Friday, July 31, 2009

Jest and the hall

I know. I hear what you're saying. I do. And I understand. It's just a game. It is, by many accounts, the dullest sport in the known universe. In the of best games, the pitchers' duals, very little actually happens besides one guy throwing a ball to another guy while this other guy from the other team swings wildly and misses. It is only a game. I do know that, and the people who play this game are just like the rest of us. If there are millions of dollars on the line, people can get caught up in the pursuit and then do anything and everything they can to make sure those dollars are headed into their own bank accounts.

So now that we've established what I know, I'll just come out and admit that the fact that David Ortiz may very well have both taken steroids and also emphatically lied about taking steroids is utterly heartbreaking. From the statement the team released yesterday, it sounds like Papi didn't know that he'd tested positive, and he left the door open for the potential that it's not as bad as it sounds. The fact that I parsed this press release on an even more in depth level than I've just explained shows just how much I want to believe. How desperate I am to believe.

The brutal truth is that I'm a hardened cynic who mostly hides his childish heart from the vicissitudes of a modern world that I'm just about resigned to assuming is hopelessly fuct. I don't take virtually anything or anyone at face value and constantly assess the angles, sifting through the psychological potentialities and the sociological datum. I use my broad knowledge of the social sciences to clearly line up the fact that humanity (as a vast and disparate society) is incapable of maintaining the spiritual levels necessary to commit fully as a society to the obvious laws of morality that are virtually unchanged the world over from religion and culture to religion and culture.

That turned into way more of a sermon than I'd intended. I'm just a little worked up about this whole thing, and it's already clear that there's no way I'll get to the brouhaha over at infinite summer about whether DFW was a genius or just a self-referential navel gazer (that was a ruthless reduction, so well...). I don't actually mean that the last statement from the previous paragraph is totally or even obviously or really true. It just seems that way sometimes, and it's also not true that, on an individual level, ethical action and character require an explicitly spiritual self or the engagement in ritualized spiritual practices. I do suspect that on a national or societal level, a real level of spiritualized (read: fully conscious and psychically synchronous) individual membership is necessary to the individuation process which might then break down the Manichean, good fighting evil in pure black and white, perspective that rises to the top of the media's main stream.

And again, that got out of control and digressive. I believe I was talking about baseball. And big Papi. The history of what David Ortiz has done in Boston is nothing short of amazing. He was one of the crucial ingredients in both World Series victories of the dawning millennium including bringing home Boston's first set of rings since 1918. A drought that is second longest in the history of baseball only to the Chicago Cubs' current run, which has now reached to over 100 years. Ortiz is quite simply the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, and he seems like a really good guy. He does lots of work with kids. He gives a lot back to his country of origin, the Dominican Republic, and he has accomplished these things in a humble and seemingly admirable way.

For those reasons, he had been one of my heroes. Yes, I also know how stupid it is to project my own emotional need for exemplars onto some person I don't know who has some highly valuable skill, and I realize what it says about our society that we value so highly the ability to swat a fastball into the cheap seats. Hero worship is pretty dumb. I don't engage in it often. I had no illusions about how the presidency of Barack Obama was going to go. I am very careful about how I craft my unthinking adulation for writers after the whole Kerouac debacle of my adolescence. I don't give a flying rats arse about any other sport than baseball. I know better than to get sentimentally attached to the lives of people I don't know and can't possibly truly judge the character of thru the previously mentioned ruthless analytics.

Still, I am crushed. I let my guard down with Papi, and I do hold out the glimmer of hope that this is all some big mistake, that David Ortiz would not have lied to us. (because really, I don't care so much about the 'roids. If he had come out and said he'd taken 'em, I would probably be okay with the whole thing. Well, not okay, but I would have understood. What I don't understand is how and why he would come out so emphatically against steroids and steroid users and said so absolutely that he had never used if he was himself a user. That's either monumentally stupid or monumentally arrogant, and I took him for neither.) I want to to believe that Ortiz is clean and he actually tested positive for marijuana or even like coke or something.

In the end, it doesn't matter either what I want or how I feel. It's just a...gulp, dumb game, and my feelings are ultimately irrational and probably a tad unhealthy and certainly of no consequence, but there it is. Ortiz was a hero of mine who I choose to take on faith. I won't be making that mistake again so soon. Sigh. I need a beer. I'm gonna go watch a movie. I don't think I can listen to the game tonight.

Postscript: As if this post wasn't ridiculously long and rambling already (I didn't even get to anything of the subject matter from which the title was drawn [that would be Infinite Jest and the baseball hall of fame {and Yes, I do know I could change the title, but I really liked it and am kind of invested in it now}]), I just wanted to tell the story about how I found out, which might further explain why the whole thing was so emotional and why I can't seem to write reasonably about it now, the next day.

Yesterday, I did what it has been my great thrill to do since I've moved back to Boston. I went to a Red Sox game. There really is something special about Fenway Park. It's just a beautiful, old school ballpark, even if the seats are painfully small and uncomfortable. Watching the game live with about forty thousand others, most of whom are caught up with you in this collective feeling of hope and expectation, can be an emotional thrill ride, and we all ride together, players and managers and fans, on the affective rollercoaster that is a game invested with care, with feeling. Being at the ballpark when the Sox win is like no other feeling I've ever experienced in my life. The elation of having something you have no control over come out the way you hope it will, especially when it seemed like it wasn't going to, is an intense high. Frankly, it's better than whiskey, and I don't say that lightly.

Yesterday's game was one of those come from behind and squeak out a win right when the team needs it badly after being 3 and 10 since the all-star break kind of games. One of those games that is just purely awesome to be there for in person. The hero of the game was none other than big Papi. He jacked a three run blast deep into the bleechers behind the home bullpen, putting the Sox up by one in the 7th. They went on to score two more, and Jonathan Papelbon closed it down in the ninth after blowing just his third save in his last outing. Josh Bard hit 101 mph on the gun during the 8th, and Pap hit 99 closing. The young guns were trailing flames there at the end.

And it was a game that many around where I was sitting thought the Sox couldn't win after going down 4 to 1 in the sixth based on how they'd been playing. Johnny Lester'd struggled through 5 clean innings without being able to throw his cutter or his curve for strikes before finally buckling under with two down in the sixth and giving up a stream of hits that wound up bringing Tito trudging out to the mound to take the ball. The crowd was low, and the obnoxious drunk guy behind me had finally devolved into just cursing at the Sox batters as they went up and then down before coming to life in the seventh.

Yet they did finally come to life, and it was great. Almost magical. I was at the game with my uncle and my cousin, who were in from Missouri and going to there first ever Sox game, and we left feeling on top of the world. Then as we walked down Yawkey Way, behind one of the vendors was a television with the news about Ramirez and Ortiz crawling across the feed at the bottom of the screen. It was like being punched really hard in the stomach. The sails emptied of all wind. I just stood there staring dumbly at the screen in the midst of this huge crowd milling around in general good spirits, many of whom probably were oblivious and also probably in for the same stomach punch I'd just received.

The whole thing turned on a dime, and that's probably why I'm so worked up. The emotional high requires you to care; You have to invest the ritual, the game, with significance in order to get the feeling. It's on a similar plane with the willful suspension of disbelief required of films and novels and such. You have to suspend the rational idea that none of this matters in the least, which is the unvarnished truth of the thing. Chomsky is right. It's a distraction, a modern day version of the Roman gladiators and lion feedings.

And but so (I really love that expression of DFW's and I'm totally using it from now on), I was in that state, and not because I'm trying to ignore the world but because I don't ignore the world and am sensitive to the fact that the world is not in a happy place and maybe never was and maybe never will be. Maybe happy is not the natural thing. I don't know. I just know that there are times when the painful realities of modernity require me personally to blow off a little steam or I will go stark raving into looney tunes. It's the truth.

Wait. Where was I? Oh, right. The state of suspended rationality for the emotional experience of collective ritualized performance (or something). And so I wasn't able to rationally deconstruct the question of Ortiz's positive test before experiencing my emotional response. It was unmediated, and it hurt. So, there you have it. Wow, that was a rabbit hole. Whoops. My bad.

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