Monday, December 30, 2013

My Year in Review: Part 1 - Names and Faces

Yes, it’s the end of the year and time for looking back:
At least that's what I think you're supposed to do, especially if you
have nothing else to write about. So this is Part 1 of a scheduled two parter. The subject is passings, a popular subject about now.

When I watch the Oscars or Tony’s, or CBS Sunday Morning at year’s end, 
I see the faces fade in and out to a lovely tune as tribute is paid
to artists, newsmakers, personalities, people of some import
who have died. Invariably I find myself feeling more touched by some than others. Sometimes it’s sheer likability, others I feel connected to, 
still there are those who have meaning in a grander sense.

I hadn’t intended to make my last blog of 2013 about the
“dearly departed,”  but there are some who I feel compelled
to mention. They made my life more pleasurable and meaningful
in their distinctive ways. If it helps, you can pull up a recording 
of “Memory” or “Yesterday” or “The Way We Were” to help set the mood. 
Or even better, Duke Ellington’s “Jeep’s Blues.”Duke's "Jeep's Blues"

So here is Part 1 of this year-end blog. Part 2 is a day or two behind it, or at least that's my plan. 

In no particular order:
"Forgiveness." What a powerful word he taught the world.
It's something we need a lot more of. And he has a very cool last name, 
except he added an "a."

Guitar player #1: Jim Hall. I've been listening to
this guy for the past 30 or 40 years and he was so tasteful, 
always played with top musicians or strictly solo. 

"Less is more." Elmore Leonard practiced it, captured so much story and character in a few words. I listened to his "Tishomingo Blues" read by Frank Muller on a long car trip this year and the miles went by quickly. Add to that one of my favorite - and best written - TV shows, "Justified," which returns next week!! It's based on one of Elmore's stories.

Guitar player #2: J.J. Cale. You may not have
heard of him. I love his easy, southern, bluesey style.
He and Ry Cooder are 2 of my favorites from that school.

If you recognize her, give yourself a gold star.
She's Patty Andrews, the last of the famous Andrew Sisters who kept the GI's, and a lot of us kids at home, singing and swinging during the 40's and 50's. She and Maxine and Laverne made musical history. Like this one: 

I used to like boxing; not any more. But this is one of the guys I loved to watch, a real pro, champ in many weight categories, and a complex life story
beautifully told by St. Louis' Opera Theater in "Champion" this year. 
His name is Emile Griffith      A short look at Emile & Benny Paret

Tony Soprano and so much more. James and his families kept my wife and I seated in front of our TV set every Sunday night, beginning in 1999 for several seasons. We're still waiting for his final movie to be released.

There never was a comic mind like his. I met Jonathan Winters many years ago when I was in LA at Bell recording studio. He was waiting for someone. I asked him for an autograph. He said okay, put a yellow writing tablet on his lap and started writing. Ten minutes later he finished and signed it. He had written three pages, a story that was as wild and funny as a routine. I gave it to my daughter when I came home and don't know where it is today.

Some great actors died this past year. One of my favorites was Peter O'Toole, a bigger than life actor and person. When I read about his "carousing" in the NY Times obit, I was surprised he lived this long. "Lawrence of Arabia" is
still one of my favorites, along with "Becket" and "The Lion in Winter."
And he never won an Oscar. 

This may just be the one where I feel the most loss.
Stan Musial. It's all been said. I saw him play when I was ten years old, at Sportsman's Park with my dad. Stan was baseball to me for the rest of these years. I even liked the steaks at Musial and Biggie's more because of Stan. My first team was Musial, Schoendienst, Slaughter, Kurowski, Medwick, Marion, Potter, Brazle, Brecheen, Cooper, Moore.

There were others. Many others who touched my life, either personally or through the media. But that's enough "passing" for now. 

Time to see if I can conjure up a Part 2, on a totally different subject.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's That Time of Year

This is the time of year when most people’s thoughts go to Santa and gaily decorated trees with twinkling lights and Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” and frantic visits to the mall and rolls of gift wrap and, if you’re Jewish, saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” 

Sad to say, that’s not how this holiday season, and winter in general, is working out for me. My thoughts are elsewhere, and it’s the fault of some of the members of my high school class. You see, we celebrated our 60th reunion this past summer. If you’re quick with numbers, you know that means we are the “Class of 1953,” at University City High. In those days our athletic teams were known as The Indians. Today they’re The Lions. (Times and sensitivities do change, don’t they?) 

Following the reunion I created a list of emails from as many of our classmates as possible. That’s 70 as of the last tally. It proved to be a great way for all of us to stay in touch with each other. At least those who wanted to. I found out who lived where, who was retired, how many children/grandchildren/even great grandchildren were strewn about the countryside. I thought, “This is really cool. After 60 years we still talk.” In some cases, more than we did in high school.

That was good. At least for awhile.

Recently, however, I’m beginning to regret ever starting the damned thing. Tell you why. I am sitting here in St. Louis, watching the snow melt and the cold rain come down, getting ready for the next Arctic blast, wearing a long sleeved tee-shirt under my sweater, reluctantly walking my two golden retrievers at 10:30 at night, urging them to poop quickly and get the hell back in the house. My bike riding and softball games and hikes are on hold until April. I feel like a prisoner of the gods of weather, and wonder where is global warming when I need it.

Here’s what gets to me. The email from classmates who don’t live in St. Louis. The ones who live someplace that’s green year round, or within a short drive of a beach, or doesn’t stock snow shovels at Home Depot.

Here are some excerpts from these messages. I’ll use only the first names, to protect them from NSA, scammers, telemarketers, and appeals from princes in Nigeria.

In no particular order:

1. Barbara wrote: I live in the San Fernando Valley in southern Calif.  Maybe if there are enough of us that live here we could start a reunion of our own. 

2. Jackie says:  Happy New Year from Woodland Hills , California. 

3. Jerry tells me: I still work part-time for them in their Palo Alto Office---- and likely will continue as long as I can ride my bike there (5 miles round trip mostly on a bike path).  

4. Earle told me about his two houses in California. At least I think they were both there. Maybe the second one is in Cabo or Hawaii.

5. Speaking of Hawaii, John has lived there for decades, has probably changed his name to something Polynesian with lots of vowels. 

6. Stan, who lives where it drops below zero, wrote: Will think of you when we are in AZ. for several months beginning the first of the year. 

7. Sally had the guts to lay it all out: Hello from California where the weather is NICE AND WARM!!!    Highs in the 70s tomorrow and the 80s on Sunday. 

8.Lenny wrote from Sun City, Arizona. I love that word, sun.

9. Lew actually OWNS the sun, keeps it on in Southern California. 

10. Jan had two knee replacements but had to brag that he bikes 20 or 30 miles in Clearwater, Florida.

There are more.... from California and Florida, also New Mexico and Arizona. Warm places. But I stay in St. Louis. In some ways it makes no sense. Our daughter lives in New York; our son, in Chicago, so there’s no family to keep us here. 

Maybe it’s because I really like living here. My good friends are here, a variety of things to do, a comfortable familiarity, theater and movies and parks and activities, a very cool and liveable house. I’m probably just too lazy to learn a new routine in a strange town,

So you’ll just have to excuse me for whining a little. It’s childish, I know. And since I started writing this, I have received two Christmas letters. But these were different. They both contained news of friends who have been through a very bad year. That got my attention, brought me back to reality.

Which brings me to some wisdom I read recently on a friend’s posting. It says, A good life is when you assume nothing, do more, need less, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot, and realize how blessed you are.Words to remember, and to read every morning.

Mark Twain had words for me too.Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

The boating analogy doesn’t work for me. I get seasick easily. But maybe it’s time for a Harley or a hut in Tahiti or backpacking through the Australian outback, or even a couple of months at a seaside villa in the south of Italy. 

In the meantime, I’ll wait for the kids to get home for Christmas while I sit by the fire and read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."