A famous but obnoxious all-knowing Roger target – both in sport and in politics – was standing in the aisle of the assistant press box making raucous comments to a pair of sycophants on all subjects, except for the ongoing playoff.
“silence!” Angel said in a fake voice, let out his prayer, and then retreated behind me—sitting forward, only watching the game, the portrait of the old innocent himself. Who could doubt such an aging literary legend—the New Yorker’s literature editor for John Updike and Ann Petty, and the stepson of author E.B. White? He was hiding in plain sight of a third-rate saboteur on a mission.
“Missed,” Angel hissed. “Let’s try again.”
For a few rounds, Angel continued his bombardment, accompanied by taunts like “watch the game,” “get lost,” or variations on “shut up,” though I doubt he used those two words. Dozens of other writers in the press box played their stupid role.
The force field created by total self-absorption is its own black hole. Some of the folded Angell crowds hit the house, but she may also have been flying over the houseflies. “It’s the damned force of nature!” Angel said, reluctantly, of The Celebrity.
In the end, as in Milton, the Angels won. The Gentiles left, perplexed, unsure of what had happened—to the delight of Roger. The twenty-first century may have been their century, but the skirmishes were our skirmishes.
at “let me finishA book of autobiographical essays, Angel wrote, “A memory is a fiction — an anecdotal version of a past scene or event that we need to store away for present or future use. “
When my wife told me Roger was dead, I remembered the spitballs first. Because, even though I’ve known him at the time for 25 years, they were a part of him that I had never expected, until the moment he became wonderfully rogue.
Angell was deeply learned in all the arts, including classical music. He carried himself like a Toddler Ivy League type professor, cute but with spare power. Friendly meets absolutely phenomenal. He chose a literary life that required a commitment to psychological depth, assimilation and empathy to as many subjects and experiences as possible. In that ruthless, high-level league, there are flashes of temporary insight, but seldom are the final facts.
And don’t throw small wads of paper over people’s heads in public.
That sense of fun, his attraction to every source of joy – with baseball just one example – made him happy to be around him. Throw in decency and generosity, too.
In one of his later essays, he wrote, “I’ve lived a sheltered life with distinction and a pleasurable job, and I’ve had the good fortune.”
But he also lived so long, and remained so actively engaged in all his interests throughout his life, that he inevitably saw generations of loved ones dying before him. And old age, as he so eloquently wrote of it, was as cruel to him as the rest.
A long time ago, the Folger Shakespeare Library called me to ask if I’d join Roger on one of their shows: a baseball discussion between two people. I said, “Thank you very much,” but it probably wasn’t a good idea because, come on, we all have to know where we are.
I was told “You don’t understand”. “Roger wouldn’t do that unless you came too.”
This was typical. Angel respected the writers and columnists who cover sporting events daily because he knew us through batting cages, press boxes, and clubs. He knew our working hours – the number of months of days in a year on the road, hence the loss of “lives”. And according to baseball, he respected the homeland – get the capital man.
So, we had a ball, splattering each other, one anecdote or opinion igniting the next. Next, we went to lunch with my wife, Wendy, who doesn’t follow sports but has always loved New Yorker fiction and modern fiction. I barely got a word on edgewise.
My imagination is that Roger’s constant smile, and his laughing laugh, with a touch of devilishness at the ends, was because he had found a “perfect reader” – could one still exist? – who really appreciated the book, some mystery, who edited them for decades. After that, “How’s Wendy doing?” topic was 1.
Years later, he sent a copy of his last book, inscribed with: “To Tom—less baseball, more life! All the best, as ever, Roger.”
I appreciate his friendly reprimand about the imbalance that a comforting obsessive temptation can cause. I read his words now, and took his view at last, with a retired smile: Better late than never.
Since we can all write new ways to appreciate the gift of a lifetime that Angell has given baseball fans, I’ve added a big footnote. Writers want to read. Roger’s work in baseball Included in the Hall of Fame. But his work, late in his life, is in two volumes of memoirs – Let Me Finish andThis old man: All in pieces— Some readers may be equally pleased that they are about a big topic: Roger’s sweeping life.
From Angell, it is often noted that he saw Babe Ruth’s injury. We can say, fortunately for us, that we read Roger Angell.