Sunday, September 13, 2015



When Dad died too young at 63, I had no choice but to take over his business. I had to collect money, pay bills, reassure customers of continued loyal service and special discounts, make deliveries, deal with worried salesmen who feared I’d stiff their suppliers and run down the inventory, maintain the stock and premises, and try and sell the kind of enterprise being squeezed out by major corporations in a town that had become a rundown dangerous ghetto.

At the time I was a carefree bartender in Manhattan Beach, 12 miles down the road, living the good life. Nobody expected me to succeed, except mother, but I managed to hold the business together for 2 years while working full time at the beach, then sell it and the building, turn the money over to mother, and get the hell out of a situation I hated and go on with my life as a good time Charlie and aspiring writer just beginning to place articles in the local alternative weekly.

At Dad’s funeral, a young rabbi urged me not to attempt the eulogy, explaining that “these things tend to be very difficult when one is too close to the deceased.” His face was full of careful sympathy and understanding.

“You give the standard eulogy,” I told him. “But I’m giving mine. I know him in a way nobody else does, because we both played baseball.”

The Jewish chapel at the cemetery was packed, every seat taken, people standing in aisles and in the back. Only three old baseball players attended—Chuck Stevens, representing baseball, and his two closest friends in the game, Tom Morgan and Jack Paepke. Besides relatives, the throng was made up mostly of shoemakers in their Sunday best and salesmen in their elegant suits.

I wanted to tell the throng about Jack Fessel, a kid who played on dad’s championship American Legion team back in 1955, but realized it would take too long. Fessel was a dead-end kid, wrong side of the tracks, already in trouble at school and with the law, unruly, lost, spawn of lowdown white trash. Fessel, hearing Dad was coaching the team, showed up with his bulky body and ill-fitting uniform and wild blond spiky hair sprouting out from under his cap. He drove a dilapidated pick-up truck.

“Don’t let him on the team,” warned local coaches, and Dad’s assistant, who’d booted Fessel off his junior high team years back. Fessel was an unorthodox, awkward player, but he threw accurately from the outfield, had a left-handed woodchopper swing, and good judgment of fly balls. The team, composed mostly of reasonably straight-arrows considering this was Compton, and a few golden boys, and four kids who would go on to sign professional contracts, sighed and rolled their eyes when Fessel showed up.

Dad watched him hit in the cage. He made one adjustment—hold your bat lower on your shoulder and swing from there. Fessel hit ropes. He was stocky-strong. Dad encouraged him, smacked him on the ass after BP and then hit him every kind of fly ball and line drive in left field. Then he trotted out to left and talked to Fessel. He faced him, touched him occasionally on the shoulders. Showed him how to charge groundballs and get off his throws in one motion.

From this point on, Fessel was the first player to practice and the last to leave. He hustled like a madman. He was a smart base runner. He was always looking over at Dad, wanting to please, and Dad clapped his hands, nodding, calling him “Big Fess,” though he was only about 5’11.” Big Fess turned out to be our best clutch hitter. He hit a ton. He dove after fly balls, threw people out. He became part of the fabric of the team and the golden boys with nice cars and cheerleader girl friends accepted Fessel, and Fessel, morose, kicked around like a dog with his tail between his legs when he first showed up, was happy. He was Dad’s bobo.

Later, toward the end of our Anaheim tournament triumph, I asked Dad why he was so good to Fessel and so hard on everybody else.

“Dell,” he said. “Always treat the underdogs with care, the black sheep, and they’ll come back and pay dividends. You’ve got to give a kid like Fessel a lot of love, because a blind man can see he never got much at home, he was neglected, probably beaten. To see that kid blossom, it means more than winning. I don’t know what will become of Fessel, he’s a pretty scarred kid, but one thing he’ll always have to lean on is that Murray Franklin, a big leaguer, liked him, believed in him, and he’ll know he was a big part of winning a championship.” He looked me straight in the eye. “Sometimes in life, things get tough, you feel like the world’s got it in for you and you lose heart, and a kid like Fessel can look back at this summer, and, well, it might make a difference whether he sinks or swims.”


Dad fought a virulent form of cancer. His 17 inch neck became a saggy beanpole, his blacksmith forearms sticks. His voice reduced to a whisper. Before we ordered the doctor to withdraw life support systems, Dad asked me if he had any chance, and I told him he did not, and he nodded and whispered his thanks for my honesty and claimed he’d see me “down the line.” I spent hours with him at his bedside. Even when he was totally incapacitated, he knew I was there, always reassuring him I’d take care of the business and mother.

So at the funeral I was long past tears. And in the eulogy I told the sea of mourners that the manner in which my father played the game of baseball was a reflection of his strong character, a quality he carried through life as a family man, veteran of war, businessman. More important than the surety that every ball player who’d ever played with and against Murray Franklin respected him, was the surety that every one of these men sought his respect. My father was incapable of letting a friend or even some helpless soul down, just as he was, as mother said, incapable of an indecent act.

When I stepped off the stage, the rabbi’s eyes were strangely bright as he grabbed my arm and nodded solemnly. “You were right,” he said. “You did well.”

Goddam right.    

There was a sort of wake. Friends and relatives drank and nibbled appetizers at the house on the hill in San Pedro with the panoramic view of LA and the Pacific Ocean, Dad’s dream house, in which he loved to entertain, and of which he was so proud. My girl friend at the time, an artist/atheist/animal rights zealot with several cats, who felt close to Dad, repeatedly claimed to see a tiny light bobbing just over my shoulder, and she assured me this was my father watching over me, a guiding light. I believed her, and still do.

When all the guests were gone, mother, who had nursed, bathed, dressed and fed my father the last months of his life, and witnessed the day-to-day disintegration without once breaking down or losing her tenderness, or complaining, finally collapsed in grief. My sister Susie and my girl friend tended to her. I wandered into the living room to finally inspect the numerous cards of Dad in his Detroit uniform that had been accumulating for weeks on the front table. They were from cities and small towns throughout the country, sent by fanatical baseball card collectors to be autographed. Enclosed in all the envelopes were five and ten dollar bills, as payment. Dad always signed the cards and added his best wishes to the names of all senders and returned them, via stamped and self-addressed envelopes, with the money included.

“I’ll never take money from a kid for my autograph, Dell.”

“Well, everybody’s doing it, Dad. It’s become a racket, a business, even an investment. Grownups are in on it, too. Lot of the old players didn’t make much, so they’re making up for it now. Like Feller, your old republican pal.”

“I don’t give a damn. It’s horseshit. Your father never took anything out of the game he didn’t deserve, and he’s not starting now. I make enough money. Sure, I used my name to help get the business started, but that’s different. I had associations with people. We were friends. I’ll never take money for autographs. It desecrates the game and stinks of freeloading, and I’ve always hated freeloaders.”

When Dad took his last breath in my arms, and the life went out of him, I removed from his finger the 1949 Hollywood Star championship ring he had been trying to give me without success for 20 years and placed it on my finger. I felt an immediate surge of strength, and hope. At the table I squeezed the ring and sat down and began answering the autograph seekers with small notes explaining my father was unable to sign their cards because he had died on March 16, 1978. I returned the cards and all cash, sealed the envelopes and walked down the street to mail them off.

I was a ball player’s son, Murray Franklin’s son, and this was the way we did things.           

                                                            THE END

Sunday, September 6, 2015

     (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                                        BIG MOE TAKES CHARGE

1968, South Lake Tahoe

      “Who’s the dog?” Dad wanted to know

     We were driving along the lake on route 50, halfway between the clubs and motels where I worked and my apartment, where I was headed. He had picked me up, much to my surprise, around one in the morning, after finding my apartment empty and after asking the bartenders at the Keno bar in Harrah’s where I might be. They told him they had no idea and so he searched the Sahara and Harvey’s and was finally headed back to my place when he picked me up hitch-hiking home.

     “That’s Duke, my new best friend. Siberian husky.”

      “He stuck that cold nose up my ass when I was looking in your window to see if you were alive and I thought it was a goddam bear.”

     He glanced at me, trying to get a good take on my condition, explaining he’d come up after discovering I’d drained my bank account and quit writing mother and chastising me for refusing to have a phone so I could stay in contact. Mother was worried sick about me. When we rolled up to the apartment he finally got a good look at me and almost gasped as he stepped close. There was a lot of moonlight.

     “You look like you lost at least twenty pounds, boy. You look like a goddam scarecrow and your nose sticks out like a goddam beacon.”

     He got his overnight bag from the car he’d rented at the Reno airport as Duke greeted us, up on his hind legs to nestle my chest, then repeating the overture with Dad. “Jesus, great dog. We had a little talk earlier. Is he yours?”

     “Lives across the street, but he’s adopted me.”

     I opened the door and Dad came in and hit the light switch and asked, “Where’s your goddam lights?”

     “I gambled away my deposits. Gas and electric.”

     He sighed as I lit a candle. He peered around. “Jesus Christ, this place is the black hole of Calcutta. I’m almost glad I can’t see anything, but I can smell it. What the hell’s going on with you, Dell?”


    I suggested he stretch his legs and we walk Duke down to the Lake, explaining this was a ritual. After the walk, he sat on a chair in the kitchen and said, “You have running water?”

     “Yeh, it’s cold. Tough shaving. Like the army.”

     “I thought the army might give you some direction, do you some good.” He yawned. He looked beat. “Well, you get some sleep. I’ll take the sofa. We’ll hash things out in the morning.”

     I collapsed in my uniform. I needed a year of sleep. Somehow, having Dad here allowed me to sleep and sleep and sleep, and when I walked into the kitchen around noon there was light, everything working, and the place had been cleaned, immaculate.

     “Take a shower, dummy, it’ll be a real luxury after the way you’ve been living.” He stood, walked over. “What happened to your puss? You been fighting? Your eyes are piss-holes in the snow.”

     “You don’t wanna know.”

     My voice was dismal, and the statement bludgeoned Dad like a body blow and he sat down and hung his head and placed his hand over his eyes and looked away and tried not to cry as I stood and went to the shower and soaked up the soothing hot water and dressed in clean clothes and came out. Dad sat at the kitchen table holding the manuscript I’d sent to a publishing house in New York months back.

     “I’m sorry,” he said. “They rejected it. Hell of a birthday, huh?”

     I realized yesterday had been my birthday. “Ah, don’t worry about it, Dad. I expected it. I’m not ready. I just wanted to test the waters. It was a shot in the dark.”

     “You put a lot of effort into this, son, and I read it, and I think it’s good.”

     “It stinks. It’s amateurish gibberish.” I walked over, snatched it from him, proceeded to tear it apart, and dropped it in the trash can. I sat back down. Dad stared at me, and his face was something I could not look at. I had made this man suffer, this man who was a man loved by all, who made decisions and built a business out of nothing to support his family and loved his family and was always there for his family and who had become involved with people in business and helped them out when things went bad and was admired and in some cases worshipped by them and whose team mates in the baseball world regarded him as the first guy they’d want to be with in a foxhole, this Jew, this Mensch, my father, crying, and why had I done this to him, why was I putting him through this?

     “Dell,” he said, looking up at me. “I think I probably screwed up pretty bad raising you…”

     “No! You did the best you could, the only way you knew how. You always put me first, were always THERE for me. You were mostly right about a lot of things. I realized that in the army. It’s me, Dad, I’m a different kettle of fish than you, or Mom, I just am, and it’s got nothing to do with you, and I’m not trying to get back at you, hell, not at all, no, I’m just trying to grind my way through things, and it’s gonna be the hard way, it’s not gonna be an easy path I’ve chosen, and it has to be if I’m gonna be worth a shit as a writer. Look, I don’t want you or mother worrying. I’m gonna be okay, Dad. Trust me.”

     The way dad looked at me, I knew I must go to him, and I did, and we hugged, and he hugged me hard and told me he loved me more than anything on earth and respected me for the path I’d taken an wouldn’t trade me for any son in the world, and I said I knew that, had always known that, and we disengaged and stood awkwardly and then we sat down, and when things calmed down and we sat drinking coffee, he said, “We better go  your car running.”

     He was aghast when we reached the Harrah’s parking lot and he observed the dents and ball bat, his model, in the back seat. He got the VW towed to a garage where a mechanic installed a new battery and generator while across the street at a diner he bought us bunkhouse breakfasts which as always tasted extraordinarily good.   

      We drove back to the apartment. He handed me a twenty. “This is to eat on. Don’t gamble it.”

     “I won’t. Gonna ask for extra shifts. No boozing.”

     “I don’t want to see any more bruises on your face either, Dell.”

     “You won’t.”

     We shook hands. He hugged Duke, the dog, got into the rental, beeped, and took off. I went to work and asked my supervisor for extra shifts and worked 30 straight shifts, some overtime on weekends, walked straight through the casino after work every shift, went home, cooked a steak for Duke and myself, took him on a walk, went to bed. I made back all I’d lost, paid back everybody, built a moderate nest-egg, and left in October, ready to hit the road ala Jack Kerouac, and try and find out if I had what it took to be a writer.

     I never gambled again, not even on a game, and nobody ever witnessed bruises on my face again unless I got in a good bar fight

     (Next Sunday installment: Final epilogue in 1978)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

    (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                                DRINKING AND GAMBLING II

1968, South Lake Tahoe

     Now, when I got off work at eleven, I talked to nobody after sousing up my drink tickets at the Keno bar and went straight to the Harrah’s blackjack tables. One of the bartenders I worked with informed me that over 50% of what Harrah’s employees earned in salary and tips were lost to the casino, or casinos down the street. I gambled small, with patience, counting cards. Right off, I won $400 and gave it to Joe for my next 4 months rent, and he called me the “latest red-hot gambler and red-hot lover” in Tahoe, as he still hadn’t seen a woman come out of my apartment come mornings, only a hungover wretch sitting under a shade tree with the Siberian Husky beside him.

     Nights I was broke I ran a tab at a neighborhood bar a mile from my place on the California side. One of these nights a young local cook, after touching my thigh, invited me to his apartment.. I smacked his hand off and gave him a look. He smirked, implied since I couldn’t get laid he could show me a much better time than any woman. I got up and stumbled home.

     One night I cashed my paycheck and sat down at a table and ran my chips up to a grand! A crowd formed. I was in white heat, felt this jolt of adrenalin infused into my every pore. I ran my streak up to fifteen hundred and kept tipping the waitresses for free drinks and then suddenly I got cold and lost it by betting big, impatiently and stupidly while remaining frigid. I lost it all. I took out my tips and lost them. I borrowed twenty from a bartender at the Keno bar and lost it. I went outside into the blinding morning sunshine and got in my VW bug and drove to the bank and found out I had drained my account and showed up a few minutes later at the electric company to take out my deposit, which I took to the casino and ran up to three hundred before losing it. I went home, showered, shaved, dressed, went to work, impressed the bartenders with my good humor and occasional clowning, made $40 in tips, lost it at the tables, borrowed more from the bartenders and lost until they all cut me off and told me to go home and get some Goddam sleep for Chrissake!

      I abandoned my writing regimen. Without power, I ate to-go garbage. At the casinos I sat at the tables with my tips and bet small, trying to last, boozing. When I built my winnings, the jolt of adrenalin returned. I was captive of the mesmerizing highs and lows. One high for every five lows was enough to keep me gambling, no matter how far I fell behind—it was my single thrill and obsession. Even after I returned home drunk and broke I could not shut down the excitement coursing through my body like a current. I wasn’t eating or sleeping and was losing weight and whenever I lost my last dollar I was so demoralized I kicked and jumped on my VW in the parking lot at Harrah’s and came home to gaze in the mirror and ask myself why this was happening to me and what was my life coming to and I hated the sight of my face in the mirror, and I’d spit on the mirror and cuss the face and the person and call the face and person a worthless come-to-nothing piece of shit and punch the face and it felt good to see stars and I’d punch the face again harder, never in the nose which had been busted twice playing football and brawling in the army, no, I punched the forehead and jaw and cheeks, and soon the bruises swelled and I lay in bed trying not to cry while trying at the same time to climb out of my skin, because it was torture being Dell Franklin, son of Murray Franklin, and I dreaded coming out of the house and facing my neighbors and going to work and having my supervisor and fellow bartenders seeing me this way as I played the good time untroubled Charlie, always up, kidding, clowning, showing everybody there was nom pain, man, no pain at all, knowing that at least I’d take my tips and maybe eat enough to stay alive but certainly hit the tables.

      Had I not paid my landlord 4 months of rent, I’d have been homeless in the woods.

     (Next Sunday Installment: Big Moe Takes Charge)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

     (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                                  DRINKING AND GAMBLING

1968, South Lake Tahoe

     I was working the 3 till 11 evening shift at Harrah’s Club as a barboy hoping to gain enough experience to become a bartender, so I could gain the inside track on getting laid, as I’d been on a drought since getting out of the army and was currently having no success during the very height of the sexual revolution in California of all places.

     I had tried wooing Cindy, a pretty and prim recent college graduate from Portland who was going to be a high school English teacher after her summer of being a Keno runner and partying with her college room mate. I worked the busy Keno bar and after work we sat with our free drink tickets (I bought all our drinks) and had literary discussions and she was impressed I’d written a novel which I’d sent to a publishing house in New York. We drove around the lake one night and when I tried to kiss her she pulled away and said, “Can’t we just be friends?” When I drove her back to her apartment, where parties were going on all around us, I tried again and she said, “I really want to be your friend, but I’m not that kind of girl?”

     “What kind of girl is that, Cindy?”

     “The kind who sleeps around.”

     “All I wanted was a kiss, Cindy.”

     “Well…I have to know you better.”

     “We’ve been sitting drinking together every night for two weeks. How much more do you want to know me?”

     “Oh Dell, I don’t know…” She issued me a quick kiss on the cheek and disappeared.

     The following night she alit beside me at the Keno bar at 11:15. This time I did not light her cigarette or buy her a drink and she asked what was wrong and I told her I needed something more than a peck on the cheek, that I wanted a girl friend for more than just yakking, and she asked what that “more” was, and I told her I needed the warmth of a woman’s body and the affection and passion of her heart and soul; in short, I wanted to get laid. She told me she was not ready for that and just wanted to be my friend and I found myself accusing the poor thing of being a tease and sat and got drunk quick and she cried and left and I hit on another girl who wouldn’t talk to me and finally gravitated to the blackjack tables where I was plied with free drinks until dawn. I broke even.

      There was the cocktail waitress, the only one who wasn’t cold and cynical and older than me, Ginger, from Memphis, long-legged in fishnet hose, blond lacquered hair, too heavily made-up for as pretty and fine featured as she was, stacked, Monroe-like, evidently sleeping with a few bartenders. I bar b cued for her in the front yard of my little one-bedroom apartment connected to a triplex 8 miles from Harrah’s on the California side of the Y and highway 50. The steaks and potatoes came out perfect. Once inside, I got her drunk. I got to first base, second, when she shut me down, claiming, “Ah’m not that kind-a girl, honeybun.

     “That’s not what I heard.”

     “What y’all heard, Day-uhl?”

     “I heard you were giving it out.” I immediately hated myself.

     “Who said that awful thang ‘bout me?”

     “All the bartenders.”

     “Well, it’s a damn lie! Y’all take me home raht now!”

      I refused. Like a broken giraffe, sobbing, she set off toward her place 8 miles away on high heels. My landlord, a notorious ski professional and playboy, picked her up, took her home to his far end of the triplex, and walked her past me the following morning as I recovered from hangover.

     “How’s the latest redhot lover in Lake Tahoe today?” he grinned.

     I went inside, could not get my next novel going—The Woman Hater—and arrived at the conclusion I was repellant to women. At work, where I feared Ginger and Cindy had spread the word of my swinishness, I found myself striking out with all the girls recruited for summer jobs from colleges like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa—cream of the crop—who were fucking the fraternity boys recruited from the same schools. I was odd man out. I sat in the employees cafeteria by myself watching baseball on the lone TV, saw guys I’d played with and against like Stephenson, Ollie Brown, my old pal Paul Schaal, Ed Sukla, Bob Bailey, half the guys from the Legion all Star team, and others, in the Big Show, and I felt like my life had finally come to nothing.

     At this point, it wasn’t getting any better. My parents, especially Dad, wanted to know how their kid was doing, but I purposely had no phone and refused to write. My only companion was the big 100 pound Alaskan husky belonging to a family across the street. He waited for me every night as I arrived in a drunken stupor and accompanied me on a walk to the lake, where I sat and considered what the fuck this was all about and how and where had I gone wrong and why, after at least a 4 year hiatus, I was starting to punch myself in the face again.

     (Next Sunday installment: Drinking and Gambling II)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

     (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                    THROWING IN THE TOWEL: ARMY BOUND


     Vaguely, through the buzzing throb in my skull from the self-inflicted blows, I heard voices drawing closer as lights went out in the stadium. Before me was a deep gully. I started the car, gunned the engine, and dipped over the edge, the car dropping and bouncing with a jolting thud, as if falling from a precipice. The shocks and springs cracked as my head smacked the ceiling. I sat there, dazed, finally got out and stumbled around. A voice shouted down at me from the lip of the gully. It was the firstbaseman, bundled in his warm-up jacket.

     “What happened, man? How the hell’d you get down there?”

     “Who the fuck cares?” My voice came from deep inside a well, strange to me. “Want this fuckin’ car? You can have it.”

     “Hey, cool down, kid. It’s just a game, you know. Don’t go psycho on me. Everybody has bad games.”

     “Who gives a fuck? My life’s a bad fucking game.”

     “Hey, get your ass up here, man. Right now.”

     I clambered up from the gully. He helped me over the lip, checked me out. “Man, you’re all cut up and bleeding. What the fuck did you do to yourself?”

     “I’m taking off. You can have the car.”

     “No, man. I don’t want your car. I hate those bugs. I got my truck. Now settle down! You can’t go anywhere the way you are.”

     “Hey, I don’t give a fat fuck about nothin’, so back off.”

     “Brother, you are off your gourd.” He observed me staring back at him. He ordered me not to move. He pulled his truck over and backed it up to the lip of the gully, got out, withdrew a long chain from the bed. “Don’t move now.” He clambered down into the gully and hooked the chain to my rear bumper, clambered back up, and, after a bit of a struggle, a lot of noise and fumes, towed the VW up over the lip and settled it on flat ground. He got out of his truck and grinned at the car, which was sagging slightly. He smacked my shoulder playfully.

     “It can’t be that bad, man. It ain’t the end of the world. You can’t be throwing in the towel. I been where you’re at and worse.”

     “No you haven’t. Thanks for helping me out. I appreciate it.”

     He rolled up the chain, tossed it into the bed of the truck. “You weren’t trying out there. In fact, it was like you were TRYING to fuck up. What’s your problem?”

     “Don’t sweat it.” My voice was a flat, distant monotone as I looked at his plump, easy-going face.

     “I’m not sure you should be left alone. I don’t like the look in your eye. You gonna be okay?”

     “Yeh, thanks again for towin’ me out.”

     ‘Okay, I’m gonna get in my truck, and I’m gonna follow you out-a here, because I ain’t pullin’ you out-a that hole again. Okay?”


     He followed me out of the parking lot and pulled alongside me on Wilshire, rolling down his window, gazing down at me. “You stay cool, guy. Don’t do anything crazy. I don’t wanna be reading about you tomorrow in the paper, okay?”

     “Okay, thanks.”

     From time to time, cruising along Wilshire, I fought off the urge to gun the engine and slam head-on into a concrete light post. I wanted to drive and drive and never have to face anybody again, and especially Dad, who would hear from Jules and be waiting for me—waiting for his son, who was nothing, while he, the Dad, was everything to everybody, while his son hated himself, deserved to hate himself. Fuck Dad. Fuck Lentini and Doc Bennett and Fido Murphy and Jules and Kincaid and the whole fucking baseball fraternity. Fuck Edwards, too, for trying to convince a callow pile of shit like myself that I had the talent and depth and internal stuffing to write about fellow man. Fuck everybody. This is what it had come down to. Only the army would want me and take me, as they did all riffraff, washouts, losers, bums. Volunteer for infantry and combat; which was probably what I deserved and was destined for all along and just didn’t realize it.

     I ran out of gas somewhere on Pacific Coast highway, a long way from home. I began a jaunt down past homes to the beach, suddenly hungry, my stomach growling. It was very late and quiet. I ended up on a walking Strand and sat down and propped myself against a short cement fence facing the seawall and ocean. Gazing up at the dark, moiling sky, listening to the pounding and sizzling of the ocean, it occurred to me that nothing had prepared me for this day, and where I was, which I’d never seen coming.

     It was chilly, and I shivered. I didn’t care. A frowsy dog holding a saliva-coated tennis ball in his mouth materialized beside me, his eyes meeting mine, hopeful, eager, his tail wagging very slowly, as if his tail itself was checking me out. He dropped the ball in my lap, almost tenderly, then tensed, his eyes imploring, begging me to throw him the ball, and I did, tossing it against the seawall so he could catch it on the rebound, and he scrabbled and snatched it and dropped it at my feet, sensing my kind, and I sensed his, having entertained myself for hours tossing a baseball or tennis ball against the house or garage door for hours, retrieving and releasing it in one quick motion, quicker and quicker, so my hands were a blur, like a machine, with growing confidence and pride, pretending I was a big leaguer in a big game, never tiring, perfecting my flawless technique of staying low  and scooting from side to side, arms hanging loose, hands soft, oh so soft, in my private world of glory, untroubled, mother smiling at me from the kitchen window as she prepared dinner, so grateful her son could amuse himself for hours and never get in trouble.

     A pearlescent glow lightened the ocean like ball park lights coming on in a twilight game. The eastern sun spread a dim light over the sand. I stood, the dog at my feet, both of us waking from a brief snooze. He took off, ball in mouth, knowing where he was going. I had no idea where I was going, except that there was a diner down the street and I would eat a big bunkhouse breakfast like the ones I ate on the road with dad and Dixie Upright when he was playing ball. I would somehow find gas and drive to Mr. Edwards’s eleven o’clock class, the only class I’d ever cared about in all my years of schooling, and let him know I was joining the army and refuse to let him talk me out of it.

     Now matter how tough the obstacles that lay ahead of me, I was somehow released from a terrible burden that filled me with such dread that I would never go near a baseball diamond or attend a professional baseball game for years. I suddenly felt strong and reassured and determined, and, for the first time in my life, prepared for anything.

     (Next Sunday Installment: (1968: Drinking and Gambling)      

Sunday, August 9, 2015

(Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                               MEXICO, CUBA AND CASTRO


     A bunch of us jumped to play ball in Mexico, including Mickey Owen, and a close friend of mine, Sal Maglie, who looked mean as a mafia killer but was as sweet and gentle a guy you’d ever want to meet. You were usually the only American player on your team, and winters, when I played in Cuba, you were usually the only white player.

     In both countries, the fans were wild and packed the stadiums, and no matter where you played, that city pretty much closed down for the ball games. Nobody loved baseball like these people. Shops and government offices shut down, and people who didn’t go to the games listened to them on the radio, and the fans bet on every game, every inning, every player; they were madhouse crazies, but great fans, fine people, and if you played well they treated you better than you’d ever been treated before in the states. You were a hero, never paid for a thing, and lived like a king.

     But if you stunk it up and choked a few times in the clutch and lost them money and let them get to you, the boos and catcalls and insults and the garbage they threw at you, like rabid animals, they’d run you out of town, out of the league, have you on the first train home, like they did with Dino Restelli, who came in with a big reputation but never got going. A lot of guys with big names quit and went home, because they couldn’t take the fans, couldn’t take the poor conditions of the ball parks and transportation, were scared they get lynched or shot, and they bitched about everything—the food, water, heat, humidity, language, the people, you name it.

     I loved Mexico, and I loved Cuba. First thing I did was make sure to learn the language, and if you tried hard to learn the words, well, these people bent over backwards to work with you, and you could do no wrong, they would take you into their homes and hearts like you were family, because they were the warmest, most generous people…poor as they were they’d literally give you the shirt off their backs, or their last dish of black beans, if they liked you. I made good friends with my teammates and the people, associations I’d never forget and always cherish.

     You can’t imagine what places like Tampico and Mexico City and Havana were like in those days. Havana was bursting with life, never went to sleep, it seemed. You could walk down the street and every café, every cantina was full, the streets crowded, the trolleys running, the parks packed, and there were little bands everywhere, on street corners, in parks, in the cantinas and cafes. The music never stopped, and the people loved to dance and sing, there was such happiness, like a festival that never stopped. A very romantic place for Rose and me.

      I had some of my best years down there. I was still in my prime. I hit for power and average, led my team. Rose and I had the greatest time of our lives. We were together again after being separated for two years in the war, and we really learned to appreciate and enjoy the little simple things, like sitting outside a café drinking a rum and coke and watching the people. It was probably the happiest time of our lives, and we both knew it, and milked every minute together.

     There were some fine ball players, and some real characters down there. Minnie Minoso was one of the most fearless, flashiest players on the field and the splashiest off and was just a great kid, always in a jubilant mood because he was playing a game he loved and would run into walls to flag down a fly ball. Bobby Avila, who later won a batting championship with Cleveland, adopted a style of hitting I taught him and learned to make the doubleplay as a secondbaseman when early on he was “spike shy.” One of the best pitchers and hardest throwers was a mean Cuban with a missing front tooth replaced by a diamond. And there was this tall skinny kid with high pockets who hung around the ballpark in Havana, wanted to be a ball player in the worst way. His father was some kind of bigwig at the university and the kid was studying to be a lawyer, a very polite, bright kid, very respectful and eager to learn, followed me around like a puppy dog. I worked with him. He had a pretty good pair of hands, a decent glove, but he couldn’t swing the bat, and you can’t really teach that if the reflexes and hand-to-eye co-ordination and wrist-action isn’t there, and so the kid went on to bigger things, a kid by the name of Fidel Castro.

     I don’t know how long I would have stayed down there, because after all I am an American, wanted to come home at some point, and when the President of the league, Jorge Pasqual, a very rich man who bankrolled the league and paid us all our bonuses, died in a plane crash, the league fell apart. I had to get out of there anyway, because we played in tropical places like Tampico and Vera Cruz, and the malaria I caught in the South Pacific came back and nearly killed me. I lost 30 pounds and nearly burnt up, was weak as a kitten. So I went home, waited for my suspension to life, and when Danny Gardella challenged major league baseball and got us all reinstated, I started out all over with Hollywood in the PCL.

     It’s funny, but sometimes events in your life, and especially in baseball, take you to places you wouldn’t dream of going to, and those places turn out to be the most pleasant surprises, the fondest, warmest memories. I think everything I learned down there, everything I experienced, made me a better, more thoughtful person, and helped prepare me for life after baseball.

     What Rose and I experienced in Mexico and Cuba was a lot of love, a lot of joy, pure and simple.

     (Next Sunday Installment: Throwing in the Towel.”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

     (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)



     I drove out to the ball field at Sawtelle for a night game in an old VW bug I’d borrowed from mother after blowing up my Chevy. Before reporting to Fido Murphy, I stood looking at the field. Some form of metamorphosis was going on within me, tugging me away from the field, infusing me with a nameless lethargy. But I dragged myself onto the field, where Jules met me, clapping his hands; excited, telling me this was “my big chance, go get ‘em, tiger!”

     I sought out the burly firstbaseman who’d played pro ball and been released and was trying to hook on again, and we warmed up. He’d been friendly in a big brother way, encouraging me, but this evening I didn’t say a word, and before we took infield he observed me closely and remarked that I didn’t “look right.” I shrugged.

     Taking infield, the inertia continued to infiltrate me. My arm, from trying to put too much on my throws the day before, felt like a rag dangling from my shoulder by a single tendon. It throbbed. I didn’t care. I didn’t care.

     “Come on, fer Chrissake, let’s see that arm!” Fido barked, scowling. “Let’s see some hustle. LOOK like a ball player!”

     My first time up, I faced a pitcher with average stuff. With men on first and second, I fouled off a couple pitches I should have nailed and finally bounced a ball to short. My journey to first base—where scouts had once time me below 4 seconds—was one of those dreams where somebody is chasing you and the legs lose traction and you wake up in a cold sweat just as you’re about to be chased down by a monster. I hit into a doubleplay, which I never did, unless I drilled a rope at somebody. And I didn’t care. 

     Fido, pacing the dugout, was incensed. “Speed? Where’s yer fuckin’ speed? Yah LOAFED down the line. Yer a dog.”

     I booted one in the field. I came up again with men on base and hit into another doubleplay, found myself slowing down as I approached first. Fido wouldn’t look at me. I didn’t care. My last time up I took a quick weak swing and dribbled one back to the pitcher and jogged down the line, holding onto the bat, wanting to smash something with it, anything, but mostly myself.

     Returning to the bench, head down, Fido met me, bottom teeth bared over his upper lip in a vicious cast, as if I had personally insulted him and his way of life of some 60 years in the baseball business—surely sacrilege, a willful desecration, akin to burning the American flag. I snuck a pitiful glance at him, and his look said it all—“Get off the field you fucking disgrace!”

     What he said was, “I seen enough of you, boy. Go sit on the bench. They sold me a bill of goods. You ain’t got it. Yer no ball player. Yer wastin’ my time. I got kids here wanna play ball, not stink up the field. I can’t believe yer Franklin’s kid.”

     Jules would not look at me as I sat at the far end of the dugout. I didn’t care, and something was very wrong. I observed my temporary teammates and felt a continuing disaffection for the game I had aspired to and been obsessed with since I was a tyke slapping a ball into my glove in the Hollywood Star clubhouse as an 8 year old. As I sat, something was terribly wrong. I gritted my teeth. I hyperventilated. Players along the bench stared at me. What, really, was baseball, I asked myself, in comparison to the vast, complex world we lived in? Conformity. Uniformity. Racism. Nepotism. A culture saturated with Kincaids and Bufords, Fido Murphys and the mindset ostracizing any denial of its importance, any mocking of its precious sanctity. My spirit was vanquished, dead. Something terribly, terribly wrong was gaining on me, a cold black cloud moving in, and I relived my lifeless slogs down the first base line and winced, cringed, almost sobbed. Hitting into two doubleplays? Something was terribly, terribly wrong.  

     I rose and walked out of the dugout and without meeting the eyes of anybody headed straight to the restroom where I took off my uniform as quickly as possible and along with my cap tossed them in the trash can and walked out in my sliding pads and undershirt toward my car, hurling my spikes and glove into a thicket of bushes. I opened the trunk and found my shorts, put them on, closed the trunk, then swung my bat against a tree, my entire body vibrating with the impact, and then hurled the bat with my Dad’s autograph on the barrel like a javelin into infinity. Inside the car, I pounded the steering wheel and dashboard, then clenched my fists and punched myself in the head and face, bashing at my cheekbones and jaw, the hard clouts dazing me. I tasted blood. Slumped over the wheel, I unleashed a prolonged wail, a yowl, a scream, until my throat burned raw. Then I settled into quiet sobbing that would not stop.

     (Next Sunday installment: Big Moe jumps the Big Leagues for Mexico.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

    (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                                    BACK TO BASEBALL


     A figure out of the past showed up at our house, somebody I hadn’t seen since I was a small boy in Compton: Little Jules, dad’s old friend from the Mountain State League. He was bald as a marble, nattily clad, the same old lefty with hooked beak and the grotesquely bent arm from throwing decades of breaking stuff in the low minors. Exuding irrepressible effervescence, he was lavish in praise of our digs and Dad’s success. He was now scouting for the Houston expansion team and working under head scout Fido Murphy, who was out in southern California trying to sign players to stock the rosters of their minor league system. Jules nearly crushed my hand when dad re-introduced us, and regarded me with admiration.

     “Look at the forearms on the kid, Murray, just like you, chip off the old block, spitting image, grown into a man.” He grinned at dad. “He’s you with a good head of hair.” I was sure Jules knew I’d been booted off the Cerritos team and run off the field by Buford and consequently tabbed a flake, malcontent, psycho. But Jules told us he’d heard I had “big league tools.” He believed that if I had anywhere near the ability of Dad, which Dad quickly confirmed, there was no reason I could not sign and begin my climb to the big leagues, especially since I’d made the Anaheim tournament all stars. “Almost all those kids are playing pro ball somewhere, and those who aren’t are in college and will sign someday. You’re the only one who hasn’t, and look, with expansion, you got a great chance with the dilution of talent.” He smacked my arm playfully. “It’s the perfect opportunity.”

     Tryouts and exhibition games among prospects were being conducted on the UCLA home field at Sawtelle off Wilshire Boulevard. I’d played there numerous times with Boston in winter league. I drove out with my old pal, Dave Sturrock, who was going to Long Beach state to become a coach and wanted to bring me moral support. He kept reminding me I was the best ball player he’d ever seen, better than all the guys we’d played against and that were now playing in the minor and major leagues. But when I arrived at UCLA I felt sluggish, like my body was in quicksand. For the first time ever, the sight and sound and smells of a ball diamond felt alien as the smack of ball into glove and the knock of ball off bat melded with anxious chatter and a couple coaches yelling at players. The diamond was crawling with players warming up and playing pepper and taking infield. I’d never seen so many players on one field.

     Jules spotted me and called me over and I was introduced to Fido Murphy, a very short block of a man at least 60 whose face resembled that of a rumpled bulldog with under-bite. He stood with along the first base line, his X ray eyes quickly appraising my entire presence. Jules here,” he said in a gruff voice. “He tells me you’re a helluva a ball player, a chip off the old block  I remember your dad, and he was a helluva a ball player. Good to have you aboard. Go warm up and we’ll see if you’re the player Jules says you are.”

     . Among the excited, high-energy, chattering mob, anxious to display their wares, I found an older guy perhaps 25, a first baseman, to warm up with. Most everybody out here was a free agent, and we were all looking each other over, and I realized I was the only one out here with a mop of hair protruding from under my cap like straw and a stubble of beard. I didn’t FEEL like a ball player. Dad had urged me to get a haircut.

     Fido had me at shortstop, where a few players awaited their turns to pounce on grounders and throw to first, reminding me of my Little League tryouts at 9 years old, a lifetime ago. I recognized a few players I’d once competed against. Some sleek black kids were being timed running down the first base line after their last hit in BP. Fido’s assistant coach rapped grounders to the infielders between pitches. Houston, like the Dodgers, was scouting black track stars and trying to convert them into baseball players to intimidate teams on the base paths, like Maury Wills. I wondered did they possess the stealing and base-running instincts I did. Did they understand the fanatical, nuanced, neurotic, blood feud of facing a hateful and hating pitcher? Did they have it in them to so infuriate an opponent with every tactic imaginable that it rallied your own team to go to war against them?

     From shortstop the field seemed slanted uphill and first base a hundred yards away. I felt a sudden urge to tell Fido I was a centerfielder, where, for a very short time, before I went into the doghouse at Cerritos, I felt a natural freedom and ease. Flat-footed, the first few groundballs handcuffed me, one bouncing off my chest. I didn’t feel coordinated.

     “Yer rusty, kid, hang tough,” Fido hollered, and his coach lashed me another, which I trapped awkwardly on one knee (a no-no) to keep it from going through my legs. Then, not planting my right foot, I bounced a throw to first. The heavyset guy I’d warmed up with scooped it up, then pointed a glove at me and shouted, “Relax, kid! Take your time! You’re okay, babe!”

     Then Fido roared, “Where’s the arm, Franklin? I thought you was supposed to have an arm. I thought you was a stud!”

     I had no rhythm or feel for the game, continued to scuffle. I blocked balls, aimed throws that lacked zip--goosing the ball. “Jesus Christ,” I heard Fido grumble to Jules, loud enough for me to hear, no doubt trying to motivate me, but clearly losing patience as I lost heart. “He looks like he’s afraid of the goddam ball! He ain’t half the player as his old man!”

     Jules clapped his hands. “Shake off the cobwebs, Dell baby. We know it’s been a while. Give the kid a chance, Fido.”

     Later, in BP, Fido and Jules stood by the batting cage while I hacked away. I hit one ground ball after another, but no rising ropes. Where was my pop and snap? The bat felt like 40 pounds of cement. The harder I tried to quicken my swing, the more I flailed away. I felt like slamming the bat over my own head.

     “His timing’s off, he’s got a good level swing, like his old man,” Fido conceded, “Okay, that’s enough, Franklin. You got a game tomorrow night at eight. Yer startin’ at short. Then we’ll see what you’re made of. Now hit one more and run down the line!”

     I pulled one in the hole and took off for first and felt like I’d never get there. My uniform felt like a strait-jacket soaked in ocean water. Driving home, Dave said, “God, that Fido’s an asshole, the prick couldn’t stop bringing up your Dad. It’s bullshit.” At home, Dad asked how it went. I told him my timing was off at the plate and in the field. He asked had I practiced. I told him I had, but I hadn’t.

     (Next Sunday installment: The Metamorphosis)                            

Sunday, July 19, 2015

    (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)

                                “THE KID’S BLOWING SMOKE UP MY ASS”


     In the quiet of my room, mother made sure nobody disturbed the genius as I continued to churn out pages on my typewriter, having no idea where the words, ideas and scenes came from. I was influenced by everybody and anybody I read, and especially the last author I read. At class I was infuriated when Mills dismissed my new idol Steinbeck sneeringly as “written out, contrived, embarrassing…”

     “You should like Steinbeck, Mills,” I stood and shouted as he scrunched around in his seat to regard me with the same superior sneer. “He fought for social justice and the underclass all his life. They even called him a Commie, like they do you!”

     “Steinbeck’s lost his way,” he said calmly. “Just like you’ve never found your way, suburban hotdog. Get over yourself.”

     Where was my best pal, the plain-speaking plain thinking Angus when I needed him? How I missed The Big A’s simplistic views on everything. My father, like Mills, was equally repulsed by the “suburban hotdog” and mystified by his seemingly overnight transformation. There was no discussing anything with me now, especially since we’d never really talked about anything except baseball; though he often went to great lengths to impress upon me the benefits and joys of running his own business, watching it bloom, being his own boss answering to no one, a sly Jew out-witting his fellow Jews in competition and stealing their customers with better deals and cunning tactics, proudly screwing the government with ingenious and outrageous write-offs, putting people to work and providing them a living, possessing the freedom and new affluence to vacation in Hawaii with mother and buy an El Dorado Cadillac and eat in swank restaurants and fit mother in diamond jewelry and designer attire and put my sister and me, if I wanted, through 4 years of college!

     I would have none of it. I’d make my own way, my own money, thank you. The business to me was a waste of time compared to aspiring to be a writer. I mocked all the appliances, gadgets and gizmos he brought home on special deals with a sense of accomplishment and excitement. His sporting of success, his starting a business from rock bottom, “making gelt from dreck,” was, to me, no big deal. To my mind his journey emanated not out of choice, but necessity, so that he was just another number punching a clock—be it his own—and controlled by a system drowning in material excess while wallowing in the American propaganda machine brainwashing us all into thinking having all this shit made us the greatest and happiest people in the world, when in truth our blatant consumerism made us obscene and spiritually bankrupt in the eyes of great philosophical writers like Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac and most of Europe.

     “Jesus Christ, where did all those big words come from, bird-boy?” Dad demanded to know as we sat at the dinner table. “You talk like a kid with a paper asshole. You don’t know from nothin’. Go out in the world. And since when does a son of mine become so goddam uppity?”

     Like mother and grampa, now that I took a music appreciation class, I darkened the front room and listened to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and even my sister gazed at me like I was off the reservation.

     Dad turned to mother, his face red. “The kid’s living under MY roof, eating MY food, he’s making fun of his old man, and blowing so much smoke up everybody’s ass we’re all choking on it.”

     Mother retorted, “What you must understand, Murray, is Dell’s finally finding himself.”

     “Bullshit,” Dad groused.

     (Next Sunday installment: Back to baseball)

Monday, July 13, 2015

    (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of the game and the father/son relationship to it)



     Bucky Harris and Gabby Hartnett were fine players in their days and a pair of true gentlemen. Hartnett was a Hall of Fame catcher, a guy I watched growing up in Chicago, and Harris played and managed half a century. They were almost too nice to be in baseball.

     In 1946, when I returned from the service, they were at spring training with the Tigers down in Lakeland and were going to manage and coach our farm team in Buffalo. I’d had a great spring, hitting over .400, got myself into great shape after a 3 year layoff. The general manager, Jack Zeller, called me into his office and told me they wanted to send me to Buffalo and start the season with Eddie Lake, Eddie Mayo, Bloodsworth, and Skeeter Webb, four guys who couldn’t carry my jockstrap. Well. I refused to go down. I was half crazy with anger, and I wanted to kill Steve O’Neill, the manager, and the rest of the stooges in the front office running the team. I asked Zeller what was going on, because he wasn’t a bad guy, and he knew I could play rings around those guys, but he said “his hands were tied.” That’s what they all tell you.

     I asked to be traded. Zeller said he’d work on it, which was more bullshit. Hartnett and Harris told me to cool down and come up to Buffalo and play for them. Rumor was very strong they were both going to the Yankees the next season, with Harris as manager, and he promised he wouldn’t go to New York without taking me along. He’d always liked me, believed in me, and he told Rose that, and tried to get her to persuade me to go with them, and SHE wanted me to go, too, but, like I said, I was too mad and fed up with the Detroit organization by that time to keep playing for a prick like Spike Briggs.

     Harris and Hartnett understood and told me not to give up hope, because the Yankees wanted a Jewish ball player with some hitting punch to play third and utility. There was a huge following of Jewish fans in the Bronx. A perfect situation. When you’re in a line-up with guys like DiMaggio and Henrich and Rizzuto, your batting average automatically goes up thirty points.

     But hell, time was running out on me. I was 32 years old and felt Detroit would never trade me to New York, because they knew damn well I’d come back to hurt them and make them look stupid. So I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, really getting the shaft. Going to Buffalo at this point was humiliating, and so I got an offer to jump the big leagues and go down to Mexico for a lot more money than I’d make in the big leagues, and I took it, and told Briggs to stick it up his ass. A local sportswriter interviewed me and I told him, “I’d always been good to baseball, but baseball had never been good to me, and I had to do financially what was best for my wife and son.” I’d had enough of getting handed rosary beads before games and watching donkeys play my position.

     In professional baseball, sometimes it’s not just about playing the game, although it should be that way. I’m no Alibi Ike and I don’t believe in sour grapes and I always look forward to the next step and never let the bad breaks bother me and made the best of a situation, but sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and have no control over things and have to sit and watch the prime years of your career go down the drain, wasted.

     I had good years in Mexico, and in Cuba, had a great time, but still, it wasn’t the big leagues. And sure enough, in ’47, Harris goes to the Yankees as manager and they win a World Series! If I’d listened to Rose, things would be different now. We’d probably be New Yorkers. But that’s all water under the bridge, and you should never forget there’s a lot of heartbreak in baseball, especially if you love the game and will go anywhere, under any conditions, to play.

     And especially if the money’s better.

     (Next Sunday installment: The Kid’s Blowing Smoke Up My ass.”) 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

     (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of baseball and the father/son relationship to it)

                                                THE BOHEMIAN BRIGADE

     Instead of hitting a ball around or playing basketball or hanging out with Angus, which was what I usually did on weekends, I was invited to Professor Edwards’s home for a writing seminar that was to be totally ad-lib and spontaneous. I was to bring nothing but my typewriter. Dave lived in a slightly ramshackle turn-of-the-century Victorian home in a leafy part of old Whittier. Couches, chairs, sofas, futons, all blanketed, were scattered about in a spacious sunlit main room with wooden floors. Nearby was a kitchen, its countertop piled with dishes. A huge pot of stew simmered on the stove. Beer cans and wine bottles and glasses sat on ledges and tables. A stereo piped turned-down folk music. Everybody smoked and a few puffed marijuana. Did I want any? No! I didn’t even smoke—another reason to scoff at the stiff.  I did happily swig from a bottle of cheap wine and later grabbed beers from a fridge—all supplied by Dave.

     The group consisted of about a dozen of the most venal anarchists—a few from our class—led by J. Hampton Mills, and various writers who’d studied under Edwards and gone on to 4 year colleges or jobs or no jobs in the real world. Edwards told us to write about whatever entered our minds. I dashed out a slipshod account of an affluent girl from a prime suburban home (modeled after Dawn Meadows) who falls to personal ruin and degradation and becomes a toothless, drug-bedeviled harridan/whore and homeless lesbian. I titled it “Gidget Goes to Hell.” Edwards, while reading this babble, had to halt a few times to laugh, though my cohorts refrained from such levity and exchanged glances indicating I was hopeless. They all chain-smoked furiously.

     I remained aloof, observing from afar, a dog lost and wandering in the wrong backyard. These folks were aloof, self-righteous, intolerant, judgmental, sneaky, jealous of each other, cloaking their true feelings in lies lavishing praise on their precious, sometimes flowery, sometimes minimalist, didactic, acidic, amateurish, plagiaristic, bogusly experimental works. Dave occasionally winked at me, which helped soften my sense of estrangement and lameness, which I actually relished.

     Mills actually lodged here. He found little salvageable in anybody’s work. He now wrote a weekly column in the Cerritos school paper, for whatever that was worth in this institution of apathetic zombies. His main axes to grind were with our government and Americans, whom he felt were ignorant, intolerant, racist, greedy, mindless, cosmetically indulged, imperialistic, war-mongering, materialistic, complacent, spoiled, and, most irredeemable, indifferent to the misery of the under classes here and throughout the world. We were the most hated, hateful and monstrously despicable race on earth. Once, when I questioned his bombast, he called me a misinformed simpleton, and I called him a calculated eccentric and a pretentious fraud, to which he scoffed jeeringly and informed Mr. Edwards he must be “losing his marbles to allow a stunted suburban fool like ME in his seminar.”

    When the subject of Steinbeck, my new idol, came up, Mills said the great man was “written out, contrived, embarrassing…”

     I countered, “You should worship Steinbeck, Mills. He fought for social justice and the underdog. They even called him a Communist, like they do you.”

     “Steinbeck’s lost his way. You’re a living, breathing cliché.”

      They had to separate us, Edwards in the middle. Mills retired to his room adjoining the front parlor. Edwards immediately warned me to watch what I said, because Mills liked to eaves drop and collect material to use in his columns against his myriad enemies. I purposely lingered near his room and spouted my own particular brew of blasphemy, hoping to draw him out of the room for a fisticuff, but of course he was non violent and in contempt of all forms of competition (which was for children), his scholarly rejoinder being to lose himself in the clattering of his typewriter.

     I drove home wondering who I was becoming and if it was any damn good.

     (Next Sunday installment: Big Moe is not impressed with his Kid.)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

    (Scrolling back to 1949 in this memoir will provide baseball junkies with the very essence of baseball and the father/son relationship)

                                                    THE LITERARY WORLD


     Mother, upon coming home from her job as school nurse at Bolsa Grande High school in Garden Grove, was careful not to disturb the budding genius clacking away on a $10 Smith-Corona typewriter in his bedroom. When she asked if she could read my pieces, my retort was, “Maybe someday.”

   Professor Edwards advised me to write about “anything that comes into my mind.” Like pals, we sometimes met in the student union to drink coffee and discuss literature, writers and writing. I told him of my experience with coach Kincaid. He seemed amused, felt Kincaid a reasonable man considering he was a coach. When I pointed out Dawn Meadows, sitting with a handsome preppie she was engaged to across the room, the two involved in intimate whispers broken up by sudden laughs, longing gazes, and tender touches indicating they were on fucking terms, I disclosed to Edwards she’d been my flame and dumped because I was “defeatist and negative and without direction.”

     Edwards burst out laughing. “Oh, heartbreak and rejection are great fuel for writers, Dell. I’ve found you can fall for many different types of women over the years, and the last thing you want at this point in your life is a steady who’s planning out your future together. I’ve been in and out of relationships, and as a writer myself, it can be difficult. I’m still searching at 34. There are times I don’t mind being alone. It was Somerset Maugham who wrote, “No object is more deserving of pity than the married bachelor.” Seeing that young girl with that fellow, well, that’s a sure sign she was never for you, but somebody else might be.”

     Edwards suggested I pursue sports writing. I could make a living and on the side write serious fiction. I’d ALWAYS be writing, and therefore improving. I informed Edwards I had a foul taste in my mouth from baseball and dreaded hanging out in clubhouses or locker rooms. Instead, I wanted to travel the world, then go in the military, and gather experience. Edwards said I already had plenty of experience and to write about my Dad and our relationship, but right now I couldn’t and instead found myself writing about people and subjects and situations I’d never experienced and knew nothing about. He did not discourage this, as long as I wrote.

     Observing fellow writing students, I realized they had nothing in common with me or anybody I’d ever known. With the exception of the two 40ish adults, they were Bohemian and therefore skeptical of established conventions and at times belligerently rebellious, often bickering with these older students who accused them of being naively idealistic. Edwards slyly orchestrated literary, social, political and even cinematic disputes and smiled as he observed them flower into snarling and vituperative shouting matches. Several of the more shabbily dressed girls, who seemed to purposely make themselves look the opposite of Dawn Meadows, sided with J. Hampton Mills and hung out with him in a small and malodorous clique in the student union. They read poetry and idolized the Beat Generation writers, especially Burroughs and Ginsburg, who confused me. They were in love with Fellini movies, abstract art, and hybrid folk/protest music. Half the time I did not know what the hell they were talking about, but I could not wait to get to Edward’s class and join the rousing debates, even if I was regarded as class stooge.

     These days, walking around campus, I observed a vast sea of students as having little inclination to question or rebel against the powers that be or test the authority of the system. They were sheep, searching for mates, single-mindedly pursuing a diploma and the gateway to soulless suburban anonymity, contentment, security, the procreation of more indistinguishable lives and the eternal acquisition of material possessions and a tiny plot of turf on which to build shelter so as to justify their existences. My new classmates vilified such ambitions and in the process established themselves as eloquent haters.

     This anger and hatred caught fire in my gut, providing me with a new, surging passion to express it. I hissed at the prissy and immaculate and well-endowed coeds I had previously drooled over and thought of as potential life-mates. As for the girls in my creative writing class, whose attire approached mine in slovenliness, I viewed them with disgust and fascination, wondering what really lurked beneath the costumes and facades. They ignored me, except to roll their eyes and sigh when I expounded sententiously. In the student union, I was snickered at as an outcast.

     I began to take stock of myself. What was baseball, a simple game, in the great realm of discovery on this planet? How futile was it, poring over major league box scores with hunger every morning as I followed my idols? Christ, I actually had a brain! When Dad looked at me, the worry and consternation on his face was palpable and we had little to say to each other, though Mom and I seemed to be talking about subjects she’d always wanted to talk about with me while Dad appeared suddenly odd man out.

     (Next Sunday installment: The Bohemian Brigade)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

    (The beginning of this memoir dates back to 1949 for those scrolling back)

                                                      CREATIVE WRITING 102


     “Well?” Mr. Edwards said, as he scanned the faces of those fellow students who were obviously embarrassed at the idiocy of my story and hesitant to even lower themselves and comment on its debasement of the writing society. “Let’s hear your comments.”

     A man around 50 with the old military buzz-cut, not far from me, stood. “This story…it did have some humor.” There was consternation on his face. “But it went nowhere. It was just description. It was a…hodge-podge. I have no idea what he was trying to get across.”

     He sat down and a big, barrel-chested, bushy-bearded guy called J. Hampton Mills, who sat in the front row, stood. He published, edited, and was chief writer of a revolutionary weekly of about 4 pages that attacked the status quo with salacious and outrageous articles hoping to upset or arouse dull, impervious Cerritos commuter students who didn’t give a crap about anything except a diploma that would lead them to middleclass comfort, something J. Hampton Mills in his class tirades despised venally. He was ferocious, mid-twenties, and his voice boomed with authority; an imposing leader of the meager enclave of malcontents against the bomb, war, the gas chamber, America’s inherent racism, and everything else that was wrong with the country.

     “If this piece was a drawing it would be a cartoon for kindergartners…uh, excuse me, pre school kiddies just out of diapers. The scope was microscopic.”

     I tried to block out what came at me next like a barrage of sucker punches to my very existence. Nobody defended me. It was decided that the writer of my supposedly anonymous piece did not possess the depth of a tapeworm, nor the knowledge and experience of an adolescent. But Mr. Edwards held up his hand like a stop sign.

     “Humor,” he said. “This is the only piece by this class with humor, that actually caused a ripple. So I see promise.”

     Groans. Snickers. I was devastated. What the fuck was I DOING here? I should go back and kiss Don Buford’s ass and Doc Bennett’s ass, and Wally Kincaid’s ass! I was a baseball player, an athlete, not a dork! When the class mercifully ended, I waited until everybody was gone so I didn’t have to face any of them in the hallway. I was dropping the class. Shuffling out the door, head down, Edwards called to me. He sat behind his desk, grinning at me. He asked me to sit down, and in a trance I complied, in the front row.

     “Don’t get discouraged,” he said. “I liked your story.”

     “Bullshit. It wasn’t a story. It was garbage. I had no idea how bad I was, how stupid I was, what a disillusioned idiot I was until I heard that asinine gibberish. My crucifixion was justified.”

     He laughed; then sat forward. “Look, the purpose of this class is to expose the truth. You can’t really write until you know yourself, and the best way to know yourself is to listen to your own words and see how they are accepted. It’s painful, but writing is a painful business that calls for deep introspection. Life is painful. Some people never consider writing until the pain in their life becomes unbearable and they have no alternative left but to write.” He smiled at me, a big kid smile; eyes full of humor. “Let me tell you this, Dell: YOU are a writer. Most of the people in this class are aspiring writers who have been at it since they were young and they’re pretty good at a certain level, but you are the only writer with an original voice. The first sentence I read, I KNEW you were a writer. Your words bounce off the page. Now don’t make that sour face. Don’t be so damn hard on yourself! Listen, I would never, ever misguide a student of mine. Dell, I don’t know your background, don’t know why you’ve chosen to write, or what made you want to write, but it seems to me this is your first effort, and there’s a reason for that, and I’m here to make sure you pursue and develop this gift, because if you don’t I would consider that a great waste.
     I was dumbstruck. “What makes you think I can actually be a writer, Mr. Edwards?”



     “Arrogance. I don’t know where it came from, but my God, you possess splendid arrogance. I’d pay to have it. You’ve got a fresh approach and a fearless verbal masculinity. It’s inspiring for me as a teacher of writing to have a student like you in my class. Now you go home and get started on your next assignment, and think about the criticisms, and don’t let them discourage you. I look forward to your next piece.”

     I was speechless. I found myself thanking him. He handed me a paperback copy of “Catch-22.” by Joseph Heller. He informed me my first big steps should be to start my own library of classics, European and Russian masters and obscure underground books by modern writers. From them I would gain inspiration, joy, education, philosophy, understanding of the world and humanity, and the study of style. He said it was necessary I read “the bad stuff as well as the good stuff” so I knew what to do and what not to do. He didn’t want any thanks. His gratification was from teaching and inspiring. Mr. Edwards.

     Out in the hallway, striding past fellow students, I went from hating myself to considering I was special in some way, with a leg up on these pedestrian plodders with their narrow and limited ambitions.

     (Next Sunday installment: A New and Different Mentor.)