Category Archives: Remember This?

From Super Bowl to Hyperbole

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There’s Curt Gowdy, NBC’s main play-by-play man. Dressed in bright green sport coat, he’s superimposed over a live image of a packed Orange Bowl Stadium pre-kickoff crowd. All that, scrunched within the square aspect ratio TV screen. On the field, helmets look a little square, too; same for the huge shoulder pads. Even the head coaches are square – or dapper – both dressed in ties.

Forty-man rosters stand compactly within a twenty-five yard space along their respective sidelines. Just beside both, photographers and spindly, tie-clad policeman linger only a yard behind the out-of-bounds line; beyond them, the lonely cloth goal line flag flapping in the Miami breeze. It’s January 12, 1969. The upstart NY Jets are playing the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Jets’ Bake Turner, a straight-on kicker, boots the ball and Super Bowl III is off and running. And running. So many running plays. After just a couple of series, millions of viewers already know play is tough, players are gritty but the completion is clean. Bodies are tackled, not heads, nor footballs to strip them free.

In their high tech production, NBC is using the miracle of instant replay, reserved mostly for pass play reviews. There’s close-up camera work, too, although used far too amply for the face and bodies of referees. NBC’s picture quality is state of the art, but is still rather fuzzy. For example, it’s difficult to count the number of face bars on player’s helmets. Is it true the punters and safeties have only one face bar? But the on-screen graphics are fairly tight, with streamlined, typewriter-like all cap white letters superimposed over images.

Colts’ Tom Mitchell dives for an errant throw. Laid out in prone position, he’s saved injury by Jets safety Johnny Sample who holds back from landing on him. Such grace under pressure.

Sublime is Joe Namath’s flick of the arm that tosses a perfect spiral fifty-five yards downfield. An incomplete pass, all players hustle back to the line of scrimmage. There are no player substitutions. There are practically no shifts at the line of scrimmage. If anyone is subbed, it’s done during time outs or commercial breaks, of which there are very few.

Super Bowl III has evolved into a defensive clash with the Jets leading 10-0 in the third quarter. Namath looks conspicuous on the sideline, the only player with his helmet off. How strange no one else utilizes this opportunity for valued face time. He’s so talented and so cool. Joe Willy has become my idol. But he trots off the field a series later, favoring an injured throwing hand. No one, even a trainer, comes over to look at it. Heroically, Joe Namath comes back in, pain and all.

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Colts’ Jerry Hill scores a touchdown with three minutes to go. With the score 16-7, Baltimore goes for an on-side kick. They get it, but safety Rick Volk is dazed, unable to get off the field. Thirty million viewers watch four Colts drag him to the sideline. Even the great Johnny Unitas, replacing ineffective Earl Morrall, can’t perform magic and the Colts, eighteen point favorites, lose, 16-7. In a landmark sports event, the AFL (now the AFC conference) has caught up with the once far superior NFL teams in talent.

~

January 24, 2016. It’s the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, with today’s AFC winner going to Super Bowl 50. Invesco Field, seen with gigantic Jumbotron on one end, military units the other, is being presented by CBS in HD Cinemascope-like scale, including scintillating graphics to expand the viewer experience (all this just for coverage of the national anthem).

New England’s opening series is three and out. The two pass plays are reviewed by five replays; there are none for the boring run. After the punt, four commercials follow, their combined real-time exceeding the game clock time for the entirety of New England’s initial possession (1:58).

Denver’s first drive includes fancy on-screen team statistical comparisons, a close-up revealing one eyelash missing from Peyton Manning’s right eye, shots of both coaching staffs dressed in casual sweat suits, and – oh, yes – a passing touchdown culminated by the receiver celebrating near the stands. The subsequent extra point is overshadowed by four more commercials.

After Denver’s kickoff, the game is stopped again for four more commercials, including one with Peyton Manning singing and selling insurance. New England suffers another three and out, their possession highlighted by player’s constant bickering over pass interference. After their punt, four commercials follow, including one touting player character and what NFL warriors are doing for underprivileged kids in their communities.

Just before the first quarter ends, New England scores, making the score 7-6. Add also nine more commercials, a three-minute and ten second coach’s challenge, an on-field interview, two ugly personal foul calls, another TD celebration (a demonstrative Rocky-like pose for fans), a missed extra point, 76 total player substitutions (just a guess), and an awesome plastic pylon cam shot of the touchdown.

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What the next three quarters reveal is one very great game. Competitive, exciting, and well-played, one in which Denver prevails, 20-18, demonstrating yet again – much like Super Bowl III – that hard nose defenses win championships.

But these last three quarters also provide great insight on modern NFL football.

There are many sideline reports interspersing – or interrupting – the game with in-the-moment media information: a player “has just passed the league’s concussion protocol,” “…tablets on the New England sideline are okay to use now,” a reporter’s views on the kicker’s specific thought process and physical protocol preparing for the upcoming kick, and even a shot of Rob Gronkowski lying flat on his back, oxygen mask over mouth, receiving massive leg massages on the sideline.

Perhaps the game no longer needs referees. All game long, Patriot and Bronco players are most adept at gesturing what should be called, among their specialties fumble recoveries, out-of-bounds calls, touchdowns, first downs, and incomplete passes (their favorite). Regular gesticulations to the crowd about just how great they are is another forte players possess. Seizing camera time, but in this far more grandiose manner, is where we’ve come from Namath’s seemingly harmless quest for attention removing his helmet on the sidelines many years ago.

Since referees fail to impede player’s constant pushing and shoving of opposing team members (even the kickers!), do we really need the zebras? Then again, if players are so smart, why were the majority of penalties for brainless false starts, unnecessary misconducts, and pass interference calls? It’s interesting to note the championship game had 14 combined penalties for 104 yards while Super Bowl III saw a total of three yellow flags.

Gang tackling by speedy, yet heavy-muscled players reveals a game far more brutal than pioneer Super Bowl contests. Today, offensive tackles average a height of 6’6” while nose tackles average 322 pounds. The median player weight of the Super Bowl III teams was 229, whereas the 2015 Indianapolis Colts squad averaged 256, a 27 pound increase in muscle, strength and power. This, combined with speed, make collisions frightening, yet hard hits are what make fans and defensive backs salivate.

Perhaps the heaviest weight put upon the modern game is commercials. One hundred and five thirty-second commercials were broadcast during the Patriots-Broncos game (not including halftime). That’s 52:30 in real-time of a game that’s 60:00 long. No wonder it took three hours and thirty minutes to complete this contest, keeping in mind most commercials interrupt play: players wait while television viewers are sold cars.

Maybe it was Curt Gowdy’s soothing voice that made Super Bowl III such a great game for me to watch. Or is it my inner voice, one continually tapping my shoulder from some distant, foggy time, that constantly reminds me of the once simple, swift and comparatively innocent NFL game I remember from 43 Super Bowls ago.

 

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Not Reading the Book, Buying CliffsNotes, Then Watching the Movie Instead

013Walk into a bookstore and you may see a familiar wire rack filled with screaming bright yellow and black-striped manuals. Known as CliffsNotes, they were written to help students better understand great volumes of literature. Not. I was most disappointed in them. Understanding CliffsNotes was harder than reading the assigned books.

As of this particular September many many years ago, I hadn’t yet discovered the uselessness of CliffsNotes. I could almost hear the page turning in that direction.

“Class, class, settle down now. In accordance with our standard eighth grade English curriculum, we start a new unit today on the contemporary novel, Flowers for Algernon.” 

Yes! Finally something from this century. And finally – no more poetry.

Three weeks later, Mrs. Marcotte returns our culminating exam on the novel. I’m summoned to her desk.

She swivels in her chair toward me, taking off her black-framed glasses to reveal the dark, intense eyes I’d never seen this close before.  

“Michael, remember your poetry unit report, how you said you were going to do better? Well, there must be more to Flowers for Algernon than this. It seems you haven’t read the novel at all.”

“But I did.”

“Flowers for Algernon. All of it?”

“Yes.”

“All of it?”

“The CliffsNotes, too.”

“Oh. You should never substitute them for actual reading, Michael.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Yeah. ‘Cuz they were more complicated than the book was. I mean, I needed CliffsNotes for the CliffsNotes. And I would’ve used them, too, but they didn’t sell that kind.”

“So, you really didn’t read the book then, did you?”

“Well … not really.”

“Then how did you answer the question about Charlie’s retardation?”

“From the movie.”

“What?”

“Except it was called Charly, Mrs. Marcotte, not Flowers for Algernon, but Charly with Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom and …”

“Never – never – watch the movie instead of reading the book. Now go back to your seat.”

Walking to my desk, I spot a big F on the last page of my test.

I’m a hair away from failing English. I never thought I’d have to do it, but the time has come to see my guidance counselor.

“It’s not fair, Mr. Sexton. The day before the test, she goes on and on about symbolism. Then about scenes I’d never seen before. Movies aren’t allowed to leave whole scenes out of a book, are they?”

“Well, Michael, you’re going to learn that … well … it seems to me if you’d read the book …”

“CliffsNotes didn’t help either …”

“That if you’d read the book you wouldn’t have needed either the movie or the book guides. Why didn’t you read it?”

“Because I don’t like to read.”

“Why?”

“I just don’t. Mrs. Marcotte says we’re reading timeless landmarks of literature, but they’re really the most boring stories ever told to teenagers and  …”

“Oh, no they’re not …”

“Oh, yes they are – of all time. And why is everything in them symbolic to something, and then symbolic to something else? Why doesn’t she just tell us or make a list on the blackboard of symbolisms we can choose from?”

“Well, what do you think authors might be trying to show us in their …”

“If authors knew we had to go through all this in reading their books, they’d never have written them in the first place. Everyone in my family is smart. Mom said we all came from good Scandinavian stock, so what happened to me?”

“Ha!”

“What’s so funny, Mr. Sexton?”

“If you want to see some really stupid people ….”

He spins around in his chair and leans toward the floor where, between the wall and a cabinet, a big cardboard box sits. He dumps it on his desk.

“Now these kids ….”

The box is filled with a carnival of confiscated classroom contraband: fuzzy dice, chains, novelty false teeth, yo-yos, cap guns, rubber knives, real knives, spray paint cans, “Car Mechanic” magazines, and a copy of Iliad with a giant “X” knife-gouged into the cover.

“Michael, you’re not dumb, unless you don’t use what you have. Learn to use what it is you do have – and always to its fullest. Perhaps you have a learning disability. Do you think so?”

“I dunno. Other teachers say I have the inability to learn, period – all of ‘em – if that’s what you mean? Ha. Guess there’s nothing symbolic about that, is there?”

This is an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Reading” in my memoir “Maybe Boomer.”

I read this excerpt in its entirety at op. cit. Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 10, 2015.

 

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Remember This? The Curative Power of Ice Cream

“Free ice cream! Free ice cream!” the vendor behind the refrigerated cart says.

It’s the happening thing on the plaza today, and everyone in Santa Fe has shown up to cool off on this glorious but hot afternoon.

Everyone who’s been served their frozen concoction has a unique relationship with it. You see, with ice cream around, certain things happen.

 

It allows you to not say anything – if you wish – to the person you’ve come to eat ice cream with.
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It commands deep thought.
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It forces conversation.
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It transports families back together.
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It brings out photographers.
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It never separates from the wrapper.
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It’s a powerful prop to demonstrate things.

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It’s a sensory sensation after a long journey.
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It tastes better when it’s free.
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And it’s mighty cold!
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The curative powers of ice cream are still there. Funny how they melt away tension from work, home, family, seriousness, isolation, boredom – even the heat.

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Remember This? “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Enlightenment

Darkness Edge of Town pics 002I’ve done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day

 

It had been a long-awaited album. His last, Born to Run, was four years ago. I sensed pressure was on for a great follow-up to that great album. 

The first thing I experienced when the album came out in June, 1978, was the record jacket, both sides revealing a somber, skinny Bruce Springsteen (the pre-Born in the USA pumped up Bruce), standing alone in a cheap hotel room. The album name, Darkness on the Edge of Town, included  song titles like “Factory,” “Badlands,” and “Adam Raised a Cain.”

Bleak. I wanted Born to Run back before I even played one song of Darkness.

Of course, I was a very young man then, and probably the last to know just how naive.

I gave the album many listens. With each, I was taken to places like “Candy’s Room,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Promised Land.” The entire collection of soulful, searching songs was speaking to me about greed, inequity, disappointment, desperation, identity, satisfaction, love and hope; in other words, what real life is made of, not Top 40 life, and certainly not my own.

I was confused by the chaos all these human issues brought to me at once. Nonetheless, I appreciated how Springsteen ached to tell stories, as if busting out in Darkness, trying to bust apart the chains of man’s pain, warning “in comfort danger dwells; only on the dangerous cliff edge does one’s true self reside.” But I wasn’t sure if that’s what he was really saying.

There was an emptiness in my life such that Springsteen’s edge was as close to any edge I could stand upon. I was living in Gaithersburg, Maryland, then, not the edge of urban life, life, or anything – only the fringes of suburbia. Somehow, Springsteen’s words eventually penetrated the edge of my consciousness:

– The dogs on main street howl, ‘cause they understand / If I could take one moment into my hands  / Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man / And I believe in a promised land.

– I take her to the floor, looking for a moment when the world seems right / And I tear into the guts, of something in the night.

– ‘Cause in the darkness, there’ll be hidden worlds that shine / When I hold Candy close she makes the hidden worlds mine.

– Some guys just give up living / And start dying little by little, piece by piece / Some guys come home from work and wash up / And go racin’ in the street.

– End of the day, factory whistle cries / Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes / And you better believe, boy, somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight / It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

– Some folks are born into the good life / Other folks get it anyway, anyhow / I lost my money and I lost my wife /  Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now / Tonight I’ll be on that hill ‘cause I can’t stop / I’ll be on that hill with everything I got / Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost / I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be found  / In the darkness on the edge of town.

In time, I sensed a testiness of my own. Discontent with machine shop work, empty experiences, boredom, unfulfilled dreams. So, I began to write songs; eschewed folk guitar and formed a rock band; became a freelance artist; worked as agency ad man before eventually finding a teaching career.

This rousing, creeping, crawling and often raucous stanza of rock and roll impressed me. Perhaps only at the edge does one gain best perspective. Slowly protruding from my shadow, Darkness prompted a head-on collision with my own life’s chorus.

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Remember This? COD – Cash on Delivery

codfish 003We’d just moved to another city. Change was everywhere in my life. Mom and Dad worked full time now to pay for our new, swanky mortgage, leaving me alone with lots of time on my hands.

That’s when I got into trouble.

“Send no money! COD. Order today!”

Send no money? Get free fish? Codfish? The white meat stuffed in our fish stick dinners?

Then I realized how cod would go bad, really bad, if someone sent it in the mail. Reading the COD magazine ads closer, they weren’t for codfish but all kinds of things, and things you didn’t have to pay for. Wow, how’s that possible? Who cares – what should I get first?

I tinkered with acquiring the incredible weather balloon offered on page eighty-seven. I couldn’t take my eyes off a photo of the tiny man standing next to a huge balloon in his yard. For only $2.98, plus tax, I could get my own balloon and never have to pay a dime in charges, tax, or postage. No wonder the tiny man looked so happy.

Then again, why should I get something so cheap when I wasn’t paying for it?

One Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, I heard footsteps on our front sidewalk. The mailman was here to deliver my package, care of the kind people at COD.

When I looked through the gap in the window curtains, it wasn’t the mailman, but somebody in a dark suit holding a suitcase. Oh, no. Somebody from school. What did I do wrong? Mom and Dad are home. They can’t know he’s here.

I ran to the front door before my suited caller could knock.

“Oh. Hello. How are you? Are you Master Michael Andberg?”

“Uh, no, I’m not.”

“You’re not Master Michael Andberg of 9218 Whitney Street?”

“I think that’s my father, but he’s not home.”

“Your father?”

“Mom’s not home either.

The man looked over at the two cars parked in front of our house.

“I see. Well, I’m from Miracle-ear, and what I have here was ordered by a Master Michael Andberg at this address for cash on delivery $39.95, plus tax.”

“But it’s COD. It’s free. There’s no cost, tax either.”

“May I speak with your parents?”

I wanted to say, “My parents aren’t here. They’re at the polio clinic,” but settled on, “No one here is deaf, sir.”

“Are you sure your parents aren’t home? Because I’d be happy to answer any questions they might have about the revolutionary Miracle-ear.”

“It must be for next door. They’re old.”

“You don’t have to be old, Michael, to use a Miracle-ear and reap the benefits that improved hearing brings for people of all ages.”

“We all had our hearing tests in school this year, and Mom and Dad are still young.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have taken your time, Michael. Perhaps another day soon when your parents are home, all right? Till then, good-bye.”

What if he came and Mom and Dad answered the door first? What if the police came, too, not to mention guys from the magazine? What would I say? “It wasn’t my fault. COD is false advertising. I thought COD meant free fish, free fish for our whole family to eat.”

It was time to cool it for a while, try and be a normal kid for a change.

Change, change, change. I’d need a miracle to get through it.

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Remember This? Gas Stations With Full Service at the Pump

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As I look at this vintage photo, is it my laughter I hear, or just coughs from the gas fumes I smell on my hands from this morning’s self-serve fill up? What, five servicemen attending a car’s every whim, and for free? Are those ceiling fans to keep customers cool in summer? Was this gas station ever on Earth?

Flash forward to the new and improved present day.

I drive in to the gas station and park at pump station #2. Walking inside the station, I notice the cashier’s sweatpants don’t exactly coordinate with his faded gas station tee-shirt, although I can still see his strategically placed forearm tattoos and sparkling earrings.

Equally bright are the Lottery tickets passed from the cashier’s hands to customers in front of me. It’s good to know even though I’m about to self-serve my gas, there’s not only Lottery tickets available here, but a full array of fresh foods the cashier can serve me when he has time – churros, pizza slices, hot dogs, chili – all kept warm by a light bulb inside a glass box.

Finally to the front of the line, I jokingly ask the cashier if the station has my car’s fan belt in stock and whether there’s any special on hub caps currently. He laughs. Is that because he’s never heard of a fan belt?

Once outside, I select my grade of gasoline from three choices (for me, that’s “Regular,” “Regular” and “Regular”), and place my hand around the nozzle’s dirty trigger. Nothing comes out. Hitting the intercom button on the pump, I tell the cashier my problem, but only hear static. I walk inside, wait in line, and watch hot dogs rotate. The cashier eventually resets the pump, but  with great difficulty, mumbling something about “my manager’s not here right now.”

Dashing outside, I see an elderly woman trying to wash her windshield with the station’s cracked squeegee. In fact, my lane’s squeegee is sitting in a bucket of dirty water and the wash towels are out. However, the automated, canned recording coming from somewhere within the pump is in prime working order, the loud voice talking about points, rewards, and “checking them out on Facebook.”

Back to the photo with five happy gas station attendants and cooling fans. No wonder I don’t remember service like this from my childhood – the license plate reads 1938. Was service ever so complete? Things must have been so different then. What I remember were the gas stations that looked like the one below, complete with streamers, come-ons,  free deals and advertising everywhere.

Funny, I saw much of the same on this morning’s fill up – generally just a lot of noise and hullabaloo about nothing, really.

Some things never change.

 

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Photos, inspiration provided by Debra Marrs (www.yourwritelife.com). Thanks, Debra.

 

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Remember This? “Lassie” TV (and cuddly collie obedience vs. indifference)

Lassie was a staple for millions of television viewers from the days of black and white sets in the fifties to the fancy color consoles of the seventies. Perhaps what I appreciated most about this nostalgic boy-and-his-dog adventure show was the rural life presented with such carefree access to fishing, camping, wildlife and outdoor recreation, activities I still appreciate today. They’re all elements in this early Lassie episode you are about to see entitled “The Bear” in which young Jeff, old Gramps, and trusty Lassie head out to the country for the weekend.

I have a dog, too –  a rough collie mix named Rusty. More than a wonderful companion, Rusty provides laughter. He’ll never be as obedient as Lassie (“Rusty, come back in here!”), smart (“If you wouldn’t wander off, you wouldn’t need a leash”), energetic or outdoorsy (“There are other places to be than the couch, Rusty”), but he’s my Laddie.

During each step of this Lassie episode, enjoy Rusty’s colorful take on what he’d do in each situation.

 

Lassie helps Jeff dig the campfire ring.
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Jeff shows Lassie how to set up camp.
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In control whenever in nature, Lassie leads Jeff to a fishing stream.
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“That trout sure tasted good. And you were so good, Lassie, not begging at all.”
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“Gramps hurts his back, Lassie. Come quick!”
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“I better get help. You stay right here with Gramps, Lassie.”
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Lassie hears a bear and wakes Gramps from a nap.
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The bear enters the camp. “Stay back, Lassie! Good dog – stay right there.”
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Lassie fights the bear!
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“Lassie, you must be hurt, girl. Are you all right?”
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Later, lassie catches a fish.
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(Oh, yeah, Timmy eventually replaced Jeff on the show after three seasons, and there were a million Jeff-Timmy parents throughout the years. I, however, hope to remain Rusty’s obedient master forever.)

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