by Willard Manus
Those were the days, my friend, we thought theyd never end,
sang the radio as Bobo Lustwig drove through the endless, stupefying corn
fields of Iowa, destination Des Moines, where his old sidekick Stewart
Simensen lay dying.
Bobo wasnt about to let Stewart perish without a fight; that was
for damn sure. He was going to do everything in his power to give him
life, even if it meant risking his own.
Bobo cracked open another brewski and took a swig, checking the rental-cars
mirrors to make sure no black and whites were lurking, but all he could
see for miles around was corn. Corn and shimmering heat and a cloudless
sky as blue as...as Stewies eyes.
That was the first thing he had noticed about his pal: those blue eyes
of his. That and the blonde cowlick drooping down the left side of his
face. The combination screamed farm-boy. Rube. Yokel.
But he was soon obliged to change his mind about the guy. Once that big,
gawky left-hander took the mound in spring training and went into his
slow, contorted windup and fired a ball at the batter, all condescension
disappeared and was replaced by admiration, even awe.
Whack! came the sound of ball hitting catchers mitt, the sound of
a pitcher throwing one fast ball after another past a batter. Whack whack
Eventually Stewie managed to learn how to throw two additional pitches:
a sneaky slider, a passable change-up. But the fast ball remained his
primary weapon, his money-maker.
Here it comes, hit it if you can, was Stewies strategy. See if you
can handle this heater, mother-fucker! That was Bobos doing, making
Stewie curse out an opponent like that: aggression didnt come naturally
to the big rustic who wore a crooked grin on his face, even while pitching.
It was all fun to him, sheer enjoyment of life, even when an opponent
crushed one of his offerings and sent it into orbit.
Bobo went to work on Stewie, tried to wise him up. What is this Christian
shit of loving thy neighbor? he asked him. You aint in church, man,
you are competing in the real world, a world in which there is zero mercy
for pitchers who cant get batters out. So wipe that shit-eating
grin off your face and get mean, goddammit. Get nasty. Get city!
* * *
finally managed to escape from the vast fields of corn and reach the medical
center in Des Moines, he was confronted by a skinny, bespectacled geek
with pen and pad in hand. His name was Harvey Benson and he wrote free-lance
sports articles for the Des Moines Register.
I hope you can give me a little of your time, Harvey said
in a high-pitched, irritating voice. Id like to do a feature
on you and Stewart getting together again after all these years.
Why bother? I doubt if anyone out there even remembers who we are.
Are you kidding? The two of you were famous in your time. And now
youre about to make headlines again by donating a kidney to save
Its a tricky operation. Aint no guarantee itll
Thats why Im here, Harvey said. To let baseball
fans know whether the operation will be successful or not.
Harvey fished out his iPhone and aimed it at Bobo. Do you mind if
I snap a pic? The paper would like one of you in the Before
* * *
There was yet another surprise in store for Bobo: sitting beside Stewies
bed in the pre-op ward was Loretta Richardson.
Bobo was overjoyed to see her. The good times theyd had together!
The incredible times!
He went toward
her eagerly, wanting to wrap his arms around her, only to be taken aback
when she threw her hands up and backed off. Sorry, she sniffed.
Im not allowed to hug anyone. I just had a lung removed.
So the years had taken their toll; she was older, greyer and thicker,
but still carried herself gracefully, lightly, like the dancer she once
They turned their attention to Stewie. Hooked up to various kinds of medical
machines, clad in a drab hospital gown, he sat up in bed, eying them.
He had lost weight, become a gaunter version of himself, but his eyes
were as blue as ever and he could still flash that goofy smile of his.
* * *
That night Bobo and Loretta had dinner in an Italian joint in downtown
Des Moines. He drank mineral water instead of wine and barely ate anything,
as per the surgeons instructions. Loretta ate and drank for the
both of them: soggy lasagna and three bottles of Pironi beer. They chatted
like blatherskites about the old days, telling stories, interrupting and
correcting each other, arguing, joking, cackling and hooting; its
a wonder they didnt get kicked out of the place, so loud and rude
that night at Joe Allens, the night when we first met? Bobo
asked. You were with a bunch of other hoofers from that show of
yours, what was itMan of La Mancha?
Right, right, Fiorello, how could I forget?
Bobo took a sip of Pellogrino, then resumed: All of a sudden you
and your pals started screaming and embracing and falling all over each
The New York Times review had just come in. We were a hit, a success!
It guaranteed a long run, a steady pay check for maybe the first time
in our lives!
Ive never seen such happy people, Bobo said. It
was catching. I felt happy myself, even though the Mets had knocked me
out of the box in five innings earlier in the day.
You didnt let it get you down. Thats what I liked about
you. You didnt whine about your loss or make excuses for it.
How could I whine when Id just met youa Broadway dancer
with legs up the whazoo and an ass and tits to die for.
Thank you for such a profound and mature assessment of my character.
Come on, Lorettayou were the hottest babe in town and you
knew it. Flaunted it!
What good did it do me? Look at me now.
Shut up! Youre still gorgeous, maybe more so than ever.
Bobo took another sip of the fizzy water. Then we all split and
walked together to that Greek dive on 8th Avenue
yeah, yeah, the Athenian Gardens, where they had live music
and a 250-pound belly-dancer. Stewie couldnt get over her; he had
never seen anything like that big fat mama, growing up in Iowa
Fort Dodge, population 714, Loretta said.
I spent years trying to persuade Stewie to get the hell out of Dodge.
He finally made it out, thanks to you. He moved to Manhattan and
had a taste of the good life
A brief taste anyway, Bobo said.
Hey, it was more like five years, she shot back. Five
years of sitting on the top rung of the monkey bars, digging the view
from up there. Not many ballplayers have ever made it to those heights.
You were up there with us.
Yeah, but you and Stewart got all the glory. You were the most famous
pitchers in the game: the city boy and the country bumpkin, winning games
by day, partying your butts off at night
We did party, Bobo admitted, but dont forget,
we could sleep all morning and report to the ballpark feeling rested and
You pitched a no-hitter in the 80s
July 6, 1984, against the Red Sox
then not long after that things began to go wrong. You lost control of
your pitches, started getting hit and losing games. The same thing happened
to Stewie. How do you explain it?
Come on, Lo, you know what happened. You stopped shacking up with
Youre blaming me for your collapse?
Everything was cool when we were a threesome. Everything turned
to salt when you walked out on us.
It couldnt go on the way it was. It just couldnt.
Why the hell not?
Keep your voice down, Loretta whispered. Then: People
treated me like a pariah, a whore-all because I was living with
two New York Yankee pitchers.
Fuck what people think! Who gave them the right to judge you like
It was to be expected, I guess. The story was all over the sports
pages, the gossip columns. Anyway, the notoriety began to affect my career;
choreographers thought twice about hiring me.
So you dumped us. You dumped us for scared, selfish reasons, and
then everything fell apart for Stewie and me. We got kicked around on
the mound, were sent down to the minors. By the end of the 80s we were
out of the game.
Not my fault. I wasnt your good-luck charm.
quit talking like that! You and Stewie drank and partied too much. You
burned the candle at both ends and were left with a puddle of hot wax.
Bobo thought things over, then gave a reluctant sigh. I guess youre
right, he said.
You make your rules and play by them. I knew the bills would come
due eventually. I knew Id have trouble covering them.
* * *
sat hunched over his laptop, occasionally sneaking a floor of Ginos,
but he was up on the mezzanine, the only person in the section. He was
drinking double look at Loretta and Bobo. They were down on the main Jacks
on rocks, but not eating anything, Italian food being too greasy and stinky
for his mid-west sensibilities. Not that he had time to eat anyway: too
much work to do. He needed to write five thousand words for the Register
on the reunion of the most colorful and controversial baseball duo
of all time (his headline). It was due by eleven p.m., so he had
better get his ass in gear. He went online to check a few facts, even
though he was sure of the storys essential ingredients: Bo and Stew
having it all in the 80s...kings of the American League...the playboy
pitchers and their swinger girlfriend...Broadway babe with the million-dollar
gams spreading for both of them...Jesus, what a hot, juicy story it had
been, baseball exploits spiced with illicit sex...a newspaper-mans
Then came the fall, the let-down: Bo and Stew being dumped by the nympho
hoofer; the booze and weed catching up with them, Bo crashing the cherry-red
Caddie he drove round Manhattan with the top down; Stew checking into
a rehab clinic, then hurting his arm by rushing his return to the mound...
As he got deeper into the article, Harvey described Bo as a pitcher with
a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent brain, adding gleefully that
he had ended up sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge with a brown paper
bag in his hand. Harvey then described how Stew had returned to the family
spread in Iowa, living in obscurity after that. The bigger they are, the
Harveys fingers were flying; he could write this kind of shit in
his sleep. He poured it on, banging out the feature in short, pungent
paragraphs: Stew eventually coming down with kidney problems, Bo sobering
up (thanks to AA) and becoming a black-jack dealer in Atlantic City, Noo
switched gears and began to pay fulsome tribute to Bobo for having stepped
up to the plate in heroic fashion. Even though he hadnt seen
his sidekick in twenty years, he had volunteered to donate one of his
kidneys to him. Reason being (this was Harveys theory) that he felt
responsible for his old friends illness. He had corrupted that innocent,
clueless farm-boy, turned him into a drunkard and a lech, and now he was
desperate to make up for his shameful behavior, assuage his guilt.
Much as Harvey disliked Bobo, yearned to stick it to that
degenerate, he still had to acknowledge the mans bravery. It took
guts to let a surgeon open you up and remove one of your organs. It made
Harvey nauseous just to think of such a thing, being operated on like
that, carved up like a fucking Thanksgiving turkey.
What was Bobo thinking right now? Harvey wondered. What was he saying
to Loretta? Was he feeling apprehensive? Having second thoughts about
the operation? You couldnt blame him for that; the procedure was
difficult and dangerous, it could end in death. Death!
Normally, Harvey didnt like thinking about death, but there was
no way around it right now. The Register expected him to write a second
story in the morning, a post-surgery feature. If something went wrong
during the operation, it could result in one or more fatalities.
Harvey quit typing, looked around in a panic and shouted, I need
another drink, dammit! Then, after managing to calm down, he forced
himself to get back to work, reminding himself that he had an exclusive
story here, the biggest scoop of his life. Dont fuck it up, cowboy!
turned his attention to Loretta. Loretta, the ex-Broadway high-stepper
and sex queen (who was now teaching pilates at a Connecticut parochial
school), had flown on her own nickel to hold Stewarts hand and maybe
pray for him. Then Bobo had shown up and livened things up. She was having
dinner right now with her former heart-throb; they were chatting, gazing
longingly into each others eyes. Wouldnt it be great if he
could snap a photo of them slipping into a motel room together; the Register
would not only run the pic on its front page but sell it to just about
every newspaper in the country!
It would be the best thing that ever happened to him; it would force the
Register to apologize for having canned him. The paper might even offer
to rehire him, allow him to cover high school sports once again!
* * *
Bobos operation was over quickly; it took the surgeon just under
an hour to wield his knife and divest him of his left kidney.
I just had to snip and sew up a few tubes and capillaries, whereas
with Stewart my colleague had to do all kinds of joining and stitching,
making the operation long and arduous. On top of that, he had to cope
with the constant threat of rejection, the failure of the transplanted
kidney to function properly, he told Bobo.
in all, it took the better part of a day for Bobo to begin to feel a bit
better. The anesthesia wore off slowly, leaving him in a kind of twilight
sleep, one filled with strange voices and shapes: a Yankees pitching
coach barking orders at him; a woman (Loretta?) whispering something in
his ear--or was it the ghost of his mother, a strange, spectral shape,
calling to him, beckoning for help...?
Then, suddenly, Lorettas voice cut through the miasma. How
do you feel, Bo? Does it hurt? she asked as she leaned over him.
Only when I laugh.
Congratulations, sweetie. You seem to have come through everything
in good shape.
Hes still zonked out.
But hes okay, isnt he?
So far, so good.
Thats a relief. Then he eyed her. Are you up for
She gave a little snort.
Itll be a while before you can go out on the town. Then
she added, That reporter wants to interview you again. Are you up
Are you kidding? Tell him to take a long walk off a short pier.
of other people have been calling the hospital as well: former teammates
of yours, some of your casino buddies.
Thats nice of them. But youll just have to put them
off. Im not in the mood for any chit-chat right now.
He reached for her hand.
Im glad youre here, Lo. Youre still an ace gal.
I never shouldve let you get away. I should have married you, made
Never mind that, she said. Just get well, dammit.
* * *
Loretta said pretty much the same thing to Stewie later that day, but
got no response from him, so full of pain-killers and immun-suppressive
drugs and steroids was he. Then, in the middle of the night, came a rejection
episode, but Stewie managed to survive it, successfully enough to be moved
out of intensive care two days later.
Ahm feelin okay, he told them. Ah was even
able to take a decent piss this afternoon.
Praise the Lord, Loretta said. That is indeed good news.
She looked round at both of them.
So here we are again. The Three Stooges.
Here no evil, see no evil, do no evil, Bobo added.
up, Stewart said. Ahve got something important to tell
you. He paused for a moment, then resumed. Ahve got
this big old farm house outside of Fort Dodge. Its been in the family
for centuries; plenty of room for all of us. Why dont you both move
in with me, stay there for good?
And do what, pick corn for living?
No need for that. I lease the fields out, dont need to do
a lick of work no more. Itd be just like a retirement home for us,
a place to get by on our pensions. Well sit and rock on the porch
all day, drinkin ice tea and shootin the breeze.
It wasnt such a far-fetched idea. Loretta was a widow: husband long
dead, children grown and scattered. Bobo was divorced and working a mindless
job, shuffling and dealing cards to unsmiling Asians. As for Stewie, hed
never married, was the last living member of his family-and in desperate
need of companionship.
None of them was a whole person. Lo was missing a lung, Bobo and Stewie
were each down to their last kidney. But put the three of them together
and they would resemble a whole human being. A normal human being.
* * *
didnt take long for Harvey Benson to catch wind of the news, thanks
to one of his contacts in Fort Dodge. He couldnt believe his luck,
getting a second scoop on something as unexpected as this: two of baseballs
most notorious scamps living under the same roof again with their personal
sex slave, the Times Square trollop herself, Loretta Richardson.
Harveys fingers were flying over the keyboard again, he was really
cooking here, putting together a feature that would top everything he
had written about them before; this menage a trois stuff was a lot more
commercial than writing about a diseased kidney. It had legs as well,
thered be other angles to pursue in the weeks to come: the threesomes
escapades, arguments and problems. Hed write these things up and
the Register would not only buy them all but beg him to come back to work
for them. Hed make his bosses grovel! Hed make them eat shit!
Here Harvey stopped typing and dug into the last of his Egg Foo Young.
Des Moiness Little Shanghai Restaurant was his favorite place to
work these days, ensconced in a booth in the rear of the place. He had
the area to himself during the day; it was cool and peaceful here, and
the waiter knew what to bring him for lunch: Egg Foo Young, chop suey
and fried rice, and now, for dessert: orange slices and a fortune cookie.
Just then his cell-phone rang; it was his old pal, Des Moiness police
chief, Captain Devon R. Knolls, who said abruptly, Youll never
guess what just happened.
Talk to me.
Stewart Simensen just died
Seems his new kidney suddenly just upped and quit on him.
could that be? Hes been fine for all these months.
Transplants are a mysterious thing. Rejection episodes can occur
at any time, Im told. Its all got to do with the dialysis,
drug toxicity, the risks of infection. Anyway, whatever the reason, the
guy died a couple of hours ago, down in Dodge. Thought youd like
Harvey put the phone down and spat some words out. Thought youd
like to know. Fucking A, hed like to know! Now hed have
to scrap what hed been working on and start writing an obituary.
An obituary signaling the end of a life andeven worsethe end
of his cash-cow series on the bad boys of baseball, Bobo Lustwig and Stewart
Harvey gave a deep, hurt-filled sigh. Then he slurped some tea and cracked
open his fortune cookie. It read: On the right track, means need
to run even faster, or got run over.