Volume 3, Issue 37: Shake It Off

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

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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.

PODCASTS

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!

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“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.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

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

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

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

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“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.

Best,
Will