The Guy: If you are here tonight for “The Harbaugina Monologue” you may be disappointed. “The Harbaugina Monologue” is taking a break, on injured reserve, if you will. Instead we have a new feature called “Talking Harbaugina.” Instead of actually performing the piece, I am merely describing the piece. But like “The Harbaugina Monologue”, “Talking Harbaugina” is a comedic monologue. A comedic monologue differs from stand-up comedy in that with stand-up, I tell a joke and you laugh or don’t laugh; I tell another joke and you laugh or don’t laugh; I tell another joke and you laugh or don’t laugh. With a monologue, I talk, talk, talk for ten minutes and then a couple hours later, or sometime tomorrow, you go “Hmm?!”
So “The Harbaugina Monologue (and of course “Talking Harbaugina”) is (are) a work in progress, a performance piece, an off-kilter and post-modern mock tribute to Jim Harbaugh, Paly class of 1982, former Michigan and NFL quarterback, former Stanford coach and current coach with the San Francisco 49ers. He was a three-sport star at Paly, which he attended his junior and senior years — his dad came here to be an assistant football coach at Stanford. He was all-league or better in football, baseball and basketball. I meanwhile was a very mediocre reserve basketball player for Gunn and competed against Jim at that time. I was also a sportswriter, for the high school paper and as a stringer for the Peninsula Times Tribune, did not write about Harbaugh’s sports exploits, but certainly followed him. I don’t think I covered him in any of our games, even, but I think I shook hands with him — I don’t recall him at that time saying “what’s YOUR deal?” or trying to slap my ass, for the record. And not to be confused, come to think of it, by my teammate Todd Kjos on the 8th grade Terman flag football team, post-game against Jordan, having to fend off one or more Jordan guys trying to steal his jersey or shorts from him. I think there was a play where a Jordan player’s shorts split and he had to leave the game, embarrassed. And they tried a sleeper play on us, although for the record, Terman won, and tied for a league title, although, to reiterate, this was pre-Harbaugh.
The basic premise of “The Harbaugina Monologue” is like Einstein and relativity. And context. People all over the sports world may know and associate Jim Harbaugh the famous coach as being from Palo Alto, but if you are from South Palo Alto, so to speak, and went to or played for Gunn and not Paly, and are his near exact same age, you have a slightly different perspective. So the piece is also about the speaker being conflicted about being a lifelong Stanford and 49ers fan — I was a season ticket holder and before that my Dad and I went to games for about 30 years, section 20 lower Box 5K seats 3 and 4 — yet having for about 30 years since first meeting him having a certain, shall we say, distaste, for Jim Harbaugh. He was a great athlete, admittedly, but there was something about his demeaner, his intensity, that was off-putting. I don’t clearly remember a distinct insincerity, condescension or cockiness in his dismissive handshake with me, but it is easy to imagine such.
Also, there was a Gunn football player who came over from Cubberley and had a friend and former Cubberley teammate playing for Paly who said that by the end of Harbaugh’s senior year, he had lost the respect of his teammates with his “this is all about me” attitude and that the linemen started letting the opposition get by unoppossed, to sack Harbaugh, and shut him up or soften him up a little. Now maybe that’s apocryphal, maybe it only happened once, maybe it was in practice, maybe the guy missed his block and only was kidding himself or like Alibi Ike making excuses and said there was some kind of Caine Mutiny at the genesis of where we are now 30 years later, “The Harbaugina Monologue” oh yeah, I mean, “Talking Harbaugina” but there was something going on, palpable, even then.
Also, concurrent to the Gunn Paly sports rivalries I was also editor in chief of the student newspaper at Gunn, the Oracle, and we had a rivalry of sorts with the Paly paper, the Campanile, and my senior year we on April Fools Day put out a fake Campanile, called the Crapanile and a key feature of that was content spoofing Harbaugh, who we called “Our Boy Jim”, “Jim Harbarph” — because they talked about him ad nauseum. There was a Campanile where for the winter sports wrap-up they had a picture of Jim playing basketball; and right next to that, for the spring preview, there was Jim playing baseball — pitching. And we thought “What?” out of a class of 450 kids and probably 50 blue chip athletes, you run the same guy twice, what is this? So we borrowed some Paly uniforms from some confederates and dressed up this really scrawny kid, Pat Siegman, to be “Jim Harbarph” and posed him in all those crazy photographs: football, basketball, baseball, cheerleading, competitive tobacco chew and spitting – or we said they sucked Spam. And then years later one of the kids on our staff, Jessica Yu, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary and came back to town for a benefit screening and in an interview with a local paper she said she recalled the fake Harbaugh story as a highlight or her high school years, so that also seems to validate this.
So, and we are probably running out of time here, tonight, at the Philz open mic, but years later when I got the idea for a performance piece I would describe my dilemma to people — obviously it’s as much about the mediocre 49 year old and his foibles as it is the obvious and public flaws and the ridiculousnous of the uber-competitive famous jock — people would give me their Harbaugh stories, you’d be amazed. And it’s sort of like a Joseph Beuys “social sculpture” in that virtually anybody I talk to about this topic — you included – becomes part of the story, their reaction, whether they concur with me — that there’s something wrong with Jim — or they think I’m a dick for doing this.
So I’ve done this here at Philz about five times now and one or two other places. Plus I chronicle it on my blog, “Plastic Alto”. Plus now this “Talking Harbaugina” the piece about the piece. Maybe someday there will be an actual script and “the Guy” plays me, talking about Jim. There’s also this notion, I crib from David Shields, or Freud, that when The Guy is talking or writing about Jim he is talking or writing about himself — all fiction is part fact, all fact is part fiction — and maybe someday Jim Harbaugh himself will play me and be “The Guy” with the Harbaugina Monologue”.
Although its a work in progress, we generally have Jim Harbaugh waking up some day and deciding he wants to turn over a new leaf and he ends up either playing hand-drums with the Tedesci Trucks band or is a bassist in a reggae group, like the Kyle Machlalan Mayor character in “Portlandia”. I kinda worried about him, you know?
(Today at Philz I took a photo of the tip jar; actually there were two tip jars, under a sign that said “who would you rather have as your father in law, Pete Carroll or Jim Harbaugh?” and then you could vote on that by putting money in – or taking money out, I guess — to either jar, labeled “Pete Carroll” or “Jim Harbaugh”. I struck up a conversation with a lady who likewise bent down to take a photo. She said she knew Harbaugh. I asked if she went to Paly but she said her sister was his nanny and that she and her son (he was playing with some coffee beans on a low table, or maybe diagramming with beans read-option passes and runs) were on their way to see Mrs. Harbaugh and her son was a playmate with the three Harbaugh kids. When I explained the piece and emphasized the point that I worry about him and wish him well she said that he had already had one heart attack (ablation); I said I had saw that in the news. I mentioned that I was being pressured by one of his former teammates from Paly to drop the project and she said she didnt’ know him).
edit to add, two minutes later: I was looking for what I heard Chris Collinsworth say, that you kinda had to laugh at Jim Harbaugh and his super-intensity, but instead saw a post and video “Richard Sherman Slaps Jim Harbaugh’s Butt”:
edita 2 and I better leave library move car not get ticket:
Chuck Klosterman had a radio piece about Rick Helling that seems to recall my Harbaugh thingy. When I say “joseph beuys” I try to sound like I’m in Public Enemy. Also, and this I added much later in the day I was watching a captured version of a recent “60 Minutes” about Salman Khan’s “Khan Academy” which has gotten millions in venture funding, even as a non profit, from Bill Gates and support from Eric Schmidt and the example they showed was “graphing fractions on the number line” and “move the orange dot to 7/4” and I thought of Paul J. Cohen and the continuum hypothesis and whether Cohen Academy by SAG Actors and former Gunn athletes and 200-lb bench press club members Steve and Eric Cohen (sons of Paul), could do a better job ‘splaining. Is it only ironic that the number line actually has infinitely more irrationals than rationals between say -3 and 3 so is it a disservice to use the magic powers of computers to lie to kids about how the universe actually is? Could you or Sal Khan do a better job of explaining the number line now thanks to computers? Or is it just that his existence and his millions of followers really just helps the tech bubble from popping so that Gates and Schmidt and their ilk can withdraw their millions and billions (and trade that for bullion and guns, I guess), or am I just a tech hater on top of being a Harbaugh-hater? It probably does Cohen a disservice to fixate on the infinite space between -3 and 3 and not the more relevant infinities of infinities passed the easily countable numbers. I’d like to see Jim Harbaugh standing behind center and reeling off a long list of primes and flipping the script on his dad finally yelling “Hike the fucking ball, Harbaugh!” He could, like Rupert Pipkin or George Plimpton, yell back, “Dad! I’m working on the Riemann Hypothesis! This is not just the Red Zone it’s the Zeta Landscape!”