YOU MAY NOT be able to tell right away because the transformation is a subtle one, but this is the new, improved Yours Truly you're reading today. For one thing, I am prompt.
By the time this reaches you I will be prompt, I mean. I would already have been prompt as I tapped these letters into my computer, only I fell asleep right after lunch last Friday and my editor didn't call wanting to know where the hell was my column until almost 3:30 p.m. Then I dozed-off again until around 4 p.m., but I got right on it after that.
But I'd been thinking about being prompt for a couple three weeks before that. Now I am. By the time you get this. What else I am is in small, incremental-but-inexorable ways, ever-more-grateful to powers greater than myself for the success and good fortune I have enjoyed in my professional and personal life. As a paid observer of and commentator upon the behavior of contemporary public persons, I have noticed that many of the more successful among them, when great honors are bestowed upon them and they are urged by thunderous applause to acknowledge these plaudits, have drifted gradually away from the long laundry lists of little people--my hairdresser, my kindergarten teacher who inspired me to act out my sexual tensions, Raoul the Iberian houseboy at our summer beach cottage--and toward simpler panegyrics giving most of the credit to God.
I have been particularly impressed with the increasing levels of devoutness among the creative community, as evidenced by telecasts of awards shows from the Oscars to the Grammies to even the MTV awards. You've got to admit it makes an impression when a rapper like Snoop Doggy Dogg comes to the mike to accept song-of-the-year credit for "Drop Your Drawers an' Ben' Ovuh, Bitch," and says he couldn't have done it without the divine inspiration of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Or is he alluding to some other Jesus Christ? Oh, you mean Jesus P. Christ, of the Flint, Michigan, Christs....
Anyway, they called from The Weekly a few days back to invite me up to Casa Grande next weekend, to accept some writing award I have evidently won from the Arizona Press Club, so I'm working up a brief-but-inspiring "Thank You, Jesus" speech for when my name is called. I've been studying the technique of various actors, singers and sports stars. Professional sports in particular are at the cutting edge of gratitude. Right after the obligatory nod to the deity who, in His righteous wisdom saw fit to give Booger's Chevy that 45 extra horsepower an' them 17-second pit-stops so he could vanquish the heathen foe, Booger puts on his Goodyear cap, and then his Slick 50 hat, and holds up his Gatorade bottle and a fistful of Slim Jims, all the while thanking General Motors and Payless Shoe Stores and Winn Dixie's meat department and all the other sponsors who "put a good race-car under me today or ah wutn't a-whupped them ol' boys."
You think stock car drivers are a bunch of mouth-breathing Bubbas? Think again. They can get more commercial plugs packed into a 15-second interview than all the guests on The Tonight Show in an entire month. Even May, which is a sweeps month. These lads are the commercial elite, even if they do sound like someone out of the recurring nightmares you suffered for six months after you saw Deliverance.
And they are lighting the way into the Brave New World of sports and entertainment. And, if I can work the angles right, small-town chickenshit journalism. A world where everything and everybody has a price tag. Better yet, a bar code, so every time one of you scans a page with something I've written on it, somewhere a computer goes "beep" and another 12.3 cents is credited to my checking account.
Greg Hansen from the Star sort of inspired me this week. He was writing about the tackiness of professional
baseball in its obsession with the almighty dollar, particularly as it recently translates into the names of expansion franchise ballparks. A certain beer company ponied up $30 million and so the Colorado Rockies play their home games at Coors Field. At least Coors is an actual human family name. The new Arizona Diamondbacks will be playing out of Bank One Ballpark, thanks to $33 million from guess who. Just yesterday I was into my local branch of same, asking Joy how come I was getting charged 14 bucks a month to write checks.
Now I understand. I'm doing my part to underwrite a bunch of fat, spoiled crybabies I wouldn't go across the street to watch play for free.
But I'm going to learn. I am herewith offering my name and my pen to whomever is willing to put a good race car under me so ah can whup Tom Beal or whatever.
I was stricken to my soul, years ago, when the pure and pristine British racing green of Stirling Moss' classic Lotus and Cooper, Vanwall and BRM grand prix cars, the blood-red Ferrari and Maserati racers wearing Italy's traditional livery, the German silver, French blue, all gave way to brute necessity to find sponsorship, and find room on the lithe and muscular flanks of the race cars for decals and billboards. Now I am forced to embrace reality and pursue the dollar myself, or hear my voice fade from clarion call, to confused murmur, to silence.
Money's doing the talking now, fans, and there's no such thing as enough. Really. It started with motor racing, in which each individual athlete is the tip of an iceberg, so to speak, comprising megatons of money. You think it costs a shitload to field a baseball team? Peanuts. What can it cost for a mitt, a stick and horsehide ball and a cheap suit of spandex? Stack up a ball and glove and cleats and pinstripes against a firesuit, a helmet, radios, a million-dollar race car, a backup car, spare engines, parts, tools, tires, a whole crew of mechanics, not to mention designers, builders, gofers and so on. Motor racing is capital-intensive, which is why race cars are rolling billboards.
Up to now, other professional sports have not needed so much and such varied and multitudinous sources of cash. They still don't, given their gate receipts and TV revenues. But needing and wanting are two different things. Forget "If you build it, they will come." Think, "If you offer it, they will take it." So Bank One offered $33 million and the Diamondbacks took it.
If Gordo's Mexicateria offers their designated hitter $500 an at-bat to wear their logo across his ass, do you think he'll demur? It gives new meaning to free agency.
And I for once intend to be ahead of the curve. I am selling out. I am doing so with a clear conscience and in the certainty that no conflict of interest clouds my new enterprise. I will take anybody's money, pitch anybody's product, plug anybody's name without bias or editorial slant. If you've got the money, Honey, you've got my time.
After all, when Terry Labonte says he wants to thank Kellogg's Corn Flakes for helping him win at Bristol, he's not saying corn flakes made his car quicker, nor even that Kellogg's makes the best corn flakes. He's saying, "Thanks for the check."
That's my plan for self-improvement, too. You write me a check, I'll thank you by name. This will enable me to keep kicking the shit out of those other Godless heathens in the journalism race.
Thank you, Jesus. The number to call is 792-3630.
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