I Was A Champion Then

Slide1

I Was A Champion Then: Twelve Stories About Quiet Injustice, Small Rebellions and Restless Hope 

Available for pre-order here.

“[Alfred A.] Meyer is a good, descriptive writer…Interesting…Tales that smolder…” – Kirkus Reviews 

“…an intriguing compilation…compelling depth…[with a] profound message…Well written…Read these stories more than once…Give them a chance to touch your heart and soul. Alfred A. Meyer’s writing style is one that will make you stop and think. His style flows gracefully…Eloquent and colorful descriptions…By editing and publishing Alfred A. Meyer’s writings, Christopher Paul Meyer has created a beautiful book of nearly poetic reflection and shared a gem that may, otherwise, have been lost forever.” – Red City Review (5-Star Selection)

“[Meyer] writes eloquently about topics that seem at once deeply American and universal…A heartwarming book through and through…emanates with the love of writing…Moving and evocative…Each word and sentence comes out well-considered and well-measured…A bit like Richard Yates’ short prose…The writing is careful, but never stale, and poetic without being too wordy.” – Self-Publishing Review

“Quite simply, these are exquisite autobiographical vignettes capturing bygone worlds and impressions.  Much like Proust’s classic (but wordier) works…Readers who appreciate these jewel-like moments…will find [the book] to be the perfect example of autobiographical short story writing at its best: lyrical, captivating and without the concluding judgments and morals so commonly attached to the modern short story format.” – D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

INTRODUCTION

Alfred A. Meyer was a lawyer. A Christian Scientist. A husband. My dad. But, more than anything else, he was a writer. By his senior year at Westminster College, he had been recognized as the top college sportswriter in Missouri.

That was as far as his writing career got.

Dad’s mother worked in publishing. (Meeting her once when I was one, I never really got enough practice to call her “Grandma.”) She knew how hard it was to pay bills as an author. She was still scarred from the Great Depression. It had taken both her wealth and her husband. So when she told Dad never to write for a living, he listened. He became an admiralty lawyer, negotiating cargo claims and shipping rights for international maritime companies.

But he still had stories he wanted to tell.

In 1964, Dad was accepted into Story Magazine co-founder Martha Foley’s famed short fiction class at Columbia University. During her class, he wrote first drafts of several short stories you’ll find in this collection: On the Bridge, Emily in Lavender, Triumphant Dusk, The Life or Death of J.F and Chili. With Martha’s encouragement, he began to write during every spare moment he had.

He never stopped.

Like a chord his ear could hear, but his voice couldn’t find, Chili intrigued Dad with increasing regularity. He expanded its scope, broadened the themes, added characters. It wasn’t simply going to be a novel, it was going to be his life’s work.

Then the 1980s intervened. In 1985, the entire maritime shipping industry went bust. Dad’s law firm disbanded after one partner killed himself. Admiralty lawyers, as a tribe, scrounged for work. Suddenly, Dad had no reason not to write professionally.

Dad wrote two articles for The Christian Science Monitor. The first, Beckett at the Ballpark, made me seem like a much worse little leaguer than I was. (No, seriously.) In Before the Asphalt Settled, Dad brought the characters from Chili back to their nonfiction roots, writing his real-life account of paving Highway 40 in segregated Missouri and taking his black co-workers to see Jackie Robinson play at Busch Stadium.

In 1986, he travelled to Roxboro, North Carolina to interview his favorite baseball player, the controversial Enos Slaughter. He pitched The Man Who Baseball Almost Left Behind for four years, but, from Sports Illustrated to Esquire, no one wanted a story about Enos Slaughter. Maybe sports editors still considered Slaughter a villain. Maybe they didn’t like the glossy finish Dad applied to Slaughter’s legacy. Or maybe they didn’t buy Slaughter’s sob story (trading Slaughter netted the Cardinals Bill Virdon — who became the NL Rookie of the Year that year — while Enos himself ended up on a championship Yankees team where he netted a World Series bonus). And maybe they considered Slaughter a dated subject matter. Even worse, they were arguably right. In 2010, computer scientist William Tunstall-Pedoe calculated 300 million newsworthy facts about “people, places, business and events” and determined that the most boring day in the 20th Century was April 11, 1955 — the day Slaughter was traded to the Yankees. Maybe Sports Illustrated instinctively knew that Dad had chosen to write in-depth about the least dramatic day in the century. Their loss. Even the “most boring day” in the 20th Century couldn’t stay boring once Dad got his pencil working on it.  Well, says me.

The rejections weighed heavily on Dad. He was paying our bills by managing our apartment building and drawing up a few wills and estates for church friends. He had to negotiate with the IRS when our tax burden outpaced his earnings. My mom prematurely emptied her pension funds and put all our money on his talent. All our family had left was our faith in Dad. So, like the 3am gambler who tries to break a bad streak by switching dealers and raising the ante, Dad stopped writing short pieces and turned wholeheartedly to his novel. He didn’t have time (or money) to waste on small victories and distracting disappointments. He needed a big win. He needed the Great American Novel.

He didn’t get it.

Agents liked his writing – they just didn’t like the book. Publishers felt the same way. Each rejection letter spurred him to sharpen his pencils, reposition his desk (a raw pinewood board on his lap) and bury himself in his study. From 1993 on, he couldn’t sit through a movie, much less a holiday weekend. He took no vacations. The last few years of his life, Dad’s body began to shut down. He was confined to a small bed in his study. Medicare stopped covering his nursing costs because, well, medically there was nothing wrong with him. His body just wasn’t working. It was becoming uncharacteristically rigid and gnarled. He was turning into his book. His fingers still clutched his pencils and scrawled on his ubiquitous yellow legal pads. Every bedridden moment was another chance for him to polish the book into something memorable.

He never did.

Upon his death in 2012, he had over 30,000 pages of unpublished writing, dating back to 1964. His writing spanned almost 50 years of technological innovation. There were the carefully creased, typewritten pages. There were dozens of floppy disks. Reams of dot-matrix printouts sat next to stacks of laser printer printouts. And there were yellow legal pads covered with his illegibly handwritten notes.

The last time I talked with him, I promised him I’d get his work to market. I didn’t know what I was promising. I sorted through his writing for three years. I read his novel. The 1986 version. The 1992 version…1996…2001…2011. And after each version, I’d read the rejection letters. The earliest ones were typed; the latest ones, Dad had printed out from email. A few were hand-written. All of them said the same thing. “Your book needs work, but I couldn’t put it down. You are very talented. You must have other stories. Send them to us.”

And then I found, well, “other stories.” Twelve of them. They were unpredictable explorations of times, places and people I hadn’t read about much lately, if ever. Women from the 1960s with names like Hortense and Merriam. Places from the 1940s like Sportsman’s Park and orange-painted gas stations with “Billion Bubble Beverage” Vess Cream signs. Times like the 1950s, when Jim Crow was a part of every interracial meeting.  A few of them were pure nonfiction. The rest were as true as they needed to be.

These were stories I couldn’t ignore. I’ll get around to publishing Dad’s novel at some point soon, but in the meantime, my dad waited a long time for you to read his work. So I’m going to get out of the way and let him say his piece. All twelve of them.

Christopher Paul Meyer

I Was A Champion Then: Twelve Stories About Quiet Injustice, Small Rebellions and Restless Hope

Available for pre-order on Amazon here.

BECKETT AT THE BALLPARK (1985)

I sit on the steps beneath the 59th Street Bridge on a sunny Spring Saturday.  Before me cavort the Expos.  Not the ones from Montreal.  The ones that are in a nine-year-old’s Little League.  And today, they are playing the Orioles.  Not the ones from Baltimore.  The ones from the Upper West Side, if I remember it right.

The infield is a blur of activity.  Balls hop around the horn, raising puffs of dust, smacking into mitts.  There is banter and pep.  It reminds me of infield practice at Yankee Stadium in an earlier era.  I watch a small shortstop move to his left for a ground ball and I see Phil Rizzuto in embryo.  “Great hands,” I say to the mother seated next to me.  She is reading Sense and Sensibility.  She doesn’t look up.

So my gaze shifts to the outfield, where there is no activity or pep or banter.  It is as though a curtain has risen on a vast, yawning stage upon which three lonely figures stand like mooring posts in the water.  Left field, center field, right field.  So still, so calm, so removed from the action that I imagine sea gulls could perch on their heads, undisturbed.  These are the class poets, the cross-multiplication experts, the nature enthusiasts.  They have lost interest in throwing balls to each other, so they stand with weight on one foot and glove on shoulder, awaiting any balls that might come their way.  It is not a given that any will come.  Such are the lulls of nine-year-old T-ball leagues.  So they wait with listless postures and vacant stares, like Vladimir and Estragon have been called up from triple-A ball to await an uncertain and unwelcome fate.

My son, Christopher, is playing center field.  At least his body is.  But his mind is dreaming of knights and dragons, spaceships and kings.  I’ve made him love the St. Louis Cardinals.  It worked — he now roots for Bruce Sutter and Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.  But at 8am on a Saturday morning, stranded in the depths of center field, alone with his imagination, he is far closer to Ivanhoe than Enos Slaughter.

Few balls reach the outfield in the early innings.  From my seat, I motion to Christopher to back up the infielders on ground balls; as DiMaggio would have done, as Winfield would do.  He doesn’t see me.  He probably sees orcs and elves and goblins.

A succession of hitters, each dragging an oversize bat, march to the tee and swipe at the stationary ball.  A series of hits, fumbles, errors and overthrows.  Suddenly, a pint-sized Oriole hits a line drive over the shortstop’s outstretched glove.  My head whips towards Christopher and the left fielder, Timothy, whose black-rimmed glasses and new yellow glove, make him look as rugged as Bennett Cerf.  They are motionless, frozen in bas-relief.  Suddenly needed, urgently required, it is as though the metaphysical realities of the moment have overwhelmed their ability to act.  They watch the ball bullet out of the infield with contemplative stares, as though a Beckett play was unfolding in the left-center field gap.

Christopher: “Oh, Timothy.  I believe a ball is coming our way.”

Timothy:  “Yes, yes, Christopher.  So it is.  Whatever does it mean?”

“I imagine we’re meant to catch it.”

“That would be a thing to do.”

“Then you should have it.”

“No, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Take it, will you?”

“I would have to catch it.”

“Something must be done.  We haven’t much time.”

I watch, horrified, as the ball screams past them.  They, however, seem to suffer no such angst, but, rather dwell on the curiosity that has befallen them.

“The ball seems to have arrived.  Shall I go and gather it?”

“Yes, and I’ll stand watch.”

“Then it is settled.  And we will have an adventure.”

Christopher trots to retrieve the ball as the runners score.

My stomach is in knots.  The mother next to me glances up just in time to see the relay throw to the shortstop.  “Now we’re only winning by one run!”  I exclaim to her.  She sighs at the empty coffee cup in her hand and turns the page.

It is the last inning, when a fly ball arcs high toward Christopher.  I gulp with anxiety at what I see.  He is standing passively with his glove at his side.  The ball is falling, falling, falling towards him.  He stares back at it, full of curiosity and wonder.  Runners scamper around the bases.  Suddenly, he twists defensively and spears the ball as he would smush an insect.  The ball is precariously perched on the webbed rim of his mitt.  He made the catch!  He gazes at the ball in amazement.

A roar goes up from the bench.  Applause from the bleachers.  The mother next to me finally closes her book.  I slump gratefully in my seat and watch as Christopher’s teammates mob him in congratulations.

He ambles free of the back-pats and friendly hugs.  Timothy meanders, as if unsure if the game is over.  He gazes at Christopher from shallow left field.

Vladimir:  “Well?  Shall we go?”

Estragon:  “Yes, let’s go.”

They do not move.

Curtain.

I Was A Champion Then: Twelve Stories About Quiet Injustice, Small Rebellions and Restless Hope

Available for pre-order on Amazon here.

7 thoughts on “I Was A Champion Then

  1. Pingback: #IWasAChampionThen…We’re over 75% of our funding, so we’re teasing the book! | Christopher Paul Meyer

  2. Pingback: #IWasAChampionThen…Flatline? Nah, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Paddles | Christopher Paul Meyer

  3. Pingback: #IWasAChampionThen…The first chapter: Beckett at the Ballpark! | Christopher Paul Meyer

  4. Pingback: #IWasAChampionThen…We’re over 90% and, with 3 days to go…we’re planning a party for you!! | Christopher Paul Meyer

  5. Pingback: #IWasAChampionThen…Almost 95% and 70 hours to go! | Christopher Paul Meyer

  6. Pingback: A book fifty years in the making: I WAS A CHAMPION THEN is Now For Sale on Amazon! | Christopher Paul Meyer

  7. Pingback: I Was A Champion Then is FREE all week… | Christopher Paul Meyer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s