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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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CJ ends the day by watching NHL highlights, a half hour of the Rangers-Red Wings, and then a movie called Marooned with Gregory Peck. He has no action on either of these.

GAME TIME 2

In which it becomes ever so obvious that this, indeed, is Total Loss Weekend, despite the powerful swamp magic of an unexpected guest wearing imaginary shoulder pads.

On Sunday the auxiliary set fails to work—no picture or sound. We watch yesterday's college highlights on the color set. This is a warmup for the Browns-Chiefs game. The radio is tuned to the Giants-Saints.

CJ does not talk about Saturday's losses. Past action is voided matter, to be discussed only when it includes elements of the fabulous or legendary, and even then only after a suitable amount of time has passed.

The gambler's life is a rhythmic tale of numbers, premonitions, symbols and dreams. He worships magic, and is magic's willing victim. He wins and loses in seasons. But within all these cycles and prismatic mysteries, he must fight to maintain a fingerhold on ordinary reality. In the past, when CJ gambled much more heavily than he does now, when it was getting away from him and threatening to lead to a form of nondrinker's delirium tremens, when he was afraid of seeing pterodactyls come flying out of his TV set—yes, in those days of superstition and bad acid magic, it finally came to him that he was traveling beyond action and into the realm of the unreal. He came out of it like a diver surviving a rapture of the deep, and since then he has lived in a state of carefully controlled enchantment.

Behind his dark glasses he scans Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. He has the Browns plus 7. In New York he has the Saints plus 10�. He has action on six other pro games (all 20 times) and the Bears and 49ers in a $60 parlay. In baseball he has the Reds and Tigers.

The Saints fumble on radio and the Browns fumble on TV. As time passes CJ becomes so repelled by the Saints that he switches to the Jets-Dolphins, even though he has no action on this game—an almost unprecedented move. A bit of stray sunlight forms a bright swatch on the TV screen and CJ puts a piece of cardboard under the blinds to reinforce the dimness. But the Browns are not worth looking at this day. They are playing bouncy-ball all over the field and it is becoming clear that CJ's weekend will have few redeeming features.

No hope remains in the games being broadcast, so he is reduced to waiting for scores of other games. Radio scores seem to predate TV scores and we concentrate on the latter, tracing the course of distant games by trying to digest the numbers that pulse on the screen for a second or two before vanishing. This is never very pleasurable, and compared with CJ's classical discovery of moving a matchbook across a line score, the electronic method is too fleeting. The scores are gone before the mind can interpret them. Did we really see what we thought we saw? How can the Cards be leading the Vikings late in the second quarter? Pulse. Look at the Redskins, scoreless at the half. Pulse pulse pulse. Scores from Atlanta, scores from Baltimore, scores from Green Bay. We find ourselves pointing at the screen every time a score materializes. This enables us to pin the score, remember it, interpret it, hate it and fear it. CJ needs two touchdowns in Minnesota. He needs a touchdown and a field goal in Green Bay. He needs divine intervention in Washington. Pulse pulse. He has fallen behind in Cincinnati. He is virtually dead in Minnesota. He is coming back to life in Atlanta and Baltimore, but it is all too sudden, happening too fast, final scores beginning to flood the screen, and now we are confronted by the man at Network Control who manipulates a revolving scoreboard, and CJ is trying to read around corners, pulse pulse, mugged in Washington, slashed in New York, drawn and quartered in Cleveland, his stomach fluids gradually carbonating, his heartbeat interrupted by each new score, pulse pulse pulse pulse pulse.

In baseball the Reds (untelevised) have held on to win, and we now prepare to go back and forth between Tigers-A's and Rams- 49ers. CJ is stretched out on the rug in front of the color set. He is still unshaven, his glasses off, right arm over his eyes, stale air clinging to his rumpled body. As the Rams begin their destruction of the 49ers, an almost unimaginable thing happens. The doorbell rings. We have been so insulated in our flotation capsule that very little sense of an alternate environment has managed to penetrate. CJ goes to the door and opens it. In walks Kool, his younger brother, fresh from the Jersey swamps. It is the first time I've seen him since the right side of his face totally collapsed following a Saints-Redskins game in 1971.

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