Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game Two - Success and Failure, in Baseball, in Life

It's just baseball, right?  Just a game.  But this time, it got personal.

Game Number One for the Giants, in this Best-of-Five Division Series (you know, if you're keeping score), went swimmingly for the boys from 'Frisco.  They went up by three, early, and then fended off a couple of bases-empty home runs (one a No-Doubter off the bat of the 21-year-old Bryce Harper - and yes, I do have socks older than he is).

Then on Saturday, Game Two was interrupted by our 30th High School Reunion - held at the venerable Minnie's on McHenry Avenue, and even if you didn't grow up in Modesto, you know McHenry if you've ever seen American Graffiti, George Lucas' paean to being a teenager in Modesto in the 1950's.  McHenry is where most of the Car-Action took place.

So Minnie's, and it was a reunion for Karen and for me because we both graduated from Davis High in 1984.  We met at Davis - US History with Mr. Thompson, freshman year - had lockers right next to each other, but didn't start dating until I hit a growth spurt in the summer of '82.  So we knew lots of people, and had the advantage over many of the other couples - because if someone there didn't know Karen from High School, they may have known me.  Doubled our chances right there.

We drank and mingled with lots of people we hadn't seen in 30 years - all while the Giants were playing a hard Nine Innings of ball in our Nation's Capital.

This group? Together from elementary school through high school.

The reunion was good - mostly - but really, 30 years?  How did that happen?

Lots of hellos, how you doing, how many kids?  How old?  What do you do?

Lots of people going up to Karen, telling her how she was the nicest person they ever knew (in all seriousness) and how the heck did she stay so tangled up with me (in some seriousness).

Paul Zoodsma laughing, jokingly rubbing it in that he was Prom King to Karen's Prom Queen.  Karen had been there with me, though, so I had that going for me - which is nice.

And through it all there was that pesky game, against the indomitable Nationals - with both pitchers throwing incredible games.  Unfortunately for the Giants, Jordan Zimmermann for the Nats was throwing a game just a little bit better than the Giants own Tim Hudson - and while Mr. Hudson had only given up one run, in the third inning, one was looking like it was going to be enough.  In the fourth, still 1-0 in favor of the Nationals.  Same in the fifth, sixth and all the way to the ninth.  And in that ninth, first there was one out, and then there were two.

That's a wrap, right?  Considering the way Mr. Zimmerman was tossing the ball.  Except a funny thing happened on the way to a National's victory - Mr. Zimmerman gave up a walk in that ninth inning, and that brought out the manager for the Nationals.  In a move that will be debated for a long time, Mr. Matt Williams removed his pitcher, a man who had been toying with the Giants all night long, and brought in his closer - who promptly gave up a few hits, allowing a run to score.

Suddenly, it was 1-1, and after the completion of the inning, that's where the game stood.  Nine innings in the books, and it was all tied.

At this point, the Reunion was in full swing, and I'm still drinking Maker's on the rocks and Karen is catching up with old friends and I'm getting kissed on the cheek by Paul Zoodsma - which caused me to spill some of that precious Maker's, and then I'm donning oversized sunglasses and a pink, feather boa - just a regular Saturday night in Modesto.

Lots of people are sneaking off to the bar to catch up on the game - the tv's there are blazing.  Other graduates are checking their phones with great regularity.  10th inning?  1-1.  11th?  1-1.  12th?  More of the same.  Lot of baseball, lot of not scoring for both teams.

Then we found ourselves in the lucky 13th, and that's when things got a little personal.

It got personal after I was pulled aside by a classmate from 30 years ago - just a light touch on my arm and a nod to follow her a few steps to the bar where she leans in and wonders out loud if she can ask me a personal question.  Sure, I say, just half listening, wondering if anyone is showing signs of scoring a run - when I talked to my mom after the game, she told me she knew it was going to take a home run to end this contest.

My classmate looks at me, all kind of serious, and she says, Does it bother you being here since you're not successful?

And I do a double-take - but yes, she did just ask that, and before I can answer she says, It's just that in High School you were such a success, you'd been in all those Gifted programs like me, all that stuff you did competing in Speech.  You gave the commencement address at our graduation, so many people liked you - but now...

And she let those words trail off into nothing.

I'm thinking a lot of things - a lot of things come rushing in right then - and I try to answer.  I'm trying to be polite, when what I really want to say is something that the Maker's could easily fuel - but instead I say, Well, I guess that depends on your definition of success.  I guess it would be easy to say that Karen is a success, going with your yardstick, because your yardstick seems to only involve, what?  A high-powered job?  Is that your yardstick?  So yes, then, Karen is very successful - in that way but in lots of others, too.

And I'm starting, now.  Right?  The music's loud - something way past 1984, Guns n Roses - and the whiskey has had plenty of time to settle.

But if that's it for me - then no, I'm not a success.  But I guess I measure things a little bit differently than you.  Or, well, more fully?  First, I'd consider how good a father I am to my kids.  Then I'd consider how good a husband.  How good a son, and brother.  How good a friend.  And in all of those things I could be better, Lord knows I could be better.  But overall?  In those catergories?  Pretty successful.

You know what comes next? and I'm getting a little loud, competing with Axl Rose.  Next is what I do with my words.  With my writing.  I try.  Quite hard.  Not as hard as I should, but sometimes?  I hit that pitch out of the park, and when I do that, I'm happy.  And successful.

My job, though, because I guess you're mainly wondering about my job.  I sell books, but you must know that or else why would you have asked me your question.  Books?  I'm pretty passionate about books.  About ideas being disseminated.  About talking to people about what they like to read, and what I like to recommend.  I feel that bookstores - yes, even my little bookstore in Alameda - I feel that bookstores can be important vital parts of a community.  And that's something that people in our internet age are quick to forget.  But bookstores have done a lot of things to make sure that words remain free - kind of silly to be so dramatic, right?  But there you go.

Am I successful, then?  I don't know.  You'll have to tell me.  What do you think?

And that question, my question, met with a lot of silence - unless you consider the void that John Mellencamp was filling with his tale of Jack and Diane, those two American kids living in the heartland.  So let it rock, right?  Let it roll.

Tell you what, though, I said.  I think I need another drink.  So if you'll excuse me?

And that question met with the same silence so I walked past her and up to the bar where Paul was asking what the hell I was doing without a glass.

Just rectifying that, I said.  And I looked at the bartender and she said, Another Maker's for you?

Indeed, yes.  Another Maker's.

In happier news, the Giants and the Nationals had continued putting up zeroes, until the 18th inning, until the teams had played another complete game after the first complete game they had played.  And in that 18th, Brandon Belt for the Giants did just what my mom said had to happen - he hit a home run, and the Giants went up 2-1, and then held off the Nationals in the bottom of the 18th.

After having played the longest game in postseason history in Major League Baseball at six hours and twenty-three minutes.

A successful night for the Giants?  Well, I guess it depends.  It did take them an awfully long time to win, to go up two games to none on the Nationals.

So - what kind of yardstick do you use?

Really, let me know.  What kind?


  1. LOVE this post! This is exactly the conversation I am on a mission to get more people to talk about. You just opened this conversation up in such an awesome way. Sorry you got asked the question? But then again, am guessing she needed to hear your answer. Our society has an f***ed definition of success that too many people are trying to live by. They are focused on achieving the THINGS--the career, the kids, the spouse, the volunteer role, the car, the house--but they are not focused on how they want all those things to FEEL in their life? There is a HUGE difference between just having a job or career vs actually enjoying it and feeling connected to it. There is a HUGE difference between being married and actually having a happy, healthy, growing, fulfilling relationship with your spouse/partner. There is a HUGE difference between simply having kids vs feeling connected to, engaged with, involved in and enjoying your kids. I could go on... My success measuring stick is more about how I feel about each area of my life and less about what I accomplish or achieve. Ok, got fired up. Now I'll breathe again.

    1. Breathe, yes, breathe. But thanks - you said it better than I did!

  2. It is so funny to read your blog after I had a very interesting encounter with a fellow parent from my daughter's school. She works at In & Out and has for at least the five years I have known of her. Our daughter's have played on the same soccer team and they have been in the same class once or twice before but I only knew her on a very casual level. Somehow we ended up at a large group playdate where I was able to learn a little more about her. Turns out, she too had been in all of the gifted classes, graduated in the top of her high school class, breezed through college but somehow had ended up working at In & Out for the past 15 years. I was so impressed by the way she spoke, her background, her values and her family. She is a success. She is living her life the way she wants to, no matter what others expect from her. Her priority is her family and she has a job that allows her to focus on that. Nick, I honestly don't know you outside of Woodrow & Somerset but I do know a little bit about you from Facebook and maybe have heard things here or there about your family and I can say without a doubt that I think you are successful. You look happy, your wife and kids look happy, you are doing what you love and most of all, you are a kind person. As I grow older that yardstick I use to measure people has changed dramatically and I hope I am judged less harshly as well. I just hope you still enjoyed your reunion. Cheers!

    1. Monica - Woodrow Wildcats have to stick together. I appreciate your words, a lot. If we all could judge less harshly, this world of ours would be such a better place - but that can be difficult, alas! Thanks again.

    2. One of these days I'm going to have to take my husband and daughter into your bookstore. My husband appreciates all bookstores and looks for one almost every trip we make. He is an avid reader and my youngest is following in his footsteps. They would love it.

  3. I guess it was the Makers, but I'm not sure Ryan Zimmerman was pitching?? And wasn't Petaluma a stand in for Tenth street, not McHenry? Just saying.

    1. Alas, dear Anonymous, you are indeed correct - for the first, for sure. In the same way that the Giants have Brandons, the Nationals have Zimmermans, and in my haste I confused the two. It has been corrected! As far as McHenry goes, I had intended to write figuratively, not literally - I didn't mean to imply that if you have seen the movie, you have actually seen Modesto, because, yes, so much was filmed all over the Bay Area. So my intention was to suggest that if you've seen the movie, you can imagine where we were on Saturday night - in a bar looking out on Modesto's main drag. Clearly, I was unsuccessful in my attempt. Please let me know who you are and I can run my words past you before sending them out!

  4. Wow, I have so much to say about this incredibly personal bit of writing you've shared, I'm actually not sure where to begin.

    I guess these things happen at 30 year high school reunions, though I wouldn't really know, since I avoided my very recent one as if it were Ebola.
    I imagine, drinks are had (perhaps many, many) and questions are asked.
    I mean, there are questions and then there are questions! I'm certain the questions have more to do with the person who asks than one who is queried.
    Right? Right.

    Success? What does it all mean?

    The more I pile on the years, the more I see that success is about connection. I'm not talking about "networking" here or "who do you know?" Authentic connection to one's own life and to those near and sometimes far, is that not point to all of it? For lack of a better word...community, and though now trite, passion. This is what makes our lives richer, this feeds our souls. What if it's all about being seen and truly seeing others, allowing oneself to be known by those we love and those who love us? What if what matters most, at the end of days, is being known and loved for our unique, imperfect, selfish, scared, creative, shameful, virtuous and broken, gorgeous selves.

    Oh yeah, and whiskey, good whiskey is good too.
    And books, let's not forget books.
    Though I now spend more time with my mobile than I do with books, at least I'm able to notice that my new giant iPhone is exactly the size of Letter's to a Young Poet, a book that carried me through my college years and beyond. :-) May G-d bless all writers everywhere.

    From what I've read here, it seems, you're fully in and that is the best one can strive for...to be in it, to play ball, to get off the bench.

    Do we measure ourselves by the traditional standards of having the respected well paid career, the "good" marriage, the right house, the happy children, the right sort of figure, the ever-elusive well-reviewed published novel?

    I am a mother to children whom I adore, and who (so far) adore me, and a mostly fulfilling, somewhat respected, job -ok, maybe I have a career (sometimes I'm not sure). Also, I'm lucky enough to have some very dear friends. Friends. Friends are pretty important.

    Shall we measure our success by the survival of our marriages, by how well we parent? Am I unsuccessful because, despite years of effort, my marriage failed and ended, catastrophically, just months prior to my 30th high school reunion -causing me to click the "will not attend" box on the evite?

    Here is the "root of the root"...who knows you? Who really sees you with all your twists and turns -glorious and ugly- and loves you despite or perhaps because of all this? Who do you let in and who does the same for you?

    Thanks for letting us in. Cheers to you. Cheers.

    1. Thank you - very very much - for taking the time to read, and then for taking the time to write. I appreciate your extremely thoughtful response. Friends? Happy kids? That sounds successful to me - and I'm pretty certain Rilke would agree.