What possessed me to bury the hatchet and not hatchet the Barry, I likely shall never make clear to myself, although the strange concurrence of Pearl Harbor Day (when we would commemorate his father playing basketball at the Honolulu YMCA during the attack before being assigned to identify body parts) during Hanukah had moved me deeply. Nonetheless, with the twin proscriptions of Codell never again re-entering the California Home, and my own disallowance of leaving the overly renovated joint but for a one-block radius, the only venue for our armistice was Tel Aviv, the Restaurant Not the City, for Barry Codell (I can reassure one and all) may never go to Israel, per stipulations of both his harem and his herem!
While B.C. extolled the dubious dietary merits of his mayonnaise-laden half a tuna sandwich on pita as he chastised my chosen “Looney Tuna” (the house special of tuna, cheese and God knows piled high upon itself), I quietly and earnestly realized our devoured fish had not died in vain, for we were truly talking again, one of us with his mouth full. Still, I wished we were dining at my favorite hole: Flukey’s hot dog stand on Western, which even without Sharia law yet ruling us, is being turned into a mosque!
Rabid boxing boy that he has always been (“Beyond baseball,” he lies, or as Kant might say, “lies prepared”), Mr. A.D. (Activity Director in the sense of Hume, described by Samuel Todes: “Indeed, Hume finds that the experience of activity makes his philosophy seem ridiculous, even to himself”) was soon, without being asked, graciously informing me of the remaining 2010 (“5771,” I corrected him) fight schedule, culminating in the Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins December 18 World Boxing Council Light Heavyweight Championship bout.
Mere mention of Pascal-Hopkins was the million-to-one shot of the day. “Are you talking about Saturday night December 18 after the Havdalah blessing?” I asked with an innocence impossible to surpass. “Of course,” Barry warily replied, “They switched it from Pay Per View to Showtime, Abraham--you can watch it at the Home, I hear they’re cable-ready now!”
I was far less than excited as he continued to continue. “Hopkins can become the oldest fighter ever to win a title. Remember when we watched George Foreman back in 1994 knock out Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight crown? Big George was the oldest champ until now. Well, if Hopkins wins, he’ll be older, although actually George is older now than Hopkins, if you know what I mean,” the great gerontologist babbled. “It’ll be great, we’ll talk about the fight like in the old days when I was in charge there. I’m rooting for the Frenchman, Pascal.” (Actually, I’m rooting for both of the Hopkins--the brutal Bernard and the gentle Gerard--to win their respectful, respective fights.)
I gave him the icy. No one, especially Barry Codell, is a quicker thinker than I. “Well, you’re not in charge now,” I reminded him. “It just so happens that I have a championship book fight scheduled that very Havdalah, and it also just so happens to be between your Gerard Manley Hopkins hardcover Selected Poems and Blaise Pascal’s Pensees.” (Barry had that well known look of a man who had left too many books behind after he had been summarily and justifiably dismissed from a managerial position.) “Yes, what a coincidence.” I smiled warmly, heatedly. “I’ll be busy. I can’t watch your little fight, I’ve got a better one of my very own!”
It all got the usual rise out of him. “Those are still my books!” he cried. “Is it the Dover or the Penguin Pascal?”
(I saved the Dover for myself, the big gorgeous one. I love beautiful books even more than I love beautiful girls, although come to think of it, I do like those lady boxers!)
“I don’t know what Dover edition you’re talking about. And the Penguin is already torn to shreds. It’s the cheap Pocketbooks Pascal. Hopkins will kill him,” I yelled. “He’ll destroy that Pascal, that dirty anti-Semite!”
Moishe, the short, long-time proprietor of the place, warned us to quiet down for the sake of the other customers, who numbered zero at best. I guess he had forgotten when, ten years before, he had permanently banished us (when Tel Aviv was teeming) for a screaming difference of opinion that makes, as my unmanly Manley might say, “my body bloodly boil” to this very day: Barry Codell telling me that he agreed with Talmudic commentators who would say that the post-career Jewish convert Joel Horlen’s 1967 Summer of Love No-Hitter was a Jewish feat, as if Gerim could be Kohanim! I disagree loudly every day with both his premise and his process. It’s like asking the Baseball Writers Association to answer the (for him!) controversial question about the Jewishness of our Father Abraham, which he made much too personal in his restaurant rant.
We’ll just see who wins Saturday night, Hopkins or Pascal, Codell or me, once and for all, for all the marvels! (Breaking heartbreaking news as I went to press: all my Codell books are gone. It was an inside job. Somehow Barry must still have a friend in the California Home! So, evidently all these theses are in full flaw, Deconcentration now the new law, Being nothing biting, without fighting! And, worse, no more book fights--Hopkins-Pascal called a draw! The most spectacular of accomplishments by the most boring of fighters utterly ruined.)
Speaking of 1994, that, of course, was the year my friend, my ageless and bitter mentor Shalom Goodwill Aloha came to the California Home at the age of 94, full of piss if not vinegar, yet fuller of stories of all the greats and, most importantly to him, the not-greats. So proud that he was born in the year 1900, the year his beloved White Sox had the best record in baseball while banned from the record books, Shalom’s South Side allegiance caused him to reject his lineage from “my bastard father” Albert Goodwill Spalding, otherwise known as the revered father of the cross-town Cubs.
According to his records, as a young man Shalom served in France during World War I. He would be particularly aghast at the publicity Frank Buckles recently received as the last living soldier from what Shalom called “The War That Ended No Wars.” He often saw Buckles as his main competition for the “last man standing” title. He said, “Frank was just a driver, I was the one fighting in World War I. I just don’t talk about it. It cheapens the experience. I’ll wait until I’m the last one standing. Then everyone will know.” With Buckles 110th birthday on the national horizon, Shalom’s death at 107 was, I’m sure, his biggest disappointment. I’ll never forget him. I recall every conversation verbatim!
Shalom’s biggest thrill? Meeting, after the War, the one and only Babe Ruth at McCuddy’s Bar across Comiskey Park. (Comiskey was the only place, not Wrigley, that Baseball Cathedral, or as he loved quoting Lee Elia, “that fucking place for all the motherfuckers to go to!”) Working as a clubhouse mascot at South Side Park made him comfortable, even ornery, with ballplayers at a very young age. But he remembered Ruth as “a different sort of animal,” leaving him not only speechless but soon serving Ruth’s most secret of cravings.
By 1923 (the year Yankee Stadium , The House That Ruth Built, opened) Shalom was doing the Babe’s bidding regularly, whenever the Yankees were in town. His job was to run to McCuddy’s between the third and fourth innings, repeating the routine between the seventh and eighth, to bring Ruth a beer and two hot dogs. Shalom was sent by Yankee management after Miller Huggins, Yankee Manager, ran the riot act when Ruth would go himself between innings. Shalom remembered, “That McCuddy, that dirty anti-Semite! Actually I was proud I was the only Jew they let in McCuddy’s. He’d say, ‘Here comes that little Jew boy again,’ but he loved the Babe, too, and gave me the goods every time. I’d run back to the Yankee runway and give Babe the bag. He’d say, ‘Thanks, kid, what’s your name?’ Every time! I brought him from McCuddy’s for three years, and he never connected who I was.
“That’s how I finally developed my most revolutionary theory on his greatness. Babe Ruth had face blindness. Clinically they called it prosopagnosi, and I believe he got it from being hit on the head by a pitch, not congenitally. As a pitcher, every batter was unrecognized, and as a hitter every pitcher equally so. Babe threw to the catcher’s glove as a pitcher, he swung at the ball as a hitter. He never knew who he was facing, and he didn’t care. He was unburdened with face memory and therefore stripped the game to its instinctive essentials.”
At least that’s how I remember it was said. Oh, my old Shalom! You did it all, or to numbly borrow from Duns Scotus’ description of God’s role in the Immaculate Conception: you could do it, it was appropriate, therefore you did it!
“And music is not listened to as a real sound made by real things, but as a pure sound of tones and timbres sounding, as it were, by themselves.” Samuel Todes
“Like hidden elves, the instruments themselves making the music of sound, themselves in the things-in-themselves.” Barry Codell
What a mouthful, this life! So now, of all years, that lousy 1994 will not go away. Thanks for your contagious and intrusive anamnesis, Confessor Codell, thanks for all these numbing Names That Tunes and dumbing Natch Games—and may I say also, thanks for Nothing! Dayenu! Enough! Who else but Codell could think this stuff! So full of vigor, so full of vim, now so out of his mind, now the mind out of him! O Barry, my Hesperus, wreck age with thy wreckage! Or as Sam Todes would have said, if he were I, at the height of my hopelessness, a disembodied, oncoming copelessness. When you pronounced “Design is the residue of luck” (citing Frege) that year, how I lived that melismatic maxim--ready for the dance of life, the life of dance, ready to tinker ever with chance! And then Sam Todes told me you were just unjustly turning Branch Rickey on his head, and I saw your actions toward me with an aesthetic anaesthetic: not empathetic but pathetic, and I was, for a while, finished with your free yet costly associations. 1994 became becoming itself, the year the world’s greatest living philosopher became more than that: he became, in this reporter’s opinion, the world’s greatest dead one, forever more, becoming fully PhiloSophia.
I had been proud to be onto-theologist, anti-gerontologist (what Codell called aging, I call rotting) and noumenologist long before I breathlessly and literally ran into the true Thin King, Mr. Samuel Todes, perhaps sitting shiva for himself, on a bench near Lighthouse Beach in Evanston, earlier in the ‘90s, during my annual Herr Heidegger (that dirty anti-Semite!) book-burning pilgrimage near the Northwestern University Library, back when I had full access to the outside “world” (now a lack alack, never a doubt, to be once more on the outside looking out!), permitted voyage by the California Home Nursing Department that shimmering, simmering summery fall day with my angrily annotated copy of Being and Time (not a life sentence, as King Codell would call it, just one hundred little words that he might deem not for the birds!).
Todes, awaiting his friend Daryl on that bench we shared, had a copy of Merleau-Ponty’s Primacy of Perception in hand as our introductory conversation immediately became something more. I can modestly say Great Minds met. Our words turned to the ends of philosophy itself before its own imminent end, and when I ventured he use my term “noumenology” rather than his “noumenalism,” to lessen the Kantian overtone, was he ungrateful like Codell or down-to-earth like me? The latter, of course--he was as down-to-earth as an angel, which he would soon become. As a matter of fact, he was so kind about my input (and is not the greatest wisdom kindness?), I had to ask him if he was Jewish. (disclaimer: I must admit, as an Abramist, I am a mite pro-Semite), and he answered characteristically enigmatically, “I’ll find out soon. Ask me in a week.”
I generously invited Samuel (“call me Samuel”) to return to our very bench at the same time in seven days, but I never saw Todes again. In tribute to his epic “Body and World” (I like to think my contribution yet lies in all of his words), I am announcing no Tode tome will ever be in one of my book fights--and what higher praise can there be?
For, after all, aren’t I a disordered-attentive, oral-retentive, handsome-repulsive, obsessive-impulsive, manic-depressive, passive-aggressive sweetheart of a guy? And what of Barry, now stricken from Sam’s “One man, One book?” Look at his look--has not incuriosity killed this dog as he walks in his final fog? What can be his duty, now that I have pied Beauty? I have become the polar Bar-opposite, no sign of a sign, the good knight ever neigh to his oversight. At last, perhaps tonight, he yields the mine all mine, the fill of Three Fields: Baseball left, Aging center, Religion right! O for such a colorless man, there is no dyeing dying (or as he calls it, and as I but once mistook, the finishing of the Great American Songbook!). Have I not been more than his equal, his mime? Do I not take off my pants one leg at a time? Shall I not be numb to the Wisdom of the Whiz Dumb, from zygote to old goat? Am I not the true patrician when compared to the Singing Statistician? Today, more than yesterday, I deeply miss both my friends Shalom and Shmuel, but unfortunately, not Barry Codell!
Have a happy new year and, most importantly, a good shabbos.
Yours or mine,
Don’t Call Me Abram