Thursday, December 10, 2009
It should be no surprise to anyone that there are a great many differences between the US and Germany.
Americans are gregarious, enjoy large servings of food and drink, and seem to live out of our cars.
Germans rely more on public transportation, are sparing in their food consumption, relocate less, and are more likely to rent than to own their home.
We have baseball, they have team handball. Sure, go ahead and try to explain the rules of one sport to a citizen of the other country. I dare you.
And then we have NASCAR, and they have Formula One. Try to explain either to a nuclear physicist.
One thing each country shares is a deep appreciation for hair coloring.
We dye and tease and color with the goal of masking age, highlighting skin tone, and providing an enhanced sense of self and at times even character.
In Germany, the widespread use of radiant dyes and colorings seems intended more to provide for individuality, shock value, and as a way to further define one’s place and position. Either that, or there’s a Dada movement going on atop women’s heads.
Let’s illustrate. In the US, it is very difficult to find a woman over age 35 who does not dye her hair. It may be difficult to find a woman in this category who will acknowledge coloring, who will acknowledge the nod to vanity, and the desire to maintain a degree of her youth through her enhanced locks. But it’s a public secret. Everyone does it. Whether it’s professionally done at a salon each month, or in the private of a bath every so often, it happens. And in many estrogen circles, it’s discussed.
“Oh, I love what you’ve done with your hair.”
“Have you gone lighter?”
“Is that a new color?”
And even American men are comfortable with coloring. For years there have been ads promoting virility through dark hair. Retired sports stars Walt Frazier and Keith Hernandez shill products, explaining that without dye, there’s ‘no play for Mr. Gray.” Can’t say I would know. Lucky genes, I guess.
But it is a whole different approach, and appearance, in Germany.
There’s absolutely no hiding one’s color. Sure, fewer mature women allow for a natural gray, but the bold streaks and bright blotches that seem to top the heads of German women of all ages come out of nowhere, It’s as though they were zapped in the morning with a smattering of red that rained down from the sky. Occasionally it’s purple, though that seems to be the preference of older teens, with long, dark hair, who want to make a statement by being different from their unnaturally read headed colleagues.
Just today a saw a woman at the market in the University town of Heidelberg who matched her purple hair with identically colored purple stockings. It worked, and was striking, but can you imagine women in America going this route?
And then there are those free radicals who go for a multi-colored hue. Perhaps a few strands of yellow to accentuate the purple tuft over one eye. Some different shades of red, a range of that aspect of the color spectrum, to note a unique style. Or a mahogany to contrast with jet black, either natural or artificial, for the goth look that you would have thought had left Germany centuries ago, when there were in fact Goths.
But it’s really the age thing that is fascinating. Typically, youth and seniors do not share many trends, habits, or customs. Find a teen who listens to the Stones, or anyone carrying an AARP card into Lady Gaga, and you know you have tripped over something special.
But with color and appearance, you could literally take the head of a student at the University of Leipzig and a train conductor in Bremen and swap them for another, and neither look would be different. Could we say that for a HS student in Atlanta and a soccer mom in Kansas City? I think not.
There must be reasons for the passion for bold colors, the sustained use of these colors by women of all ages, and the ability of many of these women to leave their homes without there being any consistency to the quality and evenness of the coloring.
That point, and how the coloring appears to be haphazard, and done too quickly with the intent to just brush over the previous color scheme that lies just beneath, is what really provides some shock value to those of us accustomed to seeing streaky hair only when blond is painted in. It’s literally as though they left the job undone, and decided nonetheless that it works for them. Hmm.
So while I am not sure today’s soundtrack is from Dylan’s ‘Blond on Blond,” it’s a bit closer to Springsteen’s bawdy ‘Red Headed Woman.”
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
“On the roof it’s peaceful as can be.” Carole King, Up on the Roof
It’s another cold and damp morning in Berlin. Seems to be the pattern. I suppose it’s Seattle with a disturbingly dark and still rich history. But without the coffee.
At the Hauptbanhoff, or central train station, there are myriads of options for the traveler. Fast food, fast clothes, papers, trinkets, souvenirs. A lot of junk, and a number of kiosk with information and assistance. It’s a busy place, with tourists leafing through, looking around at the modern glass structure. Inter-city travelers move briskly to get to their appropriate track.
But down on track 8, waiting for the ICE to Hamburg, there’s a dead quiet. Amidst this bustling city, above which move millions, a river, several large trains, and the weight of the past century, it is calm. Perhaps it is because I arrive early, for once. Germans are efficient, as we have been told. And the trains really do run on time here. Which means that if you have a 10:17 train, it will arrive by 10:13, and leave promptly at 10:17, regardless. So people know how to budget accordingly, and while they don’t tarry, they also don’t cue up early for these long distance expresses, at least not in the late morning.
So I seem to have the entire station, or at least a couple of tracks, alone. There is a futuristic feel to all of this. A Will Smith last man standing, minus the detritus and the dog. But it’s the sound that keeps returning. The absence of sound. The deadening of sound. The quiet that usually only comes with expensive Danish headphones, or post-concert ear ringing.
The occasional interruptions from the deliberate voice of the station master, announcing arrivals, making the rare announcement of an upcoming 45 minute delay on the Hannover train, only emphasize how otherwise quiet this significant station can be.
It is unclear to me how glass, steel and concrete can soften sounds, and create a studio like feel, but that’s what you have in the Berlin train station, below grade. It’s literally cool, as ambient air passes through, and the movement from bodies provides a sense that life does continue. But it’s eerie, it’s almost surreal, and it has the feel of a post-apocalyptic vision, one none of us want to experience up close.
And it’s nice, even though it is wholly unfamiliar territory. The question is, can I get used to it?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
It’s multiples day.
One time only.
Though we’ll see, for sure.
Leipzig is a dreary city on a good day. At 40 degrees with a cold rain, it’s downright challenging. But the multitude of Christmas markets inspire the public, provide sustenance, and add color to the monochromatic gray of this otherwise historic and still intriguing city.
And yet students await. They sit patiently in a small conference room, anticipating a 2 and ½ hour discussion on the American media and coverage of President Barack Obama. I am interested in the subject, but I can’t imagine anyone sitting through 150 minutes in another language on any topic. Well, perhaps Robin Williams in gibberish, but me on media and political coverage. Hardly.
But they waited, and participated, and questioned, and challenged, and inquired again. Students in Germany are not the students we think of when we think of college students. Though the Germany post-secondary system has recently undergone significant reforms, and is seeking to more closely mirror the UK and US schedule for courses and graduation after 8 semesters, there are still students toiling under the old system. That system allows students to continue with their studies for as long as they choose, as students qualify for significant benefits and subsidies by way of transportation, education, and rent. And in turn the typical German student does not complete her studies until she is around 25, much older than in the States.
So the students awaiting the good lecture were experienced radio journalists, many of whom had visited the US before, and were somewhat familiar with American media, and in their early 20’s, still working on finishing up their undergraduate schooling. They were more mature than typical undergrads, and more engaged in the subject matter and the material presented.
This led to a series of wonderful exchanges, curious inquiries, and somewhat confusing responses when the answers did not all meet with the expected retort to a question. Suffice it to say that the German students professed a love for the American NPR, a disinterest in commercial new radio operations, and a commitment to obtaining an internship in the United States.
We will see if they get there.
There will be the first in a series of four daily long train rides starting tomorrow. At that time I will begin to coalesce thoughts on the range of hair colors, dye jobs, and unusual visual presentations of head and hair that appears commonplace in Berlin and across Germany. It’s bold, but it loses potency with continued viewings and appearances. And I will try to explain in a way that is both fair and balanced, while recognizing style and criticizing shock for the sake of appearances.
It’s the 29th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. RAI Italian television has a retrospective. Even without translation, the story is universal. And the loss remains great.
Music still courses through the mind. Songs heard some time back, but not currently, seem to fill the void left by the quiet. Some Beatles, mostly melodic sounds from Roxy Music, Talking Heads, material from U2, Lou Reed, and even David Bowie have made it past the subconscious gates. The latter three primarily due to their Berlin based recordings from the 70’s, 80’s, and with U2, 1990. It’s a decent soundtrack, but needs an update with another screening of the Wenders classic ‘Wings of Desire.’
The muzak system in the hotel plays a rarely heard song back home, but a personal favorite with deep meaning. Springsteen’s ‘Secret Garden’ is a fave, but not for any anthemic like quality, but for it’s humanity, emotion, and depth. The Boss can bring it to the heart when he wants to. Great to butt this song up with ‘Red Headed Woman’ as part of a Springsteen ouvre. Each has it’s strengths.
Actually on the street, the sounds are more of silence and calm than what we expect from a major metro, one with almost 4 million people. It might be the languages. The harmony of alien tongues, allowing a non-speaker to move quickly past a conversation not understood. We seem to linger on conversations and dialogues we can follow. But when the language is foreign, it’s simpler to literally glide past, and avoid the awkwardness of not being able to communicate, or having to explain, and having to translate.
Italian, Vietnamese, plenty of German, some Russian, some Spanish, and I am sure some other languages as well that are too distant to even be understood. They all fall off the ears like rain on slate roof, while still providing a background, and a soundtrack, to the sounds of the city.
There are very few emergency vehicles racing about. Very few polizei, sirens blazing, hot to collar a suspect, or accost a disorderly person. In fact, very few visible police at all. Among the many contrasts with the United States, this has to be up there. Not a quarter hour goes by in a major US metro without hearing a siren’s wail, and seeing a cruiser race past. Over 48 hours in Berlin, there has been just one situation, and it seemed completely out of the ordinary to all the pedestrians compelled to stay out of the street for those moments when it passed by.
Behavior on the street similarly is distinct from that in the States. People just do not jaywalk here. Perhaps there’s good reason. It seems as though pedestrians are fair game in Berlin. While there are sidewalks, and crosswalks, and signs directly peds to walk or to not walk, there’s an inverted attitude towards peds from ours. This is a significant contradiction, as there is great German pride in being green, in being environmental, and in avoiding large cars, and significant driving. Yet if you take to the streets by foot, it’s you and your body weight against Hans’ Audi, Katerin’s Smart, or even Frederic’s Porsche. You can’t even categoriz the drivers by cars. You are just as likely to get run over by a grandmother in a Subaru Outback as a teen in a tuner, using American cars as the standard.
And bicycling is little different. I have a significant fondness for the two wheeled steel propulsion machine. Have logged thousands on a handful of rides. Even commute from time to time on one. But the way commuters used the dedicated lanes in Berlin you would think they were hustling to be on the autobahn. Forbid you err and cross into a bike lane, a folly easy enough done by shifting a few inches left or right while on any given street. The domino effect this could create is too great to fathom, let along document. The damage to your face, extremities and torso may well be significant. And you’ll be out of sync, and out of sorts, for days to come. So watch out for the mom coming up on your left, from behind, quietly pumping away, racing to get to her cubicle just off Friedrichstrasse, and to start her day.
Then there’s what’s hip, what’s cool, and what just passes. I can’t even begin to get started, but at least the old adage about sneakers being out in Europe is as outdated as that attitude. Which is a good thing for a recovering sneakerhead. And beer drinking, as to be expected, is a participatory sport in Berlin. It is widely practiced, starting with teenagers on trains, and including daytime workers in art galleries and studios, and tourists seeking a respite from a hard day’s viewing of art and other anomalies.
En route now to Leipzig, the ICE or inter-city train is super fast, and super quiet, both inside and out. Germans seem quiet, as though raising a voice will bring unwarranted attention. Don’t they know that’s the reason to talk aloud, to act out, to solicit perspective. Perhaps they do, and that’s why they don’t.
More tomorrow, I promise. Probably on hair dye, the German compulsion.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The words still have an allure. Overseas travel. Heading to Europe. Going to the continent.
And the reality can meet that attraction. It can. Once you’re at a restaurant in Roma, or walking along the left bank in Paris, or crossing through the Brandenburger Tor while in Berlin.
But getting there, well, that’s another story.
Airports have become large transit stations for us, the commuter rail centers for the 21st century. There are people rushing to make the last plane out, whether it’s Geneva, Frankfurt, or Brussels, it’s not all that much different from the 7:48 to North White Plains. Hustle, wait, clutch your gear, shuffle ahead a few steps, wait, oh, this line please, wait a bit more, strip down a bit more than you had planned before this many people, take a little radiation, recollect your stuff, and then resume all hustling and waiting, minus the clothes stripping.
Red carpets draped over heavy traffic carpeting don’t really convey respect for the elite flyer, nor distinguish a slot for those of us not airborne enough to merit star treatment. Overlapping and conflicting boarding messages from gate agents can either go unheeded, or more often, lead to confusion, herd activity, and a press at the aforementioned red carpeted gate. Flights booked with several hundred eager passengers are required to pass through one narrow corridor, steered into a line that may or may not move, may or may not test your patience, may or may not bump against you, and may or may not actually cause some pain and suffering.
The flight. Well, we’ve all flown. What else can be said. Though overseas travelers are still provided an unfortunate meal, and a bevy of beverages. That’s far better than what you get from the mainland to Hawai’i, a distance greater than that between Washington and Frankfurt, Germany.
It’s upon arrival that you realize you are somewhere else.
The faces have a different look. The eyes a different gaze. The clothes a different drape, and a different cut. The eyewear more intent on showcasing the designer brand. The hairstyles are distinct, and the colors are bolder, and often redder, than they should be. A quick glance while moving between gates reveals 20-something Italian men aiming for style and hipness, in that Eurotrashy way. A Mediterranean couple near, engaged in what appears to be an intense conversation. The man tired, and seemingly withdrawn. The woman, well, it’s hard to say how her face expressed itself, as she was wearing a black chador, with just a narrow slit for her eyes. Still, hand movement speak universally to meaning. Americans move aimlessly through the terminal, seemingly oblivious to signs and direction. The only Americans to whom this doesn’t seem to apply are the burly white males with short hair, mostly headed to a connection en route to Kuwait.
And don't even think about accomodations for special needs. For ramps, rails, or walkways. Got a 40 pound bag. Good, hump it up 30 steps to get to customs. Want to get on the train. Good, drag it back down 20 dirty steps to get to the Bahn. Lovely. Very old world, and delightful, of course.
There’s such an efficiency to all movement, that even while exiting passport control, it’s quite easy to find yourself outside the airport, and having to return through a separate area to be screened and admitted back to your connection.
Not sure if TSA could learn from Germany security, or the other way around, but each has it’s own eccentric behavior. While TSA barks reminders about what can be taken through screening, and how to pack the cart, German security is solemn, leaving you to guess what goes through the detector. Laptop. Yeah, that needs to be screened. Shoes, not here. Liquids? Same standard here. Belts? Well, you better take yours off prior to entering the magnetometer, as they will assuredly do a secondary search if you fail to pass this pop quiz of a test.
And then you’re back in, ready to grab a free newspaper (oh, that’s how they survive in Europe!), trip over information and food kiosks, and glare at overpriced yet duty free items that people no longer seem to use in this day and age.
Ah, overseas travel. It’s sleek and sexy, but in a cramped, crowded, and all too familiar way.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Recent postings have mostly been inspired by travel. The trend continues, for now, though at this moment the travel is of a different variety, and thus in a different vein. Or so the story says.
Thanksgiving travel can be the worst.
What with the crowds, the mad dashes, the time constraints, and of course that damned turkey related somnolent inducting situation that infects all on Thanksgiving.
And if you’re flying, add to that TSA, staff not entirely pleased to be working a holiday, and the psychology associated with thoughts and behavior over the holidays.
This can be a potent cocktail.
This year I was able to add an additional wrinkle to an already furrowed brow.
Bad enough that Brettt Ratner got to make three films with this title, now I had to star in my own feature, experiencing just about the worst our capital city has to offer right before I was set to head off on a six hour cross-country flight.
Wonderful. Just wonderful.
Now you have to understand that I love driving. I’m damn good at it. Driving. Even parking. Getting from A to B. Even from A to C. Can navigate without maps. Have great stories from the road from over the years. Even have a great car for driving, one that can hug the road, accelerate the heart, and still be efficient in this time of green. But fortunately I don’t have to commute for work, so I am able to avoid that daily grind, certainly that grind which involves bumper to bumper traffic for miles at a clip.
Until yesterday, that is.
The day before the day before thanksgiving.
So you would think the traffic would not be that bad, that people would not be jamming the roads and highways surrounding our fair city. There was no opera out on the turnpike this night, just a misting rain that slowed us all to zombie speed, testing the patience of those of us with hard flight times, and seriously causing anxiety and a not insignificant amount of stress.
15 minutes to get out of my zip code. 40 minutes to cover what typically takes 10, when traffic moves at what the professionals call ‘highway speed.’
All the way thinking, just a little bit of rain after dark, and the entire region is reduced to a bright series of red and white serpentine steel chains. While also thinking, are we gonna make it. And thinking further of John Candy and Steve Martin and about the best road movie ever made, sorry Bing and Bob, and hoping, hoping, I don’t have to end up sleeping next to a fat snoring guy. Anywhere.
At the 45 minute mark, which should have been the 12 minute mark, a turn onto the airport access road produced the first smile in quite some time. It was just about all clear ahead, nothing but state troopers and slow minivans to temper the pace.
And with not much time to spare, a few wasted moments searching for a suitable parking spot (don’t want the jalopy doors dinged any more, you know), it was on the shuttle bus, off to the airport, and the pleasure of checking in, stripping down for TSA, and trying to avoid being OJ in order to get to the plane.
Suffice it to say that the system worked, though there are plenty of bugs in it. Along with a fair number of cars, busses, uniformed security folks, and an occasional pleasant airline professional along the way.
Now, about that rental car operation at SFO.
Oh, yeah, have a happy Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
That’s just about all I know about Willie Nelson. The line from the ‘70’s. That and the fact that he likes pot, and didn’t like the IRS for some time.
Plenty of songwriters have written about traveling.
Jackson Browne had a great tune, also from the ‘70’s, called ‘The Road,’ in which he lamented about the loneliness, even amidst the groupies and acclaim.
Can’t speak for the groupies (does the woman providing complimentary beverages in the hotel lobby count?) or acclaim, or even for loneliness, but the road can certainly wear on the body, and the mind.
On an individual basis, this has been a year of significant travel. To date, two trans-Atlantic trips, one half-Pacific trip, two trips to the west coast, and numerous trips to the Midwest, New England, and the Gulf Coast. And there’s one more trip to California, another to Germany, and a holiday swing through several southern states still ahead.
In total this will mean over 100 nights away from home. Almost a third of the year. Most of this has been work related, though some has been for family, some for fun, and the rest some combination. The combination works out well, even when there are morning meetings, or long mornings traveling in advance of an afternoon lecture, or even a connecting flight to make it to a program or an event.
I was reminded of this, inadvertently, just yesterday. Following a lecture at the University of Missouri, a friend on the Mizzou faculty noted that by years end he will have logged 105 nights away from Columbia. I’m not gonna comment on whether that’s a good thing or not, but it did get me to thinking.
What I first thought of was what I see on the road. Not from 35,000 feet, but from ground level, when walking about, or talking with hotel staff, taxi drivers, guys working at parking lots, even folks on the street. Talking about the economy, and the challenges we all face, is surprisingly easy. People are more comfortable talking about this than you would think. It’s not sex or religion. Those are still tougher subjects. But the economy, and finance, it’s certainly open season.
Amidst our prevailing economic conditions, there are still crowds at airports, lines at restaurants, and congestion at hotel checkouts. But the signs of economic uncertainty, and worse, grow ever more clear.
Just this past week in St. Louis, downtown seemed abandoned by day, the hockey arena was literally half full for a Tuesday night game, trendy neighborhood restaurants accommodated walk-ins, and boarded up offices, warehouses, restaurants, and many, many homes (and even one brewery!) dotted the landscape.
The same could be said for the situation in Providence, where restaurants filled earlier in the year changed strategies by fall to accommodate paying customers, even if they were dancers and drinkers, not diners and wine connosours.
The other week in New York, there were fancy restaurants still crowded with patrons, people coming in for late evening reservations. On a weeknight. Wall Street types still wielding expense accounts. People celebrating the Yankee victory in the World Series, though I’m unsure if this was a temporary blip of spontaneous and public happiness to counter the chilled economy, or just the elation that comes with victory and success.
There were gallery openings, with people spilling out on the street in the East Village, Soho, and across Manhattan. Movie theaters drew film goers, Broadway theaters seemed to still bring them in, and 42,000 strong still came to not only run the fabled New York City Marathon, but to stay a few days, and take in the city and the sights. And that ain’t cheap.
But it’s all still a bit unclear. Unemployment is over 10% nationally, higher in industrial quarters. The stock market has roared back, but is that temporary, or evidence of a real confidence in a stable economy.
The off-year elections seem to portend a significant disaffection with incumbents, with anyone continuing to represent as a politician, and with anything that suggests an affiliation with Wall Street or corporate finance. Just yesterday a traditionalist like Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, asleep at the switch through 2007 when banking and real estate deals collapsed under his watch as Senate Finance Chair, introduced a huge bill proposing sweeping banking and finance reforms. Even the insiders don’t like themselves any more.
But do we see that concern on the street? Do the revelers to the ticker-tape parade for the Yankees last Friday, the people chanting ‘Wall Street sucks,’ on Wall Street, no less, harbor these same concerns? Or were they just engaging in ironic wordplay?
There’s an odd kindness to all of this. People seem friendlier. Not just in places like St. Louis and Baltimore, but in New York and Washington, DC. We seem more approachable, as though we’re somehow all in the same boat, from the former mid-town trader now out on the street, to the waitress looking for another shift in order to help make her rent next month. Immigrant cab drivers note their appreciation for being here in the United States, so we must still be doing better for those aspiring to make the middle class than for their family back home in Mumbai or Islamabad.
But the road does provide some great visual distractions. From the checkerboard farms you do see at 35,000 feet, to the fantastic cityscape that is Manhattan that is as wonderful on an approach in to LaGuardia as it in entering the Queens-Midtown tunnel. From the Atlantic ocean in fall over the eastern tip of Long Island, and then Block Island and tiny Rhode Island, to the billboards and rest stops that both dot and often mar our landscapes from interstates that criss-cross every corner of the nation.
From those with amusing cosmetic adornments to those who literally wear their team loyalty on their chest. From the tourist traps like Ozarkland in central Missouri, to decent seats at a Knick game at Madison Square Garden.
The sounds too. The accents at airports, the languages from across the globe, more often heard in New York than these other US cities, and the din of everyday life, from 4am garbage pickup in Manhattan, to the appended ‘sir’ heard more often in the mid-west than anywhere else, even to the all Bruce station on XM while crossing the heartland.
Willie Nelson had it right. I just seem to be on the road again. And it’s ok. Hopefully for the economy as well.
Perhaps next time I’ll write about food. You do have to eat when you travel.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Sung by harmonists Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel almost two generations ago, the lines come to mind to me with greater frequency these days.
We’re still a large and diverse country, even with our consolidated media, concentrated lifestyles, and coordinated schedules. Just because CNN is on in airports doesn’t mean New York has the same feel as New Orleans or Houston or Denver, or even Honolulu or St. Louis. Hundreds of miles can feel like thousands, separation from one another can become ever more evident, and we seek out private space in public places just so we can digitally link ourselves to hundreds of ‘friends’ with updates and reflections.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
Even with baseball blaring from overhead sets, watery drinks served in sloppy bars, and chain stores flogging identical shirts and books and curios, our airports reflect the character and the pace of the city in which they’re located.
New York’s LaGuardia is a dirty, disheveled mess, with rodent control devices strategically placed on seatbacks in waiting areas, security attendants either disinterested or overwrought by what’s going on around them, and passengers either thrilled to be returning home from the land of $11 domestic beer or excited about their once in a lifetime visit to the Big Apple.
Landing in Honolulu, let alone being on a flight to Honolulu, is just like being on a flight and landing in Vegas. Everyone is there to party. Young or old, fat or thin, American or international. Everyone is in good spirits, ready to feel the sand under their feet, sweet drinks across their lips, and the warmth of the sun on their naked shoulders.
So I looked at the scenery. She read her magazine. And the moon rose over an open field.
Well, New Orleans is another thing entirely. It’s said you can get a contact drunk on flights leaving the Big Easy late on weekends or first thing Monday mornings, from folks heading straight to Louis Armstrong from the French Quarter. All I know is that the smell of piss, that’s other people piss, by the way, is so acrid that it’s the closest reminder of New York’s Grand Central station of my youth. And that’s just on the welcome, before you even depart and enter the maelstrom that is the alcohol and tattoo and skin festival that is downtown New Orleans. Hell, the damn airport is humid, with low ceilings, poor ventilation, disengaged staff, and furnishings and adornments left over from the ‘70s. Even an impressive photo display on the role the airport played during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina response and evacuation is buried around a corner from the main corridor, en route to several restrooms. Again, think piss.
Houston. Well, Houston is another thing. But that’s Texas for you. Once another country, it retains that feel over 160 years on. Women’s hair challenge gravity, as well as style and modernity. Men’s girth know no bounds, no limits, no sense of decency. Conversation among Texans engage small groups, roping people in as if they had all been going to the same church on Sunday for years, held at decibel levels that must run up against the din of the aircraft around them. And I’m not getting anywhere near the clothing styles and personal habits you see in Texas. Not gonna do it.
Denver is a whole other thing. People seem to be in better shape in the Denver airport. Many are sunburned all year long, with weather worn faces, tougher skin, and infinitely more casual clothing. A cowboy hat worn by an older man in Denver not only seems real, it is real, and for good reason. The kids with their snowboards and overstuffed backpacks are also for real. The men in suits, few that they are, are probably not as they appear. Though not poseurs, they just don’t fit in casual country, the American west. And you don’t see many suited passengers, though you do see women with longer hair, less makeup, and bluer jeans. At all ages. Colorado casual, I suppose.
Sitting here in St. Louis, after two straight weeks of coast to coast travel, there’s a distinct Midwestern feel. Not a sense, mind you, but a feel. This place is perhaps what America once aspired to be. Business travelers mid-week almost seem stranded. But outside the airport, it appeared as though I was the only person making u-turns across double yellow lines all over town. The only person willing to risk a parking ticket instead of seeking change for a coin meter downtown. One night earlier this week, I was literally the only person walking six blocks early in the evening from my hotel to a restaurant for dinner, on streets so quiet you would have thought there was already an H1N1 curfew or quarantine in place.
But the relative tameness and sedentary pace set by the fine and ordinary people of St. Louis belies a further level of calm, of diminished expectations for the grand, or the wild, or the exceptional. Even the architecture here, while classic, is frozen in the golden age of 19th century industrial might, with a few early 20th century neo-classic buildings thrown in for what was then a modern touch, and is now just a reminder that the city, or at least what is left of it, is frozen in an earlier time, and a time that the rest of the country, at least the more engaged coasts, have long forgot.
They’ve all gone to look for America.
Airports capture us at a range of moments. They can strip us of dignity as we shed our clothing for inspection. They can examine our moods, and our patience, and our dietary habits, or preferences. And they serve to remind us of where we are, whether that’s in the rat-race of New York, the tranquility of Honolulu, the vastness of Texas, the openness of Denver, or the commonness of St. Louis.
And it’s good that homogenization hasn’t taken us over any more than it has already, the plethora of Wolfgang Puck fast food and Sam Adams pubs notwithstanding. Well, except in St. Louis, where Sam Adams is not a domestic brew. But that’s another story.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I had tried to go to each of the Opening Day games. Was even in New York for each. But, even with the sour economy, fans were bullish on baseball this spring.
So I waited. And plotted. And waited. And missed a couple of opportunities.
Finally, it was September, and action had to be taken. A fast one day trip took me to Queens, and the impressive Citi Field. Much has been written already about these stadiums, what they each sought to evoke, how much they cost, and what the hope is for profits for each team. For now, I’ll leave the business aside and just speak as a fan.
As barren and common as Shea was for all these past 45 season, Citi is its own place, with its own character, its own sense of history, and its own wonderful sightlines, playfulness, and space. This is a first class ballpark. From the Ebbets Field exterior entrance behind home plate, to the Jackie Robinson Pavilion, on to the plentiful food stands, restrooms, and wide spaces to walk, this park is welcoming and pleasant.
Designers continued the trend of turning the space beyond the bleachers, beyond the outfield, into a party zone. And with plenty of food options, lots of open space, and enough bars to keep fans drunk well into the second game of a day/night doubleheader (not that we’ll see any of those quite so soon), this zone works, draws fans, and presents the game on enough monitors to hold everyone’s attention.
As to the architecture, it’s just about all evocative of the place and the setting. The bridge motif works, and appears not only as the primary pedestrian walkway in right-center, but on the edges of the decking. It give Citi a local touch, and a reminder that just because a model is being followed with a retro-park, it doesn’t mean there aren’t individual components that stamp it as New York.
Over in the Bronx, the New Yankee Stadium is a breed apart. It’s a stadium on steroids. Just the footprint alone for this behemoth is greater by almost 50% the park it replaced. And while the dimensions for the field are comparable to the old Stadium, and even though there are slightly fewer seats, there are enough separations and sections and distances that you can find everyone and everything from a mullah to a mullet from the fancy seats down low to the reserved seats up high.
History is much of what is being marketed and sold with this park. The exterior goes back to the original park, opened in 1923, and does a good job reminding us of that classicism. Still, there are banners and placards noting current stars on the outside of the park, a way too small plaza on the 161st Street side, and a screaming need for a subway exit that brings you onto this plaza, not the other side, the old Stadium side. Couldn’t something be done about that by now, let alone by the opening of the season back in April?
As to the interiors, oddly, they feel cramped. Sure, there are elevators to race you to the upper levels. And the promenade goes for a bit, and access through the open scheme entrances goes smoothly. But when faced with a crowd, and that’s what you get at a Yankee game, a crowd, movement is slow, there are several choke points around very narrow tunnels in the outfield area. There’s a sense at times that you’re stuck in Madison Square Garden, walking around the 33rd street side to get from one half of the arena to another. Yet you’re in a brand new building that really should have no reason to compress people and create claustrophobia.
Another issue with the stadium is the constant shilling. Everything is for sale. It’s a combination Modell’s, Christie’s, and TGIFriday’s all wrapped into one. Here you can buy everything from a simple trinket, to a game worn uniform from the 30’s, to just about any and every food imaginable. The offerings are there. The question is, do you want them.
There is a wide array of beer choices, but from my seats in the upper reserved section, it seemed that I was limited to light beer, or gourmet beer, nothing in-between. That seemed odd, and I can assure you I checked to see the options in this category.
On a plus note, there was a green market on the lower level, with great looking fruit and some veggies, not just dried out or soggy looking things. Each food kiosk has a calorie count next to the item price, though I doubt anyone ordering an Italian sausage cares that it comes with 500 calories. After all, you’re gonna wash that down with a beer or two, light beer or not.
A humorous aside was the reference to Fries on each of the boards. There are no French Fries at Yankee Stadium. But there are Fries. American Fries. Go ahead, laugh, but in arguably the most liberal city in the country, or more likely the second most, there’s a strong and unambiguous international political statement that certainly does not go without notice.
And then there are the bars and restaurants. You want a white tablecloth place, you got it. Want a casino feel, you got it. Want a taproom, check. There are enough bars and restaurants to water the south Bronx for weeks. And that’s where the space comes from, space you won’t see from the field, or from the seats in the lowest bowl, separated by a concrete wall from the rest of the stadium. From the best seats, this place looks clean, new, and fantastic. After all, it’s the best money can buy. Your money, that is. But for the rest of us, this place comes up a bit short, not only when compared to Citi Field, but compared with what one expects of a Yankee Stadium, and what exists with recently opened ball fields in major league parks across the country.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
It doesn’t end with graduation.
It doesn’t end in the back seat of a ’71 Mustang, or the beach in Malibu, or even with the start of college, boot camp, or even cosmetology school.
Is just continues, and comes back to you at times. Sometimes it’s inopportune. Sometimes you know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Like you’re a deer in the headlights.
Back to school night fits that category when you have a child in high school, and of course make the obligatory annual pilgrimage to smile on the teachers so they treat your child like the prodigy you believe ‘the one’ to be.
You get all types at back to school night. The hard working dad, still in his suit on a late summer night. The workout addicted mom with the great arms and probably killer abs, who’s trying to figure out what to do about the lines in her face. The PTA moms who live through their kids. The parents taking a second or third free beverage, just because it’s there. The moms with the bad dye jobs. (would it have killed you to spend another 30 seconds on the side of your head, in front of the ears. You, yes you, the women I sat next to in the gym!) The kids dying for the community service hours willing to prostitute themselves for this club or that school activity just to be involved. The football players selling tickets to who knows what because they’re too cool to have a pitch down that works, and don’t they realize football is no longer the fall sport in this part of the east coast, anyhow?
There’s the teacher who used to be a party planner, still using balloons as the background of her powerpoint. And the science teacher who was so unintelligible, no one was able to ask him a question at the end of his presentation, as no one had a clue to what he just said. (I do have a great deal of sympathy for my kid in this class)
And then there's the gym teachers. They fit every stereotype. And then they add this to the mix. They take themselves seriously. They talk about posting the curriculum online. They talk about tests. They talk about the course. It's fucking gym. You either get hit by the dodgeball, or you catch the dodgeball. Has gym changed that much? Not by the look of the teachers, legs spread, standing as tall as they can, hands behind their back, looking trimmer than the other teachers, but probably thanks to the Under Armour gear more than any regular form of exercise. For the umpteenth time, Woody Allen was right when he said those who can't teach, teach gym.
But then it’s also about the wonderfulness of a community wealthy enough to put a promethium board in every classroom. But, still, has to tape a handwritten note alongside each board warning that it’s not to be written on with markers or other pens or inks!
Another type is the cautious and caring teacher, the one who warns parents about the problems at this school. Drugs? Sex? Pregnancy? Truancy? No, the silent agent this fall, H1N1, and the perennial favorite in these parts, the overindulgent parent who provides their child with the excuse necessary to stay out of school on exam day. This, it appears, is the big problem in our community. And it certainly speaks to the overindulgence of the parent, the coddling of the child, and the disdain it shows for both educators and the process of teaching and learning. I suspect it will continue to go on, as we know that every angle will be taken to get Missy into Yale and Skippy into Brown.
And then the evening ends, after you’re offered cookies and brownies and drinks and memberships and clubs and galas and trips and who knows what. You walk out into the preternaturally cool late summer evening, into what at first seems to be a nice, refreshing, open space. Then, right in front of you is a reminder of the way the kids are treated. Of what they have to deal with each day. Three very large security guards, evident to all by their embroidered shirts with ‘MCPS Security’ over the left breast on their XXXL buttondowns, arguing either with one another, or with a parent, over some sort of transgression.
There is no calm in high school. There is probably very little reason. There’s a lot of emotion, a decent amount of pheromones, way too much sweat, and a false sense of being in the universe. But not to worry. It doesn’t end. And by the look of it. Many people spend many years trying to get it right. Even if they don’t follow the rule, if you wore it back in high school, it’s more than likely not appropriate to wear now.
Now, where’s that Mustang.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Here’s a quick how to guide.
And none of this required repeated viewing of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the final episode of Seinfeld, any episodes of the Ali G show, or visits to the in-laws.
Go to the supermarket. Buy a lot of stuff. A lot of heavy stuff. Big jars and bottles and things. Don’t complain when the checker, a guy who looks like he just was cut from an NFL training camp, overstuffs each bag. Try not to exhale when pushing the cart out the door, even though it’s probably the most weight you’ve moved in a few months. (There’s extenuating circumstances there, but not for this post.)
Leave the cart while retrieving your car (remember the upscale neighborhood post from earlier this summer? It applies here. No one will steal your groceries in Bethesda. It’s my litmus test, and it works.)
Now here’s the thing. For the roughly 15 years I’ve lived in this neighborhood, and shopped at this one grocery store, on the trips in which I’ve used my car, I’ve just about always left the cart at the door, retrieved my car, and then loaded up the trunk with the food and stuff purchased.
Well, out of nowhere pops up miracle parking area bag supervisor boy extraordinaire. He’s wearing a Safeway shirt, perhaps even a nametag with the moniker provided by his parents some twenty years ago.
Now I don’t recall seeing this guy anywhere before. Not when I left the store a moment earlier. Not when I walked through the door 20 minutes earlier. Not on any of my hundreds of visits to this store.
But here’s miracle parking area bag supervisor boy not only ogling my bags, but beginning to fondle them, seeking out somewhere to take them, to place them, so the bags and the contents could have a good home until they would be consumed and properly disposed of.
So this is his job, right? I mean, where else, even these days, can a down’s baby get a responsible job, one that’s challenging. It’s really going to be bag checker, or bag loader. Something with bags, unless your mom was the Governor of Alaska, I suppose.
Again, I didn’t ask for miracle boy to appear, wasn’t offered the services of miracle boy, wasn’t asked if I needed assistance with my bags (a polite offer often made at the checkout at this store, but not made by the former NFL wannabe at checkout.)
So what did I do? I accepted the non-verbal offer of services by miracle boy, I opened the trunk, helped to organize a fire line of the bags from the cart from the wonder boy to me so at least these overstuffed bags could make it into the trunk before exploding, as opposed to landing on the stained and already pungent once dark asphalt tarmac of the parking area space I was temporarily using. This worked, everything made it into the trunk, organized as if it were luggage in the belly of a jet, and with a swift move, I closed the trunk, and made way to the driver’s seat.
Now, here’s the instant asshole part. I didn’t tip the kid. Didn’t even take the time to seek out a nametag, or say anything other than thanks.
Partly this was because all I had on me were a pair of twenties, obtained at the register checkout. I’m not one for cash, and I usually have a few bucks on me, but not at this time.
What to do? Get change somewhere? Be a real big asshole and ask for change for a twenty? Tip him a twenty? Blow him off? Thank him, and wish him well?
There’s no winning this, is there. And it’s even more troubling when you have the look of the bag boy in your eyes, like the last thing you see before you die, or blog, whichever comes first.
Does it matter in any way to hear that miracle parking area bag supervisor boy was a down’s child? Was he let down further by my behavior, or just accustomed to the rudeness of early 21st century life in the important Washington suburbs. At least the car he helped load the stuff into was a modest old Toyota, not some fancy new thing, one that cries out “tip me, motherfucker, or this car loses, now.”
But, still, it’s easy to be an asshole. Just see. Your time will come. We all have it in us. Some more than others.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
That's supposed to sting, but has GQ mattered since Level 42 broke up?
Under the header '25 douchiest colleges' the magazine proceeds to swipe and slime a broad range of schools, from large state colleges to elite academies to micro-schools.
It's actually quite funny, especially when it's nailing the other places, so it's with mock offense that I note what it said about humble Brown University, ranked #1 as the top douchiest school.* And I add that they mostly got it right, dammit!
Here's the copy from GQ:
Home of: The "Peace Sign on My Mom's 7 Series"
DoucheAffectations: A belief that grades, majors, and course requirements are just another form of cultural hegemony; using the word hegemony.
In ten years, will be: Living with your family in an old house that you quit your job to refurbish yourself (by overseeing a contractor) with painstaking historical accuracy in a formerly decaying section of the city that's recently been reclaimed by a small population of white guys in hand-painted T-shirts who are helping you put together a health care fund-raiser for MoveOn.org.
Douchiest course offering: English 200: On Vampires and Violent Vixens: Making the Monster Through Discourses of Gender and Sexuality.
Honorable-mention limousine-liberal institutions: Duke, Reed, Oberlin, Wesleyan, Bard, RISD.
*They wanted to rank Duke as #1, but didn't want to give it the satisfaction.
Monday, August 24, 2009
OK, summer travel season is almost over. But that means fall travel season is right around the corner. And those meetings you put off, that event you have to attend, that relative you must see, those trips are coming up.
Even with Labor Day flying estimated to be 3% down from last year, there’s still a bunch of us heading up to the once friendly skies, looking to get somewhere, on time, luggage in tow.
But wait. We all know the indignity that is airline travel today. Even Tom Wolfe parodied it from the perspective of a plutocrat brought down to earth in this months Vanity Fair. And for those of us who don’t have G5’s, or drivers, or stubborn faith (or time) in Amtrak, that mean we need a coach seat to get cross country, or to that conference in Dallas, or that show in Minneapolis.
So if you think that baring feet, and allowing pants to sag from stripping off your belt, and having to bag and limit the volume you carry of lotions and potions and notions of travel that was once romantic, then get ready for this update when it comes to traveling overseas.
A local television affiliate in Washington, DC, has this real winner, the kind of thing that might leave us running naked through a concourse, seeking a blanket from a flight attendant (for a fee, I’m sure) just to get past the indignity.
Tip: Register Items Before You Leave The United States.
If you laptop computer was made in Japan—for instance—you might have to pay duty on it each time you brought it back into the United States, unless you could prove that you owned it before you left on your trip. Documents that fully describe the item—such as sales receipts, insurance policies, or jeweler's appraisals—are acceptable forms of proof.
To make things easier, you can register certain items with CBP before you depart— including watches, cameras, laptop computers, firearms, and CD players—as long as they have serial numbers or other unique, permanent markings. Take the items to the nearest CBP office and request a Certificate of Registration (CBP Form 4457).
It shows that you had the items with you before leaving the United States and all items listed on it will be allowed duty-free entry. CBP officers must see the item you are registering in order to certify the certificate of registration. You can also register items with CBP at the international airport from which you’re departing. Keep the certificate for future trips.
And I am sure we’ve all been keeping receipts for our cameras, our shoes, our shirts, our pants, our eyewear, our laptops, all that we have that is now imported, and for which we just presumed it was ours, no need to justify.
Thanks, DHS, for sharing this new Customs and Border Protection initiative with us.
It makes last week’s requirement that we have to provide our complete legal name and DOB when purchasing air travel seem, well, dated.
Monday, August 10, 2009
How many of you can cite Mark Alan Stamaty.
For many years, going back to the mid-70’s, the cartoonist wrote a weekly strip for the Village Voice, I believe it was called ‘Guaranteed Overheard conversations.’
These were often amusing fly on the wall musings from a Manhattanite, picking up on the angst, the humor, the lust, the drudgery, the life of New York at that time.
I read it pretty regularly, and found it both enlightening and pretty damn funny.
So just this afternoon I’m making a run to the local supermarket to pick up some things. I only had a few items, so I was in the express line. I really did have fewer than 15 items, way less, which was good. Don’t you hate it when someone busy 47 items of just 3 products, and claims they’re just 3 things.
So I’m in line, and the guy doing the register in my line strikes up a conversation, with the cashier behind my back, in the next stand. At first this was offputting, but the conversation was amusing.
“Hey, man, ever been to Amsterdam?”
First guy is a medium skinned kid, around 20, heavy eyes, seems laid back. Second guy is real dark, short rasta curls, skinny as a whip.
“I’m going there in November. For Potfest. It’s gonna be great.”
By this time all my stuff had gone through, I’d signed and paid for my stuff, and I was loading it up into my backpack.
The young woman behind me seemed to look around 18, though I suppose she was 21, 22, even. Small white woman, buying one can of soup. I guess she’s planning to be a cat later when she gets older. Whatever.
But here’s the interesting thing. Little white girl who looks like she could do J. Crew ads, if she wasn’t 5’2”, listening to what these guys have been saying, jumps in to add some context and offer a warning.
“Be careful about the shops over there. They might have the stuff marked on the labels, but it’s a lot stronger than the stuff over here.”
So skinny little girl offers her wisdom, pays for her Campbells soup, and walks on out.
Wouldn’t have thought this clean cut kid had context on weed, let along experience in Amsterdam. Funny what you hear while waiting in the line in a suburban supermarket.
And we’re worried about a war on drugs 40 years after Woodstock? Perhaps it is time to legalize, tax, and regulate the damn stuff. Start in California where it’s the state plant, and let each state determine how to work with it, just like alcohol. Allowed by the feds, regulated at the state level. Doesn’t seem that it would hurt any more people than it has already, and if anything it might free up law enforcement in some areas, expedite judicial proceedings in others, and fatten the coffers in some counties and states across the country.
Where’s former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson these days?
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
How do I look?
Is there a correct answer? Of course. You look great. That’s the winner. It’s clean, simple, hopefully honest. It’s direct, and positive. Great has meaning, significance, potency even.
How do I look?
Other answers suffice, but none measure up to you look great. You could add an affectation at the end, so that it comes out you look great, darling, or you look great, honey, or you look great, scruntchums, all of which make it a bit more endearing, a bit more earnest, a bit more human and connected. You look great, dear, doesn’t do that, so avoid the irony, the sarcasm, even the hint of wry humor, particularly if it’s morning, and you’re each racing to get dressed and out the door.
Inappropriate responses include:
You look fantastic. Too showy. Too forced. Too gay, unless you’re in a same sex relationship, and then go for it.
You look fine. Might work if you’re into a 70’s Barry White phase of life. But if that’s still your soundtrack, get with the program, drop those platforms and poly bell-bottoms and upgrade to this century.
You look OK. OK? OK for what? That gets each of you nowhere. It sows doubt on your ability to provide free praise or offer a compliment at any time. It completely undermines anything else you might have been doing, saying, thinking for the past, oh, I don’t know, length of the relationship. OK is just not OK, never. OK?
I don’t know. OMG, what would you be thinking to respond in this way? Is there a tumor putting pressure on your skull, restricting blood flow to the brain, neutering certain cerebral functions? Are you asleep. Never respond to this question in your sleep. Who knows what you might be thinking, and you don’t want to suggest your lovely significant other leave the house in what you’re imagining at that moment. Are you just clueless? Have you never heard the question before? Are you just an inert, sluggish, wisp of a being, incapable of thinking, responding, and communicating with others in a way that engages and extends existing relationships? (if the answer is yes, just return to your Star Trek play set immediately, and leave interpersonal relationships to those with legitimate interest in one another)
Are you talking to me? The denial option could work, but if you’re in a store, a crowded store, and you’ve been dragged along on a shopping trip. If that’s the case, you’re in way too deep, and even feigning deafness, confusion, vertigo, or any other illness or malady, permanent of temporary, won’t cut it. If you’ve not only been dragged to the store, but are still there when she comes out of the changing room, and haven’t come up with a creative enough solution to get yourself out of this predicament (think, I’m venting), you’re a goner. You damn well better have a good answer, and it better be something that sounds like you look great. (For reference, think of the response Rob Corddry provided his wife in the Farrelly brothers’ remake of ‘The Heartbreak Kid.” When out clothes shopping with his wife, he said perfect, you look great, and added thumbs up and facial gestures to support the spouse. All of these are perfectly good options, and work well, depending of course on conditions and circumstances.)
How do I look?
Don’t say she looks good if she just doesn’t in that getup. It will come back to hurt you, in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. At a time of her choosing. And she knows it, and you don’t, so it’s doubly dangerous for you to try and lie your way out of the predicament. Or even just gloss over it.
So don’t wake up unarmed. Don’t ever leave the house for a weekend shopping spree unprepared. Protect yourself against those scare words. Those questions that can lead to pain, suffering, even banishment. Don’t become a victim of circumstance. Protect yourself. Knowledge truly is power.
Besides, there is no good answer, or right answer, or ….well, I hope you get it by now.
Tomorrow, we take on the mother of all questions. That loaded six word question, again, all single syllables, that goes beyond fear, creating sweat lines across male foreheads the world over. Tomorrow, should I live to see the day, we take on the eternal question, does this make me look fat?
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
But then there was Bruce Springsteen, Jersey’s Bard. Hell, probably America’s Bard, as at least we can understand him better than others who carried that mantle for years prior. In the mid 90’s there was breakthrough music by the Fugees. And then at century’s end we began an intense relationship with that remarkable television drama brought to us by David Chase. Where would we all be today without the Soprano’s, Jersey’s most favored drama, and a show that may have singlehandedly both reinforced the worst of a range of stereotypes while similarly documenting the reality of this existence for those either allied or related to it.
But all of them, and, yes, I mean all of them, may very well have been lapped by the short guy from suburban Trenton, America’s most trusted newsman, Jon Stewart.
Celebrated last week by TIME for this honor, Stewart acknowledges he’s not in the news business. But America may differ. Pretty soon Comedy Central may be able to supplant ABC News with the tired line ‘more Americans get their news from Jon Stewart than from any other source.’
Across the board, across the country, across even the political spectrum, Americans turn to Stewart, and his angry doppelganger, Stephen Colbert, for more than just some late night yucks.
Stewart is now at the point where he has transcended political comedy, leapt ahead of established news figures, and enshrined himself as a monumental force in our popular and civic culture.
A few years back ‘The Daily Show’ was pretty damn funny. Some cracks about politics, some easy laughs at George W. Bush’s expense, and then on to a celebrity interview. The show wasn’t all that different from the other late night fare, though it was shorter, and required cable.
Today, and this has been the biggest difference for this show over the competition, Stewart consistently books policy wonks, academics, and authors, and accepts their humor, or lack thereof, even as he seeks to probe how human these folks can be, and how willing they are to take a skewering.
Barney Frank was on last week. The Massachusetts Congressman is probably the funniest guy in the House of Representatives, and arguably the smartest. But it’s always tough to be on in someone else’s world. Look at what happens to politicians on Bill Maher’s show. Look at what happens to CEO’s when they come to Capitol Hill to testify. It’s tough on people to be on parade outside of their safe zone.
But Stewart manages to both make people comfortable enough to be willing to appear, comfortable enough to sit with him on the set, and comfortable enough to provide answers that feed back to a zinger, or to a substantive followup.
Frank held his own with Stewart. Hell, he’s from Jersey too, though that’s besides the point. What’s important is that Frank, the Chairman of an important House Committee, a representative of the Democratic leadership, a person who needs more media attention the way Jon and Kate need more kids, came on the show, handled his appearance admirably, and both pleased the host and the audience, a dual challenge that is not always met.
Last night William Kristol came on the show. He’s not your typical Daily Show viewer, or even the kind of person you would expect to see on the show. Kristol didn’t hold back on his politics. He discussed the subject of last night’s show, the woman who just didn’t quit as Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, in favorable terms, and parried with Stewart in an informed and amused way. Stewart worked with it. The line about Palin doing Stewart went over well. Stewart’s well timed response about having Cheney do him was one better, but Stewart gets paid for the humor, Kristol for the analysis, after all.
So it’s nothing new to hear kind words about Stewart or the Daily Show. It should be new and refreshing, though, to hear of this show as a seminal program, marking a transition from the days of stilted evening news anchors and traditional late night show hosts (Uncle Walter, Johnny, to name the best of the lot), and from the Letterman’s and Leno’s and even the Conan’s of the world, past the network and even cable news anchors, into this brave new world in which we live, where we are informed online throughout the day, and by late night, want to see all the substance processed and synthesized into tasty morsels of comedy, samples suitable for all in the family.
We’re in slightly unchartered territory here, and whether other television entities will seek to join the fray with similar programming remains to be seen. But watch what happens to Nightline at ABC News once the summer ends. Going tabloid and cheap might not hold up against the consistent humor and truth-telling that goes on each night at 11, and then again at 11:30 with the Colbert Report, over at Comedy Central.
Methinks they’re more than on to something. In fact, they’ve redefined late night, and indirectly are going to be changing the way news is seen and delivered for all.
Friday, July 17, 2009
One other thing we have is a very robust list-serv for our area public schools. It starts with the elementary school, then there’s one for the middle school, and one for the high school. We’ve graduated to the high school stage, so we’re getting postings about drivers ed, and college prep classes, and shared rides to tennis lessons, the usual suburban shit you would expect.
Every so often there’s a posting on this listserv that just stops you dead in your tracks. Up until earlier today, that one had been amusing, in a perverse way.
You see, everyone who posts is obligated to note their connection to the school. So once you post your query, or your comment, you add your name, and then the name of your child, or children, if your wish, and the year that child, or all your children, will ostensibly be graduating from the public school system.
Pretty simple, easy to understand, all comments are signed, basically, so you are accountable for what you say, what you ask, and if you are seeking a response, each respondent knows to whom their comment is going.
Now the amusing one was such because it was the sort of thing you just don’t think you would put out in the street. Sure, we all go to the doctor from time to time, or even regularly, if you have decent health insurance, a lust for people in white coats, or suffer from hypochondria. But this one person, this one woman in our neighborhood, someone I know, once posted that she was looking for a gynecologist, and was seeking recommendations from the listserv.
Now I’m all for vaginal examination, mind you, and even considered suggesting that I had a degree, and would take all sorts of insurance. But propriety, the law, and a disinterest in this woman’s 40 year old snatch kept me from responding, in any way.
Still, to me at least, it was pretty damn funny. Doesn’t she have friends to ask? Doesn’t she have a primary physician to run this by? In this case, this person had recently posted that her sister in law lived in the community, so you would think that might have been a person to turn to, privately, for a suggestion. No, apparently was the answer to all these questions.
But enough digressing.
Today, we have a winner, and perhaps all time listserv posting. Someone for whom reality is not a concept, but a guess. For whom no question is beyond bounds, no inquiry can be too naïve, no solicitation too bold. And, yes, this is verbatim.
“We will be driving to Buffalo in August and are trying to figure out the best way to get there (there is no direct way to get there on the interstate system). A friend has recommended taking US 219 part of the way, rather than the mapquest route. If anyone has experience driving to Buffalo and can recommend a good route, I'd appreciate your replying to me directly.”
Of course I have removed the name to protect the innocent, even though this person can hardly be considered innocent given how stupid she is (yes, I know the gender of this person, and no, she was not the person seeking a gyno), and how totally ignorant she is of anything from highway maps to AAA guides to I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike system, and the New York State Thruway.
So let’s make a game of this. What do you think the reason is for this person’s apparent inability to navigate arteries traveled by hundreds if not thousands of American motorists every week. And one I drove two years ago, so I know it is possible. Though I did it in reverse, which may be confusing to the inquiring mind.
Here are our options, though feel free to offer option (F) on your own:
A) too much termite spray when they moved into the house, and it has had a long term effect on their mental competency?
c) got hit in the head with a backswing at a corporate golf outing, suffers short term outages
d) never heard of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system
e) never been north of the Mason-Dixon line, ever
Respond accordingly. There may be a prize in it.
Monday, July 6, 2009
I recall poring over the sports pages of the New York Times, memorizing batting averages (how did Alex Johnson with the Angels win the 1970 AL batting title with a .329 average, and why do I still remember that nugget?) before I reached 10.
And at the same time, I leafed through sections other than sports to read the obituaries.
Back then only famous dead people were recognized. The mainstream papers are a little more democratic these days, and just about anyone with a life story, or with a good cub reporter on your tail, or corpse, is profiled. And this is all a good thing, for any number of reasons.
From Aunt Millie being recognized for raising a brood of kids, and being patient with her husband, and moving about the world every few years in response to her family’s every changing employment, or the sad story of a death way too soon, even on to the 1000 word pieces on celebrated figures from history, sports, and the arts.
Hell, just think about the attention we are giving the gloved one now in the third week following Michael Jackson’s death, and you know what I am talking about.
And every so often, something comes out from one of these obituaries that either reinforces a long forgotten memory, or a moment from history, or even just provides context to an old political fight, or a battle, or a court case.
An obituary from Sunday’s Washington Post provides a wonderful illustration. I had never heard of William Hutchinson. Didn’t know that he was living in Honolulu in 1941, that he was an editor for one of the city’s papers that fateful December morning when the American fleet was bombed by Japanese kamikaze fighters. Didn’t know that the Honolulu Advertiser was not able to publish on Sunday, December 7, 1941, due to broken equipment. That sure must have been frustrating. Imagine having an outage today that lasts for hours, rendering us unable to post for what seems like an eternity.
But that’s not the educable moment.
Remember back to September 11, 2001. For those of us living in DC, there were widespread reports of attacks and fires and detonations all across the downtown area. Rumors abounded of an attack at the State Department, on the National Mall, and up on Capitol Hill. Of course those reports turned out to be inaccurate, but they were reported nonetheless, and amidst all the hubris and tumult, were not knocked down until mid-day, several hours after first being reported.
For those among us who think the media just got it wrong with some facts on 9/11, note what was included in William hutchinson’s obituary.
The Advertiser was finally able to publish on December 8, a full day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and several editions behind their competition, a paper that had run several EXTRAS that Sunday.
And what do you think the headline was on December 8? Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor? Thousand of Sailors Killed in Japanese Attack? Pacific Fleet targeted?
No, “Saboteurs Land Here!” was the headline for the Advertiser. Notwithstanding that no saboteurs did land in Hawai’i that day, or that the story had details that turned out to be way off.
Mistakes are often made under the pressure of crisis. We all need to continue to work to avert them, to confirm, via multiple sources, the validity of what we’re hearing, and to do what we can as journalists to avoid freaking out the public. That’s never a good thing.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
later in the party, when the crowd thinned, and those with either too much time on their hands, or too much too worry about in order to get home, stayed on and congregated closely around one another, there were more intensive conversation than the usual pablum.
one person, a reed thin man, looking around 60, with an indiscernable accent, ended up sitting near me, and we struck up a conversation. turns out that Silvio is near 70, from the north of Italy, been on his own since the age of 15, speaks 5 languages fluently, not including Portugese, I was later told, and holds forth on a range of topics and experiences. born on a small farm in the Dolomites, as a child he carried buckets of warm milk to a cooperative to obtain goods for his family, skiied the Alps on handmade skis tethered by leather straps. and by december 10 of each year, they would slaughter the Christmas pig purchased earlier in the year, using every part from the animal, for food, soap, or trade.
this was where the conversation began, oddly enough, on recycling, and how in post-war Italy his family never had any waste. they used everything they had, bartered or made whatever they needed, and didn't leave a footprint. Silvio talked of a class a young friend of his was taking on environmental sustainment, and how similar what she was learning was to the way he lived two generation back.
yes, some things go around, and there's the old saw about the simplicity of life on the farm, in agricultural communities. but Silvio added that his village has changed, dramatically, over the years. he still visits the family that remains in the region. but where there was once just a mountain to climb in order to ski down, there are now a jumble of lifts taking vacationers to the summit, higher than Silvio was able to climb as a child. and there is no longer a family farm, replaced by automation, the success of the Italian economy in the '60's, among other things.
there was plenty more Silvio discussed, from moving to Venice to work in the hotel industry as a 15 year old. moving on to Paris to become a construction worker at 17. then on to Bermuda at 21. Spain, England, and Germany as well in his twenties. and then Rio, which was admittedly hard to leave, he acknowledged, before first coming to the States some time ago.
Silvio tells me his travels are far from over. he has stayed in Washington for going on five years now, and suspects that he will soon be in another city, in another country, within a year. it seems like a great life, with great experiences, and great perspectives. and one that appears to be easily shared, which serves as a learning tool for us all.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
That's you're just as lame a hack politician as the ones who almost preceded you in the United States Senate.
That you demagogued on race at a time that this country was beginning to accept the prospect of uniting on the issue. Someday.
That you may well have lied before the Illinois investigative body examining your pal (no denying that now, is there) Rod Blagojevich.
Here's what the AP says: 'Sen. Roland Burris says he didn't tell an Illinois House impeachment committee that he discussed fundraising for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich because, like any good lawyer, he didn't want to volunteer information he wasn't asked about.
Burris told The Associated Press on Wednesday it never occurred to him he should've told lawmakers in January testimony at the state Capitol about his conversation with the former governor's brother."
And your response, you weren't asked specifically. Really.
And to know that it follows your previous response that this tape exonerates you. Really.
Senator, you have some 'splainin to do.
Thanks, Seth Myers, for letting me steal your trademark line. Really.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
For those of you without a sense of history, that's when Nixon bombed the Germans at Pearl Harbor to win World War II for the Americans.
For everyone else, it's when Nancy and Ronald Reagan corralled the media, and were the darlings of the Washington elite and were well covered by my media forebears.
One of dear Nancy's pet projects was to get America's youth to cut back on those nasty drugs that kids were taking back then. You know, the kind of stuff that let you to believe Level 42 was a good band, or that Wham! presented danceable music, and even provided Simon LeBon with a mansion. Not the kind of stuff that would help you appreciate the whimsy in Elvis Costello lyrics, or the energy of the Replacements, or the beauty of Roxy Music.
The bad stuff, whatever that may have been, was what Nancy wanted us to stop doing.
And she went about it by chanting a simple message, 'just say no.' This caught on, due to it's simplicity, and the humor that many found in it.
But perhaps that message can be reclaimed, in time for summer, as I present ten television news shows we should just say no to.
1) Nancy Grace. Has she no shame?
2) Rush Limbaugh. Has he any decency?
3) Rick Sanchez. Has he ever seen his show? You need drugs in order to sit through that hour.
4) Glenn Beck. What's with the crying. There's no crying in news.
5) Larry King. It's hardly live. He's barely alive. And you've got either Ashton Kutcher or Joy Behar on just about nightly.
6) Anything featuring Donald Trump. No need to explain.
7) Diatribes by Joe Scarborough. Talk about letting success get to your head. Gingrich lite is too much to take, even in the morning.
8) news pieces based on anecdote, without more than one anecdote as illustration (ask if you want examples....too many to mention)
9) hype and hyperbole........to paraphrase Joan Rivers, can we talk
and saving the best for last
10) Nightline. It's a crying shame what's happened to this show. And it's an unbelievable paradox to learn that ratings continue to grow with this formula of tabloid and trash.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Event canceled after competitors flee
May 18, 2009
BRUSSELS -- The Belgian bodybuilding championship has been canceled after doping officials showed up and all the competitors fled.
A doping official says bodybuilders just grabbed their gear and ran off when he came into the room.
"I have never seen anything like it and hope never to see anything like it again," doping official Hans Cooman said Monday.
Twenty bodybuilders were entered in the weekend competition.
Cooman says the sport has a history of doping "and this incident didn't do its reputation any good."
During testing of bodybuilding events last year, doping authorities of northern Belgium's Flanders region found that three-quarters of the competitors tested positive.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
A representative for DC Mayor Adrian Fenty overruled a preservation committee's decision, and will allow the congregation to raze this brutalist box, and replace it with a design of their choosing.
While I can't speak for those who thought this was a good design back in the late 60's, I can speak to the great hideousness that this building presented, and represented. Like other concrete monoliths, it was imposing, uninviting, and even created it's own microclimate (wind around the perimeter, aromatic urine along the westernmost edge).
Good riddance, concrete box. Welcome, future ugly glass box.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
There are plenty of links to the video. Here's a quick transcription of her brief remarks.
"I am very happy that I have been released and reunited with my father and mother. I am very grateful to all the people who knew me or didn't know me and helped for my release. I don't have any specific plans for the time being. I want to stay with my parents. "
Hoping that she continues to rest and recuperate, and that she will plan to come to the United States for a long visit quite soon.
Monday, May 11, 2009
American journalist Roxana Saberi is being released from prison today in Iran, and will soon be heading back to the United States with her parents.
Following 100 days in the infamous Evin prison, Roxana had her 8 year sentence reduced and suspended today by an appeals court.
While there are many questions that remain to be answered by the Iranian authorities for actions taken over the course of these past 100 days, I am glad that Roxana is free, and that she will again have the opportunity to live her life.
I hope that Roxana has not lost the remarkable qualities she had, and the hunger and curiosity she had for learning and reporting. Roxana is an exceptional person, and hopefully her time in solitary and on a 14 day hunger strike did not cause any long term damage to her mind, body, or her spirit.
A huge shout out to the fantastic students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism who came up with the idea for organizing a hunger strike on Roxana’s behalf, so that she would not have to suffer; to Simon Marks with Feature Story News for his consistent and conscientious support for gaining Roxana’s freedom; and also to those US elected and appointed officials who helped to keep the pressure on Iran, and attention in the media, on behalf of Roxana.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
It has been 100 days since American journalist Roxana Saberi was seized by the Iranian authorities and thrown into solitary confinement. Last month, after a one hour trial she was convicted of spying for the United States.
Over those same 100 days we have seen a slight unclenching of the fist gripped around Roxana’s neck, but even a firm grip can cripple, or kill. It can certainly kill the spirit, something Roxana once had in abundance, and something she can hopefully reclaim when her captors free her from the Kafkaesque nightmare that has been her daily existence since January 31st.
This Tuesday, in Tehran, Roxana’s case will be heard on appeal. While she is no longer on a hunger strike, she is weak, weary, and angered by the allegations that have imprisoned her and tarnished her reputation.
Roxana first came to our attention back in 2002. She was just starting out in broadcast journalism, working as a local television reporter in her hometown of Fargo, North Dakota.
An all-American girl, Roxana was a soccer star, an accomplished pianist, and - as has been noted - a 1997 finalist in the Miss American pageant, competing as Miss North Dakota. But when you met Roxana, you didn’t hear about any of this. What you heard were questions about work, about journalism, about reporting.
During a professional development program run by National Public Radio, she stated her goals: "Think less about my image, and more about the value of my story. Discuss issues with a variety of different people. Tell myself to be less self-involved".
Deciding she wanted to report from her father’s native Iran, Roxana applied for an Iranian passport and began to study Farsi.
In February 2003 she arrived in Tehran to open a small news bureau, and was soon fully-accredited by the Iranian government. Equipped with a small video camera and a laptop computer, Roxana quickly established herself as a formidable one-woman operation, sending back a stream of stories to networks here in the United States, as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
She also used her time there to learn more about her family's culture, and about the complexities of both Persian and Iranian society. She regularly traveled within Iran, as well as extensively across the Middle East, in Europe, and annually returned home to spend time with her family in Fargo.
Roxana was the consummate news professional. She carefully negotiated the often-complex journalistic rules of the road in Iran. And the Iranian government knew exactly what she was doing. On the morning of June 25, 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerged from his home to celebrate victory in Iran's election, Roxana was there with her camera, literally inches from the smiling new President.
Roxana's dream job was first interrupted in June 2006, when her credentials were suddenly revoked by officials at the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, which oversees the activities of foreign journalists in Tehran. Less than a month later, Roxana was issued new press accreditation, permitting her to work as a freelancer for the BBC. A few weeks later that press card was also revoked. Again, the authorities furnished no explanation for the decision.
Though she had options, Roxana decided to stay in Tehran, beginning research for a book about life in Iran. She also continued to provide NPR and ABC Radio with occasional news reports. Iranian authorities were reportedly aware of that work, and yet they not once intimated any concern that she was at risk.
When she was suddenly arrested on January 31st, reportedly for purchasing wine, Roxana was denied her rights under Iranian law. Illegally held in solitary confinement, she was not allowed a hearing with counsel and denied access to anyone else. After ten days she was finally allowed to contact her family in Fargo. This brief call confirmed the worst fears of her parents, though they heeded Roxana’s advice to keep quiet. Roxanna maintained that this was a small matter, something that would be over in a few days, and not anything about which they should be concerned. But after 30 days, and no further contact from Roxana, they realized the gravity of the matter, and brought Roxana’s situation to the world.
Her sham trial occurred without warning. Whenever Roxana or her defense attorney attempted to speak, they were interrupted by prosecutors. Neither her parents - by then in Tehran - nor any independent observers were permitted in the courtroom. Within an hour, Roxana was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail.
Roxana went on a hunger strike on April 21 to protest her treatment, conviction, and sentencing. Though she was buoyed by the support she has received from Northwestern University students, journalists, and hundreds of others around the world who had been fasting on her behalf. By the time she ended her fast, Roxana had lost over ten pounds from her 100 pound frame, and is still considered weak.
There have been loud calls for Roxana’s release, from capitals in Washington, London, and across the globe. Visiting diplomats, in Tehran, have urged the Iranian court to release Roxana.
Roxana’s case is a travesty of justice. Roxana Saberi is no threat to Iran, and is certainly not a spy. We urge the Iranian Justice Ministry to provide Roxana with her full rights to appeal her case, and insist that she be released from the Evin prison immediately. Transparency is the buzzword in Washington these days. It can still be applied in Tehran as well, with the release of Roxana Saberi from prison.
Passport DC went off this weekend without a hitch, with a gap in the rain for a few hours, and with plenty of lines and smiling faces outside of a host of (mostly) European Embassies up and down Massachusetts Avenue (or Embassy Row, if you insist).
Crowds were comparable to last year, the tour busses seemed to move people along, and there was not one complaint heard about lines, security, or even the pre-sweltering DC heat.
Best line of the day was from the security guard at the Danish Embassy. Eyeing the one pound (or was it a kilo?) bag of peat provided by the British Embassy, the guard said the Embassy was weed-free today. What a punster. Security guards usually have all the best lines, right?
Still, doing something as boring as walking through an Embassy residence, or courtyard, or plaza, on a Saturday, along with thousands of your not bff's, is what DC is all about.
So embrace it. Take what you've got, as in lots of fancy buildings all around upper Northwest, open them up to the masses once a weekend every year, and, presto, instant hit, instant annual event, and fantastic PR for the Embassies, for international relations, and for opening up one of DC's secrets, the Embassy Tour.