Saturday, October 11, 2008

Loud Desperation

I play catcher on my company's beer league softball team*. We hold our games in an athletic complex set a ways into a forested area of Farmington, hidden just far enough in the dark forests that characterize this area of the country so that the entire area is plunged into a frankly primal blackness when the last of the field lights are turned off. It's a fun diversion and a nice way to build camraderie--I would suggest that everyone, at some point during the year, get involved in some form of competitive sport (according to your relative athleticism, of course--I stay away from pickup football because it inevitably forces me into covering someone. Let me be the first to own up to this--I am an appallingly bad cornerback, safety, or linebacker. Inevitably, the game takes on a deja vu-esque aspect, as the man I'm covering is thrown to, again and again, with little to no interference from me).

*We've gone over this before, but this tells you all you need to know about my relative athleticism.

We're all on the younger side for this league. Your typical beer league softball player emerges from a stable of previous few varieties--the middle-aged former high school baseball stud, the fat guy who can hit home runs, and the old guy who can place hits wherever he wants. This is a universal thing. To that extent, we've been struggling this season--our skillsets, which include daring baserunning and good outfield defense--are rendered moot by the onslaught of beer-bellied sluggers who can place the ball just out of our reach.

Maturity is another thing we have on them.

You wouldn't think so, but it's true. We had a double-header Wednesday night, and the leadoff hitter (and shortstop) for the other team complained about the cosmic injustice of every close call pretty much as soon as the game started. He was a lanky white guy, late 30s, with a shaved head and a knee brace--the kind of man whose jittery intensity was apparent from every flared nostril and wide-eyed gesticulation. He would make hard, risky throws when he had no chance of getting a runner out, which is a rather boorish thing to do in a league without batting helmets.

Early in the second game, I popped out in foul territory to the third baseman. My roommate Phil (who has, and I would be remiss if I did not mention this, a really excellent arm) was coaching third base, and evidently was a bit too slow in moving out of the way of the third baseman's path. The catch was made, and before running off the field, the third baseman threw the ball at Phil.

"WATCH where you're going. You have to get out of the WAY!" said the third baseman.

"I was out of the way," said Phil, who used to coach high school baseball, so he's somewhat familiar with the rules.

"NO you WEREN'T," said the shortstop, now choosing to join in. "Why aren't you PAYING ATTENTION!?"

I mean, what do you think this is? A game?

***********

Despite my promise to ignore news related to the election, I've found myself drawn to a bizarre phenomenon which I promise I'm going to tie to that asshole shortstop at some point. I'm voting for Obama, just to get that out of the way, for reasons as complex as his views on the economy, and as simple as the fact that, if you fuck up running a country for eight straight years, you don't get another crack at it.

I'm open to disagreements from the other side. There is a perfectly legitimate case to be made for voting for John McCain--I just don't think it's as convincing as the counter-argument. All I really require is a set of logical arguments for your guy, and we're cool.

That's not what's been happening, however. Take this article on CNN.com, titled "Rage rising on the McCain campaign trail":

At a rally in Minnesota on Friday, a woman told McCain: "I don't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's an Arab."

McCain shook his head and said, "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man...[a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That's what this campaign is all about."

One man at the rally said he was "scared of an Obama presidency." McCain later told the man he should not fear Obama.

"I want to be president of the United States, and I don't want Obama to be," he said. "But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared as President of the United States."

McCain's response was met with boos from the crowd.

And:

One member of the Palin audience in Jacksonville, Florida, Tuesday shouted out "treason." And at another rally in the state Monday, Palin's mention of the Obama-Ayers tie caused one member to yell out: "kill him" -- though it was unclear if it was targeted at Obama or Ayers.

At several recent rallies, Palin has stirred up crowds by mentioning the "liberal media." Routinely, there are boos at every mention of The New York Times and the "mainstream media," both of which are staples of Palin's stump speech.

Some audience members are openly hostile to members of the traveling press covering Palin; one crowd member hurled a racial epithet at an African-American member of the press in Clearwater, Florida, on Monday.

And at a McCain rally in New Mexico on Monday, one supporter yelled out "terrorist" when McCain asked, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain didn't respond.
Here's what we're dealing with:

Bewilderment
Obviously, these people are scared and confused. On some level, I think, this is a natural reaction to being put in a losing position--they've identified with a party and a candidate who are down significantly in the polls, and this upsets them emotionally. That being said, how can you "not figure out how this is happening?" I'm not a huge fan of campaign coverage in general (check out this essay by David Foster Wallace and this one by Matt Taibbi [both in Rolling Stone, unfortunately] to find out why. Basically, it's like a bunch of eighth graders reporting on drama in the cafeteria), but there are thousands of articles out there to tell you why things are happening as they are.

Tantrums
There's a man in a flannel shirt and glasses featured in that article. He looks to be in his late 50s--an avuncular type, someone you'd expect to see reclining on a couch, watching college football with his nieces and nephews. He is SO ANGRY. It's really a sight to see. He's mad--he says it twice, in a half-furious, half-pleading tone. He practically stomps his feet.

Fantasizing
The man who shouted out "Kill him!" at the Palin rally may or may not actually want to kill Barack Obama. What he really wants is an easy solution to his problems. He figures that a loss by John McCain would remove something essential from his life--whether it's security, or financial solvency, or some kind of vague sense that an old and familiar something has been taken from him. And he sees no way to stop this--no way to deal with his problems--other than for Obama to just go away. This kind of adult wishing isn't anything new--it's why books like this:

And books like this:

are actually the exact same book. They're just addressing different fantasies.

Different escapes. These people don't want to deal with reality. They want an escape.

That Really Annoying Way of Arguing, Where You Make a Point that SOUNDS Good, but Doesn't Actually MEAN ANYTHING, and Then You Say "OHHH, I GUESS THAT ARGUMENT'S OVER, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY TO THAT".
There's a lot of that shit going on too.

************

One of the newer members of our team is from the area. He told us that the bald shortstop with the knee brace used to coach youth league baseball, but was fired. He couldn't control his temper. He'd yell at the kids.

What that really means is that he was probably bewildered, and frustrated, and angry, and hoping that somehow, these qualities would lead to a miraculous solution, whereas his kids would, I dunno, win the Little League World Series.

He was fired because he was no older than his kids, emotionally. Maybe even a bit younger.

An adult deals with his or her problems. The trials of the world are difficult, and sometimes life can be overwhelming, but everything can be fixed (if not totally) with a sober assessment of the problem, followed by action. Stomp your feet, get red in the face, hope for a miracle solution, and you will be trampled into dust by the red hooves of history.

"He's an Arab!"

"He's a socialist!"

"He's a terrorist!"

"Kill him!"

That's what they're saying. But it's not what they mean.

They are children.

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