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Phil Hartman died at the age of 49 on May 28, 1998.
May 28, 2016
There’s a plot point in the new film The Nice Guys — which is a good movie
— in which the main character, Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling),
is haunted by his wife’s death a few years previous. He blames himself,
and the reason he blames himself is because she dies in a gas explosion
in their home. He didn’t cause the explosion, but he didn’t prevent it,
and that’s because Holland March has no sense of smell. He couldn’t
detect the gas leak because he couldn’t smell it. So she died, leaving
him alone with a teenage daughter and a lifetime of guilt.
Grierson and I discussed this bit of character development on the podcast this week, and I wasn’t the fan of it he was; it struck me, if you’ll forgive the accidental pun, a bit on the nose. But it’s possible I only think that because, as anyone who knows me in real life (as opposed to this odd simulacrum of human interaction that yu and I experiencing together the very second you are reading this) knows, I have no sense of smell.
There is a medical name for this: Hyposemia. But most people lose their sense of smell after once having it. Maybe they had a stroke, or early onset Alzeheimer’s, or even, as is the case of poor Holland March, head trauma. But not me. I have never been able to smell. I have no idea what you people are talking about when you talk about smelling. It is this joke in the air that everyone is in on but me.
(My parents’ theory is that I was able to smell as a small child, but I lost when it when I had scarlet fever at the age of four. I’ll take their word for it. Also, scarlet fever? I was raised on the Oregon Trail, apparently.)
Anyway, The Nice Guys got me thinking about my lack of a sense of smell, which is not something I ordinarily think about much. It’s really not a big deal: If you had to lose a sense, it would undoubtedly be smell, right? If I’ve never had it, I’ve nothing to miss. But something about the way his wife died in the movie stuck with me. I’ve never been much of anxious person, but I do find myself worrying constantly about my family, my children, that something’s going to happen to them, that my job as father is to protect them and that I cannot fail them. On a daily basis this mostly consists of walking on the side of the sidewalk closer to the road and smacking their hands when they try to touch the stove, but now, shit, now I have to worry about my house exploding. Thanks, Ryan Gosling.
Once over the summer when I was a teenager, my father gave me the assignment of using a post-hole digger to make several strategically placed holes in the yard so we could put up a new fence. I did fine until the last one, when I hit a white plastic hose with my shovel. It began to hiss air, and I began to panic: The last thing I wanted was Dad coming home and seeing that I’d failed his assignment by busting open an airhose. Dad had taught me you could mend a busted plastic hose by simply getting a match, lighting the hose until it melted over the gash and then letting it dry. So I went all around our house, trying to find a match, or a lighter, or anything to fix the hose. I couldn’t find one, so I prepared for Dad to come home and lecture me on busting the hose. When he arrived, I explained how I’d hit an airhose and that I was going to fix it because I couldn’t find a match.
Dad’s face went ashen. He turned around, walked inside and composed himself for a second. He came back out and explained I’d — obviously — hit a gas line, and if I had found that match, I would have blown up the whole neighborhood, and me with it. Maybe Holland March was right. Being a Dad is fretting constant peril. There is danger everywhere.
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. Was Matt Harvey Wrong To Dodge the Media?, Sports On Earth. This is a column idea I’ve had for a while; I gave it the rubric “Of Two Minds.” So much commentary is based on two people having opposing viewpoints yelling at each other. What I often find is that I agree with both of them, or neither of them, which is a stance that has no outlet. It’s all about “takes” or “taeks,” taking strong stances that allow no dissenting evidence. I love dissenting evidence. I make no claims to be right, because how could I? I’m just one guy. The point is to present all arguments, not just one. I once got in a friendly argument with Tommy Craggs about this, in my infamous Darren Rovell piece from a few years back. He didn’t like that I included some positive things about Rovell, along some times when he had been unfairly criticized and my general observation that Rovell is a nice person. (Which is something I believe to be true.) Craggs thought that got in the way of my point: Either I’m trashing Rovell, or I’m not. I understand Craggs’ point — a column can’t capture the totality of human existence, and you don’t want to confuse the reader — but I have never liked the notion of polemics. Every controversy has thousands of different viewpoints, and just because I disagree with yours doesn’t automatically make you wrong. Life’s complicated: We’re all just guessing, you know? Anyway, I’m trying something out with the “Of Two Minds” idea, which basically takes a topic — in this case, Matt Harvey’s decision not to talk to the media after his bad start this week — and debates both sides, equally. This is a fun writing challenge — I have to make sure I don’t weight one side over the other — and, I’d argue, provides the reader more utility than just screaming in their face. I mean, shit, I don’t know if I’m right about anything. How are you so sure?
2. Draymond Green Will Never Live Down His Groin Kick, Sports On Earth. I’m not sure this is the world’s first ever Nut Shot Think Piece, but if you want to remember me for that when I am gone, I think my soul will be all right with that.
3. Alice Through the Looking Glass: Clocking in For a Dull Time, The New Republic. I know I said last week that writing positive movie reviews was a lot more satisfying than writing negative ones ... but I’ll confess, really ripping a movie apart does provide a certain catharsis from to time. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
4. The Top Player at Each Age in the Majors, Sports On Earth. This is another of those in-a-hurry filler columns I have to do when I’m on MLB Plus on Friday nights — like I was last night — but this one at least had a good idea. Julio Urias made his MLB debut, and he was born in 1996, the first player in MLB history to be born that year. So I went through year-by-year since 1973 — the year the oldest players in baseball were born — to find the best players born each year. I love a good You Are Old piece.
5. The Ten Most Surprising Stars of the 2016 Season, Sports On Earth. Another counter, but a fun one.
6. Could the Warriors Phenomenon End Thursday? Sports On Earth. It didn’t.
7. An Early Look at Where the MLB Playoff Odds Stand, Sports On Earth. I do this every month. I did this column on Monday. The Cardinals have only won one game since.
8. Vote in the Final Four of the MLB Jersey Bracket, Sports On Earth. This thing is almost done, finally.
Two podcasts this week. 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, previewing the Copa America Centenario (which I am very excited about) with American Soccer Now’s Noah Davis.
Grierson & Leitch, this week discussing Cannes 2016, “The Nice Guys” and “Weiner.”
Culture Caucus, no podcast this week, all about OJ next week. (We’ve already taped it.)
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no new episode, probably won’t be for a while, but I’ll keep listed it here so you will subscribe.
Also, here is a picture of me pretending to play guitar in 1998. (I do not know how to play guitar.)
I’m off to Folly Beach in Charleston, South Carolina for the week. Like Anakin Skywalker before me, I do not like sand.
Have a great Memorial Day, everyone.