back to the Black Table

 All right. So itís 1 a.m., itís a Wednesday night and I am, in theory, exhausted. I have to be at my temp job at 8:30 tomorrow, Iíve downed a few 16-ouncers and I didnít eat today. For all intents and purposes, I should be a vegetable right now. I donít remember the last healthy calorie I met. I should have the energy of a toadstool. But for some reason, I feel I could lift this computer over my head, twirl it, then seamlessly segue into a juggling act, complete with chainsaws, flaming torches and rabid dogs. Iím fired up tonight.

Iíve just spent the last three hours of my life planted in front of the television, watching one of the most exciting sporting events I can remember, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, my own loyalties aside - if you must know, I remain a beleaguered Bulls fan, but my favorite NBA players are, without question, Shaquille OíNeal and Allen Iverson - it was as much fun as Iíve had with other men in months. (Emphasis on months.) The spunky 76ers, smaller, less talented, feistier, somehow defeated the seemingly invincible Lakers in the first game of what promises to be a unforgettable series. Iverson, who is an inch taller than me and weighs (sigh) less, was heroic, and a little fireball named Eric Snow drained the game-winning jumper with just seconds remaining. I leapt, I danced, I screamed, I lived.

If you can remember the last time you spontaneously shrieked in joy, well, youíre obviously a sports fan.

It isnít difficult to describe to the non-believers why being a sports fan is so rewarding and worthy of our slavish devotion, but people seem to have trouble with it anyway. Many male sports fans, particularly those in creative fields who are surrounded by arty types obsessed with status and class (none of those here in New York, no sir), are almost apologetic about it, as if enjoying sports is related to some sort of unfortunately dominant gene, like baldness. ďYeah, sorry, we know itís dumb ... but weíre guys. We canít help it. All apologies.Ē

I understand. Letís face it: Itís hard to say, ďI was so sad to see Kate Betts leave Harperís BazaarĒ and ever expect someone to take you seriously when you scream at the linebacker to kill the quarterback. See that event Ironminds is having on June 19? Safe to say, I wonít be showing up in my Jake Plummer jersey.

To me, however, sports is pure and consistent. As you can probably tell, life never fails to confuse me. Iím never sure if Iím being kind or a jerk, wise or a moron, compassionate or remote. Every decision I make ends up falling in that gray area with infinite consequences spraying in every direction. There is no gray area in sports. That is its charm. For three hours, I can watch a baseball game. I am not Will, or anyone really. Iím just a guy, watching my team. If they win, I am happy. If they lose, I am sad. Thatís it. Black. White. Simple, really. Isnít that what really want out of life? Simplicity?

Sports is escapism, and itís the best kind, better than movies, drugs or sex (the first is too expensive, and the last two always seem to find a way to allow neurosis to creep in the back door).

Sure, I wonder why I go through the trouble sometimes. At the temp job this week, I did my work while a Yahoo! simulcast of the Cardinals-Cubs game ran in the background. The woman sitting behind me kept interrupting me with concerned looks. ďWhy do you keep yelling Ďfuckí? Are you OK?Ē She couldnít have known I was screaming at Gene Stechschulte for giving up a homer to Sammy Sosa. That we allow sports to aggravate us so is one of its most endearing charms. You could walk up to me on the street and knee me in the groin, and Iíd probably just cough out an ďexcuse me.Ē But if J.D. Drew strikes out with the bases loaded, Iíll be placing hexes on his firstborn.

There was a time when I was a sports reporter, but it was too much. Sure, you were able to watch all the games close up, for free, and when you started talking about a team in a bar, people actually paid attention to you, as if you had some sort of special wisdom because you wrote about sports. But sports reporting is too close to the action for my taste. Itís never a good idea to meet your sports heroes, because theyíre either assholes or just upfront with the fact that theyíre more important than you are. Plus, itís difficult to come to terms with men who are so brilliant on the playing field and unable to complete a sentence off it. I donít want to know, when heís lining up for the game-winning field goal, that my teamís kicker is cheating on his wife. Is it wrong for me to root for him? Is she going to leave him? How was he raised? Sports is no fun if youíre conflicted. The less I know about the players, the better.

And sports should just never be a part of your job. When I was at The Sporting News, I would sit in the office and watch sports all night. Then, on my days off, Iíd go out with other sports reporters, drink beer and watch sports all night. It was overkill. I felt like a gynecologist who just canít get it up for his wife when he comes home. ďIf I see one more ...Ē Do you realize I once seduced a woman in the office by telling her I loved George Willís Men at Work? Some line is being crossed there, Iím sure.

But when itís not my job, Iím perfectly willing to let sports run my life. My father - who once told me that any guy who didnít like sports was either gay or untrustworthy - and I have this yearly ritual. We follow the Illinois menís basketball team fiercely and unconditionally, as if our very beings depend on it. Then, when they inevitably lose in the NCAA tournament, we bitch for a while, then say, ďWell, itís about time for baseball season anyway.Ē We go through similar motions at the end of the baseball season. Itís a comforting, calming cycle. I was laid off from Brillís Content on Opening Day. I can assure you, when Darryl Kile threw the first pitch against the Rockies, I wasnít thinking about my career.

That is the way it should be. People find serenity wherever it shows up, and Iíll take it where I can get it. Now, if youíll excuse me, Iím going to set the microwave timer to 30 seconds and pretend Iím driving down the lane against Kobe with the title on the line. In life, Shaq would shove it down my throat, but in my fantasies, I always hit the game-winner.



Life as a Loser runs every week. Join the Life as a Loser discussion group at: