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Author Archives: Patrick Masterson

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It wasn’t an unusual meeting in that place. If you couldn’t find a conference room either because they were all booked or because the stupid names gave nothing away about which direction or floor you needed to go and it’d be too much of a hassle to try finding it, you squeezed onto one of the communal couches by the kitchen nearest you and had your meeting there, out in the open, often alongside other, equally self-important meetings. It’s strange to feel as if you have too many conference rooms and too few people, yet the rooms are never free and the people are disappearing.

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It was a race of laughter and forgetting.

Amid the majestic Moravian hills of Brno in the Czech Republic, what followed (very common given name in Italy and not at all less expected than Dionigi or Dionisio) Dennis Foggia’s maiden Moto3 victory and a lethally inch-perfect ride for the second time in seven days from Enea Bastianini in Moto2 was the unraveling of every narrative your favorite pundit hoped to craft for the 2020 MotoGP season. The baby’s out with the bathwater now: If anyone could be called a favorite going into the weekend, it was Fabio Quartararo. But nobody is a favorite anymore — which is why it’s worth waking up for, of course.

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Lately I’ve been looking around at my coworkers, my friends, relatives, even strangers I just kind of pretend to know, and I’ve noticed there’s a certain subdued lethargy afoot. Away from the blazing hate fires of the modern timeline in which anarchy reigns in spite (and occasionally because) of autocracy, the people I’ve come into contact with deeper and deeper into this pandemic all kind of have the same dazed look of someone who’s just been relieved from a sleeper hold: shrugs as sentences, resplendent beards, eyes drained of life, ambition robbed. It’s hard to muster energy for much of anything in such summer heat when there’s not much to look forward to because we can only plan so far ahead, can only legally go so many places, can only do so much without risk, within reason. Maybe all of that energy is going into protests and marches or podcast production or marathon training or learning to play piano, but I don’t think so.

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“Riding the Honda was like death. Every time you flicked it into a corner, you never knew if you would make it out.” —Eddie Lawson, 1991

I’ll tell you how I learned broken toes mend themselves: I got older. This was after I’d developed shoulder scar tissue because I tripped on a curb not looking in Miami and later, briefly and bemusedly, tried to pass it off as a jet ski accident. It was also after I’d acquired a scar on my calf jumping a barbed wire fence at a friend’s apartment complex parking lot in the middle of the night. And it was long after I tripped and gashed my kneecap running backward up an escalator to fetch a birthday card at a Borders that, like the relationship it served, no longer exists.

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Here is everything I know about frogs. Scientists have hard proof they date to the Triassic. They account for almost 90% of all known amphibian species. They’re basically everywhere but Siberia and the Sahara. Toads are the rectangle to a frog’s square. They are symbols of good fortune in Panama. Epibatidine is a chlorinated alkaloid 200 times more powerful than morphine secreted – as in, it comes right out of the pores, just like that, all you have to do is be around to lap it up – from the body of an Anthony’s poison arrow frog. Their legs are kind of salty to taste. A silhouette of Michigan J. Frog was The WB’s last image before it converted to The CW in 2005. They feature prominently in a recurring dream of mine.

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You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.

But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.

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There’s this world that exists, I bet you know it. It looks like lush vegetation and smells like fresh air. Birds sing, flowers bloom, the sun shines and the ozone can handle it the way it has for centuries, eons, maybe forever – no one can put a number to it, exactly. We don’t bicker over it, really. It’s splitting hairs to guess when the origin of the universe was, and who can say what was back there, where we came from, why we’re here; all we know is that we’re here now, in this world that exists, and we have to make the best of it with each other because we aren’t solitary animals. We’re not spiders or foxes or praying mantises or ocelots or owls; we need each other, and we’re smart enough to know it. We may die alone, but we don’t fail that way.

We’re smart enough to know all of this because we’re taught that, because education is a pillar of society, as much as it was during the Enlightenment, and to survive effectively in this world, smarts are essential. Diplomas are valued. Schools get funded. Kids get brains. Parents get pride. Everyone gets paid. Scholarships, stable employment straight out of school, a place in the world to call our own. It’s all there for us, collectively.

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I.

You’d have to really be up on your Eastern European saints to know Stanislaus Kostka; the 16th century Jesuit novice somehow isn’t even the best-known St. Stanislaus from Poland (an honor that goes to Stanislaus Szczepanów, the 11th century bishop martyred at the hands of a guy literally named Boleslaw). Long story short, Kostka grew up a boy of weak constitution but strong religious fervor in a (surprise!) harsh patriarchal family with six siblings and one older brother in particular who – we are told, probably by way of the younger siblings – ragged on him often. After education in Vienna, an alleged visit from St. Barbara and a long trip through Germany and Austria that ended with employment in a Rome boarding school, Kostka realized in a vision that the last fever he had would get the better of him, promptly wrote a letter to the Virgin Mary and died in the small hours of August 15, 1568, at the age of 17. In the Renaissance, being self-aware enough to realize you had a weak immune system was basically enough to get you beatified and canonized; in the Gilded Age, it was enough to get you Chicago’s first Polish Catholic church.

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The moon hides the sun for about two hours. That’s basically what all this business about the solar eclipse comes down to – the 14 brands of sunglasses NASA’s approved for viewing, the hastily requested time-off notices, the paths of totality sounding like some phony spiritual journey, the 99 years of waiting. But some state Departments of Transportation are taking it seriously in an effort to work around what they see as being a potentially severe congestion problem along many of the country’s major trucking routes. From I-5 running parallel up Oregon’s coast to I-26 slicing through the heart of South Carolina, officials are considering limited deliveries and restricted wide loads.

It’s a stone of madness, really. The country’s major terra firma shipping arteries could be clogged by a bunch of us desperate to stare at our most blistering light in the anticipation that it gets hidden for a twelfth of our day. What new astrological insights are we hoping for from down here? What are we expecting to be different? What truth will freshly burned retinas bring us?

Plenty of cosmic rituals make absolutely no sense to me, but this one is its own reality.

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