The Mysterious Taco Bell Receipt

July 15, 2008

This one still puzzles me. It was the first picture of the boxed items that I took. Somehow, I have saved a Taco Bell receipt from August 19, 1991. Somehow, I wrapped said Taco Bell receipt around a group of baseball cards. From different years and different companies. Along with Upper Deck Looney Tunes cards.

The cards don’t have any pattern. It’s not like they are from a strat team or an early rotisserie team. (I’d hope I didn’t have Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes, Marvell Wynne, Mark Thurmond and Bob Brower as the core of any team.) Only Rex Hudler kind of makes sense as he was a Cardinals favorite as they suffered through the early 90s. I loved the Wonder Dog. He still makes me smile with his unbridled enthusiasm for the game as an Angels announcer.

I could understand the receipt if it was for two bean burritos with extra onions. You see, that was my special signal to Jimmy Fessler that I was at the drive thru of the Taco Bell on Providence in Columbia, MO and hungry. (Not an uncommon condition. Even today. Except for the Columbia, MO part. Still, I can always make room for Shakespeare’s Pizza when I drive through Columbia.)

Jimmy would peer out the window, confirm it was me, laugh to himself, and then make two of the fattest bean burritos you would ever want to see.* I had a burrito that crunched once because of the number of onions. I didn’t have a date that……year, so it was all good.

* I love the things that we do in college to save money, legal and illegal. Two bean burritos, and from the receipt we know that would only be about a buck and a quarter with tax, and I would be full for the night. However, I still can’t believe I ever willingly drank King Kobra malt liquor. I can believe I tried to steal a keg from a dorm party once. Somehow the hosts spotted a big silver keg “hidden” in the middle of a field.

But, the date tells me it was the year before I met Jimmy. So, almost seventeen years after I went to Taco Bell store number 456, I still have a receipt to commemorate that experience. One good thing – I know it couldn’t have been a date, because I only got one large Mountain Dew. I doubt even I would be that cheap to buy one drink and share it with my date. Or, for heaven’s sake, to take a date to Taco Bell, unless I had some wonderfully overdeveloped sense of chutzpah that day.

Unless we went dutch. Damn, that would be good. Let’s just pretend that’s it. Balls. Big as church bells. Taking a date to Taco Bell and going dutch. Then going to the lake in Capaha Park and feeding the ducks the leftover soft taco scraps. Maybe catching a free baseball game at Capaha Field. Then climbing the fence to sneak into Capaha pool after hours. Going to Kidd’s afterwards and buying baseball cards and giving the cool cards to my date. A bouquet of all-stars which would be so much better than flowers. The ultimate cheap date if you know you’re already in like Flynn. Yes, and I saved the receipt and the leftover cards to prove I was that damn good.

Otherwise, it’s just a Taco Bell receipt.


Autograph #3 – Stanley Jefferson

May 21, 2008

I started to really get into baseball in high school due to my good friend Jim Freund. For some reason, the City of Cape Girardeau needed a lifeguard at the wading pool in Arena Park. It couldn’t have been more than two feet deep, but Jim was assigned there and would bring a lawn chair and sit by the pool during the summer. I started to ride my bike over to see him and hang out. That’s when I got introduced to Strat-o-matic baseball.

As an aside, I think that Strat-o-matic also introduced to me the importance of on base percentage and slugging percentage. Guys that had a decent batting average, but no walks, would generally have worse cards than those who walked all the time. Plus, more extra base hits meant better hits on their good columns. As I started to track players in anticipation of next year’s strat cards, I would keep an eye on their batting average, extra base hits and walks. Later, it just became obvious to use OBA and SLG to evaluate the quality of players.

We would play strat as he kept a casual eye on occasional toddler that would brave the deep side of the wading pool and we fought epic battles between the titans of the 80s – Sid Fernandez, Charlie Hough, Willie Randolph, Eric Davis, Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis and the rest.

So, as I started to follow players, I followed the hot prospects and those next future stars you could draft on your team. That’s when I found Stanley Jefferson. He was a can’t miss guy from what I remember. Speed, power, average, defense, a real five-tool player. Somehow, I wanted to prove my knowledge and my faith in Stanley Jefferson, so I named my car after him. My maroon Oldsmobile Delta 88 diesel, one of the infamous bad cars of the 80s. Huge clouds of black smoke would come from the exhaust. Virtually no pickup. However, it was roomy for bunches of friends to fit inside and could survive virtually unscathed as I bumped into poles, curbs and other cars, as I would forget to pay attention to where I was. How I connected it to Stanley Jefferson, I don’t know. But the name stuck.

On the other hand, naming my parents silver Buick Electra after Mitch Williams made a lot more sense. I mean the license plate was LHP 358 and Mitch Williams was a left-handed reliever with a 3.58 ERA the year before. I think the Buick was a lot more reliable on the last few miles to home though.

So, Stanley Jefferson carried me around for the rest of high school and on into college. All of my college friends as well as the high school ones knew his name. Alas, Stan broke down by the side of the road along highway 40 near Kirkwood, MO on a trip back home. It was a sad day when I had to say good-bye to Stan, my faithful companion for many years. The car had lasted longer than his namesake’s career in the majors.

A couple years later, my good friend Kris Hooper was working for the Nashville Sounds where Stanley still toiled, in what I assume was a hope to still make it in the majors. Kris knew about my former car’s name and asked for an autograph on my behalf and told Stanley about my story. I can’t imagine even in the strange light of hero worship where professional athletes exist that he had heard that one before. Stanley gave him a quizzical look, but signed the ball.

I doubt I could have ever asked him for an autograph, but I treasure the fact that I have it as it reminds me of the innocence of youth and the idea of limitless potential. I could get many more autographs, but I doubt any would be as personal as that one.

Last year, I came across a story where Stanley Jefferson was linked to the events of 9/11 at the World Trade Center. It was just another story, one of millions, about how that tragedy touched so many of us. I’m sure a lot of people read it – and felt the sorrow that Stanley felt. I know that the events of that day will always be in my memory – as I sat in my cubicle and tried to work, unable to grasp what had happened. Stanley gave me insight into a bigger personal tragedy and how impossible it can be to put it behind you. Waking up everyday. Not wanting to get out of bed. Dragging yourself through the daily grind. Not knowing how to leave the house. Not thinking there is anything worthwhile out there. Wondering if you’ll ever feel safe. Trying to find anything to make you laugh for just a little bit. Repeating it everyday.

I still think of Stanley. I hope things have gotten better for him. Yes, there are bigger heroes in the realm of baseball and the greater realm of life, but to me, he’ll always be a favorite.

Autograph #2 – Tito Landrum

May 19, 2008

So, on the topic of autographs, here is a ball that my dad gave me that was signed by Tito Landrum. I’m not too sure how he got it, or why, but he gave it to me. I was a baseball fan at the time, but not nearly as much as I was to become later in life. I remember thinking “cool” and then setting it on a dresser or table in my room. I had no clue who Tito was, but it was kind of neat.

Well, one day, a friend and I were wanting to play catch. We both had our gloves, but no ball. I went to my room and found that ball, and thought, well as long as we don’t drop it, it should work fine. Well, as a couple of pubescent boys, we were perfect examples of the lack of coordination that comes at that time in your life and the brand new ball with an autograph suffered immediately from grass stains and scuffs as it found the ground more than a few times.

We were still playing catch in the front yard when my dad got home from work. He wondered what ball we were using. I knew I didn’t do something right as I told him it was the autographed ball. He shook his head, and I think he was disappointed in us using the ball, but not so much as he understood the need to play catch.

I’m just glad it wasn’t an Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter or Lou Brock ball. But, even at that age, I doubt I would have been that foolish. Then again, sometimes you just need a game of catch.

Missouri Tiger Basketball Program

May 12, 2008

Ah, Missouri basketball’s golden years. Well, maybe not the year 1990, as the Tigers lost to Northern Iowa in the first round of the tournament, but at least they were making the tournament. (This was also the first time, and not the last, where I chose the Tigers to win it all in my tourney bracket. I now have learned to try not to pick with my heart, but even in 2008, it led me to pick against the Jayhawks in the round of 16.)

I would occasionally buy a program at a sporting event. I’m not sure why – it makes sense when it is the first visit to a stadium or a big event, but this was a game against Iowa State. In February. In the middle of Big Eight conference action. I’m not seeing anything that screams, “special”. (Maybe I just liked how Doug Smith, Nathan Buntin, Lee Coward and Anthony Peeler sported sweaters.) Anyway, I decided to keep score. Which was fortuitous as during the game, it was announced that Bob Costas was in attendance.

I remember the excitement that flooded through me. Costas, who along with Letterman and Carson formed a triumvirate of late night excellence. To a night owl they were the father, the son and the sporting spirit, each bringing a different set of grilling tools to the entertainment patio. As a journalism student though, as much as I loved the laughter of Carson and the snarkiness of Letterman (whose snark could only be topped by master Bill Murray), Costas was the one who held me in thrall. He loved sports. He broadcasted sports. He could also hold conversations on a seemingly endless range of topics with various entertainers. Which gives an idea of “seemingly endless” to a college freshman.

I could hardly wait for the game to end. As soon as the last horn blew, I hustled over to where Costas still sat in the lower level seats with my program in hand. I handed it to him proudly, open to where I had kept score, thinking, this will show him that I am a true fan. I asked for his autograph. He signed.

From that moment on, I realized how useless an autograph is. Here was the man who epitomized intelligence, success and the ultimate career – and here was his mark. It’s not that he wasn’t gracious or kind – it’s just that would be all he could ever give. (I love Joe Posnanski’s Costas story. That’s all I need to know he is a great dude.)

Maybe I’m dreaming and there are only four or five Costas fans in the whole world. Right above the number of Jared Leto fans and right below Frances McDormand. Still, even so, how much time would Costas be able to give them, or should give them, with his family, friends and himself that should come first.

Some might say that it is his job as being a public figure to devote that time to those that admire him. (I know Some and he is generally an ok guy, but he is way off here. However, if you’re ever in Tulsa, Oklahoma, look Some up and he’ll take you to a great barbecue place.) It’s still just a mark. It could be an “X” or say “Buck up camper” or list the key to great chili (“It’s the beans!”), but it’s still just something to look at on the printed page without any reference except a picture of the man behind it.

So, at that moment, I realized that watching and admiring people’s work is the reward in and of itself. Do I need a picture of Tom Wilkinson hugging me to prove I love “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” Do I need a piece of Luis Gonzalez’s gum to show I love baseball? Do I need to cut off a lock of a girl’s hair while she sleeps beside me to prove my eternal devotion? Well, maybe the last one, but you get the picture.

It’s not to say that I don’t like getting autographs. As a baseball card fan, when I pull an autographed card from a pack, a thrill shoots up my spine. (The best autographs that I have from baseball cards: Pat Burrell, Adrian Beltre and Mike Schmidt. That last one still excites me.) That comes from the surprise of opening a pack and finding a treasure. To ask for an autograph, it’s taking away the treasure of time.

Boxed fun

May 12, 2008

So, as part of being in my family, you pick up a genetic trait that you save everything. You collect. You keep things from thirty years ago, like rubber bands and twist-ties, because they might come in handy.

I took it to a new level, so that not only would piles of detritus accumulate on any flat surface in my apartments, but I wouldn’t want anyone to touch them, lest they disturb the “order”. I know I caught my family (ok, my trouble-making sister) twice as I re-entered a room and put things back after they had been moved/shuffled/examined.

Well, several years ago, I moved out of my parents house. But, I would stop back by after my travels and drop off loads of stuff in the name of “visiting”. Things I had acquired as I roamed different areas of the U.S. and abroad. Things that made it into my car and never back out again until I reached the friendly confines of Cape Girardeau, Missouri and that house on Oak Hills Drive.

Eight years ago, my parents moved from Missouri to Arizona. So, my room, the room where I first slept at the end of sixth grade, needed to go to Arizona. The room with stacks of memories, junk and several thousand baseball cards needed to be packed. Well, that’s what happened. Every shelf, every drawer and every wall found its way into a box, with no examination. If it was in the room, it went into a box.

Now, many years later, I look through those boxes as flights of fancy take me back to my youth. Sometimes it is a pair of shorts to wear to a reunion. Sometimes old D&D books. Sometimes comics or baseball cards as I wonder if anything is worth a dime. All those things are cool, but the surprises are what makes the whole endeavor interesting. The order of the boxes help me to remember how the room looked – from the books on a bookshelf to what I can only guess was a sweeping motion off the top of a side table. Moments of “Oh yeah, I forget out about that,” or “I had that?” or “Even I wouldn’t have saved that.” This will be the chronicle of those moments.