John Scholvin

John Scholvin

still can’t fit a half-stack in the trunk

04 Nov 2020

self soothing

I’m usually pretty bad at predicting the future, but I nailed one thing this year: knowing I needed to take today off from work because I wasn’t going to be in any kind suitable mental state for it. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was going to be suffering from a hangover tempered by delirious joy, or curled up and sobbing under the crushing weight of existential terror while pondering how to emigrate during a pandemic. Turns out it was neither of those things, but no matter, the net effect was the same. I wasn’t going to get jack shit done today.

Setting the stage for this liminal day was a rough night. After about four hours of sleep, I woke up to check the news, was even more confused, and then fell back to sleep at least deeply enough to have some really weird dreams. One of them involved Tony LaRussa quizzing me aggressively on my knowledge of Spanish. His accent was terrible, and something was wrong with his jaw that made the sounds come out like the adult voices in Peanuts cartoons. Monstrous.

Once I finally willed myself downstairs and made a pot of coffee, I sat for my daily correspondence, the NYT crossword, and the now customary addition of a half-hour of doomscrolling. It was time for a reset.

Earlier this fall, I set up an ADS-B station to contribute to FlightAware. Airplanes the world over periodically squawk their flight data (position, speed, heading, altitude, tail number, etc.) on a public radio frequency. For about $50, you can build a radio receiver that listens for those messages, processes them on a Raspberry Pi, and uploads them to FlightAware, who then makes that data available to everyone for flight tracking. (In return for providing data, you get “Enterprise User” status there, which I don’t really understand, but whatever.) Since I’m only about 6 miles from O’Hare, I figured I’d get a lot of squawks, and I was right. I rank in the top 4,000 of over 30,000 stations. Unfortunately, I will not be giving autographs due to COVID-19.

A cool thing about the application that uploads the data is that it also provides a visualization of just the planes you’re picking up. You could go to FlightAware and see all the planes in the area, but I find the graphics more pleasing on this version. And more importantly, these are just the planes that are talking directly to my little quarter-wave antenna in the spare bedroom window. It feels like connection, in an admittedly strange and ethereal way. We’re in conversation. I like to click on the planes and see their origins and destinations, and the flight plans that connect them. There’s a passenger flight to Mexico City, a cargo flight on the way to Moscow, and someone else just passing through at 37,000 feet. Sometimes I see traffic copters, and mysterious planes without much identification at all. I remember people are traveling, and daydream. I said watchin’ them planes / I wish I was on one.

I’m working on my swing. If you’ve golfed with me, you know it needs work. It’s the most infuriating game. I am capable of hitting incredible shots; there are witnesses. But I’m just as capable, and far more likely,  to engage in the horrors of shanking, topping, whiffing, fatting, skulling, duffing, blocking, slicing, pulling. So many gerunds, sometimes two on the same shot. It’s because I’m not athletic enough to be able to reproduce the swings that work. I don’t have muscle memory, or at least not outside the context of a fretboard. Anyone who’s played knows that you can’t usually think your way out of your problems, either. Undaunted, I forge ahead. My latest investment is in what many people consider the best instructional book on sports ever written, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, first published as a series of articles in Sports Illustrated in 1956, assembled into book form the next year. 

Hogan’s regarded by many as the best ball striker of all time, so his wisdom would be well sought. He worked with a writer and an illustrator, and while the style is a little old-timey (e.g., addressing the readers as “fellas”), the prose is descriptive (if dense) and the pictures clear. I read the first lesson this morning (“Grip”) and took advantage of the perfect weather to bash a bucket with my newfound knowledge. Turns out my grip was already pretty close to what he was preaching, but I noticed a thing the guy in the illustrations was doing with his right elbow at address, and long story short, if it’s not too late, I found myself striking the ball much more consistently. Still not well, necessarily, but consistently bad is a thing you can work with. I’m going to finish the book this week and see how I do with nine on Sunday. I’ve already warned my playing partners that I’m probably going to humiliate them with my sharp new skillz.

(Don’t look too closely at that ball tracker. It did about as well as you’d expect from a $5 app.)

More doomscrolling, though with some heartening news emerging, and I was antsy again. Time to run. I’m a lot slower than I was pre-pandemic. Some of that is because there are no races to train for, some of it just the haze of “what’s the fucking point” that infuses everything lately. But to sweat is to forget, and as usual I felt better after a run than I did before it. Even a shorty. I can get fast again some other day. Or not.

And finally, now, I settle in to write this, another form of therapy. I bought some good mezcal to drink last night as the results came in. I don’t know why, it just felt like a middle finger to the guy who launched this thing with a speech about Mexicans being rapists. Also, Ilegal for the win. But as the night twisted and turned, drinking didn’t feel good any more. Alcohol is a depressant, after all. I quit earlier than I would have, and that takes us back to where this started: a bad night’s sleep. Tonight I have the mezcal out again. Maybe this thing turned a corner today, maybe it didn’t. There’s so much work to do, so much hard work. It can start tomorrow. Tonight, I am going to stretch this soothing process out a bit longer. May tonight be reposado.