Tale of the Toppled Hurler: A Peter Hartwell Story
by Bruce A. Kauffman
c 2016 All rights reserved.
For full story to date, visit: https://escondidograpevine.com/a-the-tale-of-the-toppled-hurler-a-peter-hartwell-story/.
So far, Willie Gee, ace Red Sox pitcher, has collapsed on the mound after six brilliant innings against the New York Yankees in a playoff game. Without their star, the Sox go on to lose and their hopes for a World Series crown evaporate. Willie dies. Later, Willie’s former high school classmate and now hometown weekly editor Peter Hartwell escapes a kidnapper. He’s back in the office now…
The volume of letters about Willie was tapering off, and we summed up the thrust of them in an editorial making the point again that he was a role model in many respects and just the opposite in many others.
Life started falling into a routine. Each week, we’d feature the most quirky crimes, the best donnybrook at the selectmen’s meeting, and the most provocative answers from people stopped on the street by Jimmy as roving photographer. (It was a split decision on whether development at Wakeley Pond should halt because of potential harm to the tiny, threatened freshwater mussel known as the tidal mucket.)
The steady, quiet rhythm was a relief from the chaos. I started planning my next trip, giving Jimmy more and more responsibility. The insurance paid out enough for me to swing a new Mustang, charcoal gray in and out, six cylinders, built-in satellite radio, cruise control, power everything. Now I was grateful that the last one was totaled. There’d been no sign lately, thankfully, of the fat man or Russell.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s came and went. After a holiday buying frenzy, Hartsdale settled into itself, cocooning for comfort in this first holiday season without Willie Gee. On New Year’s Eve, Hartsdale native Kirk Arroyo led the Saints in their traditional holiday concert, this year from Laughlin, Nevada, and he dedicated “Bang The Drum Slowly” to our fallen hero. Millions across the globe watched the show on television.
Plans were moving along to build a teen center in Willie’s honor on three acres of land on a promontory off the Cliff Road that Willie had left to the Hartsdale Foundation. To make things even fancier, townspeople would chip in with proceeds from a bazaar at Town Beach the Saturday before the Memorial Day weekend. One week later, Father Brian Gafferty of St. Theresa’s right here in Hartsdale was to lead a memorial service for Willie from the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park to what surely would be a packed house during a four-game holiday weekend series with the Yankees.
The Red Sox organization donated a ream of tickets to be auctioned off at the bazaar. The town garden club was cutting untold varieties of flowers and plants for sale. The Hartsdale Hydroponics Club was weighing in with all sorts of member specialties, including produce from Willie Gee’s parents’ lush vegetable garden.
When Warren Wyndham, one of my high school classmates, called to announce he’d sold the movie rights to his novel and was moving to Hollywood to write the screenplay, I was elated to accept his invitation to a going-away party. It would be at his place in New York. I’d drive my pony to the Route 128 train station, spend the night at his place in Manhattan, and be back in time for the first game against the Yanks on Friday night at Fenway.
I collected Jan around 11 the morning of the Hartsdale Bazaar, and we drove the ten minutes to Town Beach and spent another 20 finding a place to park. The lot at the beach was lined with booths selling everything from oil paintings to lamb kebabs. At one, a couple lay in repose in shiny, sinewy, beautifully-grained walnut, a sculpture by none other than the talented Jan Eckert. She’d contributed it to the collection at the booth of the art faculty of the Hartsdale Public Schools.
I’d seen the piece before in Jan’s studio and remember mentioning how the male’s face resembled that of the actor Richard Gere. The woman, on the other hand, looked a lot like Jan.
“Jealous?” she’d said.
The gray skies were yielding to blue, and puffy cumulus clouds floated in place just off shore. The waves were steady and gentle. There was a hint of summer. We walked from booth to booth, sharing fresh oysters from the aquaculture farm and sniffing our way toward the fried clams. I bought Jan a big straw hat with a broad brim. “To help your beautiful complexion continue continuing,” I said. She smiled at shook her head at my attempt to be cute.
We walked to the water’s edge, kicked off our shoes, rolled up our jeans and waded in. Effervescence surged through my calves. I anchored my toes in the cool, compact, soaked sand as the waves parried in and out.
A polka band started up and someone called out that the biergarten was open. We about-faced, wiped the wet sand off our feet, donned our footwear, and set out for the big green-and-cream striped tent at the edge of the parking lot. Once inside, we stood in line for two drafts of ice cold Stag and sausage, onions and peppers served on a grilled hot-dog roll.
We swiveled our way around the tables that crowded one another atop a mat of fresh-smelling straw. My guess was that hay is pretty good at absorbing things, like spilled beer. We weaved over to an empty table near an exit, smiling and nodding at the host of familiar faces along the way.
My mother walked in, talking animatedly with Arnold Ellington, our chief of police. She noticed us, excused herself, came over and sat down. I took her beverage order, a cold Stag, and off I went. On the way back, I saw her hoist my sausage, peppers and onion sandwich, chomp off a bite, look at me and point at it with an approving nod. I about-faced and went to get her one. The band started in on the “Beer Barrel Polka” and Jan and my mother got up to dance.
One glance around the room confirmed how rich the town was in lovely young women just over the drinking age. They drank and laughed and shook their hair and smiled to reveal their straight white teeth. My eyes turned toward Jan on the dance floor. Her blue jeans hugged her just so as she moved and laughed with my mother to the music. Neither of them noticed me.
Jimmy and I laid out page one on deadline four nights later on Wednesday. We had a picture above the fold of Willie’s parents, arms around each others’ waists, standing in front of several species of tomato and mushroom at the hydroponics society booth on Saturday. You could read the labels, heirloom on the tomatoes and Portobello and Chanterelle on the mushrooms, with a disclaimer that, unlike the tomatoes, the ‘shrooms had not been grown in water but in soil here in Hartsdale.
First thing Thursday, I drove to the Route 128 train station and boarded the 11:22 a.m. Northeast Regional for Penn Station in New York. We got in four hours later and I took a taxi to my Hollywood-bound classmate’s apartment on West 76th Street. All I carried was a pack on my back.
As for our new celebrity, Warren Wyndham, we’d worked together on the HighLights newspaper all four years at Hartsdale High and then he went on to New York University to study journalism, film and creative writing. He kicked around the publishing world in various roles, like screening query letters and manuscript samples for literary agents, and he squeezed out what time he could to write novels. After a couple of failures, it was bingo. He pocketed a healthy advance, Hollywood bought an option, bidding became brisk for foreign rights and now he would be paid, handsomely, for moving out west for a while, writing the screenplay and being on hand to consult with the director as they shot the movie.
Warren’s book, “Faded Voices,” was a mystery set in a town not unlike Hartsdale, about the murder of a huge rock star, a titan resembling our own real-life classmate David Jenkins Jr. who, as Harry Hardcore, led the universally-acclaimed Hartsdale-based band, the Saints.
I planned to write a story about the party for Warren: Yet another member of our illustrious Hartsdale High class becomes a star, joining the likes of Harry Hardcore and Willie Gillante, two bright lights I did not want to remind myself died premature deaths. I prayed that Warren Wyndham would not share their fate.
I knocked on Warren’s door late that afternoon and he opened it and flashed me a huge, warm smile. He held his arms out and we hugged. He wore a short, well-tended beard, reddish-brown, the kind you see celebrities sporting in the supermarket tabloids. He was dressed in blue jeans and a sparkling white tee under an unbuttoned blue denim shirt. Brown cardboard boxes, most sealed shut, cluttered the floor. The place was bright, spacious and high-ceilinged. I tossed my pack into the spare bedroom. Nothing was in there but a bureau and a cot.
Around six, three burly men in gray overalls arrived and carried out the boxes. The guests started showing up a couple of hours later. Invariably, they were dressed in black tee-shirts and black jeans; the uniform, as it was explained to me, of the New York literati. Warren had traded his own blue denim for black, leaving me odd man out in my fresh blue Levis and a white Oxford shirt.
The poet Janina Meorusso was there and a serious magnetic force pulled me toward her. We talked and talked, mainly on how the map was not the territory and so the media’s attempts to illustrate what really goes on were futile in the end. As were the artists’ stabs at representing the so-called reality underlying the sum of what we see all around us all the time, she said. But just as the map is a guide, so are the words, she volunteered, especially those rendered in stark black and white on a printed page.
She was reminding me how poems are meant to be read aloud when I realized I could not take my eyes off of her – the pale, clear skin; the hint of red on her lips; the bright green, searching eyes; the lustrous black hair falling to her shoulders and framing it all.
The idea of proposing a dalliance danced in my head, competing with good sense about how it would rupture my open and comfortable relationship back home with Jan Eckert. I was unaware of time passing by as we talked, and it was so sudden to me when Warren was hugging Janina and the others goodnight and packing them into cabs. I hugged her, too.
I walked back up the front stoop, went straight for the spare room and flopped on the bed, fully dressed. In my dream, the poet had joined me here overnight and we made transcendent love. I woke up eight hours later, at ten a.m., still in my clothes, at first wondering where Janina went and then, when it dawned on me she was there only in my dream, I felt relief. Now that it had never happened, there would be no need to slink and hide around Jan Eckert when I got home.
Warren was reading the New York Times over a cup of coffee in the kitchen. I poured some for myself. He handed me the sports section and we exulted in how I’d be in attendance in Boston all weekend for the Red Sox-Yankees holiday series. I held off on breakfast to keep up my appetite and satisfy a hankering as well for a Willie Gee at the Times Square HoJo’s, except here it was called the Broadway Double Decker. I was intent on catching the 1:57 p.m. out of Penn Station after lunch.
As I was wishing Warren the best of times on his journey and new adventure, the movers showed up again and hauled off the furniture. Warren said he was planning to hole up in San Diego to write the screenplay so as not to be distracted by the craziness of Hollywood. His focus, he said, would be the sound of the waves breaking, his mantra and his muse. Only when it was time to climb aboard for the shoot would he venture into the distractions and neuroses of Hollywood.
“Mission Beach,” he said, referring to a beach community in San Diego. “What a concept.”
Me, I secured my back pack and skipped off toward the subway, the first leg of my train trip home, with the detour at the Hojo’s for lunch.
Bruce Kauffman was a longtime North County Times editor and writer with emphasis on business and sports. He now operates a writing consultancy and authors creative works. This is is from his latest effort, a work in progress, exclusively at The Grapevine. For more visit Oceanside Scribe.