Thursday, July 19, 2012

Don DeLillo - Total Loss Weekend


 Columbia-Princeton ended 0-0, and the radio is now used exclusively to harvest scores. We hear from the Appalachians, the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta. In the Rockies they are nearing the end of the first half. Here it is all over, the land in shadows, but in California there is sunlight everywhere, captive happiness and soft beginnings, a flurry of first-period scores. The radio is an instrument of geography. Beyond the numbers it gives, there is a sense of prairie mystery.
 CJ is dead in East Lansing. He is dead and buried in Pittsburgh. He is long dead in New York. He is dying a slow death in Oakland. Before the night is over he will have died in Kentucky, in Mississippi and in Oklahoma. Through the radio he breathes the air of our mysterious and lonely continent.

CJ and Chance Events

When CJ reads or hears about an unusual event, such as two ships colliding in mid-ocean with great loss of life, or a Latvian brother and sister separated during World War I who learn they have been living on the same street in Bridgeport for the past 47 years, he usually says: "What's the odds on something like that?"

CJ and the Weather

 CJ fears the weather most. He remembers waking up on the morning of Dec. 31, 1967 and turning on the radio and hearing a voice that sounded like the judgment of God (Him again). The voice said: "It is 13 below zero in Green Bay, Wis., site of today's NFL title game." Bad weather usually favors the underdog because it tends to neutralize superior strength, to atomize and equalize. CJ has the Packers 100 times and he is giving seven points and God has made the temperature drop to 13 below. The Packers win in the last few seconds but they fail to beat the spread.

CJ tries to use the weather like a tribal conjurer. One day the radio reports tornadoes in Kansas. It is Saturday evening and CJ tries desperately to find a college football game being played in Kansas that night. Finally he comes up with two small, small colleges—names he no longer remembers. He wants the points. He's dying to take the points. He will sit by the radio, all night if necessary, to wait for the final score of what is bound to be a windswept and topsy-turvy game. He feels sure the underdog will come through for him because he knows, he has always known, it has been basic knowledge for many years that bad weather favors the underdog because it is a neutralizer of ability, experience and talent, an atomizer and equalizer, and he is ready to wire his mind into the desolate roar of Kansas, for a full night if need be. But his bookmaker, Bernie-Sherm, has no line on the game in question because the two schools are exceedingly tiny, obscure and pathetic, assuming they exist at all.


 The Saints fumble on radio and the Browns fumble on TV. As time passes CJ becomes so repelled by the Saints that he switches to the Jets-Dolphins, even though he has no action on this game—an almost unprecedented move. A bit of stray sunlight forms a bright swatch on the TV screen and CJ puts a piece of cardboard under the blinds to reinforce the dimness. But the Browns are not worth looking at this day. They are playing bouncy-ball all over the field and it is becoming clear that CJ's weekend will have few redeeming features.

Pulse pulse pulse. Scores from Atlanta, scores from Baltimore, scores from Green Bay. We find ourselves pointing at the screen every time a score materializes. This enables us to pin the score, remember it, interpret it, hate it and fear it. CJ needs two touchdowns in Minnesota. He needs a touchdown and a field goal in Green Bay. He needs divine intervention in Washington. Pulse pulse. He has fallen behind in Cincinnati. He is virtually dead in Minnesota. He is coming back to life in Atlanta and Baltimore, but it is all too sudden, happening too fast, final scores beginning to flood the screen, and now we are confronted by the man at Network Control who manipulates a revolving scoreboard, and CJ is trying to read around corners, pulse pulse, mugged in Washington, slashed in New York, drawn and quartered in Cleveland, his stomach fluids gradually carbonating, his heartbeat interrupted by each new score, pulse pulse pulse pulse pulse.

- Don DeLillo
Total Loss Weekend
from the November 27, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated