San Francisco and Memories of Kariann the Cookie Lady, Part 2

Part 1 of this story is here.

My DH and I sat in the lobby of the Mets’ hotel in downtown SF — where Kariann was staying also — and watched a veritable parade of Metsiana go by several hours before the start of Friday night’s game. We saw Mike Piazza wearing a white t-shirt and jabbering nonstop on his cell phone. We saw Orel Hershiser doing crossword puzzles while sitting on the steps. We saw Bob Murphy shuffle by like Mr. Magoo, so much shorter and squintier than he ever looked on the radio. We saw John Olerud pass us, and when we smiled and said hi, he did likewise, and we decided right then that he was the nicest man in all of sports. Eventually Kariann, who I recognized from her physical self-description, came to get us — dressed in a full regulation Mets uniform! — and we shared an elevator with an enormous, very dark and silent man in a very expensive suit and very dark glasses, who I initially took to be someone’s bodyguard, until he exited the elevator and someone called after him, “Good luck tonight, Armando.” Facepalm — Armando Benitez!

We entered Kariann’s room and she offered us — what else? — some cookies. I told her oatmeal chip was my favorite, and she opened a tin and handed me one. Now, before I continue, let me say I’ve done my share of baking in my life and I’ve made quite a few batches of oatmeal chocolate chips. They’re good, in a please-pass-the-cement-mixer, think-I’ll-skip-dinner-for-the-next-month kinda way. Even before tasting Kariann’s version, though, I knew this was like no other oatmeal chip cookie I’d ever encountered. It was tiny, maybe an inch and a half in diameter, and it seemed to float from my hand up into my mouth, such was its spun-sugar delicacy and lightness. I didn’t so much chew the thing as allow it to slowly, passively make its way from tongue to esophagus and into my bloodstream. Actually chewing it would have seemed disrespectful, not unlike chewing Ossetra caviar.

Yes, it was really, no kidding around, that good. My facial expression must have betrayed my delight, because she asked me if I’d like to try another cookie, a Snickerdoodle. Same effect, except even further amplified by the fact that my Snickerdoodles have always come out like sawdust. Damn, damn, damn. This woman was a talent, every bit as much so as anyone else the Mets had in uniform. I murmured my appreciation. She beamed like she’d never gotten a compliment in her life, which I knew she had. I thought, This proves there are Ghirardelli chips in heaven. This woman is an angel. An angel with a spatula.

Kariann had gotten us seats for all three Mets-Giants games. We sat in the “Mets family section,” where the wives and girlfriends of Mets players sat. She seemed to know about half of them, and chatted with them casually like they were Bernice the Bank Teller. Just like she described before. But the piece de resistance was yet to come on the second day, when DH elected to skip the game festivities in favor of raiding the techno bins at Amoeba Music (he never was the fan that I was, dangitall). Following a sumptuous pregame tailgate repast during which Kariann’s ex-who-was-still-her-buddy showed off his shark-grilling skills and his fianceĆ© contributed some equally splendid salads, washed down by a nice “table” Chardonnay, Kariann took me up to the fence right outside the entrance to the Mets’ clubhouse, where we were to meet Rick Reed, a friend of hers.

I had always liked “Reeder.” He seemed like an unusually down-to-earth character, a man who had crossed the picket line in 1995 as a replacement player to pay for his mother’s medication and had gradually won over his initially suspicious teammates with his work ethic and snapping curveball. I had heard the stories of his mother being so poor she needed a rope to tie her car door shut, and I knew he lived on a farm in his native West Virginia with his wife and a deaf cat named Forrest. Now I had even more of a reason to like him, because I was about to talk to him.

We waited by the chain-link fence for Rick, while several other ballplayers Kariann knew, like John Franco, came out and said hello to her and (as I expected) didn’t notice me. Bob Murphy came by too, looking even more Magoo-esque while puffing on a cigarette, and I got to tell Murph I’d been listening to him “my whole life.” “Your whole life, my goodness!” cackled Murph. Good. I was getting the hang of this not-drooling-in-the-presence-of-Mets thing.

When Reed finally emerged, Kariann introduced us and the two of them got to talking about not-baseball things, while I hung back and listened. Finally I asked him how his arm felt, since I had read in the paper that he had had some stiffness. “Fine,” he muttered, like he was a bit annoyed to be asked about that yet again. I backed off, and when they started talking about their pets, I asked him about Forrest.

“Is he white with blue eyes?” That was a wild guess on my part, since most of the deaf cats I knew of were, in fact, blue-eyed whites.

Reeder grinned. “Solid white,” he drawled, in that West Virginia accent.

So that was it. These players dug Kariann not just because of her cookies, but because she had the ability to honor them, treat them like they were special friends, while simultaneously not getting all hot and bothered that they were M-E-T-S. They could talk to her, and she wouldn’t ask them how their arms felt or what they were thinking when they threw that changeup on three-and-two. She was an escape hatch from the spotlight, where they could still be treated with the respect they had earned yet not be pestered to perform. The trick was to be the kind of person who didn’t consider herself less than these famous and celebrated men, so much as she understood that she was blessed to include them in her friendship circle. And right then, I felt pretty darned blessed myself, and it takes an awful lot of blessing to make me feel that way.

I lost touch with Kariann not long after that. Relationship travails on both of our parts, not to mention my peripatetic lifestyle at the time, probably contributed. But Kariann, if you recognize yourself in what I’ve written, please phone Portland. I miss you, and I don’t just mean your cookies. The latter will live on in my tongue’s memory forever regardless of whether one crosses my lips again, but what I really need now, more than anything, is a taste of your perspective.

San Francisco and Memories of Kariann the Cookie Lady, Part 1

Offday Special: No, I Don’t Have a Dish, and You Can’t Make Me Get One