It’s spooky outside in the time of the virus. It’s so quiet that you can hear voices from far away, carried on the wind. I heard what sounded like children crying or playing or both in the street. I stepped out on my balcony. I couldn’t hear the children. But a skinny man with pale, pale skin and no shirt, black shorts and a wide-brim black hat ran by my house under the streetlamp, and I clearly heard him say, “Yes, by a magical, or rudimentary lunar strike” into his phone. He noticed I was listening, picked up speed and loped off into the darkness. I could see the light of his cell phone bouncing with each stride as it grew smaller and smaller.
I went to the bathroom and washed my hands. I wash my hands like Pilate now, like lady MacBeth, trusting that the soap is removing the awful thing I can’t see. I let them drip dry, because I don’t want to touch anything to dry them off. Towels are bound to be teeming with the hated thing, along with God knows what all else.
Sleep, 3:45 a.m. sometime in the virus times
I’d like to go back to sleep, but I can’t.
We are stressed. All of us. We live now as if we were in a battle. Our senses are on full alert. But there is no one to fight. So we go into our cave and play dead. We sleep so that we’ll have rested senses if the battle ever comes. I wish it would, and I hope it never does.
I’m spending $14 a month and a tip to keep from having to wade through the grocery store in search of what food remains on the shelves that I am able to eat. There’s a delivery service that shops for you, brings it to you and leaves it on your porch. It costs too much, of course. Everything does.
I’m diabetic. Sugar messes me up like a bad ex-wife you still love. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally soothe myself with a few heaping handfuls of cookies every now and then. But the risk of excruciating death by slow asphyxiation has made my almond, coconut and chocolate chip favorites at the Winn-Dixie a lot less tempting.
Back in the 1980s, I was married, and did no swimming in the AIDS pool. But I’m sure, had I not been, the risk of AIDS wouldn’t have kept me from having unsafe sex with sketchy partners, and I doubt this little bastard of a virus won’t completely separate me from brownies, cakes, cookies and pie as I wander the remainder life’s road, however short it may be. And yeah, I’ll probably tie a T-shirt around my nose and mouth and walk over to Winn-Dixie to get it.
I’m a geezer, so let me share the rest of my afflictions with you.
I also have atrial fibrillation, a nagging electrical malfunction that makes my heart beat like a fucked clock when I’m stressed. I’m stressed a lot lately, but they make pills for that.
Like all other American males over 60, I’m overweight. Not as much as I used to be, but enough to give coronavirus an unneeded advantage.
The virus could kill me four different ways or engage all my co-morbidities at once and just stomp the shit out of me.
I went to a record store and found John Prine’s first album when I was 15, a couple of days after hearing a redheaded girl singing “Hello in There” at a party where a lot of underage drinking was going on. Some guy played the piano, she had a great voice, and can still hear the way she delivered the killer line, “We lost Davy in the Korean War. I still don’t know for. Don’t matter anymore.” As if she was 50 years old instead of 15. I gasped at the sudden clarity and hard truth of it – a common reaction to John Prine lyrics, I would learn.
That song made a lot of us kids realize there was an old person inside, biding their time, just waiting to come out. Mine is writing this now, with my burning eyes.
I have that girl – wherever she is and whatever her name was – to thank for inclining my trajectory toward my lifelong mentor. I have John to thank for saving my life and sanity time and again in the years before diagnosed atypical depression and Prozac, when I was just another moody kid who thought about the Big Issues too much, with no perspective to draw any meaningful conclusions. That job fell to John, who explained the human condition for me and the other moody kids who grew up into slightly less moody, better medicated old men and women, waiting for someone to say “Hello in there. Hello.”
I am certain that I have a better understanding and more forgiveness in me than I would have had I not gone to that long-ago party. And I am certain I wouldn’t be suffering such a strong sense of loss at the death of a man I never got closer to than an orchestra seat while he played his guitar onstage, his right arm circling, fingers flying, picking out just the right notes from the distinctive, instinctive, three or four chords that rang through quiet bars and theaters where he performed.
I would not be as funny. I appropriated his humor, a hard thing not to do when you listened to his tunes the way I did: repeatedly, with headphones on, ignoring all else. I wouldn’t write as well. I studied his lyrics to try to learn how to hook words together to make them say more than they were designed to.
John’s been gone a little more than a week, now, taken by the God damned coronavirus. I haven’t been listening to any of his tunes yet, because I’m already self-quarantined against the foul pestilence alone in the apartment. I’m trying to keep busy, and I know listening to all those old songs would make me wind up on the floor watching the shadows cross the ceiling.
But I have been singing the words I can’t forget as they popped into my head. I whisper them softly, like a monk saying his rosary. Call me a John Prine Christian who trusts completely without any pretense of knowing it all, without faith or even full belief. Just trusting the Word of John, my own beloved apostle, taking comfort in the knowledge that he’s drinking vodka and ginger ale and still smoking on that cigarette that’s nine miles long.
LSU vs. Clemson in New Orleans for the College Football Playoffs National Championship kicks on January 13. Both teams are nicknamed “Tigers,” and both play in stadiums called “Death Valley.”
This has nothing to do with anything, but it’s a little bit interesting, isn’t it?
How they got to the championship game
Clemson beat Ohio State in a close, exciting, horribly officiated game and LSU beat the ever-loving snot out of Oklahoma, which the past two seasons has puked on its shoes in the playoffs and has yet to play a lick of defense. Hey, man, they lost to Kansas State. Let’s face it. The Big 12 just isn’t worth a damn, generally speaking.
Last year, there was only one week between the semifinals and the national championship game. I don’t know if this is some kind of TV scheduling thing, or if they realized that Clemson played Notre Dame, which would have finished fifth in the SEC and the ACC, so Dabo and his guys could spend about six weeks working on Alabama, whom they clobbered in the title game.
Alabama played Oklahoma, which was close to a real football team that had Kyler Murray at quarterback, so Bama had to spend a little time to watch some film on them.
I have no idea if the committee decided both teams should get a couple of weeks to get ready between the semis and finals so they could put on a better show in the finals, or if the committee even thinks about that kind of thing.
I still think it’s a good idea. And I really wish the NFL would push their playoffs back a week so that the college football national championship game could be played on Saturday, as God intended. It was super great last week when the semifinals were on Saturday. Those two games were The Show all day long. New Year’s Day was on a Wednesday, which turned out to be great, even if some poor bastards had to get up and go back to work on Thursday and Friday. For me, it was a lot of fun to wake up early, eat chicken wings for breakfast and watch football all day long lying on the couch in my bathrobe, which is what I do every Saturday during college football season because it’s the greatest thing in the world.
LSU’s Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy this season. If I had a time machine, I would go back to last year and place a prospect bet on that and LSU winning the national title, and I would be writing this from my new beach house. But he had a hell of a year in that offense that everybody’s talking about, which looks like it pretty much boils down to this: LSU sends one or more of its kick-ass receivers into the vicinity behind the linebackers and in front of the secondary, Joe throws them the ball and there they go.
If you attack at the line, Joe runs around and dodges all the tacklers and throws it to one of his guys who got open, or he gives it to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 1,200 yards and caught a bunch of passes and just generally wrought havoc on everybody who tried to tackle him. He’s 5-foot-8 and weighs 209 pounds, which is also great, because he’s one of those low-running guys so it’s hard to get low enough to grab a leg, and bigger defenders bounce off him like a pair of wadded-up socks off a rolling bowling ball.
Their defense has been none too impressive, but unlike the Big 12, they do tackle people eventually, usually after a long run or longer pass.
Clemson benefits from being in the ACC, which offers token resistance to the Tigers and to each other while the fan base spends football season putting together their wardrobe and planning road trips for basketball season.
When you are a good football team, and you are beating the wax out of your opponents, you leave the starters in for a while and work on the stuff you’re not very good at – like a scrimmage. So Clemson had 12 chances to do that (North Carolina played them a real football game) before they got to Ohio State.
They also benefited from Justin Fields being hurt and not able to run well enough to be a threat.
But Clemson’s defense did a good job on keeping the Buckeyes out of the end zone in the first half, when they were running up and down the field with abandon, and later in the game when they destroyed everything they tried to do.
Clemson’s got a good defense, which should make the LSU game interesting. They lead the nation in points allowed per game, which is hard to do even against ACC competition. And they did hold Ohio State when the chips were down.
They beat Virginia 62-17, and just shut the Wahoo offense down, which didn’t surprise anybody at the time. Virginia went on to to the Orange bowl and played Florida down to the ground in the Orange Bowl – Florida won 36-28. It means absolutely nothing, but Florida played LSU tough in Death Valley, losing 42-28, but LSU scored a cosmetic touchdown late in the game.
Clemson’s got a great quarterback who has the prettiest hair in American sports. When he goes pro after next season, he could make a fortune doing shampoo commercials. Trevor Lawrence is 6-foot-6, weighs about 220 pounds, has a howitzer on his shoulder and we found out last week against OSU that he can run like a bat out of hell. It was like watching Cam Newton if he had on a shoulder-length blonde wig, which sounds like something Cam would wear to a press conference if it ever occurred to him.
Here’s the thing about Trevor Lawrence. He will beat your ass. Clemson was behind OSU with three minutes left, Clemson had the ball. So Trevor shook back his flowing locks, put on his helmet and said “unh-hunh.” He took his down the field almost too fast, scoring a touchdown just under two minutes left. He’s 25-0 as a starting quarterback, which means either he’s due for a fall or maybe he’ll never lose again.
Running back Travis Etienne is from Louisiana, so of course, crazy LSU fans are sending him hate Tweets threatening to kill him and all things short of that. C’mon, guys. You have a hell of a starting running back from Louisiana – Baton Rouge, for crying out loud – and isn’t that enough? Maybe Travis, who gained 2,500 yards his senior year at Jennings High School was afraid that Clyde, who gained about 500, would beat him out, so he went to Clemson where he’d have a chance to start. Maybe he was the first to see Clyde’s boundless potential.
Anyhow, he’s strong and fast, and yeah, he only got 36 yards against Ohio State, but he was busy blocking and drawing fire for Trevor, who spent 17 plays running for 107 when he happily noted that before him lay huge swaths of green, green grass utterly devoid of Ohio State players.
It just feels weird.
It’s Saturday morning, New Year’s Day is still four days away, and the two college football games that render all other bowl games irrelevant are sucking all the air out of every stadium in the country except the Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, where the playoffs take place.
It’s a great life lesson for the the players forced to settle for the upcoming Rose, Cotton, Orange, Citrus, Fiesta, Camping World, Gator, Red Box, Sun, Citrus, Sugar and Birmingham bowls – and my favorite, the First Responder Bowl, which should be the best place to be if you get hurt.
The also rans can take comfort in the fact that they they just weren’t quite good enough. Now’s a good time to get used to it.
The boys on the teams that threw two interceptions that were run back for touchdowns, committed an unforced fumble at the 10, had a star quarterback come back from a high-ankle sprain only to break his hip on a meaningless play in a meaningless game, and those that played on a defense that didn’t tackle anybody are all assigned to bowl season purgatory.
Hanging out in hotel lobbies and game rooms, eating egg white omelets for breakfast, checking out the well-preserved, middle-aged women at the pool and hotel spa, eating lunch at the giant buffet featuring local cuisine prepared by chefs-in-training and trying to show up on time for the bus that’ll carry you to some to some strange high school field on the other side of some strange city so you can practice in helmets, shorts and shoulder pads in front of dad mom and dad, who are looking at the guy taking video with an iPad and wondering if he’s a scout for the Cincinnati Bengals desperate trying to find a guy to draft first instead of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. (Sadly, he’s not a scout. He’s an aging reporter for a newspaper trying to collect some some digital shit to put on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snapcat and all that bullshit in the desperate hope of providing relevant content for the youth of today, who are busy looking at parties at porn stars’ houses and gunfights at shopping malls, not football practices.)
Oklahoma plays No. 1 LSU this afternoon at 4 p.m. ET.Imagine a NASCAR race car smoking, shooting sparks, running with one tire off the rim and on fire caroming off the last few cars in the desperate race for the fourth and final slot in the College Football Playoff parking lot … nudging Baylor out of the way, flipping their Green Chevy Impala into an end over end crash ending when it hits the wall and stops dead. From corner of his eye, Sooner driver Jalen Hurts sees Auburn’s blue-and-orange Ford F350 lock its front right wheel with Alabama’s back right wheel causing the crimson Ferrari to explode into a roaring ball of flame while Nick Saban and staff ran for the exits to start recruiting. Then With the engine burning oil and water in the fuel, on intertia alone, Jalen Hurts gets out of the Sooner Red Dodge Challenger, pick it up and carry it to the final slot in the playoff field, where he flips it in the air and it lands standing on its nose.
Meanwhile, LSU, Ohio State and Clemson were already there, waiting, having driven their purple, red, and Dial-soap orange SUVs to the CFP lot, parallel parked perfectly, set up tailgate tables, and played cornhole while they waited for the No. 4 team to arrive.
OKLAHOMA vs. LSU
LSU keeps saying their defense is born again hard. I’ll believe it when I see it. I will say this, it’s been a month since they played so everybody should be healthier than they have been in a while.
Except old Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who’s my favorite player on this team of overachievers. Clyde’s got a tender hamstring, which is a funny injury. It comes and goes. Chances are he’ll play, but don’t know how effective he’ll be. He’s a hard guy not to like. He’s short, muscular, built like a bowling ball, runs low to the ground and when he’s coming at you, all you see is the top of his head and shoulder pads.
He’ll probably play a little, and they’ll use him as a decoy and stuff. They have three really good freshmen who all have different styles and could give Oklahoma’s defense some trouble.
Practically anything could give Oklahoma’s defense trouble. They aren’t real good. And before the game, coach Lincoln Riley kicked two of the best guys off the team. They must have been raising hell to get kicked slam damn off the team the week they play LSU.
It’s all gong to come down to QB play, and I’ll tell you what I think. Joe Burrow is a little bit better than Jalen Hurts, but mostly because he’s got a little bit more around him than Jalen does. Maybe a lot more. The lion has no weapon but himself, said Romantic Poet John Keats, and Jalen’s a lot like that. He is stronger than anybody on the field, he can fly, he throws a good ball when he he’s on. However, he does have a bad habit of throwing it to people in the wrong colored jerseies, and he”ll bolt and run a little before he should sometimes, but that’s not all bad, because his best play is when he goes back to pass and nobody is open.
Cee Dee Lamb is Oklahoma’s best receiver and he’s a beast. Big, tall, jumps, flies, goes up and gets it, breaks tackles, blocks for the other guys. He’s just something. Oh, and he comes from Opelousis, Louisiana, and he always wanted to play for LSU but they didn’t recruit him. Big damn mistake, which Ed Orgeron himself has admitted at every public opportunity.
But LSU has about four Cee Dees. They have a flock of big old fast guys with hands like dinner plates who can go up and get it, which they don’t need to do much, because Joe Burrow can say, “Which one is your favorite finger” and he’ll hit it with the ball from 40 yards away.
LSU ought to win. They have more weapons. But If Jalen goes absolutely wild and Cee Dee gets open a bunch and those fat guys with high numbers can help him just a little bit, he’s a bad enough man to win the son of a bitch by himself.
I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s sure worth watching to see if he does.
Ohio State vs. Clemson
Clemson coach Dabo Swinner reminds me a of a lot of people running for president these days. He just keeps giving the same speech over and over. Poor old Clemson can’t get any respect, we just stay down in our little town and all the boys work so hard and we go play everybody and beat the living daylights out of them and they won’t rans us No. 1 all year and then just give us the championship trophy and make the other three teams play for second.
I’m a little tired of it, but it seems to be working, so what are you going to do?
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has been talking a lot about his poor, old knee which just will NOT get well, and here he is all in the playoffs and playing those Clemsons, who are the best team he ever saw and Lord have mercy, what’s a boy to do?
He’s wearing a brace on the aggravated knee, which is sprained, which could mean a lot of things, but here’s the main thing: He has not missed a rep in practice because of it.
Yesterday he showed up with TWO braces, one a little bigger than the other, and refused comment on his knee but nodded when somebody hollered “you moving around all right?”
If he can’t run, Ohio State will have to find another way to beat them. If he is OK, he’ll be able to run and Ohio State will just beat them the regular way.
I have a feeling he’s OK.
And Dabo and Clemson are, too. Look, here’s the news. The ACC is awful. And while most college football teams schedule way too many cupcakes during the season so that they can work on their system against token resistance, Clemson gets to work on their system 13 times a year, including the championship game. So if they aren’t polished like a perfect, pink pearl by this time of the year, they have nobody to blame but themselves – and maybe Mack Brown, the old coach at North Carolina, who almost beat them.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has the prettiest hair of any football player in America, stands about 6-foot-6 and throws it very far and straight, usually to his intended receiver. What we don’t know is if he’s able to move around in the pocket, because he hasn’t really had to, Like, in his life.
Alabama couldn’t get through his offensive line last year in the title game and he stood back there and sliced up the Tide secondary like a sous-chef in the gumbo line at Commander’s Palace. Here’s a guess that Chase Young might bust through there a couple of times and allow Trevor to demonstrate his scampering skills.
That’s the first sentence of Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide note. The man could really write a lede.
The rest of the note was uncharacteristically not very good, which goes to show what happens when writers hit the wall. It reminds me of what Jack Nicklaus said in his late 70s about his golf game. He said he could turn in a great round anytime, but he couldn’t do four in a row anymore.
You can’t get by writing one good sentence followed by a few shitty ones and then another good one. They’ve all got to work together, like a good offensive line. Write like a nickel, not five pennies. Three metaphors already. Close to my quota.
This is Army Navy weekend. The only college game on the air. It’s very patriotic. Every player on the field and all the kids in both student sections are willing to die to defend us – and foreign oil fields in a country that sent a guy over here to train at the Navy base in Pensacola. He got a hunting license, which enabled him, as a foreign visitor, to buy a 17 shot, 9 mm Glock 45. The news is, he got mad because one of his instructors nicknamed him “porn stash” because he had a mustache that resembled one that might be worn by a pornographic actor. He also resembled Pablo Schreiber, who played a prison guard with the same nickname in the Netflix comedy-drama about a women’s prison called “Orange is the new Black.”
The gunman, Mohammed Alshamrani, lacked the necessary acculturation to understand American humor and was clearly an easily threatened paranoid narcissist who had no business being in or around the military, ours or that of his own country, which floats on a sea of oil. I guess we should be thankful that he at least tipped his hand as a murdering psycho before learning how to operate an F/A 18F Super Hornet. Saudi Arabian lunatics flying airplanes really make me uneasy.
Among the slain was Joshua Kaleb Watson, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy and a native of Enterprise, Alabama, which is right down the road from where I live. He was standing guard duty when he was shot, but before he died, he told security where the shooter was.
Cameron Waters, from Effingham, Georgia, was a cheerful, positive guy who always hyped up the people around him to do the best they could, a former commander said. A leader from within.
The third victim was named Mohammad Sameh Haithem, the son of 20-year Navy veteran Evelyn Brady. He probably could have helped Alshamrani with his self-esteem problems if he’d come to talk instead of shoot. Haithem was a track star at his high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he stuck up for a freshman classmate who was being bullied by his teammates. Haithem talked to the bullies, and that was that.
He died shielding others from the gunfire.
Go Navy. Go Army. Everybody play your best.
Oklahoma vs. Baylor, noon, ABC
Since Utah puked on its shoes and got stomped by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, it looks like this one could be for the fourth spot in the playoffs. LSU needs to beat Georgia pretty good, and it’ll open up for the winner of this game.
The last time these two teams played, Oklahoma helped Baylor to a 25-point, second-half lead by committing two turnovers that led to two touchdowns, a scenario that will give broken-hearted Alabama fans a frisson of foul memory after last week’s Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide’s former quarterback, Jalen Hurts, led a furious second-half comeback, and the Sooners had a field-goal kicker who could make a field goal, so they won a thriller 34-31 to hand the Bears their only loss. The Sooners had dropsy again and lost three turnovers the next week and squeaked out a 28-24 win over TCU. Then the next week, their rival Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy had a press conference, and with his mullet and spit flying, declared the Oklahoma offense a glorified wishbone – as if that was an insult, because the wishbone will kick your ass if you aren’t careful. So Hurts went out and ran for 160 and threw for 160 hitting 13-0f-16 to eight different receivers that included himself against token resistance and beat Gundy like he stole something, 34-16.
Unlike everybody else in the league, Baylor does have a defense, but Oklahoma has Jalen Hurts. I like Jalen. Again.
Georgia vs. LSU, 4 p.m., CBS
Not many people are giving Georgia a chance. But I still believe that anybody with a good defense has a chance. Georgia’s offense is sketchy at best, but LSU’s defense is a cruel joke.
LSU is probably in the playoffs unless they lose really bad. I don’t think Georgia can beat them really bad – if they do it’ll be because somebody missed an extra point or fell down covering a punt or something. Georgia’s got a bunch of injuries, but the one that matters is receiver Lawrence Cager, who is the big dog. The Dawgs are a different team with him in the game, which means they’re a hell of a different team when he’s not, and not in a good way. Devonte Wyatt is nicked up – he’s the other slightly smaller big dog. Without them, Jake Fromm is a really ordinary quarterback. Running back D’Andre Swift is also dinged up, and if he’s not able to do much, then Georgia effectively has no offense, a thing ordinarily required to win a football game.
If LSU wins, it’ll probably win big enough to get Oklahoma in the top four and play them in the first round, which may be a big mistake.
Clemson vs. Virginia, 7:30, ABC
Oh, Dabo. Please stop whining. This week he said we’d all missed out on a “beautiful football team” because nobody gave them any respect and blah, blah, blah.
Look, basically, Clemson has 12 light scrimmages from August to December and is far enough ahead by the third quarter of every game to work on all the things they need to work on to get better. With this schedule, Clemson should be Playstation 5 set to “juggernaut” by now.
Virginia is an exciting little team, and I like their quarterback. I hope they enjoy their trip to the Orange Bowl after Clemson cleans their clock.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, 8 p.m., FOX
This is the best chance for a competitive game, and it’s not real good. Wisconsin has a plain, old team that plays big boy football. They block, run unspectacularly but efficiently; if the quarterback throws it, and it’s close enough to the receiver, he’ll probably catch it. The defense is solid, everybody looks like they know what they’re doing and they all face the same way when they line up.
Ohio State will probably murder them.