Saturday Odds & Sods: Mockingbird Time

Human Mockingbird

Sideshow banner by Snap Wyatt.

It’s been an interesting week in New Orleans. Things are looking so good in the Gret Stet Goober race that I’m concerned about overconfidence. Louisiana Democrats have no reason to feel cocky with only 2 weeks to go until the runoff. We haven’t won a Governor’s race since 2003, so it’s time to keep on pushing as Curtis Mayfield would surely say at this point. That’s my impressionistic take:

The big local controversy involves parking meters, one might even call it parking wars. It sounds like an A&E reality show but it’s all about Mayor Landrieu doubling parking meter rates and extending operating times. People are perturbed, peeved, and pissed-off, especially since the whole thing has been done by stealth. The last things we need are fewer parking spaces and more enforcement by the dread meter maids. Macca obviously never met a New Orleans meter maid when he wrote Lovely Rita.

This week’s theme song and banner artwork are inspired by the spirited chirping of one of my favorite birds-you guessed it-the mockingbird. There’s one ensconced not far from my writing room belting out triplets. That, in turn, led me to one of my favorite bands and the title track of their 2011 album-you guessed it-Mockingbird Time:

While we’re mocking mockingbirds, I thought I’d throw this chirpy avian hit from the Seventies at you:

Carly and James were the IT couple for a few years but things didn’t work out for them in the long run. Holy celebrity trivia, Batman. We’ll have more ponderous ruminations after the break but whatever you do, don’t listen to the mockingbird:

I didn’t know until today that Pops had recorded Listen to the Mockingbird.Who forgot to tell me? Bueller? Now that I’ve thoroughly confused y’all, let’s talk baseball.

I don’t follow the ins and outs of the national pastime as closely as I once did. But when it comes to baseball history and baseball writing, I still know my shit. We’ll begin with 2 segments about baseball. I mulled it over and decided not to do my Chico Escuela imitation. I overdid it at one point and don’t want to pile on since his team lost the World Series berry, berry badly:

72mfcALT-ChicoEscuela-z15

Joe Posnanski on the Kansas City Royals: As you presumably know, the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years. The final game was wilder than Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham. It was wilder than the real Nuke, Steve Dalkowski, about whom Joe Posnanski wrote a wonderful piece in 2015.

Posnanski was a Royals beat writer for many years and has remained a fan of a team that spent 20 years in the wilderness after the Brett-McRae-White glory days. Joe, however, is not as attached to the team as his mother-in-law:

 My mother-in-law, Judy Keller, lives in Winfield, Kan., which is supposed to be where Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island” came from. I can tell you, nobody in Winfield has her tan. Mostly, though, Judy lived in Cuba, a tiny village 30 miles from the Nebraska border famed, if you want to use that word, for its Rock-A-Thon, where the farmers and teachers and truck drivers and everyone in Cuba keeps rocking chairs rocking for 24 hours straight.

Judy has been a Royals fan since the team came to Kansas City in 1969. At first, she and my father-in-law, Cecil, would listen to Denny Matthews and Fred White call the games on the radio in the evenings.

<snip>

In any case, after a while, Judy and Cecil got a giant satellite receiver so that they could reel in the signal from the Kansas City television stations three hours away. This way, they could see some of the Royals’ games.

In a way, talking Royals baseball with Judy is not so different from talking baseball with Art Stewart or talking baseball with my old friend Buck O’Neil. Buck, as you no doubt know, was a great Negro Leagues player and manager and then a brilliant and determined storyteller from that time when so many of baseball’s best players were lost in the shadows. Buck loved those Royals. He used to say, again and again, ‘Did you see the Royals last night?” and this was often in the Septembers of lost seasons or at the end of interminable losing streaks. And then Buck would smile and say, “I think they’re turning things around.”

Buck died in 2006, the same year that Dayton Moore came to Kansas City, but he believed in this team to the very end. So does Judy. A year ago, after the Royals made it to the World Series and lost in seven games to San Francisco, I got the chance to introduce Judy to Dayton Moore. She began crying immediately. “You don’t know what this means to me,” she said. When Dayton asked her how it felt to finally have a winner, Judy cried again.

“But, you know,” she said, “I loved the Royals anyway.”

I know that was a long ass quote but I couldn’t break up such terrific writing. Besides, Joe mentioned my Giants and you know how I am about them. Btw, Posnanski predicted that the Royals would win this year’s Series back in 2011. He admits that it was blind luck but I thought I’d mention his time as Joestradamus just for the hell of it.

One thing I share with Joe Posnanski-other than a receding hairline-is a passion for baseball history, which brings me to our next piece:

A Death At Home Plate: I’ve seen my share of beanings but only one major league player has ever been killed by a pitched ball, Cleveland Indians SS Ray Chapman. It happened during the amazing 1920 American League pennant race, which was won by the Indians after Chapman’s death. 1920 was an epochal season in baseball history, it was the year Babe Ruth joined the Yankees and became the first player to hit more than 50 home runs. It was also the year the Black Sox scandal became public knowledge thereby costing the Chicago White Sox the pennant in a 3 way battle with the Indians and Yankees. It was such a wild year that the Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers in the World Series. Imagine that.

Gilbert King tells the story at the Smithsonian Magazine of how one of the least popular players in the majors, Yankee ace Carl Mays, killed one of the best-liked, Ray Chapman. Mays was as famous for his ill-tempered dickishness as for his unusual pitching motion:

Mays, a spitballer (legal at the time), threw with an awkward submarine motion, bending his torso to the right and releasing the ball close to the ground—he sometimes scraped his knuckles in the dirt. Right-handed submariners tend to give right-handed batters the most trouble because their pitches will curve in toward the batter, jamming him at the last moment. Mays, one baseball magazine noted, looked “like a cross between an octopus and a bowler” on the mound. “He shoots the ball in at the batter at such unexpected angles that his delivery is hard to find, generally until along about 5 o’clock, when the hitters get accustomed to it—and when the game is about over.”

Mays had good control for a submariner, but he also was known as a “headhunter” who was not shy about brushing batters, especially right-handers, off the plate; he was consistently among the American League leaders in hit batsmen.

Mays briefly made an elaborate show of contrition for killing Chapman but changed neither his pitching style nor his surly demeanor. The Chapman-Mays incident led to the banning of the spitball and a new practice of keeping clean balls in play much to the displeasure of the more parsimonious owners.

Repeat after me: 1920 was the year everything changed in the world of baseball.

Here are the two main players in this deadly sporting drama:

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman

Carl Mays

Carl Mays.

Just a song before we move on:

It’s time to lighten things up with a yummy piece from the New Yorker’s Food Issue by the great Calvin Trillin:

The Fight For The True Cue: Keeping Pork Pure In North Carolina- Trillin has long been one of my literary heroes. Any time one of his pieces appears in the New Yorker, it’s the first thing I read. His legendary Tummy Trilogy is comedic food writing at its finest even if his suggestion that spaghetti carbonara replace turkey on Thanksgiving has never caught on. I once suggested it to Dr. A and was rewarded with a baleful stare. I never repeated the suggestion again.

My friend Chef James Cullen used to work at an oyster joint not far from the New Yorker building in Manhattan. Bud Trillin was a regular and James assures me that he’s a helluva nice guy. Of course, James is a friend of mine so I’m not sure what he knows about conviviality…

Anyway, Trillin recently visited North Carolina and sized up the sides in the long-running Tar Heel state BBQ war. He declared it a draw. Trillin’s expertise in North Carolina BBQ is rather amusing since it involves pork, pork and more pork; he’s Jewish as is his friend Dan Levine:

Dan seems unfazed by the ubiquitousness of the cheerful pig, perhaps because he has written on BBQJew.com that what Moses was seeking in the Promised Land was not milk and honey but chopped hog and hush puppies. (No specific Biblical passage is cited in support of this interpretation.) I’m not in a position to criticize Dan’s scholarship, since, in dealing with the pork issue in my own speech at the Barbecue Summit, I mentioned, with a similar absence of citations, the Barbecue Easement, promulgated in Missouri by the Joplin rebbe, a renowned Talmudist and pitmaster: any farm animal without scales that is subjected to slow heat from a hardwood fire for more than six hours is kosher.

The barbecue easement? I like the sound of that. We’d call it a barbecue servitude in Louisiana, which sounds kinkier than an easement. Of course, our legal system includes a concept called naked ownership that has nothing to do with David Vitter or Wendy Three Names. A lawyer friend of mine once thought there was money to be made by affixing the slogan OWN NAKED on a variety of products. It never happened.

From the gourmet stylings of Calvin Trillin, we turn to the greatest gourmand in cinematic history, Orson Welles:

Welles Lettres: It’s the centennial of Orson’s birth and there are three new books out about various facets of the great man’s life. A.S. Hamrah reviews all three tomes for BOOKFORUM and engages in a lively discussion of the life and work of Welles.

As a longtime admirer of Welles’ body of work, I applaud Hamrah’s preference for NOT treating Orson’s film career as the ultimate cautionary tale:

It’s been difficult to get beyond the mocking portrayals of Welles in part because so many critics and pop film historians have adopted Hollywood’s conformist notions of success. Welles’s story of uncompromising ambition and lack of concern for studio approval has functioned as a cautionary tale: a lesson in how not to succeed in show business.

<snip>

Focusing on his work in the theater and radio in New York and elsewhere in the ’30s, then cutting, Kane-like, to the New Hollywood of the ’70s reveals an unwavering Welles, committed to a kaleidoscopic vision that was also a style of work and a way of being in the world. If he failed to find a way to direct his films with Hollywood funding and approval, he went elsewhere—a rebuke the movie industry saw as disrespectful, self-sabotaging, and grotesque.

While the cautionary Welles is a great source of Internet listicle kitsch (“16 Hilarious Examples of Orson Welles’s Late-Career Slumming,” flogged a headline on Newsweek.com earlier this year), it is not the Welles we need in the twenty-first century. The Welles of TV talk shows and wine commercials is in fact an indictment of how the second half of the twentieth century failed to live up to the promises of the first half. In reality, it wasn’t that Welles did not fulfill his promise. The times let him down.

The dude made Citizen Fucking Kane for chrissake, even if he appeared in these commercials:

It’s story time, kiddies. I’ve probably seen Citizen Kane more times than any other movie, even The Godfather. I hope Don Vito will forgive me without expecting a Bonasera-like favor from me. I’m not much of an undertaker even if I *am* a 6 Feet Under fan…

I was introduced to the glories of Citizen Kane by my high school journalism teacher, Mr. Quinlan. He was a fussy little man who was a rather dull teacher. He was seriously bald and usually wore a gray suit, white shirt, and a dark tie. Try as we might, he was hard to imitate: our feeble attempts usually involved placing a right hand on the nape of the neck and scowling quizzically. The impression also involved much head-shaking. I told you it was a bad impression.

Mr. Quinlan came to life when discussing Citizen Kane with his students. He was positively bubbly while telling us that Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst and Susan Alexander was based on Marion Davies. He omitted, however, one theory of why Hearst was so livid about the movie. Legend has it that rosebud was the tycoon’s nickname for Ms. Davies’ clitoris. That story would have made Mr. Quinlan blush like a bald beet. I’m not sure if it’s true but Gore Vidal thought it made more sense than that sled/lost childhood mishigas.

rosebud

Rumor has it that Orson Welles liked the odd tipple of beer as well as wine. That’s one reason I think he would have enjoyed our next piece. Let’s belly up to the bar, order a pint, and toast:

The Death and Life of the Great British Pub:  The beloved tradition of the local British pub is under assault by forces that will be familiar to any urbanite: gentrification and greedy developers. Another issue facing UK publicans (one of my favorite words) are attempts by corporate breweries to buy out independent pubs and consolidate them under their own brand or, even worse, sell them off to the highest bidder.

The Guardian’s Tom Lamont has the story of the Murphy family, owners of a North London pub, the Golden Lion, who decided to fight back against a greedy developer known as the Grim Reaper. Jeepers creepers, he tried to transform them into a Pub With No Beer:

Speaking of people who enjoyed having a few belts:

Documentary Of The Week: A friend of mine teased me the other day about the frequency of Gore Vidal references in this feature. He suggested I rename it the Weekly Vidal. I’m not about to do that, but he has a valid point. One of my minor causes is keeping the memory of the Master alive. I owe it to the writer whose work gave me more pleasure than anyone else. The man made me LOL and few writers have that effect on me. The aforementioned Bud Trillin is another one.

That brings me to Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia. It was released in 2013 and was a labor of love for writer-director Nicholas Wrathall. What’s not to love about a film that features an extensive segment about the night Vidal and a  clearly inebriated Norman Mailer nearly duked it out on the Dick Cavett Show?

The film features some interesting talking heads as well as some great clips. I wish there had been more clips of Vidal’s appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Vidal always called Johnny the best interviewer he’d ever encountered. Why? He listened. He was also a drinker but I’m uncertain about Johnny’s opinion on mockingbirds and whether or not he listened to them.

The movie is currently available on Netflix. I give it 3 1/2 stars, an Adrastos Grade of B+ and a Siskelian thumbs up. I’m a tough grader, y’all. If anyone wants to whine about it, my office hours are cancelled. You can piss off down the pub…

Saturday Classic: One Size Fits All is an oddball choice as my favorite Zappa album. It’s one of the last albums released as Frank Zappa and the Mothers. It’s an unpretentious collection of catchy blues and rock-based songs with very tricky time signatures. It featured my favorite Mothers band ever: George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Tom Fowler, Ruth Underwood, and Chester Thompson. The core group had been together for years and they were tighter than that tick Dan Rather was always on about during election broadcasts.

If you’re feeling a bit hungry you can always nibble on a Florentine Pogen, which in addition to being a One Size Fits All song title was a Swedish cookie.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back with more demented ramblings and deranged puns in a mere seven days. Just remember:

Catwoman meme

%d bloggers like this: