Theme from an Unfinished Novel: “mixtape (10/13/94)” (Track 6)


“She’ll drive us home if there isn’t a bar, oh, yeah”

sunday, july 17, 1994
10:15 p.m.

The last thing I typed tonight, around eight o’clock:

CORVALLIS — James Thomas belted a last-second four-run screamer over the left-field wall to lift the Mid-Valley Rockets to a 5-4 comeback victory over Richey’s Market in Class 4A baseball action Friday night.

“I’ve always envied those people who were old enough to see Bobby Thompson do that,” said Rockets helmsman Greg Potter, referring to the famous “Shot Heard ’Round The World” that sealed the New York Giants’ 1951 World Series win over the favored Brooklyn Dodgers. “It always sounded so grand; the footage never did the excitement justice. Tonight, James Thomas was my Bobby Thompson, and I can tell people for the rest of my life that I personally witnessed one of the greatest moments in mid-valley baseball.”

Thomas’ stellar numbers led the Rockets: The West Albany senior brought in all five runs on only three plate appearances. Teammate Clayton Draper went 2-for-3 with a triple, and Larson Hugh doubled. For Richey’s, Hague Stefanski went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, while teammate Jake Cooley doubled in the team’s third run.

Both teams were evenly matched defensively. Market moundsman Paul Garey limited the Rockets to nine hits with nine strikeouts and a pair of walks. Pitching foe Ben Webster fanned seven Richey’s hitters, walked two, and kept their offensive drive to seven hits.

“It was a fantastic all-around performance from all the kids,” said Richey’s coach Dom Tomlinson. “Hats off to both teams. They turned in a classic night of baseball.”

The Rockets, 4-1 in league and 7-7 overall, head to Lodi, California, this weekend for tournament action, while Richey’s Market, 3-2 and 9-4, rest up for a Saturday non-league home contest with Astoria.

At Corvallis High School

Rockets            001      000      004      —         5          9          2
Richey’s           030      100      000      —         4          7          3

W—Rockets, Webster (2-0). L—Richey’s, Garey (3-1). 2B—Rockets, Hugh; Richey’s, Cooley (1). 3B—Rockets, Draper. HR—Rockets, Thomas (4).

Why did I bother to remember this? Because like the young James Thomas, I too had a memorable night. Actually, I crept back into the Herald office, revived the computer, accessed the file, and printed that sumbitch as evidence that the night actually happened — an event unrelated to Mr. Thomas’ heroics, to prove the world keeps spinning and spits out equally worthy dramas and triumphs.

Here’s what happened:

‘Twas a summer Sunday — a day of rest and lawn care for all of practicing suburbia, pure death for a small-town paper’s sports department — so I rolled into work in the late afternoon, checked the prep schedule, which burped up only one game, from the day before: the heated crosstown baseball contest, a once-a-summer event. What I typed above was backup; the assistant sports editor had covered the game and most likely interviewed both coaches at length — probably not the most scintillating verbiage in either case. So what I typed was probably no more revelatory than what my boss heard with his own ears as he frantically scribbled shorthand while his captive interviewee, arms folded lazily, leaned against a dugout pole and stared mooshy-eyed into the dying horizon, his mind picking hoary laurels from the ether and gathering them for a bullshit harvest.

Our Sunday softball game was called on account of rain. It rains a lot in Oregon, but not as often as people think. Summers are usually pleasantly warm, with invasive showers seasoning the streets about 10-15 days on average per year. I’m the only sports guy in tonight; I called everyone beforehand and told them not to bother, because I was the only one without a life. But it’s cool; I got to milk my part-time hours for every drop of cash, sucking back Pepsis and staring dumbly at reruns on the newsroom television.

Around 6:30 p.m. I heard the authoritative clack of a key entering the side door, then a vacuum rush of air. This was always an exciting moment wracked with suspense; I couldn’t see the door from where I was positioned — my view was obstructed by an interview-room wall stretching a hair beyond the entryway. It always took a few seconds, roughly six footsteps, before the mystery guest materialized in the flesh. It was a fun game. You could always tell the janitor by the sound of his jingling keys and the thin whistle of a nonexistent tune. The editor’s identity was usually betrayed by the steady ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti of his 12-speed. Others came quietly, their footfalls soft as gossip.

Tonight it was the head photographer, Gary Ewen, his bulky equipment slapping against his six-foot frame as he made a quick beeline for the darkroom, where there’d be the ritual clatter and ringing and pop music for the next two hours as film was unloaded and washed. He was followed by holy shit Deanne Santos, reporters notebook in paw, arriving at her desk and coaxing her PC to life. I pretended not to notice either of them. Way too cool.

“Hey,” I heard her say as she flipped the disc drive’s butt switch. “What are you doing here on a lousy night like this?”

“Oh,” replied way too cool I, “I had a few things.”

“Big feature, huh? One for the boys at Pulitzer?”

“Oh, naw. Loose ends, you know. All the glamorous stuff you envy. The usual.”

“Yeah, well, I just spent the last two hours at a church dedication, which is like boredom in a sweet candy shell. Shaped like a cross.”

“Fun stuff,” I quipped, playing at her level.

“Timber Carnivals, church dedications — gotta tell you, Mr. Puddice, this town needs a newspaper like a stoplight needs a toothbrush. It concerns me that nothing newsworthy actually happens here. It’d be a nice gesture if y’all murdered somebody before I leave.”

“Last murder, I think, was 1983. We’re not due for a while,” I said. “Well, I take that back, actually. It wasn’t a murder, just a rumpled-up coat.”

She began consulting her notes. “Yeah, well, I can see why reporters all turn into raging alcoholics. Nothing to do between homicides.”

8:02 p.m.

She’s standing over me now.

“Need a lift?”


“Finished my story. Most brilliant thing ever written by anybody. Need a lift? It’s still pourin’ out there.”

I plaster on the false disinterest. “Nah. I’m OK.”

“Come on, Mr. Cool. It’s comin’ down pretty hard.”

I hear the rain, pelting the building with a zombie fervor, like God dumping nails from the sky. Fucking Pacific Northwest.

“No, really,” I say. “It’s nothing.”

“Don’t sound like nothin’ to me. Sounds like it’d cut you to pieces if you weren’t wearing a coat, which you’re not, because you’re a big ol’ macho dip.”

“Did you just call me a dip?”

“How far you live from here?”

“Um,” I reply, adding a couple extra houses, “about nine blocks.”

“Lemme get my purse. Y’ain’t goin’ out in this.”

I make my way to the door — quickly, but not so quickly I can’t be stopped. “Really. I’m fine. Thanks.”

She shotguns her purse strap over her shoulder and darts after me. “Don’t make me use my Southern hospitality to kick your ass.”

8:33 p.m.

We don’t exactly make it back to my place. We race to her car, a Pontiac 3000, about two models and 700 years of evolution beyond the hunk of Smurf-colored shit I drove for three years (currently a corpse in repose in my apartment-complex parking lot, its insides picked clean by vagrants). The headlights come on, the heater harrumphs, the engine hiccups into existence, the KRKT country station mushrooms mid-song, the wipers slide elegantly down the windshield, and we’re off on the jaunt to my front door.

“Sorry about the mess,” she says. I’m sitting amid piles of notebooks. Other than that, the interior is immaculate, a far cry from my own ride, which, before its clearance sale, was a newspaper stand and cassette-case graveyard.

I pluck a tape from atop her dashboard. “Ah. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.”

“Yeah. Ever heard of ’em? They’re pretty good. They played that state fair I covered a couple weeks ago.”

“Ever heard of ’em. Shit. Will The Circle Be Unbroken? ‘Hand Me Down That Can O’ Beans’?”

“What? Oh, come on. You made that last one up.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You totally made it up!”

“I’m totally serious.”


“The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were in this movie called Paint Your Wagon with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood — ”

“Sing it.”


“Sing it.”

“Fuck that. You kidding me?”

“Sing it.”


“I’m gonna think you’re full of it until you do.”

“It’s a ridiculous song.”

“It’s nonexistent, is what it is, Mr. Puddice.”

“I really don’t want to sing it. Take my word for it.”

“Quit stallin’, you big dumbass. Now I’m gonna think you’re purposely wastin’ my time just so you can make somethin’ up.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“If you don’t sing me the song, you owe me five bucks.”

“How do I owe you five bucks?”

“Texas bet.”

“A what?”

“Texas bet.”

“What the hell’s a Texas bet?”

“A Texas bet is a bet that happens whenever I say it does.”

“We didn’t shake hands. There wasn’t — ”

“Don’t have to shake hands. A Texan’s word is enough.”

“What about my word?”

“You’re not from Texas.”

“How about we just rent Paint Your Wagon —”

“How about we don’t?”

“Yeah, but that’s proof, though.”

“Sorry, it violates the bet.”

“How does it do that?”

“The stipulations of the bet dictate that you, as a man about to be five bucks short, must convince me, a natural-born Texan, that there’s a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song about some beans, while in this car.”

“Turn left here,” I say as we reach the corner of Fifth Avenue and Madison, near Pop’s Branding Iron, serving kidney-twisting breakfasts 24 hours a day. She sees my hovel, its sewage illuminated by dying streetlamp.

“This it?” she asks, pulling toward the curb.

“Yeah,” I groan, going through the motions of a man about to escape. “Hey, thanks for the — ”

My passenger door suddenly locks.

“Sing the song.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I still got a half-tank left, plus enough cash in my purse to fill up again. We can sit here to daybreak if you want, but you’re not getting out of this car until I hear that stupid song.”

I exhale with the gale force of Jack Frost. “You,” I say, “are the most sadistic woman I’ve met this year.”

“Thank you. But compliments don’t unlock doors.”

An era of silence passes between us, the motor chortling quietly. It’s obviously on her side.

“OK,” I capitulate. “Promise not to laugh?”


I sigh.

“Fair enough.”

I clear my throat, then pinch my diaphragm to make my voice as nasal and tinny as humanly possible. My hands go into hambone mode, slapping my knees like a drunk tumbling in the gutter. I pretend Deanne Santos is nowhere in sight, that maybe she’s not even real, that her smirk is just a trick of light, a weird tree branch in the distance, silhouetted in shadow against a full moon. My mouth opens and it all comes pouring out:

Hand me down that can o’ beans
Hand me down that can o’ beans

Hand me down that can o’ beans

I’m throwin’ it away
Out the winder go the beans

Out the winder go the beans
Out the winder —

I feel a hand on mine, with the cushion of five bucks between the flesh.

“Enough,” says the hand’s owner. “For the love of God, please stop.”

I nod in victory and take the easy money. “Not bad for a night’s work, huh?”

“Nope,” she smiles. “Now you can buy me a drink.”


She shrugs apologetically.

“Texas bet.”

8:47 p.m.

NOTE: The following was transcribed from memory less than two hours after the fact (around 10:15). Its veracity cannot be fully verified.

SCENE: Buzzsaw Lounge, along the Willamette River, near the railroad tracks on the ass-wiped end of town. The Buzzsaw conceals two indentities: redneck trough by day, heavy metal coke den by night. Its two patron classes would confuse and scare the shit out of one another. We arrive between the two shifts: a Bon Jovi cover band — with its arsenal of memory fodder for coppa-feel prom nights — won’t take the stage for another two hours; the restaurant/bar area is sparsely populated by an otherwise normal Sunday crowd.

DEANNE: Y’have dinner yet?

ERIC: Well, I actually grabbed some crap from the store—

DEANNE: (reading menu) Crap, huh? Sounds healthy. You know what sounds good right now? One of these pepper-jack burgers.

ERIC: Well, I’ve never really eaten here, so —

DEANNE: If I got one, would you eat half?

ERIC: Probably not, I mean, I’m not that —

DEANNE: Well, I’d like at least a little something. I haven’t eaten all day.

ERIC: You can have the burger.

DEANNE: Yeah, but it sounds too big.

ERIC: And I have this thing with burgers, anyway, where I don’t like a lot of extra stuff —

DEANNE: How about fries? How does that sound? We’ll order some fries.

ERIC: Oh. Sure.

DEANNE: Are there waiters here?

ERIC: I don’t know.

DEANNE: This is your town, Mr. Puddice. You’re supposed to, you know, just snap your fingers, know your way around.

ERIC: Heh. I wish.

DEANNE: (waving) OK, there’s somebody. Hope he works here. If he doesn’t, kick him in the nuts and take his wallet.

ERIC: You don’t want to make a new friend?

DEANNE: I make friends everywhere I go. It’s part of my sparkling personality.

MAN: (arriving at table) Yes?

DEANNE: Yeah, um, I don’t want you to get offended by what I’m about to ask, but are you the waiter? Are there waiters here?

MAN: Actually, I’m the bartender, but—

DEANNE: See, we’re from out of town. We don’t understand the protocol.

MAN: I understand.

DEANNE: I mean, it was OK that we seated ourselves, right? I didn’t know.

MAN: (laughing) Of course. So. What would you like?

DEANNE: How big are the fry baskets? Are they in baskets?

MAN: I’d say there’s enough for two people.

DEANNE: All right, let’s get one of those.

MAN: OK. Would you care for anything to drink?

DEANNE: Well, it’s early yet. Corona?

MAN: OK. And you, sir?

ERIC: Um, Guinness?

MAN: Is that everything?

DEANNE: Yes, thanks.

MAN: I’ll be right back with your drinks.

(lingering, loitering pause)

DEANNE: So. What’s your story, Mr. Puddice?

ERIC: Story?

DEANNE: Yeah. Tell me about your life. Say more than five words to me at one time.

ERIC: Oh, my life story.

DEANNE: Yep. Everything from conception to the moment we crossed paths tonight.

ERIC: Well, it’s pretty boring.

DEANNE: Except for the conception part.

ERIC: Well, yeah, but I don’t really remember that. The lights were off.

DEANNE: Carson was probably a rerun…

ERIC: (laughing) My God, you are mean!

DEANNE: I wanna hear about what it’s like to be born in a town like this.

ERIC: Well, actually, I wasn’t born in this town. Or this state. In fact, it’s one of my dirty little secrets.

DEANNE: Ooooo, what’s that?

ERIC: I was actually born in…San Diego.

DEANNE: Oooo, little Cali boy on the sly, eh?

ERIC: Matter of fact, I lived in California until I was seven years old.

DEANNE: Get out!

ERIC: It’s true. I’m more sophisticated than you think.

DEANNE: Do other people know about this? I mean, was your family forced to hide in shame when they moved here?

ERIC: No, my dad found work pretty easily, but every time they brought up the sales tax, we had to watch our backs.

DEANNE: So you were born in California, moved to Oregon, how’d you get here? I mean, why are we sitting here together?

ERIC: Well, I lost a fixed bet.

DEANNE: I meant how’d you get into newspapers, numbnuts.

ERIC: I’ve graduated from dip to numbnuts.

DEANNE: I break out the two-syllable words for people I like. Three syllables, you get to slip a little ring on my finger.

ERIC: I got into newspapers ’cause I like to write.

DEANNE: Really? What kinda stuff?

ERIC: Um, social satire, music essays—

DEANNE: Zzzzzzzzzzz…

ERIC: Hey!

DEANNE: I just noticed that numbnuts almost rhymes with Puddice.

ERIC: Yeah, I guess it kinda does.

MAN: Here’s your drinks. The fries’ll be right out.

ERIC: Oh. Thank you.

DEANNE: Thanks. How do you spell that, anyway?

ERIC: Spell what? Oh, um: N-U-M—

DEANNE: Your last name, dumbass.

ERIC: D-U-M—no, seriously, it’s P-U-D-D-I-C-E.

DEANNE: Hm. Kinda sounds like pumice. I don’t know if I’d walk around with a name like that.

ERIC: Just think of it as mostly pudding and all ice.

DEANNE: You musta caught all kinds of hell in school.

ERIC: Tell me about it. I was Pumice, Pudlicker, Pudwhacker, Pudwhacker on Ice, Pudlice, Pudding Dice, Pudding Dick, Pudding Dick with Bill Cosby on Top, and Pud Nuts. Most of my friends still call me Pud Nuts. In fact, no one’s called me Eric since I was about 13. And that was my mom.

DEANNE: Actually, Pud Nuts is kinda cute. Sounds like a little cartoon dog or something, with a squeaky lisp and a captain’s hat.

ERIC: Well, I don’t know if it’s that cute.

DEANNE: I think it’s cute. Can I call you Pud Nuts?

ERIC: Are we friends?

DEANNE: I’m your best friend.

ERIC: Then go right ahead.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together about Deanne Santos. She was born in Bulverde, Texas, on October 22, 1972. So, like me, she’s 21 years old and has similar stories about being the Last One in her Roving Gang to clear all the adult milestones. She’s the youngest of six children. Her dad’s an architect; mom runs a jewelry counter at some JCPenney. In order of attendance: Bulverde Primary School, Wes Sisson Memorial Elementary, North Bulverde Junior High, Bulverde High (go, White Stallions!), then on to the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she majored in journalism and minored in English Lit. Slow four-year roll, then she applied for the TeddCities internship program, which has dragged her on a year-long tour of its most dailies, including ours, followed by the mighty Los Angeles Times before she settles back home at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where she hopes to score a full-time gig. She got into journalism back in junior high, scribing the usual insipid chatter found in those mimeographed wonders that pass for the student rag, but never considered it as a career until her sophomore year among the Stallions, where she joined the yearbook and newspaper staffs simultaneously and found the discipline agreeable and repartee enticing. She ended her senior year as the newspaper’s editor, having snapped the yearbook connection like a useless limb (“Shitty backroom politics,” she dismissed with a wave, her nostrils recoiling as if detecting a lingering hint of said scat), and was still proud of her accomplishments. Under her supervision, the paper won three major high-school investigative reporting awards — quite a feat for a sheet previously known for jamming its many voids with arcane school trivia and robotic crowing over the installation of new vending machines in the boys’ locker room (“‘Now the jocks can choose between a post-game Pepsi or Coke!” she hiccoughed, smiling sourly at the memory of this yellow huzzah. “It’s a marvelous time to be alive and thirsty in America!”). She hopes to someday land in that executive emperor’s suite for a major metro. I believe she might do it.

For all the probing magazine articles written about our generation — our slackness, our apathy — they’ve been fooled. There’s restless ambition beneath the patchouli, a drive laced in our Doc Martens. Secretly, I am no exception. Openly, neither is Deanne Santos. Truthfully: goddamn.

(Read “Track 4” here; visit “Track 1” here.)


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