I recently watched the documentary “The Overnighters,” a brilliant chronicle of the itinerant workers flooding a tiny North Dakota town where fracking has just begun. The laborers are from a wide variance of ethnicities and US cities; what they have in common is desperation, hope, and good hands. But few find work and most end up finding shelter at the local Lutheran church. The film focuses on the charismatic and renegade pastor who extends the roof over their heads much to the town’s chagrin.
At the end of the film, watching the credits, I happened to notice that the director’s name was Jesse Moss.
“Jesse Moss!” I exclaimed to Annie. “There was a Jesse Moss on my little league team in Los Angeles. I wonder if it is the same guy.”
“You should write him,” Annie suggested.
The next day I took a moment to look Jesse up online. It’s so hard to tell if someone at age 45 is the grown-up version of the kid you have in your mind, but I couldn’t say it didn’t look like him. And so I jotted him off a note, subject line “small world?” and told him about my shot in the dark. Was he on the 1978 Cardinals?
That night I told Annie and our son Rio the story: Jesse Moss had been a great shortstop on our team. My dad was the coach, and we ended up winning the championship that year. I remember that when we had our party for the whole team, everyone came except Jesse. He never picked up his trophy. I recall my Dad letting me bring Jesse’s home, adding it to mine.
The next day Jesse wrote back:
Yeah – that’s me. Great memories of the Cardinals and the year we spent in LA. In fact, I recall the coach – was it your father – or the father of a teammate – arranging to fly me back for the playoffs on a private plane, from the Bay Area, where I was then living. That was pretty memorable for an eight year old.
This was amazing. I’d remembered the missing Jesse but never recalled (or even heard of?) the part about my father flying him down. My father was not a wealthy man, but he was an employee of a private corporation that did in fact employ private jets. That my father would have maneuvered to get our star shortstop down spoke both to his resourcefulness and his utter drive to win. He was (in truth) a gambler, and this fit his tendency to play with life’s poker: he used corporate chips to fly the kid down.
The next day I wrote Jesse back:
After we won the championship, we all got trophies with our name etched on. I remember you weren’t there to get your trophy, and so my Dad let me take yours home. I was quite proud of my trophy collection, and I remember trying to decide the ethics of adding your trophy to my coffers. I think I put it in there for a while, but then I put it away in a closet somewhere, maybe out of guilt. It may actually still be in my mom’s garage…
What’s tragically sweet about this story is that my dad was known to me and most of my family as quite a grumpy man. He trended toward sorrow and an overall alienation with the world. He died two years ago to no one in particular; there was no service and for about a year I knew not what to do with his ashes. I ended up releasing them on a beautiful day among friends and family down the river and swimming with my son among them like dolphins as they floated down the rapids.
But my father — the one I carried with such grief — he made the grandest of gestures for this boy who grew into a filmmaker who made a movie about another man of grand gestures.
Jesse wrote one final note back:
If you still had the trophy it would be epic! I never missed it. I think having it on your shelf was a good place. That plane ride was one of my most memorable childhood experiences. So incredible of your dad to arrange that. Let me know if you dig up that trophy and I’ll buy you a drink.