Column: All about the ending

By Pete Barrows | 4/16/15 1:28am

soccer

GVL/Robert Mathews


I used to wander aimlessly in and out of the paintings that adorn the halls of the Detroit Institute of Art before finding my way to my film class to screen the Detroit Film Theaters weekly showing, sponging up every brush stroke, ceramic curve, cinematography choice and grand design I could identify before furiously splattering all that I saw against the back of retina like an untrained speed painter performing in the street. 

My formal training in art can be reduced to the “happy little trees” I observed being puffed into canvas by Bob Ross and his majestically coiffed afro, slam poetry sessions where burned CDs with generic labels were traded after the show I watched – performed in dank conference rooms for extra credit – a 35mm photography class I barely passed as a freshman in high school and occasional visits to a self-curated library of quality reads with bookmarks long ago – abandoned halfway in between the pages that wastes away in my room collecting dust.

I am not an artist – this much is clear to me – but every time I made the desolate drive back home from the DFT along an impossibly deserted 75N expressway in that dark part of the night, after midnight and before 4:30 when it's hollow digesting the splutter of art I'd just observed, I couldn't help but to contemplate how an artist could know when a work was done.

I still wonder every time I sit down at my laptop and bleed out a story for the Lanthorn. If not for a deadline that I milk for all it's worth, like a classroom of punk middle schoolers does a substitute teacher, I might battle to cover up my brushstrokes for eternity. I've come to terms with the sentiment that done is better than perfect out of necessity, but sometimes it feels like I'll never drum up an ending I can be satisfied with. If I always waited, I might never go to print. 

Understanding how rare they are, I'm sucker for a good ending. And even when I can't nail one down myself, I know a quality finish when I see one – particularity in film. 

I've wallpapered my room with posters of my heroes ever since I was a kid and have enjoyed the aesthetics of a variety of different stills, but I've never been struck by any work quite as much as the guns-blazing sepia portrait of Newman's Butch Cassidy and Redford's Sundance that fades into credits as the pair makes their last stand. 

Speak “Rosebud” when discussing cinema's most famous lines and you'll get a spark of recognition from most everyone in the audience and their mother, but tell me “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” when you and I first meet and shake hands and it really will be.

I still get chills watching Tommy Lee Jones read Cormac McCarthy to send out No Country For Old Men, and if I ever make it to Zihuatanejo, I'll make it a point to send back a postcard from wherever it is that I cross the border. Whenever I watch a Rapid bus pull away from a stop, it occurs to me that there might be a pair of Elaine Robinson and Ben Braddock riders in the back with no destination in mind, overwhelmed with concern about their futures just like me. A cold-sweat begins to stir me to panic until a clunky muffler shocks me back and reminds me that sitting on the back of the bus bound for destinations unknown beats sitting in a room staring into a fishbowl.

I'm a sucker for a good ending in sports too, whereas it is in film and literature they can be equally defining, if not more organic. I always pocket the ones I like best in literal clippings from the paper. 

The blue collar Detroit Pistons team that subjugated the star-studded LA Lakers and all of Hollywood in 2004 will forever be my team, just as the '68 Tigers that soothed Detroit with a World Series crown after a summer of race riots will forever be my pop's. Both front pages of the Detroit Free Press announcing those titles hang framed side by side in my basement. 

When Jerome Bettis retired as a Super Bowl champion is his hometown, it was something out of a movie – only better, since it really happened. I still have the copy of SI – and boxes full of other endings in the form of magazines and excerpts I've collected over the years – to prove it. The same is true for the Grand Valley State girls soccer team that won the a national champions before graduating coach Dave DiIanni to Division I; I know because I wrote that clipping myself. 

One of the beautiful elements of sports is that, sometimes, the endings write themselves, and I relish the moment every time I'm gifted a joyous conclusions to report upon. Some endings are painfully cliché, others wildly unpredictable or thought-provokingly twisted, and the right one can privy fans to absorb the moment right through the copy. But for every story about GVSU product Charles Johnson catching on in the NFL punctuated with optimism about what could be, there's another about Cullen Finnerty dotted with tragedy about what could have been.

Some endings are difficult to bare, and as a writer, I sometimes like to pretend that I have a supernatural control over blank pages on Open Office. That somehow by putting finger-tip to key, I could make my words so. That I could re-write what's already come to pass with a few smartly placed revisions, and could determine with a few paragraphs what the future holds. And that when I got the ending right, a light would flicker on right next to the over-extended word-counting tool on the bottom of screen to signal me.

Until that technology is developed, one thought provides simultaneously comforts and excites me every time the lights come back on in a theater, I lose a good friend, finish a book, submit a story, a season closes or a school year inevitably comes to end: The next ending will come soon enough.

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