Take Me Out to the Bar Game

“The Dodgers suck!”

He’s all the way across the room, and he says it in a voice loud enough to quiet O’Tooles for a moment. This is a Chicago sports bar. It is Game One of the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the middle of teaching the defending champion Chicago Cubs a lesson in humility. The bar – indeed, the whole city – is wound so tight the air thrums as you walk.

And I am a die-hard Dodger fan with just enough IPA in me to stop caring who knows it.

“The Dodgers SUCK,” he repeats. This time he’s louder, and he is supported by a broken chorus of interjections expressing everything from full-throated support to mild “chill out dude” disapproval.

This is one of those moments when I ask myself what the right thing would be to do. As a guy. As a dude. I think about the thin veneer of civilization. I tell myself that sports is an opiate, and that I have been manipulated into this by a cynical media establishment that thrives on stoking sports rivalries.

And I don’t care. This guy hasn’t just insulted a bunch of grown men throwing a ball at each other. He has transgressed against something both more personal and far larger.

I think about the games I watched growing up. The time we went with Dr. Bing, our baseball coach, sitting so close that my heroes came to life in front of me.

I think about the times my dad took me to watch the guys play, and what it meant for he and I to listen to the post-game show as we drove the old VW van home down Sunset late at night.

I think about the giddy joy of the 1981 World Series, when we showed the most powerful Yankees squad in five decades that grit and determination beats glitz and polish when it counts.

I think about fifty years of admiring a team that prided itself on being the anti-Yankees, the Boys from Brooklyn, Dem Bums.

I think about Sandy Koufax, who refused to pitch in a critical World Series game because it landed on Yom Kippur, and in so doing showed the world what it meant to be a Jew.

I think about Jackie Robinson, who with the backing of Dodger management silently suffered innumerable hurts as he forged the path for African-Americans into the major leagues, and in so doing showed the world what it meant to be a man.

I think about Ray Campanella, upside down in his car on a Harlem Street after hitting black ice on a winter night, his back broken, his career over, then spending the rest of his life working in the Dodger front office and showing the world that there was no such thing as “handicapped.”

And I turn to look at the gone-to-seed neck-bearded fuck whose alcoholic partisanship has turned him into a drooling, knuckle-dragging neanderthal.

I think, “‘The Dodgers suck?’ You miserable, illegitimate, Epsilon-minus thick-skulled cretin!”

And I realize that I am about a pubic-hair’s width away from getting into my first bar fight, alone, deep in enemy territory. And I wonder if Blue Shield will cover my heartfelt yet doomed defense of our team, or whether the adjuster will boil the whole thing down to idiocy and refuse to pay on the grounds that the cause of my broken bones, lost teeth, and contusions were the direct result of an uninsured pre-existing condition.

This is the last place I want to be, but the testosterone and adrenaline are pouring into my system, and I start to get up.

The waitress is smarter than all of us. She comes over, looks me in the eye, smiles, and sets down another pint of IPA.

“I didn’t order that!”

“On the house,” she says. “And I’ve got some fresh tater tots on the way.”

I look over at Neckbeard. The bartender just put an order of hot wings in front of him and the boys. I’m betting these were free, too.

I look back at the waitress. She smiles.

“Enjoy the game,” she says. “And welcome to Chicago.”

Free beer and tots?

Manhood satisfied, I sit down again, the anger gone, replaced with a sympathetic good will toward old Neckbeard.

The Dodgers don’t suck, I tell myself. But for the moment, I am happy to let them prove it themselves.

The tots arrive, the Dodgers are winning, and I am left alone to contemplate the madness we – I – have yet to outgrow.

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Fragment of Fiction: Galaxy Upside Down

Her anger rent the air in our booth like a shockwave, pushing me back into my seat, strangling me. Then, in a moment, the fury abated and it was pain and not evil burning behind her irises.

“Don’t judge him too harshly,” I told her. “He’s just another insecure young guy sucked into a business where fucking over kin for a couple of points is a rite of passage. Hollywood is like the Borg, he’s been assimilated, willingly, throwing himself into it, and trying to extract him will either kill him or make him wish he was dead.”

I paused. That was about as close to profound as I get.

And I waited, trying to remember what I just said, watching her.

She seemed to quiet. She took a deep, sobbing breath, let it out slowly like Lemaze. And smiled at me.

“Still mad,” I asked?

“Every fucking cell of me,” she said, smile widening.

“Good,” I said. “Because we are going to fucking kill him, that shit-demon he works for, and that gutter slut they’re casting as lead.”

From the story “Galaxy Upside Down” by David Wolf

Note: When I’m not a fan (updated)

For the record, when I say in this forum that “I am not a fan” of an artist, that does not always mean to cast aspersions on the skill or talent of that artist.

Case in point: I am not a fan of the Rolling Stones, and with all respect to Jagger & Co., you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through one of their concerts. I recognize that they are talented. I acknowledge they had an impact on a generation of music. Unfortunately, neither they nor their music ever connected with me.

(My elder sister, twelve years my senior, believes this to be a generational issue. She’s wrong: if my age was the cause of my Stones issue, how to explain my love of The Who, Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman?)

Talent does not mean connection. We too often interpret in others a failure to appreciate the work of an artist we like as an aesthetic failing, a fundamental flaw in their world view that prevents them from really seeing the work.

But if I have learned one thing at this early stage of my swim in a deepening sea of art and literature, it is the truism that no creation is objective. We bring our experiences, our fears, our subjective values to a work. And that is where the magic takes place. Art is not what happens on a page. Art is what happens when creation and perception collide.

Does It Matter if Playwrights Can’t Make a Living?

In his 2009 study Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play, Todd London, artistic director of the playwrights’ advocacy organization New Dramatists, reaches a bleak conclusion: “Financially speaking, there is no way to view playwriting as anything other than a profession without an economic base.”

Alena Smith
“You Can’t Make A Living: Digital Media, the End of TV’s Golden Age, and the Death Scene of the American Playwright”
Los Angeles Review of Books
December 8, 2014

Here’s the unspoken part of that last sentence: it was not always that way. Ask Neil Simon.

The elephant in the room is that the economic base for screenwriters is being eroded by the combined onslaught of digital video and unscripted television. Late at night when we’re all lying in bed and our deepest fears come out of our subconscious to play, this is the cloud that hovers over the wordsmiths of the Golden State.

I don’t buy the “Doomsday is Nigh” for writers nonsense. The media for storytelling have changed regularly since Neanderthals began drawing on cave walls. The opportunity for great storytelling will always be there. All that will change are the tools we will use for doing it.

Ebooks have opened the door to books between 20,000 and 50,000 words, sending some of us back to look up “novella,” “pamphlet,” “chapbook,” and “monograph” in search of a term to fit our new formats. YouTube is becoming a repository for a growing library of scripted content. And as video game storylines become more flexible and complex, a screenwriter’s art is more essential than ever.

Is it going to be difficult to figure out how to make a living at this? Naturally. And a lot of us won’t: most of us who write will find that it becomes either an avocation or a means to a living rather than a living itself. But with apologies to the Bard of Avon, the play is the thing: man will ever need storytellers, and we need good ones now more than ever.