Saturday, June 9, 2018

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • I’m a long way from Hawaii, but I’ve stopped turning on my Lava Lamp in solidarity with the volcano-beleaguered populace.
  • All those who thought Rudy Giuliani was this big of a doofus before he hooked up with Donald Trump, raise your hands. 
  • I don’t know about you, but hardly a week goes by without my having to order a product online--a product that used to be available in stores but now isn’t.  (“Sorry, we don’t carry that anymore” is an all-too-common refrain . . . and ownership wonders why revenue is down!)
  • A friend of mine needed a personal item or two while in Cancun, so he went—where else?--to La Tiendas de Familia Peso. (That's Family Dollar to us gringoes.)
  • If I had just escaped from prison and wanted to be totally ignored, the first thing I’d get would be a red flag.  Because this much we know about these horrendous school or workplace massacres:  Warning signs of all sorts (weapons caches, ominous tweets, terroristic boasts, etc.) are roundly ignored.  My long-lasting freedom would be assured with a red flag.
  • I hate to bring up Afghanistan, but are we in the 17th year of the war . . . or in the first year for the 17th time?  And how many people could find it on a map?
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:   “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that eyes of guppies are normally a silver color, but they turn black when the fish get angry?”
  • It has come to this:  Football can’t decide what is or isn’t a catch,  and baseball can’t decide what is or isn’t a proper slide.  You’d think the games originated in 2017!   
  • And it seems as if everything in baseball is sponsored these days:  "Here's the Brewers starting lineup, brought to you by Milwaukee-area Chevy dealers." . . .  "Let's set the Brewers Pepsi defense for you." . . . . "This call to the pen is brought to you by . . . ."
  • (What's next?   "This between-innings Announcer Bathroom Visit is brought to you by Quilted Northern, the official bathroom tissue of the Milwaukee Brewers . . . .")
  • Speaking of the Brewers, it seems like the Polish sausage has dominated the mid-game/between innings “races” so far this season at Miller Park, but keep in mind--there's a lot of sausage yet to be played!
  • "The other day I was thinking, ‘I just overthink things.’ And then I thought, ‘Do I, though?’"--Comedian Demetri Martin
  • Prediction: Sometime in the coming weeks you're bound to hear some geriatric hippy proclaim that "Woodstock changed the world."
  • Really?  Far as I can tell, the day it ended the Soviet Union was still an oppressive communist nation, Third World children were still starving, and Howard Cosell was still an obnoxious, insufferable oaf.  I don't think three days of naked hippies smoking weed and slogging through the mud at Max Yasgur's farm to music they probably couldn't really hear very well changed much of anything
  • Why do we say “cold and damp” in the fall/winter and “hot and humid” in summer?  Why the difference in terminology?  Is there an official line of demarcation? After all, we're talking about the same phenomenon--moisture in the atmosphere.  So is it "damp" at 59.9 degrees or lower and "humid" at 60 and above?  Until otherwise notified, I’m going with “hot and damp” this summer--and "cold and humid" next winter!
  • My chiropractor alluded the other day to "muscle memory."  Unfortunately for me, I have muscle Alzheimer's!  (That may not bode well for the healing process.)
  •  All-overrated club: Angelina Jolie, Joy Behar and Larry David.
  • Mark my words, someday "Winnie the Pooh" will be on Broadway.  They've done just about everything else, from "Peter Pan" to "Spiderman."  So it’s just a matter of time.  (And I think former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie would be the leader in the clubhouse to play Eeyore.)
  • You're not a celebrity until you've been on the cover of People magazine, been a clue or an answer in the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle or been mentioned in an least one edition of jimjustsaying.com
  • Aren't these police funeral "shows of solidarity" getting just a wee bit over the top?  I'm sure the sorrow is as sincere as it gets, but do we need hundreds of law-enforcement personnel saluting for the cameras while the pipes are piping?  The death of a Fond du Lac, Wis., officer saw this play out in funeral/memorial services in not one but two towns!
  • The obvious problem: Who's minding the store? That would be officers from nearby towns--personnel not all that familiar with the territory they are temporarily "covering"--leaving several towns shorthanded and inadequately protected!  Wonderful.  And this at a time when most police forces are not at full strength, for whatever reasons (retirements, suspensions, firings . . . .)
  • I abhor these tragedies as much as the next guy, I'm strongly against gun ownership, and if I won the lottery, I'd buy a bullet-proof vest for every police officer who needed one.  I'm just put off by these mawkish, gratuitous public displays that put the public at risk. 
  • If you look up news accounts of police/firefighter fatalities from decades ago, I doubt you'll find evidence of what we're seeing today.   The deaths were just as tragic, but the aftermath much less grandiose.  (Similarly, did football players of the pre-TV era do end-zone dances when they scored a touchdown?  Once again the media has become part of the event instead of the fly on the wall.)
  •  “People who don't make it think their lives would be rosy if they did, and those who do make it are startled to find they still have all their old problems, plus a few new ones, and begin to wonder if they'd be happier if they hadn't made it."--Dick Cavett in "Cavett."
  • Mailing lists are like roller coasters--it's far easier to get on one than off of one.
  • "If one is neither a lender nor a borrower, as Shakespeare had Polonius advise, one probably cannot buy a house."--Joe Queenan, Wall St. Journal
  • Today's Latin Lesson:   Evado meus gramen!  ("Get off my lawn!")

jimjustplaying

THE SOCRATIC METHOD?

As Socrates famously wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One would well posit  that the unchallenged life is not worth living.  Or, if it is,  not as satisfying.

Most of my music-related activity since leaving the Air Force Band in late 1969 has been as an author and critic, my playing restricted solely to playing along with records at home.

Soloist Jim Szantor as lead alto David Bixler gives the cutoff on the final chord.

But that changed on Aug. 11 when I performed as a guest soloist on clarinet with the fabled Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra, a big band made up of some of the best jazz players in the country, comprising as they do the faculty that teaches the students who come to Egg Harbor in Door County for two-week sessions of intensive training and performance opportunities.  It's sort of a musical boot camp but with kindly but highly decorated instructors.  

My feature spot was "Ballad for Benny" a tune written by the late, great jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who was commissioned by Benny Goodman to write new material for the band's historic 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.   It was such a  significant cultural/political event back then that Walter Cronkite often led the CBS Nightly News with the band's latest exploits.

The 17-piece Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra prior to my introduction.


This tune was recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (with the great Phil Woods in a rare outing on clarinet instead of his usual lustrous alto sax) but never performed publicly in this country--till now.  If you do an internet search on some of the illustrious players in the band behind me --Dennis Mackrel, Clay Jenkins, Doug Stone, David Bixler, Tanya Darby, to name a few--you'll see why I'm so proud to have been selected to perform with them.


Part of the evening's program.
It was an oppressively muggy night (close to 100 percent humidity) in the un-air-conditioned hall, making intonation more of a challenge than usual. It took some months of chipping away at the rust that had accumulated over the years on my woodwind chops, but I was determined to have one last dance, so to speak, with the idiom that I have loved for a lifetime.  To paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the bandstand.  The rest is just waiting."  

Luckily for me, the wait is over.



55th High School Reunion Essay


From Red Devils to Gray Devils (or, 73 is the new 61)

By Jim Szantor

It has been a long and winding road that brings the Class of '61 to Reunion Weekend.   A time when we can take our noses out of our devices and communicate the best possible way--face to face.  We've come so far and seen so much, but on this occasion it's all about something that we can never get enough of--living in the moment with people who matter to us.  Some of us may say more to each other this weekend than we did when we were in the same building on a daily basis.  Reunions can be strange that way.

We've gone our separate ways in many ways, but there are bonds that can never be separated, and Mary D. Bradford was a big part of that.  Some of the connections we treasure started before that, some came after.  But we're so fortunate to have them.  There's no app for that.

Our birth dates and graduation dates were bookended by two presidents known mainly by their initials (FDR and JFK), with some of us then sent off to an unpopular war by LBJ.  (OMG!)  Somehow we survived anti-war and race riots, three high-profile assassinations and thought we were living in turbulent times then.  Little did we know.

We've reached the time of our lives when, as is often said, it seems as if we're having breakfast every 20 minutes and a doctor's appointment every 20 days.   And if our waistlines have expanded, so have our vocabularies.  Unfortunately, many of our new  words end in "itis," "oscopy" or "ectomy" (with a few "ograms" thrown in for good measure.)  Some of us are lucky enough to have original factory equipment, but others seem to be doing just fine with replacement parts.  Our mileage may vary accordingly.

Our lives since high school have had similar arcs (higher education, marriage and careers, exhilarating highs and devastating lows, medical battles won and lost), but no two narratives are alike, with their surprising and fortuitous twists, unexpected and unfortunate turns.  We'll talk about them, tell stories--funny and otherwise--we may have told before.  But underneath it all is something strangely and poignantly wistful that is easier to experience than to explain.  A tear or two may flow, but laughter will carry the day.  To borrow a title from my favorite song of those cherished Bradford years, "It's All in the Game."

We'll reminisce about the sweet used-to-be, a time when you could get on a plane without getting undressed, when mosquitoes were occasional nuisances instead of winged assassins, and a Christmas gift might be one of those wildly irresponsible vintage toys of our youth--the chemistry set--the better to conduct home experiments with the ammonium nitrate now prized by rogue terrorists.

Our first cars are quaint relics now (it's cringe-inducing to contemplate how crude and dangerous they really were), but how treasured they were then!  Apples were something we ate; Steve Jobs was just 6 years old on our Graduation Day and hadn't decided to change the world just yet.  Amazon was a river in South America, a tweet was a sound produced by a bird, and Google was the name of a comic-strip character whose first name, if you don't remember it, can be learned if you use his last name to find it, using a device probably within arm's reach.

Culturally, a maverick from Mississippi named Elvis Presley was viewed as outrageous by some as the fabled Generation Gap reared its head, writ large.  No one envisioned such outre performers as Alice Cooper, Madonna and Sid Vicious and others of inexplicable popularity.  Thus, rap and hip-hop aren't likely to be heard at the Chateau on our special night; Snoop Dogg won't be making the playlist.  We'll hear many oldies and savor the memories they conjure up as the sound track of our youth plays on.

We'll survey the years and laugh about the clothes we wore, the "what were we thinking?" misadventures and the gasoline we burned going around in circles downtown.   We took ourselves perhaps too seriously at times but at least took no "selfies."  (And what about that sheepskin we worked so hard to get?  All we got was a piece of paper!   I, for one, still feel cheated and have thus given my graduation an Incomplete.  But that's just me.)

Our graduates include at least two doctors that I know of, perhaps a lawyer or three, but most likely no Indian chiefs.  Scanning the yearbook, some wonderful names pop out--a Jane Eyre and a Thomas Wolfe, whom I dearly hope can come home again.   The Annex may be gone but still stands tall in our memories.  It rained on our scheduled Graduation Day, a happenstance that turned out to be more of a innocuous oddity than an ill omen.

We'll share some of our epic Kodak moments, those occasions when someone was bound to say, "Great Grandma is probably looking down on us with a big proud smile."  (To explore the thought of other moments when Great Grandma was looking down on us is a thought too unsettling to pursue further in this essay, if you get my drift.  Who raises and lowers the celestial curtain?)

Those of us who have moved away can use this occasion to revisit old haunts (the ones that still exist) and scan the crowd for familiar faces (thank God for name tags) and lament the absence of those we fear we may never see again, trying to remember that, as a poet once said, people die but love doesn't have to.  The list of Missing Classmates numbers about 280 and leads one to wonder where those people are, and, if still living, why they have stayed in the shadows.  If by choice, we have to respect that; if for darker reasons, that's most unfortunate.  We may know the circumstances for a few, but for the others--whether they were good friends, casual acquaintances or names we hardly recognize--like a lot of life's mysteries, we may never know.  We can only hope that life has dealt them the best possible hand.

It has been said that the 25th is the best reunion--some liken it to life's mid-term exam--and say they only get sadder after that.  But most marathoners--those lucky enough to remain in the race--feel more exhilaration in the home stretch than they did at the halfway mark.  Granted, we know the trip is not going to last forever, but it's satisfying to toast the milestones we've achieved and humbly acknowledge our good fortune.  And who knows--the way research is advancing on the scourges of cancer and Alzheimer's, in five years 78 may be the new 61.  Let's drink to that!