Monday, July 28, 2008


So we kicked off today with a visit to the Negro Leagues Museum. I was expecting this to be fairly tedious, since I don’t really give a fuck about baseball, but I found myself getting fairly into the subject.

Even in the single experience I had a few days ago, I was struck by the fact that the real appeal of baseball isn’t the game itself – it’s the *texture* of the game. I’ve been trying to lose weight, and found myself peering at the menu in search of a salad; and of course there wasn’t one, only a steady stream of hot dogs, beer, and, well, variations on those two items. It’s an environment that’s not interested in compromising, and that’s part of its appeal: the heat, the food, the music, the *culture* surrounding baseball, the aesthetic, is in some respects the most critical part of the experience.

Its refusal to compromise, its very refusal to appeal to a wider audience, is exactly the thing that gives it its appeal: it’s an unapologetically testosterone-fuelled entertainment, and it’s glorious.

So if you were a baseball fan in the time period that the museum was covering, you’d find yourself torn: as a lover of the game, you’d want to pursue the absolute masters of the field. And as you did so, you’d be forced to confront the fact that skill and discipline is not confined by ethnicity.

One of the things I find so moving about the story is the fact that it’s one driven by individualism. My favorite African-American intellectual isn’t Martin Luther King, but Zora Neale Hurston; one who asserted that the social liberation of the black intellect lay within, not without. I find something vaguely offensive about the very idea that black liberation is something that must be bestowed upon them by superior whites – and the philosophies of redistribution and affirmative action are couched within that idea, despite whatever its left-wing proponents might claim.

The social equity of blacks is something that must be achieved within the black community, if it’s to have any meaning whatsoever: it’s going to be achieved by the actions of extraordinary individuals, not by some kind of state-sponsored validation.

Courtney found herself choking up during the exhibit; but I found myself breaking down in the neighboring building, the American Jazz Museum. I’ve always been a fan of Duke Ellington, but I’d never actually heard his religious music before: every time I thought it was winding to a conclusion, he’d hit me with something else: a clarinet solo, or a shrill, soulful cry from his lead vocalist, or suddenly, impossibly, a chorus of voices wailing both grief and praise. I broke down sobbing like a child in the middle of the museum. We may live in a world of misery, slavery, and degradation; we may be only temporarily shielded form those horrific realities; but having lived in a world in which music like that existed? And in which I had the opportunity to hear it? Jesus.

Saw an excellent show in the evening, and went on to perform in yet another open-mike night, this time doing a piece from “Descendant of Dragons.” Managed to twist the collective arms of 3 Sticks into going bar-hopping with us, and found myself in yet another gay bar, in which the prospects of a heterosexual man getting laid are roughly equivalent to the spontaneous combustion of Tipper Gore. My tech cheerfully and loudly announced that his pseudo-girlfriend had granted him permission to have a gay experience, which resulted in at least one patron descending upon him like a starving puma upon a wounded gazelle.

A shout-out definitely goes to Charla, who’s stepped up to be our designated driver for the week: her repeated efforts to bundle a bevy of besotted buffoons into the van and get us all back to the motel are nothing short of heroic. The ride home rapidly degenerated into a belligerent, alcohol-soaked argument about abortion that left pretty much everyone ready to rip out everyone else’s throats.

I dunno: I guess it’s ironic for a political writer to have such an intense dislike of conflict, but I do – I’ve worked pretty hard to steer our rehearsals away from discussions of the underlying politics and to keep them focused on comedy, to let the text do its work while we entertain. In an odd way, in spite of how militant many characters in the play are, the script itself represents a kind of an olive branch – it’s a right-wing comedy for left-wingers. I’m afraid I don’t have much of a spark of revolutionary spirit: I don’t want to see another Civil War, and I don’t want my children to witness a revolution, and I don’t want to take arms against my friends, family, and colleagues. The day may come when it’s necessary: but it’s not something I yearn for.

I remember one drunken exchange with a colleague a few months back:

HIM: (for, like, the eight hundredth time) I really think we need a revolution in this country.

ME: Okay, dude – why are you always pushing for a revolution?

HIM: I don’t know. I think I just really want to shoot a lot of people.

ME: Well, yeah, but – you don’t need a war for that. You can just go out and starting shooting people.

HIM: Yeah, but in war it’s allowed.

ME: Oh, I see. So you want state-sponsored shooting of people.

HIM: I’m a liberal, phillip. It’s only allowed if it’s state-sponsored.

And that about sums it up, dunnit?


Anonymous said...

affirmative action... "oh yeah we're so sorry about how you were treated so long ago, here we'll give you money because obviously you need help coping with all this racism..." and then whether or not you get a job (or scholarship, or whatever) depends on how politically correct it would be to give you one. "hey you're black, it would look good for our company to hire you!" and then the white people see unfairness and get jealous and start hating black people and it's one more time around that circle...
it's kind of funny. i think i've seen 2, maybe 3 black people since i've moved to wisconsin. it's kind of weird, not seeing very much diversity around. there are the hmong, but they very much keep to themselves and the neighbors don't have such a swell opinion about them. (why??) it just seems that going from here to the cities is such a huge culture shock, and then going back to rochester is an even bigger one.


Anonymous said...

oh yeah, i guess i already commented about culture shock to you. :P sorry for the repetition... lol


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