About the Author

Steven Hayward

Books by this Author
Don't Be Afraid

Don't Be Afraid

also available: Paperback
tagged :
More Info

My full name is James Fortitude Morrison, but nobody calls me that. Instead, I’m Jimmy or Jim. And so this is what I tell people: ”I’m Jim Morrison of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.“ It’s a sort of joke, like saying I’m no one at all.
I tell people that because the other Jim Morrison—the one everyone’s heard of, the legendary lead singer of the Doors—was found dead in a hotel bathtub three days before I was born, on July 3rd, 1971. If news of his death wasn’t on the front page of every newspaper, it was close. It was on the radio everywhere, for sure. There was even one radio station in Tampa, Florida, that played ”Light My Fire“ over and over again for seventy-two hours. It wasn’t a planned thing. The disc jockey who happened to be there in the middle of the night when the news came in from Paris put on the song. When it was over, he put it on again. Then a third time, and a fourth. Soon other radio stations were doing the same thing. Three days later—when there was no choice but to accept that Jim Morrison had died and wasn’t coming back—they took it off. Changed the record.
Some stations played ”The End,“ which is another Doors song, but most played nothing at all. Just let the silence hang in the dead air. People started crying because it meant he was really gone. One of the nurses at the hospital when I was born told my mother James Morrison was the most beautiful name she had ever heard. ”You can call him Jim,“ she told my mother, and burst into tears. She was a Doors fan, probably.
I throw in the Ohio part because that’s what you do when you’re from Ohio. Watch the next time you see a kid from Ohio on TV. He’ll come out with it. Like there’d be some confusion. Like anyone cares. He’ll also maybe say USA, but that’s understandable. It’s one thing to come from a country that’s basically conquered the world; it’s another to come from some nowhere place in the middle of that country. If you’re from Ohio, you know the last thing you expect to see on TV is someone from Ohio. Except Paul Newman or Bob Hope. Or Steven Spielberg. Most of the time though, ordinary Ohio people have no business being on television and everyone from Ohio knows it.
Three days after the library exploded I was on television myself. Asking people if they’d seen my dead brother, Mike, if they knew where he was—that’s what I was supposed to say, anyway. There was a big cue card in front of me that had the whole thing written out in thick black letters. I found out later that it was already too late. But that was later. Right then I was supposed to be talking to Mike, too, telling him that if he was out there watching, he should just come home, to not be afraid, that if he wanted to come back it would be okay.
Maybe you saw me that night on television.
Maybe you even remember what I look like: seventeen, ordinary eyes and ordinary hair, a little on the heavy side. Not obese exactly, not the kind of kid who has to be airlifted out of his parents’ basement every time he goes to the dentist, but if some guy were to show you a picture of me and my dead brother Mike and say, ”That’s him, the fat brother,“ you’d know exactly which one of us he was talking about.
I call Mike my dead brother because he is, and so there won’t be any weirdness later. Otherwise there’d be this awkward moment when you’d have to nod and say how sorry you are, just like you’d have done if you’d been at the funeral home and had to stand there with me in front of Mike’s casket. I’d thank you for being sorry, and maybe you’d say it again, say how really sorry you were, but eventually you’d walk away, leaving me there while you took off somewhere else, anywhere else, relieved it’s not you in the middle of this, that it’s my dead brother in that coffin, not yours.
The library blew up all at once: a flaming geyser shooting up into a dark night. First there was a flash, followed by a blossom of flame, and then everything from inside the library—the tables and the chairs, the microfilm rolls of defunct newspapers, the old 16 mm films, the computers, the green carpet in the children’s section, the cassette tapes and the video cassettes, the Devhan Starway books, the old and the new record albums, the framed pictures of Pete Seeger and John F. Kennedy, the typewriters, the card catalogue, the telephones and paper clips, the due date stamps, the unused blank library cards, the staplers, the staples, the overdue notices in their stamped envelopes—all of it shot up into the night air.
Three days later the guy at the television station told me: ”First say who you are, then get into the whole missing person thing.“
I told him fine, and then he counted down.
The cops had given me a picture of my brother to hold up in front of the camera, a blown-up version of his yearbook photo. The weird thing about the photo was that the photographer had altered it, the way they do to take out zits and moles and anything strange. Except that instead of taking out a zit, the guy who touched up the picture took out the dimple in Mike’s chin, airbrushed it smooth, as if it were some kind of defect and not part of his bone structure. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that picture, but I hadn’t noticed the airbrushing until I stood beside the magnified version of it in the super-bright light of the television studio. It made it seem like I was there to talk about a Mike who had changed in some mysterious way, a version of my brother who’d already crossed over to the other side, or a replicant, like in Blade Runner, some robot who looked a lot like him but who wasn’t him, and who I’d eventually have to kill. And the fact is at the time I sort of did want to kill him. I didn’t know what he was doing or why he was doing it—or why I was in the dark about it. But I said none of that. Instead, I held that photo up and started to talk.
”Ohio“ was as far as I got. It aired that night anyway. You can’t hear what I’m saying but you can see my lips moving. ”I’m Jim Morrison,“ I’m telling people, ”from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.“ Then I passed out, fell face first onto the floor of the television studio.

close this panel
The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke


This is a true story. My grandmother told it to me, and for her I suppose it was a kind of love story — a tale about how she met my grandfather one August afternoon after a baseball game. This was in 1933, and the baseball game was in Toronto. At the end of the game, seconds after the final pitch had been thrown, a group of boys who had been watching the game unfurled a massive swastika flag. A riot followed, and in the midst of that riot my grandparents met.
No matter how many times my grandmother told me the story of that day — of those different days — she seemed to think there was no way to make me understand what it had been like back then, and for that reason always included as part of her story a good deal of extraneous material: dates that have been long forgotten, histories of sewers, the names of dead people and what they looked like. And there’s no question, parts of it she got wrong. One of the things she got wrong is the name of one of the teams that had been playing that day.
“It wasn’t the Lizzies,” I told her once. “St. Peter’s was there, but not the Lizzies — it was the Harbord Street Playground team that was playing.”
“Wait until you’re my age,” she replied. “Then tell me.”
For the most part I haven’t changed a thing; this is her story, and I tell it the way she told it, with everything she made up or imagined left in.
Before you read it, though, you need to know she didn’t get it all wrong.
It is true that for a brief time in the summer of 1933 young men wearing swastikas could be seen walking through the streets of Toronto. It is true that there was something called the Swastika Club, and that they performed several very public and well-publicized acts of anti-Semitic violence. And finally, it is true that during a baseball game at Toronto’s Christie Pits there broke out a riot that would stretch across the city.
But there is no indication, no record, that any of the people my grandmother told me about were there that day — not Lucio Burke, not my grandmother, not even my grandfather, who swore up and down until the moment he died that he was not only there but was there managing a baseball team that did not — as far as I can tell — play at Christie Pits that day. So I suppose I don’t believe a word of this story myself.
But I will say this: until my grandmother started talking, I knew nothing about that day at Christie Pits. It seemed impossible to imagine such a thing occurring in Toronto. Like miracles, I thought, Nazis happened elsewhere. And so I suppose I’ve come full circle. If at the end of the story I’ve decided, finally, that there is no way I can believe what my grandmother told me, I must confess it was in disbelief that I began, not believing that such a thing as the riot at Christie Pits could happen, could ever have happened, in my own placid, infallibly polite Toronto.

It is the summer of 1933. The year of the New Deal. The decade of the night of broken glass. Joe Zangara, a bricklayer from New Jersey, attempts to assassinate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Instead of Roosevelt, Zangara hits Chicago’s Mayor Anton Cermak and Margaret Kruis, a showgirl from Newark. In a frame farmhouse on the outskirts of Callander, Ontario, Elzire Dionne and her husband, Oliva, are talking about having a child. The great dirigible the U.S.S. Akron crashes near Philadelphia — falling, say witnesses, like a meteorite. Gandhi starts his fast. And Bloomberg, pitcher of a team named the Lizzies, walks the streets of Toronto, saying he’s going to give away a baseball.

That summer Bloomberg is everywhere.

On King and Dundas and Queen and Richmond and Bloor streets. On the Bathurst streetcar. In front of the ferry docks for Centre Island. Underneath the basketball hoops at Bellwoods Park. Outside Maple Leaf Gardens and behind the old Maple Leaf Stadium at the foot of Bathurst Street, where the sharps play dice on sheets of cardboard they fold up when the cops come. At Kew Beach, where there are white signs saying no jews allowed. In line at the St. Matthew Mission on Morse Street. On Saturdays outside Holy Blossom synagogue. On Sundays in front of St. Patrick’s Church. In the foyer of the Ontario Oddfellow’s Home and Orphanage on Davenport. Behind the Encyclopedia Britannica in the main branch of the Toronto Public Library on Lowther. At the Rose Theatre on College Street, during newsreels.

“There’ll be an infield and an outfield,” Bloomberg tells people, “and an umpire’ll make the calls. It’ll be a real game — except there’ll be one hit and the guy who gets it gets the ball.”

He wears thick bottle-cap glasses that make his eyes seem absurdly large, like the eyes of a fish that lives near the bottom of the ocean; the kind of fish that breathes through its eyes, for whom blinking is a way of taking a breath.

“Single,” Bloomberg says, pushing the baseball into people’s hands, “double, seeing-eye single, infield dribbler, Texas leaguer, stand-up double, line drive, triple, home run, inside-the-park home run — it doesn’t matter. You don’t get two balls if you get a double. There ain’t two balls. There’s one ball, and if you hit it, you get it.”

When he finishes talking, he takes the ball back.

He grabs it away, wrenching it out of the other person’s hand. It is a calculated gesture; one meant to underline what separates people with baseballs from people without baseballs. It works. All that summer the people of Toronto find themselves staring at their empty hands. There is nothing extraordinary about Bloomberg’s baseball, it should be said. It is not gold-plated. It has been autographed by no one. It is not even new. In fact, by the time Bloomberg is ready to give it away, its white leather has turned a dark, dirty grey and its red stitching has started to sag. Still, people find themselves looking at their empty hands, thinking about that baseball.

“That’s right, it sounds easy,” Bloomberg tells people, “all you’ve got to do is hit a Bloomberg Special.”

All of this is taking place at a time when Toronto is a city of corned beef and boiled potatoes and soda biscuits. The city is ninety percent British, and Protestant. The Loyal Orange Order can be seen marching twice a year down the middle of the city, down Yonge Street, which cuts the city in two. The Union Jack flag flies over City Hall. Schoolchildren sing “God Save the King.” The city’s policemen and judges and magistrates and lawyers and most of its doctors and every one of its mayors are members of the Orange Order. The rest of the people are pressed into a dirty corner of the city called the Ward. There is nothing unusual about this designation. Or at least it does not seem so in 1933. Toronto’s Ward extends from College Street down to Queen Street and as far east as Bay Street. It is where the Italians and Jews live — the wops and the kikes, as they are mostly called by most of the city — and this is a story about them. Because that is where Bloomberg says he is going to give away his baseball, it begins in the middle of a large, mouse-grey concrete rectangle known as the Elizabeth Street playground.

close this panel
Lives of the Saints

Lives of the Saints

Twentieth Anniversary Edition
by Nino Ricci
illustrated by Tony Urquhart
introduction by Steven Hayward
also available: Paperback Paperback
More Info
Show editions
close this panel

This author has been listed 2 times

User Activity

more >
Contacting facebook
Please wait...