Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Still Burning

Topic Abstract: Mother of GOD, that’s some good ball our guys is playin’!
Notice: sub-Donald Hall blatherings ahead.
Pretension Level: Unhealthful.
I just caught sight of myself in a mirror and saw a creature that would frighten small children—pale, drawn, hollow-eyed and shambling. I look recently-exhumed. I look like Death on a cracker. I look like a man in need of a quick flight to the secret Swiss clinic where Keith Richards gets his blood replaced—or, at the very least, in need of a gallon of coffee and a vitamin B12 shot.

This is because I basically haven’t slept in, like, a week—because THE PLAYOFFS ARE ON! and the Sox are, unexpectedly, almost inexplicably, still alive. I barely follow baseball during the regular season, but when the inevitable postseason Yankees/Red Sox matchup rolls around, I am nailed to my couch, living and dying by each pitch, each swing, each questionable call.

Sox fandom, as so many other writers have noted, is a religious vocation; it demands of us patience, humility, and childlike faith. And the effectively-annual seven-game series against the Yankees is our Holy Week, our Passion play. It is the Agony in the Garden, the Harrowing of Hell. If sport is warfare, then the playoffs are a war of nerves: the forces are so evenly-matched that the strategy turns to brinkmanship, psy-ops, even suicide missions—how else to categorize Curt Schilling’s apparent readiness to cripple himself for the sake of a game? It is a long, bloody war of attrition, a gruelingly-literal endurance test.

And like warfare, it is horrible in a compelling way. Although I cannot tear my gaze away, I need to distance myself; I started doing tequila shots as last night’s fourth inning rolled around, because I feared that if I had to watch the rest of the game straight, I would have nervous breakdown. Think of Dennis Hopper’s photographer character in Apocalypse Now: he’s inextricably drawn to Kurtz’s aura, but in the monster’s presence he needs to be fucked-up just to keep functioning.

Our response to each Sox win, to the end of each marathon excruciation, like our response to the Christ’s death on the Cross, is not so much elation as relief—we recognize that there’s a victory being won here, but mostly we’re filled with a desperate longing for it to be over. Please, God, let it end now. Make the hurting stop.

But it doesn’t end. With each game, each oblivion narrowly-avoided, the stakes only get higher. Only tonight, with Game Seven, will it end. A World Series, win or lose, can now only be anticlimactic; To beat or be beaten by—who the hell is it again? the Cardinals? the Astros? some shit like that—means nothing in the face of all the history, all the hate, all the despair that gives the Sox/Yankees rivalry its depth.

A couple of weeks ago I was afraid I was going to crack up thinking about electoral politics and the Fate of the Free World twenty-four-seven. The Sox, by giving me something else on which to focus, have pulled me back from that brink—but in so doing have pushed me to another.

And with World Series week bumping right up against Election Day, all I can wonder is: What do you do when the whole goddam frying pan drops into the fire?

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