My father worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holidays. I felt sad at seeing him head to the subway in mid-afternoon, but we knew the call of the newspaper business.
He had to leave home and head for the office – breaking news, banter, coffee and snacks from somewhere, familiar faces, stories to edit.
Over the years I covered a lot of Sunday ball games and Christmas afternoon basketball games at the Garden, although I don’t remember working on Thanksgiving since a few 10 AM high-school football games many years ago.
At least twice, I checked into hotels close to midnight on New Year’s Eve, in order to cover a bowl game in Pasadena or Phoenix the next day. But New Year’s Eve is a good holiday to duck. In the immortal words of Marv Albert, I’d like to, but I have a game.
Police work on holidays. So do doctors and nurses and orderlies. In New York, the subways run on Christmas, although not in London.
Life goes on. Chinese restaurants flourish on Dec. 25, for the annual ritual of Jewish customers. What do Muslim people do on Dec. 25 in the city sometimes referred to as Londonstan?
In recent days, I’ve been watching the lists of Good Companies and Evil Companies that differ about working on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart, which corrupted people to take over a historic valley in Mexico, is making its workers show up. If Wal-Mart is doing it, it must be bad.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no good reason for forcing – forcing – workers to show up Thanksgiving evening to herd shoppers, who presumably are there on their own volition.
I suggest there is something healthy in a day of rest, even on somebody else’s Sabbath. And Thanksgiving in the United States should be a day of indulging and shouting at the tube and appreciating the people who cook and the people who scrub turkey grease off the pots. Then, at least there could be fitful sleep, working off the calories, before joining the lines on Black Friday.
Why do they call it Black Friday? I did it once. Bought a huge television set. It was still bleak and nasty when I emerged from the Best Buy. The experience felt like a frolic, but once was enough. A few miles away, a worker got trampled.
This year I read that Best Buy is opening on Thanksgiving Evening to fulfill the stockholders’ dream of a third vacation home. They need it, bless their hearts. I’m proposing some kind of law -- state national, unofficial -- to insure just a few hours of shutdown here and there. Otherwise, we’re all just hamsters on the wheel.
I would make this exception – some occupations are essential; others contain a mystique. I’ve come to think my father liked going to work in the late afternoon.
Here’s one list of Good Companies and Evil Companies:
The grand tradition of Chinese food on Dec. 25:
Apparently, some pubs open in London, but not the Underground:
Here’s a list of Black Friday stampedes:
(Thirty years ago I wrote this sports column in The New York Times.)
November 21, 1983. Monday
The Game Stopped
We were playing touch football when the President was shot. The fiancee of one of the players came running through the park, calling: ''The President's been shot in Dallas. They've closed the Stock Exchange.''
We knew enough to pick up our extra sweatshirts that had served as yard markers and quietly to go our separate ways to whatever security our homes would offer us. The news on our car radios told us what we did not want to hear.
We were mostly in our 20's, a collection of young journalists and baseball players whose vagabond hours allowd us to play touch football at midday all through the fall. We had short haircuts and nicknames like Killer, Joe D, Big Ben, Rapid Robert, Jake, Little Alvin and Richie Swordfish.
As I look at our old photographs, I am struck by the optimism in our faces. It seemed like a very good time to be in our 20's, and starting our adult lives. I think John F. Kennedy had something to do with that.
Since the day we picked up our sweatshirts and trudged off the field, I have often thought of the double irony of playing touch football in Kennedy Park, named after early settlers of Hempstead, L.I., not for those Kennedys. Today the name Kennedy is on New York's major airport and public schools all over the country. Eight days ago in Frankfurt, my wife told me that the broad boulevard on which we were driving was named Kennedystrasse.
Just playing touch football at the moment the shots rang out was irony enough. Looking at the old publicity pictures of him now, in the 20th-anniversary glut of memories, I am struck by how awkward and poorly conditioned John F. Kennedy looks holding a football. Of course, for years there have been suggestions that he suffered from Addison's disease, and he was in no shape to play football with his more robust relatives and friends.
History has come to round out the picture of John F. Kennedy, but on that morning, we would have agreed that we were playing the same game the President played in his family compound at Hyannisport, Mass. We were young and so was the President of the United States. That meant a lot to me.
Many people today will consider Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Harry S. Truman or Dwight D. Eisenhower as their President. Others may have the same feeling about one of those who came later. For me, John F. Kennedy will always be my President.
In 1960 five very important things happened in my life: I was hired by a newspaper, I was graduated from college, I turned 21, I was married, and John F. Kennedy was elected President. For me at least, the narrow victory of the Senator from Massachusetts was a comet blazing across the sky, signaling that the 60's were going to be good years, different years.
The words now seem full of dust from the history books, but in those days people talked excitedly about ''vigor'' and ''charisma.'' John F. Kennedy was an attractive young President before the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, before ballplayers used hair dryers and appeared in underwear ads. In 1960 he was all the glamour we had, he and his wife who spoke French and looked terrific in an evening gown.
The touch-football pictures were partly hyped; the photographs with John-John playing under his desk must have been staged. But after the musty 50's, after Ike, after a President who could not articulate outrage about segregation or Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, after a President who played a marginal athletic activity like golf, some of us were good and ready for a new decade.
Then the Kennedys hit the stage like a tumbling act in the circus, full of blaring horns and rolling drums, and with lots of photographs of John F. Kennedy about to throw a sideline pattern to Bobby or Ted.
Once in the summer of 1959, at a beach in Southampton, L.I., I found myself waist deep in the surf a few yards from John F. Kennedy. Politically, it was no thrill; we were Stevenson Democrats in my family. But a Presidential hopeful who had young- looking friends, who went to the beach on a Sunday, seemed pretty good to me.
The Kennedys became associated in my mind with sports and crowds and youth and good times. One afternoon in 1961, in an amusement park in upstate New York, my wife was almost knocked down by Robert F. Kennedy, who was making a fast visit with his wife, Ethel, and some of their children. He stopped and excused himself before rushing on. In October 1963, covering a football game in Annapolis, Md., I was almost mowed down by Robert Kennedy, who was leaving early through the press box. The Kennedys moved fast.
Starting adult life the same year the youngest President was elected set up a visceral sense of identification: the Kennedys lost a child; my wife went through a difficult but successful first delivery. I could only wonder why the dice had been rolled that way.
In this anniversary month, many historians now criticize John F. Kennedy's actions toward Cuba and Vietnam; I will never be convinced he would not have been smart enough to find sensible options toward both countries. But his time, Malcolm X's time, Robert Kennedy's time, Martin Luther King Jr.'s time, and Allard Lowenstein's time all ended too soon.
In the days after the shooting in Dallas, football twice added to my sense of loss and revulsion. The National Football League went ahead with its games two days later, while the President was lying in state, a gesture of disrespect I have never been able to forget. And a week later, on a train heading for the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, I heard some whisky-slick officers and their wives talking too loudly about how they had never been able to stand the Kennedys in the first place.
In the years since Nov. 22, 1963, many of us who came of age in the early 60's found no elected public figures to admire. Some of us admired the feminists and Bob Dylan's songs and Lech Walesa and Bishop Romero of El Salvador, and we could not help but notice that a Black Muslim boxer named Muhammad Ali did more to get us out of Vietnam than any President did.
I mourn the loss of a President who seemed so intelligent and courageous and witty and youthful at the time. I admit that I keep up with bits of news about John F. Kennedy's children, and I root for Jacqueline Onassis in her battle for privacy. And I cannot watch young people throwing a football in a park without thinking of that day when the fiancee of one of the players came running across the grass to tell us something that would end our game.
* * *
(I still pretty much feel the same way. I remember the feelings of intense hatred emanating from Texas in the days before the Kennedy trip. I’ve come to have more mixed feelings about the Kennedy myths. He was more sick than we understood; also more personally reckless. I’m not sure he would have advanced civil rights and anti-poverty programs as much as LBJ did; then again, I think JFK would not have led us much deeper into Vietnam, but we will never know, and that is part of the sadness. My thanks to the Times for letting me express myself, then and now.)
The pose looked familiar – Americans unloading water from an aircraft carrier to the stricken islands of the Philippines.
It brought me back to the United States of my early childhood, toward the end of World War Two: not so much the fighting, but the recovery. When I was five, this was one face of America – G.I. Joe passing out chewing gum to the children of Normandy. Later we saw photos of Americans liberating concentration camps.
Perhaps it was a simplistic image, maybe even manipulated, but it was what we thought of the country, of ourselves.
The Marshall Plan, the GI Bill, the post-war hopefulness, only reinforced that image. We took care of others; we took care of our own.
The news that the United States was dispatching the carrier George Washington to the east coast of the Philippines struck a familiar chord. Better than chewing gum – tons of water and medical supplies, delivered by helicopter to Leyte and Samar.
It reminded me that when the nihilists struck on 9/11, I got emails from friends in Japan and Mexico and France, asking, “Are you all right?” We were all in it together.
I am reminded of that when I hear an American president remind us what soldiers know. You take care of your own. The current president comes from that American heritage when he talks about the need for a more national health care.
Even with the technical glitches – SNAFU, they called it during the war – the goal is to keep all of us away from the emergency room, to address hunger and illness in the early stages, while there is still time.
The American president reminds me of G.I. Joe.
The people who sabotage him do not.
The year is full of fiftieth anniversaries, including the March on Washington and the terrible event coming up on Nov. 22.
Two other milestones are worth noting: the publication of a landmark book about Appalachia and the death of a landmark publisher.
I got to meet Harry Caudill and Alicia Patterson, two strong-minded patricians.
As a young sports reporter at Newsday on Long Island, I was aware of the publisher, with the tone of the country club and the vocabulary of a press room. She was descended from the newspaper family of McCormicks and Medills and Pattersons, and in 1939 she had been given a newspaper by her wealthy husband, Captain Harry F. Guggenheim. It was her toy, and she turned it into a great newspaper.
You could hear her down the hall, conducting business with her editors, a presence -- jewelry glittering, glasses perched on her forehead. The boss. Miss P.
I don’t claim to know what she did and said. I only know that all of us took energy from her. At Christmas parties, Stan Brooks – the same whirlwind reporting from the street for WINS radio today – used to don dress, glasses, stockings and high heels for a fantastic takeoff of Miss P, who loved it.
You can read all about Alicia Patterson via her foundation:
The final praise for her is from Jack Mann, the irascible sports editor who gave me a career. Jack got himself fired in the summer of 1962 after a dispute with a managing editor while Miss P was out grouse-hunting or something. When she came back, she told Jack she could not countermand her editor. I never heard him badmouth her for that.
A year later Miss P died during surgery for ulcers, at 56. The paper had glory years after her time, including the great run of New York Newsday, but it is now run by the Dolans. Some of us think it would never have slipped this way if Miss P had lived a few more decades.
Harry Caudill’s voice reached the big cities, all the way from Whitesburg, Ky., where he was a lawyer. In 1963, he wrote a lament called Night Comes to the Cumberlands, about the colonization of Appalachia, where coal lay under the surface. His book made me care for Appalachia; seven years later I went to cover it for the New York Times. Things were about as bad as he said, but I was captivated by it.
I got to meet Caudill, who goaded me to spend more time in the mountains. When A.M. Rosenthal, the great editor of the Times, was making a tour of the region in 1971, we had a nice lunch with the Caudills, who had the ear of the paper. The next summer Caudill called the home office to say an entire mountain had shed its coal slag, known as red dog, into a community. I was dispatched from vacation at Jones Beach to a bare-bones motel in Whitesburg, by which time a few families had raked the stuff out of their yards.
Caudill saw disasters large and small, standing up to politicians who served the coal industry. He suffered from a war injury, and came down with Parkinson’s Disease, and committed suicide in 1990 at the age of 68, in his yard, facing Pine Mountain.
By that time, I had written a book about a radical miner in southwest Virginia called, “One Sunset a Week.” Caudill’s book is still the most important book about Appalachia. Fifty years later.
(Alicia Patterson, reading her paper; Harry Caudill tutoring a visitor, Robert F. Kennedy, who paid attention, who cared.)
(This very site seemed to have vanished on Nov. 6; at moments like that, one realizes how fragile all this geekiness is in the hands of innocents. Maybe it will re-appear on its own.)
Baseball has vanished to the other side of the moon, not to reappear til March. My greatest memory from the 2013 World Series goes beyond the joy of watching Ortiz and Lester and Pedroia and Uehara -- exuberant phenomena that even a non-Red Sox fan could love.
The best baseball note of October came from David Waldstein of The New York Times as he tried to outrun the ubiquitous KMOX on Tuesday night. He got south of Memphis, into Mississippi, and that landmark AM station was still going strong, outlasting the game itself. Here’s the link:
The part I loved about Waldstein's article was that it celebrated the holy union between baseball and radio, as good as ever, late in its first century. What fan has not learned to love the sport from an hour or two in the car, listening to great chunks of a ball game, epic or mundane?
It’s one of the great relationships in American life – the ball fan with the gabby play-by-play broadcaster and color commentator. I have great patience with John Sterling of the Yankees because he fills that job description – a character, living memory, part of the act.
I can recall some epic games in the car:
The car radio delivers amazing events. I remember driving before dawn from Nashville to eastern Kentucky, in 1971, listening to a New Orleans clear-channel station, I believe WWL, 870 on the dial, describing the final hours of Mardi Gras. I remember driving from the Detroit airport to Pontiac for a World Cup soccer match in 1994, listening to WFAN, 660 AM, for the madness in Madison Square Garden as fans watched the eerie O.J. Simpson drive along the freeway as it unfolded on TV. On drives on Long Island on Saturday night, I used to catch the Grand Ole Opry on WSM at 650 AM.
But nothing suits radio better than baseball. It is now officially Off Season. If you pick up any ball games from now until spring training, courtesy of sun spots or time warps or dark holes, please let me know.
Any great baseball car drives you can recall?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.