WHAT I AM READING: THIS OLD MAN
I have had the exquisite privilege of sharing a few pressboxes with Roger Angell, the great essayist and fiction editor for the New Yorker who wrote about baseball in ways I scarcely imagined. I discovered his work while still in college (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1975/11/17/agincourt-and-after) and no baseball season was ever complete until after I had read his reflections, which were published by the magazine every November. I confess I was afraid to approach him the first few times I saw him at games, then discovered he was a warm, generous man who immediately put me at ease. In 2015, Angell, who turns 100 (!) on Sept. 19, published a selection of his writings, which include “This Old Man,” his award-winning and deeply personal musings on aging. It is the centerpiece of this book, but here I have chosen to share his incomparable descriptions of the beards modeled by Red Sox players in 2013, when they won the World Series.
…So let’s pause here and for one last time talk about beards.
In resuming the topic, I don’t expect to match or approach the charming and scholarly essay recently posted by my friend and colleague Richard Brody, who said that “one of the beauties of the beard is that its lushness is polysemic, lending itself to an interpretative exuberance to match its flow.” Yow, Richard, and excuse me, but might I demur?
Beards are kudzu.
Jonny Gomes’s beard — a brown frigate bird’s nest — is among the uglier sported by the hairy Sox this year, and when numbers of his teammates began grabbing it and ritually tugging on it upon his return to the dugout after his blast I was among a minority in the land who were hoping they’d pull it off. Gomes, a nice guy from Petaluma, California, has broad sloping shoulders and a pleasant, or O.K.-ish, everyday expression, but he’s shaved his head now, too, which doesn’t help, unless you’re eager to join the crowding recent hordes of the undead. C’mon, Jonny.
Gomes’s isn’t the worst Sox beard — the title goes to backup catcher David Ross, whose unkempt cabbage includes a clashing streak of white that cascades over his chin — perhaps a relic of a childhood moment when he ran into his grandfather in the narrow back hall outside the bathroom. The other catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has a raggedy garden-border growth, in keeping with the encircling back-yard shrubbery of his hair. Mike Napoli’s beard is thickest; Dustin Pedroia’s the weirdest, since it comes with his desert-saint stare and that repeated on-deck or between-pitch mannerism of opening and stretching his mouth into a silent O: a screech owl with laryngitis.
I’m a gentle fellow, and intend no lasting hurts here. I admire Big Papi’s plunging mid-cheek parenthesis, which has been there for many seasons, of course, and now feels as familiar and locally reassuring as a statue by Daniel Chester French. I also offer praise for the angle-iron jawline wool sported by tonight’s Boston starter, Jon Lester: an aesthetic so clearly modelled on Gunnar Bjornstrand’s trimmed-down growth while he portrayed Fredrik Egerman in Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night.”
Can I ask a question? Where are the Red Sox wives or sweetie pies in all this? Have none of them spoken up — privately or in the Globe or in a thousand tweets — to protest this office fad? How does it feel, night after night, in immediate proximity to a crazed Pomeranian or a Malamute or an Old English sheepdog stubbornly adhering to the once caressable jaw of the guy on the nearest pillow? Doesn’t it scratch? Doesn’t it itch? Doesn’t it smell, however faintly, of tonight’s boeuf en daube or yesterday’s last pinch of Red Man? And what about the kids — how long can you keep putting them off with another recital of “The Three Little Pigs” or Edward Lear? Who does your husband/significant other think he is, anyway — Dostoyevsky? Brigham Young? Darwin? An Allman brother? Alexander Cartwright?
Come on guys, think this over. Time to grow up. And what if you lose in the end this week, beards and all? Is this a lifetime commitment?
Hmmm. (Rubs chin.)
(Editor’s note: I had to look up “polysemic,” too. It means, “capable of having multiple meanings.”)
Roger Angell, an American original.