' ' Cinema Romantico: A New Year's Missive

Friday, December 31, 2021

A New Year's Missive

In 2019, the Marquee Sports Network became the exclusive home of the Chicago Cubs for its non-national telecast. Operated partly by the Cubs themselves, it’s not unlike the Longhorn Network, a regional sports channel dedicated to University of Texas sports. Of course, because the entire field of the university’s varsity athletics is at its disposal, the Longhorn Network will theoretically never run out of programming, so long as it also wants to broadcast baseball and softball and volleyball and track and field. The Marquee Sports Network, on the other hand, is just the Cubs, all the time, forcing them to get a little creative in filling airtime. That’s why you see broadcasts of Triple-A games, and countdowns of the best Cubs of all-time, and reruns of old Cub classics. The latter I tend to enjoy. You just flip over some random evening and there is Greg Maddux pitching or Jerome Walton, my man, 1989 Rookie of the Year, batting. Sometimes, though, it’s even better. Recently I flipped over to a game I can’t remember at precisely the right instant, the telecast coming back from a commercial to reveal Dewayne Staats, second fiddle play-by-play man to Harry Caray in the late 80s, standing there with Wilford Brimley, his name splayed across the screen even though he is unmistakable in his 10-gallon hat and tinted wire-rimmed glasses.

This is one of those interviews you typically find after the the seventh-inning stretch when whatever celebrity that has just sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is pressed into answering a few garden-variety queries, eventually betraying the fact the interviewer merely knows the general points about their subject. Indeed, Staats mentions Brimley as being the star “of ‘Cocoon’ and a number of other productions”, his faint but detectable stretching of  “a” into “uhhhh” revealing he might not actually know any of those other productions. In other words, these interviews are but exercises in tedious publicity. Brimley, rest his soul, refuses to take part even as he technically does.

The first thing you will notice in the rudimentary iPhone picture I snapped of the image on our TV is that Brimley is not looking at Staats even as Staats is turned toward Brimley to ask a question. This is how it remains for the entire interview. Even when Brimley responds, the venerable actor never makes eye contact with the announcer while speaking. This is not rudeness so much as a casual dismissal of the whole affair. Indeed, Staats begins by comically asking if Brimley has any advice on how the Cubs might be able to acquire some runs and Brimley, his eyes on the field, replies “I couldn’t help ya. I’m just gonna watch the game.” And because the telecast occasionally cuts to images of the action on the field, we see that is what Brimley is literally trying to do: watch the game. 

Staats then proceeds with the obligatory questioning anyway, about why Brimley is in town, stemming from the actor’s association with Quaker Oats Company, which, in a truly deft trick owing to his gruff yet easygoing air, never feels exactly like a plug, just a basic answer to a basic inquiry. And when Staats then tries asking if Brimley has another acting gig coming up, the actor cheekily replies “Well, I hope so.” Then, clearly deciding in the moment he’s had enough of this, Brimley says, still keeping his eyes on the field, more than the person right next to him ostensibly calling the game, “Right now I’m just gonna watch this ballgame. Nice to meet you and everything.” In effect, Brimley himself ends the interview. 

Not shining it on for the Cubs, not shilling for Quaker, Brimley’s polite disinterest is truly inspiring, and the kind of attitude I hope to bring into the New Year. I hope to take back my time, to reclaim my emotional and mental space from those and that which would commandeer it or suggest I should not even have it at all, to focus on what is right in front of me and what mattes to me most.

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