Babe Ruth was a chocolate bar and a man. Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs in 1921 or something and you could see him on the newsreels where the people jerk and walk on stick legs faster than in real life. Babe Ruth was a small man and a fat man and people wondered how a fat smallish man could hit so many home runs. Some people said it was because of the Babe Ruth bars he ate, which gave him power, and I thought if a chocolate bar is named after you, or you are named after it, this is bound to have a strong effect.
Babe Ruth, my friend David told me, ate those chocolate bars every day, out on the field, when he was catching flies and thinking about hitting homers. He ate them at home, too, in bed at night. So I thought if I ate chocolate bars I might become a Canadian hero and an athlete. David said Babe Ruth’s family owned the factory that made Babe Ruth chocolate bars. He said when Babe was a baby his father got the idea for the name of the chocolate bar and the name of his baby son at exactly the same moment and that’s how the chocolate bar factory came into being. He said that’s how things were done in America, it was a place full of important big ideas and strong actions. It was wrong to think sweets were no good for you, which is what immigrant parents thought.
Babe Ruth bars were shaped like tobacco plugs, strips of tobacco that baseball players, and cowboys, too, chew or “chaw” out in the field or on the range. They alternate chewing Babe Ruth bars and tobacco plugs, David said, and baseball players chewed tobacco because when you played baseball you couldn’t smoke. The tobacco plugs were round and a little bit thicker and longer than your thumb, and they were stringy and chewy, just like the chocolate bars. David said you chewed or chawed the two things in exactly the same way, and eating Babe Ruth bars as a boy trained you for chewing and chawing tobacco when you were a man. I knew from Huckleberry Finn stories that it was true that in America kids sometimes smoked tobacco in pipes, and so I thought David’s story was maybe true, although not all of his stories were.
I little bit later David got the idea that Babe became a famous baseball player who hit sixty home runs in a single season because his dad, the owner of the Babe Ruth Chocolate Bar Company, owned the baseball team on which Babe played and as part of which he hit sixty homers and helped his team “win the pennant” (which was a little flag, pointy at one end). So the whole thing was mainly about money. I didn’t know how you could own something like a baseball team because it was men, not machines, but David said it was possible in America to own people. The men played and Babe hit his homers and ran or “trotted” around the bases (making that funny movement with his stick legs) and other men, fielders and basemen and shortstops, moved, all in an organized way, and I agreed that baseball worked a little bit like a machine: nothing happened until a ball touched a bat, and then everything moved at once and you “made a play.”
I asked my parents about how sports worked to make money and how a baby named Babe could get involved in this and get to eat chocolate all the time as an adult and hit homers, and they thought I was talking about a baby girl named Ruth, whom they didn’t know, so they asked me where I had learned that name. I told them it was the name of a chocolate bar and an adult baseball player who lived in big important America, which is why we didn’t know about him. My parents said babies couldn’t be adults and people couldn’t be chocolate bars and the idea of naming your child after something you eat meant you wanted to eat your child. I told them the stories I had heard about this were David’s, who was my friend, and they were partly true and sometimes made up and you had to listen closely to stories about North America if you were an immigrant and wanted to know how to live here and who you would be when you grew up.
There is another chocolate bar called a Tootsie Roll which is named after a person too. A girl. But David told me she didn’t really exist, she was invented to give her name to the roll. She was a brand. I asked him how a person could be invented and what a brand was, and David said this wasn’t the main problem with Tootsie Rolls: the main problem with Tootsie Rolls was that they were shaped exactly like Babe Ruth bars, and they were chewy and chawy, just like Babe Ruths when you pulled at them with your teeth. They were stringy, like the plug of tobacco out on the baseball field, and on the range with cowboys, and the problem was to make sure baseball players didn’t take Tootsie Rolls instead of Babe Ruth bars out on the field.
The girls ate Tootsie Rolls happily and never mistook them for Babe Ruth bars, which they said were disgusting, but boys, said David, had more trouble telling the difference between things when they ate them than girls did. David said Tootsie Rolls had been invented in the first place because girls always wanted to butt in on boy’s business, and the main thing to remember was that Babe Ruth bars were named after a real person who had a whole company and a dad behind him, whereas Tootsie Rolls were something that girls just thought of when they were in the air jumping rope and thinking about fairies, and this had nothing to do with sports or business.
I told David I had tried a piece of Tootsie Roll on my sister once and then given her a bite of a Babe Ruth Bar (which you were not supposed to do, as a boy) and she had eaten both and not tasted the difference. David said this was because girls were secretive and lied, and they were also, despite their possibly finer taste sense, not as clear on the relationship between stories and an actual world, which was a relationship boys were experts at. How could you be an athlete, David said, if you didn’t know what to do when a fastball screamed across the plate, and you eyeballed it and connected and launched the ball into the stands with a calm clean swing, all the while knowing that the Babe Ruth bar, mixed with the tobacco chaw, was behind you with its force and legend. Babe Ruth, he said, walked on those stick legs because people in the early days of filming didn’t know how to film legs yet, and girls, when they were skipping rope and were up in the air thinking about Tootsie Rolls and fairies, thought their jumps were real, too, but it wasn’t sports. Girls’ games were less real than movies, David said. Girls were generally more made up than real, and boys should stop thinking about them and think instead about sports and making money and owning a company. He said if a girl ever met a fastball screaming across the plate she would probably launch herself into the stands. He told me to stick to Babe Ruth bars because they were a boy’s product and would teach you how to chew tobacco and know who you were when you grew up, and when I told him it was hard for an immigrant to think about products in this way he said it was a matter of practice.
The World Series was played every year between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. When the World Series was on Mr. Mowbray let us boys but no girls go into the gym in P.E. and not change into our shorts and tee shirts but keep our regular clothes on and the boys lay on their stomachs around the radio on the gym stage with their chins propped on their elbows and listened to the man on the radio tell them what was happening in the World Series, way over there in New York and Brooklyn. I knew where New York was and I thought I knew where Brooklyn was because it sounded a bit like another city in that part of the world, Boston, and even though the baseball players in that city wore red socks I knew from listening to the radio announcer that the Brooklyn Dodgers were probably like them or lived close to them because all the towns in that part of the world had similar-sounding names and the people there were used to funny clothes. Dodgers sounded a bit, too, like Dodgson, which was the name of one of the kids in our class, Peter Dodgson, who had buck teeth and who couldn’t be an athlete for that reason; but the Brooklyn Dodgers might have something to do with his family because of his name.
When the boys lay on their stomachs with the chins in their palms and their elbows on the floor and listened to the World Series they acted as if they knew the players. There were players named Mickey Mantel and Yogi Berra, who might be cartoon characters because Mickey was a name from comic books and Berra sounded like bear, and I don’t know how people with names like that got to be adults. The boys talked about the players and listened to the man on the radio as if these men were their funny uncles telling stories, and I thought all of North America might be a family joined together by the invisible voices coming through a radio. Our family couldn’t join yet because we didn’t know all the rules of baseball, and how the World Series fit things together and made a country.
I wanted to ask Mr. Mowbray why the World Series was called the World Series when it is played between two cities that are close to each other in the eastern part of the United States, and why it was the same two teams every year. I wanted to ask why people there wore red socks that went up to their knees and a kind of pants called knickerbockers, which is a German word for odd pants, when you never saw that sort of clothing here, and why men who play baseball wear caps and not hats. I wanted to ask Mr. Mowbray, too, if any of these people were related to Peter Dodgson, and if it was true that if you had buck teeth you couldn’t be an athlete. But I couldn’t ask him these questions because once the game started on the radio he acted more like one of the boys than a teacher. He didn’t lie down on his stomach with his chin propped up on his elbows, he stood off to the side near the stage curtains, but when something important happened on the radio, which you could tell because the announcer raised his voice and talked faster and higher, Mr. Mowbray leaned forward and made sounds in his throat and moved his arms like the boys did, and I could tell he was listening to something important about his inner life. At other times he crossed his arms and closed his eyes and swayed back and forth.
When we were in the gym listening to the radio I tried to lie down with the other boys and prop my chin on my elbows and listen, and imagine people called Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, and another man named Joe DiMaggio, whose name sounded like a musical instruction, but I didn’t succeed, so I got up and stood back a little near where Mr. Mowbray stood by the stage curtains and swayed. I swayed with him and closed my eyes, and sometimes when I did this I thought the World Series was going on below us on the gym floor, played by invisible men who were a bit smaller than normal men. But baseball isn’t played in a gym, it is played on a diamond, which is part of a sports field but also a kind of mineral.
I asked Mr. Mowbray once after baseball season was over and the seasons of nature started again if the World Series was always played in the United States, and if other countries, Canada, for instance, could have a World Series of its own. I asked him if people could go to the United States where the World Series was and pay attention to it, and after I asked these things Mr. Mowbray looked at me for a while as if he didn’t know that the things I was asking were questions; then he said these were not the sorts of things people talked about when they talked about the World Series, and it was important that I keep listening to the radio and learn from it how the World Series and the country associated with it worked.
I went home and tried to listen to the World Series but my mother told me to turn off the radio because she couldn’t stand hearing one man talking on the radio for a long time in a hectic voice that reminded her of her homeland which American men, some of whom may have been baseball players and dressed funny, had taken over after a war and used radio to talk to her people on. She said men who spoke in hectic voices and had crowds cheering behind them while they spoke were all dangerous men, and you shouldn’t listen to that kind of person.
2350 words October 23, 2010