SPORTS, ARTS, LIFE AND IMPENDING DEATH

I was hearing this morning that sports teams have the possibility of covering uniforms and jerseys with advertising. The National Basketball League appears to be the first to adopt this practice, thinking it’s a good idea that will generate around $100 million in new revenue. What with the relentless promotion of sports on radio and TV, it’s not surprising that corporate interests would see an audience there for their ads.

Many people have read and commented on Louis Menard’s article (The New Yorker, May 16, 2016) “Show them the money”, addressing the issue of sports and money in a review of two books: “This Is Your Brain on Sports” (Crown Archetype) by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers; and “Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought to Create a Revolution” (Simon & Schuster) by Matthew Futterman. I found many of the statements made by Menard pertinent, although I have to say that nothing was really new to me. For example: “For everyone knows what the social role of sports is today. It is, via commercials and endorsements, to sell stuff. And everyone knows what makes that possible is television.” The Super Bowl is the outstanding example; seconds of advertising time sell for millions of dollars. With viewers numbering well over 100 million, you can see why advertisers are eager to occupy even a second or two of the telecast. Imagine how much more exposure a corporation could get with, say, a recognizable logo (e.g. the Nike swoosh) on the backs of players. The possibilities are staggering.

As an amusing but deadly accurate sidebar, I am reminded of Stan Freeberg’s 1958 radio skit “Green Christmas” in which avaricious corporate admen enthusiastically co-opt the messages of Christmas in order of promote their products, even to having the Wise Men bearing gifts of brand-name spices to the Christ Child.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiHlJWvFCys  Freeberg’s barbed arrows of 1950s irony would have be turned into nuclear missiles to target the marketing practices of today.

By the way, it’s also well known that television programs are only there to deliver an audience for the commercials. The mind-numbing sitcoms and game shows serve this purpose admirably. But we know that television viewing is in decline, and Menard points out that the actual audience for sports programs, aside from mega events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics (what an advertising fest that is!), are aging and dwindling. In fact, fewer than four percent of the population of the United States regularly watches sports on television. This is not a big enough audience to attract big-time advertisers, but there is a trick to make you pay for it whether you watch or not. That involves the cable companies, who bundle sports channels along with whatever it is that you might actually be willing to pay for. You may be aware of how assiduously the cable companies figured out how to hoodwink consumers after the Canadian government ruled that they had to provide a $25 choose-your-channels service. Corporations are reluctant to give any real choices to citizens and customers. It looks more and more as though they don’t have to.

Advertising has as its purpose the selling of goods that we didn’t know we needed or wanted. Need I mention that this is a lesson we are taught in school from the earliest age? After all, isn’t a whole lot easier just to do what we’re told rather than to struggle with the mental gymnastics required for making informed choices? And the duller and more ignorant the populace the easier the selling job.

Maxim Gorky pointed out, in 1928, “Sport has a single clear purpose: to make people even more stupid than they are.” Not that sports necessarily make us dumb, but the constant emphasis on sports—and on popular music—through the media preclude the delivery of information on other aspects of human endeavour. Don’t let anyone know about the accomplishments of composers, musicians, and other artists, and pretty soon the public will forget that they exist. After all, advertisers of toothpaste and deodorants aren’t about to place their logos on the backs of symphony musicians or pay artists to include product placements in their paintings. The arts are there to challenge the mind and to explore the infinite range of human emotion. Tough stuff for a public anaesthetised by mixed martial arts and the latest pop tunes.

In a 1948 essay “The Dehumanization of Art” José Ortega y Gasset says, “Cult of the body is an infallible symptom of a leaning toward youth, for only the young body is lithe and beautiful. Whereas the cult of the mind betrays the resolve to accept old age, for the mind reaches plenitude only when the body begins to decline. The triumph of sport marks the victory of the values of youth over the values of age.” As in sport, popular music is dominated by the young, and with its simple harmonies, persistent rhythms, and electronically enhanced instrumentation, it offers little of musical, poetic, or emotional interest. At the same time, many of the greatest—and most challenging—of classical music compositions were written by composers of advanced age and accumulated experience. Need I mention Verdi’s astonishing ebullient comedy “Falstaff”, written when he was 79!

But, as Menard points out, the sports industry is primed for decline. Tickets, merchandise sales, and broadcast rights do not generate sufficient money to support the industry. Hence the emerging reliance on advertising. But the prospects there are limited, based, as mentioned above, on the aging and dwindling audience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the image of the sedentary middle-aged, overweight, beer-drinking sports fan yelling, cursing, or cheering at the television. (“Hey, Honey, bring me another beer.”) Not an enticing prospect for product identification. According to 2008 North American statistics, about 60% of sports viewers are men, and of these, nearly one half are over the age of fifty. The only sport that appears to attract a younger crowd is major league soccer, and we know from European events what that leads to.

Talk of aging and dwindling audiences naturally starts me thinking about what’s happening in the world of classical music. According to statistics from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts the portion of concertgoers under 30 fell, from 1982 to 2002, from 27 percent to 8 percent. In 1937, in Los Angeles—and we can assume elsewhere—the median age of attendees at symphony concerts was 28! In 1982, the median age of concertgoers was 40 and by 2008 it was 49. Those of us working in the field of classical music are told all the time that audiences are dying off and not being replaced. If it’s true that the same is happening to sports audiences, it is in spite of massive advertising and media promotion. This makes classical music concert attendance look pretty good, because classical music is virtually ignored by the media—also by schools, where sports are promoted and funded, while music and art programs are always the first to be axed by budget cuts.

Incidentally, an accomplished classical musician stands a better chance of making a living—well, at least part of a living—than a person in sports. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics there were 11,710 people in professional sports earning an average wage of $80,490 per year. In music (musicians and singers) there are 37,090 people earning a median annual wage of $71,500. This certainly includes people in popular and folk music, but there are over 1,000 symphony orchestras in the U.S. (more than 30 in Canada) including the major orchestras (New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles) that pay wages over $100,000 per year to their core players (usually 70 to 90). The few very high-paid athletes and high-paid musicians put an upward spin on the averages. Many of those 1,000 orchestras are either non-professional or low budget. It’s important to note, however, that a musician can have a professional life lasting 40 or 50 years, whereas an athlete’s working life is necessarily limited to a few years by physical constraints. Fund an athlete and you’ll get a couple of medals and several years of product endorsements; fund an artist and you’ll get a lifetime of achievement.

But the marketers know where the money is, so they will support the activities that appeal to the lowest common denominator in society, and those will probably not be found at the symphony concert, in the opera house, or at the art gallery. Perhaps the arts will simply die off along with intelligent discourse, thoughtful reflection, and social criticism. It will be a sorry loss and humanity will be much poorer for it. What will happen to sports is anybody’s guess, but with vigorous promotion from the marketers, schools, and media, as well as a public that idolizes youth, failure is not on the horizon.

Some time ago I posted a much longer piece about these same issues. It can be found here, if you’re interested: https://tdurrie.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/art-who-needs-it-anyway/

Here’s a link to Louis Menard’s article in The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/the-professional-sports-bubble

And further to Gorky’s statement about sports, here’s a fascinating article by sports writer Frank Fitzpatrick
http://articles.philly.com/2016-05-30/sports/73429115_1_college-sports-higher-purpose-sports-fan

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Posted in Adverstising, Frank Fitzpatrick, Louis Menard, Maxim Gorky, Sports, Television, Uncategorized | Tagged | 7 Comments

ANOTHER LINGUISTIC PHENOMENON

I’ve had this one sitting on my desk for several months, always intending to post it but then distracted by various other activities. Now that I’ve moved far away from the city, I have more time to myself. Consequently, I turn to this interesting bit of trivia. Or is it trivia? Why, I ask, do we find these rhyming words so useful and expressive, and where did they come from? Like many now vernacular expressions, I’ll be at least some of these come from Shakespeare, though I confess to being too lazy to do the research.(Nevertheless, see “Henny-penny” below.) But I wasn’t too lazy to compile this list. Maybe you can add some that I haven’t thought of.

Helter skelter

Lovey dovey

Easy peasy

Shilly shally

Super duper

Razzle dazzle

Fancy schmancy

Loosey goosey

Turkey-lurkey   [this one comes from Henny-penny (“the sky is falling”) and includes Cocky-locky, Goosey-poosey, Foxy-woxy and the less rhythmically inclined Ducky-daddles. A great tale of, no doubt, political origin.]

Killer diller

Willy nilly

Harum scarum

Hanky panky

Hugger mugger

Teeny weeny

Roly poly

Artsy fartsy

Mumbo jumbo

So much for a few days random amusement. Now, I must think of something serious to write about.

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IT’S INCREDIBLE!

Have you noticed how everything these days is “incredible”? It’s now the all-purpose adjective or adverb—essentially meaningless.

 Here are just a few examples I have heard in the last few days:
… an incredibly talented pool of people …
… incredible talent off-stage and on …
… it was kind of incredible …
… an incredibly long period of time …
… an incredible public momentum …
… an incredible reputation …
… Vancouver is incredible …
… absolutely incredible …
… that ginger flavour is incredible …
… incredibly beautiful country …
… it’s an incredibly beautiful song …
… incredibly dextrous with their paws …
… an incredible admission …
… he’s incredibly prolific …
… that rainfall was incredible …
… an absolutely incredible sunset …
… it’s an incredible story …

So much, or too much, for that. Talk about over-used words! Once everything that might be startling, amazing, horrifying, heroic, delicious, remarkable, thrilling, interesting, or special is called “incredible” we are left with a word that has simply become an all-purpose intensifier. It even sounds like an important word and as though we know what it means, serving about the same purpose as the over-used “f” word. ‘Tis thus we lose the nuance of expression and the value of language to express the infinite variety of human experience and diction. From my old-age sceptical perspective, it looks like we are giving up the ability to express and communicate our more complex and valuable thoughts and experiences. Maybe we don’t even care anymore as we become increasingly homogeneous, listening to the same music, excited by the same sports, eating the same so-called food, and adopting the same fashions. After all, who would want to be some kind of stuffy, nose-in-the-air intellectual? You can’t make any money that way. Or get elected, as our politicians have found out. 

Does the future consist of text messages, tweets, abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons? Even “incredible” will have to be abbreviated–way too long for texting. If so, we can forget the language of Shakespeare, Milton, Shaw, and even W.S. Gilbert. So what? Your school will probably have more computers than books anyway, and it only takes two thumbs to text, why bother with handwriting and printed words? Maybe the high point of human civilization was Athens in 500 BC, and it’s been downhill ever since.

Incredible!

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HOW TO AVOID EMBARASSING QUESTIONS

HOW TO AVOID EMBARASSING QUESTIONS

At least the wild fires around Kelowna have provided Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper with some great photo ops. They are ever so concerned about the devastation that their constituents are facing—in the riding that handily provided the premier her seat after she lost it in her Vancouver-Point-Grey riding. While the Prime Minster is shamelessly handing out pre-election goodies, Ms. Clark is eager (desperate?) to divert attention from a serious issue that could very well threaten her government. I’m referring to the firing, in 2012, of eight health researchers who had been working for the government. One of the workers, a young PhD candidate, his career ruined, subsequently killed himself. The government said that the workers were fired because of “an alleged breach in the handling of confidential public health data”. It was also announced that the RCMP were investigating possible criminal wrongdoing. However, no information was ever given to the RCMP and no investigation was ever carried out. The most damning possibility is that these researchers were finding that there were serious side-effects, including death, from certain drugs approved by the province’s Pharmacare program. Incidentally, the companies that provide these drugs are major contributors to the Liberal party and its election campaigns. This is a matter that could drastically affect the government’s credibility. No wonder distraction is the order of the day!

Among others, the seven remaining workers and the sister of the deceased, have filed requests for a public inquiry. The government has simply turned the matter over to the provincial ombudsman, saying that a public inquiry would be too costly, and the matter has quietly slipped into obscurity. Several distractions have conveniently come onto the provincial agenda.

Most recently, a case of child abuse, allegedly mishandled by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and, of course, the “sensational” announcement of the deal negotiated with Petronas regarding the multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas project that has been so dear to Ms. Clark’s heart. Remember her election campaign mantra “Grow the economy”? This is a massive give-away of publicly-owned natural resources with very doubtful economic gains for the province, not to mention the environmental depredations of the fracking that produces the gas to be liquefied, then shipped to foreign countries that don’t need it. Whoopee! We’ll all be rolling money and thousands of jobs will be created. Well, at least for temporary foreign workers. After all, who wants to pay unionized BC labour?

Reacting to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s scathing report about the Ministry’s mishandling of a child abuse case, the Premier has expressed her very deep concern and has called for a public inquiry. According to CTV News: “This is a terrible, tragic case,” said Clark. “Of course (a review) is going to have to be independent. It needs to be done by someone who isn’t inside government.” Hmmm. She obviously felt differently about the health researchers—or did she just hope that we would forget?

Like the Harper Government (he prefers that instead of “Government of Canada”), the BC government is faced with economic downturns (recession?) and climate change disasters. So much better to keep the public amused and diverted from major issues ignored or mishandled by government. Panem et circenses (bread and circuses), the Roman emperors knew how to do it. When may we expect Christians—or would it be Socialists—to be fed to lions in BC Place?

Posted in Christy Clark, Government of British Columbia, Health care researchers, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Ministry of Children and Family Deveopment, Public Inquiry, Stephen Harper | Tagged | 1 Comment

TRAVELLING BY TRAIN

People of an age will remember when if you wanted to go somewhere you took a train. It was inexpensive, convenient, comfortable, and civilized. Being of an age myself, I dislike air travel: being herded like cattle, and then being encased in a metal cigar for miserable hours on end, pathetically looking forward to the next tasteless meal.

So, when I was recently planning a trip to San Francisco (from Vancouver, BC), I decided to take the train. Way back in the late 1940s, when I fled home in Portland and lived in San Francisco, I travelled back and forth by train many times. It was always pleasant, fun, and very inexpensive. Imagine, even as a kid, being treated nicely by polite attendants, having one’s luggage looked after, and being able to walk about, have a drink, have breakfast, lunch or dinner, and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

I can say right now that nothing about train travel has changed much. The Coast Starlight, running from Seattle to Oakland, is beautiful, quiet, and—dare I say it—civilized. Unlike the way it used to be, the train does not depart from Vancouver, so one must get on a bus (at 5.30 a.m.) to connect with the train that departs from Seattle at 9.00. Not too bad, really, because the Amtrak bus is considerably better than the Greyhound, and it’s quite easy to snooze most of the way.

Once on the train, you find your assigned seat—yes, I went by coach because of the price, not just reasonable, but cheap—then you are free to walk about, have breakfast, sit in a special “observation” car (comfortable seats, some tables, and plenty of company), have a drink or snack in the bar, or chat with your seat mate. I certainly did all of the above, meeting and talking with any number of interesting and varied travellers, having a beer or two (or three), and several excellent and inexpensive meals. I needn’t remind you that these are activities that you cannot perform on an airplane. (Ivan Illich said that flying is not travelling, it is being shipped from one place to another.)

If cost is no object to you, you can have a sleeping compartment, meals included, for around $500. The round-trip coach fare was under $200. For sure I didn’t get much sleep, but enough so that when I was dropped off, by bus from Oakland to downtown San Francisco, I happily walked the ten blocks or so to the hotel and was ready to enjoy a delightful dinner with friends.

The only thing you have to have in order to travel by train is time. That is something we had plenty of back in the 1940s and 1950s—time and civility. The airlines and contemporary life have convinced us to be in a big hurry all the time. As a result, we’ve lost the ability to enjoy getting from one place to another, actually traversing geography and sharing the company of fellow travellers. Highly recommended!

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SAN FRANCISCO REPORT

This will be a brief report on my experience attending opera in San Francisco, June 23-25, 2015.

First of all the opera house. The War Memorial Opera House is as beautiful and engaging as ever. Built in 1932, this opera house was the first municipally owned and funded building of its kind in North America. The design is of French Beaux Arts and reflects the elegance and even grandeur of that architectural style. I might mention that the opera house is directly across from San Francisco’s very grand city hall from the same period. Being at the War Memorial Opera House seems like being home to me, since I have been there many times over the years. The first time I entered those marvellous doors was in 1947!

THE OPERAS

TWO WOMEN (LA CIOCIARA)

This was a brand new opera, commissioned by San Francisco Opera, by Marco Tutino. The composer has written several operas and has had considerable success in Italy. It was truly a no-holds-barred production, magnificently well sung and dramatically staged. In other words, San Francisco Opera gave it their very best shot. It was certainly worth it, though perhaps with some reservations. My friends and I felt that it was over-composed, over-orchestrated. While the orchestral playing was of the highest possible standard, the music was thick and dense throughout, though there were many beautiful lyrical moments. It’s hardly possible or fair to judge such a work on only one hearing, and I would happily see or hear it again. The music is what I what I would call post-modern late Puccini. If Puccini had lived he might well have written something like “Two Women”. The lead role of Cesira was sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci. What a discovery! Here is a woman with a glorious voice and powerful acting skills. She also sang Cassandra in “Les Troyens”. More of that later. Nicola Luisoti conducted and Francesa Zambello directed.

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better production, maybe equals but never better. The production is a mainstay of San Francisco Opera, the sets and costumes are fitting to the rather shabby state of Almaviva’s Villa, a place where the nobility freely associate with the servants and wander, without compunction, into their quarters. The cast included Philippe Sly as a vigorous and attractive Figaro, Lisette Oropesa, a delightful Susanna, Kate Lindsay as a love-crazed teenager, with Luca Pisaroni and Nadine Sierra as the Count and Countess. All were outstanding, both vocally and dramatically. Of special delight were the characters of Marcellina (Catherine Cook), Dr. Bartolo (John Del Carlo), and Basilio (Greg Fedderly). The gentle and always-tasteful humour kept the audience engaged and amused throughout. The superb orchestra was conducted by Patrick Summers, and the staging was by Robin Guarino.

LES TROYENS (THE TROJANS)

Seeing this seldom performed masterpiece was our main reason for making the trip, and, without question, it was worth every minute and every penny (Yes, they still use those in the U.S.A.). We saw the next to the last of six sold out performances, and it was glorious! The performance and the huge orchestra were conducted by Donald Runnicles in a style befitting the grandeur of Berlioz’s score. The gigantic set, complete with the Trojan horse and numerous fires, was most spectacular, matching what is a truly spectacular score. The chorus was also the largest I’ve ever seen on any stage, producing when called upon a sound of overwhelming majesty. As I mentioned earlier Anna Caterina Antonacci delivered a flawless and emotional Cassandra, well matched by other member of the cast of the first part of the opera. We were sorry that Bryan Hymel was indisposed and replaced by Cory Bix. Bix, stepping in at the last moment, gave a fine a valiant performance. This meant that the peerless Susan Graham as Dido carried the show through the second half. Many of us have seen her in this role in the Met in HD performances, but live on the stage she was a force of nature. This was an unforgettable experience, one of the highlights of my opera-attending career.

Opera is alive and well in San Francisco!

And I should mention that we also attended a concert performance of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” by the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The enlarged chorus and orchestra delivered a splendid and trnasparent sound, while Nina Stemme as Leonora and Brandon Jovanovich as Florestan sang magnificently. I would also mention Alan Held as a very strong and threatening Pizarro.

If I sound rapturous about the entire experience, I can only say that it was!

And I travelled by train. I’ll create a post about that pretty soon.

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Nineteen Fifteen South East Twenty-First

Nineteen Fifteen South East Twenty-First

This is the address in Portland, Oregon of the house my parents bought in 1940. It was the first house that ever actually belonged to us, and I lived there from the time I was nine years old until I was eighteen when I left home to search for my self in San Francisco. By the time I was back in Portland, about three years later, they had sold the house and moved to an apartment. I never entered the place again.

The years that we lived there were the most important coming-of-age years in my life, so I have many memories of the house, some loving and some painful. Hardly what you’d call a happy teenager, I was tortured by longings for unattainable love; I struggled over my love-hate relationship with the piano; I had my first sexual experiences; I absorbed myself in discoveries of great music and opera; I prayed with religious fervour; and, I spent a lot of time alone in the basement inventing things.

I often wonder what it would have been like to have lived the rest of my life in that house. There are people, after all, who have lived in the same house their entire lives, even as a part of a parade of generations, preceded by parents and grandparents and followed by children and grandchildren. Think of the wealth of memories and the comfort of the familiar. Perhaps even the absence of the ache of nostalgia.

Up to 1940, we had lived in five different places: Farragut Street, where I was born; Bryce Street, where at age four I visited Mrs. Markworth, whose cat to our amusement circulated around in the ventilation pipes; then Forty-first Street where I started school and fell off a cement wall onto the sidewalk, splitting open my chin (I still have a scar); from there we moved out in the country, 105th Street, two acres of walnut trees, potatoes, a garden, and chickens. We had a faithful German Shepherd named Sport. We were right across the road from the railroad tracks, and I came to know every train, whence it came and wither it was bound. If you waved at the people as the train sped by quite often someone would wave back. After this rural sojourn we moved to a wonderful old house on Tenth Street, very near downtown. Next door was a boarding house frequented by people like Cliff, a real cowboy from Eastern Oregon. My brother and I shared a double bed in an upstairs bedroom. I remember once that we strung some wires across to the boarding house so we could communicate with the kids there by means of our toy telegraph sets.

But all these adventures paled against 1915 S.E. 21st. For me, at nine, it was indeed a house of wonders. If you wanted hot water, all you had to do was to pull a chain in the dining room and the gas heater in the basement would ignite by itself. But you had to remember to release the chain in due time or the water would come boiling out of the taps. Suppose you felt a bit chilly, just adjust the magic thermostat, also in the dining room, and the oil furnace was soon pushing warm air up through the registers. There were also the brand new O’Keefe and Merritt gas stove (no matches required) and the Gilfillan refrigerator, our first real electric refrigerator. Imagine!, you could have ice cubes whenever you felt like it. I don’t know how my mother and father managed to pay for all this, but I suppose they assumed various debts and mortgages. (I think they paid $9000 for the house.) I know that my mother worked all the time at various money-making schemes: she sold Fashion Frocks and she did alterations on ladies’ garments. By the time I was eleven, though, she was working full time at Meier and Franks department store in Ladies’ Coats and Suits.

The consequence was that I spent quite a lot of time at home by myself. Every day, after school, I was supposed to practise the piano, but I rarely did, preferring to listen to opera records, work on my inventions, talk on the phone with Richard Griggs, or climb the cherry trees in the back yard. Another of my favourite things was to construct a small creek along the edge of the flower bed and, using the garden hose to create a current, let the one or two goldfish that we always seemed to have go for a swim. I figured it was quite an adventure for them. If I still lived there I probably would not make fanciful waterways, but I would certainly tend the flower garden and the roses that grew on four trellises against the wall of the garage.

Of course, summers were endless, and with little or no parental supervision, we came and went as we pleased. I don’t think we—and by “we” I mean my brother and I and the other neighbourhood kids—ever did much which would have displeased the grown-ups, but if we did, they never knew about it.

If I were still there, I would want most everything to be the same, though by now I would have replaced the Gilfillan and the O’Keefe and Merritt. The oil furnace would long ago have been supplanted by gas, and the buried oil tank in the back yard removed at great expense.. Maybe I would even have air conditioning. In the 1940s, air conditioning was an unimaginable luxury. But I would certainly have the heavy and ornate dining table and chairs, the table draped with the crocheted cover my mother made for it, and against the wall, under the window would be the buffet piece, or “side-table” as my mother called it. Because the front leading edge was rounded, she said it was of “waterfall” design. Always on display, there, was the silver-plated coffee urn on its tray, flanked by the cream and sugar. I never knew that glorious appliance to be used, but its presence was as appropriate and necessary as the draperies and curtains on the windows. We even had Venetian blinds, the height of 1940s domestic fashion. In the living room (we called it the “front room”), there were three curious objects that would certainly still be there: a bronze statue of an armoured warrior swinging a battle-axe which could be slid out of the warrior’s grasp and held as an object of wonder. Another was a small detailed model of a sailing vessel, its starched sails permanently wind-blown. And, the strangest of all, a sepia-coloured, three-quarter size bust of George Washington. One time, my brother and I arranged this, with pillows for its body, in my parents’ bed. We were convulsed with laughter when we heard them being momentarily taken in, thinking it was one us in an alarming state of illness.

The family “den” which adjoined the kitchen was where my father kept his books and where we spent most of our spare time. The living room was used rarely by the family, well, except for me because that was where the piano was. Even though, to conserve heat, it was kept closed off during the winter, I alone was allowed to turn on the heat so I could practise. I freely admit that when everyone else was out—and this was fairly often—I opened the glass doors, turned up the heat and the record player—Pagliacci, Il Trovatore—and revelled in solitary splendour. It was also there on one of these occasions, without the music, that I confessed to a startled Bob Shields that I was in love with him. I was, what?, thirteen. Such occasions are still alive and secure within the wood and plaster bones of the house.

I should mention, though, that the front room became the focal point of family activity around Christmas time, what with the tree, the crèche, and various other decorations which my mother, usually with my help, created. I know I would have continued over the years to observe Christmas in this way. Getting back to the den, there was also the desk at which my brother and I did our homework, and, even more important, there was the telephone. I probably used that device more than anyone else. As I mentioned, Richard Griggs and I would talk for hours. One time, we were on the phone when my brother went out to attend a movie, and we were still talking when he came back. Beside the phone was that wonderful old stained glass lamp. How can I describe it? It was one of those with a heavy round shade composed of suitably curved pieces of streaky milky light blue glass. If I lived there, it would definitely still be in its place.

The den. There was a time, around 1943, when my father quit drinking for a while and took up painting again. As a self-taught painter, he was pretty good and created a number of canvases during those few months. On Saturday evenings, my mother would read aloud while my father painted and my brother and I listened and built things with our Meccano set. There was always a point in the evening when we would have a special meal of homemade hamburgers or Stidd’s Tamales. Precious evenings, when the house was warm and everything seemed at rights.

The memories come flooding back. If I still lived there, I would be surrounded, immersed, in the richness of the past, the people I knew. I’m pretty sure that, by now, no one in the neighbourhood in the 1940s would be there any longer. Bob Smithson, who was my age, moved away while I was still living there, as did Morry Reisbeck, a favourite playmate who was younger than me. Delores Kangas, the first girl I ever “necked” with, lived next door for a while. Pat Miller and Sidney Mills, who were older, are probably long gone, as would be Mrs. Bennett, with whom I spent many hours listening to records: the Grieg Piano Concerto, Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, Tchaikovsky Symphonies and, for sure, the B-flat Minor Piano Concerto. My other grade-school friends and playmates were David Miller, Danny Ventrola, and Joe Galarneau. Whatever lives they have lived or are living, I imagine that they have long since moved out of the neighbourhood. My highschool friends—John Fairbanks, George Ryan, Richard Griggs—lived in other parts of town. The houses around ours would by now be inhabited by other people, unless some one person, perhaps an offspring of a 1940s neighbour, is now permanently situated in his or her ancestral home.

I’ll bet, though, that I alone would now be an established 21st Street presence. Known to those around as That old guy that has lived in that house for over seventy years.

The last time I walked that street and saw the house was in 2002 during a visit to Portland. I walked the route I used to take to Saint Philip Neri School, and I walked up the hill to Dickson Janowski’s house, where I used to wait at night for him to come home so I could spend even a few minutes with him, treasuring those moments when I could imagine I was one of his friends. Those were the sidewalks I knew best when I was a teenager. And, you know what, they have hardly changed at all. The house that was our house looks very much the same. As I stood looking at it, a woman came out of the front door, checking for something on the porch. I brazenly approached her and asked if she lived there. Yes, she did. I told her that I had grown up there and had always loved the place. I wonder, I said, if it has changed very much. She didn’t appear to be at all interested and went back in, closing the door. I think that I had had a faint hope that she would invite me in. No such luck.

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