A Nice Tuesday: A Memoirby Pat Jordan
A baseball prodigy since the age of ten, Pat Jordan had been interviewed on television and written about in newspapers at an early age. Signed as a pitcher by the Milwaukee Braves upon his graduation from high school, he believed his success would continue for years to come. But after three ever-diminishing seasons in the minor leagues, he was cut from the roster and began painfully constructing a new life. In the wreckage of his baseball career, Jordan found new successes as a writer. In 1975, he published his classic memoir, A False Spring, which Sports Illustrated hailed as "one of the fifteen sports books everyone says you must have". But his past and early promise still tugged at him. So, at age fifty-six, Jordan decided to pitch again.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.76(w) x 8.48(h) x 1.23(d)
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A Nice Tuesday
By Pat Jordan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Pat Jordan
All rights reserved.
I see myself as I am now, sitting at the head of the dining-room table at my most recent birthday party. My wife and my friends are sitting around me. They are drinking, smoking, laughing, gesturing with their hands, shouting to be heard. I am silent, smiling at my friends. A beautiful girl is sitting on each knee. One is blonde, thirty, with a languid touch. She rests her hand lightly on the nape of my neck and strokes my short hair. The other is a redhead, twenty-seven, with perfectly shaped breasts half exposed beneath her flimsy T-shirt. She is whispering in my ear, her breast pressed against my shoulder. I laugh. The two girls look down at me. They smile, dreamily, at me ... a rough, good-looking man with curly hair, tall, trim, muscular.
Ronnie stands, weaving unsteadily, and aims a Polaroid camera at me and the two young girls. I put one hand on the naked thigh of the blonde and the other on the firm right breast of the redhead. The girls squeal with mock outrage, but do not push my hands away. My friends hoot at me with derision. Peter rolls his eyes to the ceiling. George and Al grin like elves. Sol smirks in disgust and turns his face from me. Phil throws up his hands, as if pleading. My wife shakes her head in weary resignation.
I smile seductively into the camera. Ronnie snaps our photograph. He hands me the developing snapshot. It's blurry gray, then grows darker as images form before my eyes. Colors appear. The two young girls appear. I appear! An old man! With a white beard! I am wearing a ridiculous-looking aqua-blue Hawaiian shirt dotted with pink flamingoes. I am leering like an old fool, with a cigar clenched between my teeth and two beautiful girls sitting on my knees, smiling at me — not dreamily, but with the condescending affection young girls reserve for belovedly lecherous, harmless old men.
I stare at the photograph. Finally it registers. I mutter to myself, "Jeez, I look like an old man."
My friends hear me. They shout in unison, "You are an old man!"
My wife smiles at me, with pity.
The two young girls hug me. The blonde says, "But we love you, Patty."
The redhead takes my hand and places it over her breast. "There," she says. "Feel better?"
It's funny how we see ourselves. It bears no relation to how others see us. It doesn't matter how others see us. It matters only how we see ourselves, frozen at those points in time that most truly defined us. It doesn't matter that our self-perception is a delusion. It matters only that to us it's real, that in our mind's eye we will always be what we were at those points in time that we decided most truly defined us.
I see myself at another birthday party almost fifty years ago. I am helping my mother set the kitchen table for my eighth birthday, in our new house in an old, Waspy, New England town.
"Put the Cassatta in the center of the table," she says. She is stirring the spaghetti sauce at the stove.
I slide the big heavy cake off the counter and carry it to the table. It has a plain yellowish frosting on top that tastes of butter and heavy cream. Its sides are coated with slivers of faintly bitter, toasted almonds. The filling is a semisweet custard flecked with bits of bittersweet, dark chocolate. The cake itself is as dense as peasant bread, chewy and moist and soaked with rum.
"Ma, why can't I have a cake like my friends?" My new friends in the suburbs always have birthday cakes as light as air, with sugary, whipped cream frosting as white as snow, and strawberry preserve filling, and hard, pastel-colored, sugar flowers on top that surround the words "Happy Birthday," scripted in hard blue sugar.
"Your aunts and uncles like Cassatta," she says. She tastes the sauce from a wooden spoon. She means my Uncle Ken, the judge, and his wife, Josephine. My Uncle Pat, the stockbroker, and his wife, Marie. My Uncle Ben, the draftsman, and his wife, Ada. Aunt Jo and Aunt Marie are my mother's sisters. Uncle Ben is her brother. My father has no relatives. He is an orphan who never knew his parents. His only relatives, he says, are my aunts and uncles, who will be my only guests at my eighth birthday party.
"Now get the antipast'," says my mother.
I take out the huge round silver tray of antipasto from the refrigerator and lay it next to the cake. It looks like a big flower with its petals of sweet red roasted peppers, sardines, calamari, artichoke hearts, black and green olives, thinly sliced, tightly rolled Genoa salami and prosciutto, chunks of Asiago and Pecorino, and, in the center, the heart of the flower: a round of tuna fish.
"The vino," she says.
I get the plain gallon jug of red wine from the floor of the pantry and struggle with it to the table. I put it down with a thunk. My mother turns and glares at me, then goes back to her sauce. I know enough not to ask her why I can't have hot dogs and Coke and colored balloons and my new friends at my birthday party. Balloons are a waste of money, she says. My new friends are a bother, she says. And my aunts and uncles, she says, certainly can't be expected to eat that "Irisher food."
She calls my new friends "Irishers" with a dismissive toss of her hand. But my new friends are not all Irish. They are English and German and Swedish and Jewish and Russian too. But that is all the same to my mother. "They're white," she says, and expects me to know what that means.
We are the first Italian family to move into this Waspy suburb, and we are certainly the only family here whose breadwinner sleeps all day because he supports his family by gambling all night. That's the real reason I can't have my new friends to my house. My mother is afraid they will tell their parents my father sleeps all day. Or, worse, that when he finally rises at three o'clock he sits at the kitchen table drinking espresso with a lemon peel while he holds up pair after pair of red Lucite dice to the light, turns them over and over until he's satisfied, and then puts each pair in a meticulously numbered box.
"If they ever ask," my mother tells me, "say your father works the night shift at the Brass factory."
So I go to my new friends' houses instead. My mother doesn't mind. "Good," she says. "You'll be out of my hair."
I love going to my new friends' houses. It's a strange, new, exotic world for me. My new friends have dogs and cats and little sisters and freckled moms and smiling dads, who never speak loudly, in Italian, or gesture with their hands. Their dads are never too busy to go outside in the street and toss a baseball to them and their friends. Their moms are never too busy to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and glasses of milk for them and their friends. Peanut butter and jelly is so exotic to me. For lunch? My lunch is always pizza frite — dough fried in olive oil and then sprinkled with confectionary sugar. Or eggs scrambled in olive oil with sweet red peppers and crusty Italian bread. I never knew scrambled eggs were supposed to be yellow until I went to my new friends' houses and saw their mothers cook them in butter. My eggs, scrambled in olive oil, were always a dirty brown.
My new friends play wildly in their houses. They throw things, break things, then shout and laugh. I watch in horror, then glance over my shoulder at their parents. Amazing! Their moms and dads are shaking their heads and smiling at their rambunctious children. Then they bend down and sweep up the glass vase their children have just broken. I did not know that such things existed: children my age who never worry about pleasing adults, and adults who worry only about pleasing children.
When I talk too much in my house, or laugh out loud, my mother turns on me. "Shoosh!" she says, with a finger to her lips. "Your father's sleeping." When my father wakes up in a foul mood after last night's gambling losses, my mother tosses me a look. She gestures with her head toward my room upstairs. "Take some comic books," she says, "like a good boy."
My aunts and uncles arrive for my birthday party at eight o'clock. (My older brother, George, twenty-two, is still away at law school.) They all bend down to kiss me on the lips, pinch my cheeks in a way that hurts, then tell my mother how beautiful I am, almost a man already, and wish me happy birthday. My uncles fish in their pockets for some bills and hand them to me as a present. Five dollars, three, six, whatever they find. My father has already given me my present, a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill he won last night shooting craps with shaved dice.
I finger all the bills in my hand.
"What do you say?" my mother says.
"Thanks, Uncle Ben, Uncle Pat, Uncle Ken." They pat me on the head, absentmindedly, like a pet, and sit down at the kitchen table for a moment. The women pour the men glasses of red wine, and me too, a little red wine mixed with water. I am, after all, a man too, in the eyes of my mother and my aunts. My aunts and my mother pour scotch for themselves, and then my aunts go to the stove to help my mother with the sauce. The men and women are talking now, sometimes in Italian, sometimes in English, and I have been forgotten.
Their conversation is always about Italians. Local Italians who have become doctors and lawyers, or famous Italians like Joe DiMaggio, who have become American heroes. Joe D is a credit to Italians because he has mastered the American pastime and American ways. He plays baseball and moves through his life with a style and grace and silent dignity that Italians can be proud of. He gives a lie to the image of Italians as small, dark, loud, coarse immigrants. He has assimilated American ways, yet he has done it without losing his Italianness.
"Joe D," my mother says at the stove. "He's a white Italian."
My aunts and uncles nod. "Not like that other one," says my Uncle Ben.
"Sinatra," says Uncle Pat.
"He might as well be a melanzana," says Uncle Ken.
"A real guinea," says my father, with disgust.
I speak up. "What's a guinea, Dad?" Everyone looks at me for a moment, then they smile.
"Don't worry," my mother says. "You'll know one when you meet one." Everyone laughs.
My father and my uncles get up and go into the living room to watch a Yankee game on our tall mahogany Motorola television set with the tiny round black-and-white screen. They light up Chesterfield cigarettes, while, in the kitchen, the women hover over pots of spaghetti sauce. They sip scotch and smoke Chesterfields too, while they fantasize about the handsome DiMaggio.
"Sooo handsome!" says Aunt Marie with a dreamy smile.
"He needs a good Italian wife," says Aunt Jo, ever practical.
"If only your daughters were old enough," my mother says to Aunt Jo.
Aunt Marie holds up a huge sausage link she is about to drop into the sauce. She says something in Italian. Her sisters laugh.
My mother holds her hands twelve inches apart and rolls her eyes to the ceiling.
"Mama mia!" says Aunt Jo. "What a big bat!" The women squeal with laughter.
"Your poor daughters," my mother says.
"He'll probably marry some Irisher," says Aunt Marie.
My mother and Aunt Jo turn on her. "Never!" they say in unison. "Not Joe D."
I go into the living room, where the men are hunched forward in their easy chairs, watching Yogi Berra at bat. Berra is squat, homely, taciturn, hardworking. The men love him but the women have little interest in him. They have interest only in the handsome DiMaggio. They are short, dark, mannish women with big noses and hair like Brillo. They are not unattractive women, with their strong faces, but they do not think of themselves as attractive in their adopted country of the Andrews Sisters. It would be years before Sophia Loren redefined beauty in America, and the world.
"That Yogi," says Uncle Ben. "He's a tough one. A clutch batter."
"Not as good as Campanella," says Uncle Ken. The two men begin to argue over the relative merits of Berra and Roy Campanella, the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher. Finally my father intervenes.
"What difference does it make?" he says. "They're both Italians." The men all nod.
Finally Uncle Pat says, "What about that time Campanella struck out? Berra would never have done that."
"Campanella wasn't Italian then," says Uncle Ken. "He was a melanzana then." The men laugh. Melanzana is the Italian word for "eggplant." It's slang for "black." Campanella has a black mother and an Italian father. When he hits a home run, he's a paisano to Italians. When he strikes out he's a melanzana.
The women call the men into the kitchen to eat. First the antipasto. Then the spaghetti with sausage. Finally my birthday cake. My mother lights the candles.
"Turn the lights out, Ma," I say.
"Why?" she says.
I blow out the candles and make a wish, while, around me, my parents and my aunts and uncles are talking. I smell the espresso boiling on the stove: My mother puts the first piece of cake in front of me and says, "Hurry up. Eat. It's time for bed."
I finish my piece of cake before the others have even touched theirs.
"To bed," my mother says. I look at her. "You heard me," she says.
I go around the table and kiss everyone good night and go upstairs to bed as Aunt Marie begins to pour the espresso and Aunt Jo puts the bottle of scotch on the table and everyone lights up Chesterfield cigarettes.
But I don't go to bed. I sneak back to the top of the stairs and sit down. I can see my aunts and uncles and parents as shadows illuminated on the living-room wall below. I hear their voices. They speak mostly in Italian now. I can hear their laughter. The sound of their voices and their laughter sends chills down my spine. I hug myself and begin to rock gently in the darkness at the top of the stairs. I think of my new friends. How different I am from them. The loss of their privileged childhoods will be so painful for them someday. But not for me. I understand it all at that moment. My parents are not raising me to be a child. They are raising me to be an adult. This realization makes my body tingle with an almost sexual thrill. I cannot wait for that moment when I will step out of the shadows of my silent childhood to assume my rightful place at the head of the table among adults. It is what I wished for when I blew out the candles.
I toss the photograph of the old man and the young girls on the table littered with bottles of Jim Beam, Smirnoff vodka, Santa Carolina merlot, and Heineken beer. My friends have no interest in the picture. They see me every day. They go back to their talking and laughing. I pour some Jim Beam into my yellow tin cup and light another cigar. My wife gets up to clear off the empty bottles. The two young girls get off my knees to help her. They have to step around my six dogs, who are sprawled around the dining room and kitchen, sleeping.
I stare at my friends through a haze of cigar smoke. The Usual Suspects. Sol, the Jew, a retired marijuana smuggler from Brooklyn. Phil, the owner of the Booby Trap, "Home of Stylish Nude Entertainment," from Detroit. "Stylish" was Phil's idea. He wanted to elevate his club from the sleazier strip clubs in town. "Like the broads in the Trap flash their bush more ladylike," says Sol. Chelsea, the redhead, is Phil's girlfriend. She's a bartender at the Trap and a criminal justice student from Miami. Peter is a litigation lawyer from Miami. Ronnie is a photographer from a little town in Wisconsin that Sol calls East Bumfuck. Mary Beth, the blonde, is his wife. She's a struggling writer from Virginia whom I've been helping with her career. George is a retired drama teacher from a small town in Nebraska. Alberto, George's lover for twenty-five years, is from Cali, Colombia. My wife, Susan, is a retired actress from our hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.
Sol is bald and fat with a Vandyke beard, which he thinks is sinister, and three beepers on his hip. Peter is tall and rumpled, with shaggy hair, a droopy mustache, and the sad eyes of a young Marcello Mastroianni. Phil is handsome and sleek, with his bleached blond hair pulled back tight into a ponytail. Alberto is tiny, dark, plump, and bald, like a Latin elf. George is also small and bald, with an austere gray beard and a child's mischievous blue eyes. Ronnie, with his Prince Valiant haircut and aviator sunglasses, looks like John Denver. Mary Beth, with her perfect, bold features, looks like Linda Kozlowski from the movie Crocodile Dundee. Chelsea, with her burgundy-red hair, vivid blue eyes, and perfect breasts, looks like a young Ann- Margret. Susan is tall and tan and lightly muscled at fifty-eight. She has three-dimensional blue eyes, like a doe, and short, ash- blond hair that sticks up like spring grass. She resembles her daughter, Meg Ryan.
Excerpted from A Nice Tuesday by Pat Jordan. Copyright © 1999 Pat Jordan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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