Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

One of the benefits of teaching English in Korea was the opportunity to travel. From Korea it was easy to reach other destinations in Asia. During the winter and summer months I would have a short holiday, during which I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the eastern hemisphere. During my years in Korea, I got to travel to Australia, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, I never imagined I would get to see places like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Uluru in Australia’s outback. As great as these places were, these sites were, they didn’t compare to the coolest thing I got to experience.

I flew to Tokyo in August of 2007 without much of a plan. I stayed in a neighborhood called Shinjuku where they had what are called capsule hotels, cheap places where you sleep in a small coffin-like chamber. Outside the sleeping area are saunas and showers and places to get a haircut. Japan is also home of the high-tech toilet, with a heated seat for the winter, various buttons that play music and other unknown features.

That first night I settled in at a decent hour and took a walk around the neighborhood. There were a bunch of arcades, including these games where you would buy trading cards and scan the cards into the arcade, and whatever was on the card was in the game. Those seemed pretty cool as I watched people play them. They had games of this kind for baseball, football, and other genres like fantasy and mech combat.

While walking around I noticed many kids dressed like punks, lots of outfits of leather and spikes. I wondered if there was a punk club in the neighborhood. Eventually I saw a bunch of punks gathered around this one particular spot, including a girl who spoke some English named Ryoko. She told me there was a club right there that was having a show in a few hours, and her band, Last Target, was playing. Later that night I went back to this place which was called ACB Hall. A few different bands played. They were all decent, but finally Ryoko’s band got up. The instant they took the stage this incredible rush of energy burst from both them and the audience as the sounds of their guitars and drums pierced the air. This band was fantastic, and Ryoko has to be the greatest front person I’ve ever seen. She’s like a pinball onstage, flying all over the place, and the crowd was just so into them. 

After the show we all hung out, and the band told the audience that two nights later at this same club they were recording their next album. They needed backup vocalists, and we were all invited to come back and sing in their chorus. So, I had another night to hang with them as they recorded. They had us all together to sing lyrics a few times over, some lines were in Japanese, others in English. They also separated us into a men’s and women’s chorus to do the same. 

The rest of the trip wasn’t nearly as cool. I tried to see Mount Fuji but got bad directions on what bus I was supposed to take and only saw it from a distance. I saw a Meiji-Era garden, and Japanese art that resembled comic book art, which inspired people like Frank Miller in the 1980’s comic book scene. The Bandai Museum was a bit out of the way but once I got there I saw exhibits about anime and manga and old video games, like the Famicom, what the Nintendo Entertainment System was called in Japan.

Ryoko and I kept in touch, and the next summer, when I had vacation again, they were playing three nights in a row in three different cities. Almost exactly a year after we met, I went off to Japan again. This time I took the Beetle, the ferry from Busan South Korea to Fukuoka Japan, which only takes about two and a half hours. From there I took the speed train to Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in World War II. They had a museum about that, as well as a memorial to Koreans who died in the blast that day. Hiroshima also has a Manga library; it was fun to see a whole library of comic books. Most of them were Japanese of course, but they did have an English section. 

After spending a night in Hiroshima, I got on the train again and spent a few hours in Nagasaki, where I saw the peace statue and their own museum about the atomic bomb. At this particular museum they had videos about nuclear testing in the United States, including how it affected Native Americans who lived in the Southwest. 

I also got to check out some arcades, including a Golgo 13 sniper game. Golgo 13 is like a Japanese James Bond who was featured in two Nintendo games when I was a kid. Both titles blew the minds of 80’s children as it’s implied you have sex during them. Gamers may not believe this, but I also saw an arcade game for Half Life. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there had to have been some way for you to save your game. 

From Nagasaki I went south to a town called Oita Ken, where Last Target was playing at a place called Tops. I got to the venue early and saw the band as they were setting up. They were all happy to see me again, and this time their new album, Tokyo Shakedown, was newly released. Even cooler, inside the album booklet were pictures from that night we recorded the chorus in ACB Hall. Our names were listed as well. After the show we all went out to eat and had time to catch up. The drummer’s father lived in Oita Ken; he joined us and even bought me dinner. 

The next day I traveled to Okayama and met them at a club called Crazy Mama. This was a small venue, but at some point in the past legendary rock band KISS played there. In the club they had pictures of KISS on their stage and had KISS merchandise on display, in the men’s bathroom of all places. Of course, I don’t know if it was in the female bathroom as well. Someone should check for me. 

The final night of this mini tour was in Osaka. The band knew I was coming to see them in Oita Ken, but I think they didn’t understand that I intended to see all three of their shows. When they realized I was also going to Osaka, they agreed to pick me up in their van the next morning and I got to spend that last day with them. We stopped in some other city on the way because Ryoko wanted to go to an art museum. After checking out some paintings we arrived in Osaka. It was early yet, so I got myself a room and checked out the neighborhood while the band prepped. I killed time in this huge store filled with models of Godzilla and other movie/comic characters, along with video games, expensive original still in the box Transformers, comic books, and costumes for cosplay. It was a four-story department store for nerds. 

King Cobra was the venue on this last night of Japanese punk. After the show we hung out a bit, but they couldn’t stay long. As best as I remember, the guys in the band had regular jobs to get back to, so after not too long they hopped in their van and headed back to Tokyo. I wasn’t sure if I’d see them again.

The next day I took a long train ride back to Fukuoka, where the following morning I would take the Beetle back to Busan, South Korea. For my last evening in Japan, I decided to see a baseball game at the Yahoo Dome. At first, I was really excited, as it brought me back to this brief time in my childhood. I was around nine or ten, and I was almost a normal kid. Back then I read comic books but wasn’t a total nerd about it. I spent summers climbing the hill down the street from my house, went camping, ate smores, and was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. Their star player, Mike Schmidt, perhaps the best third basemen to ever play the game, was the only sports hero of my childhood. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened, but one day I forgot all about him. Now, for the first time, I was attending a professional baseball game, and it was in another country. These romantic reminiscences ended once the game began and I remembered why I stopped watching this sport 20 years ago. It was a bad game, with the home team losing by a lot, and me leaving before the ninth inning.

Another time with Last Target came sooner than I thought. That October they came to Korea for a weekend, having gigs on a Saturday and Sunday in Hongdae, a big party place and University area in Seoul. After the show Sunday we all gathered in the park in Hongdae where people often socialize and play music. Sitting around the park, we enjoyed the still warm October air while a few band members jammed on their guitars. Eventually they went back to their room to sleep, and I headed back to my home of Suwon via subway early that morning to go to work.

This was the last time I ever saw them. Korea, October 2008

I’d never see them again. Six months later I went back to the club they played that last night in Hongdae. The bartender noticed I was wearing one of my Last Target shirts and started chatting with me. He tried to book them to come back, but apparently, they’d broken up. Royko is still doing music. She will probably do music until the day she dies; she just loves it that much. Last I heard she had her own band, simply called Ryoko. 

Looking back on it, every time I saw them in Japan there were opening bands preceding them. Those other bands were decent, but I don’t remember them now. I got really lucky, I think I really did see one of the best acts that’s ever been as far as Japanese punk goes. It would be great to see Ryoko perform again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll always have these memories. Getting to see them and being lucky enough to be part of their story with their album Tokyo Shakedown, this was absolutely the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. 

Thanks for reading. Hope you have enjoyed all these stories. Hopefully I can get them published in  a book someday. Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it!

Part Eleven: What If?

July 23rd, 1991. Wisconsin

Robert Bloch’s high school class always held reunions at odd years. In fact, the thirty-ninth reunion of the class of 1934 was the very first one they ever had. Back then the Cold War was in full swing, so maybe they didn’t want to chance waiting till forty. This summer was their fifty-seventh reunion. Bloch wondered if there was a special name for such an odd number, like the way fifty years is the golden anniversary and sixty-five is the sapphire.

Driving through the plains of Wisconsin, he laughed to himself as he thought back to the reunion a few nights ago. One of his classmates, who really shouldn’t still be wearing those low-cut blouses, leaned over her dinner plate while eying his watch and asked, “What have you been doing since you got out of school?” Robert delighted her with an impromptu story that he ran a garbage truck company. As a matter of fact, he was the top garbage service in three counties. “Trash, manure, medical waste, we haul it all!” he said with a jovial wave of his fist. She wasn’t eyeing up that nice watch of his anymore.

Later at the bar one of his friends looked that old classmate over and said “I don’t know about you Bloch. If you played your cards right, you could have had her in the shower tonight screaming bloody murder!”

“I don’t think my wife would approve!” Robert laughed.

“Who knows?” His mischievous friend said. “Maybe she would have watched!” Robert missed the humor of his classmates, but he also missed his wife. Elly wasn’t up for another trip to the great state of Wisconsin. It was probably for the best though. He learned that night that one of his friends who couldn’t make the reunion was living in one of those little towns in the northern part of the state. He managed to get a hold of him, and via his rental car went out to see him for a few days.

Now that visit was finished, and he was heading back south. Eventually he would turn east and fly back home via Milwaukee. Speeding down the highway he noticed the road sign, ninety miles to Plainfield. Something about that name sounded familiar, Plainfield, but he couldn’t remember. Not long after, he saw another sign, now sixty miles away. About a mile later he finally remembered, that big guy back at that horror convention, and his story about the psycho house. As he drove by the empty fields, he tried to remember the details. 

Less than an hour later Plainfield was ahead of him, and on a whim, he decided to get off the highway. Coming into the one-horse town, he stopped in at a general store to get a drink. He couldn’t resist a peek at the magazine rack. Long gone were magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories that writers like himself and old HPL got their breaks in. At least they still had a few comic books. A young man next to him was thumbing through a magazine about professional wrestling. Robert never knew they even printed such things. He didn’t understand what the appeal was, grown men in tights pretending to fight each other. As he looked over the shoulder of the young man, he spied a report about a wrestling event from Japan. A color photograph portrayed a grappler wearing a mask of a deformed face while holding a chainsaw over his head. The caption read this was a new wrestler named Saw-Man. “Saw-Man, ” he thought to himself. Wasn’t that a character from a horror movie?

Either way, Robert grabbed some stationary and a soda and got in line to check out. In front of him were a much older couple who placed a few items on the counter, but the clerk charged them nothing. He’d heard of a senior citizen discount, but this was ridiculous! As Robert paid for his own items, he watched the happy couple walk out of the store. Maybe they used to be the owners or something. As he looked at them, he thought to himself that he hoped he and Elly made it that long.

Robert then walked outside and looked down the street. There was a hotel nearby, he didn’t imagine many people staying here.

“Elly it’s me.” Robert said as the phone picked up.

“Hi honey, how was your visit?” He heard his wife’s sweet voice over the phone.

“It was great, really fun. Listen I decided to stay out here a few extra days.”

“Oh ok, where are you now?”

“I’m in a little town called Plainfield.”

“Plainfield, never heard of it. Who do you know there?”

“Actually no one,” Robert answered, “which is the reason I called. I need you to get something for me.”


He hated the thought of subjecting her to this madness, but he had no other recourse. “In my desk,” he went on to explain, “I think in one of the right-hand drawers there’s a stack of papers from that convention I went to last Halloween, see if you can grab it for me.”


“There should be a folder with just a few papers in it.” He explained. “There’s stuff written down in there about Plainfield.”

After a few minutes her voice came back on the line. “Ok I got it.”

“Great, there’s just a few papers in there, I want you to read whatever it says, and I’m going to copy it down.“

“OK,” he could hear the papers rustling. He took a deep breath as he remembered what she was about to discover. “Plainfield Wisconsin, October 1957, Sally Kohler,” Robert wrote it all down. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed as she continued reading. “Is this true?” 

He almost regretted calling her now “Well I don’t know honey; I’m going to try to find out.” Then, feeling the need to soldier on, he said “Just keep reading it please.”

She finished the last remaining notes before adding, “Honey please be careful.”

“I will Eleanor, thank you. I’ll be home in a few days, love you.”

It wasn’t that late in the day. Robert managed to find the library, and the old lady helped him find the microfiche of the local newspapers. Given the Plainfield Sun only came out once a week, it didn’t take long for Robert to scan through years’ worth of papers. Not much going on of course. There was the occasional hunting accident or hunter disappearing. News about Evelyn Hartley made its way all the way out here. He remembered that case, poor young girl; disappeared while babysitting. It was the biggest manhunt in state history, and it didn’t turn up a thing.

Locally there was not much else of note. Looked like two times back in the 50’s there was a fire at the same property, an old farmhouse on the edge of town. Also, in the early 50’s there was a woman who ran a bar not far from here that came up missing. Blood and a bullet cartridge were found in the bar. This seemed to be the most serious occurrence in this area he could find. After decades of scant local news whizzed by, he started to feel stupid. What did he think he would find? There was no rash of local disappearances, not even a little nugget that could inspire a good yarn.

Soon nightfall came, and Robert didn’t have many options in terms of entertainment. He imagined he’d write a letter to his young fan tonight, or at least started a new piece of fiction, but there was nothing to write home about. Maybe he should have known better. Lacking in options, he found himself at a local tavern that evening. A few people eyeballed him as he came in, and he thought to himself he might have been the first out of town person to come into this tavern since, maybe ever. Looking around at the mostly older crowd, he would have bet the same people had probably been coming here for years. 

A Brewers game was on. It was an away game against Kansas City. Robert couldn’t remember the last time he even watched a ball game. Way back in his youth, what felt like a thousand years ago now, there was a special father’s and son’s day exhibition game. Robert couldn’t remember who it was against, but he remembered it was hot. As he put down a few dollars for his beer at the bar he remembered the then outrageous price of a dime for a ballpark soda. That day, during the seventh inning stretch, big league player Hack Wilson tossed an autographed ball directly at him. The ball flew perfectly through the air. He reached his hand up to grab it, looking for his first moment of athletic glory, and the ball slipped through his fingers. He watched the white sphere stitched in red fall deep down into the abyss below the open bleacher seats. He never knew if he had disappointed his father. He did just get his first pair of glasses, so at least he had that for an excuse. But what if? 

Sitting at the bar with his drink in his hand, he couldn’t help asking himself this question, a question probably faced by all in their twilight years. What if? What if, by chance he was able to catch that ball? What if he then leapt into the more extroverted world of sports, and what if he never dove into that most introverted world of books? What if he hit home runs or scored touchdowns instead of spinning strange yarns of the Elder Gods and dead Whitechapel murderers? It was too late for such questions now; Robert did not regret his path in life. He did what he loved, but as he saw his reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar, he mulled over how his work never hit the nerve of the American consciousness. While he certainly had a successful career as a novelist, and even wrote a handful of screenplays and television episodes, he never had that one piece of work that captured the public’s imagination the way Stephen King had, or the way his old friend and mentor H. P. Lovecraft had, or, as he watched the ball player on TV hit a homerun to a cheering crowd, the way athletes had. Too bad it was hit by Todd Benzinger of the Royals.

Long lost in thought, he didn’t even notice later when the game ended, a game he’d stopped watching so long ago. The tavern was now filled with the tune of the local news station, whose Breaking News logo emblazoned the screen. The news caster then appeared, he seemed more serious than usual, his voice in fact was almost shaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we come to you tonight with extremely disturbing news from right here in our area.” The Wisconsin anchorman said. “We warn you; the following segment may be too disturbing for some viewers. Milwaukee police have arrested thirty-one-year-old Jeffrey Dhamer, after finding an adult male fleeing Dhamer’s apartment with one wrist handcuffed. Police arrested Dhamer in his home, after which they found a scene of pure terror.” After taking a visibly deep breath, the anchor man continued. “Police found seventy-four polaroid photos of corpses at various stages of dismemberment, which were all taken in his home. Dhamer’s apartment was filled with actual human remains, including two entire human skeletons, seven human skulls, a pair of human hands, an entire human torso, two human hearts, and a bag of other human organs.”

As the report went on, and footage from the killer’s home was shown, Bloch looked around to see all eyes were on the screen. At this moment, nobody ordered, nobody drank, solids and stripes remained still on the pool table, the barkeep even turned the jukebox off. Bloch couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow, he knew this horrific news hit the people of this tiny town with an extra sting.

Finally, an old man at the bar broke the silence. “Well, you know who that sounded like….”