It’s long been teaching wisdom that March is the pits, and so it was this year. I love sixth graders, but they’re only pure sixth graders in the middle. At first, they’re overgrown fifth graders, shaking off the years of elementary school. I can never believe how little they are at the start of the year. They’re game for everything, but they don’t get sarcasm and packing their bag to go to math class might take 15m.
By March, they’re well on their way to turning into seventh graders, and there’s a reason I teach sixth grade. I often refer to the unfortunate syndrome of Early Onset Teenager, and some kids eye-roll and oppose everything right from the get-go. Plenty more age into it, and they’re all developing at different rates. Some kids obsess over dates to the dance, others talk like this pair from a long-ago class:
KID 1: I don’t get why he likes her.
KID 2: I don’t get why anyone likes anyone!
We have more on the cusp of surly teenage-hood than ever in the year, just from the aging. Our vacations are February and April, so March just taunts you with a calendar that says spring but air that says BRRR. Days off are hard to come by. Seven months of frustrations have built, tween hormones are raging, standardized tests on coming, and pre-spring fever is at an all-time high.
This year, a few kids fell apart. Minor disruptions escalated into full-scale chaos. The counselors are run ragged. Most kids remain chill, but it only takes two to bring down a class. Occasionally one. New alliances form and shift, not all for the better. March was a month where every Friday it felt like we earned the weekend. And that break not so far away looms large. March us earned us that, too.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I was once upset at my parents for giving up the Red Sox, but then it happened to me. Once upon a time I was so smitten that I wrote a Red Sox column for a now-defunct baseball blog, and this was the graphic on my profile page, minus the text. I loved it as a portrait of a baseball obsessive, now it’s a portrait of a different time in my life. Today I’m so tuned into baseball that I forgot it was opening day and dropped this comic a week late. That’s what I call progress!
Vee has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
Excellent, poppy, Ramones-y punk rock from 2023: Tee Vee Repairmann, What’s On TV? Super bright and noisy and fun, outstanding hooks. Australian and short running time, if either incentivizes you.
My Back Pages
On the topic of baseball, I followed the 2003-4 Red Sox at the peak of my blogging career, so they were a frequent subject on Surgical Strikes. From “The Red Sox post to end all Red Sox posts,” Oct 29, 2004 shortly after their transcendent World Series victory:
Two days in, I’m starting understand this a little better.
The comic Eddie Pepitone does a bit where he’s so excited about his team winning that he thinks it actually changes his life. He calls his bank and they say he has $20 in there. “Check again! The Yankees won the World Series!”
Fans put stake in their teams’ exploits that non-fans could never understand. And Red Sox fans, as everyone will tell you, are unique in that. Part of the appeal is not that they always lost, but that because they always lost, every year is about hope. When the Sox would lose, it killed you because it was the death of hope. You can dislike the Red Sox, but if you don’t identify with an underdog, you’re not the kind of person I want to know.
When my sixth graders were born, the Red Sox had won the World Series twice in the past seven years. But three days before this post, the Red Sox hadn’t won in 86 years. The drought was a national obsession, and America felt sympathy and rooted for us. It’s hard to convey how different Boston sports fandom was in 2004, with its frustration and hopelessness. Not really the post-Tom Brady era.
Someone I knew was devastated by last years’s ALCS. It had been a lousy year, and so all the faith went to the Red Sox, who looked poised to finally do it. Which made it impossible to reconcile when you knew that the loss could have been avoided, should have been avoided, and the impossible opportunity that comes once a decade or two had eluded us again. This person was crushed, inconsolable, and rightly so. It was the death of hope, it was the good guys losing, it was everything unfair and wrong about life proven true.
The exultant high of 2004 was only heightened by the crushing low of 2003. I thought we were wasting Pedro and Nomar’s best years. I blamed Aaron Boone, of course, but I couldn’t get past Grady Little failing to pull his starter when he obviously needed to come out. 20 years later, the wound is fresh.
2004 as a year of life didn’t turn out exactly like I expected. I will have been unemployed from Spring Training through Saturday’s parade, and it hasn’t been all wine and roses. Along the way, Meaghan and I probably watched 135-145 of the 162 games. We lived and died by them. One of our biggest fights of the year was after a crushing Yankees loss (the day before the Varitek-shoving-A-Rod incident). Having a pretty lousy year myself, and despite my best instincts, I gave my heart to the Red Sox completely. I went to Game 1 of the playoffs and nearly exploded with joy, but Game 1 against the Yankees really messed me up. I felt betrayed, almost dead inside. I was fool letting myself believe. During Game 3, I managed to talk myself out of caring. We only casually tuned into half of Game 4. Then things started to shift.
By the middle of Game 5, I was completely back in. On the eve of Game 6, a loss could have put me off baseball for years. And when we won Game 7, I was beyond words. Meaghan said it rivaled the day we got engaged as one of the greatest moments of her life, and I don’t begrudge her that. I feel the same way.
That first game of the division series in Anaheim was excellent, I even saw Dan Shaugnessy buying a Coke. The Awesome Wife and I were both were obsessed with baseball, and for years we remembered our wedding anniversary as one month to the day after the Red Sox won the World Series. Great time to be 27.
The world is a messed up place. Crimes go unpunished, big corporations snuff out small businesses, politicians put war ahead of health care and the environment, the rich live without boundaries while the poor slave their lives away, good connections beat good talent. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I’m not sure life is patently unfair, but the bad guys win often enough to make me know that life sure isn’t fair.
I stand by my 2004 list of injustices, even if I’m sad that the only change is to add a bunch more.
But sometimes, you remember it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes the underdog wins and you remember despair isn’t the only option. You can believe there is good in the world and that things might be okay. The Red Sox won the World Series. What obstacle stands in my way bigger than that? This win gives Boston a trophy and a new identity, but it also gives the world hope. Hope that even your wildest dreams might come true — if you prepare for it, work hard, never back down, and believe in your teammates. ($125 million doesn’t hurt, either.)
I’ve loved every title Boston has won, but it was more fun being the underdog. I remember exchanging meaningful nods with another guy in a Red Sox hat in LA the day after the win. The lovable loser persona of being a Boston sports fan was part of the charm. Seismic shift to today.
Okay, a lot of you probably think I’m a kook, and for those of you not inside all of this, I’ll just say this has been a profoundly moving experience that has changed my world and the worlds of so many people I know. Sports are more than just athletes throwing, catching, and hitting balls. They’re life. And right now, life is good. Life is very, very good. In 20 years, will I remember being unemployed or the Sox’ win?
How has it been almost 20 years? It’s ancient history but it was also yesterday. And I guess it wasn’t a binary choice because I remember both of them. Just one a lot more fondly.
Twenty years?! Un-possible!