Hi Vinney: The Bird-Dogging story at the end was inspired by an ex-classmate in commercial art class at Mount Vernon High School named Paul Visser. At the time, I was adjudged by the teacher, Mister Milonzi, and most others with having considerably more talent than Paul. My my my. I finally hooked up with the guy after some 50 years. He has made a lot of money and has raised three university-educated kids who now enjoy successful professional careers. He became an art director for two different agencies in the ‘70s, then ran his own art studio, (1980-2000) employing five full-time artists in one of the pre-emanate art/advertising venues in the USA: Westport, Connecticut*.
I’m figuring that he had a great sense/mission of responsibility, professionalism, self-worth, social awareness, and was, above all else, a team player. He has carved out a life of maturity, responsibility, and accomplishment. This guy was shaking and moving, opening bigger and bigger doors and raising a family while I was squandering my life away falling off of bar stools, watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie, wolfing down bags of popcorn and indulging in endless self- delusion and dwelling upon useless introspections.
Vinney, I can hear your old accountant friend Irish Mike Connelly in one of his straight-shooting wry-smiling soliloquies: “Visser? That’s a Dutch name. Means fisher or fisherman. It figures this guy did what he did. Accomplished what he accomplished. Don’t get me started. His lineage, his antecedents, goes way back to Holland. That’s a hands-on country if there ever was one. Used to be a world-conquering country. Sailing and navigation experts. Canal and dike experts. Ship-building experts. Road engineering experts. Architectural experts for chrisesakes. Art and design experts. Photography experts. Carpentry experts. No wonder that they settled New York City in the what? The 17th century? A little like the English but without the literary or theatrical bent. They’re hard-working. Industrious. Stout and mentally fit! Morally fit, for chrissakes Happy people. Not miserable decadent miscreants like over here! Whole villages in Holland where all the streets and sidewalks are made of bricks. Set in two or three different shades brick-red and grey! Arranged in artistic patterns, no less. Think about that! Civilization builders, for chrissakes! Not mere maintainers. Don’t get me started. Get me another beer, will you Vinney, how’s that success story Tommy Briggs doing?”
Paul has zero pretention and warrants the ‘it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy’ tag. During our emails, he swore by my ‘talent’ and went on that he had told many in the art community down through the years about ‘this guy I used to know named Tom Briggs. He could do it all. Paint, draw and design’ I was flattered but wrote that he was crazy in overrating my talents and artwork like that. In those days, for every piece I designed that had a shine, there were fifteen that didn’t cut it. On the contrary, I wrote, ‘your talent had wheels, and counted for a lot more than mine did, in the way it influenced others in important ways’ . I was especially surprised that he had placed me on such a pedestal because I remembered being a big flop working free-lance a few times at Commercial Decal, where he worked full-time as a commercial artist. It was then, at age 23, that I noticed that he had made significant strides since Mr. Milonzi’s class.
This kid was hotwired to the professional milieu.
I always liked the term bird-dogging. It’s what they used to call what major league scouts did in the old days before free agency and technology turned the baseball talent landscape into a billion-dollar business of lawyers and agents. Bird dogging scouts usually wore a straw hat and had an unlit cigar or toothpick dangling from their mouth. They were all over the USA looking for talent that had major league potential. They could be seen, usually in small towns, watching a high school game from small bleachers. If they saw exceptional talent, they’d be on the phone immediately, excitedly telling a major league team owner or scouting director about a phenom they’d just watched lighting up the field.
“Mister Stowery, Lucas here, from Visalia. How’s the wife? And kids? Good news. I think. Just watched a high school game here in town. Now there’s two pitchers may be worth following. One of them is this Briggs kid, six-one, about one-fifty, righty, falling-away, sling-armed delivery from Marysville High. He can bring it up there in a hurry. I believe he could put it through a wall. Fifteen strikeouts last week against Stockton High. About 92 with the fastball, and a good late hook on his curve though he telegraphs it. Trouble is he rattles when things don’t go as planned, and control may be an issue. Don’t know if he’s a team player. Could be a million-dollar arm with a ten-cent head. Of course, it’s still too early to tell. Now this other feller, Visser, Visalia High, lefty, tall lean kid, maybe six-three, one-sixty, may be a sleeper. I figure low 80s with the heater, but he may improve on that. Hard worker and knows what he’s doing out there. Cool as a cucumber with men on, spots his curve real well, and has a sneaky pick-off move that’ll keep the jackrabbits thinking twice, if you get my meaning….”
*The residence of advertising man Gart Williams (James Daly) in the Twilight Zone episode ‘A Stop at Willoughby’ was Westport.