Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Joe Christopher Story File

I teach writers story. I have always been able to tell a story. In my book Gift To My Dad (Amazon) I tell a story about going back in time and meeting my dad as a 25 year old baseball player in his prime. The power of visualization will help you get your mind ready for you to tell a story. Take Joe Christopher for example. Joe was your very average baseball player for the New York Mets in their first decade of existence after replacing the Giants and Dodgers who had vacated the city for California after the 1957 season. I began playing high school baseball in 1965 and was introduced to the road trip via bus. Every baseball player has a story to tell about road trips on buses. In some minor league towns, travel is done only by bus and players practically live on wheels as they venture from one dusty town to another. To entertain my teammates, I started to tell tales of Joe Christopher as if I knew him. What started as an audience of one grew into the entire team and I developed a reputation as a master storyteller. I based one of my stories on the Jack Finney classic “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets.” I shared this story over the course of a few bus trips. The boys seemed to be more interested in this tale than they were in playing the game itself. In fact, as we rolled up to Ward Melville Junior-Senior High School one day, Coach Ralph had to shout at us: “Does anyone want to play baseball today?” As best I can recollect it, this is what I told the boys back in the day: Joe Christopher liked to have fun. Maybe one day he went too far. Joe wasn’t getting along with a writer by the name of Tom Timmons. Timmons wrote that Joe was dogging it and a writer could do nothing worse than call out a player on his lack of hustle. Joe decided he would give Timmons the scare of his life. He planned on killing him in cold blood. At least that is what Joe wanted Timmons to think. But Timmons had his own strong fan following. And Joe’s fans were fickle at best. So Joe came up with a way to shock New York City and make them believe that something sinister had already happened to one Tim Timmons. So he wrote a letter to the editor and it went something like this: Dear Boss: Your reporter Tim Timmons has gone out of control. It seems you can no longer control him on a leash. Just last week I made a game saving catch against the Phillies and almost suffered a concussion when I cracked into the wall. Timmons wrote in his column that if I hadn’t misjudged the ball from the outset. I wouldn’t have had to make such a dramatic catch. Many of us Mets are tired of this scribe’s slop. So if one of these days Mr. Timmons doesn’t show up in the Press Box for a Met tilt, you will know his fate. We Mets take care of our own. Joe wrote the threat, put it into an envelope and left it on the dining room table of his New York City penthouse apartment, 65 floors over Manhattan. When his girlfriend Sadie swung open the front door one day, the envelope took flight and headed for the window. Joe took off for it like he was chasing a fly ball at Shea. The envelope reacted to the breeze precipitated by the opening of the door like the swirling winds at Shea. Just when it looked like Joe’s big mitts would corral the missive, it took off anew. Finally, it took one hard ninety degree turn southward and came to rest on the ledge of the 65th floor—just beyond the open window and just out of the reach of the Mets slugger. Joe pulled out his personal bat collection, then he tried a fireplace poker, but he couldn’t reach the envelope and he didn’t want to dislodge it and send it flying into the air. If the letter which was written as a practical joke found its way into the wrong hands it could be career threatening for Joe---not to mention the possible criminal charges. Joe didn’t hesitate. He climbed out on the ledge. When Stacie came back into the room, and saw her boyfriend 65 flights above the street, she let out a scream which almost knocked Joe from his precarious perch. It took all of his talent to regain his balance and admonish Sadie through the glass not to do that again. The commotion sent the envelope into motion again and this time it shot straight up in the air where Joe had a chance to catch it like a can of corn on a cloudless summer day at the old ball yard. But the suddenness of the action forced Joe to snatch at it and as he did, he lost his balance on the precarious ledge and that is when Sadie fainted. Poor girl had seen enough and she passed out right then and there. Fortunately, a neighbor had heard all the shouting and almost caught Sadie as she crumbled to the Penthouse floor. It was there that Joe almost bought it and was sent 65 floors into the night. It was also then when Joe Christopher, the mighty Mets outfielder decided that this little farce had gone too far. He tapped on the window and his neighbor from 6PH helped him back into his apartment. The new waft of air swooped under the envelope and this time, the note did go far out into the night, maybe to be seen again and then again, maybe not. Joe and a revived and relieved Sadie were headed in the opposite direction towards the elevator and a night out---celebrating life. Because in the end---that is all that we can count on. Joe Christopher had to be reminded of that this evening and it was a lesson he would never forget.

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