Baseball, the Canned Crowd, and the F Word

At first, I couldn’t find the Dodgers on TV last night, the second game in a series with the Giants in Los Angeles beginning the 2020 shortened season; apparently wasn’t available on the MLB channel in Portland. The Mariners were on the local Root Sports channel, and I was glad to hear the same folks doing the play-by-play as if nothing has changed. Then I was surprised to find the Dodger game on some obscure cable channel. I watched an infield grounder, the batter thrown out at first, a routine play, and then I heard it: Canned Cheering, a canned crowd.

To be canned is to be thrown out, maybe deriving from the US English garbage can. The 2020 season, delayed about four months by the pandemic shutdown, is being played in stadiums full of empty seats, no tickets sold, unless you count the selfie cutouts available from the Dodgers. That must be where the noise is coming from.

If you’ve ever played a game of street or backyard whiffle ball, or a game of over-the-line in the local park, you might know you don’t need an audience to enjoy baseball. Rules vary depending on the venue – over the house is a home run, but a foul ball over the fence, falling into the street, is an automatic out.

“I’m the Dodgers. Who are you?”
“I’ll be the Giants, Juan Marichal on the mound.”

The game is on, all a foot, the fantasy as real as real ever gets.

Because Major League Baseball as viewed from the stands or television is not exactly real. The real game is played behind a facade of hero, dream, and cleanliness. Maybe the canned crowd was brought in because of plays like the one in which Dodger Joc Pederson, on his way to being thrown out at first in the fanless season opener, doubles the F Word while running down the line, his voice fairly clearly picked up by the TV mics in the quiet stadium and broadcast into living rooms around the US – where, what, no one ever uses the F Word?

Respect is born out of shame, shame a form of control. Language is contumacious; it swells and breaks and rolls like the restless ocean. Words are turbulent, irrepressible. At the same time, cussing is often the evidence of a lazy tongue. That is why I decided to omit the F Word from “Penina’s Letters,” with the exception of the discussion in the chapter titled “Henry and the Punctuations”:

“The experience of war can not be told in words,” I said, “but when F-words fill the cheeks with froth, a fascist has infiltrated the mind.”
“Who the fuck talks like that?” Bucket scrunched his eyebrows over scowling lips.
“My friend, Henry,” I said. “It’s a game we play.”
“Clever,” Gabbia said. “But getting back to the common soldier, surely words like fuck and shit are as common as cigarettes and coffee. Part of his mess kit, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“That’s right,” I said. “And, like the mess, rationed.”
“But surely the unfixed tongue is one of the few freedoms the foot soldier feels, and in the fire of the fight, is a weapon he can unleash to gratify his fear.”
“To be frank, no,” I said. “But, the foot soldier does make efficient and effective use of his F-word vocabulary.”
“Do tell,” Gabbia said (148-149).

Photo: With my brother John at a Dodger game, September, 1975. Photo by Susan.

In Print: “End Tatters”

“Do you want this book published,’ he asked, ‘or just printed?” Said Angus Cameron (editor at Little, Brown) to J. D. Salinger upon learning Salinger wanted no advertising of his forthcoming “The Catcher in the Rye.” Particularly, and peculiarly, from the publisher’s viewpoint, J. D. wanted no author’s photo on the cover (Ian Hamilton, In Search of J. D. Salinger, 1988, Random House, p. 115).

How to launch a book? Advance review copies. Interviews. Author’s book tour. Live readings. Ads in trade journals. Book store displays. Billboards on Sunset Boulevard and in Times Square.

Like Salinger, though they’ve actually few if any other options, the indie writer/publisher eschews the traditional publicity stunts ahead of book store distribution for a blog post or two.

This is the second in a planned series of posts designed with the usual blog accompanied by tweet fanfare to launch, from the author of “Penina’s Letters,” a new book, titled “end tatters,” coming this week. Below, we see the front and back covers, and the back gives a brief description of what’s inside:

Bells, part 2, A Morning Caper

A half mile walk from my house up to the church, up Center Street and across the train tracks to Pine, across to Bungalow Drive and up to Holly Avenue, then up to Maryland Avenue and past the swimming pool and through Hilltop Park, and across Grand Avenue, where you could see a sliver of the ocean where the road cut through the dunes a mile off, and into the church. The morning remains a fragmented run-on I frequently recall.

But I could not see the ocean that morning, the morning of the caper of the bells, because it was still dark out. I was altar boy for the week at the 5:15 AM mass. The church was still locked. I went through the gate between the rectory and sacristy entrance of the church. But the sacristy was also locked. I didn’t see any lights on in the rectory. I did not know exactly what time it was. Dad had rousted me from bed, and I got dressed and left without a word between the two of us. I sat down on the church porch and with my back against the sacristy door, fell asleep.

I don’t know how long I’d been sleeping when the priest woke me up, unlocked the door, and in we went. I put on my cassock and filled the water and wine cruets and took them out to the table beside the altar. Meanwhile, the priest went out to unlock the doors to the church and came back in to put on his vestments, quietly saying his prayers while dressing, not a word between the two of us.

I led the way out the sacristy side door to the altar, the priest behind me bearing his chalice in two hands, stopped and backed up to allow him to pass to the center. Only the front of the church was lit with lights, the back kept dark, because there were only a few  people scattered in the front pews: a couple of nuns in full regalia, a high school student no doubt doing penance for some heinous sin, a couple of old women wearing hats and holding rosaries, and Mr. Mulligan, in for his morning pick-me-up.

The congregation rose as the priest and I walked to the altar. I took up my position at the bottom of the stairs, he climbed to the altar, and the magic show went live. The mass was still being said in Latin, and I completed the dialog with the priest with my responses in Latin, although I understood little of what I was saying. But I liked the sounds of the Latin words, like magic incantations.

There was no sermon in these early morning masses, communion went quickly with so few communicants, and the whole affair was over in 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mood of the priest. The priest kept his back to the congregation. And while we said the prayers of the dialog, we kept our voices to a near whisper, as if afraid we might awaken the statues of the saints, and by the time of the hush that settled in at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I was sound asleep on my knees.

The priest was clicking with his thumb and finger at me, trying to get my attention. I awoke stupefied and grabbed the bells and starting ringing them. But it wasn’t time for the bells. It was time for me to get up and go to the side table and get the cruets of water and wine and carry them up the steps to the priest so he could wash his fingers and take a drink of wine. I realized my mistake, put down the bells, and carried on. The ringing of the bells at the wrong place in the ceremony must have awoken the entire congregation from their prayerful morning slumber.

I gave my bell experience to Isaac, one of Henry Killknot’s younger brothers, in “Penina’s Letters.” Henry shares Isaac’s ringing of the bells at the wrong moment to Salty, Penina, and Puck, who have driven over to Saint Gelda Church in Venice to attend Isaac’s First Holy Communion ceremony. Henry finds the story hilarious, and creates a local ruckus around their pew as he tells it to the others. Salty smiles, but Penina and Puck don’t really understand what it’s all about.

This is the second in a series of pieces on bells at The Coming of the Toads.

Penina’s Paginations

For some, grammar might be understood as an attempt to control language, or to control a speaker. But the only way to establish complete control over a language is to kill it, which is probably or nearly impossible, because language possesses, like the planarian, the ability to reform or regenerate from a tiny piece of itself. I point to an object, and that is how grammar works. The object could be the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, the moon, or a running man. I link to it for the purpose of linking you to it also. But first, I have to get your attention. Of course, I can always point to myself, or point to an object by myself, like talking to myself, which might be one origin of poetry. When the objects we point to disappear, or others claim to be unable to see them, we come to the first existential crisis of language, where we find ourselves in grammar school, the subjects of rote repetition in an effort to create memory. In grammar school, we learn to wear a uniform.

We learn to number our clothes. The hat, number 1. Or maybe we start with the shoes, the socks being a subset. First we put on the right sock, then the left, then the right shoe, then the left shoe. Never mind it’s a sunny day and we were thinking what fun it would be to go barefoot. To go barefoot, in grammar school, is one of the first examples of being ungrammatical. We are assigned a seat, a number in a numbered row, alphabetized and numbered in the numbers book. Having a number is essential when everyone looks alike.

So it was with a tremulous motion I finally approached my MS Word file containing my first published novel, “Penina’s Letters,” to correct a few unintended consequences. The first printing had contained an unacceptable number of typos, and the front matter setup has always felt a bit clumsy to me. The chapter listing page, for example, showed the chapter titles but no page numbers. And the ISBN didn’t show on the copyright page. But why the tremolo? Why not just go in and make the changes? I did manage one corrected copy upload, after the first printing back in 2016, ridding the book of most of the obvious errors, mistakes which, it pains me to admit, I had failed to spy with my little proofreading eye. But a few issues remained, as additional readings revealed, but the thought of entering the MS Word file again and resubmitting for revision to CreateSpace for approval with the hope of not making matters worse was all more than I felt up to. Besides, I now had other projects underway that required my attention.

Then, a week or so ago, I was notified that CreateSpace was closing its doors and all texts migrating to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So I took the opportunity to become acquainted with KDP by reworking the front matter of “Penina’s Letters” and fixing a trio of what I recognized as outstanding mistakes.

My first submission of a redo file for KDP’s approval was rejected – something to do with pagination errors. Mercifully, the rejection came within the 24 hours promised, and I went back to work on the Word.doc before motivation waned, resubmitted again, got approval, ordered a proof copy, and voila! No page numbers at all.

Suffice to say, after all that preamble and bramble, that for the past several days I’ve been immersed in a kind of MS Word pagination purgatory. Changes to a text often cancel out other changes, or sit on top of them, burying them below – but that suggests there is a top and a bottom to the thing, and of course there is not.

I got page one to say 1 but could not get the other pages to follow suit. I got every page to say 1. And so on, nothing acceptable. I began to think, rationalizing and trying to come up with some creative solution, why bother paginating at all anyway? Does the common reader really need page numbers? And isn’t a page number a kind of mar on an otherwise illuminated manuscript page? I got page numbers to show, but not in the footer where they belong. I toyed with “different front page,” “link to previous,” “create section break,” erase all and begin again. Deeper and deeper into an MS Word morass I sank. I entered “document,” “paragraph,” the journeyman’s “tools.” Suddenly blank pages and huge gaps in the text began to appear throughout the manuscript. I fixed and corrected and proofed. At one point, I had a file with pagination complete that seemed correctly formatted. I resubmitted yet again to KDP, and the proof file came back still with no page numbers.

I took a break from the project. I remember McLuhan saying something about pagination beginning with the printing press. The fall is into the printing press. Is there a page 1 to the Internet? In a mosaic, one may enter and exit anywhere. Page numbers are useless. There are no pages. There is the infinite scroll – over, under, sideways, down.

“Backwards forwards square and round.
When will it end, when will it end,
When will it end, when will it end,”

the Yardbirds sang.

“We don’t need no stinking page numbers,” I can hear Puck Malone of “Penina’s Letters” saying. But in the end I managed somehow to successfully place page numbers on the outside edge in the footer of even numbered pages, in sequence, every other page. I seemed to recall seeing books numbered only on every other page. I looked through some books. Saul Bellow’s “The Actual” places page numbers only on the odd numbered pages, right edge of page, in the margin, spelled out, in italics: page one. Enough.

Interested readers may utilize the “look inside” feature at Amazon to get an idea of how the new printing of “Penina’s Letters” came out.



Sophisticated Gentleman’s Upright Urban Bicycle

IMG_20160709_105338Ryan finished his rebuild of my circa-1970 steel frame Raleigh bicycle. It is to Ryan (to wit, a wit) I’m indebted for the title of this post. He knows I think myself neither sophisticated nor gentlemanly – nor much of a bicyclist. There was a time indeed when the Raleigh did duty for an auto, but that was of necessity, hardly hobby or Edwardian privileged choice, and while there is evidence of bicycle chivalry in my bio, as evidenced by the call-in, for example, to the Bill Ballance radio show “Feminine Forum,” circa the old Raleigh days, the topic of the day “Is Chivalry Dead?,” the young lady caller apparently the same girl I had saved from a group of wine-drunk ruffians after an outdoor blues concert one evening on Venice Beach – and she never got a chance to thank me, she told Bill, as she rode south on her bike while I ran north up the boardwalk, chased by the ruffians, dashed east on Windward, cut through the vacant lot next to what is now Danny’s Deli, across the alley and through the apartment corridor to Susan’s aunt’s place, peeking around the corner of the building to see the hooligans searching for me around the parked cars on Windward, it’s purely anecdotal. The rude dude had made the girl cry, pulling at her handlebars and pestering her to come join his coterie sitting under a palm Venice Boardwalkdrinking wine. I had stepped up and grabbed the other side of her handlebars, surprising and startling the cad, yanking them out of his grip, and pretending to be her brother, I had said, “Come on, we gotta go, Dad’s waiting for us.” At which point we walked quickly off, and I asked her if she was ok, and I glanced back to see the bad guy stirring his buddies to action, pointing at me. The chase was on. In the picture right, taken by Susan, I am walking along the Venice Boardwalk in the early 70s. The two ladies I am with were capable of handling their own chivalric needs. And I still think of a bike ride as a paragraph lacking a unified topic. As in writing, you discover where you’re going in the process of getting there. The risk is that some readers may find this kind of bicycling writing annoying, just as some motorists would rather not share the road with parenthetical interruptions.

 The characteristics of an upright, urban bicycle include casual step pedals and upright handlebars. A brass bell mounted to the bars gives the bicycle a voice to its otherwise smooth sail-boat-quiet glide. The photo above shows the Raleigh in minimalist set-up: no saddlebags, bar basket, lights, or racks. The kickstand adds a sense of responsible behavior expectation.  The cork grips suggest the sophisticated gentleman knows his way around country streams and beaches as well as back roads to far away places within the city. In one of his ten blog-posts it took Ryan to complete the rebuild, or maybe it was in an email he sent me, as we went back and forth discussing parts and style, I remember him referring to the vision for the restored bike as an “upright gentleman’s urban bike,” and I remember thinking I was in trouble now. But etiquette of the road is not to be sneered at. And if I could not be grand, I at least would not have to be a spinet.


One of those far away places, though not too far to bike to, the destination, as it turned out (an urban bike ride usually revealing a flexible plan), of our maiden voyage on the rebuilt and reconfigured Raleigh, with Ryan riding co-pilot on his Handsome bike (a make, not necessarily an adjective), was Nick’s Coney Island, in the Hawthorne District. In the pic right, you can see Frank’s portrait framed, the original Nick, before he sold the place and the new owners built Nick’s into a somewhat sophisticated gentleman’s Coney Island, wearing a Nick’s shirt with a Coney Island Dog on it, above Ryan and me sitting at a refurbished booth with pints drawn to celebrate the renewed bike. Frank was a stout and diehard Yankee fan. I don’t know what Frank thought of bicycles or even if he was ever on one, but I knew him as a kind of blue-collar gentleman when he was doing duty tending bar and waiting tables at Nick’s, his royal red Cadillac parked at the curb outside the door.

Bicycle and urban are easily defined. Urbanity might get a little muffled in the noise of orbs and urbs (the city is surely a verb), but what of sophisticated and gentleman? Now we are in deep waters. And what is a bicycle as political semiotic as signified by Roland Barthes? The bicycle is a Beckett motif, his characters hardly sophisticated or gentlemen and often located well beyond orb or urb. What on a bike is a sophist, or a fallen gentleman? Benjamin Franklin walked, so did Thoreau. Franklin might have invented the bicycle but wasn’t in enough of a hurry, while Thoreau might have associated the bicycle as a product of the same forces that built the railroad, the unforgiving lineal track that prevented one from wandering.

The further one wanders often the riskier the route. Southeast Belmont Street does not for most of its distance provide for safe bicycle riding space. The Salmon and Taylor Street designated east-west shared roadway encourages a sauntering ride, which is a ride in which one takes the time to muse and wonder, even to wander, and there is no shame in dismounting and walking the bicycle. That is what it might mean in Southeast Portland to ride a bike, to write your own story, not necessarily against the commute, but on the margins of the commute. The sophisticated gentleman urban bicyclist is a marginal man, a reader around a town of text. His destination is never clear. His purpose is opposed to argument. His narrative does not follow conventional route expectations.


He might make a mistake. I wanted to show Ryan Tabor Space, the coffee house in the old Presbyterian church on the northwest corner of Belmont and 55th. But when we got there, the coffee space was closed. But having already secured the bikes (pic left), we went into the church and sat for a spell where it was cool and restful.

The sophisticated gentleman upright urban bicyclist may take liberties with his trip narrative. That doesn’t mean he ignores rules of the road, at least those that are not ambiguous. On the contrary, he rides clearly and concisely, if not precisely, and never speeds or travels too fast for conditions. He is, in short, in no hurry and not in search of a hassle. We caught up with Susan and had British fish and chips and bangers and beer at Horse Brass Pub while discussing IMG_20160709_194251 bikes and comedians and films. Susan suggested we walk down to Movie Madness and rent a comedy to watch when we got back home. These are hard times around the country. For some, the time seems permanent. Platitudinous postings, retweets of bad attitudes, prayers without reflection, pandering of politicians to atavistic fears and wants, happiness confused with satisfaction – that’s all part of the difficulty; still, this sign in a business window on Belmont is a viable posting. Here, it seems to be a response to the Orlando shooting specifically. The sign it replaced said LOVE in bold red off balance letters, letters in loveLove 2. Before the LOVE sign, there was a gold lettered GLORIA with stars in a Christmas display. The window display has become a kind of public service announcement. It exudes a good vibe. I’ve passed it in my car, on the bus, walking, and now on my bicycle. Were I in a Beckett book, I might crawl to a sign of love with that hopeless hope that motivates his characters. You can’t make love to a sign, though it sometimes seems all we have is signs for things, and not the thing itself. I have a bicycle helmet, but I can’t forget Thoreau’s dictum to avoid enterprises which require a new suit of clothes, so I’ll be eschewing the purchase of bicycle apparel.

On to Movie Madness, where we rented a Christmas comedy to watch back home, “Mixed Nuts.” So we’re watching a Christmas movie in July. “Mixed Nuts” was filmed in Venice, the Venice boardwalk a prop, along the same blocks in the Venice pic at the top of this post, with Steve Martin playing manager and owner of a suicide prevention non-profit hotline. Madeline Kahn is wonderful as Mrs. Munchnik.


Movie Madness is more than just a video rental store. It’s a film museum, displaying a collection of movie making artifacts such as the knife used in the shower scene in Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” “Psycho” is on my reverse bucket list, which includes films I’ve seen that I never want to see again. One film I never tire of watching is the original “The Time Machine.” Movie Madness has on display the miniature table-top time machine used in the film, the one the time traveler sends into the future and so it disappears from the table. Presumably, it’s still time traveling. I also enjoyed the PSYCHOTRONICS sign to the thriller room. “More!”? What more could there be? I didn’t go in.


 I wanted to visit with Ryan Cheese Bar at the bottom of the Belmont hill. We enjoyed a board of mixed soft and hard cheeses with a glass of wine before “Mixed Nuts.” We watched the film and the next morning we walked down to Coquine for a scone and coffee. Ryan took off and later I went for a ride up in the park.

In chapter two of “Penina’s Letters,” Salty is sitting at a cafe table outside Blubber’s on the Strand when Puck Malone rides up on a bicycle:

“I drank a tall glass of water and was nursing a beer, watching the walkers and the waves, when along came Puck riding up the Strand, grinning, playfully pedaling his royal blue bicycle, holding a surfboard under one arm, wiggling to and fro. He was barefoot and shirtless, wearing some baggy trunks. He was watching the waves, closed out, booming bass lines now in the spring high tide. He saw me and parked his bike and leaned his board against the wall.

Puck Malone’s neck was as thick as a telephone pole. His face was full and fat, with marble brown eyes spinning between freckled cheeks and straight, sandy-red hair, bowl cut with bangs down to his eyes. His tornado torso funneled down to two skinny legs. He had big surfer knots on his knees and feet from paddling in the kneeling position.”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide if there are any gentlemen in “Penina’s Letters,” but it’s a question of fact that there is at least a bicycle, and it gets ridden – a surfer on a Strand cruiser.

Look Inside “Coconut Oil”

“Coconut Oil” is ready, the “look inside” feature enabled, paperback and e-version.

Forty years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters,” and Penina and Salty return to Refugio, a fictional beach town on Santa Monica Bay, in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel to “Penina’s Letters.” 

Salty is again our first person narrator, and “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form – as Sal hands the mic off to several other characters and we are brought up to date on Refugio.

The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time.

The style is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy. And there is music! Songs, dancing, and some funky text features!

The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground 26 miles north of Santa Barbara, in the late 70’s. The front cover photo, more recent, shows the author’s shadow over a tree hollow holding mushrooms that look like bird eggs (where his heart should be).

Refugio from Coast Starlight
Refugio Beach from Coast Starlight Special