BOBBY & THE BOHEMIANS
“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild, and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!” ( Aligieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. NY: The Modern Library, 1950. pp. 11)
The square-jawed Bobby Van Roth could have been a great ballplayer with his exceptional hand-eye coordination, upper body strength, competitive spirit, and vast knowledge of the game. He was passionate about sports, especially baseball, but he would never play the game at the organized level. If only he could have ran the bases. At age four, the lefty was crippled with polio; still, he became a top-notch sandlot player where he pitched, played first base, and ... coached. At age fifteen, he put his younger brother under his wing and became his personal manager, trainer, mentor, and ... father figure.
Bobby was a stargazer who lived by proxy, and as a teenager, satisfied his wish-fulfillment as an athlete by transcending; by living a competitive life through the successes of his trained protégé. The brothers became close with a cohesiveness more like that between sisters or twins, certainly not like two brothers separated by seven years. It was older brother Bobby who taught his younger brother how to play the game of baseball. Could Bobbyʼs tragic misfortune become his brotherʼs reward?
“Brother Dave became for me all the box scores rolled into one. In my imaginings he hit the ball like Ted Williams; he pitched like Bob Feller; he ran the bases like Tyrus Cobb. It was easy and it was fun because Dave was even more eager than I was to see the ground ball in play, the next pitch, the next swing of the bat. If there was ever a time when he wasnʼt ready to play some baseball, I donʼt remember it. I hit thousands of ground balls at him, line drives, bloopers, pop-ups. Iʼd aim to hit the ball just in front of him, or just behind him, to the left of him or to the right, so that he had to scramble on each play. Iʼd drop down a little dribbler, a bunt, make him come running in; then Iʼd send up a long fly ball, make him turn and race back . . . back . . . to the warning track, to the wall . . .” (Van Roth, Bobby. Toastmasters. Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Early on, the younger brother had a huge advantage over the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. By the time little league rolled around, heʼd already received thousands of grounders and pop-ups and hundreds of rounds of batting practice. He was first trained as a middle-infielder and was quite certain, that one day, he would replace Luis Aparicio as the Chicago White Soxʼ starting shortstop. Davie Van Roth inherited all the necessary kills -- exceptional hand-eye coordination, speed afoot with laser-quick reflexes, wiry strength, an accurate rifle for an arm, and a personal mentor to guide and show him the way. Bobby provided the ideal, tutelage, and training. His younger brother provided actuality. All directions pointed toward professional baseball.
Together, the brothers Van Roth would form a lethal, record-shattering combination. J.J. Rousseau, Jack Kerouac, and J.P. Sartre, among others, would attempt to change all of that. Fascinating, how individuals get caught up in situations and systems that are beyond their control -- like dodging obstructions and attempting to escape binding chains while winding oneʼs way through societyʼs maze in an effort to reach a quixotic goal. There would be headwinds and shark-infested waters to navigate; roadblocks to dodge. If only the world would just get the hell out of the way.
Anything is possible when chasing after a dream and living in a mystery. Bobby Van Roth climbed high above the clouds where his curiosities became obsessive. His blue-sky way of thinking manufactured images of home runs and no-hitters. He picked the brains of the masters -- Ruth, Cobb, DiMaggio, Williams, Feller, Spahn, and Koufax. Bobbyʼs imagination was filled with wonder and bordered on fantasy which held his key to meaning. While living on a prayer, his world became filled with illusion -- ignis fatuus -- a foolʼs paradise.
“One form is what I have termed elsewhere, ʻthe fallacy of misplaced concreteness.ʼ This fallacy consists in neglecting the degree of abstraction involved when an actual entity is considered merely so far as it exemplifies certain categories of thought.” (Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. Cambridge: University Press, 1929. pp 11)
Bobbyʼs mind danced on the ball field alongside all the greats, but only while on an astral journey into his Wiccan Summerland -- that nonphysical land of eternal summer with grassy fields unspoiled by humanity -- a world where thereʼs neither good or evil, pain nor suffering; no heaven nor hell, but a place where souls wait for another life with a different physical body, much like Pythagorasʼ liberation after several transmigrations. Only in an abstract Orphic or Dionysian world would Bobby run the bases like Jackie Robinson. In this realm of metempsychosis is where he performed on his Elysian Field, that imaginary place where mythical gods enact great athletic feats to the sweet sound of the lyre. In this conceptual, mystical Garden of Eden is where he turned cartwheels on base paths paved in gold without worries of ever growing old. Here, Bobby could elude all his troubles, bypass his emotions, and temporarily avoid the mundane; moreover, escape from his handicap. Avoiding reality would become his self-inventive ontology; his mistress of existence, even though these spiritual realms could never become concrete. He had creativity, but unfortunately, no execution. Bobby Van Roth was not programmed for the earthly world.
“Man is essentially a dreamer, wakened sometimes for a moment by some peculiarly obtrusive element in the outer world, but lapsing again quickly into the happy somnolence of imagination. Freud has shown how largely our dreams at night are the pictured fulfillment of our wishes; he has, with an equal measure of truth, said the same of day-dreams; and he might have included the day-dreams which we call beliefs.” (Russell, Bertrand. Skeptical Essays. London: Allen & Unwin, 1960. pp 26)
The Van Roth brothers grew up in a downtrodden area known as Olivehurst-Linda, just across the river from the historic gold-rush town of Marysville, California. Baseball was not the only passion savored by the two boys while growing up in northern part of the state during the nineteen-sixties. Both were bookworms and amassed large libraries. Bobby was well-read in psychology and world literature, especially Russian and French literature, world history, ancient Greece in particular, and philosophy -- Plato, the Idealists, and existential writers were his favorites. He enjoyed the works of Freud, Rousseau, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard while listening to the compositions of Richard Wagner. The younger Van Roth first studied chemistry and physics before converting to philosophy where he enjoyed German Transcendentalism, the intellectual dreaminess of Arthur Schopenhauer in particular, and then progressed to the logic of the British, especially that of Bertrand Russell while the sounds of the Moody Blues blasted away in the background.
“Why do we never get an answer
When we're knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
'Cause when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed”
(Hayward, Justin. The Moody Blues. “ Question.” A Question of Balance. Threshold, 1970)
Davie Van Roth was a bibliophile and had collected well over a thousand volumes as a teenager. Most were hardcore works of philosophy; however, some of the books on the fourth shelf of his library seemed out of place; not just the nature of their content, but also, who had read these books and when. Those on the first, second, third and fifth shelves were dated between 1965 and 1970 and initialed DVR. Several volumes on the fourth shelf were penned by existential writers and were initialed and dated by both brothers -- 1965/'66 by Bobby, 1968 by his younger brother; also, the margin notes of these misplaced books were mostly by a left-hander. Davie was a righty; Bobby a port-sider. The impulsive writings of Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Baudelaire, and Arthur Rimbaud didnʼt seem to fit in. These works of literature and poetry, originally published in French, spouted an air of decadence and rebellious discontent. Apparently, these caustic books written during the Enlightenment and a few years after the Romantic era were Bobby Van Roth hand-me-downs and read several years later by his younger brother.
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century movement known as Romanticism spearheaded such lofty ideals as liberty, progress, fraternity, tolerance, and constitutional government -- all tap roots once advocated by liberalism and promised before by the ancient Greeks. Liberal origins also included freedom of speech, rule of law, market economy, limited government, rights to life, liberty, and property, and opposed any form of collectivism or socialism. My, oh my, how the tables have turned. Voltaire was a forerunner to this way of thought, and along with Rousseau and John Locke, are considered forefathers of Liberalism. As a precursor to this way of thinking, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant shouted, Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason! This kind of thought also led to much bloodshed.
Voltaire from Candide -- Do you believe, said Candide, that men have always massacred each other as they do today, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?
Baudelaire from his Flowers of Evil -- I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy. It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.
Arthur Rimbaud from A Season in Hell & Illuminations -- Now I am an outcast. I loathe the fatherland. The thing for me is a very drunken sleep on the beach.
Both Rousseau and Rimbaud were vagabonding, runaway scamps with Rimbaud getting imprisoned for vagrancy. He also got his ears boxed by his strict mother for reading Victor Hugoʼs Les Misérables -- also known as The Miserables, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, The Victims, and The Dispossessed. In The Social Contract, Rousseau begins by stating: Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains... Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they... Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Maker of the world, but degenerates once it gets into the hands of man.
A few centuries earlier, the great political philosopher Thomas Hobbes had laid out his own social contract theory in his Leviathan. He too, felt that humanity was brutish, but that mankind was born that way. Hobbes believed in total government control or totalitarianism, for if left unchecked with unlimited natural freedom, man would plunder, rape, and murder. Life would be solitary, poor, nasty, and short. There would be bellum omnium contra omnes -- an endless “war of all against all.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a misfit and saw the world as corrupt. While some biographers paint a rather noble picture regarding his life story, others have not been so kind. The great Denis Diderot, editor of The Encyclopédie (most famous for representing the thought of the Enlightenment), described Rousseau as being “false, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical, and wicked... He sucked ideas from me, used them himself, and then affected to despise me.” (Damrosch, Leo. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. NY: Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. pp. 304)
Rousseauʼs mother died a few days after his birth and after his father was exiled, the young teenager hit the road and wandered throughout France as a freeloading migrant. He spent much of his life as a sponging parasite taking advantage of the kindness of others. At age fifteen, Rousseau moved in with Madame de Warens, fourteen years his senior. She boarded and fed the young rogue, shared her large library, and taught him the world of ideas; moreover, the art of ménage à trois, which included another man. Jean-Jacques became a champion of the poor and preached: Trust your heart rather than your head. Follow your passions.
Rousseau had a falling-out with just about everyone that he associated with including Voltaire and Scottish philosopher David Hume who took him in out of pity as so many others had done. In 1745, while penniless and rootless, Rousseau met Thérèse Le Vasseur and fathered five of her children before abandoning the family. The kids were orphaned. Rousseau, an iconoclast and quintessential shit disturber, had been banned from his birthplace (Geneva, Switzerland), Bern, and all of France. Warrants for his arrest had been issued, his books banned and burned, and the Catholic Church deemed him as enemy number one. He is considered as Liberalismʼs greatest reformer and the man who sired Romanticism where tentacles stretched far and wide, even touching close to home some two centuries later.
Like a rudderless ship lost in a misty sea, he drifted aimlessly through an unchartered existence. As a gypsy, he was born to roam but never found his way. He knew where he had been after traveling down those empty streets of dreams, but like a lonely drifter, never cared which way to go. Home, he would never be.
During the autumn months of 1965, Bobby Van Roth was living at home and commuting to college. He became weary of self-analyzing himself through the works of Sigmund Freud where he had learned of the herd-instinct. Pressure and anxiety were mounting to get a college degree and then find a job. He was majoring in economics before realizing that the prospect of becoming a banker could lead to a boring life of sitting behind a desk with the tedium of punching numbers all day at some bank -- hour after hour like Sisyphus sentenced to rolling that giant rock up a hill only to have it fall right back to where it came from -- day after day, month after month, year after year; for eternity. Eventually, one accepts it and becomes ... just another brick in the wall.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” (Emerson, Ralph Waldo. THE ESSAY ON SELF-RELIANCE. NY: Roycrafters, 1908. pp. 23)
Bobby Van Roth had read Rousseauʼs Confessions, Émile, The Social Contract, and Héloise. Margin notes indicated that he felt as though he was headed towards a godforsaken world of earthly life stuck in complacency while breathing stagnant air. He began to waver and have second thoughts. If you are not happy with the situation you find yourself in; you can change it.
“But when a man has once broken through the paper walls of everyday circumstance, those unsubstantial walls that hold so many of us securely imprisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a discovery... Determine to alter it at any price, and you can change it altogether. You may change it to something sinister and angry, to something appalling, but it may be you will change it to something brighter, something more agreeable, and at the worst something much more interesting. There is only one sort of man who is absolutely to blame for his own misery, and that is the man who finds life dull and dreary. There are no circumstances in the world that determined action cannot alter, unless perhaps they are the walls of a prison cell, and even those will dissolve and change, I am told, into the infirmary compartment at any rate, for the man who can fast with resolution... Clear out!” (Wells, H.G. The History of Mr. Polly. Grosset & Dunlap. NY: 1909, pp. 243)
While at Chico State, Bobby became enlightened -- Illumination after darkness. He neglected his textbook studies and traded in his abacus along with Freud for the wayward, disobedient, rebellious, and defiant Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the man who whose writings influenced the century-long Romantic Era; a hundred-plus years of skepticism and individualism. The pernicious writings of Rousseau and penners of Romanticism were slowly corrupting the thoughts of Bobby Van Roth as they did some two centuries prior when their works of kindred spirit instigated the bloodbaths of the French and American revolutions.
“He woke once more to external reality, looked round him, knew what he saw -- knew it with a sinking sense of horror and disgust, for the recurrent delirium of his days and nights, the nightmare of swarming indistinguishable sameness...Instead that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness.” (Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1950. pps. 250, 211)
The world of reality has its limits but the kingdom of imagination is boundless. Trust your heart rather than your head, throw caution to the wind, and act upon your emotions and passions. Take a chance and journey into an emotional wilderness while following your dream-vision and go where ever it leads. Why live on autopilot, filling the void with habit and gossip? It was Simone de Beauvoir, existential writer with her Ethics of Ambiguity and queen of the fems with her feminist bible, The Second Sex; along with philosophical soul mate Jean Paul Sartre during the nineteen-fifties and sixties, who would have advised not to live such a trivial, mundane life. Change your life today. Donʼt gamble on the future, act now without delay, she stated. You could be dead tomorrow and there shall be no stairway to heaven for sale in the end. Embrace life and get as much out of it as you possibly can while still alive. Control your own fate or someone else will. Listen to your heart.
“When he stepped out of the building, he found the town and the world far more transformed and enchanted than if there had been flags, garlands, and streamers, or displays of fireworks. He had experienced his vocation, which may surely be spoken of as a sacrament. The ideal world, which hitherto his young soul had known only by hearsay and in wild dreams, had suddenly taken on visible lineaments for him. Its gates had opened invitingly. This world, he now saw, did not exist only in some vague, remote past or future; it was here and was active; it glowed...” (Hesse, Hermann. Magister Ludi. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1957. pp. 52)
Bobby Van Roth adopted the romantic temperament, became motivated by emotion rather than reason, and excited by the mysterious rather than coaxed by clear conscience. He opted to forget about the demands of society and cried, to hell with acceptance! So, just like that ... without considerable thought, Bobby Van Roth quit college, packed his rucksack, and moved to San Francisco; not just San Francisco, but the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
One could hardly say that life was mundane and boring in “The Haight” during the mid nineteen-sixties. There was action in Golden Gate Park, in the coffee shops, on the streets. It was happening, man. Everywhere! Bobby Van Roth turned his thoughts away from a formal education; away from family; and ... away from baseball. His thoughts were now directed towards his individual self rather than that preached by tradition and his impromptu decision-making led to a hasty farewell -- good-bye college, toodaloo Olivehurst-Linda, and hello City by the Bay. No one tells the wind which way to blow. He left without thought nor hope of ever returning home. Home, he would never be.
“To some, the sermon simply brought home the fact that they had been sentenced, for an unknown crime, to an indeterminate period of punishment. And while a good many people adapted themselves to confinement and carried on their humdrum lives as before, there were others who rebelled and whose one idea now was to break loose from the prison-house.” (Camus, Albert. The Plague. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960. pp. 92)
“In a pinch, Dave was always there for me. He was there for me even when there was no pinch. If only I had applied this recipe to our bond of trust and cohesiveness . . . but there came a time when I became all-knowing and all-powerful. There became a time when kids my own age were moving to San Francisco and wearing garlands of flowers in their hair. They were lighting up refers and swallowing tablets of lysergic acid. Without even knowing how or why, I traded in the hometown, bullying atmosphere for “peace”. In short, I abandoned Dave by driving a panel truck to Mexico via San Francisco. I had no inkling that the word existential would come to mean that I lost my way on that drive and never quite managed to find my way back home.” ( Van Roth, Bobby. Toastmasters. Albuquerque, New Mexico)