The loss to Oregon State caused me to withdraw from the internet, television, newspapers and all forms of mass communication including but not limited to tin can-and-wire, shouting, smoke signals, imagined telepathy, real telepathy, gazing, ham radio, nostril flaring via elaborate mirror setups running along the beautiful oceanic stretch of Highway 1 from Cambria to Santa Cruz, the maritime code book, and talking. This is the first time I’ve been online since that terrible, terrible Thursday.
Apparently David Foster Wallace is dead.
This happened sometime around the fourth or fifth touchdown USC scored against poor, hapless, resurgent Ohio State, which was a week and a half before Oregon State, which means I am an idiot of elephantine proportions. Perhaps idiot isn’t the right word, but I do feel idiotic.
I like(d) DFW. “Genius” gets thrown around a lot these days, but he was a genius. More to the point of this blog, he was also an athlete who admired what athleticism represents, whatever that is (and DFW never claimed to know.) More than anyone else in the world he made me feel it was alright to ascribe awe, religiosity and mysticism to sports. He readily admitted, even after writing three essays about tennis and tennis players and an 1,100 page novel involving a tennis playing main character, he still couldn’t explain how Roger Federer does what he does. I have come to terms with the idea that I will never truly understand what happens on a college football field until I become a member of a Division I-A college football coaching staff and, in excruciating detail, review the tape. DFW, like Brian – whose own DFW obit I took, in absurdly monstrous dullness, as just a kind of “Hey, this guy is great. He’s not dead or anything. I simply wanted to explain how great he is,” further spiraling me into obtuse hell: I read most of it, glossing over some bits and recalling, very fondly, the beauty of footnote #17 from “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” but I still somehow missed the bit about suicide and, filing it in my internet cabinet of Things To Read And Do Later, assumed Brian was making a very accurate comparison between himself and DFW, and, yes, that’s all about as stupid as it gets – would very likely have been the kind of guy who’d break down game tape and watch it fully and comprehensively no matter the current situation, be that terminal illness, coitus or crippling spiritual agony due to a loss.
I can only imagine a DFW essay about college football. Very likely he would be funny, sardonic, baffled and intrigued. There is something about the suffocating, all-consuming coverage of college football he’d riff on, and in extremely humane and agreeable terms. He’d have done it recursively, and then doubt himself in that pathologically remarkable way that, for me, more than the footnotes, abbreviations and clauses, made DFW DFW. He also had an eye for detail that made its best effect in his essays, which were always fair to their subject and more often than not the kind of thing that made you think, “Holy shit, are all magazines full of this kind of stuff? What have I been missing out on after decades of not reading The Atlantic? Fuck fuck fuck,” but actually not that howlingly despairing because it’s a salve to the soul not reading more stuff by guys much, much smarter than you, but still: he was good, and you knew it the moment you read paragraph one, i.e. pages 1-6.
And it took me almost a month to find out DFW is dead. I suppose that’s the kind of detail he’d have included in an essay about college football: this guy is serious about the game, he obsesses about it, he doesn’t even know there’s a recession going on much less the fact that the author is dead by his own hand, etc.
So where does this leave me? This isn’t some promise to myself about being more involved with the world. I will continue to be obsessed with college football. And it’s completely absurd to think I won’t be devastated the next time USC loses.
I think I need to write more. That’s about it. I haven’t written much over the past year, so that’s a pretty solid hard fact to bang my head against. It’s been a pleasant nine months of stationary 40-hours-a-week life. I have money in my pockets and whiskey in my glass and a heavily monopolized daily routine of work, friends and ritual. Not traveling reminds me of the non-romantic bits they exclude on the Travel Channel: gas station showers, shitty cheap food, constant paranoia, 14-20 year old British citizens, etc. It really is nice to be in one place for an extended period of time without worrying about an expiring visa. But re-reading DFW’s essay on Roger Federer recalls the warm comfort I felt in my sternum, radiating outward with gauzy familiarity, after recognizing a fellow traveler in the well invested but rarely believable realm of Sport-As-Truth, Or-At-Least-A-Kind-Of-Truth. Some guys choose comic books or jazz or cars or porn as their personal cross to bear, a fetish they believe reflects the world in ways very few people realize. This kind of devotion to genre is admirable from within, occassionally repulsive and incomprehensible from without. Knowing everything there is to know about DC cosmology, or Charlie Parker, or 1967 the automotive year, or the shifting axis of power between central Europe and the San Fernando Valley: these things matter to devotees because they are the accumulations of Biblical or rabbinic or whatever-text knowledge, which is not itself understanding but at least one way towards understanding.
I firmly believe DFW and I can agree that sports matter. He was a giant who will be remembered for his words, and for killing himself and depriving the world of an intellect so radiant it literally hurt to read his work, a throbbing behind the eyes that came directly from those areas of your brain responsible for piecing together clauses and signalling, klaxon-like, the approach of someone so far above you it’d be better if you’d just bury your head in a pillow instead of continuing to read this wonderful but depressing thing. I don’t think a young DFW imagined he’d be remembered as a sportswriter, but I do think some of his most personal moments on paper came via sports. They were so very often relevatory, so very often the kind of thing I needed to read at 3 a.m. I crave that. I had, I think, forgotten I crave that after two or three months of monotonous sifting of beat reporters’ resigned repetition of each other’s words and the absurd and ill-conceived talking points of columnists and talking heads, from spring ball to the day before Oregon State.
Now I want to find my lost copy of Consider the Lobster, and maybe finally garrote the person who never returned A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. They both contain essays on sports, the kind I’ve been talking about: beautiful, meandering, a little bit sad, always authoritative but never dogmatic, occassionally miraculous, and very much willing to stand back and say, “That’s just grotesque.” He had the chops and the rep to write this kind of stuff and actually get it published, full formed, without tacking on the neat little coda all sports stories are required to have. It’s literally insane they let him do this kind of thing. It wasn’t like DFW was this physical force of nature like Hunter S. Thompson, who’d pull a gun on you rather than have a foul adjective edited into mere libel. He was a dove. But he wrote like a convict: deep in it, unafraid of censure, maybe even a little addled by the walls and the solitary but somehow still a bit sweet, like doing time is enough to make innocence seem more tangible. It’s amazing stuff, and, shit, it’s about tennis – but I crave it. Truth be told, though, I’d much rather write right now even though it’s obvious I’m not going to fully satisfy that craving by writing what I want to read because 1) I’m no DFW and 2) it’s a craving that cannot be fully satisfied. Still, it seems like the important thing is to write.
USC 41, ASU 16; but it’s gonna be a more interesting post if things don’t go smoothly so, just this once, for David Foster Wallace, maybe I’m hoping things don’t go that smoothly.