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.