Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Being a Fan

Part of me gives a damn. I don’t know why, I just do.

I thought maybe this season I’d put away childish things like the Bible says. But I had put away religion long ago. Now my only childish thing is sports, particularly baseball.

The young cannibal says to the elders, I don’t like missionaries. They reply, so eat your vegetables then. As sports fans we devour our heroes. We become them for a few hours, a day, a season. We love them to death... and if they falter, as they must, we boo them, return to the table and eat our vegetables. We’re actually booing ourselves for having invested in a mere mortal mistaking him/her for a god.

Baseball’s best fail two-thirds of the time. If they were law students they’d never pass the bar, And that‘s not necessarily a bad thing. If they were surgeons they’d have a pile of dead bodies. Fans are familiar with failure. But we celebrate our great hitters and pitchers for their relatively measly success.
In his final game, final at bat, Ted Williams hit a home run as something to remember him by, as if we needed it. He circled the bases with his head down in true baseball fashion. The crowd was on their feet cheering. His teammates were in awe. The stadium rocked. Fans were eye-witness to history. They begged Williams to take a curtain call. Opposing players cheered him, urged him out of the dugout, even the umpires. He refused. As John Updike put it, Gods don’t answer mail. The iconic ones are always remote.

A fan suspends his judgmental mind and sacrifices himself easier than laying down a sacrifice bunt. We slip into another skin. Without us these demigods would be collecting shopping carts in some parking lot. We know their hour in the sun is short. They need us and those of us who never grew up and hope never to, need them. It’s as if Ted Williams came from another planet; Krypton for instance. He could slow hurling objects like celestial bodies. He saw into craters on the moon and could count the stitches on a fastball. Perhaps he saw what we weren’t meant to see. The way Mozart heard music of the spheres Williams could reverse the spheres, launch them into orbit.
We fans must be looking for better versions of ourselves. There’s an ovation in our head, a swagger in our step. The game is so much easier from the couch. In the end we will taste the ultimate failure. Baseball prepares us well. There are strategies always in play on the field. Even more enduring are the stats etched in some great ledger to be chewed on endlessly by the faithful over lunch 65 years later. These are the fixed points we insist upon in a random uncertain world that won’t hold still.

Now hush, I know you are bored but fans see everything happening on the green grass. There is a lyricism to the three strikes, three outs. Of all team sports only baseball is played without a clock. It could last a lifetime. Late inning shadows are falling. One by one outs are made, at the plate, on the bases, in the field. The wind has stopped blowing; the flag is limp. The batter knocks out dirt that isn’t there from his spikes. Your early miscues have been forgiven. There is an enormous coiled silence only 37,912 can make. So much depends on the outcome... and so little.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Not everyone but mostpeople used toothpaste; my family brushed with tooth powder. Mostpeople celebrated Thanksgiving. My mother declared it was a religious holiday and we didn’t do religion. I knew early on we were different, not like mostpeople who smoked, drank highballs, read the Daily News and subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post. We had our own ways not at all like the world of Arthur Godfrey, Andy Hardy or even Dagwood Bumpstead. We didn’t drive a car even as passengers. I didn’t know one model from another; still don’t. Unlike mostpeople I never went to summer camp, hated Mounds bar and couldn’t carry a tune from here to there, Still can’t.

Most people were not like mostpeople, I later found out. Norman Rockwell painted mostpeople. Edward Hopper caught the rest of us. The restofus had a piece of spinach on our tooth, a hole in our change pocket and a spot on our favorite shirt that wouldn’t come out. None of us had proper handwriting. The restofus wondered why all our friends couldn’t stand each other. We were all a little dumber and a little smarter than average. Now that I think of it I didn’t know any mostpeople personally. The restofus knew enough not to be mostpeople.

We were lost, then found, then lost again. The restofus couldn’t hit a curve ball, dropped bullet passes, missed lay-ups. We succeeded in our separate failures, fumbled, stumbled and out of all that… heard a calling, discovered a voice, owned our name, found our mate. One by one the restofus got to know who we weren’t. Through blurts and bogus moves we found the step to our drum.

And if we didn’t at least we aren’t mostpeople. We became first-person singular. I love words, particularly gibberish, the sound of chicken fricassee and barely was there barley. Mostpeople stand for the pledge and the anthem…and to the republic for Richard Stands one nation under blah, blah blah 
There are flowers that split the rock and words that tear me to fractions, alchemical words, combustible and incandescent. Words, stretched and bent that mostpeople are deaf to. My first language is invented; it’s the tongue of the restofus.

We’re in this elevator going up, going down, in our separate space each with bubbles overhead painting/sculpting/scribbling/singing ourselves alive between floors. There’s one more of us, there’s one less. Mostpeople might get in and become like the restofus particularly if we get stuck in a power failure and share our bubbles.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Old Men-Talk

Did I tell you my friend fell and broke his shoulder and ankle?
What happened?

His doctor increased his prostate med that can cause light-headedness and he passed out going to pee in the middle of the night
Like my Lasix diuretic? I lost 8 pounds overnight when I took my first dose.

No, like an anti-diuretic. Half of us go too much and half not enough.

We used to ask, Did you come? Now we ask, Did you go?

Isn’t there anyone left who remembers how to pee the way we use to pee?

Who remembers such things?

I remember when I peed in my pants in Kindergarten…. the warmth and the puddle.

Afraid to raise your hand and ask to leave the room?

I wouldn’t put it past me.

I can barely sit in a room now for 2 hours without feeling like I’m going to explode.

It proves that life is cyclic. We end up where we came in.

Just like the way we used to go to the movies any time and wait to connect the end with the beginning.

But I can explain everything, the guy used to say when his wife caught him with lipstick on his handkerchief.

Yeah, that meant he couldn’t explain anything.

That’s the way I feel about life; it can be described but not explained.

You’re making me want to go again.

Don’t let me stop you.







Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Charge of the Retrograde

Slurs to the left of him
Snarls to the right of him

Into the valley of dearth goes Barack Obama

It’s been a bad week or two for our president. Or to put it another way: it’s been a great week for the knuckle-heads, gun-lovers, anti-government zealots and racists. Ever at the ready to pounce on any issue that has legs and smells of scandal, Fox Noose and Karl Rove are gloating over the recent disclosures and seem to have regained the narrative.
Just as the non-issue of Benghazi was wearing thin other non-issues have reared their heads. I expect the Republicans will have a pocketful of Benghazis for the next election. Unemployment is slowly easing, the deficit is shrinking, the stock market is booming, inflation is deflating, fracking is gushing. The administration is not vulnerable on these fronts. Obama is even challenging the court order to allow Plan B morning-after pills to market, a move unfathomable to his progressive wing. So what can the Republicans do to rally their troops?

For the while they can act as the aggrieved party but who doesn’t recognize political theater when they see it. Not the homeless of New Jersey and Staten Island, victims of hurricane Sandy. Not homeowners under water (figuratively) nor graduates carrying immense student loans. Not the undocumented or the truly aggrieved parents of gunned-down children. Real issues go unattended in Washington; I don’t think this Congress will go unremembered come election time. The political carnival, as in carnivorous, goes on with its posturing, fear-mongering and over-blown rhetoric.

There’s not to reason why / There’s but to do or die / Into the Valley  etc….
Reasoning is not their department. Republicans are too busy reveling. Of the three hot potatoes on the platter, Benghazi, IRS over-reach and wire-tapping the Associated Press the latter will get a pass from Conservatives because it comes right out of Dick Cheney’s playbook. Shame on the Dept. of Justice rendering themselves indistinguishable from the Bush administration. So spooked are they by the prospect of a homeland act of terror that the Bill of Rights seems to have been subverted.

The IRS fiasco calls attention to the proliferation of quasi non-profit organizations. Language defining their tax-exempt status has been muddled beyond comprehension, and needs to be rewritten. Every right-wing group, in fact, did receive an eventual OK from the IRS; only a progressive one was denied. Ironically, after all the fuss, the correct call may be instituted which would disqualify all these Tea Party outfits as political fronts whose purpose is not educational or social welfare but legislative. The omission of Obama’s name in their attack ads should not confer impunity.
The question remains whether voters in 2016 will have reached their threshold of bluster and throw the rascals out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Into the Closet

Those of us suckled by 1930s and '40s radio were the fortunate ones. Yes, there were also movies, magazines and comic books to feed our fevered imaginations. But it was weekly radio programs, in their repeated time slot, that became a kind of clock as well as the scheduled skits we all knew were coming and delighted in when they arrived as if to reaffirm our small grip on life.

I believe it was Tuesday night at 9:30 that I could count on Fibber McGee & Molly to appear in my visual field. The most enduring and endearing of their running gags was his opening of the hall closet. Staring into the gothic design of the radio speaker I could see the cacophony of spillage shattering and clattering down. We anticipated it and were never disappointed. His clutter was our clutter. It struck the note that our family was normal after all.

I thought of McGee’s closet the other day remembering that clutter is a form of normalcy. This past Sunday we resolved to tackle our den closet, long a repository of journals, travel brochures gathered from trips, maps, postcards, giftwrap, bubble wrap, more than a dozen empty boxes perfect for presents we no longer give, picture frames, hopelessly-stained sweaters, extra bookshelves, macramé, old cameras and an assortment of cables and heavy wire, once needed for the installation of some high-tech gadgetry. The latter belongs to that inventory of arcane equipment, there only because I'm afraid I'd be scolded for throwing out something so essential thereby revealing my ignorance of how anything works.

There is a category of “stuff” which resists dumping. Some carry a back-story deserving of another go round. There’s the sea-shell from alf-Moon Bay, the fossil from the Bay iof FundyHal;Half-Moon Bay, the placemat from Bruges with the drawing of the restaurant on it, the fossils from the Bay of Fundy and the collections of beer mats from God-knows-where. Years ago there were stacks of National Geographics, too precious to throw out but impossible to store without having the building tilt. After a while every treasure loses its shine and yields to the joy of weightlessness.
Molly used to say, No, no not the hall closet and Fibber McGee would mutter, I gotta get that cleaned out one of these days. One of these days never happened. In one episode a burglar confronted the two of them and McGee told him the family silver was right through that door. He was then buried under the avalanche of family history accompanied by great sound effects ending with a drum roll.

Maybe we all need our closets to keep the skeletons company for a while. But the three Hefty bags full of our chronicle have now been hauled away and internalized anyway.

In creating a canvas of idyllic small-town America recurrent characters showed up on the Fibber McGee & Molly show who still roam around in my head: Mr. Gildersleeve, Judge Hooker, Mayor LaTrivia, Mr. Peavey, the druggist, who always said, Well now, I wouldn’t say that and the Old-Timer whose line was, Pretty good Johnny but that ain’t the way I heard it. I still hear them all closeted within.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


It occurs to me ­in my 81st year that all my separate parts are also this old….bones, connective tissue, nerves and organs etc… That’s a lot of mileage to ask of a pile of minerals.                   

One of my favorite organs is my skin. Flabby, blotched and stitched as it is, I’d know it anywhere. It may be a mess but it’s my mess. When it has had enough it knows when to slough off and replenish. Even in its withered state it manages to envelop my whole body twisting and bending at elbow and knee on demand. I wouldn’t have it otherwise. We leave other organs alone to assume their shape for a lifetime but skin is obligated to stretch beyond its infantile imaginings. It may only be skin-deep but that’s deep enough.­­­
I should apologize to my skin before it’s too late. It has endured all those childhood eruptions such as measles and chickenpox to say nothing of adolescent zits. It doesn’t seem fair that skin has to receive not only all the insults of diaper pins, scraped knees, slaps and whacks but also outwardly wear the inner abuse of nasty organisms, raging hormones and ultimately, liver spots. And then there was my foolhardy solar-worship when we didn’t know what evil rays lurk in the heart of the sun.

My only incisions both occurred on my left arm and one resulted in a needless ten inch scar compliments of a knife-happy surgeon looking for a pinched nerve that never was. Sorry, skin, I hope never to put you under the knife again.
When skin has something to say it itches and waits for an answering scratch. Fair enough. Some precincts of the skin present a challenge without a back-scratcher or Peggy’s obliging finger nails. It also speaks volumes with pins & needles and goose bumps. When it throws a hissy-fit we call it a rash. Go ahead, skin, you’re entitled to have your say for all you’ve had to put up with.

I try not to ask too much of my skin at this point. I’m not a hand-wringer. I don’t crack my knuckles or crease my brow any more than I’m aware of. I can only hope smiles and wonderment are less taxing than frowns and sneers. I’ll do my best to keep my face from misbehaving. Just to demonstrate that I have my skin in the game I can safely say now that I shall never enter a monastery and self-flagellate nor will I tattoo myself into a billboard however noble or endearing the message. My skin deserves better.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Ojai Overnighter

I was expecting Jay Gatsby to show up or Lady Grantham. This is the Ojai Inn and Spa, fit for royalty, titled or not where old money and new money put up with one another. People who bought Apple at six mingle with grandkids born on third base. Of course this is all in my head. Peggy and I are playing Rich, a game we indulge in no more than once or twice a year, crashing the gates of the one percent.  

The grounds comprise 220 acres of golf-grass, tennis courts, pools, herb garden, enormous roses, well-scrubbed villas with red-tiled roofs, five restaurants and winding paths traversed by electric carts, still elegant after all these 90 years and not yet shabby. And then there is the spa where one can get aromatized, firmed, pummeled and re-arranged. Guests dress in studied carelessness with designer names. I was an imposter in my Ross-Dress-for-Less attire and hoping Polonius was mistaken that apparel doth proclaim the man. No questions are asked demonstrating that one person’s plastic is as good as another’s … even with my Obama bumper sticker.
Our room looked out on the wide expanse of the rolling golf course dotted with clumps of eucalyptus. The bark of the giant trees was naked and immaculate as if anything less would be unacceptable as riff-raff. 

There is something about golf that seems ludicrous to me. Is it a sport or a board game, particularly as the players drive from hole to hole?  Everything in its place as balls are gulped into their assigned holes. Balls and holes, just like basketball without the athleticism and trash talk. I know I’ll get a fierce argument from the duffers about steady nerves under pressure but that could also be said about chess and poker.
In any case Peggy and I are sitting in our shaded patio looking out onto the sea of green. Bird calls caw, gurgle and tweet into this suspension of time. Pauses like this are to be cherished. We are reading our books due back at the library tomorrow. Can we afford the overdue fine after paying for this one-day stay?

After a while one finds their royalty within. Even without bonafides of any kind I begin to feel privileged, as if to the manor-born, as long as the conversation doesn’t veer into fine wines, hedge funds or grand homes in Newport. Already we are making the adjustment as eccentric millionaires.
We might have gotten away with our impersonation had it not been for check-out time when the valet parking attendant brought our 11 year-old Honda Civic around to the front. He then popped our trunk as a convenience to store our baggage.  Now all Ojai could see our warehouse of Costco paper towels, tissues and toilet paper. Was that an errant golf ball as we drove off or a sign from the gods to know our place? 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lit Crit Vs Quick Clix

How's your burger?

Thumbs Up.

Whadja think of the flick?

Thumbs down.
If you were satisfied with our service press 1.

93% of people enjoyed their meal considering the price….. 87% will never come back … so says Yelp.
Why didn’t you like the movie?

Too slow.

Add comments…


So much for critical thinking. Get over it. We live in a hurry-up, binary, don’t-bother- me-world. No one knows where they’re going but they’re making good time. How am I driving? Call 1-800….. Go ahead, un-friend me.
The age of serious criticism went out way back in a time when literacy was valued as a measurement of intelligence. The well-turned sentence got you invited back to the dinner party. An erudite review often meant a horizontal thumb rather than a vertical one. Complexity, even ambivalence, was esteemed.

Critical thinking is now on the critical list. But it is too easy to denounce and mourn its demise. I want to look at its passing without cheer, jeer or sneer. Whatever our preferences those analytical days no longer align with the popular culture. Even eternal verities have a life span.

The Millennial generation is post-literate. Their forte is pattern recognition. Not only is the attention of a mass audience been severely clipped but there is a general mistrust of authoritative voices. Discipline in the classroom has been undermined in this assault on hierarchy. Even in fiction the omniscient narrator is slowly fading away.

Maybe the fate of democracy is an eventual demotic populism with its leveling effect . Everyone is a citizen journalist or self-proclaimed expert…. Let me tell you about my spinach omelet… The trade-off has been a more inclusive, participatory public. Having Googled their condition patients often know more about the situation than their doctors……..or at least they have learned a few polysyllabic words to drop over lunch.
Consider this: The shift in sensibility may be part of a move away from depth to surface. By depth my generation usually means a psychological probe referencing and comparing several historical sources. As David Hockney said, Surface is an illusion but so depth. Our notion of depth goes back to the single perspective of an individual POV. A more communal way is to examine surfaces from various moments in time and space as in Monet’s haystacks or Picasso’s cubism. The post-literates have become re-tribalized with pockets of kindred souls (who may never have met face to face) dressing alike, buying alike and sharing their own vocabulary.

Could it be that these disobedient, semi-literate, and ahistorical youngsters are unwittingly on to something? If they have a diminished capacity to analyze there may a trade-off somewhere. Tweets and texts appear to be the shorthand of the future, for better or worse. It is language unadorned...more suitable for transactions in this new world of 24/7 commerce.

I am myself less of a technophile than technophobe but this is not about preferences. It is about a new way of perceiving and thinking. To the extent that technology is a determinant it works on an invisible level over a period of time. When Guttenberg’s printing press became pervasive it altered the course of history. Marshall McLuhan argues that it lead to the rise of the Western ideal of individualism and formation of the nation-state. Today’s young minds process information non-sequentially in small bytes and re-assemble a gestalt. McLuhan was right in that content is garbage; it’s the media itself which is of any interest. With a glut of information clogging the brain it is no wonder that interpretation has been consigned to oblivion. 

Perhaps a new metric is needed to assess academic performance in this closing of one epoch and opening of the next. The disinterest in our antecedents may be a function of this gulf between generational ways of seeing and living in the moment…whatever that may mean. It is tough on us old folks clinging on to our memories of cherished experiences. It won’t invalidate our lives to acknowledge the dawn of a new day and what could hurt if our grandchildren realized that the world didn’t start when they were handed their first I-pad and apps? Even if we’ve made a mess of things they still need to write or at least talk in full sentences.