Tony Gwynn and The Opposite Field

To my mind the most attractive kind of conversations you can have is with anyone who manages to infuse expertise with passion — true, pure-grade passion.

I don’t really think the topic matters.

It could be about the art of making cardboard boxes or doing tax returns, but I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Tony Gwynn about hitting a baseball.

When I was a staff member at The Daily Aztec, the excellent student newspaper at San Diego State, I was lucky enough to simultaneously cover my two loves, the arts and sports.

With the arts, I got to use the word “seminal”  to my heart’s content and got a lot of free albums.

On the sports side, I covered SDSU track and field as well as (shock) soccer, but I would fill in on baseball.

In 2002, San Diego State baseball was in a moribund period.** The Aztecs, were then coached by Jim Dietz, who had been at the university since the early 1970s. But Dietz had not led SDSU to the NCAA tournament in a decade and many thought there’s no reason why one of the largest schools in the West shouldn’t be a major player in California’s competitive college baseball world.

The news that SDSU had hired Gwynn to replace his former college coach brought the Aztecs national attention, for a while, at least.

And it was during Gwynn’s first season that I covered a few games for the paper and got to write about my beloved baseball.

The first game I was assigned to stands out.

It was after an Aztecs win against (I think) Long Beach State that I went into the interview room at Tony Gwynn Stadium, which had been built in 1997 with money donated by then Padres owner John Moores and named after Mr. Padre himself.

Gwynn came in wearing a black SDSU jacket with white baseball pants. As I’ve only really seen the man wearing the various San Diego Padres gear down the years, it was a bit odd to see him decked out in something else.  It was like Derek Jeter wearing a red accented uniform.

I was in the room along  with a stringer from San Diego Union-Tribune, who seemed to be a dyspeptic sportswriter who emerged from nearby factory that manufactures cliches.

Being the guy from the real newspaper, he went first and  trudged  through his list of “Talk about…” non-questions. Sportswriters have been known on occasion to ask questions that square with the themes of their already written stories.

After he finished, I started with my questions, when Gwynn noticed my microcassette recorder in my hand.

“Hey, bring that up here on the table,” he said in that instantly recognizable, nasal, Southern California-friendly, voice of his.

Now, the Aztecs won the game on a rally that was started by an opposite field hit from a player whose name I wish I could remember right now.

I asked Gwynn about the play and if he’d been working in practice with that particular player on taking the ball the other way.

Gwynn perked up, and said that the player’s opposite field base hit “made him smile,” and then he enthusiastically walked me through the pitch,  the situation and what the batter is supposed to do.

It was like listening to Beethoven talk not about the “Ninth Symphony”  as whole, but just about what the cellos are doing.

I was fascinated, truly fascinated. Some moments define your life and others season them. If only by default any wisdom happens to adhere to age,  I know now that both are important.

Thanks, Tony.

**It has been pointed out by a former colleague that Dietz won more than 35 games in each of his last three years, but were unlucky to not reach the NCAA tournament. The perils of editing yourself. -SC-


Abandoned Ideas For May 20, 2014

Coming up with an extensive list of potential self-help book titles that incorporate the names of defunct European currencies, e.g. “Making Your (Deutsch) Mark,”  “Guild, Guilder, Guildest”  and “Speaking Franc-ly About Your Success.”

Using my socks that are no longer paired with other socks to create sock-based versions of Mark Rothko paintings.

Comparison shopping for butter.

Figure out best hand gesture to indicate “italics” in the manner of air quotes.

Canvas my friends to find out if any of them own a grandfather clock and ask them why or why not.

Find myself in a situation where I could appropriately use the phrase “zilch, nada, nothing” in conversation before 7 p.m.

To arrange the pictures of friends’ babies I’ve been sent over the years in the order of who I think will be the tallest in 20 years time.

Go the Warby Parker store on Greene Street in New York and ask them to make me look like Menachem Begin.


Sex and the death of the Book-A-Zine

It took a little while to reach me, I finally heard that the Book-A-Zine sex shop, centrally located on Bank Street in New London, Conn., has gone out of business. 

Man, did that news stir up some memories.
Do let me explain.

I returned to my native Connecticut in 2004, after living in New Hampshire and California for nearly 10 years. I was hired by Shore Publishing to cover New London for the then broadsheet Times weekly newspapers.
The day before I started, I took a quick spin around New London and made my first mental notes on how much the town had changed since the rough and tumble 1980s and 1990s.  But there were some stalwarts, such as the Bank Street Roadhouse, Ernie’s Cafe and yes, the Book-A-Zine.
“That’s still there?”   
So, the next morning I joined the rest of the Times staff in our basement offices on State Street for my first editorial meeting to kick around story ideas.  
When the editors asked me if I had anything to pitch, I tossed out a piece on the Book-A-Zine and a feature on Cedar Grove Cemetery.  I’m wobbly with career advice, but I’ve found it advantageous to get eros and thanatos out of the way, first day on the job.
The editors told to me to do death first and sex at a later date.

And if you don’t mind some flag-waving, a few years later the Times newspapers did eventually do a measured and insightful piece on adult-only retail in the area, an issue that had our advertising department wanting to meet us later in the parking lot.
Even though some people might not want one in their towns, many of the newer sex shops are scrubbed up and their interiors resemble a Gap or  Uniqlo, albeit with different stuff for sale.

And the products move as well. It’s estimated that sex toys alone is a $15 billion industry. It must be said that after some research that “estimated $15 billion”  figure has remained somewhat steady over the past five or six years. This suggests that readers care less about the financial information in article about adult wares, so $15 billion will do just fine for context. 

But the Book-A-Zine building, which was purchased by New London wingman Rod Cornish for a  possible expansion of his successful Hot Rod restaurant and bar, didn’t give off a respectable, open minded, children of the sexual revolution vibe.
There were no windows and in their place was an electric blue plastic wall which cracked over time. And there was this pungent, moldy aroma that would waft out from the building. To this day, I can’t entirely place it, and eased my mind that they used some cleaning product, — or one hoped they used some sort of cleaning product — I’ve yet to encounter.

The Book-A-Zine to, I suppose, its credit, remained seedy, a retail-porn Tardis that zoomed you to pre-Internet era of smut that required more courage and nerve than bravely clicking “clear history” before your girlfriend or boyfriend came home.

This was well-captured by the Connecticut-based artist Gretchen Hatfield who once did a series of illustrated letter block style prints, with each letter corresponding to a different New London landmark. For “X” she depicted the Book-A-Zine storefront seen at a distance from a darkened alley.

I had a closer perspective.

In 2008, I moved with my then girlfriend  from a residential block, the lyrical Starr Street  to 138 Bank St., above Waterhouse Salon and Studio 33, two doors down from the ‘Zine.  
The apartment has a roof deck that offers splendid views of industrial Groton, vacant Fort Trumbull and the rear entrance to the Book-A-Zine.
So, on some sunny days  in the background  you could watch ferries, submarines and sailboats float on the Thames, while in the foreground you could observe people surreptitiously scaling the back stairs to the ‘Zine.
I would sometimes wave, though none of you ever waved back.

Upon hearing about the demise of the Book-A-Zine, I could make out the collective sighs of relief coming from some New London advocates.  I suspect the presence of a porn shop in the heart of the downtown business district wasn’t in the “Welcome to the Whaling City” brochure.
And now Cornish has an enviable water-view property, which, depending on his plans, could draw even more people to the city center.

As for me, hand on heart, I only went into the Book-A-Zine a couple of times, both to purchase joke gifts — careful not to say gag gifts — for Christmas party Secret Santas.
And when I did, I learned a bit of New London wisdom that will have to stand as the ‘Zine’s legacy:

“There’s little worry in entering the Book-A-Zine, it’s leaving the Book-A-Zine that’s the problem.”






Scalping Doors Tickets

The death yesterday of Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek brought this story to mind.

If you’re in your mid-30s, like I am, and if you didn’t have hippie parents or cool older siblings, (no and no) it’s likely you first became obsessed with the Doors because of the hype surrounding the 1991 Oliver Stone biopic on Jim Morrison.

I would count myself among them.

At that point, I had a few Doors 45s, my favorite being “Hello, I Love You.”  What can I say? Even though I know I’m  supposed to prefer the Doors songs about Native American  Oedipal lizards who read Huxley aloud in Venice Beach, I’ve always prefered the catchy ones. Still do.

But I was then a freshman in high school going through my Jim Morrison period and for me that meant poetry.

The rock history books I read over and over, often  described Jimbo as a poet and I thought that would make him “acceptable” to my teachers at school. Looking back on it, I wanted to use these mild acts of rebellion to somehow gain acceptance from authority figures and my fellow students. Hey, I was confused.

It was also during my Morrison period that I began to write my own bloody awful poetry. It’s helpful sometimes to connect the blame.

The Doors, like a lot of 60s and 70s bands, were in the early 90s still very popular. I think it was because of the prevalence and profitability of classic rock radio, and that CD players were getting cheaper and everyone’s parents and older siblings felt  compelled to by their old albums again. And dubbing CDs onto cassette was easier than going tape to tape, (vinyl among the masses was out) which led to a golden era of mixtapes. You could rely on getting a few Doors songs that way.

When Oliver Stone announced he was making a Morrison movie, with Val Kilmer (Iceman! Guy in ‘Real Genius’!) as the Lizard King,  the show biz promo machine began to whirr and hum and there was Doors stuff everywhere, especially in Rolling Stone and on MTV.

“The Doors,” came out in March 1991 and I remember and three of my friends had all wanted to see it on the first night. Three of us were under 17, though we  had with  a high school senior, Dave, who is now one of my closest friends.

The movie was playing at the Waterford Cinemas, in Waterford, Connecticut, which at that point was the newest and most fashionable cineplex in the region.

We got there around 5 p.m. to buy tickets for the 7 p.m. screen. And even though “The Doors,” was rated ‘R’ for what we hoped was rampant sex and nudity, box office guy, for some reason, let us buy four tickets.


So, we go do whatever for an hour or so and then returned to get in line for a seat. We got there kind of early, which was good because the both of the screenings that night had sold out.

When we got to the front of the line, we presented our tickets to the usher.

The usher then looked at our 14-year old faces — we were a youthful 14 — and would not let us in.

“But we have tickets,” we protested.

“Are you 17 and are your parents with you?,” the usher countered.

In retrospect, the thought of seeing “The Doors” with my parents would have probably hastened my entry into therapy, and who knows how life could have gone from there.

Though,  we did have Dave, 17, with us and we thought that would have sufficed.

But no.

So, we got, as we most likely said at the time,  skunked.

Then Dave hit upon a brilliant idea. “The show is sold out — let’s scalp the tickets!”

Now, I have never, at that point, bought or tried to scalp tickets.

Even at that young age, I knew that selling things or convincing people to do anything was not my strong point.  It still isn’t. You don’t want to buy something from me? Fine.

We had bought the “The Doors” tickets for $6.00.

We went outside and walked down the line of people waiting to buy tickets to other movies and announced we had “Doors” tickets to sell.

This might have been the first time since the Doors were actually a band that someone “had Doors tickets.”

We sold them to people in line for $10 a piece to our great excitement. It was closest I’ve ever come to being Mike Demone, the guy with the Van Halen tickets in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” who has terrible sex with  Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

I eventually saw “The Doors” a few weeks later and I was absolutely thrilled with the rampant sex and nudity.

And Kyle McLaughlin wasn’t bad as Ray Manzarek, as I recall.