Original Fiction: “I am Sandy Koufax”

(Author’s note: I’ve been feeling nostalgic. I wrote this story in 2001, back when I was unemployed and full of creative angst. I haven’t finished anything since, but I’ ve been trying to get back into the groove, so maybe I’ll have something new in the near future. I used to work in an intensive care unit and I always wondered what the doctors were like away from the hospital. Did they bring their work home with them? The other idea came from a transcript of Vin Scully calling Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965. My mom calls this my “sex” story, which is accurate, I guess. So be forewarned: if sex, drugs, and (a little) rock n’ roll offends you, you probably shouldn’t be traipsing around the Web. Enjoy . ~ smh)

I am Sandy Koufax by Shane Michael Hansanuwat

“Three times in his sensational career has Sandy Koufax walked out to the mound to pitch a fateful ninth where he turned in a no-hitter. But tonight, September ninth, nineteen hundred and sixty-five, he made the toughest walk of his career, I’m sure, because through eight innings he has pitched a perfect game…”

Sandy Koufax had the right idea. He knew when to get out

Sandy Koufax was born with a golden arm, his left arm, a miracle, a blessing direct from God, and he treated it as such. Unlike most heroes of our time, who succumb to their hubris, we don’t have to ignore an image of a cirrhotic Mantle or “the Greatest” silenced by palsy to get to his perfection. With Koufax there is only perfection.

“Here the strike one pitch to Krug: fastball, swung on and missed, strike two. And you can almost taste the pressure now…”

I grew up in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, in a time when Sandy Koufax was the definition of greatness. He was a celebrity. He was a Dodger. And he was Jewish. Every time we watched him topple backwards into his classic windup, left leg outstretched like a cantilever, every boy on my street wanted to be Sandy Koufax, when our mothers wanted us to be David Ben-Gurion. We didn’t even know who David Ben-Gurion was. Koufax was a hero the way heroes should be. Sandy Koufax had the right idea. He left at the top of his game and snuck away into a quiet life, leaving his star to shine untarnished.

“Koufax lifted his cap, ran his fingers through his black hair, then pulled the cap back down, fussing at the bill. Krug must feel it too as he backs out, heaves a sigh, took off his helmet, put it back on and steps back to the plate…”

I was never blessed with a left arm like Sandy Koufax, but I had a different gift: two hands perfectly suited for my profession and I sometimes think of them as miracles, like his arm. Just as he inspired my dreams, I give hundreds of others a chance to dream their own.

“And there’s twenty nine thousand people in the ballpark and a million butterflies. Twenty nine thousand, one hundred and thirty-nine paid…”

I’m sitting in my car, in the driveway, listening to a Dodger game, numb to everything in the world except for Vin Scully’s voice. I’m perfectly still, not paying much attention to the particulars of the game, instead focused on his rhythmic cadence, the rise and fall, effortlessly delivered. It has a soothing effect, like the voice of everyone’s beloved grandfather, or better yet, a lullaby. The driver’s side window is halfway down and the wind is making the pores in my face tighten. It’s months before a new baseball season will begin, yet I sit in my car with my eyes closed, letting his voice wash over me, and at this moment the world is still.

“A lot of people in the ballpark now are starting to see the pitches with their hearts. Sandy reading signs, into his windup, 2-2 pitch: fastball, got him swingin’! Sandy Koufax has struck out twelve. He is two outs away from a perfect game.”

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Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: There’s a scene in Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming.” Several students in a writing workshop critique the main character’s short story with a rash of clichés. The topper is one student who describes the prose “as the bastard child of Raymond Carver,” which elicits a roll of the eyes from the professor. It’s my favorite scene in the movie.

It’s funny because every aspiring writer who’s attempted to write a short story since the 80’s owes a debt to Carver, whether they know it or not. Carver championed a minimalist style focusing on the silent pains of everyday people. Where I’m Calling From is a compilation featuring his most famous stories, including the title story, about a man’s stay in a rehab facility over the New Year’s holiday. My favorite is “Cathedral,” about a jealous husband and blind dinner guest who connect in a scene of remarkable simplicity and grace.

You’d like this book if you’re a fan of:
plain-spoken endurance, marital doldrums, chimney sweeps, waitresses, bartenders, and barbers, Hemingway and Chekhov, “intensity and brevity,” and the short story form.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Interesting fact Norm… Robert Altman’s 1993 film, “Short Cuts,” is based on nine short stories and one poem by Raymond Carver.

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Gwangju by Elaine H. Kim

“Gwangju” is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress by Elaine H. Kim that is featured this month in Guernica Magazine. It’s a story about a mother who searches for her eldest son and finds herself the middle of a violent clash between citizens and the military in the South Korean city of Gwangju. A passage:

“Before I knew what was happening I was in the midst of a great crowd, in the belly of some vast beast. We pulsed forward, advanced, then, almost with a great sigh, fell back again. Rocks flew through the air like small planets seeking their orbit, followed by flames licking and curling. A young woman next to me, her hair in a twist up the back of her head, bright pink lipstick on her face, was singing at the top of her lungs: Arirang, arirang. The middle-aged man on my other side swung his bare forearms back and forth and sang so hard I felt his spit on my cheek. I was surrounded by song. Everywhere, everyone was singing: their faces lifted up, mouths open wide, some throwing fists up into the air. And all the while, in the midst of all that movement and cacophony, I was looking for you.”

This small excerpt is an emotionally and physically wrenching piece of prose. The Gwangju Uprising occurred on May 18th, 1980. It began as violent protest between students and the military-led South Korean government.

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Alma by Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz, among many things, is a damn confident writer. One could be easily seduced into thinking this is just how he talks, how he raps, that he’s lucky this comes off so well. No. It may seem effortless and free, but a lot of hard goddamn work goes into writing like this. And faith. From The New Yorker, “Alma” by Junot Díaz.

“You have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. An ass she never liked until she met you. Ain’t a day that passes that you don’t want to press your face against that ass or bite the delicate sliding tendons of her neck. You love how she shivers when you bite, how she fights you with those arms that are so skinny they belong on an after-school special.”

Consider this an afternoon delight.

Sign of the Gun by P.D. Mallamo

I’ve become a big fan of the new Granta Online-Only website. One of my favorite features is “New Voices” that “showcases original fiction by emerging writers.” P.D. Mallamo’s short story “Sign of the Gun” absolutely floored me. I can’t believe this is his first published story. It might be one of the best things I’ve read this year.

“Sign of the Gun” follows a lone clandestine pot farmer as he sets up an operation on the edge of a Navajo reservation in the Arizona desert. When he stumbles upon and rescues a Morman woman from a brutal attack, a simple relationship develops. It is at once meditative, confessional, spare, visceral, and, more than anything else–immediate. Here’s a taste:

“By the time they labour up the other side she’s vomited twice and the sky is falling upward from cobalt to indigo to luminous obsidian. When they reach the Maule he can see the ghost of the Milky Way.”

The startling immediacy of “Sign of the Gun” comes from Mallamo’s use of the third-person present. From the accompanying interview with P.D. Mallamo:

“Writing and reading in third-person present is like a high-speed drive through Nevada at two a.m.: incredibly invigorating and somewhat dangerous, with a lethal surprise just over the next rise. You’ve got to keep your high beams on and look way ahead, but you can also open all the windows and turn the radio up.”

That’s exactly the experience I had reading this story. I imagine we’ll hear much more from P.D. Mallamo in the coming years.

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