DFA: A BLOG ABOUT LIFE ON THE BASEBALL MARGINS: March 17, 2008
DFA, chapter 18 -The Creative Process
The next few weeks were hectic. I hadn’t heard from Kara, and after several unanswered messages, I stopped calling her. But Pomade was lining up TV appearances and relaying offers from the marketing departments of various companies asking me to shill for their products. Or, I should say, he would call and say he had turned them down. “PainBeGone wants you for an endorsement, but they couldn’t meet our price.” And: “OuchNoMore” – PainBeGone’s main competitor – “asked if you’d be available to shoot a spot about how PainBeGone helps relieve ‘the pain and discomfort of catcher’s crouch’ – whatever the f—k that is – but they weren’t even in the ballpark.” I didn’t know what ballpark Pomade was talking about; all I knew was that I would’ve settled for a Little League field and certainly could’ve used the money.
But Pomade kept prepping me for the upcoming Larry King show – he gave me a bunch of DVDs of "Larry King Live," which led to recurring nightmares where the giant Larry crushed me inside his suspenders.
Rick kept calling me up to come help “write” my autobiography with him – a story that had less to do with my actual life with each new chapter (as you will see).
Sanabria lived on the 18th floor of a building on East End Avenue that overlooked the river and the high-rises going up on its far side.
Three or four nights a week, we’d have all-night sessions, because Pomade had given him a deadline of two months to turn in a proposal, which included a couple of good-sized chapters along with a lot of b.s. for the marketing people. I'd read a bit of it, and didn't like it. At all. That night, I decided to tell him why.
Sanabria was normally a pretty lively guy, but now he seemed super-charged – and tonight I found out why. I had just gotten to this place and taken my usual seat on a navy blue leather sofa that I always envisioned a Manhattan bachelor would have in his lair – not the air mattress I had dragged all over the country and back, like an indoor hobo. He had art on the walls – modern stuff Kara had introduced me to – except for a mounted photo of Roberto Clemente uncorking a throw from right field.
Rick put in some music he called "reggaeton" – I think the tune was “Gangsta Zone,” and gone into his bedroom. He came back out with a leather attache case, the kind with a combination lock. It looked expensive, like the sofa. He flipped the lock and turned it to me. It was filled with pills of all sizes, shapes and colors.
“Grab some,” he said.
“What is this s—t?”
“Mood enhancers, energy enhancers, relaxation enhancers. What’s the difference? It’s all good.”
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
“Come on. They help you loosen up, lubricate the brain, extract the hidden nuggets from deep in the cave of the unconscious.” He changed the CD with his remote. Some brassy, bass-y modern jazz came on.
“Mingus,” he said. “He used to do this. Carry a briefcase of all this good s--t. Plus coke. Which I won’t do when I’m writing. Him and Monk used to pop ‘em by the handful. I stole the idea from him. To quote Picasso, ‘Bad artists copy, great artists steal.’ And not-so-great artists like me commit grand larceny.”
He pushed the briefcase at me. “Sure you don’t want to partake?”
“O.K., it’s my funeral,” he said, with a laugh, before grabbing a fistful of pills and washing them down with a Corona.
“Rick, something’s been bothering me.”
“That’s because you don’t partake.”
“When you write a book that’s supposed to be true, well, isn’t it supposed to be true?”
“And? You’re saying it’s not true? What’s not true?”
I didn’t know where to begin. These are some of the whoppers he wrote – and we were only on chapter three:
• I was born with a squat, pudgy body, which made my father cry out, “He’s going to be a catcher!”
• I was a troubled teen who ran with a street gang (I wasn’t in one place long enough to join a gang, even if I’d wanted to, and besides, gangs on military bases?).
• I’d been a heavy drug user (which was totally untrue – my only brush with drugs was one “hit” of Ecstasy, which I foolishly took before an American Legion game; it induced me to kiss an opposing base runner when he tried to score on a hit).
• I’d wanted to join the military instead of becoming a pro ballplayer. (Truth: I hated it after seeing how it screwed up my folks.)
• I had a steady girlfriend named Kara who had stuck by me through thick and thin, convincing me to stick with baseball when I’d wanted to give up.
“So what if these things didn’t actually happen? They could’ve, right?”
Before I could object, he went on: “Tell me: What is the truth? Truth is subjective, mi amigo. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat. It’s both here – and not here. Forever elusive. The closer we examine it, the more it escapes us.”
“Like a good-looking woman.”
He laughed. “You’re getting warmer. Let’s take the chick. You and I are both scoping her out. She’s a bit chunky, got some meat on her bones, and a great, big, round booty like a ripe peach --” Here, he started giggling really fast, like a record speeded up. Like one of the Chipmunks. It made me squirm.
“Now I might look at that fine round peach bootay and think ‘That mama is fine,’ while you, you’re a white guy, you probably like ‘em all Kate Moss-y, and you’ll look at that same woman and be, like, ‘Next.’ Now, the woman hasn’t changed. She is who she is. But to me she’s a prize, to you she’s a prize heifer and to a third guy, she’s maybe O.K. if it’s last call and he’s pleasantly inebriated. What is the truth of that, my friend?”
“That different men have different tastes in women?”
“Ah, you have no imagination. You’re a ballplayer. No offense, now.”
“All I’m saying is that it’s my life, I was the one playing down in Venezuela being threatened by the gamblers and asked to throw a friggin’ taco race, not a ballgame—”
“Yeah, but some other dudes – or maybe even the same dudes – were throwing games. Like the Black Sox. Los calcetines negros. Who knows what really happened? You say you were there, but were you everywhere there? And then you left there and came here …”
He took a deep gulp of the Corona. “What I – what we’re doing is called ‘creative nonfiction’ or ‘confessional journalism.’ They teach it at colleges.”
“They teach writers to lie?”
“Don’t you get it? That’s what writers do. Besides, our memories are like magicians. They play tricks, juggle reality, saw it in half. Scientists proved it. I mean, don’t you f—king jocks ever read something other than USA Today? …Sorry, dude, that was out of line.”
I waved his concern away.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “Did you go to Catholic school?”
“For a year.”
“That’s it! That’s why you still get hung up on the moral questions. I went for sixteen years, including college, and to Mass every Sunday. You do that and you know by puberty that it’s all a crock, that the world ain’t all black-and-white. It’s a gray, gray world.”
I looked at him, a little worried but still unconvinced.
“Look, dude, who are we hurting if we … embroider what happened down there? The gamblers? Chavez? He’s a f—king dictator, a politician, and the other guys are scumbags who wanted to kill you.”
“I think they did--”
“They threatened to, O.K.?”
“And nobody’s going to find out?”
“Who? Some freelance fact-checker making fifteen an hour on deadline? And so what if those Caracan schmucks deny everything? They’re on trial. Of course they’ll deny. … It’s he said, they said.”
“And if somehow they find out we made s—t up, hell, that could be a publicity coup! Look what happened to Jason Blair, Stephen Glass, that ass who wrote that fake memoir. Frey. And the white bread bitch who said she was a gang-banger. And the older bitch who faked a Holocaust story. I mean, that takes cojones.”
“What happened to them?”
“They got new book deals! Or they're going to.”
I shook my head, realizing how little I knew about the world.
“We’ve got to jump on this before it disappears down the 24-7 news hole,” Rick went on. “Unless we get this out right quick, your story’s going to vanish into the ether. That’s why Warhol said fifteen minutes. He meant it literally. It’s an ADD world, man, where reality is what you just watched on TV until somebody else grabbed the remote and changed the channel.”
He got up and started pacing, then put the reggaeton back on and threw in a little salsa move between paces. Then he suddenly pirouetted and pointed at me.
“Everything is image. Especially if you’re in the public eye. Look at my people. Latinos? We’re supposed to be slow-brained, lazy, shiftless primitives who don’t care for nothin’ but screwing and salsa. Who is the archetypal Latino? The Frito Bandito! Only with a c—k he uses to deflower white maidenhood. Or that idiot on the Gaucho cookie commercials with a s—t-eating grin: ‘Plenty peanut stuff in the meedle.’ Man, my old used to cringe watching that s--t. He wouldn’t even let us buy Fritos, wouldn’t even let them in the house – told my friend Manny he couldn’t come in unless he threw the Fritos in the trash outside.”
“Ever notice that almost every ballplayer with an “attitude” problem is Latino? That’s the image the Caucasian created of us. And why the great Clemente” – and here he turned and pointed to the photo of the Pirate outfielder – "spoke up. He wanted us to be proud of our heritage. ‘Cause they had done that to him, portrayed him as a shiftless Latino, a hypochondriac who faked injuries, a malcontent … I mean, we have to work three times as hard as white people to get to the same place.”
He stopped to pop another pill.
“But Rick, I’m white.”
He stopped and looked at me. “Maybe.” (Maybe?) But you ain’t in the old-boy network. … Have you seen who the Yankees – the New York Yanquis – have been using as backup catchers the last few years? Sal Fasano! No talent, lousy moustache, never out of work. Old boy network. Raul Chavez! Alberto Castillo! Wil Nieves! –”
“But they’re Latino --”
“Yeah, and they couldn’t catch the clap from a Tijuana whore. They’d be more useful as Posada’s bodyguards.”
I was having trouble following Rick’s train of thought.
“Uh, Rick, baseball is still in the black-and-white world. You can’t fake your way in. All the spin in the world isn’t going to help me hit a big-league curveball.”
“No, but it might help you think you can. And that can’t hurt … Man, I am flyin’! I feel I could just take off from that balcony and land in Long Island City!”
He started to stand up but I clamped one of my fat catcher’s arms on his shoulders and sat him back down.
“O.K., you’re right, man. We gotta buckle down. Now tell me what happened between the time the gamblers approached you and when you decided to high-tail it out of Caracas…”
I paused. “Aren’t you going to tape this?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. What are you thinking, Sanabria?!” He turned off the CD and pulled out a microcassette player, fumbled with the buttons and then handed it to me impatiently, like a child frustrated by a game that was too complicated for his age. “Make sure it’s on.” I pressed “Play.”
“Come on, man. Remember: a shot at the Show could be riding on this.”
“O.K.,” I said. “Let’s go. But try not to make it sound so melodramatic … and macho.”
“Melodramatic? Hey, guess what? Your life is boring. Most lives are. Nobody wants to read boring. If people read at all, it’s to escape their own clock-punching, diaper-changing lives. And ‘macho?’” He laughed. “You’re a critic, now? Tell me, are you the first-string book reviewer or the backup?”
“I’m just saying…”
“O.K., but first…” And he grabbed another handful of pills and handed them to me.
“I said I’m not--”
“Toss ‘em. Come on.”
He opened his mouth wide.
“See how many I can catch.”
“Maybe I’m a better catcher than you. Come on.”
And so I sat in Rick’s apartment and like a kid at the boardwalk tried to throw Benzedrine peanuts into Rick’s wide mouth. He caught every one.
“Hey, we’re some team, eh?” he said.
And for the rest of that night, we concocted more of “my story.” From somewhere in the fog hovering over my memory – high school English lit? – a line floated up, something about, “A tale told by an idiot.”