He may have missed one (or two or maybe even three), but The Curmudgeon counts fifteen Chinese restaurants within a ten-minute drive of his home.
He may have missed one (or two or maybe even three), but The Curmudgeon counts fifteen Chinese restaurants within a ten-minute drive of his home.
Is it possible to speak or even to write the word “savvy” and not feel like a complete tool?
The Curmudgeon thinks not.
So as many of you may know by now (and congratulations to those of you who don’t), Kelly Ripa, after a year of working Regis-free with a blinding assortment of Regis-wannabes, now has a new, permanent co-host: former football player Michael Strahan. Strahan won the job after apparently outperforming a number of other candidates.
One of those other candidates who auditioned often alongside the Talentless Ms. Ripa during her year of co-host promiscuity was Seth Meyers, head writer and anchorman of “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live.
So is it just a coincidence, or a case of really sour grapes, that on last week’s show, SNL did a mean-spirited (but not very funny) spoof of Live with Kelly and Michael that made the show’s hosts – and especially the victorious Strahan – seem like colossal idiots?
The Curmudgeon isn’t big on role models. In a perfect world, or maybe even just a much better one, the only role models children would need are their parents.
In a perfect world, or maybe even just a better one, some other people might be role models, too – people like relatives, clergymen, teachers, and neighbors. Maybe even some public officials, heaven forbid. But again, this isn’t a perfect world.
And so we’re often left with celebrities as role models, and that’s not good. In theory, The Curmudgeon agrees with former professional basketball player Charles Barkley, who when asked to reconcile the boorish behavior in which he occasionally engaged during his playing days with his status as a role model, famously declared “I’m not a role model.”
But he was. First of all, he was a constant national media presence for more than a dozen years, and in fact he remains one today. Second, and more important, he actually has declared himself a role model on many occasions. Every time he got paid to endorse a product, he wasn’t just endorsing a product: he was implicitly – and, one might argue, explicitly as well – declaring “Be like me. Use this product.” The notion that a child should somehow be able to distinguish between different aspects of an individual’s life or actions in judging which behavior is appropriate to respect and which isn’t is utterly absurd. If endorsing a product isn’t a declaration of role model-dom, The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what is.
Most celebrities aren’t very good role models for the very reason that, aside from the arrogance that money and attention inevitably instill in them, they’re not perfect. Almost anyone you put on a pedestal will eventually fall off it with a thud.
Parents are different. Kids can look up to their parents even though they recognize, from an early age, that their parents aren’t perfect. Mom burnt the toast. Dad cursed when he hit his thumb with a hammer. They punished me for something my sister did. Kids aren’t always very bright, their brains and sensibilities are still forming, but when they see their appropriate role models fall short of expectations, they have a context for understanding that failing and an innate love that helps them move beyond it in a way that they never will with their favorite football player, actress, or singer.
Once in a while, though, someone comes along and does something that’s so special that it transcends the inherent limits of celebrity role models.
Someone like Sandy.
Tomorrow night at sundown, Jews around the world will observe the holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The Curmudgeon doesn’t use the term “celebrate” because there’s nothing to celebrate about Yom Kippur. It’s not a happy holiday. To the contrary, it’s a grim, uncomfortable day that marks the end of a ten-day period during which we are supposed to identify, reflect on, and atone for our sins. As part of that last day, we’re not allowed to eat or drink or wash for comfort. We’re not supposed to mind those inconveniences, or even notice them, because we’re supposed to be praying or resting up for the next round of prayer.
The overwhelming majority of us, The Curmudgeon included, do no such thing, of course. We’re cultural Jews. We enjoy, participate in, and respect the traditions, but our literal observances of them are sporadic and selective. We follow some of the rules and attend some of some services, but mostly, we respect the spirit but not the letter of the laws.
To these cultural Jews, including The Curmudgeon, Sandy Koufax is a role model and a virtual idol.
Sandy Koufax was a baseball player, a pitcher first for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The last six years of his career are arguably the greatest stretch of pitching performance that baseball has ever seen.
In 1965, Sandy’s team was in the World Series, and the first game coincided with the arrival of Yom Kippur. Sandy was supposed to pitch. Sandy did not pitch. Sandy did not even come to the ballpark that night. It was Yom Kippur, and the idea of working, or even coming to work, was inconceivable to him.
And among the Jewish people, a legend was born – as was a role model. What was so remarkable about Sandy’s decision was that, like most of us, he wasn’t an observant Jew. He didn’t go to synagogue every Saturday morning, didn’t deny himself the pleasures of a cheeseburger or a shrimp cocktail on religious grounds, didn’t wear fringed garments under his uniform. He didn’t even attend services that October night when he should have been on the mound. He was a cultural Jew, like most of us, but even a cultural Jew understands that you do not fool around with Yom Kippur. For many Jews, Yom Kippur is one of only two days of the year they attend synagogue. Even for those who don’t, though, they understand that Yom Kippur is a day to lay low: if you’re not in synagogue, you’re at home. You don’t go to work, but you also don’t go shopping or out to lunch or to the beach. You think there’s something wrong that you have to use a personal or vacation day to take off from work to observe your most important holiday while your non-Jewish friends and co-workers pay no such price to celebrate theirs, but you pay that price and you pay it willingly.
The Curmudgeon’s parents recognized the teachable moment when it presented itself (even though the term “teachable moment” wouldn’t come into common use for another thirty or so years) and carefully pointed out to their son, a little more than a month shy of his eighth birthday, what Sandy was doing, why he was doing it, and why he should be like Sandy when it came to respecting the holidays.
And it turns out The Curmudgeon’s parents were far from alone. Across America, the legend of Sandy Koufax would grow – and grow and grow and grow. We all understood who he was and why, at least in this respect, we should be like him. Today, nearly fifty years later, the legend has not diminished even a little.
Ten years ago a writer named Jane Leavy wrote what might, at first glance, be perceived as a biography of Koufax. It isn’t. It’s a 273-page reflection on the enormous cultural impact this one man has now had on millions of American Jews. Sandy, who still seems a bit mystified by that impact and the adulation it has spawned, is an exceedingly private man, and for this reason, The Curmudgeon was hesitant to read the book; he felt like doing so would be an invasion of the man’s privacy. Learning that Sandy opposed the book’s writing reinforced this feeling, but later, The Curmudgeon read that Sandy, ever the gentleman, did not discourage his friends from talking to the writer and even spoke to Leavy – not to tell his stories or offer his perspective, but just to confirm the veracity of what she had learned, because even though he didn’t want her to write the book, once he understood that she was writing it he wanted it at least to be accurate. The Curmudgeon read the book, and it was a moving testament to the extraordinary impact that one man, through one simple action, has had on several generations of his people.
Including The Curmudgeon.
At the top of The Curmudgeon’s bucket list these days is…buying a bucket.
Seriously. He decided to wash his car last weekend, put on his flip-flops, unfurled the garden house, took down the detergent and sponges from the shelf, but then…no bucket. Then he remembered: his old bucket developed a leak and had to be retired.
While driving to the beach last weekend, The Curmudgeon nearly veered off the road when he saw a billboard announcing that Rob Kardashian will be appearing at an Atlantic City casino later this month.
To do what?
What “talent” does Rob Kardashian have? What can he possibly do on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people?
Whine about how no one understands him?
Whine about how people make fun of him?
Whine about how the rest of his family seems to get tired of his mooching off them by living in their houses and eating their food while he does nothing to make something of himself?
Whine about how he wants to carve a niche for himself in this world but, well, y’know, that would require actual, y‘know, work, and not working seems to have worked out pretty well for his sisters?
Is this what passes for entertainment these days?
As you’ve read in this space before, The Curmudgeon loves music – he loves music, any kind of music, he loves music, just as long as it’s groovy.
But seriously, folks. Screw his fancy-ass education: the best education The Curmudgeon received was during the two-and-half years during college that he worked at a Peaches Records and Tapes store in Philadelphia. When people think of huge record stores, they generally think of the now-defunct Tower Records stores. Peaches stores opened (and closed – it was an abysmally managed business) years before Tower came along and were a lot bigger.
The Curmudgeon enjoyed almost every minute he spent at Peaches right up to the moment he was fired for expecting people to live up to their word. He learned a lot about people, he had his first meaningful exposure to people who used (and sold) all sorts of recreational drugs, and he had his first meaningful exposure to people who copulated any time they could find a willing partner and an appropriate, isolated corner in the store’s 12,000-square-foot building.
But mostly he learned a lot about music. The Curmudgeon grew up in a family in which the predominant sounds were movie musical soundtracks on the stereo and Andy Williams on television, so he clearly had a lot to learn. He still remembers the day when, before the Peaches store was even open for business, the sound system was installed and the boss allowed the forty or so employees to vote on three albums to open and play. The easy winners were the Beatles White Album, a Steely Dan album, and a Grateful Dead album. The Curmudgeon knew the Beatles, of course, but did not know their music by album title; he knew a few Steely Dan songs but had never heard the name of the band; and he had never even heard of the Grateful Dead.
So The Curmudgeon had a lot to learn, but like most people who come to an interest later in life – okay, twenty years old is not exactly later in life – he took to it with a passion and has never looked back. While he dabbled in popular music, he has found over the years that his musical tastes typically fall outside the mainstream. How far outside? Judge for yourself by reading the following list of the best ten albums (sorry, The Curmudgeon still insists on calling them albums even though he hasn’t bought any vinyl since the mid-1980s) that he suspects you’ve never actually heard.
In no particular order:
If you’re a liberal, you may think President Obama is a candy-assed disappointment. If you’re a conservative, you may think he’s a Kenyan socialist who’s out to destroy the country.
But here’s another perspective, courtesy of Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein in his review of two books about the president and politics in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books:
Somehow, a president whose platform consists of Mitt Romney’s health care bill, Newt Gingrich’s environmental policies, John McCain’s deficit-financed payroll tax cuts, George W. Bush’s bailouts of failing banks and corporations, and a mixture of the Bush and Clinton tax rates has been recast as the greatest threat to capitalism since Karl Marx sat down for a beer with Friedrich Engels.
(Note to non-sports fans: while the primary example used in this piece is about a situation in the world of sports, the piece itself is not about sports. Please be patient.)
In early June, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team fired his team’s president. Oh, they said it was a mutual parting of the ways, but make no mistake about it, the guy was fired.
The guy, Joe Banner, was a long-time friend of the owner. He ran the football organization on a day-to-day basis, and while he was not a football guy in the strictest sense, the financial parameters he established regarding the value of players – that is, how much the team could afford to spend on an individual player, or a specific position, before the price was too great – had a significant and very positive impact on the team. Because he was the money man, and because sports fans in Philadelphia are especially stupid, those fans continually attributed too much of their disappointment – their anger, really – about the team’s shortcomings to Banner. Banner, in turn, didn’t make things any easier for himself: he looks like an unpleasant guy, he gave grudging, unpleasant interviews, and he came across as arrogant in his certainty that his way was the best way, the only way, and that he had no interest in hearing about any other ways.
But that’s not why The Curmudgeon is writing about his firing today.
The Curmudgeon’s interest in the firing – he pretty much gave up following football a few years ago after a lifetime as a pretty serious fan – derives from the reaction of the local sporting press to the firing.
The fans, you see, were shocked – pleased, mind you, bordering on delighted – but genuinely shocked by this development.
The local press? Downright blasé. They saw it coming, they wrote. They saw the struggles over power he was losing; they saw him distancing himself from certain team and public activities; they saw a lessening of his role in some of the core parts of the business that used to be his domain almost exclusively.
This raises a good question: if they saw this, why were the fans so surprised when the guy was fired?
And that, in turn, leads to a pretty clear answer: because even though they say they saw it coming, the reporters never wrote about it.
Which leads to yet another good question: Why not?
For that matter, what good are they if they don’t write about such things?
Here you have a group of reporters who have a very narrow focus in their professional pursuits: they write entirely about football, almost entirely about football, or entirely about sports. They are around the team and team management and the players all the time.
How could they see all this and never write about it?
We have seen other instances of this kind of non-reporting in the past, of course. We are told that millions of Americans did not really comprehend that FDR couldn’t walk. Reporters knew of JFK’s numerous dalliances with women other than his wife but chose not to write about them. Some also apparently knew that he was not well and also decided not to write about that, either. In May and June of this year, newspapers in Pennsylvania began reporting on discord between the state’s Republican governor and its Republican legislative leaders – and made it clear that this has been going on for a while. So why were they just getting around to writing about it?
And what else is going on out there that may be important, that maybe we should know, that reporters for some reason have decided not to share with us?
The Curmudgeon first started thinking about this kind of thing about twenty years ago, and this, too, arose in a sports context: the local professional hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers – The Curmudgeon is a pretty serious hockey fan – traded a player, and one of the local newspapers’ hockey writers noted when reporting the trade that the team’s coach had long been frustrated about one specific aspect of the player’s performance. This player was not new to the team; he had been around for a while. This left The Curmudgeon wondering: how long had the reporter known this and why hadn’t he written about it before? Why did it take the team trading the player for this reporter to decide to share a pretty significant insight with his readers?
We live in an era of abundant news and information – some of it reliable, some of it much less so. Public figures – elected officials, actors, musicians, athletes, and others – also now have unprecedented opportunities to go around the press and communicate directly with the public. All of this easily accessible information has contributed to the decline of newspapers. It’s not the only cause of that decline, to be sure – Craigslist, for example, has permanently destroyed a major source of newspaper revenue. In addition, the decision of many newspapers to make their content free on the web, and the parasitic pursuits of shameless aggregators like (but not limited to) Huffington Post, have made it easier than ever to stay informed without spending any money aside from what you’re already paying for your internet connection.
That’s why it’s never been more important for reporters to be good at what they do. Anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can write about last night’s big game – or share his views on what the President should do about the economy or illegal immigration or any other subject. If you don’t believe this, just look at what you’re reading right now. But those of us with this platform lack something that’s incredibly important for a complete understanding of what’s going on – whether “what’s going on” involves the state of the nation, life in your own community, what’s happening in the world of sports, or even whether the Kardashian sisters can possibly be as vacuous as they appear on television. That something is access. Reporters can talk to the people in the administration who are trying to figure out what to do, can attend the sessions of Congress and town councils, can talk to the players and get their insight into why the game unfolded as it did.
And if they’re any good at what they do, they’ll write about it. They won’t sit on their hands and keep quiet because they don’t want to rock the boat. They won’t stifle what they know because they’re afraid that the people about whom they write won’t like them anymore or won’t share information with them anymore or will deny that what they’ve written is true. They’ll report what they know, when they know it, and not pretend afterward that they knew it all along.
And sports fans won’t be blindsided when the top executive of the most popular team in town is suddenly gone one day.