Volume 3, Issue 30: Pieholden Suite

"There's a whisper I would like to breathe into your ear."

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A bit of a grabbag mishmash this week as we head into a period unlike any of us have ever experienced …. consider this a bit like an emptying of a reporter’s notebook, a few noodling ideas not quite expansive enough for their own newsletter, a palate cleanser before the world starts vibrating out of control.

Sometime before the end of 2020, I will run my 10,000th mile. This will not be my 10,000th mile ever; I was unable to secure proper Garmin placement in elementary school cross country, so I can’t know the exact total for certain. But since May 19, 2012, the day I started officially tracking my awkward slogs through downtown Brooklyn, according to my Runkeeper app, I have run 9,863 miles. At my current pace of 29.19 miles a week, I should be there around Halloween. Ten thousand miles is a long way to run. Ten thousand miles is roughly equivalent to running from Miami to Anchorage and back.

I started running for two reasons. The first was because I had recently quit smoking—I smoked about a pack-and-a-half a day for about 14 years, used the drug Chantix to quit and now can’t quite believe I was once the person who rolled out of bed and lit his first cigarette seconds later—and the second was because there was a newborn baby in the apartment that I desperately needed an excuse to get out of any time I could. (I definitely gained sympathy weight during my wife’s pregnancy and my son’s first year of life that I needed to run off too. It pains me to no end that the month my alumni magazine put me on its cover was the heaviest I’ve been in my life.) I am not a natural runner. Some runners, most runners, run to escape, to sweat out their worries, to sprint away their problems for an hour or so. They find running transporting, transformative, a portal to another world. I am not like this. I am an awkward, huffing runner, with terrible form and constant awareness of where I am and what I am doing, every second of every run. I am also incredibly clumsy, and my first few runs, especially in the confusing, unpredictable terrain of the biggest, busiest city in the country, featured multiple spills and crashes. I actually hit my head on a hot dog cart once. The man was very nice about it. “Happens all the time,” he told me.

I ended up figuring out a route that kept me away from the hard-working cart vendors of New York City, one that spanned across the Manhattan Bridge and back. The Manhattan Bridge is the best bridge to run across in New York because there’s a dedicated side of the bridge for pedestrians rather than cyclists—not that they don’t try to take it over anyway—and because the Manhattan Bridge gives you a perfect view of other, prettier bridges. There is something uniquely freeing about doing a solitary activity like running from a vantage point what is essentially above New York City: You feel in control, and removed, in a way the city I lived in for 13-plus years doesn’t allow you otherwise. It feels like a place you can finally catch your goddamned breath.

I still never got quite the hang of letting go on my runs, though, of leaving my worries and fears behind me, of powering through, upward and beyond. I’m too aware of every step, too annoyingly conscious. I do not find peace or serenity on my runs; each step, 9,863 miles later, is a battle. So I generally listen to podcasts. This slows me down a little—my times are always better when I listen to music—but it’s well worth it, because listening to a podcast makes me forget that I’m running in the first place. I get so engrossed in a smart conversation that I don’t notice I’ve just finished a run until the conversation is over. A seven-mile run is an episode of The Weeds; the FiveThirtyEight podcast gets me through that last big hill; I always ran a little faster when Still Processing was regularly posting. So much of life is tricking your brain into things, and the way I trick myself into getting through my runs is by pretending that I’m not doing them, like the running is just something going on the background while I’m in the middle of something else. I know I should take more pure joy in running, considering how much I do it, but I consider it less a recreational activity and more an dutiful obligation, a way to do the best I can to slow down the inevitable decay and bloat of my aging body.

Eventually, I will have to stop. Not starting until I was well into my thirties meant that I’d saved my knees too much toil, but it’ll catch up with me. I am sure I will romanticize running when I can no longer do it. But now it remains a chore, a box on the list to be checked off every day, another statistic complied often enough to become a big round number. We mark our time on this planet in little ways, and when I am in my final days, I will be able to say that I ran to Anchorage from Miami and back while listening to Nate Silver explain why we’re all going to die. I wouldn’t say it will be a life fully lived, but it’s sure better than smoking a pack-and-a-half a day.

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Ten Best American Cities With Baseball Teams in Which to Run

  1. Chicago

  2. Boston

  3. Washington D.C.

  4. San Francisco

  5. Denver

  6. San Diego

  7. New York

  8. Houston

  9. St. Louis

  10. Cleveland

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My parents had a satellite dish when I was a kid. Not a DirectTV or Dish Network little saucer thing. I mean like a big-ass, NASA dish. One of these monsters:

We lived out in the country, where there were no cable hookups, so if we wanted to watch something other than local WCIA, WICD or WAND, this was our only option. There was something mind-blowing about it, actually, to have this massive thing that was literally pointing to outer space in our backyard. There were transponders you had to physically direct the dish toward, and to fine tune it, to get the crackles and bumps out of whatever you were watching, Dad would send me in the backyard with a crescent wrench. I’d loosen the lugnut keeping the dish in place slightly until Dad would yell “THAT’S GOOD!” from inside the house. I’d have to go right back out there anytime there was a slight wind.

This was before networks and corporations realized quite how much money there was to be made off of all this, so in the early days, watching any channel on the planet was as easy as simply pointing the dish at the right floating satellite in the sky. Not surprisingly, the Leitch family used it mostly to watch Cardinals games. My favorite was finding the right satellite for Expos games, where you could hear them broadcast in French; my sister and I used to make up fake French words while we were watching them. We were subscribers to Satellite Orbit magazine, which was like a TV Guide for dishes and was awaited in our household like a key to another universe entirely.

I will also confess that as puberty was starting to sneak up on me, finding channels like American Exxxtasy would prove useful. That channel was quickly scrambled, like they all ultimately were, but to a 13-year-old, you don’t necessarily need to see anything; you just need to hear whatever’s happening and then use your imagination. If you looked close enough, you could even make out a stray boob. (That channel was eventually banned by the Justice Department, amusingly.)

I often have a difficult time explaining to my children just how easy their access to everything is today, how the world is right there for them, however they want to absorb it. They will never understand how mind-blowing it is to be able to call up just about every song ever made in a matter of seconds if you want to. But the satellite dish, in particular, will surely baffle them. For five years, massive satellite dishes in your backyard were the future of entertainment. And then they were gone. Whatever the next hot thing is, always remember it will be embarrassingly dated before most people even know it exists.

MY NEW SPACE AT MEDIUM

I started a new gig this week. I’ll be writing three times a week for Medium, as part of a project that includes writers like Susan Orlean, Ashley C. Ford, Carvell Wallace and many other names I don’t have any business having mine alongside. The goal of my little corner of the project is to try to capture, in a granular, everyday-life sort of way, what it is like to live through this unprecedented moment in world history. If that sounds familiar, it’s not dramatically different than what I’ve tried to do with this newsletter for the nearly five years I’ve been writing it. So if you like this, you’ll probably like that.

So bookmark this page.

I promise this will be the last reporter’s notebook, small-nuggets newsletter for a while. (I think it’s the first one, actually.) It really does feel like everything on the planet is about to start coming to a head, so consider this week’s newsletter like a cracking of the knuckles before the real shit begins.

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

  1. The Fading World of Obama Nostalgia, Medium. As I said, there will be three of these every week. Inspired by the new documentary All In, about former White House photographer Pete Souza.

  2. American Parents Are Coming Apart at the Seams, Medium. This is probably more personal than your average Medium piece is going to be, but I hope it got the point across.

  3. You Thought 2020 Was Hard For Sports? Wait Until 2021, New York. Just your friendly neighborhood doomsayer over here.

  4. The Thirty: Something To Appreciate in the Final Week of the Season, MLB.com. I very much love baseball, and this was a handy guide to what I sort of already miss.

  5. Someday Our Children Will Not Believe Us About Any of This, Medium. This is the intro piece, though hopefully it has some good stuff in it on its own.

  6. When Was Your Team’s Last Postseason Win? MLB.com. Updated from last year with all the teams that, uh, won a postseason game.

  7. Final Weekend Series, Ranked, MLB.com. The last day of the season, when all the games are at the same time, is always a fun day of the year.

  8. Fun Leaderboard Factoids, MLB.com. Well, they are fun.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, three new movies, “The Nest” (by the guy who did “Martha Marcy May Marlene”), “The Devil All the Time” and “Antebellum.”

People Still Read Books, with Jessica Luther and Kavitha A. Davidson talking their terrific “Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back.”

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, previewing the Arkansas game, an actual SEC football game.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Election That Could Break America,” Barton Gellman, The Atlantic. This story is absolutely terrifying, particularly with how plausible every word of it is. And considering the conversation it started, and how we’re all reacting to it, it may end up having galactic importance.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

SEC Football Schools, Ranked by Likability, By Someone Who Moved to Athens, Georgia, in 2013

  1. Georgia

  2. Mississippi

  3. Arkansas

  4. Mississippi State

  5. Vanderbilt

  6. LSU

  7. Texas A&M

  8. Missouri

  9. Kentucky

  10. South Carolina

  11. Alabama

  12. Tennessee

  13. Florida

  14. Auburn

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Seriously, if you’ve ever written me, check your mailbox! I’m in a very happy place with these right now and would like to keep them coming. Also, I got some very fancy new stationery and I want to show it off.

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Guess Again,” Jeff Tweedy. What a shock it must be to see a song off a new Jeff Tweedy album on here. I’ve heard the whole album, and I think this is my favorite song, and maybe my favorite Tweedy solo song ever.

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

Speaking of which, here’s something fun that happened this week:

So look for the result of that little business that sometime soon.

Have a great weekend, all. Please be safe out there.

Best,
Will