giffelsauthorphotocredittoTimothyFitzwaterDavid, I’d like to begin, if I may, by saying “thank you” for taking the time to talk with me. I’ve been a big fan of yours for as long as I can remember, and this is kind of, almost surreal for me.

Please. It’s my pleasure. Don’t be nervous. You’ve got five minutes.

 

Some might say that The Hard Way on Purpose is the greatest book written about coming of age in postindustrial Akron, Ohio, in at least the past half-decade. Would you agree?

Considering the publishing industry’s insatiable appetite for essay collections about life in America’s Rust Belt, that’s high praise. Thank you.

“No. I don’t follow sports.”

That’s all I’d have to say, and would it be so horrible? Would telling the truth make me that much of a pariah? Shouldn’t I just speak what I feel? Isn’t that always best?

“Do I follow the Giants? No. To be frank, Frank, I’d rather spend an afternoon wrapped in a nice goose down blanket, watching Bravo and eating Stacy’s pita chips than listening to a pair of bombastic announcers analyze eighteen human battering rams. Football does have eighteen players, right? Or is it six thousand? I always mess this up. Want a pita chip?” Crunch.

All that would be fine. Great. Then again, I’m OH SO insecure.

What kind of a man would I be if I admitted to knowing nothing about sports? Well, I’d be the kind I am, and many others are, I suppose—mild mannered folk who think a hat-trick is something a magician does and an RBI is an infomercial-reliant technical school. Sports lovers probably wouldn’t hold it against me. I’d tell them I know more about French-made semiconductors than I do about Babe Ruth (I know nothing about semiconductors) and we’d just talk about something else. Vegetable dip, or hepatitis or something. It seems so simple, until I’m faced with owning up to the fact that I’m an athletic philistine. I can’t stand being completely in the dark about any subject, let alone one that large, intimidating men care about so passionately.

Of course my friends don’t mind my ignorance. My friends that have earnest talks about “the best, cheap brunches in town” and tips to boost page views on under-trafficked blogs. They’re like me. Blissfully out-of-touch with all diamonds, gridirons, links, and hardwoods. When I’m with them, Derek Jeter might as well be a firey public relations intern, LeBron James, the third most famous member of a Des Moines barbershop quartet that hosts Sunday afternoon community center sing-alongs.

As an out-of-shape American male, I’m reminded time and time again of the shockingly small sports-ambivalent minority I help comprise. I’m not like the others in my tribe. I’m a tattered plumb v-neck in a sea of limited edition mesh game jerseys, a can of solid white albacore in a bucket of Gatorade, a guy who doesn’t like sports in a population of guys who live for them.

It’s not that the things I know and talk about are any more important than the score of yesterday’s Knicks game, or that I hate sports. I just don’t care about them. At all. The World Series is as much a concern of mine as Harold Camping’s dancing a pre-Rapture jig on my wobbly dining room table. Same for the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the NHL World Cup, the Iowa Corn Cob Derby Olympics, the Toothy Smile Games, and all the rest. I don’t mean to diminish athleticism or its champions’ impressive feats. Hitting home runs, dunking basketballs, kicking field goals. All these things are incredible displays of disciplined practice and God-given talent, and they’re absolutely noteworthy, especially to someone like me who struggles to pull on their socks in the morning because they’re “too tight”. I do understand that much about sports, but that’s about all I get, and I’m okay with that, as long as I’m not confronted by the more informed.

I make my way through a good number of work days without exposing my defection. Men shake my hand just like they would an Ohio State Buckeyes season ticket holder, and they’re none the wiser. We exchange greetings. We conduct business. We offer well wishes and adieus. Civilization continues as it should, as long as my secret’s kept hidden.

But, see, the weekends are different. That’s when the barbecues happen—barbecues where I only know the hosts. Barbecues where all the women are discussing wrap dresses and I’ve got nothing to add. Barbecues where I wander over to a group of guys who’ve cordoned themselves off, content to flip Worcestershire-soaked meat and talk about off-season trade prospects.

I introduce myself and pick off pieces of my beer’s label, trying not to cough from the grill smoke that relentlessly billows in my face no matter where I stand. Sports talk surrounds me and I’m silent, but, unfortunately, not for long. Sooner than later a polite member of the grill team will try to include me.

“You follow baseball, Luke?” he says.

“I do. I certainly do, indeed.” I know I must respond quickly and firmly now. I need to squeeze in lucidity while I can, before I’m asked my opinion on some well-known player’s sloping batting average and my stammering suggests severe stroke trauma.

“Who’s your team?”

“The Yankees.” I say, because it’s a safe choice and I’m afraid.

“Same here. They’ve really had a tough season, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s been rough.” That’s literally the last thing I can offer. I can fake nothing else. I’ve already taken this pathetic, brief charade to its bitter end. Any further comment will make dust of my fraudulent bones. The man who’s asking me things thinks he’s being inclusive. Little does he know my nervous system is slowly shutting down in anticipation of his questions, questions for which I shall have no answer. He thinks he’s having a friendly conversation. I think I’m the first victim in some sort of barbecue genocide, the lone target of a ruinous Murray Hill Inquisition. What could he possibly say next? Why, kind Christ, won’t he please relent? Surely those flaming slabs of meat could use more attentive seasoning.

“How about the game last night?” he pushes on.

“Ugh, I know.” I manage to turn my authentic terror into a convincing dejectedness, assuming the good ol’ team suffered another defeat. I know something’s wrong when my interrogator stares back at me, confused.

“They won. They played great for the first time in 38 games,” he says. “Did you see it?”

“Yeah, um, I was glad.” I dribble out, knowing I’ve been discovered. I’m the recipient of a disappointed look and a conversation-ending excuse.

“One second, I’m gonna check the meat,” the fan says, leaving me to suffocate in my noxious ether of obvious, petty lies.

Could this result be better than that which would’ve followed an honest admission? Maybe. But, probably not. After all, a coward liar probably puts people off more than an honest non-fan.

I look down and notice that I’ve picked off my entire beer label during the course of my panicked ruse.

I promise myself that from now on, I’ll be honest and confident in my real interests.

I take a deep breath and walk over to the cooler, thirsty for something to bide my time.

A burly bald man is there and we begin to talk. After a few short minutes, my newfound resolve is tested.

“You a football fan, Luke?” he asks.

I know this is my chance to rectify all of my trespasses. I think of the embarrassment I just endured, the poor impression I made. I think of being confident. I know what I must do.

“Absolutely,” I say, without the slightest remorse. “Absolutely, I am. But more college than pro.”

 

China isn’t really what I expected. It’s better, in many ways, and also worse. In other words, it’s unique. It’s its own strange place which really doesn’t match well with the western view. For example, where’s the communism? Aside from the portraits of Mao, I can’t see anything “Red.” All I see is McDonalds, KFC, Hilton hotels… Everyone is trying desperately to sell something, to make some money.

It’s dirtier than a porno theatre, too. The streets are quite literally coated in shit. Some places are too dirty for cockroaches, and others are too swamped by roaches for dirt to settle. Trash piles threaten not only an array of diseases, but the possibility of collapsing and crushing a passer-by. The skies are an orangey-yellow colour, thick with the exhaust fumes from millions of overcrowded buses and motorcycles driven by small children and even smaller old men and women.

Tonight LeBron James, arguably the best player in the NBA–hell, on planet earth–will announce whether he will remain a Cleveland Cavalier or will migrate to greener basketball pastures somewhere else. Somewhere else being either Miami, New Jersey, New York, or Chicago.

King James will announce his decision on an hour-long ESPN special entitled “The Decision.” The DVD release of “The Decision” should be available just in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season. It will make either a splendid stocking stuffer or one of the worst gifts imaginable, depending on what city you rep and where James decides to go.

I’m rooting for Chicago. If LeBron wants to win championships, Chicago is where he should go, considering the solid starting squad of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and the recently acquired power forward Carlos Boozer. It also doesn’t hurt that Forbes has the Chicago Bulls organization ranked third–behind the Lakers and Knicks, respectively–on its list of the most valuable NBA franchises. The Bulls organization is a solid place for King James to land and embark on fulfilling his championship destiny.

Processing this situation over the past couple weeks–synthesizing the talk radio babble and tweets and newspaper articles into one well-rounded perspective–has been nothing short of bewildering. Everybody has an opinion on where LeBron is going to go, where he should go, where he could go, where he won’t go, et cetera. We’re all just sitting here waiting, scratching our heads and gnawing our nails, waiting for the King to speak. And he’s been mighty quiet about the whole ordeal.

If LeBron James becomes a Chicago Bull the Bulls are a championship-caliber basketball team. If he does not sign with the Bulls, the Bulls are significantly better than last year, which doesn’t amount to much when it comes to playoff time. You need to have a superstar to win an NBA championship, end of story.

Chicago acquiring LeBron James could prove a magnificent resurrection of sorts, bringing a whole generation of guys back to the team. Guys like me, who grew up with the Bulls Dynasty, and who will likely buy new Bulls schwag and will no longer have to refer to the team as Da Bulls. Personally speaking, a renewed Bulls franchise will steal my focus away from worrying about the morbidly awful Chicago Cubs–a team that has not won a World Series since 1908. (That’s the same year Henry Ford invented the automobile assembly line and started churning out Model Ts.)

Still, I have this nagging suspicion that King James is not going to be a Chicago Bull. My basketball insecurities bristle up, and my gut instinct tells James will remain a Cleveland Cavalier. If so, loyalty is clearly more important to the LBJ brand than winning. What’s more, LeBron James is a vital component of Cleveland’s economy, if not the only thing going for that city right now. So, what kind of person would commit an entire hour of television to royally screwing his hometown team?

Uncertainty rules. One thing’s for sure: Tonight’s airing of the “The Decision” will either cast LeBron James as a hometown hero of the highest class or as one of ugliest egos professional sports has ever seen. And we will all be witnesses.


 If you’ve spoken with me over the past several years, then you would know that I care deeply for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.

It’s just one of the many annoying things about me: I totally dig NBA basketball and I obsess over the Cavs.

That’s all I’ll really say about that because I don’t want to scare anyone away who isn’t a sports fan.