But didn’t we have fun?

Feeling a little baseball-deprived this summer, I read “But Didn’t We Have Fun?”, a book about early days of baseball by Peter Morris. Morris emphasizes that the early clubs and players played for fun; sportsmanship and fellowship were the objectives rather than competition and money.

The early players version of baseball was an inversion of the way we now think of it. Today we think of a team sport as intended to be played by professionals at its highest skill level, and that amateur play is simply a poor emulation of that standard. But many of the early players thought professional, competitive ball to be an adulteration of the intent of game.

Most interesting is Morris’ his account of early baseballs. The early enthusiasts had to fashion the balls themselves or find skilled artisans to make them. Morris suggests that if the originators of the standard game hadn’t been so dedicated to developing a supply of balls, the sport “could have died for lack of a functional baseball.”

This reminds me that baseball is regarded as America’s national pastime rather than it’s national sport, something that means little when we spectate the game instead of playing it. Now I want to make my own baseballs.

Michael Jackson

Tonight we’re listening to the “Thriller” album. I listened to it a lot when I was a kid and even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time it’s still very familiar. Watching the videos that came with the CD reminds me of the real tragedy: his kookiness overshadowed his talent in recent years. Somewhere beneath that disfigured face and deranged persona was the same genius behind this album.

Syracuse

Last week’s trip to Syracuse was not just a visit to my uncle but a chance to show America’s vast rust reserves and spare industrial capacity to my fiancee.

A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.
A modern office tower on a block of Victorian buildings.

During my trip last year, my uncle took me on the “Urban Renewal” and “Family Heritage” itineraries. This time Lore and I took the “Faded but Beautiful Downtown” tour. As in a lot of declining cities in the Northeast, the bright side of stagnation is that some of the cool old buildings are still standing. In fact, the more modern buildings that are sprinkled around look a little out of place. The most stunning of the old buildings is the flamboyantly Art Deco stainless steel Niagara Mohawk Building. It’s like the Chrysler Building had a baby.

A male teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.
A teacher demonstrates an interactive classroom projection screen.

The occasion of the visit was my uncle’s retirement dinner. He was still working while we visited, and when we picked him up at work he showed around his school. The school had installed an interactive white board in his classroom. A computer image is projected on a touch screen. My uncle demonstrated. It was very high-tech and impressive. He reminded me of Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”.

A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.
A seated lady watches as a man opens a wine bottle on a patio table set with bread and grapes.

We took a quick spin around the Syracuse University campus before joining Dave and Nicky for a tasting at a wine shop. A man let us sample Portuguese wines, which were more palatable than the horseshit in his sales pitch. Flavor won out and a vinho verde accompanied the usual tasteful dinner associated with these visits.

On our last day– we’ll call it the “North Side Commerce” itinerary– we shopped at Syracuse’s big farmers market. My uncle bought some artisanal pasta he’s fond of and gave us some to bring home. It was very good; almost as good as the Hofmann Snappy Grillers I like to bring home from Syracuse. We ate a late breakfast at Stella’s Diner, where people wait a long time for tasty food in gluttonously large portions that invoke the law of diminishing returns. And then on to the Carousel Center, a massive challenger to the Mall of America that looks more and more like a Borg cube as it devours the north side of the city.

My travel notes wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our miserable airline experience. I would rather not travel than deal again with the Delta employees at JFK and La Guardia airports.

EEO

I drove up to Marquette with some coworkers for mandatory equal employment opportunity (EEO) training. A lady from our regional office explained a about our rights and how to lodge a complaint.

In the course of discussing how to be sensitive to others’ perception, she brought up the infamous New York Post cartoon of cops shooting a chimpanzee. She also dredged up the matter of self-censorship, such as being nice to Indians by never saying “chief”.

Discrimination ought to be confronted and fought against, but the emphasis on political correctness and celebrating group identity as a solution is Baby Boomer baggage which we need to discard. Are we entering the much-heralded new era of race relations or not? If you already don’t associate blacks with lower primates, then why should you train yourself to do so just to avoid potential offense?

Batting .500

We drove up to Cedar Rapids on an errand and totally struck out on what we were looking for. Then I wandered to the secondhand bookstore next door. Besides books, they sell movies and music, including records, cassette tapes, and even a few eight-track cassettes. They had a small but good selection cassettes tapes, so I bought a few to replenish my lost collection. We listened to Huey Lewis’ “Sports” and The Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” on the way home.

June weather

The weather so far this month has been erratic enough to verify that old joke about Midwestern weather: if you don’t like it, just wait five minutes. At least the tornado sirens haven’t gone off this year. Earlier this spring the county installed a new tornado siren across the street. It’s a shiny modern-looking thing that oscillates. I’ve only heard cursory, low-volume tests of its sonorous whistle but it looks like it could shatter windows from here to Chicago.

Speaking of June weather, the local news outlets are reminiscing about last June’s catastrophic flooding. Iowa Public Radio interviewed a couple from Iowa City whose home was inundated. They expressed hope that there would be more dredging of the reservoir, higher levees, and other public improvements to prevent a repeat of the disaster. I thought it sounded like a lot of public expense so they could live in a flood plain.