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Jeep Swenson died at the age of 40 on August 27, 1997.

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August 27, 2016

My grandfather, also named William Franklin Leitch, thought all doctors were quacks. “You start looking at somebody long enough, you’ll find something wrong with them,” he said. He was a tough guy. He ran an asphalt company, smoked three packs of unfiltered Pall Malls a day and had eight children, all of whom he loved but most of whom he rarely talked to. My grandmother, who died last year, told me a few years ago that he loved to write in his spare time, but it’s the last thing I would have guessed of him. He died when I was 13, which was a shock to me because I had thought him made entirely of granite.

And seriously, he hated doctors and medicine and all of it. He thought of hospitals solely as “where people go to die” and thus avoided them as a rule. He didn’t like whiners and complainers, and therefore he thought of sickness not as a fact, but as a weakness. He had no time for weakness. There was work to be done. There were children to be fed. He didn’t take care of himself, he didn’t eat well, he didn’t exercise, he didn’t go in for checkups, he didn’t do anything. If he had a cold, he pretended like he didn’t and went to work as usual. To admit to sickness was to admit to being made of something other than granite. I wanted to be him so badly.

He died in May 1989, at the age of 69. He’d had several heart attacks, though it was the cancer that did him in. I was a pallbearer.


My father, who now has a grandson also named William Bryan Leitch, was the oldest of Bill Leitch’s four sons. When I was in junior high school, Dad was working out on an electrical substation, clearing some trees that had landed on the substation in a storm and knocked out the power to our town, when he accidentally put his finger where someone had been cutting off dead limbs. His finger, right above the knuckle LOP! right off. He yelped, growled “shit” and then had somebody grab the finger. They put it on ice and he drove to the hospital. It was reattached a few hours later; he was back to work in a month. You can poke him with a needle in that finger now and he can’t feel it. It’s kind of cool.

Dad stopped smoking 30-plus years ago, but he doesn’t eat healthy and grouses at anyone who tries to change his habits, most notably his wife of 45 years who has worked as an ER nurse for 30 of them. He is still strong and active, but last summer, while working on our house here in Athens, the heat overtook him and waylaid him. It took him about six months to get right after that — they say it takes that long — and it seemed to scare him enough to start drinking more water and Gatorade while working and taking breaks from time to time. (Something I can vouch was not an option for home maintenance projects when I was growing up.) He takes blood pressure pills and heart medication and all the things that exist now and probably would have helped my grandfather not have multiple heart attacks and not die at 69. But he will talk about none of them. Every time I ask him how he’s feeling, he snarls at me. “Fine, fine, for crissakes.” Still. He’s better about it than he used to be; he’s better about it since he got a couple of grandchildren. He turned 67 three weeks ago.


I have been sicker than a dog all week. It started when I was in New York doing an MLB Plus broadcast and started coughing incessantly. I went straight to bed after the game and woke up just wrecked. Splitting headache, sore everywhere, dizzy, nauseous, congestion, cold sweats, fever, you name it. And then I got on a plane. The unofficial diagnosis over here is dehydration, which makes sense when you add up the travel, the unceasing work schedule, the running during extreme heat and my stubborn resistance to drink water. (If it’s supposed to be our lifeblood, why does it have no taste whatsoever? Why couldn’t our lifeblood taste like Kool-Aid? Or even tea?) Also, you know, I’m 40 years old now: This shit just doesn’t heal up the way it used to.

So I’ve just been near bed-ridden since Wednesday, save for an ill-advised (but still pleasant!) dinner with friends on Thursday we didn’t want to cancel and an even more ill-advised run this morning that has me typing this to you with a wet rag on my forehead. I am flat-out sick, and have been for several days.

As you’d probably expect, this drives me insane. I am not sick often — if I get more than one cold a year, it’s a failure on my part, and usually any minor illness is knocked out with a mere good night’s sleep — and so when I am sick, I make myself and everyone around me miserable. The problem isn’t that I’m sick; the problem is that I refuse to believe I am sick and, thus, refuse to make myself better. The problem is that dumbass Midwestern male stubbornness — and yeah, privilege, I said it — that believes sickness is something happens to other people, not us. The idea that fighting through it somehow helps.

But I’m better about it than my dad is, who was better about than his dad, who was probably better than his dad was, a guy whose prescription for dental issues was “leeches.” Like my dad, I look at the people in this house who, for all my faults, are better off with me around than not. It makes me want to take a little better care of myself. It’s not charming, or stoic, or somehow admirable to pretend you’re not sick when you are. It’s just self-destructive. And it’s not just about me anymore.

There, now that I’ve written this, know that I will disavow it every time I get sick again the rest of my life. Which includes, augh, right now. It was difficult to see the screen typing this through all the black dots. It’s 98 degrees in Athens right now. Does anybody have a blanket?

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. La Russa’s Storybook Ending Is Being Lost in Arizona, Sports On Earth. Writing about TLR’s Arizona demise brings me no joy. Remind me to tell you about the time he called me on my mom’s cellphone sometime.

2. Matt Moore Reminds Us Why He Was Once Baseball’s No. 1 Prospect, Sports On Earth. I wanted him to finish that no-hitter very badly.

3. A Look at Reasons Rio Lacked Luster, Sports On Earth. I have to say, all issues aside, the whole Olympics were worth it for this image.


4. “Lo and Behold:” Navigating the World Wide Werner, The New Republic. All reviews of Werner Herzog movies of course should be read allowed by Werner Herzog.

5. What We Learned This Summer Movies Season, The New Republic. Namely, “this was a terrible summer movie season.”

6. The Beat: Will Leitch on the Cardinals, Pro Football Rumors. They asked me some questions about the Arizona Cardinals, and I answered them.

7. Packers Are the Favorite in an Improving NFC North, Sports On Earth. Sorry, Bears fans.

8. Breaking Down the August Playoff Odds Update, Sports On Earth. Finally, the Cardinals got some good news out of this one. I’ve been waiting for that all year.

9. A Look at the Best-Hitting Pitchers by OPS, Sports On Earth. Yeah, this was written when I was my sickest. I should have just taken the day off, but hey, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

10. Final Four Time in Our Throwback Bracket, Sports On Earth. The Nationals really shouldn’t get credit for the Expos jerseys.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the four (!) podcasts I do. Here they are:

The Will Leitch Experience, a short check-in with Alyson Footer before a couple of weeks of football previews.

Grierson & Leitch, one of my favorite episodes, talking “War Dogs,” “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” and, memorably, Indiana bicycling movie “Breaking Away,” which leads into a legitimately insightful conversation about Mattoon and Grierson’s on my differing post-Mattoon experiences. Know a guy for 30 years, you still learn new stuff.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, two shows this week, one a big season preview of Georgia, position-by-position, and then an interview I did with Seth Emerson, the outstanding beat reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He and Derrick Goold — along with many others, but those are the two on top of my mind right now — remind me how valuable that job is when done well.

Culture Caucus, no show this week.

All right, I’m to go try to help raise children by lying on the floor and trying not to move now. Have a great weekend, everyone.


Best,
Will

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