Arkansas Times Recommends is a series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
The NBA Finals concluded Sunday with a thrilling Game 7, in which LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Co. ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought. The Copa America tournament is almost over after Lionel Messi did his thing against the United States. The EURO championship is entering its knockout stage, too. All of this means we’re entering the most torturous period of the sports calendar. The thought of watching an entire regular-season baseball game sends a shiver down my millennial spine. Don’t get me started on golf or tennis. Luckily, there is something to keep you and me entertained: the NBA offseason.
It’s a circus unlike any other. Last year it brought us the Emoji War, one of the more absurd events in NBA history. There was “The Decision” in 2010, followed by Lebron’s redeeming decision to return to Cleveland in 2014. With Kevin Durant entering free agency, this year is sure to provide more fireworks. Every offseason features grown men treating other grown men like they’re Algerian princes, and fans of mediocre teams convincing themselves that they’ll sign a superstar. I’m a Phoenix Suns fan, so include me among the hopelessly hopeful. The free agency period begins July 1, and I recommend watching the madness unfold.
I recommend continuing to read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” series (Book 5 of the six-book Norwegian autobiographical novel series came out in English translation this spring)—because around 2,800 pages in you will realize that these books are not about death, but about the preciousness of life. A novelist once told me that there is enough meaninglessness in the world already, that literature is a respite from that. “My Struggle” digs in to a different notion: that lived life is a miracle, even in its artless moments.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house without central heat and air. Maybe I have an unearned sense of nostalgia for mid-century America, an era in which I never lived. Whatever the reason, I’ve been instilled with an abiding appreciation for localized heating and cooling mechanisms: gas heaters, fireplaces and in the summer, fans. Ambient heating and cooling isn’t quite the same, is it? The effects are dissipated, nebulous, not nearly as satisfying as sidling up to the icy blast from the vents of a window unit in summer, or to a fireplace in winter, with all its resulting smoke and crackle. To that end, this cruel summer’s given me an excuse to fire up the Studebaker of all box fans: the Mathes Cooler. Before the Curtis Mathes Corporation went into the TV business, they manufactured these beauties, and thanks to a relative who’s fond of tinkering with the old stalwarts, I’ve been lucky enough to have two or three of them kicking around the house, working just as smoothly as they did in 1947, and looking mighty fine to boot. I recommend treating yourself to one of the models that routinely pop up on eBay; it may not be able to do this, but it’s simple, portable, and stylish as all hell.
Even if you don’t know Yeats’ lamentation for post-WWI Europe, it’s likely that certain lines will ring a bell, since writers from Chinua Achebe to Joan Didion to Judge Robert Bork have been referencing or commandeering bits of “The Second Coming” for the past six decades. (That’s along with a host of lesser-known pop culture “plunderings,” as cataloged by this entertaining piece from the Paris Review: it turns out the phrase “the widening gyre” alone crops up as the title of a pulpy detective novel, an episode of Sons of Anarchy, an Irish folk album, a Kevin Smith-authored Batman comic and much more.)
Upon consideration, though, I think maybe wallowing in intimations of apocalypse — ever the temptation in our culture, for whatever reason — is the last thing needed right now. Brexit is some ominous shit, but it’s no World War I. At the same time that some things are falling apart, plenty of other things keep rolling on. So, along with “The Second Coming” (which you really should read) I’ll recommend this other Yeats poem which I just now found, “An Appointment.”
Being out of heart with government
I took a broken root to fling
Where the proud, wayward squirrel went,
Taking delight that he could spring;
And he, with that low whinnying sound
That is like laughter, sprang again
And so to the other tree at a bound.
Nor the tame will, nor timid brain,
Bred that fierce tooth and cleanly limb
And threw him up to laugh on the bough;
No government appointed him.