Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The Book: Dan Jenkins, YOU GOTTA PLAY HURT. Simon & Schuster, 1991 (first edition). Very good book in good-minus dust jacket; remainder mark on bottom edge.
First read: 1992
Owned since: 2005 (this copy)

The bad news is that my friends the Lechners are moving to North Carolina. The good news is that I'd lent them this book, and got it back last week because they didn't want to have to pack it. In the grand scheme of things I would prefer that they stay in Maine and hang on to this book indefinitely, but I take what consolations the universe offers me.

This is at least the third copy of the book I've owned -- purchased, if memory serves, at the Yarmouth Clam Festival in 2005 -- but the first copy I read was borrowed from my colleague Roger. The senior staff of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors passed the book around with a sort of furtive glee, mainly because of this passage (excerpted):

One of my entertainment sheets from two years ago was framed and adorned the wall of Marge Frack's office.


Date: 9/15
Person/Purpose/Place: Breakfast for Barry Switzer, ex-Oklahoma football coach; discuss role of black athlete in investment banking industry; Beverly Hills Hotel
Amount: $215.14

Date: 9/15
Person/Purpose/Place: Lunch for Barry Switzer, ex-Oklahoma football coach; discuss influence of Al Capone on college football; Beverly Hills Hotel
Amount: $394.50

Date: 9/15
Person/Purpose/Place: Dinner & drinks for Barry Switzer, ex-Oklahoma football coach; discuss NCAA's relationship to mass murders in USA; Beverly Hills Hotel
Amount: $394.35

It goes on and gets even sillier, but you get the idea. In no way do I mean to imply that any of my colleagues might have abused their own expense accounts -- and I was, if anything, over-scrupulous about mine -- but we admired the shamelessness.

YOU GOTTA PLAY HURT is the fictional memoir of sportswriter Jim Tom Pinch, who writes for a magazine that bears what is surely a coincidental resemblance to Sports Illustrated. Jim Tom is an old-school, typewriter-using journalist in a world increasingly dominated by corporate sponsorship, technological advances and political correctness, and the conflicts are hilarious.

I've given several copies of this book away, but looking at it now, I realize it hasn't aged well. The humor is specific to a time and place that feel very far away now, although it's fewer than 20 years ago. It's not as funny to me now as it used to be, and I can't figure out what percentage of that is the world changing, me changing, or possibly - God forbid - the fact that it wasn't originally as funny as I remember it being.

Humor is fragile and circumstantial. This week we're mourning George Carlin, but all the tribute clips just remind me that people ten years older than I found him a lot funnier than I ever did. By the time I started paying attention to him, he was less a comedian than a social critic -- or maybe that's a false distinction. Either way, the loss is the same.

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