Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 20 (Ambrose Bierce)

Bierce, Ambrose
The Devil's Dictionary

I have great memories about the day I purchased this book. Thanks to my friend Paul, who I called to verify a few things, I can pinpoint the exact date that I purchased it: June 11, 1997.

Baseball fans will recall that the previous October the New York Yankees had won the World Series for the first time since 1978. I had been a baseball fan as a kid, but had more or less lost interest in sports after I got to college because I was too busy reading books to care all that much. When the Yankees were in the series in 1996, I did not pay much attention at first. But as the series progressed I kept finding myself at parties or at bars filled with people glued to the TV. After about 3 games, I too was glued.

It wasn't long after that that my father died. When I was a kid we used to bet a dollar on the World Series each year. The most intense years were the 1977, '78 and '81 World Series, all of which were between the Dodgers and the Yankees. My father was from Brooklyn and the Dodger name was never mentioned in our house because they had moved to Los Angeles. In each of these series, I bet on the (L.A.) Dodgers and he held his nose and bet on the Yankees.He won two out of three of our bets. After he died, becoming a baseball fan felt like a means to reconnect with that. Being that I lived in New York, it was only natural that I became a Yankees fan. (Who likes the Mets, anyway?)

So, June 11, 1997, the Yankees played the White Sox. Kenny Rogers pitched for the Yankees and Doug Drabek pitched for the White Sox. My friend Paul had tickets and we decided to meet at the game. The ride from 14th St. to 161st St. takes about 30 minutes, so I decided to stop at a bookstore to buy something to read on the way to the game. I think I bought this at 7th street books. The game itself was pretty exciting. Kenny Rogers got gave up five runs and got taken out of the game, but the Yankees eventually came back to win 7-5. 

(Here's the box score from Basebell Reference, in case you are interested).

This was the first live sporting event of any kind that I had attended in at least 5 years, probably longer. I was not prepared for the sensory assault from the sound system and the jumbo-tron between innings. They kept playing this weird techno-bluegrass number called Cotton-Eyed Joe at about 125 decibels. On the jumbo-tron played a video of all these people in the stands (I can't recall if it was live or recorded) who seemed to think this was about the greatest thing they had ever heard. They were all linking arms and dancing in the aisles and singing along with Cotton-Eyed Joe, himself portrayed by some crazed looking guy in a Huck Finn straw hat.

In front of us (we sat well down the first base line in the right field, about ten rows in) sat a very fat man wearing a black concert t-shirt for some heavy metal band. I couldn't see the front, but the back, in huge letters, said:


In between innings I read entries from The Devil's Dictionary aloud to Paul, who seemed equal parts amused to be paying attention to something other than Cotton-Eyed Joe between innings and annoyed that someone could have the gaul to read a book during a baseball game. 

That day began what has become a decade long obsession with the Yankees. When I moved to Buffalo, my roommate ordered and paid for cable TV, despite my objections. I hadn't used a television for anything but movie rentals for years. I soon discovered that cable TV included MSG and Yankees baseball and proceeded to watch just about every game in the 1998-1999 seasons. Kind of sad. For what it's worth, I watched both David Wells' and David Cone's perfect games live, which was pretty thrilling.

Here are a couple of entries from The Devil's Dictionary. Ambrose Bierce was a bitter, bitterly funny man:

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Kiss, n. A word invented by poets as a rhyme for 'bliss.'

Koran, n. A book which the Mahometans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.


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