THE TRAINJOTTING READER: The Given Day

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We shared an earlier passage of Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day a few months back–which also had Babe Ruth drinking heavily on a train.

It’s a big ol’ 700-pager, but it’s interesting. Lehane of course does those Boston-based crime novels that so easily transfer to the big screen: Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island.

The Given Day is a little different. It’s World War I era-Boston, and the hale fellows of the Boston Police Department are hurtling towards a strike. The book shows Lehane writing in a fanciful style not seen in his previous books as he tells three separate, but ultimately intertwined stories: a Boston police captain’s black sheep son, Danny Coughlin, leading the BPD insurgency, a young black man, Luther Laurence, trying to get back to his young family after being forced to leave them in Tulsa, and Babe Ruth breaking from the Red Sox for his fateful marriage to the New York Yankees.

Babe has by far the smallest of the three men’s roles in the book, but it’s no less memorable.

This happens at the very end of the book, when the Babe has been jettisoned by the Sox.

On the train to New York, everyone was drunk. Even the porters.

Twelve in the afternoon and people were guzzling champagne and guzzling rye and a band played in the fourth car, and the band was drunk. No one sat in their seats. Everyone hugged and kissed and danced. Prohibition was now the law of the land. Enforcement would begin four days from now, on the sixteenth.

Babe Ruth had a private car on the train, and at first he tried to sit out the revelry. He read over a copy of the contract he’d officially sign at day’s end in the offices of the Colonels at the Polo Grounds. He was now a Yankee. The trade had been announced ten days ago, though Ruth had never seen it coming. Got drunk for two days to deal with the depression. Johnny Igoe found him, though, and sobered him up. Explained that Babe was now the highest paid player in baseball history. He showed him New York paper after New York paper, all proclaiming their joy, their ecstasy about getting the most feared slugger  in the game on their team.

“You already own the town, Babe, and you haven’t even arrived yet.”

That put a new perspective on things. Babe had feared that New York was too big, too loud, too wide. He’d get swallowed up in it. Now he realized the opposite was true–he was too big for Boston. Too loud. Too wide. It couldn’t hold him. It was too small, too provincial. New York was the only stage large enough for the Babe. New York and New York alone. It wasn’t going to swallow Babe. He was going to swallow it.

I am Babe Ruth. I am bigger and stronger and more popular than anyone. Anyone.

Some drunk woman bounced off his door and he heard her giggle, the sound alone giving him an erection.

What the hell was he doing back here alone when he could be out there with his public, jawing, signing autographs, giving them a story they’d tell their grandkids?

He left the room. He walked straight to the bar car, worked his way through the dancing drunks, one bird up on a table kicking her legs like she was working burlesque. He sidled up to the bar, ordered a double scotch.

“Why’d you leave us, Babe?”

He turned, looked at the drunk beside him, a short guy with a tall girlfriend, both of them three sheets to the wind.

“I didn’t leave,” Babe said. “Harry Frazee traded me. I had no say. I’m just a working stiff.”

“Then you’ll come back someday?” the guy said. “Play out your contract and come back to us?”

“Sure,” Babe lied. “That’s the idea, bub.”

The man patted him on the back. “Thanks, Mr. Ruth.”

“Thank you,” Ruth said with a wink for his girlfriend. He downed his drink and ordered another.

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