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Posts Tagged ‘vignettes’

Play-by-Play

September 12, 2016 | by

Trying to make it as a sports commentator.

Detail from the 1994 USA World Cup poster.

The world’s third-largest youth soccer tournament, Schwan’s USA Cup, is held each summer on a vast stretch of converted farmland in Blaine, Minnesota. The complex comprises fifty-two full-size fields and an inadequate number of shade trees; it is a desert of grass. Throughout the week of play, parents huddled beneath umbrellas, protecting themselves from the sun, if not the heat. They shouted encouragement to their children and epithets at referees.

On the final day of competition, John Hadden sat at a folding table beside field A-1. He’d been hired by a local public-access channel to call play-by-play for a U-19 women’s semifinals match. His pants were khaki; his loafers, shiny; his briefcase was leather with brass clasps—his appearance and bearing resembled that of an accountant. He estimated that no more than two hundred viewers would tune into the broadcast. “There’s an if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest quality to gigs like this,” he told me, “which, if your aim is to reach people, isn’t ideal.” 

Hadden’s aim is to reach people. He wants to announce for Major League Baseball one day and has spent the last decade traveling the country to call games for farm clubs: the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Yakima Bears, the New Orleans Zephyrs. Every summer he lives somewhere else. Winters he returns to Minnesota, his home state, and picks up whatever commentary work he can get. He has called Pee Wee hockey tournaments. He has called high school gymnastics meets. While he admitted he was somewhat disappointed, at thirty-one, to be working youth soccer, he took his assignment seriously. Before the morning’s game he’d done three hours of prep work, he said, researching the teams and their previous results, the players’ names, the facility, the weather forecast. Rain, for the first time all week, was predicted. The parents’ umbrellas would be put to new use. Read More »

Embankment House

December 16, 2015 | by

Lessons from a building in Shanghai.

Shanghai’s Embankment House.

Among Shanghai’s many architectural gems is a sprawling, curved edifice that was once the largest apartment building in Asia, a building that more than half a century ago played a role in saving many thousands of lives. It’s set just on the north side of Suzhou Creek, a small river whose course has been hemmed in by concrete, and whose polluted contents are still routinely netted by illegal fishermen—mostly, to judge by their catch, in search of the famous Shanghai hairy crab. On the southern bank, there’s a small section of a walking path, which in the fall is hung with the heavy sweet fragrance of osmanthus blossoms, and which attracts elderly taiji practitioners, smoking office workers out for their lunch break, young couples, and a lone tenor saxophonist, who shows up every morning before eight and doesn’t leave until just before dark. Behind them is the heavy stone architecture of the Bund and a pair of neon gods, the Oriental Pearl Tower and the gigantic trapezoidal Shanghai World Financial Center, the world’s eighth tallest skyscraper.

All this I can observe from a window overlooking the creek, the only window in my tenth-floor studio. The unrenovated apartments are stacked up next to one another, so only the apartments on the ends and around the curved courtyard have more than one window. The building draws breezes through central airshafts that have cleverly been left open, providing essential ventilation in the muggy Shanghai summers. People stack plants on the sills there and hang their laundry to dry in the spiraling wafts from below. Read More »

He Was My Closest Friend

March 11, 2014 | by

The second of five vignettes.

Shel-1

Photo: Larry Moyer

He lived alone in various houses, and moved from one to the next in response to no discernible stimulus. I assumed that, at some point, he felt it was just “time to move.”

He had lost his first wife, and their young daughter to cancer. And he told me that the terrible thing was not that they were dead, but that they stayed dead. I thought of it often, and think of it oftener since his death.

I’d had a cold and was sleeping in the little guest cubby in the eaves of the attic, and I woke up with an intolerable pain in my chest.

I knew I was dying, and thought, Well, this is a heart attack. It subsided, and I went back to sleep, only to be struck, again, some time later. The next morning a mutual friend called to tell me that Shel had died the night before of a heart attack—in fact, of two heart attacks, some minutes apart.

My wife sent me to have my heart checked out, and its only defect was that it was broken. Read More »

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The Man with the Companion Animal

March 10, 2014 | by

This week, we’re presenting five vignettes by David Mamet.

Unknown_man_by_I.Makarov_(1880s)

Detail from Ivan Makarov’s Unknown Man, c. 1880s.

The fellow down in the front row of the auditorium was around my age. He was massively obese, and he was overdressed in many layers of wool. He held an oversized pet carrier which, one presumed, held a large dog. He was permitted to carry the dog to the concert, then, as it was designated his “companion animal.”

What did this mean? That his mental state was such that he could never be without his dog. The dog was his security totem.

But it was in a bag. And his look was furtive. He glanced right and left, never making eye contact, as he settled himself into his seat. What was he looking for? He was looking for nothing. He was merely drawing focus. It was a performance. He was performing exemption. The pet carrier was his badge, and it indicated he had been certified as exempt, and so, beyond criticism.

But one saw that he felt he had also been certified as pathetic. He had traded his self-respect for a societal indulgence, and he loathed himself for the choice. He was caught, for the daunting price he thought he had evaded in adolescence—that of matriculation into the mature world—was still being paid at age sixty.

He was a man without friends. How do I know? He was at the concert accompanied by a dog in a bag. He loathed his life. He had, perhaps, at some point, been “injured,” who has not? And he suffered as he’d never found someone or some idea from which he could take courage. I felt I was looking at myself.

David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.

 

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