

Chicago Public Library

Chicago Public Library

The maddest I ever made her was the day I told a joke–she was a great fan of the Greek tragedians. So wise-ass young punk that I was, I marched into her office and said, “Hey, a man walks into a Greek tailor’s shop with a pair of torn trousers. The tailor says, ‘Euripedes?’ The man says, ‘Yeah, Euminides?'” She chased me out and I wasn’t allowed back for a week.

But libraries are the soul of book publishing. They make the written word available to anyone who can read. And librarians are book fanatics in their nerdy little bookish sort of way.

So this frog will spend most of this year jumping from well to well. In each well the water is different, but it is always sweet.