Ben OglivieSeptember 10, 2007
Here are some 1975 Ben Oglivies enacting the Cardboard God version of the myth of Sisyphus, that Greek guy who was condemned to roll a rock up a hill again and again forever. For Albert Camus, the repetitive plight of Sisyphus epitomized the fundamental futility and absurdity of human existence, and he used it to wonder whether we should we all just off ourselves and get it over with. I read Camus’s essay on this subject, and I recall that he decided against suicide, but I was never really clear on how he came to that decision, and by now I have even forgotten any half-notions I might have gleaned. I do remember the essay coming up one late night several years ago in the International Bar as I complained to a woman about my life.
“You should read ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,'” she said.
“I already read it,” I said. “It didn’t help. Nothing helps.” Incredibly, I was still clinging to the same hope I always clung to on the rare occasions when I found myself in a conversation with a woman who had somehow wandered into the International, that dim, narrow corridor of cigarette smoke and male self-pity where I preferred to spend my leisure time. I was hoping she would have sex with me, save me, shield me from woe, etc., etc.
“You should read it again,” she said. “I think you’re ready for it now.”
She fixed me with a cheerful, distancing smile, then turned and started talking to someone else. Alone with my drink, I sat there resenting being told I was “ready” for something. It seemed belittling. I was a bitter guy, of course. Bitter guys often feel belittled. Bitter guys have spiraling phantom conversations that pick up where the real conversations left off.
“What I mean is, I’m up here and you’re down there,” the woman said to me in the phantom conversation in my head. “But maybe, just maybe, you’re ready to start approaching my level of enlightenment.”
“I don’t need you,” I imagined replying. “I don’t need anyone.”
Life is as tedious as a story told over and over. Believe it or not, this sentiment was expressed on a slip of paper inside a fortune cookie cracked open by my brother one evening back in the early 1990s, somewhere around the time the woman in the bar told me I was ready for Camus. My brother tacked the message to an ever more crowded bulletin board in our apartment, taking its place with other relics such as a loving transcription of Derrick Coleman’s words to half-live by, “Whoop de damn do”; an article about the escape of a giant rat from a Coney Island sideshow; napkin drawings by Ramblin’ Pete Millerman of the impish, heavy-browed hockey marauder Tie Domi and one of his predecessors in on-ice intimidation, the scarred, hirsute, consonant-riddled Harold Snepsts; a photo of the troublingly glaze-eyed countenance of Darryl Strawberry, who had just joined the Dodgers and was pronouncing that he was Born Again and that his days of trouble and suffering were behind him (the quote below the photo from former Mets teammate David Cone related something along the lines of “It’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home”); and another fortune cookie fortune that said “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life” (note the loophole created by the use of the word “tomorrow”: what seems like a call to action is actually permission to put any self-improvement aside today; ours was a monotonous life resistant to change, beaten to the fringes, parentheses-glutted so that [in the parentheses, the obscure irrational digressions from the monotony, we found our wonder: a Giant Rat on the loose, Tie Domi unleashed, Albert Camus reincarnated as a low-paid scribe for a fortune cookie concern, life itself unstrung, revealed, whoop de damn do, nothing matters] nothing matters): nothing matters.
So anyway, here are some doubles. By September every year the packs would be full of doubles. You’d be in school again, time beaten down, corralled, summertime’s meandering borderless sprawl reduced to repeating calendar rectangles. On the weekends you’d go to the store to buy a couple more packs, searching for summer, and the message was the same: repeating rectangles. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie. Ben Oglivie.
The Myth of Ben Oglivie shows me a man forever trapped in a pose, waiting for a pitch that will never arrive. There is a figure in the distance, anonymous, too far away to be of any assistance. We’re on our own inside our repeating rectangle. It’s Monday and tomorrow will be Tuesday but the situation won’t change. If the quartet of Ben Oglivies above is any guide, on some days the sky will appear a little lighter, other days a little darker, and once in a while everything might seem a little tilted, slightly out of whack, part of the border around the day obliterated, as if there might be some escape.