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Yo la tengo

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Philip Roth has died.

A passage from Portnoy’s Complaint:

So I ran all right, out of the hospital and up to the playground and right out ‘to center field, the position I play for a softball team that wears silky blue-and-gold jackets with the name of the club scrawled in big white felt letters from one shoulder to the other: S E A B E E S, A.C. Thank God for the Seabees A.C.! Thank God for center field! Doctor, you can’t imagine how truly glorious it is out there, so alone in all that space . . . Do you know baseball at all? Because center field is like some observation post, a kind of control tower, where you are able to see everything and everyone, to understand what’s happening the instant it happens, not only by the sound of the struck bat, but by the spark of movement
that goes through the infielders in the first second that the ball comes flying at them; and once it gets beyond them, It’s mine, you call, it’s mine, and then after it you go. For in center field, if you can get to it, it is yours. Oh, how unlike my home it is to be in center field, where no one will appropriate unto himself anything that I say is mine!
Unfortunately, I was too anxious a hitter to make the high school team-I swung and missed at bad pitches so often during the tryouts for the freshman squad that eventually the ironical coach took me aside and said, Sonny, are you sure you don’t wear glasses? and then sent me on my way. But did I have form! did I have style! And in my playground softball league, where the ball came in just a little slower and a little bigger, I am the star I dreamed I might become for the whole school. Of course, still in my ardent desire to excel I too frequently swing and miss, but when I connect, it goes great distances. Doctor, it flies over fences and is called a home run. Oh, and there is really nothing in life, nothing at all, that quite compares with that pleasure of rounding second base at a nice slow clip,
because there’s just no hurry any more, because that ball you’ve hit has just gone sailing out of sight . . nAnd I could field, too, and the farther I had to run, the better. I got it! I got it! I got it! and tear in toward second, to trap in the webbing of my glove-and barely an inch off the ground-a ball driven hard and low and right down the middle, a base hit, someone thought . . . Or back I go, I got it, I go tit- back easily and gracefully toward that wire fence, moving practically in slow motion, and then that delicious Di Maggio sensation of grabbing it like something heaven-sent over one shoulder . . . Or running! turning! leaping! like little Al Gionfriddo-a baseball player. Doctor, who once did a very great thing . . . Or just standing nice and calm-nothing trembling, everything serene-standing there in
the sunshine (as though in the middle of an empty field, or passing the time on the street corner), standing without a care in the world in the sunshine, like my king of kings, the Lord my God, The Duke Himself (Snider, Doctor, the name may come up again), standing there as loose and as easy, as happy as I will ever be, just waiting by myself under a high fly ball (
a towering fly ball, I hear Red Barber say, as he watches from behind his microphone-hit out toward Portnoy; Alex under it, under it), just waiting there for the ball to fall into the glove I raise to it, and yup, there it is, plock, the third out of the inning (and Alex gathers it in for out number three, and, folks, here’s old C.D. for P. Lorillard and Company), and then in one motion, while old Connie brings us a message from Old Golds, I start in toward the bench, holding the ball now with the five fingers of my bare left hand, and
when I get to the infield-having come down hard with one foot on the bag at second base-I shoot it gently, with just a flick of the wrist, at the opposing team’s shortstop as he comes trotting out onto the field, and still without breaking stride, go loping in all the way, shoulders shifting, head hanging, a touch pigeon-toed, my knees coming slowly up and down in an altogether brilliant imitation of The Duke. Oh, the unruffled nonchalance of that game! There’s not a movement that I don’t know still down in the tissue of my muscles and the joints between my bones. How to bend over to pick up my glove and how to toss it away, how to test the weight of the bat, how to hold it and carry it and swing it around in the on-deck circle, how to raise that bat above my head and flex and loosen my shoulders
and my neck before stepping in and planting my two feet exactly where my two feet belong in the batter’s box-and how, when I take a called strike (which I have a tendency to do, it balances off nicely swinging at bad pitches), to step out and express, if only through a slight poking with the bat at the ground, just the right amount of exasperation with the powers that be . . . yes, every little detail so thoroughly studied and mastered, that it is simply beyond the realm of possibility for any situation to arise in which I do not know how to move, or where to move, or what to say or leave unsaid . . . And
it’s true, is it not?-incredible, but apparently true-there are people who feel in life the ease, the self-assurance, the simple and essential affiliation with what is going on, that I used to feel as the center fielder for the Seabees? Because it wasn’t, you see, that one was the best center fielder imaginable, only that one knew exactly, and down to the smallest particular, how a center fielder should conduct himself. And there are people like that walking the streets of the U.S. of A.? I ask you, why can’t I be one! Why can’t I exist now as I existed for the Seabees out there in center field! Oh, to be a center fielder, a center fielder-and nothing more!

 

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