The Eternal Verities

Its summer, and watching the Angels will cost you $118

"Summer Means Fun," sang the surf-vocal duo Bruce and Terry back when summer was nothing but pure, unadulterated summer. But the somewhat savvier surf-vocal duo Jan and Dean was singing, "When summer comes, gonna hustle you."

Summer does mean fun; ask any mosquito or 8-year-old. And summer also means fun hustling you; ask any business primed for your leisure dollar. You gonna pay, Jack. I can say this with the soiled surety of someone who just spent $8.50 to see Battlefield Earth (aptly described by a friend of a friend as the Worst Movie in the Entire History of People Even Having Eyes and Choosing to Focus Them on Anything).

"Ha, ha," you laugh. "I'll just go to the beach," where you'll only have to pay the extortionate parking fees imposed since the Reagan-era ploy of charging the public for access to public lands, unless you're logging, strip-mining or grazing cattle. Maybe you've found a way around being charged, like taking cattle to the beach or parking at Hoag Hospital and biking on down. (If you feel guilty, visit a sick stranger for a few minutes.)1

But maybe you won't be going to the beach. Consider this transcribed excerpt from a recent ultrasecret meeting of entertainment moguls:

Billy Ray Mogul: Gentlemen, our figures show attendance sagging at all our entertainment complexes. Michael Eisner: Okay, release the bacteria!

Cut to stark newspaper headlines: "Beaches Closed From Dana Point to Huntington"; "Marine Life Dwindles 90 Percent in Local Tide Pools, Species Disappear": "Toxic Pesticide Use up 51 Percent in Orange County"; "Global Warming Real"; "90210 Says Farewell."

Would that Eisner were to blame, or a simple pipeline rupture. How about instead maybe it's us all breeding to extinction (I prefer breeding to exhaustion, personally) and allowing endless development without regard for the fact that we can only dump so much waste for so long in the ocean before we're all swimming in a huge unflushed toilet. Hey, did you read about the European findings that prescription drugs, particularly antidepressants, present in our excreta may be killing off marine life? Christ, you'd think mollusks would appreciate some antidepressants, what with all those weird stringy things growing on some of them. But no, we're killing them and everything else in the pursuit of the good life. Just the other day I was reading that . . .

Oh, screw it; let's go to a baseball game.

I have to admit: even the prospect of a baseball game depresses me, but at least I get paid to be depressed.

I went to a game last year in Seattle, and it depressed the bejesus out of me.2 I used to enjoy occasionally whiling away an atmospheric evening with the Angels. You could buy an upper-tier seat for a few bucks, get a mild buzz on, kick back and watch the pop flies get bigger and bigger in your field of vision, and then smaller and smaller. Very nice, very Newtonian.

But it had been years since I'd seen a game when I attended the one in Seattle's expensive new (YOUR CORPORATE NAME HERE) stadium last fall. Spiffy architecture, lovely afternoon, but you'd think frigging Mussolini had invented the game there was such a nonstop manipulative assault of blaring music, flashing Megatron screens and commercials. I just wanted a pleasant afternoon of sunshine and baseball, and I left feeling like I'd been whacked with a meat tenderizer for three hours.

I expected even worse from our Disnified home team when I went to watch them last week. Maybe I was already past the culture shock from my Seattle experience, but the assault didn't seem half so bad at Edison Field. (My front lawn doesn't have a corporate partner yet, if anyone's interested.) I don't recall geysers and rock formations previously being an integral part of baseball, but back when I was following the game, they hadn't even passed the Infield Itchy Butt rule yet.

I paid $7 to park, $14 a pop for a pair of tickets in the "Lower View MVP" section, which in the quaint early days of the game I believe was called the "colored" section. It wasn't a bad vantage, roughly equidistant to home plate and the Mir Space Station, but both the row spacing and seats were claustrophobically cramped. I only have a 30-inch waist (and I dress to the right, Angel fans), and I felt squeezed. Girthier persons must have felt like they were sitting in a pair of vise grips.

As each Angel was announced and ran onto the field, flares were sent skyward from Geyserville. It would be a generous count, though, to say that more than one person in 100 bothered applauding. Considering that maybe one in three seats was filled, that came pretty near to the sound of silence.

No matter. That's what the PA system is for. Unlike the Seattle game, which had an almost incessant musical intrusion, the canned noise built slowly at Edison Field. The first couple of innings were nearly accompaniment-free, but then the DJ started laying it on, so that by the ninth inning, you could slaughter a goat and not be overheard.

On the bright side, the music was far more eclectic than any commercial radio station in town: there was Iggy's "Lust for Life" alongside speed metal, good-natured country, some Rob Zombie-sounding stuff, some Copeland, electronica, Gary Glitter, the Ramones, and Snap's "The Power"—all in 12-second increments.

Of course, the drum cadences from "Let's Go" and "We Will Rock You" were in the house, often accompanied on the big screen by flashing messages of "I can't hear you!" and "Get loud!" interspersed with big Mickey-like cartoon hands clapping, just in case you didn't understand.

The Angels were down by one as they headed into their last at-bat. (Though they're probably thoroughly capable of losing to themselves, on this night, they were playing the Baltimore Orioles.) So the big screen displayed a montage of movie pep talks, including Bill Pullman's big one from Independence Day, which actually got more of a rise from the crowd than anything happening on the field. If I were a ballplayer, I'd figure, jeez, why even bother being out here, aside from my $32 million contract?

Even in the bottom of the ninth, with the Angels one run from tying up the score, a surreal apathy reigned, except in the rockin' speaker cabinets. For every artificial means the powers that be employed to jack up the excitement, the audience seemed that much less engaged. Even my friend Kim, who yells at jockeys on TV and whose dad, Thomas Upton, was an Oriole back when they were the St. Louis Browns in the '50s, sat there unmoved.

Aside from some guy wheezing intermittently on the organ, it used to be left to the players and fans to generate their own excitement. Now who needs either? Just pump up the volume, and the heck with anyone ever feeling connected to the event. It's sort of like never, ever going to bed with someone without there also being a huge stubbly vibrator lurching around between you.

(I am not suggesting that I would ever want to share a vibrator with Mo Vaughn, though I would be remiss if I didn't give a plug to the greatest, and probably only, homoerotic baseball song, "Baseball Card Lover" by Rockin' Richie Ray on Rhino Records. A sample lyric: "All through my spine I was feelin' chills, when into my covers slipped Maury Wills.")

Some prices: the regular hot dog is $2.75; the program (including 30 pages of ads) is $5; a bag of peanuts is $3.75 (darn good peanuts, though); 12 ounces of Molsen "Premium" is $5.50; Angels T-shirts run from $21 to $29 for adults and $16 to $18 for kids. The experience of feeling reamed: priceless.

According to the May 15 Sports Illustrated, an Angels game is a relative bargain: $117.89 for a family of four with midrange seats, parking and snacks. For the Ducks, it's $270.71 and a whopping $427.57 for a Lakers game. Sports tickets have gone up some 80 percent in the past nine years, and, as the magazine noted, stadiums have become the drafty playground of the incorporated rich while the average fan feels disenfranchised.

But there are still the eternal verities: the crack of the bat; the dad in the stands explaining the game to his kid; the resplendent, manicured field upon which the boys of summer toil. It's worth saving. If you'd rather have an experience that's more like baseball and less like the Nuremberg Rally, let the Angels management know. They have to start noticing all those empty seats sometime.3

[1] Don't forget that exclusively California pastime: "Hey, let's get wicked drunk and dive for Dennis Wilson's toolbox!" [2] Of course, I was in town for the wondrous Bumbershoot festival over Labor Day weekend. Even if the rest of your summer sucks, this will make it good. Check it out at www.bumbershoot.com and then go. [3] Good luck: the Angels' website, www.angelsbaseball.com, has no provision for contacting management. At least you can grouse along with other fans in the Fan Forum.

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