Someone very close to me has a quote he uses almost unselfconsciously to describe his reaction to the status of life in general, and his words become more and more important to me as I get older. Is est quis est. It is what it is.
It's another version of Doris Day's que sera, sera, but with a little more acceptance of the present, not just the future, as an uncontrollable element of life. It is what it is. What is it? What it is. Accept it or not. It is only what it is - which is what it already is. This is not to rhetorically say, in the manner of Peggy Lee, est ut totus illic est ("Is That All There Is?") for what is is not actually all there is, but what is is what is.
Back in the early 1970's, it was common to greet someone with, "What it is?" as in "What's happening?" but the question soon became a statement - less a curious interrogative than a declarative of preemptive mutual acceptance: "What it is, my man." Slang changes quickly, though, and "What it is" is now long dated even among my Me Generation colleagues at work.
When I think about American culture in the span of my 41 years, I have to admit how much has changed in just the last decade. This morning, I corresponded with three people via Facebook and e-mail, whereas at college in the late 80's, I had to speak on the phone, by mail, or by face-to-face contact, none of which I'm particularly good at. This was also the case in 1971, when Chris Farasopoulos #19 first joined the New York Jets. In a very short period of time, within the last ten years, the world has gotten better at accommodating hermits like me. I'm not entirely sure that this is a step forward for civilization, but I am of a mind that all forms of progress - with the exception of cul-de-sac track housing and Twitter - are to the benefit of humanity. And it is what it is, anyway.
Two years ago, when I first did research on Chris Farasopoulos, I found a story that says he was initially offered a baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles, which he apparently turned down because they asked him to shorten his name. He refused. It is what it is, he said. Accept what it is or not. Can you imagine any sports team trying to pull that today? Ask Troy Polamalu, whose hair is allowed to conceal his own name on his jersey and nearly his number. Times have changed for the better in a short span.
Of course, there's always the chance that the Orioles may simply have been trying to be polite in saying that Farasopolous' long "ethnic" name was the problem when it might, for all we know, have been his lack of ability, although that's a strange way of being polite. Luckily, the New York Jets were a team that welcomed eccentrics and individualists, so they were certainly capable of accepting someone on the squad whose only peculiarity was that he was born in Greece. Did Farasopolous feel cheated later that decade when Jon Lowenstein was allowed to keep his name on the back of his Orioles jersey? Does he feel cheated by progress' ironic sense of humor, especially when the Jets are a contender in their sport now (which wasn't the case in the 70's) but the Orioles are not? Nowadays the O's would take a Sri Lankan bowler like Muthumudalige Pushpakumara if they thought he could throw a curveball.
I don't have children, but if I had produced a son by some accident and were allowed to give him a name, it would almost certainly be Laveranues. It's a first name you can never spell correctly the first time. Laveranues Roche.
Sometimes people leave your life, then they come back. Then they leave again. Then they come back again. This is our team's relationship with Laveranues Coles, now #19. As we know, when he played for the Jets time and again, Coles wore #87. We wore #80 for the Redskins and #11 for the Bengals. David Clowney wears #87 for us now, and numbers 82 and 88 are taken by tight ends this summer. I think Number 80 has been kept special (though not retired) in the wake of Wayne Chrebet, as is #85, (for Wesley Walker). Dustin Keller is #81. Jerricho Cotchery is #89. That still left #84 and #83. Is it an insult to wear a number too close to your old number? I'm not going into why I disapprove of receivers wearing such low numbers. I just do. There's precedent for it, but linemen don't wear any numbers in the 80's anymore, so there's plenty of those ten digits to go around these days on any given squad, even with more tight ends than there were in the old days. A receiver shouldn't wear a quarterback's number. That's not the way God made us.
(NBC lists Coles' 1999 near $400 discount at Dillard's as one of the most bizarre sports scandals of all-time, which is silly. How many of us have received discounts from friends working at a major chain? When I was in grad school I got a $3.23 employee discount on a copy of Richard Bausch's Violence from a guy who worked at Borders back in 1992. Does that make me a criminal? Likewise who can blame Coles for stealing? College students and graduate students do their work for nothing, after all)
Coles' receiving numbers are a little bit better than most receivers. Compare him to - or confuse him with - Santana Moss who was drafted by the Jets out of the University of Miami a year after Coles (and who mocked him with a Dillard's bag, no doubt) and for whom he was once traded back to the Jets later on; we see that Coles' numbers are statistically better. Would it therefore have been an insult to wear #83, the number of a player for whom you were once traded by very same team that signed you on again, and then again?
It's actually nice to have Coles back one more time. He felt loyal to Chad Pennington in 2008 when people like me were willing to let him go in favor of Brett Favre. He never really seemed to buy Favre's act, and now it's fashionable for everyone to turn their nose up at Brett. He also sang with Elmo, which my wife loves. When sports figures really aren't supposed to admit any level of vulnerability, he also had the courage to open up about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse: it is what it is, he seemed to say, in hopes of helping others to come to terms with accepting what it is, too.
His second reappearance with us signals the twilight of his career, which I suppose explains why he wears a number that's, well, just available. He admitted that this is the end for him and that he will probably be gone as soon as Santonio Holmes is ready to play again. When you have to give up your old number to David Clowney, you know you are very near done. Other than giving up his old number, he is willing to accept what it is and that what will be, will be. Is est quis est quod quis ero, ero.