One thing my practice of t'ai chi and qi gong is supposed to teach me is focus. That is, mind and body are one--when practicing the forms, the mind must be on that time and place, that moment, and not on some other thing. I learned a powerful lesson yesterday about the lack of focus. I was riding my mountain bike on my favorite trail, a flat, woodsy, well-kept single track. I let my mind wander to the delights of this trail, and the joy of riding it, rather than simply stay in the moment. Sure enough, just as I remembered that the stretch of the trail I was on requires a bit of focus to "thread the needle" between a couple of big rocks, it was too late. I rode the bike directly into one of the rocks. The bike came to an almost complete stop. Now, Mr. Newton wasn't bullshitting about the 1st Law of Motion. My inertia sent me over the bars and to a hard, hard landing on the trail. Fortunately, I landed on my hip and rolled on to my shoulder. I gave my elbow a beautiful case of road rash. My gluteus is very sore, and I have an impressive bruise just below my hip bone. Minor injuries, really. (1) I was going too fast. (2) I'm out of shape and out of practice and should not have pushed myself so hard. (3) I let my mind drift from the time I was in and the place I was at. Just desserts.
Got up at about 0200 this morning and watched the partial phase of the lunar eclipse for a few minutes. The full moon's light was still very bright even with a chunk taken out of it. It was clear and cool and the moon was high in the southwest. Went back to bed and checked again at about 0300, near the start of totality. The sky was quite dark, the light of the full moon was now gone. The moon's face was distinctly rusty-red, but it was surprisingly bright. I could see all the major features easily. The Mare Tranquilitatis (which I believe is Lunar East) was on the lower right-hand edge of the disk, with its 'legs' pointed down. That is from my observer's perspective. I could not see the much smaller Mare Crisium, but I must admit that in the wee hours my eyesight--lousy to start with--isn't all that keen. Binoculars made the red color fade, the moon exhibiting a blue-gray cast when I looked through my Nikon 9 x 25 Travelite V pair. I wonder if the small exit pupil (25/9 = 2.77) was responsible for that. So, I head to work today a little bleary-eyed, but it was worth it. Not too often do we get such an easy-to-view lunar eclipse--the furthest I traveled was my patio! Later in the morning, 0500, I got up for good and had a nice look at Orion, Taurus and Gemini (with Mars lurking near Aldebaran) in the southeast. The best things in life are indeed free.
The chase down the coast road ended on the high cliffs above the surf. Matt Cadd stood next to his idling 1959 Roman Red Corvette. In the waves below was the black coupe he'd pursued from the bowels of the city. He tossed his Lucky Strike away.
Ed McBain is really Evan Hunter. Unless you mean Curt Cannon or Richard Marsten or Hunt Collins or Ezra Hannon or John Abbott. Because those guys are Ed McBain--I mean Evan Hunter--too. What a mess. According to Wikipedia, Evan Hunter is really Salvatore Lombino, who was born in 1926 and died in 2005. Whatever he called himself, he was a remarkably prolific and influential writer. I am in the throes of a Hard Case Crime binge, and HCC-015 is The Gutter and the Grave, and it is credited to Ed McBain. Now, it was published in 1958 as I'm Cannon--For Hire, buy Curt Cannon, but the main character in the story (told in first person) is Matt Cordell. Go figure. Despite the psuedonymic psilliness, The Gutter and the Grave is a great read. Hardboiled in the Mickey Spillane tradition, with lots of tough-talking, big-breasted women who fall hard for our anti-hero, and lots of tough-talking, broad-shouldered cops and thugs who lean on him just as hard. This is how it starts:
The name is Cordell. I'm a drunk. I think we'd better get that straight from the beginning. I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I'm falling-down ossified, and sometimes I'm rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I cold sober--but not very often. I'm usually drunk, and I live where being drunk isn't a sin, though it's sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive. I live on New York's Bowery.
How can you NOT like this book? Funny, painful, sordid, and beautiful, The Gutter and the Grave is filled with this kind of taut, muscular prose. McBain is capable of commenting on life and telling the tale at the same time--a devilishly brilliant feat. There's a bit near the climax, where Matt Cordell finds himself at a West Side jam session where the jazz is really cooking, and he ruminates on music and race, then he meets a singer--gorgeous, naturally--and he ruminates on sex, then he talks about violence with a horn player afterwards. Not much happens for a few pages, but we learn about our man, ourselves, and our world. It is simple stuff, really, honest questions about Life, the Universe and Everything (thanks, DNA), but without any answers. And though the mystery is solved, and the loose ends tied up, our man, Matt Cordell, remains a loose end and a mystery. The bleak coda brings us back to the beginning, as if the maelstrom of blood and treachery and lust and loneliness he was caught in simply dumped him back to where he'd always been. Great stuff.
1952 was a good year--my lovely bride was born then. It seems to be a good year for Hard Case Crime as well--five of their thirty-four titles are from the Year of Our Lord MCMLII. I just finished A.A. Fair's (excuse me, Erle Stanley Gardner's) Top of the Heap, HCC-003. Day Keene's Home is the Sailor (HCC-007), Wade Miller's Branded Woman (HCC-011), Richard S. Prather's The Peddler (HCC-027), and George Axelrod's The Blackmailer (HCC-032) round out the list of 1952 titles. Funny thing, two of my wife's favorite authors--Walter Mosley and the late Douglas Adams--were born in 1952! I suppose 1952 was a good year for noir. Mr. Mosley is one of the best in the business. Douglas Adams wrote a funny, quirky thing (big surprise) called Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (and the character of Dirk returns in The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul). I guess Mr. Adams is a noir writer, too, in his own funny, quirky way. 1952 was a good year, indeed. (R.I.P, D.N.A.)
Ted Williams was nicknamed "Teddy Ballgame." It meant he had intensity and focus, that is, a "gameface." My mother grew up with Williams, she was born and raised within walking distance of Fenway Park. My mother is beloved by all for her warmth and humor, but she will get in your face and talk some serious smack if you (1) dis Teddy or (2) suggest Barry Bonds is the greatest LF of all time. Otherwise she is a fine Giants fan, despite the Red Sox blood in her veins. Now, I appreciate Williams' greatness--if he hadn't lost 5 years to WWII and Korea (as a pilot!), we would be talking about Barry breaking HIS record, not Hank's. But Barry is the best, hands down (sorry, Ma). He is Williams with a great glove and blazing speed, and he is Williams' heir in terms of scientific hitting (plate discipline, concentration, studying pitchers, superb technique/mechanics). Here is another great Barry story (he only played 115 games in the minors over 2 seasons before being promoted):
"As a young kid, I had Ed Ott as a manager in Single-A ball and I'll never forget as long as I live -- he called me into the office and told me what the rules are. I asked him, 'How do you get out of the Minor Leagues?' He didn't say a word -- he went to my locker and got my bat and my glove and said, 'There you go, kid.' I said, 'I can do that.'"
Ex scrinio Marcus Crapularius, scriptor de aqua vitae . . .
Health and wealth to you my friends. Here at Roma Aeterna, we have been blessed by the gods and have had both in abundance. Alas, the bottles sometimes run dry, and I have to flog the servants to allay my thirst. Those mysterious Caledonians make a sublime single malt called STRATHISLA, a tongue twister even to native speakers of their barbarous tongue. It hails from a village in Banffshire called Keith, that straddles a stream called the Isla. (Those Gaelic fellows don't say the 's' for some reason, the brutes.) Most of the spirit made there is blended as CHIVAS REGAL, which at least has an honorable Roman sound about it. Tracking down this green-bottled goodness is a major household undertaking, and I would normally wax poetically about your need to track some down as well. But, surely you understand, the more you gobble up the less there will be for the larders here at Roma Aeterna! These Caledonians are beholden to a band of Gallic Provincials called Pernod Ricard, who I gather have many spirits in their stables. I, Marcus Hibernicus Crapulariaus, solemnly pledge that I will seek out these elusive "whiskies" as they are called, and report back soon! Meanwhile, I shall bemoan the loss of the magnificent Strathisla, and satiate myself instead on those wicked liquors from Kentucky, far across the Mare Atlanticum.
prid. Id. Aug. (Beware the Ides of Augustus! Tomorrow!)
Some authors beg to be read aloud. Louis L'Amour, especially his early Sackett novels, is at his best when spoken. His prose is direct and has a natural storyteller's easy flow. Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee mysteries are better out loud. He has a great sense of place and draws concise, vivid pictures of the southwestern landscape. Like L'Amour, he has a straightforward literary style, without ornamentation. Genre writers have to master this--plot and character have more impact on the genre reader than arty construction. The masters have seized the confines of the genre and shaken a distinct tone, mood or style out of it, and made their mark. Sort of like being straitjacketed and winning a dance contest--the very strictures become your brushstrokes. I recently discovered the powerful beauty of a noir master, Chester Himes, by reading him out loud. The Real Cool Killers is a Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson adventure, set in 1950's Harlem. The two detectives work the toughest beat in the city, and they have to be tougher than everyone in it to do their jobs and survive. Mr. Himes' prose is so wickedly dark, funny, bleak and brilliant you have to say it out loud, stop, and say it again:
The loud licking rhythm blasted from the jukebox with enough heat to melt bones.
Flash bulbs went off around the corpses like an anti-aircraft barrage.
She looked like the last of the Amazons blackened by time.
Much of the story is told in dialogue, and much of that in dialect, but it is written so well it is fun to read:
"Naw suh, he brung 'em and took 'em away by hisself. I never even seen any of 'em."
"I don't know only two of 'em." He separated them gingerly with his fingertips as though they were coated with external poison. "Them two. This here one is called Good Booty, t'other one is called Honey Bee. This one here, I never heard her name called."
The story is short, only 158 pages, and fast-paced. Most of the action takes place in one afternoon and evening, and the whole episode lasts maybe three days. I'm looking forward to tackling some more Chester Himes--The Collected Stories, which I found along with The Real Cool Killers at Powell's. Alas, I won't be reading them aloud. For the record, I gave Gravedigger my best basso profundo, and Coffin Ed a rasping growl. For more Chester Himes, check out his page at Vintage Crime/Black Lizard or the aforementioned Powell's.
The anti-Bonds crap and the media blindness to his authentic athletic prowess and accomplishments is maddening for this baseball, SF Giants, and Barry fan. Thank goodness there are some real thinkers out there in pundit-land. I've already pointed TPP readers to Only Baseball Matters, a thought-provoking blog by John J. Perricone. Besides having the best title, the writing is first-rate, and his appreciation for Barry Bonds is as smart as it is refreshing. I came across another writer, Dave Zirin, who has a site called Edge of Sports. Check out his take on Bonds: Barry Bonds: Steroids, Scapegoats, and Sweet Satisfaction. I e-mailed Mr. Zirin to tell him "thanks" for the well-written, intelligent take on the Bonds Story. This piece appeared as a guest opinion in the smarmy SF Chronicle, where it was headlined "756*!" Why they chose to stick that nasty asterisk on the page in huge type is beyond me. But I've had it with the Comical. I grew up with this newspaper, but I'm sick of their cheap-shot outlook and phony sophistication. The only reason I read it anymore is because I will always think of the Bay Area as home, and it is a (admittedly weak) link to those bygone days. Congratulations, Barry, you are the HOME RUN KING.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!!! Finally, Finally, Finally!!! I have been on tenterhooks all summer. The team isn't going anywhere--the only thing to root for was Bonds getting The Record. Tonight he blasted one to right-centerfield, the deepest part of the park, and the wait is over. Congratulations, Barry, YOU ARE THE KING.
Notes: 1. My previous post, "Milestones," was supposed to be funny, mocking the criticism of Bonds and the kid-gloves treatment other ballplayers get. I'm not sure that was evident. The statistical information was supposed to balance the tone, and show I was serious about Bonds' place in the pantheon of sluggers. (I'll get better, I promise.)
2. I've been critical of Aaron for avoiding The Chase and seeming to "dis" Barry. The video message on the board at PhoneCo suggested I was wrong about The Hammer. I'm glad that happened. (It was quite a surprise, apparently to the radio broadcast crew as well.) The statement was a little stilted, sounding too prepared, but those are quibbles. Too bad Bud Selig could only manage a scowl in San Diego.
3. The Nationals pitcher, Mike Bacsik, who served up the homer, is the son of a major league pitcher, also named Mike Bacsik. Young Mr. Bacsik was born the year I graduated from high school (MCMLXXVII). The older Mr. Bacsik faced both Bobby Bonds and Henry Aaron in his brief (73 games) career. Young Mr. Bacsik becomes the 446th pitcher to yield a homerun to Barry. (It was an entertaining battle, a 3-2 hit off a lefty after a near foul-out. Barry was 2 for 2 with two hard hit balls before then.)
4. We listened to the broadcast with the peerless Jon Miller (KNBR 680 AM) via MLB's Gameday Audio. Our local Giants affiliate also handles the A's, and we can't rely on them to carry all the games. Gameday Audio is great! We then viewed the post-HR ceremony and the replay of the at-bat using the MLB.TV free "live-look." I'm glad we got to see that. Despite the awkwardness of suspending play, it went well, and Barry handled himself with reasonable grace and tact. I particularly liked how he acknowledged the other team. It is probably a pain in the ass for the visiting and/or opponent club to be part of any fan love-fests or historic milestones. Jon Miller's partner, Dave Flemming, got to call #755 in San Diego, and it was fitting that the senior man got to make the Big Call.
5. Barry didn't need to hit 756 HRs to convince me he's the greatest, I knew that already. Every time I watch him hit one, my jaw drops. He has such a beautiful swing--balanced, compact, seemingly effortless. His technique is perfect, the confluence of exceptional talent and an extraordinary work ethic. Regardless of how you feel about Bonds personally, you cannot help but admire his ability. He is the master of the craft of hitting.
Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron with home run number 755 on Saturday night. My wife Sue and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary that evening at our woodsy getaway, and listened to the broadcast of the game on a transistor radio. Alex Rodriguez became the youngest man to hit 500 HRs, besting Jimmie Foxx by a few months (Foxx only hit 34 more in his injury-plagued final years, retiring at age 37), and Tom Glavine won his 300th game. The latter two events were of course lauded by both the mainstream and sports media, while Bonds got his usual dose of vitriol mixed in with the praise. All are noteworthy milestones. A-Rod has a legitimate chance to break every offensive record in the books. He is only 32, and in this age ballplayers perform at high levels into their 40's. Whoops! Did I say that? Hmmmmm. Let's see: Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and, uh, Barry Bonds, have all done things in their late 30's and early 40's that they were not expected to do. I remember hearing when I was a kid that there would be no more 300 game winners. I guess they must have put something in their Wheaties, eh? After all, Bonds is a cheater, right? A phony, chemically-juiced, artificial robo-player, am I right? But, Greg, Roger, Tom and Alex are real men. Pure. Un-enhanced. They can do these things because they have TALENT and DETERMINATION. Bonds took a bunch of drugs. He's fat and lazy and an egomaniac who has sullied professional sports. But Greg, Roger, Tom and Alex are great. They would never do anything wrong. Their milestones matter. But Barry? Screw him. 755 homeruns means nothing. I notice that Barry hit many of his 755 homeruns in two of the most difficult ballparks to hit in--Candlestick and the former PacBell, AT&T Park. (Hank played 10 years in Atlanta, the old Fulton County Stadium, known as "The Launching Pad.") I also notice that Hank had 13,940 plate appearances and made 9,136 outs in 23 years. Barry tied Hank with only 12,506 plate appearances, and only made 7,253 outs during a similar (22 years) span. Hmmmmm. And Barry has scored 2209 runs to Hank's 2174. Now Hank was one of the titans of the game, a real great. But in the two most important things in baseball--outs and runs-- Barry is better. In fact, Barry IS better. Period. Congratulations to Tom Glavine on his remarkable career, to A-Rod for his astonishing ascendancy to the pantheon, and to Barry Lamar Bonds for being the greatest player of the modern game, and without doubt the greatest hitter of his time. (p.s. check out Baseball Reference, a stat heads dream site.)
Ex scrinio Marcus Crapularius, scriptor de aqua vitae:
Here at Roma Aeterna, we still find it hard to believe that there are lands across the northern sea, and that these lands are actually inhabited. Must be a hardy bunch of barbarians, and clever as well, for they make a wonderful spirit. The land is called America, or so my servants tell me, and the place this wonderful spirit comes from is Kentucky. (Who knew that Greeks taught them to spell?) The wide, clear bottle is labeled WOODFORD RESERVE, or reconditus silva vadum in our civilized tongue. Unlike the Caledonians, these Americans make a sweet, robust, almost viscous drink. Redolent of vanilla and butterscotch, with a huge caramel chewiness, Woodford Reserve is nothing short of spectacular. My fleet-footed Ganymede earned his keep, constantly refilling my cup with this luscious beverage. They have a (relatively speaking) famous horse race over there, in Kentucky, without chariots (imagine!), and this aqua vitae is their preferred tipple. Not that I blame them. If I were stuck in their wilderness, so far from civilization, I would drink myself into a stupor, and beg Almighty Jove for his forgiveness. Fortunately, I have no need to leave my villa, as these Americans are navigators as well, and they ship their wares to Ostia, where the mercatores get their hands on them. My servants have been told to be on the lookout for more of this Kentucky spirit!