By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
As a short, scrappy centerfielder, he hit .533 for the school baseball team his senior year, a record that stood until last season. "I didn't know he was going to be that good," recollects his old coach Jim Wolfe. "And then, boom, all of the sudden he was that good."
Beachy was a popular kid, frequenting posh parties at places like the Schnucks' Ladue home. Yes, those Schnucks. "Their pool house was two stories and Italian decorated, with archways and a statue in the pool," Beachy recalls. "I remember there were all these seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds taking beer bongs."
He graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California, in 2001, with degrees in philosophy and English, and returned to St. Louis to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. Though he had the transcript and test scores to pursue law or finance, those subjects aroused no passion in him.
Instead, he took a job delivering jugs of water for the Pine Valley Water Company and enrolled in a creative-writing class at Wash. U. That August he departed for Vail, Colorado, where he snowboarded, worked at a bookstore and devoured Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace novels. He also read Jonathan Franzen's new literary sensation, The Corrections.
"I admired the writing," he says of the Webster Groves native's 2001 opus, "but he wrote about my hometown in a way I didn't particularly like."
The Corrections' dysfunctional Lambert family hails from a fictional Midwestern city called St. Jude, a thinly veiled version of St. Louis that has been renamed for the patron saint of lost causes. The East Coast-transplanted Lambert children view it with varying degrees of contempt. Describing eldest son Gary's visit to the town's Museum of Transport, Franzen writes:
Oh, the sadness of the place! The earnest St. Judean rubes all around him seemed curious and undepressed. Happily filling their misshapen heads with facts. As if facts were going to save them! Not one other man with a decent haircut or an abdomen as flat as Gary's.[...]
[T]hey were all extremely deferential. They didn't jostle Gary or cut in front of him but waited until he'd drifted to the next exhibit. Then they gathered round and read and learned. God, he hated the Midwest!
Beachy says, "Because my experiences of returning to St. Louis were always meaningful — if not wonderful — it was frustrating that these characters didn't want to return there. St. Louis for me has always meant home. I had this feeling of, I want to undo this. I want to write the other side of this."
It was The Corrections that helped inspire Beachy to begin writing The Slide. Now more than seven years later, he teaches essay writing and literature at the Art Institute. But unlike the New York-residing Franzen, his hometown pride shines through in his writing. "He really likes the fact that he can call himself a New Yorker," Beachy says. "But I absolutely consider myself a St. Louisan."
Electing not to spend his days lounging by his friend Stuart's pool or in his parents' luxurious, oft-remodeled Ladue home, Potter Mays forces himself out of his comfort zone by taking a job as a water-delivery man.
Borrowing from Beachy's brief employment with Pine Valley, Potter pilots a rickety truck from north-city neighborhoods (full of children "clenching bright Popsicles that melted over their hands") to the distant south-county burg of Oakville, where houses are "low and wide and brick, with cramped yards and garages full of hardware and bed frames and garden hoses."
Here he encounters precocious eleven-year-old Ian Worpley, who lives in squalor without parental supervision for the summer. The pair strike up a friendship and journey to such spots as the Tower Tee batting cages and the Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
On a sojurn to Ted Drewes, Ian orders "an elaborate mixture of cinnamon custard and apple chunks and pie crust, cinnamon powder and a viscous brown topping" and announces that his mother has mysteriously moved out.
We drove back to Waldwich Drive listening to one of St. Louis' four classic-rock stations, songs filling what would otherwise have been a nauseating silence. Time was running out. I racked my brain for a fact, some niblet of wisdom to share with this kid whose mother had disappeared. One hundred twenty thousand dollars spent on my education — I should have facts to spare, wheelbarrows full of excess knowledge.
"I never met a problem frozen custard couldn't fix."
I heard the kid's laughter like a bag of popcorn, lighter than you expect. He laughed through the better part of the instrumental intro to Boston's "Foreplay/Longtime," then stopped abruptly and told me I was crazy.
Feeling a wave of empathy, Potter sets off in search of Ian's mother, planning to return her to him. The mission takes him to a religious cult in wine country. Things don't go as planned, but Potter hopes to atone for his privilege.
Beachy hoped to do the same thing — by dedicating himself to his writing. "The thing that frustrates me," he imparts, "is when people don't do something with their talent, their time and their financial opportunities."