Baseball is a game built upon disappointment. “No hits, no runs, no errors, no men left on base.” “He struck him out.” “He makes the catch. Inning over.” So let’s just say that a lifelong Phillies fan was not expecting much as he drove his seven-year-old son to his first ever Major League Baseball game. The boy was in uniform. It was Mets vs. Cardinals, and his Little League team marched around the field before the anthem, dancing spastically for the big stadium screen. I snapped a photo. Mission accomplished. How many innings do you think the boy will last?
Summer is the season of old hardcovers. You find them on the lower shelves of rented cabins, in the storage sheds of beach houses, or propping up the air conditioner in a third-floor attic window. The blurbs and the dust jackets now often seem silly and harmlessly overdone, like an unfortunate hat or a Day-Glo neck warmer. But the books themselves have a charming, tree-like solidity. They have endured, aged, perhaps developed hints of mildew and ant poison. The pages, despite the yellowing, are still in H.D.
Hunched over my keyboard, I’m haunted by anecdotes of faster writers. Christopher Hitchens composing a Slate column in 20 minutes—after a chemo session, after a “full” dinner party, late on a Sunday night. The infamously productive Trollope, who used customized paper! “He had a note pad that had been indexed to indicate intervals of 250 words,” William F. Buckley told the Paris Review. “He would force himself to write 250 words per 15 minutes. Now, if at the end of 15 minutes he hadn’t reached one of those little marks on his page, he would write faster.” Buckley himself was a legend of speed—writing a complete book review in crosstown cabs and the like.
David Brooks, the comic sociologist of our postwar meritocracy, has written a strange and strangely fascinating new book that partly refudiates the meritocratic view of life. We’ve all been busy seeking the laurels of advanced degrees, or the corner workspace, or the proper mix of antique and modern in our country houses, but this is a false path. In The Social Animal Brooks has concluded that we cannot willfully guide ourselves to contentment. Our big mistake has been to view the unconscious as the junk drawer of evolution. “The unconscious parts of the mind are not primitive vestiges that need to be conquered in order to make wise decisions,” he writes. “They are not dark caverns of repressed sexual urges. Instead, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind—where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place. These submerged processes are the seedbeds of accomplishment.” In other words: Use the Force, Lucas!
My favorite love poem involves the city of Pittsburgh, cats, and commuting to the airport. It’s called “Three Rivers,” and it’s by Alpay Ulku. I can’t remember where I first stumbled on it, and I don’t really know who the poet is, but his first line stopped me: “What are you doing now, Anne-Marie, on the night we would bring home good things to cook and watch movies from the 1940’s, the work week finally at an end.” What follows are snapshots of the small, shared familiars that twine two people together: lighting the stove for someone who is scared to do so, or a coat that matches the color of someone’s hair. The “you” of the poem is in a long-distance relationship. He’s longing for the way that he can feel only with this one person. The last line is direct: “I’m driving home from the airport without you. I feel sad in my stomach.”
I’ve known the joy of preparing to qualify, of leveling up with magic mushrooms, of speeding the flight of an angry bird. Yet video games often leave me feeling stale and restless. Shouldn’t I be outgrowing these electronic entanglements? When one of my sons catches me playing a game on my iPhone, I think of the old-school Princeton basketball coach, Pete Carril, who disliked seeing his players eat candy. Here’s the line from a Sports Illustrated profile: “He would wince when he saw a member of his team eating candy. Kids eat candy; he wanted his players to be men, and men drink beer.”
Fa la la la! Tis’ the season. The kids are out of school, the days are cold, the museums are packed, the Legos are scattered under the couch, and Toy Story 3 has been memorized. It’s time to refresh that most valuable tool in the modern parent’s arsenal: the iPhone. Last year, I wrote about how the iPhone is a Swiss Army knife of digital parenting and asked for your best iPhone apps for kids. Let’s do the same thing this year.
How long did it take you to get to work today? How long did it take you to get to work on this day last week? How long, on average, did it take you to get to work this month? My guess is that you have a rough idea but not the precise number. We tend to underestimate the length of our journey, since everyone likes to think they have a “short commute.” Yet we may lose some measure of happiness because of this self-deception.
In golf, there have always been those who side with “instincts” and those who side with analysis. I love the stories about 1920s professional golfer George Duncan, who would swing at his ball as soon as he reached it. He considered practice strokes tantamount to cheating. (Those early pros would also be amazed at how today’s top players stalk the green for days to line up a putt.) In our time, the most instinctual golfer would be putting enthusiast Ryan Moore, who, at times, will disdain even to consult a yardage book.
“What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown comes out of nowhere … to lead the pack … at Augusta. He’s on his final hole. … He’s about 455 yards away. … He’s gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think.” So begins the legend of Carl Spackler, and the finest improvised golf monologue in cinematic history. Not to be too literal-minded about a riff from Caddyshack—but why couldn’t a former greenskeeper win the Masters?