Marathon Sunday

That the New York City Marathon happens on the morning we set our clocks back an hour in the Eastern time zone only makes it more special. It passes by the end of my block, just a few miles into Brooklyn from its start on the bridge from Staten Island.

More than once I’ve woken up on Marathon Sundays to the sound of cheers, but most years, like other people, I wander outside my apartment and wonder that it’s still so  early. Half the clocks are wrong. Outside at 8:30 are the usual retirees drinking bodega coffee, and families shuffling off to church, but on Marathon Sundays there are more: Cops looking bored staring into their cell phones. Tape and police cars everywhere. And increasingly between nine o’clock and eleven there are neighbors with bedhead out to cheer on the runners.

The only thing like it is when a blizzard shuts the city down. The gentrifiers and the O.G. call a truce, and we make fools of ourselves cheering. First come the wheelchairs. Then come the tears. Then I scrounge up another cup of coffee, and we wait in the damp cold for the women leaders, who run past like quiet lightning. Thirty minutes later, the men come, the biggest cheers, then a weird lull.

Then they come. The masses, thousands of them. We yell for random countries. “Go, Costa Rica!” “Go Svensk!” I break out my Spanglish, shake a few hands, try to commit some names to memory, and the neighbors say, “See you around.”

Kill the Guy With the Ball

If you’re reading this within a few hours of its being posted, then you’re not watching the Superbowl.

Or maybe you are: As much as I say I dislike my smartphone, I’m known to whip it out and imdb the cast while I’m watching TV, and then one thing leads to another…and as a rule I only watch films or TV shows that are more exciting than American football.

I’m not a fan, suffice it to say, and haven’t been since I played one year on the freshman squad, when I was 14. I may have been the only football player in New Jersey with a Moody Blues tee shirt. The hardest hit I took was a helmet-to-helmet collision with my own teammate that probably looked like something out of Scooby Doo. I still remember that ringing feeling I got in my ears whenever I’m walking past a bar on a Sunday in fall, and I hear the guys shouting inside.

I thought hard about that ringing feeling this morning, when I got up and streamed the Frontline documentary League of Denial, from October 2013, about head injuries in the NFL:

These are well-paid gladiators who spend all day knocking each other on their asses, unless they’re one of the fleet-footed, slimmer guys: He gets chased by eleven bigger ones.  Three out of ten of them, the NFL now admits, are going to come down with serious brain damage. Do you think the athletes themselves didn’t read that report, and have some strong feelings about it?

I can’t help suspecting that the head injury issue helps to fuel the passion and indignation I get wind of, about all the other NFL scandals of recent years. The guy who beat his wife unconscious. The one who murdered his girlfriend’s friend. The doping. The murder-suicide. The racial disparity in how the league enforces its code of conduct. You’re dealing with an $8 Billion-a-year institution that’s somewhere above the Mafia but below the National Cockfighters League in its moral standing. Any time some wrong comes up associated with it, the burden of proof is now on the institution.

Obviously, to its fans football it still has all kinds of lovely associations: friends, tradition, beer, bratwurst, Sundays, autumn itself. To me it’s like fashion week. I recognize the talent when I see it, but it seems like a colossal waste of human endeavor. It’s always easier to boycott something you didn’t like anyway, so I completely get the majority of my people who are watching the game right now, but I’ve had it with football.

Karl Lagerfeld or Vera Wang?

Karl Lagerfeld or Vera Wang?

Before I ever put on shoulder pads, we’d sometimes play “kill the guy with the ball” in the yard. An American football (Nerf or real pigskin) was tossed in the air, and whoever caught it would run away from everyone else, who would try to tackle the eponymous “guy with the ball.” Each round ended in a pile-on, and the next one started when the “guy with the ball” would stand and throw it in the air. Only when I started venturing out of my neighborhood did I realize this “game” was more commonly known by the charming name “smear the queer.”

Were we bored kids or idiot savants? We seemed to get the essence of the game.