Hi Friends, it's a pleasure to be typing again on this spontaneous essay. I've posted about 11,000 words so far, and I haven't managed to get quite to where I hoped. It isn't that I've stumbled into topics more important than the ones I hoped to shed light on. If you're in the woods on a deer-hunting trip and you discover a dead body, obviously you should abandon your original purpose. In my case, it's as if I went on a deer-hunting trip, got coughed on, got sick, lost my party, wandered around, discovered a creek with a little falls, and just sat down next to it, and eventually put my feet in it....
That's a terrible analogy. Oh well....But earlier this year, I did sit down at the kitchen table with my mother on a trip back to Ohio. I had a pencil and a piece of paper, and with a few crude diagrams and about twenty minutes of talking, I managed to explain to her how American football was a symbolic re-enactment of the forceful, strategic, violent, and successful acquisition of the American continent from its native inhabitants by English speakers. And she understood it! Because, by grace, the ideas rolled succinctly and swiftly off the tongue. I will cling to that, and hopefully I can approximate it before I'm done here on BAP.
Trying to take that trip, though, or rather give that trip, in a more scenic, prosaic, and reputable way has proven a different and difficult undertaking. If anyone out there has found anything I've typed enjoyable or interesting at all to this point, I'm thankful, because in some ways I don't know if I've even found my way into the starting gate. Regardless, I'm going to pick up where I left off in the last post, which was in the late Roman empire. We're going to look at an idea that I call "The Gladiator Fallacy" and examine the similarities and differences between the Roman games and American football.
THE GLADIATOR FALLACY: When the fans, owners, players, and marketers of the NFL acknowledge their game as having an historical precedent, they point to the sporting tradtion of one place and time: the Ancient Republic of Rome. I don't know about you, but it makes me shiver a little as an American citizen, because the last thing we like thinking of ourselves as is the next Ancient Rome. But that's another topic altogether....
How does American football relate to the Roman gladiator tradtion? Besides the Roman numerals with which the NFL tallies its Super Bowls? Besides the fact that the NFL's logo is a war implement from a pre-gunpowder world? That's what I'm trying to figure out. "Football players are gladiators." This is something we've all heard said many times, and maybe have even said ourselves. Google managed to find this exact sentence 1,010 times in .59 seconds. And it's not only the way the players are understood from the outside by media and fans, it's the way that they understand themselves. Grappling to make sense of the suicide of retired linebacker Junior Seau, Bengals great Takeo Spikes invoked his Roman antecedents in the following way: “We are so prideful in the way people view us as modern-day gladiators, how tough we are, how we can fight through anything and keep it all inside.” There is even an AFL team called the Cleveland Gladiators.
Recently, there was a rather vivid example of the cultivation of the gladiator connection. If you are a fan of the NFL, it's likely that you saw it, as the image went fairly viral. September 11, 2014, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of the most ferocious players in the league, without a shred of irony, donned a metal gladiator's helmet and entered M&T stadium in a wild display of smoke and drums. For this, Suggs was fined over $5,000 - more than what he paid for the mask on a trip to Italy. As for the fine and fines like it, I find them all ridiculous, but I'll save those opinions for another day. What deserves our real attention is the way that a contemporary American crowd was effortlessly able to comprehend and contextualize Suggs' gesture. They got it, and they cheered.
So what are the similarities? In both activities, paragons of male physicality are made a spectacle. Gladiators and football players, watched by the rowdy masses, compete with great intensity at high risk, violent activities that require armor of some sort. For this high risk competition, they train vigorously - physically, mentally, and spiritually. As for the tiered, billion dollar, mostly open-air structures in which today's armored, helmeted specimens of manhood collide, they actually still go by the same Latin word they did in Ancient Rome. Football is played in a stadium. Fans view the live action from sightlines thousands of years old in their viewing distance and angles, and there is, in that, a deep connection. There is a mutually altering, energetic, and ancient relationship between the men at the center of the stadium and the men that watch in the tiered seats, and Suggs tapped into it.
But to me, this is where the connections seem to end. There is a major difference between the gladiatorial games and a game like American football. When the action commences in an American football stadium, the men on the field do not participate in the war activities of the contemporary civilization in which the games take place. And that is actually a GIGANTIC value difference. Truthfully, I don't even know what it would look like if they did compete in contemporary war activities. What would they do? The closest thing that you see to an implement of contemporary war at a football stadium is the occasional pre-game flyover, and perhaps manned bombers aren't even contemporary in this new world of computerized drones....In the Roman games, though, gladiators used the gladius, the standard issue sword of the Roman army. They protected themselves with shields. They rode contemporary war chariots around in a loop and threw contemporary Austrian manganese steel-tipped spears at one another. American football players, however, do no such thing. Nor do they face off against the wildest beasts that trade might funnel towards the empire's urban center (lions, tigers, and bears); what sort of gladiatorial tradition are we witnessing then we watch it? The participants do not even go galloping towards one another on horse-back, wearing metal armor, carrying jousting poles, in honor of the English language (ha). But rather, as said before, the players attempt to possess a prolate spheroid leather ball (of which there is only one) forward toward a goal, and they do it all within a strict set of rules which developed here in America. Yes, they do tackle one another and block one another; very hard, in fact; often tragically, life-alteringly hard. But was there ever a war that was fought by literal blocking and tackling? None that I can think of. So how can football even be referred to as a "war game?"
The answer to that is actually easy. Football is a war game in the way that chess is a war game. Both are symbolic war games. The difference is that in the game of chess, we're abundantly aware that the game is symbolic; this is because chess is entirely symbolic. To play chess requires little to no physical strain and involves little to no physical coordination. When you take an opponent's "king," ending the game, all you're literally doing is placing a plastic or wooden figurine onto a square on a checkered board, and taking a different figurine up into your victorious hand. This is very different than a defensive end slamming a quarterback into the turf, or that deadly accurate specialist, the kicker, booting a ball through the uprights as time expires.
Now, this isn't to say that American football, as a symbolic war game played out by real men, doesn't play at physical activities and capacities that aren't useful in a real war situation. Players must have the ability to run; they must have physical strength, stamina, and the ability to focus on a task despite physical pain. They must have the ability to listen to intelligence, and translate what their ears hear all through their bodies; they must have discipline, and know how their role fits into the larger scheme; they must have the ability to understand an ever-shifting situation near instantly; they must have the ability to execute specific and specialized tasks toward a common goal; they must have the ability to remain calm and focused despite the distractions of noise and nerves; they must have no small amount of courage; they must enter a different, more intense, more violent head space, heart space, mind space to succeed....However, all this alone wouldn't make football an '"iconic" war-game. American football, like basketball, ice hockey, and modern lacrosse, the three sports that descend from Native America's great war game - is a symbolic war game played out by real men. And we'll get into some of the symbolism tomorrow.
Alright, I am going to stop here. My final post will be on Sunday night, though perhaps I might be granted another post or two to try to finish some of these ideas in this forum.
Hello Friends; I'm signing back in for the third installment of my five part spontaneous essay on American Football as an American War Game. I realize I'm on my last day of blogging, but I'm hopeful that Stacey will keep my account open so I can make the last could of posts.
REVELATION OF A CAT TOY: To begin to understand how the game of American football is a war game, and a uniquely American one at that, I think we must back up the wagon. Back it up out of the enormous frontal portions of the human brain entirely. Back it into those portions of the brain we share more intimately with our other mammalian friends....
Friends, do you have a cat? A dog? A rat? A ferret? If you do, if you have an animal living under your roof, or under the roof of a small, house-like structure in your back yard, chances are that at some point you've looked into the mirror of that animal's activities and seen something familiar. I don't mean just eating and defecating, those lowest of common denominators. I mean the loftier parts of our being: how we love, how we obey, how we rebel, even how we dream. I'll give you an example: recently, my fiance's cat Puck was sleeping on a kitchen chair. The windows were open; it was about 11 am. Outside, a neighborhood dog ttook up barking. Yip! Ip! Ip! Now Puck often hears this dog, and he pays it no mind. He's no genius; he's not going to invent clothing, or typography, or the wheel, or electricity, but he's smart enough to understand that the dog is outside, and that he is inside. On this occasion, though, the dog started barking, and Puck, without waking up, started howling that deep spooky frightening howl that cat's howl before a fight. After about five seconds, he woke himself up, leapt off the chair, and in a raging frightened puffed-up claws-out confusion bristled around for the next minute or so, still howling, looking for a dog that needed a slap. I just gaped; in the way a ringing alarm clock enters a human dream, and creates a dream where you are pressing every button on your dream alarm clock but still not turning it off, that dog had entered the dreams of a sleeping cat. The barking had entered Puck's giant ears, and the image of a dog had appeared in his little mind....Amazing.
At play, which is what I'm interested in this five part spontaneous essay, you can likewise observe that an animal's imagination functions a lot like ours do. I once co-owned an unusually playful grey tabby named Charlie; that cat was a great teacher; Charlie would slap around individually-wrapped life-savers, roll AA batteries across the floor, and run around with all manner of tiny stuffed things in his mouth. He'd drop them in the corners of the apartment, where they couldn't get away, and then slap them about in a frenzied glee. What you learn, watching a cat slap around a leaf is the following. It does not slap the leaf around because it is a leaf. It isn't thinking, "Leaf, I'm going to get you!" When a cat interacts with a leaf AS a leaf, it's typically by chewing your plants and then yakking indigestible fronds on your floor. At play, it's entirely different. The cat slaps the leaf because the leaf, once in motion, resembles something alive and antic. When the cat's imagination is added to the leaf, the leaf becomes more than itself. It becomes what it resembles in motion - a huge edible bug, a mouse with a tail. In reality, it has become something capable of preparing a cat to get an big edible bug or a mouse: a toy.
Toys are objects that require imagination. I think that counts as a true statement. When the imagination is added to an object, it becomes a toy. It become something else in the mind, something more than itself, something more real or more serious than itself...A microwave is a microwave to an adult. It's a serious enough object. It has its purpose and its place. You put your frozen dinner in there, and in just five minutes it rotates that lasagna to a creepy perfection. To a pair of children, though, playing on the floor of a kitchen, that microwave could be a cave, high on a cliff, in which an 8-inch action figure must make the decision to jump, ala Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, to reach safety (a mixing bowl full of water). The microwave becomes a toy. Rather, the "play world," which has flowed outwards from the designed toy - the action figure, the object that invites the child's imagination - has grown to include and transform the microwave into something more "serious" than a microwave. A cave high on a cliff that must be jumped out of is more serious than a microwave waiting to be turned on.
I don’t think the attitude of a man like Darren Wilson—who insists he has “no regrets” and has offered no apology to Michael Brown’s family—is typical of most law enforcement officers, most of whom take their responsibility to protect the public seriously and try to get to know the people in their community. Many of them are taking night school classes toward college degrees, and don’t get their kicks by abusing and humilitaing ordinary citizens.
Unfortunately, there’s another kind of street cop. The kind who was a “tough guy” in high school, probably played sports and bought into the culture of machismo. The kind of guy who’d hang out on the weekend with his buddies getting wasted on beer somebody’s older brother bought them. He was a bit on the wild side but never got into any serious trouble; he was just smart enough to realize it was better to be on the side of the bars where you got to go home at night.
Now he's carrying a badge and a gun. Telling nigger jokes when no black officers are around. Strutting through our community like a centurion in an army of occupation. He lacks the wisdom and maturity to defuse the situation when a young black man gives him attitude; he takes it as a personal challenge.
The Darren Wilsons of the world wouldn’t act as they do unless they knew their leaders would tolerate it. And their leaders wouldn’t tolerate it unless they knew they wouldn’t be held accountable. But all this is just part of a much bigger issue—society at large has decided that young black men are a disposable, surplus commodity. No one in the power structure would ever admit this aloud, but the decision has been made to contain and control black men by policing them and cramming them into (very profitable) prisons rather than making any real attempt to create meaningful educational and economic opportunities that would help them enter the mainstream. ("Sorry...just no room.")
Sometime soon you’ll pick up your morning paper and read about yet another young black man gunned down in suspicious circumstances. Another white officer will claim he acted in self defense. Another mostly white grand jury will decide there isn’t enough evidence for a trial.
And the will sun rise on the smoking ruins of another inner-city neighborhood.
Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents” and “Picnic on the Moon,” both published by Leapfrog Press. His poetry has appeared in a number of literary reviews and anthologies, including Poesis, The Mom Egg, Solstice Literary Review, and Urban Nature. He is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Charles’s poems have been set by a number of composers, including Beth Denisch, Julia Carey and Robert Moran. A short film based on his poem “Fortress” is currently in production by filmmaker Roberto Mighty. Charles is co-chair of the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers. He has been selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.” His novella, "Spin Cycles," will be published in September by Gemma Media.
A friend from Cambridge, England, writes:
The sexiest word in the language, I think sometimes on lovely days as I walk along tree-lined streets and look at the women in their loose summer frocks, is liquefaction. The word refers to the transformation of a substance from a solid to a liquid state. Robert Herrick (1591-1674), in one of his most beautiful short poems, captures the exact sense of the word that I have in mind.
UPON JULIA'S CLOTHES
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
-- Robert Herrick
And here is the man himself:
THE BEST THANKSGIVING EVER by Jennifer L. Knox
After the meal, Sandy decided we should spice up charades
by slapping the loser’s butt with a ping-pong paddle.
Whenever Ed got slapped, he farted because he was so nervous.
The ladies won, slapped all the men’s butts, but then what to do?
“Take off your clothes!” I told Sean, who didn’t seem like the kind
of guy who’d do such a thing—but he was, and he did. Then Jim
took off his clothes. Then John. And then the other Jim
PART II: Master Blasters
Hello friends, and Happy Thanksgiving! It's good to be back with my second installment of this spontaneous essay on American Football as an American War Game. I won't go into the reasons why, but I didn't get my second post up yesterday, so there will be two today. In any event, here is yesterday's post.
Friends, I have to say: I have not written prose outside of emails, catering event reports, and an occasional journal entry in upwards of seven years; I am clumsy in it; I don't know what to put in or take out. If you observe me hammering at the same nail too many times, or pouring water back and forth over and over between the same two bowls, there is no need to exercise patience; intead, skip ahead. I have charted a somewhat limited course for today, the day before Thanksgiving, on account of having contracted a small flu; also, it's a hideous day in New York low, gray and drizzly, one of those NY days where the dusk is fourteen hours long, and wakefulness is never fully arrived into; I don't know what bearing that has on anything, but I don't feel as great as I'd like, so will probably write less.
To give a brief overview of PART I: I recalled my first memory of watching my beloved Cincinnati Bengals. I then toddled up into my early childhood with a vague idea of finding my way through some early experiences of the NFL. The point was to to try to sniff out the consciousness-level I was walking around with at different points as a small American person. The plan was to reach the VCR, as one reaches a life-raft, then to describe a particular NFL-films VHS tape that meant a great deal to me for a period of time. I mean to discuss a pair of conflicting messages that I puzzled over as a kid, and lately have been puzzling over as an adult.
Of course that goal was not reached. I made my way off the floor and to the VCR, but instead ended up stuck on the experience of rewatching a single Bengals victory as a first-grader. Portrait of a lunatic fan in his thermal pajamas! Revisiting that particular Monday Night game from 1986 was illuminating. An unusual optimism regarding the Bengals has flowed from my disposition for as long as I can remember; it has flowed in the improbable way that water flows from a struck rock; it was confounding to my peers all through the '90s; it was confounding even to me. Now I've found the fountainhead. That optimism owes its source to the self-induced brain-washing I performed in the early mornings of 1986-1987. What separates me from your average mid-30s Bengals fan is that I have seen many many more Bengals victories than there have actually been. Oh yes! As a small boy, I once saw the Bengals win upwards of fifty football games in a single year! That the vast majority of them were all the same game matters less to the subconscious. Particularly the subconscious in its formative years. So many Bengals victories! Bengals victories as inevitabilities!
In any event, because I've gone down that Bengals path a few paces, I'll go further, and perhaps talk about that simulatneous zenith and nadir of Bengaldom: the '88-'89 Superbowl. If you are a fan of the NFL, and you have never heard an overview of the San Francisco 49ers dynasty of the '80s from the perspective of a Cincinnatian, I believe you'll get a kick out of it. But now I must return to the story of another VHS tape...
IN THE EARLY 1990s, around the time I first was able to put on pads and begin slamming into my schoolmates, I had another video cassette. This one was called Master Blasters; it was an NFL Films release, which meant Steve Sabol, balls spiraling beautifully in slow motion, crooning baritone voiceover narration - all the glories of NFL Films! Master Blasters, as you'd guess,celebrated the legacy of one very specific aspect of the game of football: bone-crushing hits. In the way the ethos of an older NFL was programmed into that Texas Instruments game, it was rolled up in that tape: Master Blasters was packed with collisions as a junkyard, and the destructive hitters it profiled were held up as heroes. You were invited to glory in watching a grainy, black-and-white Dick "Night Train" Lane send opponents' helmets somersaulting through the air with his forearms. Through the doorway of Jack Lambert's missing teeth, you entered into a knowledge of the mighty Steel Curtain. You learned a colorful langauge, that there existed position called the "wedge buster," and this "wedge buster" had to have the mentality of "a rolling ball of butcher knives" to do his job, which was run down the field on a kickoff and smash into a wall of huge men holding hands. The violence was shocking; what is now penalized was back then memorialized; there is a zero percent chance the NFL will EVER EVER EVER issue a tape like this ever again; nor should they.
Mr. Lehman,I bought the 2014 edition of The Best American Poetry a few weeks ago, and having finally found the time to begin reading it, I am struck by a question you pose in the foreword, "Does anyone anywhere buy books of poetry?" I want to tell you that I do. I'm a 30 year old mother who manages a masonry business in Evansville, Indiana, and so far this year I've bought books by Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Mary Szybist, Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, J.V. Cunningham, Margaret Atwood, Mark Doty, Anna Swir, Bob Hicok, Tomas Transtromer, Robert Bly, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, and that's just what I can remember offhand. I offer this as a small token of encouragement because I love The Best American series and I'm so grateful it exists. Poetry does matter--and not just to writers in MFA programs, or scholars walled off by dusty tomes in dying English departments--it matters to people like me who still read poems aloud to their children, who carry dog-eared copies of chapbooks in their purses to stave off impatience in inevitable waiting rooms. You probably already know we're out there, but I think it never hurts to hear a little validation.Thank you!Awaiting the 2015 edition,Mallory Rodenberg
Later, after dinner, we examine your uncle’s photos
of trees, flowers, waterfalls, birds
until I just can’t stand it another second.
I am not at one with nature. Never was.
Some of the people can be fooled all of the time,
even when you yawn right in their faces.
Guests, or ghosts, have taken over the house,
lounging in the living room, watching t.v.
Ugly images of war and politics are all I see.
Cancel the rest of the holidays, please, until this
-- Terence Winch
I'm already sick of turkey. I'm sick of the idea of it, disgusted by the thought of it, huge, pale and looming on the kitchen counter, threatening and nasty, unconciliatory like the approach to a war. Those goosebump pimples on its hide, the nasty neck looking like someone's severed penis captured and wrapped in tight plastic with dangling gizzards, bloody liver, little gobs of excess fat, it all adds up to sheer terrorism, and I won't have it. Not for the rising aroma from the oven that serves as the fireplace-replacement of our times, steely and meaningful; not for the drumstick which screams like a Medieval painting when wrenched free from its tendons, hungering peasants and small children alike.
-- Karen Resta
It’s a wonderful and rare event to come across a perfect ending. Recently I discovered one: the six words that conclude “The Faber Book of Adultery,” the opening story by Jonathan Gibbs in The Best British Short Stories 2014. I admire the story’s ending not only because it closes the narrative in a wonderfully gasp-worthy way, but because it’s a perfect little story in itself:
What precedes those words is a sex scene. The story’s protagonist, an academic as well as a writer, views adultery as the overriding subject compelling the achievements of a previous generation of writers: Roth, Cheever, Updike, Yates. Half stunned by a flirtation that’s turning into action, Mark edits in his mind each sensation as it occurs, as if he’s writing a story. His actual participation in adultery unfolds not out of lust so much as out of curiosity, his desire to cannibalize experience for his own writing, and his naïve conviction that an earlier generation led lives infused with more sexual daring—and wrote better fiction as a consequence.
Have we taught a generation of college graduates to vilify capitalism without doing it the honor of knowing how it works? Spot checks at New York’s Penn Station reveal that a vast majority of college-educated commuters do not have a clue about the relation of the prime rate to the federal funds rate, the advantage of capital gains over wages, the difference between a progressive income tax and a sales tax, the reason bond prices go up when interests rates go down, and the best age at which to start taking Social Security benefits. This test for advanced financial literary was devised by a team of professors at Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania. – DL
1) The Dow-Jones Industrial Average was created by
a) Charles H. Dow, either alone or with Edward Jones, two cofounders of the company that bears their names
b) Charles W. Dow in partnership with Samuel J. Jones, the infamous Sheriff Jones of Douglas County in the Kansas Territory
c) Standard & Poor’s
d) Dow's stepdaughters Jane and Martha Bancroft, on instructions from Clarence Barron prior to his acquisition of the company in 1902
e) Meyer Wolfsheim
2) According to the Dow Theory, there are three phases to a primary bull market and three to a primary bear market. The theory was developed by which of the following, for which purpose:
a) Charles W. Dow and Alexander Hamilton, to develop a metric to gauge the wealth factor associated with the Louisiana Purchase
b) Charles H. Dow, and refined and sustained after his death in 1903 by his understudy William Hamilton, for the purpose of predicting stock fluctuations
c) Elmer Bernstein, Carolyn Leigh, and Max Shulman, the Tony Award-winning producers of the musical comedy How Now, Dow Jones? (1967), mainly for laughs and the sheer pleasure of it but also to entertain audiences, employ actors and musicians, and make a profit at the box office, all by poking fun at the academic study of risk, economics, and finance
d) John Maynard Keynes in a 1938 letter to President Roosevelt arguing that “the present recession is partly due to an ‘error of optimism’ which led to an overestimation of future demand” and that continuation of “public works and other investments aided by Government funds or guarantees” was essential going forward.
e) Herbert Henry Dow, a grandson of the founder of Dow Chemical, in 1969, as a way to divert public attention from protests against the use of napalm, which the company manufactured, during the war in Vietnam.
3) Mutual funds are
a) An attempt by rogue elements in the legal profession to monetize the value of a married couple’s community property
b) The amount on the paycheck that is left after all taxes, charges, and fees have been deducted
c) A way for individual investors to hold a basket of stocks and other securities
d) A recurring loophole that allows high-ranking corporate executives to rent hotel rooms at clients’ expense, entertain guests there, and not have to report the sum to the IRS
e) Often cited as proof that “buy low, sell dear” remains the first rule of investing ahead of “sell in May and go away” and “the market has to climb a wall or worry”
4) Standard & Poor’s is a financial firm that
a) traces its history to the 1941 merger of Poor's Publishing and Standard Statistics
b) has Poor in its name as a warning to over-zealous investors
c) is a credit rating agency that roiled markets three summers ago by lowering the credit rating of the US government
d) publishes an index of the stock market performance of the 500 largest corporations in the United States
e) all of the above except b
5) Lehman Brothers
a) arranged the sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees
b) was, in the person of Meyer Wolfsheim, then executive vice president, behind the fixing of the 1919 World Series
c) quintupled its assets by selling the Dow Jones Industrials short in August 1929
d) traces its origins to a dry goods store in Montgomery, Alabama, founded by German-Jewish immigrant Henry Lehman shortly after he came to the US from Bavaria in 1844.
e) broke with Wall Street tradition when Peter Lehman, a war hero who had become the face of the firm, endorsed the economics of deficit spending as articulated by John Kenneth Galbraith
6) When the Wall Street Journal published its first issue on July 8, 1889, it was priced at “two cents” and led off with a story about American “operators identified with the bear party [who] sent early orders to London” in preparation for the opening of the bear market there. Which of these statements is true?
a) From the fact that it was priced at two cents, we get the expression “I’ll put my two cents in.”
b) The “bear market” was a market in bearskins
c) The “bear market” in London introduced the idea of selling stocks short often on the basis of what we today would call “insider trading”
d) The Bull-Moose Party in the United States was formed, in part, because of the pressure of the “bulls,” or long-term investors, to counter the negativity of the bear marketers, on whom the New York Times blamed the panic and sell-off of 1893
e) In July 1889, the President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison and the vice president was Levi P. Morton, a Vermont-born banker and loyal supporter of Ulysses S. Grant, whose gracious good manners made him a natural to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
7) On September 17, 2001, the Big Board eliminated the position of honorary chairman. The last to hold this post was
a) Frederick Usher (heir to the Rodney Usher real estate fortune)
b) Meyer Wolfsheim
c) Mikhail Gorbachev
d) Muriel Siebert
e) None of the above
8) What security analysts call a price-earnings ratio (“p/e”) is
a) the stock’s price divided by its underlying book value
b) the stock’s price divided by its annual dividend per share
c) the stock’s price divided by its net earnings per share
d) the compensation of the firm’s CEO divided by the number of employees in the company
e) the company’s revenues less expenses and taxes multiplied by pi divided by the square root of a number designated quarterly by the Federal Reserve Board
9) Experts tout the benefits of “dollar-cost averaging,” which means
a) the dollar is the safest bet in foreign exchange markets
b) invest a little at regular intervals
c) ever since President Nixon took the United States off the gold standard in 1971, the greenback derives its value from the average daily cost of production of bills and coins at the Department of the Mint (including operating expenses and liabilities)
d) the average of your expenses per month, which, when multiplied by twelve, may be used to predict your ability to take on significant new debt, such as the purchase of a house or the cost of four years at an elite college
e) reversion to the mean
10) Which two of the following are not associated with the Great Depression?
a) a national unemployment rate of 24.9 % in 1933 (whereas, during the Great Recession, the rate peaked at 10% in October 2009)
b) a bank holiday declared by President Roosevelt in 1933 to deter a run on the banks
c) the New Deal
d) the Iron Curtain
e) the Great Society
Extra credit: identiy the painting, by title and by painter, that illustrates this quiz.
-- David Lehman
PART 1: INTRODUCTION; WATCHING FOOTBALL; THE VHS TAPE
THE GAME OF FOOTBALL begins for me in about 1983 or 1984. On my elbows and my stomach, legs stretched behind me on a pea green wall-to-wall carpet, I am three or four; my head is cocked; my mouth is slung open, and my eyes barely blink. On a 21" rabbit-eared Zenith, is a thrillingly simple smashing together of human bodies, which I for my part, believe I fully understand; it is the game of professional football, and it is the Cincinnati Bengals. Like everything that appears on that TV when the dial is chunked around to 5,9,12, or U, the bodies on screen are red, blue, and green dots in tiny triangles if I get close. I have been inching ever closer, wriggling forward, and now this is in my mind, and I stand up to confirm it again, and there they are again, tiny dots, red green and blue, just like in the Dukes of Hazzard; then there is a racket of male voices from behind. "He's standing in front of the television." "Hey Rob, the kid doesn't know what's going on." And my dad's voice, "Hey Matt, Mattie? Turn around. Hey, buddy, you gotta back off from the TV....That's it." I flop back down on the floor near my cousins, and there is a barb of awareness that I've just done something semi-public and dumb; it's a broader circle than the immediate mother and father; but it's fine; the dots are gone into the colorful, outsized men in helmets and pads; I am again watching the fantastic periodic choreographed colliding; our team is winning, and I'm clapping and yelling along with the rest.
In this, my earliest real memory of watching Cincinnati Bengals football [a looping GIF-like memory], what interests me are a few truly remembered seconds of watching the game. Maybe it's different for you, but a shame memory will sometimes leave the tape on for a few seconds or a minute; in my memory, black-shirted Bengals are driving a white-shirted, pale-helmeted team from right to left. And they are doing well at it. Of course I know now what I didn't then - that I was watching two of the great offensive linemen of the 1980s (Bengals left tackle Anthony Munoz and the lesser known but nearly as dominant right guard, Max Montoya) do their brutal work. But what interests me is the misunderstanding. In the memory, I am not yet watching the ball. Either I can't see it, don't know about it, or don't yet understand it as a focal point. Instead, I see something simpler, our Bengals, the good guys, the orange tiger-stripe helmeted, black shirted guys, lining up as a group and periodically slamming into the white shirted squad. Pushing them backwards alone constitutes success in this bewilderingly exciting and simple game called professional football; that is what I am cheering for. Their huddles are merely breathers, and an opportunity to get roused up, and when they're roused up enough, they clap their hands! And I clap my hands, because already I love those tiger-stripe-helmeted men! Oh, it's in me already. On some gut level, I am aware that the men on the screen represent me, represent us, father, grandfather, uncle, cousins, grandmother, mother, aunt (with a football helmet purse), and our place on a map. Far off, many many minutes away, in a stadium in downtown Cincinnati, they represent us, we who are just across the Little Miami in a room called a family room, and the MORE we love these Bengals on the screen, the MORE their deeds fire quicken our hearts, the MORE we feel, the more we win, the more we lose, the more we risk.
Somewhere deep in the memories of most fans of the game of American football is a mush like the one that I speak of, an almost primordial confusion of physical excitement, a wild aggressive jumble of intensity and bodies, and also, the sense of rooting for one side instead of another. If you were sitting across a table from me, particularly if you were a male 18-70 (forgive me), particulary if you hail from a place like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Green Bay, Kansas City, or Detroit, I'd here invite you to talk, tell me of that first mush, and how an understanding emerged from it. I think that by focusing on this mush, we might learn. Out of that first chaos of colliding bodies, America's most complicated, most specialized, and most popular professional team sport begins it's slow crystallization process. It is a process that has taken place in the minds of - if I might hazard a conservative guess based on Super Bowl ratings - one hundred million Americans, which is quite a few. For many of us, the process begins young. Very early as American boys (and increasingly as American girls) we learn this uniquely American game's strange rules, learn that the action stops when a player is brought down or leaves bounds, and learn that it starts again when the offensive center hikes the ball backwards; we learn that there is a clock, that the division of time is halves halved into quarters, that time is a resource that "runs out"; one team is trying to preserve it; the other is trying to erase it; we learn the concepts of down and distance, the various ways to score, the idea of field goal range and being within it; we learn the positions and their separate jobs; we learn that a team consists of an offense and defense, joined in a mutual interest, and that at higher levels, a player must choose a side; the levels that the game is played at (high school, college, professional) enter at some point, and we internalize the differences; in short, we learn the basics of a game that is a passion and a pastime for upwards of one hundred million people on our soil. Putting just a few out in prose reveals something: American football possesses quite a few basics - much more than any other sport; American football is as complicated as chess before the real complication even begins. Given the work of analysts like Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge in the last decade at explaining the x's and o's of the NFL to its audience; given our wider tv's; given our more intelligent sports talk radio; given the internet, fans today have an opportunity to learn more than any fans before. And with the NFL, it's easy to be caught up in the learning, because there is so much to learn; learning can be used for the purposes of gambling or for the sheer joy of itself...On a big flat rectangular contemporary TV, an NFL football fan that knows his personel and groupings can identify, for instance, that the Bengals defense has opened in a nickel on 1st down against the Patriots; he can see that the Patriots are themselves lined up in a power-I running formation with true fullback James Develin, and he can cry out in agony somewhat in advance of when he would have cried out if it were, say, 1965.
[CUT OUT: And we also learn to attach ourselves to certain players, and to the personalities of the players, which grow out of the positions, and attach us to positions. We learn that at the end of the one-and-done playoff at the end of the season, there is a game called the Super Bowl. Part and parcel with that, there is a first Super Bowl that every football fan can remember; like the bottom of a swimming pool, you can swim down and touch it, perhaps grab a few pebbles of it ("We ain't here to cause no trouble / We just here to do the Super Bowl shuffle!). Unfold the hand, and those pebbles are keys on a ring; they unlock whatever grade you happened to be in, whole colorful classrooms full of memories, a phase perhaps when your father wore a mustache, or your mother first had a streak of gray in her bangs.]
Where football is concerned, I am interested in the rudiments of the average fan's knowledge. I am interested in the child brain making sense of football; how does such a complicated game as American football get in? Unlike other team sports - soccer, baseball, or even basketball, football is a game that we experience from the outside long before we experience it from the inside (if we ever do). You must watch for some years before you can ever play in an organized way. With football more than other sports, to play the game in an unorganized way isn't really to play it, and the reason that you cannot play is that you are too young! As a very young American person, you are told this terrible truth over and over, and the game lives in the mind alongside such experiences as driving a car. Thank our post-Enlightenment concept of childhood, and I mean that seriously; in our society, there is an age-requirement for some activities on account of an inherent danger, and football happens to be classified as an inherently dangerous activity. But that children are kept from playing tackle football at young ages isn't due wholly to its violence. Football can be played with velcro flags on the hips, after all, and five and six year olds, lovingly padded, don't move fast enough to do much damage to one another. Rather, the game is simply far too complicated for small children. Even in its simplest forms, without quarterbacks attempting forward passes, it involves activities that are too specialized to be fun for tiny humans. "Hey four year olds, we're gonna play this really fun game with a ball, except you, Howie, you don't get to touch the ball, ever, because you already weigh 65 pounds, which makes you a lineman! Okay, now what we need you to do is all get in a line, and now the quarterback is going to say "Down! Set! Hut!" and on hut you and all the other heavy kids move at once, and push into that group over there..." No...football, like chess or contract bridge, is not a game for the youngest of our tribe. As a little person, your American football playing consists of playing at playing American football. By playing at football, what I mean is that you engage in low-risk games or activities that either increase the aptitude for the real game or develop the beginnings of the physical skills needed to play.
In my 1980s childhood, I remember three games or activities that "symbolized" American football or "played at" some aspect American football. The first was a game on a home computer. In my case, it was on a 1979 Texas Instruments job. No more powerful than a graphics calculator, but with a color monitor, that computer was already old technology when it was handed down to us, also in '83 or '84. Who cared? Not us. It had a keyboard, had a monitor, had a box full of power; you looked at it, and knew: that was a computer. In the primitive football video game that came with it, you were thrust into the role of coach and play-caller. You could select from several plays, running or passing, and then watch, wringing your hands, as helmet icons knocked against one another, and the plays played out. A tiny brown elipse, which was the ball, ejected from the quarterback helmet, traveled across the screen, and either magically wedged itself into the receiver helmet, or caromed off it enragingly, as if off a real helmet. You had no avatar on the field whose movements you directly controlled with your a joystick or directional arrows. Rather, you peered in like a paralyzed god or a coordinator in a booth or a parent in an audience, and watched your decisions succeed or fail without your ability to intervene. It was brutal on the nerves.
However, despite its crude simplicity, now that I think of it, this early '80s Oregon-Trail level game was strategically the most life-like of any football video game until those that have appeared lately. Unlike early incarnations of the John Madden franchise, where victory was as simple as nine-man blitzes and passing on four consecutive downs, (or "flipping the play," which threw all eleven members of the defense into a confusion), on this primitive Texas Instruments game, the programmers rewarded players with a Woody Hayes-like approach to the game. Imagine, people of the future: in the early 1980s there was a "3 yards and a cloud of dust" football video game. If you called passes on first down, you ended up with interceptions, incompletions, sacks, and holding penalties - the most infuriating and uncontrollable aspect of this little world. Oh yes! Folded into a black cartridge was the football intelligence and football ethos of a time late in the reign of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, one that perhaps looked ahead to the powerful offensive lines of the Redskins. From this game, this particular kid learned what a "blitz" was, what a "dive" running play was, what an "off tackle" play was; I learned about "sweeps," and saw guard icons pull on the sweeps (Max Montoya!); I saw receivers hitch, slant, cross, and run deep. From this game more than any source, I took the basics of football plays.
There were other games. On the floor of my parents' bedroom, I tried a few times to play what's known as "vibrating football" or "electric football." This particular game, which originally belonged to my dad, was one of the most disappointing toys ever sold by the tens of millions, and I honestly pitied him, thinking about him back in the 1950s, playing it. It consisted of a sheet of green metal painted to resemble a football field. Atop this sheet, two teams of tiny plastic men, about the size of "army men" stood in various football poses, a felt football about the size of a tic-tac under the arm of one of them. With the flip of a switch, electricty flowed, wires magnetized, a tiny electric motor whirred and buzzed and conferred enough motion to shake metal coils beneath to vibrating. The vibrations shook the sheet metal, causing the players above to quiver in way that supposedly led to movement. The problem was that they didn't move. They just quivered in place.
Perhaps this game could have been fun in several crooked NY apartments I've inhabited over the last decade. Orienting the board so that the incline tipped the game toward the advantage of the offensive side would cause at least the directionality that occurs in a football game. Gravity, symbolizing the rules of the real game, would help the offense take ground. Our house, however, apparently had "good flat floors," and as I child, I ddn't yet know about shimming. All I know is I attempted to play at this unfun game once with a fellow pre-schooler, a boy named Jeff, who was younger than I was by about 10 months. I lined up the men as they were lined up in my video game. Bored at watching me painstakingly align the men, he then laid the sides of his two hands down behind the lines and smashed the pieces together into a pile, growling and yelling something for about fifeen seconds, squeezing and tossing the little men: "No! THIS is football! Grwwwoorrwrwrorrr!!! GRRRRCKKCCK! Then they grrrrgg! Picckow!! Brrrrssshh!!!" By this point, I suppose here is a piece of evidence that I was getting out of the mush, but that mush was not so distant that I could see that he was still in it. Come along little friend! But you can't just say that and guarantee someone will listen.
A large joy of football, physically, is the joy of the football, of throwing and catching the football, of having it, holding it, tucking it, and running around with it. You toss it up in the air as a five, six year old kid; one second, playing, you are in the mind of a quarterback, in the next, a wide receiver. You stick the ball out into the air, you change your grip, and now you're a running back. To the outside, the picture is as simple as a kid throwing a ball up and catching it and running in circles by himself in a yard, but a fast and fluid role-playing is going on in his child-head. The joy of the football came into my life at about age five, but not in a yard, initially. In a house. In the house I grew up in. It was a low slung, but tough little house, and simply organized. The house was two floor, with two upstairs bedrooms, one large, one small. Three dormers looked south and east out of a pitched roof. Open the front door, and a short steep set of carpeted steps rose directly up the second floor, without a turn. When I was five, my old man, Bob, went down this flight of stairs suddenly and hard. In the way a cartoon character slips on a banana peel, his foot slipped forward and up on a sock (was it mine?), and his body followed his feet up into the air. He bounced twice on his lower back, and landed on the tiles of our entryway. I did not see it happen; I try to remember that it shook the house, but I could be imagining it. He stood up, walked out the door, and mowed the yard. The next morning he could not get out of bed. He'd shattered a pair of discs in his lower back, chipped up some vertebrae, and was informed he was lucky he hadn't end paralyzed.
At the time, Big Bob was 41 years old, 6'0" tall and 240 lbs. His frame was thick; he was big in the calves and the forearms and the thighs, big enough to acccommodate about 215 of those pounds; the remainder he wore as many men do - as a round, rock-hard, pot-belly, under which he buckled his pants. I was perhaps 45 lbs, with bones like the rubberized enamel bones dogs chew on; at age five, I used to slide and bounce down the stairs in every way I could figure to orient my body. I didn't quite get how he'd managed to hurt himself so severely by falling down those stairs, but he had. It was a climacteric event in our household.
After the surgery, while he was laid up in bed, he and I played. He lay on his back, propped up by pillows against a headboard, and I ran back and forth in about six yards of space, catching a small orange football rubberized football. He called out arbitrary numbers relating to the difficulty of the ball he was about to throw, and then he led me back and forth. To my increasing joy, he "threw me" all over that bedroom; the boundary of our field (where the highest scores were had) were on one end a bookcase full of psychology, chemistry, and biology textbooks, high school year books, photo-albums, and scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings of Big Bob's feats on the late 1950s Cincinnati public-high-school league grid-iron. On the other end was a closet door that we kept slid open, so that if ran too far in that direction, I'd collide with my mother's clothes, and not with a door. In that bedroom, I learn to catch the ball, and also to throw it. My dad couldn't move, but depending on where I threw it, he snatched it with either hand, like a hypercoordinated but immobile Star Wars hut. He was almost ambidextrous, one of those shoot-left, write-left, throw-right, bat-right, mixed-up handed people. He himself also loved every single kind of ball he ever met: golfballs, baseballs, basketballs, tennis balls, footballs, bowling balls, so it was a way of passing the time. He threw the ball back with whatever hand he caught it, on account of his back. "Right-handed!" I'd say, wanting him to transfer the ball to his better hand. Having not yet been to a batting cage, it was the most gloriously fun activity I'd yet experienced as a human being, and all while we threw, I asked him hundreds of questions - most of which had to do with football, the Cincinnati Bengals. Stuck in bed, he couldn't escape the barrage of attention.
[ANTS: Elsewhere in that bedroom at that time, my mother murdered tiny ants by the hundreds by licking lolli-pops, placing them on paper towels, and hiding them about the room. Inadvertently, I'd created an infestation. In my first experience with waitering, my strength gave out and I spilled a glass mug of hot jello the size of pitcher all over the bare wooden floor. I'd been attempting to carry it up to my dad in bed. Into the floor is a better description of how I spilled. I poured probably 48 oz of liquid hot red jello into our house, creating beneath the floorboards a cool goo as life-giving to tiny ants as petrie dish agar is to microorganisms. In the annals of Ants of the Ohio Valley, surely it's remembered as a boom town of legendary proportions; a whole way of life founded on a between-floor jello-layer! Ant Elysium! Anyway, these ants would march by the hundreds across my father's feet and ankles, and they'd end up glued as ant-mobs to the licked suckers. I remember it as a time of joy and laughter and all of us together in the same room, and a damaged father somehow in the middle of it.]
Anyway....to return to that dawning of the game of football in my fan mind, I'd like to throw another potato into the stew....the VCR. We were given our VCR in 1986 by father's older brother; oh goodness! it was a top-loading VHS in the time when VHS and Beta were in a two horse race for the industry standard. Had my uncle's family initially bought a VHS, then gifted it down to us upon getting a BETA? It's possible. That top loader, with its totally physical ejection mechanism, had the dimensions of a broiler drawer. Huge! It was huge. It was the oldest looking VCR I have ever seen, if appearance of age is defined by size and physicality. As a machine, it was analog as a 3-speed kitchen-blender, with buttons the size of piano keys; the buttons stayed engaged when you pressed them, and there was a button to pop the buttons out. A machine it was. It also worked better and more reliably than any VCR we ever had afterwards. Funny....Anyhow, the device's chief virtue, to my understanding back then, was its ability to capture a game or a program onto a tape, which made the tape an extraordinary and valuable thing, because it contained a game that could then be watched over and over, any time one wished. You put the television on channel 3. You selected on the VCR the channel on the TV you wanted, and you could record what was happening.
In the autumn of 1986, thanks to that VCR, I saw the NFL football game that would change everything for me, and make me somehow into what I already was: a Bengals fan of unusual intensity and positivity. Using the tremendous website Pro-Football Reference, I've been able to pinpoint the date, and pin the experience like a strange bug to my timeline. Monday October 13, 1986. The Cincinnati Bengals squared off at home against the bullies up the river, those "shitters into our drinking water," the smash-mouth Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a 1986 Boomer Esiason-led Bengals team two years and a few draftpicks from brilliance, and it was a Steelers team being led through one of its franchise's brief valleys by the dimunitive Bubby Brister; still, they were the Steelers. It was a Monday night game, which was a nationally telecast game. This meant the whole country would see our Bengals. In the opening segment, downtown Cincinnati's skyline, viewed from the Kentucky side, flickered and glittered, and I saw it with the sense that many more people in the world were seeing its beauty. Was I ready for some football? Electric guitars? Hank Williams Jr? Oh hell yes, I was. But it was 9:00 pm, and I was in the first grade, so I was sent to bed just after we proved our tape was working.
Why fight it? I made a plan to awaken at an ungodly early hour in the morning, enter the family room, rewind the tape and watch this Bengals game. As a small child, you can just tell yourself, "I'm going to wake up incredibly early," and then you somehow do, with no alarm. Up you pop into the sunshine, ready to do the thing you want to do. At around 5:00 am, before sunrise, I crept in there in a matching white suit of waffled thermal long-johns, stared down a rewinding tape, pressed play. To my great luck, I spent the next several hours privately viewing one of the most exciting regular season football games in the history of the NFL. Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers: October 13, 1986. A back and forth contest of multiple lead changes, a safety, and huge momentum swings, none was larger or more unusual than a 4th quarter 61-yard touchdown run by Bengals punter Jeff "Clyde" Hayes. On what couldn't possibly have been a designed trick play, not from the Bengals own 39 yard line in a one score NFL game, the punter caught the snap, saw an opening he'd probably been looking at all game, and broke off around the left end. The man made no attempt to punt; he just ran, broke off like a housebound dog that's been eying an opening-and-closing door for a month; I am in NY without access to this tape; it is back in Ohio in a box, or maybe it long ago joined Mt. Rumpke - the region's #1 garbage destination. I wish I had it, and a VCR to play it, because I want it to be how I remember it, or I want to have remembered it wrong; either way, I'd like to know if that punter even pretended to try to punt....By the time Bengals' punter Jeff Hayes made his run for glory, the sun had come up on a Tuesday morning in Ohio; both parents had awakened, forced me to dress myself, and I was eating cereal. My dad, who was trying to get me into a car and drop me at school, was standing in the family room watching. He didn't know what would happen any more than I did. "What the hell! Oh! Oh! Go! He's off! He's off! Touchdown Bengals!!! Touchdown Bengals!!!!"
For the next six months, and my mother would corroborrate this, I woke up at a God-awfully early hour and watched this one particular game. Oh I had others. Not many, but a few. This tape though; this tape was the one. I rewound it. I replayed it. I did this over and over. Early in the morning, alone with the Bengals. I tried to communicate time by it. What time did you get up, Matt? "When it was 14-9, Bengals winning" or "When it was 14-7, Bengals winning." (That game had a safety.) Over and over. One game. What I remember is that lunatic punter tried to run a second time! He was of course stopped. What I also remember is Boomer Esiason punting it with his left foot, and actually punting it very well. What I can know is that already by that age, I'd internalized enough of football to know that a punter didn't typically run, and a quarterback didn't typically punt, and that is why I remember those plays 28 years later....All this strikes me as both obvious but also amazing....My father would peer into the game, which tossed out the same colors in same orders in his family room every day; he'd watch that punter run and shake his head. "If that isn't the damn dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life; Mr. Brown ought to fire that idiot; dumb." But the real truth of what that first grade person I once was saw was much simpler. In the game I had on tape, which at that age was more permanent, more real to me, than the fleeting contests on Sunday afternoons, the Cincinnati Bengals came out victorious every single time. Against great competition, against the PIttsburgh Steelers, they won upwards of a hundred times in a single year! This voluntary self-induced brain-washing is the only explanation for my continued attachment to the Bengals all through the "Revenge of Bill Walsh: Part II" (the 1989 Superbowl) and "The Klinglering Our Way to Kitna Decade."
[ So I will stop right there for a moment.
I ought to have stopped earlier, but where I had an impulse to stop wasn't exactly a stop sign; more like a large red leaf....Friends, I have not written prose in a very long time, except for emails, and I'm finding that objects are farther away than they appear. By objects, I mean topics I am trying to get to, and points I am trying to make...Early on in my guest bloggings, I used the word "symbolized" to describe the games that I played at as a kid that "played at" playing football....Paul Tillich, the 20th century's great Christian theologian, said that whenever a writer uses the word "symbol" in any form, be it as a noun ("symbol"), verb ("symbolize"), or adjective ("symbolic"), he ought to stop where he is and explain in detail exactly just what the heck he means. If he doesn't know what he means, that will be the first thing he figures out. I won't perform that boredom for you right now, because I've already typed more than enough for a first post.
Later on today, or later on this week, I'll go into some detail on an idea of the symbolic. The ideas won't be mine, but Tillich's, though they'll come out in my terms I imagine. I bring them up at all for the following reason: the application of Tillich's ideas on the symbol to the game of American football, coupled with a speculative meditation on the cardboard hang-tag messaging you find on any dog toy or cat toy ("All animals play at activities necessary to their survival"), bounced off some 18th century Trans-Allegheny American history, cause the the game of American football to take on a strange sheen...For though one can play at football in a video game, or a low risk game like "500," what does American football itself play at? To what more real activity does it point? I've done some thinking on this head, and I figured I'd make an investigation of that thinking the topic of my week guesting at the Best American Poetry Blog. There will with some asides on technology, a few scoops of Marshall McLuhan, tales of the Cincinnati Bengals of present and recent yore, an aside on the tradition of war games going back to Ancient Rome; also, maybe a little John Ashbery and Vergil (I like it with an "e") since it's a poetry forum after all. That's what you're in store of in this week of blogging. Blabbing? Blogging. I realize my topic: AMERICAN FOOTBALL AS A GAME OF AMERICAN WAR isn't for everyone. If I do my little job here, though, by Thanksgiving (three days away) a picture of a uniquely American war-game and the frightening historical reality that it symbolically re-enacts should have begun to emerge in a way that (hopefully) pleases a rational mind. You'll also learn more about the Cincinnati Bengals and the perspective of their fan-base than you perhaps ever want to know, and for that I apologize in advance. I apologize too for any typos, and randomly unfinished sentences. Have a wonderful afternoon and evening, everyone!]
And the sad man is cock of all his jests.
-- George Herbert
Epigraph to Graham Greene's novel Our Man in Havana (1958). The protagonist -- an English widower living in pre-Castro Cuba -- is a vacuum-cleaning salesman named Wormwold, as unattractive a name as Greene could manage. In order to satisfy the demands of intelligence officers in a gray faceless London building, Wormwold dupes them by creating "purely notional spies" and killing them off, "like a bad novelist preparing an effect." (Alec Guiness plays him in the movie.) The book is in a comic tenor but is less a spoof than a forcible statement of the extent to which military intelligence work and espionage fiction resemble one another.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.