I'm lucky and I know it.
I've only suffered the inconveniences of quarantine. Compared to those whose encounters with trauma and tragedy have changed them forever, I've been blessed.
So what I think about so often to fill time are the small things I'm missing in the Age of Quarantine – none of which would be worth trading for a single human being's illness. A short list:
Movie theaters. I've spent my professional life in them – all kinds, from ruins and virtual slums to palaces. They're home to me. Whenever I arrive early at the North Park Theatre – my childhood "Cinema Paradiso" – for a morning movie screening, I can't help but be moved at the theater's splendid renovation from the place that was my rundown Saturday home away from home almost seven decades earlier.
I just love them. I never eat their popcorn, but I love the pervasive smell of it. I love the old seats, but I use the newfangled recliners that theaters are now so proud of. I don't need them to be happy, you understand, but I feel at home with whatever movie theaters want to throw into the mix – even 15 minutes of previews, along with local ads. I'm not crying about separation, but I hate being forcibly kept away from them.
Social media and movie critics are full of the direst worries over their survival once the virus has been tamed. AMC's troubles (it operates the Market Arcade and Maple Ridge) had, for a while, many predicting bankruptcy. Those predictions have subsided somewhat, but anxiety about them all is unavoidable.
Restaurants. I love takeout and delivery, especially from my favorites. But there's nothing like a delicious, long and languorous meal at a great restaurant. There's a relatively new one on Elmwood a little more than a block away that I have been meaning to try, but there's a chance it will disappear before I've had the opportunity.
Forecasts for the survival of many are guarded at best, hopeless at worst. All we can do is support and patronize those we can to help them dodge dismal fates.
The NBA. After the NFL games have led up to the Super Bowl, all my attention usually goes to the NBA, which has presented my second favorite sport on TV since the era when Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar's Lakers were locked in battle with Larry Bird's Boston Celtics.
The NBA playoffs and championships weren't just triumphs of strategy and athletic prowess, they were festivals of personality and vivid braggadocio.
Along with them came some of my favorite TV programming – jock comedy in the form of game analysis. That's where the likes of the NFL's Terry Bradshaw and the NBA's Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal shine brightly along with journalists and professional opinion-slingers percolating on camera.
My favorite among opinion-slingers used to be the wildly literate and expert Boston chauvinist and ex-bartender Bill Simmons, ESPN's self-styled "Sports Guy" until he and ESPN got a professional divorce. He kept his great NBA and pop culture online rag Grantland going as long as he could, then re-created as much of it as possible online at The Ringer where it remains delightful daily.
On ESPN, he always was expertly prepared and fearlessly and cheerfully opinionated. A fan above all. He acted like what he had been – a bartender/fan able to keep topics on a rolling boil for an entire night with spritz of one sort or another.
Another of those on TV is ESPN's incomparable Steven A. Smith, whose volume level and pomp sometimes exceed that of Chris "Boomer" Berman. Berman, now 64, is edging inch-wise into his senior years and no longer seems the freelance bull in a china shop that he once was. In his place, sort of, is Smith, who takes himself almost as seriously as habitues of the White House.
Smith is always ready to bark at someone, anyone, about something. He has divined that his purpose on the air is verbal brawling, using facts instead of fists and obscenities. He's almost all pomp and circumstance all the time, so much so that I'm genuinely curious what he might be like if you happened to take him and Simmons out to a bar and bought them a beer or two.
In the season of ESPN's epic Michael Jordan bio "The Last Dance," you can purchase updates of the most enjoyable book ever written about basketball and just maybe the greatest pure-fan volume ever written, Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball." (A sequel to it is now a podcast featuring Simmons.) It was originally published in 2009 with Simmons' homemade "pyramid" of the greatest players in NBA history. With Simmons doing the picking, you read the order of their greatness all the way up to Jordan at No. 1 or the now-universally fabled GOAT (Greatest of All Time.)
You can read this on page 612 of the original edition, about Jordan's performance in Game 6 of the '98 Finals: "He wins it by himself. No help. Just him. He scores 41 of Chicago's first 83 points, biding his time even as he's manipulating the proceedings. Down by three with 40 seconds to go, he goes for the kill – explodes for a coast-to-coast layup, strips Karl Malone on the other end and drains the game-winner all in one sequence – without a single teammate touching the ball, a fitting conclusion to the most brilliant basketball game ever played. I know LeBron James is fantastic right now but if he's still winning championships by himself at thirty six on the fourth version of himself, we can start talking about him and Jordan and only then."
LeBron will be 36 next year.
Simmons' book, originally published at more than 700 pages, is an amazing performance between book covers. The basic idea wasn't unique in its intention, but it is unique in its passionate, ultra-fan expertise.
If you've ever loved pro basketball, it's terrific fun to read. It's especially brilliant that Simmons has always tried to keep it up-to-date.
The simple energy of Simmons' untrammeled fandom is enough to win almost anyone over. If pro basketball is at all your sport, it's almost enough to keep you happy when you can't find any new games on the tube.