Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Living and Dying in 4/4 Time

"Some people believe in life after death. I believe in death after life."--Grandmaster Anatoly Lein

"Genius is pain."--John Lennon

"People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing...I'm just watching the wheels go round and round"--John Lennon, "Watching the Wheels"

Somehow, until yesterday it escaped my attention that Matt Dobek--former p.r. director for the Detroit Pistons--committed suicide in late August. Dobek took his life just a few months after the Pistons fired him, had him escorted from team headquarters by security and then informed him that he would not receive his severance package (the Pistons alleged that Dobek had violated a confidentiality agreement). I enjoyed Dobek's book Bad Boys (which detailed the story of Detroit's 1989 championship) but I did not know Dobek; the closest I came to meeting him was being in the same room with him a few times when I covered various Cleveland-Detroit games. I have no idea whether or not he violated the terms of his contract but it does not surprise me that someone who loyally and tirelessly served a franchise for nearly three decades could be summarily fired and then treated like a worthless piece of garbage--that is the way the world works.

Why should the Pistons care about destroying a man's career and pushing him over the brink? All that matters to the Pistons is that they kept their "corporate secrets" safe--and what exactly were those secrets? The only "secret" formula the Pistons have seems to be the one that transforms a championship caliber team into an afterthought.


A young man founded a magazine but soon his business went under and he had no money, so his father took out a second mortgage on his house and maxed out his credit cards to help the son start over. Seven years later, the son was a billionaire and he purchased the Washington Redskins. Daniel Snyder did not come from a wealthy family but his father believed in him so much that he literally put everything on the line as a show of faith and an act of support. I wonder what it is like to have someone in your life who believes in you to that extent but I am sure that I will never, ever find out.

There is no such thing as "trying" to help someone; as Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, "Do, or do not. There is no 'try.'" Skywalker subsequently failed to levitate his swamp-bound X-Wing fighter but watched in disbelief as Yoda freed the X-Wing and deposited it gently on dry land. "I don't believe it," Skywalker said. "That is why you fail," replied Yoda.

You either believe in someone and you help that person or you don't. It really is just that simple.


I have always been fascinated by the thin line between success and failure. The life stories of talented people like William James Sidis and Earl Manigault are compelling and tragic; Sidis may have been as intellectually gifted as anyone who ever lived, while Manigault was a breathtakingly talented basketball player, but Sidis died in obscurity and Manigault became a streetball legend instead of an NBA superstar. When I was younger I spent a lot of time thinking about Sidis, Manigault and other talented "failures" (I am not calling them "failures" but merely describing how the outside world views the disparity between their talents and their publicly known accomplishments) and I tried to figure out if they fell short because of their own internal weaknesses or because society failed them in some way; at that time I thought that the truth is somewhere between those extremes but I was quite sure that I was smarter, tougher and savvier than they had been in terms of achieving my goals: I certainly am well aware of the irony of my youthful perspective in light of the fact that my career is currently on the "Sidis track." It is liberating to just "watch the wheels go round" instead of trying to sell articles to idiots but while my failure to connect with idiots does not disturb me in the least my failure to attain the NM title haunts me to the depths of my soul (melodramatic, pathetic--and true). The bitter irony is that even if do I manage to attain the NM title, I will still be haunted by how long it took (there is nothing quite like having a mind that places you in a no win position combined with a competitive spirit that insists you must find a way to win!).

Maybe 40 years after I am dead the next Amy Wallace will emerge to write a sympathetic biography of me--but if GM Lein is right then that really will not do me much good, will it?

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