The More I Know, The Less I Understand

I’ve been using the Destination 89 tag in part to construct an after-the-fact diary of some of the things I think I remember from that year. While there are still additional music-only-related posts in the series to come in December, this one discusses the last two specific events I can recall from thirty years ago; both occurred Thanksgiving week.

1) On Tuesday, November 21, the Illini Bridge Club ran a game that was the first stage in the North American Collegiate Bridge Championship, sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League. The scores of the winning pairs in each direction would be combined and compared to those of the other competing schools in our region (one of six continent-wide); the top team from each region would be flown to the next ACBL national tournament, which was to be in Fort Worth, in March, for a friendly competition. Illinois had won the whole she-bang the previous spring. That team included my new friend Mark L, but they’d lost two members to graduation and were looking for suitable replacements. Mark L recruited Milind, a CS grad student and a very thoughtful player, to form a partnership. For some reason, he asked me that fall to work with Mike, a senior history major and the other returning member from the defending champs.

Mike was a strong player, and extremely patient with me (though he’d let me know when I made an error, sometimes in no uncertain terms, he was very good about moving on to the next hand). He taught me as much as he could in the few weeks we had to work out a system, and occasionally I’d even remember some of it. The biggest issue was that I was still too inexperienced to have some things come naturally.

Anyway, the plan was for Mark L and Milind to be the top pair sitting North-South, while Mike and I won East-West. We then hoped to parlay that by beating the best foursomes at the other schools in our region to go to the nationals. (The same hands were played on all participating campuses, with the possible outcomes for each hand translated ahead of time into points on a 0 to 100 scale. After finishing a hand, you consulted a table printed on a slip of paper to determine your score for that deal.) 

The game in the Illini Union turned out to be close all around. On the last hand of the night, the director had to come to our table to sort out questionable declarer play on my part and perhaps equally questionable defensive play by the opponent on my right. Her ruling ended up going in our favor, and that turned out to be the difference in both pairs winning. The first hurdle had been overcome.

I headed back to Kentucky the next morning for Thanksgiving with the folks. I was too impatient to wait until I got home to find out if we’d qualified for Fort Worth, so I used a pay phone about an hour down the road to call the ACBL offices in Memphis, where I learned that we had indeed won our region. I won’t keep you in suspense about how things went down in Texas: we came in fourth in the round-robin first round, earning a spot in the semi-finals, but got crushed there by eventual champion Harvard. 

2) The day after the big meal with the fam, I headed down to Louisville, where one of my good college friends was getting married (the first of two consecutive Turkey Day weekends I went to a wedding). It turned into a mini-reunion, of course, hanging with Transy friends, a few for the first time in a couple of years. It also marked the last time I would see some of them for a while, perhaps until my own wedding six-and-a-half years later, or even longer.

I’ve bypassed the opportunity to this point to bring up Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, one of the more notable LP releases of 89. I enjoyed the title song a fair amount, and thought “If Dirt Were Dollars” was pretty good. But the track I liked best—by far—was the third single, “Heart of the Matter.” Pretty sure that some review I read when the album first came out touted it as a real highlight, and I recall looking forward to hearing it. But did it get any play on Champaign radio in the fall of 89, when it wasn’t released as a single until right after 90 dawned? I’m going to assume so, if for no other reason than to shoehorn it into my retrospective. Nonetheless, the song does feel of a piece with seeing my classmates in Louisville.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness some lately; maybe it comes with the territory as one gets well into middle age and scrutinizes one’s screw-ups. It’s occurred to me that, for whatever reason—maybe a combination of cluelessness, carelessness, and dumb luck—to date I haven’t often had to consider forgiving someone else for something even moderately-sized. When I am on the receiving end of hurt, I tend to believe it’s been earned.  Henley’s song is about dealing with the aftermath of a failed romance, but could his claim be getting at a portion of the truth in the larger picture? Recognition that one has wronged another, working on becoming a better person, understanding where that other person is coming from—those are absolutely important, and they’re all areas where I decidedly continue to have room for growth. However, I’ve come to believe that striving toward self-forgiveness is also a piece of the puzzle, and I wonder: could that be the heart of the matter, at least sometimes? 

Eagles-related material is some of the scarcest on YouTube; I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no clip of “Heart of the Matter” available for embedding. I did find a link to a performance that Henley gave on Austin City Limits four years ago—you can watch it here.

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