My essay on navigating boyhood with a gay father in the midst of the 1980s AIDS crisis:
Time to take a quick break from the political fires of 2016. A much-needed moment of levity.
I spent a week in Kansas City this summer grading English AP Exams. In the course of 7 straight days of re-reading variations on the same essay–a debate on the merits of multilingualism–I gained some valuable and unexpected insights into the English language, courtesy of the graduating seniors of 2016. I compiled some of these greatest hits on post-it notes, and with a nod to David Shields and the many other great “found word” language collagists, I offer them up here in the (hopefully) aptly titled: “Aloha, Senor!: Musings on Metaphysical Multilingualism”
“Aloha, senor!” Would you know what I said if you didn’t look it up? The history of language goes back decades, to when ancient Romans and Aztecs ruled the U.S. America used to be known as a melting pot, but it has become more of a salad bowl—mixed together, but never melding. The U.S. Census asks “Does this person speak a language at home?” English is like the McDonald’s of languages. If you speak as much German as a British cup of tea, chances are the German will take his business elsewhere. Life becomes greater when you say “see ya later” to monolingualism! More intelligence is always good, especially in schools. When making a decision like this, you have to think of everything. Politics and commerce are at an all-time must-have. Foreign tongues are among us, not just outside of us. Spanish speakers can learn to speak Italian, Argentinian, and other Spanish-like languages. Multilingualism is so helpful it’s almost like cheating—specifically at the game called “life.” Being only homolingual is a disadvantage. The world is comprised of endless series of foreign affairs, and whatnot. Our military has first contact with foreigners, so it would be pretty bad if you didn’t know how to say “we come in peace.” In these infantile years of global outreach. At age 60, there is no way a person would want to be braindead.
My thoughts on Steven Church’s fantastic essay collection.
Does posting something that’s not much more than a link to something you wrote somewhere else count as a Blog Post? It does? Oh, good. Then that means I have now posted something within the last 11 weeks.
Listen to Songs of Innocence. That seems like an odd thing to have to say to music fans and scribblers of the scene. But plug in and actually listen to the album before dumping on it.
There has been a strange rush to declare Songs of Innocence a flop. An almost palpable desire for the album to be bad, to be able to finally stick a fork in U2, to declare them dead, to burn those old Achtung Baby tour shirts like LeBron-haters burned those Cavs jerseys when their hero fell from grace. There is some innate desire in us to kill our heroes, a perverse desire for U2 to finally have their Fat-Elvis phase. Staying power is disconcerting in a nation obsessed with the new, with plastic surgery and eternal youth, on to the next big thing before the molten metal has cooled on the last hot item.
Surely this new album must suck, they say—the band is old, tired, rich. Got nothing left to prove. And there was that whole corporate-infused iTunes deal. The half-decade since the last album stoked a gleeful certainty that U2 might finally fall flat. This was aided and abetted by the tepid reception given to Invisible, and the open-mic soul-searching of the band. What a weird f#cking world we live in where we punish successful artists for aging, for questioning their own relevance, for acknowledging their doubts, for being—gasp!—human like the rest of us.
All the cool kids said it sucked—and the pack-mentality groupthink amongst the cool kids on the Internet would make the anti-heroes of Mean Girls seem like Mother Theresas of individualistic compassion. The quick-fingers of the internet brat-pack need to be the first and most vociferous to sneer public condescension—Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as the virtual spikes of our punk-rock jackets. Perhaps it is fear—the preemptive strike of the nihilist hipsters, to make sure that nobody would suspect them of belief. But so quick was the flood of derision on Tuesday that one suspects these negative U2 reviews were lurking in back pockets and on hard drives for months, if not years, like the Patriot Act waiting for a bomb-blast to give it purpose.
U2 are an understandably easy target—like hating the Yankees or the Cowboys. They are big, brash, ballsy, unabashed about wanting to be the biggest band on the planet. Well goddamn it anyway—but I say god bless them for striving. God bless them for plugging in their amps and stepping up to the mic and daring to keep creating when they’ve got nothing left to prove, from an oasis of financial luxury where most of us would have ballooned into the very Fat-Elvises we seem so desperate for them to become.
This is the cynicism of our age—the defensive posture of young writers slagging their successful predecessors, the same cynical knee-jerk dismissal rampant in our politics—Obama is no better than Bush because he didn’t magically create nirvana on earth, the declarations of this Pope irrelevant because of a bad priest somewhere. An endemic habitual nitpicking that would have a resurrected Jesus himself inevitably declared a disappointment because of his failure to be epic every waking minute.
One of the reasons so many hate U2 is that the band refuse to surrender to pessimism and gloom. For all my love of their melancholy, what has kept me coming back across the decades is that U2 are masters of hope. They dare to be earnest in a time of self-absorbed cynicism. They dare to sing about—and to—god, in a time of our disdain for deities. They dare to try to touch us in a simple, straightforward manner—dare to try to make us dance, dare to try to make us sing along, dare to try to make our hearts swell. Songs of Innocence is actually music for adults—which is why their continued relevance and success is so galling to the purveyors of hipster credibility.
The U2-loathing seems strongest ironically in the legions of former “fans.” U2 is DEAD! Because…because SOMETHING! This cyclical death-declaration is a tiring ritual, one I’ve privy to for more than two decades. U2 is DEAD!—said the people who had camped overnight for tickets to the Joshua Tree tour, when Achtung Baby dropped and Bono donned that red ruffle tuxedo shirt. U2 is DEAD!—they said when the band looped Larry Mullen’s drum tracks on Pop. And again in 2000—U2 is DEAD!—they said, decrying U2’s return to fundamentals as sign of artistic and moral decay when the band stripped down and turned their back on the techno-production of the 90s.
It’s a tough crown to wear—rock deity—because so many want you to fail. The death of our heroes saves us from having to get old with them. And I get it—Bono was my Jesus once, U2 my Vatican. I worshipped Joshua Tree as a rapturous teenager, Achtung Baby was my first foray into adulthood. And then I grew up and gave up on the unadulterated band worship, lest I kill the thing I loved.
While there are plenty of targets to choose from, I will heap particular scorn on Hampton Stevens’ farcical hit-piece in The Daily Beast (“U2 Generously Gives Us a Lousy Album, Sucks at the Corporate Teat”). Stevens’ petty posturing is emblematic of the current pervasive U2-animus. A “lousy” album? The Stones’ Dirty Work was a lousy album. Songs of Faith and Devotion: Live was a lousy album. That first Underworld album (minus Underneath the Radar) was a lousy album. Songs of Innocence is not only not lousy, it’s damn good. Is it mellow and contemplative in spots? Certainly, although no more so than 2009’s underrated No Line on the Horizon. But to declare it a “lousy” album is to kill hyperbole.
Stevens’ critique wouldn’t pass muster in my Freshman Comp class on even my most lenient day of teaching, so lazy is his lackadaisical dismissal of Songs of Innocence. Stevens offers specific, cogent praise for a few tracks—but his broad critiques—“tired,” “indifferent,” “bored”—are offered sans example. Because there aren’t actually any examples—these are just the projections of what Stevens apparently feels to be true, what must be true and clearly self-evident. As Louis CK would say—these are Stevens’ “believe-ies”—those warm and fuzzy self-reinforcing truths that need no explanation. We know in our gut U2 must be Dead, because what would it mean if they weren’t? What would it mean if they made a solid, meaningful record in their fifties?
The ridiculous self-deception reaches its height in the closing paragraph, when Stevens says “For most bands, Songs of Innocence would be a success.” Then why not for U2? This article was a “review”—I’m being overly generous to Stevens here—that was crafted around a preconceived notion. This took me back to something I read twenty years ago in an alternative weekly—a humorous (and still-apt) description of how to be a music critic: “Drink a six-pack. Stare at the album cover for half an hour. Think about how much your ex liked the lead singer. Write a review.” Or in Stevens’ case, think about how annoyed you are about the Apple-U2 deal, think about how much you loved War, and then obsess about how anything with more sonic production value than U2 circa 1983 clearly sucks in comparison. Come up with a pithy click-bait title—“U2 Generously Gives Us a Lousy Album, Sucks at the Corporate Teat,” and then fix your facts around the policy, as Jack Straw might say. Stevens attempts to wrap up his travesty with this final flourish: “Despite lyrics equating rock n’ roll with the Holy Spirit, (Songs of Innocence) very rarely rocks.” Wait, that is your distilled argument? That because U2 didn’t try to recreate the sonic teenage energy of Boy thirty years later, this new album is a failure? Sorry, but you’ll need a complete rewrite if you want full credit…
It’s one thing to question and criticize the roll-out of U2—2014; the audacity of depositing, free of charge—and without request—an album into every iTunes account in the world. That’s a discussion for another day. But Songs of Innocence deserves a listen on the merits of the music.
So listen to this album.
Or just one song—if you listen to only four minutes of music today, listen to the exquisite sonic excursion that is Every Breaking Wave. A marriage of Love Comes Tumbling with Electrical Storm, as lush and perfect as Daft Punk’s Instant Crush, Every Breaking Wave is U2 at their best—surging melancholy with an undercurrent of hope, aspirational guitar, a soaring chorus that will make even the most hardened atheist a temporary believer, make a life-long bachelor propose marriage, make you want to track down and embrace every estranged friend you’ve left along the way. The kind of song that will make the hair stand up on your neck the first time you hear Bono hit that note in the final surging crescendo, that classic Bono vocal-to-god moment.
I could go song-by-song, and spend another 1500 words detailing the merits of all the tracks on Songs of Innocence. But this isn’t a review of the album—this is a review of the reviewers. I understand how hard it is to separate a U2 album from U2 the Global Empire. But the band deserves that much—that we listen to the music without preconceived prejudice, that we listen with the same humility and openness we would want our own art afforded.
So listen if you dare—because the dirty little secret that’s been buried on the angry interwebs this week is that this free U2 album is better than most albums you’ve paid for this year…
I remember the cascade of ringing office phones when the first tower collapsed…
My freshman comp students will write about 9/11 today. I have used this free-writing exercise once before, when the 9/11 anniversary coincided with the class schedule. My freshmen—these 2014 high school graduates—were kindergartners on 9/11. Kindergartners. Which makes me feel momentarily old, but also (ghoulishly?) curious to understand how they processed that day, what they remember from the tiny, upturned aperture of the child.
I worked in the Office of Admissions at the University of Minnesota on 9/11. And I remember seeing 9/11 birthdays on student records thereafter, and feeling bad for these kids, whose birthdays had been ruined, and would always be asterisked with those events. Two numbers denoting a day and a month that had been meaningless on September 10th 2001, but would thereafter always be known, much as other days of infamy or glory—March 15, July 4, December 7—had once been simple squares on a calendar. I remember how beautiful that Saint Paul morning was, how I stopped to pet a friendly cat in my apartment parking lot, and thought as I got into my car that this feline affection was surely a good omen for the day. I remember I had no inkling of anything strange until I turned on the radio and heard the instantly-recognizable voice of the morning rock-show deejay—who normally trafficked in nothing more serious than standard crude sports-talk misogyny—say “if this is Bin Laden, we ought to nuke him,” with flinty earnestness. I remember the impulse to turn the car around and go home, but driving to work anyway. I remember the crescendo of office-phones ringing when the first tower fell. I remember forty minutes later when the phones rang again. I remember going outside to smoke a cigarette on my afternoon break, heavy with hours of sorrow, and seeing young college students smiling and joking around and thinking, “How can they be laughing?” They must not know yet—they couldn’t know, nobody who knows could just carry on with their usual jocular buffoonery…” I remember how quiet the skies were—and how the cyclical roar of those two F-16s flying patrol over the Twin Cities was strangely soothing. I remember walking past campus-area apartments at sunset and seeing a group of South Asian students laughing and carrying on in their foreign tongue and I remember thinking “dudes…I wouldn’t be so loud and boisterous tonight—people are going to think the wrong thing” and then being immediately embarrassed and saddened by this awful truth—that for a lot of people on that evening, the sight of South Asian men, or Arabs, or Indians or any dark-skinned men being happy in a foreign dialect might be assumed to be celebrating. I remember that photo-shopped Statue of Liberty, the one with a middle finger instead of a torch, the one with that crude caption: We’re coming, motherfuckers. I remember printing it out and putting it on my cubicle wall. I remember all those posters of the Twin Towers, glinting and gleaming, that suddenly popped up in the poster-shops and music-stores and bookstores that ringed campus, the Twin Towers which had previously just been a couple buildings few people outside of Manhattan ever saw, let alone thought about, but now, suddenly these images were snapped up and put on dorm room and cubicle walls—defiant memorials to a lost vision. I remember when President Bush stood on that pile of rubble with his arm around that fireman and a megaphone in his hand and when he said the people who did this are going to hear from ALL of us pretty soon and the firemen roared and the hair stood up on the back of my neck and for a brief moment I was happy that “W” had won, that he was the president holding that megaphone instead of Gore. I remember that I had just days before devastated my own relationship—that I had hurt my then-partner very badly, and the raw wound filled our apartment with rancor and unease and how even though we both wanted so badly to be held, we wept at opposite ends of the couch. I remember four days of nonstop television coverage, which operated simultaneously as a comforting blanket and an unhelpful fingernail picking at an open wound. I remember that Friday benefit concert, Springsteen singing Rise Up! C’mon RIIIIIIISE UP! I remember that next morning when I turned on the TV and found Saturday morning cartoons, my blanket yanked away, the regularly scheduled programming a declaration that our collective open-grief phase was finished, that we had come to the end of the beginning…
So I go forward with keen interest in what my students will have to say, these amateur adults who were kindergartners on 9/11—knowing that they are the last generation of my students to have any visceral connection to the events of that day, that in a couple years my Freshmen will have been only two or three years old, too young to have memories beyond a vague sense of a parent’s anguish and then in a couple more years they’ll be kids who were born after 9/11, who will have no contact with the day, who will look at those of us who were singed and scarred as I once looked at my grandparents’ generation when they talked about the trauma of Pearl Harbor, struggling to understand beyond the TV soundtrack of history.
When I first heard the news of Robin Williams’ death, I rang off a litany of likely culprits: “Heart-attack? Aneurism? He did a lot of coke back in the day. Car accident..?” During the interlude between first newsflash until confirmation of intentional demise I was just hoping for it not to be suicide. But I wasn’t surprised when word came, because there was that palpable melancholy to Robin Williams. Something in the eyes, a shadow so obvious with hindsight. A deep ache that saturated his character in Good Will Hunting, made that famous scene with Will and the painting of the boat a performance that only a person who’d been lost in that sea could adequately translate.
When a celebrity dies by their own hand, each person who has lost someone to similar circumstances suffers their particular loss all over again, a proxy death. Bombarded by media coverage of the event, saturated in the word—suicide, suicide, suicide…
I had an open Word document that had been idling untouched for several weeks on my laptop. Just a note really—like the ever-growing collection of open-doc notes that I save as springboards to unrequited future essays. This particular document contained just nine words. A title—In Defense of Suicide—and three names: one a friend who drank himself to death, one a 20-year-old I’d known as a child, and the final entry the name of a young suicide victim I never knew, but yet cannot escape, as I now reside in a visceral proximity to his recent death.
It seems strange on first light that we say “victim”—as if the deceased hadn’t themselves pulled the trigger, tied the rope, took the pills, took the plunge. As if they were killed by some outside force. But maybe it is better to think this way, because so much of our sifting through the post-suicide ashes always seems to come back to judgment: assigning blame, finding the suicidal lacking in fortitude. This is uncharitable at best; at worst these judgments constitute a mean-spirited character assassination.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not trying to justify suicide, nor condoning the terminal act. I merely want to acknowledge that there is some pain—internal and invisible—that is too great to withstand, some suffering that is beyond management with psychology and medication.
What is the difference between the “suicide” victim and the dozens of 9/11 “jumpers”—those people who leapt out of the top floors of the Twin Towers, trapped by the fires raging below them? The relative quickness of the towers’ disintegration spared us all—those who died, those who watched—the additional agony of a slow-roasting death for those who hadn’t yet leapt. But we don’t consider the jumpers true “suicides,” their decision forever asterisked with “9/11,” because we have a simple, understandable explanation for their action. They were in unbearable agony, and any being facing that kind of suffering—steel-melting heat—will eventually do whatever it takes to escape the pain, just as the wolf gnaws through his own leg when caught in the brutal jaws of the steel trap.
No one questions the heart of those 9/11 jumpers, calls them weak or cowardly. Because we could see. We saw the smoke and the flame, we mentally calculated—even as we tried not to—the incredible heat emitted by a fire that size.
We understand the idea of terminal mercy—we put our failing pets “out of their misery,” rather than forcing them to suffer. We are still in the early stages of the ethical debate about assisted-suicide for dying humans, but we don’t debate the ethical need for relief—the end-of-life morphine drip is the distilled acknowledgement of our desire for a merciful, numbing caress on the descent into oblivion.
But in the suicide of the outwardly healthy—and particularly the young—we are quick to judge: they’re throwing it all away, they don’t understand that it gets better, they’re weak or naïve, or worst of all—selfish. How could they do that to us, the survivors? How can they put us through that suffering? But consider for a moment that though we can’t see the clear indications—burning building, hands waving desperate white flags out open windows—that the suicide victim is suffering a similar slow burn, a molten interior. Maybe they just want to get beyond that crucible by any means possible.
This is why the context of death becomes so important to us.
A good death.
A heroic death.
A common death.
A normal old-age death.
A bad death.
The drug overdose is a bad death. Phillip Seymour Hoffman with a syringe in his arm, Heath Ledger face down on a Brooklyn apartment floor.
Suicide is a bad death. If Kurt Kobain had died of an aneurysm. If Hunter S. Thompson had died of old age. If David Foster Wallace had died trying to save someone from a burning building. If Robin Williams had died of a heart attack.
We all, to some extent, fear death—whether we’re ready to acknowledge it yet or not. And for those of us who have thought at all about our own end, what many of us fear most is the possibility of a bad death. This I think is why we fear suicide—just as much as we fear HIV or Ebola. We fear the incurable unknown. We fear that the depression that drives the suicidal impulse might be communicable, that we might become infected with fatal melancholy. We fear that by openly talking about suicide, by acknowledging it any tone other than one of righteous judgment, we might plant the seed of acceptance. So we perpetuate a silence-based abstinence-only policy.
Particularly in the suicides of our rich and famous—those who “have it all” and have no “reason” to kill themselves—it is in these “bad deaths” that we most fear that unknown darkness. In the celebrity suicide we feel vulnerable to the onslaught of a lethal force that can’t be bargained with, an invading army that can’t be bought off with any worldly treasure.
We fear having to confront that dark impulse that nobody can possibly understand until they’ve been there—and we do not want to ever be there, we don’t ever want to know, because to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, the only ones who know are the ones who crossed that line and didn’t come back.
So we turn our gaze inward, as we can’t help but to do in the wake of our ritual communal grieving. And we look at ourselves in our scuffed mirrors and we fear the unknowable darkness of the celebrity suicide because we know that our own comparatively pedestrian joys—our only defensive bulwark—would surely be too fragile to withstand such weight.
69 hours on and I still can’t get the image out of my head. Every morning I wake up thinking about it—replaying alternate scenarios in my mind, the one in which Michael Bradley doesn’t lose the ball, but instead turns and flicks it harmlessly down the length of the field towards the Portugal goal, and the ref blows the whistle before the goalkeeper can boot it back across midfield. Or the version in which one of the three U.S. defenders in the box gets in front of that long pass and clears it away from danger, or where Ronaldo, who had helpfully sucked most of the game, simply shanks the ball one last time.
It is strange how a tie can feel like a loss. Timing is everything—before the tournament started I would have been overjoyed to find the U.S. with 4 points and controlling their own destiny heading into the final match of the group stage. Before the U.S. v. Portugal game kicked off I would have been happy with a draw. After that potentially psyche-crushing U.S. flub and Portugal goal at the 5th minute, I would have gladly taken the tie. But the U.S. fought back, scratched and clawed and tied it with Jermaine Jones’ brilliant smash and then took the lead—the LEAD—on Clint Dempsey’s belly-goal and then suddenly with ten minutes left we were winning, we were guaranteed to go through to the knockout round and now we’d put pressure on Germany to have to beat us to win Group G! Victory was right there, the seconds ticking away, my heart thudding in my chest, surging belief and concurrent anguish. I swore every time the U.S. lost the ball, and barked at them to “stop passing it backwards!” I could feel the immensity of the moment, what this meant for a U.S. team that had been counted out since being drawn into the “Group of Death” with two European powerhouses and a Ghana squad that had knocked us out of the two previous World Cups—and here we were on the cusp of victory. Seconds to go, willing the referee to blow his whistle, any time, any second now, we’re through, we’re through—Bradley’s got the ball, no, wait now he doesn’t, Ronaldo’s got it, somebody pick him up, the ball is in the box and shit, oh shit did that just happen? None of us packed into my small overheated living room actually saw the goal, it happened so fast—we were primed to celebrate and then the ball was rippling the back of the net and they were replaying the heartbreaking moment—Howard’s helpless goal-line flinch and suddenly we weren’t going on, well, maybe we still are, probably really, with a decent performance against Germany and barring a bad outcome in the Ghana-Portugal match. Goal differential and other obscure tiebreakers in our favor….almost definitely…
But no matter how much I kept repeating that litany of reassuring probabilities, we couldn’t sweep the death-pall that had fallen over the room—a sudden ribcage constriction, a sour spot in the stomach, that same feeling I’d had when Ray Allen’s 3-pointer snatched the 2013 NBA title away from the Spurs the previous year.
There is no heartbreak like sports. Even when we were winning, I kept saying “I hate sports”—and I meant it, in that I hate the raw visceral stress during the games—the powerless pleadings, the mystical tribalism and neo-religious fervor. Moments like the one that snatched victory from U.S. jaws make me wish I’d never caught the sports bug. I imagine blissful ignorance, bemusement at the shouts of joy and howls of anguish emanating from open summer windows. How much better my life would be if I’d never believed in the U.S. Soccer Team, or the sporting quartet of my native Minnesota—the Twins, Timberwolves, Wild, and god help me, the Vikings. Sure, the highs are fantastic—I still get chills remembering Landon Donovan’s extra-time goal that saved the U.S. team in 2010, and Kirby Puckett’s 10th inning walk-off homer to send the ’91 World Series to game 7, or the montage of my yearly April pilgrimages to Timberwolves playoff games back when Kevin Garnett was prowling the hardwood floor at Target Center—the thrill of being in the crowd, that feeling that we were integral to what was taking place, that if we cheered a little louder we could actually will the team to victory—these moments are the distilled essence of what makes sports intoxicating, addictive.
But the agony. Yes, the Twins won the World Series in ’87 and ’91, and those victories were fantastic—even as the heart-palpitations probably took years from my life. But those triumphs seem like ancient history now, twenty-three years past my last meaningful championship. More recently burned into memory are inevitable 9th inning Yankee home runs robbing the Twins of playoff victories, Brett Favre’s interception costing the Vikings a 2011 Super Bowl appearance, Sam Cassell’s back injury leaving the 2004 Timberwolves one victory short of the NBA Finals.
Or perhaps the worst gut-punch sports moment of my entire life—and the only one that fully compares with that Portugal goal in terms of emotional impact—the 1999 NFC Championship. With barely two minutes left in the game, Gary Andersen lined up for an easy field goal against the visiting Atlanta Falcons, the weather-less, climate-controlled confines of the Metrodome humming in anticipation of the three points that would put the contest out of reach and send the Vikings—who in Randy Moss’s inaugural year had dominated the rest of the league—to their seemingly inevitable Super Bowl appearance in south Florida. Our pride and arrogant certainty knew no bounds that January as a couple dozen of us had piled boisterously into a friend’s house to watch the game. In the weeks leading up to the playoffs a local radio station had produced an unauthorized re-working of Will Smith’s hit song “Miami,” with Vikings-themed lyrics celebrating our forthcoming triumph—Denny Green runnin’ things in the Metrodome…we’re going to Miami…we’re going to Miami… You couldn’t drive ten minutes in Minneapolis without hearing it. You could feel the sports psyche of an entire state resurrecting itself, as we imagined a final exorcism of the demons of those four Vikings Super Bowl losses.
Oh, how pride goeth before the fall. Or perhaps it was Will Smith’s revenge. As the field goal unit lined up for the big kick, we crossed fingers and leaned en masse towards the TV screen, and then…and then right at that crucial moment, the announcers unhelpfully pointed out that Gary Andersen hadn’t missed a single field goal the entire season—and the room groaned in unison with an entire state howling at their TV screens because we knew Andersen would miss, even before he invariably pulled the field goal attempt wide left, because the statement of a perfection streak is the greatest jinx in sports, the guarantee of failure, one that makes the announcers who mention it as hated as the player that suffers the cruel vengeance of the perfection-hating sports gods.
This is the feeling, that fear that takes hold in the gut when the seemingly settled is suddenly back up for grabs, and you know how hard it is for the mind that has already moved through that door to accept the fact that you have to go back to the beginning and start over again. I won’t be able to shake the sorrow of that last-second Portugal goal until Thursday’s game—an interminable 88 hour wait from the final deflating whistle on Sunday. I won’t be able to fully focus on anything else until the U.S. and Germany take the field, until the action has started and the immediate intensity of sporting combat makes yesterday’s sorrow irrelevant. But—god forbid—if things go badly, I know I won’t be the only person in America or on that field in Recife that will be thinking of that single excruciating truth: we were already through. Seconds from victory. All over but the champagne.
I hate sports–because there is no heartbreak like sports.
Well, maybe that’s not true—there’s always politics, which for the true believer (or junkie) like myself is perhaps worse than sports. It is real life, after all. When the sports team loses, a city, state, or nation is draped in brief sorrow. When a candidate loses, wars happen. Any non-Republican who watched the first Obama-Romney debate knows that feeling, the sinking sensation in the days following the Denver Debacle as the polls narrowed and you started to think Obama might actually lose, that maybe his heart wasn’t in it for another term. Or going back ten years to Election Day 2004, when I breathlessly ingested every online anecdote, every tid-byte of political data during my shift at work, and all the exit polls showed Kerry winning Florida and Ohio, and we were going to throw “W” and his gang of war-mongers out of the White House, and they were calling Senator Kerry “Mr. President” on his plane all afternoon, and we were measuring the drapes, and then…and then. Then there was Florida going the wrong direction, and Ohio slipping away and Vice-President not-elect John Edwards addressing the crowd to say that they were awaiting the final ballots in Ohio, but we were reading the numbers online—minus 100,000—and not even the uncounted votes in Cuyahoga County were going to save us and we could feel that stomach-tightening, that horrible moment of realization. No…no, can’t be…the ball’s in the back of the net… So maybe it is good to remind myself, as I try to shake the trauma of that last-second goal, that at least in sports, for the most part, no one dies.
The games this week—Netherlands-Chile, Italy-Uruguay (the BITE!), Greece-Cote d’Ivoire (the PENALTY!), Argentina-Nigeria (record-setting GOAL BARRAGE!)—have helped distract me for brief moments, although judging from my reaction to the extra-time countdown of these nail-biters I am clearly suffering some lingering Post-Traumatic Stress from the Goal That Will Not Go Away. So I will watch today’s remaining games, and will try to keep my mind off of the Goal of Horror, and try to stop my obsessive positive visualizations of tomorrow’s Germany-USA match (Gram Zusi gives the U.S. the early lead in the 27th minute!!! Wondolowski scores to make it 3-1 for the Americans—the goal that will now surely send them through to the knockout phase!). You laugh, but the visualizations are so intense—so important to my fragile sports heart—that I catch myself mock-announcing them out loud to banish the first inkling of negativity that creeps into my mind. Because of course there is that part of me that can imagine the possible Greek tragedy that would send the U.S. packing, and if I dwell on that scenario for even a moment it starts to breathe, takes life as possibility and I start to feel that sick clenched-esophagus tension, and I’ve been waiting four years goddammit and we’re having none of that this time.
19 hours now until kickoff. I can’t wait. There is no heartbreak like sports…