Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I remember going over to a friend’s house to watch the premiere of the Thriller video on MTV. I was in grad school in Rochester, and my classmate was one of the only people I knew who had cable. The video was weird, and very cool. We were entranced; none of us had ever seen anything like it. Night of the Living Dead meets MTV.

As his star rose and fell, his appearance, which was perfectly normal when he started out, became increasingly bizarre. From the first nose job, when he emerged looking more like Diana Ross than Diana Ross herself, to the many botched cosmetic surgeries that followed, his outer self seemed to be an accurate representation of the damaged soul within. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to watch him navigate the next 30 years, and how that journey would have manifested itself on his face.

Although I was never a huge fan, there are a few songs that stand out—Beat It, Billie Jean, Man in the Mirror, Ain’t No Sunshine, Human Nature, Black and White, among others. And I will never forget his appearance at Motown’s 25th anniversary celebration in 1984—amazing, wonderful, incredibly hip, completely electrifying. It still is.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Slump

Imagine being David Ortiz. You're in a slump, can't hit the ball, leaving men on base inning after inning. Your struggle is intensely public: sportswriters everywhere are writing your career obit and wondering about past steroid use, and fans are looking grim and sad every time you trudge back to the dugout after yet another out. There's nowhere to hide; you're failing and everyone knows it.

And then, just like in the movies, you start hitting again. Your batting average, which was .143 for the month of May, rises to .308 for the month of June. You hit 5 home runs over 35 at-bats in 3 weeks, a gigantic improvement over May, when you hit your first home run in 149 at-bats. The sportswriters are tentative about declaring the slump over, the fans are ecstatic. And you are nearly the old Big Papi again, at least for now. Although it is an incredible relief to be hitting again, it must also feel like every trip to the plate is putting everything on the line in a very different way than in seasons past.

Nothing and no one lasts forever. Even the indomitable Papelbon is not having 3-and-out innings these days. For Sox fans, it's a reminder of what it was always like to root for the Sox, walking that tightrope between hope and despair. For several years, Big Papi and Papelbon were dead certs. And although it's more anxiety-producing now to watch them both, it's also more interesting, and, when they overcome their difficulties, it's way more thrilling. As cool as it was to watch Papelbon's fastball blow across homeplate, there's now the intrigue and drama of not knowing what will happen. How could anyone not love this game?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Horse Sense"

In today's NY Times, Sean Clancy says this about horses:

"Horses are just like people; there are smart ones, dumb ones, miserable ones, honest ones, simple ones, cheats, freaks, leaders and laggards. They have good days, bad days and plenty of average days. They can be brilliant one minute, horrible the next. They can remember something that happened a year ago and forget what they learned yesterday. They’ll walk placidly into a metal starting gate that clangs and rings when the doors open, and then be scared of a bucket that wasn’t there yesterday."

He nailed it. Wolfie can walk quietly along the side of a road with cars whizzing past (some way too fast and way too close for safety), but if there is a piece of bark on the ground, he'll snort and shy away from it as if it was going to eat him. Their wiring is unique: by spending a lot of time with a horse, you can learn a lot about how he thinks, but you'll never be able to predict with absolute certainty what he'll do in any situation.

* * *

I hope the Belmont goes well today: no injuries, no horses being put down on the track. I don't care who wins; as exciting as a horse race can be, I will wait to watch it until the race is over and I know everyone is alright.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Get this guy some baggy shorts and a metal detector.

Why can't Dick Cheney disappear like a good Veep, and just play golf?

Instead of going on political talk shows to condemn Mr. Obama, and trying to whip up fear and loathing by speaking poison at right-wing venues, why can't the former Vice President use his intelligence and influence to do something positive for the country and the world? He could be working to eliminate world hunger, building houses for the poor, or establishing a foundation that helps third world countries develop green practices and economies.

Failing that, he could just sit down and shut up.

Instead he continues to engage in a battle that no one else is fighting, defending the insanity of the last administration, with Cassandra-like warnings about the terrorist attacks to come. There is little doubt in my mind that there will be terrorist attacks in the future, but they will have far more to do with what Bush/Cheney did than anything else. Undermining the current administration is a self-serving, cynical ploy, right out of the far right's playbook.

If a country's general character and state of mind can be seen in the general character and state of mind of its leaders, the Bush era created a United States that was increasingly paranoid, defensive, suspicious, angry, fearful, petulant, domineering, and, ultimately, weak. And no matter how things went, the future always looked scary and dark. To them, it still does.

If we extend that thought to Obama, the United States is now engaged, open to new ideas, measured, thoughtful, hopeful, articulate (haven't heard anyone say "nu-cu-lar" since Sarah Palin left the stage), and working towards a future that looks brighter—and possible.

Are they doing everything right? Of course not. No one could. But I'd rather be wrong with Obama's approach and policies than "right" with Darth Vader and his loyal sidekick, W. The "force" Star Wars referred to was not the kind of force Dick Cheney has always championed. And he and his ilk (and they are ilk) will never, ever understand that.