Idon’t need to tell you Friends, fans, and followers, signs of finality are everywhere. The haze of darkness arrives earlier than you expect each night. The air in the morning has a chill in it. The leaves in the branches above your head cling to life while their thin membranes turn to dust, and the diamond at the south west corner of Vancouver’s Strathcona Park sits silent. It’s time to say farewell.
The East Van Baseball League saw their last game of the season play out. A 16 to 2 defeat of the Railtown Spikers at the end of a weekend long tournament of post season playoff games that produced the league’s first champions: the Mount Pleasant Murder. The Murder turned in an impressive record all season long and counted only two losses during the league’s inaugural regular season.
After the dust settled, everyone went up to the league’s hot dog provider, What’s Up Hot Dog? to celebrate. Suddenly it was the off season friends, fans, and followers; a time when there’s little use for Roy Madison. I took one last look at the green lawn of Strathcona Park darkening in the setting sun, and hired a car back to the hotel to pack up whatever belongings I had worth keeping. I went downstairs, ordered a final round in Sylvia’s Bar, and said so long to everyone there that made my stay so pleasant and welcoming. Then I high tailed it to the airport and got the hell out of town.
That was some time ago. I’m back in California now. Tina is nude and just out of the bath behind the sliding glass doors of my small patio here at the Highland Gardens Hotel. We’re going to Musso’s for dinner to celebrate my return, and I have just enough time to file this final East Van Baseball report from where I can see the teal-blue void of the pool that started this whole business in the first place, glowing into the night sky above. It feels good to be back, I’m a lucky fella to have managed to keep a setup like this intact. Tina runs the Gardens, and kept my room ambiguously occupied and unavailable while I was in Canada. Now I have to occupy her evenings every Tuesday for the foreseeable future.
Some might call me a goddamned prostitute, but for chrissakes what do you expect friends, fans, and followers? A sportswriter doesn’t make much of a living without a steady beat, and I haven’t had one in years. Hell, it was probably in Tina’s best interest to have me off the premises anyway. My crisis in front of the other guests at the Gardens seated around the pool on the day I decided to fall into it without a plan to return to the surface, likely brought plenty of questions Tina didn’t have answers for. Oliver helped out a bit too, by playing the part of a paying guest while I was gone, making it easier for Tina to keep my room out of the hands of holidayers until I was ready to come back.
Don’t go thinking Oliver is some kind of saint though, friends, fans, and followers. He was holed up in my place long before this whole East Van thing got started, and was likely ecstatic at the prospect of having the Madison suite to himself. Oliver and his wife Alice have been on rocks since I don’t know when, so he’s up in my corned beef sandwich on a regular basis. I can always tell a stint at my place is in Oliver’s forecast. He’ll come over for cards, something he rarely does — he says he can’t stand all the smoke — then he’ll stay late to clean up and never leave. All spring he was on my pull-out sofa, and we were bickering with each other night and day. Thank the lord above that he cleared out about a week ago so I didn’t have to put up with him when I got back from Vancouver.
Want to know why? Because Alice missed his cooking! For chrissakes friends, fans, and followers, can you imagine? His cooking! Hell, I can’t figure it out. I thought his cooking was a pain in the neck! The constant worrying over cooking times, the non-stop berating for a critique of his efforts, asking how it tasted, if there was too much salt, if there was something he should have done differently, then professing that there wasn’t enough turmeric, and finally that it was completely ruined. And I hadn’t even had bite yet.
When I got in from Vancouver, Oliver was gone, but his presence still greeted with me a tidal wave of cleanliness. He had sprayed the living bejesus out of the place with Lysol and it just about knocked me over. But that’s not all friends, fans, and followers. Oliver left one of his goddamned soufflés in the fridge with a note under it.
Not a word about how to cook the thing, so I threw that damn soufflé in the trash and ordered a bucket of chicken.
Oliver and Tina weren’t the only ones to miss me while I was gone. The fellas I have over on Wednesday’s weren’t too pleased to show up at the Madison suite to find Oliver in an apron, about to put a lasagne in the oven and forgo cards for charades! And Manny, my bartender at Musso’s thought I might be in some sort of distress when I didn’t show up for my usual. Tina said Manny actually came all the way up Hollywood Boulevard before dinner service one night to check up on me. Helluva guy. I’m telling you, I don’t need a doctor or a dame, just a bartender to sit in front of.
Now that I’m back, I realize Vancouver had a good effect on me. In the spring, when I didn’t have an inkling of where Vancouver was, another season of Major League Baseball was set to open and I could care less. Actually, come to think of it friends, fans, and followers, I didn’t have much interest in anything. I had no desire to take part in life’s greatest pleasures: not writing, not swimming, not eating, not smoking, christ not even drinking. Ok, I was still drinking, but I sure as hell wasn’t writing.
I was flat out on a lounger in my housecoat by the pool one morning in March under a haze of dilaudid, tomato juice and beer when I heard some kid floating on a yellow donut out on the water, talking with some actors about how he was from Canada and was set to play baseball for a new sandlot league in Vancouver. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but some days later, when I was waiting to run out of air on the floor of the pool’s deep end, I got the idea to come back to the surface and go to Vancouver to check it out.
I was in attendance for the first exhibition game of the season that spring, but didn’t leave the front seat of my car parked outside Strathcona Park. I guess I just wanted to see if what that fella was talking about in Hollywood was real, because there isn’t a goddamned ounce of truth in that town. But when I saw that group of guys and gals, just playing ball out there, in a roughed up park, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, the mixture of familiarity and foreignness roused an interest in me that said: get out of the bloody car Madison! But it was too soon friends, fans, and followers. I had to take my time. My return to regular coverage had to be taken slowly, seriously, methodically. At that point, all I needed to hear was the tell tale hiss and pop from a ball hitting leather, and hell, I got it.
The next game, I left my car to sit on the grass, but still maintained a safe distance from the diamond and stands so as not to create any interest in my presence. It was still damp, and that goddamned, cold, wet, Canadian lawn put two big wet circles on the ass of my slacks. I snuck out of there somewhere in the fourth inning with my tail between my legs. I certainly wasn’t going to introduce myself in that state. Back in my room at the Sylvia Hotel, with my pants hanging in the window, drying in the breeze of English Bay, I filed my first East Van Baseball report to make it official, by simply stating: this was my beat.
Every time I returned to a East Van Baseball game, I moved a little closer. The fans in the bleachers, the cheers, the scent of the open air, the crack of tin cans being pulled open, the dust and dirt getting kicked up from wild plays around the bases in those early months when players were getting the tightness of winter off their throwing arms and catching hands, everything just felt fresh and full of promise. Finally one morning, as if possessed by the vast turf of Strathcona Park itself, I walked up to a few of the Black Sox to introduce myself like any other good citizen of the free world and said, “Fellas. I’m your writer, Roy Madison.” And that’s how it all got started.
Even though my coverage of East Van Baseball competed with the unexpected hypnosis of ocean surf that held me transfixed in my beach-facing room at the Sylvia Hotel, forcing me to report on games from my dining room table instead of an East Van ballpark, the league appreciated whatever words I managed to put together. All season long, players, friends, fans, and followers came up to me, shook my hand, thanked me for the stories I told, the games I managed to attend, and welcomed me into the community of what’s only getting started up there in Vancouver. I don’t think those kids knew just what the hell I was, where I had come from, or what I was doing, but by the time the season ended I was handed a microphone for the championship tournament.
In the final days of August, when East Van Baseball’s first playoffs were set to begin, Strathcona never looked better. The fields were kept green and lovely by the grounds crew ladies, the washrooms were open, the bbq was on and sizzling with weiner, the spa bus — painted red, and parked just behind the field — was hot, and hell even the goddamned sun decided to come out, making it one of the warmest weekends all summer long.
When I sat down in the official Roy Madison broadcast booth and asserted myself with a clearing of the throat, a flood of memories came through the worn out grass beneath my feet, up to my ankles, through my legs, across my heart and down to my left hand holding the mic. In that split second of amplified silence before I spoke, I heard a child’s cry crossfade into the sound of hard soled shoes on a sidewalk, the thunder of the 7 train pulling into Grand Central on its way to Shea Stadium, felt the warmth of a good meal cooked by someone that once loved me. I smelled exhaust in the autumn air from the car I bought new with the spoils of a good year at the Daily News, and pictured the fat little fingers of fellas I saw every day in the press box plucking away at a keyboard, jawing on about the sight of some sweet dame in the stands. Like a current of nostalgia that ran through the park all around us, it gave me a shock, and electrified my voice with the grandfatherly tone of knowledge I needed to profess to the fans in attendance that Friday evening — “Friends, fans, and followers, it’s time for East Van Baseball!”
And just like that, I had made a return to broadcasting, but christ was I rusty. Thankfully I had a crew of great fellas to help me out. Some fella from the Mount Pleasant Murder, named Rob, kept me on the course of balls and strikes. And Andrew, my color man and sound technician knew all the players, because hell I didn’t know who was at plate half the time. They were just swell friends, fans and followers, and obviously enamored at the chance to work with a self-proclaimed legend! I could see a glint of wonder in their eyes, as I stumbled my way through inning after inning to the annoyance of the umpires, and some of the players that weren’t much impressed with the idea of hearing their motions translated into my brand of poetic play-by-play.
I’m sure those fellas with me in the box thought they might want to get into the press box game one day, so I did my best to make the life of a sportswriter sound terrible. Because it is friends, fans, and followers! I warned those two that every meal would be lunch — an endless cavalcade of plastic wrapped sandwiches, chased with concealed beer in a paper cup. Every town would start to look the same, and the highway at night would start to speak to them through painted streaking signals of light, so that by the time they stepped up to a microphone they would talk in an alien language few people could understand. Home would be a filthy hotel room, an ice machine down the hall their fridge, a vending machine their pantry, an adult movie their lover, and if they happened to check into a joint with a pool in the parking lot… Aw hell, who am I kidding? Sportswriting is great! My life is a good one, it just took a summer in Vancouver to admit it.
Well, Tina’s turned off her hair dryer. That means she’s just about ready for dinner, and any second now she’ll be stepping onto the patio to complain that I’m still in my underwear. I don’t know why I thought Hollywood was ever so bad in the first place. A writer can only spend so much time courting modesty. Eventually I had to give in and accept that what I have is exceptional: solitude, sun, a swimming pool, sex on Tuesdays, a steady card game every Wednesday, and the desire to spin a yarn to anyone that will listen. I’m a sportswriter. I’m the guy that tells people what’s really going on in that split second between a ball leaving the sweat-glistened hand of a pitcher on its way to the dry wood of a bat — redemption! Friends, fans, and followers, redemption.
But that’s a story best left for another season, because this one has long since finished. The end is good. The constraints of finality are needed. “The last,” defines things, and gives them meaning and purpose. I’m sure you thought Roy Madison was just going to go on forever, didn’t you friends, fans, and followers? A thank you is in order if you made it this far into my endless goodbye, but the only story I have left is for Walter, my usual waiter at Musso’s. It starts like this: a martini and shrimp louie salad in one of Musso’s luscious booths, followed by a rib eye steak, baked potato, and bottle of wine that Walter suggests by just bringing it to the table. The climax is dessert, with a tawny port, and several healthy doses of tobacco appear throughout the whole thing. It ends with a late night swim under palm trees that blot the darkness of the sky with their even darker, ink black crowns.
Oh hell, friends, fans, and followers, I’ll be back — or maybe I won’t. I don’t know. That’s the thing, nobody can tell if the air entering their lungs is their last breath or not. Life will always be without a natural, convincing closure. So I’ll just stop.