Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The USA Trilogy/Thank God for the Internet

Not so much about the Mets, and not so much about baseball. It all sort of popped into my head during a brief break from meditating on Alex Rodriguez, and I figured it was better than nothing:

Don Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy (which I read mainly because it was a high-school graduation present from a friend who has apparently looked occasionally at this blog, so thank you) is probably the Great Un-Appreciated American Novel. A protracted jumble of interweaving narratives, pastiches from newspaper headlines, biographical sketches of prominent Americans, and stream-of-conscious passages that straddles the fence between formalistically brilliant and obsessive compulsive, the work’s major project is too examine how economic circumstances contribute to everything from the formation of individual’s characters, to the course of world events. The book’s socialist inclinations, far more than its formalistic oddity, has to be considered the major factor in its current obscurity; reading the book, one gets the sense that Dos Passos understood (or perhaps expected) the direction in which the country would go—it is a little hard to tell why he bothered.

At any rate, I recently remembered a scene that takes place during the first World War, in which Joe, an American sailor on a British vessel in Trinidad, ignores the advances of a foppish American tourist, in hopes of getting to see a newspaper and baseball scores—Joe is from Washington and the Senators (behind Walter Johnson) looked like they might be in the race. Throughout the scene, Joe’s desire for the baseball scores seems to be an expression of the alienation that Joe feels as a US Navy deserter traveling aboard a foreign ship and his nostalgia for his life and family back home. Joe meets the tourist in a bar and the tourist says that he might have a paper in his hotel. The two then go on a boozy drive through the country-side, while the tourist delivers what Joe probably ought to have recognized as a lengthy and elaborate come-on—but Joe isn’t paying attention to the tourist, he is focused on the possibility of seeing baseball standings. Back at the hotel, the newspaper is nowhere to be found and the tourist offers him $50 for sex; Joe shoves the tourist out of the way and leaves. Back on the ship, Joe tells his story to a British sailor who initially says that Joe should have taken the money, and then suggests that they go to the hotel with a posse and blackmail him. As the scene ends with Joe crawling into his bunk, his major regret is still simply that he didn’t get to look at the baseball scores.

I have always sort of wondered what the sports page that Joe hoped to see would have looked like. It would have had the league standings, and possibly the box scores of some recent games; possibly articles about some of them. Of course, in the old pennant-race system, with the two eight-team leagues, a single day’s standings would have offered a far more complete picture of the baseball season than it would today: once the season was well underway, the teams would settle into identifiable groups of contenders and non-contenders, which would likely only be subject to limited change. If one saw that one’s team was in the contending group, after a prolonged separation from baseball, it would be heartening enough and offer a valuable ray of hope to last until the next port and the next newspaper.

The internet, thankfully, renders the entire interaction obsolete: mlb.com has Joe’s needs covered, and the tourist could have found himself a homosexual prostitute on Craig’s list.

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