Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tony Trigilio's response to the WS dialogue on matters of baseball and the spirit

While you were watching Game 1 in the English Department utility room, I was asking my students to call to their minds the imaginary room in their homes that they all go to -- the secret sanctuary room in their heads that no one else knows about.  Let’s all go into that room, I said, and write everything we see.  A few looked at me strangely, with facial expressions that suggested I should slow down, take a step back, because, hey, what if we don’t have secret imaginary rooms in our heads (but of course they all do, and they all had a lot to write about).  In that moment I recalled the recurring dream I used to have of an imaginary room in an apartment I inhabited in Boston.  You had to step down into it, like a sunken living room, and it had a couch that always seemed beautiful in the dream but was mostly bland when I’d wake up.  Gray, cheap vinyl -- really, a disappointing object for my unconscious mind to care about.  The secret room I wrote about had a 100-gallon fish tank and a chrome kitchen countertop with a pineapple on it.  But nothing that would allow me to watch a baseball game.
Because of the night class, I had to record the game on our DVR.  I watched the first pitch around 10:15 central time, which I’m guessing was around the 7th inning in real time.  Around the third (DVR’d) inning, I started getting text messages.  I knew this meant the game was over.  With the Sox leading 5-0 at that point (in unreal, DVR time), I hoped the texts were from friends celebrating a win, but years of Sox misery creates ridiculous fatalistic habits, and I worried that the texts were condolences to make me feel better about a historic Cards’ ninth-inning comeback.  I guess my awe at St. Louis’s glorious back-from-the-dead win over Texas in the 2011 World Series -- ensuring a winter of well deserved misery in the George W. Bush household -- still wasn’t enough to erase my memories of the ‘86 World Series against the Mets.  If you’re a Sox fan of a certain age, you feel like an evil deus ex machina is always waiting in the bushes to sabotage you.
I thought about just fast-forwarding to the end, or just reading the texts and getting it over with, but then a calm came over me, too, and this made me think of the serenity you felt during the NLCS.  This was the same calm I mentioned in one of our Facebook emails -- an equanimity I felt when Koji Uehara was pitching to Austin Jackson in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS.  I watching the DVR’d version of the game, but I knew it already was over because I’d received a few text messages.  The game was too tense for me to dare read them.  As Jackson came to the plate, I paused the recording.  I was too anxious to continue watching.  But then a soothing understanding came over me.  The game was already over in real time, and I wasn’t feeling ecstatic or despondent.  The game was over in real time and I didn’t feel a thing. 
I was thinking of the old Zen story of the sailors who anchor their ship inside a dark cave to protect themselves from a dangerous storm.  They’re suffering from horrible thirst, so one of them casts down a bucket into the cave water, hoping it might be drinkable.  It’s delicious – he’s dying of thirst, and this is the best water he’s ever tasted.  Bucket after bucket, he gulps down the cave water.  The next day, with more light filtering into the cave, he looks down and sees that the cave is actually a burial ground, and the water he had been drinking is tainted with ooze from decomposing bodies.  As soon as he realizes this, his stomach turns upside-down and he starts puking violently.  Once he’s recovered -- weak and dehydrated from vomiting, but no longer sick -- he comes to a sudden, calming realizing of emptiness.  “Nothing happened between last night and this morning,” he says.  “The water was delicious last night, and it’s the same water this morning, even though I’m aware now that the water is tainted by corpse putrefaction.  But the only thing that really happened was my mind.”
So I restarted the recording.  Koji was pitching to Jackson, but the game was already over.  The only thing happening was my mind.
Well, shantih shantih shantih, if only I could maintain that equanimity.  It lasted until the first pitch of Game 6.  All my own base instincts came back right away.  To make things worse, my extended in-laws are all Tigers fans -- they all grew up around Toledo and Detroit.  My father-in-law, Stan, and I have a great rapport, but we both went dark during the ALCS.  When the Tigers won Game 1, he didn’t text me; when the Sox came back to win Game 2, I held back.  Neither of us wanted to gloat and make the other person feel bad.  But of course we wanted nothing more than to disappoint the entire city of Detroit (me) or Boston (Stan).  But by the time of Victorino’s grand slam, I can’t say I was feeling any equanimity at all.  I was attached to a Sox victory -- thoroughly attached, in the Buddhist sense, as in “addicted.”  I didn’t matter that my joy hinged on the disappointment of an entire fan base, including my wonderful extended family of in-laws.  Jose Veras is, I’m sure, loved deeply by his family and friends, and if I were truly living up to the Bodhisattva ideal, I wouldn’t want him to feel as horrible as I’m sure he did when he hung that curveball to the unspeakably intense Victorino, who then knocked it over the wall for the Sox’s second game-turning grand slam of the series.
But, like you, baseball is my place for base instinct.  No place for bodhisattva ideals.  I’m reminded of an email I sent a dear friend in Boston last month.  I was explaining to him that the emotional distance I’d cultivated during the Sox’s 93-loss, last-place plummet last season was disappearing.  This was around the same time that Mariano Rivera’s unending retirement tour took him to Fenway, where the Boston Cello Quartet played his signature song, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and the team gave him a 1934 seat from Fenway park (with his number on it). I want to boo Mariano Rivera every time I see him take the mound.  He caused me irreparable baseball-misery over the years, and the bare fact that he reached baseball-retirement age doesn’t take away the pain.  Every time I hear announcers rending their garments over “Mo’s” retirement, I think of Kevin Millar’s walk and Bill Mueller’s single in the 2004 ALCS -- I still see Rivera sprawling on the mound after his futile attempt to stop Mueller’s hit from getting through the infield -- and I feel a twang of justice in my heart.  Literally, I call this “justice,” which I’ll be the first to admit is a total perversion of the word.  But here I am, suspending all my political anger at, say, the Republican party’s desire to let poor people die from lack of health care, and I’m saying it would be “unjust” if Rivera saved another game against the Sox.  It defies all spiritual reason, but there I go, right to my basest instincts, as Jonny Gomes starts his obsessive-compulsive rituals in the batter’s box, looking like he can barely contain the twitches and spasms of his central nervous system.
I get it, absolutely, how in the middle of the last night’s game, you could start to feel hostility toward the city of Boston.  Along with San Francisco, it’s the city of my imagination, but if the Sox were playing the Giants in the World Series, I’d want every single baseball fan in the Bay Area to be disappointed today -- even though I begin each day with a meditation session that (at least when baseball isn’t involved) is meant to create the conditions for me to be good, altruistic, and full of loving-kindness with everyone I encounter that day.
I planned to talk more about how we root for our individual teams -- I’m fascinated by what you said about the roots of your Cardinal-rooting, and I, too, came to my chronic Red Sox fanaticism through circuitous paths.  I grew up in Pennsylvania but I’ve lived most of my life in Boston and Chicago, the only cities that truly feel like “home.”  When I watch Fenway games on TV, I feel a pang, knowing that my apartment was about a 10-minute walk from Fenway, following the trajectory of the right-field foul line.  But I’ll save this for our next emails.

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