Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

January 21, 2020

#160) Book review: “Bleachers” by John Grisham

“Bleachers” came into my life at the right time. When I first read in a long past October, the month in which it takes place, my mother was on her death bed, just as coach Eddie Rake, one of the central characters in this John Grisham novel, was. In need of some gallows humor, I would, based on medical reports from across the country and the pacing and tone of “Bleachers”, make daily predictions about who would die first, my mother or Coach Rake (as I recall, it was Rake). The book’s other main character, former star quarterback Neely Crenshaw, was approximately the same age as me and like me at a crossroads of is life: mourning for love lost and bridges burned but also hopeful that it wasn’t too late to change.

It was no masterpiece, but it was the story that I needed at the time. After twelve years, a marriage, two family deaths, travels, successes, disappointments and two presidents, would “Bleachers” hold up?

If there is a small town high school sports trope that “Bleachers” misses, I’d be hard pressed to name it. You have the All-American QB and his contentious relationship with his coach; the crazy linebacker who threatens his own teammates with bodily harm when they miss blocks; the nice girl who gets dumped for the hot bimbo; the nutty groundskeeper who’s been there as long as anyone can remember; the player who falls in with the wrong crowd in college and ends up in jail but gets a pass to attend the funeral; the non-fans who resent the resources spent on the football team at the expense of other school activities and old-timers at the coffee shop who reminisce about the glory days. (All this in a mere 163 pages!) Add these familiar elements to a plot that includes a dying coach and a “prodigal son” returning home for redemption and you have a prime set up for parody, intentional or otherwise, at least if the author isn’t careful.

Grisham is careful. He likely knew that handled poorly, the story could easily make people laugh at inopportune times while groaning at moments meant to be inspirational. Maybe as a former high school quarterback himself, he was wary of seeming self-indulgent. Whatever the reason, much of “Bleachers” has  a detached, dispassionate feel, often resembling nonfiction more than fiction. “Bleachers” is full of “facts” about the history of the Rake era (1958-1992) at Messina High: we learn that the 1968 team was not only undefeated but never scored upon; that Neely Crenshaw threw 63 touchdown passes (47 to his favorite target, wide receiver Paul Curry) and that Rake’s teams won 13 state titles. As former players of all ages make their way to Rake Field for the memorial, they are recognized by their fellow Spartans.

“That’s Orley Short,” Paul said, finally putting a name with a face. “Late seventies.”

“I remember him,” Neely said. “Slowest linebacker in history.”

“And the meanest. All-conference, I think. Played one year at a juco then quit to cut timber for the rest of his life.”

“Rake loved the loggers, didn’t he?”

“Didn’t we all? Four loggers on defense and a conference title was automatic.”

With the book’s brevity, Grisham doesn’t give himself much of a chance to develop his characters or create memorable dialogue. None of the characters seem to have memorable individual voices; in some cases, such as the brutish “Silo”, the words are too witty for the man saying them.

Yet that may be the point. “Bleachers” feels like a reunion: rushed and falling short of expectations. If the climatic events of “Bleachers” don’t feel like the payoff we hope for, maybe that’s because that’s how it would be in real life; we have expectations for reunions that we hope will come true even if our rational adult brains know they probably won’t. We know that it’s unrealistic to expect our past story lines to be neatly wrapped up in the course of a busy weekend, but after months of anticipation, it’s hard to let our hopes go. If Neely’s climatic speech leaves us wondering if he really believes what he is saying, maybe his real-life counterparts might act the same way. Unable to find his own closure, he tries to help give the town theirs.

When it’s all over, life returns to how it was; the funeral was a last hurrah, not a turning point in the characters’ lives. The convict goes back to prison; the banker goes back to his bank; the girl goes back to her family in Chicago and the town settles in for another forgettable season of post-Rake Spartans football. As for Neely, there’s a vague feeling that he got the cleansing he sought, although we’re not exactly holding our breath to see what he does next.

In the literary community, the popular opinion of “Bleachers” is that is at best a guilty pleasure, allowing ex-football players to relive their glory years. I said it once and I’ll say it again: “Bleachers” is no masterpiece, but despite the fact that in high school I was squarely on the nerd side, not the jock side, it resonated with me both times I read it. Not everyone plays or watches small town high school football, but many of us have had love-hate relationships with authority figures or once-close groups of friends that drift apart. Many of us have kept vigil during someone’s final hours. Many of us have made mistakes in our youth or been victimized by them. Ultimately, Neely Crenshaw and the other current and former Messina residents might not have the gravitas of Romeo and Juliet, the Joad family or even Harry Potter, but I’m not ashamed to say that they have now twice come into my life at the right time.

January 1, 2020

#159) Language court 2020: the D-Theory verdicts on the 45th annual LSSU banished words list

OK, boomers! I literally hope you are living your best lives and none of your friends made you totes jelly at your New Year’s Eve vibe check by posting curated pictures of artisanal cocktails with great mouthfeel, just like the ones they saw on their favorite influencer’s Instagram feed.

As anyone who has read this blog (you have my sympathies) knows, the Lake Superior State Univeristy’s annually released Banished Words List is like my Rose Parade. This year, the process of combing the list and rendering my own verdicts about whether a word or phrase belongs is bittersweet. My father, who recently died following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, was, among many other things, an incorrigible language curmudgeon (Lord help the poor soul who said “quantum leap” or mixed up “lay” and “lie” within his earshot). Though we never specifically geeked out on these lists together, we would often bemoan how certain phrases would, to paraphrase LSSU, be misused, overused or become generally useless (Dad once suggested that any restaurant or other business that used extra “E”s in its name for effect should have to pay a tax – pony up, Ye Goode Olde Tyme Inne.) So Therefore, I dedicate my verdicts on this year’s list to the memory of my father, Willie Lockeretz, a wonderful man and a relentless grammar douche to the very end.

Quid Pro Pro

Charges: The most nominated word of the year; “Its popularity had the committee wondering what it should offer in exchange for next year’s nominations.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Yes, it has been overused, but the precedent of this court is that mere annoyance isn’t enough for a conviction. In the case of “quid pro pro”, the use has been largely limited to a specific event and correctly used within that context. Therefore, the court finds “quid pro pro” not guilty with the condition that it…wow, look at the time! We’ve got to get moving with this docket.

Artisanal

Charges: Attempting to make something more than it is.

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). The court was tired of this one a long time ago but doesn’t want to waste energy on the appeals that will result from a felony conviction, so misdemeanor it is.

Curated

Charges: Attempting to make something more than it is.

Verdict: Not guilty by double jeopardy. While the court agrees with Barb from Ann Arbor that the word should be saved for the museum, it was included on the 2015 list and found guilty.

Influencer

Charges: “A word Instagram users use to describe themselves to make them feel famous and important when no one really knows or cares who they are.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Remember, the concept itself is not what’s on trial; it’s the word we use to describe the concept and “influencers” do just that. As for self-described influencers, they are usually more laughable than annoying and their career only lasts as long as it takes for them to realize they aren’t influencing anyone. The court leaves it to social media to respond in the careful, nuanced way that it usually does.

Literally

Charges: “One of the few words in English that has begun to serve as its own antonym.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor).

Living my best life

Charges: “Are there options for ‘multiple lives’?”

Verdict: Guilty (felony). However altruistic the idea may be, the phrase “living your best life” has been rendered meaningless through overuse (cough *influencers* cough.)

Mouthfeel

Charges: “Where else, exactly, would you like to touch your food or beverage?”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor).

Chirp

Charges: “Before we get chirped for being out of touch, why don’t we leave it to the birds?”

Verdict: Not guilty.

Jelly

Charges: “Better left for toast.”

Verdict: Guilty (felony). No, overuse didn’t spike in 2019, but like a “three strikes” convict who is sentenced to life for shoplifting Marbs, its past has caught up with it.

Totes

Charges: Being “totes” overused

Verdict: Totes guilty (felony).

Vibe/vibe check

Charges: “This one just doesn’t vibe with us anymore, unless the speaker is actually vibrating.”

Verdict: G-g-g-g-g-g-guilty (m-m-m-m-isdemeanor).

OK, Boomer

Charges: Self-explanatory.

Verdict: Guilty (suspended sentence). This first-time offender has shown potential in community service, aka reclaimed use by boomers (and the occasional Generation X-er, such as the court). The court will monitor “OK Boomer” in 2020 to see if fulfills its community service by turning itself against millennials and Gen Z – like a parent who realizes that the best way to get your kids to stop smoking pot is to say, “So, gang! What are we going to for 4/20?”

What say you?

December 31, 2019

#158) Of obstacles and pussy, part II: My new direction for the new decade

“I’ll bet you if there was some pussy on top of that obstacle, you’d find a way up there!” So yells Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, unforgettably played by R. Lee Ermey, to an out of shape recruit in Stanley Kubrick’s film “Full Metal Jacket.”

While Ermey was characteristically crude about it, his point is one that dates back to our hunter-gatherer days: when the prize is exciting or important enough, we will overcome obstacles. The “P. on the O.” formula is frequently employed by modern man: athletes logging that extra hour in the pool or on the track because of Olympic dreams; cubicle drones working late at the office while envisioning a promotion; young men picturing their new girlfriend naked as they pretend to agree with her father’s political views.

I have been a devout disciple of P. on the O. for a long time. As a musician, the goal of playing better shows for bigger crowds and more money often motivated me to practice more and cold call venues. When I started my hiking site, Nobody Hikes in L.A., dreams of cyberspace glory helped me embrace some of the less glamorous aspects of blogging as a business, such as search engine optimization, navigating lowball offers for sponsored posts, keywording and (gasp) establishing a social media presence. In some cases, P. on the O. became literal: surviving the dark days after a breakup by imaging myself finding the woman of my dreams (something that I’m happy to say, actually did happen almost 12 years ago.)

Yes, I have always used pussy as a motivation for tackling an obstacle. Now, I am going to take a break.

It doesn’t mean that I am no longer pursuing goals. It doesn’t mean that I am gay, although I have made some jokes over the years that might have caused people to question my sexual orientation and I do love “The Music Man.” It doesn’t mean that I think the concept can’t be a good motivational tool for others or that I myself won’t return to it someday. It only means that I am heading in a different direction.

I have long been more motivated by the result than the process; the destination rather than the journey. I have realized that as I approach the middle of my fifth decade, it’s time to find processes and journeys that I can enjoy, regardless of the payoff.

Lately, a lot of people have been sharing the “At some point in your childhood…” quote/meme/article. While it doesn’t directly apply to me – I didn’t have much of a social life growing up, and to the extent I did, it revolved more around D&D and video games than outdoor activities – I can still relate. At some point, I played a musical instrument for the last time without it being preparation for a gig or rehearsal and I wrote my last song without being preoccupied with how I was going to record and promote it. At some point, I went on my last hike without thinking about how I was going to write it up or which pictures to submit to stock photography sites. I miss that, more than I miss the successes that felt important to me before they happened but empty once the euphoria was gone.

How does one motivate themselves without pussy on top of the obstacle? I don’t claim to know, but perhaps it involves redefining what an obstacle is. For me, it could involve reorganizing my practice shed into a place where I want to go instead of forcing myself to when there’s a gig coming up. Making new play lists for my workouts, or watching my new kindred spirit Bob Menery on Youtube so I’ll want to hit the elliptical regardless of whether I’m getting ready for a big hike (Don’t know who Bob Menery is? You’re welcome). Looking for new grassroots level content providers whose work I enjoy and want to share just because I think other people will enjoy it and not because I want them to link back to me. (Although I won’t say no if they offer).

Will any of this work? I don’t know, but I do know that while I once envied people who had all of the trappings of success – the hot chick, the legions of followers, the big endorsement deal, the high profile brand partnership – I am now more jealous of those who are committed to the journey, who find meaning in an activity even when no one is watching. The good news is that I can become one of them. After all, I was before.

December 9, 2019

#157) Book review: “The Valedictorian of Being Dead” by Heather B. Armstrong

Heather Armstrong is known as the founder and creator of Dooce, one of the first widely read and financially successful blogs. But what happens when a pioneering mommy blogger finds herself so overwhelmed by single parenting that she wonders if her kids would be better off without her?

“The Valedictorian of Being Dead” is Armstrong’s first-hand account of her journey: “The true story of dying ten times to live.” Dying to live may sound like a Zen parable, but in Armstrong’s case, it was rooted in blunt reality. Feeling as if she had run out of options, Armstrong became the third patient ever to undergo a radical treatment for depression, one that had her brought to the brink of brain death and back ten times in a three week period. Developed as an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy, the idea of this treatment was to reboot the brain, not unlike restarting a computer.

How did Heather Armstrong get to the point where she was willing to take that drastic a step? As the youngest child in a family with a history of depression, Armstrong felt pressure to be perfect, especially after her parents’ divorce. This self-pressure led her to accomplish many things, including being valedictorian of her high school, only to still feel inadequate, ultimately leading to a profound burnout. By the time she decided to undergo the treatment, she would regularly go for days without bathing or changing her clothes. Yet once she agreed to the treatment, her old perfectionist impulses were triggered and she resolved to become the valedictorian of being dead.

In telling her story, Armstrong illustrates the difference between the effects of clinical depression and simply feeling exhausted by life’s responsibilities and circumstances. Before her treatment, she writes, “As I’m driving back to the house…I suddenly remember, Oh no! Marlo was supposed to have taken empty milk cartons to school for an art project, and I totally forgot…Someone else would have remembered those milk cartons…someone else would be a better mother. They would be so much better off without me.” Later, when she starts experiencing the effect of the treatments, she writes, “What I was feeling was rooted in urgency, not sadness. I was overwhelmed, yes, but not hopeless.”

The book’s darkest moments are nicely balanced with humor. “The morning routine…was the one I dreaded most. Because it began with waking up and realizing I was alive. Again! Jesus Christ, it just kept happening.” At one point she tells her nurse that it’s been so long since she’s had sex that she should apply to have her virginity reinstated. Armstrong even manages to work in a dig on Trump: part of her treatment including taking the Montreal Cognitive Test about which she says, “[Trump] bragged that he had passed it with flying colors, and good for him. He can recognize the outline of a lion!”

Ultimately,”Valedictorian” is, more than anything, about the importance of asking for help. Armstrong had to ask for help on two fronts: committing to the medical treatment and accepting help from her mother and stepfather with day to day tasks; her mother in turn asked for help through prayer. The book concludes with Armstrong explaining the struggles that people with depression have, not just with the condition but with those who think they can just turn it off at will and asking the reader, “Please believe us.”

December 4, 2019

#156) Kaepernick and the NFL are in on it together

There, I said it.

You can’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

The saga has gotten to the point where neither side’s behavior makes any sense, at least if the goal is to find the right NFL team for Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who has been out of a job since he started taking a knee during the National Anthem.

Were any of the NFL teams that attended Kaepernick’s recent workout in Atlanta serious about signing him? As Andrew Hammond notes in this News Tribune article, “[A]ll 32 teams in the league have had three years — a lengthy three years — to do their due diligence on Kaepernick, check his commitment to football and see if he was keeping in shape. You don’t need a closed-door, staged event to put those questions to bed. If you did, it may be time to reevaluate your free-agent scouting practices.” As for Kaepernick, did he believe that his appearance at an Unthanksgiving event was going to get Jerry Jones beating a path to his door?

If it all is in fact a long con, someone has to be benefiting. Who and how?

In the 2016 season, when he started protesting, Kaepernick already had a relationship with Nike (dating back to 2011) and a contract that ended up being worth $39 million. However, in the years following the protest, he was featured in a much more high-profile Nike ad and landed a new endorsement deal which included his own line of branded apparel. However one interprets the motives of Kaepernick’s protests, it’s a little naive to say that in no way has he benefited from the controversy.

For the NFL’s part, like every sports league, they need a villain. With incumbent bad guy Tom Brady near the end of his career (sorry, fellow Patriots fans but we all know it) who will be next? Due to rules that favor parity across the league, it may be a while before the NFL gets a good on field villain. Kaepernick seems to ignite more ire among his detractors than almost anyone on the planet, with the possible exception of Greta Thunberg. As long as he is not in the NFL, he will be a news story, begetting loud fist-shaking mobs both pro and con. If he were to sign? Sure, there would be some outrage, but Kaepernick is a 33-year old quarterback with (sorry, I know it’s not woke to say this) a losing career record. His return would be short lived and after gloating about it on 4chan, the Nike burning crowd would get bored and move onto inter-racial couples reading the Koran.

Regardless of who is the villain and who is the victim, Kaepernick and the NFL need each other, just like Superman and Lex Luthor, the Hatfields and McCoys and Taylor Swift and the Kardashian/West family. But the relationship is only symbiotic as long as Kaepernick is not with a team. Once he sets foot on the field, his supporters won’t have a face for their cause and the NFL will lose a story line.

Cynical? Sure. Crazy? Probably. But maybe just crazy enough to be true.

December 1, 2019

#155) How not to complain #11: Whom do you WANT to be president?

Sometimes people just don’t learn.

In this case, people is Michael Harriot, who recently called Democratic candidate Pete Buttegieg a “lying motherfucker” and Guardian columnist Poppy Noor who responded to Buttegieg’s phone call to Harriot by writing, “It’s telling that we are so grateful for the scraps thrown our way by powerful white men who make mistakes.”

You see, eight years ago when Buttegieg was campaigning for mayor in South Bend, IN, he said that “[T]here are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” According to Harriot, “Pete Buttigieg went to the best educational institutions America has to offer and he—more than anyone on the goddamned planet—knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie.”

To which I ask Harriot and Noor, is a remark from 2011 really worth this level of vitriol and if so, to what end does the vitriol serve? Does it help the current political climate? If a perhaps ignorant but reasonably intended comment from 8 years ago makes someone a “lying motherfucker”, how motivated will future candidates be to connect with the inner city? If an apology is a “scrap”, then what do Noor’s dreaded powerful white men have to gain by apologizing? Why shouldn’t Trump continue to double down? As John McWorther noted in The Atlantic, “[T]his sort of response is more religious than rational; it bypasses into the realm of imposed liturgy, of ritual: We are less to think than to pose and follow.”

Harriot and Noor’s grievance with Buttegieg basically amounts to, “You don’t know us.” Noor asks, “Is [Buttegieg] the right person to be pontificating on why poor minority kids weren’t motivated enough to make it to class?” Maybe not, but are any of the three candidates that currently lead Buttegeig (Biden, Warren and Sanders) “the right person to be pontificating?” Is Trump? This is not about whether Mayor Pete is the Democrats’ best bet – it’s too early to tell – but does calling him a “lying motherfucker” pave the way for a candidate who is better equipped to help solve the problems of impoverished America?

Maybe by making an example of Buttegieg, Harriot hoped to send a message to white candidates who claim to understand black struggle. If so, will the result be meaningful political change, or will it just make speechwriters revise their candidates’ messages to avoid certain talking points? Should candidates not even try to empathize with inner city voters unless they came from poverty themselves? Unless someone such as Kyrsten Sinema suddenly throws her hat into the ring, the 2020 Democratic candidate will be from a privileged background. Perhaps a more nuanced, less combative take might have given the Democrats something to think about for 2024.

The search for a perfect candidate hurt the Democrats in 2016 (Bernie Bros sitting out the election or voting for Trump out of spite) and it is on its way to doing the same in 2020. Every 2020 candidate has baggage if you are willing to spend time looking for it (as opposed to celebrating a candidate about whom you feel positive) and in this case, you have to go pretty far back for something that most people would probably consider pretty mild by today’s political standards (wouldn’t we all love to go back to the time when Mitt Romney turning his nose up at store-bought cookies was a news worthy faux pas?) To quote McWorther again, “Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained…If Pete Buttigieg has done anything that reveals him as an MF, it was not that night in 2011.”

And so I say to all Democrats, white, black, brown, yellow, red, blue, pink, purple, chartreuse, aubergine: don’t be the political equivalent of Marian the Librarian, Shirley Jones’ spinster character from “The Music Man” whose mother warns her, “There’s not a man alive who could hope to measure up to the blend of Paul Bunyan, St. Pat and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness and your library full of books.” Or, to quote How Not To Complain alumna Sara Benincasa, don’t throw your vote away because of your personal brand.

Am I just another white man trying to tell black people what’s best for them? Maybe. But I’m also a white man who will be voting in the 2020 election and Harriot’s rancor hasn’t changed the fact that I am as likely to vote for Buttegieg as I am for whoever his candidate of choice may be (I haven’t seen him say, “Pete Buttegieg may be a lying motherfucker but _____ isn’t, so you should vote for them”). If Harriot’s goal was shock value or to galvanize people like Noor who probably wasn’t part of the Pete Patrol to begin with (not to mention, a British citizen who can’t vote in the upcoming elections) then he achieved it. Will his dressing down of Buttegieg ultimately convert anyone to his opinion? I don’t claim to know how many people read Harriot and said, “You know, that Mayor Pete is a lying motherfucker after all.” I just know I wasn’t one of them.

October 1, 2019

#154) Heeeeere’s Robin: The scariest movie that never was

09ac848b123c077ab6370a5eb7fa93aeIt’s officially horror movie season, so in this post we are going to celebrate a very scary film. However, it cannot be streamed on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Youtube. You also won’t find it on BluRay, DVD, Laserdisc or even VHS. That’s because this film doesn’t exist. It is a hypothetical movie: Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” – starring one Robin McLaurin Williams.

Yes, it’s true: Kubrick originally considered Mork from Ork to play Jack Torrance, the writer gone mad who terrorizes his wife and son in the cavernous Overlook Hotel. However, Kubrick–the same director who had Malcolm McDowell sing “Singin’ in the Rain” during the most infamous scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, had Marines marching through a burning battlefield singing “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E” in “Full Metal Jacket” and who choreographed nuclear bombs exploding to “We’ll Meet Again” in “Dr. Strangelove”–ultimately shied away from Williams, thinking he was too crazy for the part.

“The Shining” is one of the most heavily debated horror films. Did its many changes from the book make it better or worse? Is Shelley Duvall convincing as the terrified wife or is she just annoying? And just what exactly is the deal with that bear costume? Given how many horror geeks have weighed in on the film, it’s surprising that there isn’t more discussion about what the Williams version might have been like.

My opinion: much scarier.

In fact, just the idea that “The Shining” could have been made with Williams is scarier to me than the actual movie was. That’s not to take anything away from the existing film – while not perfect, it’s still scary, eschewing the then-new slasher formula for genuine suspense – but it is scary in spite of, not because of, Jack Nicholson.

Just as people are funniest when they don’t realize they are being funny, villains are scariest when they don’t realize they are being scary. Nicholson knows that he is playing a villain. “Heeeere’s Johnny” is good marketing, but it’s not scary. (Maybe first-time audiences soiled themselves, but if you are under 50, that moment has always been a movie poster, in the same way that Vader has always been Luke’s father).

Would Williams have played Torrance as a sneering villain – or, as he did in “One Hour Photo”, a lonely man who truly believes he is doing the right thing as his desperation drives him to evil? The combination of Kubrick’s slow, brooding pacing, the endless halls of the Overlook, the ominous score of music by Wendy Carlos and other modernist composers and what Williams would have brought to the role is as creepy to imagine as it is tantalizing.

Of course, it could have bombed. In his late 20s, Williams might not yet have developed the acting chops necessary for the demanding role. He also might have cracked (and not in a good way) under Kubrick’s notorious pressure. For forty years, it’s been Jack Nicholson who sulks over his typewriter, approaches the woman in Room 237’s shower and smiles from the center of the old photograph in the film’s final scene. Many fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ultimately, imagining how Williams’ Jack Torrance would have turned out is a question of nature vs. nurture. We now know a lot about Williams that we didn’t know forty years ago, from his ability to seamlessly incorporate his manic comedy into a leading role (“Good Morning Vietnam”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”) to his convincing portrayal of villains (“Insomnia”, “One Hour Photo”) to the personal pain that he felt unable to escape. Was the darkness of Williams’ later years the result of burnout from excess or was it there all along? Kubrick seemed to think it was always there; it says something about him that he saw Williams as a possible villain long before most of the world did. It also says something about Williams that Kubrick was unable to pull the trigger. Perhaps Kubrick thought that Nicholson, as a seasoned actor, would be easier to work with. Maybe he believed that Nicholson, who is 14 years older than Williams, would have been more convincing as the grizzled, alcoholic writer. But there just might have been something about the young Robin Williams that took even the intimidating auteur aback.

The deaths of both Williams and Kubrick left their fans wondering what might have been (would “Eyes Wide Shut” have been watchable had Kubrick lived to see it to the end?) However, sometimes what might have been is better left to the imagination.

August 16, 2019

#153) How not to complain #10/Mid-Year Language Court 2019

I am an unapologetic language douche. I love being vindicated when I learn that other people feel the same way and that I’m not the only curmudgeon when it comes to “circle back”, “gentle reminder”, “adulting” and “Sunday Funday.” As the seven long-term followers of this blog know, I live for the release of Lake Superior State University’s annual Banished Words List like Jeffrey Epstein used to live for the three o’clock bell at St. Mary’s Junior High. When I saw that Britain’s Gyles Brandreth had compiled 38 Americanisms that the British bloody hate, I knew the right thing to do was to make my wife watch my father, who requires round-the-clock care due to advanced health problems, so I could peruse the list.

I probably should have stuck with Dad.

It’s no secret that Americans are idiots. The country that gave us Bhad Babie, Teen Mom and the Cheetoh is a broad target. The problem with Brandreth’s list is that – a few legitimate items notwithstanding – it makes you wonder why he is more concerned about Americans saying “a half hour” instead of “half an hour” than he is about Boris Johnson.

By the most stringent standards I’ve ever applied to my Language Court verdicts, of Brandreth’s 38 accused, there are only 9 guilty parties none of which are felonies (although 24/7 is dangerously close). Misdemeanor convictions include “Eaterie”, “Reach out to” and “Going forward.” These are far outnumbered by terms that I only hear at the Olympics (“medal” as a verb), phrases that I’ve never heard at all, Olympics or otherwise (“least worst option”) and items that make me wonder if Brandreth is simply trying to cultivate a reputation as a quirky Brit (advocating the use of “fortnight” instead of “bi-weekly.”)

Even if I were as annoyed as Brandreth at the use of “alternate” instead of “alternative”, “I got it for free” instead of “I got it free” and “regular” instead of “medium-sized” for coffee, I would find his explanations lacking. As someone who has never been particularly upset at the use of “transportation” instead of “transport”, I’d be curious to know why it irks him. It might at least make me better empathize with him – no, I don’t bristle at the use of “a million and a half” instead of “one and a half million” but if I knew why Brandreth did, it might make me feel like I haven’t become “Get Off My Lawn” guy because I think I should have the right to legally kill anyone who refers to their family as “fam bam.” Brandreth might have been better served to focus on quality (so to speak) than quantity of his complaints; the LSSU lists typically have no more than 20 items and while I don’t always agree with what goes on and stays off them, I am usually satisfied and entertained by the explanations.

Last, I have to ask if Brandreth really believes that he speaks for all Brits. To be sure, Americans have been causing British face-palms since 1776, but somehow I don’t think their biggest problem with us is usage of “expiration” instead of “expiration date.” Dare I say, I’d imagine that most of them (see item #37) could care less.

July 7, 2019

#152) Happy 25th birthday to one of baseball’s smartest and under-rated comedies

“Little Big League” was victimized by bad timing. The movie was released in 1994, the year that a strike wiped out half of the baseball season. It entered a market saturated with average baseball comedies: “Rookie of the Year”, “Angels in the Outfield” and its most direct competitor, “Major League II.” The movie is not perfect – it gets preachy in some spots, its 119-minute run time could have been trimmed and some of the characters are one-dimensional.

Still, it’s better than its lukewarm reputation would have you believe.

You have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it, and there are fewer of us now than there were in ’94. But if you are and you haven’t seen this film for a while, give it another look. If you haven’t, you’re in for a pleasant surprise, especially if you are a fan of baseball comedies.

Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards) inherits the Minnesota Twins at age 11 when his grandfather (Jason Robards) dies. After firing unpopular manager George O’Farrell (Dennis Farina), Billy has difficulty finding a replacement (“None of the good guys want to work for a kid.”) One of his friends suggests that he do it himself: “It’s the American League. You have the designated hitter. How hard can it be?” Next thing we know, the young manager is donning a Twins cap at a press conference, telling the reporters, “First of all, I just want to say, this is really cool.”

The Twins are open-minded about the idea of playing for a 11-year old. To put it gently, there’s some skepticism among the Twins about their new skipper, who as one pitcher puts it, “won’t be able to get into an R-rated movie for another six years.” Even those who enjoyed talking baseball with the knowledgeable Billy when he visited them in the clubhouse doubt his ability to run the team. Inevitably, he wins them over, slowly but surely and the team gels, plays solid baseball and becomes a contender for the newly created wildcard playoff position (1994 was the first year in which Major League Baseball used a three-division format for each league, a fact that “Little Big League” integrated while “Major League II” used the obsolete playoff structure in its plot). Underdog stories such as this have to climax in the Big Game – where either the hero loses but it’s still a moral victory (“Rocky”, “School of Rock”) or the little guys win (every other movie ever). It’s hard to be original in either of these plot lines, but the denouement of “Little Big League” – if not unexpected – at least doesn’t come off as cheap.

Besides the underdog arc, the film’s other plot lines are also familiar. Billy starts off as the kid reminding the adults that baseball should be fun but becomes enamored with his power and loses track of his own message (he offers to send his friends a bucket of signed baseballs to apologize for blowing them off so he can have lunch with Reggie Jackson), then rights himself as the team comes together for the final push. Billy also struggles with his feelings about his mother’s budding romance with one of the stars. However, by balancing these threads with the team’s march toward the pennant and the players’ shenanigans, such as the lesson in water balloon physics, the film manages to avoid bogging itself down in trying to make us better people.

“Little Big League” playfully tests the limits of its “PG” rating. In his hotel room, Billy watches an adult film and then blames a player for ordering it when his mom confronts him with the bill. When Billy argues with an umpire, a strategically timed air horn bleeps out words that make veteran Rafael Palmeiro’s eyeballs bulge. Palmeiro is one of several MLB players who appears in the film as himself. Former MLB journeyman Kevin Elster is featured as the Twins’ shortstop. Scott Patterson, who plays the team’s “diva” pitcher, pitched in the minors before becoming an actor. (Patterson’s character is named Mike McGrevey, after an infamous early 1900s Red Sox fan). John Gordon, the actual Twins’ long-time announcer, might not be quite as quotable as Bob Uecker in “Major League” but he is still a strong comedic presence. He dots his commentary with deadpan stats that may have sounded absurd in 1994 but aren’t actually that much farther out than those purveyed by the baseball geeks of the Billy Beane era (“He’s eight for thirteen against left handed pitchers he’s facing for the first time in the seventh inning or later in night games.”)

One quarter century after its release, “Little Big League” isn’t remembered as a turkey; it simply isn’t remembered. To date, it is the only film Andrew Scheinman has directed. Not much has been heard from Luke Edwards recently. We recall Tim Busfield for “Revenge of the Nerds” and Jonathan Silverman for “Weekend at Bernie’s” more so than for their roles in this film. But “Little Big League” does have its loyal fans, including Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, Eric Dodds of Time and “Deja Viewer” blogger Robert Lockard. Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review upon its release, praising it as having a “real feel for the game.” (An example of this is when Billy refers to himself in the third person at a press conference following his outburst against the umpire: “I’ve got to do what’s best for Bill Heywood…A Bill Heywood must be allowed to speak his mind; otherwise he cannot do his job.”)

Ultimately, maybe “Little Big League” does come up a little short compared to “Major League” – the combination of Uecker, James Gammon as Lou Brown, Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays and of course Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” is hard to beat. But despite their similar territory, there is room for both. “Major League” may have debated whether Jesus Christ could hit a curve ball, but it couldn’t speculate how the Savior would do on Wednesdays against teams north of the Mason-Dixon line whose home games aren’t played in a dome.

June 26, 2019

#151) Remembering Buckner

Former major league baseball player Bill Buckner died at age 69 on May 27th in Idaho, following a battle with Lewy body dementia. Despite my being a baseball geek and having listened to quite a bit of Boston sports radio since moving back to Massachusetts following 20 years in California, the news escaped my radar. Being a baseball geek (see above) I had a random fact I wanted to impulsively look up on the Baseball Reference website and I was saddened to see Buckner’s name in the “In Memoriam” section.

At first I was surprised that I hadn’t heard, but as I thought about it, it made sense that Buckner’s death wasn’t a big sensation. The Boston sports world has recently been focused on the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Celtics’ disappointing playoff performance, the Red Sox’ unimpressive start and the prospects for the upcoming Patriots season. It could also be that perhaps the Boston media and fan base are (for once) doing the right thing and giving the Buckner family a little bit of space.

Buckner’s moment of infamy happened on October 25th, 1986 in the sixth game of the World Series against the New York Mets. Any Sox fan old enough can tell you exactly where they were; those too young to remember or born after it happened have heard the tale just like children whose parents told them about the JFK or John Lennon murders or the moon landing. When Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs, allowing the Mets to win the game, he and his family began an ordeal that included everything from harassment of their kids to death threats.

A tipping point happened in 1993 when Buckner got into a physical altercation with a fan (he was signing baseball cards at an event and the fan said, “Don’t give him a ball, he’ll just drop it.”) There are those who say that, just as crab fishermen risk their lives for a fat payday, once an athlete signs the big contract, they are fair game for ridicule if they make a mistake in the spotlight. For the most part though, by this point, Boston sports fans – not always known for tact or compassion – got the message: enough is enough.

Shortly after the incident, Buckner (who had made his home in the Boston area even after being released by the Sox) and his family moved to Idaho. According to the ESPN “Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…” show, Buckner, “tired of numerous replays of his error”, couldn’t get himself to watch the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series win. However, he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park when he threw out the first pitch of the 2008 season. He also drew praise for his turn on the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which he played himself. He remained lifelong friends with Mookie Wilson, the Mets batter who hit the ball, appearing with him in a 2016 commercial.

With four Sox championships in the 21st century, it’s easy for those who remember Buckner to laugh about it now. That the man was willing to laugh about it himself perhaps spoke even more loudly than his on-field accomplishments: over 2,700 career hits, a batting title and being one of only 29 players in baseball history to play in four different decades. Some have argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those too young to remember Buckner or indeed anything much of the lean years from 1987-2001, when the Sox, Bruins and Celtics were coming close but never going all the way and when Bill Belichick was a defensive coordinator for the Jets, can still learn from the story that began on that October night. In death, as he did in life, Bill Buckner teaches the lesson that while the world may not always be fair, one can always transcend the situation by taking the high road – and that forgiveness is a gift.