“The creative individual is, in a sense, complementary to the society in which he lives, rather as a soloist in a concerto. Both the basic ideas of science and the key inventions of mankind have generally been conceived in the minds of individuals, while the effort to gain the data on which the ideas and inventions have been based, and the subsequent effort to turn them to good account, have required the contributions of many besides the inventor and originator of ideas. So the individual and the community are necessary to one another.”—Niels Bohr
“What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.”—John Berger
Following Katrina, the description of the process sounds eerily premonitory. To a proper uplander, it was not exactly restaurant conversation. More like kitchen table conversation, and for good reason: the New Orleans corner restaurant has always been, in more ways than one, an extension of the kitchen. New Orleanians did and do eat out much more frequently than the average American, and the regulars at Norby’s were very like an extended family.
More literally, these businesses were often the actual homes of their owners. Norby’s had been, though it had ceased being so by 1977. Clancy’s still was. There, behind the counter, three or four steps led up to the kitchen, which served both the restaurant and the owner’s home. You can still see that change in level between business and residence at Clancy’s, as you can at Patois, as you can at Parasol’s, further downtown at Third and Constance. It is the distinguishing characteristic of the New Orleans corner restaurant, or bar, or store.
While the roof volume shelters both house and store, the two meet the ground in notably different ways. The store is a single step up from the sidewalk, while the residence is several steps up, the usual height above the sidewalk in pre-ADA America, keeping the pedestrian from looking directly into the home and allowing the resident to view the neighborhood over the heads of passersby. Where there are street-level windows in the business (often, in a store, there are only high windows to make room for shelving), both windows and doors signal the difference in floor height. The break in floor height serves, simply and effectively, to distinguish the public from the private, without having to put space between them: a basic principle of New Orleans urbanism.
“The confrontation with the demons does not necessarily lead to the creation of great art (or any art at all). You can write in the darkest pit and filth of yourself and come up with some dull fragment of vers libre, indistinguishable from that of a hundred contemporaries. Thus pain does not guarantee anything. Art, you see, is not interested in your suffering.”—Gilbert Sorrentino
The magic of the fighter is also part of the mix, the magic that attracts people from around the world to him, the magic of seeing him play Cowboys and Indians for real. The prettier the fighter - and I’m not talking pretty as in girlie-boy movie-star pretty - the harder that fighter has worked. The prettier the fighter is, the more money he’ll make, too. But what you must understand is that fighting and boxing are as different from each other as hitting is from punching, as different as a wild dog from a Chihuahua. By definition, boxing and punching are lethal. So being able to box pretty and be lethal - that makes the magic that drives the whole world wild.
Ring magic is different from the magic of the theater, because the curtain never comes down - because the blood in the ring is real blood, and the broken noses and the broken hearts are real, and sometimes they are broken forever. Boxing is the magic of men in combat, the magic of will, and skill, and pain, and the risking of everything so you can respect yourself for the rest of your life. Almost sounds like writing.
But the ball—and the boy who played with it more than a century ago—are at the improbable center of a story spanning the Cuban Revolution, the origins of baseball and the breach of the sport’s first racial barrier.
"The story is a surprise to many people," said Louise Mirrer, the president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, which collaborated on the exhibit.
It is a surprise to people who believe that Americans introduced baseball to the Caribbean during the 20th century; and to many who have forgotten—or never knew—the name of the boy in the photograph, Esteban Bellán, a young Cuban New Yorker who became the first Latin American professional baseball player in the United States in 1871.
“Time, to me, forever brings a loss of innocence. As you go through time, you are bound to look back with hindsight, you begin to reminisce about things that you dreamed about doing but didn’t get to do, you begin to wonder what would have happened on that particular day if you had taken a different turn on the road…You cannot help but regret.”—Wong Kar-wai
The F stood for Fergus. That was how neighbors in his working-class neighborhood in deep Brooklyn knew him: a bearish pariah holed up in a fetid apartment stuffed with a lifetime of newspapers, books, belongings and all sorts of trash, who worked nights as a printer in Manhattan and ranted about his horrid childhood.
The F also stood for Froggy. That’s what fans in the rabid science-fiction world on the Internet called him: a witty and eloquent man prone to using obscure words and coining new ones, who published numerous books, articles and short stories to great acclaim and spun fantastic tales about his travels.
Both were vaporized June 25. In a dramatic farewell that could have come from Froggy’s pen, Mr. MacIntyre, according to fire officials, methodically set ablaze the contents of the apartment in Bensonhurst where he had lived for a quarter-century. First the flames consumed a lifetime of possessions; then they feasted on his weary flesh, ending his painful 59-year earthly existence. Born in Scotland, raised in Australia — or so he said, in his impeccable British regional accent — he now lies unclaimed in a Brooklyn morgue.
This was very encouraging, and it makes intuitive sense: we have been formed by an accretion of experiences, only a small number of which we can readily recall. You may remember the specifics of only a few conversations with your best friend, but you would never ask if talking to him or her was a waste of time. As for the arts, I can remember in detail only a tiny fraction of the music I have listened to, or the movies I have watched, or the paintings I have looked at, but it would be absurd to claim that experiencing those works had no influence on me. The same could be said of reading.
Still, reading is different from life, and writing is different from those other art forms. Indeed, reading’s great distinction may be that it is not an experience to be experienced only as an experience (otherwise, poets wouldn’t have to sweat so hard to make their poems a performance rather than discourse). A book, even a novel, contains information, in the strictest sense, and the most obvious purpose of reading a book is to acquire that information for oneself. And unlike a catch-and-release fisherman, when I acquire that information, I want to keep it. I enjoyed reading “Perjury” and am relieved and happy that I retain its gestalt, but I didn’t actually read it for pleasure or for its gestalt. I read it so that I would know, consciously, a lot about the Hiss case. Well, guess what? I don’t.
I think I must like to read things that hurt and confuse me. When I think about the best things I’ve ever read, they are things that hurt so much I’ve had to stop reading and go back into the world. And when I get back to the world from these books that throw me back into the world, I feel the pain of the world in a new way, a way that confuses and excites and frightens me.
Somehow, the pain of reading certain pieces of writing seems to help me confront and encounter the pain of the world in a way that makes the pain of the world seem worthwhile. I try not to run away from the pain of the world, but at some point I always do, and often I do it by reading. And then I again have to find some way to escape the numbness that robs me of the pain that makes life feel so good when I don’t run away from the pain of being alive.
Sometimes I do read simply to escape. A lot of times, actually. But sometimes I come across a piece of writing that operates exactly the opposite of the things I read to simply escape the world; a piece of writing that throws me back into the world where I can again feel the pain that I hunger to feel when I’ve found myself with the strength to withstand, and even embrace the pain of the world.
Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.
Down on the green and white and earth-brown geometry of the playing field, a drunk tries to break through the ranks of ushers marshalled along the foul lines to keep profane feet off the diamond. The ushers thrust him back and he lunges at them, struggling in the clutch of two or three men. He breaks free and four or five tackle him. He shakes them off, bursts through the line, runs head on into a special park cop who brings him down with a flying tackle.
Here comes a whole platoon of ushers. They lift the man and haul him, twisting and kicking, back across the first-base line. Again he shakes loose and crashes the line. He is away, weaving out toward center field where cheering thousands are jammed beneath the windows of the Giants’ clubhouse.
At heart, our man is a Giant, too. He never gave up.
From center field comes burst upon burst of cheering. Pennants are waving, uplifted fists are brandished, hats are flying. Again and again, the dark clubhouse windows blaze with the light of photographers’ flash bulbs. Here comes that same drunk out of the mob, back across the green turf to the infield. Coat tails flying, he runs the bases, slides into third. Nobody bothers him now.
And the story remains to be told, the story of how the Giants won the 1951 pennant in the National League….The tale of their barreling run through August and September and into October….On the final day of the season when they won the championship and started home with it from Boston, to hear on the train how the dead, defeated Dodgers had risen from the ashes in the Philadelphia twilight….Of the three-game playoff in which they won, and lost and were losing again with one out in the ninth inning yesterday when — Oh, why bother?
Maybe this is the way to tell it: Bobby Thomson, a young Scot from Staten Island, delivered a timely hit yesterday in the ninth inning of an enjoyable game of baseball before 34,320 witnesses in the Polo Grounds….Or perhaps this is better:
"Well," said Whitey Lockman, standing on second base in the second inning of yesterday’s playoff game between the Giants and Dodgers.
"Ah, there," said Bobby Thomson, pulling into the same station after hitting a ball to left field. "How’ve you been?"
"Fancy," Lockman said, "meeting you here!"
"Ooops!" Thomson said. "Sorry."
And the Giants’ first chance for a big inning against Don Newcombe disappeared as they tagged him out. Up in the press section, the voices of Willie Goodrich came over the amplifiers announcing a macabre statistic: “Thomson has now hit safely in fifteen consecutive games.” Just then the floodlights were turned on, enabling the Giants to see and count their runners on each base.
It wasn’t funny, though, because it seemed for so long that the Giants weren’t going to get another chance like the one Thomson squandered by trying to take second base with a playmate already there. They couldn’t hit Newcombe and the Dodgers couldn’t do anything wrong. Sal Maglie’s most splendorous pitching would avail nothing unless New York could match the run Brooklyn had scored in the first inning.
The story was winding up, and it wasn’t the happy ending which such a tale demands. Poetic justice was a phrase without meaning.
Now it was the seventh inning and Thomson was up with runners on first and third, none out. Pitching a shutout in Philadelphia last Saturday night, pitching again in Philadelphia on Sunday, holding the Giants scoreless this far, Newcombe had now gone twenty-one innings without allowing a run.
He threw four strikes to Thomson. Two were fouled off out of play. Then he threw a fifth. Thomson’s fly scored Monte Irvin. The score was tied. It was a new ball game.
Wait a moment, though. Here’s Pee Wee Reese hitting safely in the eighth. Here’s Duke Snider singling Reese to third. Here’s Maglie, wild — pitching a run home. Here’s Andy Pafko slashing a hit through Thomson for another score. Here’s Billy Cox batting still another home. Where does his hit go? Where else? Through Thomson at third.
So it was the Dodgers ball game, 4 to 1, and the Dodgers’ pennant. So all right. Better get started and beat the crowd home. That stuff in the ninth inning? That didn’t mean anything.
A single by Al Dark. A single by Don Mueller. Irvin’s pop-up. Lockerman’s one-run double. Now the corniest possible sort of Hollywood schmaltz — stretcher bearers plodding away with an injured Mueller between them, symbolic of the Giants themselves.
There went Newcombe and here came Ralph Branca. Who’s at bat? Thomson again? He beat Branca with a home run the other day. would Charlie Dressen order him walked, putting the winning run on base, to pitch to the dead-end kids at the bottom of the batting order? No, Branca’s first pitch was called a strike.
The second pitch — well, when Thomson reached first base he turned and looked toward the left-field stands. Then he started jumping straight up in the air, again and again. Then he trotted around the bases, taking his time.
Ralph Branca turned and started for the clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked huge. Thirteen.
Maureen is working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, where she is an assistant manager. I’ll meet her tomorrow, on my first day working there. Her boyfriend Brad is at rehearsal, playing bass in a Christian death metal band, which is so totally ludicrous that I will never quite learn to let it go. There are three girls somewhere nearby as well, girls that I am dating or have dated or should not be dating anymore but still am. None of their names are used here so it doesn’t matter what I say about them. Alex Trebek is also in this story. He’s hosting “Jeopardy” on the television in my house, and in Maureen’s house. Probably in your house too. It doesn’t matter. Like I said, he’s in this story, but really he plays a very tiny part. None of us will ever even meet him.
But there’s more to this rivalry than just pettiness. Scrape away the grime of scandals and sound bites, and the contrast between these two great players says something about the imaginative possibilities presented by this game or by any game. Think of how you approach sports at different stages of your life. Pelé, the best player on the best team who scored the most goals and won the most trophies and was the happiest and the most famous and most beloved, offers the child’s narrative of sports heroism, an exuberant conquest of a just and welcoming world. Maradona, who railed against authority and sabotaged himself and, in 1986, dragged an inferior Argentina team to the World Cup title by sheer force of will, represents the adolescent narrative: an unjust world forced to yield to a superior ego.
It’s these two ways of looking at the world that guide the endless, unresolvable debate about which man was the better player. Pelé partisans tend to rely on a curious mixture of fact and imagination: Pelé’s numbers (three World Cups, a staggering 1,280 goals in 1,363 games) dwarf Maradona’s, and most of the games he played in his prime weren’t filmed. The spectacular things we’ve seen him do in highlight reels, they argue, must be only the tip of the iceberg. Maradona partisans, on the other hand, tend to rely on cutting skepticism and a pose of sophistication: Pelé’s goal-scoring tally can’t be real (it includes exhibition games, and it’s strangely hard to pin down an exact total), and numbers aren’t everything, anyway. Maradona played against better defenses in Europe, while Pelé spent his whole career in Brazil and the United States. And Maradona won the World Cup not with superstar teammates like Garrincha and Jairzinho but with journeymen like Ricardo Giusti.