Five Thoughts On Chris Christie, On Sports Radio At The End Of The World

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent the first two days of this week auditioning for a job on New York sports talk radio giant WFAN. Whether he gets it or not, he's earned it.
July 11, 2017, 9:14pm
Photo by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY NETWORK

1. On Monday morning, hours before New Jersey Governor Chris Christie began his first semi-formal audition for a job as a host at New York sports radio station WFAN, I found everyone on the internet talking about the end of the world. The two were not connected, strictly speaking. The more proximate cause was a big and doomy magazine story about the effects of climate change that pointed, ominously and insistently, in the direction of a jarringly imminent apocalypse. Mondays!

The scope of the story was frankly biblical, all dead oceans boiling with poison and surging through cities, great bands of the earth becoming hot enough to poach humans to death in hours, wars and displacement and dispossession, ancient viruses awakening in freshly thawed permafrost. There was nothing really metaphysical or righteous at work; this is biblical strictly in the sense that the future described is both broadly punitive and big. Causally, it is one long tragicomic flap of the butterfly effect—a thousand cattle emit gales of methane farts in Kansas while awaiting their date with the inside of a soggy Taco Bell shell, and then thousands of miles away a mammoth iceberg calves off the arctic ice shelf.

There is something decadent about considering horror on this scale, and not merely because of our instincts to ironize or elide anything that big. All that dark contemplation is overwhelming, and not unreasonably. But the work of living with this sort of dread, as we face it here on earth, is less about apprehending the end of everything than the challenge of the next moment, and the moment after that. It is a scary and stressful thing to imagine that the world is ending, but it would be far worse to act as if it were. Everything ends, but that in no way means you shouldn't set an alarm for tomorrow morning. There is always the next step, into something imminent and invisible, and it is non-negotiable.

Anyway, Chris Christie is still the Governor of New Jersey. The election to replace him is still four months away. If WFAN offers him the job that he auditioned for on Monday and Tuesday, in the time slot long occupied by New York's peevish sports radio emperor Mike Francesa, Christie would start right around the time that his successor as Governor is sworn in.

2. Monmouth University released a poll on Monday that put Christie's approval rating in New Jersey at 15 percent; 80 percent of those polled did not approve of the work he's done as governor, and 55 percent believe that the state is worse off than it was before he was first elected eight years ago.

For much of his second term, Christie was doing something other than governing, first playing defense on the scandal surrounding the vindictive and gratuitous closure of multiple lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish a political rival and then, astoundingly, running for the Republican Presidential nomination, and finally in glum servitude to the man who beat him out to become the eventual nominee. Christie's value proposition, to Republican voters and donors, was that he would be cruel in all the ways they valued and petty in all the appropriate directions. He made his political fortune shouting down public school teachers and pushing around anyone light enough to move, and only lost when he ran into a bigger bully.

But when Christie lost—on the nomination he sought, on a role in President Trump's administration, and probably on any kind of future in electoral politics—he did not resign from the job he had only kind of done for the previous few years. He stuck around the office, nominally if not always literally, and periodically vetoed bills that passed through a legislature that no longer feared or respected him.

On July 4 weekend, the Newark Star-Ledger ran photos of Christie and his family lounging on a sunny state beach that was otherwise empty of visitors. It had been closed by a government shutdown that Christie had done little to prevent. The Monmouth University poll found that 86 percent of those surveyed had seen the photos. "Two-thirds of the public expressed a negative sentiment," the poll reported. "With "disgusted" (7 percent) being the most commonly used word. Anger (7 percent) and disbelief (6 percent) were also frequently mentioned themes. Nearly 1-in-5 residents described their reaction in terms of the governor's character, using words such as "selfish" (5 percent), "hypocrite" (4 percent), and "arrogant" (3 percent). Another 6 percent of those polled simply used some form of profanity."

Early in the show on Monday, Christie's co-host Evan Roberts—the WFAN host Joe Beningo referred to the pairing as "Evan and The Governor," Roberts went with "The Governor and Evan"—brought up the beach photos. "When you were on the beach, was it true you were wearing a Mets shirt?" Roberts asked. "Because it looked like it."

"I was," Christie confirmed, before revealing that he was also wearing Mets shorts, and a 2006 Mets NLCS hat. Roberts, who is also a Mets fan, was theatrically agog about the hat. He asked Christie how he could wear such a thing. "I'm a Mets fan," Christie answered. "I love pain. I love disappointment."

When you love pain, and disappointment. Photo by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY NETWORK

3. As he de-emphasized the Governing The State Of New Jersey part of his life, Christie began appearing on WFAN more. He has subbed in for Boomer Esiason on the station's "Boomer And Carton" morning show numerous times, and developed a sort of rude chemistry with co-host Craig Carton over that time. He's appeared on Francesa's show as a guest, where the two generally traded compliments and told stories about what a wonderful man former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach is. Honestly, Christie is not bad—not great, but decidedly not bad—during these appearances. The better part of sports talk radio can be summed up by Jim Rome's rule of "have a take and don't suck," and Christie has at least half of that comfortably down.

Because he is world-historically self-assured and polished at public speaking, Christie does not come across as an amateur on the radio. Because he built his political identity through variously heated confrontations with weaker parties, generally from behind a dais and phalanxes of security, Christie is innately very comfortable with the stage-y disagreeability that is the fuel of bog-standard sports talk radio. He knows a decent amount about sports, too, or at least about the teams he cares about, and on Monday and Tuesday Christie didn't have a difficult time getting his huff and puff on as required.

In partnering him with Roberts, a former WFAN intern who has become an effective high-energy counterpoint to longer-tenured co-hosts, the plan was clearly to lock in a simple giving-shit/getting-shit dynamic between the two. Christie is a little too self-important for that, and much more naturally inclined to give than get, but he did his best. "You're stretching," Christie said on Monday after Roberts pumped it up as best he could on getting upset about the MLB All-Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series. "You're better than that, Evan."

"I'm honestly not better than that," Roberts said.

4. It had been years since I'd last listened to sports talk radio for an extended period of time, and was not surprised to find myself out of shape when it came to listening to four-and-a-half hours of windy playfighting between a disgraced governor and a puppyish 34-year-old.

WFAN is as janky as it has ever been, with the same neutered guitar squalls and featureless male vocals singing corny jingles and redundant updates and endless reeling skeins of canned ads ("Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans proudly supports Mike Francesa"; "Guys Don't Talk About Antiperspirant") and host-read ads (Infiniti of Massapequa, Marvin Windows And Doors) and an ad Francesa recorded for a "longtime friend"'s credit union on Long Island that was somehow both.

There is, after you get out of the habit of listening by a sufficient distance, something both claustrophobic and immersive about it. In one sense, you are trapped in a studio with people who insist on being disagreeable about things they only sort of care about; the only voices from outside that purgatory arrive over the phone, and they are just as strange or stranger. "I don't care what everyone says," says a caller named Brian in Manhattan. "You're hilarious. When you said to that guy, 'if you want to sit on a beach, become the governor.' We were at a barbecue when we read that and we couldn't stop laughing." Roberts disconnects him and points out that Brian had called in the previous week and expressed his wish that Jacob deGrom would get bombed in his start that night, and then suffer a rotator cuff injury.

And yet, because the discursive circuit is so furiously closed, there is a sense in which the show's boundaries come into congruence with those of the broader world. Again, this is not exactly pleasant, and listening to Chris Christie and Evan Roberts from the height of an afternoon into the fat part of happy hour was not ever really fun—Christie is too prickly and pompous, Roberts not quite capable of carrying him—and more exhausting than anything else. But it worked in the sense that, when those weird WFAN promo voices sang the words, "Well you can't have New York without sports/and you can't have sports without the FAN" I barely noticed how uncanny it was. I was pretty much trapped in the moment, and I was honestly pretty anxious to escape from the moment, but I was in it.

5. People never really stop talking about the end. The vision of it changes to reflect the anxieties and specific harbingers of a given moment, but the undertow never really stops running. This last year and change especially has been shot through with intimations of collision and collapse, and the last few months have been defined by the horrific and darkly hilarious passive performance of it. We are not nearly through it, but it seems safe to say that to read about things like decline or collapse—and read about them, and read about them, and read about them—is no real preparation for living through them. There is no real getting used to it yet.

Empires decline and collapse, we know this, but this is the sort of thing most commonly viewed from the safety of a few hundred years. The idea of the end of everything is compelling in a highly abstracted way, as a story people tell and as a generational fear, mostly because of how definitive it is. In a moment defined by how parlous and shifting and ungovernable and multiply un-definitive it is, the clarity of an ending is...well, it's horrifying. But it's at least something that can be agreed upon.

But it's also a fantasy. We won't know that we've reached the end until we've passed it by, and we don't know if that moment has come and gone already. Our likeliest future, which is honestly no easier to imagine than a more fantastical end, is something about equally as absurd as the present. Things will change, because of what we have done and what we have yet to do, and they will get better or they will get worse, but day by day they will be similar, and generally exactly what we make of them. Moment by moment, our lives are made of the decisions we make, and we live with and in the sum of all that. Every day we make it all over again, as the home we want for ourselves or the prison we can't quite quit.

Chris Christie is finished, but he also has another few decades or so left in the sentence he is serving inside his sour self. It's hard to know, now, how many of those years he will spend in sports radio, but it is tough to think of a job that would suit him better. When one of Christie's many angry constituents finally got to confront him on the air on Monday—it was Mike From Montclair, a frequent Francesa caller, and he told the producer he wanted to talk about Aaron Judge—you could see in the brief and blustering confrontation and the lull that followed the absurd future that Christie has earned. His will to power doesn't matter, now. His pettiness and cruelty and vanity are, without any accompanying authority, now merely pitiful and small. Christie has the power to hang up on Mike From Montclair, but there are others waiting on the line. If he gets this job, that will be what he gets: the next call, and the one after that, and the one after that, through into the evening and then again tomorrow, and then for however many more days after that as he can stand. He deserves it.