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Smell the Coffee

That's all sports fans can do now that they have no morning box scores to savor

You are not yourself anymore. Or at least you are not the same self you always have been. You can talk a pretty good game—"Hey, I can get along without baseball, means nothing to me"—but secretly you are scared. First baseball goes away, now hockey. What next? Will you ask for a glass of milk and discover that the cows are on strike? You are more than a little bit lost. Floating.

"Hillary's changed her hair again," you tell the lump who lives next door, the same way you used to tell him about the particulars of Barry Bonds's swing. "The hair seems to come down over one eye a little bit. Not particularly appealing. She just can't seem to find the look that's right for her."

"Aw, there'll never be another Nancy Reagan," the lump replies. "Red dress. Hair that wouldn't move in a typhoon. That was a woman who knew her look."

You find yourself in the strangest conversations, doing the strangest things. You go to bed earlier because you don't stay up for the West Coast scores. You go to work earlier in the morning because you zip through breakfast without box scores organic summaries. You try to cope, struggling through the midweek feature stories about introspective offensive linemen or vegetarian triathletes that suddenly fill the sports pages, but they are not the answer. You caught yourself reading the ingredients on the side of a Cheerios box just the other day. You know you did. Just to focus on some agate type.

"I was reading the ingredients on the Cheerios box," you tell the lump. "Did you know that Cheerios contains calcium?"

"Did you know that Raisin Bran contains raisins?" the lump replies.

The day-to-day games, the day-to-day sports news, were your rest area on the side of the dreaded information superhighway. Now you have been thrown into the traffic. You click to channels you have never seen, channels that sell six-room bungalows in the suburbs, channels that show the weather for every continent, channels that broadcast only in Italian. You discover that Frasier no longer sits on a stool at Cheers. He has his own radio show in Seattle now. How about that? Gunsmoke is no longer a big hit. You think about contacting Dionne Warwick on the Psychic Hotline. Scary.

"I saw Michael Jackson kiss Lisa Marie at the MTV Awards," you tell the lump. "It looked phony to me."

"How about that Miss America?" the lump replies. "The deaf woman? I had her picked from the moment I saw her in the parade of states. It was a no-brainer."

You used to be able to talk with people—O.K., mostly male people—with a voice of authority. You knew what you knew. You saw what you saw. You could go to work and discuss the events of the previous night, the ground rule doubles, the vicious crosschecks to the thorax that had started full-scale conflagrations. There was a shared experience. If you met a man from, say, Pittsburgh, you could establish that immediate bond by saying, "Jim Leyland's still the best damn manager in baseball; they just don't give him any players" or "It's a shame about Mario Lemieux." What do you say now? Something about the price of steel?

"I went to the mall last night," you tell the lump. "I always used to stay in the car, listen to the games, while everybody else shopped. Last night I found myself in a gift shop. I was talking with the saleswoman about the price of Hummel figures."

"I was at the farmers' market," the lump replies. "Never been there before. A man was telling me how to grow turnips."

You do chores. Your front lawn never has looked better, like something imported from the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Your basement is as tidy as a Marine Corps barracks at Camp Lejeune. You have found screwdrivers that were missing for a decade. Your bills have been paid for next month rather than last month. You rent movies so often that the teenage girl behind the counter at the video store knows your name. You not only read books but have also obtained a library card.

Nobody talks about you or your problems during all the strike meetings, all the press conferences. Don't the owners and players understand what has happened to your life? Sometimes you feel as if you were locked inside a room, left with magazines you don't want to read, waiting for a dentist who never appears. Now there is talk that pro basketball will also be shut down.

"Here's a dream I had," you tell the lump. "The only two people left were Madonna and me. We were running through all of these ballparks and arenas across the land. The ballparks and the arenas were perfectly clean, but all the people had disappeared. We kept going down long concrete corridors, opening doors, finding nobody. Madonna didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to do. We had lunch, I believe, at Comiskey Park. Madonna whipped up some nachos."

"Madonna," the lump says. "Now there's a woman who knows her look."

Floating. Just floating.