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Faucian Flubs

Gaylord Perry he ain’t ..

I wish to retract my unmitigated praise for Tony Fauci, as asserted here some months back. It’s got little to do with whether he’s been an unfaltering source of invaluable information and guidance during our Season of Designated Distancing. The words “definitive claim” and “Coronavirus” rarely appear in the same legitimate sentence. Rather, it has to do with the first pitch that Fauci threw out at the Washington Nationals’ season-opener baseball game this past July.

Nevermind that the baseball season traditionally begins in April, not July. 2020 has been a year of abandoned normalcy and we’ve all (mostly) accepted this. This was all the more reason for projecting a strong image. If, in this era of 240-character tweets (up from 120!) you’re still clinging to the antiquated notion that “image isn’t everything” then I can’t help you. Clearly, huge and consequential decisions are now made on the basis of a snapped cellphone photo or poorly considered sentence typed out on the same device. This isn’t new, of course. When Kennedy took the 1960 election from Nixon (purportedly with a little help from his old man and Richard Daley in Chicago) some traced the win back to Tricky Dick’s poor appearance in their televised debate. Nixon lacked Kennedy’s boyish good looks, full hair, and TV-ready manner. He perspired noticeably and had five-o’clock shadow. And while many claimed he beat Kennedy on a substantive level, it didn’t matter. Kennedy looked better, ergo Kennedy won the debate. You can question whether such things should be relevant, but it’s another matter to question whether they are.

It takes a substantial helping of narcissism to run for president. The particular strain of narcissism is largely irrelevant and down to public taste. Trump’s brand is considered obnoxious by many, entertaining by others, but always front and center. Obama, by contrast, may seem a humble, folksy character, but the man just put out his second autobiography before the age of 60 and it’s 800 pages long. The audio version goes on for 29 hours in Barry’s dry-cool, you-were-so-lucky-to-have-me timbre. Point is, self-love is part of the deal; it’s as essential as teeth-whitener on a news anchor or foam on a rabid dog.

But self-love does not an adequate first-pitch make, which brings me back to Tony Fauci. At first glance, he, too, seems a humble man. He’s barely five feet tall, bespectacled in scholarly frames, and speaks in measured, calm sentences. There was much for me to admire at first. He’s Italian-American, born in the most solid of birthplaces, Brooklyn, New York. His parents were pharmacy owners and the young Fauci made prescription deliveries for the family business. When this pandemic hit, calm authority was in short supply, but that short supply was nicely packaged in Anthony Fauci. And, from where I was standing, it didn’t hurt that he was a huge baseball fan.

Cut to five months later at the Washington Nationals’ season opener. The scene was Fauci-ready with nary a soul in the stands and the diminutive public leader strode to the mound with the confidence and authority of one who can clear a major league baseball stadium via public decree. He was wearing the appropriate gear .. a Nationals’ jersey and matching mask. And then he let loose with what had to be one of the worst first-pitches in the history of ceremonial baseball. It wasn’t that he ‘bounced it’ or failed to reach home plate. It wasn’t that he threw from the front of the pitcher’s mound or well wide of the catcher. It was that, well, one would have to rehearse such an effort in the same way one presumably does a ‘normal’ first pitch to make it go so awry. Despite his being aligned in somewhat traditional fashion, the ball was ‘thrown’, to use a kind term, in the general direction of the home dugout. It was akin to having someone attempt to play a ceremonial first-flute at the symphony season opener, and then shove the instrument up his nose. Except it lacked grace and purpose.

I can hear the protests of “what a ridiculous concern” or “this man has bigger things on his mind.” And they are acknowledged as appropriate and reasonable. But in this anomalous age, that which doesn’t matter frequently matters most. This isn’t novel, but it’s accelerated. Life is neither fair nor reasonable. Masks, no masks, two weeks to flatten the curve, 95% vaccinated efficacy? Hey, I don’t need it belt-high and over the plate, but somewhere in the ballpark would be nice.

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