Thursday, August 02, 2018

State of Baseball

I watched the baseball all-star game last week (ed--now two weeks ago) for the first time since probably the mid-1980s with two of my four sons. One of them, the nine year old, can I think be called at present an obsessive of the sport. The other one, who is 16, had not to my knowledge shown much interest in it until the last year or so, when he began to watch Red Sox games, and during the All-Star game he surprised me with his familiarity with players, statistics, trade rumors and the like, my surprise being both because he rarely gives any hints as to any interests he has in anything, and also because fifteen/sixteen seems to me an unusual age to become interested in baseball; if anything it seems a likely age in most cases for interest to decline, as most boys who are not relatively good at it will stop playing around this time, and things like the collecting of baseball cards, if that is even still something children do, will have tailed off even a few years before that. I would love to know why this is happening and in what his attachment, such as it is, consists, but I cannot make it out at all at this point and no useful hints have been forthcoming, as yet. One of my other sons, who is fourteen, still plays on a team, or at least he did this year, which the older one does not. He does not show much interest in following the professional leagues or watching games on TV however, unless there is an accompanying spread of snacks involved.

I make note of all this because one of the great themes of the week leading up to the game in the media was about how baseball as a sport is in grave decline with regard to its popularity and social relevance, particularly among young people, with many commentators opining on what ought to be done about it, or not done about it, in the case of those who were indifferent to or openly took glee in the prospect of the sport's further descent. Of course relative to the stature it once had, baseball has been dying for my entire life, though as a corporate enterprise it continues to grow ever larger, more complicated and expensive and presumably richer than the version of it that existed in the 1970s, let alone the 1950s or 1920s. But as with so many other things in my lifetime, this comparatively massive growth in revenue, attendance, media coverage (which is exponentially more ubiquitous than anything that existed in 1979) is experienced as not adequate, and certainly not seen as appealing to the right people in the culture, on social media and so forth.

There is a common joke that baseball fans all think the game was most ideal in the state it was when they were 12 and that it can never improve from what it was at that time. There is probably some truth in this, as I cannot think of anything about the experience of a baseball game in 2018 that I like better than that of a game in 1982--even granting that the newer "retro" stadiums that have been built are generally more attractive than the concrete astroturf bowls that predominated in my youth, most of them (the new ones) have an odd sterility of their own and aren't able to move me much. But I was an old fogey even as a kid. My cherished season that I have a memory of was when I was nine, the rather dingy campaign of 1979 (this or 1977 is probably my favorite remembered year for football also), but I regretted having missed the pre-1969 era of the classic (and really old) stadiums, before the leagues broke into divisions and World Series games were played in the afternoon. But at least I got to grow up with a Wrigley Field that still didn't have lights and pitchers who still occasionally (and some who frequently) pitched nine inning games and 250-280 inning seasons. The more obvious changes--more divisions, more playoff teams, interleague play, the micromanaging of games and pitchers, the tyranny of advanced micro-statistics--you can imagine how much I care for all of that. And then because everyone nowadays is trained to be constantly identifying ways to improve/change/disrupt everything that exists everyone has endless ideas about what baseball should do to become more dynamic in a social media/tomorrow world. I assume eventually the game will adopt to this environment in a way more or less organic to what it already is, as it has been adapting to cultural and technological changes (for the most part) since the 1840s, slowly, awkwardly, and never forward-looking or revolutionary enough for the cool people, the one possible exception perhaps being the Babe Ruth-led home run explosion of the 20s when baseball was in step to some degree with the media and cultural developments of the Jazz Age.

As far as I can discern, the main complaint which has the commentariat, or at least the hipper part of it calling for change, is that baseball has no significant following among younger demographics, particularly among minorities, and especially among black Americans, who seem to be regarded by baseball people as the most necessary segment for restoring to the game any cultural dynamism it might hope to have. The sport's being full of Hispanic stars along all points of the racial spectrum and a considerably bigger Asian presence than any of the other major sports evidently doesn't translate into the kind of excitement, buzz, what have you that is sought. Any black American player who projects as a possible star and appears to be "cool" is inevitably described as 'what the sport desperately needs', and while I do agree that modern day baseball would be enhanced by some more good black players, the way that the desire for this is expressed is so unattractive and smacking of, well, desperation, that it is probably only further driving potential black players and fans away from baseball.

I think I have written before that in general I don't like the new generation of sports announcers. There is for me too much emphasis on analysis that is not interesting, or is not presented in an interesting way. I was a fan of Bill James's books back in the 80s and 90s because at the time they were a unique way of looking at statistics but also referred constantly to the traditional lore of baseball history and the common experiences of 1960s-70s fandom. Among today's announcers references to almost anything that happened in baseball before about the mid-60s, besides being rare, are usually treated as something of a joke, with no possible relevance or interest to the present. I don't know, if you watch snippets of games on Youtube from the 60s or 70s the announcers have a conversational style that is suited to the much bemoaned slow pace of the game (which is also not quite as slow as it is now) and that seems to have been lost. This may be a personal preference, but I like the idea of the radio or TV voice as a companion, and I don't desire a continuous barrage of marginally diverting information and minutiae. There are way too many ex-players now calling and commenting on games who are not particularly smart or funny and have not sufficiently weaned themselves from their identity as alpha male professional athletes to be able to cultivate an appealing conversational style the way that some of the announcers of my childhood like Richie Ashburn, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Kiner, etc, were able to do (and they were Hall of Fame players!).

Perhaps this is true of all sports to some extent though especially in baseball the excitement of any single game, or instance within any single game, is largely dependent on its context related to many, many other games. Most of the celebrated moments in baseball history are related to records and milestones accumulated over the course of a long season, or even a two decade career, rare single game events such as  no-hitters or 4 home run games, playoff and World Series games of course that require some appreciation of the grind of the season and sometimes the course of many seasons to fully grasp the drama of. This is one reason among many that the end of the traditional pennant races with the realignment of the mid-90s and the introduction of 2nd place teams into the playoffs was so lamented by older fans, as great pennant races, which would usually occur only a handful of times in a decade, were one of the few sources of this kind of intense interest that is otherwise not a day in, day out feature of the sport. This is obviously all way too much to ask of the attention span of most modern young people.    

Normally I would worry about my children who do seem to like baseball being outliers in this regard within their own generation, though in New England the Red Sox remain pretty universally popular and my teenage son (I am told) may even have taken up following them as a means of connecting socially with the other boys in high school. The nine year old is actually quite a good player, and, somewhat uncharacteristic of our family, a very confident and unself-conscious one, so I doubt his interest in baseball will make him a social outcast.

The All Star Game itself, as a game, was predictably dull. The only one I can remember being any good was the 1979 game, which was pretty exciting. For one thing I think there were more stars back then. Even late in the game when the starters were out, guys like Pete Rose and Gary Carter were on the field, as well as a number of other players who were long established on good teams and far from anonymous. But I don't remember any other All-Star games that were particularly memorable.

My nine year old, for whom everything is still new, actually was excited about the home run derby and was disappointed when very few big name players took part in it. Perhaps it should not be a yearly event.

I will doubtless return to these themes at some point.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Some Very Brief Movie Reviews

I am still months behind on recording the movies I've seen, though for the time being at least I have largely stopped watching any new ones, maybe one or two a month. There are a myriad of reasons for this. 1) A genuine, if ridiculous, desire to come current with my reactions on the blog before it becomes impossible to catch up, if it hasn't already. 2) I tweaked my selection system so as to bring more recent movies on the list to balance the classics that I would probably be happy enough to watch exclusively. But as I generally don't like these newer movies as much even when objectively I suppose they are very good, I am not as dedicated to watching them in a timely matter. My interest in this particular project is also not what was a few years ago. And then 3) similar to the problem that has affected my reading, as I get older (and seemingly ever busier) I find I am too tired in the evening even to watch most movies to which one might desire to apply some thought. All of this has been steadily been pushing me away from regular movie watching over the past year. Nevertheless I still have an incredible thirty-five titles to comment on, seven of which I will take on here.

At First Sight (1999)

One thing I will say about this is that it was not as thoroughly terrible as I thought it was going to be. Of course it is pretty blah, but it does have Mira Sorvino in it, whom I guess I knew I liked, but I guess I liked her better than I knew. She's one of the actresses about my age who is supposed to be quite smart too, as in, has an actual high IQ, which is not an inconsiderate matter to me. The movie is set on the east coast, New York but also some of the towns in the Catskill/Hudson river area of a type that would be familiar to me, and there is some material for 90s nostalgia as well, my being the same age approximately as the characters in the movie and having somewhat experienced the already long lost world they inhabit, in what would have been some of the prime years of my life.

Mira Sorvino really was a cutie. Contrary to what it may appear from my writings, there aren't that many actresses whom I like enough to sit contentedly through an otherwise lame movie to see, but for the moment at least she seems to be one of them. She has been making something of a public comeback lately as a prominent voice denouncing Harvey Weinstein and Trump, and perhaps others as well, and it's great to see her again even when she is angry.

Laura (1944)

While the older movies I love have not been turning up on my lists much lately, if I go back this far there are still a few I have to write about. I don't have a lot to say about Laura, though I remember liking its style and language and its overall essence. As is often the case in old movies where murders or mysterious deaths are involved, I didn't think the central plot was very convincing, but I don't care that much. This is supposed to be the movie where Gene Tierney achieves her peak of beauty, which is saying something, for she was unusually renowned in that department. Dana Andrews, who appears frequently is movies around this time, was also in this. The director was Otto Preminger, and this seems more often than not to be considered the best movie of his very long, up-and-down, never quite great career. Probably one I should see again.
West Side Story (1961)

Classic of a sort though it undoubtedly is, I had never seen this before, and my expectations were muted, because it has not been written about very much in glowing terms by the know it all types for pretty much my entire life. So I was surprised at how much I was able to enjoy it. All of the songs I have known all my life without particularly liking any of them, but they all work and seem to sound much better within the context of the movie. There is a lot of good energy in this, and, as many commentators have acknowledged, the design, the costumes, titles, colors, etc are somewhat surprisingly spritzy. This is another one I would probably have to see again to get a sense of how good it really is; on this first viewing I was reacting against what I had anticipated, which was something much more dated and limp and middle American, which, despite its erstwhile popularity there, it really is not. The gang of switchblade wielding blond street thugs that is supposed to be terrorizing New York cannot come off now as anything other than absurd, of course. There's nothing to be done about that.

Footloose (1984)

Footloose was a big hit among mainstream younger people without a ton of exposure to anything more interesting when I was fourteen, and as I was naturally such a person, I do remember going to see it in the theater at the time. I didn't like it that much then compared to other things, not because my taste was so advanced as much as that I wasn't much interested in the main romantic strain in the plot--the female lead was rather gangly as well as crude, which I guess is not my type. Also being from east coast suburbia and not knowing anyone who could be considered remotely religious, the bible-thumping adults who were terrified by rock and roll and the idea of teenagers dancing in 1984 seemed a bit far-fetched. I also didn't particularly care for any of the songs at the time, though I didn't mind hearing them now, probably because despite quite a few of them having been pretty big hits, I hadn't heard most of them in decades, and I identify them, even more than other songs that came out at the same time that you still hear constantly, with that summer before my freshman year of high school, which is a time I remember fondly. You are all potential at that age, people have some hopes for you if you have anything going for you, even if you haven't had any notable success with girls yet it is not the existential crisis it becomes when you are eighteen, nineteen, twenty. But now I am getting away from the movie...

Around the time I saw this my wife and older sons were watching the TV show Stranger Things, which is set in 1984 and indulges heavily in 80s nostalgia even down to featuring Winona Ryder in a starring role. I watched a couple of episodes though I can't commit to watching entire 50-episode TV series at this time, and I did find some of the 80s vibe, I don't know the word I am looking for, not endearing, or comforting, exactly, but something in that vein. The town and the high school were reminiscent of the ones in Footloose and John Cougar Mellencamp type songs, though my own high school wasn't like that, or any other 1980s movie high school (it reminded me more of the high school in Grease than anything else, now that I think about it. It is supposedly 30% Muslim now, mainly Somali, so I suspect that vibe has changed). The nostalgia of Stranger Things I thought had a  strikingly and self-consciously white quality about it, even more than what is usually the case, which I thought internet critics would pick up on and rip to shreds, and a few did, but not that many. It struck me as unusually (for the present day) matter of fact and unconcerned with explaining or defending itself, which is kind of what stands out to the contemporary eye about the atmosphere of Footloose. Every single person in the movie is white, and no one is particularly conscious of this or thinks it is remarkable, which is how it really was in a lot of places even in the 80s. There was a remake of Footloose in 2011 with presumably some more up to date diversity which I don't remember hearing about at all though it seems to have made a modest profit.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

I think this is what they call a small movie about Franklin Roosevelt's girlfriend and what is portrayed as the desperate visit of the King and Queen of England on the brink of World War II during which they have to submit to the humiliation of eating hot dogs. There were some things about it I liked. As anyone who reads this page knows I am a fan of this time in America, so I like all of the period touches, the cars, the clothes, the furnishings. Many of the well-known and happy songs of the time make an appearance in the soundtrack. Bill Murray's turn as F.D.R. I found to be a welcome departure from his usual post-Rushmore screen persona as the curmudgeonly old guy who turns out not in fact to be a complete jerk and can be counted to do the right thing in the end. I have long suspected that Bill Murray is conflicted in his feelings about social life and order at present similar to the way I am, and playing these kinds of roles where he can appear (for a time) to still retain some asshole-ish characteristics are the way he deals with this in his professional life. Not that he exactly hates people or loves the Trump movement--I actually have no idea whether he has expressed any position on the subject publically--but I get the feeling whenever I see him now that he must be thinking back on his more youthful days and finding contemporary life rather weak in comparison, while being aware that bringing back many, if not most of the circumstances that contributed to the raucousness of that earlier era are either impossible or unacceptable. So I find him, more than most other famous actors/personalities at least, to be a somewhat interesting man out of time type figure. I wonder if it was not a relief to him to play someone from the past.

The film's modern take on the late 1930s political situation has been negatively assessed in most of the online reviews I have looked at. I did not have any strong opinion of it at the time that I remember.


It's Alive (1974)

Horror films, which I have for the most part assiduously avoided up to this point in my life, have of late begun to creep onto my film lists, particularly with the new system. I did watch this, but I don't remember much of it, and it had no appeal for me. I have developed a taste as I've gotten older for the sexier Warren Beatty/Jack Nicholson type of classic 70s films and imagining that they reminded me of the world of my very early childhood. This movie, with presumably a bargain basement budget, depicts that time in its more hideous aspect, though more extremely grotesque fortunately than I have any memory of. But as I said, these kinds of pictures do not speak to me in my current stage of life.

No, this is not from the movie. It is from 1974 however.

The Other Sister (1999)

Has there ever been anyone who liked this? Everything about it projects horridness to anyone the least bit sentient. Artworks about mentally handicapped people as a rule I find to be tedious. This movie also throws in Diane Keaton (though she at least is not playing a mentally handicapped character), who was annoying to me in Woody Allen phase of her career, and whom I find unbearable in that part of it that came after. This is because she looks like my mother, is about the same age, and has almost identical annoying mannerisms, both facial and in her achingly non-vibrant movements. Then there is the extremely rich but eternally dissatisfied late-90s aging yuppie/baby boomer milieu...perhaps this was the imagined audience for this painful movie.
If there was any point of interest for me in this it was that much of it appears to have been filmed in San Francisco, a city about which I apparently know nothing--I haven't even seen many of the numerous classic movies set there--but the cityscapes they used in this make it look extremely attractive, or at least as it was in the 90s.

I can see myself at some point in the near future limiting myself to some kind of pre-1980 (maybe pre-1990 for foreign films) classic film program, in part because there are so many all-time great movies that I still haven't seen and I'm starting to get old, and in part because I don't like enough newer works, and haven't found a reliable system by which to pick those newer works that I might be more inclined to like.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Making a Belated Record of April Vacation

I had another vacation at the end of April. I did not actually do very much during it but due to my state of mind over the course of this past year it felt significant to me and I wanted to make a record of it. I will start by putting up a picture from just three summers ago (2015). While the location is not of particular relevance, this picture was taken in front of the at that time former country store in Grafton, Vermont, though it looked then as if someone were trying to get it up and running again. I don't think we have been back there since, though over the years we have probably gone there at least five times, as it is near our camp in Brattleboro. There is a small low tech, what I supposed could be called dusty nature museum there that we always visit, and that it is one of those places I think of fondly now...   

This is all sort of apropos of nothing, however, the point of the picture is to see how little everyone still is just three years ago. They all really were children. The two older boys are definitely not children anymore, at least not like they are here. So that is a significant change. And of course I feel that I have departed a certain phase of life since then and entered a new one that, to be blunt, seems even less personally exciting than the previous ones seemed to be. Three years ago I was 45, but how young 45 seems compared to 48! At 45, especially if you have not had any indications of real physical decline set in yet, you can sort of persuade yourself that you still have more than half of your life remaining to you, during which you are somehow going to feel more or less the same, energy and health-wise, as you always have. At least I did, which obviously was insane, though I guess I can console myself that I made it to nearly fifty feeling relatively youthful. Up until four or five years ago as well a few reasonably attractive women in their thirties would still, if not exactly be flirtatious with me, at least give me cause to wonder whether they had some inclination to be so. But even this kind of supremely mild speculation of possible sexual tension seems to be over now. Especially when I am out with my youngest daughter, women increasingly ask me if I am the grandfather now. So I am experiencing a lot of ambivalence and distaste as I go through this adjustment.

On the first activity day of this vacation I loaded my children in the car and drove an hour north to Lincoln, New Hampshire, the gateway to the Kancamagus Highway and the White Mountains. The main destination of this trip was a thrift shop in a shopping center along the main strip, which I had alighted on during one of my internet search games, but after going to that we were free to improvise. The thrift shop visit was a success. I did not find anything for myself but several of the children were able to leave with presents, for a total cost of under $15. Unfortunately I neglected to take any pictures there. We proceeded thence to the White Mountains Visitors Center, newly re-opened for the season. I have to confess that I love Visitors Centers, and always try to find an excuse to stop in them when I can. It's the idea of having arrived at the destination but not having yet plunged into the experience, but being in a limbo between anticipating the experience and having any part of it behind you. So I love that sense of having momentarily suspended time, even if all I am doing is the most mundane activity such as going to the bathroom or drinking water...

Needless to say the picture above is at the White Mountains Visitor Center, which I consider a superior representative of the species. There are numerous appealing visuals and displays, nostalgic touches, a large 3-d relief map set out on a table. The bathrooms are calm, quiet, and reminiscent of the past. I wish I could find a tavern that worked for me half so well.    

From the town of Lincoln we drove a mile or two into the White Mountains National Forest and pulled into a parking area. As one of the children refused to leave the car we were unable to walk anywhere where we would have lost sight of the parking lot. Despite the still profuse amount of snow cover it was 60 degrees on the day we were there. Most of April was still essentially winter this year where I live as well. I'm still not entirely caught up on my heating bills and it is nearly July.   

Though it does not look it, this is very close to the parking lot. Even for just a few minutes, it was good for me to be out in this beautiful country and air after the long winter with all of its obligations and other problems. 

The view from the bridge pictured below. It is a sad truth that I only live an hour away from this place yet I usually only make it up there maybe three times a year, and most of those for rather short and haphazard visits. I just have too many other things to do. It's madness, really. I think it is peak madness right now and for the next couple of years, perhaps, but who can say I will ever have the time for slower and more contemplative days of travel in a state of comparative health again?

Some of the children on the bridge. My son is wearing the hat he got at Fenway Park. We had already gone to a game there about a week before this outing (baseball season starts early in New England). It was my first time ever going there as well. I had previously been to baseball games at Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia), and the old Memorial Stadium and the then new Camden Yards in Baltimore. I also went to a football game at RFK Stadium in Washington once. This is my sum experience of famous baseball and football stadiums. 

The next day we headed to Vermont, stopping along the way to climb a small hill with a view of Lake Sunapee. As you can see the snow was melted here. This first "hike" of the year was about 1/2 a mile up a paved trail. As we grow more numerous (and temperamental) our walking is becoming less ambitious, I am sad to say.

View of the still slightly iced lake with the ski slopes of the mountain resort visible as well. I don't know what the children make of "views". I assume it makes some impression on them.

On the third day we are finally arrived in Brattleboro. It rained all day, so we went into town. I went to the used book store (not pictured) to pick up a book that I had been monitoring for 15 years because it was finally coming up on my reading list, and it was no longer there! After this disappointment we went to a restaurant on Main Street that was vaguely hipsterish I guess. The people in it looked like they had all spent a lot of time in modern liberal colleges and other strongly left-leaning environments. I really have not, so I find this atmosphere somewhat stimulating because I feel like something of the social life I never had could have been found among this class of people even if I have trouble understanding a lot of the driving passion and motivation behind this type of education and political position. The sandwiches were of the artisan bagel variety, with an underground selection of juices and other drinks. We had to mix and match quite a bit to satisfy everybody. Someone's sandwich was loaded with sweet potato which no one, including me, could get down. In the end I think we ended up sharing two or three egg oriented concoctions.

After the restaurant we went bowling, which took us quite away from the degreed lefty crowd (though we once went to a bowling alley in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that seemed to have quite a few people there who were something of a variation, and overall a more attractive one, of this type, appearing more affluent and less socially sour than the standard version. Don't ask me to explain how they came to be bowling). 

When I looked at this rather melancholy sight outside the bowling alley, the phrase "the era of big parking lots is over" popped into my head. The mountain visible in the background is in New Hampshire, on the other side of the Connecticut River, which would be barely 200 yards away.

On the fourth day we went to Deerfield in Massachusetts, which is about a 40 minute drive from Brattleboro. We had gone there before to visit the Yankee Candle world headquarters and superstore, but this was our first time going to the historic village, which consists of around ten or fifteen preserved houses dating from the 1700s, some of which are furnished in period style, others of which hold special collections such as furniture or silver pieces, or have craft demonstrations. This is the sort of thing we used to do a lot before there were so many of us and it became both expensive and difficult to appeal to so many varied interest levels. However I wanted to have one outing of this type during the vacation and this is one of the places out that I have long had an interest in going to, so we took the plunge. It cost $61 for all of us to get in, which is not too bad. The guides at the various houses, who looked to be retirees and who are almost certainly volunteers, were very good. Personable human guides are a commodity and attraction in themselves in today's world.

The picture above by the way is of the town's Civil War monument--every village and town and city in New England has one--with one of the old buildings of the Deerfield Academy prep school in the background. 

Still in the center of the village, turned 90 degrees from the view in the previous picture. I think this is the Unitarian church. The Unitarians of course were very prominent in these old well-educated Massachusetts towns. Beautiful New England sky as well. I believe this was around April 26th, and still no leaves visible. 

The two older boys, not exactly mesmerized by the history or other circumstances of the village, but the assumption is that exposure to the general atmosphere will leave some kind of impression that produces a jolt of recognition or insight in later life. 

There were too many of us to even contemplate taking lunch at the historic Deerfield Inn, which seems to have been the only restaurant in the village, but the museum shop had a little sort of tea room, pictured here with its pretty windows and curtains, where you could get a muffin and a drink.

A little footpath through some of the local farmland as well as the playing fields of the Deerfield Academy down to the river.

The whole group spent about 20 minutes hanging out and exploring the river. At this point my camera (actually my phone) ran out of picture space. This is an ongoing problem for me when I go out, since it seems like I have to delete 20 pictures to clear out enough space to take three. 

This is back in Vermont. The two girls who have so many good qualities we don't even have to talk about them make some homemade pizza.

Here they are standing outside the then still-covered pool, which is open now. We were even in it the other day (June 17-18th) when it was 93 degrees.

This picture is from Easter. The building blocked by my head is the New Hampshire State House. I'm still getting used to my sudden transition to looking old. I do think I look like someone who in a past age might have been a writer or local intellectual of some kind, at least in this photo.

I probably shouldn't put up so many pictures of the girls, but, on the other hand, the years go by fast and one forgets. I have a decent little archive of pictures on here for the last ten years or so, many of which commemorate times that are especially meaningful to me.

Daisy scout uniform. These two are my fifth and sixth children, and a lot of environmentalists and other sour people are pretty open in their belief that they shouldn't exist, but while acknowledging that every child is a gift from God and without praising my own children too effusively, because you never know how things are going to turn out, I suspect in the overall balance of human society and civilization they are going to be overwhelmingly positive additions.

Friday, June 08, 2018

High School Yearbooks

I have (believe it or not) some other posts in progress, but this subject presented itself to me the other day and I thought if I waited to complete those other posts before getting to this, the moment would be past.

Now that I have a child in high school, yearbooks have entered my life again. The high school version, still printed on glossy paper and bound in a ponderous cover, is surprisingly little changed from its (classic?) late 20th century incarnation. I have noted elsewhere that as a general rule, people love their 18 year olds, if not more than at any other age, at least more than at any age that comes after that. It is to be a last gasp, or final climax, of the intense love that is uniquely felt for children, so it is obviously very poignant. I am sure high school yearbooks everywhere capture something of this feeling, but having gone to high school in this part of the country myself I feel like there are factors here which further amp up the poignancy, and which I still perceive to be at work in my son's school. I admit that there is a slight sense of sweetness for me in the idea of this continuity. The factors I am thinking of are:

1. This is still an area where most of the graduating class has lived here their entire lives, and many have family connections dating back generations, including my son, one of whose great-grandfathers can still be seen in a 1934 baseball team photo hanging in the school's main hallway. Even the people whose parents came from elsewhere have usually grown up here almost exclusively. Established professional people who move here generally do so at the outset of starting a family so that the children can grow up here. While prosperous, this is a not an area for the most part to which people move as a career-enhancing step, so there is not much of an influx of uprooted or temporary classmates coming in from year to year. Of course my father moved to Maine when I was sixteen, escaping an ugly situation in his former locale and otherwise looking for a change of scene. He stayed there for about nine years and eventually moved back to Pennsylvania. I went for my last two years of high school and drifted back to the Mid-Atlantic myself for 7 years or so, but then I ended up in this part of the country again. I don't know how many people fall into this latter category, though I suspect it is more common in coastal Maine, that being a more romantic locale in the minds of east coast big city/suburban dwellers.

2. This is course an extremely beautiful area and many of the personal photos taken anywhere outdoors, even those on the school grounds at certain times of year, make the adolescences depicted therein look almost idyllic.

3. While it cannot be regarded as entirely sad, and indeed I hope at least some of my children will be included among this number, most of the eighteen year olds are going to now leave this beautiful and in many ways anachronistic place where they have lived all their lives and go away, the more dynamic and capable ones perhaps especially likely never to return. That is eternally part of life, and it is healthy, but it is also poignant.

My youngest son has his last baseball game of the season with his regular team tomorrow. Fortunately because he practices so much he is actually pretty good so he made the all star team for his age group so he will get a couple of extra weeks and a tournament in. But still, we wait all year for this season and it's over so quickly, barely more than a month. It wouldn't be that big of a deal except that this nine year old boy really loves playing baseball right now, as in, I don't know if he'll ever be as passionate about anything in his life as he is about baseball this year--after games we'll come home and he'll run a further hour of practice with me hitting him ground balls and so on. I hate to see that pass by and possibly wither and die because I think it's a positive drive, and I have long lost any comparative passion in my own heart.

I may correct this later, but given the time I wanted to get this to post tonight.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sentimental Notes

My oldest son recently turned sixteen. It was inevitable that he would someday, but these things always sneak up on you, I suspect because they (children) still seem quite young and little up to about age fourteen and then all of a sudden they are not anymore. And then course there are all of the things you intended to do with them and to tell them that you did not do, or that did not really work out as you expected. When we started out going on hikes with the oldest two what seems like so many years ago I thought that one of the summers before the oldest finished high school we would climb Mt Washington. Now it would have to be this year or next year and I already don't see us getting to it this year. And then there are all the books I collected over the years, mostly for myself, but with the admittedly odd idea of having a decent library for my children or any visitors to be able to access and derive joy from. Yet apart from some picture books I have about baseball, I don't know that anyone other than myself has ever pulled a book down from the shelves. It's not how people live anymore and I'm even starting to wonder if keeping all the books is preventing me from engaging with contemporary life enough to do something I ought to be doing, though for the moment I am still too attached to them to just get rid of them. My son who just turned sixteen does at least read some books for school assignments, and I could see him developing an interest in literature someday, but I am not sure what, if anything, he is terribly passionate about. He has kept up with the Boy Scouts past the age when a lot of youngsters tend to drop out, and I am happy he has done that. I had no idea (for example) that he had any interest in the Red Sox, but apparently he enjoys watching some of the games with his grandmother, so he probably has quite a few areas of interest that I don't know about. He has some modest accomplishments such as being admitted to the National Honor Society and earning a medal on the National Latin Exam which indicates that he is not yet one of those boys who has become entirely alienated from formal education, which for a parent I think is probably desirable. 

This is leading up to one of those poignant moments that I will probably forget if I don't write it down, and since I don't think anybody besides me reads this page anymore I might as well put it here. He (my oldest boy) was away for the weekend with the Boy Scouts at the State Jamboree, though as we live in a small state and near the middle of it the campground was only about 20 minutes from our house. He had a track meet on the Saturday as well so we picked him from the campground in order that he could go to that and then dropped him off again when it was over. They were holding the jamboree at the Nascar track, which when the Nascar circus is not in town, is actually situated in a nice spot surrounded by wooded hills with a view of mountains in the distance. I let him off at the edge of the parking area which is up on an incline and there was a fairly long descent down to the area where all of the tents were. It was a cloudless sunny day and after he mumbled his seemingly unhappy goodbyes I sat there and watched him take the long walk down to the tent with a little strut in his step that belies the rather melancholy attitude he usually presents to the world. Only a couple of more years and, perhaps, all of these things that have made up his childhood, the Scouts, and the schools, and the beautiful, rather sheltered and anachronistic environment in which he has lived here will be behind him, and of course when you are me it is very sad to think of even if he were to go on and get a wonderful education and have a great and impactful career, though not as sad as if he were to end up miserable and useless, though I don't think that will be the case. I know many people live with their parents now until they are thirty and I suspect some of my children will do that but I would be surprised if my oldest did. I think he would be very stifled to have to spend his twenties with us in our out of the way town, especially with all of the young children who will still be in the house.

It used to be, say 5, 10, 15 years ago, when I took the children to the library I would grab whatever the latest book was that was out about whatever awful thing was going on, or was imminently about to descend on, America society, and take it up to read while I sat in the children's room (which is a lovely area that I am still ten years away from not being able to sit in anymore because I won't have young enough children). But I find I can't take reading these kinds of depressing things anymore. Maybe the social and economic horrors engulfing so much of the population seem suddenly too near, as if I have passed the point in life where I have any confidence in being able to contend against or recover from them if I were to suffer such a blow (though no matter what happens, I swear I will never take out a payday loan). Instead I pick out a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia--which is still printed, and which the library still buys, at least as recently as 2016--and read a selection of their anodyne but oddly affirming and reassuring articles, with accompanying pictures. Sometimes I will read travel guides as well, though travelling has either become so much more expensive and efficient and upscale (and let's face it, internet-ty) since I was doing it in the 90s, that it is hard for me to reconnect with the romance with which I used to invest all of those trips I would one day make to the various provincial capitals of France or such like which obviously I am never going to make.

I refer sometimes on this site to the generational theory made somewhat famous by Strauss and Howe and which most credentialed thinkers seem to have a vehement dislike of, which has only intensified since it came out that Steve Bannon among other undesirable types put credence in it. While I find most of the denunciations of the theory of the cycles of history as a crock of doodlebugs to be more contemptuous than seems necessary, I don't get the idea that a generation is in itself a entirely meaningless designation. This seems so obviously true to me that people born within a certain band of time within a certain cultural environment would be conditioned by that general shared experience in innumerable distinct ways even if in individual personality they consider themselves to have nothing in common with anyone else their age (this last has always been a common sentiment among my generation). Anyway, I think I have figured out what is the secret source of my attraction to this theory and that is the promise that after this period we are going through now (The Crisis, which is likely to last about another ten years), if we survive it, there is going to be another "High" period of general optimism, well-functioning institutions, societal organization that has a broad agreement, etc, such as prevailed in the Western nations for the twenty years or so following World War II. I have a desire to live to see this High. No else seems to be promising such a period of positive feelings widely diffused anywhere in our future. I see predictions that for the global top 15% or so, the talented, the educated, the tech savvy, the extraordinarily good-looking perhaps, life is going to get ever better, but the prospects for everyone below that level seem more hazy. My children, or some or them, might have a chance to crack that exalted class, which is more than most people can say, but I don't seem to be part of that group, so the promise of a more society-wide era of good feelings is more attractive to me... 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Little DIppers and Other Songs

Another 1950s-ish pop instrumental that I have lately stumbled upon. This footage appears to have been shot somewhere in our mountainous Northeast. The people in it, if they are still alive, would be around 80 years old now. Some of the girls are admittedly goofy-looking, but a few of them are quite lovely, though one wonders whether they ever really knew it (or maybe they were progressive enough that they didn't care). I am still kind of depressed but I think I am slowly coming out of it. My wife indulged my low feelings for a couple of months as a common side effect of going under anesthesia and some other reasons, but at a certain point in March she said it was time to snap out of it, at least around other people. So I am doing much better compared to what I was feeling in January and February, and I don't feel right now like I am going to die or become incapacitated within the next couple of years at least, so I am going to try to be in a good mood during this time now and enjoy living, especially since I really don't have any terrible problems. I have the usual problems people in my position have, many of which are only "problems" as far as you choose to regard them as such. You must excuse me, this is my pep talk to myself to project more joie de vivre. I'm becoming more attached to church and related events as a sort of comfort. Yet what do I need comforting for? While I am increasingly appealing to supernatural powers to help me, none of my wishes are for particularly spiritual or noble or disinterested things. When I recall the past my major regrets are still not that I was a better person, but rather that I had been more successful at being somewhat immoral. But I am finding the rituals and trappings of religious practice to be more and more essential to my psychic well-being.

I still think of this as a "new" song, but it is from 2001. This is a very cheerful video. I don't know much about the people in this group, but I like their faces, which is something that I am not often struck by. The video is full of good faces, actually, which the world seems to be sorely in need of. Even though this band was quite popular in the late 90s/early 00s, I haven't found any other songs of theirs that I like.

There are times, often provoked by some pop culture artifact, when the 80s feel as remote, or even more so, in time to me than the 60s or even the later 50s do. Perhaps this is because I do not have actual real life memories of the 60s so that there is no sense for me of that time being lost, as it has always been lost. Or perhaps it is because so many of the familiar songs and images from that period are still ubiquitous enough that they seem to exist on some kind of continuum in the lives of many of us into the present, having never exactly gone away. One is unsure. However, this song does not have the same kind of life independent of their time I don't think, and even in its hour was only a hit among a much smaller segment of the population than most famous songs are. I don't know where this was filmed--it appears to be a Mediterranean locale, but in which country even I cannot pin down--but it is a quintessentially 80s vision of travel, that due to all of the changes we are all aware of, including the eclipse of exclusive Euro-American economic domination, can never be recaptured. It still very much informs my ideas when I dream about traveling however.
One of my missions in the upcoming months is to become familiar with more jazz, at least the more famous artists and pieces. I usually like it when I hear it in a restaurant or on a film soundtrack, but I haven't followed up. For one thing, as here, the individual cuts tend to be pretty long, and I am somewhat harried for time. But there is a spirit in it that I often like, so I have to try to carve out a space to immerse myself in some of this. This piece of course working off of the familiar Rogers and Hammerstein tune is a good starting point for me and my particular needs. These are not the greater society's needs and they certainly aren't any artist's needs, but I am fully outside of all of those kinds of discussions now for my own purposes. But I am out of time and this needs to go up now...

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Movies--Many Movies

I've fallen way behind on my movie notes. I have a list of thirty-seven that I haven't recorded here yet! I hardly remember a lot of them, naturally. I will go seven at a time, and put down any impressions that have stayed with me. I should also note that around the time these new lists start I tweaked my system to allow more recent movies to be included, since the main book I was relying on ceased publication in 2007. I don't generally like the more recent movies but I'm not quite ready yet to give up everything current and escape into the past at every possible chance. I am now extra excited when an oldie comes up though.

Ironweed (1987)

I wouldn't have chosen to see this if it hadn't come up via the System, mostly because it stars 80s era Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep as alcoholic vagrants in depression era Albany, the idea of which, probably because of my age relative to them, has not traditionally appealed to me. It wasn't bad I guess, though it wasn't great either. Its depiction of how dreary being homeless in the long, dark, cold nights of the American Northeast would be was pretty accurate. Jack Nicholson, whom I found annoying most of my life, inhabits the role here well, I think. We all know about Meryl Streep and how remarkable she is. Her character dies in this (spoiler alert, sorry) and she has to play dead on screen for around five minutes, and I don't know that I have ever seen a more convincing portrayal of a dead person. It also illustrates an observation I have made elsewhere, the uncanny ability Meryl Streep has to always command your attention upon whatever awesome thing she is doing. Here she is just lying down, on a carpet I think playing dead, and all I can think about is her technique in portraying this dead person, whose character however I had forgotten about.

Tom Waits was in this too, perhaps not surprisingly as a fellow vagrant. I had not thought about him in years, though in this era he was something of a cultural touchstone, making several forays into acting. I found him mildly annoying at the time too because he was supposed to be cool, though you would only get that if you were a certain kind of person, which I was not. But now that he's been kind of forgotten and no one talks about him anymore I like him. He takes me back to that era.

Serpico (1973)

I had never seen this before--again, in my youth the themes would not have appealed--and while it has always had a decent reputation, I think seeing it now that it holds up really well. It has the whole gritty-New-York-in-the-70s vibe that was scary to live through but looks great on television 45 years later, but the story, about a policeman with a conscience taking on corruption in the NYPD that was apparently based on a true story that did not resolve in the exaltation of the honest cop and the disgrace of the crooked, seems daring to me. I don't feel like I have seen anything recent where some evil force in society that has not as yet been taken down has been confronted so directly and the exact nature of their crimes identified and demonstrated so clearly. This was directed by Sidney Lumet, who did not necessarily make the most lovable movies, but whose work I usually find to contain admirable aspects, even if I do so grudgingly.

There is a great scene shot on a hill overlooking the old Yankee Stadium from beyond center field, where the train tracks are. If you follow baseball at all of course you've seen the view looking out that direction from the stadium, but I had never seen it from that outside vantage, where in 1972-3 at least there was still a decent amount going on as far as traffic and street life. This would have been filmed before the 1974-75 renovation of the classic stadium too, which we still see intact.

Al Pacino's look in this was very early Springsteen-esque, which I have to assume was characteristic of the time. I at least don't see many people who look like that anymore. When I was a child I thought the era I lived in (this one) was nasty and terrible, and longed even then for some unknown past, but now of course I find I miss some of what has been lost since then--animated conversation, normal people and what seem to me normal business enterprises in cities come immediately to mind as examples from this movie.

Around the World in Eighty Days (2004)

This version starring Jackie Chan in the Passepartout role came up in my revised system because I had read the book (which I enjoyed), though the 1956 version, itself often maligned though it did win the Oscar for best picture, did not. This illustrates the risks of the open system, since I don't remember anything about that that was worth seeing. I had the impression that Jackie Chan was a mixture of comedian and action hero, but not here. Dreadful. Waste of money.

Read the book.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Written by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and set in a 1930s New York version of the same magic universe--there is a hoity-toity American counterpart to Hogwarts, naturally--I actually liked this better than the Harry Potter movies I have seen. I'm sure this is because of the highly stylized retro setting, which apparently is supposed to be 1926, but it looked and felt more like the 30s to me. I remember thinking the women actresses in it were pleasantly attractive enough without being gratuitously 'hot', though you probably aren't supposed to remark on that. The plots of all these fantasy movies with their incredibly violent final battles don't make much of an impression on me, but this was engaging enough as a nostalgia piece.

L'Auberge Espanole (2002)

A French-Spanish joint production made during the heady days just after the introduction of the Euro and the true realization of the dream of the free movement of Europeans, especially young and relatively good-looking and educated ones, throughout the zone. The title refers to an apartment in Barcelona that is shared by about eight different post-graduate 20-somethings, all from different (Western) European countries. Seriously, there is a Frenchman, an English girl, a Dane, an Italian, a Spanish woman, probably a German. I didn't particularly like any of the characters in the house, all of whom spoke English with the arrogance peculiar to their particular nationality, but I enjoyed the movie because it was made not long after my own time being there and it was familiar to me. If I were dropped into this movie I would be able to function and get along very well right away. My children like to watch the TV show The Amazing Race and when the contestants are in these foreign cities everything seems so different now. People are doing everything with their phones of course, even buying metro tickets, and everything everywhere looks so crowded and expensive. In this movie eight people in an apartment are still sharing one telephone hung on a wall, and this is only sixteen years ago! (though I feel like some of the characters had cell phones). Third world immigrants are barely a presence at all in this film, apart from Africans getting Phds in economics. There are no Muslims at all, nor does there seem to be much consciousness of them. Relatively average looking young people are still a real threat to have sex, or try to have sex, if they have too much to drink or otherwise find themselves in a bawdy mood, which is an element that seems to be missing from more recent movies, where everyone is too interested in maintaining control, or at least the appearance of it. The movie spawned two sequels featuring several of the same characters, Russian Dolls (2005) and Chinese Puzzle (2013), which I have not seen, though I would be interested to see how they have incorporated the changes in the European scene into the newer films, since the early 2000s time capsule quality of the original is the most interesting thing about it to me.

I liked this chick the best. She didn't live in the house.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

We do make it back in this set to a couple of old classics. Here of course we have the impressive lineup of Frank Capra directing and Cary Grant and Peter Lorre among others, including Raymond Massey. The story is implausible to say the least--the implausibility level is about the same as something like I Married a Witch, actually, but as you know I almost never watch movies for the story anymore. According to Wikipedia this was filmed way back in 1941, but was held back from release until the popular stage show from which it was adapted finished its run. Either way it has a good 40s ambience, good sets, etc. I like both the indoor and outdoor scenes, which are supposed to being taking place in Brooklyn, but which look like they belong in Connecticut, though the outdoor scenes have what is supposed to be the Manhattan skyline in the background. Somehow it works though. It's a nice little movie if you are into that kind of thing (basically a 1940s mainstream American idea of wackiness).

Hey Priscilla Lane. I liked her in this (romantically). Haven't seen her in much else.

I Love You Again (1940)

The first half hour of this screwball-esque comedy starring the classic Thin Man duo of William Powell and the ubiquitous Myrna Loy I thought was great, the best movie I had seen since maybe Rebecca. It couldn't keep up that torrid early pace, which was disappointing, but I still think it merits a high rating. The subject is one that I have seen in other old movies and that never fails to hold my attention, doubtless because I often fantasize about something of the sort happening to myself. A sententious, risk-averse, teetotaling prig, played by Powell, receives a blow to the head while on a cruise ship and wakes up with a completely different personality, roguish, witty, vigorous, and so on. His wife Myrna Loy, here still in her sexy 30-something persona, to be distinguished from the handsome, dignified, almost arch 40-something persona which she later inhabited, was bored out of her mind and in the process of drawing up the divorce papers before the accident, but needless to say gradually backed off from these legal activities as her husband's transformation into a completely irresponsible and even amoral person began to become apparent. In the end a minor favorite, especially in its genre.