Back before I joined Down the Drive, I ran a blog for a while called American Polymath. It featured essays on culture and current events as well as some fiction.
I did a number of interviews for the dearly departed American Polymath and I’ve decided to dust a few of them off for Down the Drive.
The second interview out of Clayton’s vault features Deadspin founder, author, and current Sports on Earth senior writer Will Leitch.
In this interview, Leitch and I discussed midwestern cuisine, the legacy of Kurt Warner, and how to cast a Guns N’ Roses biopic.
Clayton Trutor (CT): Coming from Big Ten country, did you feel a great deal of cultural shock in terms of east coast sporting culture when you moved to New York?
Will Leitch (WL): It was certainly strange to learn that everyone lost their mind if the Yankees lost a close game in June while holding a five game lead. But generally speaking, I don’t think New York sports fans are INHERENTLY more aggressive than Midwestern sports fans. I think they’re louder, but everything is louder out here. There are jerks at every stadium, every team. (People like to drink beer everywhere.) To me, the main thing that’s different is the media. EVERYTHING is turned into a large deal here, stuff that would easily be shrugged off as insignificant back home. If I were a professional athlete, I have to say, I’d probably prefer to play somewhere that doesn’t have a Page Six.
CT: How does your background as a Midwesterner shape your writing?
WL: To me, it’s mostly work ethic. A lot of people out here are obsessed with BEING a writer, like it’s a lifestyle choice or an affectation, rather than, you know, a job. My father is an electrician and my mother is a nurse, and they both work 10-12 hours a day — even in their sixties — and have been doing so for four decades. It’s work. It’s their job. I love what I do, and I strive to constantly improve, and I take what I do seriously. But it’s a job. It’s work. I do not think being a writer makes you particularly different or more special than anyone else. Growing up in Mattoon is what fostered that attitude, I suppose. I find it to be the minority one out here.
CT: In a recent “Ten Humans” column, you made note of the fact that the 00s are coming to a close. Did you prefer the 90s or the 00s? Use whatever criteria strikes you as necessary to examine this question.
WL: I preferred the ‘90s. The ‘90s were the one decade in which the way that I personally live my life — slobbish, caring nothing about clothes or style, listening to sludgy music at maximum value — was actually what everyone else was doing. Anyone that had the slightest bit of self-respect about the way they presented themselves to the planet hated the ‘90s; I have tons of female friends my age who can’t believe that when they were at the age when their bodies were at their best, the style of the time dictated they hide them under schlumpy clothing. I loved it, though. The less style, the better, I say.
CT: If you were hired to cast a movie about Guns n Roses, who would you cast as the band members, and what aspect of their career would you want the film to focus on?
WL: I would focus solely on the time they exploded onto the L.A. scene, the Whiskey-a-go-go time. And I would cast exclusively young heroin addicts, Gus Van Sant style.
CT: What are your favorite works of fiction on sports?
WL: I love Dan Jenkins’ books, Dead Solid Perfect and especially Semi-Tough. In a perfect world, Dan Jenkins would write every book. And I don’t even like golf.
CT: What are your favorite minor league ballparks?
WL: Everyone out here loves the Brooklyn Cyclone’s park in Coney Island, but I prefer the Staten Island Yankees’ stadium. You can take the Ferry straight there, and center field overlooks downtown Manhattan. It’s quite pretty, and sometimes a big ocean liner will just pass through the outfield. I love that. I also think Indianapolis had a surprisingly pleasant stadium: My dad has a secret desire to be a batboy there.
CT: What are your favorite kinds of midwestern cuisine?
WL: My midsection yearns for corn dogs, or “Pronto Pups” as we call them in Mattoon. Also, I love the specific kind of Midwestern Mexican food, the kind that has no discernible resemblance to actual Mexican food but is far, far tastier. Everything is better when it is lathered in cheese.
CT: Which youth sport provokes the worst behavior by parents? why?
WL: Baseball. Without question. Because the parents all believe THEY could have been baseball players, if they’d just been PUSHED hard enough. So they do it to their kids, who just want to roll around in the grass and eat paste. As they should.
CT: Favorite/least favorite sports venues in any sport in the Big Ten.
WL: My favorite is Assembly Hall in Bloomington. I’ve never heard a louder arena, ever. My least favorite is Northwestern’s football stadium, which is only slightly larger and more vibrant than my high school’s.
CT: If asked, would you appear on PTI or Around the Horn?
WL: I would not. I’ve been a part of enough self-loathing abasement in my life as is, thank you.
CT: Favorite New York neighborhoods?
WL: I live in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and I rarely leave. My only brushes with danger are rogue Bugaboos.
CT: Other than Phil Rizzuto, who is the most ridiculous Baseball HOF selection?
WL: If Pete Rose is selected, Pete Rose. There is one rule in baseball that you cannot break. He knew that. And he broke it. I don’t want him near the Hall of Fame, ever.
CT: How have your impressions of Kurt Warner changed over the course of his career?
WL: I’ve always loved him. Having him come to the Buzzsaw was the icing. I legitimately want him to be my friend. I think we’d get along. Though he might not like my drinking.
Follow Will Leitch on Twitter: @williamfleitch
For more of the same, follow me on Twitter too: @ClaytonTrutor