Why We Might Bother

By JCB on Sunday, April 1, 2007
"Are you guys on the swim team or something?" she asked. That was a new one. Certain friends and I often get asked if we play basketball when we're out together, being tall and lean, and sometimes people ask if we're military, at least now that my hair is short again, and one time a girl I was dancing with told me I had a body like a sailor in a way that made me ask if that was a compliment -- she just shrugged -- but this woman asking if we were swimmers was a new one.

"Nope, just tall," I said. "That's why we usually stand at the back, so we aren't blocking the view. What's your excuse for standing back here?"

"I'm nervous," she answered. "I'm going on in a couple of sets."

It was the Ron Flynt benefit show at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas, and the woman was Rebecca Jones. She played a few songs a few sets later, and she was good. The woman knew her blues. Afterward, she came back and joined our conversation.

"You know," she said at one point, "I used to see the other 44-year-old women in their Lexus SUV's and wonder why I wasn't one of them."

"Yeah," I returned, "but can those women play the roadhouse blues scales?"

"Good point. I guess I came to terms with it a long time ago. There are women like them, and there are women like me who just want to make out with a lumberjack in a truck in Colorado, working around the gear shift. I have no regrets about how my life has turned out."

"I see what you mean." I smiled. "So, do you like playing the Continental Club?"

"Are you kidding me? I love it. It's like the Carnegie Hall of dive bars."

Just like that, she had captured in words a sense of things that I couldn't have put into words. She's absolutely right. It is like the Carnegie Hall of dive bars. The idea of Carnegie Hall invokes our sense of mystique, and tradition. The main hall at Carnegie is named after Isaac Stern, who once remarked, "It has been said that the hall itself is an instrument. It takes what you do and makes it larger than life." If you've heard the recording of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane from 1957 that was unearthed in 2005, for instance, you know what Stern meant. There's just that something else -- je ne sais quoi -- that you can't quite put your finger on, and it's magic, and you know the hall is in some way doing the conjuring.

Of course, Monk and Coltrane brought a lot of magic to the table for that show, magic that had been bubbling under the city for months. That show came amidst what many figure must have been one of the best music residencies of all time -- Coltrane rounding out Monk's quartet for six months at the Five Spot in New York City. It was Monk's first steady gig in years. Meanwhile Coltrane finally kicked his heroin addition that year, and finding his stride in those sets he soon went into the studio to record Blue Train, the start of a creative run through albums like Giant Steps (1959) and A Love Supreme (1964) that still reverberates. Shortly after Coltrane recorded Blue Train that autumn, the Thelonious Monk quartet played that pair of shows at Carnegie Hall. Nearly fifty years later the tapes resurfaced, illuminating a flawless constellation of genius, performance, and venue. The excellence seethes from every song -- especially (I'd suggest) those from the late set when they let the songs breathe a little bit more.

The poet and playwright Amiri Baraka had moved to New York City that year, 1957, and heard many of those sets at the Five Spot. As he writes in the liner notes for the Blue Note Records 2005 release of the Carnegie Hall concert tapes:
So this concert is a stunning find, not only for the purely aesthetic pleasure that truth and beauty can give, but as a profound volume of scholarship perhaps showing the denouement of a particular time, here just before this perfectness turns into the searching uncertainties of the next period, in which both these artists are battle flags.
Denouement: This is the set that clarified everything about the era. Its apex: One of those rarest of moments when men achieve -- capture -- what is barely possible. Truth and Beauty always come in a pair, because they're elemental: When you get that deep, there's nothing else to break down. Just listen.

Now, it's antithetical for a dive bar like the Continental Club to be larger than life like Carnegie Hall, but that wasn't why Becca Jones's point works in the first place. It works because of the mystique, and the tradition, and the way that the club has a personality and presence of its own that adds music between the notes. In fact, sometimes it's the shows I catch at the Continental when there is hardly anyone else around where I best hear the club. Swanky lounges and groovy clubs come and go, and the patrons float among them in the mindset of escapism and fantasy that the bars' modernist and postmodernist cachet (and fancy lights) are meant to invoke. But a dive bar is supported by the money, and therefore the sweat and effort, of people who need it, or at least appreciate it. It's at its best when everyone there is under absolutely no pretense or pretext. In the Continental Club's case, for the music, which the venue accentuates. It doesn't happen every show, but sometimes it does, and that's enough.

(The Continental Club opened in 1957, by the way, which has absolutely nothing to do with Monk, Coltrane, Carnegie Hall or the Five Spot, but it still seemed like an awful baseball-like coincidence to me in researching this piece. And for what it's worth, the Cubs only won 62 games in 1957, 4 less than last season, although they only played 156 games and tied 2. Ernie Banks played every game, and hit .285/43/102.)

Later it got me thinking -- could she have called it the Wrigley Field of Dive Bars? Maybe. The presence is still there between pitches, and the mystique, and the tradition. But now, there's also the party scene, and the corporate scene, the people who are there because it's the place to be. The recent situation with increasing stadium advertising -- another topic for another essay -- compounds the problem. It's rare indeed that you find yourself at a ballgame where more people near you than not are there because they understand the traditions. I mean, who still goes for the baseball, whose quality the venue accentuates?

Maybe it's always been that way. Maybe the romantic notions about a long-lost era when the truth and beauty of baseball unfolded unspoiled in front of the ivy or the bricks underneath are fiction. How should I know? I'm the sort of sucker who buys into that crap anyway, fiction or truth, or somewhere in between.

Still, whatever spirit there was and has always been in Wrigley Field isn't gone, and as evidence I'm thinking about the last weekend of the season, when more people than not were there for the baseball and the traditions and all that. I kept up my personal tradition of going to the last game of the season for the sixth year in a row now. One of these years it just might mean something like it did in 2003, but even so, there are very few moments I wish I could slow down more than those games, letting them slowly meander to their conclusion, one last time.

The thing is, the games were pretty slow in their own right. In fact, the second-to-last game went fourteen innings with a forty-minute rain delay that kept us at Wrigley Field for over 6 hours. My old roommate from Wicker Park and I talked about everything there was to talk about, catching up as well as reminiscing, and then some. But as the stormclouds rolled in, and as night arrived, I still wished I could have slowed it all down even further.

(Photo by AWE.)

There's a certain nobility to Wrigley Field the rhythm of which beats at a slower pulse than the rest of the city almost all of the time (that is, except when there's a rally in the works). Nobility in its earned sense is excellence of character, the composite of other qualities, and at Wrigley Field we feel its nobility because to be noble is never to be rushed, but to operate on your own terms and pace. Which is to say closer to nature's pace, not the city's pace -- the pace of clouds rolling by, not airplanes. Baseballís pace.

The next afternoon, over the course of a few innings on the last game of the season, the sun crept behind the western grandstand overlooking Clark St. and we were sitting then in the shade along the third base side just a few rows up from the field. There is no other sport in which afternoon shadows can play such a prominent role, and there is no stadium in which the shadows are as material -- as present, as corporeal -- as Wrigley Field on an early autumn afternoon. In those moments, if you're willing to submit, you are as isolated from the city and the world and the rest of your life as one can be. You might as well be on an island as the shadows envelop the infield, the green of the grass grows darker, and time's pace ambles accordingly. There is nothing but baseball and fans, and a stadium that wants you to pay attention to the story of the game along with everyone else.

(Photo by KJM.)

Yeah, the spirit is still there, and for those of us there for those otherwise pointless games, we could feel it.

My point to all of this: places matter. A fundamental problem I have with my generational counterparts is that too many of us forget or neglect this. It's more than just computer stuff like MySpace & so on, that lets us go to some virtual place to commune instead of someplace tangible. It's that too many of us take our cities for granted, and our venues for granted - our theaters, our ballparks, our museums, our music clubs. Gentrification is a double edged sword, especially when we consume instead of work to continue to improve on what gentrification has given us. It lets us get away with -- and even encourages -- only going someplace when it's easy, or entertaining, or convenient. In other words, our cities spoil us in their splendor, in everything they're best at. We get to be in the city without having to be part of the city beyond our own terms.

It's always been this way for us, those of us who grew up in suburban comfort. For better and worse, we had little reason to feel attachment to the places themselves because suburban neighborhoods were not supposed to have their own local tradition or character. They were supposed to be above that, part of a grander national character. Houses might have their own memories and moments, and schools, and churches, but not in the same way as these things might in the old city neighborhoods. It's not like any of us grew up in a house around the corner from where Babe Ruth lived in Baltimore, or Saul Bellow in Chicago, or Louis Armstrong in New Orleans -- whomever. For those of us who moved a few times, it was even harder to have that anchor of tradition tied to a place itself. Certainly we all had family and personal traditions in one sense, but not the kind that continue with a place as persons or families come and go. Now, as my generation moves back into cities, too often we forget -- or just donít care -- that the neighborhoods might have these histories. I mean, hardly any of my neighborhood friends -- even among those who knew who Saul Bellow was -- knew that he grew up just off Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, which colored some of the best Chicago-set novels ever written.

Let me make it more clear: Places matter because they have their own rules. Thinking back to Chicago, it can be certain bar rules, like the Artful Dodger in Bucktown (RIP) where one would be chastised for ordering a light beer. It can be like the Weiner Circle, where you're expected to sling vulgarity at the counter while you order a hot dog at 2am; it's all part of the theatrics. Or it can be like the Park West, where -- if the show is good -- you just don't talk. In Austin, to take an easy example, the good little music venues still have someone walk around with a tip jar in the second half of the set to help the band buy beers after they're done, and people tip.

Baseball parks have rules in general, like refraining from mentioning a no-hitter. Wrigley in particular has them, like the Bleacher Rules, knowing how to play the cup game or knowing to throw back an opponent's homerun ball. At some point, rules become traditions. Arbitrary in their beginnings or not, these traditions matter. They become the corners of a culture, the boundaries that help us understand it. At this point, the places to which the traditions are tethered matter. When the places change, the traditions change, or sometimes disappear. We all lose something, then. Our culture loses its shape.

Whatís the fallout if my generation doesn't invest as much into these places? It's commonly described how fragmented our culture is, into subcultures and further. Very smart people try to figure out why, but I wonder: might it not be so simple as the fact that there aren't physical spots to which we tie any traditions? That we've stopped caring about traditions in that sense? That we donít bother participating with the traditions for their own sake unless theyíre fun? That we don't feel like we have to?

* * *

My laptop hard drive crashed last fall and while I had almost all of my files backed up, I lost the start of the first version of this essay, but this was a good thing because it was overly moody and kind of bad. Better to start over anyway. It's hard for a writer to scrap anything, ever, but this is owing to vanity, not quality, and well, who needs vanity? It's a burden, and breeds crappy writing. Nope, it's a good thing to forget what you were thinking and start fresh sometimes.

Let's not waste too much time getting to the next point: 2006 was a debacle of a season. The Cubs best (healthy) players played worst early in the season, and dug a hole too deep. The rest was in some sense just killing time. On occasion there was vigor, but overall it was a lackluster season.

Yep: with 2003 memories and hopes fading away, and with the White Sox still radiating from their success the year before, the Cubs laid an egg. Thud. Last place.

I had such high hopes, too. It was supposed to be a better summer of baseball than that. I resigned from a job to take time off before law school. I could have obsessed. Turns out they just weren't worth obsessing over, at least not any more than the level where I just can't help myself anymore.

The question, then, I ask myself: Why bother with a pointless season?

The short answer is that no season is pointless, that they're all a part of a story, a narrative unfolding over generations. But for a season like 2006 that assumes further that the story demands you follow along so closely. Thatís the real question. And whether that assumption is correct is a question that takes a bit longer to explore.

* * *

I recently finished The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud, a novel that started out very slowly but more than redeemed itself in the end. Set in New York circa 2001 -- as you see why it might redeem itself -- it traces several characters all trying to figure out how to steer their lives. One character, a successful writer, is working on a secret opus called "How to Live," and the symbolism is not hard to see since if you put the title in question form, everyone in the book is asking it.

There's a scene later in the book that struck me for several reasons. It's a conversation between Danielle and David, the boyfriend of her close friend Julius. Danielle and David do not get along. David is driving her to the train station so she can return to the city from upstate.

"What did you major in, in college?" she ventured again, after a time.
"Poli Sci."
"You must have been English, right?"
"Does it show that badly? We all were. I was double, English and Philosophy. I don't remember a thing."
"Who does?"
"Seriously, though, I look at the books on my shelves and it's clear that I read them, back then, but I can't remember ever doing it, and I don't have the first idea what they might be about."
"Read them again, then?"
Danielle sighed. "Not now. Maybe someday. I look at them and wonder who I was, you know? It's a long time ago. I'm thirty."
"You should throw those books away."
"Like, in the garbage?"
"Like that."
"Sacrilege. It would be."
"Do you hang on to clothes you haven't worn for ten years? Or bags of pasta, or cans of beans?"
Danielle did not need to answer.
"What is it about books? Perfectly rational people get crazy about their books. Who has time for that?"
"I measure my life out in books."
"You should be measuring your life by living. Correction: you shouldn't be measuring your life. What's the point?"
One, the first reason this passage struck me, was that I was an English and Philosophy major, which is something of a rare combination I think. (Maybe not.) Two, I wrote an essay my senior year observing how most of us don't remember what it is we're learning even shortly after we learn it. This is an educational systemic product: we became accomplished at short term learning -- method over substance, learning to use texts to produce what the professor wanted rather than engaging them for their own sake. So, I think Messud makes a true point there. Three, despite this sort of angling in college, I can still never throw books away, and sacrilege is the right word for why. Except that Danielle is thirty and female, in many ways this is my snapshot.

Four, I measure my life. I measure it in baseball seasons, for one. And I think there's a point, and it has everything to do with mindsets and traditions, and Aristotle, and seasons like 2006, and circling around an answer to the question of how to live by living.

Most of all though, thinking about what Danielle said to David, I look back at certain points and wonder who I was, because it almost seems like it was a different person, and that's underlying everything.

* * *

I met a redhead who was a few years older than me at a Cubs game in the summer of 2004 on a Saturday, the third day of July. There were four rain delays, I was in the bleachers, Greg Maddux pitched, Sammy Sosa hit a homerun, my friends and I were drenched, and they called the game early as the Cubs defeated the White Sox. My friend called this woman, hoping to meet up with her and her friend after the game, and it turned out she was actually at the game as well. From the Cubby Bear through the fireworks at the lake that night, my clothes never did dry out.

You couldn't ever call my relationship with the redhead a dating relationship. We didn't go out all that often, although we kept in pretty good touch. But we had a lot in common, and enjoyed it when we did get together for occasional dates. It was just that it was strikingly obvious that what either of us was looking for -- in any longer term sense -- was not each other. I was young and looking to squeeze as much life out of the city as I could, even then knowing I would be leaving before too long, and refusing to let anything develop too far that would hinder that. For her, although I'm probably over-simplifying in characterization, she had been through all of that ultra-young-in-the-city stuff already and seemed to me like she might be looking for something more serious, the kind of guy you could take home to mom so to speak. She lived in Lincoln Park, but she wasn't a Trixie (and by the next summer she had left the neighborhood behind).

We're still in touch from time to time. She mentioned that one of her friends asked her a few months ago if she ever heard from the 23 year old. I'm 26 now, but that's how old I was when we met, and in their eyes always will be. Her e-mails to me often still start with a playful, teasing tone, addressing me, "Young Joel." It's kind of a nice reminder, actually, to invoke how it was to be 23 and in the city, to be frozen there in some tiny way.

She asked me in an e-mail once what songs I might put on a mix CD for her. I should admit that it came on the heels of an e-mail exchange where in passing I told her -- or in her words, "accused her" -- that I thought she seemed like she might be a Goo Goo Dolls kind of girl. Anyway, I've gotten that question about songs for mix CDs a lot and I always take it as a compliment since I tend to obsess over things like that, music-wise. For her mix CD, I answered that for sure one track would be "Champagne Supernova," remembering one time I went over to her apartment. She had agreed that we could just hang out and watch sports, we ordered Thai, and she had Oasis's What's The Story Morning Glory?" on when I first got there. She answered:
That's funny. I always think of you when I hear that song too. That evening, I had caught the time and realized that the b-ball contest was starting. I grabbed the remote to turn it on and you said, "Hold on, this next song is good." I thought that you were the whip shit.
It was one of those moments, I guess, vivid for both of us since I remember her looking at me a certain way and recalled it immediately when she asked for a song I'd pick for her. Looking at me like I was the whip shit.

She told me once how much she admired me for leaving Chicago to go blaze a new trail somewhere, to set off on my own to write what I wanted to write, and see what happened from there. She said she's known a lot of people who have dreamed and talked about doing something like that, and none of them ever did. It made me wonder about those other people, and why they didn't, since for me it wasn't really an option. I had to. I would have regretted it way too much if I hadn't. On its simplest level, it never really felt like a calculation, or a choice. It was time to act. I know people who prefer to line everything up before taking the next move. My father certainly wishes that I was more like them more often. Itís just that I've been occasionally compelled to take a leap and see what happens, even without a definite plan in mind, knowing with certainty that I will regret not doing this more than I'll regret not taking more time to line things up. Something was calling me, and I was answering. Can you really take credit for something like that, for being one way instead of another? Not really, so I've tried not to let her comments feed my ego. It's not for everyone to do something like that, but it was for me.

In some ways then, on the romantic level, every time I went on a date or hung out with the redhead, it was pointless. If you had asked either one of us whether there was any chance we'd ever be in a Relationship, or married, or something, it was pretty clear early on: no chance in hell. So why bother?

We're friends, for one, with similar senses of humor. I've learned some things, for two, and I hope I've had something to offer as well. She read me well, and has given me good advice sometimes. I've tried to do the same, for my less-experienced part. There was one time she was extremely upset, ending a venting e-mail with "I want to kick someone," and I returned: "Kick away. That, and howl at the moon. There is a time and a place for medicinal booze and don't let anyone tell you otherwise." Seems like good advice to me, anyway.

If either one of us had gone in with blinders on, trying to find only what we were already looking for, I don't think we'd have wound up friends because we would have tossed each other aside. Pointlessness is a tricky thing that way: no one is very good at knowing ahead of time what the point will be in the longer term, the bigger picture as the story unfolds over decades, not over months.

What people usually say about this is that Everything Happens For A Reason. This adage appeals to me in many ways, especially inasmuch as lately I've been wondering about the significance of a lot of things -- things in and around law school, my career, and certain relationships and friendships in particular about all of which I won't say any more right now. (There's no need to spend another 5,000 words on what amounts to shoulder-shrugging.)

Thinking it all through, I think the saying, although true, is artificial, I've decided again. Maybe everything only happens for a reason -- or at least Destiny achieves its ends -- when you're invested in life. When you're looking for opportunities and willing to -- if not risk something -- put in the discipline when it would be easier to close off your mind and retreat to that position of waiting for something to happen, waiting but without patience and attentiveness and readiness. Maybe we have to meet the reason half way, even if that means sometimes taking a leap, or sometimes being patient when it's hardest. Maybe itís a matter of timing, but not just timing of events -- also timing of a mindset.

I'm thinking some more about John Coltrane's 1957 now, starting with being kicked out of Miles Davis's quintet a second time, which finally led him to seek escape from his addiction. As he writes in the liner notes to A Love Supreme, "During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music." By all accounts, he worked as hard as a musician can that year -- compulsively practicing, gigging all the time, and besides his own studio recordings playing as a sideman on a lot of others. Getting fired from the band... happened for a reason? Yes, but maybe we see that only because he met the opportunity opened to him and saw that larger purpose through to the end. Great depths to great heights through not only great ability but also great effort. And a certain kind of mindset.

I asked the redhead to read an early draft of this essay, and she had her own thoughts on underlying purpose:
I've gotten the "Why are you wasting your time?" question from many a friend during miscellaneous relationships in the past. But I never really thought of it that way. If I had nothing going on at the time, and the situation wasn't hurting me, then who cares? And if I get a story (good or bad) out of it, then it's not really a waste of time, right?
Right. I think that gets at a large part of it -- especially the part about the story, since having a story to tell means there was meaning of some kind in what transpired.

But that's not all of it because life (and its best stories) comprises more than just coming up with ways to kill the between-time. Life is the between time, and registering this only helps the signal moments stand out even more. At least that's how I've got it figured, even if I forget sometimes, adrift, which is to say caught up in my own day-to-days.

There are two things Iíve taken from the story of the redhead, then. One is that pointless is a relative term. How you answer the question has to do with how you frame it, and maybe it's not always better to look at things with a certain end in mind.

The other has to do with why we connected in the first place. This has everything to do with an attitude that some people of my generation living in the cities have, but others do not. It has to do with how we both felt about the city of Chicago that day we met. I have to be careful, because itís the kind of thing that makes less sense the more you try to say about it. You either get it or you donít. Itís about a certain sense of whatís possible in the fantastic opportunity weíve been given with our lives. Itís about asking what you can do with the city rather then what you can get from it.† It's about being good at being an urban adult. I felt camaraderie with her on that level the very first long day we met, as we went all over the north side. She knew how a day like that was supposed to go, something I was starting to figure out more fully, the kind of day that starts at a baseball game and goes through Wrigleyville bars and a little party for a while and then a quick take-out burrito and then fireworks at the lake with beers in backbacks, the kind of day that is only possible in that unique context, where you feel like the city is steering you as much as youíre steering yourself. You walk out of your door in the morning and you could not expect it to go how it goes, but yet somehow it still feels natural.

Not everybody picks up on that vibe because it requires a certain mindset to be receptive to it. She picked up on it and rolled with it, same as me. Thatís why I think we clicked. She was good at living in Chicago, and I wanted to be.

* * *

The end of the 2005 season seems like a lot longer than a year and a half ago. For that matter, the end of the 2006 season feels like a lot longer than half a year ago. It's almost hard to believe that I spent so many hours watching those games those summers, as the seasons have already been collectively filed away as insignificant, the sort of seasons from which people will soon blur and mix their memories, all jumbled together as the late part of the brief Dusty Baker era. From one angle, it's hard to imagine a pair of seasons more pointless than those two.

I think now about the person I used to be, another over-worked concept in the abstract but also profoundly meaningful when it's you who's the person you hardly recognize now. I've been reminded how I've changed every time someone I've known for a long time comes to visit Austin, or every time I visit up north. We all have friends with whom even after a period of not seeing one another we fall into the old familiar rhythms and patterns as if it has not been so long at all because these friends have a natural cadence with us, the reason we were friends in the first place. A lot of it is our senses of humor -- we're still funny to one another. But itís more than that. It's also that even though we are different people now there were certain things we did to get from there to now that we understand in each other. Itís coming from a similar mindset more generally.

Sometimes people say they wish they could go back knowing what they know now. I donít feel that way. I would not do much of it very differently, even the mistakes. Itís not that I couldnít have done a lot of it better, because I could have. Itís just that to go back would be like giving advice to a stranger. Iíve invested too much of myself into experiences that have changed me.

Is life supposed to be such that every year feels longer than a year? Maybe it is. Maybe that means you're doing something right.

The question, then: Why bother with a pointless season? Because I'm not the person I used to be, and realizing how I got from there to here requires some measure, some way of marking the years. More important, making sure I'm on the right track requires traditions, which provide shape to our culture. One sense of these traditions involves a certain mindset about things. And part of that mindset is recognizing that places matter, and being sensitive to the unique possibilities that our cities open for us.

Earlier I said this stuff has to do with Aristotle. My friend Mike read an early draft, and told me that he knew I was going to write about Aristotle even before I got to it in the essay. In part thatís because Iíve been meditating on Aristotleís virtue ethics ever since I took a philosophy class on it in college, and he saw the setup signs that I was doing it again. (As much as weíre all like Danielle, thatís the one college class I recall vividly and still think about.) The idea is that rather than arguing about moral concepts the way we do, we ought to realize that another way of framing the question is to consider whether what we do is virtuous or vicious in the context of our social traditions.

On one level, in this structure, activity is virtuous if it makes us good at something worth being good at. Discipline and concentration and other qualities make me a good law student, so those things I do in that pursuit that are done with these qualities are virtuous. Honesty and compassion and understanding and being slow to judgment make me a good friend, so those things that I do with these qualities are virtuous. It may be that this offers a more coherent way to inquire whether what weíre doing is ethical. Identify the things that are worth being good at, and then identify the qualities and the behaviors that exemplify those qualities that help us become good at these things.

I think being a good Cubs fan is worth it, and to me that means paying attention even during the bad seasons. I also think that being good at living in a city is worth it, and that means putting in the time and effort to participate in the unique expereinces the modern American city makes possible. Our cities are some of the greatest achievements in the history of the world -- and I don't think I'm exaggerating -- and I think we're idiots when we fail to appreciate this.

I think sometimes that maybe too many of us abandon our activities ñ hobbies, jobs, everything ñ when theyíre less easy, or not as fun. Our generation has this luxury, the luxury of nearly unlimited ways to invest our time, most of which are actually pretty worthwhile. The problem, or at least the temptation, is that we spread ourselves too thin. Sometimes that's what I'm afraid of doing, anyway. So I suppose we have to choose carefully. For some of us it's baseball, and for others it's something else, and more power to them, as long as it's something worth being good at.

The seasons were not insignificant, then. They measure the time, concurrent with other things unfolding in my life. They're steeped in tradition. They're anchored to a city and a baseball stadium. They help me maintain a mindset of discipline and attentiveness and patience and readiness looking forward. They help me understand who I am even if I don't always resemble in many ways who I was.

To me then, the question is more like this: Why wouldn't I bother with a pointless season?

Of course, that doesn't mean I don't hope that 2007 will bring a whole new set of questions -- like how it feels to watch the Cubs win a World Series.


* * *

Postscript: 24 April 2007

ìYou donít know Monk like I know Monk.î --Robin Kelly.

Coincidences are among the strangest of phenomenon, especially for baseball fans, who tend to wonder whether what happens is ever really coincidence at all. Itís not that weíre arrogant enough to think that the powers of the universe care whether we wear our lucky underwear, or avoid mentioning a no-hitter, or any number of other superstitious things we do... but still, we do them. And sometimes, we wonder: coincidence? Or is all this stuff somehow ñ probably mystically but for sure, somehow ñ related?

I wondered about a different kind of coincidence a couple of weeks ago. I finished an essay on Sunday. On Wednesday morning I learned the Cubs were snowed out, leaving me with a block of time I had set aside to watch the game. ìNow what am I going to do tonight?î About two minutes later, without even looking for it, without ever having heard about it until just then, I found out from the UT homepage as I logged out from my e-mail that the Art building was hosting a lecture on Thelonious Monk. I had just been reading and writing about Monk, and Coltrane, and a concert they played at Carnegie Hall in 1957, for the essay.

Itís not that I think the powers of the universe have any reason to pay any attention to me... but if they wanted to anyway, this is the sort of thing they would have drawn up for me in exactly that time and place.

I mean, how often do history scholars lecture about Thelonious Monk? Right next door to the law school in Austin?

Coincidence? A test? A unique, urban, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is event to attend? Like any good baseball fan, I quickly concluded: no point chancing it. These events donít have anything rational to do with me, but thereís still no way Iím not going. Plus, itíll be fun.

And the lecturer was Robin Kelly, who -- even though I didnít make the connection until about halfway into the lecture -- wrote part of the very liner notes to the release of that Carnegie Hall concert that I had just been reading, and thinking about, and quoting.

The lecture was great. Kelly broke down Monkís career, focusing especially on his relationship with Capitol Records, and how it was Monk could have been broke those years. But he also spoke about the scene and the time, the way the bohemians thought of Monk, and Coltrane, and those gigs. He talked about Monkís relationship to his neighborhood, which was on point with what I had been thinking. He talked about the Carnegie Hall show, and just how good it was. Right on.

Coincidence or no, I love that sometimes things like that happen in life. It almost makes you feel like maybe you're on to something after all. Meanwhile, maybe the Cubs should hope for more rainouts.
Posted Sunday, April 1, 2007 by JCB

Leave a comment

Powered by Ajax Comments

Sincerely, JCB

I founded Agony & Ivy about five years ago for two reasons. First...


A&I Poll



Roster Schedule Standings Stats Tickets