Columns » Bob Lancaster

First hint

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The long hot summer (speaking of which, my nomination for the worst-ever casting in a Hollywood movie is Paul Newman as Flem Snopes in the movie so named) is about over. This too will pass: truly words to live by, and an epitaph for all things. Even better than the other seasonal rhetorical parochial four-word salutation: Hot enuf fer ye? (the question mark being optional). That first faint hint of fall was in the air for about 10 seconds the other morning, until one of those nuclear August sunbeams hit it and shriveled it like an old watermelon rind. Or I thought that was a touch of fall in the air. Might only have been wishful thinking. But just to be able to do wishful thinking this deep into the month of snake molt, rabies, and dried-up wells is portentous. The annual first hint of fall spoke volumes in its moment, spoke of burnished days without number, going back and ahead into other eons, the best days, those that invite you to immerse in them, in their color and snap and promise, heartbreaking in that they come and go so quickly, their quick glory a kind of serial parody of our own brief stay on earth as who we are. The boys and girls are back in school already, realigning the cruel equinoxes and debating whether they even want to survive reft of their truest friends from grade to grade, the soft-drink vending machines. They’re already humoring the politicians by making better grades on the standardized tests, but obviously they’re not learning jack squat, proof of which is that the American generality grows shallower and more helpless and more self-absorbed as it assimilates each new graduating class. The arguments against progress, against social Darwinism, are just about wrapped up. If it were so, the “greatest generation” would always be the next one, instead of the one that spiked either 60 or 230 years ago. Aye, we get bigger, healthier, cleverer, but are ever beset with fewer clues. The Ford-to-W presidential curve tells. Our young squander their rebellion experimenting in tight-ass conservatism, their Thoreaus perhaps lost in the unheard words of their screamed songs. To hear the Fayetteville burners tell it, the youngsters are all lined up to check out the porn rife in the school library. To hear the Christian Wrong, they’re all in godless science classes learning that they’re sister and brother to Roller Wilson’s Naughty Betty and Mighty Joe Young. Mr. R., 7th grade general science, circa Sputnik, advanced the theory that Caucasians descended along the same branch as baboons, Negro people along the same branch as gorillas, Oriental people along the howler monkey branch, and cowboy movie sidekicks on the same limb as chimpanzees. Fundamentalism was shy then and political correctness unknown, so Mr. R. held onto his job, without controversy, for a long time. Football already as well, games starting with the spirit-sucking sun still up, and alack, I’ve already faulted on the New Year’s rez to eschew those meaningless pre-season games on TV. All football games are meaningless, I know, but some are more meaningless than others. The preseason exhibition games razz meaninglessness by abandoning all pretense. Do you sense it too, the voluntary group stupidity ethic at work in today’s football taken as a whole? Not so much suspension of disbelief as the joyous abdication of all the higher faculties, and most of the middle ones. Fan stupidity, coaching staff stupidity, player stupidity, commentator stupidity — all coming together in a kind of idiots’ Sabbath. Mainly just a crude way to sell beer and fixer-uppers for the Mr. Happy droop. The language of football evolves very slowly also. It consists of about 400 core cliches, with attendant adverbs and intensifiers of varying degrees of pardonability. O. Henry used to ransack the Frankster’s giant empty noodlum with such assiduity that it was almost pitiful, hunting for printable morsels, but such application, such initiative isn’t expected anymore, and isn’t even preferred. There are sensitivities that have to be respected — a blowhard like Limbaugh can’t huff in and bully people the way he does in the comparably knotheaded political venues — but this stuff is not, as they say, rocket science. It’s got more complicated but no more cerebral. Football coaches don’t threaten for Nobel medallions. Bear Bryant could still keep up. Houston Nutt is a good example of how little you need to prosper. The story of football is in Dan Hampton’s Herman Munster knees, except it lacks that quality of nobility. It’s “Survivor” with cleats, except sometimes it’s a little better than that. At least a little more picturesque. Sometimes it’s really trashy, like Paula Jones, but on rare occasions it elevates up to mellerdrama. It’ll work as nostalgia, as chewing gum, during this sapped mad-dog interlude, just as long as you don’t look there for life lessons, meaning, Jesus, surrogate manhood, a reason why it’s OK to rape or drive drunk, or an alternate identity for the slug you’ve let yourself become. This fantasy football is another story. Probably shouldn’t, but in some kind of post-Darwinian intimation, it pretty well creeps me out.

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