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THE VIEW FROM LEFT FIELD

Waiting for the Revolution
By Jim Brooks

I learned most of what I know about socialism from my uncle, baseball, and the Three Stooges. Of course, I've been a stooge of capitalism all my life, or so my Uncle Mike tells me. But there is never any malice in his voice when he says it. I'm sure he means it in the nicest possible way, and I do like my uncle an awful lot. My Uncle Mike is a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-(red)-wool member of the Socialist Labor Party, and that's where my education as well as my story begins.

I received my first lessons in socialism at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, where my uncle had a part-time job running the team's message board. In the days before the Jumbotron, messages were put up on the scoreboard with a primitive one-letter-at-a-time contraption called a Fan-O-Gram. It was a section of the scoreboard that would spell out things like, "THE TRIBE WELCOMES UAW LOCAL 486" or "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MILAN WOSKOVICH—77 YEARS YOUNG."

My uncle operated the Fan-O-Gram from inside the giant scoreboard in center field, and sometimes I would go with him to the stadium. In order to see any of the game, I had to stand on an old milk crate and look through a little twelve-inch square door in the scoreboard. There was something very cool about watching the game from inside the scoreboard; it was like knowing where the secret passages are in a castle.

While I was watching the game, Uncle Mike would be running around resetting the letters for the next message. When all the adjustments were complete, he would throw a big electrical switch that brought the whole thing to life. That switch looked like the one in the movies in Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory, and I secretly fantasized that somewhere deep in the bowels of Cleveland Stadium, the Indians were creating a monster—a home run hitting monster. Actually a few years before, they had done exactly that, and then traded him to the Yankees. The monster's name was Roger Maris.

Often during the game while Uncle Mike was working, he would lecture me on things like "The History of Class Struggle" or "The Virtues of the Paris Commune." Though I would politely nod my head, for the most part I just tuned him out and concentrated on watching the Indians lose another one. However, I suppose I did absorb some of his propaganda through a kind of osmosis. I remember raising a few eyebrows at St. Joseph's elementary school when it was discovered that I was the only fourth grader in the Cleveland Catholic school system who could spell "proletariat."

Uncle Mike often used baseball to explain to me how capitalism worked, how the fat-cat owners were grinding the players under their heels, and how the players were mere stooges of an oppressive capitalist system. My uncle's reference to the players as "stooges" was a big mistake when trying to reach anyone from my generation. My ten-year-old imagination conjured images of the owner of the Indians running through the clubhouse with a Moe Howard-like scowl on his face, poking players in the eye, tearing big chunks of hair out of their heads, and doinking them on the noggin with a hammer. If that was capitalism, I was all for it.

Even the logo of my uncle's home team, the Socialist Labor Party, showed a muscled arm holding a big hammer, ready to strike, like on the baking soda boxes. And the way the Indians played in the sixties, I'm a little surprised the owner didn't run amok in the clubhouse once or twice. It might have done some good.

I also had the good sense not to ask my uncle if the guy running the Fan-O-Gram was a stooge of the capitalist system. I wasn't quite sure Uncle Mike could handle a curveball like that, and as I said before, I really like my uncle an awful lot.

Uncle Mike's sympathy with the players was somewhat misplaced. They turned out to be better capitalists than any of us could have imagined, but this was several decades before A-Rod signed a $250 million contract. I haven't asked him about that, but I'm sure he'd have an explanation. He would say the power shift from owners to players was a "perfect example of the dictatorship of the proletariat," or something like that. I've always admired my uncle's ability to make every possible situation, from El Nino to Mad Cow Disease, fit neatly into the doctrine of class struggle. Socialists are pretty good at that.

The foundation stone of my uncle's belief system was the unshakable conviction that revolution was imminent. Fundamentalist Christians don't anticipate the Second Coming with as much religious fervor as my Uncle Mike awaits the collapse of our capitalist society. Revolution was always just "right around the corner," which, from the scoreboard in the middle of the bleacher seats, I figured would be about Ninth and Lakeside.

I've often wondered secretly if Uncle Mike didn't take that job so that he would be in a strategic position when the revolution came. So that right after the message that celebrated the Nussbaum's fiftieth wedding anniversary, the Fan-O-Gram would suddenly flash "WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!—THE REVOLUTION IS HERE!"

I suppose baseball is the reason I didn't become a socialist. Even a ten-year-old knows that playing ball isn't a real job. At least not a real job like anybody in my family had. It was baseball, and to me in 1964, it had nothing to do with capitalism or socialism. I appreciated it for what it really was—pure romanticism. It was red dirt and green grass and white lines. It was the smell of leather, the crack of a bat, and the outstretched glove. It was American mythology in its purest form, and I was its most devoted stooge.

In the 1990s a revolution of sorts did arrive in Cleveland. The team actually became good. Then they built a new stadium, tearing down old Municipal Stadium with its rusty towers of flood lights and dilapidated scoreboard in center field that bore a closer resemblance to the nearby closed steel mills than the clean white architectural lines of Jacobs Field. God, I miss the old place.

Other changes came as well. With the purely capitalist invention of the personal seat license, the blue collar beer and hot dog faithful eventually got pushed out by the wine-cooler sipping yuppies from the suburbs. Unexpectedly, I found myself more and more viewing the world in terms of class struggle, and more and more my eyes would drift toward Ninth and Lakeside.

But the new millennium brought with it the old Indians. They're lousy again, and all is right with the world. The yuppies have retreated to the golf course or wherever the hell it is they go, and empty seats are again the order of the day. I'm still not a socialist, but I thought that tonight Uncle Mike and I might go to the game. We'll sit in the bleachers and have some dogs and beer and wait for the revolution. I won't even mind if he gives me a lecture in praise of the Paris Commune.

—EFQ

JIM BROOKS has been, among other things, a merchant seaman, hippie, paratrooper, alcoholism counselor, and mailman. He is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing from Wright State University. His work has appeared in Flights, Ship of Fools and The Blue Collar Review.

© 2006 Jim Brooks

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