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Saturday, January 14, 2012

When I was in high school, there was this kid who came from one of the more upstanding families in town. His parents looked like a couple smiling at their kids in the Sears catalogue. The kids did great in school; I think there were four of them in all, and they never got in a scrap of trouble. This kid was especially courteous even to the most outlandishly unfair teachers, and he was an attendance aide, which meant that he was in charge of collecting all the attendance notices teachers left in the little hanging baskets by the classroom door.

It was a small town. Everybody knew everyone's business, or so we thought. We all returned to school one autumn, and everything had changed for him. He was different. His face was suddenly pocked with acne, pale, with piercings long before it became fashionable to have them; several of them looked like DIY jobs with safety pins. His eyes shamelessly betrayed an emptiness born of something that had shattered him. Evidently his father had been carrying on with someone else's wife, and perhaps in the spirit of everything being out in the open, the kid also discovered that his mother had been shacking up with someone else, too. What I think troubled him the most was learning at the age of 16 that his parents had actually known about one another's infidelities for a while, and they not only tolerated them but had also known of others reaching further back into the cloudy, rounded-framed, earth-toned photographs of his earlier childhood. Within a year, he was expelled for pushing over the high school library stacks like a bunch of dominoes. A year after that he was in jail for dealing angel dust.

It only takes a few hard truths to undo a daydream. Whether you're old or young, you can buy into anything that looks secure. Try to imagine what it must be like for young Jets fans unaccustomed to being the laughingstock of the NFL. Imagine how hard it is for them to be wearing their jerseys, even at home. I thought they were good. They were. But sometimes things don't work out, and things change. Actually, most of the time they don't. You'll get used to it.

It's been a long time since the Jets have looked as bad - organizationally and spiritually - as they have over the last month. It is, for lack of a better term, a disgrace. I mean, no one expects a professional football team to exude integrity; Belichick's football machine in Foxboro vibrates with a cold, analytical precision that leaves anyone who loves football feeling empty and glum. Last Sunday a delusional Fundamentalist Christian beat a probable repeat rapist at Mile High Stadium; I don't turn to football for integrity. If that's what integrity looks like, I'll take ineptitude.

But Greg McElroy's puritanical tirade about the Jets' locker room possessing a "corrupt mindset" filled with "selfishness" made me think back to my old friend from high school. I wonder where he is now. You never quite forget your first truly authentic disillusionment, your first shattered dream. Mine was January 1987, when a stupid late hit by Mark Gastineau plunged the Jets into one of the worst playoff collapses in football history (at least until the day the Oilers franchise died, after Houston gave up a 35-3 lead to Buffalo five years later). I would say to any young Jet fan left feeling lost and empty after this season that you grow a callus over it. You get used to it. Consider Didi and Gogo from Waiting for Godot:

ESTRAGON:
Fancy that. (He raises what remains of the carrot by the stub of leaf, twirls it before his eyes) Funny, the more you eat, the worse it gets.

VLADIMIR:
With me it's just the opposite.

ESTRAGON:
In other words?

VLADIMIR:
I get used to the muck as I go along.

2 comments:

Slimbo said...

Amazing just how parents of that era lived up to all those bored suburban Updikian stereotypees. Amazing how The Greatest Generation gave birth to The Worst Generation.

Martin Roche said...

Nice. We are all the Children of the Worst Generation! (That has to be a Mission of Burma song.)