Friday, March 23, 2007

Everything's Jake

I think this all came about because someone at coffee this morning observed that baseball season was hovering over us like a Santa Barbara real estate agent, and someone else wondered aloud how things looked this year for the Indians, and I observed that things had not gone well for the Indians since Ghandi died.

That observation was pure Jake, just as pure Jake was his not-so-sotto-voce observation during the protracted wedding of his granddaughter, Marianne to Nori, who happens to be a native of Japan, "How do you say enough in Japanese?" It was not that Jake had anything against marriage or, indeed, anything but the most loving feelings to Marianne and her husband-to-be. Simply put, Jake was hungry. Lunch trumps ceremony.

The impending baseball season wrenched me from the day-after high of a clean bill of health on a colonoscopy back to the immense acreage in midtown Los Angeles between Third Street and Beverly Blvd, bounded on the west by Fairfax Avenue and on the east by either Rosewood or Martel. CBS TV-City was and still is there; so is The Farmers' Market. So was Gilmore Field, the home of the Hollywood Stars, a Triple-A baseball team in the Pacific Coast League.

Times change. The Hollywood Stars are no more; they have moved to Salt Lake City, where they have unsurprisingly become the Bees, a symbol of dedication and industry rather than the rambunctious and idiosyncratic Hollywood Stars. I can smell it now, the right field bleachers, suffused from the smells of the hot dog stand run by Al and Dora Ames, the amiable anarchy of lunches brought from home, redolent of cabbage, sour pickles, and the occasional slab of salami.

On most Sundays during the season, I sat with Jake, working out the details of the game in progress with him, watching him shrewdly place bets with other bleacher-ites, serenely confident that he could win the price of our tickets and what he called a commodious lunch from the Ames's stand.

Jake was a private man and so my sense of connection to him and my awareness of the love he felt for me was largely of a non-verbal nature. Perhaps it was his persistent cutting to the chase, is lack of verbal fol-de-rol that led me to pursue my course with words. Perhaps not. At any rate, I aspired to his sense of how things would play out, both on the baseball diamond and in the games of life.

At his funeral, a long-time friend of my sister physically shrank back when she first saw me. "My god," she said, "you look so much like him. For a moment, I thought--"

That unfinished thought got me through the tough parts of that day, and even now, I look for traces of him residing within me.

As the Hollywood Stars have gone nova--although, you could look them up, Google them, if you will--so, too has my interest in baseball, to the point where I recognize it as one of America's indisputable gifts to the world: baseball, bourbon, jazz, Mark Twain, and the rat-a-tat pacing of "Laugh-In." Baseball season is remembering Jake season and his way of reaching out to life, deciding if the hit-and-run was on, if a bunt were called for, or perhaps a pitch-out to allow a throw to second against a larcenous base runner.

This story about Jake has nothing to do with baseball and the only connection to it is the connection I sometimes seek when I think of him:

From time to time, Jake owned or worked in emporia where clothing was sold. At onetime when I was in my mid-thirties and feeling comfortable with the way my career in pubishing was going, it fell to my lot to visit a men's clothing store in southeast Los Angeles, owned by my Uncle Sam, where Jake appeared at a huge salary, a revered presence. As I entered the store, I noticed him engaged with a customer, a man of the size and age appropriate to professional basketball. He wore the unhemmed slacks of a suit, the cuffs rolled to accommodate the floor; over his shoulders, Jake was draping the jacket. The suit was a busy, almost surreal blur of pattern and texture. It was Jackson Pollock, run amok. It was--a challenge.

"You wear this," Jake told the prospective buyer, "and it will make a new man of you. Your friends--" he shrugged. "Even your friends won't recognize you when you wear this suit." Then, with an encouraging pat, he directed the man to the front door. "Here," he said, "step outside, into the light. Get the full effect of it."

Bedazzeled, the customer did just that.

At this point, Jake noticed me, winked. We both watched as the prospective buyer preened and strutted in the late afternoon light, no doubt imagining himself in that suit.

A few moments later, he reentered the store, whereupon Jake advanced upon him. "Yes sir?" he said. "Is there something I can help you with?" And then, with perfect timing, smote his forehead with his palm. "Excuse me. I beg your pardon. For a moment, I didn't recognize you."

The customer nodded. "That tears it," he said. "Wrap this mother up! I'm taking this suit."

"Your father," Uncle Sam said.


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