Eephus (A Los Angeles Review of Books Channel)
Flotsam: Revisiting My Losing Season— When Pat Conroy died, I picked up My Losing Season again. His book made me relive my final college season, which probably explains why it had been nearly seven years since I last read it. Like Conroy, at the end of my senior year I promised myself I’d “never think of that pockmarked, quicksilver year.” I lied.
Listen to a recording of this essay from the Columbia Selects reading series here:
The Surgeon’s Stitches— A thin rope spurted out of the exposed chest cavity, fraying at its peak into soft red droplets. This was not a good sign for Jim, the squat surgical resident leading the operation. The patient’s aorta had torn, and blood now seeped through the stitches he’d sewn only an hour before. Without hesitation, my dad, who’d been assisting Jim on the case, leaned over the chest cavity and tried to make sense of the spraying mess.
He took the needle-holder and suture from Jim and quickly plugged the widening hole with his left hand and sewed the repair stitches—six in all—with his right. Giddy and awed, a medical student next to me whispered, “Your dad’s good, huh?”
Over the Hill— On Steve Nash, Jack McCallum’s :07 Seconds or Less, and an athlete’s decline.
“Nash managed to fight decline longer than pretty much anyone, but as with all athletes, that rare brew of athleticism, skill, swagger and good fortune has an expiration date. In some ways, then, focusing on an athlete’s prime also serves as perhaps the most fitting way to ruminate on his impending decline. We don’t need to see the decay, we just need to see what’s stake so that we can appreciate its inevitable loss.”
Follow the Boom— A few years earlier, thousands of men like Riley migrated to the northwest corner of North Dakota, drawn in by promises of six-figure starting salaries, early retirements and enough sweet crude streaming below their feet to last for decades. The boom caused everything to rise. Population. Wages. Rent. Crime.
In late 2014, the price of oil-per-barrel plummeted from a high of nearly $100 to less than $50, causing mass layoffs. When I got there in mid-March 2015, the roughnecks who remained didn’t know whether their next paycheck would be their last. I was there to see how these guys handled the uncertainty pervading their lives, how they approached every day of work not knowing if by the end of their shift they’d lose their job, or a limb, or their life.
Bearded— Why would anyone compete in the Beard and Moustache National Championships? Believing there was no better way to understand the competition and its participants, I entered.
Fadeaway— “I wanted to know what it was like to be the man whose son may very well fulfill the dream he never quite could. And I wanted to know how Tatum coped with his failure, if only so that I could learn something about how to cope with my own.”
It’s Hoopfest, Man— Every year, in the last weekend of June, Spokane closes its downtown streets to traffic and erects more than 400 hoops across 45 city blocks. In Riverfront Park, along the Spokane River, vendors inflate bouncy castles and set up food stands hawking county fair grub like grilled mac and cheese, deep-fried ribs, and hot dogs wrapped in bacon or stuffed with cream cheese. This year, an estimated quarter of a million people attended, including 23,328 players on 5,937 teams.
Desert Horse Elite had won the championship for the 6-Foot-and-Under Elite Division three years in a row, and if they won again this year, they’d become just the third team in the Hoopfest’s 28-year history to win four straight. I was less interested in if Desert Horse was going to win than I was in why their best player, JR Camel, who was 43 years old at the time, would keep playing basketball at the highest level against players half his age, long after he seemingly had anything left to play for, on unforgiving asphalt in 90-degree heat, when the stakes were only what you made them and the reward was a T-shirt, some Nike gear and a blurb in the local newspaper.