JC / Railbird


Vic Ziegel, RIP

The 72-year-old sportswriter died Friday:

… and the only one who could lighten such dark and heavy news would have been Ziegel himself.

Nobody had a more deft touch with written words or humor than Ziegel, The News columnist and former sports editor, who spent his life making readers smile or chuckle over the one-liners he so painstakingly crafted.

I can’t remember ever reading a bad Ziegel column. He could do humor without snark, criticism without condescension. Even covering the biggest racing days, when every little detail that could be reported seemed to have been so, his words always sounded fresh, his stories always new.

“It astounded my father — a man who rode with the Cossacks; the friendlier Cossacks — that a son of his earned a living writing 24-21, 4-3, $12.60 to win,” Ziegel once wrote of his career. “The truth? It still astounds his son.”

7/27/10 Addendum: Allen Barra remembers Ziegel. “But at a particular time, hell, there were times when I think I was the best.” No question.

“I Was Jack Lewis”

More on Jack Kerouac’s elaborate sports fantasy play and writing:

Apparently Kerouac, also a little nuts about horse races, created a system of fantasy horse racing using marbles. He actually describes a version of this game in Doctor Sax:

“I was Jack Lewis and I owned the greatest horse, Repulsion, solid ballbearing a half inch thick, it rolled off the Parchesi board and into the linoleum as smooth, and soundless but as heavy as a rumbling ball of steel all tooled smooth, sometimes kicked poor aluminum-marbles out of sight and off the track at the hump bump of the rampbottom—”

This sentence, with its haphazard commas that barely dent the momentum of the writer’s thinking, reminds me of what can be so appealing about Kerouac’s prose. First and foremost, there’s his manic confidence—a sense that every aspect of experience is worth describing. This style can make Kerouac seem like a wise man trapped in the body of a child who’s eaten a bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans. But at its digressive best the style matches Kerouac’s ambition to uncover the rhythms of a certain uppity male consciousness.

That last bit captures exactly why I’m not a Kerouac fan, but I do find his obsessive (and apparently secretive) fantasy sports life fascinating, particularly what has emerged of his racing games.