Friday, April 23, 2010

Mad Magazine

Mad Magazine was my favorite periodical growing up in the 1960's. it was better than reading The Sporting News and Sport Illustrated. It represented a philosophy of humor and skepticism that was iconoclastic and politically neutral. It was the proverbial kid shooting spitballs at the pompous teacher. The magazine started in the 1950's as a cynical retort to the plethora of TV advertising/consumerism that defined the era. It then expanded into a satirical look into every form of authority of the times. The beauty of the magazine was that it was apolitical. I suspect the editors were liberal but the writing bespoke an insight into the foibles of the period that was as poignant as it was funny. The magazine never received the credit that it deserved in shaping the views and attitudes of a generation of suburban youth who would eventually develop a very healthy contempt for the larger institutions of our society that seemed to live on a diet of lies and hypocrisy, whether right or left. Last week, I purchased an anthology of offerings from the 50's through the 90's. Looking back, I was fascinated at the sophistication of the humor. Whether it was the countercultural lifestyle, military, government, business, or religion, the message was clear: the emperor has no clothes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The 1954 American League Season

I love baseball. The sport captures the spirit of America better than any other social phenomena out there. It is not political. But beyond its unifying effect on the national pscyhe, the game is a treasure trove of historical statistical oddities that keep people like me up all night. I spend about two hours a week on The site is to baseball addicts what a corner bar is to the neighborhood drunk: a convenient excuse to ignore your responsibilities to your family and job and indulge in what you deep down inside feel you cannot live without. I like to drink as much as the next guy, but crunching meaningless baseball numbers is nirvana. This morning, and for no apparent reason, I started to search for teams that finished in second place and yet won over one hundred games and then separate out those teams that did not even come close to winning the pennant. As I was perusing different seaons, I came across the 1954 American League final standings. The Cleveland Indians finished in first place with 111 wins, a record for wins in one season. But just as interesting were the second place Yankees. They won 103 games and finished 8 games out of first. There have been other similar second place finishes. The 1961 Detroit Tigers finished in second place with 101 wins; the 1962 Dodgers did the same with 102 wins. For football's version of this oddity, check out the 1967 Baltimore Colts who finished 12-1-1 and never made the playoffs. I remember baseball quite well in the mid to late 60's but had no reference of comparison due to my youth. Looking back, I am amazed that baseball maintained its hold on the nation despite such lopsided races. In 1954, only there American League teams had a winning record, Even if there were pennant races, for most teams, the season was over by the All Star break, And here is an interesting number. The Boston Red Sox, who have sold out every game for about ten years, were not always the hot ticket in town. In 1966, the Sox opened the season at home against Baltimore. Only 12,386 people showed up. The next day, 1,955 came to the game. And this is opening day, when hope springs eternal, or so the myth goes. Imagine that happening today!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dressing Up And Doing The Town

I spent part of last night watching old baseball footage from the 1950's, the supposed Golden Era of baseball. That is was a "golden era" is a myth but then again history has been aptly defined as nothing more than one damn lie after another. I noted with amusement the fan attire of the time. But it is more than amusement. I think the way people dress says something about the way we perceive ourselves in other people's eyes and the kind of respect we demand from others. I remember watching the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960's. It seemed that every fan at the Forum was The Man in The Grey Flannel Suit. Men wore suits to sporting events. It was almost like going to church. This social stricture started to change sometime around 1969. Maybe it was the Vietnam War and the social upheaval it wrought at home. I am not smart enough to figure that out but I am not dumb enough not to realize that there was almost a revolution in the way people related to one another and the language they chose to express it through was clothing. The way we dress conveys a very important message: act the way I dress. If someone sees you dressed in a suit, they will instinctively treat you differently than if you were wearing flip flops and shorts. And the reverse is true. People will expect you to treat them differently if you are dressed well. Dress is a very accurate barometer of the type of civil discourse we expect of ourselves and others. I am no prude but I think the old way had something to say for itself. When I was a kid in the 60's it was almost unheard of to hear people cursing in public. Now coarse language is so commonplace that it is accepted. Check out this song by Marty Robbins and I think you will get the idea.

I think it all started in 1942. The army issued standard white sleeved t shirts to all recruits. They were used to wearing the sleeveless "wifebeaters" that their fathers wore under their shirts. Wearing such a shirt in public back then was quite declasse. Remember Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. The name wifebeater did not come about by accident. After the war, these shirts became popular as a stand alone accessory thanks to James Dean, who did for the industry what Lauren Bacall did for women lighting up. And then it was all downhill from there. Call it what you will. Democracy. Egalitarianism. The end result has been a coarsening of our civil discourse. I know a strong case can be made that there have certainly been some notable and quite impressive exceptions to this trend:

But nevertheless, I say there is something to be said for getting "all dressed up and doing the town" the old fashioned way. So put on your best suit, shine your shoes, and go out and show your friends the respect they deserve and hopefully they will show you the same!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Here's To Yesterday

I remember 1972 well. Nixon crushed McGovern and then bombed North Vietnam. Watergate started. The A's won their first of three straight pennants. The decade ushered in bad music, worse fashion and the death of the American automobile industry. The cars that Detroit produced from 1950 up to today reflect American self confidence and power and our willingness to project it around the world. Face it. If you were stuck in a foxhole under enemy fire, who would you want to have engineered the equipment that will rescue your ass: the New Age conformist who invented the Chevy Vega or the wild eyed eccentric who put fins on the 1957 Cadillac El Dorado? You get the picture. When it comes down to what really mattered in my life in 1972, booze and broads, not even Viagra can light up a man's libido today like the old fashioned in your face V8 engine with all the trimmings did then. Which brings me to my own attempt to go back in time. A good client of mine was in town this week and while here bought a 1972 Cadillac.

He is shipping it out later in the week so let me use it for the weekend. And use it I will. I called a sometime girlfriend who is (barely) old enough to keep me out of the hoosegow but young enough to still believe my bullshit that her youth has nothing to do with my wanting to date her. It's off for a steak dinner, a bottle of wine, and a nice drive down I95 with the windows down and the AM radio blasting away (assuming there still is AM radio). After examining the interior of the car, I am thankful that I grew up in the 60's/70's before the worst standard feature in a car ever: the console that separates the driver from his passenger. This contraption did more to reduce teenage shenanigans than any lecture by some overly protective father or pleasure hating minister. But not tonight. My girlfriend will slide over and put her head on my shoulder and her body next to mine and I will party like it's 1972!