How To goes to the old country

Friday’s episode of How To with John Wilson gave some airtime to my hometown and alma mater, referred to often on this blog and its accompanying podcast as “the old country.” It’s the old country for Wilson as well, who graduated from Binghamton University in 2008. Scenes from Friday’s episode showed him back on campus, not fitting in at a frat party, not fitting in on State Street (Tom & Marty’s!), and not fitting in at his old dorm.

I know the feeling. I was too old for that place about 10 minutes after I graduated. For me it’s now been two decades, and, as I often find myself saying when thinking about Binghamton… ugh.

Oreoification comes to the airwaves

Some weeks ago I introduced the concept of “Oreoification,” that ubiquitous phenomenon now sweeping the nation’s grocery aisles. As one example of many, what was for nearly a hundred years a classic “Oreo” now comes in dozens of flavors, some of which are no doubt delicious and some which, well, leave some doubt.

On Math and Musings today I’m joined by a special guest to discuss such matters, the first of what I hope will be many flavors of conversations.

Winning Time bringing it again

More reasons to keep on living include Season Two of Winning Time, which kicked off said season Sunday night with an inspired hour of television.

At times sports, at times drama, and at times pure poetry (seriously–listen to Jason Segel’s Paul Westhead), Winning Time is blessed with some old-school HBO magic from back when it was HBO. (If you’re looking for it now on your TV it’s “Max.”)

The best comparison I can make for the show is Entourage, of which I sang praises for years. Shows that are “cool” and have actors that actually put forth effort are rare; Winning Time brings this blissful combination. Seeing movie stars and athletic stars is always cool, but seeing their human side (at least the TV version of it) evokes an old phrase: It’s not TV… it’s HBO.


Never going back

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (née Mets) in the suite level at Mirabito Stadium (née Municipal Stadium). It was fun, but has forever ruined me on the standard plastic stadium seats I’ve occupied the first several hundred times I’ve seen a baseball game.
My son said the only better seat was in the dugout, so I guess I’d better start practicing.

Let’s call today’s episode “timeless”

At the top of today’s episode of Math and Musings I note that the date is August 8, 2023.

Spoiler alert… it is not.

I say the correct date some time later, not realizing that I jacked it up earlier in the episode.

Proof again that there is never an edit or second take on MAM, just a straight 15 minutes of science, politics, news, and opinion.

Today we celebrate the life and times of another fallen musician, the late Conrad Ross. Like the man, the episode is timeless.

Can a shark be far behind?

Key lime pie Twizzlers may have made my summer, though a forthcoming offering from Skittles and French’s Mustard has me questioning everything.

Big news ’round these parts today, the “Mustard Mobile” (a vintage yellow bus adorned with less-than-vintage candy) makes its way to D.C. as part of the Skittles-French’s collab tour promoting the new candy and National Mustard Day.

Soon to be added to our roster of major public holidays and observances, National Mustard Day is August 5. It’ll always be nice to remember exactly when our civilization’s downfall occurred.

Fonzie and his shark are off the hook.

It was mustard-flavored Skittles.

Summer is saved!

Just when you thought TV was going to suck for a few months, a saving grace arrives in the form of John Wilson. As in How To with.

I’ve said before that I can’t explain it; How To with John Wilson just good. This is still the case, and seems to be the consensus opinion among reviewers, professional and otherwise. Most say something along the lines of “there’s nothing else like it on TV.” True, though I’ll note the word TV in that phrase. Yes, there’s nothing like it on TV; it’s more like the unpolished drivel of YouTube… except it’s great. Somehow this guy’s home movies are great. I come back to I just can’t explain it.

They say this current season will be the last. Savor every moment, everyone, because who knows when we’re ever going to see something like this again, explainable or otherwise.

Conrad Ross, 1935-2023

This past Saturday I received word that one of my gradeschool music teachers, Mr. Conrad Ross, had passed away at the age of 88. Overshadowed a bit by the death of another of my musical inspirations, Tony Bennett, truth be told I learned a lot more from Mr. Ross than from Mr. Bennett.

I met Mr. Ross in the fall of 1991. I was a fourth-grade student at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, and Mr. Ross was the orchestra teacher. I learned much later that Mr. Ross was not an orchestra teacher at all; his instrument was the trumpet, and he’d been teaching band for 30 years. With dwindling enrollment and musical interest in the Binghamton City School District there had been some reshuffling of teachers, and Mr. Ross ended up teaching band at one school and orchestra at another. That I learned all of this only years later was a testament to his good nature and old-school sense of purpose. I’m on the other side of the business now, and I’ve seen teachers with far less seniority throw a fit at the thought of having to change assignments. Mr. Ross took it in stride.

And, coincidentally, I ended up being a direct beneficiary of his teaching at two different schools… because I went to both.

After two enjoyable years of playing the ‘cello in the Thomas Jefferson Elementary orchestra I came to West Middle School, where Mr. Ross was the band director and my clarinet teacher. Actually we began two months before, as Mr. Ross led a summer program at the school I attended in July and August of ’93. Thirty years later I’m the summer school teacher, not teaching the subject I’d wanted to teach originally, never thinking I’d love being a teacher so much I’d want to do it in the summer, and, according to my students, wearing a uniform each day a few decades out of style. On days I wear my glasses, I am Mr. Ross. And I wear the label with pride.

I had the benefit of many great teachers in middle school and high school, and I sort of patterned my own life after a few of the male teachers I had. At the top of the list would be my own father and grandfather, and Conrad Ross wasn’t far behind. The thing about music teachers is you have them for more than one year, and in an interesting twist I had Mr. Ross for five years in a row. I never heard him raise his voice once, and for what it’s worth I really did become at least somewhat proficient at the ‘cello and the clarinet. Sadly within months of having new teachers I quit playing both of those instruments, but the musical appreciation I picked up 30 years ago I still hold dear. I didn’t become a professional musician or a music teacher, but it’s been a favored hobby of mine for three decades. And counting. Playing music you can do your whole life (Mr. Ross was still playing and writing about music into his eighties), and allows you to meet people you might not otherwise know, sharing in the enjoyable goal of performance. They don’t call it working music; it’s playing music.

I finished eighth grade and my days at West Middle School in 1996, and Mr. Ross retired shortly thereafter. He still lived near the school and we’d run into each other from time to time. Same kindly expression he had every day at school. A little like Mr. Rogers or the musical grandfather you never had. I believe there’s a cliche in here about “not making them like they used to.”

Well, I’m trying.

Tony Bennett, 1926-2023

Tony Bennett passed away Friday at the age of 96. News outlets around the world dusted off the obituaries they had filed away 20 years ago, knowing that, well, no one lives forever. Even back then the words “legendary” and “incomparable” were in the first sentence or two, followed by several paragraphs of career highlights and records. Every few years they had to tack on another album. And then another Grammy Award. And then another album and another. And another Grammy Award. And a television special. And a dozen more “lifetime achievement” awards.

But eventually you run out of lifetime.

I did a quick check of the archives on this site. The legendary Tony Bennett was mentioned in no less than 15 different posts. Wow. I’d love to say he’s got the record there but, well, of course it’s second to Sinatra.

Second to Sinatra. For better or worse that’s the Tony Bennett story. But for the last quarter century he was number one, somehow getting better in his seventies, eighties, and nineties than he was as a world-famous 30-something. Forget the big-voiced balladeer in front of an orchestra he was as kid. As the jazz singer with a trio or quartet he really was “the best in the business,” as goes the well-worn Sinatra quote.

For years I’ve told two stories about Tony Bennett. Yes, I saw him perform in concert twice and the shows were incredible, but those aren’t the stories I tell. Story #1 concerns the year of his birth: 1926. I noted that he was one of four people born that year who stayed at his or her job way longer than anyone could have imagined. The others died within the past decade: Castro, Hugh Hefner, Queen Elizabeth. Tony Bennett was the last man standing, a class by himself.

The other story concerned my rating system for vocalists. I always referred to Tony Bennett as a “ballpark singer,” like, in the same ballpark as Frank Sinatra. There was Sinatra, the A-plus vocalist, and then there was the group of singers who had an A or an A-minus. Tony, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald… you know the names.

For the last 20 years I’ve known how I would end the obituary I’d one day write for Tony Bennett. I’d mention the bit about ballpark singers and then announce a promotion. Of course there’s Sinatra and there’s everyone else. In a subset of that second group is a small number of singers close to Sinatra… and then there’s Tony Bennett. The gap between Tony and the other legends listed above has grown to require the following:

Tony Bennett is in his own ballpark.