A kind of death happens when your basketball team loses in the Final Four. It’s not quite like biological death in that the humans who comprised the squad continue to breathe and all that, but the team itself no longer exists and never will again, and you feel as though you lived and died several times during the game. Even if there is a consolation match left to play, it’s entirely irrelevant and will likely include benchwarmers who never would have appeared in the championship game anyway, had the team gone that far.
This was to be a synergistic year for the Syracuse basketball Orange, in my mind. The last time they played in the Final Four was 10 years ago this weekend, when they won it all for the first and only time. I was in Italy when it happened, listening over the internet to the semi-final game in the lobby of our hotel in Siena and, two days later, to the final in some airless common room in our hotel in Florence. The championship game ended at nearly 6 in the morning local time when Hakeem Warrick blocked a 3 point shot by a Kansas player, and later that night I asked my girlfriend to marry me. As weekends go, it was a pretty good one.
Whenever my teams end their season with a playoff loss (as the vast majority of our teams do), I remind myself to be an adult about it and try not to care. Sometimes, I go so far as to declare that I’m done with watching sports, which, of course, is the opposite of not caring. There are plenty of reasons to abandon the pastime of watching other people get exercise and have fun, notably that it sucks up huge chunks of time, but not watching because your team probably won’t win the ultimate game is essentially about avoiding pain.
I keep watching because the joy of a rare title game victory trumps the hurt of watching the other fans celebrate year after year. Alas, there wasn’t perfect synergy this year as I had hoped, but I still have the memory of ten years ago, when the Orange were crowned national champions, and my girlfriend became my fiancé.
The tools of my father’s trade – pencils, adding machines, Redweld folders – earned him money as an accountant, but didn’t help much when the roof leaked or toilet clogged, which they did regularly. My mother recognized his limitations and decided that I, her lone male child, should acquire some of the blue collar skills that my father lacked, in part so that she didn’t have to fork out $120 for a guy to haul his half-exposed bottom to our house when the sink got stopped up (plus an additional $85 an hour and the inflated cost of parts). I therefore learned some plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, and, later, some light automobile maintenance, mostly via trial and a great deal of error.
I gave up virtually all car repair tasks at a certain point in my adulthood, realizing that the trade requires not just specialized skill, but also lots of tools that cost more money to buy than having someone else do the work for you. Who among us didn’t try to change his own oil and filter at least once “to save money,” only to find that he’d saved nothing, least of all time, after buying an oil pan, funnel, and filter-removal tool. Plus, there was all that oil sitting your garage for the next 3 years.
Which brings me to this point in my tradesman history, in which I find myself once again attempting to learn a new skill in order to “save money,” this time bicycle repair. Having undertaken the very benign task of replacing my bike chain, only to find that this has caused my bike to stop working because the new chain slips on the worn crank, I’ve bought myself some specialized tools to replace the crank and, as the bike mechanics suggested I do at the same time, the “bottom bracket,” an essential part that I now believe I may have stripped and, therefore, ruined. Oh, the part doesn’t cost much – maybe $30 – but if you can’t get it out of the bike, the only solution is to get a new frame, i.e. a new bicycle. At least I can assert, with genuine honestly, that I have learned something new yet again.
I’m not what you call a breakfast cereal fanatic, but I like to pad my morning meal of whole fruit with a bowl or so of some grainy, crunchy stuff, often granola with nuts and raisins, and sometimes something puffy and ricey and a bit sweet. Lately, I have been looking at the labels and selecting cereals that are lower in calories in an effort to trim down a bit. Enter the cunningly named “Ezekiel 4:9” after the bible passage that urges Hebrews of yesteryear to make bread with ingredients as hard as stone.
The trickery is not in the cereal itself, but in the pricing, which must have been arrived at by imagining the cost of the ingredients in 590 or so B.C., then adjusting for inflation. I tend to multitask when I visit my local overpriced market, calling friends or reading spam whilst selecting my cereal, and not always remembering to check the cost of spelt-infused varieties. In this case, it wasn’t until I was back at the office and had open the box that I noticed that Ezekiel 4:9 cost me $9.29. (For 16 ounces).
Take Unto Thee This God-Awful Concoction And See if You Can Choke it Down
On the bright side, lots of millet became nestled in between my teeth, which fed me throughout the morning and kept me from getting hungry.
The first post-college work I got paid for was temping in the cafeteria at the Bristol plant in Syracuse, NY, while working at night to reface the kitchen cabinets in my parents’ home, where I was living rent-free. Hard work, and yet these were not what I’d call “real jobs.” But I couldn’t afford to take a real job right out of school: I had grand designs on traveling across country and using the experience to write my first novel, or screenplay, or something like that (also not a real job). I labored day and night at these quasi-jobs from late May until early August, then packed up my car and headed west toward Rochester, NY, where my girlfriend was staying with her sister, and from there out to South Dakota and Wyoming, and, ultimately, California.
Two months later, I was back in Boston, where I found more work, canvassing for MassPIRG in an effort to get some clean water legislation passed. This employment only lasted six weeks or so. Looking for money by knocking on doors feels a little like begging (the ultimate hard work that is nevertheless not a “real job”), and furthermore, canvassing requires you to interact with people who despise your political views, while you stand on their property (which they hate) and get rained on. However, during those fateful six weeks, I struck up a friendship with a guy who was leaving his job at MassPIRG in order to work for the Boston Phoenix newspaper, an alternative weekly that had been started in the late 1960s. At the last minute, this new friend decided, instead, to take a job with his dad (Bill Moyers!), and told the Phoenix that I might be an OK replacement candidate, given my interest in writing. I interviewed, and soon thereafter was offered the position of editorial assistant. I’ll always regard this as my “first real job out of college”: I had my own desk, a phone, and, since this was the 1980s, my own ashtray into which I could stub out cigarettes. Neither of my other “first jobs” gave me an ashtray. I had finally arrived!
I missed my first morning of work at the Phoenix because I was due in court that Monday, having been arrested the previous Friday night with an “open container” – i.e. a can of beer I was sipping. My sentence was to do 40 hours of community service, which I fulfilled by volunteering at St. Francis House, a homeless day-shelter in Boston. To this day, my regular charitable contributions go to this shelter, and because of that, my bi-weekly paycheck is a constant reminder of my having been arrested at 22 years old, and of having missed my first morning of work at the Phoenix.
Last week, the Boston Phoenix announced it would cease operations after producing one final issue. Alas, yet another newspaper bites the dust, this time a publication that I actually cared about. The Phoenix wasn’t perfect – particularly because no one was paid very well – but it was exciting and “alternative,” and not only did it report on politics and crime, which, as we all know, are often one and the same, but devoted a great deal of space to the arts. Who didn’t consult the Phoenix regularly to find out which plays or films to see, or, more essentially, which bands would be passing through town? Even when I was in college, the Phoenix arrived free of charge on campus on Thursdays as “B.A.D.” – an acronym referring to its earlier incarnation as “Boston After Dark.”
The demise of the Phoenix is hardly a shock, of course. Everyone wants to get their content free these days, and advertisers have left newspapers and magazines in favor of getting in your face when you surf for flip-flops online. Maybe the only way for publications to survive is to exist in the ether rather than in physical offices (or, even better, at the local Starbucks, the way neighborhood “Patch” publications do it.)