Get Over Myself, Part Four: T-Z
Belatedly, the final installment of A-Z Me. I kind of ran out of gas (and interest) on this one, but here it goes:
T - Twins: It would have been nice to do a Jimmie Rodgers homage ("T for Texas, T for Tennessee . . . T for Thelma, that gal who made a wreck out of me-e-e-e-e-e") but I decided to go with my hometown team. The fair-weather folks here in Chicago are enjoying the hell out of the Bitch Sox (tm Bat Girl) Championship, and good for them. (Grr.) But I direct you to Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. Zoilo Versalles and Jim Kaat. OK, I was too young to follow baseball when these guys were playing; but I remember Rod Carew, and Billy Martin stopping by between gigs with the Yankees, and Gene Mauch. I remember the Met Stadium, and my uncle Roger taking me to the game for my birthday, and eating a sundae out of a plastic Twins bowl cap. But more than anything I remember 1987. Brunansky. Gaetti, Gagne, Gladden. Laudner and Lombardozzi. Smalley. Most of all, Hrbie and Kirby. A bunch of scrappers led by taciturn Tom Kelly in his first full season. T.K., like his protege Gardenhire and legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant, was the quintessential Minnesota sports guy. He didn't talk a lot, and when reporters asked stupid questions his answers let them know what he thought of them wasting his time. He was more interested in having a team that played good baseball than he was in looking good on camera. The Twins were coming off a 1986 record of 71-91, and they finished 85-77 in 1987--the worst ever record by a World Series winner. But they were fighters. They played tough defense, Puckett led the league in hitting, and the Metrodome was one big noise conductor. I was there for games 1, 2, and 6, and it was the kind of loud that gets inside you--the kind that makes you feel like your autonomic processes are being influenced by those around you, like your heart is beating in time with 40,000 other people's. Yeah, 1991 was more satisfying in some ways--the Twins were indisputably the best in baseball that year, with the best record, incredible pitching, and the tenacity to fight off a tough Braves team. Even Peter Gammons will tell you it was the best series ever. But 1987 was the first time I began to understand the wonder of the game, and over the years my appreciation has only grown. It's in how you watch it. Anyone can love a home run, but to get excited about a two-hit shutout you have to learn to watch the game in a different way. The mano-a-mano between pitcher and hitter. The orchestral direction of a good catcher, and the signal-to-noise of base coach to runner. The balletic scramble-and-roll of a 6-4-3 double play. One crack of the bat and nine men in motion, chasing, covering, backing up. Outfielders leaping and diving and punishing their bodies to steal runs. (Please don't trade Torii, Mr. Ryan!) The boys had a tough season this year, but after making the playoffs four years in a row I can cut them a little slack. Win Twins!
U - Underwear: All hail the man--and really, it had to have been a man--who invented boxer briefs.
V - Vonnegut: It wasn't until senior year in high school that I got over my knee-jerk hate for everything we read in English class. We read Huckleberry Finn that year, which was great but a bit too much for me to take in--"Wait, people do this?" It didn't hit me because I couldn't process it yet; I was still in Quest Fantasy land (see Q) and the idea of questing for America or freedom and making social commentary along the way was just a bit beyond me at that time. We read "The Fall of the House of Usher," which was wonderfully messed up. We read Dracula and despite all the weeping (I swear someone weeps on every other page, either over Mina's suffering or Mina's courage), I loved it. We read The Old Man and the Sea and it did nothing for me. And then there was The Scarlet Letter, which I hate with the white-hot intensity of a hundred thousand suns. But still, I became convinced that the Books You Are Supposed to Read might not all suck. When I started working as a student page in the Dakota County Public Library, I of course read all the fantasy they had. But in shelving I got a look at a lot of different stuff, and there I met Vonnegut. We'd read "Harrison Bergeron" (which, let's face it, is not Kurt's best story) in junior high, but I never heard people talk about his stories, only his novels. I don't know which was the first; it may have been Galapagos, which is certainly not his best. But it was engagingly weird, funny, and unconcerned with explaining itself. I read every Vonnegut book our branch had in rapid succession. Bam, Deadeye Dick, bam, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, bam, Cat's Cradle. Welcome to the Monkey House was the first short story collection I ever read. Looking back I don't think of this time with Kurt as a blow-to-the-head revelation. It was more like sitting down with an older relative I'd never before met and finding out that he and I had a lot in common. We both liked to tell stories and we both hated to see people get hurt. We both got upset about politics and we both coped with humor. We both got lonely and we both thought the world was a bit overwhelming. In any reader's life there are signposts--places where your conception of literature takes a turn, leads you down new roads. Vonnegut was a big one for me. He led me to Joseph Heller and Bruce Jay Friedman and J.D. Salinger, and back to Twain and Huck Finn, and eventually all the way back to Cervantes, along various other signposts and twists. I'll always love that guy.
W - Winslet, Kate: Would that I could speak intelligently of my crush. Guh.
X - X-Men: I was seventeen when I decided to start collecting comics. I'd bought a few over the years, here and there, but I never had much money to actually see what happened next month. So I caught snippets of things. Thor and the Eternals fighting the Deviants. The Defenders stopping a demon invasion. Spidey finding his new "costume" during the Secret Wars. Random events, but all connected through continuity. That's the conceit that I love about comics; that each issue and each character is part of an enormous web of story, that Speedball is only two degrees of separation from the Watcher, that when Cyclops makes reference to the Brood invasion the editor will give you an asterisk and a footnote with the issue numbers. I don't love it when they force it with mega-crossover "events," but I hate it worse when they rewrite the continuity. (Although the Marvel Ultimates are pretty well done. DC, I'm looking at you. How many Crises do you need?) There's a huge tension in comics when it comes to change--on the one hand, the best of these characters are icons, and it's a delicate thing giving an icon a haircut, let alone a personality transplant. On the other hand, unless the heroes change people will lose interest. So Bruce Banner becomes a brutish gray thing becomes a mindless gray monster becomes a malevolent enemy in his own body becomes three separate beings becomes one integrated super-intelligent strongman becomes mindless again becomes . . . you get the idea. Some of the changes work, some don't. Some stories become jokes after the fact (Remember the Spider-Mobile? Gwen Stacy's clone? The Death of Superman?) and some become legendary (Dark Phoenix. Dark Knight. Swamp Thing.) and some spawn characters which come back in later incarnations and imaginings. Sandman isn't just a reshaping of world myths and archetypes, it very deliberately pulls obscure DC characters like Abel and Cain and Matthew Cable out of the compost of continuity and reveals new, previously unsuspected facets of their characters. The sprawl and the endless progression of comics means that if creators are willing to work within the strictures that working with icons can impose, they have a gallery of hundreds of symbolic figures to draw upon in their story-telling. Rarely was this more true than in Chris Claremont's X-Men run. Claremont built upon the characters set in place by Kirby and Lee and slowly unfolded a world around them filled with hate and fear and madness and danger. He had dozens of plotlines going at once, sometimes taking twelve issues or more to follow up on this enigmatic hint or that shadowy menace, such that each new threat to homo superior rose organically out of the slow ferment of pages and time. Years later, when I watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I knew without having been told that Joss Whedon was a comics fan, that he had read the Claremont "X-Men" stories and loved them. The group dynamics (at least in the early seasons), the drawn-out plot arcs, the angst (oh my lord the angst)--what a tribute, and how fitting that Whedon now writes an X-Men title. My comics habit has changed a lot from the days when I used to drop $200 a month on various titles. For a while I quit altogether, disgruntled by the multiple covers and the rush to relaunch from #1, the endless crossover events and continuity reworkings. It seems like much of that old continuity has been lost. Green Arrow and Black Canary have stopped dating, and they made Maxwell Lord a bad guy and killed him off. Wolverine still spends too much time guest-starring to sleep. I don't know what happened to the New Mutants. On the other hand, Claremont is writing an X-Men title again, and Rob Liefeld can't get work, and that whole Image thing kind of faded away. And there are reliables like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis, so I can't get too grumpy about it.
Y - Yerba Mate: I don't know where to get it in Chicago. The first time I ever had it was in a college Spanish course. The instructor passed around a real mate gourd, complete with one of these (called a bombilla) for us all to try; I was the only one that liked it. I ended up drinking nearly the whole thing, and walked around the rest of the day in a near-manic caffeine frenzy. Last year I read Hopscotch and now all I wanna do is sit around in a cafe in Buenos Aires with a bunch of other posers and pass around the gourd and listen to jazz. Help!
Z - Zatanna: A little JLA as a kid and I'm warped forever. Thanks to her and Black Canary I can never keep my head together around a woman in fishnets. Not to mention a tuxedo . . .
This concludes the alphabet of me. Now that I am no longer a riddle wrapped in an enigma smothered in secret sauce (TM Jimmy James) but an overexposed and transparent figure, I expect the checks to start rolling in. Any time now.