Once a seal signed a multimillion-dollar contract to play with balls in public. The contract left open whether the seal was to carry the balls or throw them or smack them or kick them about or toss them through a hoop of some sort or roll them into a tiny hole in the ground or simply twirl them in the air, but a lot of people were willing, it turned out, to spend wads of money to watch it do the things it did with balls. The seal, if truth be told, was a bit mystified by those who seemed eager to pay so much to sit for so long on their backsides and just watch. Did they have nothing better to do with their time and money? Had they no thought of feeding the hungry or healing the sick or ending war? There was something perverse, the seal felt, about squandering millions simply to be entertained like this while famine or epidemics or bloodshed might be raging out there beyond the world of bread and circuses. Something obscene frankly. And the mobs of reporters who jostled for exclusive access to the seal—was it to blame for their seeming inability to think in anything but fawning clichés? Were millions of readers and listeners really waiting impatiently to be fed recycled answers to recycled questions and then pass them along as timeless profundities? The amount of newsprint and airtime devoted to discussing the most trivial details of a seal’s life suggested they were, the seal had to admit. And if the public grew so mesmerized by the seal’s prowess with balls that many put aside everything else in order to follow it about and cheer it on against rival seals, sometimes getting so worked up they came to blows with other spectators and required police intervention, whose fault was that? The seal’s or the ball-crazed fans’? And who was to blame when cities and counties found themselves held for ransom by commercial boosters demanding outsized, over-budget venues for seals to do their thing in front of frothing guys and gals? The seals or those entrusted with the wise administration of public funds? And when raucous and unruly alumni forced universities to do the same, should the seals be criticized for that or should compliant presidents and regents? Clearly, this ball business filled some deeply communal need, judging by the energies devoted to it. It even determined how society’s leaders and opinion makers spoke of matters of life-and-death consequence in terms of “leveling the playing field,” “moving the goalposts,” “stepping up to the plate,” “taking one for the team,” “slam dunks,” and the like. To say nothing of the trash-talking bluster with which they went about trying to put those statements into action. So, what the seal wanted to know was why all these people longed to watch, hour after hour, as it did its thing with balls to impassioned screams and groans from the stands. Didn’t they have any of their own to play with?
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans