Gilly’s Juke Joint (1)

19 Sep

I knew Gilly Dunkle three times in my life. Twice he died, and the final time I checked out before him. Listen, this isn’t some sort of Buddhist karmic cyclical rubbish the likes of Richard Gere or the Dalai Lama would love to feed you. This is just the weirdness that goes on, and I’ve learned to accept just about everything that comes at me.

The first time I met Gilly was on the dusty ball fields in Flushing in 1912. He was up at bat and behind in the count when the pitcher nailed him right in the temple. Gilly went down and stayed for a few minutes before he opened his eyes, looked at the sun, and said: “Cy Sherman’s gonna have a field day with this one.” The boys laughed.
“Jesus, kid, your brain must’ve turned into mush with that last pitch,” coach said. “Take it easy will ya?” And he sent Gilly home.

Charles S. Sherman was a well-known sportswriter at the time who gave Nebraska its famous “cornhusker” moniker. Everyone read Cy. Even us, boys. We went crazy over the papers. We also read Frank Bascombe, Otto Dix, Shirley Povich, and of course Ring Lardner. Ring was king. He covered all our favourite players: Rome Chambers of the Boston Beaneaters, Zaza Harvey of the Chicago Orphans, Tommy Sheehan of the Giants, Archie Stimmel of the Reds, and later Casey Stengel.

I took Gilly home with me that afternoon on account of his noggin’ and my mother gave us tomato soup and toast and fried potato wedges. Gilly had a helluva shiner from the hit and was still woozy, but he wolfed down the potatoes and asked for seconds. “Guess your appetite ain’t been shook outta you,” my mother said and spooned more food on his plate. “Jus’ yer sense, looks like.”

After dinner we walked back out to the ball field and he told me about the Ned Hanlon baseball card he had from 1887. Lyons had been a left fielder with the Philadelphia Quakers. Gilly’s older brother Zooey had clipped it from a repository in Washington D.C. He said I could see it if I walked him home. I could even touch it. But I told him it was getting late and my mother would be waiting with the wooden spoon if I didn’t come back before dark.
“There’s this sap at school,” Gilly said, “who keeps nagging me about my fielding. Tracy Scoggins, you know him?”
I said no.
“He’s white all over and has them weird eyes.”
“Oh yea, the albino.”
“The who?”
“He’s albino. Means he got white pigment in his blood or somethin’. That his name? Tracy?”
“Yea. Anyways, me and Timmy Dugan is gonna jump him tomorrow out behind the backstop, the sonofabitch. You wanna get in on it?”
I said no. I said I got my dig in when we were playing kickball and he was pitching and I came up and booted the goddamned thing right smack into his mug.
“What’d he do?”
“Nothin’. He cried, I guess.”
“Goddamn, I wisht I’d a been there for that,” Gilly said and kicked at a piece of granite on the mound. “I really hate that sonofabitch.”

He left down the right field line and walked out through a little door in the fence, right by where the yard marker sign was. And I hustled back before my mother could bring out the wooden spoon.

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3 Responses to “Gilly’s Juke Joint (1)”

  1. slyboots2 19/09/2007 at 2:28 PM #

    Good, good, good- capturing place and era. And baseball, for cripes sake!
    Whoda thunk.

  2. Anonymous 19/09/2007 at 6:50 PM #

    I like the Franny and Zooey homage. This is totally cool. Just like Ring Lardner would do it.

  3. throwingroses 24/09/2007 at 5:20 PM #

    I really love this. I love the opening and getting to the oddness that is just plain life.

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