An Excerpt from Take Time For Paradise
From The 2011 Reissue of A. Bartlett Giamatti’s Book TAKE TIME FOR PARADISE
There was a period of time, long ago, when my father and I lived in New York City, simultaneously. He, in a hotel room, in Midtown, and I, in a dingy, apartment on the Upper Westside. Occasionally, the anxious head chatter of my-young-actor-adrift-in-the-big-city routine would be mercifully interrupted by one of my father’s late night phone calls. After a day of work, my father relished the opportunity to relax in his room, a yellow legal pad in hand, and ruminate.
For him, this was a moment of flow. A pause seized to craft ideas and thoughts.
Thoughts for this very book, you hold in your hands. Our conversation would always start with a discourse on baseball--the connective glue in our lives, from my boyhood to that present moment, including, of course, the current state of our beloved Boston Red Sox.
(Through the fate of lineage, I had inherited this particularly reckless New England Disease). My father’s secondary impetus here was to pick my brain about some experiences that were unique to me-those of the athlete. While he was an incredible student of sports-and above all baseball- (obviously)-he had never ventured as a player beyond his childhood backyard efforts. I had been a student athlete, playing baseball, soccer-and swimming through college. I was beyond humbled that my father had a true desire to know my insights, and experiences, for this book. And subsequently, that he found them useful. After we said goodnight, and retreated to our separate corners of that sleeping Goliath, I was always filled with such a keen sense of clarity. Such a keen sense of connection. As to one, whose heart is seen, and in turn, sees. The familiar resonated, and in that precious time where it glowed, I took comfort, that I was not alone. I had him. And he had me. On our journey’s arc, our relationship had evolved to that natural next step--that of maturity. That of a shared reverence. That of friendship.
If I had only known how tragically brief this new found configuration would be.
Blindsided, that unique period was snuffed out before it really began. And this mountain in my life, against a brilliant blaze of light, one beautiful September afternoon, just disappeared.
Only a few short days after my father’s sudden death, I found myself alone, in the kitchen of my mother’s house, face to face with a freshly opened box of books. Books, that only moments before, had been delivered to her doorstep.
My father never saw the publication of his manuscript, Take Time For Paradise.
The irony of the title became clear in that instant. Here was a man who worked so hard, rarely took a break, and died so young. Did he ever in his life have a chance to “take the time”? And if so, when? I wonder…
Solace comes with a cross fade montage of memory. For we did have baseball. As a boy, on any given summer Saturday afternoon you might find me upstairs in my room, in full daydream recline, surrounded by the images of my baseball heroes. There I would lie in wait, till I heard my father’s gleeful command from somewhere in the depths of our family home. I had chomped at the bit since daybreak for this call to arms. A call that signaled the beginning of my father’s self-imposed hiatus from the weekend correction of student’s papers -from work. It was a call that hustled us up to grab our mitts and Red Sox hats from a broom closet in the kitchen. Now clad for battle, our hearts filled with possibility-the two of us seemingly bound on some sacred mission like Telemachus and Odysseus-we would make our purposeful exit through an antiquated, tin screen door, out towards the sun. In the oblong, pocked, back yard of our house in New Haven, under a blue sky, with a warm June breeze at our backs, we played long toss. Back and forth. No sound, but the lone cadence set only by the solitary pop of a ball in a mitt. Then a sudden shift, and infield instruction became the mode. My father fired ground balls with a passion in my direction. Always the teacher, he led a supportive tutorial in proper fielder’s techniques. Finally, came my most beloved slice of the afternoon’s adventure: with a flick of his glove, he gave me the familiar signal to assume the position of catcher. Now, he, Luis Taint, and I, Carlton Fisk. A sudden hush fell over the crowd, as with a weathered, buckle shoe, he toed the imaginary rubber, shrugged, and with a deep sigh, leaned in for the sign. His face, calm with focus, as he peered down at me, over his glasses. With a nod of the head (the selection accepted) he ever so slowly arrived at the set position, checked the runner on first, (somewhere over by the garage)…and froze. Motionless. I held my breath. Pa’s oxford shirt, and red chino’s billowed in the breeze. The world’s clock closed down. And then, with a sudden kick of the leg, an El Tiante twist of the body, and a head jolt thrust heavenward, my father let loose a fastball. Right down the middle. A thunderous clap of leather shook the neighborhood as the ball arrived, and nestled tightly in my palm’s pocket. Such stillness held, as a smile eclipsed his bearded visage. My hero. An instant apprehended. Lassoed. And perfected. Now, restored, with a tip of his cap, my father exited the field, back up the porch steps, through that screen door, and returned to work.
Dissolve, now memory, and fade up to nights- school nights at the dinner table, long after mealtime, where I sat, and feigned hard interest, in whatever Dickensian novel I had been assigned for class. There amongst piles of books and manuscripts, against the percussive rhythm of my father’s typewriter, I was allowed to accompany him-if the bulk of my homework was completed-and listen to the Red Sox on our Magnavox stereo radio. The voice that narrated this nightly carnival, from far away exotic lands like Detroit, or Baltimore, was Ned Martin. Like some mystical wizard, Mr. Martin had the power to soothe, elate or destroy us. He had control over our very baseball existence. I was convinced that my father had a personal, cerebral pipeline set up with him. For only Ned Martin had the power to interrupt my father from the tick -tack of his creation. Only Ned Martin could make my father stop. Stop and sit back-at a crucial point in the game-and close his eyes in meditation.
“Concentrate your forces, boy”. My father would say with serene assurance.
On cue, I would follow suit, and imitate his every sensibility- anything to help will the outcome of that evening’s quest in favor of our most noble team. So there we sat, eyes closed, my father and I, in deep concentration, as the Wizard Martin colored the room in shades of suspense, helped us to feel, and, then inevitably, to reason.
On Sundays, we didn’t go to church. We went to Fenway Park. Fenway Park, where my grandfather took my father as a boy. Fenway Park, where we headed, pre dawn, in my father’s yellow VW Bug. The intention, to arrive as early as possible, and wander the ballpark’s neighborhood for hours, in order to fully absorb the aura of that mythic place. Fenway Park, where the Universal Language Of Baseball was, and is, still spoken. Fenway Park, where in those days, Dame Mutability roamed the stands come the late innings, and Rice, Lynn and Evans roamed the outfield. Fenway Park, where, on these magnificent afternoons, out in the bleacher’s, my father never seemed more relaxed. His arms thrown back. His face arched towards the sun. He was alive. Here, at Fenway, my father was never more animated. His voice, that of a sonic boom, would shake the Old Yard’s very foundation, as he leapt in the air with joy, Or with protest. His spirit, never more radiant, as he commiserated with our fellow fans. I still sense his arm around my shoulder, as he indicated, taught, and helped me to appreciate. My father existed wholly in the clarity of that moment. Free. And I followed. Yes, Fenway Park. There in baseball’s Garden of Paradise, in memory’s glorious snap shot, my father sits peacefully, locked in a timeless place, where the connection to all of “it” intersected. For on these pilgrimages, our common bond solidified around the game and it’s deeper lessons, applicable to life, which he imparted.
Each season is a quest. Each game a journey. A journey that embodies its own unique, peculiar, process. A process, whose very foundation is built on the game’s elusive principles of simplicity, one pitch at a time, one at bat at a time, and one game at a time. And during this process, (a process you must trust and commit to), if you are willing to make the constant, necessary adjustments in order to succeed, stay in the moment, and have the conviction of awareness to never carry your last success, or miscue with you to the plate… and, most importantly, after the mastery of these details, if you can remain mindful that the voyage IS the thing--you will be rewarded. And that reward, no matter the journey’s outcome--because the outcome is always a mystery-- will be the character you acquired, for having persevered.
But whether one had the discipline to make this sport’s Zen puzzle second nature or not, my father implored passionate vigil for the very essence of this beautiful game. Its endless possibilities. It’s potential for surprise, failure, redemption and hope. The hope that is baseball. Value for the heart, mind and soul resides here. Honor it. Respect it. For the game fulfills an essential need. A specific, individual, release. A release in cahoots with an opportunity to dream…that is sacred. So therefore we made the time. Because it mattered. Because what it gave, and still gives, ultimately, over the years, throughout childhood, and into adulthood, is a precious connection. A connection to something more valuable than even the game can realize in its patterns and rituals. And with each new day, each new game, there comes another chance to reconnect. Reconnect to a simpler time. A late night phone call; the pop of a ball in a mitt; a stroll around that old New England neighborhood, where a Green Monster lurks; a father’s hand on his son’s shoulder, there under the sun, in an open green space. I cherish such comfort received in this reconnection. This gift. And thus, with the ritual observance, presently still, of each day’s baseball game, I ride reconnection’s wave, and let it carry me back. Back to our dinning room table in New Haven…There the Wizard Martin narrates, and my father types. And we are together again. Heart to heart. We have each other. And with the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, for a moment, all is right in the world. And once again, we are not alone.