Catch Lenny Markovitz on a good day, and he’ll set you straight on a few things. A tidy, compact man in his mid-80s, Lenny’s usually in the front lounge when the Sox are on, and there’s something about the lazy rhythms of baseball that seems to make him assume a sort of oracular bearing.
It’s days like this that find Lenny in his Alpine Guru mode, and if you have any sense at all you’ll listen carefully to what he’s saying over the noise of the set. This is the raw, rare wisdom of experience. Sox are down 8-2 in the fifth, a guy named Stripling, of all things, dealing for the Jays.
The place Lenny lives bills itself as a “Center for Living,” and like most euphemisms, it’s even more ghastly than the perfectly legitimate phrase it’s meant to replace. A few years back, you’d have called this East Boston brick pile a “nursing home,” because that’s what it is, and Lenny’s one of maybe four men who reside here. He’s got this friend, Ed, who he can watch ballgames with, although when Ed’s around he tends to talk way too much about Frankenstein (“he’s the king of the villains, but largely misunderstood”), which interferes with Lenny’s midday philosophizing.
Today’s monologue is a doozy. After a bit of excitement in Fenway—Verdugo plates Duran with a single to center, 8-3 Jays—Lenny waggles last week’s Herald. President Biden is fist-bumping the Saudi crown prince, who’s done up in the local regalia. “Everyone’s real mad about this guy’s golf party,” Lenny says, a nod to the much-fretted-over LIV Golf venture. “All I can say is, how does he golf in all those robes, that hat? That’s what I want to know.”
Lenny’s question marks the first time I’ve heard anyone say anything interesting about the disruptive LIV, which in the last few months has become the object of an almost involuntary fascination. Like many things in the Internet Era, LIV is an invasive species, expanding its way into the global consciousness despite the fact that relatively few people are actively engaging with the brand. Call it the curse of connectedness. This is why you know so much about Pete Davidson, even if you’ve never once watched him on TV or so much as flipped through a dentist’s copy of In Touch Weekly.
Lenny doesn’t have a modem, probably wouldn’t know what to do with it if he did. After putting in a solid 10 minutes on the leisurewear question, Lenny puts the LIV issue to bed with a call to pay more attention to the things we pay attention to.
“You don’t have to care about any funny business,” he says. Six miles to the west of here, Boston’s about to fall to .500 on the season. There’s a “3” lodged in the home team’s error column. “It’s like worrying about when fish had legs and there was a king who told everyone what to do. Shut it out, you’ll sleep better.”
Back in New York, media executives are telling me much the same thing, with different metaphors. One TV heavy suggests that the ethical pearl-clutching that’s been a feature of the anti-LIV movement is at once self-serving and eminently ignorable.
“The PGA’s moralistic crusade isn’t going to win over anyone who’s put a little thought into the matter,” the exec said. “If a lousy human-rights record is grounds for not doing business with a given country or organization, international sports investment would dry up completely.” And while we’re doing purity tests, here’s a thought experiment: How does the U.S. history of less-than-forthright practices compare to the sort of things our allies get up to when they think nobody’s looking? Things may be a bit dicey in Washington, but the possibility of the establishment of a Biden Bonesaw Brigade still seems fairly unlikely, right?
“That’s the thing—it’s a complicated world,” the sports-TV exec said. “Look at all the active relationships with China, which by most definitions counts as a dystopia. Look at Qatar, and the slave labor behind the [construction] of the World Cup venues. … If the actions of the Saudi government are so problematic that golfers should be made to be ashamed to be in league with those guys, then what about all the other Saudi money that’s pumping through U.S. sports?”
Other media types have suggested that the sheer amount of cash at LIV’s disposal puts the upstart league at an existential remove from the quotidian sports-business racket. “The real story is what happens when they go after another sport,” said one senior network suit. “Regardless of what sort of distribution deal they get here, or how many players they manage to extract from the Tour, the Saudis are completely divorced from the reality of having to realize a return on their investments.”
They can just as easily set up an alternative to the ATP Tour or international racing body, the suit added. “Golf is only the beginning.”
That said, if you count yourself among the nation’s hard core of golf enthusiasts, the emergence of LIV may give you pause, if only because it poses a clear and present danger to the familiar diversions of the PGA Tour. “Golf isn’t big enough for two tours, at least not as far as the media dollars and fan interest are concerned,” the network higher-up said. “In terms of the volume of players who are jumping ship, at some point there’s going to be an inflection point, beyond which the Tour as we know it won’t be able to continue. I’m sure that nobody, or almost nobody, wants to kill off the brand of golf they grew up with, but would you turn down 300, 400, 500 million in guaranteed wages?”
(Short answer: Nope.)
As an occasional duffer who mostly enjoys the drinking cart and making Caddyshack noises on the greens, I’ll put in maybe an hour or two in front of the set whenever it occurs to me that one of the majors is on. More than anything, golf has always felt like a way to unplug, to power down after a long week of aggravation and the accumulative insults of living in a smelly concrete fortress. I’m not the sort of person who really needs to get all worked up about the inherent evils of sportswashing and unchecked avarice, primarily because I have other things to worry about. More to the point, as there’s nothing I can do one way or the other about the Saudi Public Investment Fund or dinosaur burial grounds or clumsy embassy slayings, these are things that are probably not worth losing sleep over.
Once you realize your brain has only so much storage capacity, the process of actively selecting the ideas that seem most worthy of your consideration becomes automated. It’s a matter of choosing to learn how to exercise control over what you think about and how you extract what amounts to a sense of “meaning” from that raw material. Which seems like a crucial skill to acquire at a time when information acts like a gas and your brain has been conditioned to assume a state of permeable passivity.
As Lenny says, you don’t have to put up with any funny business. A few minutes after Jarren Duran whiffs to end the game, a woman sets down a supper tray in front of him. “Well, we lost another one,” Lenny grouses as the NESN crew surveys the wreckage. “Used to be, I’d get all upset when we lost, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Now I know better and I sleep like a dead guy.”