Because he will be at our school in ten days, I’m trying to read three Jonathan Eig books at the same time. Not physically at the same time, of course, though wouldn’t that be handy? If you’ve ever seen Rain Man, the story is based on a man who possessed some of the remarkable skills portrayed in the movie. That man was born without a corpus callosum, the bundle of nerves connecting the two hemispheres. As a result, he was able to read opposite pages of a book at the same time because his two brains operated independently. I’m not envious, but I am fascinated, and I wonder about other limitations we have that we’re wholly unaware of.
The three Eig books are about Al Capone, Jackie Robinson, and Lou Gehrig, respectively. All three are fascinating and beautifully written (on that count I am envious, but it’s the kind of envy that pushes me to my desk to write, so thank you, Jonathan). At first glance, I thought Capone would be the most interesting story of the three, and while his exploits pull me along, I’m mostly repelled by his brutality and arrogance. I keep my distance, nix his charisma. And when I think of Gehrig, I can’t help thinking of Gary Cooper’s portrayal, but as it turns out, Yankee fans weren’t all that enamored of Gehrig because he was unassuming. I’m not as far along in his story, but I’m anxious to read more. The book I pick up most often is the one about Jackie Robinson. His brother competed in the 1930s Olympics, came in second to Jesse Owens, and returned home to sweep streets. Robinson himself played football, baseball, basketball, tennis, and ran track, yet he couldn’t rent a hotel in cities in which his teams played. The book is a fascinating tale about his resilience and about American’s stubborn small-mindedness, which still plagues us today. But I know what draws me back to the book. I’m for the little guy. I don’t mean this literally, even though admittedly I am never the tallest person in the room. (Only when I visit my parents do I feel giant-like.) I’m for the underdog, is what I mean, the one with great odds against him, who persists and prevails, with emphasis on the former because we only hear about the ones who succeed.
I should have ended this February 20th entry with that last sentence, maybe adding a line about persistence being the reward in itself, but I’m tired of that measly response. Instead, I will end on a tangent. Coupled with my rooting for the underdog is my dogged sense of fairness (maybe this ain’t such a tangent after all). For example (and now the tangent), I’m tired of animated movies employing the voices of famous actors and actresses. I know these people are talented and known and more likely to bring in revenue, but there are hordes of talented people with trained voices who could use a break and who would bring to these movies the same intensity and proficiency. Why do the big jobs keep going to the same people? It’s a closed, stifling circuit. The world should operate more like t-ball, where everyone gets a chance. If you want a more cogent, thorough argument about these ideas, read Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article in The New Yorker on college rankings, another preposterous, self-generating system that rewards those who have already succeeded and leaves no wiggle for the little guy to stretch up and peek around and get noticed.