About a month ago, Gareth Bale became a fugitive from the law of averages. He’s always been a good soccer player, my favorite, but since late January, he’s been the best in the world. In a sport that is very much a team game, he is single-handedly grabbing victories by the scruff of the neck. As I write this, he’s scored 10 goals in the last eight games—many in spectacular fashion—while his teammates have scored just five. All fans can do is appreciate this mastery while it lasts. They haven’t lost during this period, because Gareth Bale has taken up residency in The Zone, that magical place where everything is under his control.
The Zone is a locale most often referred to in the context of sports. Baseball players talk about pitches traveling in slow-motion before their eyes; supposedly batters in The Zone can count the stitches on the ball in the fraction of a second between its departure from the pitcher’s hand and its arrival at home plate. But it seems to me that The Zone must have room in it for feats off the playing field. F. Scott Fitzgerald surely stepped in some literary corner of The Zone while writing The Great Gatsby; Da Vinci and Picasso certainly rented out lofts in its more artistic neighborhoods. If we allow creatives to enter The Zone, then its gates must be open to all skilled professionals: doctors who get all their diagnoses right, lawyers who go on a streak of winning cases, and detectives who spend a month mirroring Sherlock.
But let’s expand it further, and continue the urban sprawl until one day you wake up to find that your address is squarely within The Zone of daily life.
Campus will shrink until Fit-Rec is your neighbor. Your excuses will flee, and your anxieties will go with them. Exams will transform into “classes you can leave early.” In The Zone, employers will discover that the position you applied for just opened up. You’ll immediately know why that person you passed on Comm Ave looked familiar. Ideas for tweets will bombard you, and each of them will be retweeted in turn. Should you have a blog, your posts will spark thought, laughter and comments. In the back of your mind, though, you’ll fear that it cannot last forever, because residency in The Zone never does.
As you contemplate that, the bus you’re riding in rolls through a puddle, soaking some poor soul who is woken up each morning by a train carrying people to The Zone. Housing is still limited in the Zone; it would cease to be The Zone if everyone squeezed into its few square miles. So for every person occupying The Zone, just as many spend their time in The Slum(p). Each pleasantry in The Zone is balanced by a struggle in The Slum(p).
Inevitably, Gareth Bale will go a few games without scoring. His team cannot go unbeaten forever, much to my chagrin. He will visit The Slum(p). But if he spends less time there than he spends in The Zone, it is a testament to his hard work. Perhaps I’ve made entry into The Zone seem like an accidental blessing when it isn’t. Da Vinci, Picasso, and Fitzgerald put in their hours. So maybe there’s a reason people pay for their work rather than to watch our daily lives.