Here's how it works. Take two eggs—preferably ones that you dislike, or are punishing for some sort of transgression—and crack them directly into the hole on the top of the square black plastic stump. You'll have to wait for a little while, as the stump gurgles and sizzles and emits various eggy smells. There gathers an unsettling rustling in the stump, then, a sound that's skittering and busy; it is the comforting scramble of spiders, thousands of them, escaping from some sort of horrible sac. And then a defeated little honk sounds and the stump begins to extrude the resurrected eggs.
First a few horrible spindly hairs, like some fragile gray deep-woods mold growth, poke from the stump. Then finally come the eggs proper, which sprouted those nightmare whiskers and have since been transformed into a mottled tubular wand that creaks and cranks tumidly from the stump. When it has been fully realized, the greased egg log sags, not in defeat or collapse but in what appears to be exhaustion. The name of the device that dispenses this abject egg loaf is The Egg Master, it is real, and during this last Week Without Sports I have watched a 30-second video of it in action on the Guardian's website more times than I can count.
While I'm sure that number, should I somehow learn it, would be both impressive and depressing, it should be clear that I am not bragging about this. The absence of any meaningful sports occurrence is not an explanation or an excuse for why I watched this trembling column of clammy foodish solids rise, over and over again, from The Egg Master's maw; no such explanation or excuse exists. And it is not like a week of regular sports, let alone the upcoming weeks of sun-squashed and mostly meaningless midseason baseball, is free of these little cul de sacs of meaninglessness. I steer into them on purpose, I do donuts on these cul de sacs while looking at a photo of this seal on my phone.
I'm distractible and pretty much an idiot, is what I'm saying, and four or five Mets games are not going to prevent me spending some of my precious hours on earth thinking about baseball players that look like Muppets, or laughing at the easy listening soundtracks to online sports highlight videos, or enjoying an image of Pluto that has been photoshopped to include the face of a weeping Michael Jordan. For better or worse, that is all normal. I will almost certainly watch that machine unfurl that horrible protein ziggurat again next week. I might just watch it right now, in fact.
There was nothing about my week without sports—and I skipped the MLB All-Star Game and everything around it and passed on streaming NBA Summer League games, which means the most sports-like thing I watched this week was a goofy freegan blitz the "American Ninja Warrior" obstacle course—that revealed anything that had previously been concealed to me. I watched the week go by as if through the windows of a slow-moving bus. Inside it was climate-controlled and listless, the air tingling with the ambient static of too many active screens. Outside, pudgy ouroboroses of backlash and grandstanding devoured themselves loudly; some things of moderate import happened and drew ill-considered and outsized responses, which responses in turn occasioned similar responses, and soon everyone was reacting to reactions; people were good and brave, and also cruel and weak. There was ignorance and bad faith and laziness, some of it relating to movies based on comic books, but probably not much more than usual. Donald Trump lectured a few hundred strange, grayish-pink Iowa septuagenarians on why they should always be willing to pay extra for exquisite carrara marble, and that it's sad to see so many people that don't know that; anyway, I'm assuming he did. On Tuesday it rained, big slanted gray summertime gouts, and then it stopped.
Mostly I worried and worked, and tried to spend time with people I care about, and fed the turtles once in the morning and then again at night. That is kind of what my life looks like, with or without sports in it, and it is not an unusual shape. It is, when I remember to remember it, a very good one to have. But while it is not dramatically different with sports in it, it is perhaps a little more organized. It is not just that I know there will be something for me to watch on television if I want, or some lazy game happening out near the end of the 7 train that can serve as an appropriate excuse to get my friends and me out of our apartments and respective worry/work orbits.
Those are helpful—those are intensely helpful, and always have been—but they are also just ways into the thing that I missed, which is more a feeling than anything else. Somewhere around the time when we stop playing the games we care about and start merely caring about them, our relationship with sports shades towards abstraction. We just no longer imagine ourselves on the mound, above the rim, on stadium court, or wherever we once dreamed to be. It's not that we imagine less, we just imagine more practical things in more realistic ways. The frame shrinks, or we grow in it, and at some point we are maybe a little crowded. There are many releases to find in this, and you already know what yours are, whether they are high-impact or low-, up or down, nighttime or daytime. But there is something different about being at a game, something that watching one on television approximates but can't nearly match.
It is a feeling that is part falling-asleep, and part dreaming—a suspension or an immersion, or anyway a feeling of being outside the busy and familiar world and safely within another one that has been carved out from it. That is the falling asleep part. The dream is the rest of it, of feeling real emotion in an unreal space, about a thing that doesn't strictly matter; look around and you will see thousands of other dreamers in their dreams, there for reasons of their own, but also because they, too, wanted/needed to go to this place, to spend a few hours there, to be away. In my week without sports I chased amusement with the same stupid ardor that I always have—I have watched that horrible, hypnotic egg peen rise and flop again while writing this, because it's right there and because I hate it so delightfully much—and there is always plenty of that to be found. But what I wanted, and what was not there in this week without, was the meditative retreat of a game, the chance to go there and rest until it was over, and time to go home again. I already knew that would be what I'd miss, but I missed it all the same.