DEC. 31, 2017 OLDIES
The post parades for the Triple Crown horse races serenade us with time-honored songs about their locales.
But stand by! We have an update. In 1996, the management of the Belmont decided to try to appeal to younger people, or at least to people born in the 20th century. They tore up the old sidewalks and substituted a Frank Sinatra recording of New York, New York.
Now let's move forward half a year. When the ball drops at midnight on New Year's Eve in Times Square, we always hear the traditional Auld Lang Syne. As a ten-year-old kid, I was allowed to stay up late, even past the fifteen-minute 11:00 news, to watch Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians lead up to this tune. Here's what I saw 60 years ago tonight.
But in recent years, the recording of Lombardo's Auld Lang Syne cuts off after only half a verse. Then the music segues into what else Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York! What has become of tradition?
In a letter elsewhere on this website, I recalled attending a July 20, 1974, performance by a star of an ABC series that was just concluding its five-year run, The Brady Bunch. I wrote:
Now I've discovered the existence of a fifty-year-old original-cast recording of one of those Oldsmobile musicals starring Florence Henderson!
This Is Oldsmobility would have been produced in August of 1957, three years before the show and luncheon that I described attending in Detroit. Back then, there was a major styling change every model year, and the new designs were a closely guarded secret until the official heavily-promoted public Announcement date in September. These August shows gave the dealers and salesmen their first look at the cars that they would be expected to sell for the following twelve months.
At the climax of each big musical number, the cast would step aside and the scenery would part to reveal a brand-new model, such as this 1958 Ninety-Eight four-door sport sedan.
To oohs and aahs and gasps and applause, the car would move downstage on a turntable. An off-stage announcer described its virtues while it slowly rotated, sparkling in the theatrical lighting, and the orchestra played an upbeat background.
I'd forgotten that the young lovers in these musicals were always called Johnny and Lucille, from the car company's 1905 theme song. Young Johnny Steele has an Oldsmobile; he loves a dear little girl. . . . Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile . . . . The 1957 show's Broadway inspirations apparently included Ethel Merman (I Need a Guy) and The Music Man (Back to Rockport, Indiana).
Just to prove I'm not kidding about all this, you can click here to listen.
DEC. 27, 2017 NON-LINEAR ANALOG CLOCK-LIKE DISPLAY
DEC. 24, 2017 CHRISTMAS EVE
All is calm, all is bright.
Except, of course, down in Puerto Rico, which was struck by Hurricane Maria on September 20. Tonight, let's remember our fellow Americans who are entering their fourth month of the longest and largest major power outage in modern U.S. history.
As the Washington Post reports, "Without electricity, there is no reliable source of clean water. School is out, indefinitely. Health care is fraught. Small businesses are faltering. The tasks of daily life are both exhausting and dangerous. There is nothing to do but wait."
DEC. 21, 2017 WINTER SOLSTICE
It's the darkest day of the year. The sun won't rise hereabouts until 7:39 AM and will set at 4:57 PM. And tomorrow's sky will be cloudy all day.
That's unacceptable. Inside my apartment, I've arranged for 14 hours of sunlight. My living room ceiling is illuminated by bright LED bulbs of the daylight color. They're controlled by a timer that keeps them on from 6:00 AM my artificial sunrise until 8:00 PM.
I realize that most people do it the opposite way. Most people leave their lights switched off all day until they're needed in the evening. However, I'm trying to avoid any seasonal affective disorder. Winter is sad enough as it is.
DEC. 17, 2017 THE FOUR ... AND THREESCORE
The semifinals of this year's College Football Playoff are scheduled for New Year's Day. Which four teams should participate? There was endless disputation in the media.
Columnist Norman Chad watched the much-hyped announcement. The show began with a shot of the Selection Committee War Room 13 mostly aging white men sitting in front of laptops, a handful of suits evaluating flawed data amid half-empty pizza boxes.
Think about this sad state of American affairs: From the moment the Ohio State-Wisconsin game ended until the moment ESPN announced the national semifinalists 12 hours later, the CFP selection committee spent more time deliberating on playoff seedings than the U.S. Senate did on a 479-page tax bill.
It's a crooked system weighted toward the richest schools. The solution is simple, makes more money for everybody and remains one of the five best ideas I have ever had: LET 'EM ALL IN!
Mr. Chad advocated a 128-team playoff in which every school would participate. That might prove rather impractical. I imagined a field of 64, excluding teams with losing records in the regular season.
This year there were 82 teams with at least .500 marks. Of those bowl-eligible schools, 78 were actually invited to bowl games. I seeded the list according to the AP rankings, then according to records, and consigned the bottom 14 to consolation bowls. That left 64 teams, which I inserted into a tournament bracket.
(I made a few adjustments so that, in the first two rounds, no two teams from the same conference would have to meet. For example, #64 Duke, the only 6-6 squad in the field, would have drawn #1 Clemson in the opening round. But both schools are in the ACC, so I reassigned #64 to Georgia State.)
DEC. 15, 2017 RADIO SILENCE
I'm in the habit of starting my day listening to Pittsburgh radio, specifically WDVE-FM. This station has been playing classic rock since the days of the hippies, when DVE alluded to the dove of peace. Nowadays from 6:00 to 10:00 AM during the week, it's something different.
Randy Baumann and the DVE Morning Show is mostly talk and comedy, with a heavy emphasis on local sports because WDVE is also the flagship station for Steelers broadcasts. Every hour of the Morning Show promotes the hometown NFL team, including commentary and phone interviews with players and national pundits alike. With off-season draft speculation and training camp news, it's a year-round Black and Gold obsession.
Except, that is, for this time of year. After staging a Christmas music and comedy extravaganza at a local establishment two nights ago (broadcast on tape this morning), the Morning Show folks are taking almost three weeks off for the holidays. These familiar voices won't be on the air previewing and postviewing this Sunday's big game against the Patriots, nor the final two regular-season games that follow.
When we read, we skim over the material to get the sense, but we don't necessarily look carefully at every letter.
Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Anthony Smith boldly "guaranteed" a victory over the undefeated New England Patriots. On Sunday, Tom Brady burned Smith on a couple of long passes, and the Patriots easily won. On Monday, Pittsburgh pundits roundly criticized Smith for his foolish boast.
Then on Tuesday, there was more bad news for the Steelers defense: During that Patriots game, Aaron Smith tore a biceps muscle. He'll be out for the season. "Does this count as irony," I wondered, "or just bad karma? Either way, this has not been a good week for him." But as I read further, I found no mention of the rash "guarantee" that had been so widely discussed only the day before. Finally I realized that the injured player was a different A. Smith, this one a defensive end.
The first letter is most important in recognizing a word, at least for me. If I'm not careful, Anthony and Aaron appear to be the same.
I remember a similar confusion when reading Albert Schweitzer's biography of Johann Sebastian Bach. In Leipzig, Germany, there were several Lutheran churches including St. Thomas's, St. Nicholas's, and St. Peter's. I couldn't keep them straight. "Where was that cantata performed? I don't know; St. Somebody's." It's much easier for me when the churches' German names are used: Thomaskirche, Nikolaikirche, and Petrikirche. The initials are completely different, and therefore the names are quite distinct.
Eric D. Snider's relative asked 3-year-old Summer, "Are you getting excited for Christmas?"
"We already had Christmas."
"But we're going to have it again."
"It happens every year."
"It does? Wow!"
Contrary to my expectations, some types of popular music are more than just passing fads but remain with us for decades.
Hippies drove Volkswagens when I was in college at the end of the 1960s, and rock music was producing new hits on a weekly basis. But I'm talkin' 'bout my generation. I assumed that "my" songs would soon be consigned to the oldies bin and new generations would listen to their own music. Thus I was surprised, when I walked through the Syracuse campus in 1985, to find student housing with VWs parked outside and the same rock classics blaring from the stereo systems. Even today they can still be heard on radio stations catering to us aging baby boomers.
If we go back another decade, we find that most of the music that was popular when I was a kid in the 1950s did fade away, with two major exceptions.
Some Italian restaurants still play a lot of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
DEC. 5, 2017 D'OH!
On at least a couple of occasions I've recognized someone, struck up a conversation, then realized to my embarrassment that I was actually talking to a stranger.
Have you ever encountered a famous person who turned out to be an ordinary person? A retired television writer, now living in Santa Monica, blogged about this phenomenon. He imagined an episode of the long-ago TV series The Twilight Zone. Here's how I think that episode might go.
Submitted for your approval:
DEC. 2, 2017 OTD
At Thanksgiving time in 1950, the Great Appalachian Blizzard dumped four feet of snow on West Virginia and nearby states. The Michigan-Ohio State football game was a disaster.
I was living in southeastern Ohio at the time, and my memory is very hazy because I was only 3½ years old, but I think I recall my father putting chains on the wheels of the car and setting off towards town with my mother and me. Despite all precautions, our car spun around on Highland Avenue, a complete 180°. I applauded in glee. Do it again, Daddy! I think that's what I remember.
The next week, on December 2, 1950, another college football game was played in the industrial town of Evansville, Indiana. The winters there are typically very cold, wet, and windy. The average mean temperature On This Date in Evansville: a chilly 39°.
Believe it or not, it was a bowl game the third annual Refrigerator Bowl! And one team, visiting from Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus, was known as the Gusties.
However, not all the weather omens were unfavorable. In the snowstorm the week before, Evansville had escaped with only four inches. And Refrigerator Bowl did not refer to the local climate. Bowl games are named for local products like cotton and sugar and kitchen appliances.
DEC. 1, 2017 LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Click here for the second installment in a 14-month series recalling my life 50 years ago. It's a short installment. The holidays were coming!