"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 August 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Time Out!



For larger-than-average teens living in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, or any other place where parents value broad shoulders and quick feet in their young, August means the arrival of twice-daily football practices. Appropriately known as "two-a-days," this time-honored method of organizing pre-season football camp mitigates the national extracurricular activities death count by avoiding practice when the sun is at its highest, and allows for the implementation of gameplans complicated enough to justify the cost of at least one summer clinic. The psychological rewards of spending the best weeks of the best summers of your life doing fully-uniformed squat thrusts are considerable: John Belushi looked back upon the successful completion of two-a-days as a spur to get through his later self-induced physical trauma, while countless slightly overweight army grunts have used the running of the tires as a buttress against the mental rigors of your typical morning well-spent at Forts Benning and Bragg.

The true genius of two-a-days isn't doubling the work time — that particular concept has been around since the building of the pyramids — but splitting it in two. By cutting the day in half, football coaches seize control of the practices and the scrap of time that separates them. With one period of physical trauma from which to recover and one for which to prepare, even the kids who choose to leave the practice field do so with a sense of exhaustion and dread. There are direct lessons to be learned here: Employers who wish to keep their lunch-bound office workers focused on their jobs might think about disconnecting the elevators. But in a larger sense, two-a-days encapsulate the underlying strategy of new ways to organize our days, weeks, and years: Promise more free time, deliver less, and soon work and leisure become indistinguishable.



Modern places of employment make coach proud by assaulting the standard workday from two directions. The first strategy, variations of the Microsoft model, offers most of the comforts one used to find at home — a well-stocked fridge, on-site leisure activities, and home cooking — in addition to the regular workplace offerings of free office supplies and marriage-destroying sexual partners. The second gives workers the freedom to work at home, either in addition to appearances at the office where everyone now hates them, or as an alternative. Each strategy plays on guilt to earn more time from the worker than standard workplaces, particularly on weekends or holiday periods that used to be considered sacrosanct — the white collar version of dropping factory shifts to 37.5 hours a week and then enforcing mandatory overtime.

Even if you're not working through the weekend, or even slipping over to your home office to do some paperwork, it may feel like you've put in a full day. The weekend's transition from Sabbath to working sabbatical even has had a legal acting-out over the last three decades: the community-by-community dismantling of "Blue Laws." Blue Laws were never smart laws. Protecting Christian business owners by making sure all shops are closed on Sundays is cheating in the bold, confident manner that only the American middle-class manages with a straight face. But where in 1975, Tennesseans destroyed credit cards of those stores choosing to open on Sunday, the repeal of Blue Laws in the Boston area in the mid- to late-'90s was argued from a financial perspective, as a way to help local businesses compete with nearby communities who operated free of the restraints. And despite some religious leaders' arguments for the social benefits of inactivity, no one ever took seriously a secular Sabbath argument. Americans not working on Sunday are more than happy to make use of Americans working on Sunday.



Entertainment industries more than happy to indulge the impatient consumer have climbed outside of their contribution to the traditional passing of time, the "season." Thanks to a refinement of insider interest that started with cable television, moved into talk radio, and found its greatest expression in on-line media, sports fans no longer have an off-day, let alone an off-season, with which to mark the passing of the year. Television's summer schedule of pay cable series, cast-off pilots and castaway-filled reality programming maximizes diminishing programming revenue even as it potentially exhausts audiences. Summer movie season begins in April, the Holiday releases begin at Halloween, and the few weeks between are filled with the strategically-scheduled and poorly-tested. Marking time through cultural events without beginning or end is like measuring one's personal growth against Ronald McDonald — all of a sudden you realize things are completely different, but you can't nail down the moment it changed.

Summer itself may eventually go the way of the before-class breakdancing circle. Infotainment pioneer Paul Harvey reminds us that summer vacations are cultural detritus from our shared agrarian background, when children were released to work with their families during that vitally important Whatever It Is They Do On Farms season. Summer has since developed its own all-inclusive, all-regional, institutional identity for marking time, albeit one built from crappy movies, burning ants with a magnifying glass, and illicit alcohol served out of someone's garage. That doesn't stop the notion of year-round schooling from gaining momentum, building from an already-respectable one of twenty schoolchildren enrolled. Less the pause that refreshes than the release that keeps kids from offing themselves, summer vacation's importance to the collective imagination would seem to outweigh the benefits of getting children accustomed to a corporate work routine. But no one articulates summer lack of activity as a value. Ultra-conservatives who attack the growing phenomenon of year-round schooling for offering a more efficient use of facilities instead of increased time in class are just as clueless as the progressives who claim educational momentum as an undeniably good thing. Periodic fifteen-day breaks will not be enough to help people who should have known better than to take such a lousy job look out their window on a warm June day and think "This is wrong." Educators mess with socialization's equivalent of deep, REM sleep at their own risk.



Year-round schooling would sound the death-knell for two-a-days, a tradition already endangered by earlier and earlier starts to the school year. The first day of class at many high schools and colleges has been staggering backwards into August for years now, and in recent years even grammar school kids have been finding their dog days cannabilized by a lengthening school year. By the time Labor Day arrives next week, sessions in many American schools will already have been dragging their slow lengths along for a full month. In this new paradigm, the real losers may be the jobless freaks who attend latecomer prep schools and east coast universities, with their traditional September-June sessions and nervous wrecks of football coaches. Like self-help groups and organized religions, coaches have known for decades that agitated and tired young people can make the sort of mental commitment that wins ballgames. But they can also turn out to be better students, workers and consumers. Luckily, according to our new ways of marking time, next season has already begun.

courtesy of 40th Street Black
picturesTerry Colon

40th Street Black