Here is Johnny Oates, member of the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame. He was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 1967 draft while still enrolled at Virginia Tech but only signed with the Orioles on the condition that he could stay in school long enough to graduate. He was born and raised in North Carolina, and was at the time of this 1978 card spending the majority of his spring, summer, and fall in Los Angeles, but, according to the back of this card, his home was in Virginia. I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that he enjoyed his time as a baseball superstar at Virginia Tech. He certainly never attained that level of stardom in the major leagues, though he was a decent enough left-handed hitter to find employment as a backup or platoon catcher on 5 different teams in an 11-year major league career, 3 of those seasons ending with his team playing in the World Series. He found greater success as a manager, leading the Texas Rangers to 3 division championships in the 1990s. His number has been retired by Virginia Tech and by the Rangers. He died of brain cancer on Christmas Eve of 2004. I don’t know what you can say about brain cancer taking away a man who should have had many more years on this earth.
And I certainly have no fucking idea whatsoever what you can say about the mass murder of 32 students at Johnny Oates’ alma mater yesterday.
A few years ago I watched from the window of my Brooklyn apartment as the two World Trade Center buildings fell. Not long after there was nothing but the huge black cloud where the buildings had been, my roommate Pete went to see his girlfriend a few blocks south, and I walked several miles to my girlfriend’s house in Queens. I walked against the grain of the thousands and thousands of people who had evacuated Manhattan by foot across the Queensboro Bridge and were then moving from Queens toward their homes in Brooklyn. When I think about words in terms of horrific events, I think of the moment when I was crossing the Pulaski Bridge into Queens against this sea of stunned people in their ash-covered work clothes. A United States fighter plane ripped across the sky above us. I stopped to watch the jet pass, as did a man walking the other way. When it had quickly disappeared from sight I lowered my gaze and my eyes met those of the Brooklyn-bound observer.
“Too late,” the man said.
That’s what I think of any and all words in the aftermath of unspeakable events. Too late. You can look for someone to blame, some way that some or all of the bloodshed could have been avoided. You can psychoanalyze the murderer. You can send in troops or fighter jets or extra security to check everyone for handguns and grenades. You can even make speeches and talk about God. Too late. All of it. Too fucking late.