Saturday, May 31, 2014

Photos of the Month - May 2014

Garden house with table setting, N Prescott St, Portland, OR

Keep Out! - N. Albina Ave., Portland, OR

The Tardis Room/Sci-Fi Cafe (also Fish & Chips) - N Killingsworth Ave, Portland, OR
"The Youth Bill of Rights" mural - N Killingsworth Ave, Portland, OR
Bike Rack outside dentist's office - N Killingsworth Ave, Portland, OR
Statues inspired by Native American myths - N Ainsworth & Interstate, Portland, OR
Bowling mural at entrance to Interstate Lanes - N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR
Garbanzo-themed food truck - N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"new moon meditation"

new moon meditation

For Sheila

new moon & 3 silver clouds to the east—over-
head a smattering of planets & airplanes, orange

security lights in the lot, white picket fence
flecked with mold, a red tulip bloom long

since gone past—asking where the sky be-
gins & ends we realize it's at the edges of us,

bringing heaven here with us, the evening’s
aroma of ginger & sesame oil in the skillet,

this evening when the moon is after all a ghost—

tea roses in crimson bloom in the next yard, yellow-

green hirsute bamboo stand on the avenue observed
in mist so fine it could easily be forgotten—

as the new moon can’t recollect the full moon on
view & silver through the vinyl blind drawn back—

because when we look into what we call heaven
we see our reflection enormous as stratocumulus clouds,

as infinitesimal photons escaping a new moon’s
halo—star fragments falling into existence & into words

the way rainfall collects by inches & fractions in a drained
pond to reflect the moon when it someday returns

Jack Hayes
© 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Bernard Malamud

Shoeless Joe Jackson (r), Ty Cobb (l) c. 1913
“I have read now and then that I am one of the most tragic figures in baseball. Well, maybe that's the way some people look at it, but I don't quite see it that way myself.”
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson: from WikiQuote, & ultimately from Sport Magazine, 1949
"Jackson's fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning."
        Connie Mack, also from WikiQuote

Major league baseball—Arthurian Legend—the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown—T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland—organized crime—& of course, Bernard Malamud: these are some of the elements of a rare & strange tale!

If you know baseball history, you know that the 1919 Chicago White Sox—later nicknamed “the Black Sox”—threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Chicago went into the Series as heavy favorites—the White Sox had won in 1917, & although they’d posted a losing record in 1918, that was directly attributable to their losing some star players to the service in World War I. In ’19, those players—including the great Joe Jackson—were back with the club, & the White Sox fielded a strong line-up that also included future Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins & such hitting stars as right fielder Nemo Leibold & first baseman Chick Gandil. In addition, the White Sox had two of the best pitchers in Eddie Cicotte & Lefty Williams. Cicotte threw his “shine ball,” essentially what we call a knuckleball today, tho I understand that Cicotte actually used his knuckles to grip the ball rather than the fingertips, as in the current usage. In fact, the White Sox had star players at pretty much every position, as well as a couple of fearsome hitters on the bench.


I won’t re-tell the Black Sox story here, tho it is a fascinating tale. If you don’t know about it, Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out is a well-known tho controversial examination of the story, but actually the Wikipedia page about the 1919 scandal is a good overview. Briefly, Asinof’s book got its title from the fact that eight members of the Chicago team were implicated: Jackson, Gandil, Cicotte, Williams (not Collins or Leibold), as well as center fielder Happy Felsch, third baseman Buck Weaver, shortstop Swede Risberg, as well as utility man Fred McMullin, who apparently only got in by accident, finding out about the plot & demanding to be included or else blow the whistle on the whole scheme. Although this was never proven, it was alleged that the plot originated with mob kingpin Arnold Rothstein—in The Godfather saga, character Hyman Roth claims to have been inspired by Rothstein, “who fixed the 1919 World Series."

Arnold Rothstein

Two of the eight claimed they actually weren’t part of the fix: Joe Jackson & Weaver. While Jackson admitted at least initially that he took money, he claimed that he did nothing to contribute to losses, & in fact there are a statistics that give this argument weight: he batted .375 & compiled 12 hits during the Series’ eight games, & he also was credited with no fielding errors & threw a man out at home from his right field position. The 1919 Series was a best 5 of 9 format, unlike the best 4 of 7 that’s in use now (& for quite some time.) Weaver, meanwhile claimed never to have taken any money at all, but he did admit to knowing that the plot was in place.
Babe Ruth, 1921
But these days, we’re most concerned with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, because he is a mythic figure in the game’s history, one whose mythic potency is almost comparable to the likes of Ruth or Mays or Mantle or Jackie Robinson or Koufax. Jackson may indeed have been the premier hitter of the deadball era. Between 1908 & 1920, Jackson compiled a lifetime .356/.423/.517 slash line, with 307 doubles, 168 triples & 54 home runs (players’ home run totals only rarely reached the teens in the deadball era.) Jackson’s career Wins Above Replacement, as calculated on Baseball Reference, was 59.6, with his best year by that formula being 1912: a WAR of 9.3, when he batted .395/.458/.579 with 44 doubles, a league leading 26 triples (!) & 90 runs batted in. He also recorded a 9.0 WAR in 1911, hitting .408/.468/.590.

Obviously—at least to baseball fans among you—these are Hall of Fame caliber statistics, & Jackson was consistently among the best hitters of his generation. Testimony from three contemporary Hall of Fame players:

Joe Jackson hit the ball harder than any man ever to play baseball.
Ty Cobb

He was the greatest natural hitter who ever lived.
Tris Speaker

I copied Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter.
Babe Ruth

But there’s no plaque in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame for Jackson because following the scandal, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis declared all eight players to be on the ineligible list, & he remains there to this day.

Judge Landis (c) signs agreement to become Commissioner, 1920

If you’ve heard the saying, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” that refers to Joe Jackson. According to Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News, a young boy approached him as he left the courtroom & said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Actually, the original was: "One urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said: 'It ain't true, is it, Joe?' 'Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is,' Jackson replied.”

Of course you remember the great ending of Bernard Malamud’s Great American Novel, The Natural:

Roy handed the paper back to the kid.
“Say it ain’t true, Roy.”
When Roy looked into the boy’s eyes he wanted to say it wasn’t but couldn’t, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.

Roy Hobbs—not Robert Redford triumphing over the forces of evil in the mangled & mendacious film version
more like Robert Ryan, the tormented & magnetic film noir anti-hero. Roy, like Joe, is a “Natural”—not just a natural baseball player, but a “natural man” in the old sense of the word—a simpleton of sorts, in the great tradition of Sir Percival, the questing knight who, in Arthurian Legend, fails to heal the Fisher King during his Grail quest because he fails to ask a question. Critics have drawn close parallels between the Perceval/Fisher King story & Malamud’s novel—of course, that story was very much “in the air” in the first half of the 20th century due to Eliot’s use of it in The Wasteland. After all, one of the main relationships in The Natural is between Hobbs & Pop Fisher. & there are many who claim that Jackson’s country ways & apparent illiteracy were factors in his involvement in the scandal—that he too, in a sense was a “natural man” beyond being a “natural hitter.”

T.S. Eliot, 1923 - A Red Sox fan

The failed questing knight: “On Margate Sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing./The broken fingernails of dirty hands.” Joe Jackson: broken perhaps. But how would he have “cured” the Fisher King or rendered a Wasteland verdant? Indeed, it was in the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal that baseball could have become a Waste Land—until the triumphant home runs of Babe Ruth led us away from the post war bleakness into the impossible 1920s—impossible culture hero, impossible home runs, impossible economy. Baseball always looks to the home run to save it from scandal—look at the late 1990s & early 2000s when baseball tried to obliterate the bitter scandal of the 1994 World Series shutdown; & in doing so, it would seem, struck a new Faustian bargain, as it turned a blind eye to rampant use of “performance-enhancing drugs” until it saw its most hallowed records fall; & then turned against at least the most famous of the perpetrators, both those who were “alleged” & those who admitted to the use of various anabolic steroids & hormonal treatments. More on this at another time.

Joe Jackson, in the longer version of the quote that begins the post, said he’d accomplished all he wanted to in baseball, & so the ban didn’t matter to him. He was 32 years old in 1920, his last season prior to being declared ineligible, so it is likely that Jackson was past his peak—though he did put up a .382/.444/.589 slash line, & also record a league leading 20 triples & a career high 12 home runs that year. But that’s Jackson the man not Shoeless Joe the legend. Not the legend who morphs into Roy Hobbs, embodiment of American grandiosity & eventual fall not only from innocence, but clear into damnation—the most American of damnations: the star baseball player whose records are expunged; the celebrity who becomes unknown & indeed unknowable.

The stuff of deep legends—on the superficial level of the film Field of Dreams, or on a deeper level where the exaltation & subsequent debsement of those we hold up to the iconic light of celebrity becomes a national fixation; or on an even deeper level yet where the exploits & foibles of these celebrities & sports stars somehow intertwine with deep myths. Shoeless Joe Jackson was among the first of these in our ongoing myth cycle; he is not the last, not even from the myth cycle of baseball.

Everything he hit was really blessed. He could break bones with his shots. Blindfold me and I could still tell you when Joe hit the ball. It had a special crack.
 Wiki Quote: Ernie Shore, as quoted in Baseball America (2001) by Donald Honig, p. 107

All images link to their source on Wiki Commons/Wikipedia. All images are in the public domain except the cover image of The Natural, for which Wikipedia claims fair use.

Full disclosure: this post previously appeared on my currently dormant "Beer League Box Score" blog.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Banjo Hitter (AKA my life in baseball & softball) #1

Banjo Hitter:  A batter who lacks power. A banjo hitter usually hits bloop singles, often just past the infield dirt, and would have a low slugging percentage. The name is said to come from the twanging sound of the bat at contact, like that of a banjo. See also Punch and Judy hitter. [Wikipedia]

How does a 57-year-old man (whose athletic abilities were even in his prime modest in the extreme) still find himself playing three seasons of softball year, including some with players young enough to be his children? A question I ask myself from time-to-time—not with any intention of giving up this pursuit, mind you. & because I ask myself this question in private, I’m going to ask it & attempt to answer it here in the relatively public space of a blog. But it’s a long answer & will, like a baseball or softball season, amble along throughout the summer.

One important fact is I really shouldn’t be playing softball at all. It’s not that softball is transgressive or that my doctor disapproves (in fact he approves wholeheartedly, as I’ll explain). In 2001, I was diagnosed with COPD & following my first pulmonary function test, I was credited with a whopping 35% lung capacity. In 2002, the diagnosis became more precise: I have a condition known as Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

At the time I was diagnosed, I was in fact playing softball. In fact, it was a softball practice that led to my going to the doctor. I was living in Idaho, at a relatively high elevation (3,000 feet, though the league games were played at a mile high); it was May & a cool breezy Sunday evening. I kept losing my breath during batting practice & realized there was something very wrong. Although I’d quit smoking five years prior in 1996 on my 40th birthday, I’d contracted a serious flu the previous winter & knew I was having problems bouncing back.

I played softball that year & the next, & then stopped. It was a big mistake in retrospect, but I decided it was more than I could handle. Of course at the time I believed I needed to play every inning, make every play & run out every ground ball full bore—an all or nothing approach. Over the next several years my activity level decreased significantly, & as it decreased, my ability to do things decreased as well.

Fast forward to 2012. I’d moved to Portland, Oregon the previous summer, following major life changes. Since moving I started walking. Modest amounts at first, but it gradually began to build up, & by spring of 2012 I began the 10,000-step program. &—as I wrote elsewhere—began to think about playing softball again. It wasn’t until last year that I took the plunge, however, first in a league for men over 50, & then in a Fall league for adults of any age. 

Softball (& baseball) have been passions since my childhood. I’ll write more about all that in future installments. What I want to communicate today is that despite disability it is possible to continue living! Do I get frustrated at times playing because of my diminished capacity? Of course. There are only a few positions I can play in the field—third base, first base & catcher—because those positions require very little running. While I can still run to first base (or occasionally—being in fact a “banjo hitter”—second) after batting, I need a pinch runner upon arrival on the base; simply due to age, my reflexes are not what they once were, & this gets exacerbated by some inevitable fatigue—nonetheless, I try always to put the positive part of the experience in the forefront.

Over the past three years, my pulmonary function has improved each year as measured by tests—this has my pulmonologist jazzed to no end. At this point I’m walking five miles a day daily (my goal is to miss no more than once a month), & I take tai chi classes twice a week. This spring I’ve played in an all adult ages league, & will play in two leagues this summer—continuing with my current team on weeknights & also playing Sundays in the over 50 league.

I say this not to be self-congratulatory—after all, I am also the same person who let things go for 10 years!—but because it is one answer to the question with which I opened the post, & also in hopes that it will help someone else along the way. Remember, it doesn’t have to be softball—it can be any activity that gives meaning & vitality to your life.

Until next time!

Yours Truly batting in the over-50 summer league [Boomer PDX] in 2013
Ditto in the Council, Idaho July 4, 2002 tournament—my last game before my long layoff
Last Fall’s team “The Chain” after winning the league championship!
A partial team photo of “The Underhanded Compliments” my spring & summer weeknight team in 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

"water music"

water music

multiple scarlet dimensions of the rhododendron corolla
the sound of one hand plucking “Down by the Riverside” on classical guitar &
whatever took place at daybreak has floated far downstream with
ducks & a Chinese junk & flotsam—

the Morrison Bridges unfolds its bascules skyward—
another form of “hello,” for instance a
baseball's seams’ whirring uncomfortably close to the body
on a serene May evening when you’ve yet to consider twilight—

startling as the sun reflected in a puddle in the little league diamond’s
righthand batter’s box—a woman you scarcely know poised on the
curb waiting to come across—illusion of a rising fastball
sailing between the dimensions—it was another twilight, ever-

green Vermont air, a dirt road, the tree frogs change-ringing
peal the time my father went deaf with the windows rolled down—
underwater—Willamette River heaving gray toward the Columbia under
the celadon spires of St John’s Bridge

coast to coast—a 12 to 6 curveball falling like any other
egg onto a laminate floor—but dragon boats will surge up-
stream in June after all while roses unfold—the
ghostly spring run of kinamasu salmon in quantum space

A.K. Barkley
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Egoyomi by Suzuki Harunobu, based on a mitate showing 10th century calligraphy expert Ono no Tôfu as a frog missing its aim several times before finally succeeding. 1765
Public domain

Friday, May 2, 2014

"In The Northern Darkness"

IN THE NORTHERN DARKNESS there is a fish and his name is K'un. The K'un is so huge I don't know how many thousand li he measures. He changes and becomes a bird whose name is P'eng. The back of the P'eng measures I don't know how many thousand li across and, when he rises up and flies off, his wings are like clouds all over the sky. When the sea begins to move, this bird sets off for the southern darkness, which is the Lake of Heaven.

The Universal Harmony records various wonders, and it says: "When the P'eng journeys to the southern darkness, the waters are roiled for three thousand li. He beats the whirlwind and rises ninety thousand li, setting off on the sixth month gale." Wavering heat, bits of dust, living things blowing each other about-the sky looks very blue. Is that its real color, or is it because it is so far away and has no end? When the bird looks down, all he sees is blue too.

If water is not piled up deep enough, it won't have the strength to bear up a big boat. Pour a cup of water into a hollow in the floor and bits of trash will sail on it like boats. But set the cup there and it will stick fast, for the water is too shallow and the boat too large. If wind is not piled up deep enough, it won't have the strength to bear up great wings. Therefore when the P'eng rises ninety thousand li, he must have the wind under him like that. Only then can he mount on the back of the wind, shoulder the blue sky, and nothing can hinder or block him. Only then can he set his eyes to the south.

The cicada and the little dove laugh at this, saying, "When we make an effort and fly up, we can get as far as the elm or the sapanwood tree, but sometimes we don't make it and just fall down on the ground. Now how is anyone going to go ninety thousand li to the south!"

If you go off to the green woods nearby, you can take along food for three meals and come back with your stomach as full as ever. If you are going a hundred li, you must grind your grain the night before; and if you are going a thousand li, you must start getting the provisions together three months in advance. What do these two creatures understand? Little understanding cannot come up to great understanding; the shortlived cannot come up to the long-lived.

How do I know this is so? The morning mushroom knows nothing of twilight and dawn; the summer cicada knows nothing of spring and autumn. They are the short-lived. South of Ch'u there is a caterpillar which counts five hundred years as one spring and five hundred years as one autumn. Long, long ago there was a great rose of Sharon that counted eight thousand years as one spring and eight thousand years as one autumn. They are the long-lived. Yet P'eng-tsu alone is famous today for having lived a long time, and everybody tries to ape him. Isn't it pitiful!

Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi) – translated by Burton Watson

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:

"Dapeng" (a mythological bird in China) from the Kyōaka Hyaku-Monogatar Japanese picture) 1853

Public Domain