Happy Thursday, WFNYers. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the win column after a squeaker in Memphis, and we finally have a welcome distraction from the purgatory that is Browns fandom. I trust that you’ve all picked out your Cleveland-sports-themed Halloween costumes for this weekend? I might just tell all my friends inviting me to Halloween functions that my costume is a Browns Super Bowl champion and then never show up.
I was in New York City most of the week for work purposes. It was one of those business conferences where you swap business cards like there’s a prize for giving out the most, pretend you’re interested in your peers’ handling of derivative in intellectual property in licensing transactions, and throw around buzzwords like “innovation” without having a clue what it means. They’re world class exhibitions in silliness.
Naturally, I took this as an opportunity to traipse around some of New York, a place I hadn’t been to since I was about ten years old. New York City’s dirty. It’s noisy. It’s busy. It’s mad. It’s huge. It’s filled with tall buildings (neat!) and Yankee gear (barf!). It’s also pretty cool. You’d have a hard time arguing it’s not a really cool city — a city where you can feel things happening in the air. The allure of it is understandable. I also had inexplicably awful Wi-Fi, so was ironically isolated from the outside world despite being in the middle of one of the biggest masses of humanity on the planet.1 Did I miss the permanent, ceaseless connectivity we’ve come to associate with everyday life? Not really.
This isn’t a PSA about how you just have to travel or anything like that. If anything, I realized that there are places in my own neighborhood I haven’t traveled to. So I’ll urge everyone to do some the following. Disconnect once in a while. Watch the Cavs game without Twitter. Don’t check your email for hours, or maybe even an entire evening (gasp!). Watch the Browns game with people you’ve never met. Don’t be afraid to be alone. Talk to strangers. Watch fourteen innings of baseball with some new friends. Buy a drink for a fellow traveler. Try to navigate the labyrinthine subway.2 Play in a new park. Go to a museum. Browse a bookstore in an eclectic neighborhood. Wander around a college campus. Stay up late. Ride a bike somewhere unfamiliar. Go sightseeing in your own neighborhood. Go on adventures. Go exploring, damn it. It’s a magical world.
Because of the aforementioned internet/travel situation, I actually bought and read some of a magazine. You know, those weird things with all the glossy pages and perfume samples. I bought a copy of Vanity Fair, in part because it’s my one indulgence that makes me feel “cultured,” and in part because there was a scantily clad Rihanna on the cover caressing a vintage car.
One of the features in the issue was a Michael Lewis profile on Tom Wolfe. Together, Lewis, author of Moneyball and Flash Boys, and Wolfe, author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities, are two of my favorite writers and have produced some of the best non-fiction books in the last fifty years.3 Do you ever have those moments when you know what you like and you like what you like, and then the seemingly disparate things you like collide, prompting an epiphany that your interests are more connected than you realize? It’s like a light bulb goes on, and the world suddenly makes a little more sense. I had that sensation when Matt Taibbi (Rollingstone, The Divide) mentioned Bill Simmons (The Book of Basketball, Grantland) in the foreword to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and again during the Lewis profile during a story about Tom Wolfe stealing an invitation to a Black Panther party (presumably the same one Forrest Gump attended) from David Halberstam’s (Breaks of the Game, Playing for Keeps) desk.
Lewis’s profile of Wolfe is notable for several reasons — Lewis telling of Wolfe’s aimless path to discover his career, Wolfe suggesting that his career wouldn’t be replicable today in light of the internet, Wolfe calling the Yale professors reviewing his dissertation “stupid [n. (plural)-expletive beginning with the letter “f”], Lewis describing the seven years of research Wolfe did for The Right Stuff, Wolfe telling a story about Hunter S. Thompson and a marine distress signal, and Lewis’ daughter questioning Wolfe’s “outgoing” fashion choices.
Despite all that, I had trouble picking an excerpt that properly conveyed the joy of reading Lewis’ and Wolfe’s books, so here’s an excerpt that Lewis (a lifelong admirer of Wolfe) selected from The Right Stuff, Wolfe’s classic on military test pilots and the beginning of the American space program. It’s long, but to be fair it’s technically only five or so sentences with all of Wolfe’s ellipses. This is one of the passages that showed me how much delight and joy can be conveyed with a refreshing and relentlessly funny writing voice. I was thrilled that he chose it because it’s long been one of my favorites, and I wouldn’t be writing about the Cavs or Browns or anything without it and the countless others like it from Wolfe and others. As Lewis describes, Wolfe’s words leap off the page (and screen)
Anyone who travels very much on airlines in the United States soon gets to know the voice of the airline pilot … coming over the intercom … with a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself (nevertheless!—it’s reassuring) … the voice that tells you, as the airliner is caught in thunderheads and goes bolting up and down a thousand feet at a single gulp, to check your seat belts because “it might get a little choppy” … the voice that tells you (on a flight from Phoenix preparing for its final approach into Kennedy Airport, New York, just after dawn): “Now, folks, uh … this is the captain … ummmm … We’ve got a little ol’ red light up here on the control panel that’s tryin’ to tell us that the landin gears’re not … uh … lockin into position when we lower ‘em … Now … I don’t believe that little ol’ red light knows what it’s talkin about—I believe it’s that little ol’ red light that iddn’ workin’ right” … faint chuckle, long pause, as if to say, I’m not even sure all this is really worth going into—still, it may amuse you … “But … I guess to play it by the rules, we oughta humor that little ol’ light … so we’re gonna take her down to about, oh, two or three hundred feet over the runway at Kennedy, and the folks down there on the ground are gonna see if they caint give us a visual inspection of those ol’ landin’ gears”—with which he is obviously on intimate ol’-buddy terms, as with every other working part of this mighty ship— “and if I’m right … they’re gonna tell us everything is copacetic all the way aroun’ an’ we’ll jes take her on in” … and, after a couple of low passes over the field, the voice returns: “Well, folks, those folks down there on the ground—it must be too early for ‘em or somethin”—I ‘spect they still got the sleepers in their eyes … ‘cause they say they caint tell if those ol’ landin’ gears are all the way down or not … But, you know, up here in the cockpit we’re convinced they’re all the way down, so we’re jes gonna take her on in … And oh” … (I almost forgot) … “while we take a little swing out over the ocean an’ empty some of that surplus fuel we’re not gonna be needin’ anymore—that’s what you might be seein’ comin’ out of the wings—our lovely little ladies … if they’ll be so kind … they’re gonna go up and down the aisles and show you how we do what we call ‘assumin’ the position’ ” … another faint chuckle (We do this so often, and it’s so much fun, we even have a funny little name for it) … and the stewardesses, a bit grimmer, by the looks of them, than that voice, start telling the passengers to take their glasses off and take the ballpoint pens and other sharp objects out of their pockets, and they show them the position, with the head lowered … while down on the field at Kennedy the little yellow emergency trucks start roaring across the field—and even though in your pounding heart and your sweating palms and your broiling brainpan you know this is a critical moment in your life, you still can’t quite bring yourself to believe it, because if it were … how could the captain, the man who knows the actual situation most intimately … how could he keep on drawlin’ and chucklin’ and driftin’ and lollygaggin’ in that particular voice of his—
Well!—who doesn’t know that voice! And who can forget it!—even after he is proved right and the emergency is over.
That particular voice may sound vaguely Southern or Southwestern, but it is specifically Appalachian in origin…. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s this up-hollow voice drifted down from on high, from over the high desert of California, down, down, down, from the upper reaches of the Brotherhood into all phases of American aviation…. Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginia drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents. It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager. [From Chapter 3, The Right Stuff.]
Your daily Calvin and Hobbes. Today’s C&H strip is inspired by the Browns’ lackluster and unwatchable performance against the Rams on Sunday. #CouldntIBeSedatedForThis? #Browns
And now for the random 90s song of the day. It’s time for some vintage Beck — ironic, self-deprecating, and full of loathing. It’s infinite times better than his new pop-garbage single “Dreams.” “Loser” might also have the strange lyrics of all time. Like the lyrics, the video is wonderfully nonsensical and bizarre. Plus, if this edition of While We’re Waiting… hasn’t convinced you, I’m quite the loser. Not much sports talk today, but I’ll spill more words on the Cavs in the coming months than anyone in their right mind should, so look out for that.
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey … .