Don't be surprised if you detect a lyrical quality in John Garrity's story on Kansas City groundskeeper George Toma (page 42). Garrity has been known to compose articles on the backs of musical score sheets from Wyandotte Music, a small company he owns in Kansas City.
"Do you know what stationery is going for these days?" says Garrity, 35, who supports himself primarily by writing free-lance articles. "I hoard the stuff. Actually, the real paper hoarder in the family is my sister Joan, who wrote The Sensuous Woman. She'll use anything—invoices, old letterheads, you name it. She collects paper the way some people collect string."
What brother John has collected is something of a cult following in music circles. He has written jazz, folk and rock songs, produced the Kansas City Jazz Spectrum album and played bass guitar and sung background on a recorded tribute to Elvis called Tupelo, Mississippi Son. One thing he has never cultivated, however, is grass. Until he interviewed Toma he knew absolutely nothing about groundskeeping.
By splitting his boyhood between his mother's home in Palm Beach, Fla. and his father's in Kansas City, Garrity became a good high school basketball player in Florida and played golf in the Midwest, at least until he shot up to 6'6" and outgrew his golf clubs. "My father, Jack, is a monomaniacal Irishman," he says, "and his mania is golf." John's brother, Tom, a former touring pro, was the up-and-coming Kansas City golfer before Tom Watson.
May 16, 1982
"My parents were divorced when I was five," says Garrity, "but things couldn't have worked out better for me. My father got me interested in sports, literature and construction [father and son now live in and are restoring a turn-of-the-century house in Kansas City], and my mother turned me on to conversation, fine arts and music. I've always wanted to do different things, and I guess I've done so many I'm barely competent at any of them."
That's an unduly modest assessment of his writing. Garrity went to the University of Missouri and transferred after a year and a half to Stanford; he was seriously active in antiwar activities and has been published steadily since his graduation in 1969. Though he had been a history major, during the '70s he satisfied his eclectic whims by writing for both Sport and Rolling Stone. His first SI piece, a feature on the Paul Quinn basketball team (Dec. 22-29, 1980) was good enough to merit another basketball assignment, on Oklahoma State (Feb. 16, 1981). Last summer Garrity's byline appeared over an article on baseball's Brett family that developed into his much acclaimed book, The George Brett Story (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan). He's currently researching a book on Herbert Hoover's experiences in China during the Boxer Rebellion.
None of which, as we said, recommends Garrity as a gardener, his voluminous research on grass notwithstanding. "After Toma told me all the secrets of pregerminating grass seed, I put a sample in my refrigerator before leaving town," Garrity says. "When I came back two weeks later, my seeds hadn't sprouted a bit. There must be something to this green thumb business."