So hey. You may have noticed I wasn’t around last week.

I’ll be spewing my nonsense every other week for the foreseeable future, which will allow me time to pursue other interests, like glaring at motorists who don’t use their turn signals. It’s a workable arrangement, but it also breaks a streak: Five straight years of sucking up space on this page without missing a week.

What? A standing ovation? Please, people! Take your seats, take your seats. I’m very flattered.

Whenever a streak comes to an end it serves as a kind of demarcation point, a way for us to make sense of a certain period of time. Sports fans in particular seem obsessed with streaks: winning streaks, losing streaks, hitting streaks. They’re a statistical anomaly, and such anomalies are enticing because they invite analysis as to what engendered the streak to begin with. It’s a way to start a discussion without getting all political and alienating half your social media friends with long rants about the nascent rise of fascism.

And if sports are indeed your bag, then you probably know the name Cal Ripken Jr. Of all the streaks in Major League Baseball, his is perhaps the streakiest. At one point during his 20-year career, the shortstop and third baseman played in 2,632 straight games, earning him the nickname “Iron Man.” (These were the days before the moniker invoked images of a red-and-yellow combat suit.) His accomplishment makes a grade schooler’s perfect attendance certificate look positively pathetic in comparison. It’s easy to go to class every day when you don’t have line drives constantly rocketing toward your face.

When his streak was still active I was at the height of my baseball obsession, so I was lucky enough to see him play. Streak aside, he racked up some impressive stats in his career, but it wasn’t as though he glowed with some god-like inner fire, or performed nutty Cirque Du Soleil-type feats every night. He was just a workhorse. Nothing fancy; he just showed up. Being consistent and doing his job well made him a pretty good role model — much better than my other role models at the time, who were mostly mutant turtles and spandex-wearing vigilantes. When Cal’s streak ended, it felt like a whole era had come to a close. And it had. During his streak I graduated from two different schools and learned how to properly kick a hacky sack.I may have also started losing my hair around this time, but let’s not rip open <SET ITALICS>that</SET ITALICS> old wound.

Because there are so many freakin’ games during the course of a season, baseball is littered with streaks. The other notable historical streak that comes to mind took place in 1941 when Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. Since not all of you are baseball nuts, let me put that in terms you can relate to: It’s like hitting three sevens on the slot machine 10 times in a row. It’s like flipping a quarter and getting heads 100 times straight. It’s like hitting a penny with a pistol at 500 paces. It’s rare. I’m saying it’s rare.

It’s so statistically improbable, in fact, that in the entire history of Major League Baseball, DiMaggio is the only player to hit safely in more than 50 straight games; Orioles right fielder Willie Keeler is in second place on the all-time list with a 44-game streak in — get this — 1897! I’m not a huge fan of non-ironic exclamation points … but wow! Pro baseball has been around long enough to see two World Wars, the rise of automobiles, the invention of the Oreo cookie and about 17 Friday the 13th movies. One dude hit the 50 mark. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a motherbleeping <SET ITALICS>streak.</SET ITALICS>

Nobody but DiMaggio would know what it’s like to have a streak like that come to an end. But some of us have personal streaks to serve as a rough comparison.

Maybe it’s only the most neurotic among us who mentally keep their own record books, but if anyone qualifies as a victim of near-debilitating neuroses, it’s this guy. When I was a boy of about 12, I realized I had a hard time walking on snow and ice. I’d have at least one bad spill every winter, one of those bone-rattling falls that bruises both your ego and your butt. Hindsight being 20/20 this was most assuredly due to the fact that I’m flat-footed and never wear boots. So basically I kept hitting the asphalt because I was physically awkward and dumb.

Until one winter. At 13 — a lucky age, apparently — I survived the colder months without any unwanted trips to the sidewalk. Thus began a small streak: Six straight years of remaining upright.

It came crashing down, literally, one icy January on a small residential street in Lewiston. At first it was devastating. Six years down the tubes. Then I realized a weight had been lifted. When a streak reaches superhuman proportions, it takes on a distorted meaning in the mind, imbued with an outsized mystique, and the streak-bearer starts walking on eggshells. So much mental energy is devoted to keeping the streak alive that it becomes a weight on the psyche, and when the streak ends, so does the pressure. Bruised fanny or no, at least I didn’t have to live up to the strange mythology I’d built for myself.

Hard to know if that same mythological thinking applies to this space. Too early to tell. But I will admit to some modicum of relief. Sometimes you have to leave a place and come back to it before it truly feels like home.

— Jeff Lagasse is an editor for a Portland media company who looks forward to another spill-free winter (it’s been a couple of years). Shoot him some vibes at [email protected]


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