Corduroy

I was born in February of 1976, and so the vast majority of my earliest memories take place not in the 1970s, as I normally like to imagine they did, but in the 1980s.

When people think of the 1980s, they think of skinny ties and yuppies and cocaine and loud colors and sleek lines. A decade of decadence and excess, of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran and New Order. But that is not how I remember my childhood. My memories are not false, I just didn’t experience those 1980s, I experienced the lingering years of the 70s. I wore hand-me-down corduroys, passed down from my oldest cousin to my next oldest cousin to me. On the weekends we went hiking in the bleak hills of southern Ohio, and we took one vacation a year, up to the Becker family cottages on little Lake Brevort in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We ate hot dogs cooked over an open fire, and played in the shallows of that rocky shorelined lake, as my parents drank beer and decided which night would be best to go into town for our one dinner in a restaurant.

By the middle or late 80s, of course, my little family had caught up with the times. Dad traded in his old three geared tank of a bike for a brand new lightweight road bike. My sister and I listened to Michael Jackson and George Michael and Bon Jovi and the Bangles. We bought a new car, trading in my mother’s bright orange Chevette for a perfectly normal, suburban 1985 station wagon. I wore Guess and Girbuad and played Nintendo.

But still, until 1984 or so, my family lived the lifestyle that most people equate with late 1970s America. Times were hard, money was short, so you made do, and made the best, and did what they did in the 1970s and found joy and hope in the out of doors and in hot meals and Friday nights at home, eating milkshakes from the United Dairy Farmers, looking forward to that one summer vacation, mom pinching pennies and saving money in a Christmas account at the local Savings and Loan.

All of this is to say that decades bleed into decades, eras into eras, one long stream of time. When the calendar turns over to a new year, or a new decade, or a new century, it feels like a hard stop, a line in the sand that we have crossed over into someplace new, and different. It feels that way, but it’s not true. The calendar we have created over the years does not govern time, or eras, it simply counts the days, it is up to us to govern our time, to decide what kind of place we will live in.

People might say “cricket in the 70s” and a picture will form in your head. But that image in your head might actually be of something that happened five years after they turned the calendar over to the new decade.

The infamous underarm incident screams 1970s, from the uniforms to the haircuts to the people in the crowd. Yet, that event took place in 1981.

Time is time. There are eras, but they are not defined by years and decades, they are defined by us.

Right now, in this time, it feels like we have, for once, reached a point where there will be a before, and an after. When we do emerge from this, the world is going to be a very different place, even if a vaccine or treatment is found. And this new normal will not just affect how we grocery shop or work, but also our leisure time, our sport. Anyone who watched the Bundesliga yesterday received a touch of what sport, including cricket, will look like for the foreseeable future: quiet, full of echoes, the same but also somehow so alien it was hard to watch.

Now that one league in one sport has put their collective big toe into the post-virus waters, fans of other sports can start to picture what they will look like. As a cricket fan, this might be just a little bit easier. We’ve all watched lifeless Test matches on Monday mornings of a dead rubber series, where the grounds are silent and all you can hear is the shouts of the players. But even so, we are not prepared for what cricket will look like on the other side of this. All the stadiums will be empty, tours might become less frequent or end altogether, the domestic game might rise to the top, as players prefer to stay close to home. And the grounds, all the grounds, on all the days, in all the formats, will be a Monday morning Test match. It is hard to picture, but it is getting easier, which in the end is providing us with a little certainty in a very uncertain time. At least, after yesterday’s Bundesliga matches, we know a little bit what sport what look like when we all get to go outside again. And the answer is simply: very, very different.

And this is a hard line in the sand, we tell ourselves. There is cricket before, and there will be cricket after. Pews in the same church but separated by oceans of time and tragedy. There is 70s cricket, and there is 80s cricket, Geoffrey Boycott in the former, Malcom Marshall in the latter. But Boycott made his Test debut in the 60s, and played his last Test in the 80s. And Marshall made his Test debut in the 70s and played his last Test in the 90s. Players bridge decades, styles of play bridge decades, the fashion on the field bridges decades. There are eras, but they are not defined by calendars, nor are they defined by events. Time is time, bleeding into one.

Cricket will be different when it returns, but it will also be the same. In fact, it will be more the same than different. Some players won’t return, but most will. And the formats we know will still be there, and the grounds we love, even if they are empty of fans for the first couple of years. Pitches will still swing, Lords will still have a slope, England will still struggle in Asia. If we list the similarities rather than the differences, we see that in the end, it will be same old cricket, for good or for bad. Time, quite simply, marches on. It has not stopped. It has not drawn a line in the sand. The cricket before will always be not just tenuously linked to the cricket after, but unequivocally connected, joined at the hip.

The same game.

20 years from now, someone will ask you to picture cricket before the virus. And an image will form in your head. It could be of the 2019 World Cup, or it could be from the 2023 World Cup, it will be hard to tell at first. You will need to think about it. For all time and all memory blends into one single memory, one single era. When I picture my childhood, I picture 70s grey, recession America. Even though that is not the America I grew up in.

And the same will hold true for all that came before, and all that comes after. External forces do not govern change, only we can do that, many years down the road. It’s a job for historians. Our job is to live and create and define this world, this time, we are given. Cricket won’t be exactly the same, but it will be close, and over time those lines we thought we saw in the sand will blur and shift until at some point when we don’t even notice it happening, disappear altogether. The sand just stardust, lost in the winds of time and memory.

There is, I think, hope in that.

Trafalgar to Lord’s to Us

I’ve spent quarantine reading books about war. For the most, in the normal times, I am a fiction reader through and through. But over the years I have collected several non-fiction books that cover famous conflicts or regiments or battles, from the US Civil War to the Russian invasion of Finland. I have found them to be a nice distraction right now. Sure, there might be a global pandemic, but at least I am not frostbitten and staring down a dozen Soviet tanks on a frozen lake somewhere above the arctic circle.

One of the books I read and enjoyed was Roy Adkins on the battle of Trafalgar, the great sea battle that was also, probably, England’s most famous maritime victory.

The battle took place in October of 1805 and lasted about five hours. The ships were wooden sailing ships, firing cannon. The sailors lived on weevil infested bread and were given rations of rum and beer because the water on board was undrinkable. The officers were men of class and distinction, mostly third or fourth sons of landowners who had no hope of a large inheritance. It was a battle from a different time, a different age, fought with weapons long since made obsolete. A time of pirates, and men climbing masts to seek out enemies, of blockades and hard, short lives.

When the news of the victory finally reached England — nine days after the last cannon was fired — Admiral Nelson, who was killed in the fighting, was hailed as the greatest English war hero ever known. No matter who you were, or what you believed, everyone mourned the loss of the great sea captain, and the loss tainted the great victory. Reading the pages of the reaction to the death of Nelson was the most extraordinary part of the book. The world has moved on from a time when we come together truly as one to celebrate one person. Those days are gone. We now live in a world where even pandemics are politicized.

When I would visit London, I would also stay in a quiet little hotel right off Trafalgar square. I knew it was in honor of a great British naval victory, but I never knew how great, how significant. Fought by men — and women — who lived on horrible salt pork for months and months, their teeth falling out from scurvy, their tall wooden ships taking broadsides of 40 enemy cannon not three feet from their decks, the wounded being dragged down for surgery, where limbs were amputated in a blood soaked cabin without anesthesia, the operating table lit by candles.

In every way possible, the battle of Trafalgar was the battle of an age long since lost from the earth. Centuries in the past. A world made of wood and bravery.

**

The last British survivor of Trafalgar to die was a man named Joseph Sutherland, who passed away in 1890.

The first Test cricket match was played in 1877, thirteen years before Joseph Sutherland’s death. And so a man — probably many men, and women — who fought at the now ancient battle of Trafalgar lived in the age of Test cricket. Test cricket, the same game we know now, in our modern age. A game, a format, which has seen an unbroken string of matches, reaching the benchmark of 2,000 Tests in July of 2011. 206 of years after Trafalgar. 121 years after the death of the last British survivor. And, yet, somehow, connected.

All things in life exist on one single timeline, including Test cricket. There are times in Test cricket’s history where it feels like the timeline was stopped, and the game moved to a new, different timeline. But that’s not the case. It is just one timeline, careening through the years. From Melbourne in 1877, to Lord’s in 2011, all connected via time to the years and events that existed before and after it. All of it, all of us, hurtling through space together. We look back at time stretched out behind us, and it’s not a tumbled mess of different roads, but one single road, leading us to where we are.

There are times in our own lives when our timeline felt like it was disrupted, wrecked, and we were moved to a different, sometimes darker, road. This is called mourning, this is called grief, this is called pain. And we get over that grief by connecting the time before the disruption to the time after, and come to understand that we have traveled, and continue to travel, on one single highway through this desert.

Right now, all of us are feeling as though our lives have been disrupted, irrevocably changed. And that is true, we cannot argue that. But they are still our lives, we are still moving forward, all we can do is live the best lives we can with the times given to us. This is our life, our timeline, and it is but one series of events, of years, of time. It is not several. We have not moved onto to a different existence, we are still who we were. Everything is connected. Life moves forward. From those wooden ships off the coast of Spain, to today, right now, it is a consistent, unchanged road of time. And Test cricket is the proof of this. 2,000 matches. Stretching back into a time where people who served on those ships still walked the earth. We put the game into different eras, marked by different times, but we put all 2,000 matches on the same plane of existence, the same timeline.

If we can afford ourselves the same kindness, then we will come out of this not to a different life, but to our same life, our same selves, mourning not a world lost, but days gone by, like we would do anyway.

There’s scene in the 90s film Dazed and Confused:

“All I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place.”

And that is all we can do. Our lives are just our lives. We just need to live them the best we can, no matter what the times we live in look like, because they are the only times we have, the only timeline given to us is the one we are on.

Joseph Sutherland fought on the HMS Beaulieu, in a time of muzzle loaded rifles and scurvy, but he also lived in a time of Test cricket, a game we all love and follow on smartphones. We lived in a time before COVID-19, and — god willing — we will live in a time after COVID-19. It will be the same world. We will be the same people. All we can do is the best we can, so we look back not on a wrecked timeline, but the same timeline, our same timeline, our same highway.

There are no disruptions to time. There is only time, and its passing.

 

Shared experiences

In the 13 years that I have been following cricket, I have experienced four World Cup finals. Two of those — 2007 and 2019 — I watched in a bar with other cricket fans. But two of them I watched alone, in my old house, on my laptop, in the middle of the night.

Of course, I wasn’t alone. I had Twitter. I was watching the matches by myself, but I was also chatting about the games with people all over the world, sharing moments together with the millions of other people watching on every corner of the globe. When you think about it, that’s really remarkable. And that is the time we live in now, the time of the shared experience. When we can be completely alone, but still connected, still a part of the moment.

*
I grew up in an analog era. We didn’t have cable television or the internet or a home computer. I didn’t experience computers at school until I was 13 or 14. I didn’t have an email address until I went to college, and didn’t use the internet until I was in my early 20s. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 25. I didn’t get a smart phone until I was in my mid-30s. My life, now, of course, is a digital one, in almost every way. But I grew up in a house with a record player — not because it was trendy, but because that was how you listened to music. I grew up on terrestrial radio and terrestrial TV, when you had four channels and that was that. In college, for more than two years, I lived alone without a computer or a television. And there was a time when I didn’t even have a landline telephone. I was cut off from the entire world for large swaths of time. And I was not unique. This was just how people lived, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

Now, we are connected. All of us. For good or for bad, that’s our reality. These connections, this shrinking of the planet, has allowed for a period of self isolation that still contains interaction with the external world. People still gather together to share experiences, they just do it alone, in their homes, with only their closest loved ones. I can’t imagine what it would hav been like to have been quarantined in the time before these digital connections, in the time when I lived alone, without a lifeline or a landline. If we have to live through this surreal and scary time, at least we are doing it more or less together, even if that togetherness means Zoom calls and remote film watching parties.

**

Monday is an anniversary of sorts in my life. I am not sure how best to describe, but basically May 4, 2018 was the last time I felt okay. I went to Moscow on the Hill, a Russian bar in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, and sat on the patio and drank beers after work. Then I biked home by Lake Como and up to my old house in Roseville. I think about that happy hour a lot, and that bike ride too, and I try to put myself in my own shoes, and I am unable to do so. I don’t remember what is like to not feel sad, to not feel wretched and awful. All I remember is the last time I didn’t feel that way.

The weather was just like it has been all weekend here in St. Paul. Sun, warm, blue skies. Spring in the north. There are few things better on earth. But now all it does is remind of the before times, back when I was okay. Spring used to be a time of rebirth, of coming back. Not any more. Maybe not ever again.

Right now, though, we are all struggling. All of us. The whole world. All at the same time. We are all anxious, and worried, and facing an uncertain and difficult future. Things feel really dark. Even if we come out of this okay, healthy, the world will be forever changed, and that can be so sad to think about — all that is lost, all that will never come back. Already our favorite bars and restaurants and closing forever. Muddy Waters in Minneapolis just announced that they were closing for good last night. I used to go there back when it was just a coffeeshop on 24th and Lyndale. I would drink a mug of milky coffee and smoke American Spirits. And now it’s gone. Another victim of this awful virus that’s infecting all of us, everything, no matter if we get sick or not.

Everyone is sad, everyone is depressed, everyone is feeling wretched and tired and terrible. Everyone just wants to turn off the world, and their brains, and stay in bed. And we are doing it all together. It is the greatest shared experience of all time.

But I feel like I am outside it. Like this sharing of troubles has taken away the one thing I could call my own, my depression. There’s no other way to really say it, everyone is struggling, but I feel like I can’t talk about how hard a time I am having, because everyone is having a hard time. All the virus does is take, and it has stripped me of the last crutch I had. Now I am not alone, and all I want to be is alone. Welcome to the interior monologue of the depressed soul, where logic takes a back seat, and emotion is driving, and they never trade off.

There’s a Mount Eerie song where he sings about being in the hospital waiting room as his wife lay dying down the hall. The room is full of people experiencing the exact same thing, but he is alone, they can’t understand his grief. No one can. He is alone in how terrible he feels, only he can feel as terrible as he does.

I wrote about this before. A long time ago. In the before times. How when my father died I felt so terrible that I knew no one else could feel what I was feeling, how the world would be a dark, desolate place, if even one other person felt as wretched as I did in that moment. I thought this, I believed this, even though I was in a room full of people grieving the loss of the same person I was.

In my mind, as I am sitting at the kitchen table on random afternoons, I feel myself start to spiral down to the hard places. There is a comfort there, in those places, they are places I have built for myself, that I know well, even if they are unpleasant, they are familiar. But then I catch myself, and remember the whole world is struggling, and cannot help but grieve the loss of the loneliness I would feel in those dark moments. My days used to be sad and occasionally unbearable, but at least they were mine. Now even that is gone, and I feel as though I am just drifting in space. I want to feel bad, but I can’t, because everyone is feeling bad, and so I feel worse.

Jonathon Trott went public with his depression and anxiety in a time before I felt the way I feel now. At the time, I considered it brave, I considered it courageous. He wasn’t just helping himself, he was helping others who also were suffering alone, reminding them that everything could be okay again, if they just asked for help. I still think he is incredibly brave, but I also see a selfish side now. This is unfair but, again, I am not thinking logically. Selfish because he wanted the world to know how hard a time he was having, because they didn’t know before, probably never even guessed at it, but he was struggling, and they needed to know. The whole world needed to know, not because it made him feel better, but because it made him feel worse, it carved out a deep, dark place that he could call his own, and everyone could feel terribly about how terribly he was feeling.

That is unfair. And I am putting my thought processes on to a person who doesn’t deserve it. He is brave, he is a hero. But the mind works as the mind works. And I can’t help but hate him a little, for taking away something that was mine, and making it a less mine.

And now the whole world has done the same thing. My depression was my depression, my cross, my sadness. And now it’s everyone’s, and not mine at all. Shared experiences are supposed to bring comfort, and now they are taking it away.

##

I will get better though. I know that now. I didn’t know it before, but I know it now. And the world will get better, and we will get to go outside again. And we will share moments with our fellow humans outside of our computers and smart phones, and the moments we do share digitally will be moments that have nothing to do with pandemics, or lock downs, or shut downs, or quarantines. And one day I will be part of that world again, part of any world. I have felt outside of life for so long, and now I am drifting back toward it. This pandemic has taught me that I am not alone. And right now that only serves to make me feel cheated of the one thing I had: my loneliness. But there will come a time when I will take comfort in that notion instead, when I remember that there was a time when the whole world felt sad, and that time, like all things, passed.

We will be okay again. I will be okay again. We will get there together. Whether I like it or not. Right now I don’t want to get better, because my depression feels like all that I have to hang onto, the only thing that defines me as a human. Someday I will feel better though, and I will look out a the world, at all of those people who felt the same way, and look at them now, stars on fire with the joy of the world.

 

 

 

Seaweed and Indiana sawgrass

“Pale Green Things” is the closing track to the Mountain Goats’ classic record The Sunset Tree. The album tells the story of the band leader’s youth spent with an abusive step father. In the closing track, he tells the story of when he learned of his step father’s death, but instead of remembering all the abuse and cruelty, he instead remembers a rare moment of tenderness shared between the two, a trip to a race track on a Saturday morning, driving with the windows down, parking by the paddock, his stepfather already old, already sick, leaning on a fence in the dawn with a stopwatch and a racing form.

It’s probably one of the saddest songs ever written.

When we lose, when we are faced with loss, we remember not the horror or the fear or the dread or even the boredom, we remember quiet moments when everything seemed okay, and those moments cover over everything else. It’s almost a defense mechanism, designed to protect us from the darkest places in times of grief.

Right now we are all facing loss, and our brains are all performing these mental gymnastics. We remember not the grind of daily life before the virus, but instead the joy of going to the office, seeing friends, attending family get togethers that in reality were something you dreaded. We look through our rose colored glasses back on a world now gone and see only happiness and contentment, when in reality life before this was equally as difficult at times. Just in a different way. I think, in the end, this might be a good thing.

I have often heard that the best season of Saturday Night Live is the first season you were allowed to stay up and watch it. I don’t like the NHL, but I will watch the Stanley Cup Finals if the two teams involved existed when I was young. We are constantly reaching back to a time before the now, a remembrance of things past, in order to feel grounded in our now — our sad, hard now. We do this all the time. We did it all the time. Even before this all started. Our lives are a series of consequences, a series of left turns or right turns that bring us to where we are right now. In some ways, that is a miracle. All the little moments of decision — sometimes our choices, sometimes choices outside our influence — lead us without fail, without stumble, to this moment, right now, sitting in the sun on the porch of my apartment, writing this on my laptop.

But there is another side to that coin. A sad side. A hard side. A side that more or less, I think, defines us as humans. A side that mourns that which never was, because we turned left, or right, one random Tuesday morning. We mourn all that has passed in reality, and all that has passed that could have been, that never can be now, that is lost, but also never was to begin with. And with that, we also grieve for the future that could have been, if the present were somehow different.

When we look back, we grieve, because when we look back, all we see is hope. Hope that a stepdad might be slowly cooling from the monster he was. Hope for a future that never turned out the way we would have wanted. Hope for a childhood not marred by loss, for a life not marred by loss.

Right now all we have is loss. A loss of concerts and trips already cancelled, a loss of friends and loved ones. A loss of a future that makes sense, that feels certain, and in that lack of certainty we are also grieving for all that was to be, which is now gone. And that last one wraps of up everything together in a grim, sad box: we mourn for the now, we mourn for the before, and we mourn for a limitless future, unbound by consequence, unbound by decision, more so than it ever was before. We are stuck, not making any turns, right or left, and so all that could have been — not some, but all — is gone.

When my father died, I mourned for years not what I had lost, but what I had potentially lost. I mourned for being an adult and not having a relationship with my dad. For not having him there to help me, guide me, mentor me. And when I do think back on the 13 years I did have with him — while I do, now, think of the hard times, for the first 20 years without him I did not — I thought of those days gone by in the backyard, learning to throw a baseball on a summer’s morning in middle of nowhere Ohio, lost in the haze and mist of Reagan’s America.

And when my stepfather dies, a man whom I have never liked or gotten along with, I will think not of the abuse, or the anger, or the cruelty, but of a cross country meet of mine that he attended when I was in high school. He came alone, without my mother, and brought his ancient camera bag, and took pictures. It was a sunny fall day, warm for September, life stretched out endlessly both of us. I was young. But so was he. Now we are all old. all dying, and already starting to grief those which we haven’t even lost yet.

On the drive to the hospital with the neighbor from next door on the morning my father died, I looked out the window and realized that everything I saw would make me sad if he died. And I was right. I was grieving in advance, even before he died. And that is what we are doing now, in so many ways, grieving all that is lost, even the things that are still here.

A month ago I was looking out my kitchen window into the alley behind the bakery next door. The world was on fire. People were dying in the hallways of Rome hospitals. A rabbit ran through the alley, lost in the late afternoon shadow cast by the buildings. But when it entered a low sunbeam let in through the cracks, it paused, it sat, I saw it breathing, closing its eyes, bathing in the light, the heat. A moment of quiet, of peace, in a world gone mad with grief and anxiety. It sat there for five, maybe six, seconds, and then it moved on, through the alley, under the fence, slipping away into the wild of a backyard. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Two days later I was at the grocery store. People were panicking. The stay at home order was coming. They were loading up carts full of beans and flour and soup and dry pasta. Myself included. There was a woman in front of me in line, with the saddest eyes I have ever seen, and she was just buying a pint of ice cream and a small, potted succulent. I think about her all the time. I hope she is doing okay.

These are the two moments getting me through this. They both crack my heart open in ways I cannot fully understand, but in a way that I cannot help but take solace in. They were life, regular life, and I am clinging to them. Small moments, made large, in a time of grief, of madness, like a trip to the race track on a Saturday morning, pre-dawn, or a cross country meeting on a sunny autumn windless early evening.

If you are reading this, you, like me, are probably grieving the loss of cricket, and more than likely the loss of all sport, even more so after the announcement this week that professional cricket won’t return to England until at least July 1, and even that is a bit overly optimistic in all likelihood. We are grieving all that should have been, all that should be now, and all that was to come. But we are also grieving the past, what we had, and now feels lost. Moments that could have turned out differently, if only the ball had bounced just a little bit higher, creating a future never realized, which became a past never experienced.

But we are also grieving a lived reality. A reality where there was cricket, and cold beer, and warm grass. Those days when you settle in and the cricket is on, and there is so much more to come. I think about mornings here in the states when England are playing a Test match. The first ball, barring any rain, is at 5am on my watch. I have always been an early riser, so this doesn’t bother me. I wake up and make coffee and put the match on and watch the cricket until the lunch break, before showering and heading to the office, where I listen to the game on headphones. I love every minute of a Test match, but those first two hours, when it’s still morning in England, and the ground is quiet, and the day is full of limitless potential, those are my favorite minutes.

I miss that. I miss it so much. Even though England would be a month away from their first Test match of the summer, if this was just a regular summer. And I worry on top of all that missing that it might not ever come back. And so I miss the cricket that hasn’t even been lost yet.

But, looking back, I also miss the tedium. Those long spells when nothing much at all would happen. At the time, I will admit, I would grow a little bored, a little sleepy, especially if the games were in Asia or Australia and it was the middle of the night here. Stretches of 24 overs that see 15 runs. Dot ball, after dot ball, after dot ball, the heat and the haze beating down onto an empty, quiet, stadium, the shouts of the players echoing around the ground. At the time, I was bored, but right now, that sounds like paradise.

And maybe that’s the gift of all of this. It is forcing us to mourn for things that will, someday, come back; forcing us to mourn for what was lost that we never expected to lose, thereby giving everything in our lives — all the stress, all the sadness, all the tedium — a rose colored glow.

We are all rabbits in sunbeams, and we are here forever.

***

My sister called at three a.m.
Just last December.
She told me how you’d died at last, at last
And that morning at the race track was the one thing I remembered.

Wisden and the coronavirus

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were 19 years ago. I was 25 years old, working at a toy company in downtown Minneapolis. Cricket not even a glint in my eye. I saw the towers fall from a bar on the ground floor of my office building which had opened up early so people could watch the TVs. It was surreal. All I could think about was how everything was going to change forever. I was, of course, sadly, right.

A few days after the attacks, a friend and I were emailing. Her reaction has stuck with me: she said she couldn’t stop thinking about all of the stuff in the buildings. Desks and chairs and paper and briefcases and knick knacks and phones and filing cabinets and on and on the list would go. Acres of everything. Now dust, rubble, particles in the lungs of first responders. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about all of that stuff, and how odd it was that it was all just … gone.

**

My copy of the 2020 Wisden Almanack arrived last week. I am ashamed to admit that it’s my first ever copy of the venerable bible of cricket. I always just assumed that they wouldn’t bother shipping to the states, so I never even tried to order one. But as I had nothing better to do a couple weeks back, I went on the Bloomsbury website and ordered it and paid my ten quid for international shipping — a steal of a deal when you think about it — and a few days later, there it was.

It is, as you know, an impressive volume. Heavy enough to press tofu with, despite it’s thin pages, and packed to the gunwales with all things cricket in 2019. Scores and match recaps and essays and “best of” lists, from England to the rest of the world. 1,500+ pages of cricket. It’s a reminder of how much cricket there is in a given year. Not just the men’s international game but the women’s game and domestic cricket and backyard cricket and it’s an almost endless parade of the sport.

And this is just one year. There are 156 more volumes just like it. The game is an army of locomotives, steaming through the years, a ceaseless cavalcade of overs, and deliveries, and fours, and sixes, and dot balls, and singles, and catches at first slip, second slip, boundary rope, silly point.

Until. All of a sudden. It wasn’t there. All of it. All at once. A screeching halt to what just a few weeks ago felt endless. And here we still are, in all of this silence. And it’s not just cricket. It’s all sport. And it’s restaurants and airports and shopping malls and dentist offices and so much more. All of it gone quiet. The world has settled down, taken a deep breath, and gone silent.

Like my friend who couldn’t stop thinking about all of that stuff in the World Trade Center, I can’t stop thinking about all of that cricket, cricket now gone dark. I read this year’s Wisden and try to imagine a world — a world I currently reside in — without all that I am reading about. And I cannot. I read and try to imagine what next year’s volume will look like, and I cannot. How could so much just … stop? It doesn’t seem possible. But it has. 2020 has already lost almost one full quarter’s worth of cricket, and if it loses less than three quarters I will be shocked, which means next year’s book will contain that much fewer cricket. 75%. Vanished. Just like that. Poof. Gone forever. Never to return.

It’s surreal. And even if it does someday come back, the moments we lost never will. I am typing this out on my porch in the afternoon sun. It feels like a normal day. Traffic is lighter on the street out front but nothing I would have noticed if not for everything that’s going on. The 2020 Wisden is on the table next to me. I keep glancing to the cover. Jos Buttler knocking the bails off in the long shadows at Lord’s that afternoon last summer that feels like a million years ago now. What if we lost that moment instead? What if we had lost all of the 2019 cricket? Gone, vanished from the earth, like it never happened, because it never did, the book on my table suddenly fiction. That’s what is happening right now, to all of us, to all of those moments, in cricket, in life, everyone, everywhere, everything. All of life gone quiet, stopped, a brick wall ceasing all forward motion.

I can’t stop thinking about all of those overs, all those singles, all those wickets, that will just never exist. It’s only in picturing such things that we can start to understand the level of loss we are experiencing. We add up the desks and papers and cabinets, we think of the overs and wickets and games, and they pile up, until we are overwhelmed. I look at the 2020 Wisden and I see all that we have lost in these fires that continue to burn, all over the world. It’s a constant, sad reminder of all that this virus has wrought.

In the same book, of course, exists hope, tangible hope. 157 volumes. It has been published uninterrupted since 1864, a year before the American Civil War ended, before Lincoln was shot. The Almanack has survived a pandemic before, just like cricket has, and two World Wars, and those towers coming down 19 years ago that changed the world forever. Next year’s Almanack will look different, everything this time next year will look different. But there will be cricket. And there will be an Almanack. On that we can all rest confidently assured. We have been here before, we will be here again, and we always come back swinging.

There were will be a 2021 edition of the Almanack. It will feel lighter, emptier, but unlike the desks and cabinets in those towers, the game will return, and with it the words that surround it. We will all breath new life into those things that we lost, and watch them return, in a shower of sparks and awe and joy. The moments we lost are gone, and we won’t get them back, but we have yet to lose everything, and one day soon the shadows will be long again in London on some distant afternoon and the bails will come off and a new moment will be born. That moment, and countless more, will fill countless pages someday again soon. Cricket is a series of overs, of deliveries, of matches, all defining natural pauses in the game, this pause is just a little longer than we are used to. I am reminded of this every I time I look at the spine of this year’s Wisden: 157th edition.

I just can’t stop thinking about all of that stuff. All those moments. Now dust, now sadness, now ether. Just echoes until even the echoes are gone. Never to return. 1,500 pages worth of cricket vanished from the earth.

Are eSports the future of sport?

I have never played a cricket video game. It’s not from a particular aversion to video games as a whole. I enjoy video games, especially in these weird times, as they are one of the few things that truly allows me to turn my brain completely off. (Video games and sleep being the two things that accomplish that goal.) I also don’t tend to avoid sports video games, I have played FIFA for hours just like everyone else has. Though nowadays I only own a Wii U, which isn’t really conducive to licensed sports games.

But I have never played a cricket video game. Again, not from lack of desire or out of some sort of intellectual snobbery. It’s just that most cricket games are not licensed to play on North American systems, so they are simply not available for me, at least without a lot of effort and money. And, from what I have read over the years, cricket games are simply not great. The sport, for the outsider, looks to be the perfect set up for a good video game, but they are just too many nuances. All those things that make the game great are also the things that keep it from porting well onto a modern gaming engine.

Which is a bummer. Because I see people getting their baseball and soccer fixes via video games, and that’s just something not available to me right now. I would love to fire up a (probably flawed) cricket video game and spend a few hours with my mind shut off. But instead like most I am relegated to old highlights and replays of matches. Which is fine. But even though I don’t always know the outcome of the replays I am watching, it is still not the same as a live match. Nothing really takes the place of live cricket. I would take a boring live match over an exciting replay any day of the week and twice on Sundays, as they say.

Like a lot of sports right now, however, cricket is pivoting and looking for just about any way to make a little money in these bizarre times. And so they have married the two things above — video games and live cricket — and are now bringing us full video game matches, with the teams piloted by cricketers.

Willow TV’s “eCricket” tournament kicks off tonight, and The Cricketer Magazine’s “Quarantine Cup” is up and running now. (The Willow tourney is sponsored by Betway, which means people are able to bet on these matches, I would guess, which is bonkers). I watched a match of the latter tournament on Friday afternoon, and I have to admit, I was entertained. It was fun. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but it was pleasant, and the commentary was “live” and was both informative — nice trivia and stats on the players on each squad — but also tongue-in-cheek, which I appreciated. I mean, it’s video games, you can’t take it too seriously. Anyway, it was cricket, more or less, and it was fine. I will probably watch another.

I am not sure how I feel about it though.

For now, of course, it’s a marriage of convenience. There literally can’t be live cricket right now without people getting sick.  And it might be months and months before it can safely return, and it might not ever return to what it was before, at least not until a vaccine is ready. And so cricket is doing what it needs to do to bridge that gap for the fans, and these “eTournaments” are simply one of the only options right now.

But, it worries me. I know the normal we once knew will never return, and that we will have to get used to a new normal (which we will, and it will be fine), but what if — and this is a big what if — cricket boards and sponsors and franchises realize that people will tune in no matter what, whether it’s a super expensive live match requiring 22 players, support staff, coaches, and a big fancy million dollar stadium, or two people playing a cricket video game in their living rooms and then streaming the match to Willow or Sky. They would save billions, and make billions more.

You scoff, but tell me one time when owners or cricket boards chose the game over the dollar. Just one time. I can’t think of one. This is late stage capitalism, folks, money gets what money wants.

The slow shift from live sports to eSports has been a fear of mine for a long time. Yeah, you suck the humanity and personality and nuance from the games, but they are still games. People will still watch (see above) and gamble (see above) and pay for streaming services (Willow is still taking their money from my account each month). And now with the virus it feels like we have fast forwarded to what before the virus was a nightmare decades in the future. Not now. Not next month. But after a long, slow move from live sports to video games, so slow we barely even know it’s happening until it’s done. Kind of, in some ways, similar to what’s already happening to cricket, as we mourn the quiet and protracted death of first class cricket, its throat pinned under T20’s heavy boot.

Like everything in the entire world, live sport will need to adjust to this new normal. And that adjustment might very well mean the death of live sport under the heavy boot of safe, inexpensive eSport.

You are shaking your head right now. I am being another Chicken Little you are saying to yourself, or maybe even out loud depending on how many people you are self isolating with. And you are right. The virus is not the end of the world. We will not be left with a hell scape dystopian husk of a planet when this thing finally burns through us. Restaurants will come back. Schools and beaches will reopen. We will see family again, we will hug family again. We will travel again, board planes and see the world. We will mourn the dead and life will go on. Different, but still a world with smiles and laughter and friends on patios overlooking rivers in distant cities.

But. Large crowds? They might not come back. It might just not be worth it. Concerts could go away forever, moving to live streams from artists’ living rooms. And sports. Sports might not come back, at least how we knew them. We might not ever rise as one again with 50,000 of our closest friends, as the home team completes a fight back from the brink. Sports will come back, but the games might be behind closed doors, I think we can probably all agree with that sad consequence, at least for the foreseeable future. And closed door games are one step closer to the terrifying scenario described above: two people who never held a cricket bat in their hands, maneuvering pixels around, as we cheer and bet and spend.

I am being a bit of a pessimist, I know that. Though I think it’s important to remember that when the games do come back, we need to cherish them. Show up for live games. Hold this game we love as close as we can. And go out and play it. Keep the tradition alive, the simple tradition of a game played by humans — broken, sad, flawed, beautiful humans. When this over, when this is all over, and we are moving away into the new normal — a new normal that no one can foresee in detail right now — we need to make sure that the replacements we turned to in this time do not become part of that new normal. And that’s true not just for cricket, but for so many other things. So much will have to change after the virus, and some things will have to go away forever, but not everything, and we need to make sure we keep the things that fall into the second group from slipping into the first, which, sadly, might be the default setting for most of what exists.

There’s a famous anecdote about the O.J. Simpson trial, which took over day time TV in the mid-90s, preempting all the soap operas that used to populate those time slots. And when the TV schedule returned to normal, the soap opera viewers didn’t come back. They had gotten used to not watching them, and moved on, these “stories” that they used to watch religiously faded from their routine and when normalcy returned, those routines had already pivoted to a new normal.

Humans are resilient creatures. We can get used to anything. And that is a part of our nature that allows us to survive trying times. But let’s make sure we don’t get used to not having cricket, or to having a soulless replacement that we only turned to while the fires burned. Let’s make sure — when it’s safe — that live cricket comes back, and reminds us all why it is one hundred million times better than any alternative.

Like all things cricket — like all things important and good — we need to take care of it, not just in the good times, but when times are dark, and tragedy is everywhere. Especially then even.

Keep watching those highlights, everyone, and remembering.

Maybe the last time, I don’t know

It’s snowing here in St. Paul this morning. I don’t remember the last time it snowed. It had been a lovely spring, after a mild winter. We left sub zero temperatures behind in January, and by March the world was already greener and warmer, the days seemingly longer than in previous Marches, though of course that’s not possible.

When I can’t remember the last time I experienced something, it always hurts a little. I don’t remember the last time I washed the sheets and towels before I left my old life. I don’t remember the last cricket match I watched, or followed online. I don’t remember the last time I saw Alistair Cook bat, or Dale Steyn bowl. I don’t remember the last time I just felt okay.

I remember some though.

Last week I closed on my old house. It was the house where I had lived with my ex-wife for 13 years, before I left in the spring, almost two years ago now. I had moved around a lot as a kid. Between the ages of 9 and 13 we moved four times, to four different states, before I ended up here in Minnesota, where I have since stayed. Then I lived in my mother’s house here until I was 18, and then it was college and a series of studio apartments and a house with roommates and then I moved in with my ex-wife and we bought a house in 2003, then sold that one and bought another in 2005, the one we closed on last week.

My wife had lived there alone for the last two years. Living in and around and among all those old ghosts of our collapsed marriage. I always felt bad that she had to walk alone in those rooms with all those old wounds every single day. I had not been to the house for over a year when I went up there in February to sign the papers that put it on the market. It was as hard as I had thought that it was going to be. Ghosts. Memories. Difficult times. Good times. Laughter, tears, shouting. Long afternoons on the patio looking back into that field of endless green, a cold beer, a book, the Twins game on the AM radio.

I went back up there again last week, on the day the house closed. My ex-wife had already moved out. The house was empty. Full of echoes and silence. I cleaned. I swept and washed the floors and cleaned the kitchen. I pulled our dog’s old tie out out of the yard. I took a small rock from the driveway. I found an old receipt from a trip to Target in 2016 and kept that too. I walked from room to room. It was a cloudy day, but the sun kept peeking out here and there. I kept going outside when it did, but I kept missing it. I went to the basement and swam among the memories, to the garage. Every square foot a sadness. I had lived there for 13 years. Longer than I had ever lived anywhere, longer by a country mile. It had been my home. I knew every nook, every cranny, I could walk the house blindfolded. And then I locked the front door. Put the key under the brick on the back porch. Got on my bike. And rode away. For the last time.

Sometimes you remember last times. Sometimes they are truly are the last time. The last time you lock that front door, the last time you leave someone or something behind, knowing no matter what happens, you will never get to go back, never again get to smell your home in the morning on a summer Saturday, when the windows are open, and the sound of lawnmowers is filling the faraway empty spaces of sound, along with bird song and the shouts of children, the odor of freshly cut grass and coffee and home. No more will you be in that place where you once felt safe.

We all have these. Moments when the wave breaks, and rolls back, never to return. Old college apartments, old jobs, old dogs. Dead brothers. Dead dads. Dead friends. Sometimes a thing or a person has a last breath, a last moment in your life, and you remember it forever, and you lie awake at night and feel that gross feeling of the knowledge that what you had is gone.

I remember other lasts, from the not too recent past, before the world caught fire. I remember the last concert I saw: Wilco at the Palace in St. Paul. I remember the last movie. That last match I watched at Lord’s, at Headingley, the last time I watched cricket with my jaw on the floor.

And while sometimes, in the darkest moments, it can feel like all those moments were truly endings, the last of something you once held so close, something you believed would never leave you, we all need to remember, especially in those dark moments, that we have not experienced the last of so much. There were will be concerts again, movies in theaters again, and there will be cricket again. There are times when doors have closed and closed for good, sealed shut. But the doors of the world we used to know have not done that yet. They are still ajar, and one day they will open again, and while we have all experienced lasts, and some that we frustratingly cannot even remember, the world we knew is not one of those.

It will look different, but those doors will open again.

And when they do, we will get the opposite of last times: first times. Our first time in the sun with our family again, our first cricket match again, our first concert again. We will get these, and these we will not forget, nor take for granted. And there cannot help but be hope in that knowledge.

We have all left. And been left. Watched our world collapse, rebuild itself, and collapse again. We have all had doors close, lock, and disappear. We have all laid awake at night and tried to remember the smell of beds long gone, or the last time we laughed, felt okay, or the last time we walked the dog before he quietly passed on in our arms. Those are the finalities we face as humans. It’s the pact we make for all the joy we find. For all those first times when the world opens up in front of us, and life is one, long, endless horizon. And this world we live in now, is not the former, it’s the latter, it’s a door left ajar, waiting to open. And when it’s safe, it will.

Life is a series of endings.

This is not one of them.

I will never bike up the street of my old house, turn into the drive, unlock the garage, peer into the kitchen window at the undeniable space of home. Never again. That is a concrete ending that fills me with an endless well of sadness. But, one day, maybe even soon, that sadness will be filled with the opposite, which makes all those last times worth it: first times. And in a few months, maybe a little longer, maybe not quite as long as that, our world will be a sea of first times, finally allowing us to move on from all of those last times, whether they were personal, or global, or just quiet moments of silent tragedy that broke our hearts.

We might not remember the last time we watched cricket, but that’s okay, because we will watch it again for the first time together soon.

Image from iOS (4)