Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Baseball, Memorial Day, and Old Age

The girl at the gate sang the Star Spangled Banner as we approached. She paused long enough to smile, take our tickets and offer some generic sort of greeting. I had a strange suspicion we’d see her again. Sure enough, right before the game started, she was out by first based with a microphone, singing our National Anthem. What a better way to celebrate Memorial Day than watching baseball. Not in the big leagues, mind you, but a clash between two mediocre Single-A minor league teams. The Southwest Michigan Devil Rays hosted the Peoria Somebodies (I don’t remember their name). Peoria won; if anyone wonders how things are in Peoria, there fine, at least for the loyal fans of their minor league franchise. They are now one game over 500. The Devil Rays are submerged, well below the 500 mark.

I wonder if minor league players get tired of listening to the national anthem sung by high school glee club members. At least this girl had a good voice and knew all the words, which is more than I can say for either Peter or Paul (of the Peter, Paul and Mary fame). One of them, don’t remember which one, sang the National Anthem at the opening day at the old Three River Stadium in Pittsburgh back in the late 80s. He forgot the lines and stumbled around for words in front of 60,000 fans. If he’d only looked up at the scoreboard, he could have read the words.

It’s humbling to realize that most of the players in Single A ball are half my age. Twenty-five years of age were the oldest on the field and there were several nineteen-year-olds. Both teams played hard. And they committed plenty of errors. A few may make it to the majors in a couple of years, but for most, this will be as far as they’ll go. Their dream of playing in the Big Leagues will be traded for a day job. But at least they got the chance to play.

For some reason I decided that now was time for my second debut on the ball diamond. Not that I was a celebrated athlete when I was younger, or anything. But for some reason, probably the promise of a cold beer afterwards, I agreed to play on a softball team. Prior to tonight, it’d been twenty years since I last played. I’m not as quick as I use to be, but then the "Babe" was never that quick. But hey, I surprised myself (and some other folks) by getting four hits in trips to the plate. Tomorrow, when I try to get out of bed, I’ll pay for today’s fun. Remember that song from Little Feat, "The Old Folks Boogie?" It had the wonderful line about "when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fulfill." They weren't talking about baseball, were they?

Oh yeah, we won. 15-3.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A Warning for Viagara Users: The True Story

There is a rare type of blindness reported by users of Viagara and similar drugs. The following press release came out yesterday:

Since only a handful of the millions of men who have used these drugs have experienced total blindness, the drug companies brush off this threat and insist their drugs are safe. What the drug makers don’t tell us is that impotent relieving drugs (IRDs) create less serious problems with vision.

Many on Viagara have reported temporary loss of sight. These symptoms are common. At night, all pumped up on the drug, a man meets what appears to the most beautiful woman. In the morning he discovers otherwise. This situation is especially common when alcohol is combined with IRDs.

Then there are the incidents of short-sightedness. This syndrome is especially prevalent among married men whose sex drive is much greater than their wives. Seeking relief, a man finds it to be a short-sighted solution as his wife and her attorney enjoy their day in court.

And probably the most disturbing problems with IRDs is that they tend blur one’s political sight. One begins to see Bob Dole as appealing. After following his suggestion for Viagara, the man starts listening to Dole and friends political suggestions. There’s a conspiracy here! Maybe it's the drug companies that are behind the Republican take-over of America. With Republicans in control of the FDA, we’ll never hear about the real dangers of IRDs. What the Republicans over at the FDA don’t want you to know is Real Men are in the Democratic Party. After all, Bill Clinton never needed IRDs.

I must have too much free time...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

From Chicago

Jazz at Fourth Presbyterian, Chicago

Ozzie’s soprano sax
bouncing off the stone walls
drowns the noise beyond the walls,
of horns and sirens and chatter,
inducing trance a like state amongst the pilgrims
gathered, seeking refuge from the city
in which signs abound
announcing an ordinance and a five hundred dollar fine
for feeding pigeons.
What’s there left for an old man to do?
Maybe listen to music
allowing it to diminish the now
so that he can recall days of joy
while longing for that new day
in the presence of a benevolent God
who’ll feeds even the lowly sparrow.
Then the pigeons will feast on more than a dropped fry
and the notes of the sax will echo off the stars.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Suppose I'm just a Southern Democrat

As a Southern expatriate who finds the advantages of being Southern outweighs the disadvantages, I greedily reached for a used copy of John Sheldon Reed’s collection of essays, Whistling Dixie: Dispatches from the South. Interesting title! Feeling the need to recharge my Southernerness, I dug right into it.

Reed is a professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina. Unlike any of the Sociology Profs I had, Reed is incredibly funny. Of course, it’s not unusual to find southern writers that are funny; hell, we’ve given the English language more than our fair share. Think about these guys (and gals): Flannery O’Conner Roy Blount, Clyde Edgerton, Jerry Clower, Lewis Grizzard, Mark Twain, Willie Morris, and Guy Owen (if you ain’t read the Flim-flam Man, you’re missing a treat)… Shoot, we even train Yankee humorists. This is because we’ve been well bred to show hospitality, a good thing I think you’d have to admit. Could you imagine Dave Barry, a New Yorker, writing for the Boston Globe? Of course, ain't none of them writers a sociologist, which makes Professor Reed stand out.

In addition to having more than our fair share of humorous writers, our politicians pull their load by creating great characters (at one point Reed sarcstically notes: “they”—referring to Yankees—“thought Flannery O’Conner made it all up.”). The political influence probably explains why Chicago, which isn’t in the South, stands out as a cultural outpost up North and has produced fine writers like Mike Royko and as well as world class blues. Nothing like corrupt politicians to prime the humor pump and encourage the creation of sad music! There’s other ways to support the arts than give funds to councils, as Southern politics have shown us. Why spend someone else’s money, our politicians surmise, when they already provide enough color and plot lines to make their jobs easy?

Yet, between the laughter, I had a problem with Reed. Here’s a man with the privilege of teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an honor of which he’s rightly proud. And he waxes beautifully about my home state, but get this, he ain’t even a Tarheel. He’s a hillbilly from East Tennessee. And what makes him worst is his radically conservative politics. He has no use for traditional southern populism. He’s a Jesse Helm’s Republican. Now, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are traditional Republican areas down South. A lot of those mountain folk voted for Lincoln, the original Republican, something I couldn’t see Jesse doing. If Jesse had been born a century earlier, instead of trying to free slaves, he'd been arguing that taxes were too high on ‘em. I always admired the Republicans from the hills; they were Republican when it wasn’t popular. About the only Republicans you had then in the South, before the voting rights acts, were hillbillies and what the few African-Americans who got to vote. But as African-Americans abandoned the party of Lincoln for the party of Roosevelt, a bunch of conservative Democrats, like Jesse, switched to the Republican Party. And they've provided us with great role models. There's Jesse, who espouses a closed mind; Gingrich, an example of personal ethics; and DeLay, who shows how to creatively fund our adventures with other folk’s money. Yes, those Republicans from the hills had a lot more sense the later types of Southern Republicans cast in the image of Jesse Helms.

During the 80s’, the Helms’ organization and Jim Broyhill, a capitalist furniture-maker and Republican of more moderate leanings from Western North Carolina, fought it out. If you’d listened to the rhetoric of Helm’s henchmen, you’d thought Broyhill wasn’t only a card caring commie, but that he was Lenin’s kissing cousin. What nonsense! And it don’t speak too well of my native land that many people believed Helm’s henchmen.

I’m proud to be a Tarheel. According to Reed, this ain’t newsworthy since 90% of North Carolinians are proud of their heritage, a figure twice as high as you’d find in New York. But I’m not always proud of our politicians. As you may have already surmised, I couldn’t stand Jesse Helms. Even after leaving the state for grad school, I stayed a registered voter for a year so I could vote against him. It didn’t do any good, Jesse brought himself another election, greatly outspending his opponent for a win of a couple of percentage points. Not exactly a landslide or a mandate, but what did he care. He got six more years in the Senate.

During the run-up to the 1988 election year primaries, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. It was a great way to get away from it all and I missed all the news about who was in and out of the campaign during the summer of ’87. That was okay with me. For most of the summer, or at least for all but one day of it, I didn’t think about the elections. But there was that one day in New Hampshire (the state that hosts the first Presidential primary during the election year)when another hiker and I detoured down a paved road at the promise of good pancakes served with real maple syrup. The Thompson Maple Syrup Farm was just a half mile or so from the trail and they’d posted fliers to entice hikers. It sounded good and hikers are always hungry, so the two of us hiked to their roadside pancake house and ordered up a couple of stacks. It wasn’t very busy so as the proprietor fried the cakes, I read the framed news articles and stuff on the walls and quickly surmised that her husband had been governor of the state of New Hampshire.

Trying to keep up the reputation that Southerners are friendly, I asked if her husband was still in politics.

“Oh yeah,” she replied, “right now he’s out trying to jumpstart Paul Laxalt’s campaign.”

“What,” I asked with a puzzled look, “Laxalt is running for President?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, “Who are you for, George Bush?”

Thinking back on this conversation with the vantage of hindsight, the ideal comeback should have been: “I’d be proud to vote for him if he just had himself a vasectomy half-century earlier.” Instead, I dug just as deep hole when I said, “I suppose if I had to vote for a Republican, I’d vote for Bush.”

Then she asked me what I had against Laxalt. At the time, I’d never even been to Nevada, Laxalt’s home state (and now my home away from home). All I could think to say was, “He’s good friends with Jesse Helms, who’s an embarrassment to my home state.”

“Oh, we do differ,” she said. “We’re good friends with Jesse. My husband wanted him to run for President.”

At this point, I realized I’d dug my hole a full six feet deep and if I didn’t shut up quickly it’d become my grave. So I let her run off her diatribe about what’s wrong with the world (which had something to do about there not being enough conservative Republicans) as I tried to eat my pancakes. This lady obviously hadn’t learned the philosophy that the customer is always right. I paid my bill, but I didn’t leave a tip. She’d already given me enough tips and I didn’t think she needed any more.

Prose Poems

Thoughts on Shards, by Francesca Albini
A collection of prose poems

Pausing between poems to watch the rising sun penetrate the unfurling canopy of leaves, I finished reading the book in the early light, sitting on the back porch swing. The early morning is unseasonably warm and the air so still that I’m comfortable wearing only gym shorts. It’s still too early in the year for mosquitoes to be a problem. So I sit and read and enjoyed being led to the expanding deserts and the Yucatan jungles. I ponder vignettes that betray an interest in magic and mysticism, in God and whether or not the deity exists; in a study of the classics including a vision of what I assumed is Plato’s cave. I see the serpent slithering through her words. Enchanted, I’m tempted to follow. I’m haunted of descriptions of lover’s lips that almost touch and words that lure his lover’s eyes shut. A day passes. It’s now late at night and my eyelids are heavy. They’ll close shortly. As I watch her shadow dance across the walls of my inner eyes, I'll ponder.