Sunday, March 15, 2020

March Blog Post

One of the most jarring and strange things about consuming the news this week is the way that the endless, cacophonous buzzing of stories about a million different important and odd and interesting and things all seemingly instantaneously flattened into one dreadful thing during of all things an NBA game.

To be sure, the growing threat of the pandemic had already ballooned into a crisis well before Wednesday evening-- even the few cases identified by paltry testing in the United States had been growing and the virus had escalated into a full-on emergency in the Seattle area, concerts and festivals had been postponed and canceled, stores had been emptied of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and sports leagues had been planning to hold events without crowds while the virus continued its rampage through global hotspots.

But the events of Wednesday night's sudden cancellation of the NBA season really seemed to catalyze the threat in the surreal and insane way that things tend to unfold in the twenty-first century when we can see everything happening in real time.  The Jazz and Thunder called the game shortly before tipoff when Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19-- this was dramatic enough on its own, but because everything that happens must be laced with an otherworldly and almost writerly stupidity the news unearthed a barrage of videos of Gobert mocking the illness earlier in the week and gratuitously touching a bunch of microphones.  The NBA player most stridently defying concerns about the outbreak turning into the league's first to test positive is not something that should happen in the real world because that turn of events comes from the ridiculous and contrived logic of slasher movies.

I do not think people will remember what happened a short time later that evening at the Big Ten Tournament when a visibly coughing and mucus-oozing Fred Hoiberg of all people triggered a minor panic when he went to the hospital mid-game (he was reportedly diagnosed with the flu).  Within a day, almost every sport in the country had canceled or postponed its season.

For the past few days for me, at least, there has been this bizarre, bifurcated unreality pervading over everything.  There is everyday life that has not yet halted-- people going about their day, fake-urgent work e-mails, deranged young people who have decided that a pandemic will not stop them from exchanging projectile vomits in Wrigleyville-- mixed with a sense of impending calamity on the news, in ransacked grocery stores, in the horror of what is going on elsewhere in the world and in the parts of the United States first inundated, of chaos in airports, of the grotesque, Lynchian press conferences where the President goes on television to tell us he is doing such a great job while people in suits stand behind him and squint-nod.

What it feels like for me now, in Chicago, is standing at the precipice, of something invisible encircling the city, of flustered press conferences from officials at all levels of government, of almost every bit of the conversations that filter up from the sidewalk to my windows-- many fewer than I can usually expect on a sunny Sunday-- all converging on the same topic whether it is about people worried and panicked or people who are blithely mocking people who are worried and panicked.

The cancellation of sports should fit into this strange sense of altered reality.  This is a nominal sports website, and it is usually a time when I would be writing thousands of words about the dismal Cubs offseason being dominated by talk about boring business bullshit: the luxury tax and arcane television rights deals and the insane fake impecunity of baseball's richest teams obsessed with trading their best players and the increased importance of Ron Coomer's unrivaled tales about the midwest's densest meat pies for a fanbase that cannot watch its team on television.  This is a time for college basketball, where Northwestern's Big Ten Champion women's team-- one of the best basketball teams ever fielded by the school-- lost its opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament (Northwestern's men's team managed a feat few major conference teams achieved this season by completing all of its scheduled games).  I also, in the tradition of this sports website, was in the middle of writing a review of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and the strange dissonance of reading a book lionizing a supremely competent bureaucrat helping an executive consolidate power in late January and early February of this year that is the thing that people want to read when it's stuck on the end of a long, tedious post criticizing the Chicago Cubs or reimagining the XFL as something called the "Bone League."

I haven't been missing sports much because even though sports cancellations seemed to be one of the main triggers to react to this as a crisis, I haven't really been thinking about anything else.  I have not really thought about flipping on a random college tournament basketball game or seeing if there's a baseball game on the radio where Pat Hughes is talking about an obscure spring training player named "Trent Jabroni" because for me it is all of a piece of everything and nothing going on at once,  of the anxiety of watching a grocery store become a Paul Verhoeven version of Supermarket Sweep, of reacting to anyone coughing by recoiling like Dracula when someone brandishes some garlic at him, of doing nothing purposefully and stressfully.

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