Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vick, James, Love, Hate: These Dichotomies That Plague Us All

There is an old adage claiming that ‘Nobody likes to drink alone.’ Well, I love to. Booze is a reliable friend and we have always been there for each other, within and beyond the presence of others. Furthermore, I have always enjoyed my own company tremendously.

As a writer, I sometimes feel the need to venture beyond the confines of my apartment in search of inspirado so what better option for a sauce-happy wordsmith than to go down to his neighborhood watering hole and cuddle up with a pint, pen and his trusty Moleskin (that’s a notebook…Google it.)

There I sat, nursing a mediocre anejo (that’s a type of tequila…Google it) with a Stella back, sandwiched between a camouflage-clad war vet and a man that looked like Santa Claus if St. Nick were a smackhead with body odor and male pattern baldness.

As I genially fended off their attempts at small talk, I gazed up at a couple televisions to see two games playing simultaneously. One featured LeBron James and his Heat in their much-anticipated first game in Cleveland. The other featured the Philadelphia Eagles and the Lazarus of professional football, Michael Vick.

I suddenly found myself seething with more emotions than I could make sense out of as I attempted to follow both games in unison. The parade of boos cascaded down on James from the opening warm-up and would not cease until he took a seat on the bench after the third quarter ended. Vick, on the other hand, was on his home turf where in half a season, he has gone from divisive, third-string afterthought to the Kevin Colb-slaying personification of redemption and the NFL’s most ubiquitous story line.

So there I sat, watching Vick and James, two of the most famous and preternaturally talented specimens in their respective sports…and a funny thing happened. Santa Claus ordered another pint glass filled with Jack Daniels and a splash of coke and asked me what I was writing. I told him it was a graphic novel about lesbian samurai that save the world from a cataclysmic meteor shower.

But that wasn’t the funny thing that happened. The funny thing was that I found myself rooting for both Michael Vick and LeBron James. Yes, I am as shocked and appalled as you are.

What LeBron pulled over the summer was atrocious and in case you read my blog last week, you may have noticed that I screamed ‘FUCK LEBRON JAMES’ in size twenty-six font. I still feel that way but I admittedly noticed a jolt of exuberation when he sank his first jump shot early in the first quarter. Why? He is a spineless traitor who turned his back on a franchise while bending if not breaking NBA tampering rules.

So what was happening to me? I eventually realized that the overwhelming negativity heaped upon James had turned him into the guy I always root for…the underdog. Maybe since the city of Cleveland, the NBA and the world at large wanted him to fail, I wanted him to, if only for one night, rise above the pressure and become the legend we always thought he’d become.

Maybe. Because, and I’ve said this before, I watch sports to see athletes surmount adversity, even if they themselves are responsible for creating it. And what better example than Vick; a walking case study on the rehabilitory efficiency of American correctional institutions.  

Can prison take an underachieving, uber-talented improviser and turn him into the mature, multi-dimensional pocket passer that Vick has become? One with vision, discipline and surgical precision to go along with his speed? Tom Brady is the only quarterback with a better rating and that is by one tenth of a percentage point so it is quite possible. Could someone who made money killing dogs emerge from a two-year prison sentence not only a better quarterback but also a better man? I don’t know.

I do know that Santa Claus here doesn’t look happy. He’s probably had a tough life and it’s December so he’s probably tired of all the fucking Santa Claus jokes he gets. And I know that the red sweater he’s wearing won’t reduce them.

Anyway…where do all these feelings come from? I’m a curious little monkey so I’m always trying to dig down to the bottom of these quandaries to unearth a little truth. Have I forgiven James for his trespasses? No. I still think he’s a ginormous pussy. But the optimist in me hopes he will learn from his failures in judgment and action and become the leader we all want him to be.

Maybe he will fail miserably in Miami, take his immense talents elsewhere and secure a championship he can truly call his own. Maybe Vick will win a Superbowl this year and become the official spokesman for the Humane Society. Maybe Santa Claus is real and he has figured out that I’m not really writing a graphic novel about lesbian samurai. Maybe he’s pissed I lied to him and is not going to give me the blowjob I asked him for for Christmas. I asked him for one last year too and I got a fucking Snuggie instead so it stands to reason that I will get shafted this year as well. Okay, poor choice of words.

But you have to be curious about these feelings when they come up. At least I do. I have to wonder why the camo-clad army vet is rooting so vehemently against the Eagles. He’s a Jets fan (I asked) so it’s not driven by a desire for the Giants to climb in the standings. Does he have a dog at home? If so, he probably, and justifiably, hates Vick for being a dog killer and most likely will never forgive him.

But despite his heinous past, part of me has forgiven him. And as a die-hard Giants fan who loves animals, this is difficult to accept. I can’t readily root for the dog-killing quarterback of my second most hated NFC East rival, can I? (Yes, Dallas, you will always be first…even though that Tony Romo is so goddamn dreamy.)

But I find myself rooting for Vick. And unlike those who have not had the luxury of psychotherapy…lots and lots and lots of psychotherapy…I know why I cheer for him. I know why I hated him for letting me down four years ago. Like anyone else, I too have been betrayed by those I once held in unreasonably high esteem. It stung. And Vick’s downfall triggered that sting.

I also know why I now hope for his success. Because Michael Vick and I have a great deal in common. We both run a 4.29 second 40-yard dash, we both have three children and we’re both hung like dinosaurs.

Additionally, we both have pasts we are not particularly proud of. And as another Vick touchdown propelled the Eagles to a fourth quarter lead they would not relinquish, he got one step closer to what anyone who has ever fucked up strives for…redemption.

But does he deserve it? The man regularly speaks at schools, telling kids how heartbroken he is that he is legally prohibited from giving his own children the puppy they want so badly. Is he telling the truth?

The angry vet (war veteran, not animal doctor-a very relevant distinction) doesn’t think so. Santa doesn’t really give a shit. He seems indifferent, though he may just be high or generally confused about the world. It’s hard to tell.

But I like to believe that Vick does mean what he says. Because I need to believe that people can change. I believe I have and hope that I can continue to do so. One’s inherent ability to grow, to improve, to self-actualize; it comes up frequently in my writing and I am very cognizant of it. But most normal people (and I’m not knocking them, in fact I envy them) do not share this clarity. Most normal people do not spend their days investigating their feelings and their nights toiling in insomniatic introspection.

So ask yourself…do you hate Michael Vick because you love dogs? Do you cheer for him because of his other worldly athleticism or because you too capitalized on a second chance that someone was generous enough to give you? Do you hate James because someone you loved once betrayed you? Or because you are too ashamed to admit that Cleveland sucks and it’s the last city you would ever want to build a life in?

As a Knicks and Giants fan, I have all the reason in the world to hate both these men…Vick for the threat he poses and James for the promise unfulfilled. So what is going on with this cognitive dissonance that plagues me? Could it be a sign of maturity? Uncompromising hatred is easy and there is something oddly comforting about clinging to a nice, cozy grudge.

But forgiving people is hard. Sifting through faults in search of virtue requires effort and ethical flexibility. So maybe I’m finally growing up. Or maybe that’s just the tequila talking and if it is, still…tal vez estoy creciendo.

Both games ended and the final tallies were impressive. James scored a season high thirty-eight points in only three quarters despite the booing, heckling and multiple skirmishes that erupted in the crowd. Vick threw for over three hundred yards with three total touchdowns and both their teams won easily. How do you feel about this? How do you feel about them? And what do you want from them?

I’ll tell you what I want. I want Michael Vick to become the greatest quarterback in the NFL, exemplifying the prototype of the 21st Century that his potentially holds, thus confirming man’s capacity for growth and the ability to utilize the full extent of one’s limitless faculties. And I also want the Eagles to lose every fucking game they play for the rest of all time. Why? Fuck them and GO BLUE! That’s why.

I want LeBron James to fail in Miami. In a clash of superstar egos, I want Dwayne Wade to kick the shit out of James in the middle of a prime time televised game; a fight that results in their both being ejected and the Heat losing the final game of the year, leaving them one victory shy of the eighth playoff seed. Then I want James to leave Miami, eat some peyote, do some soul-searching in the desert and find another team to play for. Once there, I want him to realize what it takes to be a champion, I want him to dig down deep and I want him to become one.

I want Santa to stop sucking down JD at a record clip and get to work on my blowjob because I really need one. And I need to believe that Vick, James, myself…we can all rise from rubble that we ourselves created and reach our full potential.

And that is what we should all strive for. Because, seriously, what the fuck else are we supposed to do with ourselves while we’re here?