It’s still busy around here. We’re streaking, and occasionally stumbling, to the finish line of our April issue. Sometimes I think we’re horribly behind schedule, then I remember what an old, crusty, and highly realistic boss of mine once said: “Work fills up the time allotted for it.” In other words, you can never “get ahead,” no matter what you do.
In any event, the fate of the magazine rests on my shoulders, so I’m going to have to continue in a somewhat slapdash fashion for another post. I also had to visit my local polling station this morning, since, for the first time in many years, my vote as a New Yorker at least theoretically counts. More on my civic adventure below.
1. The Super Bowl: I said I was looking for alternative entertainment Sunday at 6:30, and there was a Star Trek episode on my local New York channel (the original, not that Deep Space tedium), but I knew I was going to watch the game. The last time I decided to avoid it, I missed Janet and her, you know. Not that I was looking to see Tom Petty rip his shirt off, but I had to be there in case another international incident went down.
I’m glad I was. The Pats loss may not have risen to the level of international incident, but it was the best sports-watching experience I’ve had in months. As a Philly Eagles fan, I didn’t think I could root for the Giants, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be a problem. If there’s one thing I can’t stand in a team or an athlete, it’s smugness, and the Pats reeked of it, from Belicheat to Brady to Asante Samuels to Robert Kraft in the owner’s box. Was I mistaken, or did he get up just before Manning’s pass to Tyree, fix his cufflinks, and get ready to go down to accept the Lombardi Trophy?
But even Kraft paled in comparison to Slate’s resident Boston sports expert, Charles Pierce. Coming into the Super Bowl, this normally intelligent and rational essayist (and Tom Brady biographer) had produced two of the most obnoxious columns in sports-pundit history. The first was entitled, “Undefeated, Unloved, Undaunted: The Patriots are Great. Deal With It.” The second, written after the Pats beat the Chargers in a fairly close AFC championship, was subtitled “Sorry, Pats Haters, That Was Your Chance” and included these immortal sentences:
“And the futile national festival of hateration gets to live on for another two weeks, despite the fact that Tom Brady did not play at all well, which is not going to happen indoors in Arizona the way it did outdoors in Foxboro, Mass. This was your chance, all of you people whose dreams are haunted by a dour old spirit in a gray hoodie. This was the game where Tom Brady was not really Tom Brady for long stretches, which is really the only chance any NFL team has against New England. This was your chance, and it's gone now and it's not coming back.”
Oh, how sweet it is to read those words now.
For the last two days, I’ve been waiting impatiently for Pierce’s post-Super Bowl column, but, alas, he’s taking his time before eating some much-deserved crow. I guess I can understand—what exactly can you say after that?
2. Michael Chang makes the Hall of Fame. His place was pretty much sealed after he won the French Open in 1989. Along, the way, he pulled out one of my favorite matches of all time, a five-setter in the fourth round against three-time champion Ivan Lendl. From the moonballs to the underhand serve to his return position just behind the service line to the way he left the court in tears, Chang was plainly possessed that day. Above are some hard-to-see highlights, including match point, when Lendl, the best player in the world but utterly bamboozled on this day, double faults. Anyone who has played junior tennis would have recognized all of the 17-year-old Chang’s tactics; they were par for the course in those days among kids. But they worked against adults as well. See this clip for Chang’s underhand serve. I love the French announcer’s reaction: “Extraordinaire!”
3. Kudos to Ashley Harkleroad, the unlikely savior of the U.S. Fed Cup team’s against Germany this weekend. Now they face the Russians and possibly…
4. …Maria Sharapova. The resurgent Russian rolled out of Melbourne and kept the momentum going through a tie in Israel, despite being grunted at by the home fans. This is a heady time for Sharapova. Until now, her career at the Slams has resembled Andre Agassi’s—just when she’s counted out, she roars out of nowhere and shows that for two weeks at a time no one can touch her.
Agassi always struggled to maintain that level, but he was never able to conceive of himself as a full-time No. 1 player, at least with Pete Sampras around. Can Sharapova begin to think of herself as that, with Henin and the Williamses hanging around, or is she destined to be a serial ambush artist? We’ll get our latest answer over the next six months.
5. Back to music for a minute. I made a return this weekend to one of the few vinyl-record stores that remain in New York. I used to haunt these dusty little basement hideaways before they began shutting down one-by-one. This time, as usual, there was a tight coterie of nerdish clerks inspecting all newcomers, and an old, obscure psychedelic album spinning on the turntable that sounded fantastic. (Warning: Never buy something if you’ve only heard it over the speakers in a record store.) I went through the long-forgotten and long-ingrained motions of standing straight up and flipping record sleeves forward with my index finger.
That’s how I found the Rolling Stones Between the Buttons. First I noticed that the cover is one of their best—weird, blurry, vaguely menacing. Then I noticed that I had barely heard any of the songs on it. How was this possible for a lifelong Stones fan? Anyway, I scooped it up, feeling like Christmas had come very early this year. It hasn’t left my turntable since. Record stores—we need more of your kind in this world.
6. Davis Cup is back, too early as usual, but we’ll take it. I’ll get to see the U.S. versus Austria in Vienna, and the Serbs travel to Russia. Those are the best ties going, considering that the Swiss aren’t playing and Nadal and Ferrer won’t be participating for Spain. The U.S. will go back to the clay grind, where Roddick and Blake are no sure thing against Koubek, Melzer, and Knowle. Russia vs. Serbia may feature a Djokovic-Safin face off, something any tennis fan will want to see. They haven’t played since the Australian Open three years ago, when Safin crushed a 17-year-old Djokovic 0, 2, and 1. He really was playing well that tournament, wasn’t he?
7. Finally, my first semi-meaningful voting experience in about a dozen years went off without a hitch today. After being bombarded with news about the campaigns for months, it’s odd to find out again what a homely, low-tech process it is. I walked into a local grade school, where one woman was waving an Obama flyer on the sidewalk out front. Inside, there was a huge table loaded with snacks and manned by two moms from the school. I felt like I’d walked back in time.
There were no computers anywhere, which somehow made everything much simpler and more pleasant: I told a woman at a desk my name, she looked it up in a notebook and then wrote it on a card, and I handed to another woman who let me into a rickety old voting booth. One pull of a big red lever—it was more industrial age than Internet age—and I walked out after five minutes having spoken a total of three words.
So whom did I pull the big red lever for? I’m a registered Democrat, so it was between Clinton and Obama. I’ve never voted for a Republican, but I do like McCain’s regular-guy persona (not that I would want any regular guy to take us into Iran, which he might), and I think that despite his plastic qualities and transparently bogus social-issue stands, Romney would be the best overseer of a faltering economy. But my choice was narrowed today. On the Clinton side, I think she would be competent (not a small issue these days), make intelligent decisions, and not get rolled by Republicans. Obama seems a little green, and there’s a whiff of slick entitlement about him that I don’t love. I also don’t know what exactly he’s talking about when he says he’ll bring us together in a new way. I know he doesn’t believe that Republicans are suddenly going to line up behind him and say, “You’re the man, Barack,” if he's elected. Politics will continue as usual, no matter who’s in there; there’s no incentive for either side to change it.
They say we choose a candidate for personal and seemingly random reasons, and I'm no exception. The two biggest interests of my life are sports and music, both of which have been redefined and reshaped by black-white relations in America over the past 50 years. Hearing Obama speak, you can hear those changes—he’s a musical orator, but he allows me to feel part of that music. This may be an idiotic reason to vote for someone, and I might even change my tune in the general election, but that’s why I pulled the lever for Obama today.
Davis Cup previews to come later this week.