They were just four boys, searching for a dead body.
Vern, Teddy, Chris and Gordie; the main characters in Stand By Me could claim to have “the biggest one” in four counties, but in reality they were just young kids looking for an adventure and hoping not to grow up along the way. They shared a common goal, reaching the lifeless body of Ray Brower, and were willing to risk their asses time after time to find him. They jumped a junkyard fence, even though the junkman Milo was known to tell his dog Chopper to “sic balls” when he heard a trespasser. They walked along the train tracks, even though they knew the choice could put their lives in danger (ultimately, they would “dodge” the train after it came racing behind them like a deadly avalanche). They searched desperately for Brower’s body, even though they knew their parents, Ace Merrill and Eyeball Chambers would all want them dead if they ever found out.
“This is really a good time,” shared Vern at one point in their trip. The crew had just made it through the junkyard without getting killed by Chopper, the vicious Jerome Williams—err, I mean the vicious junkyard dog. Brower’s body was their version of buried treasure.
“Vern didn’t just mean being off limits inside the junkyard, or fudging on our folks, or going on a hike up the railroad to Harlow,” explained Gordie, narrating the story years down the road. “He meant those things, but it seems to me now it was more and that we all knew it. Everything was there and around us. We knew exactly who we were and exactly where we were going. It was grand.”
The point is, for those four boys in Stand By Me, four boys not yet jaded by the prism of experience, the journey was something to cherish. Finding the body would be great. That was their goal. But what made the hunt so memorable wasn’t the end result. It was telling stories about Lard-Ass, the fat, pie-eating outcast who intentionally inspired a town-wide barf-o-rama. It was offering each other advice (“Wish the hell I was your dad,” said Chris. “You wouldn’t be goin’ around talkin’ about takin’ these stupid shop courses if I was. It’s like God gave you something, man, all those stories you can make up.”). It was dodging that train, and the look on Vern’s face when they did (“Vern, you were so scared you looked like that fat guy, Abbott Costello, when he saw the mummy.”). It was accidentally shooting a gun, and the pinky swear that came after it (“Hey, Gordie! I didn’t know it was loaded! . . . Yeah, I swear.”). And it was telling jokes about how Chris could never miss (“not even when the ladies leave the seat down”).
I know you’re wondering why the hell I’m discussing Stand By Me, so let me explain. I have two reasons:
1) I love the movie. It’s a staple of my childhood, right up there with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin in the “movies I watched so many times my parents started to pretend they were lost so they wouldn’t have to watch them with me anymore” category. There’s also a great story of the time my cousin watched Stand By Me when he was only three years old. The rest of the month, he called everyone he saw a “muffy feegit.” He was too young to properly annunciate, but he was trying to say “fucking [insert bad word that can either mean a bundle of sticks or a gay person],” a term he had learned in the movie.
And 2) The Celtics have fallen out of love with the journey. Just like they did last year, the Celtics have begun to mail in games. They still want to find the dead body at the end of their trip; they just want to do it without dodging the train or jumping the junkyard fence or using a gun to fend off Ace and Eyeball. On a nightly basis, we never know whether the Celtics will pitch a complete-game shutout (the San Antonio game) or get shelled for ten earned runs (the Chicago game). Mostly, we expect them to get shelled. In that sense, they’re kind of like the Red Sox pitching staff.
Not even Doc Rivers knows what to expect. Even with the Miami Heat on deck today, a big game that could very well decide home-court advantage in round two (you know, assuming the Celtics actually get there), Rivers has no clue whether his team will play hard. (Boston Herald and Boston Globe)
“We’ll see,” he said. “Honestly, we’ll see. We should. Logically, yes is the answer. Do I anticipate that? Yes. We talked about it the last couple games and we’ve shown it in spots and it does bother me because if we had done our job this would have been decided.”
Since February 13, the last time Boston played Miami, so much has changed. Kendrick Perkins now resides in Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo now drifts in and out of consciousness, Shaq has become honorary sheriff in at least twenty-six different counties, and Doc Rivers has been seen on the sidelines experiencing each of the twelve stages of grieving. For the past couple months, I’ve watched the Celtics with that same “I think I know you, but you’re not anything like I remember” look that Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless had when he saw his ex-fiancee, who had aged approximately fifty years in the two or three years he didn’t see her.
It’s easy to say that the Celtics no longer have an identity. That when Perkins left, he took Ubuntu with him, and he took Boston’s intimidation factor, and he took the confidence the team had from knowing, “When healthy, no team has ever beaten us.” One of my buddies, as knowledgeable a Celtics fan as anyone I know, emailed me that sentiment today. “We know the Celtics’ names,” he wrote. ”But as we enter the season’s 80th game, we still don’t really have a clue as to who they are—or perhaps, more accurately and more importantly, who they will be.”
But do they no longer have an identity, or has this “forget the second half of the season, let’s coast until the playoffs” become their identity? It’s easy to write the Celtics off, mostly because their recent swoon began shortly after Perkins left town, mostly because a reasonable person could surmise it began because Perkins left town. While that could very well be true, discounting any other cause for the swoon would be forgetting two things:
1) This team was 33-10 with Perkins on the injured list. Shaq played the majority of those games (but can’t be counted on at this stage of the season), so that stat isn’t perfect. But it has to count for something, right?
And 2) The Celtics had an almost-identical swoon last year, except it started earlier in the season and lasted for a longer period of time. And that was with a healthy Perkins in tow.
Does that mean this year’s sudden lack of focus is just like last year’s? No. There are key differences which seem to set this year’s apart.
Last year, Doc Rivers always kept faith. After every loss, he told us not to worry, that the Celtics would be fine once the playoffs came and they were (at least reasonably) healthy. Fast forward to this year; he has never looked so glum on the bench as he has this season. He really seems entirely fed up with his guys. Seriously, take a look at him on the bench. His eyes have bags the size of a small country. He rarely smiles. He spends half of his time looking disgusted, half of his time with his head in his hands, and the other half of his time (that’s three halves now) wondering how his assistant coach Doogie Howser ever became a doctor at age 16. Against the Bulls, Rivers called a timeout after his team missed a defensive assignment. For the first 20 seconds of the huddle, he didn’t say a single word. He just looked at his players, as if to say, “Really, guys? Seriously?”
Last year, Boston’s core had serious health issues. Kevin Garnett dragged his leg around like one of those wheeled backpacks and Paul Pierce had fluid squirting out of his knee. This year, the core is healthy, at least as far as we know (even if Rondo has spent far too many recent games auditioning for the injured list and Ray Allen has oddly disappeared for weeks). Last year, Boston’s best competition in the East was Cleveland (whose second-best player, Mo Williams, sure looks a lot worse when he’s not playing alongside Lebron) and Orlando (whose crunch-time scorer was Vince Carter). This year, Boston’s best competition in the East is the Bulls, who have resembled Clubber Lang ever since the All-Star break.
So this year’s different. But is the cause the same? Are these woes still due to sheer boredom? Or do they stem from something more important and more permanent, like the loss of Perkins? The truth is, I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to think the alleged boredom will lift and the stream of miserable performances will end when the playoffs strike, but I’m not entirely confident they will. Then again, I’m not entirely confident they won’t. Just like anyone who has seen the Celtics shift immediately from title favorites to “wow, those guys kind of suck” and wondered why, I’m confused.
In the words of Chuckie from Good Will Hunting, I don’t know much, but I know this: in their quest for Ray Brower’s dead body, the Celtics would have been a lot better off realizing they should have cherished the journey.