Monday, September 13, 2010

Chaos, Order & Chaos

I was going to take credit for this. For New Jersey. We had as many
dead as NYC did. You don't hear us whining. But this memorial was
a gift from Russia. Maybe suffering is a lesson NYC is still learning.

HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL. Now you'll see what an unorganized post looks like. When everything's just a jumble, as so much of everyday life is.

Mrs. CP is out of the hospital. Hooray. She's feeling great. Unbelievable. She should be completely healed soon. Thank God. And all your prayers.

I missed 9/11 altogether. I plead extenuating circumstances, but Mrs. CP still remembered it in her comments to my last two posts. I'd like to take my cue from her and tie it all together with a post that's -- what's the word -- synergistic? Can't. It's been a scary week, regardless of how strongly she's rebounded. She's simply amused by what her specialist told me on the phone: he's baffled by what he describes as an "incredibly high pain threshhold." Where have I heard that before?

We got her home Saturday and my priority was to keep her still, plopped in front of a weekend of sports on TV. She wanted to ram around, of course, but I prevailed to some degree. We watched Ohio State beat Miami, which we watch because my mother and both her parents went to Ohio State, and this time Mrs. CP once referred to the Buckeyes on the field as "us." That was a first. Like many (including me), she's always been obscurely offended by the NFL players who introduce themselves as being from "THE Ohio State University." What's that all about? I have no idea. No one in my family ever did.

We watched part of the Notre Dame-Michigan game and she (an Irish Catholic) asked who I was rooting for this time. Which is a complicated question. If you're a Buckeye fan, they're two different faces of the same Satanic force. They're both as lucky as the two Satanic forces in the NFL -- the Steelers and the Cowboys -- critical officiating calls always seem to go their way. All are manifestations of "Damn Yankees," teams that have sold their souls to the devil to win games and championships. Which is why it's always fun to watch them play each other. The devil finally has to choose sides between his devoted disciples. Even though his real all-time favorite in college football is USC (called, delightfully, by an ex-NFL player on SportsTalk this week, the University of Spoiled Children).

You see. I told you you'd see disorganized rambling. Still, I'll plow onward. I root for both Michigan and Notre Dame when they play USC. What do I do when the Wolverines play the Fighting Irish? (For once, I can't promise that I'm going anywhere with this. Though there's a glimmer of hope I might...) It depends. When the game is billed as a showdown between the only college team that has its own network broadcast contract (w/NBC) against the ponderous plug-uglies of the Big Ten, I root for Michigan. When Michigan is roaring toward another unbeaten season, I root for Notre Dame. Saturday, I was rooting for Notre Dame. Interesting thing is, whoever I'm rooting for always loses. Didn't mind so much this time.

We also watched part of Alabama-Penn State. We both agreed ahead of time what would happen. It happened. Mrs. CP's loyalties normally radiate from the geographical center represented by the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. She roots for Temple, Villanova, Delaware, Navy (for reasons we'd have to kill you for if you knew) and Penn State (even, if she were candid, against the Buckeyes). Saturday, though, she enthusiastically endorsed my comparison between Penn State's lame tackling against Alabama and Ohio State's stickum-style takedowns of the speedsters from Miami. I was touched.

No. Actually, I was just relieved. At one point she turned to me, touched heads, and said, "Did you think on Wednesday night that this is what we'd be doing on Saturday afternoon?" No. "Of course," I said. Because I always know the right thing to say when I'm profoundly moved. Because writers are like that, never at a loss for words.

Then came Sunday, the NFL, and the basketball tournament final in Turkey. Which is when several other threads began to weave themselves into the mix. Before the games began, we watched SportsCenter and I heard the story of the 21-year-old American kid who dedicated his semi-final performance in the basketball game on 9/11 to the victims of 9/11. No explanation was offered. None was really needed. I just knew that I was going to have to watch the basketball final against Turkey in a newly anti-American Turkey in addition to the critical rubber match in the Phillies-Mets series, as well as all the NFL games on tap.

All this and take care of my convalescent wife too? No wonder I'm exhausted. How couldn't I root for the Giants when their team captain emerged from the tunnel wearing a NYFD helmet? Slowly, I began to realize that the NFL was determined to show its solidarity with 9/11 victims and American troops in combat overseas all day long. At various games, you could see troops in varying flavors of uniforms in privileged seats cheering their teams on.

I thought back to last year, when the Fox Sports Football hosts went to Afghanistan and spent a week with the troops. And I had the thought I had then: "I don't remember that they did this, or anything like it, during the Bush administration. When did it become politically correct for the NFL to finally support the troops?" Was the feeling there all along and only since Obama has it become acceptable to the Fox entertainment network? Or is this some kind of johnny-come-lately ratings conversion? But I remembered Terry Bradshaw's a capella rendition of "God Bless America" on his last night in Afghanistan (inspiring, genuine) and thought "It's all just been bottled up by asshole network executives. If anyone understands the need to fight back, to deal out hurts for hurts received for those who can't themselves fight back, it would be the NFL."

Which is when another thread snaked its way into the mix. At the end of the inaugural episode this week of Fox Football Sunday, Terry Bradshaw was given the final comment opportunity. He used it to blister Ben Roethlisberger, which he did without any mercy or pandering to NFL fans. He made it clear that if he were Steelers management, Roethlisberger would be gone from the Steelers without a second thought. Not just because he had let down his team by putting himself in a position to be suspended. But because what he did was wrong -- worst of all, the disrespect of women. Host Curt Menefee was clearly unprepared for the venom of Bradshaw's commentary. "Really?" he asked. Bradshaw turned to face him directly and said (paraphrasing), "If I were the president of the Steelers, Roethlisberger would never again put on a Steelers uniform."

I guess that's when it dawned on me that this whole weekend of sports was some kind of morality play being acted out on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and maybe it wasn't all just a distraction from Mrs. CP's recent crisis but a kind of reciprocal and resonating symbolism. Writers are subject to delusions like that.

As I had promised myself, I actually watched segments of the basketball final. The Turks took an early lead. But the kid with the 9/11 complex kept making stupendous plays. The announcers began asking, simultaneously, What can't this kid do?, and What will happen if he gets into foul trouble or goes cold?, because clearly -- in a team stocked with NBA stars -- he's the leader, the star, and the playmaker. But every time I tuned back in, the lead was a little bigger, he was still in charge, and (in retrospect) inevitably, he taught the new Islamist Turkish regime a lesson. All their rote discipline could not compare to his brilliant individual talent and resolve.

Cut to the Eagles-Packers game. Which turned out to be a test of character for Eagles management at mutiple levels. One of which, ironically enough, was the exploitation of a high tolerance for pain. In the space of a few minutes, two indispensable Eagle players suffered evident concussions, the young quarterback and the middle linebacker; i.e., the quarterback of the defense. The latter instance was especially dramatic. He was hit hard during the play, got to his feet and crumbled to the turf like the victim of a prizefighter's knockout punch. Exactly like the victim of a knockout punch. He had to be helped off the field. Fox announcer Troy Aikman, himself a former all-pro football player, announced confidently that we wouldn't see him return to the game. After all, much of the NFL's new "sensitivity" about concussions derived from the fate of the Eagles's Brian Westbrook a year ago, when too early a return resulted in a second concussion that ended his season and probably his career as a star running back. The Eagles own website crows about the fact that the team is "in the forefront" of fighting the dangers to NFL players of concussions.

When does a mere sporting event become an allegory? Perhaps when it illustrates everything a blindly self-absorbed organization does to the people it uses and the people it purports to serve when its belief in its own intelligence and immunity from error override the most basic common sense.

Both players returned to action within a few plays of the head injuries they received, then were withdrawn from action in the second half.

My next few citations may seem trivial in the context of the national scene and the human condition, but, remember, I had Mrs. CP sitting next to me (when she wasn't charging around proving her invincibility), and I insist that they matter somehow because I am in that heightened state where tuning forks ring other tuning forks that ring in the same key.

I mean, here I am, trying to love the whole American universe given that the American medical care system had just given me my wife back, and what do I see? The sports MSM continues to praise and revere the Eagles organization as one of the best in the NFL. Consistent contenders, well run, smartly coached, smoothly responsive to the most loyal (jingoistic?) if demonized fans in the NFL. I mean the fan loyalty is always noted, but it's always counter-balanced by the same old images from the 1970s of Eagles fans throwing iceballs at Santa Claus. Why is this beginning to sound like some microcosm of the way the MSM characterizes conservatives?

Confession time. I'm the jingoist. Mrs. CP is the Tea Party when it comes to Eagles fans. I'll explain. After last night, I'd have fired Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid four times. One after the other. I'd have fired him for starting a young quarterback and sabotaging his first first-string start by not ever giving him a play he could easily accomplish and, worse, by interrupting his attempt to gain a rhythm by inserting Michael Vick into every series of plays, thus ensuring that the youngster never had more than two plays to secure a first down. (If that's your idea of offense, go buy yourself a CFL quarterback.)

I'd have fired him for returning two seriously concussed players back into the game within minutes of their injuries, in defiance of good medical practice and NFL bullshit. I'd have fired him for the completely idiotic fourth-and-one call when the game was actually within reach of winning. And I've have fired him for doing nothing -- via draft or trade -- to provide all his "offensive weapons" with the offensive line required to protect any quarterback, young or old. Here's what I'd do. I'd fire him for the first offense. Then I'd call him back in and fire him again for the second offense, and the third, and the fourth, etc.

Then, finally, I'd have fired him for the fifth and final time. Reason? Michael Vick.

Which is when all of this finally made sense and really did tie everything together (You knew I'd do it eventually, didn't you?)

Eagles management has become an elitist, semi-totalitarian organization. Why did the fans want an end to the Donovan McNabb regime, even if it meant some reduction of their short-term dreams? Because they were tired of excuses that always fell short. Eagles fans want ultimate victory, a Super Bowl trophy. They're tired of being told, "Stick with the current regime and maybe someday we'll come through for you. Trust us."

Along the way, the Eagles have learned to take Eagles fans for granted. The stands are always full, always will be full. The decision makers obviously ignore the desires and will of the fans. The Philadelphia Eagles are the Roman Senate of the City of Brotherly Love. We do what we do. Get used to it.

I know this will seem far-fetched. But I swear it's the truth. Andy Reid is Nancy Pelosi. Almost everybody in Philadelphia hates Andy Reid. But he can't be removed from office. He never answers questions. Whenever he sits before a microphone, his answers are gibberish or non-responsive. It's clear to everyone that the jailing of both his sons on drug and gun charges has somehow opened him up to Michael Vick as a reclamation project, which isn't what we hired him for. The Eagles belong to Philadelphia, not Andy Reid's personal guilt trip.

Leading us to our final metaphoric imagism of the day. Michael Vick nearly winning the game for the Eagles against the Green Bay Packers. As if in anticipation, Mrs. CP was rooting for the Packers throughout. I couldn't do that. (I hate the Packers.) Requiring Eagle fans to root for a guy they detest is the most blatant possible abuse of power. Akin to seconding our president's insistence that only tax cheat Timothy Geitner can rescue the economy, Right.

People in Philly love the Eagles. Now they're being asked to love Michael Vick, despite the fact that most of them despise and loathe him. But he has good game. When he's going good, he's mesmerizing. Even though you'd never invite him into your house. This morning, SportsTalk was dominated by the schism: I hate Michael Vick, I don't believe he's reformed in any way, I hate Michael Vick, and I was thrilled when he brought the Eagles back in an ultimately (definitely) losing effort.

I concede I felt the emotional pull. But I had Mrs. CP next to me. All of the Eagles' sins are of a piece. They're not separate, individual indictments. They're all the crimes of arrogant institutionalism. They're all crimes of exploitation. To some degree, all Americans are Mrs. CP -- incredibly high pain tolerance. We're told and told and told that we should accept what all the whining, barbaric minorities cannot accept. Painful abuse. If we don't, we're wanting. If they don't, we're somehow at fault. We're supposed to regard intimate, colossal, personal pain as an imperative to get along better with those who killed our loved ones. We're supposed to accept that management has decided to tolerate Michael Vick, despite his record of willful violence, cruelty, and disregard for those we love. Further, we're being put, from above, in the position of having to make the choice. With him, forgiving. Against him, intolerant.

I had Mrs. CP next to me. Which makes all the moral choices easy. Damn the Eagles for sending concussed players back onto the field. Damn the Eagles for setting up their own young heroes for failure. Damn the Eagles for asking us to root for an enemy of all humanity because he's beautiful to watch athletically.

It's our own human pain we're being asked to suppress, beyond all reasonable human toleration. Mrs. CP. fresh from the hospital, did me a moral favor. She was always a much bigger Eagles fan than I ever was. But she rooted throughout for the Green Bay Packers. Loudly. because they didn't have Michael Vick on their roster.

Sometimes what just looks bad is pure evil. It only takes a few percipients to inform the rest of us. Now I'm suitably informed. Again. As we all should be. Those of us who, as Americans, have a higher tolerance for hatred from others need to start asking why we're the only ones who are expected to put up with unending attempts at inflicted pain from others. Feel free to opine.

Why you all need to laud her rejuvenation.

Oh. Did I make sense at last? Chaos, order, chaos. Chaos when she went to the hospital. Order when she came home. Chaos when I contemplate the awful future that awaits us, in the Obama hatred of all things American. Islam isn't the enemy. Sure. Why we should all forget 9/11. No. Why we never will.

The upside. She's home, and all is right with the world.

Just a soupcon of sentiment.

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