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Feel Free to Flip

Lots of folks dying of late (or “passing” to use the often-invoked and sanitized metaphor suggesting life as a freeway with the dead going by us in their cars.) More specifically, lots of famous folks dying. This is usually what we mean when me make the observation, and celebrity has taken on this added dimension of making the rest of us pause for a moment to note that the clock is ticking after checking our Twitter feed. Garry Shandling was the latest, just yesterday. He registers significantly with me, not only because he wasn’t all that much older (sixty-six) but also because he created the greatest television show in history. I make no qualifications for that last statement and I’m a student of some pretty good ones, The Sopranos and The Phil Silvers Show among them. ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ was so good that you could extract the performances of Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor, run them as their own shows, and they would qualify for the top ten. Lesser minds misinterpret comedy solely as a vehicle to make us laugh but The Larry Sanders Show was much more than this. The laughs came because it was true and familiar and human; because it’s the only place to go with things before we start crying and look like a bunch of pussies. Which leads me to another great Garry Shandling line, while hosting the Emmys in 1999: “The Sopranos has a character named ‘Big Pussy.’ This, coincidentally, was my nickname in high school.” I was a fan of Shandling’s comedy but nothing came close to ‘Sanders’ for me. I must have expressed this to more than a few people, because I received a flood of texts yesterday alerting me to the news. If all I’ve done in this life is to turn a few more heads in the direction of that program, it wouldn’t be all for not.

Shifting non-sequitur gears here, I’d like to make an observation about those ‘funny’ ring-tones some people choose for their cell phones. I’m not talking about merely choosing a different ring, but the odd sound effects of barnyard animals and the like. Goofy AHH-OOOGAH horns. This kind of thing. I’ve spent my share of time in various medical facilities in recent years and amid folks getting all manner of serious news. Nothing punctuates the gravity of a nurse telling a patient that the doctor has spotted something in his test results that he’d like to speak to him about than a single, loud sheep’s “BAHHHHHHH.” Really, is this what things have come to? And then the oblivious phone owner tapping the screen and answering with a dull ‘hello?’ Indignities are mounting all around us, multiplying by the day. Can you picture such audible punctuation after Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” or FDR’s “a date which will live in infamy”? We’re getting stupider and the circles smaller and smaller.

On the other hand, “The People vs OJ Simpson” is one of the better things to come along in quite a while. The FX mini series walks a dizzying tightrope, blending spot-on parody with historical context and cultural sensitivity. It’s good on so many levels, the least of which not being John Travolta’s portrayal of smarmy celebrity attorney Robert Shapiro. It’s a real shame that several of the principals from the case didn’t live to see themselves depicted. You have to admire what Travolta’s doing here, apparently resurrecting his career for a third time as he simultaneously plays off his own real-life image as a Hollywood straight-man sending out hotel riders demanding a male masseuse and tin foil with heavy curtains covering all windows. The show offers a rare combination of satire and illumination, skewering racial groups and ego-laden individuals alike. It refuses to insult its audience’s intelligence on the matter of who killed whom, yet manages to present a nuanced interpretation of what was going on back then (and likely still is today.) It’s also worth watching, as my buddy Tom Myers points out, to watch Nathan Lane’s portrayal of ex Marine F. Lee Bailey while knowing that, unlike some of the others, the 82 year-old lawyer lived to see it. Put it on your must-see list, right after ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ in its entirety.

Huuuuuge

It’s time to stop judging politicians by what they say. Clearly, these people will say whatever’s necessary to garner support and win elections. Instead, I suggest that we start paying attention to how they say it; their word-choice, pronunciation and inflection. Obama, for example, has pronounced “Pakistan” with a long-sounding first “a” (ahh) and “i” (eee) since his 2008 election. What’s wrong with the traditional “pack” pronunciation favored by the rest of us? Perhaps it’s a reflexive reaction to the grating, nasal inflection used by many in his home base of Chicago. He also prefers “ISIL” over “ISIS” in speaking about the fun-loving jihadis making so many headlines these days. It may be a more technically accurate label, but in differing from the favored choice of most media outlets it can also sound elitist or snooty. “We discovered today that a faction of ISIL has been hiding out in Pah-kee-stahn ..” Does he not realize that there are legions of knuckleheads out there assuming we’re fighting a brand-new enemy in some newly-discovered country? This is America — keep it simple. Which, coincidentally, is the unofficial campaign slogan of Donald Trump. Here’s a guy who doesn’t mince words. Unfortunately he doesn’t possess a particularly wide range of them, either. When Trump locks into a word at one of his rallies, he really sticks with it. It’s typically an adjective like “huge” (pronounced “huuuuge”) or “tremendous.” “There was this general, see? .. and he was a rough guy .. rough guy. He was fighting this tremendous battle .. had just a tremendous problem with terrorism. Let me tell you folks, we’re going to win this thing and it’s going to be huuuge ..” Interestingly, “folks” is a term that has made its way back into political discourse on both sides of the aisle. Obama uses it frequently .. “now, some folks have more money than others ..” but Trump likes it, too. I find it too homey for my tastes and never trust a word used by all politicians.

Policy aside, Bernie Sanders seems the best orator on the circuit now. It helps that his primary competition, Hillary Clinton, is prone to coughing fits. But mostly it’s because Bernie is unhampered and untempered in his remarks. His entire thrust is that he can’t be bought and isn’t beholden to special interests. Every time he wants to re-align the topic in a debate, it’s with a refreshing kind of “I can’t believe we’re talking about this shit” quality. Bernie’s message, that the entire system is corrupt, isn’t a new one. But the longer things go on, the more the message seems relevant. He’s also got a slightly over-the-top mad professor quality to him which can be effective while stumping but risks crossing over to Howard Dean territory. Bernie’s pissed, and while there’s just cause for it, it doesn’t always jibe with those favoring the Cool Hand Luke presidential approach of Obama. He’s also got the most disheveled appearance of any current candidate, which I respect. Heck, look at Albert Einstein .. the guy couldn’t iron a shirt to save his life but was a real all-star when it came to putting on his thinkin’ cap. Unfortunately, superficiality counts, and while enlightenment might extend to electing a black man, woman, or Jew, many can’t see clear to someone who doesn’t tuck his shirt in. We’ll put an idiot in there before someone who looks like Michael Moore or Jim Tomsula.

Personal grooming isn’t the only superficial element to a candidate’s appeal. Physicality plays an unfortunate role as well. Chris Christie was facing an uphill battle from the beginning, and not just because his name sounds like somebody stuttering. While obviously unfair, there is perhaps some basis for such prejudice. Woody Allen, as Cliff Stern, had this advice for his niece in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”: “While we’re waiting for a cab I’ll give you your lesson for today. Don’t listen to what your teachers tell ya, you know. Don’t pay attention. Just, just see what they look like and that’s how you’ll know what life is really gonna be like.” If you take this entire snippet and substitute “a Trump presidency” for “life,” I think you’d have an effective counter to any platform he might run on in a national debate. Seriously .. if Trump has gotten this far with the electorate, how far-fetched is it that some of them could be swayed by simply pointing out what the guy looks like? As reviled as Bush and Obama are from opposite ends of the political spectrum, at least these guys clean up well. What’s going to happen the first time Trump exits Air Force One in a wind-swept country? And those eyebrows and the way his lower teeth expose when he talks. This is one crazy-looking dude. Actually, on this basis, none of the front-runners hold much appeal. Hillary counters Sanders’ nutty professor look with a kind of permanently-constipated expression to compliment her pantsuit ensembles. The charge of “sexism” will undoubtedly be leveled for any comment on her appearance but this is the highest office in the land. And Ted Cruz .. an apparent intellectual giant, but thankfully with a mug that betrays much of what others who have crossed paths with him have said. God (if Ted can invoke the Deity’s name then it’s good enough for me) works in mysterious ways.

While the above may read as tongue-in-cheek to most, it isn’t an entirely inaccurate depiction of some aspects of political appeal and mechanism. The divide in this country is huge, to put it in Trumpian terms, and widening by the day. Opposing views within like political affiliation — say, those debating Sanders vs Clinton on Facebook — are the modern equivalent of what one used to see in the general election. By the time the Big Vote arrives, it’s more like each side is fighting an outside force .. an invader. The only thing that seems to bring us together is a genuine outside attack, and that common good will vanishes as soon as policy is instated. How pathetic is that? We need someone to take a big swing at us from somewhere else in order to achieve a very temporary sense of all being in this together. It’s enough to make someone vote for any of them.

Horace and Pete

Louis C.K., the culturally-iconic comic, writer and performer, has always been hit or miss for me. I’ve enjoyed him most when he’s riffing on the soulless expanse of social media and modern technology or the inane sanitation of language. He does a great bit on the pointlessness of having a phrase like “the n-word” when everybody mentally substitutes the word anyway once you say it. But he loses me with some of his more self-loathing takes on middle age and near-clinical meditations on the true nature of his sexual id. It doesn’t matter that the guy is smart and truthful; this is the idiosyncratic nature of comedy. It either clicks or it doesn’t, and I find myself laughing out loud more when watching Norm MacDonald. All of which I’m sure C.K. could live with, given his lofty position atop the showbiz heap and ability to call his own shots. Which brings me to his latest creation, the near perfectly-imperfect “Horace and Pete,” now available on his website louisck.net, for five bucks.

There are a dozen launching points one could choose in discussing the show, so let’s start with that last one first. There was no forewarning from C.K. and this was obviously a conscious decision on his part. Anyone can scrap an advertising budget, but getting an assembled cast and production staff to remain quiet about what they’re doing takes some planning. It just “arrived” on his website with an email to subscribers along the lines of “check this thing out that I made.” There is no means of enforcement for the five dollar charge; only the honor system and understated request that you not “be a dick” by stealing it. Losing the middle man bonds audience with endeavor. For a fiver you’re on-board and connected; not giving it a chance would be like buying an expensive cup of coffee then leaving it on the counter. There’s a blurb on his website about what to do if you “hate” something he is offering and want a refund. His own system is at work .. simple, but given the scope of his influence, quite effective.

So what do you get for the ticket? If you were one of the first to sign up, it’s jarringly current. There’s mention of the Iowa Caucus and Donald Trump skipping the Republican debate — both occurring within days of the show’s launch — in the opening moments. The setting is a hundred year-old bar in Brooklyn populated by a group of dedicated day-drinking alcoholics and a smattering of non-regular hipsters and wanderers-in. The easiest thing to describe about “Horace and Pete” is how it might be sold at a network pitch meeting. Various reviews have used “Cheers meets ..” and then “Eugene O’Neil” or something equally dark after the hyphen. But this doesn’t do it justice and a large part of the point is that there was no pitch meeting. C.K.’s subject matter is a clever mix of the psychological, political, familial and inter-personal. There’s a fine line separating means of delivery from content. The show was delivered un-sold; what to make of it is left to its audience. At its core, it’s a transcript of some of C.K.’s inner dialogues via a group of talented actors (Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange etc.) It avoids some of the more self-absorbed tangents of his stand-up routine or FX series “Louie.” It’s a particular treat seeing his typically sharp thinking delivered from abstract perspective. “Horace and Pete” feels like theater, complete with miscues and rough spots, highs and lows. Marc Maron commented on his podcast that you can now add “playwright” to C.K.’s list of credentials, and I wouldn’t disagree.

The show is also about how we fail to connect, and C.K.’s character Horace is perhaps the least-connected of the bunch. C.K.’s acting chops are a step behind the other main players, but this, too, draws us in on a meta level. We’re familiar with his comic persona and aware at every turn that he’s created this. It has his stamp all over it. When his character is accused of being an inept failure as a subsequent-generational heir to his hundred year-old family business, he answers simply and honestly “I don’t care.” It can be read as like ambivalence toward any “message” one might derive from the production. The questions raised in “Horace and Pete” are both compelling and mundane. They are not easily answered. How they’re delivered feels as salient as their interpretation. As Alda, in a great reverse-casting role as a profane and racist bartender (making ample use of the un-sanitized ‘n-word’) notes: “racist is what you do, not what you say.” When he later weighs in on the ensuing legal battle over the bar’s future, his perspective and history feel equally valid despite his skewed, misanthropic angle.

I’m not sure where C.K. will go with this show. It’s labeled “Episode One” but feels complete unto itself and impressively current and real. Any exploration of topics raised in the pilot — if that’s in fact what this is — would seem like overkill. All I really need to know about Horace is transmitted in this sixty-seven minutes. Alda is spot-on, and Buscemi, well, Buscemi. I’d like to see C.K. continue as a dramatic writer to see where it takes him. He has the chops and, most impressively, the ambition, stature and vision to follow up on them in a uniquely independent way. It’s a rare and potent combination.*

*Louis C.K. did, in fact, reveal in an email to his website subscribers days after the show was realeased, that it’s an episodic series with more to come. Despite the above, I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

Funk to Funky

And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor” – Bowie

So David Bowie died. This was the send-off news from San Francisco where, of late, it seems I’m spending about half my days. I read a few mandatory ageing drama geek postings — “David Bowie didn’t die, he just returned to his home planet” — but this wasn’t the point. Sure, Bowie bridged that gap between high school theater productions and football fields, appealing equally to androgynous adolescent thespians and rock-headed defensive linemen. But he also registered with normaloid nobodies like me, alone and spinning the bedroom vinyl. He was cool to look at in all his Thin White Duke glory, but what struck me was how incredibly consistent this cat was. Diamond Dogs. Young Americans. Five Years. Modern Love. Panic In Detroit. The man could flat-out write a tune, paint a picture, set a mood. And the way his voice could kick in to overdrive with a chilling break when needed .. “smiling and waving and looking so fine ..” Maybe he was from another planet .. but it always sucks having this asserted by mere and geeky mortals after the cool ones go. Better to just listen to what he left behind.

As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent
You asked for the latest party
With your silicone hump and your ten inch stump
Dressed like a priest you was
Todd Browning’s freak you was

Works for me. And they’re getting some rain out there. San Francisco that is, not David Bowieland. Turns out this El Niño deal is one of the few meteorological metrics that doesn’t disappoint. As the late-great not-so-Bowie-like Chris Farley once pointed out, El Niño is Spanish for “The Niño.” It’s also Northern Californian for “washing excrement from San Francisco streets” which can only be a good thing, even for those doing the depositing. West Coast rain is different from East Coast rain. I’m not going to go into any further detail, but this is the sum total of accumulated wisdom from my decade-plus, bi-coastal experiment. I’ll get arguments from some on a molecular level, but it’s also about how it falls, where it falls, and what it falls on. Speaking of which and keeping in line with recent postings .. sublime exit from The Man Who Fell To Earth. As Roger Kahn wrote in his great work on the Brooklyn Dodgers, “The Boys of Summer” : “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.” And so it was with David Bowie, if not this disjointed and rambling blog entry. That’s OK .. I think I’ve got a few more in me.

Kirk … Chow.

Ed Greenman died last week. He was my next-door neighbor Kirk’s father and a mainstay on Via Navarro — our block growing up in Greenbrae, California. We had a house on the other side of us, too, but the Greenmans will always fill my sole definition and mental image for “next-door neighbor.” An ex-Navy man with a shaved head long before the hipsters or movie stars who weren’t Yul Brynner started doing it, Ed cut an imposing figure on the block. He was over six feet tall and spoke with a kind of unplaceable drawl that suggested he was in no hurry to get the words out because he figured you weren’t going anywhere until he finished talking. One of my more enduring images of the man is that of him standing on the front deck to call Kirk for supper while we shot baskets in the McCormack’s driveway up the street. It’s a two-word impression that I still do to this day because of its power coupled with economy of language. “Kirk … chow.” This was all that was ever necessary .. Kirk’s name as a heads-up and the reason he was being alerted. It was never yelled nor spoken with particular urgency, but the voice carried and point was made. Never, in all of those hundreds of hoop-shooting sessions, was a second call for dinner required. “I gotta go” was Kirk’s immediate reaction, even if he was four letters into a game of HORSE. So powerful was it that I used it as my first-ever email address: kirkchow@msn.com. The significance was largely lost, however, and most folks just assumed I was Asian.

Ed had a flare for the creative. He built a porthole into the deck above their backyard swimming pool with a ladder leading up to it. This was but one of hundreds of examples of his unusual sense for design and decoration, but it stuck with me as a little kid. There was something supremely cool about using that ladder to access the upper level instead of the more ‘adult’ deck stairs and nobody ever told you it was too dangerous, either. Once, when my dad was clearing out the basement of his old family home on Leavenworth Street in the city, Ed noticed a box of dials in our garage. The basement was where my grandfather, a talented and self-taught engineer, started our family business .. and the dials belonged to various film processing machines and other equipment he’d built himself. The box was being thrown out and Ed asked if he could have its contents. The next week these same dials with their now-polished brass housings and newly-shined surfaces were mounted on the wall in the Greenman kitchen. This was a revelation to me as a kid, that something beautiful and interesting could be salvaged from old junk. Ed was also a master at making model ships with intricate masts and painting old, collectible lead soldiers. He had a glass cabinet displaying the latter in the living room, and he’d made that, too. His woodwork was precise with attention to detail and fine finishing. My father was a gifted woodworker but unlike Greenman he had no patience nor sense of economy with materials. Both were talented; but with my dad the point was the therapeutic process and forging ahead to completion of an entire room or substantial and functional piece of furniture. My father’s finished products never failed to impress, but he went through a mint in materials getting there. Greenman could use the scraps left behind to construct something from nothing, and the results often astounded.

Ed played the bagpipes, intrigued, in part no doubt, by my Scottish mother’s heritage. While it isn’t the most mainstream instrument, I’m sure there are a fair number, globally and outside of Scotland, who take it up. The difference with Ed was that, as with most things, he stuck with it. I recall my mother telling me about his wanting to play ‘Amazing Grace’ at his nephew’s funeral .. a young man who’d died tragically and prematurely in an automobile accident. “I botched a few notes in front of everyone,” he said afterward, “but went back on my own later and played it right for him.” This image of Mr. Greenman as a lone piper, out there at his nephew’s grave site and hitting all the notes on his second attempt, stuck with me.

The Greenmans moved south, some years back, to Fallbrook in San Diego County. Mrs. Greenman died in 2003 and Ed stayed in the house. I never visited, but have no doubt that it was decorated with many personal touches, like the home in Greenbrae. There is a sense of pity that one has for some older people, living on their own after a spouse dies .. but it was never the image I had of Ed Greenman. He kept the tradition of sending my folks a Christmas card every December with a brief update, and I enjoyed reading these in recent years, returning from New York. This was Ed .. solid, substantial. In alerting me to his dad’s death, Kirk explained that his plan had been to move in with his father at the start of the new year, to help him out and see if they could make an eventual move, together, to Oregon. He was still getting by on his own, however, and the description of his final day on this earth after eighty-seven some years, from what Kirk could put together, filled me more with envy than sadness. There were a few loads of laundry in the machine; evidence of his self-sufficiency and while not on par with his other more intricate skills, an ability that many men of my father’s generation never acquire. The exercise bike had been recently used; this wasn’t a man prone to flab or inactivity. And an unfinished container of yogurt was on the kitchen table. This was Ed Greenman at the end: doing laundry, exercising, having breakfast .. getting things done. He’d carried his habit to San Diego of putting an American flag up outside the house each morning. It wasn’t typical behavior in the liberal confines of Marin County, but fit him perfectly with neither irony nor heavy-handedness. It was this flag that a Fallbrook neighbor who’d been checking in on him of late noticed still displayed on the deck after nightfall .. something that Ed wouldn’t allow .. and was all the alert necessary to assure that he’d be found promptly. It was all very quick, dignified, and even considerate. ‘Graceful’ is another word that comes to mind. An exceptional run and fine exit. Somewhere a lone piper plays ‘Amazing Grace,’ flawlessly, note for note.

Gang Aft Agley

So much for the Great Road Journal of 2015. Turns out that a night in Tahoe to collect my thoughts and a Google Maps satellite image of Salt Lake City were all that was necessary to come to my senses. I’ll make the long-haul drive some other time, Jack Kerouac visions not withstanding. For now a few days in the Sierras and Jet Blue ticket to JFK should suffice. Though I was half-tempted, after the last debate, to get a few cases of beer and hire Ted Cruz as my designated Republican driver. “If you want someone to grab a beer with,” Cruz said, “I may not be that guy. But if you want someone to drive you home, I will get the job done.” Nice sentiment, but it leaves me teetering between the thoughts “nice sentiment” and “what an asshole ..”

‘Gang aft agley’ is, of course, from Burns’ “To A Moose” .. my dad’s all-time favorite poem. He likes the final verse best, where the poet apologizes to the mouse for overturning his home, but tells him he’s lucky because “only the present touches thee.” Burns then explains that, unlike the mouse, he looks back with regret and forward with fear. “Oh Christ how I relate to that” was my father’s take. The present is doing its share of hard-hitting with Dad of late, but he should have little regret over where he’s been. “He’s a good man” is an overused phrase in American vernacular, but Burns could have put it no more succinctly in this case. Definitely someone who could make sure you got home OK.

I too have little regret over deciding to forgo (for now) the three-thousand-plus driving miles east. So much is made of the admirable quality of being decisive, but I think this applies equally to changing one’s mind and sticking to it. To very roughly paraphrase my buddy Denis Munro, former Planning Director of Perth, Scotland: “nothing is quite so useless as planning.” The irony is implicit, given his esteemed former title, but who better to know this than the man given the job. It’s a little like having the most competent of surgeons think to himself “what a mess” just after opening you up. At the end of the day he’s still going to give you a better shot than anybody else.

The Royal Garden Inn — this was the two-star Salt Lake City hotel I made a reservation with from Tahoe at about two a.m. on Thursday. Then I figured I’d better get some sleep as I was looking at an eight hour drive in the morning. Two became three, and three four, and by about four-thirty I’d figured “screw it.” It’s amazing what “screw it” can do for your sleep. I tucked it in until about 11:30 then went down to the Old Post Office coffee shop for a late breakfast of waffles with eggs over easy. I’ll see the Royal Garden some other time, or more likely I won’t, but either way it’s the best fifty-six bucks (tax included) that I’ll never have refunded.

Late Great Golden State

imageimageBeen out west for the better part of the last two months and it was an intense visit. “Put a kettle on,” as someone from my past once advised .. but her tea was suspect, too. Now I’m pointed east for the long haul to New York and figured I’d keep a road journal. So far so good, but a two hundred mile drive to Tahoe is only a drop in the proverbial bucket. Got some rain in that bucket, though, just past Auburn on I-80. Then on to Truckee for a quick beer and shot at the Pastime Club, where a small late afternoon crowd was just getting started. I was at the Pastime about fifteen years back with my friend Mo Allen when the bartender announced that “a gentleman name ‘Bear’ would like to buy a round for the entire house.” So we lined up in orderly fashion for our free beverage. “You know, Rick,” Mo observed, “this kind of stuff only happens to you.” I thought of pointing out that it was happening to everybody in the bar on that particular afternoon, including him, but refrained. At the end of the day a free drink is no great shakes, but it beats a swift kick in the pants. A family cabin with fireplace on a chilly late October evening, however, is definitely a great-shakes qualifier. And while I’ve never traveled the length of this great country by car, I strongly suspect that there isn’t much out there that beats Lake Tahoe for a solidly spectacular setting. Truth be told, I could just park it here and be satisfied. But I already have a $47 hotel room booked in Salt Lake City and will be pointing myself in that direction tomorrow. Stay tuned to this space for updates — hopefully with a little more punch and literary flair. And remember to read from the bottom-up.

Posey For Prez

It’s just a job you know, and it’s not Sweet Lorraine“- Van Morrison

New York Times writer Eric Lichtblau wrote an essay for the August 29 edition commenting on “baseball’s lost innocence.” The piece was inspired by a recent eight-game, six-stadium ballpark tour with his twelve year-old son — a truncated version of a tour Lichtblau himself completed in 1987. In it, he calls out Giants catcher Buster Posey for failing to sign an autograph for his boy after two consecutive attempts, post-game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. This despite the lad’s polite approach and Lichtblau holding a “Posey For Prez” sign over the kid’s head. So disappointed was Junior that he crumpled the sign up and tossed it in a trash can outside Wrigley, concluding that his hero was, in fact, “a jerk.”

I can’t blame a twelve year-old boy for getting down on a player who, up until then, he’d idolized. But Buster Posey seems an odd choice for the old man to single out in the New York Times. Anyone who follows the Giants knows he’s the humblest of players, is involved in more community work than anybody on the team, and plays the game “the right way,” never showing an opponent up or calling undue attention to himself despite his considerable talent. When he won the Most Valuable Player award in 2012, they broadcast his reaction from a charity event he was attending at the school his mother works for in Georgia. I don’t know what his policy is with autographs, but in commenting on the article one of the Giants beat writers said he’s “somewhere in the middle,” signing more than some and less than others. Autographs are an odd phenomenon and many who seek them do so strictly for monetary value and resale on Ebay. Some use kids as a convenient device for getting a player’s attention; in this sense Lichtblau may have done his son no favors by holding the sign over his head.

But let’s ignore all of this and just assume it was because Posey was having a bad series. He’s been in a slump of late and the Giants depend upon his bat in a pennant chase. He signs thousands of autographs every year, and even the most prodigious name-scribbler is going to have people he disappoints. This time it happened to be the kid of a guy who has a forum via a prestigious national newspaper, and that guy decided to use this forum to shame Posey. As a baseball fan, it’s a good bet Lichtblau has at least a rough idea of what the 28 year-old Posey makes, and that it dwarfs his salary as a highly-respected scribe. It seems likely that, after experiencing a moment of visceral disappointment in seeing his boy let down, he thought “He isn’t going to do this to my kid and get away with it ..” But the difference between Posey’s ignoring his kid twice amid a crowd of other screaming favor-seekers, and Lichtblau’s decision to write about it, is that in the latter case the guy had plenty of time to think it over. And still he chose Buster Posey as a name suitable for mention in an essay on baseball’s lost innocence.

I’m guessing that Lichtblau doesn’t attract many autograph hounds himself, but his article has generated a lot of response on Twitter and the like. Some of these folks are probably big fans of his Pulitzer Prize-awarded writing .. and yet he doesn’t seem to have time to respond to all of them. Maybe it’s just too overwhelming, or he’s had a few bad days in a row. Or perhaps his son is taking heat from his pals for having crumpled up his ‘Posey For Prez’ sign and thrown it away in a huff — a move he undoubtedly didn’t anticipate being broadcast in the New York Times. Twelve year-old boys can be very cruel that way. (“Aww .. whats-a-matter .. did Buster disappoint you?”) Perhaps the most Lichtblau Sr. ever hit was .182 in his second year of Little League. He did take the time to respond to one supportive tweet with “Thanks. Maybe Buster will be shamed into making amends.” Great lesson there .. the NY Times writer’s kid gets a make-up autograph while the others who were shunned receive nothing. Whatever the case, maybe the better approach to this incident at Wrigley would have been limited to explaining to his kid that our heroes, much like our fathers, sometimes disappoint — even two days in a row — and that getting caught up in the need to ‘make personal contact’ with celebrities and sports figures can occasionally rob us of the joy they generated in the first place. And that none of us is exempt, even if you’re Eric Lichblau’s son.

I have a friend who was a big ‘Sopranos’ fan and she once approached Micheal Imperioli at an autograph signing with a personal story. Imperioli listened intently, asked her for her name, then told her that he wouldn’t forget her. So excited was she at having “made an impression” that she neglected to get his autograph .. so she got back in the short line and was in front of him again only minutes later. “Nice to meet you,” Imperioli said, “.. and what was your name?” Another story I like involved an incident that I read about on an Internet discussion forum where the topic was Sean Penn. Various folks were chiming in with their unfavorable impressions, and one had a contrary experience to relate. “I was at an uncrowded bar in New York and I saw Sean Penn and Van Morrison having a drink together,” this guy wrote. “I approached and explained how I was a big fan of both of them. Sean Penn thanked me politely but Van Morrison told me to ‘fuck off.'” I laughed out loud reading this and it confirmed a thought I’ve held that, despite being a huge fan, I’d never think of approaching Van Morrison for anything. I prefer to catch him performing on stage when I can. The rest of the time I’ll preserve my image of him at a New York bar, having a beer with Sean Penn and Buster Posey.

Coddled Kids & Shrooms

Movin’s the closest thing to bein’ free – Waylon

Went to see the Red Headed Stranger in Prospect Park last night. That’s Willie Nelson for those not in the know, and not Danny Bonaduce. Although Bonaduce might have been a welcome addition to the crowd which, from my estimate, contained mostly fourth generation hipsters and baby-strolling Park Slope parents. I’ve written about the latter before, and their penchant for wheeling their prized bundles of joy to these shows and decking them out with noise-canceling headphones in order to protect their precious, still-forming ears. Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed how annoying most other peoples’ kids are? Had nature not provided most of us with the inexplicable instinct to fawn over that which our own loins produce there would be a lot more abandoned offspring out there. Which is somewhat ironic, as it presents a scenario in which these noise-canceling headphones might be of genuine use, in order to block out all the plaintive wailing. Anyway … “Get off my LAWN .. ”

“Outlaw Country,” the genre that Nelson is credited with having helped start, and “Park Slope, Brooklyn,” are words that probably shouldn’t be uttered in the same sentence. This didn’t seem to bother Willie, though, and he motored through a tight set of old favorites, recent tunes, and plenty of deftly-administered nylon string picking. There was some lead-up discussion about how this was his first show ever at the venue. Given the number of days a year he’s touring, new venues likely register on the same scale as moving the TV a few feet to the left in one’s living room. I’ve seen him perform many times over the years and the shows have all followed a similar pattern, with the new wrinkle being a few tunes from his recent releases. This time it was two of his “weed tunes”: “It’s All Going To Pot” and “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.” He’s become something of a national spokesman for the herb, having used it in abundance over the years. It was fun to watch the Park Slope parents scramble to cover their precious progenies’ already-covered ears, then stop to reconsider. “Wait .. it’s legal in Colorado and Oregon .. I don’t want to be sending the wrong *message* here ..”

Willie skipped an encore and was likely already partaking in some high-potency ganja by the time the lights went up. You have to admire an 82 year-old man whose life has consisted mostly of jogging, smoking weed, playing golf, living in Hawaii, and touring the country in a bus. OK .. you don’t .. but I do. After the show I did a cursory check of where he’d be heading and found that he’s scheduled for Garrettsville, Ohio on Friday night, followed by Atlantic City, New Jersey on Sunday. Yeah, that sounds about right.

One of my favorite Willie stories happened in late 2006, when his bus was pulled over by a Louisiana state trooper. To quote one article: “When the door was opened and the trooper began to speak to the driver, he smelled the strong odor of marijuana. A search of the bus produced 1½ pounds of marijuana and slightly more than three ounces of narcotic mushrooms.”  There was enough on the bus to merit felony distribution charges had it been in one person’s possession, but all aboard claimed the stash as their own, and each was charged with a misdemeanor then released. What are the odds, that all riding the Nelson Family Bus would be so savvy under such circumstances? A pound and a half of pot is one thing; I figure Willie typically goes through that himself in a good week. But over three ounces of mushrooms? Of course he was only 73 at the time, so I suppose you could chalk it up to youthful experimentation. “Take off that stupid headset, Junior, I’ve got a story to tell you about Uncle Willie ..”

I’m glad I went to the show and would recommend catching it if comes your way. There are very few iconic American performers left out there, and I put Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan at the top of the list. It’s easy to take these guys for granted, as they’re out there most nights of the year performing somewhere on their respective never-ending tours. But one day they won’t be, and all we’ll be left with is a bunch of up-starts talking about the day their parents took them to see — but not hear — these legends. Thankfully and for now, the show goes on.

Courage Be A Lady

So they gave the Arthur Ashe ESPY Award for courage to Caitlyn Jenner. While it made for great television, I have to admit to being confused. Despite not making it to fifty and suffering from both AIDs and heart disease, Ashe himself persevered as an important public spokesman for both causes. Notable past Ashe Award winners include Jim Valvano and Muhammad Ali. Valvano was active in finding a cure for the cancer that cut his life short and gave one of the most stirring acceptance speeches in ESPY history. Ali, afflicted with Parkinson’s, was the model of courage during the Vietnam era, refusing to be drafted despite rampant criticism and its costing him his boxing title. As he famously put it: “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” And now we have the former Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn, holding the same trophy.

Don’t get me wrong .. I understand that much of what Jenner has done takes, well, balls. To be an exalted male athlete and decide at sixty-five that you’re going to be a woman is not your average life-transition. To put on an evening gown and makeup and celebrate your ‘coming out’ party in front of a room packed with top-tier, straight athletes takes a certain form of chutzpah. But does Jenner’s life really warrant an award for courageousness? Gender confusion aside — and I do realize that it’s the whole point here — Jenner has led an exceptionally blessed life to this point. Start with the simple fact that he’s enjoyed the status of a straight white male, until just recently. As Louis CK would point out, being born when Jenner was, this is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Add to this that he was both an exceptional and celebrated athlete who seemed to step in gold, both literally and figuratively, everywhere he turned. He was on the cover of every magazine and every other cereal box. His celebrity allowed him to enjoy a lucrative public speaking career and, by his own choice, a reality television program. He was a good-looking man all his life and some would call him a stunningly statuesque woman. Hell, the guy/gal was involved in a fatal car accident on the PCH last February and walked away without a scratch. Conveniently, he’ll get to skip menopause, pregnancy, workplace discrimination .. any number of obstacles that those born female encounter. And now he gets an award for courage.

The problem with courage is that it defies quantifiable description. It isn’t so much the circumstance that’s important, but the level of choice involved. Valvano had no choice in getting cancer; his decision to fight on despite it can only be appreciated from someone else in the same position. The same can be said of Ashe. In this sense, Jenner’s move can indeed be seen as courageous, as he could have just as easily lived the remainder of his life as a man. David Letterman made a brief speech when he came back on the air after the 9-11 attacks. In it he noted that courage “defines all other human behavior” and that “pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.” It’s relative; what seems insurmountable to you might be peanuts to me. It’s in that moment that we move forward — fake it, as Letterman suggests — that courage resides. Still, I’m not sure who, exactly, we should be giving these awards to. Isn’t the point of accepting those with varying sexuality that it isn’t a choice, but rather an innate disposition? I’m just as thrown by the “pride” movement, regardless of the identity being celebrated. Gay, Irish, Italian .. it still always comes before the fall. To take pride in one’s select identity is to breed separatism. The boisterousness of these celebrations is, in part, a reaction to the fact that at one time all of these groups have been shit on by the prevailing class. But once they prevail, they typically start doing the shitting. None of which will stop ESPN from giving out these awards, or looking for future recipients who will attract the largest TV audience .. Brett Farve’s reaction not withstanding.