Dear Everyone,

Hello. I am an earth ball, also known as a cage ball, and I reside in a junior-high locker room in suburban Baltimore. When the weather is nice, I sit here alone. When the weather is bad, the kids stay inside and I play with them—or, rather, they with me. If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me. That’s a line from a song that I heard on the radio, but I think it’s appropriate here.

Over the years, I have composed many letters. I have remarked upon the impressionable young minds that pass through this locker room. I have spoken of the coaches under whose watchful eyes I sit motionless and spherical. I have talked about the friends I have made, friends like Paco the football and Sally the vending machine. I just felt a sob go through me. It is my memory of Sally. She left the locker room about four months ago. For a while, there was no vending machine, and then there was a new one named Karl McClurkin, a shiny tower who had no trouble dispensing soda and vitamin water. Sally was mainly about juice. When I asked where Sally had gone, the other equipment told me that she had gone to the main office. This made me happy. Sally had been promoted! I dreamed about her there, surrounded by mahogany desks and fresh flowers replaced daily. I knew that people would lavish possibly insincere but eloquent compliments on the drinks they received from her. Then, just last week, I came to find that there was no main office, that Sally had stripped a gear at the head of her primary beverage-dispensing chute, and that since the part was no longer manufactured by the SaBarCo company, she was sent to a landfill in Northern Virginia. Sally is now dead amid coal dust. I can still hear her measured, intelligent voice explaining mathematics or history to me. Sally was not one to let her emotions get the better of her. And so, in her honor, I will regain my composure.

In addition to populating my letters with stories about my friends, my mentors, and my colleagues, I have gone on at some length about Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity, of course, is a commentator on radio and television. During the day, he hosts a three-hour syndicated national radio show; at night, he co-hosts an hour television show on the Fox News Channel with Alan Colmes. On Sundays, he hosts his own hour long newsmagazine called Hannity’s America. For a long time, I was not sure what bothered me about the title of that show. Then it came to me: it’s arrogant and presumptuous and simple-minded and tin-eared. Over the years, I have listened to thousands of hours of Sean Hannity’s radio show and seen hundreds of hours of his television show. I am not proud of this fact. Coach Parker, who has always been good to me, keeps the radio on most days, and if he’s in here at night, as he sometimes is, he’ll watch that show, too. Coach Parker has had an ongoing romance with Coach Ortega, who is in charge of the girls’ volleyball squad. The two of them have fought, talked, and gotten naked, all in this very locker room. When they get naked, they draw the blinds, but from where I am, I can see right in. I can see the round parts on Coach Ortega that look kind of like tiny earth balls—there are two high and two low, four in all. I don’t know what the other athletic equipment feels about the relationship. For my part, I am very happy that they found one another. Coach Ortega seems to please Coach Parker, and I must admit that I am not entirely unaffected by roundness. Coach Parker and Coach Ortega put the radio on talking while they are naked so that their voices will be camouflaged; afterwards, they switch it over to music. That’s how I heard the song that went “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me.”

At any rate, the recent surge of good feeling between Coach Parker and Coach Ortega has meant much more time in his office, and louder radio to cover the noise. Last week, they were in there with the blinds drawn listening to a news report about the wildfires in Southern California. “They can’t be any hotter than you,” Coach Parker said. Coach Ortega laughed. It was a little insensitive, maybe, but it was one of the first days of the fires. I’m sure he didn’t know how bad they would get. After the news report, Sean Hannity came on to talk about the fires. Specifically, he wanted to discuss how disgusted he was that the Democrats in Congress had politicized the issue. When I heard him speak, I felt another knot of sadness in my throat, because I wished that Sally had been there. Not because she would have helped me untangle his argument, though she would have done that, but because she could have explained to me what “politicize” really means. From my corner of the locker room, I can’t see very many books. Every once in a while someone will drop a textbook, but not a dictionary. And even if someone did drop a dictionary, the chance that it would open to the page with the word “politicize” is infinitesimal. (That word I learned from Sally.) I knew that “politicize” had something to do with politics, but I didn’t know much more than that. So I decided to listen to Sean Hannity. I would have rather learned from Sally, but … you know. I don’t want to keep talking about her. Too sad.

So Sean Hannity was saying that the Democrats were politicizing the wildfires in Southern California. His initial argument came from the fact that Democratic politicians were using the wildfires as an occasion to talk about the government’s mismanagement—and not its mismanagement of the wildfires, but of other issues. For example, Senator Harry Reid said that global warming might have been partly responsible for the fires, and was partly responsible for drying out the Colorado River Basin. And Senator Barbara Boxer said that the wildfires could not be dealt with effectively because the state’s National Guard was missing important equipment as a result of the fact that their resources are being diverted to the war in Iraq.

Now, at this point, I sort of agreed with Sean Hannity. It was a confusing feeling. It was like waking up one morning, turning to the spot in the locker room where Sally used to be, and seeing Karl McClurkin again. But I saw what he was saying. Here people were, on the run from the fires, evacuating their homes, and Barbara Boxer was pulling the issue back to the war and to President Bush’s mismanagement of it. That was politicizing. In addition, from what I could tell from listening to the radio, Senator Boxer was not entirely correct in her claim. I don’t know for sure. Same thing with Senator Reid. I wasn’t convinced that global warming had anything to do with it, and I am a kind of globe!

That was very confusing, agreeing with Sean Hannity. Luckily, Sean Hannity restored things to normal by continuing to speak. After he lamented the circumstances surrounding the wildfires, he repeated Reid’s and Boxer’s comments again and again. I would imagine that these comments were not the only comments they made, but you would not know it from listening to Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity repeated the comments with a sad voice, then an angry one, then one that verged on glee. He spoke about the Democrats’ compulsion to advance a political agenda rather than deal with the matter at hand. He seemed to suggest that they were suffering from some sort of sickness of narrow vision. “Harry ‘the War Is Lost’ Reid,” he said, “couldn’t get re-elected today in his home state of Nevada.” Re-elected in his home state? What did that have to do with the wildfires in California? This went on for a while, and then after that Sean Hannity went on to attack Senator Joe Biden about some comments he made about education, and to attack Senator Hillary Clinton for her remarks about the war in Iraq. Somewhere along the way, he discussed the Hurricane Katrina disaster of a few years ago and placed the blame for the slow rescue effort squarely on New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. By then, I was thoroughly confused. How could Sean Hannity say that the Democrats were wrong to politicize and then spend 20 minutes waving around the most aggressive political rhetoric imaginable? The next day on his show, someone brought this issue up to Sean Hannity, and he said that he was only responding to claims that others had made. Sometimes kids in the locker room get into fights and the coach comes by and one kid says of another, “Well, he started it.” This seems like a bad argument in the locker room and not a very good one on the radio.

But even if it is a good argument, I have to say, it’s not what Sean Hannity does. A few days later on his show, he was discussing the sad and disturbing case of James D. Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the double-helix shape of DNA. I should say here that I am just repeating what I have heard. I don’t understand anything about his discovery. Balls don’t have DNA. But James Watson is smart and he is highly decorated as a scientist. A few weeks ago, he made a number of indisputably racist comments in which he suggested that black people are stupider than white people. He then resigned from his laboratory and released a statement expressing his disappointment in himself. No one needs to feel proud for judging him. No one needs to feel confused about whether or not he was wrong. It seems like a clear instance of an older man letting his mouth get away from his brain. But Sean Hannity discussed the case in the context of James Watson’s role as a contributor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as well as the head of an important scientific lab in her state. He referred to James Watson as “the Clinton donor,” took the opportunity to suggest that Bill Clinton and his brother Roger frequently used racial slurs, and wondered why Hillary Clinton had “earmarked money for a lab run by this white supremacist.” Isn’t that exactly the kind of politicizing that Sean Hannity was railing against? Of course, Sean Hannity also referred to James Watson as “James Wilson,” so maybe he was speaking of someone else entirely.

It seems to me that Sean Hannity is a poisonous hypocrite. I am not sure. Like I said, I miss Sally. This entire week proceeds under the shadow of her memory. Once, she was talking to me about the first place where she worked, which was some sort of scientific laboratory in the capital. Sally told me that the scientists there were looking at two different theories, one completely right and one completely wrong. “How did you know that one was wrong?” I said. She said something about lumped impedance that I didn’t understand, but I laughed anyway, and Sally laughed at my laugh. It was a warm moment between us. Anyway, a paper with the wrong theory written on it blew off the table and got stuck under a corner of Sally. She could have probably alerted the scientists somehow to the paper, but since she knew that the theory on the paper was the wrong one, she just left it there, stuck under her corner, and that night, when everyone was gone, she defaced it beyond recognition with water and oil. The other theory, the right one, got lots of attention for the scientists, and even some big prize. Rather than talk about how someone else was wrong, Sally just did the right thing. That was Sally.

Toward the end of Sean Hannity’s show, Coach Parker and Coach Ortega drew the blinds and got naked. I saw plenty of roundness—despite that (or maybe because of it), I couldn’t stop thinking of Sally. She had only corners. I couldn’t focus on Sean Hannity’s voice while I thought of Sally. She was teaching me even in death. Afterwards, Coach Parker came out of his office to get a drink for Coach Ortega. He got the drink from Karl McClurkin. I could hear the radio through the office door. It was on music now, and the song that was playing made me sad and happy at the same time. “Shot like an arrow going through my heart,” it went; “that’s the pain I feel whenever we’re apart.” I couldn’t look at Karl McClurkin. It wasn’t his fault, but I just couldn’t look at him.

Earth Ball