Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Temporarily Infinite

We are infinite. It’s the tagline used for the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. On the movie posters, the trailers, everything. It plays an integral part in the film's plot, too. It's a catchy line, and it's a good film. It's also a very smart film, though for somewhat different reasons.

The movie is smart in the same way that Ke$ha's song “Die Young” is smart, that fun.'s song “We Are Young” is smart, that HBO's Girls is smart. These reasons are also only tangentially related to the things that make The Perks of Being a Wallflower an enjoyable movie—which it is. But it's smart because it makes the seemingly trivial moments of our lives feel like the exact opposite.

I've written before about nostalgia and my interest in how that particular emotion and sentiment impacts our lives. And while I clearly give this topic a decent amount of consideration, I don't actually regard myself as a nostalgic person—or more accurately, someone fixated on my own personal nostalgia. I'm much more interested in how nostalgia is used as a trope in our culture today, and how my coming-of-age generation is currently fixated on it. In the December rundown of my favorite albums of 2012, I wrote that the best way to appease my generation is to sympathize, rationalize, hyperbolize, and cement the profundity of every trivial and arbitrary moment of our lives. This is probably true of every era, though I'm certainly not of an age where I feel qualified enough to make this claim. But it is definitely obvious to me at this moment, a theory that can be seen through the popularity of the Ke$ha song or the fun. song or Lena Dunham's television show, an idea at the heart of this novel-turned-film starring the cute British chick from Harry Potter. Whether these pieces of pop culture are celebrating the random/wild/drunken nights we spent with friends, or giving voice to the struggles and vulnerabilities we all faced while growing up, they force us to think back on those times, assigning an importance to these moments, highlighting it in a manner we always assumed was there while in the midst of experiencing them.

The moments portrayed in these songs and films and books may not be perfectly representative of our own youth and maturation, but they do serve to remind us. One of the basic purposes of any art form is for the audience to internalize and personalize it; that's why art so often evokes emotion, or at the very least strives to. And that's what nostalgia is: an emotion, compelling you to think back on the ostensibly seminal moments of your past. These instances are generally happy, but can oscillate to any range of emotion, the only prerequisite being that they are memorable in some way. And if we remember it, then it must be important.

Yet this is what I find most fascinating. The things that we are so often nostalgic for and about—the moments and events that we place such value on, that we watch, read about, and sing along to—are, more often than not, somewhat trivial in retrospect (if not very trivial). There are exceptions, of course, but truly life-altering occurrences are not exclusively “nostalgic” ones. Quite the contrary. You're nostalgic for your first kiss more than your first anniversary, your high school prom more than the first day at your first professional job, a night out with college roommates more than your college graduation, teaching your kid to shoot a basketball more than the day they were born, driving the streets of your hometown in your first car more than purchasing your first house. You remember all of those things, sure, but a longing and reminiscing sense of importance isn't necessarily bestowed on those that read most important on paper.

Perhaps that's the point. Maybe we are not nostalgic for the most important moments, but rather the most defining. And we aren't defined by the anniversary or the graduation or the job; we're defined by the kiss or the parties or the experiences that led to those moments, the emotions we felt along the way, the people we spent those moments with. That's what fun. is singing about. That's what Lena Dunham’s Girls is showing us on screen. That's what The Perks of Being a Wallflower is telling us. We aren’t nostalgic for the big, important climaxes; we’re nostalgic for the times when we could place importance on trivial, arbitrary things.

We are not infinite. But we are often defined by the moments when we thought we were.


Thanks for reading

Monday, December 31, 2012

A Sometimes Food

Shakespeare once wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. George Costanza once left on a high note. A mind more respected than those two is not easy to find. Taking that into consideration, I will do my best to keep this brief.

As I mentioned about a month ago, I recently started a new job as an Associate Editor for Cincinnati Magazine. It's a position that I am both grateful for and excited about growing more and more comfortable with. It also comes with new responsibilities and changes in lifestyle; I hope to be writing more and more for the mag as time progresses, in addition to my other editorly duties. All of these things are welcomed and galvanizing, as I'm getting to work in the profession I always hoped to, at a publication that is well-respected and offers the chance to dabble in myriad facets of the magazine industry. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am.

Because of this, Arbitrary JudgEment is now a “sometimes food.” Over the past two years, I've kept a steady schedule of two posts per month on this site, writing on whatever topic for which I felt conviction or held some amount of interest. And as easy as two posts per month may seem—and honestly, it really wasn't that difficult—I feel that now is a good time to dissolve that schedule and transition to the next phase of this blog's existence. I'm not shutting down Arbitrary JudgEment. In fact, I plan to post here as often as I feel the urge to do so. I just don't foresee that impulse manifesting itself into longer explorative pieces twice a month. Maybe it will be once every other month, maybe it will only be three or four times a year. It'd be foolish of me to assume I know how the winds of change will shift.

I started this site during my freshman year of college at Ohio University. One of my journalism professors suggested to our class that with the ease involved in self-publishing via the web (which in the fall of 2008, was still relatively fresh, new, and void of the flocks of tools with snarky Tumblr accounts), it would be wise for our future if we invested in this opportunity. I followed this advice, and soon found quite a bit of pleasure in the freedom and creativity that the site offered. It took me a few years to develop the blog into what I wanted, but the beauty in it was just that: It could be whatever I wanted. I wasn't making any money off of it. I wasn't obligated to fill any quota or navigate censorship in any way. As long as I didn't make a complete ass of myself (and I probably walked that tightrope once or twice), the site stood to help me moving forward as a writer. I believe it did. I don't know that any of the opportunities I've had in my short life as a journalist have been aided or influenced greatly by the work I've done on this site, but I know without a doubt that the writing and editing I've done for it have made me better writer and editor, expanded my creativity and critical thinking, and provided a bit of self-entertainment (which in many cases is the most important kind). It afforded me a vessel through which I could transform my brain into a cohesive conglomeration of words. It was the hoop outside my house where I could craft my game, my style. It was my arbitrary judgment bestowed upon ideas and topics that were important to me. If the site was read or appreciated or aroused discussion among anyone else, I'm genuinely appreciative of that (seriously), but that ultimately wasn't the point.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I eased into the pattern of posting twice a month, the site finally finding its form, at least in my eyes. I'm proud of the work I did before that, but I'm especially proud of the work I've done since then. (If you are at all curious, I even selected four of my personal favorites if you wish to look back on them, linked to here, here, here and here.) I wrote only what I felt passionate about or intrigued by. I don't claim to be an expert on any of these topics, but I also avoided writing about things that held little interest to me or would purposefully stir up controversy. This site has never even been a true “blog,” but rather a personal column through which I could spill out my thoughts. It will continue to be that, whenever I feel the desire for it to do so.

This venture was never meant to be widely read or popular, and it never was. If I may be completely candid, it probably received more eyes than I ever dreamed it would. This was due in large part to the friends and family who made a point to check back every couple weeks. You know who you are, and your devotion is much appreciated.

I've also witnessed, more recently, some of those very same friends and family being forced to attend to difficult and unfortunate events in their personal lives. And if I've learned anything during my time on this impermanent earth, it's that the same thing that applies to the soul of wit and Constanza's showmanship also applies to life in general: Far too often, it is far too brief. Spend it doing what you love and with the people that you love. Arbitrary JudgEment has allowed me to experience the first part of that. Moving forward, I intend to focus more on the latter as well. And from time to time, I'll be sure to stop by again.

If you wish to keep up or keep in touch, you can follow me on Twitter, on my website, or at the magazine.

As always...


Thanks for reading

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Best Albums of 2012

If you read this blog religiously—which, as flattering as that might be for me, is probably a bad omen regarding the level of excitement in your life—then you've probably been a bit concerned by my erratic posting schedule. I've been pretty consistent over the past two years with publishing two pieces a month, generally about two weeks apart. No longer, but no need to worry. I have reasons and excuses and apologize if it in any way caused you any amount of apprehension. But I'll get to that in the near future. For now, I give you the fifth annual Top 10 albums post from Arbitrary JudgEment (plus a few extras), capping off a half-decade of pure, unconditional, musically biased enjoyment. Read like no one is watching.

  • Close Only Counts in Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Grizzly Bear—Shields; The xx—Coexist; Metric—Synthetica; Band of Horses—Mirage Rock; Mumford and Sons—Babel; Beach House—Bloom; Imagine Dragons—Night Visions; M83—Hurry Up, We're Dreaming; Two Door Cinema Club—Beacon; Alabama Shakes—Boys & Girls

  • The Best Songs That Didn't Appear on any of my Best Albums
The Avett Brothers—“I Never Knew You”
Infectious, foot-stomping beat with lyrics haughty enough to make you consider dumping your significant other, purely so you can gain the scornful satisfaction of posting a link to this song on their Facebook page.

Walk the Moon—“Ana Sun”
The best way to appease my generation is to sympathize, rationalize, hyperbolize, and cement the profundity of every trivial and arbitrary moment of our lives. Setting these notions to music is just gravy. This is probably why there has been a bevy of danceable tunes in recent years portraying a random, drunken night at the bar as some seminal and defining moment in all of our lives. (This is also largely why Ke$ha and Katy Perry exist as relevant figures in our culture.) “Ana Sun” is the pinnacle of this classification of song.

Passion Pit—“Hideaway”
One of a few tracks I thoroughly enjoyed off this album, and the one I seem to keep coming back for the most. Although a tad disjointed compared to 2009's Manners, “Hideaway,” “Take a Walk,” and “Constant Conversations” will keep this album in my rotation for the foreseeable future.

  • The Top 10
10. Minus the Bear—Infinity Overhead
I may have been a tad swayed after seeing the band live and talking with them earlier this year, but I thought Infinity Overhead was a beautiful return to form for the group. I probably enjoyed the risks and deviations of Omni a bit more, but standard Minus the Bear is still good Minus the Bear.

9. Taylor Swift—Red
“We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is really just terrible. But “I Knew You Were Trouble” is impossible to turn off, “22” makes the lamest possible age actually seem fun and enjoyable, and “Stay Stay Stay” could probably turn love's biggest cynic into a blubbering puddle. Plus I can just imagine, the month after this album came out, when all of my friends that are still in college were whispering “Loving you is red” to impressionable young coeds at deafening house parties or in the corner of a crowded bar...and that line actually working for them.

8. The Lighthouse & The Whaler—This is an Adventure
My two greatest discoveries while living in Cleveland were eating at Borderline Cafe across the street from my apartment, and listening to this band. At least I can take TLATW with me. I wish I could do the same with Borderline's banana nut french toast.

7. Bob Dylan—Tempest
No need to repeat myself.

6. Cloud Nothings—Attack on Memory
They have that ever-elusive, rock band ability to sound both content and anguished at the same time, proud and chagrined, accepting and ambitious. The album's intent is never more evident than through the evolving lo-fi sound and Dylan Baldi's deep, humming voice on “Stay Useless”: Can I feel, so utterly unreal / But nothing I could do would make things change / I am stuck in here / I am tired of everywhere / I'm never gonna learn to be alone / I need time to stop moving / I need time to stay useless.

5. Japandroids—Celebration Rock
“The House That Heaven Built” is musical perfection. The gritty sound is a lost art among today's scene. The lyrical concepts are existential. The three- to four-minute constructions are incensed yet wholly satisfying. It's as if the band's sophomore effort put the indie scene at ease with a style quite the contrary. They are the Black Keyes with a little extra umph—in sound, not stature. But maybe someday.

4. Of Monsters and Men—My Head is an Animal
The haunting and pressing sound. The mystical imagery. This weird, crazy video, but more importantly, that song. Now wait, wait, wait for me, please hang around / I'll see you when I fall asleep...

3. Jack White—Blunderbuss
I've put my appreciation and infatuation with Jack White into words on plenty of occasions at this point, and this album—his first solo work—is on par with some of his best work. The now-routine rattling riffs and ear-splitting solos are accompanied by vague yet cutting lyrics. As the title of the fantastic New York Times Magazine feature by Josh Eells stated: Jack White is the Coolest, Weirdest, Savviest Rock Star of Our Time. I'm pretty sure he inspired that character on the show Nashville, too. (The Connie Britton fans out there know which one I'm talking about.)

2. Best Coast—The Only Place
There are times when simplicity is preferable to complexity, when retro is worthy of being revived, where the calm achieved by multiple moving facets is fulfilling in a way that rambunctiousness and instability can never be. These times also seem to be far less prevalent in music than they are in various other forms of art and entertainment. But on The Only Place, Best Coast ascends to each and every one of those levels, basic achievements begetting impressively nuanced results.

1. Imperial Teen—Feel the Sound
The album is essential Imperial Teen: bubbly, poppy, peppy, crisp, clear, blissful alt-rock, unencumbered by the fact that this is no longer the late '90s or that so much about the side streets of rock their style has pushed them toward is actually changing as well, working to get closer to the metropolis as opposed to being smitten staying where they are—as long as they can continue to be who they are, who they've always been. The band is doing nothing new or shocking on Feel the Sound; there are no surprises, save for the overall pleasant one directed at an album that is cohesive and familiar and welcoming and warm. “Runaway” is addictive, “Out From Inside” is rollicking and demands that you clap along. Look, I'm a bigger fan of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Joni Mitchell's Blue, or Springsteen's The River than most people probably are. I hit play on Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot and Warren Zevon's late-in-life stuff with regularity. But there is something necessary and under-appreciated about perpetuating all the good and positive things that music and life and other broad, cliched tropes have to offer. We don't do if often enough. It's a good thing Imperial Teen is around to help out.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's Still Knuckle-Puck Time

For Americans aged roughly 17-30 that have possessed even a marginal appreciation for popular culture over the better course of their lives, Kenan Thompson is most likely one of the longest, non-familial relationships they can lay claim to.

I'm currently 23 years old, and I have very few life memories in which Kenan was not a relevant part of my personal entertainment zeitgeist. This isn't meant to suggest that Kenan played a role in all of these memories—in fact he did so in very few, or at the most a perfectly healthy amount—but rather that during the time in which these memories were initially harvested, I was cognizant of Thompson and his role in my own pop culture spectrum.

I, like many other young adults that are currently proactive on the internet and with social media, am a child of '90s culture, despite sneaking onto this planet just under the '80s cutoff line. And I, like those that identify their formative years with this same decade, are undoubtedly equally familiar with the many legendary and cult-followed projects Kenan was involved in. Beginning in 1994, Thompson played a significant part in D2: The Mighty Ducks, All That, Heavyweights, D3: The Mighty Ducks (yeah, it sucked, but everyone saw it because of how amazing D2 was), Kenan & Kel, Goodburger, and more, not to mention cameos and appearances in a handful of other ‘90s staples (Cousin Skeeter!!!!). This was all bookended by Kenan joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2003, a position he currently remains in.

To run back over his résumé is staggering, not necessarily in a historical sense, but certainly in a “things watched by kids that grew up in the ‘90s” sense. It should be unnecessary to regurgitate the importance and splendor that was (and is) D2: The Mighty Ducks, spurring Kenan’s introduction to the world as “the knuckle-puck kid.” And while I’m quite positive that All That wasn’t nearly as prominent and celebrated (and hilarious) as my nostalgia has tinted it, I am also quite positive that everyone still remembers it through the same rose-colored glasses that I do (which eventually is all that matters). Many of the other previously noted endeavors fall under this same awning, which of course merits a nod to Kenan’s longtime partner in crime, Kel Mitchell (who, as you may remember, was quite fond of orange soda). But Kenan’s legacy was cemented when he hopped aboard Saturday Night Live, which simultaneously validated and made up for all those times he had to suffer through Kel dropping the screw in the tuna.

Whether you actually found Kenan to be all that funny in his earlier years and once he hit the big stage at SNL is somewhat secondary. I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard Kenan Thompson fan or anything to that extreme, and I venture to say that you would be hard pressed to find many people who would classify themselves as such. But I was/am a fan of the projects he was/is affiliated with, and I’ve always been impressed by his professional accomplishments, a decade on SNL being an obvious example (and overshadowed only by D2, obviously). For as long as TV and movies have had a conscientious impact on my life, Kenan Thompson has consistently been at the forefront (or at least the horizon) of those mediums on a varied and up-to-date basis.

Numerous media outlets, including The Hollywood Reporter (who I believe had it first) recently reported that Kenan is developing a comedy series for NBC with a little help from SNL grand poobah Lorne Michaels. The currently untitled show would feature Thompson as writer, executive producer and lead actor, which probably signifies that Kenan is not much longer for the Saturday Night Live world. And while there is clearly quite a ways to go before a pilot gets the green light and any episode commitments are made, I truly hope those things happen.

I have no confidence in whether or not this particular show, if it makes it to the screen, would be funny or watchable. Based on the success rate of new comedies each year—along with my personal response to Kenan's comedic performances—I certainly wouldn't put any money behind it. But if it's on, there's a good chance that I'll tune in, and I genuinely want it to flourish and build an audience. Otherwise, it's unclear when and if Kenan Thompson would be relevant again in my pop culture spectrum.

And that's a scenario I feel unprepared to handle, seeing as how I've never had to before.


Thanks for reading

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Promotion of Thine Own Self Be True

If you know me personally, engage with me on social media, or have an obsessive impulse to stalk my life in search of constant updates and information, then you probably know by now that I have a new job. For those of you that don't fall into any of those categories, I recently joined the staff of Cincinnati Magazine as an Associate Editor, an endeavor which I am extremely excited about and very grateful for. I'll be undertaking numerous responsibilities at the publication, one being to contribute to and oversee a few of our online blogs, particularly those of a sports-related subject matter.

To wit, I recently wrote a piece for our Bengals Blog regarding Carson Palmer's return to Cincinnati, facing the Bengals for the first time since his temper tantrum and subsequent trade last season. I'm taking this opportunity to not only apprise you of the new path I'm journeying forward on, but also to shamelessly promote myself and the new column. If you really like me (or have a particularly intense obsession with me), you can even subscribe to the magazine in a few different ways.

Don't worry, I promise not to bog you down any longer with inane updates of my quotidian life. That's what Facebook posts are for. So without further ado...



Thanks for reading

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No Particular Place to Go

As the curtain races toward the ceiling, there he is, standing in the flesh. Black pants, black shirt, white sailor hat that has become ubiquitous in his later years perched atop his head, his wrinkled hands clutching a guitar that appears far too heavy for him, his fingers strumming along to a song that surely sounds much too loud. He looks different than the pictures — partly because the most prominent ones were taken some 50 years ago — his skin a bit darker, his iconic smile slightly weaker. He seems a little confused, to be completely honest, slightly overmatched by the music, the stage, the force of the moment.

And the entire crowd rises to its feet, whistling and hollering and slamming their hands together in pure and genuine appreciation.

“Hello.” You see him mouth the words but can't quite hear him, standing just out of range of the microphone a few feet in front of him. His left arm pulls the neck of his guitar a few inches higher as his fingers rollick up and down the frets, a man that looks an awful lot like Chuck Berry launching into a song that sounds fairly reminiscent of “Johnny B. Goode.”

---

It's impossible to designate one person as the creator of rock 'n' roll music, just as it's impossible to diminish Chuck Berry's role in the whole ordeal. He certainly didn't invent the genre or the culture surrounding it all on his own, but he was there on the ground floor, a sure-fire member of the First Continental Congress of Rock if there ever were one. His influence is found in nearly every musician of popular music that has followed, from Paul McCartney and Keith Richards to Kanye West and Carly Rae Jepsen. We know this because they told us or because we can hear it in their songs; nothing new is ever truly original, always impacted in part by something that preceded it, traced back to the very beginning. Rock 'n' roll would no doubt still exist whether Chuck was involved or not, but it certainly wouldn't be the same.

This is why Berry received and deserves his recent honor of American Music Master via the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. He was a member of the hall's initial induction class back in 1986, an honor as warranted as it must have been obvious. The only natural step was becoming the newest recipient of the hall's most prestigious award, earning him a weeklong celebration titled Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry, all culminating at a tribute concert paying audible homage to his incredible legacy.

The outpouring of respect and reverence proves to be the most memorable part of the final evening, with each original Chuck Berry song sandwiched between words of unconditional gratitude from the musicians in attendance. And that's the way it should be. The event, and honor in general, are ultimately about celebrating the man that made it all possible (“it” being rock music), whether by those like Ronnie Hawkins, Lemmy Kilmister, Darryl DMC McDaniels, Merle Haggard and Ernie Isley who were all there in person, or by those like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen who have esteemed him with their own talents over the past many years. The greatest thing you can say about Chuck Berry is that he's responsible in part for the legacy of all those previously mentioned, among countless others. None of it exists without Chuck's influence. His fingerprints are all over rock 'n' roll, his reach extending to the farthest distant corners of popular music. He's everywhere. Elvis may forever be known as the King, but Chuck Berry built the throne.

---

After a good three hours of performances by just a small fraction of those he touched, this is what we all came to see. This is the man that put the butts in the seats.

Berry stumbles through what is simultaneously the sloppiest and most beautiful rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” that has ever graced my ears. Every person that shuffled across the stage that night could have delivered a version that sounded superior, though none would have felt even half as satisfying. It's not important that Chuck is no longer the man he used to be. What's important is that he ever was in the first place, and that he stood on stage tonight just long enough to give a kid like me the chance to see him do it live yet again. Closer to 90 years of than age than he is to 80, he's a shell of what he once was, which is more than plenty for those of us in the audience.

“What's my next song?” he turns and asks with a confused look, just seconds after the amps belted out the final strum of his first selection.

Right. “Reelin' & Rockin'.” He knew that, of course. Relying on adrenaline and decades of muscle memory as he strums along, a gruffly voice tosses in mangled lyrics here and there. The number of songs he has left in those fragile fingers can't be high, his voice on a steady pathway to being completely shot. But his eyes still dance and his smile is close enough, and you get the sense that he relishes the chance to be out here just as much as we all do to see him. As long as he wants to keep picking up the guitar and waltzing up to the mic, I doubt he'll hear any complaints.

Berry lurches to the end of his second and final song on the evening. It was almost as if he payed tribute to himself, fittingly, his performance brief and scattered enough to serve as him covering the past as opposed to revisiting it. But we don't mind. We wish he'd play longer, but are eternally grateful that he played at all. We'd probably stand and cheer for hours if that's what he wanted. It's the least we could do for a man that has given us all so much, one way or another.

“Very happy to be here,” he shouts out, that smile looking more and more like the one in those pictures from over half a century ago. “I'm 86 years old. I'm happy to be anywhere.”

Anywhere. Everywhere. Same difference.

---

I eventually separate myself from the hoard of people pushing through the doorway — black and white, young and old, Motörhead and Merle Haggard fans bunched as one. The night sky is chilly and dark and peppered with tiny drops of rain, growing ever quiet the farther I get from that lone saxophone player standing on the corner.

Strolling the few blocks to my car, I enjoy the walk and the solitude — or maybe just don't think about it at all — surprised at how quickly I arrive at my parking spot. Sitting alone on the side of a red-bricked street and sheltered by leaves still clinging to their branches for at least a few moments longer, I slide into my automobile and turn the engine, flipping on the headlights while resisting a sudden unexplainable urge to roll down the window and hang my left arm out over the side.

I make a right at the first stop sign, my wheels returning to the customary blacktop, my eyes glancing up at the glowing lights in the rearview mirror, dimmer and dimmer by the second. The streets are noticeably empty. I press heavier on the gas pedal, presumably heading back home, though I can't quite say for sure.

Cruisin' and playin' the radio. No particular place to go.


Thanks for reading

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Load-Out

There are reasons for what happened to the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 MLB Playoffs. There are explanations and even excuses for squandering a 2-0 series lead against the San Francisco Giants by dropping three straight games at your home ballpark. Advancing in the postseason would have been preferred, obviously, but boy if this season wasn't a heaping pile of steps in the right direction. I mean, the Reds pulled out an impressive 97 victories, running away with the NL Central division like Usain Bolt racing the cast of The Biggest Loser. The squad was one mere win away from taking their opening-round playoff series, a position that plenty of other ball clubs would have gladly traded fates for while watching the games from their sofas. Regardless of how it ended, it was still a great season. Plus, there's always next year.

That's one way to look at things. It's probably the best and most rational point of view, really, considering the fact that sports are just entertainment and those losses were just games and this season was the best the team has had since winning it all in 1990. There are real issues in the world today, like the election and the economy and education and probably something else important that starts with the letter “e” if I thought long enough. As my 8th grade math teacher used to say, “It's not tragic, but it's not good either.” If the worst part of your day is a baseball team ending its season sooner than you had hoped, well, you probably have to chalk that one up in the “not too shabby” column when everything is said and done.

All of this is true.

Except that sports have become much more than entertainment in today's culture, and the money that's going in (and coming back out) is stacked far too high to just dismiss these games as trivial or unimportant or something with which to pass the time. Sure, there are things in life of much greater importance, and at times we do lose sight of that when it comes to our athletic rooting interests. But the old cliché of “don't tell me that sports don't matter” has some validity to it. Maybe it's because of the communal aspect and triumph of human spirit and the joy and togetherness and interaction it spawns among family and friends and relative strangers. Or maybe it's just because we like sports and want our teams to win. I assume the answer falls somewhere between those two. Either way, “It's just a game” is never something uttered by the winners.

And that's why the Cincinnati Reds' complete and utter collapse in the NLDS totally sucks. We the fans can offer up all of the explanations and excuses we want — Johnny Cueto got hurt, Joey Votto's knee still isn't 100 percent healthy, Mat Latos got jobbed on what should have been a called third-strike — but that in no way diminishes how disappointing the series and, subsequently, this season ended up. Yeah, winning 97 games and a division title is great. But if it's followed immediately by blowing a seemingly in-the-bag lead and laying a giant turd in front of your hometown fans for three straight days, what's the point? They don't hand out diamond-encrusted rings for a strong regular season. This isn't fat camp.

I could easily roar off on a lengthy tangent about this simply being another example of how dreadful Cincinnati sports have been for the better part of my lifetime — how everything after the 1990 wire-to-wire Reds has been nothing but failure and incompetence, with the few flickers of improved-but-ultimately-fleeting success the only things separating us from Cleveland sports fans. I could drone on about putrid seasons by the Reds and Bengals, playoff berths that ended far too quickly, and Kenyon Martin's shattered fibula. I could drum up all of my feelings about Stanley Wilson's coke binge or Carson Palmer's busted knee or the absolute and irreversible breakdown of Ken Griffey Jr.'s entire body over a multi-year span. But I'm not up for it. Whether it stands alone or is tossed on the massive pile of Cincy sports suckfests, the Reds collapse hits in a place that hurts. Yeah, there are more important things, but it doesn't change the outcome of this one. It's not tragic, but it sure isn't good either.

Longtime Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote post-choke: “The Reds still should be playing, and they aren’t. They were outhit and outmanaged. They let die a once-in-a-generation chance. ... It’s darned near impossible to duplicate the sort of season the Reds had, to make the playoffs this year. The karma, the chemistry, the health. It doesn’t align like this much, for small-money teams.”

Doc is right. The last 20 years is proof enough that entering the playoffs with a legitimate chance to win is not a year-to-year thing, at least for the majority of teams. It's not even a semi-regular thing. For the Reds, this was the first time in 22 years that a World Series ring would have been anything short of miraculous, assuming any championship is to begin with. And yet, the Redlegs let it slip away in dramatic and demoralizing fashion. Maybe the team, the fans and the city will all have that same chance again next October. Unfortunately, history suggests otherwise.

Jackson Browne once sang, “But the only time that seems too short / is the time that we get to play.” This holds true for the 2012 Cincinnati Reds, in spite of all the good — and there was quite a bit — that came along the way.

But hey, at least there's always next year. Which is both the best and worst thing about sports.


Thanks for reading