Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Approach to Ann Arbor

My life for the past year or so has been essentially summarized by a Scotsman.

For those of you who are not familiar: I drove more than 17,000 miles across 30 states for 90 consecutive days to watch 25 live college football games in 2007. I’ve explained this bit to many people. It’s become an easy way for my friends to introduce me to others: “He went on this crazy college football road trip last year. He got arrested in Texas. He dropped a bit of acid in New Orleans. Barbeque was involved. Etc.,” but it is rare that anything is actually communicated. Most nod and acquiesce to the vaguely epic feel of the tale; very few grab my hand a second time and shake firmly. Those who do have a certain look in their eyes.

The plot is as follows: a man, the incredulous and fugitive student whom we already know, falls among people of the vilest class and adjusts himself to them, in a kind of contest of infamy. All at once – with the miraculous consternation of Robinson Crusoe faced with the human footprint in the sand – he perceives some mitigation in this infamy: a tenderness, an exaltation, a silence in one of the abhorrent men. “It was as if a more complex interlocutor had joined the dialogue.” He knows that the vile man conversing with him is incapable of this momentaneous decorum; from this fact he concludes that the other, for the moment, is the reflection of a friend, or of the friend of a friend. Rethinking the problem he arrives at a mysterious conviction: some place in the world there is a man from whom this clarity emanates; some place in the world there is a man who is this clarity. The student resolves to dedicate his life to finding him.

The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim (1936), Jorge Luis Borges

I’m not Al-Mu’tasim, the origin of clarity and beauty. I’m not even his direct antecedent, who is in fact a fat and happy Parisian bookseller. I’m pretty far down the rung, but probably somewhere above Trev Alberts. I’ve seen more live college football games in one season than anyone, I think, and the kind of people who find that important light up when they hear about my travels. It must be, for them, like a cross between meeting Charlie Lindbergh and the Bearded Lady and her Lobster Lad. Both parties represent something extraordinary in humanity, the very limits of our physical and spiritual expectations. They dwell in opposite ends of fame: one a hero and the others freaks. By comparing ourselves to these examples of distortion and improbability we reach conclusions about what is normal and what is acceptable – but in some mysterious way, just by knowing of these people, we still extend into that otherworldly realm where weird shit happens that shouldn’t, and thus the boundaries are pushed back a little more.

Which is to say: if you plan on living in your car for three straight months, bring a fan with an independent energy source. Only a freak(ishly idiotic person) like me would realize that somewhere near Tennessee, and not, say, California.

I don’t think I need to tell Alex Massie, the Scotsman mentioned above, any of this. I’d probably only need to lay out the metrics – 17,000, 30, 25, 90 – and he’d get that look in his eye and shake my hand again, firmly. Read his article. He calls American sports teams “sides”, which is amusing to someone who had to call tenderloins “fillets” for several years, and he didn’t mention anything about the dark, monstrous emotions lifelong college football fans know as their blood type – it’s only a matter of time, certainly not perseverance – but he strikes the nail and he strikes it true: there is no other sport in America as American as college football.

One can sense this Scotsman is a searcher. Like me, and like the law student in the fictional book Borges “reviews” above, he senses there must be some central source of divinity that has left its mark on others, who in turn have passed on their share and created a whole nation of people endowed with a shard of the immutable properties of the universe, i.e. the 4th quarter comeback. He need only ask Colorado fans who remember 1994, or Boston College fans who remember 1984, or college football fans who remember 2007, and he will have met someone who also believes that this game offers a view into something highly Other. He probably wonders what the hell Conference USA is, and is likely intrigued by this East Carolina University prodigy despite its evident abnormality. He is undoubtedly very sensitive to the tidal change in Ann Arbor and, if he were a student of the classics, would compare it to Zeus and his war with Cronus, except that would also mean imagining Rich Rod killing Lloyd Carr in a necessary act of patricide. As a foreigner he might sense the terrifying, absolute beauty of this game, and reading anything intimating such is unreasonably gratifying for me.

I have no doubt that college football will continue to be the epitome of American sports, but it’s nice to have new converts. Clarity implies the seer and the seen, after all, so one more crazy fan is always welcome.

(HT: MGoBlog)

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Filed under Big Ten, One CFB Road Trip to rule them all

A review of What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales And Chris Long

Nobody has written for the stage with as much power and verve as ABC/ESPN, and yet the venerable playwright has been for some time now regarded as a relic of the past. This seems only fitting given a recent output whose high water mark is Comin’ To Your Citay, or, A(n) (A)Moral Tale (2006), an odious play which still featured the signature rat-a-tat dialogue made so famous in years past.

“ABC/ESPN,” wrote David Mamet in a guest review of Citay in The Economist, “may be slumming it right now, but the rest of us could only wish we were so gloriously dilapidated. This may be bad, but it’s still viscera. It’s blood and guts. It’s bone marrow. I wanted to smash my own face in shame knowing that even in repose, even in winter, ABC/ESPN could put this on a stage. Some day the truth will flare out and expose us all for the hacks we are, but until then I will continue going to the theater because I have no choice: it’s either ABC/ESPN, or the ledge.”

Though Mamet was a bit effusive in his praise of a minor work, he struck the chord: we were wrong to ever doubt ABC/ESPN’s ability to again seize the stage. Witness What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales and Chris Long (Nederlander Theater, 208 W. 41st St., 212-921-8000), a return to form so stunning in scope and audacity, so replete with energy and abandon, so utterly ABC/ESPN it makes the entire preceding decade’s worth of theater gray and dull in comparison. This new work is nothing short of the finest piece of American drama since we lost Arthur Miller to Marilyn Monroe. It demands to be seen. Like all great drama, it insists.

At times its blatant sexuality is overpowering, a kind of unctuous musk that leaves the theater dim and ungraceful. But that is rare. For the most part ABC/ESPN handles the scenes between Dales and Long with a light hand, letting the tension build slowly until even the audience is practically gasping for release. It is a pleasure to watch and be a part of: a vision so audacious one wonders how a nation founded by Puritans could possibly countenance this kind of out-and-out carnality in a place the Greeks considered sacred. But don’t let the talk of angry protesters fool you: this is art, High Art, and we can only be grateful that at long last ABC/ESPN has returned.

An excerpt from What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales And Chris Long:

DRAMATIS PERSONAE, in order of appearance

BRAD NESSLER, a perfum’d Rasputin with the voice of Bacchus.

STACEY DALES, the golden haired Amazon of the sidelines and daughter to the king of the WNBA.

CHRIS LONG, the number two pick of the draft and herald to Teri Hatcher.

BOB GRIESE, deposed king of Florida and father to the son of Bob Griese.

PAUL MAGUIRE, a crazed pauper.

PRINCES, COUNCILMEN, BARONS, GUARDS, MEN-AT-ARMS, SOLDIERY, SQUIRES, CITIZENS, LAWYERS, MUSICIANS, FISHMONGERS, etc.

Act One, Scene One

A stirring war-like processional is sounded. A video montage lights the back of the stage, showing CHRIS LONG in sudden, shocking violence: decapitating a quarterback, bending iron to his will, holding aloft the skulls of his enemy. It is impossible to turn away from this spectacle. Enter BRAD NESSLER. He is wearing a purple chiffon bath robe, with the belt only halfway done. We can see his gleaming mahogany chest and his dark curling chest hair with ease, and he knows we can. NESSLER takes his time in lighting a long black cigarillo. The theater is filled with the smell of week old bananas and coco butter, and something darker and sinister underneath. He inhales and exhales luxuriously, watching the brutal footage of LONG. NESSLER seems to approve.

NESSLER: Well, Virginia lookin’ for stars like they had last year. In Chris Long they certainly had a super star last year. First team All-American. Number two draft choice in the NFL draft. He was Mr. Everything, Mr. Hustle. And he created havoc in a lot of ACC backfields last year as he led this team in sacks. And he’s here on the old stompin’ grounds with Stacey.

Enter STACEY DALES. She is impossibly tall. She wields a triangular mace with ease in one hand. At her back is a retinue of naked Amazonian HONOR GUARDS, their hair cropped short and their nakedness contrasted with the spears and shields they wield. They dance slowly behind her, a warrior dance: aggressive, dangerous, razor-sharp. DALES is unconcerned with their movements. She is focused.

DALES: Well Brad I’ve got Chris standing here with me. Now Chris, obviously you’re an integral part of this program. How has life changed though going into the NFL?

The center stage pit opens and, as Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra plays, CHRIS LONG emerges from beneath. LONG is wearing the half beard of a warrior gone to ground, unsure when his next respite may come. He is also, for some reason, wearing a backpack.

LONG: You know, it’s changed a lot. You know, I’m adjusting to it pretty well, uh, but having a weekend off and being able to come back here is really great.

DALES: What adjustments would you make with the defense right now, up 21 points for USC?

LONG, clearly irritated: Well you know, they’re doing their thing in there, running some zone plays. But, uh, I think the offense just has to get ‘em out of the hole a little bit. They’ll catch up.

DALES: Alright Chris, I have something. I always come bearing gifts. It even has a little grass in it.

Fire shoots up from the back, and the lighting focuses on DALES’ hand as her HONOR GUARD writhe like serpents, undulating and bowing to what she holds. It is a SANDWICH. It is glistening unhealthily. Enter BOB GRIESE and PAUL MAGUIRE. GRIESE absentmindedly kicks MAGUIRE whenever the latter gets too close. MAGUIRE is dressed in tatters, and is very obviously unhinged. They both stare at the SANDWICH and the HONOR GUARD hungrily. LONG is trying not to stare, but he can’t help it.

DALES: Now this is Little John’s Chris Long sandwich.

NESSLER chuckles. It is an unpleasant chuckle, and he makes it even more uncomfortable by undoing his bathrobe even more. Now there is only the tiniest of material between the audience and NESSLER’s flesh.

DALES: Yes, that’s right folks: he’s got his own sandwich, the twelve inch steaker.

Everyone freezes and stares at DALES. The light turns a voluptuous crimson and the music acquires a low bass rumble. From here on in everyone moves with a slow lushness, a knowing kind of half samba, half tango.

DALES: Um. Well first of all, do you want the sandwich?

LONG: Uh, uh, I don’t eat the sandwich before ten at night. It tastes better late at night.

NESSLER, MAGUIRE and GRIESE cackle, throwing their hands up in supplication and delight. A thudding basso drum is struck once, twice, three times.

DALES, slightly unbelieving: It tastes better late at night.

LONG grins and gyrates.

DALES: Now, what happens if I give it to you? Do you think a fan might want it?

LONG: I think I can find a fan. I mean there’s 60,000 people, somebody’s hungry. We’ll give ‘em a sandwich, yeah.

In the background is the low sussuration of 60,000 voices desirous of a sandwich, of the SANDWICH and all it represents. DALES cannot help but be affected. She moves in the trance state of the hunter and the hunted.

DALES: And lastly, did you choose the ingredients? Because I gotta be honest with you: I dunno if I’m eatin’ this.

LONG: I didn’t choose the ingredients, but hey Little John’s they make good sandwiches. Uh, you know a lotta people tell me it’s actually alright.

DALES: Alright, thanks for taking the time, Chris. Back to you Brad.

NESSLER bows to DALES. He swishes his bathrobe belt, and sticks his hip out to one side.

NESSLER: Somebody would probably want him to autograph the bun, if he took it out in the crowd.

MAGUIRE and GRIESE giggle uncontrollably. MAGUIRE begins scratching himself as if he’s covered in a thousand bugs, but GRIESE is there to slap him and return him to the present world. NESSLER turns to them as if to ask, “Do you want something you wretches?”

MAGUIRE and GRIESE: [Indecipherable mumbling.]

A beat.

MAGUIRE: Put, put some mayonnaise on that baby!

Exeunt all.

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