Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top of the First: The Phillies Kidnapped Me in 1980

Even as a 14-year-old straight-A student, I fantasized about sex and baseball, all intertwined together in dark and wonderful ways. Nineteen-eighty was the first season of my love affair with the Philadelphia Phillies; the first full year of my period; the spring when my mother taught me all about baseball while ironing my pajamas in her bra, lit cigarette dangling from waxy red lips, over-processed blond hair frizzed around her face, eyebrows drawn on crooked, shvitzing through menopause for, like, the tenth straight year. Her mother Sarah, who had emigrated from Poland to Philadelphia with her family as a toddler, had learned baseball as a way to assimilate; taught her daughter Sophie the rules and love of the game; and in turn, Sophie and I watched baseball together all that summer with my best friend D. My mother, Harry Kalas, and Richie Ashburn -- as all good teachers do -- instilled in their students a love that lasted a lifetime.

At that time in Philadelphia, there were FIVE daily newspapers: the Inquirer, the Daily News, the Bulletin and the Evening Bulletin, and the Journal (only the first two survive). Every day, I diligently clipped Phillies articles and photographs from each one and taped them into scrapbooks, little knowing that year would be the year the first World Championship came to the city. There they lay in grainy black-and-white newsprint: the men with tight pants who would become the objects of my first real sexual fantasies.

In my very active fantasy world, I not only joined them in sex, but also in sport: I decided I would become (drum roll) the First Female Major League Baseball Player. I enrolled in a girls softball league (position: catcher) and, accompanied by the jeers of neighborhood kids, had my mother throw batting practice to me in a nearby field every afternoon. And in the bathtub each evening, using a technique cribbed from my sister's copy of The Sensuous Woman, I closed my eyes and masturbated by positioning myself under the running faucet, on my back with legs spread, thinking mainly about tall blond pitcher Larry "L.C." Christenson, although I believe most of them eventually got a turn.

During that magical summer, I was no longer "Susan Finkelstein"; because all good baseball players had nicknames, I re-created myself as "Crisco Russell" (right-fielder Bake McBride was known as "Shake and Bake," and a big tub of Crisco shortening in the kitchen cabinet inspired me similarly). Somehow, I had convinced D. to participate in my little fairy tale, and together we wrote a long and complicated saga where I (as Crisco) was actually a member of the 1980 Phillies team (and the First Female Major League Baseball Player), sparking resentment and rage among many of my teammates. Their hostility grew to such a point that they hatched a plan to kidnap me -- possibly even kill me, but not before doing deliciously terrible things -- in order to remove the blight that Woman had inflicted onto Baseball. (Of course, my golden boy L.C. was never in on it.) At night, as I lay in bed replaying the highlights of that day's game, my thoughts inevitably turned to the players "teaching me a lesson"; in the dark of my Northeast Philadelphia bedroom, the long pillow in the carefully ironed pillowcase was transformed into each Phillie, who, one by one, forced himself on me, rough and hard and smelling like Spray and Starch. I had a very active sex life (though still a virgin) with turn-ons even then that would be categorized as abnormal.

What I wouldn't give to have the "Crisco" notebooks and letters back now! Who knows what 30 years and household moves and my mother's death have done with them? The only souvenir that has survived was part of D.'s gift to me on my Sweet 16: a kind of keepsake album with sundry mementos of our childhood friendship separated by five houses on Nester Street. A crudely typewritten letter on onion-skin paper bears the return address of the Phillies Front Office and the date July 6, 1980 (I remember laughing hysterically as I wrote it, showed it to D., and added it to the "file"):

We are sending this letter to you because we know you are a close friend and confidante of Susan Iris Finkelstein (alias Crisco Russell). We received a letter from Russell for a Mr. L. Christenson, saying various things. Here is exactly what was in that letter:

Dear Larry, I got your telegram -- please don't get married yet. I can't come back and live for a very long time. They all hurt me badly , I was almost killed. My career is over. I still love you, Larry. Please wait for me as long as it takes. One day, it'll all be over. I hope that day is soon. Love, Crisco

We were thinking that maybe you could get into the Vet to explain this. The police, of course, are all looking for Ms. Russell and this letter could be the lead we all are waiting for. Please get in touch with your friend, Crisco. It could be the most important thing you will ever do. If she was indeed harmed, we will need her to help convict her attackers. We know who they are, but we are unable to punish them because of confidential reasons. A reward will be given to you if you can bring Crisco to us for further questioning . Your involvement, of course, will be kept in the strictest confidence. Also, if you and Crisco come to us, maximum security will be given to you at all times. If you don't know the whereabouts of Russell, please come anyway. The thing that you think is not important could be of great help to the police and us.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Ruly Carpenter
Philadelphia Phillies Owner

By winter of that year, I had divested myself of a career as any kind of athlete; after all, 15 is much more grown up than 14 (funny how a year's time can bring such developmental change in adolescence). Apparently, L.C. didn't sell out his teammates in the end, Crisco never did make it back, and it took 28 years for Philadelphia to win the World Series again. But some things from that summer have stayed constant: the Phillies continue to alternately win and break my heart, D. has a whimsical streak she hides from the world, and I still masturbate in the bathtub.