Archive for February, 2008

Get That Book Away From Little Johnny!

Walking across the parking lot of the County Regional Library, a rare public facility lying in a pocket of private affluence, I was struck by the preponderance of low-end, unkempt and aging cars. Considering the generally seedy and shabby appearance of most of the library’s adult denizens, my observation shouldn’t have been surprising. An exception has to be made for the students sentenced to hard labor in the reference section, mining the stacks for their term papers.

My provisional correlation of cheap cars, a down-market clientele and the public library is that people with dough tend to go to Borders or Barnes and Noble and buy the books they want. Or better yet, order them from Amazon. Secondly, and more interesting to me, is the idea that among those who value the pursuit and acquisition of money, the activity of reading, particularly for pleasure would appear to be considered a wasteful, non-productive use of time. An exception would be, though not necessarily, those reading materials devoted to the acquisition and preservation of money.

An essay some years ago in the Sunday Times Book Review section, questioned the seemingly self-evident benefits of reading promoted so assiduously by the bookish establishment. Reading, the essay argued, other than for the purposes of practical application, is fundamentally a vice, period. We do it, as with our every indulgence, solely for the pleasure it gives us. Other than the pragmatic reading done to gain usable information, the process serves no instrumental purpose but pleasure. Compulsive readers, and I confess to the tag, are more or less junkies to the near masturbatory rewards that accrue to self-stimulations of the mind.

Why would people bent upon, or giving high priority to, worldly success, drive their new Beemers and Caddies to a library parking lot? Why would they devote or divert their most valuable of assets, their time, to an activity that seemingly has no direct application to, or makes no evident contribution to successfully getting on in the world? Reading may expand your mind, but relative to your net worth statement, there’s probably not much of a percentage in it. Based on everything above. I would modestly propose that if your ambitions for your offspring include McMansions and Mercedes’, do not encourage them to swallow the conventional wisdom of the professional educators on the benefits of getting hooked on books. Functional literacy? Great! A lifelong love of reading? God no!

If you yourself are already one of us, that is a book person, reflect for a few seconds the next time that you curl up with the new Banneville or a favorite Sontag. Ask yourself about the make, MSRP and model year of the car or cars in your family. How about the market value of your home, your investment portfolio or that second home on the beach or in Aspen? Or not? Oh well, there are compensations. You probably do quite well when Jeopardy comes on the TV.

An Open Letter to Bill and Melinda Gates

Dear Bill and Melinda:

You must get many letters like this one, most of them of course from cranks. But knowing that you do lots of funding to support worthy, if little known causes, you might want to help with a really deserving, if almost completely unknown and sadly neglected, cause.

Like every member of the worldwide longboard skateboarding community, I have been chased from cineplex parking lots and warned away from shopping centers while attempting to ride those ridiculously short declines. I have noticed however, that the surfaces that seem the best, if not perfect for our activities are this nation’s interstate highways, specifically the smooth, freshly-repaved, three lanes of southbound U.S. I-295 between Exits #32 and #34 in Camden County, New Jersey.

With only the most modest help from one of your many foundations, an annual “Bill and Melinda Gates” International Longboard Skateboard event could be established on that two-mile downhill grade of I-295. The only costs would be those required to close that miniscule stretch of roadway for a single summer Sunday morning. We also would need some additional money for things like insurance and to hold open a rain date, but nothing like the kind of money you’re spending on malaria or illiteracy in the Third World, although they too are probably good causes.

I am up by eleven most mornings, and will be awaiting your call.

Yours in helping make this world a better place,

p.s. Would your friend Warren be interested in this? Is he related to Jimmy? We could do a “Parrothead” tie-in. Always thinking.

Duped Daily By The Liberal Media

My approach to going through a morning newspaper has evolved over decades into a liturgy that if not honored in its every nuance can jeopardize the coherence of the entire day to follow.

With all in its requisite order; side table lamp turned a full three clicks to one-hundred and fifty watts of incandescence, coffee cup comfortably accessible, reading glasses on, I settle in to confront the larger world as defined by whoever happens to be publishing The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The codified start of my newspaper ritual begins with a scan of the front-page headlines. If a sufficiently dramatic event or items of compelling interest have made it to the front page, my journey starts there. I’m on alert for the bold headline; for stories of the rich and famous humbled, for a Supreme Court decision legalizing pot, or for features on the astounding talents of local pets. Once assured that life as we know it has not come to an end overnight, I revert to my default process for absorbing the contents of an ink-on-paper, home-delivered, mediated snapshot of the world I am told I inhabit. Continue reading ‘Duped Daily By The Liberal Media’

A Simple Plan

“The great disasters occur, not as a result of major blunders, but when finely reasoned calculations, begin to slip, just a little.” S.L.A. Marshall – Quoted in the preface to Bernard Fall’s account of the 1954 French military debacle at Dien Bien Phu.

On any of the many websites celebrating the “Darwin Awards,” my name deserves to appear among the list of contenders. It’s been a little over three years since my grown son presented me with a forty-inch, “Sector Nine” longboard skateboard, and before finally hanging it up just short of my seventieth birthday, I’d logged over eighty hours of riding. Despite forty years of competent skiing and more recently snowboarding, the learning curve on the longboard was gradual in the extreme. I needed dozens of half-hour and one-hour sessions on the nearly flat surface of a movie theater parking lot before taking on the slight to moderate grades of the quiet suburban street in front of our house. Soon, the more challenging topography of an adjacent street began calling me.

The respectable rise in terrain on that nearby street entered my brain and started to dominate my internal landscape. This mountain of my longboard ambitions had on one side, a gently graded, straight descent of about one hundred and fifty yards, and on the far side, it dropped much more sharply, curving and leveling off after a run of about two hundred yards. Months of false starts and nervous reconnoitering went by before I mustered up the nerve to take the plunge. When I did, there was little room for technique. It was all just bombing and holding on until the flat run-out slowed me down. Gradually, I began to gain the riding skills needed to control my speed by carving my board back and forth across the fall line of the hill in what I believed was a series of graceful slalom-like moves. Every run produced an amazing rush, and every run was never less than scary. I was quickly hooked on the thrill of riding, and I suspect, to the utter improbability of the idea that someone at my age would be on a longboard skateboard. Adrenaline and vanity can make for a near lethal combination. Continue reading ‘A Simple Plan’

Elvis Lives, Sort of…

If you’ve ever wondered how Elvis would have sounded if he’d lived to sixty or more years old, listen to Robert Plant in his duets CD with Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand.” Listen to Plant on the song “Gone, Gone, Gone.” To me, he sounds almost hauntingly like what I imagine Elvis would have sounded had things turned out differently. And by the way, the album is a great one.

Current Playlist

1. Fans, Kings of Leon
2. See You in the Evening, Mazarin
3. Passenger Side, Wilco
4. This Modern Love, Bloc Party
5. Waterfall, The Stone Roses
6. Walk Right Up, The Twin Atlas
7. Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap
8. O Solo Mio, David Grisman/Tony Rice
9. Feel Flows, Charlatans
10. Over and Over Again, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
11. Odessa, Mazarin
12. Jackson, Lucinda Williams
13. The High Road, The Feelies
14. Not Even Stevie Nicks, Calexico
15. Continental Luck, HiSoft
16. Heartbeats, Jose Gonzales
17. Can’t Be Sure, The Sundays
18. Come Inside, The Twin Atlas
19. Walk Beside Me, Tim O’Brien/Darrell Scott
20. Anywhere, Beth Orton


At Last, A Failed Southern Strategy

In the sports section of a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times, a column noted the fading prospects for NHL hockey in non-traditional markets, that’s the American sunbelt of the south and southwest.

Despite three Stanley Cups won by expansion and relocated teams in the realm of the late Confederacy; Dallas, Carolina and Tampa Bay, the league’s “Southern Strategy” is beginning to look a bit like a lost gamble. Attendance in places like Nashville, Atlanta and Washington is down. TV ratings for hockey are below that of the cooking and home repair shows, and the Versus network, Comcast’s captive cable channel for national broadcasting of NHL hockey is still tough to find on most cable systems.

The business end of professional hockey in the U.S., unlike the always classy tone of the game itself, has a checkered past. Greed, megalomania, a player’s strike and lockout and some borderline criminality, (the fraud charges surrounding the Islanders almost change of ownership in the nineties) have helped burnish the NHL’s reputation as an essentially bush league operation.

When the team owners brought in Gary Bettman, with the grandiose hope of bringing the game up to popular parity with football, basketball and baseball, there were those among the hockey fan base who figured that the effort was doomed to failure. Gary Bettman was a big league businessman, a basketball guy with a proven track record. But he was not a hockey guy. Continue reading ‘At Last, A Failed Southern Strategy’

Bad Craziness

Four years ago, my son presented me with a longboard skateboard. A fully social-security-qualified senior citizen, I took up an activity better suited to pre-adolescents. Below is my progress in skating toward something like wisdom.

Longboarding Log:
2004 49 hours – 3 catastrophic falls
2005 23 hours – 2 horrendous spills (one included significant bloodshed)
2006 4 hours
2007 2 hours
2008 ?
With apologies to Eliot: I grow old., I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my cargo pocket camo shorts rolled.

Schweik Laces Em’ Up

Just a few years ago, during a televised Penguins/Flyers game, I watched Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka weave their way into the Philadelphia zone. Without really knowing why, I reached for my Hockey News Annual and started counting the number of NHL players originating in what had been Czechoslovakia. That country, an unhappy marriage of Czechs and Slovaks, split in 1993 into the separate Czech Republic and an independent Slovakia. In totaling up the number of Czech and Slovak players on NHL teams that particular season, I concluded that I had discovered a sports anomaly that dwarves the oft-noted over-representation of Samoans in the NFL.

There were over sixty Czechoslovak Players in the NHL, almost ten percent of that year’s approximate total number of players in the league. So what’s the big deal in that, you might ask. It’s not like the number of non-graduating NCAA basketball stars, but consider this. The population of just two U.S. states, New York and New Jersey, tops the twenty million mark, and at the time I did my counting, the only players in the NHL from those two states were Jim Dowd of the Devils and the Rangers’ Mike Richter. How then could little Czechoslovakia, with a total population of just fifteen million, come to account for almost one-tenth of the players in the NHL? Huh? It’s almost as likely as say, forty-five percent of American dentists coming from Dubuque Iowa, or two-thirds of all NFL linebackers having graduated from Haverford College. Continue reading ‘Schweik Laces Em’ Up’

The Tour Boat Diaries (with apologies to Che)

On the east coast of South Florida, stretches of interstate-95 are six-lanes wide in each direction, and it’s barely enough.

What a strange place. Packed into a strip of land and water between the Atlantic Ocean and what remains of the Everglades, South Florida is, according to native son, Carl Hiaasen, a great place to see “everything that’s wrong with America.”

Driving along A1A, between the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean, should have prepared us for what we were to see later on a boat ride in Fort Lauderdale’s New River. Lining AIA for most of the length of South Florida are thousands and thousands of condo units, low-rise and high-rise with prices that start well above the half-million dollar mark. The single-family palaces along the ocean are priced in multiples of that. You find yourself wondering, “where does all the money come from?” Top-end cars, Mercedes, Jags, even Bentleys, are as common as dogshit. But A1A was nothing compared to what we would see on our tour boat ride. Continue reading ‘The Tour Boat Diaries (with apologies to Che)’