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Awfully Fond (and Proud): Sesame Street’s Founding Generation

I have a distinct memory (among my very earliest) of my mother describing a new TV show that was about to air on PBS. “It’s for kids exactly your age,” she told me, and so it was. Sesame Street debuted in late 1969, when I was 5. In a home where screen time was highly restricted (our Sony Trinitron representing the only screen), Grover, Ernie, Bert, Maria, Mr. Hooper, Kermit, Gordon, Guy Smiley & Co. proved a staple of my early cultural sentience. It occurred to me recently that without the enthusiastic approval of kids my age — this founding Sesame Street cohort — the show might not have survived or become such a thing. And what a thing: 48 years and counting.

While channel surfing through the upper, premium reaches of my cable guide, I never seem to happen upon Sesame Street. Yes, today the show airs on HBO. You may have read about this arrangement whereby first-run episodes can be found there on Saturday mornings; eventually, they cycle back onto PBS in a post-modern form of syndication. I never see it there either, to be honest (my viewing habits are too nocturnal). It made this transition 2 years ago and I gather the show continues to wear extremely well.

Buoyed by the idea that this hugely influential, 50-year old show retains “the brassy splendor of The Bugs Bunny Show and the institutional dignity of a secular Sabbath school,” I’ve been conducting an experiment these last few weeks: I’ve been mentioning Sesame Street to folks generally my age and paying attention to their mood in reaction. If it generally brightens, I know they are fellow members of this my cohort… If I make a Cookie Monster or Roosevelt Franklin reference to someone just 4 years older, however, the reactions differ quite markedly. Often they don’t get the it, or they will roll their eyes and make it clear they didn’t really get into Sesame Street. This makes sense: When the show debuted, these elder folks were already too old for Sesame Street.

More and more I realize that members of my generational cohort (what cultural historians and demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe call “The 13th Generation”) possess a unique relationship to this show, and to American culture frankly. We weren’t just the first to watch and appreciate Sesame Street; we staffed the damn thing. Remember those little ditties they did, spelling out various numbers and letters with the bodies of other 5- and 6-year-old kids? Wesleyan, where I went to college in the 1980s, was full of Manhattanites who played those “roles” on the early shows. A dozen years on, we took great delight in catching Sesame Street some afternoon after class and spying our friend Ben Irvin forming the cross section of the letter A.

[Another favorite SS gag of mine, as a kid, was the chef who’d emerge from some doorway, at the top of a small stairwell, bearing a huge tray of ice cream sundaes. He’d invariably appear there at the close of some peppy-but-educational music video extolling the virtues and qualities of, say, the number 7 — and when he did, he’d sing out, “Seven! Chocolate! Sundaes!!” Whereupon he’d trip and fall down the stairs, making a huge mess. I found this side-splittingly hilarious and remember rooting to see the 7 video (as opposed to 5 or 8) because it would result in such gratifying chaos.]

In my relative dotage, and in wake of reading Strauss & Howe’s important 1991 book, “Generations: A History of America 1584-2054”, I continue to come across cultural touchstones that more definitively separate myself from (and more finely hone my animus toward) Baby Boomers, my feckless next elders in the culture. Sesame Street is one such marker. If you’re an early 50something like myself and you knew the words to “Rubber Ducky”, you’re clearly a member of the 13th Generation — for Boomers were by that time too old for such things. Here’s another music-based (but not fool-proof) way to separate Boomers from 13ers: The Grateful Dead: If you’re really into the Dead, you’re likely a Boomer.

Boomers don’t have the same need to parse things in this way. Their cohort is so big, so domineering, they assume (quite rightly) that most of the American society we now occupy was created for or by them, but certainly for their benefit. We 13ers are obliged to poke around a bit for examples where our own identities weren’t completely overrun or ignored.

Eventually I would outgrow Sesame Street, too, graduating as it were to The Electric Company, a companion PBS show (also produced by the Children’s Television Workshop) that more strongly emphasized the development of reading, or that’s the way it seemed to me at the time. Rita Moreno of all people hosted that enterprise, or so I was recently reminded when listening to a fascinating podcast/interview with her.

If you’re never heard Mark Maron’s WTF, here is yet another example of why this long-form pod is so fabulous: Where else would you hear Moreno, now 86, so engagingly but casually discussing West Side Story, public TV in the 1970s, and her navigation of the decaying MGM studio system as a young Latina in the late 1940s? Here’s another reason I dig it: Maron is exactly my age. Over and over again I find his conversational interviews revealing of a cultural attitude that syncs up with my own, from movies and television shows that made big impressions on us both; to the particular drug culture that pervaded when we arrived at college in the early 1980s; to an ambivalence toward Boomers, in whose wide-ass shadow we have lived our entire lives; to attitudes of broad tolerance and political skepticism that Strauss & Howe tell us are trademark of 13ers (and other Reactive generations that inevitably follow Idealist cohorts like Boomers).

A more amorphous but still compelling argument can be made that this immediate post-Boomer, 50something cohort of ours remains a sui generis cultural product of Sesame Street and its distinct moral universe. Even if we weren’t, the show was unabashedly urban and diverse, never judgmental (but never cloying either), assertive when pushed but generally interested in getting along with others. We could throw Mr. Rogers into this mix, too. His show debuted nationally in 1968 and would bear equal cultural heft, though it was aimed at even younger kids and could be pretty cloying, in my view (though I did like the trains and Daniel the Stri-ped Tiger).

Boomers were raised on a different sort of television, a more commercial, pre-PBS brand of programming that reacted to the 1960s in a completely different way — by glorifying bland conventions that seemed to come from previous decades (My Three Sons, Gunsmoke). As such, my next elders in the culture reacted differently: They either rebelled against these hidebound/nostalgic traditions, or they clung to them with the fervor of a Trump voter (which all too many of them grew up to be). We 13ers have our own issues, of course. But I daresay we don’t carry around THAT sort of baggage — and Sesame Street is one reason why.

Palestra Tales, 40 Years in the Making

 

PHILADELPHIA — When we learned my daughter Clara would matriculate at the University of Pennsylvania, naturally her dad was thrilled: Here was my chance to make a proper pilgrimage to The Palestra, the most storied college basketball venue of the 20th Century.

As I’ve written here before, while my hoops allegiance today favors the overtly professional NBA, there was a two-decade period starting in the mid-1970s (just as John Wooden’s run at UCLA came to end) when I was a far more fervent college basketball junkie. The Palestra was central to that emerging fandom, which just happened to coincide with the sport’s surge into the national sporting consciousness.

College basketball and the NCAA Tournament are so popular today, so ubiquitous on television, it’s easy to forget their dual ascension is relatively recent. For all intents and purposes, UCLA and its 10 NCAA titles from 1962-75 effectively stunted the sport’s broader popularity (when certain teams/programs utterly dominate an underexposed sport, big cultural awareness only comes when some ridiculous win streak is snapped; think UConn, whose dominance has stunted women’ college basketball in the same way). Men’s college basketball should have taken off in the 1960s, but it didn’t because the only time anyone paid attention was when UCLA got beaten: first by Houston (1968’s famous Astrodome game), then by Notre Dame in 1973. These losses proved to be mere blips; the Bruins eventually won national titles both years. But someone finally did beat them when it counted (NC State, in the 1974 national semifinal). Then Wooden retired with one last title, in 1975. Suddenly the field was open and seeded. Take it from someone who was there: The idea that some team other than UCLA could win it all each year was novel and beguiling (!) — only then did the sport truly take off.

The Palestra (bottom right) sits directly beside historic Franklin Field, home of the Penn Relays and where Santa got booed in 1968. It also hosted the Philadelphia Eagles’ last NFL championship (1960). We visited Feb. 3, 2018, one day before the Eagles did it again.

Growing up in New England at this time,  our interest had already been piqued by a Providence College team led by Ernie D, Kevin Stacom and Marvin Barnes. The Friars went all the way to the Final Four in 1973 — that year WJAR Channel 10 out of Providence started televising a bunch of PC games. The following year, rival WPRI Channel 12 took the talented University of Rhode Island teams (led by Sly Williams) under its broadcasting wing. Even obscure UHF stations like Channel 27 out of Worcester aired weekly games (each of them called by Bob Fouracre and his magnificent toupée) featuring Holy Cross mainly but also Boston College — even tiny Assumption College, led by the immortal Billy Worm (look him up; he was a stud).

Soon the national networks and their affiliates in Boston got wise and started televising big regional games every Saturday afternoon. Here is where I got to know The Palestra. Hoop-rich Philadelphia was home to The Big 5, a city series featuring local rivals Villanova, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and LaSalle. Every Big 5 game was played at The Palestra and these were the games I watched with manic intensity each weekend. These were the memories dislodged to glorious effect earlier this month, when Clara, Sharon and Philly-born, erstwhile golf freak Mike Sweeney watched the Quakers beat Yale, 58-50.

When the 10,000-seat Palestra opened in 1927, it was among the largest indoor sporting venues on Earth (the name is derived from the ancient Greek term palæstra, a rectangular space attached to a training facility, or gymnasium, where athletes would compete in public, before an audience). Today it’s a bandbox but still all I could have hoped for: seating stacked steeply with front rows right on the baselines/endlines; vaulted ceilings filled with banners; exposed brick everywhere — pretty much exactly as I remember it from the mid to late ‘70s.

But there was more to our Feb. 3 visit. Quite a bit more.

•••

James Salters, point guard on Penn’s 1979 Final Four team, glides across The Palestra hardwood one more time.

One of college basketball’s enduring appeals is the Cinderella narrative, an unlikely NCAA run that propels some unlikely team deep into the tournament, perhaps all the way to the Final Four. Providence in ’73, for example. Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores, who came within a game of going undefeated and winning it all in 1979. Later, any sort of unlikely tourney run qualified for Cinderella status. Starting in the 1980s, hoop junkies would go gaga every time Penn’s great rival, Princeton, would almost beat some highly-seeded team in the tournament’s opening round; Tiger coach Pete Carril became something of a folk legend based on this run of compelling near-misses. Well, as a student of the game (and father of future Penn alum), I’m obliged to point out that back in 1979, an Ivy League team went all the way to the Final Four! Yeah, the Quakers were summarily bludgeoned there by Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Michigan State, 101-67. But still… This was a great team; the year before, it lost to national runner-up Duke in the regional final.

Guess who was honored at halftime of the Penn-Yale game earlier this month? That’s right, this very Quaker cohort. They were all there: James “Peanut” Salters, the silky, sinewy point guard; Ronnie Price, the 6’5” scoring machine who seemed way too good for the Ivy League; Matt White, whose awkward-but-effective 6’10” frame allowed Penn to truly play with (and beat) the big boys… To think that I would see them all again, 40 years later, at The Palestra, because my own daughter was a student there? Pretty fuckin’ cool.

The Palestra, I would learn, isn’t famous just for being old (à la the original Boston Garden, a rat-infested dump where I covered many games as a young sportswriter). Unlike Delaware North, the University has done an formidable job keeping the place up: squeaky clean and not a brick out of place. But the history is inescapable… For many years, the same outfit owned both The Palestra and Madison Square Garden; in order to play MSG in NYC, teams were often obliged to schedule games in Philadelphia, as well. Penn would acquire the facility in 1939, and Philly would soon develop a storied basketball tradition of its own. Even today, when there’s a big college or high school game to be played, The Palestra serves as host.

This long, diverse, illustrious history doesn’t merely waft about in the rafters. It is scrupulously catalogued by a series of pictorial exhibits located all around the concourse. There are life-sized images of all the great college stars who played here through the ages, from LaSalle’s Tom Gola and Michael Brooks to Princeton’s Bill Bradley; from Villanova’s Rory Sparrow and Easy Ed Pinckney to Temple’s immortal Mark Shakin’ Bakin’ Macon. All the Penn greats get extra attention, of course — not just the cagers, but the wrestlers and volleyball players who starred here, too. The high school exhibit features a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of, but several anybody would (Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant). And lest we forget, a whole raft of famous coaches cut their teeth or made their bones at The Palestra: Dr. Jack Ramsey (at St. Joe’s), Chuck Daly (Penn), Jon Chaney (Temple) and Rollie Massamino (‘Nova) are but a few to earn oversized pictures on the concourse.

There was even a displaying honoring notable Philly sportswriters, the ink-stained wretches who labored here at courtside, including the immortal Dick Weiss who covered hoops for The Daily News but also, in the early 1980s, single-handedly produced Eastern Basketball magazine. Further warmed to the college basketball phenomenon up by emergence of the Big East Conference in 1979, I subscribed to this publication in the early 1980s, at college. I recall that my housemates couldn’t believe anything so arcane even existed — frankly neither could I. Accordingly, Dick Weiss would become one of my sportswriting heroes and role models. I never had a clue what he looked like until Feb. 3, 2018 (he’s still at it, for the record).

Ironically, The Big East — for all its successes — would eventually overshadow and ultimately diminish eastern basketball in general and The Palestra in particular. When the league hijacked St. John’s, Syracuse, Providence and UConn from the old ECAC and Yankee conferences, each of these lesser leagues splintered into even weaker sisterhood, or extinction. When The Big East plucked Villanova from the old Eastern 8 conference (which then became the perennially outgunned Atlantic 10), the Wildcats used their new riches to build a fancy, new, on-campus gym. In this diversified, enriched media/conference universe, the Big 5 would lose much of its cachet. Today, only a few rivalry games are played here. In many ways, The Palestra in 2018 is simply Penn’s home court.

It seems as though Penn is content with this evolution — eager to tout The Palestra’s broader history but just as happy the old barn still so ably serves the university’s many athletic programs. As the Big 5 has ebbed, Ivy League games have taken on more importance — they are one’s ticket to the NCAA tournament, after all. At this writing, the Quakers are 19-6 overall, 9-1 in conference, poised to earn yet another bid (after many years of holding out, the Ivy will conduct its first conference tournament in 2018, with the winner advancing to the Big Dance). More important perhaps: Penn swept Princeton this year. The Tigers are 3-7 in the league and the Quakers are loving it.

Out on the concourse is yet another display, this one a simple tally board that tracks this long and bitter rivalry between the Ivy League’s two traditional powers. Following the Quakers’ win on Feb. 6, it reads, “Penn 126, Princeton 113”.

Like carrying ‘a Rolls Royce with buckskin seats,’ only lighter…

Late January in the golf realm is traditionally dominated by the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Even if one doesn’t attend (as I did not), industry types and golfers alike are invariably bombarded this time of year by attendent product news, hailing the latest and greatest from all corners of golfdom. I received this morning a press release re. the vaunted Mackenzie Walker. I no longer “carry”, as they say; the ol’ L4/L5 and S1/S2 discs won’t allow it. But I did report on this specific subject once upon a time, for the dearly departed Golf Connoisseur. Glad to see the company (if not the magazine) is still in business.

Considering all our outward reverie for tradition and history, today’s golfers would appear to have very few practical retro options. Yes, we can walk, take a caddie, wear a Hogan cap or perhaps re-attach to our shoes those god-awful kilties. But we don’t see modern players making any truly meaningful throwback gestures, such as forsaking his Pro V1 for a Haskell — or even an Acushnet Club Special. We don’t see them trading micro-fiber for tweed. Yes, Old Tom Morris reportedly made one helluva niblick but the market for one, today, is limited to collectors and hickory-wielding re-enactors.

This is precisely the beauty of the Mackenzie Walker, the all-leather carry bag that was first introduced in the 1980s, fell into obscurity amid a hail of ownership failures but has re-emerged under the aegis of Oregon-based professional Todd Rohrer. It’s a niche market, to be sure, but the sumptuous, hand-sewn Mackenzie bag (which, when slung across your shoulder, feels like a comfortably worn club chair, only not nearly so cumbersome) is beginning to gain traction at some of America’s finest clubs — perhaps as a statement of principal in an ever more titanium-reinforced world.

“Technology makes the game a little more enjoyable, but so does this,” Rohrer says, while gently stroking two new shipments of buttery leather, one in black, the other champagne. “The first bag I make out of this stuff is going to look like a Rolls Royce with buckskin seats.”

The first Mackenzie bag Rohrer ever saw was black. He was managing The Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club in Portland, Oregon; it was the late 1990s, during the Fred Meyer Challenge, “and Peter Jacobsen came walking across the practice green with the coolest black leather Sunday bag I’d ever seen. I was like, ‘Whoa…’ These bags evoke strong emotions. They just make people feel good.”

Jacobsen was an early backer of the Mackenzie phenomenon; indeed, he and his brother, Dave, named the product. Not for Alister, the architect, but for Rick MacKenzie, their caddie during a 1985 trip to Scotland (and now the caddie master at St. Andrews). That was one spelling corruption and several ownership groups ago. Rohrer is the new keeper of the flame (www.mackenziegolfbags.com) and he’s determined to “refine” the bag without messing with it.

“For example, the round ring here at the top of the bag. It used to be a piece of steel we got from Mexico, but through my sewing machine mechanic I found an experienced welder who just happens to sculpt in metal. Now the ring is hand-formed stainless steel and the weld on it is just about a work of art — and you’ll never even see it because we sew it into your bag!”

Ditto for the lighter, 50-gram composite fiber batten (replacing a 675-gram metal frame) that provides the Mackenzie Walker just enough structure, while maintaining its requisite Sunday-bag slouch.

Otherwise the Mackenzie bag remains gloriously low-tech, unchanged and unadorned. No double-helixed nylon straps. No insulated water-bottle receptacle. No special compartments for, well, anything really. They’ll hand-sew you some lovely barrel-style head covers but, outwardly, there will never be more to a Mackenzie Walker than a single strap, a couple pockets and impossibly soft leather.

Okay, a bag stand would be nice. Some day. Maybe.

“We’ve had that conversation,” Rohrer admits, a bit warily. “But if we ever do one, it will be the most damnably elegant bag stand you’ve ever seen.”

Long Story: Why Rugby’s Distant Cousin has Replaced Tackling with Hitting

What’s wrong with this picture? Stefon Diggs (14) scored a winning, last-second touchdown on Sunday because Marcus Williams (43) went for the hit, not the traditional tackle…

Having basked in every last detail of Sunday’s miraculous walk-off touchdown by Minnesota Vikings wide-out Stefon Diggs, let’s connect a few dots, for in so doing we link the NFL’s signature moment this season to the league’s most pressing issue.

Look at the picture that accompanies this essay and examine with me what New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams was thinking.

We should first take a moment to pity the man, a rookie whose coaches put him in a god-awful position — “on an island,” as they say, by himself defending half the field when the situation clearly called for the Mother of All Prevent Defenses. Even in this highly vulnerable position, however, all Williams needed to do was play deep center field, keep Mr. Diggs in front of him, eventually wrap him up and wait for help, or bring him down, ideally in the field of play (but even a shove out of bounds would have sufficed).

Instead, Williams did what most professional footballers tend to do in the 21st century: He went for the “spectacle hit”, head first.

Competitively, as we’ve seen, the results were disastrous. (Williams even managed too compound his misfortune, somewhat comically, by whiffing on Diggs entirely, then taking out his teammate — the only guy in a position to chase Diggs down.) But if we step back, we see here yet another consequence of football’s troubling evolution on the defensive side of scrimmage. Despite a litany of league-wide initiatives to curb headfirst tackling — the result of mounting evidence linking repeated, football-related head trauma to brain injury (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE) — the NFL’s hit culture remains firmly in place. Even in a situation like Sunday’s, where old fashioned, rugby-style tackling was called for, Williams acted on the instinct that football today engenders.

NFL Football in the here and now is plenty good fun, the most popular and culturally dominant game in 21st century North America. Minnesota’s unlikely victory on Sunday (indeed, three of the four games this past weekend) showcase exactly why this is so. NFL games can be spectacularly entertaining.

But it would be a stretch to consider the game of professional football “perfected”. In reality, any sport played at the elite level exists as a moving target, a work in evolutionary progress, because the salient factors affecting that evolution — rules, tactics, equipment, geography and fashion — also shift and evolve. All this transforms the way a game is played over the course of time, sometimes by design, sometimes organically without much guidance at all.

In 2017, we can add “culture” and “the legal process” to this list of salient change-agents. People took notice when former NFL player Ed Cunningham resigned from his position of ESPN football analyst — on account of the game’s growing concussion dilemma — but, in truth, we’ve become somewhat inured to stories like this because nearly every week brings some new, relevant development, be it evidence that concussions sustained in pee wee football can lead to adult brain trauma, or steps the Canadian Football League has taken to reduce the volume of dangerous hits.

The idea that former Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez might have committed his crimes while experiencing advanced-stage CTE adds to this potent mix the elements of irony and the macabre. Did you know that a class-action lawsuit, brought on behalf of current and former NCAA student-athletes, remains pending before Judge John Z. Lee of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois? Me neither. Class actions have their own online portals these days, naturally. Visit this one and be prepared for the following greeting: “Welcome to the NCAA Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation Website.”

Bit by bit, the forces of change would appear to be gathering over football, as they have intermittently but more or less continuously for more than a century. No game, it seems to me, has evolved so far, so quickly or so dangerously.

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System Error 23: Bad Disk or File Name

[See below a 1996 article from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, which I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, you heard me right … The act of ‘composing at the keyboard’ is so ingrained today, one can forget when and why that started — and just how many technological eras our lives have spanned since. The newspaper that first employed me was still waxed and ‘pasted up’ on boards, with photos carved in with exacto knives…] 

As I prepare to discard the computer on which I truly learned to type, compose at the keyboard and play video games, I’ve come not to bury the ol’ ATT 6300 but to praise it. After doling out the praise, however, it’s headed for the scrap heap.

For 11 years, this IBM knock-off served various housemates and myself extremely well under the most trying circumstances. I dare say, no unit still operating has endured more moves, beer-dousings and random acts of neglect than has our intrepid ATT 6300.

Harold Herald Virtual Editor Dave Rose was the original owner, having purchased the machine via a special Wesleyan University discount deal prior to our senior year. Today, its game graphics would pale by comparison to, say, those of any Fisher Price product. But back in 1985, this baby was state of the art.

In the years preceding Dave’s monumental purchase, I had no PC experience whatsoever. Hardly anyone did. For the first two and a half years of college, for example, I would write papers long hand. It was imperative that I produce a finished draft two days in advance, leaving me an entire evening to hunt and peck the final product on my enormous, ’50s-era electric typewriter, which my dad found at the dump and refurbished. These “typing” sessions were trying times for my housemates and me: evenings laced with profanity born of frustration and pungent White-Out fumes as disorienting (in their own way) as Thai stick.

Behold, Digger: This would be Screen 3, I think. Back in the day, I progressed as far as Screen 12…

Late in my junior year I took to typing papers on the university’s main-frame computer, which was painfully slow and inconvenient as it was located in the Science Library as opposed to our house.

All this changed senior year when Rose bought the computer, thereby opening up a whole new world to the residents of 8 Warren St.

The video games, crude though they were, proved the ATT 6300’s most enduring legacy. Sure I wrote my thesis on this machine but, more important, I also shattered the world Digger record some 10 separate times! I am not a talented nor part particularly ardent gamer, but I made myself the all-time Digger champion through relentless practice. This involved repeatedly drawing myself a draft beer (we were on tap 24 hours a day, 7 days a week my senior year), going upstairs to Dave’s room and “Digging” until something more important came along.

Digger was a sort of Pacman knock-off. Space Vades, a thinly disguised copyright infringement of Space Invaders, was another 8 Warren St. mainstay. There were innumerable Star Wars-inspired, fighter-jet “shooter” games, several of which made their marks as the next late-night obsession of Dr. Rose and perennial roommate Dennis Carboni.

Come to think of it, I associate much of the computer’s nocturnal use with Dennis, a.k.a. The Bone, That Bone, Bonish, El Carbon and (my personal favorite) You Goddamned Fuckin’ Bone.

That Bone was one of the world’s great procrastinators. He never started a paper until 3 a.m. the morning it was due. Invariably, I would get up for class, poke my head into the computer room and Dennis would smile back, his eyes bleary but illuminated by the monitor.

“How’s it coming, you goddamned Bone?”

“Oh, hey … No problem: 11 o’clock class.”

Obsessive nearly to a fault, Dennis and Dave would often become utterly engrossed in some new DOS-based computer game via the 6300 (in the same way they became engrossed in things like mail-order blow guns, palindromes or the album art of David Bowie). Invariably, they would play new video-game pursuits late into the night. Rarely, however, would Rose outlast the Bone.

One night Rose and Bone secured some flight simulator software that enabled them to “fly” Piper Cubs, in real time, with functional control panels. After watching Rose navigate his way from Boston to New York City, I went to bed. It was interesting but quickly became tedious as the screen went a dull, blank green when one left Greater Boston. Such primitive graphic cards didn’t show any topographical detail until one approached Laguardia.

I saw Dennis the next morning and he looked like hell.

“Bone, you look like hell,” I said.

“Yeah, after you went to bed I flew to Salt Lake City!”

“How long did it take you?”

“Seven hours.”

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HH Flashback: Misery Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed

[See here an archival excerpt from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, which I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, I did… One of the things that made the HH special, and thereby transcend the as-yet-created blog genre, was the fact that we attracted scads of talented contributors. Dave Rose was one of these, and here we reprint one of my favorite bits, first published circa 1995, when CO2 levels were still sorta quaint. But with the onset of winter here in Maine, and wildfires raging across Los Angeles County, it remains damned timely.]

By DR. DAVID ROSE

BOSTON, Mass. — From a meteorological perspective, this winter has been a particularly difficult one in New England. The ground here has been snow-covered for at least a month, and each time the snow begins to retreat a new storm sets in, dumping a foot or two of the white stuff on the city’s long-suffering populace.

In times like these, even the most stalwart, Eastern masochist can cast an admiring eye to the South or West, imagining more comfortable — if less character-building — Februarys. In weaker moments we are all capable of believing we would be less miserable if only the weather were better.

What few people realize, however, is that misery — like matter, energy or gravity — is a measurable entity subject to strict physical laws. Paramount among these is the law of conservation of misery, which states that misery can be neither created nor destroyed. What the law of conservation of misery means is that each human being is subject to a fixed quantity of misery during his or her lifetime. This “misery quotient” is absolutely immutable, a constant that holds across socioeconomic groups and geographic boundaries.

The law can be demonstrated in the field by measuring and tabulating misery in test subjects by using sensitive, electronic monitoring equipment. In the following study, diary entries for three individuals are followed by the amount of misery experienced by each, expressed in misery units (MU).

Subject 1, Los Angeles, Calif.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Saw Erik Estrada at Arby’s (.002 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Discussed Rolfing with a Scientologist. (22.001 MU)

Day 3: Beautiful day. Around noon my house ripped loose from its foundation, slid down a hill, burst into flames and was swallowed up by a huge fissure that opened in the Earth. I was trapped for four weeks and was forced to drink by own urine to survive. One of the paramedics looked just like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. (1223.12 MU)

Subject 2, Tallahassee, Fla.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Stayed in the trailer and ran the air conditioner. (.003 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Noticed that some, but by no means all, of my neighbors bear a striking resemblance to Gomer Pyle. (12.4 MU)

Day 3: The morning was beautiful, but in the afternoon I was mistaken for a German tourist and shot in the head, doused with gasoline, and set afire during a hurricane that destroyed the entire trailer park. (1232.72 MU)

Subject 3, Boston, Mass.

Day 1: Mixture of snow and sleet. Frostbite in right foot. (415.041 MU)

Day 2: Mixture of snow and freezing rain. My right foot has become gangrenous, and the stench is unbearable (415.041 MU)

Day 3: More snow. However, I reflected today that my house remains intact and this gave me a sense of stability and well-being. Right foot amputated. (415.041 MU)

Note the three subjects had very different experiences during the test period. However, the total amount of misery endured by each subject is identical (1245.123 MU).

While life in Boston is characterized by an endless series of petty humiliations and annoyances, life to the South or West consists of long stretches of inane, vapid, colorless contentment punctuated by absolute cataclysm. You can take your pick, but you can’t avoid misery altogether.

And before you move to warmer climes, consider the fact that spring will bring nicer weather to Boston, whereas Gomer Pyle lives in Tallahassee year ’round.

Herald Science Editor David Rose, PhD, is the world’s foremost authority on suffering. While he still gets a charge from the warranted misfortune of others, he specializes in chance trauma and self-imposed misery. He once dieted for two weeks on nothing but chicken boullion and carrots. His latest book, “I’m Wretched, You’re Wretched” (Knopf, $14.95), was published in February.

That Night a Mouth Roared and a Light Went Out

 

Like many others that fateful night 37 years ago, Dec. 8, 1980, I learned of John Lennon’s death from Howard Cosell. Yeah, that Howard Cosell. It was Monday night, the Patriots were in Miami, and, in 1980, Howard was still presiding — in his inimitably pedantic, overly dramatic fashion — over Monday Night Football, what in the pre-cable era was the week’s premier sports broadcasting event. Howard was respectful of the news, as respectful as his bombastic persona would allow: He treated it as he would a punt returner who has broken clear of the pack with only the kicker to beat. See that bizarre media moment, preserved for all time, here. ESPN would later weigh in with a meta-media doc, here.

My dad and I always watched MNF and we were stunned, naturally. It was legitimately stunning news delivered by a most unlikely source, in a peculiar context. The Pats’ left-footed, English place kicker — John Smith (from Leafield, Oxfordshire) — was lining up a field goal attempt when Cosell abruptly altered the narrative. The only thing that would’ve made it more bizarre? If Smith had hailed from Blackburn, Lancashire.

We called my mother into the room. She was the founding and still chief Beatles lover in our family, and John was clearly her favorite. She was 41 in 1980, essentially the same age as John Lennon. She had latched onto them from the start; indeed, my dad had teased her for digging a band whose enthusiasts were, at that stage, mainly 13- and 14-year-old girls. But my mom possesses a keen musical sensibility and her early support for their chops were more than justified in the years to come… She teared up listening to Cosell bloviate then left the room.

Not sure why, but the holiday period tends to include a lot of Beatles content on PBS. Just last week I saw that Ron Howard’s “Eight Days a Week” was featured, along with something called “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution”, as part of a fundraiser. All these years later, the Beatles are considered subject matter for the whole family, apparently. If you should get the chance, make time this month to watch the superb documentary “LENNONYC”, about his post-Beatles years in New York City (I saw it on PBS, but today you can catch it online, here). It was an eventful decade that followed hard on the band’s break-up, in 1970. For Lennon it featured a gaggle of outsized characters and spanned a remarkable procession of music-making, protesting, drug-taking, deportation-resisting, legal wrangling, breaking up, getting back together, child-rearing and, ultimately, growing up. That was the message one took away at film’s close: Here was a guy who had finally shed the latent adolescence of rock stardom and become a man, in his own right, only to be killed by a psychopath at the exact moment that maturity was to be revealed — his gorgeous new album, “Double Fantasy”, was released on Nov. 17, 1980). I don’t know that it gets much sadder than that.

Candy Nostalgia, Updated Every Oct. 31
Is it possible for candy bars to make comebacks?

Candy Nostalgia, Updated Every Oct. 31

Is it possible for candy bars to make comebacks?

 

One of the great privileges of child-rearing is what I call the Transportation Effect, whereby adults, in playing or otherwise communing with their kids in an appropriately committed fashion, are transported back to a time in their own lives when, say, erecting the most efficient Hot Wheels match-race scheme was about the most engrossing thing imaginable.

Halloween, of course, with its attendant masquerading and confectionary trappings, transports like few other phenomena. A couple years back my fully transported mother actually demonstrated apple-bobbing to my children, full dunk and all — something she never did for my benefit during the umpteen Halloweens of my own childhood. But the point is taken: Hayrides, costumes, haunted houses, pumpkin carving… They’re all transcendentally nostalgic acts.

But they’re all secondary to the candy.

As I re-entered the Halloween scene in earnest, thanks to the growth of my young children (Silas and Clara, now 21 and 19), I was awed by the spring of candy knowledge that welled up inside me, from places deep in my subconscious. Several years back, when walking with my children Halloween night (and scamming as much candy as was reasonable for an adult), one couldn’t help but notice the surprising re-emergence of, for example, the Clark bar, that peanutty, soft-but-crunchy Butterfinger forebear. After plucking one from a neighbor’s bowl, I stood there on the street and stared wistfully at the little red package and nearly shed a tear — not because it was so very fun sized (an execrable euphemism; more on that later), but because I remembered a time when Clarks were “right there”, a legitimate option in the full-sized, 10-cent category at J&A’s in downtown Wellesley, Mass., circa 1974.

“What’s this Clark thing?” Silas asked me, without a scintilla of guile… Poor lad. He had no idea.

It’s this sort of benignly ignorant prompt that sends me winging back in time. Indeed, my kids’ questions serve as able catalysts. We were in Cloutier’s, a local convenience story, the other day when Silas, the more adventurous eater of the two, pointed to the Charleston Chews and expressed curiosity.

What’s this? Never had a Charleston Chew? Well, that won’t do.

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With All-Cover Encores, The Feelies Advance State of the Art

Click photo to hear The Feelies pay homage to Jimi Hendrix during their encore at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 14, 2017.

Nerd rockers The Feelies played The Sinclair in Cambridge over the weekend, and for all the band’s laudable work churning out two solid sets, it was the encore that left the greater impression. This is perhaps by design, from a band that does encores like no one else and whose 21st century incarnation just happens to have played out like one long, extended encore.

Formed in 1976, this Hoboken 5-piece achieved a modest commercial success and sizeable cult following (comprising not insignificant numbers of Velvet Underground devotees) during the 1980s on the strength of four superb studio albums. Eventually it would break up (1992), re-form (2008), go out on limited tour (trademark diffidence in tow) and eventually release two new discs, including this year’s In Between.

And yet I come before you not to reflexively extoll the virtues of The Feelies sound — which I love, but about which reasonable people can disagree — but rather to applaud the remarkable structure of their shows. We’re all familiar with the two-sets-plus-appended-encore format of most club dates. Here The Feelies do not break any molds. When it comes to the content of those encores, however, they deviate from the norm to stirring effect.

I’ve long maintained that any band (even one whose original music I can’t get enough of) should be obligated, by law, to play at least one cover during a live show. Covering someone else’s material exhibits range; it provides insight into a band’s outside influences, tastes and admirations. It is at once self-effacing and evidence of a certain kind of bravado.

In this respect, The Feelies consistently hit it out of the park and they do it with an emotional intensity they don’t always apply to their originals. After playing not a single cover during the first two sets at The Sinclair, they re-emerged to produce their specialty: the rare all-cover encore, a half dozen tunes that, taken together, provide a veritable window on the band’s soul:

• Astral Plane, The Modern Lovers

Paint It Black, Rolling Stones

I Can’t Stand It, Velvet Underground

Got to Get You Into My Life, The Beatles

Real Cool Time, The Stooges

Damaged by Love, Tom Petty

See No Evil, Television

Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix

I watched this show with a couple certifiable Feelies Freaks who admitted afterward the two formal sets had come off as a bit labored. The band played a bunch of new material from In Between (i.e. songs still to be polished in the live setting) and while they nailed plenty of oldies from Time For a Witness, Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, there wasn’t exactly a surfeit of energy up there. Of course, with The Feelies, stage histrionics are not what they’re selling. In any case, once the encore kicked off, they summoned reservoirs of new life. Even Glenn Mercer, the famously cadaverous and impassive lead singer/guitarist, perked up; mid-Stooges, after two sets of studied catatonia, he could be seen bouncing about the stage and rubbing his guitar against the mic stand.

I don’t know of any other bands that deliver all-cover encores (aside from those who do nothing but covers). In some small way, The Feelies are innovating here — which is ironic, for in most every other respect, they have stubbornly refused to evolve. When Yo La Tengo debuted with Ride the Tiger in 1985, these two Jersey-derived bands could easily have been mistaken for one another — a pair of similarly skilled, post-punk, Velvet-obsessed, art-house darlings. Yo La Tengo actually has a thing for covers, too. But while YLT moved on (issuing a dozen increasingly expansive, sonically adventurous albums), The Feelies have never abandoned their own specific brand of jangly, guitar-driven avant-pop, proving just how much there is to mine from such a seemingly constrictive niche.

And you know what? Their encore habits further demonstrate their desire to cling just as tightly to their earliest influences. Today, of course, there are websites devoted entirely to the fan-chronicling of set lists, even those performed by obscure bands from the 1980s. The Sinclair show has not yet been logged for all time, but here we gather from www.setlist.fm a further sampling of encore tunes from The Feelies’ Detroit show at The El, in July:

Dancing Barefoot, Patti Smith

White Light, White Heat, Velvet Underground

I’m a Believer, Neil Diamond (The Monkees didn’t write this, silly)

Everyone’s Got Something but Me and My Monkey, The Beatles (or this one)

• Child of the Moon, Rolling Stones

Take It As It Comes, The Doors

Seven Days, Bob Dylan

I’ve seen The Feelies three times now, all post 2008, and I just love the way these guys deploy their encore/cover strategy to paint for the audience (and re-experience for themselves) a rich picture of their collective musical tastes circa 1978, when the band was just getting going, young and impressionable. This gambit functions additionally as an ingenious audience-engagement strategy, for everyone at The Sinclair was at least as old as I am (53), and who in their 50s doesn’t want to hear one of their favorite bands cover Television, or Patti Smith? And I find this sorta touching: The Feelies rarely leave out the Beatles and Stones — because, honestly, how could anyone, even the most overly curated latent punk aesthete, come of age in the early 1970s and completely resist their many, many charms? After all, when The Feelies were coming up, 1969 just wasn’t that long ago.

What sort of new music are The Feelies into these days? The Lord only knows. If the contents of their encores are any guide, the answer is “not much”. They knew Tom Petty has recently passed away —  evidence of a basic musical awareness. Otherwise, the course of modern rock these last 25 years would appear to have made little to no impression on their song choices. They’re a band whose predilections and influences, like their own sound (even today), remain frozen in amber. And it’s hard not to love them for it.

Thai Golf: The Buddy Trip Writ Large and Bawdy
Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin.

Thai Golf: The Buddy Trip Writ Large and Bawdy

The stunning clubhouse serving Siam CC’s Plantation Course.

Strolling down the main drag in Pattaya, Thailand, the local clocks ticking toward 11 p.m., I am reminded of the golf destinations we North Americans regard as desirable.

Front and center is the golf component, of course. Normally this is the primary factor in determining quality or desirability. But there’s no denying that packs of (primarily) male golfers generally prize golfing locales for their nightlife, too. Any gaggle of 8-12 golfing buddies will include a few lads determined to rip it up each night, their desires perhaps offset by a few compatriots who’d just as soon play poker in the condo. And so there is equilibrium. Still, it seems the destination must offer some degree of lascivious attraction — if only to get the hard-partying faction on the plane. Think Myrtle Beach and its strip of nightclubs and bars. Think Vegas and its many diversions.

Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin.

I consider the different buddy trips I’ve experienced, in these very locales, and I laugh to myself as another sultry Thai evening obliges me to wipe the beads from my perspiring brow. The Walking Street in Pattaya, ground zero for the city’s famously over-the-top nightlife, frankly makes an evening in Vegas feel like a night in Amish Country.

Blocked to vehicular traffic (save a series of small open-air trucks that continuously circle the downtown area, picking up patrons and dropping them off, for a dollar), Pattaya’s Walking Street stretches several kilometers along the beachfront on the Gulf of Siam. Either side of this thoroughfare is fairly well riddled with some of the craziest nightclub scenes you can possibly imagine. If you’ve never been to Thailand, you will have to imagine it — because you’ve surely never seen anything like it.

This is the primary take-away from my 10 days golfing across Thailand: There is such a breadth of experiences to be had that, after a point, all comparisons tend to pale.

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