Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Here's One Way to Name a Character

I'm a little busy these days with a little staged production that is happening this week.  So I pull an oldie but goodie from the Sunday Memory Drawer.  A tale told here before but it's because the name is on my mind again.

Our female lead character this week is named Casey Cardwell.   Okay, the first name is a homage to the child character we gave the same name to when we developed that kids sitcom for Linda Ellerbee.   The last name?  Well, if you look at our characters, you will see names that are connected to something in our past lives.  And I guess that's how a lot of writers name their characters.

And here's how Casey became a Cardwell...

Don Cardwell was a right-handed journeyman pitcher who had floated around the major leagues starting in 1957. He wound up being traded to the Mets in 1967. When you look at his stats for his three plus years at Shea, they are quite impressive compared to today's hurlers. In 1967, his ERA was 3.57. It dropped to 2.95 in 1968. At an ERA of 3.01 in 1969, Don was indeed one of the unsung heroes of that miraculous season. He only got into one inning of the World Series, but he certainly was one of the main reasons they got there in the first place. I'm remember one twi-night doubleheader in Pittsburgh during that surging September. The Mets won both ends, 1-0. And it was noteworthy because, in both games, the pitchers drove in the lone run. The second game was won by Don Cardwell.

(Here's where I began the story in this blog several years ago.   Hence, the annoying white background.)

So what was behind my attraction to him? Well, I thought it was really cool that a veteran pitcher like Cardwell was finally getting to enjoy winning baseball after such a long career.

Oh, yeah. And he was also the favorite Met of the first girl I ever liked.

She had first appeared in my Sunday School class somewhere around the era of Cardwell. And my first meeting was certainly a memorable one. Before the Bible studies began, one of the assistant pastors of my Bronx church would conduct a little mini-service for all the kids enrolled in Sunday School. For some bizarre reason, I had left the house that morning without eating breakfast. Perhaps my father had been a little late with his Sunday morning ritual of stocking up with enough jelly donuts to choke a diabetic horse. Nevertheless, the emptiness of my stomach somehow floated up to my head. Because, as the assistant pastor led us in the Lord's Prayer, my mind started to drift into a catatonic blackness.

"And the power and the glory, forever and ever."

I started to weave forward.



I apparently landed on my face and cut my chin.

When I came to, the assistant pastor was already attending to me as I was seated back in my chair at the table. In my woozy state, I peered down at the end of the table at my new friend. Her look of concern made me weak in the knees all over again.

I immediately made two mental notes. Always eat something before church. And find out what this girl thing was all about.

We wound up in confirmation class together, which ate up two years of Saturday mornings. There were lots of walks to the bus stop. I remember once getting an ice cream cone with her and that was tantamount to heading out to a furniture store and picking out a sofa. There was another girl in the class who also seemed to drift into our midst (translation: got in my way) and I tolerated her, all the time trying to figure out how to "accidentally" throw her in front of the BX 41 bus.

My friend was gold. She seemed to like me. I seemed to love her. And she was the pinnacle of what boys looked for. She could talk baseball with the best of them. Even better, she could talk Met baseball like she was the daughter of Lindsey Nelson. And she loved Don Cardwell for all the reasons I did. This was my Winnie Cooper.

"I now pronounce you boyfriend and girlfriend."

My feelings for her were unfortunately outed by a very unlikely accomplice. My own father.

Her grandfather would pick her up after church every Sunday. He would wait for her in pretty much the same spot as my dad would. One Sunday, she got into her car. I got into mine.

It took a few blocks before I noticed that, as her grandfather bobbed and weaved through the streets of the Bronx, my father was making all the same moves. It suddenly became illogical to me. I wanted to ask my father what the hell he was doing, but I was afraid it would wind up as a protracted dialogue about something serious that I wasn't ready to share with a parent. So I say quietly in horror as he followed her car.

Left turn. Right turn. Right turn. Left turn. Right turn.

WTF, Dad!!!

About one car length forward, she was starting to have the same realization. As she looked out the back window of her car, she had this concerned look. It was as if Princess Diana saw the paparazzi tailing her limo. My friend's look said it all.

"What the heck are you doing?"

What these two unsuspecting 12 year-olds did not know was that, the very night before, Mayer's Restaurant, the premier restaurant and reception hall of the Bronx, had burned to the ground. It was all over the radio that morning, and my father, being the deluxe rubber necker of all time, wanted to see the cinders. Apparently so did her grandfather.

The following Sunday, she asked me why we had followed her car. I stammered like Ralph Kramden and told her the truth. It sounded like a lie.

The two years of confirmation study was an exercise in how a young male calculates endlessly to always someway wind up in a girl's vicinity. I timed my entrances and exits to hers. I always figured out just how much available pew space there was so we could sit next to each other. Most people would come home from church feeling cleansed and renewed. I would crawl in with my head aching from all the strategy I needed to formulate just to be near her.

When we were finally confirmed, the pastor took the whole class to Rye Playland for a day. That presented a whole new world of dating architecture. 

Now I had to time everything so we wound up on rides together. I suddenly realized that day how easy it was becoming.

Because she was doing the same thing.

My mother had forgotten to pack me a lunch that day. So, when it came time for the midday sustenance, I sat there at the picnic bench like Oliver Twist. The pastor offered to buy me a hot dog. She jumped in quickly.

"He can have half of my bologna sandwich."

We might as well have consummated it right then and there on the grass outside the Dragon Coaster.

And I hated bologna.

But not that day. It was Oscar Meyer's finest nitrate production ever.  We got a little older, but, unfortunately, it ended before all the good stuff. After one summer away from church, I discovered her family had moved to New Jersey.

And the Mets sold Don Cardwell to the Atlanta Braves a while later.

Years later, I was in college but still hanging onto my childhood church. As I snooped around the guestbook in the vestibule one Sunday, I saw an eye popping entry dated the previous Christmas Eve. Her family had been there! 

And where had I been? At some relative's house watching a family argument.


Of course, in college, I was already dwelling on the lost opportunities of my life. And there was nobody at Fordham who could hold a candle to her. I started to think. If her family had visited their old church one Christmas Eve, maybe it was a new tradition. It might have been July, but I already started to plan my outfit for December 24.

It couldn't have arrived more quickly. At Christmas Eve, I sat with my father's cousin, but she would easily be dispensed with if luck would....

....have it. There she was! Two pews over to the left.

"Joy to the World!"

After service, everyone mingled on the icy 219th Street. Even in the cold night air, she immediately recognized me. It was probably the first time she had ever seen in my shaving era. Lou Brock couldn't have moved faster as she came over. The hug couldn't have been warmer.

Her family busied themselves off to the side as we caught up. On high school. On college. She was going someplace in the boondocks of Pennsylvania. It was nice. It was easy. It was special. I asked for her address (pre e-mail days, sports fans) and she offered it willingly so we could stay in touch. Making more seasonal small talk, I inquired what she got for Christmas.


She held up the ring for me to see.


The snow flurries around me picked up with intensity as if my life was being orchestrated by a production manager for a Lifetime movie.

We parted company, pledging to stay in touch. After one written volley in the mail, it all ended.

When Don Cardwell passed away in January, 2008, I reran this story for the second time. And, since she was on my mind again, I did something really creepy.

I went into one of those background check websites and paid $14.95 to get more information on her whereabouts. Allegedly, she's again in New Jersey. Still using the same last name. But, just what does one do with that type of information?

Eight years later, apparently nothing.  But you can always bring back the memory.

By giving your lead character the last name of her favorite baseball player.

Dinner last night:  Sausage and olive pizza at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

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