Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Sounds Like Old Times

March 30, 2011


I can hear this baby now. Can you?


My lifelong interest in the past, all things old, and the musky smell of old newspapers in some out of the way library somewhere, sooner or later, had to lead me through all the ways we experience life through our senses. One doesn’t merely read or think about the past, whether it’s the Civil War, local history, family matters, or the journey of American baseball from the pasture lands to the city. To grasp the past as closely as we are able, and without a physical time machine, we must be open to ways that enable us to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, and, yes, hear it too.

And, if you have a sixth sense, plug that one in as well. That sixth sense may even be the key to learning how to tune in your five physical senses to the same daunting challenge. In fact, and here’s what I have found, the more free you are to play with the five senses in your mind, the easier it is to make room for a total sense of what some moment in the past may actually have been like.

Let’s take a simple example that surrounds many of us daily to explore how this works, especially in the attics of older homes.

Most attics are not visited too often. In that sense, attics are like little time capsule pictures of what things were like on the last day anyone went there to place, remove, or rearrange things. In Houston, we probably have some unceremonious attic arrangements in places like River Oaks and the Heights that have not been reconfigured since the 1930s – or even the 1920s.

So what?

So, assuming the owner’s permission, or being the owner yourself, go to such an attic storage place. Turn on the light, or bare open the usually paint and dust caked attic window, if there even is one. See what you can see. Try to imagine how each item got there. Who left the empty coke bottle on that two by four ledge over a half century ago? Smell the musk of age and air confinement. Sense the heat. Depending on the time of year, the attic temperature may not be especially conducive to long visitations. There also will be things in sight that you certainly would be afraid to taste – or even touch.

But what do you hear? If sound from the outside yard and street is available to you in 2011, what was out there in 1937? Would you recognize the sound of manual lawnmower blades, if your heard them? Would you be surprised by the louder, more guttural  sound of car engines from the 1930’s as they passed by? How about the music of Benny Goodman or Guy Lombardo playing over a radio somewhere and now wafting its way to the attic?

And who was the child that once played with that little mechanical version of Donald Duck that you’ve just found and wound and sent quacking across the attic floor? Do you now think that same kid may have also had a daddy who once owned and then stored a copy of the famous 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card somewhere up here in this same attic?

Are you catching a second wind on that thought and thinking you may want to stay here and visit the past a while longer? Or is that just the lust for buried treasure taking over?

No matter what, when you finally do come down from the ancient attic, did the use or idea of using all your senses help you do a little simulated time traveling? If so, you are probably now better prepared than ever to do some kind of historical research. Once we learn to turn all our senses on to the time period we are investigating, I think we learn faster and, in some cases, we see connections we might otherwise miss altogether.

Just my wide open mental meanderings on a sort of rainy morning in March 2011.

Working on Income Taxes

March 22, 2011

Just Thinking How the Government Uses Our Money Only Makes It Harder.

Few things stop me from coming up with a new pretty much daily column subject here. Church on Sunday will do it. And sometimes other “real work” gets in the way, but neither of those routine weekly events dampens my spirit. The only one that does comes annually and its the ancient partner of death in that old saying about life’s inevitable occurrences.  The government likes to call them taxes. We the People are free to call them anything we choose, even if our words are sometimes unprintable.

I’ve been working on my taxes for about five long days straight and I just got finished with my part – the annual “book” I send to my CPA for her always preferable finishing touches.I haven’t done the completion of my taxes alone in years – not since I finally figured out that the government is always going to make it a little more complicated each year than I care to spend my time learning. My job is to stay on top of what my money is doing, and not doing, and make adjustments, with counsel, when advisable.

It always feels good to get my data work ups in the mail to my CPA. She always seems to find ways I can save further based on some new arcane ruling or policy – and that makes me happy. My life, and my business approaches, are constructed on a simple two-step plane: (1) Be honest and (2) Stay honest. It’s worked so far – and I’m not likely to change course now.

I just don’t like the tedium of working with money and stock numbers. Unlike baseball stats, I find stocks, bonds, and most real estate about as devoid of  romantic investment as there is. I realize that’s not true for everyone, and I respect that fact. They just don’t push any passion buttons for me.

What makes it harder is if I get off the track when I’m “doing taxes” and start thinking about all the things the government is going to do with our money once they get their hands on it.


Everything from the congressional gravy train to $400 hammers purchased by the Pentagon to time share camel rides for Terrorist insurgents in Afghanistan come to mind and those abuses take away all smiles.

Oh well. Unless we are going to have a revolution, it’s best to just do our taxes, pay our taxes, and go back to thinking about baseball once we’ve placed our checks in the mail.

Have a nice day, everybody!

The Orange Show for Visionary Art

February 15, 2011

The Orange Show, 2401 Munger St., Houston, TX.

Like contemporary art itself, The Orange Show in Houston does not lend itself easily to a neat and complete description that would mean much to a number of readers. Aficionados of the normal Houston Homeowner Association neighborhood would scream at first glance. This place has nothing to do with “fitting in,” or blending its exteriors into shades of grey or brown-tone fade for the sake of sameness – and it’s been that way at 2401 Munger Street in the Houston East End off the Gulf Freeway before you get to Telephone Road wile heading south since 1956.

A fellow named Jeff McKissack was the father  of The Orange Show back in 1956, when he started collecting and bringing home all kinds of paint and other building materials from demolished Houston architectural sites and began the conversion of his place into an ongoing, living tribute to the fruit orange, the color orange, and/or all things colorful in life. The former Houston mailman also had a background as a welder in the Houston shipyards after his tour in the military during World War II and he possessed the kinds of skills needed for converting vision into actual works of contemporary art. His whole house became a living creature of the art that originated in his mind, heart, and soul.

Lesson Number One: If homeowner associations controlled every square inch of urban life, there would be no spontaneous art in Pleasantville.

Orange Show Founder Jeff McKissack (1902-1980).

Ironically, McKissack’s major basic work on The Orange Show took place during the late innings of Houston’s reputation period as a killer of anything architecturally classic for the sake of more space for parking lots, strip centers, and billboards.

Lesson Number Two: Artist Jeff McKissack was building for Houston history while many Houston entrepreneurs were tearing things down for little more than their own personal gain.

It’s not really clear if or when the business of creative intent began to take over McKissack’s plan as an active effort to take his art to the people, rather than simply allow them to find it, but he opened his home as “The Orange Show” on May 9, 1979. To his disappointment, Houstonians failed, at first, to flock like flies to honey when the production opened.

McKissack withdrew in disappointment. Seven months later, and only two days shy of his 78th birthday, Jeff McKissack died of a stroke in the middle of his apparently stillborn creation, The Orange Show, on January 26, 1980.

Lesson Number Three: For The Orange Show, the death of founder Jeff McKissack turned out to be a Phoenix Bird experience.

Within a year of McKissack’s death art patron/civic leader Marilyn Lubetkin rallied a diverse group of Houstonian supporters to save The Orange Show for posterity. Along with people like Dominique de Menil to the rock group ZZ Top, a consortium was put together to purchase the stilled, but still vibrant Orange Show property and its collections from McKissack’s heirs.

The Orange Show Foundation was established in 1981 to re-open The Orange Show and promote support for its programs of contemporary art and art education to children. Today the Orange Show continues to flourish in the East End as a tribute to a Houstonian who believed in art and the expressive preservation of Houston hero.

For further information on The Orange Show and its range of public art programs, check out their official website.

Jeff McKissack and my dad weren’t too different by way of background. Jeff was a little older than Dad, but they both grew up in small towns and moved to Houston as a result of World War II. Both were welders; both worked in Houston shipyards; and both bought property in the East End as places to raise their children. Both also found other income-producing lines of work after the big war ended and settled into lives as the men who took care of their families.

Like McKissack, Dad had a talent for art and storytelling too. He simply never gave himself permission to act upon these abilities until a heart attack later almost took him totally out of the game. And then he put them away again, once he recovered from the immediate threat of death. Like a lot of people, Dad had to almost die to take a peek at life outside the box. And maybe that was enough for Dad. Who am I to know or judge?

All  know is, thank God for Lesson Number Four: Jeff McKissack brought Technicolor, but especially orange, to the visual history of Houston. Hope you take the time to check out The Orange Show or its annual art car parade someday. I think you will have a good time.

On The Street Where You Live

February 12, 2011

Street Scene: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Do you remember those beautiful street scenes from the 1944 movie classic, “Meet Me in St. Louis?” They depicted how “nice neighborhoods” supposedly looked back in 1903-1904, when St. Louis and the rest of the nation was innocently building toward a better America tomorrow. The pictures struck a chord with the likes of artists like Norman Rockwell and the earlier Currier and Ives, who were already dreaming pretty much full time of a “White Christmas” for all real Americans, even for those who lived in the Florida Keys.

Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians didn’t enter into the picture of the American “way of life” back then, except to appear as service people to those fine folks who lived in Judy Garland’s old stomping grounds at the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. And, if I remember correctly, the only two service people who appeared in the St. Louis film also were white. Marjorie Main played the family’s housekeeper-cook and Chill Wills played the milk man.

Street Scene: West Side Story (1961).

Seventeen years and several thousand social changes later, America still struggled with civil rights and immigration issues that were changing the acknowledged face of our country. By 1961, still the pre-dawn hours of great legal and social changes that would soon jolt the loud and quiet lifestyles of racial segregation in the South and North, moviemakers honed in on racial issues through movies like “West Side Story.” The good news behind the west side story, I guess, is that, if you can make a movie about people singing and dancing before they kill each other, then maybe there’s hope for working things out in a more civil form, somewhere down the road.

I don’t have any racial profile pictures of street scenes from 2011 and I think that’s great. Our own neighborhood, indeed, our own household is racially mixed. Like most places in Houston, we know some of our neighbors, but most are strangers in transient residence. From what I can see and know, we’ve got just about every ethnic, racial, and religious base covered to the “nth” degree on our street – and, at twenty-five years and counting, we remain as the senior time residents on our block.

What matters to me is how we value each other’s right to be different from one another and to have the right to live our lives as we see fit, as long as our wishes do not intrude upon the freedoms of our neighbors. I seem to get along and become friends with people who understand and also value that same little two-step – but not so with those who want to tell me what America should look like – or how I should live or vote.

Relatedly, a new neighborhood question is arising with advances in technology and communication over the Internet. I am reminded of the fact quite strongly by an e-mail I received yesterday from an old high school classmate, Vito Schlabra. It contained a link that will show you if any of the people in your neighborhood have a record as convicted felons – and it will give you their names, locations, and the nature of their specific  convictions too.

All you have to do is click onto this link and then type in any American street address at the top of the page to check out any area of interest:

Several arising questions, among many, are as follows: Do you think making this kind of information available is a good idea? Do convicted felons have a right to seal away their past records after they have served their prescribed time? What about people who have been convicted of crimes against children, convicted arsonists, or people found guilty of home invasions? Do these people need to be publicly identified forever? And, hey, what are we going to do about it, if we don’t like what we find out about our neighbors? That’s the big “so what” question we have to embrace sensibly about this kind of information. along with, – “what about people who may get wrongly identified as convicted criminals – or people who move into houses that remain identified as the homes of convicted criminals who formerly lived there?”

It gets pretty tough to see the merits of a database that could be so easily misused. In fact, my use of the link here does not come with any warrant that the information is accurate – nor is it intended to defame anyone whose name appears here through this data source. It is just a another fact of our life in these changing times. And we have to actively decide how to use this technology before it robs us of the choice by its very existence and widespread use without much thought.

With all those delightful little thoughts in mind, have a nice weekend – on the street where you live – wherever that may be.

And one Big PS: If you have time today, please join Jimmy Wynn and me at Barnes & Noble in Deerbrook Mall in Humble today. Jimmy will be there to sign copies of his book, and one other item for book purchasers from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM today. It was my humble honor to work with Jimmy on “Toy Cannon: The Autobiography of Baseball’s Jimmy Wynn” and I would also enjoy meeting any of you who made the effort to join us and also hear Jimmy talk some about the book and his life in baseball.

Deerbrook Mall is located out Highway 59 North at the 1960 exit.

If you cannot make it in person today, here’s a link for ordering Toy Cannon through Barnes & Noble:

Mrs. Brown’s Possum Tale

January 20, 2011

Neal Brown and her dog Kazza

Neal Brown is one of my oldest friends. She’d have to be. We’ve known each other since both of us were young pups. I met her in the months following my master’s degree graduation from Tulane in 1964. Another of my old friends, the late Jerry Brown of Ole Miss University, was back in New Orleans to finish his own degree program and, by then, he was married to Neal. And that’s how we met.

Jerry and Neal eventually settled in a home they built with the help of their two children, Heather and Hillary, in a beautiful forest, somewhere in the piney woods of Mississippi. When I say built it, I mean they literally brought the materials from the city to their homestead site and built everything they could by hand with instruction from books and the advice of live experts. They may have needed to call in electricians and plumbers for help with the more technical aspects, but they did 95% of the hard work themselves. If you ever saw the house, which I once did in June 1982, you would almost sense the love and care that went into the place with every driven nail.

Jerry and Neal always dreamed of a home that came without a mortgage and they found one. It was right at their fingertips. With their own intelligence and willingness to work put in motion, the job got done over time.

And where did “Mrs. Brown” acquire the usually male name “Neal” as her identity?

Neal’s real first name is “Mary,” but she started using “Neal,” a family name, as her personal identity choice way back in high school in Arkansas, long before she went on to Ole Miss and served as the head baton twirler in the school marching band on her way to a degree in education.

The girls grew up, went to college, and moved away to their own lives long ago – Jerry Brown passed away from cancer on 9/11/2005. Neal Brown has stayed on in the house and  her life in the forest, along with her pet Rotweiller, Kazza, and several cats, I believe. She also keeps chickens and other small farm animals, and does most of the maintenance herself, in spite of “her” advanced age. She attends church, does volunteer work at a nursing home, and she socializes with friends in a nearby little town, The rest of the time, she’s out there in the wilderness, having adventures that only the wilds shall bring. Now retired from regular employment as the director of a baton twirling school, Neal stays in close regular contact with her married daughters and several grandchildren – and she also has time for e-mail contact with her distant friends in Texas and other places. These come in the form of true storytelling.

People in Neal’s neck of the woods are usually true storytellers. They read a lot. And they live their lives in narrative contact with the daily flow of things. Neal Brown is one of those true storytellers; so much so that, when Neal sent me this latest tale yesterday morning, I had to ask her permission to reprint it here. She was obligingly willing to allow it’s reproduction here as  guest columnist for The Pecan Park Eagle. All I’ve provided from is the title and the publication space. Hope you enjoy this brief glimpse of the American forest world through the eyes of one resident, my wonderful friend, Neal F. Brown:

“Mrs. Brown’s Possum Tale”

by Neal F. Brown

At 4:30 a.m. this morning I woke up, went into the kitchen, turned on my coffee, made a cup, picked it up, took it to my bedroom crawled into my bed,  started reading a new book by Stephen Hunter about a cop in Arkansas.

Before I returned to my reading, I saw my one of my cats, Fluffy, outside the kitchen sliding glass doors, begging for breakfast, along with Maw Maw, ( my only cat that I can touch). So, as per usual, I place a small container of cat food by the door.

Whenever I turn on the lights in the kitchen this early, Fluffy shows up for breakfast.

I went back to my book that was turning out to be very entertaining, but about 5:30, I was feeling hungry and decided to get up to start my own breakfast, Kazza the Rotweiller was still asleep on her posturpedic bed in my bedroom. That was when all hell broke loose!!

I went to the sliding glass doors to check out the cats because, when they are finished, I put away the containers because my two pet chickens always get up with the sun and fly down from their tree perch. They will want to finish off the expensive cat food instead of their grain that I put out every day.

I opened the door, just like I do each mourning, but this day was different!! Those were not two cats eating breakfast! They were two POSSUMS!  Suddenly, one of them took off over the veranda, but the other one RAN BETWEEN MY LEGS INTO THE HOUSE~~ My blood pressure was soaring because I don’t like these animals. (They have very sharp teeth, and they can really growl when they get angry!).

Meanwhile, Kazza comes into the kitchen to see what is going on, and she immediately realizes that something has transpired on the veranda, and she takes off leaping off the deck onto the patio, and she is growling, with her hair straight up off her back, and she runs to the red berry tree, and then to the tall oak. She is jumping up and growling, and I think the possum must have climbed the tree!!

Meanwhile, I am up a creek here.  The possum is in the house, and, if he runs upstairs, I will NEVER CATCH HIM.This is a big old farm house with a million places a possum could hide, for YEARS!!

My first instinct is to close all the doors to the two bedrooms down stairs, and the two closets, and the utility room. (Once, many years ago, I went out to the barn to feed the horses in the dark and accidently brought the bucket back into the house, placed it on the floor. Out jumped a HUGE WOOD RAT. He was in the house for a long time, and it was during the winter. He was chewing every night and I was going crazy..Jerry would not do anything except go to the store later and buy a huge trap, but the rat would never go to the trap!!  Then, one night, I had all I could take, and I went downstairs and started yelling. I opened all the sliding glass doors upstairs and downstairs and the front door, and I said,  “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Well, even though it was freezing outside, the rat left. He wanted out – and I figured out how to get him out, but that was 20 years ago and Jerry is not here to help me this time!

Back to the possum in the house.

I am not sure where he is, but I know he did not run into those rooms, and they are secure now.  Should I call Kazza back in, or what?

I start looking everywhere, and then I see him..He is hiding next to one of the sliding glass doors that is locked and secure, and he is behind the trash can in the corner, where I keep the bird seed.

How to get him out?

Will he go out or run toward me and escape to the upstairs? Kazza is still outside with the possum up the tree, and she is growling like a mad bear.  If I bring her in, will she start chasing him? If so, up the stairs he may go.

I decide to get a broom and try to unlock the sliding glass door, but before I do that I open the front door, and the other two sliding glass doors (remembering my rat in the house time) in hopes that, if he makes a run for it, he will run through one of them.

The broom may scare him, and I am scared too. I took the broom and tried to get the lock to open, and finally it did. Of course, the possum was  behind the trash can, and hiding, feeling pretty secure there. I was able to get the lock to release, and then open the sliding glass door. All he has to do now is to run out!! But he is very stubborn.

He keeps hiding.

I am beating on the trash can, and trying to reach behind it and hit him, scare him, and make him run out. Suddenly, here comes Kazza.

Kazza runs back up on the veranda, and I tell her to GO AWAY!! Then I try hitting the can again, and FINALLY – he takes off through the door.  I ran around the house closing all the sliding glass doors, and my heart is beating – so fast. I am thanking Jesus that he is here with me because I had few choices. There was no one to call at this hour, and what could they do, anyway?

I was just lucky that I somehow did the right things. However, never again will I go to the sliding glass door in the dark, and open it to check on the cat food.

Forget it!

I don’t care how hungry they are, they will just have to wait until daylight for me next time – since I can’t tell a possum from a cat!

Houston Baseball and Dr. King

January 18, 2011

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington, DC, 8/28/1963.

On the very day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC back on August 28, 1963, the Civil Rights movement in Houston, Texas had barely moved a practical inch since its national inception in 1954. That earlier year had witnessed the end of total segregation in local professional sports with the addition of the wonderful Bob Boyd to the roster of the Houston Buffs in May 1954 as the first black to formally play with whites here in any team sport.

Bob Boyd still had to live and travel on the road to inferior segregated accommodations in 1954. White Houston and Texas were neither ready for greater physical mixture of the races back then. Not all of us white Houstonians felt this fear of integration in 1954, but the vocal majority that ran things for everyone mostly did and, by their actions and inactions, the white-dominated power structure allowed schools, landlords, and local businesses to keep up their courses of racial segregation and outright denial of service to blacks for a while longer in “subtler” ways..

Through 1954, that little uncovered grandstand down the right field line served as the "colored section" and one blight on the good old days at Buff Stadium in Houston.

Segregation continued to breathe in Houston until it could no longer stand up against the joint forces of social protest and the determination of the federal government to support a vigorous new policy on Civil Rights. These mighty forces of support for Constitutional allegiance overwhelmed the most serious forms of public resistance to change. Those of us who supported these changes were largely young and idealistic. We believed in our country as a place where we all maintained our rights to differ from each other, but that we trusted that we were also a nation at the end of the day that would bear forth our identity as The United States of America.

By the time of the famous speech of Dr. King in August 1963, the old Houston Buffs had been dead for two years as a minor league franchise. The City of Houston now played its professional baseball in the National League at Colt Stadium as the Colt .45s. The 1963 Colt .45s were a racially integrated ball club, all right, but young black players from northern cities, players like future star Jimmy Wynn, were also still busy getting their full taste of what life could be like in a transitional “southern city.”

By 1963, the old supporters of full segregation had gotten the hammer and adjusted their tactics. Instead of making it easy for the people to protest or petition against loud statements of “Segregation Spoken Here,” the old guard went to quieter forms of resistance to integratiion.

Residential services put out the “no room in the inn” sign to black applicants; restaurants evoked the assumed power of their ever popular “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs as a basis for not serving minorities; and some movie theaters put up the “sold out” sign for blacks attempting to buy tickets at previously all white venues.

Bob Boyd broke the "color line" in all Houston sports when he joined the Houston Buffs baseball club in May 1954.

In a perfect world, we would have resolved all these differences by now, but forty-eight years beyond “I Have A Dream,” we have achieved only a smaller victory. Blacks in Houston may now live, work, and commerce as they please in 2011 Houston, but that doesn’t mean that blacks are now impervious to more subtle and intelligently designed forms of discrimination. They are still out there – just waiting for ignition by smarter white racists whose skills for survival exceed their impulses to act in blatant hatred. These monsters do it quieter.

On the big plus side, Houstonians appear to be much more color-blind today about their sports heroes. Maybe when “he runs pretty fast for a white guy” disappears, we’ll know we’ve made real progress. In the meanwhile, we may have to settle for the fact that fans don’t go around saying “that Michael Bourn sure is a great little black center fielder.” Colorblindness is key to really getting to know the person behind the skin, but it only happens individually. Once more, the reminder checks in. Life works a lot easier when we look for signs of practical improvement and not get stuck on how things “should be” in a perfect world.

Houston baseball is what it is as a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement. The same is true of Houston. Today we are poised to become one of the great international cities of the world. All we have to do is keep making progress on our commitment to both “respect difference” and “equalize opportunity.” The cream will rise to the top from there.

Thanks for everything, Dr. King. You weren’t perfect either, but you had more vision, courage, and faith in America than just about anyone else in history . Many leaders put their lives on the line for the sake of power. You put your life on the line in behalf of righteousness. Thank you for the gift of that great love and devotion to God’s Work.

Lost Kid Freedom in America

January 14, 2011

"Run, everybody, fast as you can! And don't forget your nickel; it's the ice cream man!"

You don’t hear a lot of ice cream trucks cruising the neighborhoods these days at 5 MPH while that little child-alluring melody plays on like a mobile music box. Kids aren’t as free in street bunches these days – and ice cream isn’t free at five cents a pop either. The whole business plan of the ice cream man just does not make the sense in 2011 that it once did back in 1948 – when you could buy something tasty for a nickel – and we kids of that earlier era were free to explore our world – away from adult supervision – and without fear for our lives from countless predators.

I wrote the other day about how most of us walked away from home each Saturday to our neighborhood theater kid movies. We would be away from home for three to four hours at the mercy of a kinder world without fear for our safety – and some of us even started this pattern at age five.

It was the same freedom that left us open to sandlot baseball and other sports; working out our own quarrels with words and fist, if necessary, and all the while developing a confidence for moving forth into the larger world on our own.

Aug. 1946: Pecan Park Cowboy

Remember those guys with the Shetland ponies that came through the neighborhood selling “cowboy/cowgirl in the saddle” photos back in the day? Almost everyone from our ancient era has one like mine (to the left).

That industry went away too with practically all other non-scam businesses that once sold items door-to-door. Again, the killers of business on this level were primarily fear and distrust of dealing with a stranger who is trying to sell us something on our own vulnerable doorsteps.

Kids today either live within the protective bubble of 24/7 adult supervision – or else, they roam independently on the bubble of scary and dangerous exposures to the threats of our current world.

It’s a crying shame that kids today have largely lost the chance to safely explore the world on their own, but that is what has happened – and the causes are far too complex for a singular explanation.

From my half century of work with kids and families, I will offer one observation about one factor that I think kicks strongly into the mix. It may not be the whole thing, but it plays its part.

Compared to our post World War II generation, young people today often seem to think far less about the long-term consequences of their actions. If I’m right, is that change being reenforced by our adult protectiveness of them? Are kids failing to get the handle on their own responsibility for the decisions they make and the actions they take?

Let’s take it to this extreme: Do some kids who rape or shoot others operate as though there is a re-set button on life? (Just push the button and start over. In electronic death and damage, there really is no long-term consequence.)

Make of these thoughts what you will. The subject is too big for a single column. It just starts with a loss of childhood freedom. Then it begs the question: Is what we are doing now simply making matters worse?

What do you think?

Top Ten Sidekicks in Baseball

January 13, 2011

Roy Rogers & Gabby Hayes (R) were saddle-up hero & sidekick buddies.

“Sidekicks” have always been the glue that made movie western, mystery, and comedy heros stick in the minds of film-watchers. Roy Rogers had his Gabby Hayes; Sherlock Holmes had his Dr. Watson; and Abbott and Costello, well, they both had each other. The net effect for all is that every fictional serial movie story always contains an attractive central hero-sidekick relationship in some form.

Yesterday the MSN Internet Search Site published their Top Ten List of the Greatest Sidekicks of All Time. Their choices ll derived from movies, television, radio, and (ever-s0-slightly) literature, but they were a fun exercise, even if you disagreed, as did I, with all their choices and their relative placement in order to each other:

MSN List of Top Ten  Sidekicks-Principals:

10. Chewbacca – Han Solo (from the movie “Star Wars”)

9. Kato – The Green Hornet (from radio, tv, & the movies)

8. Garth Algar – Wayne Campbell (from the “Wayne’s World” skit on Saturday Night Live, TV)

7. Tattoo – Mr. Roarke (from “Fantasy Island”, TV)

6. Dr. John Watson – Sherlock Holmes (from movies and literature)

5. Ethel Mertz – Lucy Ricardo (from TV’s “I Love Lucy”)

4. Robin – Batman (from comic books, radio, tv, and movies)

3. Ed Norton – Ralph Kramden (from TV’s “The Honeymooners”)

2. Deputy Barney Fife – Sheriff Andy Taylor (from TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show”)

1. Tonto – The Lone Ranger (from radio, tv, and the movies)

Billy Martin & Mickey Mantle: Who's sidekicking who?

I thought it would be kind of fun to open up this whole idea of sidekicks to pairings that go beyond simple human relationships and to come up with a list of My Top Ten Favorite Sidekick Pairings in Baseball. My list includes some flat out human matches, but it also takes in a few chemicals, substances, and conditions that are sometimes the sine qua non on total experience in one thing or another.

What I’m talking about should clear up as we go through the list:

10. Lou Gehrig – Babe Ruth. Great as he was, Lou Gehrig signed with the wrong club at the wrong time to be its leading man or major hero. As a junior teammate of The Bambino, Lou Gehrig was destined to do all of his great things from the sidekick seat in this Hall 0f Fame bound cycle.

9. Red Schoendienst – Stan Musial. Even his late career trade to Milwaukee failed to get the old redhead completely out of The Man’s shadow.

8. Billy Martin – Mickey Mantle. Who’s sidekicking who – or whom? Maybe I should have thrown in Whitey Ford and made it a three-way question.

7. Jack Daniels – Paul Waner. Paul Waner drank a lot, but he also hit safely a lot. He rounded first, heading for second, many a time with old Jack breath filling the air along his warpath. Paul Waner was not the only big league star that ever side-kicked his way into live action with assistance from Jack Daniels. He’s just the first guy that comes to my mind when I think of great players who succeeded in spite of themselves.

6. Peanuts – Cracker Jack. One sidekicks the other and they are both ballpark reasons why we fans don’t care if we ever get back.

5. Slippery Elm – Burleigh Grimes. As one of the spitball pitchers who got grandfathered into a lifetime pass on the new prohibitions against the use of saliva and other foreign substances on a baseball, I’ve always pictured Grimes walking to the mound with a pocketful of Slippery Elm bark and ready to snap at any young umpire who checked him out: “I’m Burleigh Grimes and I can do what I damn well please. Now just move along. I’ve got a ballgame to pitch.”

4. Mustard – Hot Dogs. (See #6 above. Mustard and hot dogs travel on the same level, They just aren’t mentioned in the game’s anthem.)

3. Change of Pace – Fastball. “Because, Mr. Fastball, you are absolutely nothing to fear without me!” – Change of Pace.

2. Absorbine Jr. – Athlete’s Foot. This one stands as an historic tribute to the kinds of clubhouse showers we had back in the day.

1. Bud Abbott & Lou Costello – Baseball. Who’s on First? These two funny guys became baseball’s ultimate sidekicks with their famous routine. They are priceless and ageless through their landmark contribution and they most likely will be the first voices you hear on your first visit inside the Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

Have a great Thursday, everybody!

The Stupor Bowl – And Other Bad Ideas

January 11, 2011

If you "Win Ten" - where do wear #11?

After going into the Seattle Seahawks yesterday as sort of a built-in bad idea in pro sports (a losing-record team advancing to the playoffs as a first week home team), my mind immediately wandered into new and old, and mostly borrowed ideas we might introduce into our national bag of athletic cornucopia.

(1) Shorter, Better NBA Basketball Games. My cousin Jim Hunt spoke for a lot of fans a few years ago when he expressed his boredom with the NBA. “I can’t take it anymore,” Jim said. “Just watching each club shoot the lights out on their separate ways to 100 points and a game that would come down to whatever happened on the last play takes too much watching to hold my attention that long. My suggestion to the NBA is this simple: Shorten all games to two minutes of time and give each team 100 points from the start. Then play the only part of the game that most of us care to watch in the first place anyway as the whole enchilada and then move the crowd on by playing a number of double, triple, and quadruple headers on the same night under the new rules. That works for me – unless I get bored again.”

Maybe Cousin Jim has a bad idea. Maybe not.

(2) Winter MLB Season Mimics NFL Here’s another one that I like. Kill the baseball off-season by playing a 16-game, once-a-week contests schedule that mimics the NFL self-important emphasis on each game. Restrict the rosters to 14 players (8 starters, 1 extra catcher, 1 extra infielder, and 1 extra outfielder), plus 1 starting pitcher and 2 “back-up” pitchers.) Now the pitcher and each game take on all the same importance as an NFL QB and each regular contest in the NFL year.

By special arrangement between the NFL and MLB, allow each NFL team to sponsor and sign their own 14-player rosters and play the same weekly schedule as the Houston Baseball Texans, the Dallas Baseball Cowboys, etc, – following the same path and formula of NFL Football to a one-game MLB-NFL Baseball Super Bowl to be played on the Saturday preceding the Super Bowl.

Lame as it may be, I’ll take the blame for this one. It simply spilled over in my mind from years of watching the NFL and wishing that each game was baseball, instead. Then, one day, it dawned on me. With a little playful insanity put into motion, maybe we could make that happen, but would two organizational groups management groups and two different sport player unions support it? Maybe. There ought to be enough television, gate, and marketing money in the pot to make it appealing to somebody.

(3) The Stupor Bowl. By comparison to the two established sports culture rippers presented in our first two ideas, this one is simply a mild attempt to enlarge upon the NFL’s “on any given Sunday” tout that any club in the league is capable of beating any other – at least, once in a blue moon.

How about a game designed to check the truth of that expression? Every year, on the Sunday following the Super Bowl, let’s say we put the Super Bowl winner up against the one team in the league with the absolute worst record by some gradient formula in case of W-L record ties. Could the NFL’s established “best club” put their more celebrated victory, injury, and weariness behind them long enough to take on and defeat the rested “worst club” in the league? I don’t know, but it certainly beats the Pro Bowl as a game with appeal.

Call it the “Stupor Bowl” and let’s find out.

Mike Tyson’s Surprising First Love

January 7, 2011

Mike Tyson Set to Do Animal Planet Show on Pigeon-Raising.

Hobbies and first loves don’t always match the public personalities we assign to celebrities. Word’s out now that former crunching heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson is now getting ready to do a series of shows for the Animal Planet TV network on his first love interest, the art of pigeon-raising.

Tyson strongly disclaims that his childhood investment in pigeons was ever a hobby. ‘This ain’t no hobby,” Tyson protested yesterday  at the Television Critics Association’s winter meeting. ”It’s a cultural thing.”

Growing up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, Mike Tyson first became interested in the ubiquitous city-bird cave dwellers through his daily contact with the birds that swarmed around his apartment building. As an ancient pigeon-watcher myself, I was impressed to learn of Mike’s early ability to appreciate the individual differences that separate one pigeon from another. His comparisons of pigeons to people were “right on” in the Internet article I read a few moments ago. And they were hardly befitting the image of a man we all once saw as a general human bone crusher who viewed all other boxers as simply vertical human beings awaiting their deliverance by force to a horizontal plane.

Here’s the article link:

Tyson says he’s looking for  couple of “dominant personalities” among his new pool of pigeons. He wants to breed his new personal group from their strength, I suppose. I’d like to know more about Tyson means here. Are the two dominant ones simply another way of saying that he will tae the last male and female standing – and build from there?

a red-eyed handsome man

I personally never got into raising any birds beyond parakeets as a kid, but I became very aware of the individual birds that lived in the various parts of Houston that I visited on a fairly regular basis. It took no special skill. You simply had to see and recall what was all around you.

From what I saw, Mike Tyson is right. Pigeons are much like people in their differences from each other. They differ in size, color, and personality. Only certain archetypical behaviors and traits unite them as one discernible specifies. In that regard, that back and forth, herky-jerky head movement is simply a biological pattern that pigeons share with all gait-walking avian creatures. Hopping birds neither have the head bop nor do they need it.

Houston pigeons (and I’m presuming here that our local varieties are not too different from those that live in New Orleans, for example) tend to be homebodies. They hang around certain limited areas of town, leaving other, more distant spaces to other families, broods, and or gangs.

Back in the 1950-ish times of multiple Prince’s Drive In locations around town, we had a few distinct birds working for the crumbs that fell (or were thrown from) car trays at each separate locations. Over time, I became convinced that the birds working Prince’s on SOuth Main at OST came to recognize my ’51 Olds as one of those cars that spilled or discarded food with great abundance. I seemed to draw a crowd as quickly as I got there.

And when I got there, there they would be: “Mr. Chocolate Wing” and “Miss Vanilla Head” (among others) would bop out there to greet me and start that familiar cooing sound – their endless cry for food. Now where do they go, now that we’ve boarded up those old easy food stops?

Easy answers: The birds go wherever we go. Pigeons now patrol our new fast food joints and grocery stores, living in those convenient crawl spaces that we have built into our freeway system for their convenience.

But are the birds a potential health hazard? Yes, but probably no more so now than ever, and certainly not as dangerous as horses once were when dried horse manure from dirt streets floated into all our lungs.

One thing you don’t want to do is live too close to a pigeon roost. When I worked for Tulane University a few thousand years ago, a flock of pigeons moved into my apartment building and set up a nest right outside my bedroom window. Before I even knew what had hit me, I was struck with an infestation of pigeon mites that were hell to feel as they crawled all over my body and even harder to exterminate. Getting the birds to go away and stay away was job one for the relief of all residents in the building.

Almost needless to say, any lingering childhood desires of my own to raise pigeons died completely in New Orleans.