Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scott Jerome

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Let's take a moment to remember Scott. This is his water fountain by the central little league field in Portsmouth.

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there's a pic of the fountain and my indestructible 1974 vespa scooter. The south mill pond is in the background.
Now, this water fountain as you can see is rusting out around the plaque and probably will last only a winter or two more. the fountain itself is rusty and old and I'm sure there is talk of replacing it and when that happens then the plaque itself may or may not be replaced. The plaque, you see, is the only remaining evidence of Scott in Portsmouth. You ask most people about Scott and they are going to tell you they have no idea who he is. IN fact, if you look closely the plaque doesn't even tell you when he lived or even if he died. Was he a war hero of the gulf war? Vietnam? WWII? Mayor? Coach? There is no way to tell. And at the time this plaque was erected (At the ceremony I probably slouched in the background, torn acid wash jeans dragging in the dirt, sucking on a blow pop, spitting casually in Caufield-esque aloofness) we thought everyone would remember Scott forever. After all, we had followed his story from beginning to end. But now in 2009 only a few people remain who remember who he was and why this plaque exists. I just want to refresh the story since it is a small chore and there aren't many of us left to remark on Scott's life.

To set the mood let me copy some of what I have already written (nearly ten or fifteen years ago) about Scott. This is part of my book called Memorabilia, Some parts of it are absolutely horrible and then other parts are hysterical. It picks up with me on my bicycle...


"Slightly unnerved by my encounter with Justin, I biked home through the shiny streets, by the Jr. High School. I eased left onto a footpath between a break in the curb to avoid the jolt to my bones and bike. The path led between the Little League field and Leary Field on my right and the Mill Pond and Gordy Clutcher's basketball courts on my left. As I was about to start to pick up speed to make it up the hill that led to Eleyn Avenue, I noticed something inside the fence of the Little League field. Maybe it was a shirt or a hat or a coat or a briefcase full of money. There was only one way to find out, so I coasted over the slippery grass into the spectator area, where my dad and grandfather Stevens had sat on the wooden bleachers and watched me bat and run the bases a decade earlier.

The thing on the ground was unfortunately just an empty cardboard Blow Pop box, no treasure. But it lay against a green water fountain. I worked the lever for a sip of water, but it didn’t work. The water had probably been turned off for the winter to save the pipes. This green fountain had replaced the one by the fence behind the visitor's dugout, the one that used to stick up from a cement cylinder and shoot water two feet in the air. That fountain had been cut and capped so that kids playing today have as little idea about what was in the cement cylinder as they do about what a J.J. Newberrys sign is doing on The Gap building . All they know is the green water fountain..

The bronze plaque on the fountain read:

“In Memory of Mack “Wynn” Wynter 1971-1984.

Mack exhibited the true spirit of Little League baseball.”

Some brown pine needles lay on the plaque, blown a good distance from a white pine tree near the Junior High School bike racks. I brushed the needles off and had to take my gloves off to pick the last ones from between the bronze letters. I didn't need the Timewraiths to tell me what to do. I'd sung this Youthsong before. Some songs I like to sing.

Who was he, Oggy? Was he a friend? Did you know him? Did you fight him?

I stared at the crowd of Wraiths, searching for Mack's pale face. More Wraiths floated from the empty infield and emerged from the slimy, ice covered mill pond.

“I know Mack Wynter. Did you Bullwhip? Or is this plaque just like the J.J. Newberrys sign? Is this name just one of legend and myth? Do the two dates scare kids who drink here? Some were born in 1984, a coincidence not to be ignored. Do the little seven-year-olds have the imagination to reconstruct this boys life and his fate from the plaque alone? Maybe, but how true would their creation be? Does their imagined life make them pause when they pass this water fountain on their way home from 2nd Grade? Does it make them see their own name in bronze with two dates? Because that is the song I sing. It is, as you will see, the least I can do.”

I performed the Youth Fire ritual. As the Chief Songster, I didn't need the Youthtribe around me or even the flames to fan with my memories. The power to keep Nostalgia away was mine alone. I took my Sox cap off and drank the sweatband Moonshine . The potion was strong.

Visions arose from the fountain: Bone Harbor, the Jones Ave. dump piles, the foot-scuffed dirt beneath the Bone Harbor swings, the cut outfield grass, French fries and ketchup, the bad breath of twelve-year-old boys eating in a cold cafeteria after gym class, stink bombs, blood, oxygen tanks, stolen baseball cards, swirled around me. The Timewraiths glided from their shadows and gathered in solemn circle around me. This was the misery feast they had waited for, their Crying Time. They joined in my Chant.

Feed the Fires

Burn and Bright

Watch the Day

Suck into Night

Sing the Youthsong

With your kin

Here's the Tale

Of young Mack Wynn"

...end of quote.

If you care to read the rest it is in Oggy's old blog and in the chapter titled "Fly Like and Eagle."
Chapter 21. just click on the link on the left and go to chapter XXI.

I took the title from a Steve Miller song and also because, after Scott lost all his hair from the chemo, we called him "the bald eagle.". I cringe to think of this now, this taunting of a dying kid, but there it is. Steinbeck didn't hide from his duties to tell the tale, the whole tale, of Salinas and Cannery Row. I don't either.
here's another sample...

"I was the first child ever to walk to school. The first New England October was mine. I was the first child to notice the shining graves across the hooking Harbor, or wonder what it was like to be dead. I was the first to discover how the field could be used for games. I claimed Clough Field. I claimed the swings and the long metal slide and the tire bridge. I had discovered this new land and it was mine. My hat was a planted flag for the Red Sox nation.


On the side of the big school building was a forty-foot brick wall. When I first I walked onto the playground for my first day of 4th grade and discovered fifty kids throwing a racquetball against the wall and running around screaming trying to get the ball back, I thought I had entered Nirvana. The objective was to throw the ball against the wall and to catch it again. Simple? This was no small challenge when fifty other kids tried to catch it too. The game was Off The Wall and I claimed it as my own invention. Fifty kids couldn’t take the ball from me. I had an uncanny ability to know exactly where the ball would land. I could make it bounce over a hundred outstretched arms and a thousand fingers to where I stood quietly behind them all. Or I could put a spin on the ball with a snap of the wrist and then run to where it would suddenly zag off when it hit the ground, making everyone think I had attached a string to it. It was like I was born to play left field at Fenway Park, like balls deflecting off the Green Monster were, by design, destined for my hand. For a challenge, I would throw the racquetball so it would come down in the middle of everyone making it an even game, the prize going to the highest, most aggressive jumper. I then leapt over heads and hands, rising on shoulders to snap the little blue ball out of the sky. Then, before anyone knew it I had it, I’d throw the ball again and dart off to meet it up close to the wall. Then whip-zing back again way over everyone's heads, sweating and running with sharp eyes, brightly, reaching up to gather it in. Even Gordy Clutcher had to admit that Off The Wall was my game.

Then the inevitable morning came when a shock wave hit me from behind and knocked me down. The blue ball rolled away from me and the game continued. I looked from my bleeding palms at a blond haired kid with big white teeth, a pale round face, and eyes the color of the racquetball he was holding.

“Bettah watch yahself” he said.
I found out at attendance that his name was Mack Wynter.

...end of sample.

A few things to now: I call Scott... Mack Wynter in the book. I wanted his name to include "Win" like a tribute to him. He didn't lose. He won. We was a winner. And Wynter is close. Also, Wynter, or a misspelling of Winter, has a connotation of the end of a season, and his story sort of closed the chapter on my infancy. What else? Oh, check out how I wrote his plaque quote. I included the date, but there is not date on the actual plaque. I remember feeling it was necessary to include the date so I could keep everything consistent as the story progressed through the years. if the date wasn't included then it wouldn't trigger the exact obsession that oggy has with time. And like I feel now, there isn't any definite date on the plaque or even if Scott is living or dead, and that wouldn't work for my story so I put the two dates to drive home the idea that everything had become a gravestone to Oggy, he is basically walking in a cemetery in his mind. And I didn't want to get into the discussion that the plaque is more generic that a tribute to someone who died. But here I am analyzing my own writing.

anyway, just reading about the game Off The Wall brings back memories. The timewraiths are dead (even though I am writing this in the new Portsmouth library that actually is built on the old JFK rec center land and, more importantly, on the old whiffleball/raquetball courts where Scott, Brad, Jess, Mike, Nick and I would play a thousand games a day. There is no plaque to comemorate that. But don't get me started) but I can still hear the playground noise and the slap of the raquetball against the brick wall.

Anyway, it's true that Scott was basically a normal kid: Big for his age, aggressive, prone to violence and insensitivity. Normal. His whole story is there in the book. I met him in 1980 and by 1984 he was dead. He was probably getting some treatment for Leukemia in 1980 but it's possible that the whole discovery,treatment,remission,discovery,treatment,death cycle happened in those 4 years. He was 10 or 11 years old and died at about 15. We lived three blocks apart and had common interests in baseball and arcade games. The story is a bit tragic just in general but the details as I know them and can tell them are something special. What affected me more than watching him grow sick and die were the efforts of his parents and mine to comfort him. Of course, this is position that no parent is prepared for (3 years of chemo treatments followed by a year of "making him as happy as possible") but it is also a position that no kid like myself (who sees and remembers every possible detail of human interaction) is prepared for either.
For instance, I can still remember not just the words of Scott's mother when she asked me to come play video games with him on his death bed (the living room couch), but I can remember the tone of voice. And it is the tone of voice, the swallowed pride and sorrow of having to ask for what should have been given, that is the strongest memory. These video games did not interest Scott anymore. They were bait to get me to visit him. but frankly, sitting next to the withered Scott and his oxygen tank did not make playing Donkey Kong on Atari 2600 very fun (and I normally loved video games). And suspecting that this game and the pizza and the chocolate chip cookies (Scott had no appetite) were all for me, to keep me there so I could in turn comfort or amuse Scott, made my visits loaded with emotion that I could not express. Something incredibly sad and desperate was going on and I could not even gain admittance to R rated movies yet. I had no language to understand the situation. Archie Comics and Sports Illustrated didn't quite give me the tools to translate what was happening.
I remember my expression of hopeless futility. Outside on Richards ave was a world I was going to go into, a world of bicycles and cars and girls and birds and Scott would never again leave that house. It's those kinds of details that I try to write about because I know they are key. I try to capture that feeling of being torn between the reality and the idea of reality, the meta-emotions swirling around me at the time. It's not for lack of understanding that I fail, but it takes an almost zen like concentration to recreate the scenario in my mind and then paint the picture so carefully that the reader discovers the idea on his own. That one scene with me and Scott in his living room. Me, absently playing video games as Scott weeps quietly into his respirator. Scott's mom unwrapping cookies (too exhausted to bake them herself). A dusty baseball glove on the ground. The blonde wig that Scott no longer wore. Presents from well wishers. Pictures of Scott with Red Sox players like Jim Rice who take time to hug dying children. The scene itself explains a little about me but it is my desire to describe that scene that really explains everything about me. It has been a part time job for over 20 years. The drama of that scene is palpable and I feel it's my responsibility to keep it alive in my mind until I have all the 3 dimensional puzzle pieces arranged so other people see it as I see it. I want to answer the question: What was happening there and what does it mean about the human condition?

Scott played little league baseball in 1980. His cancer was in remission long enough for him to play for a team called "Pic and Pay." I think I write that his team beat my team "Local 1947" for the 1983 league championship but that isn't true. He beat another team. Ricci Lumber probably. He was a good little league pitcher. He hit a home run and got the game ball for the championship. It was like Jon Lester's story except with a 12 year old kid. Really, Scott was a winner even before the game ended. I guess, the true spirit of little league baseball is that you play as well as you can, as well as possible, but for fun and in the end you shake hands with the other team. The actual Little League motto is: Character, Courage, Loyalty. That about sums up Scott. That summer we played whiffle ball at the JFK rec center. And that was it. He made it to 6th grade in the middle school. pictured below...

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IN fact, it was at this exact spot that I meet the Timewraiths in the book Memorabilia and sing the song of Mack Wynn. The curb that once had a break in it for my bicycle is right in front of that illegaly parked Subaru. It was near the fire hydrant that Scott caught up to me in his final school days in 1983 and said he had kissed a girl. I forget her name. I was jealous and confused. We had that conversation just feet from where his water fountain is today. If it isn't there tomorrow then at least there is some digital record of this bit of Portsmouth trivia.

So, I'll leave Scott in peace now.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.