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.

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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.

PODCASTS

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.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“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.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

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

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

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

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“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.

Best,
Will