Friday, April 27, 2012

Roger in the Sky with Diamonds

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Handjobs. HoJos. Sugarcubes.

That was almost the title of this post. It refers to the most recent episode of Mad Men. If you have never seen the show, but know what LSD is, then you should keep reading. If you wandered over here by accident or got sent here via random google search for "Mormon Underwear" and you have a disdain for mind-altering drugs and Hollywood glorifying binge drinking and infidelity, then you should just get the fuck out of my office right now.


Great. Now, that the room has been cleared of zealots, gimps and interlopers, and the only ones remaining are supposed to be here: acid freaks, curious dilettantes, and hardcore fans of Mad Men.

I don't watch much television with the exception of sporting events, and even then, I'm watching more sports online than ever before. The few non-scripted shows in my diet are nothing more than junk food voyeurism -- rubbernecking (or dare I say, intellectually slumming) in the reality genre. I get sucked into programs focusing on people with serious mental disorders like Hoarders or Intervention. But, I don't watch very many scripted shows and the ones I do, I watch via DVR or find the episode online. In the glorious year of 2012, it's rare that I watch a show during its original airtime. Case in point: Mad Men. Heck, Nicky and I love it so much, we make an effort to watch the East Coast feed three hours earlier.

This season of Mad Men is only six episodes in and the creative team behind the show has already crossed several thresholds I didn't think would happen until next season, or at the least, toward the end of this season. The high-water mark for this season was set this past Sunday in "Far Away Places", and episode which includes the introduction of lysergic acid diethylamide... commonly known as LSD.

You can watch the scene here (hurry up, before the YouTube police take it down)...

* * *

The year in Mad Men's universe is 1966. LSD is still legal, although the government is on the verge of shutting down that portal. Anyone who braved a jump down the rabbit hole after 1967 was committing a crime. For a couple of decades, the government sent its own operatives down the proverbial rabbit hole including members of the military, government agents, and paid volunteers (like author Ken Kesey, who was a human guinea pig for all kinds of psychedelics that the CIA fed him). It's not what they saw that scared the government, rather, it's how people felt after they crawled back up through the rabbit hole and returned to Earth's normal atmosphere. Once you get a little taste of liquid sunshine, it's difficult to listen to all the lies, propaganda, and manipulation perpetrated by the mass media. The government and its overlords, Big Business, do not want an enlightened populous. It's easy to control the masses (and more importantly, to profit off of them) when they are fearful and somewhat dumb.

Roger Sterling becoming the first psychedelic warrior (from the show) has significant meaning. LSD is made illegal by paranoid elites whom fear the drug will weaken their power and prevent them from accumulating wealth. Madison Avenue and the advertising racket reached its pinnacle in the 1950s, led by a one-percenter like Roger, but as they lose control of the masses in the 1960s, they are haunted by fears that their entire old-world paradigm (the "Conform and buy stuff!" mentality of post-war Americana) is threatened by a mere existence of LSD. Just one tiny drop will cause ripples throughout the entire society. Once every teenager and confused twenty-something starts eating acid and succumbs to the empowering drug, they will immediately turn on their friends, and within a few months, an entire generation will wake up and question everything they've seen and experienced up until that point. The old guard wants to profit off of war, while the blossoming generation of flower power seeks to "make love, not war."

This is still 1966. The Summer of Love is less than a year away. Woodstock is less than three years away. LSD is not yet a household name. Only a handful of people know about it and even fewer know how to obtain it (or cook it up yourself).

Sure, there were people were experimenting with LSD on the West Coast, most notably Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who crisscrossed the nation offering to turn on whoever needed a spiritual boost. On the East Coast, LSD was still in the hands of intellectuals. The psychiatric community dabbled with LSD like they would any new wonder drug touted by medical journals. Some shrinks prescribed LSD to patients, especially those struggling with alcoholism. The academic scholars at northeastern universities were interested in LSD as a means to broaden their cosmic horizons. They often dropped LSD to engage in conversations, hoping that they could break on through to the other side of the human mind. That's the fundamental differences between the East Coast and West Coast mentality driving diverse experiments with the new-found drug. The East Coasters took LSD in rigid and academic environments as a way to move back the fences a bit, where as the West Coasters used LSD to blast through walls.

Kesey and the Merry Pranksters treated LSD as a spiritual gift from the gods. Taking LSD was a regarded as religious experience, as much as it was a free-form expression -- you surrendered to the flow and let LSD take you to far-away places, both in this physical realm and the field of collective consciousness, that many of us never knew existed before we take a leap of faith and jump down the rabbit hole.

Eating acid at an Upper East Side cocktail party is not my idea of a fun time. It's probably not the best place for Roger to have his first trip (like say a Rolling Stones concert), but that's how it happened. Who would've thought that Jane, the 20-something-year old the trophy wife of Roger, would lead him down the path toward enlightenment? She told him to clear his schedule so they could take LSD together, as advised by her therapist. Roger wanted to blow it off because it was torturous marriage counseling crap. He failed in an attempt to entice Don Draper to go on road/business trip to the original Howard Johnsons, so he had an excuse to blow off Jane and her snooty friends. Draper thinks the road trip is a great idea, but rejects Roger's offer to ride shotgun, instead taking his new bride with him instead of Roger.

Roger is stuck with his wife, whom he hates and vice versa. Roger is a solipsist and uses his wealth to accumulate whatever he wants including a nice office and a pretty, young bride. Jane, who is younger than Roger's daughter, is someone whom he has nothing in common with. Meanwhile, gold-digging Jane married him for his net worth, and not for his personality, and she's paying for her shallowness by getting stuck with a surly, misogynist drunkard.

During an uncomfortable elevator ride with his wife, she admits, "I should've worn something more comfortable."

She was adorned in gaudy jewelry. Her outfit was something more fit for the opera, not for someone who is about to get thrust out of a mental cannon.

"I don't want to take it alone," she admits. "This will be good for us."

She thinks it will save her marriage because her shrink has been professing the positive attributes of LSD. Roger is just along for the ride because he has nothing else to do aside from getting shitfaced and "yell at the television."

After the dinner party ends, only one other couple is brave enough to try LSD. Jane's shrink (played by the same actress who was the mother in My So-Called Life) also drops LSD with the guests. Her husband, who is also a shrink, acts as the sober guide for the evening. He explains to everyone there's nothing to be afraid about.

"Think of it as a boat trip," he assured Roger.

That explanation must have hit the spot with Roger, who is a sailor at heart, and spent most of his lost youth captaining his father's yacht around New England. During WWII, like all good men, Roger enlisted in the military and served in the navy during the Pacific theatre. To a man who has seen the horrors of war, a minor acid trip won't be very challenging -- unless he has an insane flashback.

Roger has always been the comedic relief of Mad Men. The show's writers fed Roger the best zingers and one-liners. When the LSD is distributed on sugar cubes, Roger shoves one into his mouth, and with the wit of a Catskills comedian, he turns to his wife and says: "You never say I don't take you anywhere."

Probably the most hysterical aspect of the "trip" involved the hand-written note that Roger carries around, just in case he gets lost, like your kid in the second grade on a field trip to the zoo...
My name is Roger Sterling
I have taken LSD
I live at 31 E 66th st #14A, NY, NY
I should get some of my friends on Phish tour to write similar notes. Heck, I should get all my friends to write notes like that when we go to Vegas.

Not one to get off on cerebral conversations, all Roger can muster up to the shrink is... "Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring."

He referred to LSD as a product. Ha, even tripping balls, Roger is still an ad man, something that he's unable to shake when he tries to kill time by thumbing through a copy of LIFE magazine while a Beach Boys song plays in the background. Roger is naturally drawn to the advertisements, because after all, that's his business. But it's in one of those ads, where he confronts one of his biggest fears -- aging. The ad has a guy with half-black and half-white hair. It's symbolic of the struggle between good and bad in the universe. The light and the dark. It also reminds Roger that he needs to embrace being an old, rich fart and to stop trying to be someone who is not him -- the younger, more virulent version of himself.

Roger glances into the mirror and sees an image that half his face and half of Don Draper's face. Draper represents everything Roger is not -- or represents something he once was. Even though Don is one of his best friends, he still has hang-ups over Don's talent as an ad man, Don's handsome looks, Don's drinking prowess, and Don's ability to bed hot chicks.

Just as Roger is about to freak out, the sober shrink gives him a piece of valuable advice.

"Don't look in the mirror."

Always wise, especially on a psychedelic drug with such a hard edge like LSD. Nothing is more horrifying then seeing what you look like when you're tripping balls. That's why LSD is really ideal for being in nature, or dancing all night at a dark concert.

But then again, that's what LSD really is... a way to look into your mental mirror without all the hang-ups of modern society including the bombardment of advertisements and constant reminders of inadequacy.

Roger turns to the bottle to help him adjust to his unusual surroundings. He unscrews a bottle of Stoli and he's greeted by a Russian orchestra. Booze is music for Roger. He's only normal when he's swimming in a symphony of liquor. I was hoping he'd open up other bottles and hear different types of music (like an Irish band for whiskey and a reggae band for rum). When Roger tries to smoke a cigarette, it instantly shrinks. Yes, he's tripping balls.

Although Roger is out of his mind, he's relatively cool with everything. For one, LSD is not meant for weak-minded people. If you have any sort of problems, it's going to be amplified by LSD. Roger had a few hang-ups about youth and finding a place in the world that he sees changing right before his eyes. Roger is a man of the 1940s, yet he tries to cling to those social mores of pre-war America, while refusing to adapt to the modern era of the 1960s. But despite all of his emotional baggage and the fact he's a bitter alcoholic, Roger is someone who is self-aware. He knows who Roger Sterling is and doesn't have to struggle trying to figure that tough part out. Maybe that's the primary reason Roger has a positive acid trip. He doesn't freak out when he sees the truth. It's just that he's used liquor over the last few years to stay drunk so he could cloud the truth.

Meanwhile, the other guests have become wasted cliches in what reminded me of a scene from a David Lynch film... one woman is crawling on all fours lamenting about death and Jane is clutching a yellow rose and crying hysterically yet proclaiming, "This place is so beautiful I don't want to leave."

Ah, this just came to me... I almost forgot about the scene where Roger pulls cash out of his wallet and tries to pay the cabbie, but he sees old Bert Cooper's ugly mug on his money instead of a dead President.

Once Roger and Jane return home, they retreat to the bathtub to ride out the rest of their trip. Jane is clearly still in that terrified stage when she's overwhelmed by... everything. She cowers in one corner of the tub, while Roger continues to just go with the flow. Roger is in the middle of a giggling fit, which is one of my favorite portions during the back-end of a psychedelic journey. Jane is an acid newbie and thinks Roger is laughing at her freaking out.

Nope. Just tripping balls.

Cut to the next scene: the two of them lying in robes on their living room floor and staring at the ceiling. Yep, they are definitely still buzzed, but re-entering Earth's orbit because Jane becomes a little more coherent and begins to ponder the universe.

"How can a few numbers contain all of time?" she says before she changes the subject. "I can feel your lips."

In vino veritas. That's a Latin phrase for "in wine, there is truth." Basically, it's hard to lie when you're drunk. But behind every funny quip, there's a semblance of truth. Roger is the one who often speaks the truth through his one-liners, probably because he's perpetually drunk in the office but it's the booze that allows the truth to bubble to the surface. Otherwise, his lines are useless and nothing more than drunken non sequiturs.

Roger and Jane break up as the truth of their unnatural pairing unravels in front of them. The CIA was originally interested in using LSD as a truth serum. They were convinced the KGB was using it on moles, marks and double agents. The LSD trip gave a Roger a chance to confront the glaring truths in his life that he was ignoring.

Next morning, Jane forgets about their truthful conversation. Jane was so wasted, Roger thought she was speaking German (it was Yiddish). She was out of her tits but totally forgot about that brief instant of common truth... when they agreed on an amicable split. When reality sets in, she realizes what a divorce really entails -- giving up the material comforts of being uber-wealthy. Roger, on the other hand, is completely relieved. He wants to live life without excess baggage. We shall see of his first acid trip has a profound effect on his life on future episodes.

Later that morning at the office, when Roger has a chance to tell everyone his marriage is over, he blurts out: "It's going to be a beautiful day!"

Ah, behold the powers of liquid sunshine.

* * *

Nicky and I had a conversation about LSD around the first episode of this season of Mad Men. She was convinced Peggy was going to be the first character to experiment with acid, but probably not until 1967, or the next season. The current season is set in 1966, at a time in America when marijuana is occurring more and more prevalent in the lives of the characters on the show -- joints are appearing more frequently at parties, back stage at a Rolling Stones concert, and even inside random movie theatres -- a locale where Peggy Olson got stoned to the gourd and then jacked off the guy who gave her the joint.

Grass is something synonymous with the 60s. Mad Men is synonymous with hardcore drinking... during work hours. As the nation becomes engulfed in counterculture toward the latter part of the decade, people unwind differently. It's not just booze and cigarettes anymore. The floodgates opened and people began to dabble, experiment, and numb themselves with street drugs and pharmaceutical drugs. A couple of episodes ago, one character, Henry Francis' overbearing mother Pauline (with shades of Tony Soprano's batshit crazy mother coupled with the menacing reptile-like vibe of Hillary Clinton) began pushing pills on both Betty and Sally.

When the once-desirable Betty Draper got re-married and sloth bogged her down, she blossomed into Fat Betty Francis -- a despondent housewife sitting on her ass, chomping down bonbons and eating ice cream sundaes. Her evil mother-in-law (the personification of the manipulative pharmaceutical industry) told her to see a doctor in order to get prescribed diet pills which will help her shed her excess blubber.

Then there's the now infamous scene when the evil step-Grandma Pauline gave a distressed Sally a Secanol so she could fall asleep. Shit, Seconal is some heavy stuff... especially for an 10-year old girl. Junkie jazz musicians regularly popped Seconals when they couldn't score heroin.

We knew LSD was coming. But how would it be introduced? Was Peggy going to be the first one to dose via her radical hippie boyfriend? Was Harry going to stumble upon an acid test during a business trip to Hollywood? Was Don going to get dragged to a Kool-aid party in the Village with Megan and her bohemian friends? Was Ken going to score some LSD through his nom-de-plume Dave Algonquin? Was someone going to dose Pete Campbell and he'd strip naked, and run down Madison Avenue crying about how he doesn't have any friends?

"Which one of you stinkin' hippies has a sugarcube?"

Peggy. She's represents the youthful exuberance of the 1960s. How could you not think Peggy was the favorite to trip first? That's why I was shocked when Roger Sterling of all people was the first character to take a plunge off the high dive into the psychedelic waters.

Anyway, after crunching some numbers, I devised odds who will be the next character to eat acid...
Odds for Next LSD Trip on Mad Men:
Peggy Olson 1/2
Roger Sterling EVEN
Megan Draper 2/1
Ken Cosgrove 9/2
Pete Campbell 5/1 **
Harry Crane 6/1
Stan Rizzo 7/1
Don Draper 10/1
Bert Cooper 15/1
Lane Pryce 25/1
Duck Philips 30/1
Fat Betty Francis 40/1
Ginsberg 50/1
Sally Draper 60/1
Evil Grandmother Pauline 80/1
Joan Holloway 100/1
Dawn 100/1
Bobby Draper 500/1
Old Man Ginsberg 750/1
Baby Gene 1000/1

** If/when Pete takes LSD, he will be dosed.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Accidental Coach

The Bronx. Early 1980s.

If my flashbacks were directed by Marty Scorsese, the Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue or She's So Cold would be playing as the accompanying soundtrack in the background.

I was ten-years old when I played second base for the Tigers in the Riverdale Baseball League. My father became the coach literally by a freak accident. He signed up as an assistant coach, specifically, the third base coach, but all of that changed when the original manager, Mr. Rifkind, sneezed while walking down a small flight of stairs, slipped and had a nasty fall. Rifkind, who owned a successful litigation firm in Midtown, threw out his back and needed emergency surgery. While Rifkind was resting with a bad back and jacked up on painkillers, my father got the nod as the manager.

Today, the the last thing I'd want to do is wake up early on Saturday, drive to a park, and throw batting practice to a baker's dozen of screaming kids while hungover to all hell. Sure, I enjoy Joe Speaker's fantastic posts about watching his son play little league, but there's a tinge of acknowledged sadness that I'll miss out on cherished moments like little league because I don't want kids. Let's be honest, I'm way too irresponsible and self-indulgent to give up my Saturday mornings for anyone, let alone a bunch of rug rats that are not of my own brood. I doubt I could get away with a coaching a full season without exposing my staggering marijuana addiction. Well, maybe in the Bay Area, but nowhere else in America.

I could only imagine the angst my father went through the moment he received the dreaded call from Rifkind that due to unforeseen circumstance, he was promoted to manager of the Tigers. My old man enjoyed sports and wanted to be involved with my little league, but he usually was the type of guy who sought out the least amount responsibility as possible. He was looking for a simple Saturday morning: watch his oldest son play ball and direct my teammates rounding third base with his only tough decision whether or not to send the runner home or to hold him up at third (it was actually an easy decision to make because my father was a gambler and aggressive third base coach who always emphatically waved the runner home), and all of this happening while he nursed a wicked hangover and causally scanned the crowd, allowing his gaze to linger toward the bevy of MILFs who congregated in Seton Park.

My father inherited the equipment bag and scorebook, which were two perks of being the manager that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. The large green bag, which looked just like my father's worn-down duffel bag from the Marines, included a couple of dinged-up Easton aluminum bats, a donut weight, mud-stained practice balls, stinky batting helmets, umpire clicker (ball & strikes indicator), a first aid kit, a mimeographed copy of the Riverdale Baseball League's Standard Operating Procedures, and catcher's equipment (a glove, mask, chest protector, and knee pads -- which my seven-year old brother and I took turns wearing around the apartment).

Having unfettered access to the scorebook was both good and bad. I was able to carefully track everyone on the batting average and ERA for everyone on our team (and the opponents' overall average and ERA too), but that also made me horribly self-conscious later on in the season when my batting average became a source of friction between the manager (my father) and a few disgruntled parents.

Along with the equipment bag, my father inherited the headache of juggling the precocious egos of a dozen parents. I grew up in an Irish and Jewish neighborhood, but I was one of two Catholics on a team of all Jewish kids. Most of the parents were pretty relaxed with the exception of three or four brash parents. They would not leave my father alone and constantly phoned him at home, which infuriated my crazy mother. If she'd been hitting the sauce hard that night, she might launch into a tirade, so my father made sure he answered the phone first.

My father (if you're a fan of Mad Men, then just think of Roger Sterling, but in a much cheaper suit) had a much slicker and softer approach. I couldn't tell if he was a genius, or if he just an aloof alkie who didn't give a fuck. He barely spoke during conversations with other parents, instead he let them rant and rave while he stood in the kitchen, holding the phone receiver in one hand and sipping a bottle of beer in the other. He never let the conversation last longer than a second beer, because that would incite an anti-Semitic diatribe from my mother.

"Are those damn Jews giving you shit again?" she'd scream. "Instead of whining to you, they should be showing their kid how to hit the fucking ball instead of striking out all the time!"

My father got chewed out by pissed-off parents trying to re-live their lost youths through passive-aggressive phone calls. The worst offenders were vain parents who bitched about their kid's name not appearing in the weekly little league write up in the Riverdale Press (another responsibility my father inherited from Rifkind, which he saw as an utter a chore).

At the end of every heated (albeit one-sided) conversation, my father would say, "Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I will take your concerns into consideration. Good night."

Talk about smooth. Like Bill Clinton, sleazy politician fucking smooth. His usage of "your concerns" was a slithery back-handed barb and a sinister way of mocking their spoiled brats. My old man had a greater knowledge of baseball than our original manager, Rifkind. Let's not forget, he didn't want the burden of being the head coach because he was kinda lazy and it infringed upon his drinking -- an activity he did the moment he got off work until he went to bed (Monday thru Thursdays) and nonstop from Friday at 5pm until he passed out Sunday night sometime after 60 Minutes. He shoveled around shit with the other suits and was exhausted after running the rat race in Manhattan, so he definitely wasn't going to let a bunch of ornery parents give him guff. None of them volunteered their day off to dispatch fielding tips to kids with short attention spans, so they should have shown him more respect. If he had to endure unwanted phone calls from cantankerous parents during prime drinking hours, then he's sure as hell going to fill out the batting order the best way he saw fit.

I got along with everyone on my team, but some of the parents (particularly Dr. Levine, a nebbish dentist) didn't like my father as the head coach. For one, my old man didn't hang out in their snooty social circle and they looked down on him for spending a lot of time knocking back beers with the proletariat -- off-duty cops and firemen -- at a dive bar around the corner called the Leprechaun. My father did not give a rat's ass about the local pecking order and silly politics that rued pretentious enclaves of Riverdale. He assembled a competitive lineup, making sure everyone got to play. He was always fair, aside from occasionally pitching me during garbage time. But he wasn't getting paid to eat shit from affluent assholes, so he ignored them and made sure all the kids were having a fun time.

I was one of three kids on my team who did not attend P.S. 24 across the street from Seton Park: me, Jimmy Donnelly, and Ira Greenberg (the super-Jewish kid who wore a yarmulke underneath his ball cap). Ira went to special Hebrew academy and played less than half of the season because games were scheduled on Wednesday and Saturdays, yet his parents were very religious and would not allow him to play on the Sabbath. Poor Ira never got to "roll" on shabbas.

Jimmy Donnelly and I went to the same Catholic school two blocks from my apartment. Only a couple of kids from my grade played little league, so it was pretty cool that Jimmy Donnelly and I were drafted by the same team... the Tigers.

Every kid wanted to get drafted by the Yankees because we lived in the Bronx and practically grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium (albeit two miles away). Plus, the Yankees were sponsored by Angelo's, the most popular Italian restaurant in the neighborhood that took up two huge storefronts. Angelo's was half-pizzeria, half-fancy restaurant with gigantic lobster tanks illuminated by trippy lights and fancy mints in a silver bowl at the register. The owner, Angelo Tattaglia, looked like Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos and lived in one of the biggest houses at the end of my block. Ummm, yeah, Angelo was mobbed up and every kid, even the Jewish kids, wanted to play for the wiseguys because if you were drafted by the Yankees, it was like becoming a made man at ten years old. The perks of wearing the pinstripes included free pizza and all the soda you can drink after every game, plus if you came into Angelo's during the week with your parents, they took care of you with one of the best booths and you got free dessert (fucking spumoni!). A couple of years later, my brother would get drafted by the Yankees and I finally got to see what it was like to sample the good life.

The sponsor of the Tigers was Rainbow Blush, a high-end fashion clothing store for yuppie kids. The owner of the boutique was a closeted gay older man, but he was just a small business owner trying to fit in by sponsoring a local sports team. After a few cocktails, Jimmy Donnelly's dad always made off-color jokes about our "queer" sponsor and how we we're lucky our uniforms were black and white instead of pink.

Jimmy Donnelly's sister, Colleen, was two years older and also went to Catholic school with us. She played the flute. No bullshit. I developed a crush on her after she played an enthralling solo during an assembly of Christmas carols. Since that moment I saw her onstage, I couldn't stop thinking about her pretty blonde hair cascading down the side of her face. One of my first exploratory jack-off sessions involved her in some twisted fantasy.

Jimmy's dad, Mr. Donnelly, looked like an older version of David Caruso including a ridiculous hair piece. He was one of my dad's drinking buddies and they were usually knocking back cold ones at the Leprechaun. When my dad was named the manager, he upset a lot of parents when he made a controversial decision to add Mr. Donnelly as the Tigers' new third base coach instead of Dr. Levine, who lobbied heavily for the position. Mr. Donnelly was an even bigger lush than my father. He brought his own mini-bar to the park: a Styrofoam cooler filled with ice, a mixing cup, and an oblong bottle of Chivas Regal.

The coaches wore just a jersey top and a hat. Mr. Donnelly didn't get a jersey, but he wore a Tigers hat atop his ghastly rug and coached in his usual Saturday ensemble: a forest green short-sleeve leisure suit, white loafers, and sunglasses. No, he wasn't a hipster. Don't forget, this was 1982.

I also have a vague memory of a period of time when Mr. Donnelly wore a scarf, like Fred from Scooby Doo.

Mr. Donnelly used a swizzle stick with a shamrock on the end of it (which he lifted from the Leprechaun) to mix cocktails in between innings. Stiff ones. One every half inning. My old man didn't drink the hard stuff early in the morning. To his credit, despite the stress and pressure, he didn't take a sip of booze during the games, although he was definitely chugging a beer the moment the game ended and had cracked open his second one before we could finish the "2-4-6-8, who do we appreciate" cheer.

After the games, my father and Mr. Donnelly retreated to the Leprechaun, while Jimmy and I hung out at the pizza place next door, a rival to Angelo's. We ate slices and slurped Italian ices, then played a Star Wars pinball machine, occasionally darting into the bar to ask our dads for more quarters. My father was supposed to write a column about the week's games for the Riverdale Press. Always the angle shooter, he devised a clever system in which the winning coach of the other games phoned in their three sentence recap to him at the Leprechaun while he was sitting at the end of the bar, scribbling everything down on a yellow legal pad. When he was too sloshed to tidy up his rough draft, he handed the pad to me and Jimmy, and we'd finish the report then go back to my apartment and type it up on an ancient Underwood typewriter. That's was my first taste of being a published author -- ten-years old and ghostwriting a dinky sports column for my shitfaced father. Of course, Jimmy and I made sure we both were mentioned in the Tigers' recap -- Jimmy for his speed on the bases, and me for my deft fielding skills at second base.

I pitched during blowouts because my dad was the manager. Sure, I wanted to pitch. Every kid wanted to pitch. But I was wild and inconsistent, which is why I only got mop up duty.

Jimmy Donnelly's sister never came to the games because her mother took her down to Lincoln Center for flute practice on Saturday mornings. For some reason, her practice was cancelled on the same day we were scheduled to play the Yankees. She came down to Seton Park to watch our game and I was totally pumped because I had a chance to look awesome in front of her. Then again, I was nervous because the Yankees were undefeated and the toughest team in the league. Even though we were tied for second, the Yankees had the best pitcher in the league and a lineup without any soft spots.

I don't recall how I specifically did at the plate, but I drove in two runs with a double early in the game to tie the score at 2-2. The Yankees pulled away and we struggled to score runs. Down 13-2 in the last inning (these were the days before the pussification of America and little leagues installed a "mercy rule" in order to prevent kids from developing low self-esteem), my father decided to put me in as the pitcher. That was the only time I didn't want to pitch all season because I didn't want to look bad in front of Jimmy Donnelly's sister. The Yankees were gonna knock my meatball pitches into the Hudson River.

I was content with my performance up until that point; I stood out as the RBI man on a mediocre squad of Jewish kids, coached by a pair of simpatico drunkards who stumbled right off the pages of a James Joyce novel. But taking the mound was like sending a lamb to the slaughter. On any other day, I'd gladly take my lumps, but that instance, I nearly begged my father to not put me in.

"I think my arm hurts," I said, feigning a bum shoulder.

"Quit farting around and warm up," my father barked like a drill sergeant.

I got knocked around by the menacing Yankees line up. I threw harder than I ever threw before, yet they were teeing off on my pitches. I lost all confidence and couldn't find the plate. I walked a few batters and the game spiraled out of control. It was ugly.

I walked home a run with the bases loaded. My father asked the umpire for a time out. He and Mr. Donnelly trudged out to the mound. I was embarrassed and hoped my father was going to take me out. He didn't let me speak and succinctly said, "You're finishing the game, so throw strikes."

So much for him taking my concerns into consideration. Bastard. He left me hanging out to twist in the wind while the love of my life, Jimmy Donnelly's sister Colleen, watched me get humiliated by the fucking Yankees. I turned to Mr. Donnelly, hoping he'd come to his nepotistic senses and talk my father into putting in Jimmy, but instead, Mr. Donnelly pulled a pack of Juicy Fruit out of his leisure suit pocket. His breath reeked of liquor and his solution to all problems involving pitching mechanics was Juicy Fruit.

"Here, kiddo. Have some gum. Actually... take two."

I shoved two pieces of gum into my mouth. Mr. Donnelly and my father returned the dugout, where Mr. Donnelly pulled out his shamrock swizzle stick and promptly mixed himself a fresh cocktail.