This is a weekly column from Leitch.
Like a lot of you, I'm a white middle-class guy who has never faced much difficulty in his life. Sure, I was unemployed and broke for a while, I've experienced some sadness, I can't dribble with my left hand ... I've rarely missed an opportunity to bitch and moan about grievances that don't actually matter and don't really hurt. I've been able to disguise this in a general Midwestern mock ethos of "hard work" and "common sense" and "cow tipping," but none of it changes the central fact: I'm a little sheltered wuss kid who has no idea of how the real world works.
Allow me to present you with a story that's the logical extension of everything my pampered life has led to: Someone stole my iPhone the other day.
I was at my girlfriend's birthday party on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and I was scheduled to do a radio interview with the great Rany Jazayerli previewing the Cardinals-Royals series. I stepped outside the festivities to take Rany's phone call, making sure to find a semi-secluded, quiet spot so I would be relatively undisturbed. Five minutes before the call, I took out my phone and figured I'd check the Cardinals score. I put the phone in front of my face ... and then some guy came out of nowhere on a bicycle and grabbed it. It was an impressive move, clearly practiced: I was not the first douchebag he'd swiped a phone from going full speed. One second the Cardinals were up 1-0 on an Albert Pujols homer ... the next, the phone was gone from my hand and heading down Ridge Street.
I have never been the victim of a crime before, save for the time in college when some guy asked me for all the money in my wallet, I showed him there was none and he shrugged and walked away. Through 9 1/2 years in New York, I've maintained a healthy awareness of my belongings — I insist on keeping my wallet in my back pocket on the subway and am constantly monitoring its whereabouts — but have always wondered what would happen if someone tried to mug me. I've always had the idea that I'd challenge the "assailant," that I'd let him know this mark would not be as amenable to his plans as others might have been. I imagined it as a big event in my life. I would be more man than mouse. I would show a backbone that a life as an Internet and magazine writer would not imply. I would make my father, and the generations of Leitch men, hard, military men who built their homes from the ground up, with their own hands, proud. Their hands were coarse from years of labor; my hands were smooth from years of typing and adjusting my iPod. What would I do when challenged? Was a Mattoon man, or a lily-livered neutered product of the Information Age? I vowed I'd be strong. I vowed I'd stand up.
And yes: I feared I'd crawl into the fetal position and just whimper.
In a situation as shocking as a sudden larceny, there is no time to think or fathom what has just happened. You just react. And so: I reacted.
I flipped out. The second the phone was snatched, and I turned and started running and screaming, "You son of a bitch! Stop that motherfucker!" Even in the second, I was shocked by my vulgarity: There is too much Midwest in me, still. My flight-or-fight instincts kicked in, and boy, was I ready to fight. I imagined someone, hearing my alert, knocking him off his bike, and I would pounce, stomping on his trachea, planting my knees deep into his lungs, ripping off his earlobes with my teeth. After this ritualistic destruction, I would take back my phone ... and then just drop it on his bleeding chest. "Here's your fuckin' PHONE. Hope it was worth it." Then I would go back to the party and slug whiskey until everyone in the room was dead.
I swear to God I was thinking all this. The reality of the situation? The notion that had I caught up with the guy, he surely would have hopped up off the ground and implanted my testicles somewhere between my coccyx and my pancreas? The truth that I've never actually been in a fight in my life and would have had no idea what I was doing? The fact that I was chasing a guy on a bike? None of that mattered. I just wanted to kill.
Fortunately for me and my dry cleaner, I didn't catch him. He made a quick dodge of a child on the sidewalk, a swerve that allowed me one last-gasp leap at his back tire. I'm not sure what I thought I would accomplish with this maneuver. Did I think I was going to grab the wheel and fling the bike back, lifting it and pounding against the ground like Bamm-Bamm? I have no idea. I just felt like I had one chance.
I dove and scraped the back of the tire, and then landed face first into the sidewalk, flipping over twice before coming to a rest right next to a street drain. I tried to jump back up, but I was disoriented and fell over again. It was, suffice it to say, not particularly graceful: I must have looked like I was having a seizure. By the time I was finally on my feet again, the bike, and my phone, and my pride, were long gone.
I went back into the party, told my girlfriend what happened, called AT&T to shut off the phone and surveyed the damage. A lost phone, a scraped up wrist, a small cut on my chin and rip in the back of the tweed sport jacket I wore to the party. Sounds about right. Sounds about right.
I hope he enjoyed the phone. It's a nice phone. The moment meant nothing to him, of course: He has long since passed, or failed, whatever insecure tests in his life that I was giving myself. I'm sure I know nothing more about myself now than I did before the incident. It was not a metaphor for manhood, or my past, or my place in the world. It was just some dude on a bike swiping a phone from a spaced-out iPhone douchebag zombie on a Thursday evening. Easy pickings.
But I did not crawl into a fetal position and whimper. I do have that, if nothing else. Small victories, small pleasures, small little prickles of whatever it is we wish we were and what we are not. We must take what we can.
Will Carroll. For pure Geekdom Culture run amok, you'd be hard-pressed to top the Prospectus Idol contest they're running over at Baseball Prospectus. The idea, essentially, is that 10 "contestants" can take turns trying their hands at impersonating Will Carroll, Nate Silver and Joe Sheehan, and readers can vote on their favorites. I love that BP people are judges: I'm calling Will Carroll as Randy Jackson, Christina Kahrl as Paula Abdul and Kevin Goldstein as Simon Cowell. You probably think I'm being facetious with those classifications, but I'm not: It's clear they've thought this out and are playing those roles. Here's Carroll on contestant Brittany Ghiroli: "This was obviously going to be a tough week for her and one where she has to prove herself to some of the more "hardcore" people that questioned whether she could handle writing that more stats-oriented stuff." Yes! A tough week for her! Next week, though, they're covering Prince songs: Much more in her range! I kid because I love, of course. But it's awfully hilarious to see an American Idol-esque contest in which your contestants are writing things like "FIP = NC + (HR*13 + (BB+HBP-IBB)*3 - K*2)/IP." Note to Daulerio: Deadspin Commenter Idol. Get on it. Make Craggs organize it, just to watch him slowly go insane.
Donald Duck. Here's news you can use: According to The Wall Street Journal — and they would know! — Donald Duck has reached Jerry Lewis-esque levels of fame in Germany. Makes sense! This explains 45 percent of the public statements Dirk Nowitzki has made in the last three years. I've always had a soft spot for Donald: Mickey Mouse always just showed up, smiled, squeaked, waved and walked away while something heavy fell on Donald. (He always seemed a better fit for Looney Tunes, really.) Anyway, here's what they say about the German Donald: "In one story Donald's nephews steal famous lines from Friedrich Schiller's play "William Tell"; Donald garbles a classic Schiller poem, "The Bell," in another. Other lines are straight out of Goethe, Hölderlin and even Wagner (whose words are put in the mouth of a singing cat). The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school. As the German Donald points out, 'Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers.'" Indeed! This is existentialist Donald is what would have happened if this alternate history Duck Tales had occurred.
Postman Guy. The highlight of my Memorial Day — which was spent indoors, writing this column and trudging away on the book, peering longingly at a gorgeous day in New York City, people laughing, drinking, absorbing the sublime pleasures life has to offer — was this video from former Gawker property Consumerist.com. I understand that being a postman is not a pleasant job, particularly in New York, but considering how many jobs over the next few years are going to be in the public sector, this isn't exactly the most ringing endorsement for the focused, diligent labor force our government trains and sustains. My favorite part is at the end, when it's time to "turn."
LeBron James. As we'll get into a little bit down below, I am the furthest thing from an NBA expert and am still stuck in the Jordan-era fallacies that every team comes down to one man, there must be a single alpha dog of the league and if you are a superstar who doesn't win a championship when everyone expects you to, you are a fraud and a pretender to the throne. So, even though the Magic present serious matchup problems for the Cavaliers and are full of talented, motivated players themselves ... the whole thing comes down, for me, in a rather Skip Bayless fashion: What does this mean for LeBron? It does seem like a Magic victory in this series puts serious chinks in the LeBron As Transcendent Figure armor, and if that's not right, or is just flip and uneducated ... well, sadly, welcome to the media! Because that's what everyone else will be saying if the Cavs lose this series. And then everyone will talk about the Knicks. And then everyone will talk about a "losing attitude" in Cleveland. And then everyone will say LeBron is overextended. And then everyone will promote LeBron's "revenge" season next year. And then you will become so exhausted with all of it that you'll won't look at the NBA until the 2010 playoffs anyway. And this is why I rarely write about the NBA. Because I have no idea what I'm talking about. Ta-da!
Ryan Leaf. The temptation to make fun of Ryan Leaf for his tragicomic attempts to steal painkillers and sell fake pills as real pills is strong, particularly when you consider the mental picture of Leaf attempting to break into an apartment and failing. (The Sporting Blog has an amusing animated GIF exploring the possibilities.) But considering what he was doing professionally — a quarterback coach at a Division II college, which is the equivalent of graduating from Columbia Journalism School and working in the customer service department of the Lanark Prairie Advocate — and how he'd been looking lately, the story is starting to veer uncomfortably closer to Tragedy than Comedy. (Leaf is likely going to be in jail for a very long time.) Which is a shame not just for Leaf, but for sports fans: Quarterback draft disasters hold a special place in our sports culture, gleefully mocked in a fashion that's innocent and even cleansing. (Heath Shuler may have been elected to Congress because of it.) It's not supposed to send them careening into despair. Here's hoping Leaf gets his life together in prison, because it's not fun to mock him if his life is actually shit.
Spike Lee. Ignore, if you can, the NBA mascot the sports media tries to turn Spike Lee into, and instead embrace his work as a filmmaker, particularly his Grand Achievement, Do The Right Thing, which turns 20 years old next month (Old!) I saw Do The Right Thing in high school and thought it was just about the best fucking movie I'd ever seen, even though I'd never been to New York, couldn't figure out why Sal's pizza place wasn't a Little Caesar's and had met maybe three black people, one of whom was Willie McGee. I've probably seen Do The Right Thing 50 times in my life, and it still kills me: I've yet to see, since, such a vivid capture of the unique collection of oddballs, miscreants and dreamers that make a community. (My favorite is Sweet Dick Willie. Nobody remembers Robin Harris anymore.) Anyway, there's a special edition double-disc of the film coming out next month, and, from the LA Times story linked above, I was happy to see that David Denby — Mr. The Internet Is Snarky And Killing Us All! — was just as reactionary and moronic 20 years ago as he is today. His quote about Do The Right Thing at the time contained a clear fear of black people and their damned rioting: "The end of this movie is a shambles, and if some audiences go wild, [Lee's] partly responsible." Charming, Denby. Why does anybody listen to that guy again?
Farhad Manjoo. The Slate technology writer seems to be beaming right into my annoying Yuppie brain and stealing every thought on every new gadget I might possibly have. Witness: His dead-on ode to games on the iPhone, which turns people who don't much like video games into gamers almost instantly. (I love the way he describes the iPhone: "a mobile computer that I occasionally use to make crappy phone calls." Yep.) Mostly, though, I love his obsession with Flight Control, which is the most addictive video game I have ever played. If you have an iPhone — and I know, I know, every New York asshole has an iPhone, got it, we covered this earlier — this is the best excuse to get no work done, ever. I've even been trash talking Denton about it. My high score, set during a fevered ether binge, is 343, and I don't think I can top that (though I read about weirdos online who are over 600). This was the first thing I installed on my replacement phone, before phone numbers or anything.
Raymond Ridder. I'm not sure how much more I can add to the Warriors Flack Popping In On Random Message boards thing than what Craggs originally cobbled together, but, you know, dammit, I have to try. My favorite part about Ridder's justification to posting as "Flunkster Dude" is the idea that he wanted "to get some positive things going ... a positive direction." Well, that surely reveals a profound understanding of how Web message boards work. As I've mentioned before: You could put up a picture of a cute puppy on an open board, and by comment 15, some assbag has brought out the n-word. This is the way it works, and I find Ridder's attempts to somehow stave that off more charmingly naive than an example of corporate malfeasance and Newspeak. I mean, how busy can he be right now, as PR guy for the Warriors? Not very. He was probably bored. That's what message boards are for. Come on in! Get it going in a positive direction! The Web was TOTALLY MADE FOR POSITIVE DIRECTIONS, MAN! But next time: Jeez, hide your ISP. It's not that hard.
Jeremy Shockey. One of three, maybe four downsides of being a professional athlete: Events that would be easily brushed off and laughed at by your friends, if you were a normal person, turn into big "controversies" by a rabid, ravenous news cycle. Hence, Jeremy Shockey, who essentially just passed out because he was too hungover, becomes a national news story. It has happened to all of us — and when we were 28, it probably happened to us all the time — but with us, nobody cared. But when you're a middling tight end whose teams have found success only when you have been on the sidelines, this is a noteworthy event. I do hope Shockey enjoys it while he can: The celebrity clock is starting to tick pretty loudly on that guy these days.
Bill Simmons. The cover to The Sports Feller's new book went up on Amazon last week, and it looks awfully similar to the cover of the last book. (I hope the next one features a big finger touching Malcolm Gladwell's head.) The Book Of Basketball is coming out right before Halloween and is a whopping, amazing 720 pages. (For the record, that comes out to roughly 190,000 words, or two Simmons mailbags.) One guy wrote that it sounds like Simmons' version of Bill James' Old Baseball Abstracts, and that sounds about right. And you know what? I'll read every freaking word of that thing. I'm a baseball guy — my morning sports television routine this spring involves watching an hour of "Quick Pitch" on MLB Network and then catching the five minute recap of the NBA Playoff game the night before on "SportsCenter" — and as much as I enjoy the NBA Playoffs, I'm just not invested enough in the sport to have the depth of knowledge that comes with watching every night for the full 15 months of the NBA season. Simmons, for all his eccentricities and well-known tropes he falls back on, is as talented and obsessed a writer about the NBA as we have, and this is a full book of original material (so we're told, anyway). Now that the stupid "wars" between him and ESPN (and Rick Reilly ... and Elgin Baylor .. and whatever inflated "conflicts" he's initiated and then backs off saying "who, me?" when finally challenged on them), he's focusing on what he truly is: Just about the best NBA writer of our time. I could do without his Twitter — which seems mainly designed to rip on the WNBA and those evil refs — but I'll devour that book when it comes out, a little smarter, a little more entertained, a little more enlightened ... and then I'll go back to my baseball. That's all you can really ask of a sportswriter. All told, guys, we're lucky to have him. Really.