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Authors: Dan Gutman

Ted & Me (10 page)

BOOK: Ted & Me
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He picked up the phone off the wall and dialed some numbers. He waited impatiently for a few seconds, and then an operator answered at the other end of the line.

“Get me the White House!” Ted barked.

There was a pause. I could only hear Ted's half of the conversation.

“Yes, the White House in Washington!” Ted shouted. “What
White House is there?”


“I need to speak to the president!”


“I'm Ted !@#$%! Williams, that's who!”


“The Ted Williams who just hit .406!” he yelled. “And I need to speak to President Roosevelt, sweetheart. So make the connection. Right

Pause. Ted was not a patient man.

“This is a matter of national importance, you little !@#$%!” he hollered. “So get the president on the line or I'm going to !@#$%! your !@#$%! Do you
hear me? What's your name? I want to talk to your supervisor!”

Pause. Click. Ted put the phone receiver back in its cradle.

“What did she say?” I asked.

“She said, ‘Get lost, creep.'”

It didn't look like this was going to work out. I would have to think of another plan.

But suddenly Ted jumped up from the bench and began gathering the things from his locker. He stuffed them into a suitcase with a sense of purpose. Still in uniform, he picked up the suitcase and headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Come with me,” he said.

“Why?” I protested. “Where?”

“You and me, Junior,” Ted said, “we're going to Washington.”

On the Road

dark outside. There were only a few people on the street. The fans that had been waiting for Ted were gone.

It was too late to set out for Washington. Ted said we would get an early start the next morning. I thanked him over and over again for helping me; but he brushed it aside, saying he had a friend he wanted to visit on the way to Washington, anyway. We took a cab back to the hotel, and Ted said I could order dinner from room service.

Have you ever ordered room service? If not, I highly recommend it. You can have whatever you want, and they bring it right to your hotel room! We both ordered steaks, and a guy rolled the food in on a big cart. It was cool.

Ted was in a good mood, still on a high from
his historic achievement. And he didn't even know how historic it
. Just 11 years earlier, in 1930, Bill Terry of the New York Giants hit .401. People probably thought that every 10 years or so somebody would crack the .400 mark. Little did they know that after Ted did it, more than 70 years would go by with
reaching that level again.



I woke up.

“We gotta drive to Washington and tell President Roosevelt about Pearl Harbor!”

It was the next morning, and Ted Williams was screaming at me again. The euphoria of hitting .400 seemed to have worn off. I took a shower, brushed my teeth with that Pepsodent stuff, and got dressed.

Ted was wearing cheap tennis sneakers, a pair of baggy pants, and a red-checked shirt that looked like it was made from the tablecloth of an Italian restaurant. It seemed like a strange way for somebody to dress who hoped to meet with the president of the United States.

“I thought you would put on a tie or something,” I said.

“I've found that you don't need to wear a necktie if you can hit,” Ted replied.

It was early, not even eight o'clock in the morning. We ordered bacon and eggs from room service and checked out of the hotel. A guy was sent to get Ted's car from the parking lot.

“Hop in,” Ted told me as he slipped the guy a bill.

I was expecting that a famous celebrity like Ted Williams would have a limousine or some fancy wheels. But the car in front of me was a Ford station wagon, and it didn't even look new. The inside was kind of messed up, and there was junk all over the backseat. Instead of power windows it had those windows you have to roll down with a crank. And we would need that, because the car didn't have air-conditioning.

Thinking about it, the station wagon was a death trap. There were no seat belts or mirrors on the sides. Air bags? Forget it. They hadn't been invented yet. If we got into a head-on collision, I would go flying through the windshield.

The car didn't even have turn signals! When we pulled away from the hotel, Ted rolled down the window and stuck his hand out to let the cars behind him know which way we were turning.

Washington is less than 150 miles from Philadelphia, Ted told me. I figured that would be a few hours on the highway. We could be in Washington by lunchtime, meet the president, and I would be back in Louisville before dinner.

Only one problem: there
no highway. It hadn't been built yet. The only way to get to Washington was to take narrow, two-lane roads. But that didn't seem to bother Ted. He started driving.

Ted's car didn't have a GPS, of course. That
wouldn't be invented for decades. He told me to pull a map out of the glove compartment and be his navigator. I'm pretty good at that stuff, and it didn't take long to figure out that the best way to get south toward Washington would be to take Route 1.

Soon we were out of Philadelphia, and I started to see a series of small red billboards with white letters. They totally baffled me. The first one simply said…


I didn't think much about it. But then, a little down the road, a second sign appeared….


Now I was really confused. Then a third sign said…


The fourth sign really shocked me. It said…


“They're telling women to shoot their husbands!” I exclaimed.

Ted laughed and pointed to one last sign as we approached it….


“It's an ad for shaving cream,” he told me. “Are you telling me they don't have Burma-Shave ads in Louisville?”

Not in my century they don't. A few miles down the road we passed another series of evenly spaced signs. These read…








We continued on Route 1 through rural Pennsylvania for a while until I spotted a
sign. About ten miles after that we went over a bridge that crossed the Susquehanna River.

“After we finish talking to President Roosevelt, I'll help you get a train back to Louisville,” Ted told me. “I'll drive you to Union Station in Washington.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I can get home on my own.”

I explained to Ted that I didn't need to take a train. My baseball cards would take me home. It was hard for him to comprehend that, of course, and he drove along without talking for a while as he tried to grasp the idea.

“I'll bet you miss your mom and dad,” he finally said.

“Yeah,” I told him. “They got divorced a few years ago.”

“Mine too,” Ted said.

He said his parents were never close and split up when he was playing minor-league ball in Minneapolis. Then he started to talk about his childhood. It hadn't been a happy time for him.

He was named after Teddy Roosevelt, he told me; and he grew up in San Diego with his brother, Danny. Their father ran a little photo studio, and they didn't see much of him. He usually got home late at night, and sometimes he had too much to drink. Ted's father reminded me a little of my father. But Ted said his dad had never seen him play a game in the majors, which was amazing to me. If I ever made it to the big leagues, my dad would be there every day.

Ted gestured with his hands as he talked. Sometimes he would take them off the wheel and steer with his knees so he could express himself.

His mother, he told me, worked for the Salvation Army. That sounded like a good thing, but Ted said he didn't see much of her either because she was always out on the street asking people to donate money.

“My brother and I would be on the front porch past ten o'clock at night waiting for her,” Ted told me.

“I'm sorry,” I said.

He was talking very calmly now. It was so different from the times he would be yelling and screaming. Today they would probably call Ted Williams bipolar or something and give him pills to keep himself under control.

Ted told me that his mother didn't cook many meals when he was a kid, and she hardly ever cleaned. He was ashamed of his house and didn't bring friends home with him.

“We had mice,” he said, and left it at that.

I never saw any mice in my house, but it's no mansion. Money has been a problem ever since my mom and dad split up. I told Ted that we probably wouldn't be able to afford college for me.

“Oh, you
go to college,” he told me. “You don't want to grow up and become a bum like me, do you?”

Despite it all, Ted said his childhood wasn't too bad because the only thing he ever cared about was playing baseball. He would play all day long in the summer. He told me he was really skinny and that he would sometimes eat a quart of ice cream before bed because he wanted to gain weight and get bigger.

“I guess that's why I like underdogs,” he said, “because I was one.”

We pulled into a gas station to fill up, and Ted casually mentioned that his mother's parents were Mexican.

?” I asked.

I never heard
before. He didn't look Mexican.

“Half Mexican, yeah,” Ted replied as he got out of the car.

Ted pumped the gas—12 CENTS A GALLON!—and paid the attendant. There was a little market next door. We stopped in to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. While Ted ordered, I walked around to check out the prices: A dozen eggs: 47 cents. A gallon of milk: 54 cents. A jar of Peter Pan peanut butter:
16 cents. A loaf of bread: 9 cents!

At the cash register, the lady asked Ted if he needed cigarettes. I guess just about everybody smoked, so she would ask all the customers. He waved her away.

“That stuff dulls the senses,” he said. “Hurts your batting eye.”

“It causes cancer too,” I told him.

“Haven't heard that,” Ted replied. “but it doesn't surprise me.”

We got back on Route 1, heading south and west across Maryland. The road was pretty clear, but every so often we would get stuck behind a truck. There was no way to pass. Ted was just about ready to chew the steering wheel off. He had no patience for slowpokes.

A little music might calm him down, I figured. I looked for a CD player on the dashboard until I realized that CDs didn't exist in 1941. For all I knew, they didn't even have vinyl records yet.

The car did have a radio, with big push buttons that I assumed were preset stations. Ted said it was okay to turn it on; and when I did, a crackling voice was heard.

“Must the entire world go to war for 600,000 Jews in Germany, who are neither American, nor French, nor English citizens, but citizens of Germany?” a man asked.

“Who's that?”

“Father Coughlin,” Ted told me. “He's a nutcase.”

The voice of Father Coughlin shouted again from the radio.

“When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.”

I looked at Ted, but he didn't react. Stuff like that must have been on the radio all the time.

After Father Coughlin was finished with his anti-Semitic rant, a jingle came out of the scratchy speaker….

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot.

Twelve full ounces, that's a lot.

Twice as much for a nickel, too.

Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

After the commercial, a song came on. It was big band music, and I recognized the song because last year my mom took a class in swing dancing at a church near where we live. It was “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B.” I started singing along, and Ted joined in too. When the song was over, another familiar tune came on: “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar.” After that was a song by a band called Phil Spitalny's All-Girl Orchestra. The music was so different from what my friends and I listen to. Actually, I kind of liked it.

“Oh, this one is the cat's meow,” Ted said when the next song came on, turning up the volume on the radio.

I don't know if I can describe this song accurately. It was just about the strangest thing I ever heard…. The words sounded something like this….

Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool

Swam three little fishies and a mama fishie too

“Swim” said the mama fishie, “Swim if you can”

And they swam and they swam all over the dam

Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!

Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!

Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!

I'm really glad rock music was invented. I'm telling you, that song was lame.

After that, some other song started playing, and it had equally dumb words. I couldn't make out all of them, but it sounded something like…

Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah,

And a brawla, brawla, soo-it.

means! I can't believe my mom says the music of
generation is stupid.

As the radio played, we went though a series of small Maryland towns: Conowingo…Peach Bottom…Fallston. Then, suddenly, after passing a sign that said
Ted veered off the main road onto a dirt path. I slid across the seat and slammed against the passenger side door.

“What's the matter?” I asked, a little shaken up. “Is something wrong?”

“No!” Ted replied, a big smile on his face. “Something's
. We're going fishing!”

BOOK: Ted & Me
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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