Monday, May 11, 2015

On the abrupt departure of Bill Simmons from ESPN

So, if his writing was always shitty, and fame and access actually improved his skill-set, then why don’t you like Simmons as much as you used to? What changed?

You did. You are not 19 anymore. You matured, read other, better writers, and eventually discovered the difference between an analogy and a reference, between affectation and personality, between pointless maundering and having something to say. You grew to prefer coherence over in-group signaling. You figured out that writing that claps you on the back and congratulates you for being careless and white and male and steeped in mainstream pop culture is the precise opposite of subversive. You lost your taste for Bill Simmons, whose writing is bad. You grew up. Good for you! Growing up is cool.

Yeah, pretty much.  For my case the sentence should read, "You are not 36 anymore."  When I discovered Bill Simmons, it must've been 2000 or so, I was charmed.  It didn't take too much reading in his ESPN archive to catch on to (and, I suppose, be flattered that I caught on to) his inside jokes, the private language and set of pop-culture references. 

What took a little longer to figure out: Simmons and his group of college buds, who featured in his columns, reminded me of my group of college buds.  That had a powerful nostalgic pull on me.  At the time, I was in a doldrums related to being the parent of small kids, a life stage that can make one feel boring and prematurely old.  I was missing my male circle from college days.  We too had our private vocabulary, our favorite movies and pop songs and other clever references.  I thought this dense groupthink made us distinctive and rare. 

It does NOT make us distinctive or rare, I've come to understand, after yet a little more time.  Five million frat bros can't be wrong, from a mass marketing perspective, but they can't all be special.  That has been a little painful to accept, along with other intimations that my college experience was not as magical as I once felt it was. 

Parallel to that sad acceptance, I've found it harder to slog through Simmons's prose.  To his credit, Grantland publishes some writers I really admire (Charlie Pierce, Bryan Curtis, and Brian Phillips are the principal names) who make Simmons's own writing look pedestrian by comparison. 

(It also publishes some folks who read like obsequious Simmons acolytes.  That's understandable; he certainly hit on a winning formula, for anyone able to follow it.  Deadspin itself could be said to take the Simmons M.O. and improve it.)

As this piece hints, Simmons has turned out to be pretty good as a publisher, producer, and all-round businessperson.  At ESPN he leveraged his pageviews into the 30 for 30 videos and Grantland, and both those things have had some good moments.  I hope Bill surfaces somewhere that understands him and gives him latitude to sponsor more good young writers and filmmakers. He has an aptitude for that.  But his writing... I'm over it.

Friday, May 08, 2015

On whether being an adult might be better than being a child

Mike isn't nice to waiters or waitresses.  He may not be outright rude, but he's brusque.  There's not a lot of Please and Thank You.  At breakfast at the hotel, he sends back the bacon, asks if it can be crispier.

That's a difference between us, and I don't mean to flatter myself.  I am polite to a fault, compulsively polite.  And I don't think I've ever sent back a plate of food in my life.  Some of them should have gone back!

It must have felt good to Mike to grow into that.  Kids are expected to defer.  It must have been sweet for Mike to grow up, get a little thicker and balder, and become the brusque, slightly imperious person he was meant to be.

I have marveled at how my oldest child has adapted to college.  She struggled in high school, I just assumed there would be struggles in college, but she has come into her own.  She can deal with adults on a more equal basis, and there are certain kinds of crap that she used to hate, and now doesn't have to put up with anymore.  Hall passes, bell schedules, parents and teachers telling her where to be every minute of the day.  No more.  She organizes life for herself now.

She is nice to waiters and waitresses, though.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


John was calling to say that he couldn't come to my wedding.  He had won a sales contest at his job, the prize was a Caribbean vacation, and the departure date was the same as our wedding date.  He apologized sincerely, he hated to miss the wedding, but he had put a lot of planning and energy into winning the Caribbean trip.  I understood, I wasn't mad, and I tried to turn the conversation to other topics, news of our lives.  But John kept reiterating how sorry he was, how much he regretted the date conflict, and not being there on my big day.  Finally I said, "No hard feelings," and I realized those were the exact words he needed to hear out of my mouth.  His relief was palpable as soon as I spoke the words, the sentence of absolution.  The whole conversation was designed to get me to say it, and would have continued all day if necessary until I said it.