That’s the Stuff

Ring Lardner at work.

I took double my medication this morning by accident. What does this mean for you? I have no idea. What I do know is that I am very, very sleepy. And a little bit too intrigued by the wall paper. God, it’s pretty. Why am I crying? I just love you all so much. You know that, right? I don’t say it enough. I’ll try and do better from now on.

What was I just doing? Oh yes, writing. About something. I need something to write about. See writing, man, it’s like words and punctuation marks. God, they’re funny. Little squiggles like tiny amoebas on my screen…why are they moving? Man, I’m thirsty.

I used to write about sports. When I was 14 or 15. I had a press pass, and I got to go to all the Chargers games. And Padres. Etc. I think I got paid $4.16 an hour. That seems right. There was a full bar in the press room. And a buffet. I availed myself of both depending on who was tending bar.

God, my neighbors are arguing. I wish they’d shut up. It’s really distracting. I wonder what they think I do all day. I never leave the apartment. Hmmm….

Oh yes, sports writing. The funniest thing about the whole scenario was that I hate, hate, loathe, and despise watching sports. I might actually prefer watching paint dry. Especially right now. My couch is SOFT, yo. That’s all I’m saying.

So, I started covering games. I convinced them to give me a column so I could say whatever I wanted. I pretty much said whatever I wanted anyway. Most of my articles that weren’t straight ‘literary box scores’ were about how stupid I think spectator sports are and how annoying professional athletes are.

I took the parents to task especially. This was when people were stabbing each other at t-ball games. That’s the funny rub here. I like sports. I played soccer and football and basketball my whole life until I destroyed my back, and got old, and decided to live the glamourous life of a freelance writer who never eats and showers once a day (sometimes).

Oh Jesus, I need to make this relevant. Did I think that or type that? Birds are pretty. Sometimes I wonder what the hell they’re talking about. They seem damn passionate, whatever it is.

So, this was a while ago and sportswriters were changing. Most of the sportscasters and sportswriters now wouldn’t be able to carry the typewriters of the good old boys. That was part of the appeal. The old guard was still there, barely. And I loved them. They had one suit they wore to every game…their tie was never done up all the way. They sweat and cursed a lot. There were no laptops. They carried typewriters and made excited calls from the ‘press phones’ to their editors.

They chain-smoked and drank like they were afraid the world was going to run out of Canadian Club Whiskey. They talked in a weird kind of grunting, lilting, liquor soaked madness. Most of them were short…I don’t know why.

What I remember most about them is that they all pretty much hated each other. There was no witty banter. They were competitive bastards. BUT! (insert much needed relevancy here) They were nice to me. At first, they would just come over and shake my hand and introduce themselves. They all had old school names like Sam and Eddie. Then they started getting suspicious (which was their default mode anyway). What they hell was this whipper-snapper doing in the press box?

Now, this could have gotten really ugly, but it didn’t. I would stammer some apology that I was a reporter, and they would tell me to quit my goddamn jabbering and say who I was and who I wrote for and be proud. I was embarrassed. They told me not to be. They started following my articles. And, thinking back, they were remarkably kind. They didn’t want me to be ‘a hair reporter’ (sportscaster with nice hair…which was lucky). They wanted me to understand the history of their art.

They gave me books and told me stories. These were savvy fellows. Even after ten drinks. They knew that what they loved – sports writing – was a disappearing art. They were not so naïve as to think that I could save it. But they wanted me to know about it. They thought it was important that I new who Grantland Rice and Red Smith were. And it was important (and if you don’t know you should put down your goddamn kindle and find out, whippersnapper).

They knew that I wanted to be a fiction writer. They didn’t, but they respected Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner. They were minimalist masters. They wrote their copy on old type writers, keys chattering like angry monkeys, cigarettes hanging from their lips, and they didn’t go back and revise because there was no need. They wrote simply, directly, and they did not make mistakes. And if they did, that’s what the stiffs in the editorial office were for.

These guys are in old folks’ homes now. Or dead. Probably dead. And I don’t know what I would say to them even if they were sitting in my living room. Probably something about the fact that the flowered chair is pulsating which would make them smack me and call me a hippy.

So, what’s the point of all this (think Dan, THINK). Well, these guys didn’t have to care. They were overworked and underpaid. But they took the time to talk to me. To teach me a few things. To encourage me. To tell me things that sounded awful until I realized what they really meant (Write like a goddamn man, stop trying to be so damn fancy!).

So, yeah, they’re dead now. And so is a strange tradition. Because being a sportswriter now is not like it used to be. It’s all blooper clips and stupid jokes and gossip and lead-ins to youtube videos. The guys I knew (actually, now I’m kind of hoping they’re dead) would have been appalled. Sports were serious business. And writing about them was serious, too.

They didn’t like the more opinion-y stuff I wrote. But they knew I could bring it hard boiled and bare-boned, too. They knew I was killing something they loved, but they knew it wasn’t my fault. I want the couch to stop feeling slimy. I also want to thank those old bastards, wherever they are. Because, I don’t write about sports anymore, but they made their points. I don’t always follow their advice, but a lot of the time, I do.

So, why did they do it? They could have ignored the lanky kid sneaking drinks and cigarettes and disregarding his press packet (like most them did). But they didn’t. And sometimes I write something, and I can hear them snickering in the background and joking about how I should buy a beret and some beads. And sometimes I write something and I can see them smiling, cigarette ash dangling, saying, “that’s the stuff, kid.” That’s the stuff.

I’m damn near crying now, and I don’t think it’s the meds. I had an old fat editor who ate huge sandwiches and never said one unkind thing about anything I wrote. The owner of the paper listened to my crazy whippersnappy ideas and sometimes he’d just smile, but sometimes he would pat me on the back and I knew I’d done something. I never even thanked these guys. I just left town when it was time. Which, in hindsight, is part of the tradition, too, I guess.

I didn’t think I’d miss it, but I do. I miss riding with my photographer in his old beat up VW van. I don’t regret much, but I wish I’d had the sense then to realize what it was that had been handed to me. I appreciate it now. And I just want to say thanks guys. It wasn’t all a wash. I listened. And I never told anyone about this before because it was a sacred thing (and my parents would have made me stop going to games). But it’s high time y’all got your due. For what it’s worth, I made my students read Ring Lardner until they understood. And I understand. I do, really. It just took me a few decades.

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JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novels JOE CAFÉ and THE BIKER – and co-author of the mighty Bad Book. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his (and musical nonsense here: JD Mader).


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

30 thoughts on “That’s the Stuff”

  1. Kudos, Dan. I'm one of these people who doesn't think e- or "real" books makes a lick of difference while reading (at least I stopped thinking that five minutes after turning my Kindle on the first time), but there was seriously a whole style of writing lost, both in journalism and in sports, when daily papers started going the way of the Dodo. It took a whole, unique ecosystem to produce that kind of writing, and those kind of writers, and that is something daily blogs and links to wire service stories can never replace. 🙁

  2. You took me back, Mader.

    I remember those types, the beat writers who were freeloaders in the clubhouse. I spent eight years working in a Major League locker room for the visiting team. My gift was getting to meet them from all around the American League. From the New York guys to the Cali guys. I didn't get to see them quite the way you did. After the game, they would hang in the clubhouse, mostly piss ass drunk and followed by a cloud of smoke. They would collapse in one of the lockers and ask me to get them a beer.

    I miss it, too. They were crusty and everything was a pain. "When's the bus leaving? Why's the plane delayed? What kind of crappy food are you serving us?" Put them together with the radio guys, and you had a winning team.

    Your article made me feel like it was 1979 again. Oh, and why were they all short? Because the tall ones were PLAYING sports, not writing about sports.

    Thanks, man.

    1. Thank you, Jim. You're right, they could bitch if you gave them a cadillac. Probably the wrong color. And I just re-read this and when I read the short line I thought the exact same thing…they were guys who loved sports but couldn't play them.

      Glad I could take you back.

  3. I don't know how you do it, my friend. You write what would turn quickly to incoherence in anyone else's hands and then you go and make a story out of it while simultaneously twanging the heartstrings and blaring the laugh track. How does *anyone* do that? Kudos, as ever.

  4. You've already started encouraging, cajoling and teaching writers who are tentatively trying to make their voices heard. Every time you do that, you honour the sports writers who you've written about in this lovely, 'as only JD could say it' tribute.

    And now, I'm going to go to the store and buy you a pill box that has the times/days written on it and a magnifying glass so you can read it. Ah Dan, you're getting older :))

    1. LOL, thanks Jo. I'm usually pretty good, but you're right, one of them boxes would be a good idea.

      And thanks, I appreciate you stopping by.

      1. Where your writing is, I follow. You know that by now.

        Also made me think of women that I've worked with over the years, in various jobs, who've shown me kindness when they should have said "stop being such a smarty-pants" instead.

  5. Damn, I used to hang out at the entrance to the press box but unlike you I never got in. Other kids that went to the ballpark watched for players. I watched for Jerome Holtzman (Sun-Times) and George Langford (Tribune). Thanks for remembering those guys.

  6. Awesome, brother! Honored to read this. I'll go (not so far) out on a limb and say I'm pretty sure those old school grinders would love your stuff. Of course, they'd just punch you a little too hard in the shoulder and say, "Not bad, kiddo." (Or something like that.) They'd see your work and know that something unanticipatably (yeah, I know the jury's still out on that word… and guess how I'm votin') great emerged from the haze of likker and tabacky. And they'd go into the twilight a-smilin', knowin' 'bout yer knowin' 'bout their showin'. Respect 🙂

    1. Thanks brother. That means a lot to me. Respect back at ya. Along with a little Hey ho…

      And thanks for coming by to read this.

  7. Wow! What a vivid picture you painted here…both of the sports writers and the flowered pulsating chair. But can you do something about all the cigarette smoke? It's killing my sinuses!

    I really enjoyed this.

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