A shocking revelation about my hometown

The town I grew up in, Binghamton, New York, is one of three municipalities collectively known as “the Triple Cities.” The other two? The villages of Johnson City and Endicott. If those names sound familiar to you it may be because you bought a pair of shoes a hundred years ago. From the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company.

Weighty books and lengthy blogposts have been written about the history of “E-J” and its successes and failures. The Square Deal, the public monuments, and yeah, literally the names of two whole towns. (The shoe company name predated the village names.)

Those are topics for future posts.

At issue here is the timing of the empire’s decline. From a highwater mark in the 1920s, when European immigrants came to these shores knowing only the following English (“which way, E-J?”), to a sort of resurgence during the Second World War, the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company slowed its production significantly during the post-war years and into the, well, for lack of a better term, “cheap manufacturing abroad” age. Outside management (that would be people not named Endicott or Johnson) was brought in starting in 1957, a move serving only to quicken the company’s decline.

This was the story I’d heard growing up. By the ’60s the party was over.

Imagine my surprise, last night, while leafing through an old periodical.

In the pages of none other than Playboy magazine–known for not only discriminating taste when selecting its advertisers but for charging confiscatory rates–a full-page advertisement for the Johnsonian, “a quality product of Endicott Johnson, Endicott, New York, featured at the 1964/1965 World’s Fair.”

I can’t even start with how amazing a single sentence can be.

And I’ve gained a whole new respect for my much-maligned hometown.

Today’s lesson

You know the old Econ 101 story? T-shirts versus haircuts? Haircuts get relatively more expensive compared to t-shirts because our capacity to produce t-shirts has increased dramatically through the years while getting a haircut… is the same haircut received by medieval serfs.
Sadly for me I’m bucking the trend, somehow receiving faster haircuts as time goes on.
Less hair helps.
Tragic, actually, but it does help the bottom line.

Book comes to podcast

In 2007 I wrote a book called The Other Side of the Coin, a free-market response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. Over the past 15 years I’ve largely forgotten about it, but listening to Math and Musings today has got me thinking about that adventure once again.
You too can tune in and reminisce, wherever podcasts are sold.

College football was happening the other night

There was a time in my life when I really cared about college football. Think, like, Rudy and his family in Rudy. That was me growing up and continuing until not too long ago.

Now that I literally am twice as old as the players it’s a little more difficult to care, even for a championship game.

And Georgia versus Alabama? Seriously?

Well, despite my lack of concern these days I still like Alabama being knocked down a peg from time to time.

Somehow it just feels good.

This one was legit

Usually when my local school district cancels school for “snow” I laugh, because there’s usually about three flakes on the ground.

I’m from an inhospitable land where it actually snows, like, a lot, and if there’s six or seven inches of snow out there we put on our snowsuits, hop in our cars, and pay it no mind. Unless it’s taller than the Kindergarteners, there’s school.

(If you’re wondering where I grew up it’s Binghamton, New York. Picture where the North Pole is, then it’s just a little below that.)

Today in Loudoun County, Virginia?

Believe it or not, I’d call today a legitimate snow day. So much for my theory that they’re just canceling school for covid and telling us it’s for “snow.”

I guess that’s always an option for next week.

Unseen worth seeing

Last week I finally got around to watching The Unseen Alistair Cooke. Apparently it’s more than a dozen years old, but has become available on the PBS app only recently. (And is disappearing quickly too so I suggesting getting on it like now!)

Originally I’d scoffed at the title, thinking I’m a huge Alistair Cooke fan, I’ve seen everything already. The fatal conceit of those who miss out. There were a few things I hadn’t seen before, and though many of the items I had, the documentary was an enjoyable hour on the life and times of one of the most celebrated journalists of the 20th century.

And one of my heroes.

I’ve mentioned before that Math and Musings is basically a knockoff of Cooke’s Letter from America: 15 minutes of commentary per week so insightful that it’s better than listening to 15 minutes of anyone else. (That’s the goal anyway.)

One thing that has impressed me about Alistair Cooke always is his knowledge on many subjects. Like a great editorial writer, Cooke was well-versed in many areas. One item I appreciated hearing in the documentary—that Cooke had at the ready amusing stories (my words) on dozens of topics—is basically the conversational expertise I’ve been trying to cultivate over the past few decades.

I’m still working on my British accent.

So nice I read it twice

I’ve read half a dozen books so far over this prolonged winter break, though I’ll admit one of those books I read twice.

Well, no, it’s two separate books, but damned if the two aren’t very similar.

Leigh Montville and Dan Shaughnessy are two of Boston’s most distinguished and longest-tenured Boston sportswriters. (They’ve done other things but they are Boston guys, no question.) Each of them has published a book recently about his days covering the Boston Celtics. Montville’s memoir covers mostly the 1969 NBA Finals while Shaughnessy’s scrapbook takes us behind the curtain on the Bird-era Celtics of the ’80s.

The two authors ran in similar circles for so many years that their stories often overlap. (Indeed, there are several of the same “scoops” presented in both books.) Furthermore–credit to the Celts on this one–the players, coaches, and management crossed so many generations that we encounter the same characters even if the anecdotes are decades apart. (Red Auerbach was present at the creation and lived until 2006, while Bill Russell and Bob Cousy are still around half a century after their days on the hardwood.)

For what it’s worth, it seems as though Montville put a little more effort into his work. (Though the sections of “I-just-don’t-remember-what-happened” are a little weak.) I get the feeling Shaughnessy put his book together a few months ago when we were all just sitting at home and probably heard his old buddy, Leigh Montville, was cashing in on a book about the Celtics. A certain I could do that! moment no doubt followed.

Did I mind reading the same book twice in a row?

Nope.

Okay… Bob Ryan? Peter Gammons? Lesley Visser?

Come on, one of you write another book quick so I have something to read.

Season finale season

Remember when TV shows followed the school-year schedule? New season starts in the fall and ends in spring?

Yeah, neither do most people.

They probably don’t remember when Curb Your Enthusiasm started either, because it was about a billion years ago.

But more than two decades after premiering on HBO, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm is still bringing it. And is it me or has it somehow gotten better after all this time? (Maybe I’m just becoming more Larry David-like.) Always benefitting from the fact it was on HBO and not regular cable, Curb is now pushing envelopes not even dreamed of in its early days, let alone those years starting with 19. It’s taken Seinfeld to a new level, has kept up with 21st-century themes, and, mostly importantly, has continued to make fun of things that need to be made fun of.

There are only two shows I watch religiously these days, and they’re both on HBO: Curb Your Enthusiasm and How To with John Wilson. They also have something else in common. With a guest appearance Sunday in Curb‘s Season 11 finale by whistleblower/author Alex Vindman (playing himself), both shows are featuring “actors” from Binghamton University. Yeah, Vindman went to Binghamton, graduating in 1999, just a year and a half before I started. Wilson, as mentioned previously (in an embarrassing admission), didn’t begin his studies until after I’d graduated, but represents Bearcat pride probably better than Vindman or I.

Season Two finale of How To airs Friday.