I’ve become a compulsive lister. At the start of each month I make a list of my personal “to-do’s” – looking back at November’s, I realize how vain and futile these lists can be:
The “New Blog!” has eluded me. There were many topics I felt compelled to write about, but failed to seize on the immediacy of my emotions. These topics are:
- The incredible 5-game NLDS between the Nationals and the Dodgers.
- My long weekend in New York City, which featured an afternoon inside the Russian/Turkish baths, an evening of stand-up comedy, a chicken parm sandwich at midnight, a box of fried chicken at midnight, a visit to the last standing natural forest on the island of Manhattan, an ill-advised viewing of The Babadook and a tray of hot wings at a delightful Polish sports pub in Ridgewood.
- The election.
- The last weekend of October – my good pal Rob came to visit, and my dad, and I read a few poems at a bar and at another bar I made intense, awkward jeers towards a group of Indian guys whom I was convinced were there to prevent me from having a good time (read: dancing like an ass).
- Getting heckled by a drunk dork while shooting pool.
- What it means to be American.
Since I bungled my November to-do list, I’ve declared December as my “cleaning house” month, my last chance to tie up all my loose ends before the New Year. This, in turn, is my “cleaning house” blog, where I’ll attempt to reconcile the failed blogging of the past couple months with a messy synthesis of items 1, 2, 3, and 6.
Well, here goes:
Over the summer I entertained many conversations about the best months of the year – “October is the best…then August” I would announce unequivocally, then descend into an annoying palaver about why August is better than June, June better than July, etc etc.
This December I can say I’m now more of an August guy. August is slow, hot, surreal and portentous; October is crisp and quick. Too quick. This year it began with one of the most riveting sports events I’ve ever witnessed: a 5-game playoff series between the Washington Nationals and the L.A. Dodgers. There were lead changes, surprise heroes, timely home runs by back-up catchers and pinch hitters, unlikely rallies, exaltations and disappointments. It would be painful for me (and probably for you) to provide a full, detailed recount of the whole series (the Nationals lost in the end) but there was one experience that really stuck with me.
It was during Game 5, the only game I was unable to watch or even listen to. Weeks earlier, I had agreed to help out with a Padres Hispanos event at my school on that same night of October 13th. Throughout the event (which was, admittedly, pretty fun and a great opportunity to practice my español) I peeked at the MLB app covertly – Nats were up a run through the early innings, and as the parents and niños filed out of the auditorium I checked the score once more.
Top of the 7th: Dodgers somehow beamed in 4 runs. Shit.
I had other things on my mind. The day before Oliviah and I had a bad argument that I needed to bounce back from; the day after I would be flying out to New York. In the morning I’d resolved to buy her a bouquet of sunflowers before leaving for the weekend. When the Dodgers went up I still had not bought the flowers.
I stormed out of Health & Science school with my curly “W” cap plastered to my skull. It was pouring rain, and the wind tore through my layers. In the car, reaching to connect my phone to the stereo, I realized that my USB cable was buried somewhere in my desk, and the custodians had locked down the school for the night. I drove to Fred Meyer’s in silence, parked, checked the score again. It was the bottom of the 7th, and lo and behold we had put in a run already, had men on with 1 out and the meat of the order coming up. Another rally!
As I darted back through the parking lot with the bouquet, Daniel Murphy – the NL’s best hitter – came up to bat with a serious chance to do some damage. I was still in Beaverton. Oliviah was a 25 minute drive away. I stowed my phone in the cupholder and peeled out, no sound to accompany me but the cold, penetrating rain splatting against my sunroof.
It’s important to note that I chose to hear only this – I could have flipped on the FM jazz station, or rifled through the trove of CDs that line the doors of my filthy Toyota Matrix. I chose the rain, because when I hit highway 26 that night my body and soul were concentrated wholly on the moment at-hand, and any form of distraction seemed obscene.
Really, though, it was two moments: there was me in the car, hurtling towards Portland, my eyes fixated on the slick asphalt while my mind reeled over the moment I was missing, the moment that could-have-been or had-been or is-to-come or would-never-be – Daniel Murphy popped a bouncing ball through the infield gap so many times during that drive, and I had no way of knowing if that fantasy had or would come to pass.
That is, unless I was willing to avert my attention from the rain-whisked windshield and the torrents of autumn leaves spilling over the expressway barriers to look at my iPhone. I’ve done stupid shit while driving in the past, believe me, and most times I ended up on the other side unscathed. But to intrude on that other moment, to defy the present cacophony of wind and rain in hopes of a moment of relief (or utter despair) seemed a matter of cosmically bad ju-ju. Instead I talked to myself, preached, proselytized myself into having “faith” that the world would grant me a kindness if I just gripped the wheel and focused everything I had on getting off that highway unharmed. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but trust me: chills coursed through my spine and up past my knuckles. I banged on the steering wheel. I teared up. Coming through the Vista Ridge tunnel, I honked a lot.
The big play never did come to fruition, though there were chances and some smaller turns of good fortune (Chris Heisey hit a clutch pinch-hit dinger before the 7th was through) that were ultimately for naught. I made it to Oliviah, gave her the flowers, and sat with her while the game raged on – even in the stable geometry of her bedroom I could only glance at my MLB app with the grossest of hesitation. Later that night the Nats lost, but I did not despair. I was impressed by the viscera of my reaction, but acutely aware that things don’t always go as hoped. We put up a good fight. I was at peace. The next morning I boarded a plane to New York.
I almost cried, again, on my flight from SLC to Newark. Before boarding the plane I’d been listening to an article describing why a “lesser of two evils” argument for voting Clinton is fair, reasonable, and necessary for preventing a Donald Trump presidency (if only, if only). Plane rides, like watching sports, are both a communal event and a wild solipsism – a frightening-yet-fateful lack of control – and not-quite-out-of-nowhere a spiritual nationalism took hold of me on the tarmac: everyone around me is in their own world, but we’re all here right now. As we took off I filled with my ears with Dan Deacon’s amazing, rhapsodic America and the emotions swelled. I am a nation, we are a nation; I am a nation, we are a nation; I am a nation, we are a nation, this is my nation, it’s all good….
In November there was another occasion in which I occupied two moments, and sports were involved. On the night of November 8th I went to a Blazers game with Oliviah and my roommate Jake. The Blazers took on the Phoenix Sun: the game was fast-paced, high-scoring, and featured very few fouls – a marvel for NBA competition. In the middle of the fourth quarter, many people around me began pawing at their phones with nervous expressions. Oliviah was despondent, and then so was I: Donald Trump was going to hit 280 before the night was up. The next morning I walked through the rain to catch a light rail to work, and come evening I was marching in protest.
In October I was drunk with an idealistic vision of nationhood. November was a rough, rude awakening. December is a hangover. The folly of my failed attempts at blogging over the past few months has been trying to “make sense” of these experiences – very few things in life “make sense.” It doesn’t make sense that a sporting event with no practical sway on my life made me cry. It doesn’t make sense that a man who openly lampooned a disabled person was voted in as President of the United States. There’s plenty of evidence that the world was spawned millions and millions of years ago, and that creatures evolved biologically from one another, but in 2016 people choose to believe that our cosmos is dated in the thousands and everything in the universe was invented at once and dinosaur bones were planted in the earth by God to test our “faith.”
There’s this expression that “where reason ends, faith begins” – I don’t dig it. I know that I used the word “faith” to describe my night flight from Beaverton during Game 5, but that’s because I interpret “faith” as choosing to be optimistic in the face of adversity. I mean, Christ, I wanted Murphy to hit a homer! Reason, logic, and probability still operate when we don’t understand how, or choose to suspend their reality – it just feels better in the moment to not be cynical.
A lot of things don’t “make sense” to me, but resigning those things to irrational theory also does not make sense. The Nationals didn’t lose Game 5 because of some fukú or because I, Jackson Berkley, could not listen in on the radio – the bullpen stumbled while LA’s bullpen shined. Right now Mike Rizzo is wheeling and dealing in the Winter Meetings to fix these problems, not sacrificing pigs on a smoking alter or wearing his PJ’s inside-out till Spring Training.
Sports are such a wonderful metaphor for life, but they are only a metaphor: you can pray, laugh, win, lose, fight, suffer – or you can choose to tune out. I cannot tune out my American citizenship just because it’s hard to think about what it means right now. I recall the feelings and the hope that carried me through October like a hazy dance, but I still treasure that capacity within myself to feel inspired, and hope to feel that way again. December is a hangover: there’s the blight of the near past, then the uneasy revelation of the ever-approaching future. But the sick feeling will fade.
Nobody has captured this contradiction better than James Wright, so I’ll let him take over.
“Two Hangovers” by James Wright
I slouch in bed.
Beyond the streaked trees of my window,
All groves are bare.
Locusts and poplars change to unmarried women
Sorting slate from anthracite
Between railroad ties:
The yellow-bearded winter of the depression
Is still alive somewhere, an old man
Counting his collection of bottle caps
In a tarpaper shack under the cold trees
Of my grave.
I still feel half drunk,
And all those old women beyond my window
Are hunching toward the graveyard.
Drunk, mumbling Hungarian,
The sun staggers in,
And his big stupid face pitches
Into the stove.
For two hours I have been dreaming
Of green butterflies searching for diamonds
In coal seams;
And children chasing each other for a game
Through the hills of fresh graves.
But the sun has come home drunk from the sea,
And a sparrow outside
Sings of the Hanna Coal Co. and the dead moon.
The filaments of cold light bulbs tremble
In music like delicate birds.
Ah, turn it off.
Number Two: I Try To Waken And Greet the World Once Again
In a pine tree,
A few yards away from my window sill,
A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and down,
On a branch.
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.