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Total Loss Weekend
Don DeLillo
November 27, 1972
Action is his passion. It is Saturday noon and his bets are down on contests coast to coast. With the blinds drawn, two televisions tuned and a radio fitfully broadcasting game scores, the tense vigil begins
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November 27, 1972

Total Loss Weekend

Action is his passion. It is Saturday noon and his bets are down on contests coast to coast. With the blinds drawn, two televisions tuned and a radio fitfully broadcasting game scores, the tense vigil begins

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4) A box score torn out of a newspaper.

We dissolve to summertime. Picture it. CJ has the Cubs 40 times. They are playing at night in San Diego. He sits in the swivel chair with his radio and waits for scores from the Coast. In the top of the fourth the Cubs take a 2-0 lead. Nothing for a long time but news, commercials, scores of other games. CJ cannot even relax with a cigarette because he stopped smoking in 1970 on the night the Celtics led the Royals by 11 points with a minute to go. But now San Diego scores twice in the seventh inning to tie it. CJ decides to stick it out because he knows the score will not make the morning papers and he will have to wait until early afternoon, and he's got the Cubs 40 times, and it's nearly one in the morning and he can't have a cigarette. He dials from WCBS to WINS and back, hoping the announcers on duty will realize the Cubs-Padres game is not just another negligible event played before a few thousand people and of interest to absolutely no one in the whole world, hoping they'll realize that someone out there is really listening, someone is interested, someone really cares what they say, these affable babbling fools whose voices circulate through the mortal sadness of Yonkers. Then he hears it. The Cubs score three in the ninth and he is ahead 5-2 with only three outs left, and the Padres are one of the worst teams in baseball. But why does it take so long for the final score to come in? Why does he have to keep switching the dial to get word of those three final outs? If the Padres are one of the worst if not the worst, why is he seized by Transylvanian dread? Because it is a busy bottom of the ninth, that's why. Because the Padres get men on base. Because the Cubs have to change pitchers. Because God makes it happen, a four-run ninth, a 6-5 final score, officially reported at 2:09 a.m., and the next day CJ rips the box score out of the newspaper and vows to save it as a reminder of death, hatred, plague and all those bloodsucking ills which keep people up after their bedtime. He saves this piece of paper that reads "two out when winning run scored." He carries it everywhere because this event, in its way, is even more notable than the time he had the Vikings as part of a $90 round robin, and the two other games were over and won, and the Vikings were sailing along against the 49ers when somebody fumbled and Jim Marshall of the Vikings picked up the ball and ran the wrong way, and even though the Vikings won the game they didn't beat the spread because Jim Marshall ran the wrong way with a recovered fumble, the wrong way, he ran the wrong way. But that wasn't as bad as this. CJ had waited for this victory. He had sat up and turned the radio dial through half the night. He had participated in that ball game being played 2,500 miles away and he had it won, he had it in his hands, he felt it in his fingers as he changed stations, the Cubs 40 times, the tough gritty Cubs, veteran ball club, and that's why it was worse than Jim Marshall, worse than all the near misses on Exactas and Superfectas, worse than the night he stopped smoking, with the Celtics ahead by seven points and only four seconds left in the game. He saves the box score so he can look at it and hate it.

5) A football betting ticket.

Almost everybody has seen one of these. Pick four teams and get 10-to-1 odds. CJ lets nothing go by.

6) A tout sheet.

This is a piece of paper that CJ has been carrying around for months. Under the heading "Turf Analyst," there is a name and phone number. Beneath these the full text reads: "Please telephone me this Friday, June 30th after 10 a.m. regarding a sensational piece of information."

We are sitting in the midst of static. The room is dim. CJ takes off his sunglasses, rubs his eyes and then replaces the glasses. The Reds have lost. This is bad. With 5:23 left in the game, Michigan State still trails 6-0. This is good, almost excellent. On the black-and-white set we see a drum-and-bugle corps in Oakland, prelude to the Tigers-A's playoff game.

I notice that scores given on radio and scores given on TV do not always match. Sometimes the talk is gibberish. An announcer says a football player is 6'4" and 250 years old. I hear rain falling. Columbia-Princeton ended 0-0, and the radio is now used exclusively to harvest scores. We hear from the Appalachians, the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta. In the Rockies they are nearing the end of the first half. Here it is all over, the land in shadows, but in California there is sunlight everywhere, captive happiness and soft beginnings, a flurry of first-period scores. The radio is an instrument of geography. Beyond the numbers it gives, there is a sense of prairie mystery.

Notre Dame tries a field goal. It looks wide but the official raises his arms. CI responds with a trenchantly obscene remark. We both know what that field goal means. First, it means the score is now 9-0. Second, it means the Spartans of Michigan State had better hold onto the football because there are still a few minutes left in the game and CJ is getting 15� points, and if the Fighting Irish score another touchdown and kick the all-important extra point, they will have exactly 16 points. We both know it will happen. It is destined to happen. God will make it happen.

On the smaller set the Tigers and A's are lined up for the national anthem. The A's are wearing their chorus boy uniforms, and practically all of them have mustaches that seem to have been penciled on by not very well-coordinated children. ( Michigan State fails to hold onto the football.) Although everyone in the ball park in Oakland has been invited to join in the singing of the national anthem, nobody on the A's is singing, nobody on the Tigers is singing, the umpires are not singing, and a stray groundkeeper looks sluggish as glue. Baseball and basketball players never sing. Hockey players don't sing either. Prizefighters don't sing. Football players sing.

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