Volume 3, Issue 4: I Got You (At the End of the Century)

"I got you and I still believe, that you're all that I'll ever need."

Thank you, everyone, for all the stories you’ve been sending for the daily CV Stories version of this newsletter. Please keep them coming: There will be a new installment on Monday-Thursday every week. Email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. I think the series is legitimately helping people. I know it is helping me.

Of all the oft-quoted lines from Groundhog Day, my favorite one is one that doesn’t come up that much. It’s when Phil is sitting in the bowling alley bar with Ralph and Gus, the town drunks, reflecting on the endless loop he finds himself living. After the initial shock and a few thousands rounds of both trying to take advantage of his new powers and trying to kill himself, Phil, exhausted, shakes his head.

“I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over, and over, and over...”

I’ve always loved this bit, because it focuses not on the cosmic justice of what the universe is doing to Phil, forcing him to live this same day over and over, but the randomness of it. After all, Phil had no idea that his life would suddenly freeze in place without warning. When it did, he couldn’t help but wonder: Why now? Of all times in my life to get stuck, why this one? Why now?

We are all afraid, of our loved ones getting sick, about not being able to work, about an economy that appears to crumbling all around us. But what I find myself most struck by is how everything has just stopped. There is no school. There are no sports. There is no voting. There are no movies. There is no leaving the house. There is no nothing. Whatever we were doing, whatever point we were at in our lives, whatever our jobs were, wherever our relationship with our loved ones stood, whatever phase of happiness or distress we happened to find ourselves in at that particular moment … we all just froze there. We’ve been there ever since, and no one knows when we’ll be able to move again.

This is in large part because it is still rather early in this whole process. Everything is abnormal now, but it won’t feel that way forever. In little ways, it doesn’t feel that way now. I’ve already gotten so used to standing at least six feet away from everyone I see on a run or at a supermarket (or at my parents’ home) that I actually caught myself, while driving, unconsciously pulling up six feet away from the crosswalk, as if I was going to catch something from it, or vice versa. Yesterday morning, I woke up and instinctively ran to the sink to wash my hands, even though I hadn’t touched anything I hadn’t been near the last second I’d been awake. My hands are dry and chafing in a way they’ve never been in my life. (I kind of like it, actually.) The longer this goes on, the more accustomed to all of it we will become. And when we become accustomed to it, we’ll be back to living our lives again, albeit in dramatically different circumstances. Eventually, even if we can’t go outside or to the movies or to school or to the ballgame, we’ll get unstuck. We’ll adjust to our new reality. We always do.

But for now, in the early days of this—and I know how hard it is to think of all we’ve been through so far as the “early days”—I can’t help but look back and reflect on this freeze, and that question: Why now? Of all the moments and phases in my life, in all of our lives, for history to suddenly just lock us in place right nowwhat does it say that the moment is this one?

I have no Virgin Islands moments that immediately come to memory—and I’m sure I would have remembered the sea otter thing—though I’m not sure that specific analogy holds up in this moment anyway. But I can’t help but wonder: What if? Reading all the stories that you’ve all been sending me over the last fortnight has helped give me a bit of a kaleidoscopic view on this crisis: It is affecting everyone differently just as it affects everyone the same. And so much of it depends on where people are in their lives right now, when everything froze. What if?

What if it had happened when my wife was about to give birth to either of our children? Both our children had to make ER visits within the first week of their birth. I cannot fathom going through that now.

What if it would have happened when I was in college? Would I have been mature enough to have taken it seriously? What if it would have taken away graduation? What if I had to enter this job market?

What if it would have hit right after September 11? We would have assumed it was another attack, like the anthrax. Could we have possibly recovered? What if this had happened while I was in Russia covering the 2014 Olympics? What if this had happened when my sister was living in France? What if this would have happened when I was at Hunter S. Thompson’s house and I’d gotten stuck there for weeks? (I have no doubt I’d be dead.)

There are even silly things that don’t matter but of course totally do. What if this had happened right before the 1997 NBA Finals? What if this happened in the middle of the 2011 World Series? What if this happened in the middle of Stanley Kubrick making 2001: A Space Odyssey? And then there is human history. What if this had happened during the moon landing? What if this had happened right after Pearl Harbor? During the Great Depression? Right before the 2008 election? Right before the 2016 one?

But you always end up local. What if this would have happened when I was a child, and my parents—both barely earning enough to feed these two mouthy children as was—couldn’t go to work anymore? What if this had happened when my mother was still an Emergency Room nurse? What is this had happened when she was going through chemo? What if this had happened right after her mom died, or Dad’s mom died, and none of us could go to the funeral? What if this had happened when I lived alone in St. Louis and didn’t know a single person in town? What if this had happened while I was still struggling and broke in New York? What if this had happened when I was in self-destructive relationship and we were locked in the house together for months? What if this had happened right before my parents met? What if this had happened right before I met my wife? What if this had happened when I was 80 years old? What if? What if? What if?

This didn’t happen any of those times, though. It happened now.

And right now, I am in this house with my wife of nearly 10 years and our two wonderful children. The kids have been so strong through this—stronger than both of us. We have a home in a town where the people in our community have rallied around each other, in a house we’ve entirely paid off, with a backyard where they can play basketball and dive on the Slip and Slide. We have high-speed Internet, and jobs that allow us to earn income without leaving our home, and classes that can be taught online by teachers at an incredible school who are dedicated to their students and following up with them every day to see how they’re doing. I have my parents nearby that I can check in on, and my wife’s mother is nearby too, and we have friends and colleagues and family keeping track of each other, making sure we’re all hanging in, trying to pull everybody through. We are alone in here. But we are surrounded by people whom we love, who love us.

Yesterday, my older son William got to do a Zoom meeting with all of his second-grade classmates. These are his best friends, the kids who, just a month ago, he was running out in front from us to go hang out with: He was getting so big, so fast, and already sprinting away. He hadn’t seen them in three weeks, and there they all were, in their little Zoom windows, laughing and giggling and downright giddy to see each other again. He made funny faces at Wyatt, he stuck his tongue out at Will, he flexed his muscles at Jayden. They had missed each other. They all missed their friends. None of them would stop smiling.

This is hard. It is only going to get harder. This is an ongoing, cascading tragedy that, politically speaking, is clearly happening at the precise wrong time. It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by fear. But then I look at these kids, these two boys whose legs are already longer, dangling everywhere, than I’d noticed the last time I picked them up and carried them downstairs, who are just starting their lives, who will be grown and away and living their own stories before I know it, before I’m ready. They will all look back at this time, and they will understand it better then than they do now. But they will never know how much they have gotten us through this.

There are so many times this could have happened. But if it had to happen, I’m glad it was now. I’m glad they’re here for me, for us. I’m glad, if I have to be stuck inside and terrified, that I am stuck inside and terrified here with them. So much of our lives, without us knowing it, were building up to this moment. And you know what? I’m lucky this is how it went down. I'm goddamned lucky.

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

  1. Better Know a Ballplayer: Darrell Porter, MLB.com. It’s a ripoff of the late Deadspin’s “Let’s Remember Some Guys” series, but at least I admit it in the piece. Plus, it let me write about Darrell Porter.

  2. Mike Petriello and I Drafted World Series Teams From the Wild-Card Era, MLB.com. As I said, we’re all just trying to make sure to stay busy.

  3. So When Is Your Favorite Sport Coming Back? New York. Fair to say, “not soon.”

  4. 2020 Cardinals Roster Audit, MLB.com. I do these every year, and this was actually the last piece I wrote during the Before time, so we decided to go ahead and post it anyway. Fair to say it has lost a bit of its oomph!

  5. Disney-Plus Movies to Watch at Home, Vulture. An add-on to a previous list.

  6. The Thirty: Every Team’s Active bWAR Leader, MLB.com. The Blue Jays have a funny one.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we looked back at the movie year of 1994, and also “Blue” and “I’m Not There.”

Seeing Red, we did a show! Really! I missed Bernie. We’ll be checking in occasionally until the season starts.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we are still doing shows, just to stay sane.

MAILBAG

We take one question a week around these parts: Send yours to williamfleitch@yahoo.com. This one comes from Brian W. from Columbus, Ohio:

How did your Georgia Bulldogs fandom come about? Did it come naturally when you moved to Athens? Did you make a concerted effort to become a fan? Or did you have some fandom for the team before moving?

My wife is from Columbus, Georgia, and went to school at UGA. I’d always known she liked Georgia sports, but I never truly understood the intensity until we watched the 2012 SEC Championship Game together, as our newborn slept in the next room, in our apartment on the 22nd floor of our apartment in Brooklyn. When Georgia blew the lead and watched time expire on a game-winning drive, I legitimately thought she was going to throw my desk chair out the window out onto the pedestrians below. I knew better than to ever not root for them after that.

I had always wanted to live in a college town, so when we moved to Athens, I immediately got season tickets to UGA basketball and football, both of which play their home games within walking distance of our house. But I didn’t become truly devoted until I started doing the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday podcast, which became a way to be connected to this new town where I lived in a way I hadn’t quite been able to before. Now more people in Athens know me for that than for any of my other work, which always tickles me.

Now I yell as loud as everybody else at their games, back when they played games. But do know: If Illinois ever plays at Georgia, I’ll be wearing orange and blue and screaming for the Illini. Obviously.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I ventured out and picked some of these up this week! So I’ll be writing back in the coming weeks. So don’t make my trip in vain!

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Crawling Back to You,” Tom Petty. Tom Petty is helping a lot these days. I suppose he always has.

Home schooling is going great! Just ask them!

See? They are so smart now.

Please, be safe, everyone. Take care, and be good.

Best,
Will