Shrewsbury briefly made it back to New York last summer, and took Shrewsbury fils to a game at Yankee Stadium, the third deck of which the elder Shrewsbury were wont to haunt as a yute in the 1960s; Shrewsbury fils is a rabid Yankees fan, apparently by some process of Lamarckian inheritance, since the elder Shrewsbury had ceased to follow baseball soon after he had procreated, and made no attempt to encourage yankeephilia in his progeny.I have not been to a baseball game in decades. My wife suggested the other day that it might be fun to go to one, and I was inclined to take her up on it … partly out of nostalgia, but partly out of some agreeable memories. I can still recall my astonishment when, as a 12-year-old, my dad took me to my first game and I saw what a long ball to center field actually looked like, as opposed to only the alpha and omega I saw on TV (the batter hitting it, the outfielder catching it, or not, with the ball vanishing into an etheric untelevised realm in between). Or how a "pop-up," which the TV announcer reported with narcoleptic boredom, was in reality a magnificent sight, the white sphere shooting up with the speed of a cannonball to what seemed to my young eyes almost a vanishing point.
For the elder Shrewsbury on this foray there was one madeleine-biting moment when he inhaled an air of "dawgs wit kraut" in the heavy Bronx atmosphere--not the hideously dry, odorless California vacuum which is such a depressing contrast to the rich, muggy, nourishing humidity of Gotham. Generally however the experience was rather ghastly for him. The atomic PA system, the hideous Jumbotron where erewhile the sedate centerfield scoreboard had stood, dominated the environment, filling every moment with strobe effects, colossal images of the players' talking heads, blaring, eardrum-abusing samples of each player's favorite pop song whenever he came to bat, with enough bass to liquify one's internal organs--a scene from Idiocracy. The actual baseball game seemed to be reduced to an insignificant sideshow.Baseball is a contemplative game, but not one moment for contemplation was permitted. Gone were the sublime summer sounds of wood smacking and leather slapping horsehide, the lazy crowd murmurs, an awareness of breezes...no, it was more like being trapped in a video game than attending a baseball match.
But there was also that contemplative side: despite the pitching and running, so much of the game occurred at a lazy, ambling pace, most of the players just standing there most of the time, so unlike our other national big-time sport. They were Men in White, it was summer, probably afternoon. (Later, I read that Henry James said the most beautiful words in the English language were "summer afternoon.") Between moments of acute excitement, you relaxed, your retinas soothed by the green grass, the milky blue sky, the pennants on the bleachers roofline shimmying in the breeze. Have another beer.
Per Shrewsbury, I guess it's not like that anymore. Some years ago I read a newspaper story that said Americans were going off baseball. Not enough action. It must be true: when I drive past school athletic fields, the kids are out there playing football or soccer. The new schools they build probably don't even have baseball diamonds.
So the baseball corporations wised up, I suppose, and decided to give the fans what they liked: noise and Vegas-style razzle dazzle. Why do the teams still wear white uniforms? Wouldn't they be cooler if they dressed like hip-hop musicians?
I find the idea of playing loudly amplified pop music during the game — between innings would be bad enough — particularly appalling, contrary to what was the spirit of the sport. But the people who manage our public spaces seem to agree that we've got to have our eardrums whacked all the time or we'll up sticks and leave. Even if we can't leave, like when we're in an airport boarding lounge. And they're making stores nearly unbearable for some of us.
Normally I ask for a recount and appeal to the Supreme Court before I agree to go shopping, but this weekend I went twice. My old reading lamp had packed up and I needed a replacement, because for a bookworm like me, reading comes with the basics in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Anyway, I steered myself to a Target and an IKEA.
They've changed too. Target had bilingual signs throughout, and the designer stuff they featured a few years ago has mostly gone, replaced by lowest-common-denominator style merchandise. The clientele was mostly Third World immigrant. Target has decided where its — and America's — future lies.
IKEA, which I once thought was a model store of its kind, offering furnishings with some aesthetic appeal at sensible prices, shook me up. Now it, too, plays uptempo music-while-U-shop, punctuated with KMart-type announcements. O tempera! O mores!