Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Innovation

American Pride

Yesterday I finished a lunch date at Union Square and heard cheering and whistles a block away. I headed toward Fifth Avenue, mistakenly thinking someone was projection-screening the Argentina/Mexico game. (What? It could happen.) I only had to go a few feet before I realized the error of my ways: it was the Gay Pride Parade. I’ve never seen it in person, so I walked over to take a look. It was more or less as I imagined it: part political rally, part clothing optional dance party, good feeling all around. I couldn’t put it better than my friend Katie M. had the night before in a Facebook message:

Katherine M. is proud of the brave souls in this very bar who decided, 41 years ago, that they had had enough. Hopefully I can raise a glass next year to the end of DADT and more fairness in marriage laws.

The one criticism I had heard about the parade was that, in its occasional overwhelming flamboyance, it detracted from the gay rights struggle. My reply to that is onefold: Horseshit. If you were oppressed for the entirely of human history, you’d probably celebrate the ability to just live as you are pretty vigorously at least once per year. And, with the political action messages sprinkled between the discoteque floats, it certainly bore more resemblance to the fight than, say, Christmas at my house ever did to the birth of Jesus.

Not to get all Michelle Obama on you, but I was proud of my country, and for the second time in less than 24 hours.

The day before, I had eased into a popular sports bar at 1 p.m. for the U.S.A/Ghana game. It was surprisingly empty, but not for long. Before the bottom of the hour, the bar was Breathing Room Only, and this was 60 minutes before kickoff. Not quite Williamsburg, this was still Hipstamatic Brooklyn—which, to most of the country, is a year-long Gay Pride Parade—and the only thing you could see was red, white and blue. (And maybe a TV, if you were lucky.)

By now you probably know how the game went. The U.S. fell behind, then evened it, then lost in extra time. The second Ghana goal popped the atmosphere in the bar like a packing bubble which not even the lone vuvuzela player could inflate. I slunk home in disbelief, as much that the U.S. National Team had gotten me to the point where I could care about them as much as I did as they wrenching manner in which they lost.

The reason the loss was so bad this year, as opposed to years past, is that I was proud of this team. This team was good, without really having any of the world’s best players. They were a sports team of that idealized, not-often-realized ilk: the scrappy underdogs with a legitimate chance to win it all. I don’t know how we did it, but we did, and even if it makes no real sense, it makes me proud of my country.

I wish they had won, because I didn’t want to let go of the dream of them winning it, of summoning whatever courage it takes to stare down their bigger, faster enemies and take them out as a team. Sports courage, however, does not necessarily involve real courage. Both Saturday and Sunday were days to be proud of America, without forgetting the real work that’s left to be done.

•••

As proof I have World Cup on the brain, here is a doodle I did during a long telephone conversation on Thursday. There’s a reason I use words to communicate rather than pictures. No idea where the skateboard came from:

The Taming of the Wallet

I’ve had one of those weeks where my credit card seems to jump out of my wallet pretty much as a matter of course. I even had to reload my laundry card last night, which was the ultimate insult. Now I’ve got it taped to my desk to keep it stable, and I can imagine it squirming like a patient in a straight jacket. It needs to cool off before we let it take another walk around the yard. We don’t want anyone getting burned.

I briefly — and let me stress briefly — thought about getting an iPad, even amid this spending craze. I quickly — and let me stress very quickly — talked myself out of it. I don’t have the existential void or (ha!) the actual, you know, need for a glow-in-the dark piece of paper. I’m sure it’s cool but a lot of things are cool, like sunglasses and Grey Goose, that I do just fine without. But at least the sunglasses protect your eyes and the Grey Goose makes them work funny. I’m not sure the iPad does anything at all.

I cannot remember where I read it but someone said that the clamor for the iPad was indicative of some sort of spiritual emptiness that can only be filled, for some people, by ultimately disposal fancy new products. I think that’s probably somewhat accurate, but I also will acknowledge that despite what I said above, I’m sure I’ll own one some day, because I’m sure pretty much everyone will. But we’re probably far, far away from that and until then my 3-year-old MacBook will do. Three years! Alright, now I’m just jinxing myself.

Where are our cathedrals?

Thanks to MPdSP, I’ve hooked on to Tony Judt’s memoirs at NYRB (I own an e-subscription, so it’s just as well). In the most recent issue, he writes about riding the railroads around Europe in his youth, in awe of the train stations:

At their best—from St. Pancras to Berlin’s remarkable new central station—railway stations are the very incarnation of modern life, which is why they last so long and still perform so very well the tasks for which they were first designed. As I think back on it—toutes proportions gardées— Waterloo did for me what country churches and Baroque cathedrals did for so many poets and artists: it inspired me. And why not? Were not the great glass-and-metal Victorian stations the cathedrals of the age?

I’ll submit that they were. What do we have now? Certainly not airports, which is a shame because they’re the most obvious choice and the one to which many people I know have clung, tearing at the linoleum for significance in their knowledge and appreciation of O’Hare’s or Hartsfield’s concourse layouts or fast-food options. The emptiness of the airport space has been explored by many people in many forms, most popularly and recently in Up in the Air, despite its messiness. Everyone knows airports aren’t up to the aesthetic challenge of replacing train stations, and simply pointing this out does not make a great film anymore.

Are websites the new cathedrals? It seems that the answer is obviously yes but more obviously no. Certainly the rage engendered by every Facebook redesign would indicate that people have a fondness for the site that extends to the emotional: they think it’s theirs, not to be fucked with. But there’s nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing about it, nor does it function in the same way as a religious cathedral or train station. Those places are transitory by nature; you arrive, appreciate, and leave. In that way, Google would be a better corollary if it was much of a site at all. Facebook, by contrast, is designed like the world’s biggest airport you’d never want to leave — unlike Tom Hanks in The Terminal or that dude at Charles de Gaulle, they want you to live your life there. It keeps you where you are, instead of pushing you out, even if from an overload of wonder.

A friend told me that a professor once told him that the worst thing to do (one presumes as a tourist) was take a photo of the Grand Canyon. By taking the picture, you were absolving yourself of properly recording the memory, and one assumes ruining the view for anyone else who wanted to see it with fresh eyes, like the people who skip the “Scenes from Next Week’s Show”* on Lost.

* My brother and I used to watch the entirety of Beverly Hills 90210 in breathless anticipation of whether there would be “Scenes from Next Week’s Show” after the end credits. We called them “SCENES!” and would jump into the air, fists extended, when they would happen.

Of course, that was more than 10 years ago, and I can take a picture with my free-with-a-2 year plan phone I have now. Which I’ve done to take pictures of many things, my feet included:Also funny signs:


…and never food, but it’s only a matter of time. The point is that I use my camera to document the horribly mundane, or at least the amusing things amongst the horribly mundane ones. I also have pictures of my friend’s sixth-month old baby, which I uploaded and never showed anyone; what was the point? Did I take the picture to avoid paying real attention to her? And were the literally thousands of photos of the Grand Canyon to which my brother had been subjected make him not want to stay for more than three hours, after a treacherous four-hour drive (one way) to get there? And were the pictures I took on that trip the same reason I didn’t feel like I needed to hike into the Canyon on my return trip seven months later? Pushing further, I’ve never been to Westminster Abbey… but I know it from The Da Vinci Code. I’ve walked past Trinity Church hundreds of times, but the inside I know from National Treasure. The worst part is that even if I went inside, I’d still know it from National Treasure. It’s part of something bigger and ultimately aesthetically unspectacular (lower Manhattan), and by no means modern. The vast majority its visitors are running down a checklist, hoping to be awed… which is exactly what I would do if I was visiting. But I’d really be looking for the mundane; I’d think it was really funny, and noteworthy, if someone wrote “poop” on an official-looking sign or something.

In just my home city of New York, there are many structures that ostensibly pass as cathedrals: the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim, Yankee Stadium, the Met, Lincoln Center, the Natural History Museum, the Statue of Liberty, maybe the Tennis Center or Apollo Theater… but none of these are inspiring in the day-to-day, or even in the year-to-year. I don’t know if this is a result of American vacuousness, but if it’s not totally empty, it’s because one structure doesn’t easily top all the others. Everyone can appreciate maybe one of those places more than the other in the way they have their favorite slice of pizza or burger, and they can rhapsodize and intellectualize it all they want… but in the end, all of those discussions are really no different from one another. Awe is fleeting, but not by design.

Battle of the Bookmarks

I have some sites I like, and some sites I really like, and those go in the bookmarks of my work computer. Here are two in the “sports blog” section:

The “CF” is for Cleveland Frowns, a blog written by a friend of mine who has been engaging in something of a Socratic dialogue defending Browns coach Eric Mangini for the past two months. I often get into it with Pete (the author) in the comments, mostly to help him refine his argument.

Anyhoo, Pete, an Akron native and resident, has harbored a grudge against Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sportswriters, for not being “Cleveland” enough (He would probably deny that this is the reason). Joe is based in Kansas City now and grew up in Cleveland, and penned a Sports Illustrated cover story during the NBA Playoffs that really rubbed Pete the wrong way. Then Joe wrote an anti-Mangini column, and Pete really got mad.

Well, today Joe finally acknowledged Pete’s argument and made a full post on it, praising him for his hard work, even if he disagrees. I’m happy he did so. Now Pete can go back to liking Joe Pos, whom he once described as “proper.” I agree.

Best Subject Line Ever

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Pain, and the Basketball Hall of Fame

Some serious—and I mean serious—back pain this morning. I think I pulled a muscle.

I just joined a gym and started lifting again, only I only lift extremely light weights because I don’t want to be lifting at all. I want to be doing yoga, but I don’t know the first clue about how to choose one kind or find a teacher. I am being a baby about it, I know, but I thought doing the light lifting would help in the meantime. Holy sh*t, I was wrong. I can barely sit up. Feels like someone is corkscrewing into the lower-right of my back.

Ryan said I need to have more posts with Barack Obama in the tags, so his tag gets bigger than A-Rod’s. Fair enough. I’m not sure how what I’m about to say fits with Obama, but I’ll see if I can connect them.

Today’s [insert series of intellectually disparaging adjectives] column to the contrary, I like Bill Simmons. I even bought his book, The Book of Basketball, and I’m enjoying it. It’s less a history of basketball than one man’s history of basketball, designed to start and sustain arguments between two people or the reader and the writer (Basically, it’s a 600-page blog post). It’s pretty good, and I just got to the part where he wants to move the Basketball Hall of Fame and change its induction policy. I agree with both parts. It’s in Springfield, MA, now, and I’ve driven by it plenty of times but never had the desire to go. Not a good sign.

He says move it to Indiana, the home of basketball. At first, I thought it was ridiculous, and thought it should be in Manhattan. I don’t think that’s an inherently NY-centric view. Put it here, in the city with the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” make it a tourist attraction, and people will come.

Then I thought about it some more, and came up with a better idea. If we’re going to blow it up and move it, why not make it its own tourist attraction?

That’s what the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but that’s its own thing. No one’s going to go to Indiana just to see the basketball Hall of Fame. Basketball simply doesn’t draw on its past the way baseball does, so there’s no reason to think that people will go to Indiana just to be in Indiana, the way people flock to upstate New York just to go there. No: there needs to be another draw.

So here’s what I was thinking. Put it in Indiana if you want. Or Chicago. Or Vegas, ideally, but that ain’t going to happen. But make it a destination by making the HOF only part of the draw. Put it next to a golf course. Better yet, have dozens of open basketball courts, like the US Tennis Center has tennis courts. Have open play available for visitors who otherwise have put their balling days behind them. Use the courts to play High School championships and for summer camps. Put restaurants, bars, and hotels on campus. Make it a both a bachelor party and family destination where the groups can split up. “What are you doing today?” “Oh, I’m going to hit the pool and play in the 3 p.m. pickup game.” “Nice. I’m going to check out the Celtics exhibit.” “I saw it yesterday, and it’s awesome.” Etc.

I’d put $500 on it for a weekend, wherever that was. You know who else would? President Obama.

There you go.

The Play

They start in the spring. They being practicing as a mass, knowing that in a few months their numbers will be whittled to 53.

The summer comes along, and it’s time for cuts. Every day, the players but their asses to make the NFL. At the end of the month, some do, some don’t. The ones that do have one charge: win football games.

In an average football game, there are 125 plays, on average. You can lose the game on almost all of them, but you cannot win the game on most of them.

So when you get to 4th-and-“2” (really 1) against the best team in football, in their stadium, with the statistics in your favor and an all-time great staring you down, and you finally have a chance to win the game*, do you take it? For months, you’ve practiced and practiced and been taught to execute. Would you take that one chance?

I would, and Bill Belichick would. I’ve heard talking heads say he “disrespected” his team and that he “didn’t trust” it. Nothing could be further from the truth. He trusted his team to make 4th-and-2, and win them the game. He played to win the game. He understands what he is there to do.

Too many times in football and outside of it, people make the easy decision to save themselves, to look better. Belichick did what was right, not worrying about the consequences outside the lines. He ought to be commended.

The one good thing about the Pats’ failure on the play (if they even failed) is it exposed so many football analysts and writers as just fundamentally misunderstanding of the game. The list is long. Bill Simmons. Rodney Harrison. Peter King. Tedy Bruschi. Tony Dungy. Tom Jackson. Keyshawn Johnson. More, more, and more.

Make no mistake — they are wrong. Bill Belichick played to win the game, and he lost.

* Despite what he said, there actually was no guarantee of a win. The Colts take their timeouts after two running plays, and the Pats run a third to move the clock down. That gives Peyton the ball on the 20 or so with about a minute remaining if there’s no first down. That, I could live with.

This Headline Is Stimulating

Don’t know what to write about now that the World Series is over.

How about this: sports blogging is hard. I guess that’s why I never took to it for long stretches of time. You have to have the energy of a coked-up rhinocerous to do it, and you basically need to eat, live and breath the Internet. Staring into a screen that long is bad enough; looking into one that’s can be so mean-spirited is worse.

The Internet is “democratized,” it’s said, in that people can now produce their own content and fight back against the traditional media. But it turns out some people just like to complain. Everyone’s a critic, and everyone who writes online has to be ready to be assailed from all angles. A thick skin is important.

What has that done to the actual content being created? It’s personalized it and made it more subjective. How could it not? The Internet has made every expert of every far-flung discipline accessible to the point where if you make a mistake in an article, there’s a good chance someone will notice, and then seventh-grade math takes over: if part of it is false, it’s all false. One day in my first newspaper job I was compiling a list of names for kids sports magazine—the kids had won an award or something. I was transferring them to our layout when my editor said, “Make sure you get all those right. I know if there’s just one spelling mistake, the whole thing’s ruined.” He said it in a way that suggested I should feel the same way. I didn’t then, but I do now. Put simply, I can deal with one upset family. (It’s called “empathy.”) But I can’t deal with hordes of screaming angry people who want to make a name for themselves by tearing down mine. Who am I, anyway?

The people who are making it on the Internet aren’t immune to this type of criticism—they just have the energy to fight back. In a lot of ways, the Internet is like talk radio. Their job is to be stimulating, using knowingly suggestive—rather than honest—headlines to draw in readers, and keeping the readers engaged by stimulating them more and more throughout the article. If you start out agreeing with them, you’ll be sold by the end. If not, you’ll be writing an angry comment. That’s the point of the whole endeavor.

To some degree, writers are now salespeople as much as they are thinkers, if not more on the former side. The ability to show up every day and hammer out a position is more important than developing any sort of grand thoughts. Some argue: hey, this is how it should always have been, writers should earn it. To which I say: bullshit. If the Internet is as important as they say it is, newspapers were at least that important before, and writing from a position of responsibility to the readers was the hardest part of the job description. Now writers write from a position of reponsibility to themselves. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

P.S. Happy Birthday, mom.

Behold the World Series. Behold the Limericku.

We gather here tonight, on my couch, to observe the Festivus of the baseball season. The World Series begins in two days between the Yankees and the Phillies. With the talk of lawsuits and Met exasperation in the air, it’s time to break down this series, Bryan Joiner-style. That’s right: it’s time for the Limericku.

For those of you who don’t know about the Limericku, it’s a limerick with a haiku tucked into it. It’s the literary equivalent of a Morkie, the half-man, half-Yorkie dog like my brother owns: it doesn’t exist in nature, but we went and one-upped sh*t. William Shakespeare would be rolling over in his grave but only in sheer amazement.

Here are the haikus we’ll be using, written in a haste over some aged grape juice, following the traditional rules of haiku:

1

Yankees teem* in autumn

Against the halogen lights—

Crack toward victory

(* not a typo)

2

Philadelphia

Has owned its championship

For all the seasons

3

A new fall classic

Will end in less than two weeks

A title, bestowed

These are the building blocks. The foundations, if you will. (You will.) I have constructed Limericks around them, remembering that Limericks are meant to be flippant. Behold the Limerickii:

1

The Phillies think that they got’em

The Yankees teem in autumn

Against the halogen lights

Crack toward victory, they fight

And all the good players, they bought’em

2

The Mets fans moaned

‘Cuz Philadelphia has owned

Its championships for all

the seasons, from Fall

To Fall, the NL they’ve T-boned

3

With winter around the bend

A new fall classic will end

In less than two weeks

A title bestowed, a peak

For the team that next year will defend

Of course, if you removed the haikus from the limerickii you also get poems. And these poems also rule.

1

The Phillies think they got’em

They fight

And all the good players, they bought’em (Not entirely true, but not bad!)

2

The Mets fans moaned

From fall to fall

The NL they’ve T-boned (actually not that bad, if you consider the Mets a giant car wreck. Which they are.)

3

With winter around the bend

A peak for the team

That next year will defend (alright!)

I don’t know what else to tell you, except to remember where you were when the limericku was invented. You’ll be telling your kids. And remember that the World Series inspired it. I’m so happy that I invented a whole new way of communicating. If the Yankees win, I won’t be happy any more, but the Limericku will still exist. No matter what, we all win.