Monthly Archives: January 2004

lwb

1/30/04

left: Lindsay and me in April 1991; right: Lindsay and me in March 2002

This blog is going out to one of my closest friends in the world, Lindsay Bowen. I don’t know anybody (with the exception of Salem) who maintains a positive outlook on life like he does

cartophilia!

1/29/03

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States sure are funny-looking. I like states with vestigal tails, like Iowa:

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and Missouri:

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…although I’ve always hated the Missouri slogan of “The Show-Me State.” What, does that make the rest of us gullible? Besides, Missourians, as far as I know, don’t have a specific character. You know who does?

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That’s right, Nebraska. When I gave a talk at Hastings College, the entire auditorium knew the State Song (“Beautiful Nebraska”). Do any of the 19 million residents of New York State know the state song of New York?

I like it when states reach for something that they might not deserve. Take Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, both violently sticking out a body part to touch the Gulf of Mexico:

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And what makes Oklahoma so desperate to touch New Mexico?

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Idaho seems to have a thing for Canada:

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And who wouldn’t? Canada is full of great people. One of my favorite places on God’s Green Earth is Prince Edward Island. I think they should have the slogan “Prince Edward Island: The Island That’s Also a Smile.”

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back to you in the booth

1/28/04

While watching our beloved Heels deliver a hard-fought spankin’ to the Wolfpack tonight, I was again intrigued by the presence of Doris Burke on the sidelines. As far as I know, she has become ESPN’s Girl Friday on game days, working many of the ACC and Big East matchups I’ve seen.

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Like Bonnie Bernstein at CBS and a host of other well-attired female sportscasters, she might never be allowed to do either play-by-play or color commentary for a national game. They’ll let women do some roving reporting (referring to them as “analysts”), but I have yet to hear one actually call a game.

This was a sore point upstate last weekend as Alex Yong’s wife Wendi is fully capable of doing the play-by-play for any college football game, including historical facts and the occasional deft turn of phrase. Truth is, besides the sparse remarks of Billy Jean King during tennis or the interstitial Up Close and Personal segments by Hannah Storm during the 1992 Olympics, we have yet to experience the true gender-busting equivalent of Howard Cosell, Harry Carey, John Madden or Frank Gifford.

It is true that most sportscasters get their jobs by having played the sport themselves on television, something very few women can claim. However, Cosell could barely throw a forward pass, and Dick Vitale had a terrible coaching record. Many sportscasters come from nowhere more special than the RTVMP department at Carolina (Stuart Scott) or that joke of a student paper over at Dook (Seth Davis).

It could be chalked up to simple xenophobia – we haven’t tried a woman play-by-play announcer, and we don’t feel like it – but there might be physical limitations as well. Put simply, the male voice has greater range from low to high without sounding psychotic. Certainly women are capable of 4-octave voices (I’d love to hear Kate Bush call a soccer game), but the top three octaves are usually various level of shrieking. I don’t mean to sound pejorative, it’s just a laryngeal thing.

If you listen to Woody Durham or Mick Mixon call a Carolina game on the radio, they provide non-stop talking with a clear dymanic range: low basso when we dribble midcourt, then a high exclamation when Raymond feeds Rashad for an alley-oop. The most memorable sports moments come from sportscasters who get so excited that they go up a few octaves (Vitale’s “babeeeeeee” and Marv Albert’s “Yessssssssss!”) I don’t wonder if a female Woody Durham, doing the same, would induce ear fatigue. I could be utterly wrong, but I think it might be tough to hear for an entire game.

If you truly listen to women in the media, most of them have husky voices that belie the occasional cigarette and Jim Beam & Coke. Listen to Lynne Russell on Headline News, Paula Zahn on CNN, or our very own Laurie Dhue on Fox – Laurie was one of the infamous low altos in the Carolina singing group The Loreleis. I think you have to be an alto to be a woman anchor; anything higher, and you have nowhere else to go.

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Laurie reporting for Fox

The one thing that does strike me as subconsciously sexist about female sports reporters is their physical position relative to the men in the booth – the boys are up on high, the women are down in the trough. It’s no wonder that Joe Namath thought he could sneak a quick one on Suzi Kolber; after all, she was just working the fields. It’s also no wonder that the sideline reporter is always called upon to deliver injury reports on the players (something Doris Burke does all the time) – can anything be more motherly than a female voice telling us that one of our boys has been hurt but will soon feel better?

I’m waiting for the one female sportscaster that will prove my vocal theory wrong and rise up through the hierarchy to call a national game. Linda Cohn is one of my favorites at ESPN – will they ever give her, or someone without a Y chromosome, a chance?

brooklyn, brooklyn über alles

1/27/04

Okay, a little message to the fine folks at “Sex and the City” – we’re friends with the writers, and they are cool, funny, intelligent women. But could ya LAY OFF BROOKLYN ALREADY?

This week’s episode has Cynthia Nixon considering a move to Brooklyn with her husband, and the show treats the premise as nothing short of spiritual and emotional death. Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie has to bleat out several times how fuckin’ great Manhattan is, with the kind of self-satisfied glee that makes me understand why my brother Kent thinks New York is occasionally full of shit.

Let me tell you something about Manhattan. It is for three kinds of people: actors, alcoholics and age-appropriates. Actors really do need to live in Manhattan because their apartment acts as something of a dressing room between auditions; someone like Laurie Williams (who will be playing Tony’s mother in flashback this year on “The Sopranos”!) wouldn’t be able to get to Brooklyn and back for a 25-minute costume change.

Alcoholics need to live in Manhattan because it’s a lot easier to stumble home to your shithole in the East Village than to stumble across the Brooklyn Bridge. When Lars and I used to drink in Alphabet City, I felt blessed to live 300 yards away from aspirin and my bunk bed.

Age-appropriate means just that: if you’re 22 and single, it is way easier to hook up, drink, attend apartment parties and see bands with kids your age in Manhattan. Sure, that kind of life can be had in Williamsburg and Astoria too, but there is nothing better than the I Just Graduated From UVA and I Live With Six Of My Best Friends On Bleecker Street Guide to Life.

But these “Sex and the City” chicks are pushing 40 (Kim Cattrall is 47) and their characters are at least in their mid-30s. This Manhattan snobbery is puerile, mostly because I used to feel the same. In fact, I think I once told Michelle I wouldn’t even go above 14th Street in Manhattan. But actually living in Brooklyn has cured me of this insane disdain – it has Manhattan beat on so many levels that it’s useless to even begin a list.

I will say this: going outside in Brooklyn doesn’t cost you $40. The apartments are all one foot wider and two feet taller. When I walk down the block, I actually see the same people, and some of them know my name. Each entrée, while being just as stunningly yummy as a Manhattan meal, costs $5 less. On the Q train, I can get to Union Square in 15 minutes (from the Upper West Side, it can take 30). When I was a kid watching Sesame Street, I thought they were describing Manhattan; when I moved to Park Slope, I realized they were talking about here.

Tourists venturing to Manhattan hoping to have the “Sex and the City” experience will be sorely disappointed – in order to achieve it, you need:

a) to have lived there for ten years already

b) a rent-controlled apartment

c) seventeen million dollars.

I’m tired of being told Brooklyn is the place you go to surrender yourself to the boredom of middle age and family. That is utter hooey manufactured by the dream corporations that want you to believe in an ever-conquering Gotham. That Manhattan doesn’t exist anymore; they priced all the interesting people out of the market. Maybe the “Sex” writers think that Brooklyn is a spiritual death, but it was the place where I finally came alive.

And now we’re going to have our own basketball team. With a stadium mere blocks from my apartment. When the Nets play the Knicks, the guy making Manhattan catcalls from Row Y will be ME.

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my block tonight, covered by the storm

circle gets a square

1/26/04

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On the way home tonight, Tessa asked when was the last time we had an openly covert homosexual bandleader, you know, the kind of lead singer that was so gay that he almost wasn’t gay anymore. She thought it was Boy George, and I made an argument for the Smiths, but we both agreed that there is just no space in our culture for the don’t-ask-don’t-tell flamboyancy that saturated our youth.

I mean, let’s take two people – Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde:

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All throughout my childhood, it never even occurred to me that they might be gay. And this was after 13 years of Lynde’s gossamer-thinly-veiled fairy jokes on “Hollywood Squares,” and Reilly? He was one Roman concubine away from exploding all over the set of “Match Game ’74.”

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I miss those times, the

make that TWO sea breezes

1/25/04

So Lars and I went skiing at Catamount this weekend, and it was almost a survivalist experience; if you weren’t wearing the balaclava mask with pinholes for your nose and mouth, you felt like your teeth might freeze and break off. With the help of four layers of wicking polyester fabrics and those chemical pads you put in your boots that give off heat, we were good for about three runs down the mountain.

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The big mistake was drinking three Woodchuck ciders on the way home. It’s one thing to put on a nice buzz when your body is in a state of bliss (or a state university) but when you’ve just gone down a mountain with a minus-50 wind chill, your adrenaline mixes with alcohol in a way that produces some sort of ghastly toxin that made me barely able to complete sentences for two days.

My life took a turn in 2000 that introduced me to the world of alcohol addiction, and I have thanked Providence every goddamn day that I don’t have one. It’s the kind of thing you don’t take seriously unless:

a) you wake up one morning and realize that you’re an alcoholic

b) your life has been scarred by the vodka-saturated horrorshow of a close relative, or

c) you marry into it.

I certainly never took “alcoholism” seriously throughout my adult life; I thought it was totally 1970s. For me, alcoholics were either homeless guys on 45th Street or suburban housewives who also took too much Valium. If we ever thought somebody drank too much at our fraternity, or the Pink House, we all just assumed they’d grow out of it.

It wasn’t until I saw what alcohol had done to so many of my friends that it began to register, and then it took years to catch on to the code words found in A.A. (listen at the Academy Awards, there’s almost always a veiled thank-you to “the rooms”). Tonight, I watched a little mini-doc on Joe Namath, who famously freaked out in December on ESPN during an all-day binge, and I could see the horror in his eyes, and the shame welling through his pores.

Tessa and I had known each other for 13 years when we first started dating, but she didn’t know my drinking habits. On our second “date,” she asked me why I wasn’t having a cocktail, and I told her it was because of the pain pills I was taking for my back. She says that’s the moment she knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, because a “drunk” would have ditched the rules the first chance he/she got.

I have spent the last four years flagellating myself for various transgressions (which makes for some of the more popular blog entries) but I have come to realize something that actually works well for me: I have a non-addictive personality. The only thing I’m remotely addicted to is refined sugar, but that won’t get you into a car accident unless you’re hunting for the last red M&M under the floor mat while you’re driving.

Matt and all the Purple House guys used to belittle my penchant for “girl drinks,” but what they didn’t know is that I couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol, and was hiding them behind… yes, refined sugar! So I’d like to take a minute and give a shout-out to the girl drinks that got me through my 13-year sojourn in Chapel Hill, but were never good enough to make me an alcoholic: here’s to the Sex on the Beaches, the Woo-woos, the White Russians, Grasshoppers, Long Island Iced Teas and Cement Mixers that just made me 15 pounds overweight. I’ve now seen what alcoholics have to deal with, and losing weight is, comparatively, a holiday.

grandfather clock

1/23/04

Bob Keeshan – Cap’n Kangaroo – died today at 76. As he was an incredibly huge part of my youth, I thought I’d reprint a little piece I did for the Indy back in 1996. Enjoy! (or ignore!)

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***

Anyone who has grown up in the Midwest will remember the pitch-black winter mornings that would accompany a typical third grader’s attempt at getting to school. The wind chills would frequent the minus-50s; the car, driven by a hapless parent, would have to be started an hour before actually driving; the passenger door locks thawed with a butane lighter. Diesel snow, gray and frozen solid, lined the sides of streets for three months at a time.

Captain Kangaroo, on at 7am thanks to CBS, was our morning companion throughout the ’70s and early ’80s. Competing networks didn’t stand a chance against the Captain – imagine hog reports lisped by octogenarian weathermen, or the tedious ramblings of adults selling self-help books on “Good Morning America.”

The Captain’s show had weird quirks. “The Dancing Bear,” a recurring skit that featured this guy in a bear suit dancing around a corral, was surreal enough to scare the shit out of me. Mr. Moose, a puppet character that hid behind the bar in the main room, seemed amazingly conniving and evil. Somehow, someway, Mr. Moose would always trick the Captain into saying something that would unleash a torrent of ping-pong balls on top of him.

Now I knew that they didn’t hurt or anything, but whenever they cut to the G.I. Joe and Stretch Armstrong commercials, one thought permeated my mind: who’s going to clean up all those thousands of ping pong balls? Does Captain Kangaroo himself have to get on his knees and do it by hand? What about all the ping pong balls that roll underneath the camera dolly?

The characters on the original show are etched into the reptilian hindbrain of most kids now aged 18-38. Mr. Green Jeans (who, as I discovered when we got a color TV for the kitchen in fourth grade, wore blue overalls) was always around to dole out country-fried advice, and – being from the sheltered 319 area code – Mr. Baxter was one of the first black people I felt like I knew.

So what do you do when a charter member of your subconscious comes to your hometown? You go see him, of course, even if it is at a store called Zany Brainy in the asphalt savanna of the new Walmart strip mall.

Zany Brainy is the thinking parent’s Toys’R’Us – the visual overload of a warehouse is replaced by soothing, carpeted aisles and piped-in Muzak, peer-group tested to make your child calm and capitalistic. In the music section, there are three CD’s that are take-offs on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” (for obvious cross-marketing reasons). There is a Play Center in the middle of the store, where kids can beat each other with tiny wiffle bats. Everything at Zany Brainy is fluorescent yet pre-chewed, all edges rounded off so nobody gets hurt, the spines of books lacquered and drool-proof, everyone wide-eyed like Muppet babies.

The Captain sat in the back of the store, signing autographs from a long line of parents and children, all of them remarkably well-behaved. Everyone wanted pictures of themselves with him, so I contented myself near the back of the line with a book I found on the shelf entitled “When We Married Gary.” Told in heartwarming pastels, it was the story of one girl’s struggle to accept her mom’s new husband Gary, a balding computer programmer who, we are told, “sometimes gets mad just like daddy used to.” I put it back in the Family Upheaval section, and moved forward.

And there he was, Captain Kangaroo, just two people ahead of me. The Captain once had the same unfortunate struggle with history that all Vulcans from Star Trek still have – having come of age in the mid-60’s, they are now forever stuck with Beatle haircuts. The Captain has lost some of his hair, but I was struck by how handsome he is – easily the best looking man in his late-70s I’ve seen in years. His eyes glowed as he met each child, sitting patiently for photographs with a calm smile, something he has no doubt done for forty years.

When I got to him, he seemed surprised that I was there by myself. People in their late 20s are not represented very well at Zany Brainy, as we are too old to buy anything and too young to have kids.

“I just wanted you to sign my booklet,” I told him, “And just to tell you that you got me through some very cold, depressing mornings in Iowa.”

He nodded, and signed my book. I turned to go, but I had to ask him.

“Um, this may seem vaguely stupid, but… who was it that picked up all those ping pong balls every day?”

He smiled and said gruffly, “Some very highly paid Union stagehands.”

Which is what I figured anyway, but I just had to hear it from the man.

***

4th and 1 with 25 sec. left

1/22/04

While trying to hook up our TiVo today, I was subject to about three hours of CNN, and among the pieces of “journalism” I ingested therein, I found out that companies are bitching and moaning about “water cooler” talk after the Super Bowl, saying it costs them about $820 million in lost output. This is so horrible on so many levels that I have to number them:

1. What is this, pre-Industrial Revolution? Is there so much corn to be de-tassled that a bunch of guys can’t sit in the cafeteria and talk about the last football game they’ll see until August? The mere fact that this chit-chat is seen as $820 million in losses, and not just Part of Being an American shows you what is wrong with America and the Korporate Kulture.

2. There is certainly just as much chit-chat every two weeks dealing with other subjects. My guess is, using their math, that the following deficits should be true:

This week: talking about Dean’s Iowa mishap: -$147 million

Three weeks ago: various Michael Jackson gossip: -$468 million

Last Spring: Ruben beats Clay: -$288 million

Last December: We nab Saddam: -$974 million

3. It is my understanding that the average human worker has only about three real hours of hardcore “work time” they can handle each workday, and that may be WAY overstating it (it’s probably more like an hour). I’m not talking about people stitching soccer balls together on some Javanese island, I mean workers for companies that have a water cooler and enough self-management that employees can chat with co-workers whenever they want. I’m leaving out doctors, and some of my more nutty friends on Wall Street.

Anyway, if that is true, then we’re talking about at least 25 hours of doing something else: email, Web-surfing, phone calls to friends, reading, and yes, talking to Randy in Marketing about the Carolina Panthers. I’d like to know where and how these companies are finding the $820 million lost when there’s so much other effluvia to dilute their numbers.

4. What are you paying the legions of people hired to find out how much money you’re losing in chit-chat after a Super Bowl game? Put all the companies together, all the efficiency experts and focus groups and spyware, and how much has Corporate America spent? Perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of $820 million?

Whatever. This shit makes me angry, but not half as much as another statistic I’ve heard: the worst day for domestic violence is Super Bowl Sunday. Just the thought of some redneck fuckwad in his mustard-stained T-shirt beating the shit out of his wife because the New England Patriots just lost

ev’rybody’s work-in’ for the week-end

1/21/04

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I think the subject has been done to death since high school, but there seem to be an awful lot of shows right now about one-hit wonders. VH1 did a Top 100 countdown of them a few weeks ago, and the iTunes Store just prompted me to download their One-Hit Wonders Vol. 2 collection.

What gets me is the smugness that audiophiles have about one-hit-wonders; as I like to say, they have one more hit that you ever did. Most people’s favorite bands have never yielded a hit

luddism

1/20/04

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Salon’s top story is about Dean’s “fatal system crash” and how his own internet boom (young Dean-ites blogging away and planning meet-ups) went bust in the prairie pragmatism in Iowa. I’m sorry, but people are taking entirely too much delight in Dean’s failure, a sort of political shadenfreude that used to be reserved for people who were already President. They seem especially elated that the whole “internet” thing didn’t work out for him, which should be called out for what it is