I’ve worked for the band the Magnetic Fields for the past ten years and have sold their merchandise on every tour since they released i, in 2004. Their latest tour, for their new record, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, began last week, and, as is my wont, I’ve been taking notes. After a warm and fuzzy show in Hudson, New York, the first completely positive experience in Philadelphia in recent memory, and a very quick trip to Minehead, England, for All Tomorrow’s Parties, the Magnetic Fields took the Tour at the Bottom of the Sea to Austin, Texas, for their first-ever appearance at South by Southwest, the juggernaut music festival that turns the entire city into a beer-and-taco-stained pair of jeggings. Half the band and crew flew in from New York, and the other half from Boston, meeting up in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport for the puddle jumper to Austin. We shared the plane with several members of the E Street Band, which made Sam Davol (cello) quiver with excitement. When we landed, the steamy Texas air relaxing our synapses, Sam asked E Street violinist Soozie Tyrell for her autograph, and I made a proclamation: in Austin, I was going to find a) Bruce Springsteen or b) Timmy Riggins, my very favorite fictional character on Friday Night Lights, played by heartthrob and Austin resident Taylor Kitsch. I find that wishes are more likely to come true when spoken aloud. Read More
I’m a Reagan baby, a product of recession, later reared in the economically secure Clinton nineties, in a McMansioned suburb of the Eastern Seaboard. Our athletes—statuesque Celtics and sinewy Red Sox—were billboarded, televised, and extra-life-sized for us to admire as we turned into populist fist-pumpers in the soft reflection of our screens.
My own sports career ended at fifteen, soon after my discoveries of breasts and marijuana—plus, my post-pubic body’s physiological rejection of the command, “Run laps.” I attended a large public high school known for its high rate of acceptance into Harvard and for its unattractive cheerleaders. Once, at a basketball game, a rival school’s fans chanted “Who Let the Dogs Out” when our Lady-Lions took the court.
Still, one makes do. When it comes to social strata in American public schools, life has no choice but to imitate, if not art, then at least John Hughes movies. Our football players held the top position in the high school hierarchy. They wore jerseys over ties on game day, took Creatine, shotgunned beers, spoke with put-on Boston accents. Sensitive stoners like me hung girl-less at the edge of the party, colluding in the mass self-delusion that this was a football team, that this was a party.
I watched Friday Night Lights for the first time four years ago in my New York apartment, bedridden by the idiocy of avoiding a flu shot. Some cable channel had the first season on marathon so that sick boys like myself could feel the pull of pigskin, forget our ailing, gene-weak bodies amidst the rush of Panther pride and the belief that no woman in a million years will ever out-MILF Ms. Tami Taylor, aka Mrs. Coach, the strong-willed and substantially cleavaged matriarch at the heart of the show.
Which is all to say: When I lie in bed at night and imagine white-bearded God making his earthly presence known at the foot of my futon, he asks, “And what is your deepest desire, young man?” I say, “Lord of all things, king of the universe, purveyor of rain, and pain, and occasional love, would you be so kind as to turn me into Tim Riggins?”
The year I lived and taught high school in Texas—June 2009 to June 2010—I watched Friday Night Lights. The fourth season was airing, and it was, satisfyingly, thematically pegged to my life. Coach Taylor, no longer head of the Panthers, was putting together a team from scratch. His players were unschooled in the rudiments of football; many of my students were unschooled in the rudiments of English. He struggled to regain his players’ respect after forfeiting the first game of the season; I struggled to regain my students’ respect after crying in front of them. Many of his players lived on the wrong side of the tracks; some of my students lived on the wrong side of the border. There was a fundamental difference though: He knew what he was doing, and I did not.
Coach Taylor is not just a football coach; he is a “molder of men.” I was more like the young teacher played by Austin Nichols who shows up in season two just long enough to give Julie a copy of The World According to Garp and then get yelled at by her mother. I was twenty-two, fresh out of college. I was hardly molded myself.
I was living in McAllen, a booming border town, where I taught English II and ESL to high-school students. My twenty sophomores couldn’t, for the most part, read on grade level, but they could read. Though I struggled to teach them, for example, how to identify the tone and theme of a text, how to parse how each was constructed, and what purpose each served, I could at least be sure that they understood the words coming out of my mouth. This was by no means true in my two ESL classes. I was supposed to be preparing my students for the state-mandated ninth-grade English exam—though it didn’t go very far beyond reading comprehension, it was nonetheless challenging for students who didn’t read English—but reading in class was time consuming and frustrating for everyone involved. Mostly we memorized basic vocabulary words and conjugated verbs.