Saturday, April 30, 2016

What I'm Reading: Game Time: A Baseball Companion

Game Time is a collection of essays by Roger Angell, who covers baseball for The New Yorker magazine. I believe most or all of these essays appeared in that magazine. They range from the very beginning of Angell's career in the early 1960s to 2002.

The essays are uniformly of high, even literary, quality, with an emphasis on personalities, lives, and relationships, rather than action on the field. I notice that even when he does cover action on the field, or over a season, it comes out like a story. It's a joy to read, although when reading a lot of essays back to back certain New-Yorker-ish tics come to the fore. For instance, everything is always fine: it was a fine game, so-and-so is a fine player, it was a fine play at third. And the reflex to get deeper, to figure out what it all means, on one or two occasions in the book becomes almost comical. But all in all, the writing is superb (or fine, even).

I think my favorite essay is one titled "Distance" from 1980, which is mainly about Bob Gibson, a once-fearsome pitcher who had at that point been retired for five years. Gibson was the most dominant pitcher in baseball in the late 1960s, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals who did not hesitate to plunk batters crowding the plate. He was African-American and grew up poor in an era when blacks got little respect, so he carried himself with a certain pride than many interpreted as stand-offishness. Angell caught up with him in Omaha, his hometown, where he had opened up a popular bar-restaurant after retiring but lost none of the old prickliness.You can sense the difficulty Angell had in interviewing such a reticent man, yet he succeeds in giving the reader a detailed and moving look at an athlete past his best years, who never really had a place in life except on top of the baseball mound. He also succeeds in making us sympathize with Gibson, quite a feat for a man who previously had a well-earned image as a cold and emotionally austere man.

My least favorite essay was called "One for the Good Guys," about the New Yankees late-season surge in 1996 that brought them to the World Series against Atlanta for their first Series appearance since 1978, and what a great group of players they had, and how well-deserved it all was, and how the city and country fell for them, and barf barf barf. Fortunately, this appears to be a one-season lapse on Angell's part, and for most of the rest of the book he avoids Yankees boosterism.

Now Angell has a number of books, most of which appear to be collections of already-published essays like this one. I would imagine they are all of similarly high quality. Game Time would be a great read for any baseball fan with literary leanings, though probably any of the others would be just as good.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peanuts in Real Life

I must have the exact conversation presented in this May, 1956, Peanuts strip at least three times a week:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Place Names in Rock Lyrics: America

For this feature we've previously done Sweet Little SixteenDancing in the StreetsNight TrainRock'n MePop MuzikGirls, Girls, GirlsFire Down BelowTruckin'Everywhere That I'm NotMess Around, Back in the USA, and Back in the USSR.

Our song today is America, by Simon & Garfunkel. It came out in 1968 on their Bookends album, but was not released as a single until 1972, to promote their Greatest Hits album that came out that year. Oddly, it only hit #97 on the Billboard chart. It's a pretty song with some pretty great lyrics. Personally, my favorite version is the lengthy prog rock workout (10 1/2 minutes) Yes gave it in 1970.

There aren't really verses and choruses, it sort of just flows. Here are the first three stanzas:

Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.
"Kathy", I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.

It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
"I've come to look for America."

Look, I understand they're looking for the real spirit or meaning of America, but I don't get why they hoped to find it in Saginaw, Michigan? Anyway, here's the final stanza:

Counting the cars
On the New Jersey Turnpike
The've all come
To look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look for America.

So the place names in this song are:
New Jersey (turnpike)

And here's the master list:

Notes: The cities that has been mentioned most often is New York, with Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Philadelphia tied for second. The biggest cities we haven't heard from yet, at least in the United States, are Cleveland, Kansas City, and Seattle. Also surprising to me is that Memphis hasn't yet appeared on the list.

Atlanta x3
Baltimore x3
Baton Rouge
--(northern) California
--(coast of) California
Chicago x3
Delaware (Bay)
Detroit x3
Ft. Lauderdale
Georgia (country)
Las Vegas
Los Angeles x4
--Miami Beach
New Jersey (turnpike)
New Orleans x4
New York City x6
Nova Scotia
Paris x2
Philadelphia x4
Pittsburgh x2
San Francisco
St. Louis x3
(heart of) Texas
Washington, DC x2

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bleak Peanuts

When I reviewed the Complete Peanuts Vol. 1983-84, I promised a strip in there was slated for this blog's Bleak Peanuts feature. Well, it's a couple months later, but here it is:

Spike, of course, is Snoopy's brother who lives in the desert near Needles, California. In the 1980s he became a frequent guest star in the strip, displaying a sort of wry fatalism about his desert life among the cacti. Most of his strips have him forming clubs or making friends with the cacti, or writing letters to Snoopy of the humorous minutiae of his arid environment.

But this strip from October 1984 (and a few others that appeared in the couple weeks following), are a little different. That Ha! at the end is not much of a punchline, is it? How did Spike arrive in the desert, anyway? After all, he was raised at the Daisy Hill puppy farm just like Snoopy and his other siblings.

Well, clearly, he must have been adopted but his new family decided they couldn't or didn't feel like taking care of him, so they dropped him off in the desert to die or scratch out whatever existence he could. And ever since then, Spike's been waiting out his boring existence, hoping, as we see here, for some new owner to pick him and take him with her, somebody to love him and provide him the shelter and food that he cannot provide for himself.

The bleakness here may not be quite as obvious as some of the others, but once you understand the situation, this one cuts to the bone.