I don’t much care for sports.

Not like I used to, anyway. It’s not an exaggeration to say that for the decade of the 90s, my sports fandom was the defining characteristic of my identity. It was less all-encompassing in the DC era, especially after the turn of the millennium, but still present. And it underwent some evolution after moving to California, but things have changed a lot in the last five or six years.

First off, Cal football has gone by the boards. After the debacle of the Sonny Dykes era, it just wasn’t worth it to make the haul up there for games, not least because season tickets mean you’re giving up every other weekend of the autumn to spend a long time on public transit, have a drive back and forth to get to said transit, a big vertical climb and uncomfortable seats and if you don’t have a tailgating crew to call your own, it’s hardly worth the effort.

And to be honest, the joy being sucked out of college football is real, and it’s gone. There’s a lot you have to gloss over – unpaid labor, rampant sexual misconduct, and especially down South, a barely-literate fanbase who latched onto it because it’s the most violent thing the Scotch-irish can affiliate themselves to without going to jail – and it’s a lot to take and a lot to swallow in exchange for the opportunity to sit in the sun for four hours and watch your brains get dashed in by fans and players that will overlook anything up to and including felony rape if it means they have a shot at some terrible made-for-ESPN bowl. Thus did Vanderbilt football go by the boards, because membership of the SEC is an obstacle to ethical competition – and while I hope Clark Lea will make a good fist of it, I’m realistic about what can be accomplished by anyone in that league trying to be a school with a football team and not the other way around.

So what about the rest of Vanderbilt sports? Well, the brief wave of the 2010s was great, and baseball is apparently good to stay – and is playing for a national championship as I write this, and I’m not watching, because the joy of victory is never as great as the pain of losing when you’re on social media and surrounded by the kind of illiterate Q-bags who went batshit loonball as soon as NC State was disqualified for half a dozen COVID positives and unable to field a squad. At this point, the easiest way to watch Vanderbilt baseball is to turn on a major league game and watch the alumni, who are plentiful especially around here – guys like Tony Kemp and Mike Yazstremski, the sort who take a knee for Black Lives Matter with their backs ramrod straight and cap held over heart just like Tim Corbin coaches.

So, baseball then? Sure, I suppose. I do watch the Giants more now than I ever did in the first half-dozen years of living here, but it’s not necessarily an every night sort of thing. I also have the ability to watch all televised minor league games, which in a way are even better: you can barely worry about competition over the year in the minors, because your best players could get snatched up at any moment by the parent club, so all that really matters is: are you going to win tonight? And that doesn’t even matter that much in the end, because there are a hundred twenty other games just like it. The long slog of the baseball season is actually good for the emotional content.

Similarly, I watch a lot more Premier League soccer than I used to, mostly on weekend mornings when it’s a cozy thing to put on and pretend you’re somewhere else. While I’m notionally a Fulham fan, their departure from the big league doesn’t really have that much impact; I officially support almost half a dozen soccer teams with no real interest in how they’re doing or where I can see them. Fifteen years ago, we were watching Celtic and Newcastle United regularly on Setanta or Fox Sports Channel and knew the players and were pulling for Champions League results, and now, if Birmingham Legion wins a game I might go back and watch the replay on ESPN+.

Basketball is long gone. The Warriors were a rocket ride until they signed Kevin Durant, at which point it became the same joyless death march to a championship that Alabama football has become under Nick Saban. I’d rather watch the Santa Cruz Warriors, honestly, and they do have a lot of games televised…when they’re playing, that is. The NBA as a wider phenomenon is cool, and I appreciate it, but I’m not stuck in. And the NFL and NHL have long since disappeared from my sightline; I don’t even remember for sure if I snuck in a ride-around for Washington last season. And even that’s not interesting, because the entire old radio team has turned over and their replacement were themselves turfed out because the Organization Formerly Known As Deadskins were every bit as sexist, corrupt, incompetent and indifferent to human life as any college organization.

And behind most everything is the ever-present and unavoidable ESPN. Oddly enough, the baseball and soccer? Mostly come through something other than ESPN. But the endless bullshit of the Narrative is ESPN’s core practice and if you don’t have a part in the Narrative, you don’t fit. So we get endless Lebron and Tebow and Jeter and Duke and U$C and Yankees-Red Sox and the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. and cookie cutter bullshit announcing and talk show bloviation and none of the kinds of stuff that made Sportscenter at 11 PM in 1996 appointment television.

I’m tired of being stressed. I’m tired of being superstitious. I’m tired of the social media shitstorm. (Of which more later.) I’m tired of being told how excited I am and how American this is and that I care about the Super Bowl or Trevor Lawrence or Tom Brady. The only things I care to bother with are baseball and soccer that I don’t follow too often or too closely. Emotional engagement with sports no longer sparks joy for me. This would have been an obvious statement about myself at any point in my life until I graduated high school (except for Bama football, obviously) but probably sounds insane to anyone who has met me since, but there it is. Given the choice, I took two episodes of Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary over an actual College World Series game by Vanderbilt – not because I take getting there for granted, because any Vanderbilt sports fan never takes any success for granted, but because the actual competition is too fraught with anxiety and mental conflict to actually be enjoyable any longer.

I guess it’s a good thing I took up the Woodrow.

game reset

“POOTS OUT” is the obvious and hilarious tabloid headline, but there it is: after only three weeks in office, Edwin Poots – stalwart religious conservative head of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and effectively the leader of the Protestant movement in Ulster – was defenestrated by his party for, apparently, failing to derail the Northern Irish government over All This Nonsense.

Back up.

The Tories called the Brexit vote in an attempt to quell the Eurosceptics in their ranks. It backfired massively. And despite Scotland and Northern Ireland voting decisively against Brexit, they got dragged along for the ride, two years after Scotland narrowly turned down secession because it might cost them membership of the EU. Brexit immediately brought up the issue of a hard border for goods and people on the island of Ireland – something that had been finessed away by membership of the EU and the Good Friday Agreement. And then, out of nowhere, Theresa May called a snap election and blew her other one off, resulting in a confidence and supply agreement that made the DUP the pivot point of the Tory majority in Parliament.

And then, when she couldn’t square the circle of “need to leave the EU but also need to maintain the Irish status quo”, she was herself defenestrated in favor of Boris Johnson, who has never been overly burdened by the demands of reality, and who promised to “get Brexit done” with no consideration for what that entailed. And then…well, his solution was to leave Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU, thus preserving the movement of goods on the island of Ireland…and slapping down a hard border in the Irish Sea.

See, that’s the dirty secret of the Conservative and Unionist Party in the UK: that second bit is just there for show. Brexit was a paroxysm of English nationalism; what happened to Scotland was of no concern and what happened to Northern Ireland completely out of mind. The Brexit bunch could not give thruppence about Ireland. While the Unionist movement in Northern Ireland nails its colors to the mast as more British than the British – and for its trouble finds itself sawn off at the knees. Now Boris tries to use the specter of sectarian discontent to prise open the EU rules and have it both ways, while the EU says “hang on, this is the agreement YOU gave US last year” and Uncle Joe Biden, who is as Irish as a plate of boxty, telling Boris “knock it off with this Protestant shit or it’s ring a ding ding for you bozos”.

And in the meantime, former Taoiseach Leo Varadker – him being the openly gay medical doctor and all – says publicly that he anticipates reunification in his lifetime, while the head of Sinn Fein concurs – and well she might, because her party has the most votes of any single Northern party at the moment (and any single Republic party, come to that) and has brushed by its Catholic nationalist roots to advocate for equal marriage and European integration and the sorts of things the young care more about than the tales of Sean South and Bobby Sands and the problems of agricultural adversity in Victorian-age rural Athenry.

It would be the height of irony for Sinn Fein to be the party that leads the North into the 21st century at the ballot box, but the imp of the perverse has a way about himself and Loki is generally undefeated in such things. All it takes is a few more young Norn Iron who want to be on the upside when things shake out. The Tories are unlikely to fight very hard to keep them, because after all, England will be just fine, and then you wonder whether they will look the other way as Scotland goes because that would basically end the Labour threat for all time. And then – Irish unification, Scottish independence, and the functional end of the United Kingdom brought to you by the right-wing defenders of Imperial Britain.

Wouldn’t that be something.

the tube

One thing that has come of being shut in the office for 15 months or so is that I have finally found a use case for YouTube. The vintage-2016 iMac on the desk, which normally sat idle as a repository for iTunes content and TurboTax, was repurposed as the Zoom device so I could work on my laptop while on a call – and then, as the window to some background video. It only began in earnest once I figured out how to stop interstitial ads from interrupting the flow of the video, but once I did, suddenly I was able to put on one of those weird mallwave videos and idly not-watch it while on the job. The ethereal weirdness of seeing the era of my adolescence repurposed as hipster nostalgia porn was a good fit for the unreality of the early days.

Then, in June, I discovered that between two different users, most of the old U-Verse Showcase videos had been uploaded. The old demos for HD service on U-Verse were some of my original relaxation material in 2013 and beyond, to the point we called it the Prozac Channel and would have it on from the time I got home til I went to bed, to the exclusion of regular television. It soon became my primary distraction during the day, and calming enough during the dog days of summer.

Then, in a fit of madness one weekend while attempting a fasting-mimicking diet, we needed distraction and found it in Watched Walker, the videos of a fellow called Paul who just literally walks around London filming as he goes. Closed captioning has the descriptions and whatnot. It was as good a substitute for travel as I could have hoped for down the stretch in the back half of 2020, and if it seemed too frequently around Soho and the West End, it was more than made up for with the early mornings and rainy days and the occasional dalliances with the South Bank or Richmond or as far afield as Bath.

And at some point, I stumbled onto the world of lo-fi relaxation video – first coffee shop simulations, then quiet rooms in big cities with rain or snow or lights outside, then pub-like surroundings, and it became yet another mode of escape. I totally get how you would put this on your 32” TV and let it run all night, a window to someplace else when you’ve been too much in this world. A view from a Kansas City penthouse, snow piled up outside a city coffee shop, rain dripping off the eaves of a tiki hut while the waves crash under the moonlight out the window…it’s not much, but when you’ve spent a massive chunk of the last year confined to your own county and not leaving the car, it’s not nothing.

So now the question is: will it be possible in the next phase of my life to just cast this stuff up to the TV from the laptop and leave it running all through a pub evening at home? It’s not the worst idea, and if it’s the one good thing I get to keep from this pandemic, I’d have it…