I was in a booth by the front window of Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, and the photo round of pub trivia night had just been passed around. We identified almost all of the famous faces printed on the sheet pretty easily, but a few were giving us trouble, including an image of a baseball player with a waxed handlebar moustache.
At the table with me was my brother Jimmy and three of my best friends: Adam, Naomi, and Ben. Before I’d left New York we’d made a tradition of Wednesday night trivia at Pete’s. Their questions were hard but full of playfulness, and sometimes we’d hit a streak and came close to qualifying for the annual tournament.
The bar itself was a classic haunt of Williamsburg, with a stage area that looked like the inside of an old streetcar, and a menu made up of grilled cheese sandwiches. I had performed on that stage more than once with Gondenchild, the country band I used to play in. This is all to say that nostalgia was thick in the air for me.
Being with Ben and Naomi made it even thicker. We’d been housemates for all 6 years of my time at Berkeley, and I’d just been visiting our old haunts there for the past 2 weeks with Courtney and my parents. As in Brooklyn now, when I was back in Berkeley and SF it felt like no time had passed since I’d left there 7 years ago. I had braced myself in anticipation of that visit to find a Bay Area utterly unrecognizable from its meteoric rise in housing prices and tech industry bloat, but with the exception of a few favorite dive bars that were now power lunch spots, everything felt the same to me, only now you could buy cannabis in a store.
On our last day in SF Courtney and I met up with my friend Kenneth and we walked to Glen Canyon Park. The canyon smells of eucalyptus, and when you’re in it you forget you’re in the middle of a major city. This was the place, many years ago, where I had first played softball with a group of people who would become some of my finest friends.
I thought of these memories as I sat there at trivia night, and then an image appeared in my mind. One of the softball players I had met back in SF in 2010 used to wear a shirt—or was it a hat?—with an illustration on it of the face of a man with a wide, waxed moustache, and under the image was a name: Rollie Fingers.
Nobody on the trivia team had any other ideas, so I wrote that down. The quizmaster read the answers, and to our shock and delight, I was right. We all cheered while the rest of the bar sat in silence. I think we were the only team to correctly identify the man in that photo. We wound up in 4th place out of 19, which, because the top three teams were already in, meant we had qualified for the first time for the tournament in January. The quizmaster called me up to the stage and I typed out our team name, Wild Friendship, into his spreadsheet of winners.
I guess I’ll have to come back.
—July 18, 2018