Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day Musings

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone.
Labor Day is easily the most bittersweet holiday of the year. For while it introduces the month that has perhaps the most spectacularly great weather of the entire year in the northeast, it also draws the curtain down on summer, and reminds us that uncompromising cold is not very far away.

But, as they say, let's enjoy the moment. We have September and October -- two absolutely gorgeous months, generally -- ahead of us before we have to start worrying about freezing to death. Right?

Anyway, let's begin ...


I've been catching up with an old friend (and by old, I mean we haven't communicated but for a few emails in almost 30 years) recently. We made friends the first day of college (on orientation day, actually) and remained so for the five years (and beyond) we were at Northeastern University in Boston.

Fern was always a challenging person when it came to debating and discussing issues. We could never totally agree on anything. I've never considered myself conservative, by any stretch, but compared to her, I'm Dick Cheney.

Fern, who grew up in New Jersey, is now a Californian. And as such, probably more used to unstable ground than I am. So when the east coast had a 5.8 earthquake last week (more on that later), she emailed me out of the blue to ask me about it.

It was great to hear from her, and we've been emailing back and forth since. Over the course of our correspondence, I told her how much I idolized the author John Irving, and she told me how much she idolized Paul McCartney.

OK. I took that as a cue that we were going to discuss Paul's indelible contributions to baby-boom culture, so I sent her back a long, convoluted email outlining my self-appointed expertise on the subject.

I got one back basically telling me to stop being so convoluted and high-falutin', and that her idolatry for "Macca" began when she was 10 because he was the cute Beatle.

And it reminded me. At the end of the day, and despite everything that happened with the Fabs in the ensuing years, our first, and perhaps lasting, memory of them is of four mop-tops who shook their hair all over the place when they sang, and whose most profound lyrics might have been, "yeah, yeah, yeah."

It's easy to forget that. They may have grown into cultural phenomena, but they began as the cute one, the sarcastic one, the quiet one, and the guy on the drums with the big honker.

I guess you can't over-analyze that.


It also occurred to me that 10-year-old guys did not look at, say, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark the same way as little girls looked at the Beatles. It's hard, when you're 10, to get all worked up over women twice your age. My first celebrity crush -- if you want to call it that -- came a few years later when I was debating as to whether I'd want to kiss Ginger or Maryanne (and believe me, it was "kiss." Not anything else).


I wouldn't know who Chaz Bono was were it not for the sex change procedure he's undergoing. I vaguely remember that there was even a Chastity Bono. And the only reason why that registers is that I really think that people who give their kids such strange names ought to be put in a room so that the rest of us can slap them around for a while.

But Chaz is going to be on "Dancing with the Stars" this fall. Now, the obvious question is when did Chaz Bono become a star? It's the same question I asked when Bristol Palin got her turn to spin around the dance floor. Other than getting pregnant when she was 16 and having a relationship with the father right out of Dogpatch, what did she ever do to become a star? Just because she's Sarah's daughter?

My only reaction is that we've set the bar quite low lately for defining the word "star."

That said, the reaction to Chaz being on the show -- not to mention the reaction to the reaction -- is certainly interesting, if not exactly eye-opening.

I do not watch Dancing with the Stars. Couldn't care less about it. And Chaz being on the show isn't going to make me watch either. I hate all that stuff ... American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, America's Got Talent ... (though I thought it was great that Kirstie Alley lasted as long as she did on the show).

First, to the producers of Dancing With The Stars: Chaz's story is compelling. No question. Him being on the show brings this story to light even more than it's been exposed already; and it perhaps entices more viewers as well.

Well, if you're going to put yourself on the line like that, then deal with the fallout. Because only an idiot wouldn't expect any. You can't have it both ways.

To the moralists out there who think that Chaz's appearance on the show is somehow sending the wrong message to kids: Please. The whole show's a circus. The only way Chaz would send the wrong message to kids is if he wore a sign around himself saying, "I'm transgender, and I'm lovin' it." And even then, what's the wrong message?

It makes me wonder when, in this country, are we simply going to allow people to be happy with who they are? When are we going to wake up and understand that as long as Chaz Bono (and others like him) isn't careening through life causing large-scale misery and mayhem, why should anybody be concerned about his lifestyle?

It brings to mind the whole gay marriage issue. I've always rejected the notion that gay marriage somehow destroys the sanctity of the institution. No it doesn't. The strength of the institution, at its most pure, comes down to two people who love each other, and whether they can sustain that love over a lifetime. Gay, straight, transgender ... what's the difference? Love is love ... happiness is happiness.

Leave them alone. And leave Chaz alone. I'm sure the process he went through to even arrive at the decision to have a sex change was tortuous enough.

And finally, this is the very definition of irony. We're talking about dancing. Theater. Entertainment. Or, to be as delicate as I can possibly be about the subject, one of the most nurturing environments in the entire country for gays and transsexuals. I wonder whether these armchair moralists out there have any idea, when or if they go to the theater, how many of the people they're watching may also be gays or transsexuals?

We'd need one paramedic for every 10 of them!


I promised more earthquake/hurricane talk. Well, when that earthquake hit, we were sitting in the theater that contains the massive diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg. Part of the production involves simulated artillery fire that is pretty vivid in its realism (it is said that the artillery barrage was so loud during the gunfight preceding Pickett's Charge on Little Roundtop that it could be heard as far as away as Philadelphia).

As we were preparing to listen to the presentation, the ground shook intensely for about 10 seconds. We looked around, a bit puzzled. There are no subways in Gettysburg (the usual reason the ground would shake in the middle of the day), and the train station's on the other end of town from where all the historical museums are.

With no other explanation forthcoming, we just figured that it was a bit of simulation to get us prepared for what was to follow. We saw the display, never giving it a thought (and yes, the artillery simulation was quite vivid). But when the show ended, someone who works at the museum came in to tell us, that the ground shaking was a 5.8 earthquake.

There was no damage. In fact, the only residual effect of the quake, in southern Pennsylvania, at least, was that we couldn't use our cellphones to make calls for almost two hours. We could text, however, and email through our Blackberys. But no calls.

Needless to say, there were countless texts sent back and forth to ensure all the folks up in Boston that we were OK.

The best line from the whole thing was from my friend Nancy in Minnesota, who emailed me, "well, you certainly felt the earth move, didn't you?"


And not only did we get to experience an earthquake while we were in Pennsylvania, we got chased home by a storm ... Hurricane Irene.

First of all, can I just say that people who whine and complain that the storm was a bust, and that it was overhyped, maybe ought to move to Vermont. I'm sure the people up there would disagree. The state -- which is one of the most pristinely gorgeous in the entire country -- is a mess. Roads washed out ... bridges collapsed ... massive flooding ... a genuine tragedy. There are ton of people along the east coast who still don't have power, and it's been almost a week since the storm hit.

So let's stop talking about how overhyped this storm was. If there's a problem, it's that all storms are overhyped ... so much so that when the forecasters are actually right about one of them, nobody takes them seriously.

Thankfully, my little corner of the earth didn't get the worst of Hurricane Irene. This isn't to say we came through unscathed. There are lots of downed trees and power outages in metropolitan Boston too. But it could have been worse.

In fact, my worst experience with Irene came not on the day when the storm was supposed to be at its height -- in our case last Sunday -- but the day before, when we were driving home from Philadelphia. Even though we'd heard that there would be only "showers" on Saturday, the word "showers" didn't do justice to what actually happened.

It didn't just rain. And it didn't just pour. I don't even know if there's a word for what it was. I guess the best way to describe it is that there was a wall of water so thick you couldn't see. Were it not for the lines on the Mass. Pike, I'd have had no idea where I was. Thankfully, through all that water, I could see the highway lines as they came upon me, and could also see the tail lights -- barely -- of the car in front of me.

But some people are just idiots. We're talking so much rain in such a short period of time that there was nowhere for the water to go. Even the Mass. Pike was a river, especially the left and right lanes. The center lane wasn't as bad, and that's where I stayed!!

But there were people who just went speeding through those puddles like it was 80 and sunny. And one of them poured so much water on my car that, for a few seconds, I felt as if I was going through a carwash. I couldn't see anything.

That was scary. And that was also the worst it got for the rest of the weekend.


Four and a half hours to play nine innings, with only six runs scoring? That's what happened Thursday at Fenway when the Red Sox and Yankees wrapped up their three-game series.

There's no excuse for this.

I don't know when throwing a strike became such a project, but Major League umpires are going to have to relax the strike zone a little bit. It was the same for both sides Thursday.

I really have to congratulate the umpire on his pinpoint eyesight. Either that, or suggest he get another job, or stronger glasses. There's no in between. Either he was so "on" the plate that he could tell the difference between a ball hitting the outside corner and one a hair of an inch off, or he was just being a jerk (I'd use a different word, but Lord knows what armchair moralist may read this and suggest I'm sending a bad message to someone).

My guess is No. 2.

Then, he calls Adrian Gonzalez out on a pitch that was low and outside ... and a ball every other time he saw it.

And I'm beginning to see the wisdom of timing pitchers and batters between pitches. This stepping out, stepping off, rumba is getting absurd. Throw the ball. Get in there and hit.


No real way to end this, except to say it's been a nice, although short, summer. Not as warm as last year's perhaps (I'm not one of these people who complains about the heat).

We somehow missed June entirely, and August was up-and-down, weather-wise. But July was one for the books. With any luck, we'll have a seasonal fall and a much milder winter than we did last year, when it snowed enough to make me think we were in the Arctic.

My most vivid memory of last winter was watching my son shovel off my roof ... and then seeing him limping around with back pain for a month afterward!!

No repeats, please.

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