AIDS Day, anyone?

Today, of course, is World AIDS Day. Anybody still celebrate AIDS Day anymore? Begun in 1988, AIDS Day celebrates AIDS, the world’s first political disease.

Now lost in a sea of other diseases and crises, I think AIDS and World AIDS Day played an important role in the regression of our world (in addition to an amusing sideplot once in an episode of Seinfeld). AIDS, as I said, was the world’s first political disease. Now every disease is political. In fact, every thing is political as of December 2014. Weather? Political. Sports? Political. Christmas? Political.

Good luck trying to put that genie back in the bottle. It’ll be tougher than getting ol’ Cosmo Kramer to wear an AIDS ribbon at a parade.

Black Friday strikes again

It is here. The most anticipated holiday and hotly debated political topic of the year: Black Friday. Mark my words, before the decade is out we’ll be calling Thanksgiving “Black Friday Eve.”

Black Friday is the day on which no one admits to shopping, yet everyone seems to do so. Why the hell would stores be open if they had no customers? Ditto being open on Black Friday Eve or any other day of the year for that matter. This year I’ve read more “Black Friday shopping protest” articles than I ever have before, yet I’m pretty sure the only things people aren’t buying this season are newspapers. How ironic. Unsuccessful dig at capitalism from out friends in the media. Nice try, suckers. And the only thing keeping your dying industry afloat is… Black Friday ads!

How ironic.

So shop away, friends, and good luck to ya. Especially all amateurs who shop only on this day every year. Kinda like bars on Thanksgiving Eve, actually.

Make that Black Friday Eve Eve.

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving

Having done this blog now for more than a year I realize I’m in a position simply to repeat posts in a never-ending 365-day cycle. For example, on November 25th I’m always going to mention Joe DiMaggio’s birthday, and on the night before Thanksgiving I’m always going to mention, well, the night before Thanksgiving. Hmm. Let me today at least add a new wrinkle.

For those of you reading this blog on some foreign planet, let me remind you that the night before Thanksgiving is the biggest party night of the year. I’m not exactly sure when this became the case, but it seems to be universally recognized now. Thanksgiving Eve is to be big everywhere, and if you’re in a podunk town (where people go out only one night a year), tonight will be off the hook.

I read an article recently headlined something like, “How Do You Know When You’re Too Old to Go Out on Thanksgiving Eve?” I appreciate the sentiment, but this kind of thinking misses the point entirely. Thanksgiving Eve is the one night a year so-called grownups can get away with staying out late and being ridiculous. “I think it’s time for somebody’s dad to go home” isn’t a remark for the unusually old and idiotic patron… it describes 70 percent of the people at the bar! This is amateur night. So beware.

And have at it, amateurs! ‘Cause this guy ain’t gettin’ anywhere near a bar on Thanksgiving Eve.

Cent’anni, Clipper!

jd

Hardly in need of another tribute, one of the most feted men of the Twentieth Century turns 100 tomorrow. Sure, he’s been gone for nearly two decades, but Joe DiMaggio’s place as an American icon stands as strong today as it did more than 60 years ago, when in fact Joe played his last game. Like most people alive today I never saw him play, but I consider him an idol and an inspiration, a man with few equals among athletes and celebrities, and the blurred line between those groups.

In one of the first posts on this site I paid tribute to Joe D. on what would have been his 99th birthday. The piece was mostly taken from an essay I put together shortly after DiMaggio died in 1999. I was 16, half the man I am today, yet no less taken by grown men paid to play a kids’ game. I reproduce the piece from 2013 in its entirety here:

Ninety-nine years ago today in the quiet fishing village of Martinez, California, the eighth of nine children born to Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio entered the world, probably to little fanfare. The fanfare began soon after, and continued to the end of the century.

It’s only the truly exceptional athlete who transcends his sport and becomes a national icon the way Joe DiMaggio did, beginning at a very young age and continuing long after his playing days were over. Nearly every man of a certain age considered DiMaggio his favorite player, as did legions of non-fans who knew nothing of the game but appreciated his humble upbringing and grace off the field. In an era in which players’ personal lives were whitewashed by willing reporters and clever PR men, DiMaggio was nothing short of a saint. Even now, a few damning stories and biographies later, DiMaggio epitomizes dignity and professionalism both on and off the playing field.

I’ve been a fan of the great DiMaggio since I was seven years old. That was 38 years after he played his final game. DiMaggio in my family, though, held a place similar to that of John Kennedy or the Pope in Catholic families across America. The following is from a piece I composed for a high school writing class at age 16, shortly after Dimaggio’s death at age 84.

            Few Americans have captivated the nation’s attention like Joe DiMaggio.  He played baseball with a grace and style that is no longer found in today’s game.  Just as important was his behavior off the field.  Uniquely American as baseball is, it seems baseball stars are more than just entertainers; they are our idols.  (I think this was even more true in Joe’s playing days.)  Many of today’s professional baseball players, no matter how well they play the game, do not portray positive role models off the field.  Players are often arrested for drunk driving or caught starting fights in bars (not to mention the dreaded paternity suit).  Even seemingly benevolent Mark McGwire sets a bad example for young people: steroid use (ephemerally legal as it may be).  Let us not forget Dimaggio’s military service during World War II, costing him three seasons in which he was in his prime.  (Many players left professional baseball during the war.)  I find it hard to believe that any of today’s players would want to leave their million-dollar homes to fight in a war overseas.

            It would be hard to pinpoint DiMaggio’s best season.  One thing is for certain: he never had a bad one.  Joe retired when he was only (I use the word loosely) thirty-six, so he never lapsed into mediocrity (which happens to players who simply can’t give up the game after their talents have left).  During his career, DiMaggio was a model of consistency; his most notable baseball achievement is his incredible record of hitting safely in fifty-six consecutive games (he had a sixty-one game streak in the minors).  So often today’s players seem lackadaisical in unimportant games.  Said Joe when asked why he gives it all in every game, “Because there might be somebody out there who’s never seen me play before.” 

            So why is this fisherman from Martinez, California, revered as an American icon?  According to teammate Tommy Henrich, “He does everything better than anyone else.”  Yankees manager Casey Stengel said of DiMaggio, “He makes big league baseball look so simple.  It ain’t so simple.”

            The man was married to Marilyn Monroe and played centerfield for the New York Yankees.  That’s tough to top.

            In DiMaggio’s nearly forty-eight years of being retired from baseball, he truly was a living legend.  There was something about him that gave him an air of deity.  He would go to Old Timer’s Day every year at Yankee Stadium, but in later years he never played.  He would be there in a suit, probably throw out the first pitch (as he did quite often), and salute the crowd.  That was it.  That was Joe DiMaggio.

            So, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” This line, from Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson,” troubled Joe when he first heard it.  After all, everyone knew where Joe was: he was Mr. Coffee.  Paul Simon met DiMaggio at a benefit once and explained the misunderstanding.  The line was not meant to be taken literally. Paul Simon used “Joe DiMaggio” as a symbol for a true American idol (of which we were lacking in 1967  and still are).  To me, a more effective lyric would have been, “Where has your style gone, all you American positive role models, such as Yankee baseball great Joe DiMaggio?  We need some new role models; not necessarily you, Joe, but someone younger maybe.”  However, this line would have been difficult to fit in the song.

            It’s not as though DiMaggio’s death came as a surprise to anyone.  (We had been prepared for it since about September.)  In what turned out to be the last six months of Joe’s life, the American public was bombarded with news about his health.  Every three days or so, the front page of the Sports section would contain a headline and a brief article about DiMaggio’s condition.  There were really only two articles: one said that Joe had suffered a tremendous setback and that the end was near; the other, said that Joe had made a miraculous recovery and would be returning to his newspaper reporter job in Metropolis shortly.  (These two articles were run alternately every three days from September to March.)  My theory is that we simply wanted to root for Joltin’ Joe one more time.  A game is more exciting when it goes back and forth, and that is exactly what the media portrayed.  The media (namely, NBC) was also responsible for making Joe’s recovery truly a miracle.  (This would come in handy if Joe were ever up for canonization.)  For about twenty minutes in December, Joe was dead.  The peacocks at NBC were the first to break the story (and, actually, the only ones).  The error was rectified when a friend of DiMaggio’s called the company.

 

No one is perfect. Not even baseball gods like Joltin’ Joe. But even flawed gods give us something to root for, perhaps even more so than would infallible ones. I reserve a special place for DiMaggio in my life, the baseball-playing uncle from California I never had. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. So, here’s to you, Joe DiMaggio, as timeless at 99 as you ever were.

Make that an even cento.

Mike Nichols, 1931-2014

I don’t think there’s been a tribute to Mike Nichols over the past two days that hasn’t included the phrase “Hollywood legend.” I will not break code here. The man was a Hollywood legend.

Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin in 1931 (Jeebus what a terrible way to begin life, no offense), the young Nichols traveled to the United States as a seven year old with only his three-year-old brother, meeting their father who had fled Nazi persecution months earlier. His mother would join the family a year later, escaping through Italy.

Despite this somewhat rough beginning, Nichols found his way in the United States, succeeding in the most American of ways: abandoning the family business to pursue a career in acting. (Nichols’s father was a physician and his son quickly abandoned his premed program at the University of Chicago.)

The rest of the story is, as the man, Hollywood legend. First, work and eventually success as a stage actor and director, an acclaimed comedy career (teamed mostly with fellow legend Elaine May), then one of the most successful directorial careers in Hollywood history. His films? A total of 42 Oscar nominations and seven wins.

Nichols’s most well-known film, 1967’s The Graduate, won him an Academy Award for Best Director at the age of 36. Not one to rest on his laurels, Nichols directed the envelope-pushing Carnal Knowledge four years later, and classics including Regarding HenryWolf, and The Birdcage in the 1990s. At the age of 74 Nichols directed a sleeper pick as one of my all-time favorites, 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War. And two years ago, into his eighties? Broadway production of Death of a Salesman.

It was Nichols’s stage work that brought him early acclaim and perhaps the reason I respect him most. He’s a real director, not just a movie director. An actor too, and a comedian.

And a Hollywood legend.

Cola wars

It’s one of the most asked questions of our time. A simple survey. And most people have an answer.

Pepsi or Coke?

It’s been a couple decades since I gave serious thought to the question. I was a Coke man. Case closed. Offer me Pepsi? I’ll ask if you have Dr. Pepper.

There have been times over the years, of course, when I’ve done it. I’ve had a Pepsi now and then. It’s not terrible. You know what it tastes like? Coke. But not exactly.

I will never say there’s no difference between Pepsi and Coke. Pepsi’s sweeter, while Coke has a harder “bite.” Pepsi is more or less caramelized sugar water, but no judgments here. Sometimes that’s what you’re looking for. Like all things, it is what it is. Both beverages have their place.

Which brings me to my 2014 answer for Pepsi or Coke. With the benefit of a little age, a little wisdom, and a little nuance, I can say that I no longer prefer either Pepsi or Coke. They’re different beverages, and I’m going to pick the one I’m in the mood for. Sometimes I want Pepsi and sometimes I want Coke. Sometimes I want milk and sometimes I want orange juice. Debate settled.

Stay tuned: more world problems solved in the coming weeks.

The following is not a piece of clever satire

Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

Okay, so this news has been around for some time, but I’m hearing it more and more these days so here it is.

’Round these parts we’ve got this subway/train system called “the Metro.” First developed in the 1960s and built mostly in the ’70s and ’80s, “the Metro” is a series of connected, rapid transit rail lines connecting Washington and its suburbs. The latest piece of this puzzle is the still-being-built Silver Line, which I hope someday really jacks up the value of my home.

Proposals to add a new line to the expanding spider web of existing routes have been at least partially green-lighted in Maryland, where the “Purple Line” is projected to open in the year 2020 (at least according to experts on the Internet).

The thing about rail lines is, not everybody wants them going through his or her backyard. Say you already have a valuable home, like in suburban Maryland, why would you need a nearby train station to offer as a selling point? (Your chauffer doesn’t ride the train either.) Oh, how to stop the train, how to stop this oncoming train?

Leave it to the folks in tony suburban Maryland to come up with the most cliché white liberal response. The golfers at nearby Columbia Country Club? No, no, that’s too obvious. (Though they’ve voiced their objection as well.)

Ever heard of the Hay’s Spring amphipod?

How about the Kenk’s amphipod?

Answer: shrimplike crustaceans living (perhaps) in Rock Creek Park, possibly threatened, possibly endangered, possibly able to halt construction of a $2.4 billion construction project.

Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

The Chevy Chase (Md.) Town Council has already voted to give $10,000 to the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail (seriously) so it can hire an American University professor to study how construction of the Purple Line will impact the shrimp and its natural habitat. Seriously.

According to the Washington Post: “Maryland transit officials said neither the Maryland Department of Natural Resources nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mentioned any endangered species along the Purple Line’s proposed 16-mile route between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.”

But that didn’t stop John M. Fitzgerald, a Chevy Chase resident and lawyer, who said, “This statement should not be interpreted… as meaning that rare, threatened or endangered species are not in fact present. If [an] appropriate habitat is available, certain species could be present without documentation because adequate surveys have not been conducted.”

I guess the question now is, when do you stop looking for endangered species.

I think that’s your sign the environmentalists have already won.

What’s an Irish Bearcat to do?

Big news tonight from the University of Notre Dame. No, not football but basketball sweet basketball. Tonight from South Bend the Irish host the boys from my alma mater, the famous Bearcats of Binghamton University.

So what’s an Irish Bearcat to do? Whom to root for? Well, all things being equal, go with the underdog, right?

So… go, Irish!

Sprite on a plane

I’ve seen the news in several places from several different sources backed up by various scientists and I think we can now conclude: your tastebuds really are different while flying the friendly skies.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany (other scientists have shown similar results but these guys sounded the most prestigious) have documented once and for all the changes your tastebuds undergo while flying. Who knew? Well, everybody, but now it’s official.

For 20-plus years I’ve wondered why Sprite tastes better on a plane. Seriously, I never touch the stuff on land. But on an airplane? Nectar of the gods.

Thanks, German researchers, for validating my unscientific musings. And because every other news article about this issue includes this joke: it’s your fault your in-flight meal tastes so bad!

Honoring veterans everywhere

Ah, November, chock full of holidays to every schoolchild’s delight. I’ll admit that when I was a kid I barely understood Veterans Day, confusing it with Memorial Day as so many do. At least Veterans Day never went the way of most holidays, moving to Monday for mere convenience, though it does still retain the problem of its questionable apostrophe. (I vote no.)

Luckily for us in 2014, Veterans Day honors only a small number of our citizens. That is, only a small percentage of our citizens have been required to serve in recent years and that must be recognized as a good thing. I suppose that means we can make our thank yous just a little bit bigger for those we do honor. And I promise to recognize the holiday more than just another day off from school.