Phthursday Musings: Days There

or, More Smartie Pops, Please

I’ve had this concept for a long time. It probably needs a better name, but I just call it Days Together. The idea is this: Any given calendar day which you spent at least partially with someone, that’s +1 Day Together. Now think about who your likely top 10 is. Your parents? Your siblings? Your partner? Your dog? One day I’ll write about Days Together more.

In turn I came up with a related concept: Days There. Instead of it being about people, it’s about places.

The house you grew up in? Sure, that’s #1 on your list. But what other places are surprisingly high on the list? What if you aggregate similar types of places?

What if a list looks like this:

  1. Home

  2. Grandparents’ House

  3. School

  4. Church

  5. Bowling Alley

  6. Baseball Field

Is this list that far off for me?

For you?

Last week my sister observed “I still feeel like I grew up at ball diamonds…” and that got me thinking. How true is it? Just how formative are those experiences?

If I exclude family homes, and aggregate types of places, and think about, say, through my 12th birthday, my Days There list might very well look like this:

  1. School

  2. Laundromat*

  3. Church

  4. Restaurant

  5. Baseball Field

  6. Bowling Alley

Obviously not all of y’all went to church or whatever, but… I suspect most of you did. And so the top of this list (asterisk excepted) is a lot like yours.

But get past School, Church, Restaurant…

Yeah. She and I really did grow up at ball diamonds.

This week I had some “management learning” sorts of things to do for work. In the context of it all there was this 20-question survey intended to assess our “preferred decision-making style”.

One of the question asked something along the lines of: Do you remember names, or faces, or some third thing, or places?

And the thing is, I have a very sharp memory, I remember a lot of detail about things… but given the choices, I immediately answered places.

I can visualize the interior of Bowl-Mor and how it was different from other bowling alleys. That place shut down decades ago. I haven’t been there in over 30 years.

I have a complete picture in my mind of the Ace of Diamonds, from the tiny playground spot out right field way, to the front parking lot, to the bar building, to right behind home plate where the concession stand was, where we could get a functionally unlimited supply of Smartie Pops, until we decided to pivot to Ring Pops.

In my mind, so many of the classrooms I’ve spent hours upon hours in are all the same, just boxes with random stuff on the walls. But these bowling alleys, and especially these ball diamonds, they’re all so very different. Maybe local sandlots are kind of the same, but anywhere where real games were played? All different.

I’ll be writing soon about The Grand Tour, my over the top name to describe this crazy thing D and I have done. He’s 7, and he’s been to over 100 different playgrounds. Some were tiny. Some were massive. Many felt like cookie cutter copies with the same equipment from the same manufacturer. But no two were identical.

And yet I wonder what he might think about ball diamonds, or other things, because his way of experiencing them has been so different. Almost every baseball game he’s ever been to has been one of his games. But when I was his age, I’d been to dozens of my mom’s games. I grew up as a spectator more so than as a participant. He hasn’t done that.

And then what’s it like for people who just… haven’t done any of this? Kids who don’t grow up in bowling alleys and at baseball diamonds? I never went to any kind of summer camp. How is it different for him now, this being what he’s used to?

As a parent you want to understand how to relate to your kid. You want to understand how to help your kid relate to you. Is this all overthinking? Or is this the only rational sort of thing to think about at all?

We’re finally at a point where I can think of taking time off work and going somewhere. But what do I actually want to do?

I don’t want to sit outside when it’s 90 degrees. Or when it’s pouring rain. But if you ignore that… I want to be take the kid to a ball game. And I also want to go on a road trip. And I also want to just go spend four days somewhere and read and just not have to think about things. I mean, I’d really like to do all of these things, all in one. Drive somewhere, spend a week there, spend a couple days off doing something like a game, and otherwise just be away from all the damn tasks.

I put an asterisk up there. My grandparents owned two laundromats. I feel like I was at Kishwaukee Coin Laundry five days a week every summer until I was 10. I’m sure that’s not right, but wow, those days do add up. A lot of Days There there.

Years later I worked in the John Hancock building in downtown Chicago. One might argue that Hancock was a much more expansive, far-reaching, fascinating place to be than Kishwaukee Coin Laundry. I mean, I worked for the freaking Observatory. I could, if I wanted, go upstairs every day and see the entire city. How much more expansive do you get?

But Hancock was kind of an abstract dream space. Kishwaukee, instead, was tactile. The heavy blue metal vending machine which housed the gumballs and the tiny plastic containers with crap jewelry, the curves of its legs… it holds an allure in my mind beyond anything that amazing building could offer.

I don’t today have some sort of sensual affinity for a fine Maytag or anything quite like that. But the ideas of lines of machines, of buckets full of quarters, of makeshift contraptions, of the weird, weird device that was the changer… it’s something beyond a nostalgic affinity. There’s a method to it all.

The laundromat and the ball diamond… I feel like the method is sort of the same. These were sites for exploration, sites for experimentation. Certainly the same might be said of home, but these places also involved people, and they involved currency, and they involved selectable food, and they involved back rooms, and they involved jobs…

My job at the laundry was to wipe down the tops of the Maytags. Keep the shiny white surfaces that way. Order, cleanliness, form. But in a somewhat chaotic setting.

My job at the diamond was to be batboy. I’d learn whose bat was whose. Order, cleanliness, form. But in a setting of maximum dust.

Crumbs don’t faze me like they do my poor spouse. But fabric softener blotches on enamel surfaces? Disorderly dugouts? Perish the thought.

Honestly, what I really want to do is go to a bunch of ball games in a bunch of places.

I want to go see a game in Kansas City. I want to go to the new stadiums in St. Louis and Milwaukee. I want to go to Pittsburgh, I want to go to Cleveland. I want to get to these places an hour and a half before the game starts and walk around some. I want to have nothing else to do those days. I want to have nothing else to think about those days.

Every day doesn’t need to be like that. But those are the sorts of things I would really look forward to, and would want to be sure I could actually sit back and enjoy it all. I don’t want to rush to make it with five minutes to spare and then feel like I need to peel out early to beat the traffic.

I want to see what beer they have, even if I don’t plan on drinking a beer. I want to see what convoluted sandwich-like thing they have, even though I’ve been a vegetarian for 18 years. I want to see a wall paying tribute to Ty Cobb, even if he was (or wasn’t) an asshole. I want to soak it all in.

I want to see a game in Toledo. I even want to see a game in Peoria. Why the hell wouldn’t I want to?

I want to keep score at these games, even if I don’t know who’s playing and will never hear about them ever again. I want to buy a hat, even if I’ll never wear it.

I damn well want to get a Smartie Pop or three. Pink and purple preferably.

I would love to sit down with people and find out what odd places are on their Days There lists, and hear how they talk about them.

Instead of your grandparents owning a laundromat, maybe your grandfather was a barber, and you were always there?

Instead of being part of an extended family of bowlers, maybe you were part of an extended family of clog dancers?

Instead of always being at a ball diamond, maybe you were always at a cricket field? Maybe you and I actually talk the same way about it all? Except maybe your candy-on-a-stick was very different?

How will we ever know if we stay stuck behind these damn keyboards?

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