Volume 2, Issue 69: Quiet Amplifier
|Jul 27, 2019|
This week, news came out that my old friend and longtime Deadspin colleague Rick Chandler suffered a stroke at the beginning of this month. According to his sister and his friend Sam Player -- who informed me of Rick's illness by sending an email to "firstname.lastname@example.org;" thanks to Samer Kalaf and Tommy Craggs for making sure I knew -- it was a "significant" stroke, and that they "don't know how long it will be until he's able to respond or wake up essentially." He went out to get gas one morning, had a stroke, hit his head on the ground and then there it is, that's how it happens, just like that. He has been in the hospital for nearly four weeks.
I have known Rick for more than 20 years. It is strange to be old enough to know someone you didn't grow up with for 20 years. He might have been the first person I ever met by Internet byline. He was friends and associates with my old colleague Andy Wang, whom I worked with way back in 1998 at The Sporting News Online. Andy and I didn't have much in common, but we instantly recognized each other as ambitious for more than working the night shift in an office park in Creve Coeur, Missouri, and when he saw my non-work email address was "email@example.com" (I know, I know), he asked if I want to write about movies for his independent journalism site Ironminds.com. There wasn't much on the planet I wanted more than that -- I hadn't written anything longer than an AOL headline since I started working at TSN -- so I wrote for him so often and so obsessively that I basically ended up running the site with him. But there was another guy there, based out in California, named Rick Chandler, who was clearly the site's star. He was funny and he was smart, but there was also something ... kind about his writing. He was a gentle satirist, more Twain and Will Rogers than Mort Sahl or Lenny Bruce. He made you laugh without feeling bad about it. I hadn't seen that on the Internet before, and frankly I haven't seen it much since.
I can't describe Rick's humor any better than I did in a tribute to him when he left Deadspin in 2009.
He was naturally funny in a way I wasn't: He was funny without having to sweat at it. He also came at the world in a way I appreciated, and in a way I thought the site would need: He liked to poke fun at humans, but he didn't like to mock them. Rick was incapable of being mean; he was always too busy giggling. I wanted that for the site – because I knew, no matter how nice we were, people were going to accuse us of being cruel Internet scum, so I wanted someone who was the literal opposite – but mostly I just wanted to be a part of something Rick was doing. Rick makes me laugh very, very hard. Those are nice people to have around.
Ironminds eventually moved to New York City, and I moved along with it. Rick stayed in California, but I met him for the first time with Andy in 2000. I hadn't realized he was older than me, though back then, "older" was a vague term that basically classified most of humanity. He was friendly but quiet, shy; we ended up spending a day with Mary Jo Pehl, the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 writer, and Rick, who loved the show, was so nervous around her he could barely speak. He wasn't a young twentysomething kid desperate to take over the world with us. He just liked to write funny things. I got the sense he was being nice but really just wanted to go back to his computer and start writing some jokes.
I always made sure to keep Rick close, though; he wrote a piece about Dennis Miller for The Black Table back in 2003 that was one of our biggest hits at the time. And when my pitch for a funny sports site -- one that was basically going to be Defamer for sports, and I was that explicit in the memo -- somehow persuaded Nick Denton, Lockhart Steele and the Gawker folk to make such a thing, and after Bill Simmons and Dan Shanoff and basically every other ESPN Page 2 name at the time turned down Gawker's offers to make them the site lead and have me be their assistant, they put me in charge. (I was cheap and hungry.) I wanted my associate editor to be someone who was reliably funny, good-hearted and, if I'm being honest, modest enough not to challenge my authority about precisely what I wanted the site to be. I was a control freak about Deadspin. I cared about the site when I was running it more than I cared about anything in the world, to my detriment and often the detriment of many people around me. One of the reasons I left was my increasing inability to resemble a normal human being while running it. Rick's fundamental decency, and his way of being unimpressed by all the things that surrounded Deadspin other than just making a smart, funny site, kept me as grounded and level as possible. (Which was, alas, still not that grounded and level.)
Rick was perfect. The site launched in September 2005, but we started working on a practice site in March 2005, which means for basically six months, the site was just me and Rick competing to make each other laugh. He always won.
The site ended up taking off, as you might have heard, but Rick was steady, writing his 5-6 posts a day and staying out of the way for me to do everything else. He was nonetheless responsible for many of the site's biggest hits. It was him, not me, who had the first "You're With Me, Leather" post. (We had no idea that was going to explode like that.) His Barbaro posts were always funnier than mine. And he always made sure the site remained, at its core, silly. I was so ambitious, and so overwhelmed by how big the site got so fast, that I would have been willing to do just about anything to make sure the site succeeded, had I not been kept in check in part by Rick. Rick always reminded me why we were there in the first place. He always reminded me none of this was supposed to be taken all that seriously.
For what it's worth: I never actually saw Rick during any of this time. I'd wake up in the morning, his posts would already be in the CMS, I'd schedule them for sometime later in the day, and then I'd write like an idiot until 5 p.m., when I'd email him whatever stories I never got around to writing about. We were on entirely different schedules, and we rarely even talked. We didn't need to. We were both on the same page. During all of Deadspin's run together, I only physically saw him once. It was during the God Save the Fan book tour, when we did a stop in San Francisco. Rick was a figure of mystery to most of Deadspin's readers, and when we all went out to a bar after the reading, everyone was desperate to meet him. My sister lived out there at the time, and she was instantly drawn to him. She told me that night he might be the sweetest man she'd ever met.
It ended, because everything always ends. I left for New York magazine in June 2008, and Rick stayed on under the truly-astounding-in-retrospect tag team of A.J. Daulerio and Clay Travis, and once A.J. got Clay the hell out of there, Rick stuck around. But he and A.J. were a less logical team than Rick and me -- and A.J. was going to have to make changes on the site that were desperately needed for it to survive and thrive; as I've written before, Deadspin would have died within a year if A.J. hadn't made it what he did -- and Rick ultimately left. Rick had considerable hard feelings about the end of his time at Deadspin, which has always saddened me, even if I felt many of his criticisms of A.J. were unfair and even a little unkind. But the readers always loved him, and you always knew his heart was in the right place. I haven't seen him in many years, but we still email semi-regularly and make sure each other are OK. Rick is the only person who would think to email me that the 40th anniversary of Love and Death was coming ... in two months.
Rick has lived a fascinating life. There was always some sort of funny bit of Rick trivia that would sneak out in casual conversation. My favorite is that he was Tom Brady's youth basketball coach. ("The man who replaced Drew Bledsoe couldn't, in his freshman year, rise above Kevin Krystofiak (currently a local insurance broker) on the depth chart.") He is currently surrounded by people who love him and can be close to him; if you want updates and to help out with what will surely be some grueling medical bills, you can find information here. He has a long fight ahead of him. We all always do.
When you are young, serious illness and death are abstractions, aberrations, background rarities that are disruptions of the natural order. As you get older, they creep in around the edges. It's not grandparents and great-grandparents anymore; it's old schoolteachers, and sports heroes from your childhood, and uncles, and parents of your friends. It becomes high school classmates, and guys you used to go drinking with, and then old work bosses and colleagues, and then friends. I know that this is the natural order of the world, that this is just how it goes. In his titanic essay "This Old Man," Roger Angell wrote about growing older and watching people you care about ... not grow older.
We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing—that pale-yellow Saks scarf—reappear unexpectedly, along with accompanying touches of sweetness or irritation.
Rick is in bad shape, but this world hasn't gotten rid of him yet. He's got plenty of fight left in him.
But this feeling, this sense that someone who has been a considerable part of your life suddenly no longer being there for you to say all the things you want to say to them ... it lingers -- and it will only grow. Rick is my friend, and I care for him, and my life is better and more full because it has had him in it. I'm only saying this to him now, and only because this has happened. There are many others in my life who I want to say this to, and who, unlike Rick, can hear me and respond. I could do it right now. Maybe I should just go out there and say it. Maybe we all should.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.
1. Review: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," Paste Magazine. Not the best Tarantino, but a heckuva lot better than anything he's made in the last decade.
2. Where Might Yasiel Puig Get Traded? MLB.com. I would be totally OK with it being St. Louis, for what it's worth.
3. The Thirty: Every Team's Best Shot at a Hall of Famer, MLB.com. The Orioles and Marlins sections are acts of cruelty.
4. What Will NEXT Year's Trade Deadline Look Like? MLB.com. No New York Magazine piece this week, by the way. I was finishing up the second round of book revisions. Also, it's late July, and I wrote about baseball last week.
5. Debate Club: Best Imagined Worlds, SYFY Wire. I didn't exactly understand this one.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
Grierson & Leitch, fun one, with "The Lion King," "The Princess Bride" and "Cache."
Seeing Red, Bernie and I spoke right before the Cardinals somehow scratched their way to first place.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS
There are two more Democratic debates next week. Did you know that? They sort of sneaked up on us, no? I am busy both evenings of both debates, so everything I learn from them will be filtered through the collective coverage of them. I don't necessarily think that's terrible. I know the coverage is exhausting, but all told, they don't tend to get these things wrong. It's not like there was a massive John Delaney spike that they completely missed after the last one. The next debate is in September, with stricter guidelines about who makes the stage: There could be as few as eight people on stage. So enjoy this last opportunity to spend time with John Hickenlooper.
Also: This, by my New York colleague Ed Kilgore, should be screamed from every mountaintop.
1. Kamala Harris
2. Elizabeth Warren
3. Joe Biden
4. Cory Booker
5. Pete Buttigieg
6. Kirsten Gillibrand
7. Amy Klobuchar
8. Beto O'Rourke
9. Jay Inslee
10. Julian Castro
11. Bernie Sanders
12. Seth Moulton
13. Steve Bullock
14. Michael Bennet
15. Tulsi Gabbard
16. Tim Ryan
17. Bill de Blasio
18. Tom Steyer
19. John Hickenlooper
20. William Weld
21. Marianne Williamson
22. John Delaney
23. Andrew Yang
24. Wayne Messam
25. Mike Gravel
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Honestly, I've said this before, but I mean it: Spending one night every two weeks with a bottle of wine, a Cardinals game on the TV and a box full of letters respond to is a truly lovely way to spend an evening. Bring 'em on at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
"Fitzcarraldo," The Frames. Glen and Marketa is the only celebrity couple I've ever cared about.
Have a great weekend, all.