Unfortunately, the first rationalization is the only one that contains even the slightest germ of truth. The online story I read did say that no fatalities had been reported, and the accompanying picture of the collapse was weirdly reassuring: it looked like a gargantuan section of highway had been gently lowered onto the Mississippi’s surface. As a general rule, though, bridges don’t “gently” collapse into massive rivers, which should have made me suspicious.
The other excuses are even lamer. (If I’d learned about the Garnett trade in my semi-inebriated state, for example, I would probably have walked down to Lynn Shore Drive and screamed for an hour.) Really, I didn’t struggle with the bridge story at all; instead, I mentally filed it under High-drama, Low-emotional-impact News (mayhem in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, etc.) and let it go.
So what’s my problem? Why wasn’t I just a tad more stressed when the place where I’d spent 20 formative years was crippled by catastrophe? After two weeks looking for an answer, I think I’ve found it:
It’s Kevin Garnett’s fault.
Let me explain (and KG, if you’re reading this, please don’t take out a restraining order yet). When the Wolves drafted Garnett, I was 22 years old, recently out of college, living in the Twin Cities along with nearly every good friend of mine. We played a lot of basketball. We watched a lot of basketball, thanks to one guy whose father had ready access to top-dollar seats for the Wolves and the University of Minnesota. It was, basically, the sort of blissfully oblivious state that most overprivileged twentysomethings are lucky enough to experience at some point: life’s unpleasantness is still theoretical; the best is yet to come; the future’s so bright shades should be worn, etc. Garnett was a few years younger than we were, obviously, and none of our talents were in the same universe as his. But the parallels between his situation and ours — standing on the cusp of adulthood, anticipating a steady sequence of glorious triumphs — only added to his native appeal.
Not surprisingly, things changed. Most of us moved away. One of us died. We talked every few weeks, then every couple months, then once or twice a year. Life was good, mostly, but maybe a bit less flashy or dramatic than some of us had expected. Things changed for Garnett, too: despite scads of individual achievements, he couldn’t take the Wolves deep into the playoffs, couldn’t (or wouldn’t) develop a low-post game, couldn’t take over in the fourth quarter, couldn’t get the best of Tim Duncan. But these flaws only humanized him, only increased my already overblown proprietary feelings. And so it was that — after moving to Boston, and without fully realizing it — I came to see Garnett as much more than a great basketball player. He became, instead, an icon linked to a place and time I’d left behind.
As Commandment Number Four reminds us, though, there’s a problem with icons: they easily go from being a reminder to venerate some greater reality to being, instead, the focus of this veneration. And over the past 11 years, I allowed something like this to happen with Garnett. Which is why — one day after choking up over an ESPN Garnett retrospective as if it were a three-Kleenex movie on Lifetime — I found myself processing the Minneapolis bridge collapse with the flat affect of a lobotomy patient.