I’m in the office on a gorgeous afternoon, prepping a bit for classes, which resume tomorrow. I had planned to spend much of the weekend watching basketball, but the Peacocks of St. Peter’s U had other ideas, which gave me more time to read, I guess. Good luck to them.
Many fans of my beloved Kentucky Wildcats are in a dither this weekend, seeing Thursday night’s loss to the abovementioned St. Peter’s squad as a culmination of a decline that seemingly began in 2015, when Wisconsin eliminated a 38-0 Kentucky squad in the NCAA semifinals. Last year’s Covidstravaganza featured the worst UK season in about 100 years, and now, this. Add to that the fact that fewer and fewer UK players seem interested in treating the school as anything beyond a layover on the way to playing for pay overseas or in the NBA, and much of the fanbase seems to be shifting either to full-on effigy burning or disengagement from the program.
I don’t precisely know where I fit into all this these days. I still enjoy watching sports, and I’m still pleased when the teams I support do well, but I’m not nearly as bothered as I used to be when they lose. A turning point for me came in 1997, when the Spawn was born a few hours before the ‘Cats lost the national championship game to Arizona. I remember holding her as I watched Nazr Mohammed miss free throws in overtime (an affliction that also plagued the team in Thursday’s loss). I was already terrified by the knowledge that I had to take part in keeping this freshly-baked human being alive, so watching my team lose a basketball game was somewhere down the trauma list. Didn’t mean I wasn’t pleased when UK won the title almost a year later, the night before the Spawn’s first birthday and a few months before I walked away from journalism and back into grad school, but I knew the game was a smaller piece of my life than it once had been.
Of course, the murders came twelve years later, and that brought perspective as well, though I don’t recommend the experience. In a lot of respects, I get less aggravated by a lot of things than I once did. As I’ve told friends, when your trauma scale goes from zero to having your family murdered, it takes a great deal to move the needle much. (This is not to say that I approach the world with Zen equanimity. I’m still quite capable of peevishness and such — just ask Mrs. M. But most of the time, I think I may have a better understanding of when to be upset than I once did.)
Part of it, too, comes from my career here at Mondoville. I’ve mentioned before that more than half of our students are on one varsity roster or another. When I actually know the kids — when I see them in the classroom, hallways, or in the pre-pandemic era, in the cafeteria — I do want them to be successful in their sports, but it’s part of the larger desire to see them succeed in their lives in general. I cheer them in person, when it’s conveniently scheduled, and I ask them about their games, training, and such. Of course, I do the same with my kids who do music, drama, or whatever, and I’m interested in the kids who do little or none of any of it.
And that’s the thing — I know they’re kids, not much younger than the Spawn is now. Sports may be part of their lives, even a big part (If I had a nickel for every kid who told me they’re here because of the chance to keep playing their sport, well, I’d have a whole bunch of nickels.) Indeed, sports may be a disproportionate priority for some of them. It’s certainly a disproportionate priority for some of the fans. But sport isn’t all they are; it’s just something they do. Likewise, for those of us in the stands or watching on TV, it’s not even that — it’s something we watch.
(Side note: Precisely because so many people watch sports, there’s a degree of corruption in the enterprise, much as there is in other areas of the entertainment business. Such is human endeavor. End of side note)
So the ‘Cats were knocked out of the tourney Thursday night. As I watched it happen, I clapped when they made good plays and shook my head when they didn’t. But I’ve lived long enough now to see wins and losses, and while I still take pleasure in the wins, the losses don’t bother me nearly as much as they once did. (It may help that many of the teams I’ve followed have substantial records of futility. Kentucky basketball is actually an outlier in this regard, but as a fan of the Reds, Bengals, Kentucky football, and Ball State, I’ve seen a lot of games lost over the decades.)
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine offered his condolences about the Bengals’ loss in the recent Super Bowl. I noted that I’d previously seen the Bengals lose two previous Super Bowls in the final minutes, and that by now it’s kind of old hat. It was okay.
And so was Thursday night.
Since I was on break this week, and since I didn’t have a ton of grading to do, I got a little reading in. I read Donald Westlake’s Put a Lid on It, one of his comic crime novels. It isn’t a Dortmunder novel, but I found it quite funny. A burglar is plucked from his detention cell by a presidential campaign committee. They offer to make the charges go away if he can steal some evidence that would doom their candidate’s re-election chances. While the burglar is rather apolitical, a job is a job. Complications — well, you know.
It did occur to me, however, that Mr. Westlake may have been visiting Ross Thomas’s side of the street as he wrote. The book (as you might expect) has significant elements of political satire, and part of its charm lies in the fact that the criminals live in a much cleaner world than the figures for whom they work — not least because they acknowledge that what they’re doing isn’t on the up-and-up. And like Thomas’s books (about which I’ve written recently), Put a Lid on It is a very fine read, and made for a satisfying evening.
Likewise, the other novel I read this week was a good time as well. A Dame Worth Killing, the latest of M. Ruth Myers’s Maggie Sullivan novels, came out about a month ago, and it quickly found a home on my Kindle. Sullivan is a tough-gal PI working in Dayton, Ohio in the mid-20th C.; the series starts in the 1930s, and this book takes place not long after the end of WW II. The daughter of a local gang lord has disappeared, and the gangster’s wife asks Sullivan to find her. The tough-but-sensitive Sullivan has a good voice, and the book is a fun read. In an afterword, Myers tells us that a spinoff series of sorts may be in the works. Based on what this novel contains, I have some pretty clear ideas about where it might go, but I look forward to seeing where Myers takes things. I have enjoyed all the volumes of the series; perhaps you will too.
I did buy one other book this week, but I have my doubts as to whether or not I finish it. It’s a police procedural, with a hard-boiled, damaged homicide bull and his new partner — a significantly younger woman. Events put them on the trail of an infernally clever serial kil…
OK — maybe you can see why I’ve put the book aside.
Occasionally, when I mention that I don’t like a book I’ve encountered, people ask me why I don’t explicitly identify the book or the author. Sometimes it’s just because I always know that the world contains both chocolate and vanilla (or in my case, perhaps, liver-flavored toothpaste.) But also, I know how much work it is to write even a bad book — and a book I don’t like doesn’t even have to be bad. It just wasn’t the book for me, or isn’t on a given evening or afternoon. If you like a book I like and recommend, cool. But I don’t know that it does me, or you, or the writer any good for me to post a bad review.
In that respect, I’m reminded of an editorial policy they once had at Modern Drummer magazine. It was their express policy not to run negative reviews — they believed that if something was worth mentioning on their pages, the limits of editorial space and readers’ time were more conducive to pointing those readers toward good stuff than excoriating the bad stuff. Furthermore, having worked on and off as a critic (of music, books, and even architecture), I can tell you that while doing a hatchet job can be easy and fun, it’s ultimately less satisfying than turning someone on to something cool they may not already know about.
So to sum up, thumbs up to Mr. Westlake and Ms. Myers. And the next time you run across a novel where the cops hunt an infernally clever serial killer… well, you don’t have to arm wrestle me for it.
Speaking of books, I just want to remind you that you can order a couple that include some of my work. Death of a Bad Neighbour: Revenge is Criminal (which includes my “particularly alarming” story “One of Us Is Dying”) can be found here, and Black Is The Night (stories inspired by Cornell Woolrich) will come out this fall with my Cinicnnati-in-the-1930s story “The Jacket”, and can be bought here.
And now, some music. I know very little about these guys, other than that they were from Ringgold, GA, and they cut their single for the Chattanooga-based Tennalaga in February of 1968, after the garage-rock wave had crested. Reportedly recorded in a music store after closing time, this was the single’s B-side. Yeah, the vocals are wobbly/pitchy, but as is often the case with the garage-rock stuff I dig, the intensity makes up for it — for me, anyway. These are the Expressions, with “One More Night.”
See you soon!