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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Newspapers, Novels, and Radio

Long view out to Manitou Islands

View across orchards and hills

What looks like a low-lying cloud in the photo above was heavy mist over north Lake Leelanau this morning, but the view of any field depends on where you’re standing. Baseball and politics. Past and present. And so I say that good fiction is not an escape from real life but allows us a different perspective on our reality.

Back in the last decades of the last century, David and I, younger then, were late night people. Now I get up early most mornings, sometimes actually waking as early as 2 or 3 a.m. and going to another room to read until I can fall asleep again until 6 or 7 a.m., a more decent hour to begin a new day. (So I still see 2 a.m. as often as I did long ago, but from the other end, as it were.) Two a.m. used to be the hour the bars closed, time to look for an all-night diner; now the same hour is morning but too early to make coffee.

Red twig dogwood, close up
My middle-of-the-night reading has its corollary in David’s dark-of-the-night radio hours. Sometimes by dawn he has listened to the same news cycle half a dozen times over and is ready to turn to another channel; his alternate listening then is a station where two men and one woman each morning find endless sources of hilarity in the happenings of the last 24 hours. Sometimes I try to imagine how that trio would have responded to the announcement of America’s entry into World War II or news of the assassinations of the 1960s. My imagination fails me. But that’s neither here nor there.

Beautiful fall ash leaves -- ash, traditional wood for baseball bats

Back to last night. As usual, I was ready for bed earlier than David and took my book with me – and yes, dozed off over it, with Sarah pressed up against my feet, keeping them warm. When David was ready to join us, I woke up, and he put in a DVD of “The Man From Snowy River,” telling me, “I got this for you because it has horses in it,” but he was also keeping track, for both of us, of Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and from time to time he would pause the movie and turn up the radio so I could share in the baseball action.

I’ll be honest: I was fading in and out of consciousness a lot of the time. I’d drift off and then open my eyes to watch beautiful horses thundering across the screen, drift again and wake to hear the current score and share the nail-biting suspense as another player came up to bat. “An epic battle,” said Ben Zobrist. It certainly was. Despite the fact that I slept through a lot of it, I was excited by every moment I heard – and thrilled by Chicago’s win!

Lake Leelanau Narrows, Thursday morning

This morning when David came out for his first cup of coffee, he gave me the latest radio report of the joy in Wrigleyville and I told him of the coincidence of my having reached the final game of the Series this morning in Wolfe’s famous novel. “Those Cubbies!” we said to each other happily, we who seldom pay attention to sports. Here is the literary coincidence I experienced:
They look at him with laughing and exuberant faces, unwounded by his scorn. They look at him with a kind of secret and unspoken tenderness which the strange and bitter savor of his life awakes in people always. They look at him with faith, with pride, with the joy of confidence and affection which his presence stirs in every one. And as if he were the very author of their fondest hopes, as if he were the fiat, not the helpless agent, of the thing they long to see accomplished, they yell to him in their unreasoning exuberance: “All right, Ben! Give us a hit now! A single’s all we need, boy! Bring him in!” Or others, crying with the same exuberance of faith: “Strike him out, Ben! Make him fan!” 
 But now the crowd, sensing the electric thrill and menace of a decisive conflict, has grown still, is waiting with caught breath and pounding hearts, their eyes fixed eagerly on Ben.... 
 The batter stands swinging his bat and grimly waiting at the plate, tense, the catcher, crouched, the umpire, bent, hands clasped behind his back, and peering forward. All of them are set now in the cold blue of that slanting shadow, except the pitcher who stands out there all alone, calm, desperate, and forsaken in his isolation....
Reading Of Time and the River for the first time, there’s no way I could have known ahead of time that this morning I would reach the pages where Thomas Wolfe describes the last game of a long-ago World Series! The scene is set about a hundred years ago, and protagonist Gene’s older brother, Ben (shortly afterward to die in the early 20th-century pneumonia epidemic) has a very visible role to play in their town’s national baseball experience. As we learned 150 pages earlier, it is Ben who announces the faraway game to fans in their little Southern hometown. Gene’s entry into the smoking car of the train in that earlier section of the book provoked memories among the older men there.
“Oh, I remember that boy now,” the swarthy pompous-looking man suddenly broke in with a flash of recollective inspiration—“Wasn’t Ben the boy who used to stand in the windows of The Courier offices when the World Series was being played, and post the score up on the scoreboard as they phoned it in to him?” 
 “Yes,” wheezed Mr. Flood [the publisher of The Courier], nodding heavily, “You got him now, all right. That was Ben.”
Forward again to the pages I reached this morning, we have a flashback to the final game of that World Series, with Ben, still alive, death still in his future, standing in the window of the newspaper office, phone to his ear, facing the local crowd out on the sidewalk.
The young man on the floor thrusts another placard into his hand. Ben takes it quickly, swiftly takes out a placard from the complicated frame of wires and rows and columns in the window (for it is before the day of the electric scoreboard, and this clumsy and complicated system whereby every strike, ball, substitution, or base hit—every possible movement and event that can occur on the field—must be indicated in this way by placards printed with the exact information, is the only one they know) and thrusts a new placard on the line in place of the one that he has just removed. A cheer, sharp, lusty, and immediate, goes up from the crowd.
Last night we could hear the cheers from the stands in Cleveland on our bedside radio, and friends who reported this morning being in a Chicago bar last night said the mood there was ecstatic. No doubt!

“A little good news,” I said to David, the two of us beaming at each other.

“We needed it,” he agrees.

What we call popples are called aspen out West

Following the end of the final game in the book, the crowd quickly disperses.
And instantly, there in the city’s heart, in the great stadium, and all across America, in ten thousand streets, ten thousand little towns, the crowd is breaking, flowing, lost forever! That single, silent, most intolerable loveliness is gone forever. With all its tragic, proud and waiting unity, it belongs now to the huge, the done, the indestructible fabric of the past, has moved at last out of that inscrutable maw of chance we call the future into the strange finality of dark time.
And almost instantly the dispersed crowd loses its short-lived unity.
To pace again the barren avenues of night, to pass before the bulbous light of lifeless streets with half-averted faces, to pass the thousand doors, to feel again the ancient hopelessness of hope, the knowledge of despair, the faith of desolation.

But Thomas Wolfe was only 31 years old when he began writing the novel and only 38 years old when he died. It is far easier for younger people to despair because they have not lived through earlier crises. Is it true our country has “never been more divided” than it is today? How about during the Civil War? How about during the 1960s? This morning, all over Leelanau County, people are smiling over and taking joy from the Cubs’ victory. So while I am reveling in Wolfe’s prose, in his wide ecstatic national vision, I’m not going to let go so quickly and easily of last night’s happy victory.

Cherry orchards are as beautiful in fall color as in springtime blossom

We needed happy news! We needed a reason to cheer! Oh, those Cubbies! Surely even Cleveland can’t help loving them?

Dark clouds sometimes make bursts of sunshine look brighter


Unknown said...

Lovely post. One of the many things I enjoy about reading is the interaction between books and reality; your Wolfe/Cubs experience is one of the best!

P. J. Grath said...

Carol, who sent her last comment to me in an e-mail I quoted on my previous post, says, "FYI, the 'unknown' commenter is me again... apparently Blogger likes me just fine as long as I'm 'unknown.'" I'm sharing this in case it will help others who have had trouble leaving comments and been discouraged at their inability to do so. It is possible to get around the roadblock! Carol, thank you for persevering -- and for reading and commenting!

Dawn said...

This is a beautiful post with stunning photos and happy councidence. Or not coincidence...who knows?