Uncle Jumbo's Playground

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–Illustration by James Dankert

Forgive me if you’ve heard this story before. I am a man of such unvarying moods and routine that it’s inevitable I’m going to repeat myself from time to time. I’m afraid I just don’t have an inexhaustible –however exhausting– store of life experiences that anyone in their right mind would classify as fresh material.

Before I repeat myself, however, I want to point out that I –quite generously, I thought– offered to cover Zellar’s ass while he was off gallivanting around (and what kind of a baseball fan, I wanted to know, takes a vacation during the season, and when the Yankees are coming to town, no less?). No chance, I was told. Such an arrangement would have required Zellar to give me his precious access passwords, which he apparently thought would be an invitation for all manner of what he called “negative shenanigans.”

If there’s one thing Twins Territory needs, I say, it’s more negative shenanigans. But who am I? Nobody, apparently. Not apparently, apparently. Nobody.

Also, before I repeat myself, can someone with more smoldering brain cells than I have explain to me why Terry Mulholland was on the mound in the ninth inning of a tie game? Can anyone explain to me how this team can go from hitting the ball all over the place one moment to extended periods of collective and abject futility the next? Or how about this: what the hell?

Anyway, years ago, many years ago, after I moved to the Twin Cities following my storied junior college baseball career in Kansas, I was living in Dinkytown and still harboring a dream of making the University of Minnesota team as a walk-on. I never actually did anything about this dream, of course, primarily because I could never quite manage to get myself enrolled in the damn college. There was too much paperwork, too much standing in line, too many places to drink cheap beer.

I was also a complete moron, and my junior college transcripts read like so many completely inexplicable personal declarations: “I, C, C, D. I, D, I, C.” I piled up more incompletes in my two years in Kansas than I did doubles.

My Dinkytown exile dragged on for years. Eventually those years added up to a decade, and then some. Everyone I might, however dishonestly, consider a friend, or even an acquaintance, eventually graduated and moved out into the real world. They got decent jobs, married, had kids.

One afternoon I was doing my laundry –which I did every other month whether it was strictly necessary or not– in a campus laundromat when I had the terrible revelation that everyone else in the place was at least ten years my junior. There was, actually, one woman who was clearly older than me, and she was also clearly out of her mind.

I guess I had a nervous breakdown. This was, of course, during the off-season, so I had absolutely no anchor. I ended up moving back to Blooming Void to live with my mother, which only made me crazier, drunker, and more malnourished. Every evening my mother and I would watch the Wheel of Fortune and gamble. We would ante with a buck at the beginning of the puzzle, and add a dollar with each spin of the wheel. The first person to guess the correct answer won the pot. I took hundreds of dollars from my mother that winter. She was quite possibly the most inept Wheel of Fortune player of all time, and I was merciless.

Eventually my brother, Rich, staged an intervention, and talked me into seeing a therapist, a Dr. Grabow. Grabow was an imposter, I’m sure, but entertaining nonetheless. He would have me keep a journal of my daily activities, which I was to share with him on my visits.

On one such visit, I recall, Grabow read to me from my own journal as I squirmed in an uncomfortable chair: “Ate a pot pie, took a nap. Ate a pot pie, took a nap. Did the crossword puzzle. Went to bed.”

“You understand, of course, that this is not a journal?” Grabow said. “I am reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon that depicts the purported diary of a dog’s life. Certainly there are things you are leaving out.”

There certainly were not, other than the Wheel of Fortune business, which I had no intention of sharing with the doctor.

Another time Grabow asked me if I had any hobbies, and rejected my answer of “patty melts.” Eventually, for obvious reasons, we parted ways. I moved back to the Twin Cities when the baseball season started again, and settled back into the parking lot racket.

Then, a few years later, completely out of the blue, I received a call from Dr. Grabow. It seems he was starting a company that would produce “non-traditional greeting cards, for dysfunctional families.”

“This seems like something you might really be able to tap into,” Grabow said to me. Basically, he explained to me, these would be cards for people who had a difficult time finding anything in the Hallmark store that was suitable for their unique situation or occasion. These cards would say things like, “I know you’re not really my dad, but you live with my mom and I’m trying to make an effort to get along with you, so happy birthday anyway.”

Some of the categories will give you a pretty good idea of what Grabow was up to: “You Drink Too Much.” “Lesbian Miss You.” “Troubled Marriage.” “Abusive Mother.” “Financial Hardship.” “Absentee Father.” “I Know It Doesn’t Look Good.”

I don’t imagine I have to tell you how much I liked the sound of that last one.

“Dr. Grabow,” I said, “You’ve come to the right man.”

Shit, it really was a dream job –for about eight months, anyway, until I stopped getting paid and Grabow cleared out the office one night and disappeared.

I was disappointed, of course, but disappointment comes easily to me, and, like I said, I always knew Grabow was an imposter.