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Marvin Gaye died on April 1, 1984, at the age of 44.
April 1, 2017
We were one of the first families back out in the country of Mattoon, Illinois to get a VCR. We had a movie library or anything, but my cousin Denny’s parents — my sister’s brother Ron — lived in down and had cable and HBO, so sometimes Dad would have Ron record movies on blank tapes he gave him. There are thus certain movies from that time, the early to mid-eighties, that I have seen hundreds of times, watched over and over while putting off chores during long, endless summers. Clue. Superman II. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ghostbusters. But the first one I ever remember watching was, the one I’ll have nightmares about forever, was Alligator.
Alligator came out in 1980 and is generally well-regarded among fans of schlocky horror films, largely because it was written by John Sayles, of all people. (Lone Star remains one of my favorite movies of the ‘90s; Sayles began his career working for Roger Corman and also wrote Piranha.) Reading reviews of the film now, apparently the film played as satire when it came out, but asking a seven-year-old to understand satire is asking a bit much. All I remember about Alligator — and more important, all my father knew I knew about Alligator after we watched it — was its central premise. A teenage girl buys a baby alligator, but her mean father makes her flush it down the toilet. We then see the alligator, recently flushed, survive for the next 12 years by eating disposed carcasses of lab animals used as experiments for a dangerous growth formula. The alligator eats the animals, absorbs the formula and then becomes massive. He then spends the rest of the movie attacking St. Louis — which was really the only city other than Mattoon I knew at the time — as Robert Forster, as The Cop With A Past, tries to stop him.
As a seven-year-old whose father had let him stay up late and watch this movie one night, that premise was horrifying. Someone flushed something down the toilet, and not only did it not die, it became massive and started eating people. Who knew what things were down there? Were they going to come up and bite me when I was pooping? One minute I’m in the bathroom and the next thing you know, this thing is crawling up at me?
I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and my father was no help. Realizing I was particularly stuck on this alligator thing — and, like any good Leitch boy, finding any bathroom-related humor hilarious — he struck up a devious plan. Right before I went to bed, he hid little index cards with “news alerts” about massive alligators rising up from the sewers around the house. One said there were reports of a giant alligator “in Champaign, heading South.” Another had a quote from Illinois basketball coach Lou Henson saying, “I was worried he was going to eat one of my players.” The last said the alligator had been spotted “lurking around Mrs. Pickowitz’s second-grade classroom.” I was not the most discerning media consumer at the age of seven, so I took them all at face value, as if they had been published in The New York Times, as if Peter Jennings was giving me the reports personally. And there was a new one every night. Each night, the alligator came a little closer.
So I freaked out. For days, I would scream for my parents to come check under the bed for gators every night. I began to have dreams about them. My grandparents, who briefly lived in Ft. Myers, Florida, had to call me and talk me down, saying alligators only lived where they did, but that just made me more scared: Were alligators going to eat Grandma and Grandpa? The movie started it, but it was those damned cards that got me. It was one thing to watch a movie about an alligator. It was another to learn from the “newspaper” that they were headed to Mattoon, and even at my school.
After a few more nights of this, and surely my mother smacking my father over the head and neck, Dad finally took me aside. “I wrote those cards,” he said. “I was just kidding. It’s a prank. I was telling a joke.” I understood it was a joke and even tried to pretend that I got it, ha ha, good one, Dad, I’ll play a prank on you sometime. But I never did.
I still hate pranks. I’ve had friends who love pranks, I’ve been the subject of some pretty elaborate early-Internet pranks, I’ve got a dad who obviously gets a huge kick out of them. But I still hate them. I hate pranks. I hate April Fool’s Day. And to tell you the truth? I still freaking hate alligators.
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. Breaking Down the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Roster, Sports On Earth. A specialized dish, to be sure, but 4,800 words worth. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be OK with just having every piece I wrote be 4,800 words about the Cardinals.
2. A Reason to Watch Every MLB Team in 2017, Sports On Earth. You might have noticed that baseball is beginning tomorrow, and you might have noticed that I’m a bit excited about it.
3. Review: “Ghost in the Shell,” The New Republic. Or, as my friend Drew Magary put it, “nude suit.”
4. Fan Reaction Videos Are Riveting. Let’s Watch, Sports On Earth. Come down the rabbit hole with me.
5. Only UNC Stands in the Way of Final Four History Being Made, Sports On Earth. I’m rooting for whoever wins between Gonzaga and North Carolina tonight.
6. Here Are My Picks for the Entire 2017 Postseason, Sports On Earth. I sort of like doing day-by-day predictions for every October. It’s essentially fan fiction for one lucky fanbase.
7. Playing Pepper: The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals, Cardinals Conclave. Some Cardinals predictions from Dayn Perry, Drew Silva, Larry Borowsky and myself.
8. I Wrote an Intro for a New Version of This Textbook So Here It Is, Field Guide to Covering Sports. Always keep it real with Central Illinois. (Or in this case, Eastern Illinois.)
9. Dive Into Five, Sports On Earth. Sometimes these words resemble an actual order.
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 three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:
Grierson & Leitch, Grierson back! Grierson back! Grierson returned from polyp surgery — actually a “nodule,” as it turned out — to talk “Life,” “Power Rangers,” “CHIPs,” “The Trouble With Harry” and “Big Business.” I was very happy to have him back.
The Will Leitch Experience, back with Alyson Footer and then a big Cardinals preview with the legendary Bernie Miklasz.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
I am in Glendale as we speak: I’ll be at the Final Four tonight, then at the Diamondbacks game tomorrow (wearing a Matt Carpenter jersey of course), then watching Cardinals-Cubs on Sunday night. I like to think of myself as a well-rounded person with a wide variety of interests. But not this weekend. This weekend is all dopey sports fandom. I could use the distraction. I suspect you could too. Might drive this bad boy to the game.
Have a great weekend, everyone.