A Tale of Two Pictures
How I Want to Remember 2004

People that know me can tell you that I’m not much of a pictures guy. I’ve been to dozens of interesting places, both inside this country and abroad, and every time, I have failed to bring a camera with me. I just don’t take photographs that often, which is one reason I like hanging out with people who do – I enjoy having the memorabilia, but rarely enjoy actually snapping the pictures. I’d rather be in the moment.

I really only have a few photographs, anyway. I don’t usually keep them around. I have one or two each of the important people in my life, and a couple of well-composed ones from my time at local newspapers, and that’s about it. But in thinking about this year in particular, there are two photographs I would like in my meager collection before we head into 2005. I’d like to remember this year for the good times, for the moments of inspiration, and these two would top the list.

First, I would like a picture of my Boston Red Sox clinching their first World Series title in 86 years.

This one seems possible, even probable at this point, but as all Boston fans know, it’s never too late to lose all hope. Let me say this – if this 2004 Red Sox team is setting us up for a fall, it will be the most spectacular and heartbreaking collapse in this franchise’s spectacular and heartbreaking history. And it would be just like them, too.

See, last year was supposed to be The Year. I grew up in a house with a committed, passionate Red Sox fan. My father has never seen the Sox win a World Series. He remembers 1967 against the Cardinals, and he remembers 1986 against the Mets, the way some people would remember being stabbed. Every time they show Bucky Dent’s home run, or Bill Buckner’s classic fumble, it physically hurts him. And last year, the Red Sox nearly killed him.

The 2003 team was amazing, honestly. We hit the American League Championship Series with a great record, and with great gusto. And we outplayed the hated New York Yankees – we won that series like Gore won the 2000 election. We were just better, but in game seven, a bad management decision kept a fading superstar pitcher on the mound long after he should have been pulled, and a surprise homer by Aaron Boone entered the Boston Hall of Shame, right next to Dent and Buckner. I remember my dad not even staying up to watch the final innings, so sure was he after the eighth that his team had thrown it away once again.

This year, right from the start, was not The Year. In my humble non-real-fan estimation, we just haven’t been playing as well this year as we did in ’03, no matter what the numbers say. But we got a couple more aces this time, in particular one unbelievable pitcher named Curt Schilling, and we won every game that mattered in the regular season. We clinched the wild card and strode into the ALCS to face (who else) the Evil Empire, the satanic New York Yankees.

And they killed us for three games. We were a bunch of undisciplined, fun-loving fools coming up against the baseball equivalent of the U.S. Marines – tight, organized, fully armed and nearly unstoppable. In fact, in game three, they bitch-slapped us worse than any team had ever bitch-slapped any other team in the post-season. We were done. The Empire had struck back. There was always next year.

But then…

I can’t even describe the excitement in and around Boston as the Sox started their so-called impossible comeback. I was lucky enough to be there for these games, and everywhere I went, I saw people wearing big red B logos and talking about long-held faith in this team. Three outs from elimination in game four, the Sox improbably tied it up with a stolen base from Dave Roberts, and then won it on a homer from David Ortiz. And then they won game five, too. I should mention that no team in baseball history had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. Ever.

And then our man Schilling, after a painful-to-watch performance in game one, risked his health and his career to pitch game six with a separated tendon in his right ankle. His sock was soaked with blood, yet he pitched brilliantly, and we won again. And then game seven… well, it would be uncharitable of me to say that we dominated game seven, but it was exactly like 2003, except for the blown lead and the lost game. The 2004 Boston Red Sox did what no team in baseball had ever done before, and they did it to the goddamn Yankees. Life was good in Beantown.

Oddly enough, Boston fans were so used to losing to the Yankees that they didn’t quite know how to take this stunning victory. Bill Simmons of ESPN quipped that he was waiting for them to announce a game eight. The Daily Show’s Rob Corddry, who’s from Massachusetts, suggested jokingly that Derek Jeter could fly counter-clockwise around the earth, turn back time and still beat the Sox. “It’s the Yankees,” he said. “They’re always pulling shit like that.”

But wait, it gets better. Not only are the Red Sox in the World Series, but as of this writing, they’re three games ahead. They are one victory away from silencing that damn “1918” chant forever. Now, I know this is the Red Sox, and there are still a hundred different ways we could screw this up, and I do realize this is the same position the Yankees were in 11 days ago. But damn, what if they actually pull this off?

I asked my dad last night what he would do if the Red Sox won the Series, and he couldn’t answer. “I haven’t ever thought about it,” he said, not because he’s ambivalent, but because he never imagined it would really happen. Part of being a Red Sox fan, especially a lifelong one, is getting used to endless disappointment and keeping at bay the crushing certainty that your team will never win the big one in your lifetime. After tonight, that could be over and done with. If I haven’t just jinxed it, that is…

So yeah, I want a picture of the Sox with their World Series trophy. Preferably, if at all possible, I want one with Curt Schilling and the trophy, ‘cause he deserves the respect and love of Boston fans for as long as he lives, no matter the outcome of this series. This team, all together, has been incredible to watch, and inspiring in ways that people who aren’t from New England probably won’t get. Personally speaking, I needed this, and I needed it now, so thanks, guys. Knock ‘em dead.

The other picture is going to be a little trickier, but I still think we can do it. I can’t think of anything I’d like more sitting next to my World Series pic than a photo of John Kerry taking the oath as our next president.

We’re less than a week away from the election now, and the polls are still showing George W. Bush with a slight lead. I’m hoping the polls are bogus. I know they don’t accurately reflect the possible votes of students and those whose cell phones are their only phone lines. I also know that the only poll that matters will be taken next Tuesday. So here’s my last passionate plea for registered voters to come on out and vote for John Kerry.

Many see this election as a referendum on Bush’s performance as president over the last four years. It’s not just that, of course, but even so, Bush failed miserably on pretty much every count. He inherited a huge budget surplus and pissed it away, leaving behind an enormous deficit. He gave tax breaks to his rich buddies, the people who least need them. He squandered the good will of the world after September 11 by rushing us to war in Iraq under false pretenses, and he failed to plan any sort of exit strategy. American soldiers die every day in Iraq, needlessly, and he still refuses to acknowledge that things aren’t quite going as well as he said they would.

Bush believes that God wants him to be president, and that He talks to him every day. His entire demeanor as president is based on faith – Bush truly believed there were weapons in Iraq, and that he had to go and get them to make America safer. It’s a belief he’s never relinquished, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. He has faith, you see, and he believes that slavishly adhering to one’s theses, even when proven wrong, is the definition of consistent leadership. Iraq has been a disaster. Education at home has been a disaster. The environmental policy has been a disaster. Bush cannot see when things are going wrong, and does not have the strength of character to admit his mistakes and correct them.

This is where John Kerry comes in, because even though Bush failed every test placed before him, replacing him with someone just as bad would be… well, just as bad. Kerry believes in repairing the alliances with the rest of the world that Bush has sundered. He agrees that the war in Iraq should never have been undertaken with haste and poor planning – an admission that will no doubt placate those countries annoyed with Bush’s arrogance. Kerry also believes in going after terrorists, not countries with flimsy-at-best ties to other countries that may have vague, unconfirmed links to people who may, in their off hours, know some terrorists.

Whether or not Kerry can make his economic and health care plans work, at least he has plans in both of those areas that don’t involve making rich people richer. Best of all, if a plan isn’t working, like the woefully underfunded No Child Left Behind act, Kerry is wise enough to tell people that it isn’t working, and explain why.

And here is where the Kerry campaign has really failed in this election. The Bush people have, from day one, accused Kerry of flip-flopping. He changes his mind, they say. He votes one way, and then the other. I’m not sure why the Kerry people didn’t latch on to this as a feature of Kerry’s character – he does, in fact, change his mind. And that’s a good thing. Bush will cling to an idea and a policy long after that idea and that policy have been proven ineffective. Kerry’s mind remains open to new ideas, new policies.

For example, Kerry voted to empower the Bush administration to wage war in Iraq. After seeing how badly they bungled it, however, Kerry changed his mind – not about the war on terror, but about this administration’s ability to carry it out. Kerry saw the same intelligence that Bush saw regarding weapons in Iraq, and he believed it at the time. But now, after reports condemning that intelligence and after so many lost lives, he’s changed his mind – the evidence caused him to form a new opinion. Bush? Not so much. Bush has beliefs that he hangs on to through thick and thin, even against an overwhelming tide of contrary evidence. Kerry has ideas that he tries out, and if they don’t work, he tries something else.

One is the mark of an ideologue, the other the sign of an intelligent and thoughtful man. I know which one I would want in the Oval Office.

So yes, a picture of John Kerry, his hand on the Bible, solemnly swearing to defend this country would be a perfect memento to cap off this year. But even if Bush wins, one thing I hope I don’t see this year is the same level of low voter turnout. I am right now wrestling with the state of Maryland over an absentee ballot, which they don’t want to give me because I’ve relocated. I’m going through this hassle because it’s important. This election will either validate the last four years or erase them in the eyes of the world, and whichever result you want, it’s vital that your voice be heard on November 2.

Next week, music, I promise.

See you in line Tuesday morning.