Complicated

While we were in Vegas, strolling away our Sunday afternoon at the Forum at Caesar’s Palace, I saw a sign:

PETE ROSE HERE TODAY

For any baseball fan, the name of Pete Rose generates an instant reaction, ranging from gut-level hathos, to naked contempt, to misplaced adolation. For those who don’t know, Pete Rose was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and the owner a laundry list of prestigous baseball records. He was known as “Charlie Hustle” for his relentless, balls-to-the-wall approach to the sport of baseball, and his life in general. He was famously immortalized with his 70′s-era helmet hair and sideburns ablaze in the slipstream of a headlong dive into home. What should have been a slow fade into of obscurity was replaced with a furious blaze of indignation as word exploded out that Pete Rose had violated the one inviolable rule of professional baseball. In a sports that turned a willfully blind eye to illegal drugs, rampant greed, and shameless philandering, there was was one, simple, clear rule posted in every club house in every stadium at every level of the sport: Pete Rose bet on baseball.

While this sin has turned Shoeless Joe Jackson into a sympathetic figure over time, most often remembered as Ray Liotta’s unfairly-maligned ghost in Field of Dreams, Pete Rose has turned radioactive. He accepted a lifetime ban from baseball, but fiercely denied ever betting on his team, or any admission of guilt. However, the years after his ban have revealed his pugnacious, angry personality, and a long history of acting out nothing more than base self-interest. Then he published a book, entitled My Prison Without Bars. In it, he discussed his life as a baseball outcast, and admitted, in parsed, elliptical terms, to betting on baseball. At the time, it was widely seen as a plea for forgiveness, written in the hopes of finally have his ban lifted. His honesty, however limited it may have been, was not rewarded. The baseball media furiously flung him into the gutter with righteous indignation.

I stood outside the store, and pondered buying an overpriced baseball to have him sign. I was fascinated by him, as I always am by complicated people. Eventually I decided that I could not just walk away from this. I stepped inside the store and listened to the sales person’s worn spiel. In a lot of ways, Pete Rose was now the caged animal, and you could understand the title of this autobiography. The salesman explained that he could say the names of team, but he couldn’t say “bet,” “betting,” or the names of his teams. He would only sign “Charlie Hustle” on a jersey, but buying a jersey meant you would also get a bat. He could not say “I’m sorry.” All of the strict rules that now invisibly bound his behavior explained, I selected a baseball and took it over. I stood in line as the person before me had a jersey, ball, and photograph signed. After each signature, Pete held the item up to the lady at the store who took pictures with the guests camera to show them and Pete Rose. Pete’s face instantly flashed into practiced smile of false warmth that was hard not to like. My turn came.

“Would you like a name on it?” he asked me.

“Sure,” and I told him my name. He scribbled out his signature on the ball and held it up for the camera. We both smiled and I offered him my hand, which he shook with an enormous, meaty grip.

“Thanks, man,” he said. And it was over. And the next person in line sat down to have their moment of rehearsed sincerity with the infamous figure, and Pete Rose continued with his main source of income in his retirement, sitting behind a small sign in a sports memorabilia store in a Las Vegas mall, carefully avoiding the words “I’m sorry.”

It was a strange feeling walking away. I did not find the sort of pin-drop clarity in the moment. I did not look in his eyes and see the empty soullessness, or fiery indignation I expected, nor did I see the hero-in-exile triumphalism. There was, in the moment, an enormous absence of any of the larger-than-life grandeur that seemed to accompany so much talk about him. He was a man, doing something he didn’t especially enjoy doing, but making a living the only way he could, saying only what he was allowed to say. It was strange to feel a certain sympathy for someone whose situation he brought entirely on himself, but there it was, and I couldn’t pretend not to feel it. I walked away feeling thoughtful, trying to figure out exactly what was in my head.

I am fascinated by complexity in people. In my own life, I have gone from someone who followed every rule, and every tradition, to someone who has commited acts absolutely antithetical to the morals he was brought up on. As I struggled within myself to understand why I couldn’t be happy when I did everything right, I found myself, well, not a necessarily a victim, but indisputably a product of my situation. I have often said, in the wake of my divorce, that I have learned not to give advice any more, since I no longer feel comfortable judging people.

In that same way, as I have seen my own turn towards villainy, I have been fascinated by the complexity in people. I am not only bored by people who are easily explain, but I actively dislike those who are simple, and predictable. (George W. Bush, for instance, was deeply repellent to my personality.) It fascinates me to tease out the web of motives and needs within a person’s psychology that makes them function the way they do.

In this way, Mina is a source of endless fascination. She is someone filled with needs that are often mutually exclusive, and that fight for dominance within her psyche. She has needs (not just wants) to:

  • be loved
  • treated ruthlessly
  • feel feminine
  • not be a girl
  • be held
  • be beaten
  • be taken care of
  • be independent
  • have stability
  • experience risk

For me, I often walk the tightrope, trying to see what part of her mind is crying for fulfillment. Yet, for all these conflicts, there is a certain balance. She needs to have stability so she has a place to land after taking a risk. She wants to be taken care of, but doesn’t want to have to be taken care of. She wants to feel sexy and feminine, but not captive to the stereotypes of the shrinking violet or the smoking pistol. In a lot of ways, her mind is a beautiful spider web, of these fine lines woven throughout. She resists characterization, and cannot be simplified or reduced. She is intelligent and imaginative, and can always surprise you. She can be selfish enough to guarantee her happiness, and selfless enough to sacrifice everything for the happiness of those she loves.

I think about the woman I have in my life, and I realize that she is not someone I could have appreciated five years ago. I understand how much maturation I had to do to understand her, and to realize the type of person she is. There have been many days where I wish I had met her sooner in my life, but I feel grateful that I didn’t. I think each of us would have been wasted on each other had we met at a younger age. It’s all the more reason to be grateful for her now.


7 Responses to Complicated

  1. Sylvanus says:

    One of the people who had the greatest influence on my life was a chemistry teacher in high school. Shortly after I graduated, he plead guilty to sexual assualt and sodomy on a student in the class in the year behind mine. On one hand, he was a hero in my life, and lead me into the career I have now. On the other hand he was a rapist. I spent month trying to resolve this enormous failure of the person I had looked up to for so long. Recently, when I was going through some of my old stuff in my mom’s garage that she wanted me to take or toss, I found some pictures of myself with him, back when I still thought he was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Today, if I saw him, I don’t know what I would do. He’s out of prison now, and he’s not teaching any more, and I do know he loved to teach.

    When he was being sentenced, I wrote a letter to the judge asking for the most severe sentence possible…

    A message had been passed around the students of my class, asking us to write a letter to the judge asking for a lighter sentence on his behalf. I felt like I had to write something, but I could never bring myself to write something asking for this to be excused. So, I went the other way, writing an eloquent letter asking for the maximum. To this day, I am certain it was the wrong thing, but I’ll be damned if I know what the right thing was.

  2. Mina says:

    Posts like this make me realize just how lucky I am to have a man “fascinated” about me as you are. You know I still roll my eyes at the thought that someone finds me fascinating. I guess being a gemini allows me the luxury of needing exact opposites all the time. lol

  3. TUG says:

    Interesting description of your Pete Rose experience. Sorta sad in a way. It really is too bad.

  4. Lilly says:

    That is sad. Care to explain to a gal who knows little about baseball and only the basics of his betting stuff what was up with all the restrictions there?

  5. Mike-Wag says:

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Pete Rose during his years as a manager of the Cincinnati Reds back in the mid 80s. I also met him several years later at a talk he was giving at the University of Florida after his first Book came out.

    One of favorite moments was sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers for the game Pete tied Ty Cobb for the all time hit record. He got that hit, and I have been at Wrigley for Reds vs Cubs game many years, yet this was the first time I ever heard Pete Rose get an ovation that turned into a standing ovation. Chicago had never been a friendly Pete Rose town.

    Late in the game, a torrential rain storm hit Wrigley. It was truly one of the hardest and longest rain storm I had seen at a game. I had gotten a ride with friends to the game, and they decided after such a long duration, that the game would be called, and we left. Now me, I never leave, but I was not in control.

    We got back to my friends apartment and turned on WGN and to my admonishment, they had just resumed the game. OH NO, Pete Rose would have one more bat coming up. In all the years, I would root for Pete to get a hit, and the next batter hit into a double play. I was one of the few that applauded Pete in Wrigley field.

    I idolized Pete growing up, and his balls out approach to anything competitive, that it was my style as well. I even had a nickname of “Charley” in High School.

    So here we are, watching him come up to bat, and I was dying. If he got a hit and I missed it live, I would be heartbroken. I was so excited seeing him tie it, that this would have killed me. Luckily for me, he simply grounded out, and I could still be proud of the fact I was at the tying game. I did go to a bar the next game, and watched him get a hit and break the record in Cincinnati and I was proud of him. I have that game ticket saved as well.

    So when I met him as he left the Reds training camp, I waited by his car that an usher told me he drove (Porsche) and he graciously chatted and signed a photo I had cut out from a Chicago Magazine of him doing his patented superman flying head first dive. He looked at the photo and noted it was old (1973) and he signed it for me. I have it in a custom made frame these days.

    At the University of Florida event, I noticed what door Pete was leaving from and I knew what side of the stadium his driver would be exiting. I had brought his new book with me, and fortunately as he was getting into the limo, he signed one kids baseball and my book before he got in the car.

    It is a damn shame in my eyes, that he had done the betting and received such punishment. I do believe he deserves a spot in the Hall Of Fame, but I really do not believe he will ever have a display. That
    I believe is a loss to the game of baseball. Who else in a meaningless All Star game would bowl over catcher Ray Fosse to score a run. Only Pete Rose.

  6. Sylvanus says:

    Lilly

    Back in 1920, Baseball was almost wiped out of the country as a sport when it was revealed that eight players on the Chicago White Sox deliberately lost the World Series to help gamblers win bets. Those eight were banned forever, and it has been illegal ever since for any baseball player to associate with gamblers, or gambling, or to place any bets.

    Pete Rose was accused of betting on baseball while he was the manager of the Cincinatti Reds. Further, he was accused of betting on his own team. If you are betting on your own team, you can control the outcomes…and so on and so forth. In essence, if anyone has a motive besides playing to win the game, they are not allowed in baseball.

  7. Tristan says:

    Responding to your comment:
    Nothing about Pete Rose. I never watch baseball, it’s too pedestrian for me. Sort of American cricket….yawn…yeah I guess there’s drama in that excruciatingly slow game, but I don’t see it.

    What you said about timing impressed me, though. I met the pet late in my life. Until then my needs had seemed….wrong…she was able to make them feel right.

    Had I met her when I was 20 would we have connected? I doubt it. She would have been all piss and vinegar and I was pretending I didn’t want to hurt people. It takes time to grow into your skin. Time to appreciate that there is no “wrong” as long as there is consent.

    Rape is wrong. Power rape even more so. You did the right thing. I would have written a similar letter.

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