Announcers’ booth jockocracy

The Yankees are playing the Red Sox for the fifth time this week. So I’ve been a baseball hermit. Unfortunately I’ve also had to listen to a lot of “color commentary” by various players-turned-announcers. What insight they provide into the game is offset by endless cliches, vapid aphorisms, and locker room jargon. The game is for the fans, not the meat heads who play it. Please put somebody on the broadcast who can turn an idea into a coherent sentence.

Yankee Stadium

I’m watching the Yankees and the Red Sox. This is the last year they’ll play in Yankee Stadium. A new Yankee Stadium is under construction across the street. There’s a lot of nostalgia flying about, of course.

Michael Kay, a Yankees announcer, pointed out a few years back that “The House That Ruth Built” was torn down in 1974. There’ nothing left of the old Stadium except maybe the three monuments and the ground it stands on in the South Bronx. The current Yankee Stadium, where I’ve been many times, is a drab, dingy concrete municipal thing.

I’ve been to Oriole Park in Baltimore. It’s the sort of place people go early and stay late just to hang out. At Yankee Stadium (especially us Long Islanders with a long drive ahead of us) everybody can’t wait to get the hell out of there when the game ends. For all that’s happened there I’m not especially sorry to see it go. It’s time for a modern stadium.

Gang Leader For A Day

The library notified me that “Gang Leader For A Day,” a new book by sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, is available. Venkatesh hung out in a notorious Chicago public housing project with tenants, gangsters, hustlers, community activists, and cops to learn about “what it’s like to be poor and black.”

He did a nice job of writing this book. He’s published his research findings in more scholarly works, but this book is more about him and his interactions with the various actors in the project. I found it interesting and a worthwhile read because, if you are like me, you are not going to try to find out first hand what the black inner city is like.

Of course, I could relate to him much more than his subjects. He’s from the middle-class suburbs and has that fundamental faith in truth, justice, and the American way that we middle-class suburbanites tend to have. He writes often of his surprise at the informal, back-door ways the residents operate to survive, though he indicates that being naive was useful getting people to explain things.

Venkatesh doesn’t really answer his persistent questions: Why do the gangsters have to deal drugs? Why do the project officials have to engage in shady business deals? Why don’t the tenants ever call the police? Without elaborating much, he suggests that the poor are simply not well-served by their government or by the economy.

It’s a good read if you, like I occasionally do, shake your head at the hopelessness of urban poverty. But the people in Venkatesh’s book are clever and enterprising. For all that, it’s very sad and there’s no happy ending.

Tornado season

It’s that time of year again, and I don’t mean that taxes are due. The tornado sirens went off twice this evening, so I camped out in my little hallway for a while. One of the sirens is right across the street, which is good and bad. There’s no doubt that I’ll hear it when it sounds, but then that’s all I can hear.

Erie Canal

On Monday morning we picked up two of my elderly aunts, 89 and 92 years old. My grandfather’s sisters all lived a long time. In another year, all four will have made it to 90 or older. For the afternoon we walked along the tow path of Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. We walked only a couple of miles of it. Even though the Erie Canal is filled in through Syracuse, most of the canal and its tow path are still intact between Syracuse and Rome (just like in the song). It’s a flat section of the canal route and there are no locks.

A footbridge crosses a canal and its tow path.

I got back home at a reasonable hour last night. The flight from Syracuse arrived in Chicago 25 minutes early. I thought that was because the plane was nearly empty again but the flight back to Iowa was nearly full and got there early too.

I always liked Syracuse for some reason. It reminds me of Ozymandias.

Walk, music, and skewered beef

After sleeping in and loafing this morning, my uncle and I took a walk in along Onondaga Lake. The county has a nice lakefront park with many multi-use paths. It’s more like a superhighway of walkers, joggers, skaters, and cyclists. We walked about five miles. The weather was great.

Then we headed up to the Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University for a performance by Seraphic Fire, a chamber choir from Miami. They sing beautifully. The artistic director spoke of the many different choral traditions that influenced their music. I don’t have the ear for all the subtleties he spoke of but there was a definite Latin flavor to much of it.

Dinner tonight: skewered beef and vegetables, asparagus, brown rice, and spinach salad with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, kalamata olives, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Return to the Rust Belt

I’m in Syracuse visiting my uncle. There weren’t too many people on the plane from Chicago. The overcast gloom of Central New York first greeted me, and then my uncle when I landed. The sun came out in the afternoon and we had a nice day walking around the North Side.

I haven’t been here in over five years. My uncle showed me some stuff around the north side of town where my grandmother’s family grew up. The city is trying to revitalize North Salina Street as “Little Italy” with some success. My grandmother grew up on on a side street called Lock Alley in this Italian neighborhood. Now the neighborhood is not so Italian, and the house they lived in was demolished not too long ago.

The afternoon was an informal walking tour of urban renewal. Franklin Square is a number of warehouses and factories converted into lofts, apartments, and offices. My grandmother worked in a factory there making purses. During the Second World War they made some sort of munitions, possibly artillery shells. She died about 20 years ago after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and I remember her mostly as a frail and ill woman. I find the idea of her as Rosie the Riveter intriguing.

Off in the distance from Franklin Square is the Carousel Mall. Carousel Mall is not quite the Mall of America, but its very big and Canadians like to drop their now-valuable loonies there. The idea is to connect the North Side and the Carousel Mall with development along the old industrial lake front.

We stopped at the cemetery where my great-grandmother’s family mausoleum is. My uncle thinks she got the idea from the wife of a neighbor known as Number Seven (perhaps because he had only seven fingers), who after some religious epiphany recommended above-ground burials.

Then we visited the building in East Syracuse where my grandparents had a grocery store about 50 years ago. It was a literally a mom-and-pop operation.

My uncle remembered where everything was in this little grocery store. It was really little. Most corner convenience stores are bigger. For some reason it reminded me of the old television show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” which I saw once or twice on Nick at Nite. Dobie Gillis worked in his father’s grocery store. I asked my uncle if it was like the grocery store in that show. He had no idea what I was talking about.

Around back the hatch doors on the cellar were gone. There was a door at the bottom of the steps, spray-painted “Keep Out!” with a skull and crossbones. Something you’d expect to find at a meth lab. I can’t imagine Dobie Gillis doing that. Maybe Maynard G. Krebs was up to the job though.