Volume 3, Issue 39: Candyfloss

"I'm the boy that looks excited, I'm the boy that's gonna fall apart."

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The first thing I remember that ever made me cry uncontrollably, deep heaving gulps of tears, was the 1983-84 Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team. Specifically, that team’s 54-51 loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, at Rupp Arena, back when teams could play NCAA Tournament games on their home courts. That was a great Illini team, with Bruce Douglas and Efrem Winters and Doug Altenberger and George Montgomery, and they’d made a rush through the tournament that year, beating Villanova and Maryland en route to that matchup with the No. 3 Wildcats, a team with Kenny “Sky” Walker and center Sam Bowie, who, two months later, would be drafted one spot before Michael Jordan.

I was seven years old and only recently obsessed with sports, and as much as I loved Ozzie Smith and my St. Louis Cardinals, Illinois basketball always hit closer to home. The University of Illinois was only 45 minutes away from Mattoon, where I lived, and the local CBS station, WCIA, showed every Illini game live, preempting whatever national programming that might have been on the time. (I talked about this phenomenon with Illini Board’s Robert Rosenthal on his podcast this week.) This led, I’d argue, to a Central Illinois-wide obsession with Illinois basketball that is so powerful still today, and it made me think that every Illini game was the biggest, most important thing that had ever happened. I loved that team and didn’t think they could possibly lose. And then that game. They had Kentucky on the ropes late, but, in front of all those Kentucky fans, referees missed an obvious traveling call on the Wildcats’ Dickey Beal (even Sports Illustrated called it “Kentucky’s home cookin’” at the time) and next thing you knew the game was over and I lay on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, the only room with a TV, and wailed and wailed and wailed. My mom thought there was something wrong with me. She was right.

Sports—for the obsessives, a group I quickly realized I belonged to, as I lay weeping on a shag carpet floor in a rural Illinois township in April 1984—are stupid and cause nothing but pain. Until they don’t. Your team surely does the same to you. Our teams do the same to all of us.

More than the Cardinals (whom I’ll admit I briefly lost a little touch with when I was in college, in Champaign), more than writing, more than even my closest lifelong friends, there is no more central organizing principle of my life than Illinois men’s basketball. Lou Henson was just getting started in 1984, and he built a machine that reached eight consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1983-1990, the exact years in which sports were most important to me. I threw a shoe against the wall when they lost to Austin Peay, hugged my father (something we never did, and still really don’t) when Nick Anderson hit that 3-pointer against Indiana, was 13 years old, just the perfect age, when that Flyin’ Illini team with Anderson, Kendall Gill and Kenny Battle took the nation by storm before falling in that cruel Final Four loss to Michigan. There is a class picture of me in the seventh grade wearing a T-shirt I bought at the local IGA with a drawing of Dick Vitale, holding his finger in the air, saying, “Flying Illini No. 1 Baby!” You can still get one of these on eBay, and I would like you to buy it for me for Christmas.

I applied to two schools out of high school: The University of Southern California (because my friend Tim was going there, and because I liked movies) and the University of Illinois, and there was never really any doubt where I was going to go. My first assignment for the Daily Illini (and my first byline ever outside the Mattoon High School newspaper and the Mattoon Journal-Gazette) was to cover a fraternity basketball game coached by Illini guard Richard Keene. (I was 17 years old. He refused my request for an interview.) I ended up covering the team for the paper, had dinner with Lou and Mary Henson at their home and drove all the way to Albany, New York, in the Daily Illini Nissan, only to watch them lose to Tulsa in the last NCAA Tournament game Henson would ever coach. I was (very) occasional drinking buddies with Kiwane Garris, Matt Heldman gave me his Econ 104 notes, Chris Gandy was high school buddies with my college girlfriend. Being this close to the Illini blew my mind. It made me feel more successful and more important that I had ever felt before and honestly have ever felt since. Illinois basketball was the center of everything. To be close enough to feel its heat made me wonder if maybe I’d already accomplished everything in my life that needed to be accomplished. You can see how college towns can become too closed off, too reverent of their sports heroes. In that tunnel, it can become all that matters.

I moved away from the Midwest in January 2000, and in many ways, Illini basketball became the one portal I had for an instant virtual trip home. I was as connected to Illinois basketball as I ever had been after I left, from the Bill Self era to Bruce Weber to that wonderful Dee Brown/Deron Williams/Luther Head team, whose games I made sure never to miss, even if I had to harangue various bewildered bar owners on Smith Street in Brooklyn to turn the games on for me. I remember, at the under-three timeout of the Elite Eight game against Arizona in 2005, at the old Camp Bowery headquarters in New York, I called my father back in Illinois. We have a tradition, when the Illini lose their final game, of saying, “well, looks it’s time for baseball season.” (We do the same thing when the Cardinals lose their final game: “Looks like it’s time for basketball season.”) Illinois was down double digits, with just three minutes left, the end of the most memorable season in Illini basketball history, falling just short again.

“Shit,” I said.
“Just wait,” Dad said, always still believing. “This ain’t over yet.”

And then of course this happened.

My dad ended up retiring and going to a ton of Illinois games now that he had time: It’s all he’d ever really wanted to do. It also led to this wonderful moment of my father not realizing he was wondering into a live show on the Big Ten Network.

(He’s lost some weight since then.)

And I now go back every year, or I did until the pandemic, to catch an Illini game, which is of course just an excuse to get to go home, to be home. Heck, I even pulled some strings and got to hang out with the Orange Krush one time.

It’s a little bit absurd to still care this much about college basketball. The sport itself is inherently corrupt and perhaps in a death spiral, or at least in serious existential peril. It’s dumb, even immature, to be this invested. I spoke to a class of Illinois journalism students a few years back, and then-current Illini point guard Jaylon Tate was in the audience; it occurred to me as I talked just how much, in the privacy of my own home, I had screamed at him and for him (but mostly at him), and how silly and even a little deranged it was for a grown adult to have so much emotional expenditure in, as I could now see in that class, simply a young college kid. I am now 23 years removed from college myself, old enough to be the parent of all of these players. The star recruit on this year’s team is Adam Miller, who scored 28 points in the opener against North Carolina A&T and was born on January 23, 2002, which is so insanely recent I’m pretty sure January 23, 2002 was two weeks ago. It is, objectively, a little pathetic to care this much about college basketball.

But it of course means so much more than just basketball. It’s an unbroken bond, an eternal tie to home, a direct line from the eight-year-old boy pounding his firsts on the floor in his parents’ room, to the high school kid screaming when Andy Kaufmann hit that shot against Iowa, to the nervous kid sitting at Mary Henson’s kitchen table, to the dumb college schmuck doing a shot at Murphy’s with Kiwane, to the broke wannabe writer saving up coins to be able to afford a pitcher of beer so he could watch Dee and Deron at the Irish pub down the street from his apartment, to the visiting lecturer happy to spend all day soiling the young minds of fresh-faced undergrads as long as there are Illini tickets at the end of it. And now not only do I get to still share it with my dad, I get to share it with my sons too.

This season’s version of the Illinois men’s basketball might be the best team they’ve had in 15 years. (You know, since Adam Miller was three years old.) They’re ranked No. 8 in the country and, three games in, they look better than that. (Though it got a little hairy on Friday.) I don’t plan on missing a game.

Still. It is a strange time for sports. As I wrote for New York this week, for all the solace during this terrible time that sports has provided, there is a downside to that, a considerable one. I’m still not entirely sure sports are morally justifiable right now. But when I watch this team, I’m beamed right back to that 13-year-old in the Dickey V T-shirt, where the woes and wonders of the last 30 years fade away, when I’m just screaming and jumping and grousing and clapping for the one thing I care about just as much right now as I did when I was the age my sons are now. I do not know if this college basketball season will finish, and while that’s concerning, honestly, I do not know how much of anything in the world right now is going to play out. All I can do is take care of what is front of me, what is happening right now, and try to make the most out of it and hope for the best down the line. Watching Illinois basketball provides me true joy, and a connection to the person I once was and will, in a way, always be. I feel happy when I watch Illini games. But mostly: I just feel grateful. I feel grateful to have anything in my life that has meant that much to me for that long. It’s rare to hold onto anything your whole life. I’m certainly not going to let go now. So: Go Illini.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Are Sports Making the Pandemic Worse? New York. This is something I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words for a while, and I think I finally got it right here.

  2. 2020-21 Illinois Men’s Basketball Power Rankings: Preseason Edition, Smile Politely. It’s a little embarrassing how much writing about Illinois basketball gives me personal joy.

  3. We Are Lucky Covid-19 Isn’t Worse, Medium. Seriously, this is far from the worst-case scenario, right?

  4. Free Agent Power Rankings: George Springer, MLB.com. In a just world, the Cardinals would recognize he’s a perfect fit.

  5. The Thirty: One Ideal Offseason Move For Every Team, MLB.com. If you click on this link, you can also watch me talk to Chris Russo about it, which is always sort of surreal.

  6. Chess Movies, Ranked, Vulture. There’s a TV show about chess everyone’s watching, apparently.

  7. This Week in Genre History: Alien: Resurrection, SYFY Wire. This one is better than last week’s.

  8. The Pandemic Time Capsule, Volume Two, Medium. Just an occasional series I’m still trying to figure out.


Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Small Axe: Mangrove, Sound of Metal and Collective. I also had my annual conversation with Jeb Lund.

People Still Read Books, no show this week.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Mississippi State game, previewing the South Carolina game.


“The Logic of Pandemic Restrictions Is Falling Apart,” Amanda Mull, The Atlantic. Amanda Mull is good at everything, and she’s also a Georgia Bulldog. (I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to saw “good Dawg” yet.


Big Ten Schools, Ranked by Hateability in Men’s Basketball

  1. Indiana

  2. Iowa

  3. Michigan

  4. Purdue

  5. Northwestern

  6. Wisconsin

  7. Ohio State

  8. Minnesota

  9. Michigan State

  10. Penn State

  11. Maryland

  12. Nebraska

  13. Rutgers

  14. Illinois


Get them to me! I miss you. Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Hollywood Nights,” Bob Seger. I always think of Bob Seger on Thanksgiving. He is definitely an artist I would hear an uncle blaring from his car at some point over the holiday break. I do not mind. Bob Seger is awesome and Midwestern and awesomely Midwestern.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, all. It will be much more normal next year.


Volume 3, Issue 38: You Are My Face

"Happenstance has changed my plans, so many times my heart has been outgrown."

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For most of my life, I didn’t have much of a Thanksgiving. This has changed since I got married and had children, but Thanksgiving, until then, was a holiday I mostly observed other people having rather than one I particularly celebrated all that robustly myself. My grandfather, my mother’s father, died right before Thanksgiving in 1987, and after that it just wasn’t something she wanted anything to do with; I believe she worked at the hospital every Thanksgiving for about 20 years afterwards. I cannot say I blamed her. Then I moved to New York City, far away from my family, and I never had any money to fly home even if there’d been any sort of event to fly home to.

So I would either spend Thanksgiving at a girlfriend’s family gathering, or, more often, by myself. I used to go see movies on Thanksgiving Day, in a mostly empty theater, ticket torn by a teenager who’d look at me like I was the biggest loser on the planet to be watching a movie by myself on Thanksgiving. (I didn’t mind. Watching movies in theaters by myself might be one of pre-pandemic things I miss most.) Still, the strange part about Thanksgiving, to me, was not that I wasn’t back in Mattoon. It was that I wasn’t around my friends.

That’s what I’ve always sort of associated Thanksgiving with: Saying goodbye to my friends. We’d always try to get together for drinks on Monday or so, one last gathering before everybody (but me) went away for a week, and I was always sad to see them go. There is that time in everyone’s life when their friends are all that matter to them, a closed circle that drives all of your forward movement. You see them every day, you organize all events around them, you are skeptical of outsiders, you make up each other’s whole world. They are your family. I’d say, from roughly 2001-08, there was a gaggle of about six people who were at the absolute center of every experience I had, every decision I made, every step I took. I did nothing without them.

You don’t realize at the time how short of a period this is going to be. You don’t realize at the time how much this will eventually change. You don’t realize how much you’ll miss it.


How many people have you seen during the pandemic? I haven’t seen many. There are the people who live in the house: We’ve got four here, counting me. My parents are also in town, essentially part of an extended pod: They have a separate house, but on the whole, they do the same things we do. (We still have occasional quarantines and testings just to make sure everything’s still in step, and it is a very 2020 thing that I feel obliged to justify “seeing my parents” to you.) We see my wife’s mom every month or so; she lives alone and mostly just toggles back and forth between her house and the barn, so unless you can get Covid-19 from a horse (wait, can you?), we feel comfortable as long as everybody follows best practices. We took a trip to see friends in South Carolina that everyone got tested for before leaving, I’ve had front porch distanced drinks a couple of nights and I’ve had dinner outside at restaurants a few times. And I get to wave to other parents when I walk my kids to school. But that’s about it. That’s a lot, actually, now that I think about it. I feel pretty lucky to have gotten to do all of that, and safely.

But it’s obviously not the same. In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom cocktails were common, a way to check in with friends from out of town in this new reality. I’ve done a few of these, and some were great and important and desperately needed, but most, to be honest, were more exhausting than satisfying. I’m fortunate not to have to spend much time on Zoom, but I have no idea how you all do it. Anytime I have a Zoom call on the schedule, I try to get all the work I can done beforehand because I know I’ll be useless the rest of the day afterwards. Something about Zoom makes me feel like my will to live is being slowly extracted through my eyelids; when they’re over, they make me feel like I’m walking through pea soup. I’m not sure people are putting themsellves through these any longer anyway, at least not with any regularity. The Zoom cocktail call already feels like a relic of a time when this was all a little bit novel, a considerable inconvenience but a temporary one; the Zoom Happy Hours were but a bridge to get us to the time when we got to have real Happy Hours, which were surely just around the corner. No one has such illusions anymore. These balms no longer feel like previews of coming attractions. They are instead painful reminders of what we’ve lost. No wonder no one does them anymore.

Which means my old friends are just … gone. There’s an occasional phone call here or there, check-in texts during major events (the Saturday of Biden’s victory was an all-timer check-in text day), forwarded emails about one Trump atrocity or another. But I haven’t seen them. And if I hadn’t seen them in the preceding months before this all shut down in March, we are now going on nearly a year-plus. How many people have I seen in the last year who don’t live in Athens, Georgia? (I’ve left town three times, all three times to cover sporting events in which I went straight from my car to the press box and back, looking at and talking to no one.) It requires going to Instagram to even remember. I saw my friend Joan at the Super Bowl on February 1. I interviewed Kevin Durant (long story) on January 29. I went with my friend Aileen to see “American Utopia” on December 18. I went to a Knicks game on December 17 with my editor and friend Matt. I went to the Deadspin funeral on December 12. And those are the only people I saw outside of this town in the last calendar year. And I won’t be seeing any of them anytime soon.

It has been even longer for friends who live farther away. I’ve been talking to Tim Grierson every week for the Grierson & Leitch podcast, but I have not physically seen him since 2016. It has been almost as long since I’ve seen my friend Daulerio. I haven’t seen my sister since last Christmas, and she’s not making the trip this year. These are whole swaths of time, huge chunks of our lives, all away, separated from the people who are closest to us, who know us best. They were once the absolute center of everything, the people I lamented spending the holidays away from. And now years just fly by, and I don’t see them once.

I know this is what getting older is, having your circle grow smaller, losing touch with those who had been so close to you in the past. And I know the pandemic has made these distances not only seem farther, but physically unbridgeable.

But the thing is: This is going to end someday. With the vaccine success there has been so far, it may even end sooner than we expected. It is possible, even likely, that at some point in 2021, we will be able to travel to another state without having to quarantine for two weeks, that we can all go to a baseball game together, or sit in a movie theater together, that we can just walk up to our friends who have been gone for so long, who have just been through one of the most harrowing experiences of their lifetime just like we have … and we can just grab them and squeeze the shit out of them.

The parlor game of “what will you do when the pandemic’s over?” has lost some of its steam in recent months, as the country has been in danger of collapsing around us. But I haven’t lost sight of my answer. I’m going to see these people I’ve been without for so long, and I’m going to breathe them in in deep, gasping gulps. And I will not go so far without them again. I knew I missed them. I’m not sure I ever realized just how much.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. When the Pandemic Is Over, Will Our Neighborhoods Be Able to Forgive Each Other? Medium. As we get closer to vaccines, I’ve been thinking about this question quite a lot.

  2. Mike Petriello and I Drafted 2020 MLB Free Agents, MLB.com. Standing next to Mike Petriello for 3,000 words is a great way to fool people into thinking you have smart things to say about baseball.

  3. Will Yadier Molina Really Leave the Cardinals? MLB.com. I mean, I hope not!

  4. An Existential Crisis for College Basketball, New York. This Illini fan is desperately hoping they get college basketball figured out this year.

  5. Joe Biden Is 78 and Is Just Getting Started, Medium. 78 is the new 40!

  6. Free Agent Suitor Power Rankings: Marcell Ozuna, MLB.com. I feel very comfortable saying the Cardinals wouldn’t touch him with a 50-foot pole.

  7. The Vaccines Are Allowing Us to Dream of Spring Again, Medium. This is probably too hopeful.

  8. Ron Howard Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With Hillbilly Elegy.

  9. The Thirty: Every Team’s Most Indispensable Player, MLB.com. The one guy no one can lose.

  10. This Week in Genre History: Twilight, SYFY Wire. This was a piece that I ran out of time to work on and therefore I did not do a very good job.


Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Hillbilly Elegy, Ammonite, Freaky and The Climb.

People Still Read Books, talking with Melissa Maerz about her new book about Dazed and Confused, which you can buy right here.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, previewing the Mississippi State game.


“Trump Guys,” Ben Terris, The Washington Post. Every word of this piece is golden. I did not want this piece to end.

Also: Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic. Of all the big Obama interviews promoting his book, I thought this was the best one.

One more! Sarah Jones writing very smartly about Hillbilly Elegy.


Chuck Klosterman Books, Ranked

  1. Eating the Dinosaur

  2. But What If We’re Wrong?

  3. I Wear the Black Hat

  4. The Visible Man

  5. Raised in Captivity

  6. Fargo Rock City

  7. Chuck Klosterman X

  8. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

  9. Downtown Owl

  10. Killing Yourself to Live

  11. Chuck Klosterman IV


I will spend my Thanksgiving writing letters. Get them to me! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Where the Streets Have No Name,” U2. I know, I know, U2, pretentious, earnest, I know, I know. I suspect it is not a coincidence that I have rediscovered U2 as I’ve stumbled into middle age. Earnestness and self-seriousness sure do bother me a lot less than they used to.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

We’re out here Ossoffin’!

(Those who want to get involved, as always, should go to Fair Fight and find out how.)

Have a great weekend, all.


Volume 3, Issue 37: Shake It Off

"Like a giant, a beast with many souls--now just a body full of holes."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

Before I quite knew what it was to have such a thing, I had a crush on Drew Barrymore.

Not the Poison Ivy, rebellious flashing-Letterman Gen X sexpot Drew Barrymore, and not that bubbly let’s-be-positive-people-who-are-wearing-flowers! Drew Barrymore of today. I’m talking about Gertie, Irreconcilable Differences, Firestarter Drew Barrymore. I don’t know what it was. It was too early to be thinking of her as some sort of girlfriend—girls were gross—and it’s not like I had pictures of her up everywhere like my neighbor Tonya’s Wall of Kirk Cameron. I just felt like I knew her, somehow. I wonder if it’s because we were the same age (Barrymore is eight months older than I am), and she was already world-famous, while I was a nerdy little kid with a flattop in rural Illinois. I wonder if I saw her as my connection to a world outside of Mattoon, Illinois. I wonder if she represented wanting to be seen, and heard, and known.

We all know now about Barrymore’s struggles as a kid, how she was using drugs heavily before she was even a teenager, how she went into rehab at the age of 14. (This all makes her subsequent success, particularly as a producer, even more impressive.) But I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just knew Drew Barrymore was funny in movies, and she was my age, and she seemed very nice, and therefore she should be my best friend we should be best friends why aren’t we best friends?

My parents found my obsession with Drew Barrymore amusing, and they didn’t dissuade it: They even took me to see Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye in the theater, even though it was way too scary for a nine-year-old. It was probably just nice to have Will sparked by something other than baseball statistics.

But watching all those Drew Barrymore movies got an idea in my head. The previous year, a man dressed in a convincing Darth Vader costume had come to the local IGA to greet children; my parents got a picture of me and my cousin Denny with him. Darth Vader! In Mattoon! We must have realized it wasn’t really Darth Vader, but … maybe it was? This ended up leading me and Denny to the conclusion that there was a sort of Extended Cinematic Universe in which characters and people from the movies would come to Mattoon, and hang out with us, if we willed it to happen. It made the world seem smaller, because if Darth Vader could come down from the screen and mingle among us, anyone could.

Which is where I got the idea in my mind that I was going to have a day where I hung out with Drew Barrymore.

I had it all planned out. We would go to the old Gill’s Drive-In, where we would eat cheeseburgers and drink milkshakes, and then my parents would take us out to the old Drive-In theater, which was probably playing Back to the Future or something like that. Then we would come back to my house and eat popcorn and watch TV. Then she would go back to Hollywood, or wherever she had to go for her next movie, and we would write each other letters, because we were best friends and she would never forget the day she spent with her best friend Will in Mattoon. It was going to be great.

I told my parents about it and let them know that they should probably let Drew’s parents know, so they wouldn’t be worried where she was all day, and then informed all my friends that I’d be hanging out with Drew Barrymore, yeah, the sister from E.T. I spent a night at my grandparents’ and let them in on the big plan, and then told everyone at the table at their bingo hall, and then my sister got mad at me because I wasn’t going to let her come, which, I’m sorry, Jill, but Drew Barrymore is my friend and also a movie star and she’s not going to want to hang out with anybody’s little sister.

It began to escalate. I wrote a paper about my upcoming day with Drew for my third-grade class. I started putting together little scrapbooks of my life and my family for Drew to show her on our big day. It became a conversation topic at every dinner table in the Leitch household: What day was she coming? What movies should we watch? Should I wear a hat? I’d like to maybe wear a hat. What pizza place should go to? I say Godfather’s. Let’s go to Godfather’s. It went on and on, the plans becoming more elaborate, the details more intricate. And the more I talked about it, the more certain I became that it was going to happen. Eventually I picked an exact date, two Saturdays away. Two Saturdays from now was Drew Day.

Friends, haters, really, would try to tell me that I was full of it, that it wasn’t happening, that I was kidding myself, but I told them they were wrong, that I was just talking to my parents about it yesterday and they didn’t say no, and that Drew would be there because we’ve all been talking about it so long and I wanted it so much that how could she not come at this point? I took it as a given and knew that my parents, because they loved me and wanted me to be happy, were well into preparations with the Barrymore family. I would ask them at dinner, “how’s it going, we’re all set, right?” and they would say, yes, Will, sure, you’re hanging out with Drew Barrymore for a day, that is totally something that is happening, and I was pleased, because they were doing my bidding because that was all that mattered, that my reality was able to stay intact, exactly the way I wanted it to be.

About a week before Drew Day, a thought occurred to me: The newspaper should know about this! After all, it’s a major movie star coming to Mattoon for a day. That’s big news! It would probably get my name in the paper as well, because they’d have to write about the person who was spending the whole day with Drew, and hey, that person is me, I’ll get my name in the paper. We went to church with Harry Reynolds, the editor of the Mattoon Journal-Gazette, so maybe we just call him and let him know? Even better, I told my mom, we’ll just see him at church on Sunday. I’ll just tell him then. My mom grimaced slightly and said, sure, we’ll talk about it with your dad. I didn’t know why that was necessary. Harry Reynolds will want to know!

About an hour later, my mom came into my room.

She sighed, deeply. “Will, we’ve probably let this go on long enough,” she said. “You know Drew Barrymore isn’t coming next week, right? It’s not happening. It was never happening. It’s not … it’s not real.”

Reality melted in front of me. I stomped my feet and cried and wailed and moped the rest of the day. Part of me knew she was right. I think I knew before she sat me down. But I just did not want to believe it. It required her taking me aside, calmly explaining what reality was, and hoping it would help me move on. And it did. It helped. By dinner, I was no longer upset, and a couple of days later, I’d nearly forgotten all about it. Now it’s just a funny story of how silly and immature I was when I was nine.

See, that’s the thing with nine-year-olds, or those with the emotional maturity of one: Sometimes you just have to slowly, carefully, but firmly, explain to them that their delusions are not real, that they cannot will the world to be the way they want it to be, that there are other human beings on the planet outside of themselves, that they cannot kick and cry and moan until they get their way. You might think you are helping them by letting them down easily. But all you are doing it making it harder on them, and on everybody else. Sometimes you have to slap them into reality.

Sometimes you have to give it to the nine-year-old straight. You’re not the center of the universe. As difficult as it is for you to believe, there are people on the planet other than yourself. Drew Barrymore isn’t coming. You lost the election. It’s time to grow the fuck up.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Kevin Costner Movies, Ranked, Vulture. I love doing these lists with Grierson, but this one, I thought, worked particularly well. I guess I am the old-guy movie critic now, the one with a ton of thoughts on Kevin Costner movies. I’m all right with it.

  2. Let Us Never Celebrate a Presidential Election Like This Again, Medium. We were all so happy! Maybe … maybe a little too happy.

  3. Sports Leagues Are Pretending the Election Isn’t Over Too, New York. Yeah, all that social activism got real quiet.

  4. J.T. Realmuto Suitor Power Rankings, MLB.com. As always, writing about baseball remains very calming.

  5. Introducing the Pandemic Time Capsule, Medium. This could be a fun series, but I’m still figuring out the right way to do it.

  6. Is It Safe? Worship Services, Medium. This was the first, and in some ways only, question early on in the pandemic that my parents were concerned about.

  7. The Thirty: One Player To Watch For On Every Team, MLB.com. We’re back doing these again now that the postseason is over.


Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Let Him Go, Proxima and we reboot The Fly.

People Still Read Books, talking with Claire McNear about her new book about “Jeopardy!” which you can buy right here.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Florida game. No Missouri preview, alas!


“President Trump’s Show Has Been Canceled,” James Poniewozik, The New York Times. Poniewozik, who I’ve basically been reading since I got on the Internet in the first place, is the one guy who has nailed the Trump-as-waning-TV-show aesthetic from the get-go. This is the perfect culminating piece.

Also while we’re hanging around the Times, here’s a truly wonderful Sam Anderson longread on Weird Al Yankovic.


Illinois Football and Men’s Basketball Coaches of My Fandom Lifetime, Ranked

  1. Lou Henson

  2. Bill Self

  3. Mike White

  4. Lon Kruger

  5. Bruce Weber

  6. John Mackovic

  7. Brad Underwood (and rising!)

  8. Ron Turner

  9. Ron Zook

  10. John Groce

  11. Lou Tepper

  12. Lovie Smith (and falling, alas)

  13. Bill Cubit

  14. Tim Beckman


Send me your post-election missives. Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Can’t Let Go,” Lucinda Williams. Every year or so, I go through a week where I listen to this album multiple times a day. This is one of those weeks.

Why, yes, I did take a picture of my television screen on Saturday night.

We really do need to get those bookshelves filled, though.

Have a great weekend, all.


Volume 3, Issue 36: Art of Almost

"No! I froze."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

When I was in the third grade, the babysitter was supposed to pick me up after basketball practice. Today, if I were released from practice at school at 5 p.m. while I waited for my ride home, there would be several school employees assigned to watch my every move until an adult arrived to take me, more to the point their legal responsibility for me, off their hands. But in 1984, the world was much more lax about such matters. I sat on the front stoop of Columbian Elementary School, waved bye to my coach and my teammates and just stayed there. My parents were both working night shifts, and the babysitter, who was watching my three-year-old sister, would be coming any minute now. So I sat.

5 p.m. became 6 p.m. I paced around for a bit, maybe read a little bit of a book, looked at some schoolwork. There were no iPhones to keep third graders occupied if you absolutely had to. 6 p.m. became 7 p.m. The janitor locked up, patted me on the back, got in his car and drove home. 7 p.m. became 8 p.m. I started to get a little hungry, and it started to get dark, but what was I gonna do? I was told to sit there and wait for the babysitter to pick me up. I was a rule follower. I stayed put. 8 p.m. became 9 p.m. It was getting a little cold. I waited.

9 p.m. became 9:30, and now we were a full hour past my bedtime, and I’d been out there for nearly five hours now. I had no one to call, no one’s house to walk to, nothing to do but stay there. I remember thinking well, school is going to start tomorrow morning, so eventually someone has to show up. This won’t be forever. I did what I was told. I waited. I waited and I waited and I waited. By the end of it, around 9:45 when my mother—who had just gotten off her shift at Monical’s Pizza and came screeching to the school after getting home and discovering the babysitter hadn’t realized she was supposed to pick me up—arrived, I had lost track of how long I’d been there at all. Had it been an hour? Two hours? Three days? Four months? You sit and you wait and you wait and you wait, and eventually, you pass a certain threshold and it doesn’t seem like waiting at all. It seems like you have always been where you are, doing what you are doing, since you were born, since your parents were born, since the beginning of time. You’ll wait forever if you have to.

My mom, deeply upset, let me in the car and said she was sorry, though I didn’t think anything was her fault. She told me how proud she was of me for just sitting there and waiting. But what else was I going to do? All I could do is wait.


We will all tell the story of Election Night Purgatory 2020 the rest of our lives, a fitting marker, an apt ending to a year spent stuck in suspended animation, wondering if this would ever end, forgetting what we were like before all of this happened. We will hone in on the right way to tell it, adding little details and embellishments, giving it a narrative thrust that allows it to have some form, to give it an arc, to tell a story. We’ll try to make it make sense.

We will, in our own way, make it seem more palatable than it was. It will almost sound normal, the way we tell it. After four years of waiting, four years of constant, relentless battle, we settled in on Tuesday night, in the middle of a pandemic that, oh yeah, happens to be rampaging across the country worse than it ever has, to see Donald Trump at last booted from office. It was to be a nerve-racking experience, but it was also an impending reckoning: The first opportunity to correct the mistake of 2016, to let the overwhelming power of the people wash over this lunatic tyrant, to put the world back in order again. It was an evening you prepared for, a day you tried to make peace for the long night ahead. I joked on Twitter that Tuesday felt like, “the scene in Saving Private Ryan where everyone solemnly listens to records and smokes nervously while they wait for the tanks to roll into the village,” but it was sort of true. I took an unusually long run, I organized a ton of old files, I cleaned my office, I donated some old clothes, I found some quiet before the madness that surely lie ahead.

Then, the roller coaster. The needle going the wrong way in Florida, and seemingly the wrong way in Georgia and North Carolina. The realization that the repudiation wasn’t coming, that the hope that the country would bond together to deliver a historically lasting rebuke to Donald Trump and the goons surrounding him was a fantasy—that this was gonna be close, and that he very well might win again. Then the call of Arizona, and the rekindling of possibility, and wait, is Georgia coming back around?, and then … the wait.

On Wednesday, the confusion, then the understanding how which states counted mail-in ballots first and which counted them last, then the memes, and then the sleeplessness of (former “The Will Leitch Show” guest!) Steve Kornacki, , and then Thursday, and the growing sense that this was turning around, and the crazy Trump rant, and then the Georgia euphoria, and then Friday, and the clarity that this was almost over, and any second now it’ll be called, and then we sat and we waited and we waited and we waited, and then it was Saturday, or maybe it was Thursday, or maybe it was April, or maybe we’ve been sitting here looking at Jake Tapper our entire lives.

We will condense this story when we tell it in future years, and we will make it more exciting. We will maybe even make it sound fun: It’s fun to tell fun stories.

But it won’t capture the numbness. It won’t capture the sameness. It won’t capture the thudding disorientation, the endless monotony, the way it has felt like the only way 2020 could ever end—by not ending.

There is hope that this will end soon, that it could even end soon after I send this newsletter, that the last batch of provisional ballots, from a Pennsylvania or Arizona county whose name you will hear 20 years for now and it’ll make your eye start twitching, will come in and they’ll finally call this for Joe Biden like they probably should have two days ago. But of course it won’t end then either, we’ll have lawsuits and deranged press conferences and Maggie Haberman will tell us that he’s sulking in the Oval Office but refuses to relent to the truth aides are afraid to confront him with, and even when he’s out he won’t go away, and also seriously everybody has the coronavirus now.

We will tell ourselves a different story someday. It will all tie together and make sense, and it’ll have a logical story structure, and isn’t that funny, what a yarn, what a time, isn’t it something that we all made it through that? Someday this will be over and we will be able to look back at it all with wonder and amusement. But here, in the middle of it, I know the way we will tell it then will be wrong. It wasn’t a yarn. It wasn’t a campfire tale. It was just an ongoing slog that was never going to end. The story will make more sense when we tell it years from now. But it won’t be right. It won’t be the way it was.

When you’re in it, it isn’t a story, it isn’t a narrative, it isn’t tied to anything larger at all. You’re just sitting on that stoop wondering if anyone’s ever going to come pick you up. For a while, you believe someone’s coming. But they’re not. You live on the stoop now. You will always be on the stoop. You have forever been on the stoop.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. What It’s Like to Be in the State of Georgia Right Now, Medium. Quite a week down here.

  2. Social Media Was the Absolute Worst Way to Experience This Election, Medium. To say the very least.

  3. What Channels to Watch on Election Night, Medium. I ended up watching it through my fingers, like the rest of you.

  4. How New York Staffers Are Feeling on the Eve of the Election, New York. I was honored they asked, and I was very honest.

  5. Free Agent Power Rankings: Trevor Bauer, MLB.com. I am not sure Trevor Bauer is my sort of fellow.

  6. The Thirty: Each Team’s Biggest Offseason Question, MLB.com. I found it very easy to write about baseball this week. The brain enjoyed going to that place.


Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Come Play, Out of the Past and Caddyshack. And shake off our pre-Election Day jitters.

People Still Read Books, no show this week.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Kentucky game, previewing the Florida game.


I’m as eager as you are to have these stop being about politics, but John F. Harris’ postmortem, and how we deal with 67 million people voting for a sociopath, is a must read.


Updating a Previous Entry: Counties in Which I Have Lived, Ranked by the Percentage They Voted For Donald Trump for President of the United States in 2020

  1. Coles County, Illinois: 62.2 percent

  2. Champaign County, Illinois: 37.8 percent

  3. St. Louis County, Missouri: 37.3 percent

  4. Clarke County, Georgia: 28.2 percent

  5. Los Angeles County, California: 26.7 percent

  6. Kings County, New York: 25.2 percent

  7. New York County, New York: 14.5 percent


Send me your post-election missives.Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad),” Outkast. Do it Atlanta.

It’s gonna be over soon, all. Right? Right?

Be safe, everyone. Have a great weekend.


Volume 3, Issue 35: Deeper Down

"By the end of the bout, he was punched out."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

Back in January, right before all this, I had dinner in New York with an old friend who’s a few years older than I am. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and in that time, his father had died. His dad had been ill for a long time, and by the time it happened, it was sad and awful but it also felt like a blessing, a relief. We drank too much sake and ended up going down the rabbit hole, and by the end of the evening, he was near tears, but we’d had one of those good, cleansing conversations that you can have, or at least used to be able to have, with true old friends who just need to talk.

I told him how disorienting and debilitating it was to even imagine something happening to my parents, how they have always felt to me, even when they’ve been ill or had some sort of serious injury, essentially indestructible. They’re my parents, you know? In a way, my mother will always be a reservoir of quiet, infinite strength, and my father will always be eight feet tall and able to lift me over his shoulder.

My friend’s face went dark. “Oh, it’s terrible when that changes,” he said.

He said there was a moment, about six years ago, before his father’s most serious illness, when his dad, in his words, just became Different. “It comes at you suddenly, and then it never switches back,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but it as if, one day, something deep within them just turns off. And they’re not quite the same after that.” It wasn’t even necessarily an age thing, he explained, or a health issue. There’s just a moment, a moment he said he could almost physically feel, that a part of his father, after an extended period of stress and exhaustion, just got too tired to keep up anymore. “He aged about 15 years between two visits, a month apart,” he said. “I’m not sure he even noticed. But I did. He just … tipped.” His father was healthy after he tipped, and they still had many good times together. But an internal rubicon had been crossed. Something inside his dad just got too tired.

We drank more sake, and then I hugged my friend goodbye, and I haven’t seen him since. We’ve emailed a few times during the pandemic. He’s older, and when I see him on social media, frankly, he’s starting to look it. Aged 15 years in a month. We are starting to look it. And eventually we all tip.


Two weird things have happened to me during the pandemic, physically.

The first is pretty normal: My blood pressure has gone up. My family has a history of heart disease and high blood pressure—my dad was on blood pressure medication in his 30s—so it’s always something I’ve had to keep an eye on. But it’s never been a problem, and it’s never been flagged in a physical or anything. Last month, though, I went to give blood, which is a great habit my mother got me into years ago—there’s actually a Red Cross app that will schedule appointments for you—and is particularly handy during a pandemic when they automatically test your blood for antibodies in case you had Covid but were asymptomatic and never knew it. (This is basically the Covid lottery ticket, and one, alas, I’ve not been able to cash in so far.) After I sat down in the chair and answered all the questions about not having carnal knowledge of any non-human mammals from any non-adjacent continents, the nurse paused while taking my blood pressure.

“Oh, you can’t give blood today,” she said. “Your blood pressure is way too high. We have a maximum number to take people’s blood, and you’re way past it.” It was true. My mother, a retired ER nurse, took my blood pressure when I went over to my parents’ house the next day, and she was actively alarmed. “Your blood pressure is higher than mine or your father’s,” she said. “When did you have your last physical?” I’d actually just gotten a physical in February, and it had gone well; my doctor, who’s my age, actually told me I was inspiring him to start running more.

But that was February. February was a long time ago. A lot has happened since February.

The second physical thing that has happened is a lot stranger: My hair has started turning green.

It was children who pointed it out first. We’re in a little virtual schooling pod here, and the two kids who come over here on Wednesdays and Thursdays started noting it to my sons: Why’s your dad’s hair green? I am notoriously terrible with color—I once returned from a trip in which my office was painted while I was gone and didn’t notice until I was finally informed of it weeks later, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t even really notice then—and just assumed it was something funny going on with the lighting. The people in this house didn’t notice anything either, because they see me every day and you never notice something that’s gradually happening when you see it every day.

But this week, I went to get a haircut, and the woman who cuts my hair said, “Uh, your hair is green. Why is your hair green? It wasn’t green last time you were here.” I told her I hadn’t dyed it or anything, that I was just doing the same thing I always did. We did a little detective work and figured out what was going on. I’ve been using the same shampoo and conditioner for 15 years, which is designed for people with brown hair; it even, I learned this week, has a slight pigmentation element to it, meant to further accentuate the brownness in one’s hair. The problem is when your hair suddenly—over the span of, say, a few extremely stressful months—changes to a different color than brown. The pigment aspect of the shampoo usually mixed with brown to make a sharper brown. But when you mix it with a lighter colored hair, say, a grey or white color … it turns green.

It happened in the span of about two months, a rapid, massive shift in my hair’s natural color—a body responding to external stimuli with shock and rapid transformation. How’s pandemic life going, eight months in? My blood pressure is spiking and my hair has turned green. How’s it going for you?


The most common observation I hear about the pandemic is how it has confused and disoriented how we experience and determine time. Things that happened in February feel like they happened 50 years ago, and things that happened in April feel like they happened last week. Experiences and concepts that are exclusive to the pandemic—“social distancing,” Carole Baskin, Zoom, curbside pickup, Sarah Cooper, long haulers, Scott Atlas, “super spreading events”—feel like they’ve been a part of our lives since the dawn of time. It is as if we have spent the last eight months inside a sensory deprivation tank as someone outside looks down upon us, coldly amused. It is hard to remember up from down, or even why such distinctions used to matter.

And there is the unquestioned sensation of being stuck. This sense of suspended animation has led to a sort of collective illusion that we hit pause in March, that the world stopped spinning while we dealt, and still deal, with this madness. But it didn’t. These eight months, and whatever months are left to come in this—they have counted. The pages of the calendar kept turning, the sun kept rising and setting, the icecaps kept melting, the clocks kept ticking down. We don’t get to unpause and just snap back. We don’t get a do-over for all this time we’ve lost. This is it. All this time still counts.

Our children are going back for in-person instruction on November 9, and they had a Halloween event this week where kids got to dress up and take a lap around the school. We hadn’t seen most of these kids since the beginning of March, when everyone waved goodbye for spring break, expecting to be back together in 10 days. It was a return to school, a chance to see this normal, wonderful thing that had been left behind and had been waiting for us to come back. The thing was, though, while the school had sat there unchanged, and we all felt frozen in place, everything was now so different. It wasn’t just the masks and the sanitizer and the general awkwardness of everyone. The most vivid thing was that the kids were so much taller. These children, all of whom we were all so used to seeing every day, had not stopped in their tracks when the pandemic began, even if so many of us emotionally did. They just kept going, growing, sprouting upward, absorbing everything that’s happening, adjusting to the world as they now see it, a world that has now been that way for a significant percentage of their lives. Growing like weeds, these kids. They’re already so different than they were when this started. They just keep going.

That picture was taken in December. Every one of those children has a beard now.

It is clear that we will be talking about 2020 the rest of our lives. The thing is, though, when we say things like that, “we’ll talk about 2020 the rest of our lives,” we act as if it will be able to be separated from the rest of our lives, like it was a bad vacation, or a unhappy relationship we were fortunate to eventually extricate ourselves from.

But that’s not what 2020 will be. It will not be a tumor we’ll be able to cut out. It’ll be with us, forever—emotionally, physically, intellectually, a traumatic shock to our collective system. Families have seen their entire foundational structures upended. Careers and business have been wiped away. Kids have grown six inches while staring at their friends and teachers on a computer screen. My hair’s turning green and my heart is pounding out of my chest. The more we go through this, the harder it gets, the farther away the end seems … the less this feels like something to be endured and then discarded, and more, perhaps, the point where it all does in fact tip. We will survive this. We are surviving this. But we are not the same. We are not what we were in March. And years from now, I suspect we will still be changed because of this.

This does not have to be a reason to despair. Enduring strife and struggle can focus the mind, allow us to concentrate our attention on what truly matters, to appreciate each moment while we have them, while we can. I’m going to be proud of the people I care about, of all of us, for making it through this.

But it’s going to scar. It surely already has.


How’s this look? That looks about right? I know that assuming basic vote tabulation is an awfully optimistic assumption at this point, but … this is assuming basic vote tabulation.

I’d say the most likely state to go from Biden to Trump above there is Florida, and most likely to go from Trump to Biden is probably … Iowa? I’ll say Iowa. Though Texas sure does look intriguing. (Go Beto! Gen X lives, baby!)

I just couldn’t quite get there with Georgia. I know what the polls say. (Some polls say Georgia is more likely to go Biden than Florida is.) But people down here, who have a lot more history with Georgia politics than I do, just can’t quite make themselves pull the trigger on predicting a Biden win. I will begrudgingly follow their lead.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Reliving Election Day 2016, in Real Time, Medium. I went back and read the entire FiveThirtyEight live-blog from Election Day 2016. It was harrowing, but instructive … and even a little hopeful. But mostly harrowing.

  2. My Big Feature on Don Hertzfeldt, GQ. Getting to talk to Don Hertzfeldt was a thrill, and writing a 2,000-word feature on him just the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, the tail on the donkey. (That last one might not be right.)

  3. If Trump Wins, Sports May Stop For a While, New York. I hadn’t even thought about this possibility, but … it makes a lot of sense? Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

  4. After the Dodgers, Who’s the Next Team to Ease Their Fans’ Pain? MLB.com. This is like an abbreviated version of the Tortured Fanbase Rankings. (Which we will be doing.)

  5. Are the Dodgers a Dynasty? MLB.com. They might be? Already?

  6. Tips for Staying Sane in the Week Before Election Day, Medium. I am taking none of these tips.

  7. This Week in Genre History: Saw, SYFY Wire. I will confess a legitimate soft spot for the Saw movies. I am not entirely certain why.

  8. Is It Safe? Sending Kids Back to School, Medium. We are 10 days away from in-person instruction returning here in Athens. We are … ready.

  9. Your World Series Game Five Storylines, MLB.com. I already miss baseball.

  10. Your World Series Game Six Storylines, MLB.com. Sorry, it didn’t occur to me that one of the storylines would be “beloved player gets diagnosed with COVID and then runs out onto the field and celebrates alongside his teammates while not wearing a mask.”


Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, which is great, The Witches and Bad Hair.

People Still Read Books, with Mark Leibovich, who is the greatest and the author of “This Town” and “Big Game.” This is also sort of an unofficial election preview episode.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, previewing the Kentucky game.


“The Difference Between Feeling Safe and Being Safe,” Amanda Mull, The Atlantic. Amanda Mull goes in depth on basically what I was trying to write about last week.

Also: This is a great FiveThirtyEight primer on the tick-tock of how Election Night might go down.

And here is Anne Helen Petersen being a lot more useful with her current pandemic fatigue than I am currently capable of.


World Series of the 21st Century

  1. 2011: Cardinals over Rangers

  2. 2016: Cubs over Indians

  3. 2001: Diamondbacks over Yankees

  4. 2002: Angels over Giants

  5. 2014: Giants over Royals

  6. 2017: Astros over Dodgers

  7. 2019: Nationals over Astros

  8. 2013: Red Sox over Cardinals

  9. 2020: Dodgers over Rays

  10. 2009: Yankees over Phillies

  11. 2015: Royals over Mets

  12. 2010: Giants over Rangers

  13. 2005: White Sox over Astros

  14. 2004: Red Sox over Cardinals

  15. 2003: Marlins over Yankees

  16. 2006: Cardinals over Tigers

  17. 2018: Red Sox over Dodgers

  18. 2012: Giants over Tigers

  19. 2007: Red Sox over Rockies


Send me your post-election missives. Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Travelin’ Band,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. I don’t know why, but when I’m stressed out like I’ve been all week … CCR calms me a little? Maybe it reminds me of washing the car in the driveway while Dad worked in the garage. What was classic rock then now reminds me of my childhood. That’s a pretty big indictment of nostalgia right here.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

Get as much sleep as you can this weekend, everyone. You’re gonna need it.

Be safe, everyone. See you on the other side.


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