Prompts

edgeworthAs I’ve organized my office to my liking over the last year, I’ve surrounded myself with books, manuscripts, vinyl record albums, and the paraphernalia and ephemera of my life. I have things from long ago (my graduation tassel from high school) and from the recent past (rocks from my favorite beach in Maine). I have stand-ins for objects that would be far more evocative if they were the real thing–an Edgeworth tobacco tin (the brand my grandfather smoked)–and objects that become more real every time I pick them up a time-worn photograph of my mother when she was young, beautiful, and the world, as they say, was her oyster.

My desk is crowded, and I could clear it up, but I like the prompts that surround me. In no particular order they include:

  • A statuette of Socrates that has been on my desk since college
  • Three of those beach rocks, each just a bit too large to fit in the palm of my hand
  • A toy-sized Louisville Slugger
  • A replica of a .50 caliber bullet, the same one my father would have fired from a B-24 during WW2
  • A replica of my father’s 13th Air Force patch
  • Two harmonicas, neither of them played well since high school
  • A matchbox-sized mobile home
  • A matchbox-sized Pontiac Fiero
  • A hockey puck
  • A stack of photographs
  • A stack of baseball cards, all featuring Red Sox players
  • A stack of baseball ticket stubs
  • A Christmas snow globe that no longer works
  • Two small plastic army men
  • A postcard from the Hemingway House, Hemingway petting a cat
  • A stack of letters from friends, written when friends wrote letters
  • A picture of my son’s 6th birthday
  • An airline ticket stub that took me from New Orleans back to Boston
  • The dust jacket from Philip Roth’s The Professor of Desire, disembodied from the book
  • A stack of five running logs from the five years I was an active runner in my 30s and 40s
  • A button I wore to watch my high school’s hockey team win the state championship in 1976
  • A piece of hardwood that someone whittled, maybe even me
  • A wedding picture, my wife looking beautiful and me looking goofily happy

I have many more within arm’s reach, but these are a good start. I’ve had a productive year of daily writing, and I haven’t used any of these yet.

Chasing That Dream

lancelottirickI get lost in baseball box scores, stats, and career synopses. While I used to rely on sources like the Information Please Sports Almanac (which I worked on for a couple of years), now everything is on the Internet. The definitive source is Baseball-Reference.com, where I can spend a few minutes doing things like reviewing the perfectly mediocre 1985 Red Sox, who finished the season at 81-81 (thanks in part to a five-game losing streak to end the season).

On the last game of that season, October 6, the Milwaukee Brewers and Danny Darwin beat the Sox and Bruce Hurst, 9-6 (a score only a football fan could love). Wade Boggs reached 240 hits after going 3 for 4, and finished the season with a .368 average to win the batting title. The season ended with a whimper though when Mike Easler grounded out to second to end it.

I studied the full box score and then played one of my Baseball Reference games, where I marched through the Red Sox roster year by year. I am especially interested in the lesser players. I challenge myself to remember each player each year. I can identify every player on the 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988 rosters. I stumble, though, over Jeff Stone in 1989, but I forgive myself. He had 3 hits in 15 at bats. Should anyone remember a player who hit the Mendoza Line unless his name happens to be, you know, Mario Mendoza?

Besides, I got married that year. I was distracted.

I nailed it again in 1990, despite the Red Sox having 43 players pass through their roster, including lesser names but New England natives Billy Jo Robidoux and Rick Lancellotti. I vaguely remembered Lancellotti having a long minor league career, and then Baseball Reference tells me that he had the quirky career arc of appearing in major league games in the years 1982, 1986, and 1990, and only the years 1982, 1986, and 1990. He finished his career 11 for 65, good for a career .169 batting average, with two home runs and eleven RBI. He went 0 for 8 for the Red Sox in that last year, striking out once. His last at-bat came against the Angels on August 18th of that year. In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Sox down, 4-2, Lancellotti hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field, scoring Tom Brunansky. Lancellotti trotted off the field, never to appear on a major league field again.

That didn’t stop him from chasing that dream. By that point Lancellotti was 34 and had already played eleven seasons in the minors and two in Japan. He played one more season in the minors (for the Sox’ AAA affiliate in Pawtucket). He had a solid year, batting only .209 but hitting 21 homers with 64 RBI; still the Sox released him. After that, he apparently lied about being older than he actually was to play in a senior professional baseball league then took 1992 to play in Italy before finally, as the saying goes, hanging up his spikes.

Rick runs a baseball school outside of Buffalo now.

The movie Field of Dreams is built around a few baseball tropes including the one that a man who loves baseball might do just about anything to play one more time or to have played well even once. I believe this trope. I was a terrible baseball player but I loved it. I can still remember the two home runs I hit in little league. I can still remember a brutally hot summer day when I caught all six innings of a game on a dirt diamond. I can still remember the one time I caught a foul ball as a catcher, throwing off my mask and lurching at the last second to catch the ball and then belly flop. I can still remember the one inning I pitched and the one boy I struck out.

Rick Lancellotti had some fine seasons in the minors. In 1979, when he was 22, he hit 41 home runs with 107 RBI for AA Buffalo. He was too good a player to remember all of those home runs, but I bet he remembers a few.

Something tells me, though, that Lancellotti remembers that last at bat for the Red Sox. Standing in the left-handed batter’s box at Fenway, he worked the count to 3 and 2 off Willie Fraser. Weather Underground tells us it was 90 degrees and muggy when Lancellotti swung at the sixth pitch and drove the ball deep to right field. I am certain he would have watched the ball carry, watched Dave Winfield catch it, and watched Tom Brunansky tag and score. Then he would have turned right, trotted into the Sox dugout. I am sure some of the guys got up to pat him on the back and on the head. Dwight Evans, Tony Pena for sure, maybe even the quiet Ellis Burks.

Lancellotti would have taken off his batting helmet and put his cap back on. I bet he looked back out on that brilliant Fenway grass. He just had a good at bat in a game in a year when the Red Sox won their division. We was living that dream.

 

 

A Picture is Worth a Million Words

Cq3sg9cWAAAcQEpMy friend JoAnn sent me this picture. She wanted to know what year it was from. It’s from a Red Sox game, and at a glance it was pretty easy to decide that it was either from the late 1960s or the early 1970s. I might have been at the game with her and her family when she took the picture. JoAnn’s father took me along on at least two games. They were good seats, in the grandstand behind home plate. I think he got them through the postal union: back in the day when regular guys could take the family to the game without breaking the bank.

I could go in a million directions looking at this picture, but I started with JoAnn’s question. She wanted to know when it was taken, so I put some Twitter friends onto it. They nailed it. Don Hewitt figured out the uniform numbers and Lou Flynn figured out the uniform styles and they were able to conclude it was 1971. It was impressive.

Number 8 is Yaz of course, and Number 37 is Bill Lee. Lee came up on June 25, 1969, so it couldn’t be earlier than that.

The other two numbers and the uniform styles offered the remaining clues. My friends on Twitter came up with 1971 based on the likelihood that number 22 was probably John Curtis, number 3 was probably Mike Fiore, and that 1971 was also the last year the Sox wore flannel uniforms.

(That would mean it wasn’t my first Red Sox game with JoAnn and her family, which was my birthday, June 9, 1967 when I turned eight and the Red Sox beat the Washington Senators, 8-7. I’ve written about 1967 elsewhere. It was a magical season, and that game didn’t disappoint. Yaz and Joe Foy homered twice and Reggie Smith homered once. Jim Lonborg got hit pretty hard but Jose Santiago did long relief for the win and John Wyatt got the save.)

(By the way, there’s another story right there in recounting the stars of the game. In 1959, the Red Sox infamously had been the last team to integrate in major league baseball. They carried very few black players through the early 1960s. Yet here they were in 1967–the year they turned their failures around–and Foy, Smith, and John Wyatt were black. Another favorite player of mine, George Scott (the Boomer!) was also black; he doubled twice that day. I would like to think the owners and management of the Red Sox put 2+2 together that day regarding their, um. hiring practices but apparently they didn’t.)

(Also related to that game, and another possible angle for writing. As great a day it was for the Red Sox, my most vivid memory was produced by a player from the opposing team. From my perch behind home plate, I saw Frank Howard hit a freakishly long home run that was slicing and still rising as it cleared the Green Monster and the netting atop it.To this day it might have been the most amazing sight I have seen in a game.)

OK, now back to the picture.

If it was indeed 1971, I was likely there. I remember an early 1970s game with JoAnn’s family when I wrangled her dad into staying after the game for a bit to try to get autographs. I don’t know why he tolerated it (I was a guest, he had his four kids plus me with him), but he did, and we hung around for a while. I remember getting a shot at one from Joe Lahoud, an OK player briefly famous for being the youngest in major league history to hit three home runs in one game. Lahoud wandered off, though, after signing a few and we made our way home.

I had a program from that game and on the way home I used my fifth grade penmanship to forge Joe Lahoud’s autograph, but I knew I wouldn’t fool anyone with it. I put the program in a drawer and forgot about it. It’s long gone, but the picture isn’t. There it is, full of more stories than I can possibly relate.

 

 

 

Baseball, the Red Sox, and Me

Carl_Yastrzemski_at_Fenway_Park_2
Yaz at Fenway. Photo by Steven Carter.

Baseball grabbed me in the summer of 1967 and hasn’t let go since. That was the summer the Red Sox transformed themselves from perennial also-rans to a winning team. The Red Sox had last won the pennant in 1946, lost in a one-game tie-breaker to lose the pennant in 1948, and fell a game short in 1949.They would be good for a couple of more years after that, but in 1954 they finished an astonishing 42 games out of first place. They bottomed out in 1965, winning only 62 games and losing 100.

Attendance collapsed along with their record. In Ted Williams’ final season of 1960, the Red Sox averaged 14,674 fans per game, but by that dismal losing season of 1965, they only averaged 8,052 fans per game. If you’ve only been following the Red Sox for 10 or 20 or even 30 years, such a number must be surreal. Fenway has had at or near 30,000 fans at each game for more than 25 years. and more than 35,000 for 10 of the 11 last years.

I could–and perhaps I should–make the formal argument somewhere that in 1967 Carl Yastrzemski had the single greatest season in the history of baseball. He won the Triple Crown and the MVP while playing the best outfield defense in baseball that year. In an era when pitching absolutely dominated, Yaz put up amazing numbers. Cody Swartz of Bleacher Report nails it right here:

Yaz’s numbers were simply phenomenal, especially considering he did so in the middle of the biggest pitching era in baseball. Yaz led the league in home runs (44), and RBIs (121), and made a clean sweep of the percentages, topping in batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.418), slugging percentage (.622), on-base plus slugging (1.040), and adjusted OPS (195). He also finished first in runs scored (112), hits (189), total bases (360), runs created (150), runs created per game (9.90), extra-base hits (79), and times on base (284). He played virtually every game for the Sox (161) and grounded into just five double plays, one of the most overlooked yet nevertheless extremely important statistics.

Boston was enthralled by Yaz, by the season, by the whole team. We had the Cy Young Award winning pitcher in Jim Lonborg, great young talent in players like George Scott and Reggie Smith. We had a near no-hitter against the Yankees by the closest thing that baseball ever had to a one-hit wonder. We even had tragedy in the devastating injury to local hero Tony Conigliaro, the player many people of my generation and ethnicity will tell you could well have been the greatest home run hitter ever.

But more than anything else we had Yaz. He came through in the clutch again and again, both in the field and at the plate. For the eight-year-old me, it was like watching a god walk on the field each game and deliver exactly what his followers needed.They even wrote a song after him (and we had the album).

So this year is my 50th season following the Red Sox. I saw Fisk’s homer in 1975. I watched Yaz’s shoulders sag when Bucky Fucking Dent hit his home run in 1978. I saw the ball go through Buckner’s legs in 1986. I was at Fenway for a playoff loss in 1995 and a playoff win in 1999. In 2004, had the Word Series gone to seven games, I would have been sitting there in season’s tickets I shared for more than a decade.

But here’s my secret: I stopped loving the Red Sox in 2003. Boston fans remember too well the seventh game of the American League Championship Series that year. The Red Sox were winning. 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth. Pedro Martinez had pitched great, but Grady Little left him in too long, the Yankees rallied to tie it, and then won it in the 11th. Game over. Series over. Season over.

It was after 1:00 a.m. when the game ended. I had to calm down, so I took my dog for a walk, and as I circled my neighborhood, I saw how ridiculous it was to be a grown man, a father of two boys, up in the middle of the night, walking my dog to calm myself down over a game. It was, after all, a bunch of millionaires, playing for a bunch of billionaires. I was 44 years old. It was time to move on.

So when the Red Sox won in 2004, I was happy, I was even emotional, but it really didn’t matter a fraction of what it would have mattered a year before. That was the year the Red Sox came back from three games down in the ALCS, again to the Yankees, to win. I had kept myself busy during those days, going back and forth to NYC three times on business. I was on Amtrak two evenings when the conductors kept announcing the score of the games. I really didn’t want to hear it.

When they won and the Red Sox had their celebration in the city, I had a bad cold. I knew my boys would have loved to have gone, and they probably wondered what I was up to. They were 13 and 11, and had each gone to dozens of games already. We had shared those great season’s tickets for more than 10 years, and they were spoiled by it, truly. I remember watching the “Rolling Rally,” on TV, but I don’t remember if we watched it as a family.  After years of going to games with them, showing them my love for the game and my team, that memory doesn’t feel so great.

We gave up our season’s tickets after that season. The prices had gone steadily up. Tickets we had purchased for $18 a few years before had gone to $65, and they raised them to $75 for the 2005 season. That meant, for the 20 tickets we would normally buy out of the season ticket package, we would pay $1500. To take the four of us to a game would be $300 just for the tickets, andnot including the parking and the food. My wife had the good sense to keep our money for ourselves.

Since then we’ve gone to a game or two a year. We would occasionally get the old seats, and dumb luck had us in them for Jon Lester’s no-hitter in 2008. That felt really good–not just the thrill of seeing something so rare, but seeing a nice young man do so well only two years after battling cancer.

Nothing so memorable has happened since for us as fans. My son and I did see the Red Sox win one playoff game in 2013 on their way to the World Series. We had nice seats in the center field bleachers, but they were nothing like our old seats, which were down the left-field line, 10 rows back, and close enough to Stephen King to watch him read a book between innings.

I don’t think I saw a game in person last year. If that’s true, it would have been the first time I hadn’t been to Fenway since 1986. I honestly don’t think much of going, but I have had a rule the past few years that I probably should go to a game a year.

(Heresy of heresies, I hate Fenway Park, and I have for years. It was built in 1912 for people a foot shorter than me. Some of the site lines have you turning your head ninety degrees to see home plate. An infuriatingly high percentage of the seats leave you guessing at what just happened in one corner of the field or another. You can pay full price for a view of a pole. Fenway has the highest combined prices in baseball for tickets, parking, food, and beer; making the average visit to the ballpark $314 for a family of four. That price assumes the family of four splits two hot dogs. Fun!)

Yet there I was this year on July 4th with my wife and friends. It was a good game on a baking hot day. We ran late, and by the time we got to our seats, the Sox were down 4-0 thanks to the pitching stylings of one Rick Porcello. He is a perfectly mediocre pitcher who makes $20 million dollars a year. I know we are supposed to be inured to these numbers by now, but $20 million is more than some Massachusetts towns put into their entire school budget for a year. I believe that is the definition of what they experts like to call “opportunity cost.”

Back in the day I would have been in agony arriving even a minute late. I would have been in my seat, scorecard open, pen in hand. I would have scored the whole game, and woe be to the person who suggested we leave early. I taught my boys to snarl at people who got up in the eighth inning to beat the crowd, especially in a close game. We would stay, win or lose, and file out with the big crowd.

It was hot yesterday, and the seats were in full sun. I enjoyed a beer and a slice (a decent microbrew for a mere $9.75) when we got there. A minute later I was baking. My wife, turned in her seat to watch the action at a 90 degree angle, was wedged into me. With her added body heat, I thought I would burst into flames. The Sox caught up, went ahead. The young woman next to me knew her baseball well, and we chatted about a few of the details of the game while my wife talked to her girlfriend.

In the fourth inning we went down to get ice cream. I didn’t hurry. It was cooler under the stands. When we headed back to the seats I walked instead up to a standing room area. It was nicely cool there. I couldn’t see the whole field, but not much was happening at that point, and the ice cream was really good.

We left in the middle of the sixth inning. The young woman next to me lost all respect for us, I am sure, but we were hot and tired. Our friends aren’t really fans, and their 9-year-old nephew had read for most of the game. We drove home in air conditioning, no radio on. I checked my app a few times. When our friends dropped us off at our car, we listened to a half an inning. I caught the ending, again on my app, sitting in my shady backyard. The Sox had won 12-5.

What a difference 50 years makes.

In that summer of 1967, I went to a Catholic Charities summer camp. It was a glorious two weeks in a postage-sized camp near the beach. I was homesick for exactly one evening, and then I was all good. My mom, an aunt, and my grand-uncle wrote me almost every day. I couldn’t read my grand-uncle’s cursive, so one of the Catholic brothers read it to me. My brother, god bless him, sent me a postcard each day with an abbreviated box score of the Red Sox game. Sox 6, Balt 4. W for Santiago. 2B and 3B for Conigliaro. Sox now 1½ GB.

The Sox went on a ten-game win streak that began while I was away and ended the day after I came home. The superstitions of baseball were already ingrained in me, and I considered asking my mother if I could go back to camp so the Sox would start winning again. For the rest of the summer and into September, they were in a four-team race for the pennant. My mother was in grad school then, teaching during the days and going to classes at night. That same great uncle would babysit and watch the games with us. My brother and I would hurl ourselves over the back of the couch, pretending to be Yaz going back on a fly ball and catching it, each and every time.

For an agonizing week at the end of September they were in second, then clung to first, then fell behind by one game with two games remaining. They went into the final two games of the season against first-place Minnesota, and won the first game, setting up the finale. They needed to win and they needed California to beat Detroit.

They won, and they won because of Yaz. In the final two games of the season, with the pennant on the line, Yaz went seven for eight with six RBIs. In the finale, he went 4-4. With the Sox down 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning of the last game, Yaz tied the game with a two-run single, and then he scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. The Sox won 5-3, Detroit lost, and the Sox advanced to the World Series for the first time in 21 years.

It was a great World Series, even if the Sox lost. The Cardinals were a transcendent team then, led by Bob Gibson, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Gibson won games one, four, and seven, and even hit a goddamned home run off Lonborg in the seventh game. I was crushed, but even at eight I was wise enough to know the better team won.

I had snuck my transistor radio and earpiece to school for the World Series games. They were day games then, and started late enough in the afternoon that I only had to get away without being caught for the last hour of school. I had the sweet and lovely Mrs. Radcliffe that year for third grade, and somehow I knew that if she did catch me she wouldn’t be that hard on me. She would probably have just confiscated the radio and given it to my mother, who taught down the hall. My mother would have scolded me, but she would have understood. She loved the Sox almost as much as I did.

Yaz ended his Hall of Fame career in 1983. In his farewell speech before his last game at Fenway he said, “Over the years, I’ve learned that Red Sox fans are the greatest and most loyal. I hope I’ve represented Boston and New England with class and dignity.”

Indeed he had. He had taken over in left field when Ted Williams retired, and he was the opposite of Ted in many ways. Ted was a brilliant, once-in-a-century talent, the self-proclaimed “Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” He was explosive and profane, famously outsized in everything he did, from baseball to flying jet planes in two wars. Yaz was a quiet man who made the most of what he admitted was modest talent. He had willed and worked his way to excellence.

Yaz played his last game on October 2, 1983. The Sox won that day, closing out a bad season at 78-84, 20 games behind the Orioles. Oddly enough, the Red Sox had reverted almost perfectly to their form of the 1950s and early 1960s, when the team was bad but somehow full of offensive stars. Wade Boggs won the batting title, and Jim Rice led the league in home runs with 39 and tied for the league in RBI with 126.

Yaz had had the kind of year you might expect from a 44-year-old man. He hit .266 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs in 380 at bats. There would be no 4-4 that day. And there would be no parting home run in his last at bat they way Williams had done 23 years before. Yaz went 1-3 with a walk, and in his final at bat he popped out to second.

I watched the game alone in my apartment, sitting in a wooden chair in my tiny kitchen.  I thought back to that 1967 season, my brother sending me those box scores, the two of us hurling ourselves over the sofa. Of course I cried that day. Was it about childhood lost? Was it about letting go of the last of my heroes? I was 24 by then, working, married, and in graduate school, and wasn’t watching much baseball then.

I would reclaim it, though. Two years later, with Clemens in his prime, my brother and I walked up to the same Fenway we had gone to 10 and 15 years before. We bought standing-room-only seats, and watched Clemens pitch a gem of a game. 10 years after that, I was sitting with my family in some of the best seats in the stadium. Then, in 2003, I was kind of done.

I still follow them, but from a distance. I read about them much more than I watch or listen to the games. Really though,  even with my distance from the game I once loved, it has been a great run. I saw that no-hitter. I saw Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken, George Brett, Ken Griffey, and a score of other players. I saw two great but tainted players–Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire–hit home runs. And I saw two and now three generations of Sox players come up from the minors, sometimes play their whole careers and move on. Yaz is 76 now. 76. I can hardly believe it.

Gail Mazur, also a Sox fan, has a great poem, “Baseball,” where she reminds us “this is not / not even a slice of life” and talks about not straining for analogies (though of course she finds analogies, and nails them). So I won’t strain too hard,  because even if I do, I won’t quite get there. So I will just say that I once loved the game, and have stayed with it for 50 years, and may well come to love it again.

What Works

001My tastes have shifted in the last decade, but for perhaps 20 years I had a ready answer if someone asked me my favorite writer. It was Andre Dubus (the father and not the son, who is also a wonderful writer). Yesterday I found myself reading Dubus’ essay, “Brothers,” a meditation on friendship and how lives shift and change. It was published in a posthumous book of essays, Meditations from a Movable Chair

The essay revolves around baseball games he attended with friends, Red Sox opening over a period of many years. At one point in the essay, Dubus reflects on the concentration it takes to play baseball and also to write. “Wade Boggs, watching a pitch come to the plate, starting his stride and swing, probably does not know his own name, for his whole being is concentrated on that moving white ball.” He then goes on to say, “These moments are so pure, they may be sacred.” Dubus was a devout Catholic, and he never shied away from tying the commonplace to the spiritual. In another essay in that same book, he discusses how making a meal for another person is a kind of sacrament. I couldn’t agree more.

I have been thinking about my writing process. Since I started my daily practice sixth months ago today, I have learned one very important thing about myself: I write much better, more productively, without distractions and without interruption. I have found myself up here in this office in moments of the kind of concentration Dubus describes. I pick my hands up from the keyboard, and I stare at a tall bookshelf. I am too far away from it to read anything but a very few words on certain book spines. I know the words so well now–“Sports Illustrated 50,” “Dennis Lehane,” “Vineland”–that they are more image than words. I can stare at the top shelves and think only of the question in front of me. What word do I need? Does this scene make sense? What would this character do? Perhaps that concentration has produced a better next sentence, a better next scene.

I have written a great deal over my life, including sections of three books, co-writing two of them. In 2001, I co-wrote a book, Digital Rights Management: Business and Technology. It’s a very good book, mainly because of the keen intellect of the main author, Bill Rosenblatt, and his determination to make it so. I ended up writing four chapters, and was having trouble with the fourth, when I had to travel to Berlin on business. The deadline for the fourth chapter was going to fall the day after I was giving a talk at a conference. I wasn’t well prepared for the talk either. At the last minute, I decided to extend the trip in Berlin, add two days before the conference, giving myself the chance to do my writing and more thoughtfully prepare for my talk.

The hotel key card is from the trip. I remember the Steigenberger as a nice hotel, modern, in a great neighborhood. It lightened my spirits as soon as I saw it. I arrived–as business people often do–in the morning after an overnight flight. I set up at a sleek desk in from of big bright windows. I went right to work, had a productive day of writing, then found a restaurant with outdoor seating. It was a beautiful Spring evening. I had nearly finished the chapter, then finished it the next morning, emailed it to my editor, and returned to the same restaurant. It wasn’t quite noon yet, but I celebrated with a beer.

Whatever is working for me now–uninterrupted quiet–didn’t work for me then. I often liked to work where it was noisy, or where I had distractions–music, or conversations, or something idiotic to do on the computer, like a game or email. I co-wrote two books that way, dozens of professional articles, even more marketing pieces. I wrote in hotel rooms, bars, public libraries, Amtrak trains and planes, conference rooms in stolen moments between meetings.

I couldn’t work that way now. Am I doing something better? Something worse? Have I changed? If a student came to me with this question, I could never offer a firm answer, but my first idea is that I have changed. I had a kind of energy before that I don’t have now–advantage 41-year-old-Bill–but now I have a mental quiet that I didn’t have then–advantage 56-year-Bill.

I would  talk to the student, get more of a picture of what they were doing, thinking, and why it worried them. I would ultimately ask the student if the new process was working, if they felt productive and satisfied with what they produced. If the answer were yes, I would tell them, don’t overthink it. It’s all good.

I think the answer is yes.

 

Getting Back to Normal

001After 9/11, I was like everyone else in many ways–profoundly sad, stunned, angry, and anxious. The hardest part for me was figuring out what to do for my boys, then only ten and eight. My older son was distraught the first few days. On the night of 9/11, he woke up screaming as some fighter planes roared overhead. We lived within a few miles of Boston’s Logan Airport, and I imagined they were scrambling for some reason. It scared the shit out of me, too, though I tried not to show it.

It’s been a long time, more than 14 years, so I don’t remember much about the few days after 9/11, but nothing felt right. We were nervous putting the boys back in school, and I was really nervous commuting back into the city after telecommuting for a few days. I was taking the Orange Line into Downtown Crossing, then switching to the Red Line to head out to Central Square in Cambridge. The platform for the Red Line was the deepest part of the big, complex station. My first commute back I abandoned my usual spot on the platform to stand next to the one nearby exit. It would take me through a steel, barred revolving door, and up to the street. I even stepped through it once during those first days and counted the stairs. 88. I stood at that spot on the platform every morning of my commute for the next 13 years before I started driving in.

We have always been Red Sox fans as a family, and in those days split some really great season’s tickets with a bunch of other families. Each season we would get together for a draft. Depending on how it would go, I would end up with four seats for a few games, then two seats for a few more. For the games we had four, we would all go. For the games we had two, my wife and I would go to a few together, then usually I would take one boy to a game, then the other. There usually was a nice balance to it.

After 9/11, major league baseball cancelled a week’s worth of games. On 9/9. two days before the attack, the Sox had actually been in Yankee Stadium, losing to the first-place Yankees 7-2. It was a forgettable end to a mediocre season, but we had one more pair of tickets to one more game. It would be on the 21st, and I would be taking my younger son.

The Sox’ first game back was 9/18, at Fenway, against the Rays. We would be going that Friday night. I read about the new security steps they were taking at Fenway, tried to read every assurance and all good news into everything they were doing. I don’t remember how or why we decided Nathaniel and I should still go, but we did. I fretted for my son. It was just a game, the tickets long-since paid for (though at $50 for each ticket it was nothing to sneeze at), but we still went. It even rained a bit that day, and a little more was forecast for that evening, and it was kind of cool but we still went. The Sox were out of the playoff picture, but we still went.

We drove in, avoiding the subway, but Fenway Park was feeling like a big, inviting target. The crowds were still streaming in, though. This was Fenway, which had been selling out or nearly selling out games since 1967 when the moribund franchise was brought back to life by Carl Yastrzemski and the Cardiac Kids. According to Baseball Reference, more than 30,000 people showed up that night. In hindsight, it really was a testament to how hopeful people can be, how important it is to get back to normal, even when the most horrific things have happened.

I honestly don’t remember much about that night. Baseball Reference tells me the Sox beat the Tigers, 5-2. The AAA-battery-thin Casey Fossum got the win, 2-1. Ugueth Urbina, who would later become a felon, got the save. Manny Ramirez homered, and my man Tim Wakefield pitched three scoreless innings. Knowing us, we would have stayed until the end of the game, and gone home, happy with the Red Sox win.

The only moment I remember was when Nathaniel and I bumped into one of his basketball friends, and his mother, in the stands. She is a really nice woman, and a really nice mom. We didn’t say anything about the obvious, but we both held onto to the shoulders of each of our boys as they stood between us talking. I could see the anxiety in her face, and I am sure she could see the anxiety in mine. I would learn later that she was a college friend of my stepbrother, Tom, a Jesuit priest. Maybe we were both quietly channeling his faith while we made our nervous small talk and held fast to our children, hoping they were just lost in conversation, just being boys enjoying a baseball game on a cool September night.