Bud and Schoolie ©2014 L.E. Taylor

American history lesson, recounted by L.E. Taylor

When you’re crouched down behind home plate, a baseball game looks different than ordinary spectators ever see. Through the steel bars of a mask it’s framed, more focused. The ball gets to the action zone faster than a civilian can imagine.

A late August sun pounds the dusty Jayne Field diamond under a brassy sky. This ballgame has been tied twice over eight hot innings. Now with two outs, the team at bat has a man on second. The pitch comes like a lightning strike and the hitter drives a sharp grounder into right; the charging fielder gathers it up and throws in one motion. The relay and the runner arrive at the plate in a dust cloud of pink clay and chalk. It’s a dead tie.

“Yer-OUT!” the umpire barks.

1944. South Pacific War Zone

The muzzle end of a sawed off shot gun prodded the Jap officer along the deck of the USS Icefish. The yeoman, 2nd Class had plunged into dark waters to pull the guy from his sinking junk. It was the Jap’s lucky day.

They proceeded along the slippery deck, down into the American submarine, the yeoman sailor guiding his prisoner from behind. It had been a violent night of surface fighting. The war was in its last dangerous months and the Japanese were trying to evacuate (sneak) their important personnel back to Nippon, but the Navy was onto it and one prize of this particular patrol off the New Guinea coast carefully descended the ladder, dripping wet and sullen.

In the captain’s cabin, the interrogation began. Nineteen year-old Yeoman Masinick handed the shot gun to a mate and stood at rest next to his Exec, eyes on the Jap. Captain Petersone opened the Japanese-English manual and awkwardly began the questioning. Masinick, also the sub’s scribe (log-keeper), tried to follow along, using his own text. Finally, the prisoner looked at the captain, then quizzically at the young sailor. “What’s wrong with you, don’t you speak Engrish?”

It was twelve years later before anyone laughed.

Julius Masinick was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. On 08 December 1941, graduation from Detroit Eastern High School was just six months away. That morning, one day after the Pearl Harbor attack, his counsellor assembled senior boys in the gym. He said, “I know you want to enlist. Don’t be stupid; get your diploma; you’re gonna be drafted anyway.” Julius listened. In June, he found himself with a high school diploma from the best public school system in America, and by summer’s end, he was getting used to his new home in the United States Navy.

Julius was restless. He was six feet tall, fit, and no dummy. This was a chance that only comes once in a lifetime. So he volunteered for submarine duty. His personality and his physique got him the nickname “Bruiser”. In no time, it got shortened to Bud.

Navy boot camp would consist of eighteen weeks at Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. Bud had been a good kid-ballplayer in the tough American Legion League on Detroit’s East Side. At Great Lakes he was just another sailor learning the ropes. It happened, though, that the navy’s premier baseball team, the Bluejackets, was also stationed there. The All-Star services league was formed as a morale boost for U.S. troops. Bob Feller, Johnny Mize, Dom DiMaggio, Barney McCosky, Virgil Trucks were a few of the sixty or so pros at Great Lakes who’d put their careers on hold for the Duration.

The Bluejackets team was led by Hall of Fame Tiger manager Mickey Cochrane. For some reason, maybe Bud’s Detroit roots, Cochrane took a liking to the kid. So did the great Tiger pitcher, “Schoolboy” Rowe, star of three pennant seasons and a World Series Championship. By the end of Bud’s boot camp, the green sailor and the veteran pitcher, Schoolie, had spent countless hours talking baseball.

Then the kid was gone, shipped out to sub school in Connecticut.

After New London, Bud found himself in Pearl Harbor for assignment at sea. Passing a practice diamond on his way to the sub pen, Bud recognized a pitcher wearing the distinctive Bluejackets jersey. “Schoolie!” Bud called out.

“Julie!” The big Texan jogged over to the low fence.

“They call me ‘Bud’ now Schoolie.”

At age fifteen, Lynwood Rowe had pitched phenomenally in an adult league, and in 1932 he won nineteen games in the Texas League. The Tigers signed him in ’33. He won twenty-four games for the ’34 American league champs. Now in his thirties, Schoolboy Rowe looked at the submariner insignia on Bud’s collar. “Well, you done it. Why’d you go and do a dumb thang like that, boy? You could get killed.”

Bud laughed. “You only get one chance, Schoolie.” The veteran smacked the ball into his lumpy glove, nodded, and extended his hand. “You got that right, Bud.”

By V-J Day in 1945, Bud had been on five 60-day patrols with the Icefish, in three battles, and had endured the heart-pounding terror of depth charges more than once. “It was like being sealed in an oil drum,” he recalled, “while ten guys beat on the outside of it with baseball bats.”

Postwar found Bud playing first base in the Carolina Leagues, and he went to one spring training with Toledo. But he had a different world view now. It was time to settle down and he got hired by a Detroit chemical company.

“Well, that’s baseball,” old pal Schoolboy Rowe opined. “At least ya made it out alive.”

Bud married and needed extra income. He’d earned a little by “reffin’ ” youth basketball at Franklin Settlement, one of the city’s big housing projects. One day, a friend said the DABF needed umps; lots of ballgames every week, good pay. Bud was thirty-five.

2005. Jayne Field, Detroit East Side

“Yer-OUT!”

The dust hasn’t settled and the kid leaps to his feet, screaming. “Bull sh…”

“That’s enough of that.” Bud Masinick removes his steel mask. “You slid around the plate. You gotta touch it.” The player explodes, his face is inches from the ump’s.

Bud looks directly into the blazing eyes of the eighteen year old. “Son, you didn’t hear me. Play’s over. Go sit down.” The tantrum continues, spittle and curses fly. “Son, you’d better go back to the dugout and sit down.” Bud leans in closer to the kid and whispers, “Or you’re gonna have to explain to your friends why you got knocked on your ass by an eighty year old man.”

Bud walks away, pulls out a bandana. “That’s baseball, Schoolie,” he says softly to no one. He wipes the sweat from the inside of his mask. “Yep. That’s baseball.”

Those Who Will Not Speak

A stream of consciousness by L. E. Taylor

We’d only been in the new house for a month or so. The neighborhood was being built from scratch along a new treeless street called Harvard Road. It was paved with some kind of coarse unfriendly composition. You could clearly see the rough particles of crushed stone that made up the surface. It was solid and looked smooth, but to the tender knees and elbows of a four-year-old whose perception was informed much closer to the ground than an adult’s, it was unfriendly.

I’d just taken a spill off my red tricycle making a quick turn at our driveway. The knee was scraped and bloodied. I was sitting on the greensward between the new concrete sidewalk and the gently beveled concrete curb. It was low-sloped, and not easy to sit on unlike the higher squared curbing on the older streets. (One street over, Grayton Avenue, had trees and was paved with the black, tarry stuff that got steam-rolled and then congealed into a smooth seamless roadway. It looked like rubber, and softer. Well, it wasn’t really, but that’s what I thought until years later when I tried for a diving catch in a tag football scrum.)

Everything about this lonely new place on Harvard Road was strange, and it depressed me as I watched the bright liquid of my life roll down my white shin.

“Hi,” the new boy said.

I looked up to see an older kid, at least six by the leanness of him. Short pants, short sleeved cotton pullover. Blond wavy hair, freckles and a smile. I wiped away a tear. “Hi.”

“I’m Rudy. We just moved in.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “I live in the house next to the house on the corner.” He up-righted my trike and sat on the seat, feet on the sidewalk. “You wanna be friends?”

“Yeah.” I got up by myself and stood next to the occupied tricycle.

“Wutchername?” Rudy said.

“Larry,” I said. “I have to go in. Let’s play later.” He dismounted as I reached for the handle bar. “Okay,” he grinned and skipped down the sidewalk toward the second house from the corner as I limped up my driveway toward some motherly cosseting.

And? – you ask.

Well, it just came to me now, seven decades later, as I was looking up the difference between macadam and asphalt. (Some brains work that way, try to be patient with me.) Over the next twelve years, Rudy would become my mutually acknowledged ‘best friend.’ We were buddies. We read the same comic books; as we aged, we studied the men’s adventure mags, and we shared cowboy storybooks. We’d go to the Friday night movies together. We built and sailed toy gliders, played hardball catch, and did a lot of laughing. He would usually be one of the street boys who played baseball and touch football out front and on the overgrown vacant lots and various crude playing fields of the 1940s East Side. In the winter, there were fewer cars about, so when Harvard iced over, we played galoshes hockey. Rudy went on to high school two years ahead of me, made a letter in track, and matriculated to Michigan State where I visited him once or twice before he quit and joined the Army; he wrote me from boot camp and the battlefield. When he returned from combat in Korea, he took a job with an IT company in west Michigan.

That’s the last I ever heard of Rudy.

But there is an oddity to reflect upon in this boyhood casebook. About ninety percent of our fellowship was just the two of us. When others were around, Rudy retreated. Not from the society of others, but from me. He refused to accompany me to the places of my expanding world. He never saw me play shortstop in organized baseball; he refused every invitation to be my guest at any of the social clubs my parents had joined in the halcyon years of plenty.

My boyhood (World War II) summers were spent in the idyllic lakefront countryside of Ontario, Canada, 10 miles distant from the American shipping channel where it cuts through Lake St. Clair. Every summer’s day I could swim in the shallows of this mini-‘Great Lake’, flop down on the isolated sand beach in front of my Auntie Kane’s old clapboard house. At any time of any day, I could glance toward the northwest and see in the distance, magnificent giant ore boats plow up and down the Michigan coastline. The boats laboring left-to-right from Detroit and the Lower Lakes were usually “bow-high”- empty. They would disappear over the horizon to the right, as new lake boats loaded with iron ore and grain from the U.P. and the Great Plains appeared low-in-the-water, fo’c’s’les elevated magically above the horizon, until they emerged from the heat waves at the earth’s curvature, and cut the water low-bowed right-to-left and were gone in a half hour, lumbering behind Peche Island on their way to the Ford Rouge Plant, Toledo, and the mills and markets of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

During WWII, I watched a world go by as I tanned brown as a berry, and dreamed on a beach in another country.

But I was always alone. There were yammering little squirts around, but no pals. Rudy came over to Canada just one time, it was a year or two after the war. As soon as my parents dropped him off, he claimed to be sick, went to his bedroom, and had to be collected the very next day and fetched back to Detroit, the second house from the end on Harvard Road.

There were times in the neighborhood when older boys would bully me. Rudy would never interfere. Never took my side. Once or twice, he even joined in the taunting. I was puzzled. Still am.

What is wrong with people who cannot be kind when it counts? What happens to stunt the souls of ordinary children of God, boys and girls who grow to be men and women unable to offer an atta-boy, or at least tolerance, to another who may be hungering for reassurance?

The question is valid, but also moot. Might I not ask it of myself – where has my own impulse to reach out in brave witness been withheld? Maybe not today or last week, but once upon a timid time.

Reading back over this odd meandering, it dawns on me that I hadn’t been looking up macadam and asphalt at all. I was looking up a phrase that had popped into my head as I read this morning about a destructive anger that smolders between my countrymen. An anger I share passionately from one side of the conflict. The phrase that niggled my conscience turns out to be from Jeremiah 5:21.

None so blind as those who have eyes, but will not see.
And ears but will not hear.

And what of those, I pondered, who have valid words to share but will neither utter nor write them, whether in argument or in love, even though the act may nourish or inform or revive life in another? Or in a nation?

Before the pavement rises to greet your face, friend, speak! And brave the consequences.

Onward.

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Dear Lori

Open letter to my young publicist, by L.E. Taylor

It’s been more than a year since you first urged me to write a weekly article to post on the Internet. After the horror of realizing you were being serious I asked, “Write about what?”

You replied, “Anything that comes into your mind, anything you care about!” You’d noticed that our long bi-weekly telephone gabs always started out with a businesslike checklist of dry topics, but soon drifted into long adventures through a rabbit warren of remembrances, war stories, opinions, and irreverent wise cracks. You said whatever the main topic, whatever tidbit you might toss off, it usually reminded me of a story. You said you’ve been wanting to get me onto the lecture circuit, and that you also want me to start doing voice-overs. In fact, it was way overdue that I stop hiding out and get out there… Larry!

Much of my verbosity on the phone was sparked, of course, by our chemistry. You are a great listener and I am a ham. (But seriously, folks…) You also had another rare quality that brought out the best in me: whenever you could get a word in, it was always apt, intelligent, from your own experience, and professionally valuable.

All fine traits of a useful literary collaborator.

So today, I’m sitting here writing, as always, about something that I care about. In fact, I am shadowed by this burden of care more heavily each day; it’s my Sisyphean boulder. I could not avoid fretting away over your ordeal, Lori, if I wanted to.

Bad enough, the cancer.

Bad enough, its location.

Bad enough that your already suffering husband needs you, that your three home-schooled children are suddenly deprived of their mentor-Mom. Bad enough that the oral surgeries were destructive.

And the radiation. And now the chemo.

All of that is worse than bad enough; it is your Cross. I cannot help you carry it. I can only ask a merciful God to intervene. To ease your mortal pain. To engage with you and your family through the Holy Spirit in restorative ways that are beyond our understanding. To bless us all as we try to encourage you. Albeit, helplessly.

For the time being, Lori, I am reconciled – we can no longer talk. That is, you can’t. Which diminishes me.

So I’m accelerating my efforts as a teacher of adults who are serious about strengthening their writing skills. LT’s First Rule: Write only about what you care about.

The mentoring of those fellow-travelers focuses me greatly as a scribbler of these weekly “blog” pieces. I am often reminded that you suggested I was already weaving stories, only not in written words.

And now I am off the bench, pinch-hitting as my own publicist. Schlepping my product to reviewers and librarians and media talkers. Soon, I’ll be figuring out how to crack the code that will get me past unsympathetic gatekeepers, and into the sanctums of film producers. And I will, too.

Waiting for you to get back into the game, I will advance the score. I will listen to the voices in my head and do my best to follow through on the nascent plans that were coming clear to us. I will be ready when you return.

Who knows – we may actually see each other in person someday.

Onward.

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