It took a lovely post by a friend to remind me that Mardi Gras is about to morph into Ash Wednesday.
Bill Lucey, a writer and editor in Cleveland, puts out a thoughtful website about (a) baseball, (b) journalism, and (c) life itself. His post today is about how he should observe Lent this year. His examination of his faith should be read on its own, not in my paraphrasing:
Lucey's article prompted me to recall Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday from my own perspective, having been raised (and raised well) as a Roman Catholic. I know my two sisters and their families will be observing Lent. (We took two close relatives to our beloved Mama’s in Corona a few years back –during Lent -- and they had to pass up some of the glories of deli and pastry. Oy. That is faith.)
Today’s post by my colleague prompted two memories:
1. As the oldest of five, I was fortunate to walk to church on some weekdays with my Irish-born grandmother, always in black. Sometimes she would take me to a luncheonette on Jamaica Ave., for breakfast after church – but maybe not during Lent. I don’t remember.
(Kids, ask questions of your grandparents…and your parents. Get their views, their histories.)
2. My most vivid memory of Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday is from 1971, when I was a news reporter for the NYT, based in Louisville. I had just covered my first coal-mine disaster, in Hyden, Ky., and was still reporting on it.
On Feb. 23, however, I was in central Tennessee, covering a story on an army base. I had no clue about Mardi Gras until I had to wake up before dawn to drive across to a hearing in Eastern Kentucky.
Barreling due east on the interstate, I messed with the radio dial (much more fun in the pre-digital age) and found a lively station – WWL, New Orleans, 50,000-watts.
This post began as a memory of Lent, a spiritual journey, but somehow it is turning into a tribute to the great clear-channel stations of North America – the ones that would keep you going on cross-country drives. (Grand Ole Opry on Long Island on Saturday nights; one Phillies-Cardinals thriller all the way out to Chicago.)
This time, pre-dawn on Feb. 24, 1971, I listened to the overnight DJ on WWL raving about Mardi Gras, which was slowly winding down on the littered and sodden streets of New Orleans. He talked about the beads, the drinks, the costumes, the food, the pretty women, the people leaning off their elegant balconies in the French Quarter, shouting and personifying the slogan: “Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!”
And there I was, in the dark, on I-40, heading to a hearing about poverty and neglect in Appalachia, taking in reports of the last bursts of sensuality in New Orleans. Mardi Gras turning into Ash Wednesday, mile by mile.
That was Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday, 1971. Now, stirred by Bill Lucey in Cleveland, I have to figure some way to honor Lent. Thanks, man.
One of the most heinous things about living around New York City is crossing the George Washington Bridge onto the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Abandon all hope, as Dante warned.
It’s even bad when Chris Christie’s little pals are not monkeying with the traffic lanes.
On Saturday evening, we encountered a cloudburst and a breakdown in the center lane, right around Webster Ave. in the Bronx. Thousands of assassins and cut-throats were doing evil things at the wheel, hacking their way toward Long Island or New England.
But I did get by.
My wife worked the FM tuner and somehow found a Grateful Dead hour on wonderful WFUV from Fordham University.
In short order, David Gans played one of the most ethereal of all Dead songs, “Attics of My Mind,” sung not by Jerry and company but by children from the Barton Hills Choir of Austin, Tex.
Apparently, the children perform Dead songs as well as other familiar pop tunes Their harmonies are amazing. They enunciated the Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter lyrics so sweetly. They mellowed me right out to where I could withstand the assassins and cut-throats of the Cross-Bronx.
When I got home I downloaded the video of the Barton Hills Choir (above.)
I don’t know much about them or their repertoire but their faces and voices are so sweet.
Can’t see them covering “Mexicali Blues” or “Pride of Cucamonga” or “Me and My Uncle.”
But late Saturday night, in a cloudburst, with a middle-lane breakdown, surrounded by thousands of cut-throats and assassins right out of a Dead classic, these children got us through. We did survive. .
Catering to the Thumb Generation (of which I am a fringe member), Major League Baseball disappeared a game from television on Wednesday.
The business that still charmingly thinks of itself as The National Pastime has a new partnership with the dippy kid in the gray t-shirt, Mark Zuckerberg.
I think that means all information on Mets Nation -- all we scruffy, gauche losers who root for one miracle every generation – is now in the hands of Comrade Vladimir in the Kremlin.
Facebook was already chums with something called Cambridge Analytica which seems to have been in cahoots with various apparatchiks during the 2016 election including the possible next national security advisor, Mad Dog Bolton.
Baseball is letting the t-shirt guy put the occasional major-league game on Facebook so people can like or dislike what transpires on the field. The price for one MLB game a week is $30-million for the season – that’s what matters, isn’t it?
In real life, it’s not that hard to tell if baseball fans like or dislike something. Just the other day, Giancarlo Stanton struck out five times in his Yankee Stadium debut and Yankee fans faithfully gave him something called a Bronx Cheer.
Schnooky old baseball managed to distract from Wednesday’s Mets-Phillies game in Queens. James Wagner of the Times appropriately wrote an entire sagacious article about the t-shirt guy’s coup rather than the Mets’ bullpen or the clutch hit. (Tyler Kepner did write a column about the game itself.)
What with all the teeth-gnashing about baseball’s sellout, it seemed the game itself vanished into the dark hole of likes and dislikes.
Not true. I caught most of that game on this strange medium called radio.
The Mets’ game was on WOR – 710 on the AM dial – described by Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. Rose, aware the game had vanished from the tube, offered the observation, “I think radio is here to stay.”
Home-town fans get used to their TV and radio broadcasters. When the national broadcast pre-empts a Met game, I opt for radio. Mets fans don’t need national drop-in experts telling them stuff they already know.
Plus, the sellout by #ShamelessMLB on Wednesday meant that Mets-TV addicts were forever deprived of possible weird dialogues such as the one that ensued during Thursday’s game in Washington, with Gary Cohen monitoring the banter between old teammates from 1986, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
Darling to Hernandez on Good Old SNY: Were you this funny when we played together? You’re pretty funny.
Cohen: He was the Prince of Darkness back then.
That's what Mets fans expect – not twiddling of thumbs.
At least the t-shirt guy hasn’t sold all of baseball to Cambridge Analytica. (Memo to Mark Zuckerberg: when you are hauled into Congress next week, go find a suit. Play dressup.)
* * *
Speaking of Queens and baseball, my friend-the-writer, Rabbi Mendel Horowitz, has written about following baseball in Israel during Passover: Enjoy:
Aaron Copland died on Dec. 2, 1990.
We were driving north from Florida to New York on one of those all-nighters we used to pull.
As we drove through coastal Georgia and South Carolina, we listened to works by the great American composer, plus critiques of his career.
Past Brunswick, past Savannah, past Charleston, the radio played ballet scores like "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo" and "Appalachian Spring" as well as concert pieces like "El Salón Mexico" and "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Lincoln Portrait."
When one station crackled out, just a slight adjustment produced another station, somewhere from 88 to 91 on the FM dial. All that evening, we scarcely missed a note of Copland’s musical references to cowboys and immigrants and martyred heroes.
We were connected to the culture of our entire country, not just Big Town but all the places where classical music touches the heart, the brain, the soul.
I count 17 NPR stations in Georgia and eight in South Carolina.
We know this country well enough to realize that it’s not all political bombast and preachers and country music and rock. As we drove north, in the regional cities and small towns and way out in the counties, people were driving or reading or even falling asleep to the work of the master from Boys High in Brooklyn, who never attended college but instead composed music.
This synchronized symphony along Interstate 95 was no accident. It came through a chain of National Public Radio stations, bringing classical music and news and features to all the people and subsidized in part by tax money, via public officials who have recognized, over the years, that pipers (and composers) must be paid.
Now National Public Radio is under siege, its subsidies threatened. The new regime seems to regard enlightened talk and classical music to be frivolous, even seditious.
In New York, we read that subsidies by wealthy and middle class patrons may keep our two radio stations going.
This means we can count on Brian Lehrer switching intellectual gears every weekday morning on WNYC-FM; we can expect Terrance McKnight to keep on playing his eclectic swath of classical music on WQXR-FM.
We’ll be all right. But in so many other places, the high end of talk and music is threatened.
There are worse things, more dangerous things, worth hectoring your local member of Congress. But In the midst of all the other causes, people need to stand up for National Public Radio, all over this land.
The invitation was an honor – to be interviewed by Randy Cohen on his radio/podcast show, PersonPlaceThing.
Everybody knows Cohen, the original Ethicist in the New York Times magazine, who set such a high bar of being informed, quirky and timely. Now he produces his own show, asking people to discuss their favorite person, place and thing.
His invitation included a podcast of his interview with Judy Collins.
On the same list as Judy Blue Eyes? Count me in.
Cohen’s show took place at the beautiful library in Port Washington, L.I., in front of friends, neighbors and family, facilitated by the ever-personable Jessica Ley.
For my choices, I could have gone stone serious but I decided to omit family, religion and politics. Better to go with the first answers that popped into my head – stuff that sustains me, at this stage in my life, outside my deepest ties.
Cohen did a great job editing nearly an hour of banter into a tight 25 minutes but I do have a footnote to each category:
Person: The tense original first chapter to which I refer is about a confrontation between Confederate soldiers and two teen-age brothers on a road leading to Gettysburg. The famous editor was flat-out wrong to cut it. The author was right. That scene, now restored, sets up the entire novel.
Place: I love my adopted home town but I also love my home borough of Queens. Living half an hour east is about as far as I can stand. That helps explain my choice.
Thing: Cohen’s subtle editing cut out the fact that he is far more accomplished than I am with my chosen implement. I have immense respect for his weekend jaunts.
Nuff said. I’ll be proud if anybody wants to listen and respond in Comments.
* * *
The link to the show:
The show will also be broadcast in New York on Tuesday at 1:30 PM on WNYE, 91.5 FM, and more broadly Friday night at 10:30 PM across WAMC Northeast Public Radio. You can also download it free at iTunes.
(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?
Bill Mazer was a giant of sports broadcasting – and then his career kept going. Long after he was a sports maven in Buffalo and Milwaukee and New York, Mazer, as an octo-genarian, launched into a second career as radio general talk-show host.
We knew each other from the days when he described Cookie Gilchrist’s rushes and Henry Aaron’s home runs. Now, instead of recalling the great sports details (some would call them trivia), Mazer worked first for WEVD in New York and then for WVOX in suburban Westchester.
Mazer, who died Wednesday at 92, was thoroughly admirable in his new life as he chatted about politics and medicine and education and anything else. I remember one time he had me waiting on the next line to babble about some sports theme while he finished up with somebody – as I recall, a brain surgeon. I was extremely impressed.
Bill’s intelligence and curiosity had kicked in. He was able to guide the doctor into explaining the profession, and new developments in medicine. Bill did not need to assert his own memories of who pitched what game of what World Series. He asked wise questions and – believe me, not all interviewers are even adequate at this – he listened to the answers, and he responded to the twists and turns of conversation.
He had his opinions. Once I launched sideways into a tirade about a political theme (no point going over it here) and I could tell he was quite unhappy with me. Still, he politely let me talk, and he politely offered his version, and we finished the chat civilly. (I don’t think he called me for a while, and that was fine, too.)
It was not easy for Bill in his later years. He missed his wife, Dora, known as Dutch, who passed in 1996. She was a beautiful and serene lady who accompanied him to a lot of events, was a force in his life. Yet he continued to grow, with his actor son Arnie Mazer booking guests and running interference for him.
Bill Mazer – like Bob Wolff, Roger Angell and Ray Robinson, ongoing nonagenarian giants and friends of mine – was a marvel. He became a role model for any of us who might want to re-invent ourselves. In the very long run, Bill Mazer was amazing.
* * *
For an appreciation of Bill Mazer’s career, please see the obituary by Richard Goldstein:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: