Outtakes

Yesterday morning I found myself in a basement singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The occasion wasn’t my usual solitary bizarrerie, but rather a children’s concert at a local library.

Twins 1 & 2 knew the song, which surprised me – apparently they learned it at preschool – and the latter was merrily belting it out.

This in turn recalled a happy memory from last summer, going to see the Traverse City Beach Bums with my friend Steve and his friend Martin, who is Congolese.

 

It was Martin’s first trip to the US, and his first baseball game, and I did my best to explain the rules. Given my French, this probably sounded like mediocre beat poetry: “The man on the hill launches the ball at the man who stands at wait with the stick…” But Steve can A1 parley-voo, and Martin mercifully directed further questions to him.

I thought Martin might find odd the American custom of prefacing a game with our national anthem, but he didn’t seem fazed: he stood right up, doffed his cap, and faced the flag.

 

It was the seventh inning stretch that puzzled him.

“What is this?” he asked me as we stood again. (Steve must have been getting beers.) I wondered how best to explain thousands rising to sing the wish to attend a game at which they were already present.

“C’est une pause traditionelle,” I mumbled, and started singing to avoid further questions.

 

Marchpane

March is the month God created to show people who don’t drink what a hangover is like.

– Garrison Keillor

 

Image result for john bonham

This long March was composed by John Philip Sousa for the ball-peen hammer and performed by John Bonham.

Ooh, my head.

 

Ineffable

Joan Acocella has written one of the more entertaining paragraphs I’ve read lately:

Japan, curiously, does not have swear words in the usual sense. You can insult a Japanese person by telling him that he has made a mistake or done something foolish, but the Japanese language does not have any of those blunt-instrument epithets – no [doofus], no [sillyhead] – that can take care of the job in a word or two. The Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki told The Wall Street Journal that one of the things he liked best about playing ball in the United States was swearing, which he learned to do in English and Spanish. “Western languages,” he reported happily, “allow me to say things that I otherwise can’t.”

There’s no F in team, Ichiro-san!

 

You may – or, in fairness, may not – be pleased to learn that I recently avoided incineration. I was in a rotary when an entering heating oil truck failed to yield. The driver yelled something I couldn’t make out, but can only assume was pithy endorsement of the Law of Gross Tonnage.

Naturally, this shook me. I want to live in a world where motorists shout “You have made a mistake!”

The Southern Affront

A famous Australian children’s author was detained upon arrival at Los Angeles recently. She described the experience:

I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness.

I haven’t read her books, but even if they’re that bad, this is no way to greet a visitor.

 

We Have Always Been At War With Australia

In 1942, the Allies slipped off their axis at the Battle of Brisbane.

(There was also an unfriendly match next door at the Battle of Manners Street. Gotta go with the Kiwis on this one.)

 

Strategic Mercy

When the world knows our fury, no worries, Australia fair:

We’ll save Australia
Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an all-American amusement park there
They’ve got surfing, too.

 

Tactical Brilliance

American munition, Australian delivery:

 

(Paul Auster on Foster’s would be the converse, I guess.)

Play Ball

Image result for albert einstein tongue

I know not with what weapons World War Three will be fought, but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.

 

Admittedly, such a progression of events would not be ideal. But a silver lining is that those left might also play with the sticks and stones, and maybe they’d get baseball right.

I’m not talking about speeding up the game. This is what I’m talking about:

C.S. Lewis once said that the decline of English literature began the day Oxford University opened its English literature department. Yogi Berra once grumbled that the worst thing that ever happened to baseball was Little League. When I first heard the Lewis remark, I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about, and when I first heard Yogi’s comment, I dismissed it as the grousing of a cranky but lovable old bastard. I have since come to see the wisdom of what they were saying and to realize that they were both making essentially the same point: those things that exist to be enjoyed do not benefit much from organization and seriousness of purpose.

I am not suggesting that Yogi’s point contains a kernel of truth. I am suggesting that it is quite literally true: the worst damn thing that ever happened to baseball is not the DH; it is Little League.

When I first read these paragraphs, I dismissed them as the grousing of a crank. But I read on, and Bill James persuaded me.

 

Children Playing Baseball, Boston. Peter H. Dreyer

 

 

The Heuristicks

Image result for benny andersson

 

If you need more than one reason to do something, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says, don’t do it. Otherwise, you’re just trying to convince yourself.

I like his reasoning.

I’ve been watching ABBA documentaries lately, and Taleb’s wisdom comes to mind. There seems an awful lot of explaining why ABBA are so good. They doth affirm too much, methinks.

Here’s one reason: Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, Benny sits and waits for dragons:

I’m a knight of armor, you know? I have to sit here and wait for the good notes to sort of come from somewhere. And if I’m not here they’re not going to come. It’s like… there’s a dragon in a cave, right? And you know it’s in there, but it’s never coming out, so you have to sit outside and wait for it. And you know if you sit there long enough, it’s going to come out; if you go home and take a nap, you’ll never see it, because that’s when it’s coming out.

 

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The National Anthem

1. Who’s on First?

Last week it was fractions, and I spent some time trying to explain how “equivalent” differs in meaning from “equal.”

We used currencies and first names as examples. Then we got into national anthems.

I’ll spare you the transcript, but there were several iterations of:

Mr. Sipe: Yes, but what’s the title?
Brazilian students: [with increasing impatience] Hino Nacional Brasileiro!

Finally I understood the Brazilian national anthem was actually called “Brazilian National Anthem.”

I’d hitherto assumed all national anthems had their own titles. God Save the Queen. La Marseillaise. O Canada. But the kids from Colombia and El Salvador and Guatemala affirmed that their anthems were titled like Brazil’s.

If you look at this list, you’ll see it’s a common phenomenon, sometimes to a fairly specific degree, e.g. The State Anthem of the Independent and Neutral Turkmenistan.

 

2. Of Thee I Sing

Now, if I’m going to make fun of other countries’ anthems, I must acknowledge that ours, about a war in which we botched the invasion of Canada and the British captured our capital, is set to the tune of a drinking song.

Still, though:

  • Yumi, Yumi, Yumi (Vanuatu’s got love in its tummy)
  • One Single Night (Disco Stu’s anthem? Nope, Burkina Faso’s)
  • There Is a Lovely Country (and Denmark wants you to guess)
  • The Thunder Dragon Kingdom (don’t mess with Bhutan)
  • William (Het Was Echt Niets)

 

3. Love and Crockets
  • It was honestly very cool when I said, semi-jokingly, “OK, who wants to sing theirs?” and bang, all of a sudden half my first period class were on their feet, belting out Hino Nacional Brasileiro. We were treated to La Dessalinienne, too. (That was it, though. My theory is there had to be a critical mass of at least four students from a country to agree to sing. I mean, if I was the only American and some fool math teacher invited me to sing The Star-Spangled Banner, I would not proudly so hail.)
  • Do check out the lyrics to Brazil’s: “Brazil, an intense dream, a vivid ray… Thou flarest, O Brazil, crocket of America…”
  • I think “valence” is a lovely word, and I think English would be beautified if we all said “equivalence” stressing the third syllable. (Also, I wish everyone would emphasize both the prefix and root in “extraordinary” like Paul Holdengraber does.)

 

T Time

Image result for djibouti railway

 

With the opening of Africa’s first fully electrified cross-border railway, getting from Ethiopia’s capital to the Gulf of Aden just got a lot easier.

It also means Djibouti now has a more modern rail system than Boston.

Those Red Line cars you saw in The Friends of Eddie Coyle? They’re still running, sometimes. Check out the Orange Line if you think rust ever sleeps. The 326 bus I rode Friday morning seemed destined for a NHTSA report.

In Boston, you hear the term “world-class city” thrown around a lot. Our public transportation infrastructure is already world-class, just not first world.

And yet.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Twins 1 & 2 on the MBTA, and they find it genuinely delightful. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to my T disposition, fossilized over decades into sullen resignation.

And I must give a shout-out to T employees, who’ve been extra helpful – and kind – as I wrangle my monkeys aboard buses, subways, and trains. Thanks for keeping us going.

 

PS speaking of thank you, do say it (as per general manners and this excellent AMA with an T bus driver).

 

 

Triumphal Return

With the Patriots back in the Super Bowl, my thoughts naturally turn to Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled Togo for thirty-eight years.*

On the very day of Super Bowl XLII, you see, when the Patriots played some other team, I purchased this book.**

It’s a heck of a tale.

A young farm boy impresses all, not least his teachers…

Learns how to win hearts and minds in Vietnam…

Takes power reluctantly…

Dodges death repeatedly…

Gets reelected bigly…

And the rest is history.

My favorite part? When he pities the fool who tried to assassinate him. And invites him back every year for a drink.

Cheers!

 

 

    * I wish I were making some clever Tom Brady allusion, but all I know about football is you don’t wear skates.

** I’d located it online, and took the subway over to get it. As the bookseller rang up the sale, he said: “Well, every book has its buyer.” He may have intended this in a genial “I’ll be darned!” sense, but I suspect he employed it instead as terse valediction to hasten the obvious lunatic from the premises.

 

Pop Quiz

 

1) What is the all-time bestselling Irish novel?

“In 1955, a Soviet delegation of writers learned that the author, long presumed dead, was alive in New York… living in obscurity, and due to Soviet copyright laws, she was unaware of her legendary status in Russia. The following year, Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson visited Moscow to arrange for payment of her long-overdue royalties.”

 

2) What is the second-oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy?

I knew the oldest, having toured it. Tours are available of this one, too, if you’re in the neighborhood…

 

3) What song charted each decade from the nineteen-twenties to the nineteen-seventies?

A local station plays old American Top 40 shows in their entirety on Sunday mornings. It’s easily my favorite thing on the radio. Last week’s was from 1975, and old Casey dropped the above knowledge before playing the disco version by the (excellently named) Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps.

Keep your feet on the ground, Gentle Reader, and keep reaching for the stars.

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