Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Interview With Nicholas Dawidoff, Part 1

Nicholas Dawidoff's first book was The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, published in June 1994. It follows the strange life of third-string major league baseball catcher, lawyer, and OSS spy, Moe Berg. Here however, Dawidoff talks about his new book The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness and Baseball (May 2008). It's a memoir of his experience growing up in New Haven and New York in the 1970s, histroubled family, and how baseball helps him find his place.
From on the point radio, broadcast in August of 2008
When Nicholas Dawidoff was a boy in nineteen-seventies’ New Haven, Connecticut, Red Sox radio broadcasts from a distant Fenway Park filled his room at night.
As he writes in his new memoir, “men like Williams and Yazstremski … were knights errant, giant killers, young men of magical valor roaming through the American League.” They were also roaming through his imagination and standing in for the mentally ill father he saw only occasionally.
The Red Sox of the 1970s were the team of near misses and lost chances, the team that couldn’t win. That suited Dawidoff just fine. “I had come to believe,” he writes, “that nothing worthwhile comes without great suffering.” So it was with his favorite baseball team, and so it was with his childhood.
This hour: A tale of love, madness, and baseball, with Nicholas Dawidoff.
You can join the conversation. Is it only a game, or is baseball an allegory for wins and losses of every day life? Why is it that we root for the underdog on the playing field, but not in life?
I grew up in a city of dying elms called the Elm City, on a street with no willows named Willow Street. Uncelebrated trees shaded our part of the road, sturdy oaks and mature maples, their branches so thick with leaves that they created a blind curve just before the intersection where the street straightened past our house and made its hard line for the highway. Cars traveled at a clip down Willow Street, especially at night, and because of the curve it was impossible to see them until they’d nearly reached the streetlight glowing out beyond my bedroom window. Yet lying awake under the covers I could hear those cars coming, and never more distinctly than on rainy fall evenings when the wind had blown a scatter of acorns across the pavement. I’d be tensed against my pillow, listening to the whoosh of tires closing fast over wet asphalt, and then, an instant later, a brief, vivid flurry of noise, the rapid, popping eruptions of a dozen flattened acorns, before the whoosh receded into traceless silence as someone else hurried out of town. Long before I knew that I came from a place people wanted to leave, I saw how eager they were to get away.
Every so often a car wouldn’t make it to the highway. From my bed I’d hear the familiar swelling murmur of onrushing rubber—it was like nearing a riverbank through parted woods—and I’d be picturing the car flowing through the blind curve just as the night detonated in a cry of brakes and tremendous thudding impact. I’d crawl to the end of my bed where I could peer at the window glass, but all I could see was the fine silvery mist of rain drifting past the street lamp. Retreating, I’d tug the blankets over my face as my bedroom filled with the hiss of punctured radiators and revolving flashes of hot red light. My mother would come through my door and sit by my side for a few minutes. Then she would run her hand through my hair, give me a pat, tell me to sleep tight, and the door would close. My room felt remote, bigger than usual, and every shadow playing along the ceiling terrified me. By morning, when I went outside for a look, all remnants of the accident would have been swept away so that I might have doubted that anything had truly happened were it not for the chips of headlight glass or the laciniated chunk of engine grille that I’d find in the gutter with the acorns.

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