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Our word today courtesy of the provocative writer who ponders questions seemingly small, deceptively deep on Ugly LIttle Things.
Rite of Spring, the front page newspaper article and accompanying photographs revisiting our father’s major league exploits, praise heaped upon him for volunteering, once again, to coach Little League. In that small Southern hamlet, he was something approaching celebrity.
One year, a reporter described our father as having a demeanor that makes Pat Boone look aggressive, which was so far off the mark it set my siblings and I to snorting. The gullibility of the so-called journalist. First seeds of media distrust sewn deep.
Rite of Spring, my brothers clamoring for baseball anecdotes, tales of legendary teammates frayed from the telling, pivotal plays, dugout gossip. The only child who traveled with the team, I alone lived on the fringes of these stories, had future Hall of Fame inductees — Gaylord Perry, Willie Mays — and their wives as babysitters.
My siblings had me as their babysitter. Rampant resentments on all sides.
The discrepancy between the perception of our father and the reality went beyond amusement, but we were raised with the tacit understanding certain behaviors were part and parcel with the talents bestowed upon him, the exacting discipline he cultivated to achieve the dream of so many American boys, the pressure of public scrutiny.
Our father came of age between the triumphant wake of WWII and the disillusionments of Korea, Vietnam. Sports cast as a national narrative, the American Dream writ large in crowded stadiums wild with hope, or backyards crackling with tinny radios and charred hotdogs, or living rooms with neighbors gathered rapt for the rare televised game.
Talent, made mythic by the collective gaze of the American public.
Football, King of Sports. Baseball, The National Pastime. Basketball still a pick-up game, European football unknown in America, mixed martial arts not yet a twinkle in a savvy promoters eye. Ballpark ticket prices within the grasp of working class families, television — the pipeline into the hearth and hearts of American families — in the firm grip of three broadcasters. The more feminine sports like gymnastics and figure skating spotlighted at the Olympics, along with hockey, and vanished in the four-year wasteland between patriotic salutes, sportscaster rhetoric that transformed their personal triumphs into the might of a nation.
A Time of Heroes.
An era of mass experience, collective imagining. Eroded by self-interests corporate and personal. Felled by technologic innovations. We have seen the curtain. We are braced for bad behavior, the scandalous scandals veering towards parody. We were duped by doping, once, twice. With a swipe of a finger, we will choose others worthy of our attention, temporary adulation. Or ourselves.
We participate in communities to approximate collective experience, a fractionalized reality show, broadcast at will. We create tools to mitigate talent, Auto-tune, Instagram filters, steroid cocktails. Anyone can experience the frisson of attention, the recognition of “friends”, “followers”. Anyone can determine the fate of products, plotlines, by wielding “likes” or scathing reviews with abandon.
Idols toppled. IstaCelebrities raised.
Mythical stories no longer rise in the collective consciousness, story sound-bites trend, blips bobbing in a sea of selfies. Stories writ shrill, to arrest our momentary attention. Stories writ small, held in the palms of our hands.
Although I did not have an ulterior motive this week as I wrote in two spots just blocks away from each other in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (location, location, location), there is a thematic link: both are expansions from talented teams. Caffe Vita is a sliver of a spot from the renowned Seattle coffee roasters (judging by the line out the door, it is no longer NYC’s best-kept secret). Dirty French is the latest and sizzle-iest yet from the Torrisi team (Torrisi, ZZ Clam Bar, Parm), reservations might prove tricky, but I tried my luck at the bar and was well-rewarded for my efforts.
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