michael's communiqué #14

The Art of Losing...

At a dim bar in Williamsburg, in the shadow of a concrete overpass. Considering how often I say I don't like this neighborhood, I certainly end up here enough. I play the 'Lord of The Rings' pinball machine with a cold pint of Stella Artois on the ledge beside it. A Bob Dylan record is playing on the jukebox. 'Don't think twice, it's alright.' It's taking the edge off the less sincere elements of my surroundings."Tangled Up In Blue" comes on next as I send pinball after pinbal up a ramp and into the center of Sauron's eye. Lights flash and flicker and then I am juggling 3 pinballs, banging them off various glowing bumpers. My score goes up and up and I wait for the pop! that means I get a second chance. The pop that either sounds like a champagne bottle opening, or a handgun going off...depending on one's predisposition.

The pinball machine get's me thinking about the 'Lord of The Rings' films, which I saw and mostly liked. The one visual that really stayed with me dealt with Frodo and the ring. I loved how putting the ring on his finger revealed him to all this darkness, while removing him from reality, making him invisible to reality. The ring sent him to this shadowy world, crackling with power, with all of hell looking him in the eye. It struck me right away as a real metaphor for depression, or desolation. I saw immediately in it the duality of darkness...particularly as it relates to art. It's capacity to create and destroy, often simultaneously. The hobbits' simplicity, pureness of nature, capacity for faith protected them to some degree from it. But if you went to art school and spent your youth loitering around some rain soaked town, I think you're pretty much fucked. I think many of us have taken that ring on and off at various times in our lives...and the truest part of the story was...Frodo keeping it on the chain around his neck... keeping that power close, even as it ate a hole right through him. That too, I understood. Hurtling it into the fire, letting it go, The Art of Losing...is the hardest of all arts to master. The last of my pinballs evades a flipper and dissapears into a dark gap at the edge of the world. The game is over without a pop.

I'm tired of staying in. I'm tired of long days at work and the ringing in my left ear which I hope has to do with all the problems I've been having with my wisdom teeth, as opposed to Darren's distortion pedal. Only time will tell. I'm tired of staying in and watching the Yankees lose. The stage is set for a collapse of mythic proportions. No team has ever blown a series after being ahead three games to nothing. No Yankee team has ever lost a head to head clash with the cursed Red Sox. The Red Sox were born to lose. The Yankees are King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. I've been up all week watching them lose. All my heroes...even Mariano Rivera...stumbling. But I decided enough was enough, and I wasn't going to watch this decisive game. History would have to sort itself out without my help. I made a date to talk about the world of a getting a book published with a writer friend of mine who I hadn't seen for quite some time. She was late, thus the pinball.

But of course...we're at a bar and the game is on the television above us. If I wanted to avoid sports, a bar probably wasn't the place to go. Even a bar in Williamsburg. A lot of hipsters are cheering for the Red Sox. This could be some sort of existential connection to the underdogs, or it could be that alot of the kids in this hood grew up on sprawling estates in New England. One can only theorize.

The game went poorly, quickly. The Yankees were down six to nothing before I was three sips into my beer, so I switched to Makers and Coke for good luck. It didn't work. My friend and I chatted about art, and literature, and a garage rock song sung by a one armed man. It was good to chat about the potential victories of the meek. It helped keep things in perspective. Every now and then I would glance up at the screen to see one of the unbathed bosox circling the bases.

When my friend retreated to the powder room I glanced about the dim bar. Someone's bulldog rested its head on my lap as people shouted at the screen above. My thoughts wandered to the weekend before, and a Saturday spent on the east end of Long Island picking pumpkins and throwing a football in the crisp October air. As the bar and the Red Sox began to close in around me, I took solace in the vast pale sky that was fresh in my memory.

Going to Bridgehampton in October was a Halloween tradition amongst a large but tight circle of friends...but in recent years the golden ring had become a bit fragmented. But here we all were together again, a bit older...and hopefully wiser...but strangely and beautifully more childish and free. My friends did cartwheels amongst the reeds, drinking juice boxes, while others tossed a whistling novelty football high into the sky and ran around like maniacs trying to catch it. Even nine year olds were impressed by the lunacy and joined in. I thought how ironic it was to be leaping into the brush in a Harris Tweed jacket. Everyone got a pumpkin. We ate plates of hushpuppies dipped in hot mayonnaisee. It was a very good day.

And I knew just what I had to lose, just what I had to throw into the fire, in order to regain this... A bit of sunshine on my skin, and people I love to both sides of me. The Art of Losing. I ask myself if the ring is still on the chain around my neck. I don't want to answer that now. I fell into a burning ring of fire. The stitch still binds. But I don't want an answer. I want to concentrate on the sound of my friends laughter and feeling of cold clean air on my face. I look at the chain around my neck...it's a little gold anchor with a cross inside it. Can't we leave it at that. The Art of Losing. I've lost enough to keep moving. That will have to do for now.

My friend returns and breaks the spell, and the Yankees are down to their last out as I and the Ghost of Saint Joan await a miracle. We've seen them before from this team. Where have you gone Derek Jeter? My friend is rooting for the Sox and drinking a 7 and 7. But I don't hold it against her.

The game ends without a pop. Barely a whimper as the captain and his crew sink beneathe the hallowed ground of The House That Ruth Built. The Red Sox dance as they exorcise every ghost in sight. I look to my left, even Joan is gone. I try to block out the deal I made with God concerning the Yankees in 2001. I've been running up that hill ever since.

My friend brings the conversation to more serious matters then sports and I try to join her. I'm a little shook up. I can't possibly cry in a bar in Williamsburg in front of a girl who went to Hampshire. Not an option. The Art of Losing, I best master it quickly. The underdogs have had their day, Sir Lancelot has fallen on his sword. But Maker's Mark is still better than Jack Daniels...even when you lose.

I wonder if Derek Jeter takes off his World Series ring from 2000 and puts it in a drawer, or whether he keeps wearing it to remind himself of the desire that both destroys and creates...bloodies his face as he dives into the stand after a dream which gets a bit younger, faster and harder to catch each year. Or if it just on a chain 'round his neck.

The conversation turns to the election as I rub my finger around the golden rim of my glass, and sip at my drink. George W. Bush vs John Kerry. I've abandoned my usual gang in The Green Party and The Democratic Socialists, to once again get behind my flawed faustian friends in the DNC. We have to stop the momentum of Evil, even if we just slow it down long enough to catch our breaths. My friend agrees and we go over the various ways in which the Neo-Cons are destroying the world. It's not hyperbole. It's violence, robbery & racism...and the media is the wax paper which makes a shit sandwhich look like egg salad. This Art of Losing...I will never learn. We've got to keep fighting, keep talking about love...even if it seems hopeless. For The Left will never be The Yankees or King Arthur. In this we are probably The Red Sox...burdened equally by the tide of history and weight of all the collective dreams of the powerless. But it is not a curse...it is an enemy occupation.


John Peel is dead. The Art of Losing. Say a soft prayer under your breath for him and your youth and everything going in and out of phase. There may never be another DJ not controlled by silicon and sterling. There will certainly never be another John Peel. The Only DJ. He made all the connections for us. Between all the soulful music of the people in the margins. Glam, Punk, Reggae, Hip Hop, Indie....strung together like a chain of black pearls. We never did a Peel Session...I like to think we would have. I never got to shake his hand and do a little "we're not worthy" bow. He played 'Go Kid Go' once...and for 3 minutes and twenty seconds we were there in the booth beside him. Three cheers for Saint John of London...no one, no one, no one will ever grow up again.


The Red Sox won the World Series, and the moon was eclipsed. A different bar in Williamsburg with the same friend and the same drink for symmetry. As a Yankees fan since my first pack of bubblegum cards in 1981...I want to puke. But as I root for the lives of American soldiers dying for a way out of rustbelt poverty, and the lives of Iraqi civilians dying for an administration's poverty of the soul, and the dreams of farmers, teachers, and uninsured adjuncts dying becuase no one owns stock in them...and the Massachusets Senator upon which they rest...I remember that... in this... we are probably The Red Sox, and despite Johnny Damon's hair...I allow myself half a smile for The Art of Winning...and the hope that we do so on Tuesday and many days there after. Amen.