Friday, October 31, 2008

The "Winter" Of Our Discontent

I was at Starbucks yesterday. No, not because I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Moose in action—sitting in a corner drinking a soy chai latte and writing poetry. And, no, not because that’s where I like to get my coffee. (If you will recall, I have an edge.) But I was at the airport, and options were limited. I was waiting for my order when I glimpsed an ad for some new hot chocolate blend that they have coming out. It read:

Made with a mélange of exceptional cocoas. It makes “fall” feel more like “autumn.”

As always, I know what you’re going to say. How does John McCain find the time to write ads for Starbucks when he’s campaigning for president? You’re also probably going to say that that’s the dumbest crap you ever read. Because it’s like saying, “Drink this smoothie. It has lots of fruit in it. And it makes summer feel like summer.”

But, actually, if you read between the lines, this ad is totally brilliant, hilarious, and teeming with irony.

First of all, the word mélange is French. (It happens to be among my favorite French words because it is the word that comes up on people’s cell phones when they try to text my name. How fun is that?) It’s a well-established fact (in my mind) that the use of any French word in casual conversation is always meant to be ironic. As is the saying of a French word that has been integrated into the English vernacular—like croissant—with a French accent. Unless you are like a Proust scholar or something. And, actually, now that I bring it up, it is also my belief that people who are Proust scholars have chosen that career path as a way of making a clever and deeply hysterical joke. They’re just way more committed to irony than the rest of us.

Then, of course, there are the unnecessary quotation marks—and there is no greater ironic device than an unnecessary quotation mark. For a long time, the fact that people used quotes in ways that didn’t make sense made me completely insane. A few years back, I had a bagel store near my apartment that was actually called “Everything on a Bagel”—in quotes. I found it maddening. What was their meaning? Were they trying to suggest that the phrase, “Everything on a bagel” was some kind of famous saying? By…Socrates? Nietzsche? Then, of course, there are also all those delis that advertise “Healthy” Deli, “Gourmet” Deli. For ages, I agonized over the seeming nonsensical nature of the usage of all those quotations.

Until one day it hit me. It’s ALL a joke. Those quotation marks are all just a really clever way of being sarcastic. Because how many of those delis ever really offered anything even remotely healthy or gourmet? And obviously there are things that don’t actually belong on bagels. Hummus goes on pitas. Salsa goes on chips. Nutella goes on a spoon. “Everything on a bagel.” Ha! HILARIOUS.

So what were the people at Starbucks REALLY trying to say? What they were really trying to say was, “Your decision to order hot chocolate is obviously going to hinge entirely on whether or not that was what you wanted coming to the counter. But isn’t it funny how some companies think that by employing the use of ridiculous poetic language and fancy foreign words they are actually going to be able to affect your decision or make you suddenly take interest in a drink that has been around since the dawn of time?”

SUCH a good one.

So, I wanted to pay tribute to the brilliance of this ad campaign by making my discussion of the end of the baseball season an hommage, if you will, to its creators.

As I’m sure you all know by now—and you certainly must because it’s such a “historic” event—the Phillies finally went and won themselves a championship. C’est magnifique!

Various news publications have cited the fact that there has been a certain symmetry to the victory. The Phillies last win was in ’80. This year is, of course, ’08. (The Times was “helpful” enough to point out for us that those two numbers are the inverse of one another.) Additionally, When the Phillies won their previous championship—their only other championship—they closed the game on a strike out by Tug McGraw, number 45. This time? Number 54, Brad Lidge, closed it out by striking out Eric Hinske on a slider. Weird. What a “crazy” set of coincidences.

All in all, despite an outstanding season and October up until now, the Devs failed to deliver much of a performance during this series against the Phils. They underwhelmed in every way imaginable, never following through whenever they began to spark what looked like even the slightest hint of a resurgence. In fact, one might even say they made the “Fall Classic” feel more like “spring training.”

In any event, winter is officially upon us. Baseball winter if not actual winter. And that means that all I have to look forward to in the coming months is spending Sundays with “Farve,” wondering how someone who bungles so many plays still manages to win games. It means I get to sit around and wait to see what overpriced, over-aged pitchers the Yankees are going pick up during the offseason. It means I get to hear more than I wanted to know about what Frost-Tip has to say about “Kabbalah.”

To be honest, I can’t say for sure how I’m going to make it through. But, every year, I find a way. This year, probably with the aid of the timely arrival of a new season of 30 Rock, a lot of self-reflection, and the new Starbucks mélange of cocoas. (Whatever. It sounded good.)

What can I say? The crowning of a new champion is just so bittersweet. It always manages to makes the “end of the baseball season” feel more like the “end of the baseball season.”

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