Posted a ton of stuff before heading home for Thanksgiving, and here it is!
I took a break from Shaquille O’Neal’s autobiography to start another edition of the Best American Sports Writing series, then another from BASW to make some more progress on Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt.
When I needed a break from that, I decided to grab a work of fiction, just for a change of pace. I went with Fadeaway, a 1986 crime novel by Richard Dean Rosen.
Fadeaway tells the story of Harvey Blissberg, a recently retired baseball player who becomes a private investigator. The Boston Celtics hire him to look into the disappearance, and then quickly murder, of one of their players.
I don’t read a lot of crime novels, but this seemed like a pretty good one: A brisk pace that still builds a sense of mystery; plot twists that don’t feel forced and come at exactly the right moments; enough details to make the story easy to visualize
With the book itself, I just have a few minor complaints. Rosen inexplicably refers to the NCAA as the “N C double A” — a very awkward construction of that acronym that breaks the rhythm of whatever sentence in which it appears. And Rosen spells out the accent of Frank Heaney, a college basketball coach central to the plot, in a way that’s hard to read and actually makes the character sound slightly mentally disabled.
But these are tiny hang-ups in what was otherwise a very enjoyable reading experience. I found myself regretting every time I had to put the book down.
Unrelated to the plot, Fadeaway left me with two big questions.
Why was Blissberg a baseball player?
Blissberg seems like a pretty good detective. He’s intuitive, persistent, creative, intelligent, comprehensive — all the qualities necessary to work in that field. And he uses those skills to solve the case in a satisfying and realistic way.
Before becoming a private eye, Blissberg played for the Red Sox and made-up expansion team the Providence Jewels. That life impacts Blissberg in two ways: it gives him a passing familiarity with Providence, where much of the book takes place, and it creates a hostile relationship with the various local sports writers with whom he has to work.
But Blissberg’s prior knowledge of Providence could’ve been easily replicated by looking at a map for like 10 minutes. And here’s how every interaction with a reporter happens: the reporter says something nasty, Blissberg asks for help, then the reporter always gives it to him, usually within half a page. For all the bluster, not once does a reporter actually impede Blissberg’s ability to do his job.
Not much new to report this week. Just a generally strong crop of stories. I’m getting better at coming up with replacement stories on the fly, which comes in handy when coaches blow you off.
On another note, I always liked as a kid that Brookline let out school for “Days of Low Attendance,” which is just code for “Jewish High Holidays.” Turns out southeast Oklahoma has those, too: for deer-hunting season!
Here’s everything I wrote this week that I remembered to put online.
I wrote back in July about a very negative encounter I’d had with a high school basketball coach. To summarize the experience — I’d unintentionally used a disparaging quote about Coach A’s team in an article only vaguely related to high school basketball, and that coach responded by basically verbally abusing me for about a half-hour before hanging up on me.
When I tried to smooth things over with an email, Coach A dismissed it with an extremely terse, unforgiving response. I came away from the experience with no idea what would happen during basketball season.
I’d gone out of my way to avoid interacting with Coach A in the four months following the experience, basically because I was too chicken to face what I feared would be another heated confrontation.
But with basketball season fast approaching, I knew I had to make contact with Coach A. So I did at Friday’s football game, introducing myself and saying how nice it was to finally meet the coach in person.
The coach’s first response was to ask my last name, and when I said it, the coach asked if I was the one who’d written “all that bad stuff” about the team over the summer — an exaggeration if not an outright lie, as it was one quote (by someone else) in one article. I don’t remember if I corrected him or just said yes.
“Well, I expect a whole lot better from you during the season,” Coach A said.
I didn’t get slugged, as I’d occasionally worried might happen, but Coach A did indeed choose a more obnoxious, condescending manner of greeting me. I’m starting to get the feeling this coach might always choose hostility over harmony.
Instead of fighting back, I simply said, “Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” and then discussed interviewing the coach for a preview story of the basketball team. The coach said “That would be fine,” and we parted until our next conversation.
I’m proud of how I handled this situation, and I feel much more confident now that Coach A and I will be able to work together during the upcoming season. But at the same time, the way Coach A spoke both patronized and belittled me, and I don’t believe I deserved to be treated the way I was (even if it could’ve been worse).
I like the McAlester football coaches and players, and I admit I root for those kids a little bit more because of how helpful they’ve all been. I’m not sure I’ll do the same for Coach A and the basketball team.
Here’s everything I wrote this week.
I have a stock set of questions I ask every McAlester senior when I’m profiling him. First football memory, favorite football memory, strategies when in the game, what’s next, etc. — I used this same strategy with Heath Hogan and Wyatt Beshears, the two offensive linemen I interviewed Thursday.
My interview with Hogan went fine — straightforward answers, decent back-and-forth, some understanding of the inner workings of the player.
Beshears’ interview … didn’t go as well. The kid just doesn’t like to talk. Not to the press, not to his teammates, not to his coaches.
Beshears wasn’t rude, but he always gave me the shortest possible answers, often answering in broken sentences that are really hard to use as quotes in a print article.
Writing one of these profiles went smoothly, the other did not. Can you guess which kid was harder to write about?
You guessed it: Hogan.
That might seem backwards, but with Beshears, his quietness became the story. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull a theme out of Hogan’s answers.
Of course, I wrote Hogan’s story last on a Saturday — my longest and most stressful workday — and even Hunter Thompson probably had to reach a little bit to turn in his fourth story in nine hours. And I think Hogan’s story turned out fine no matter how difficult it was to write.
But it struck me as odd that the tougher interview made for the easier story. Here’s both of those profiles, plus (just about) everything else I wrote last week.