the diary thing

basketballTAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, my wife said, and so I did. No matter that she bought the tickets from Father Dan, her confessor at the church, that the game was basketball, not baseball, or that I had to be reminded at regular intervals that we had a date to see the Raptors play the Timberwolves on the last Friday in January. Off we went, joining the crowds at Union Station, making our way through the tunnels under the train tracks by the waterfront to the Air Canada Centre, the cityís newest sports facility.

Iím always surprised to see what a prosperous, decidedly white-collar crowd fills the stands at pro sports games these days. Even up in the cheap seats the crowd is white, well-fed and waiting for the earliest opportunity to bolt from their seats for their cars. As soon as itís obvious that the home team is going to win, the exodus begins. But Iím getting ahead of myself.

THE LAST AND ONLY TIME I was in the Air Canada Centre was at least four years ago, during the doomed election campaign of our last decent mayor. She held a presser in the concrete shell of the ACC, to try and dispel her leftie image, the one that assumed she was hostile to big business and the guy-ish pleasures of corporate sports stadia. It didnít work, and we ended up with a mayor whose world-famous stupidity didnít preclude his re-election. 

Iíd seen a couple of Raptors games in the SkyDome, our botched megastadium a few blocks west of the ACC. The sightlines were awful, as youíd expect when you try and watch basketball in a stadium designed for both baseball and monster truck shows. The ACC is a vast improvement, a tight bowl where you look almost straight down onto the court.

I guess I should remember more about the actual game, but I was distracted by any number of things. First of all there were the ads. Iím being naïve, I know, but Iím always amazed by the saturation of ads in public spaces. Besides the permanent ads for TD Waterhouse and Bell Canada and the airline that gives the place its name, there are the revolving billboards running the circumfrence of the whole room, changing constantly throughout the game. 

Then there are the corporate boxes, one whole tier of which is owned by Bell, apparently. In addition, every ticket holder will win a pepperoni slice from Pizza Pizza if the Raptors score 101 points. Itís an added incentive for folks to stay in their seats, I suppose, and a way of making the absurdly high scores of the average basketball game seem like a good thing, and not just the dreary by-product of a game played, like so much else these days, by stars and not teams. 

Near the end of the game, a whole row of young men behind us have stopped chanting "deee-fence" whenever Milwaukee has the ball, in favour of a lusty, hungry "peeee-zaaa". 

I DONíT REMEMBER MUCH about the game itself, besides the fact that we got our  pizza slices. I do remember the music Ė the little sampled snatches of hip-hop and R&B hits that have become the soundtrack of pro sports in the post-roller rink organ era. I play a game of name that tune with myself, pleased at how many of the vamps and intros I get, until it becomes obvious that the repertoire is limited, and I lose interest.

I find my eyes wandering from the court to the massive four-sided jumbotron hanging above it, which selects the important slice of play and blows it up so much that the real thing happening underneath canít really compete. My wife is into the game, cheering and groaning as the Raptors pull ahead, then the Timberwolves make a short burst at closing the gap, then finally fall behind again. I sit with my chin in my hands, scanning the crowd, the signs, making an obligatory "ahh" or "ohh" whenever I perceive something to have happened on the little wooden table far below.

WE HAVE A COUPLE OF BEERS each, and some wildly overpriced food. My sausage on a bun is a few notches below street vendor quality. Itís Friday, so K. isnít eating meat. I order her a mini-veggie sub. We chase it with a bag of popcorn. 

Iím curious about Father Danís season tickets. "Isnít he a hoosier or something? I guess that would explain the basketball thing."

"Heís from Ohio."

"Oh. Whatís a hoosier?"



My wife is a sportswriterís daughter. 

I notice a change in the music during a lull in play. K. starts invisibly dancing in her seat; itís an old favorite of hers from the era of asymetric hair and big earrings. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man". I remember reviewing the album.

They play the song for more than a few bars, well into the first chorus. The jumbotron focuses in on a celebrity courtside.

"Prince is here," K. says, just a bit excited.

So he is: up on the screen, he smiles the usual coy smile underneat the gigolo moustache. Next to him is a beautiful young woman, all big eyes and café au lait skin underneath massive curls. Sheís the spitting image of Vanity or Appolonia. Iím amazed I remember those names.

"There he is. Whatís he doing here?"

"Isnít Prince a bitÖgayÖfor a basketball game."

"Well, this is his home team," I mutter; idly, reaching. I couldn't tell you why he's here.

"I donít know. I always thought he was a bitÖgayÖfor sports."

"Heís Eighties gay. Which isnít really gay at all. You know what I mean." I say this with a lot more confidence.

"Yeah. I guess."

We crane our necks, examining the courtside crowd.

"Can you see him?" K. asks.

"Nah. Too short. Look for the wall of beef."

K. doesnít say anything.

"Security guards. He should be surrounded by big guys."

"Uh huh."

We scrutinize the crowd below for a minute, then turn our attention back to the game.

THE RAPTORS ARE AHEAD by a comfortable margin when the game slips into its final minute. Thereís a brief flurry of play, and the Raptors have the ball when the clock starts counting out the last ten seconds. Whoever has the ball for those last moments stops his rush for the Minneapolis end of the court and just stands there, on the edge of the three-point line, dribbling out the game. Somehow it seems lazy, a bit of a cheat; cynical, even. We get up and join the exodus out of the building.

Itís a beautiful night. Warm for January; warm for April, even. We light up a couple of smokes and walk up Bay Street to the streetcar. K. slips her arm in mine. Sheís very happy. We donít get much of a chance to get out like this these days.

"That's why analysts get paid so much, says Gordon Howald, an energy analyst for Credit Lyonnais. 'It's not because they write nice reports with glossy covers. It's because they help generate fees for their firms by taking a very, very optimistic view of a stock, even if they don't necessarily believe it.'"
- "Media Missed Clues to Enron's Troubles" from the L.A. Times

Yes, I'm harping on Enron, but I don't think this story has been understood nearly as much as its significance demands. I don't think it's sane or rational to talk about the moral triumph of western capitalism without acknowledging -- and attempting to solve -- its clear and catastrophic failures. This is about bad business, sure, but it's also about complicit government. Just ask Dick Cheney.

Oh, that's right, Dick's not talking. Bad move, Dick.

Something light, then something not so light. Watch as I reach the end of tolerance. I don't necessarily think this is such a good thing, but I can't help it.

THERE'S A WOMAN IN NIGERIA who's been convicted of adultery in a Shari'a court and sentenced to death. As soon as she weans the infant daughter who was de facto proof of her guilt, she'll be buried in the ground up to her waist and stoned to death. The judge who passed sentence has said that he'll throw the first stone. "It would be my obligation to God," he says.

Safiya Husaini swears she was raped by a cousin of her mother, a rich merchant in their village. Since there tend not to be witnesses to most rapes, she was unable to produce four eyewitnesses required to clear her of adultery. Her supporters have managed to secure an appeal through a loophole in Shari'a law: according to Koranic traditions, a pregnancy can remain in the womb for seven years. Her lawyer is trying to invoke "reasonable doubt" by suggesting that her daughter might be the child of a husband Safiya hasn't seen in years. It's utter nonsense by any standard, medical or otherwise, but it's her only hope.

Shari'a courts were revived in Nigeria with help from the Saudis, during the tumultuous, often disastrous period of decolonialization. As in Afghanistan, strict Shari'a and fundamentalist rule was preferable to the corrupt kleptocracy practiced by Nigeria's military rulers. 

Yes, your calendar is right. It is 2002. We put a man on the moon over thirty years ago. We're mapping Mars with unmanned spaceships. We've decoded the human genome and we can analyze matter that we didn't know existed a hundred years ago. 

But there are still people who believe that a woman can be pregnant for seven years. And we're relying on those people to save a woman's life. Oh, hell, we have a political leader in this country who thinks the earth is a few thousand years old. I have to admit I find it hard to find sufficient reservoirs of hope for humanity most days. On most days, I think human beings are moronic brutes.

I'VE TRIED TO BE RESPECTFUL. I was once -- with great difficulty -- as politically correct as you can imagine. I grew up -- in the Seventies, mind you -- vaguely convinced that women probably had a more moral, virtuous nature than men. I was loathe to judge other cultures, even if I thought they seemed to act like vicious, frightened, superstitious tribal rustics. It was a self-concious evasion of reason that fit as well as anything else I wore in the Seventies.

I remember my first girlfriend bringing home a co-worker, one day, many years ago. She had a job at a "right on" leftist film and book collective, and had made friends with a young South African immigrant who was there on some kind of government-funded work scheme. He was from Soweto, and had horrible stories to tell about the apartheid regime, police brutality, systematic racism. He was a nice guy, very polite and well-mannered, and I had a lot of compassion for his situation, forced to leave a home that was, by any measure, a hell on earth, for a place that could be merely purgatory. I thought it would be an excellent thing to be his friend.

But he also told us that, for fun, he and his buddies back in Soweto would lure girls into abandoned houses and rape them. I still remember the look on my girlfriend's face when he told us about it, over dinner at my apartment. "I suppose that was wrong," he said, in a sheepish voice. My girlfriend didn't say anything. She never invited him back. I never heard about him again.

I've tried to be nice about homeopathy, even though I think it's a con. I'm not so nice about astrology, but I once had a friend who read cards and coffee grounds. I've kept my mouth shut about herbal medicine and other forms of "alternative therapies", even though it's the same ersatz physic that prescribes ground animal penises and horns -- usually from endangered species, since rarity seems to enhance the potency of the "medicine" -- as cures for impotence. It's such a primitive literalization of a metaphor; the tiger and the rhino are such strong virile animals, therefore if I ingest their dessicated members, or the visible physical symbol of their strength, I can assume some of that virility. It's not too far from eating the brains of your vanquished enemy to absorb their bravery. 

The only thing that keeps me from dismissing herbal cures entirely is the knowledge that, sometimes, they can be effective. But that's chemistry, and we can analyze it, refine it, use it to make better medicine and wiser science. I don't think tiger penises are good medicine or wise science. And I think anyone who really believes that a woman can be pregnant for seven years is a moronic, witless dolt. 

Having to rely on their idiocy to save a woman's life is an awful compromise. As long as we indulge it, we'll be forever standing in the dark, reaching for the stars, with our feet rooted up to the knees in our own shit.


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