Monday, October 26, 2009

News Fast

Ann and “Vlad” outside the castle.

There is no such thing as bad publicity.

Some of the best remembered figures in history weren’t nice people, but they were well known. Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Stalin said that one death is a tragedy, but a million is a stastic. Both Charles Manson and Rasputin used mesmerizing eyes to bend people to their will.

Vlad the Impaler, now known as Count Dracula thanks to Bram Stoker, lives on in history (see photo above). When I imagine him, I have images from old movies of stage coaches at night while the trees, lit by some unseen force, reaching down to grab the coach as huge horses thundered on. We went to Transylvania during the daytime, and the only thing scary about Vlad’s castle is the Romanian ladies who were the ‘security’ in every room. They would appear from behind doors to ask if we wanted to buy a sweater they had knit. “Or sox, Mister? Cheap.”

Just as scary as Vlad’s movie incarnation (And I have no doubt that being forced to sit on a six foot pointed pole and let gravity take over until the pole came out the top of my head would be terrifying, at least for the first couple of hours) was Romanian President Nicolae Ceau┼čescu, whose palace was built by slave labor. He wanted to be able to see the Black Sea from his balcony. The architect cut down trees and razed buildings; he did everything he could but move the Black Sea from the other side of the building.

All these people are well-known because everyone talked about them. And still do.

A completely new thought, but I’ll try to tie them together:

A couple of weeks ago we were in Denver visiting our new granddaughter Ella and her parents Derek and Jo. While we were there, we went on a news fast. I think it was because we don’t watch television news - too many body bags - and Derek and Jo don’t subscribe to a newspaper.

During our visit Falcon Heene (where do people come up with these names - despite this one’s appropriate connotations here!?) apparently flew away like the Wizard of Oz in a mylar balloon. The operative word, of course, is apparently.

We didn’t know anything about it, but for a couple of days its coverage dominated the news. A poor child who, despite his name, didn’t have wings, flew away and no one knew where he was. Bless his heart.

His father Richard Heene (He has a rather nice first name. But I imagine everyone is calling him Dick, these days though) is an aspiring celebrity. He appeared on a reality show, Wife Swap, the show with the salacious name but innocuous content. Innocuous apparently, that is, except when one ‘wife’ works very hard to impose her extreme values on the family she has come to live with - which have opposite values.

“Dick” apparently was looking for more spotlight. He got it.

Since the coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax, the newspapers have been rife with lamentations about how we spend our time watching pap that the news (read entertainment) agencies have filled the airwaves and cablewaves (is that a word?) with. And Dick and his family have appeared on countless ‘news’ programs explaining themselves. In fact, that’s where the hoax came out.

The Balloon Boy story compares with the coverage of Baby Jessica (McClure), who fell down a well in Midland, Texas, in 1987 and the world went crazy when CNN showed the rescue effort (read media circus) non-stop until she was rescued. Except for commercials.

I know. I’ve commented on this before. Television news and its endless loop of non-news and trivial vitriol.

And I still have the same answer. My television has an off button. I use it. You can use the off button on your TV, too.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Impatience and Criticism

Derek, Jo, and Herself

Proud Grandpa and Ella

Proud Grandma and Ella.

Ella Herself

I frequently am impatient. I want things to be better than they already are. I want life to improve.

We went to Denver last week to see Derek's new baby, our new granddaughter Ella, who will be 10 weeks old on Tuesday.

It was a great visit. I got to hold her, feed her and I didn't have to change her. I learned I had muscles I hadn't used in 35 years almost. I also learned - once again - that very the act of holding a baby makes me sway.

One of the best parts of the visit was the language lessons. I worked on teaching her to say the following things:
"I love Grandpa Bill."
"I love Grandma Ann."
"I love Daddy."
"I love Mommy."
I would say each sentence one word at a time, and then repeat it out of the corner of my mouth in a high pitched voice. Ella spoke.

Even though I frequently look for improvement, I just can't imagine any way for her to improve!

I invite your praise of our beautiful baby below.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Holidays, Sports, and Television

I don’t have a sports gene. I don’t know why it skipped my generation, although it’s possible that it never really existed in my family.

My father used to turn on football games so he could nap on the couch. If we changed the station or turned off the television, he’d wake up immediately and say something like, “I was watching that!” I never understood how commercials didn’t interrupt his sleep but changing the station did. That’s the way it was.

Anyway, I have no dislike for sports. I’m just not interested. I do have to admit, however, that when I was teaching, I resented the huge amounts that sports figures were paid. I reckoned that when my classes were televised, when I was making upwards of eight figures a year, and a national commentator said, “Look at that lesson plan about Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath come together! Did you see that student field that question about the oversoul? It was a winner!” When that happened I would start watching professional football.

I went to football games and basketball games when I was in high school. I went pretty regularly 50 years ago, but it was social and I wanted to fit in. I went to games in college too, I guess. I think I can remember going to a few. But my heart was never in it.

These days Ann and I watch the Blackhawks, but I frequently watch with a book in my hand, and if I miss a play - or a game - I don’t get too upset. I am concerned that Huet allows too many goals. But I could emulate my dad and sleep through the games and not really know the difference, I suspect.

Bear with me while I change the subject, but I’ll tie it all together pretty soon:

The holidays are coming up. We know that because of the sudden influx of high end catalogs in the mail box.

We’ll have Thanksgiving at our house again this year, and it will be pretty much open house for people we love - people whom we haven’t seen enough of during the year.

In the past we hosted Thanksgivings and had lots of people - upward of 30 one year. We borrowed tables from our church, set them up as one long banquet table in our living-dining room, and scrounged chairs. It was lovely.

But after all that cooking - and new ceramic tile floors in the kitchen, a dumb move on our part - I could barely stand for a couple of days. I was younger then, and we don’t have such big crowds any more. (The floors in the kitchen of this house are wood, by the way.) But it was still fun. And we got to see and talk to people we didn’t see as often as we’d like.

Recently people we’ve hosted are more interested (see, I told you I’d bring it back) in the football games on television than the people around the table. These have been people we see perhaps once or twice a year, and I think we have a lot of catching up to do. They obviously think otherwise.

One year I unplugged the television before everyone came, but they figured it out and plugged it back in. I tried flipping the circuit breaker, but it controlled too many other things, so I turned it back on. Another time our TV died, and I put a 13 inch set in the family room. They just sat closer. Much closer. I don’t know if it’s intimacy they fear, or we don’t have enough in common since I don’t care about sports. Isn’t there anything else to talk about? Perhaps they like our food but are uncomfortable around us. I don’t know. They never turned down an invitation, though.

I do know that watching television doesn’t seem to me to be a group activity. Sitting silently in the dark with a group of people may be green, in that only one television is using electricity. But I can watch television by myself, and frequently do.

So the holidays are coming up. We haven’t invited sports fans to Thanksgiving this year. That may be un-American. Too bad.

We’re going, instead, to practice the Art of Conversation.

As always, please feel free to comment below.