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Lemon curry.

Another example of all the pop culture crap I carry around in my head getting in my way…

Sleep came hard last night. And after a while, my wife proposed putting on a sleep app.

If you don’t have one of these, you can probably imagine it. A few pushes on your phone, and a gent with a soft, mellifluous voice talks quietly and reassuringly about surrendering your burdens, becoming comfortable, and embracing your rest.

In this particular story, he leads you into a variety of settings — gently rocking train at sunset, comforting easy chair by the fire, and like that.

(I am one of those sorts who could never imagine falling asleep if there were an active fire and no one else around to attend to it. I guess I think too much.)

The speaker pauses at length between phrases. And while the setting is not explicitly coastal, the sounds of waves and occasional seabirds fill the absences of speech — probably because the gentle rhythmic roll of waves is so reminiscent of the sound of sleep-breathing.

Anyway, the bloke goes through his litany of peaceful surrender, ending with a comfortable bed, heavy lids, and whatnot. He says “good night” and then there are only the waves on the beach, up and back, again and again, a distant presence.

And it’s quarter-to-goddamn-midnight, and my wife is susurrating away in rhythm, and I’m listening to nothing but waves in the dark … and thinking that John Cleese in a conquistador outfit would complete the scene perfectly.

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Most of you can probably stop there, but for those readers who need the reference explained (hi, Mom and Dad!), here’s the explanation:

There’s an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“Salad Days;” seventh episode, third season; first aired 30 November 1972; and no, I don’t have any of that memorized — I had to look it up) that features the usual whirlwind of skits, jokes, animation and absurdity for the first 27 minutes or so.

And then it cuts to film of waves crashing against a beach, with no performers in shot and no speech. Just waves. This goes on for what seems like forever in TV time, though in retrospect I’m guessing it’s 45 seconds or so.

(While I didn’t know it when I first saw it, this appears to be a takeoff on an actual “interlude” film of crashing waves, one of a library of brief segments used by the BBC to fill time between programs, a still image from which is shown below.)

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John Cleese enters, dressed as a conquistador but not apparently portraying one. Using his regular speaking voice, he explains that the show has run short that week. He pauses a moment to look at the waves (“Beautiful, isn’t it?”), then walks off.

After a lengthy pause, he walks back into shot, and explains to the viewer that there’s really no need to keep watching because there won’t be any more jokes.

He leaves again. True to his word, there aren’t any more jokes. Instead we get probably 45 seconds to a minute (my guesstimate) of Auntie Beeb airing uninterrupted, pastoral waves on a beach until the show finally fades to black.

If I had to go anywhere in my mind last night that wasn’t sleep, I suppose I could have come up with far worse places than that.

Nothing is beneath you.

Somehow, on my list of things to do this weekend, “blog” didn’t get crossed off. Usually it does, not that I have much to say lately.

Turned in yet another SABR Games Project story today. I now have 11 stories posted and 14 in the editing and fact-checking pipeline. I assume they would tell me if they didn’t want ’em.

Painting my shed. Grossly disappointed in Home Depot for not giving me the shade of blue I requested. But what the hell, it’s just a shed, and there are much greater problems in the world.

I heard a song yesterday on the perennially interesting Aquarium Drunkard music blog that I’ll repost here.

This is so amazingly quintessentially Seventies singer-songwriter that it almost crosses over into parody; it sounds like something that could have been written to illustrate a movie about a fictional Seventies singer-songwriter. You can see the Pacific Coast Highway and the sun shining off the hood of the convertible.

The piano backing; the lavish Beach Boys-styled vocal pads; the random tempo changes; the combination of glum lyrics with soaring music … it touches all the bases and doesn’t miss a one.

What this is, apparently, is part of an album recorded by pop soldier Jack Nitzsche in 1974, but not released for almost 30 years, and then only as part of a larger box set that probably landed in the hands of about 500 people. (It’s now being re-released on its own, on vinyl, which is why it landed on Aquarium Drunkard’s radar screen.)

I’d heard of Nitzsche before, mainly through his associations with Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. Not sure I’d ever heard him sing before. He’s passable enough to carry the show, although it’s really all the other stuff zinging around him that makes this so tasty.

Anyway, if Seventies is your thing, check this out.

If you like it … well, not sure I recommend ordering vinyl with the Postal Service being what it is. But who knows? Maybe you’ll find the Jack Nitzsche box set in a second-hand shop, 15 years from now, and pounce upon it like a jewel.

For your next swah-ray.

A couple of bits and bobs.

The Internet Archive’s Unlocked Recordings series hasn’t posted any new vinyl rips in a while, but I’ve been finding things to listen to in its archives.

The Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recording of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 mentioned in my last post is one.

And this is another:

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This album is a hasty compromise between well-known and highly successful songs (“The Loco-Motion,” “Bristol Stomp,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” etc.) and complete and total tossed-off slop.

(“Oh, look,” said no one ever, “both halves of ‘Hot Pastrami with Mashed Potatoes’ gathered on one convenient album!” And what needs to be said about “Let’s Pony Again” except that it’s like “Let’s Twist Again,” only much less successful or memorable?)

You could argue that the very best and the very worst are the most interesting types of music. And this LP — doubtless assembled with about 20 minutes of thought — brings together the best music of its genre (or at least the most successful) and the worst under one roof.

Roll up the carpets, ice down the root beer, and have a party! And tell ’em the Archive sent ya.

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Speaking of celebrations, this clip made the social media rounds last week following the death of Tom Seaver. It shows the 1969 Miracle Mets appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show to sing “(You Gotta Have) Heart,” from Damn Yankees:

Having a ballclub full of young athletes on TV to sing a decade-old Broadway song seems to me like a 50-year-old’s idea of a celebration … the sort of thing a veteran network talent booker would think of while the young men rolled their eyes in the green room. Old school in a world tilting fast to new-school.

One wonders what the modern equivalent would be. Today’s ballclubs seem full of reggaeton, hip-hop and bro-country fans, based on their walk-up music. Imagine them herded together and forced to sing “We Will Rock You,” or “Celebration,” or some other song representing a previous generation’s tastes.

But, what the hell. Rod Gaspar enjoyed himself. Why ask for more?

Labor Day roundup.

I’m listening to this right now because the gent on the cover whispered in my ear, “I am the suavest man in New York City. Try me.” 

The music ain’t at all bad.

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I am Having A Moment, as the kids say.

Somebody on Reddit posted a link to my long-ago piece on Massachusetts town line signs, and as a result, I’ve gotten more hits in the past 24 hours than I’ve probably gotten in the last month combined. (This is a rough spitball and I’m not gonna do the math to figure out if it’s anywhere near correct.)

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If anyone decided to poke around after Reddit brought them here: Welcome! You’ll find it’s all crap — like a used record store that turns out to have nothing but Mantovani and The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, bin after bin, aisle after aisle — but you’re welcome to poke around.

(This may be too harsh: I have a sneaking suspicion that, in the proper mood, I would cheerfully listen to Mantovani.)

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The SABR Games Project has posted another of my stories and it’s a crazy one, involving a pitcher in his second professional game striking out 17 batters and hitting two home runs.

This one was a particular pleasure because I actually tracked the guy down and interviewed him by email. When I sent him the link to the final story, he described it as “an awesome piece of writing and storytelling,” which pretty much made my year.

By my count I have nine stories in the review process at this point and two more are likely to be submitted tomorrow. There are three or four others I would be churning away on except I don’t have access to newspapers that carried game stories. I’m figuring out how to get around that.

The Games Project has very few minor-league stories and that seems to be a niche that wants filling. Every time I poke around in old papers I find more oddments and stories that want telling. I won’t hit ’em all but I’ll keep working the seam for a while yet, I think.

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Today I ran another of those virtual 5Ks I’ve been doing — this one to support the Mystic Aquarium, and penguins in particular.

The more I think about it the goofier I feel. There are enough people who need help that I shouldn’t really be supporting penguins. But I gave in, in a moment of weakness, and sure, why not.

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My Sunburned Hand of the Man T-shirt showed up and I looked suave (but not as suave as the suavest man in New York City) while doing a nature walk this afternoon.

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The idea of writing about the small number of band or music T-shirts I’ve ever owned remains in the back of my head. Won’t get to that one today, not that anyone’s holding their breath.

I had a few other ideas for today but I think I’ll knock off; the day is beautiful and work will be back on me soon enough.

 

Tracking the stench of my endeavours.

I continue to look up all manner of stuff on Newspapers dot com, reveling in my subscription.

Yesterday I found a news story in which one of my former bosses pulled a body out of a river. I knew he was an EMT in a past life but he never spoke of that episode. Poor guy. (Both of them.)

Today I took up a long-forgotten errand of vainglory: I set out to figure out how many other newspapers my byline appeared in (that is, papers I didn’t directly work for), and where, and when.

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An explainer for those who did not work as journalists: When you write a story, it might not just run in your own paper. It may get picked up by the Associated Press for regional or even national distribution, if it grabs the attention of someone in the local AP bureau. Or, if you work in a chain of newspapers, papers in the chain will usually look to their colleagues in other cities as a first source of copy to fill those random, oddly shaped holes on Page 20.

Newspapers dot com doesn’t carry the archives of every paper, so it doesn’t show me every place where “By Kurt Blumenau” ever showed up.

My three Boston Herald appearances from 2001 aren’t in there, nor is my November 2005 story about “The Weight” and the town of Nazareth, Pa., that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. (In both cases, I worked for smaller papers under the same ownership as these big-city outlets, and from time to time they would benevolently pluck tasty bits of copy supplied by the relative runts of their corporate litters.)

It also didn’t include my one appearance in the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate, my parents’ and grandparents’ hometown paper, which I wrote about years ago at my other blog.  (I subsequently located that story, which ran in March 2007.)

But what did I find that I didn’t already know about? Were there other cities whose burghers had the questionable benefit of seeing the Kurt Blumenau byline in their daily papers? Indeed, there were:

Odessa (Texas) American, Sept. 16, 2007, page 9A (the Books page!): These kindly Texans picked up a story I wrote about Rodale, the Lehigh Valley-based publishing company, picking up “A Path to Survival,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The book, as far as I can recall, got no particular traction. Rodale has since been sold. I dunno how the Odessa American is doing. Well, I hope.

(Incidentally, I’m not linking to these b/c all the pages are behind the Newspapers dot com paywall. If anybody doubts that these stories really exist, let me know, and I’ll send you a PDF or something. I would profit not at all from making any of this up.)

Green Bay Press-Gazette, Green Bay, Wisconsin; Jan. 21, 2007, page 37, and Sept. 16, 2007, page D2: Look, Ma: Titletown! I owe the Rodale family a good vegan dinner or something, since they were apparently my ticket onto faraway news pages. The first of these two stories was about Rodale establishing a new book imprint for current-events books, while the second was the same one the Odessa paper picked up above.

Rodale, incidentally, was also my ticket into the Stamford Advocate; they picked up a story I wrote in March 2007 when Rodale purchased a fitness magazine based in Connecticut.

Munster (Indiana) Times, November 11, 2001, page 63: I have absolutely zero idea where Munster, Indiana, is. This was a story written in the long wake of the September 11 attacks, looking at the possibility of America issuing war bonds again. I can’t recall what triggered the story; I remember a million theories, ideas and rumors floating around in those days, and this must have been one of them.

The Rodale stories were written while I worked for the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, which was part of the Tribune Co. chain and thus had decent launching power. But this one was written for the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, Mass., a much smaller paper that was the sorta-flagship of a chain of mostly suburban weeklies. I wonder how this particular bottle got floated out on the wider ocean, and how it got picked up in Munster, Indiana.

(OK, I hit Wikipedia. I was quite surprised to learn that Munster is an outlying sprawl-town of Chicago, and The Times is the second-largest newspaper in the state, trailing only the one in Indianapolis. Go know.)

The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Fla., February 8, 2004, page 4F: On the Personal Technology page, next to a centerpiece story headlined “20 Years of the Mac,” the PBP picked up a story by yours truly about the growth of online shopping. (Headline: “Online Shopping Growing Rapidly.”)

The lede told the story of a woman in the Lehigh Valley who said she had found a house, a husband, a dog, and numerous gifts and articles of clothing online after getting tired of bricks and mortar. This was big in 2004, I guess.

I have no recollection of the woman and the story; looking back I wonder how we at the newspaper heard of her. It would be sort of droll to find out that identity theft, package theft, and/or the rapid decline of the U.S. Postal Service had driven her back to bricks and mortar.

The Paducah (Kentucky) Sun, December 11, 2003, page 6A: My sole known appearance in the Bluegrass State came from my coverage of Air Products and Chemicals, a Fortune 500 gases and chemicals company based in the Allentown suburbs. The paper in Paducah picked up a story about a legal dispute between Air Products and a former employee now competing against it. Not sure why this was of interest in Paducah; I know Air Products had a lot of facilities in a lot of different places, and maybe they had one there.

Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland; four appearances between 2005-2007: Among Tribune Co. papers, the Sun was especially generous in picking up other companies’ news items — or at least those from The Morning Call.

(In contrast, my name only appears once in a story from the flagship Chicago Tribune, and that in an end-of-story, also-contributed credit. Not sure whether this reflects a general disinterest on the Trib’s part in deigning to run its smaller colleagues’ stories, or whether it reflects the fact that the Trib in those days was still staffed well enough to fill its own holes and didn’t need copy from other papers.)

Anyhow, the Balty paper picked up three of my bylines and a fourth co-byline:

  • A May 2007 story about the Allentown-based Sodexho USA Retail Brand Group working with Magic Johnson to develop concepts for a sports bar, a sandwich shop and a food court with Magic Johnson branding. No idea if this ever came to pass.

  • A June 2006 story about a Tribune Co. stock buyback. As a business writer at The Morning Call, I was assigned to cover significant developments at the parent company. Generally, these were frustrating errands that combined prolonged word-by-word edits from senior editors with consistent no-comments from Trib’s spokesman. I kinda love that the Sun was smart enough not to make any of its own writers suffer through that process, but simply picked up the story from another Trib paper.

  • An April 2006 profile of Robert S. “Steve” Miller, the last CEO of Bethlehem Steel. Miller had moved on to Delphi Corp. by then, and the story was both a review of his tenure at the Steel and a look at what he was up to in his new gig. I never met or interviewed Miller personally, as best I can recall, and my chief memory of him is that one or two of my Morning Call colleagues insisted on referring to him as “Stevie ‘Guitar’ Miller.

  • An April 2005 story, co-written with a colleague, about Bethlehem Steel closing its Homer Research Labs in Bethlehem — once the largest research facility in the steel industry. This story included an anecdote about window coverings that still sticks in my mind as one of the funnier things I ever heard in the news business, and an exemplar of corporate stupidity. Suffice to say I have been lucky never to work for a company that has specific policies regarding window coverings.

31 matches in Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2007, in papers including the Scranton Tribune, Hazleton Standard-Speaker, Chambersburg Public Opinion, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, Lebanon Daily News, Carlisle Sentinel and Pottsville Republican: Whoops! I just assumed that the big mass of Kurt Blumenau bylines in Pennsylvania between 2002-2007 were all at my home paper, The Morning Call.

But now that I’ve filtered TMC out of the results, I see that my stories appeared in a bunch of other papers in the Keystone State during that time period. I won’t list ’em all but here are a few noteworthy examples:

  • The Wilkes-Barre paper picked up a July 2004 profile of a Middle Eastern bakery and store (with the resonant-sounding dateline “HOKENDAUQUA, PA.”) I remember this story well because the shop owners posted it behind the counter, and I would see it every time I went in, which is one of the unpaid thrills of being a journalist. I also remember that the shop made superb fresh pita bread. It was in the township where I lived; I went there fairly frequently; and indeed, the place is one of the bigger things I miss when I think of the Lehigh Valley.

  • C.F. Martin & Co., the seventh-generation (I think) guitar company famed for its high-quality instruments, is based in the Lehigh Valley. As a guitar nut, I always loved writing about them, and it didn’t hurt that company owner Chris Martin and the people who worked for him were nice, friendly people as well. Anyway, in February 2004, the company produced a bejeweled guitar as its millionth instrument, and the story and photo got pickup (no pun intended) in a number of Pennsy papers, including the Indiana Gazette, Carlisle Sentinel and Hazleton Standard-Speaker.

  • A profile of a local brewing supply shop that had a huge display of beer bottles got some pickup in eastern and central PA in May 2005, for no reason I can identify. I usually hate my own writing but the lede here was kind of cute: “Jim Mosser has hundreds of bottles of beer on his wall, hundreds of bottles of beer, but he’s not passing any around.”

  • More Rodale business in October 2006, this time a story about how the company “ghost-wrote” specialized magazines for brands such as Bloomingdale’s, Nestle and the Curves gym chain.

  • The last of the pickups came in May 2007, when — for reasons not particularly clear — the Carlisle Sentinel picked up a profile of a Bethlehem clothing boutique. Sure, why not.

My byline stopped appearing in any paper in October 2007, when I ditched the news business. I am not sure the American public is any less informed as a result.

When will you write your masterpiece?

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For no particular reason I have this song stuck in my head tonight. It was released when I was not long shy of three years old, and my parents were big fans of its creator, and for that reason I’ve probably heard it on and off for close to my entire life. My parents’ copy of the original LP is somewhere in my basement as I type this, though my vinyl collection is in such disarray that I might be up until cock’s-crow trying to find it.

I don’t think the song has anything to do with me. (I’ve tested both the narrator and the subject against my own experience, and neither set of fingerprints matches.) It’s just catchy, and it has one of the most gorgeous chiming electric piano sounds ever committed to vinyl. Here you go:

The invaluable ARSA database of local airplay charts — which you probably can’t access if you don’t have a subscription — has 13 charts on which “James” appeared.

Most were in Europe, curiously enough. The final two — from November 27 and December 4, 1976 — are from WEEX in Easton, Pennsylvania, in the glorious Lehigh Valley. I can see it as a Thanksgiving-resonant kind of song, so that makes sense.

My institutional pop-memory also reminds me that Billy Joel has confirmed that “James” was inspired by a real friend of his, and that the real-life James actually heard the song. I am blanking on James’ reaction, though — I suspect he sent Beej to Coventry but memory fails me.

Someday everything will fail me, and that’ll be a new trip.

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In unrelated news, tonight I made my first mock apple pie in more than 20 years.

We had a glut of Ritz crackers — at least 2 1/2 big boxes’ worth. The younger son gorges on them sometimes, and they go on sale sometimes, and in my effort to counterbalance these two forces, I ended up with a surplus.

Years ago, during my time at the Middlesex/MetroWest Daily News in scenic Framingham, Massachusetts, I got the urge to make a mock apple pie and bring it in to work.

I didn’t have any kids then, and I wasn’t buying Ritz crackers in bulk to soothe their snack-joneses, so I don’t know how I ended up down the mock-apple primrose path. Most likely I came across a recipe in an old cookbook and thought it sounded kicky, so I went for it.

(I am a sucker for old recipes. To this day, the biscuit recipe I make most often was contributed to a Yankee magazine cookbook in the mid-1970s by a woman from St. Johnsbury, Vermont. My second-in-line go-to biscuit recipe came from my grandmother, and God knows where she got it — maybe home-ec class in Torrington, Connecticut, 90 years ago. Did I mention I am a sucker for old recipes?)

As I recall, my co-workers thought my first mock apple pie was pretty good, and a bunch of it disappeared. Maybe even all of it. It was pretty good, in my modest estimation; it wasn’t just politeness driving the disappearance, nor the standard newsroom eat-anything hunger either.

The 2020 mock apple pie is cooling upstairs as I type this. I haven’t tried it yet. I think I nailed the flavoring, but I might not have nailed the consistency; it was kind of runny when I took it out of the oven. I am hoping it solidifies as it cools. We shall see. I’ll eat the sumbitch through a straw if it comes to that.

Of course I can’t avoid the parallel that the mock apple pie is a Depression-era recipe, and here we are in the worst economic crunch since then.

That didn’t contribute to my decision to cook one — it was just inspired by having too damn many Ritz crackers in the pantry — but the history double-major I used to be says, “Sure, why not?”

I am lucky to still be able to afford apples, and other things as well; but if the gone-dead ancestors approve of a 21st-century son stretching crackers into pie, then so much the better.

(Always with the ancestors around here. If I am graced with grandchildren or great-grands, I hope sometimes that they will approach life as if they had no predecessing bloodkin, and treat every twist in life as if it were as fresh and new as a summer’s day. Maybe they will, at that. I’ll be ashes in the ditch by then.)

Some pictures:

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Those future generations won’t get any legible recipes from me, most likely.

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When I try it, I’ll let you know what I think. No need to burn the tongue.

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While I’m on the subject, here’s the song that followed “James” on the Turnstiles album. 

I don’t think the narrator’s separation from events (“I believe I’ve passed the age / Of consciousness and righteous rage”) plays well in 2020; this is one of those Moments in Time where we’re all supposed to believe in causes, and just surviving is not a noble fight.

Anyway, Beej and his band of Long Islanders burn it down and float it out to sea on this one. Enjoy, again. Have some pie.

Fourth Friday in August.

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What to report?

I had to go to Connecticut yesterday, for only my second day in a workplace since March 13. It went fine. I burned a bunch of CDs for the car before I left but I only listened to two:

-A live recording of Minutemen playing in Los Angeles in July 1985. Twenty-two songs in 44 minutes. Funny and real and heartfelt. My first real extended exposure to these guys (why, yes, I am well into my forties) and I much dug it. Double Nickels on the Dime has to be on my dance card.

-A John Peel radio show from August 1976 devoted entirely to Soft Machine and its offshoot acts — Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Gong, and others. (I didn’t get all the way through it; I’m sure some Robert Wyatt got played as well.)

I liked this as well. I’ve stuck my toes into the Softs pool a bit, but I’m sure there’s more in there I would enjoy.

I am only just now realizing that devoting an hour of radio time to Soft Machine in summer 1976 England was probably not a tremendously hip thing to do; I’m glad Peel did it.

The other great part about this is that my CD player somehow interpreted this show to be Eric Clapton’s MTV Unplugged album — perhaps due to a few stray slide notes at the very start — and displayed that title even as Kevin Ayers was beavering away at “Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes,” a song no more likely than “Advance Australia Fair” to show up in Eric Clapton’s acoustic repertoire.

Nice guy / Meet ’em everywhere …

Right now I am listening to Sunburned Hand of the Man and I do believe I like their noises too. I may even shell out for a T-shirt. I haven’t owned too many band T-shirts in my life; that might be a topic for another blog post. Indeed.

I now have seven submitted stories in the hopper for the SABR Games Project, with two more pitched and a list of a dozen or two other candidates … and there’s plenty more looking to do. (Apparently they have quite a backlog of stories — not just mine — and not that many editors to read them. Every time I pitch a story I expect them to tell me to stop for a month so they can clear the hopper. They haven’t yet.)

Maybe it’s a pandemic thing; maybe it isn’t. It’s a new outlet and there are lots of great stories no one else has told. Why not jump on it while the urge is there?

Hell, there are very few stories in the SABR Games archive that touch the minor leagues at all — and God knows how much lunacy has gone on in the minor leagues over the past century-plus. I could do this for years.

(Suddenly and very strongly, the music of Sunburned Hand of the Man reminds me of that crappy swimmy sloshy feeling when you’ve drunk far too much and you feel like you’ve stepped off a cliff, and there’s nothing else for it but to take the day-and-a-half slow-motion ride down. This is not a physical feeling I hope to ever have again and I certainly don’t turn to music to summon it. Well, if you ever check them out, don’t start with Mind of a Brother.)

In case anyone was wondering, I completely support the strikes/boycotts/protests by professional athletes and would like to see them translate into real social justice.

I am perhaps most impressed by the actions of the Ole Miss football team, which walked out of practice. Unlike the MLB and NBA players who have walked out, these guys haven’t had any rich paydays.

Plus they’re turning their back on that whole entrenched Big Man on Campus thing, which is supposed to be part of the whole reason they came to campus. Allegedly every one of them Treasures The School Tradition And Wants To Uphold It, but they may be the first generation to declare that suiting up on Saturday is less important than what goes on in the outside world. Which is a perspective Division I college football could stand a lot more of.

Twitter tells me actor Chadwick Boseman is dead of colon cancer at 43. I am completely unfamiliar with his work, not having been in a movie theater in twelve years … but boy, that’s still crappy news. Younger than I am, too.

There have been storms. There may be more storms. I’ll stop there for now.

Chasing the hermit.

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You know you’ve been sitting in the basement too long when Todd Rundgren’s commute becomes a topic of interest.

I’d long been aware of Rundgren’s 1978 album Hermit of Mink Hollow (featuring his last solo Top 40 hit, “Can We Still Be Friends?”) and even used to own a copy.

But I’d never given it much thought until this morning, when something — a Wiki wormhole, maybe? — led me to discover that the album’s title is a reference to an actual place, Mink Hollow Road.

That’s a back road in the Woodstock area where Rundgren, having apparently tired of New York City, owned a home and operated a recording studio in the ’70s and ’80s. Hermit of Mink Hollow was recorded there, as were a number of production jobs Rundgren undertook for other artists.

(A pedantic note: The Band’s Music From Big Pink was not recorded at the Woodstock-area house known as Big Pink, but Hermit of Mink Hollow is indeed a product of Mink Hollow. Five points for truth in advertising. Also, a more extensive look at Rundgren’s connections to the Woodstock area can be read here.)

I decided to hit Google Maps to get a glimpse of Rundgren’s old neighborhood. I wasn’t especially expecting to see his former property. I don’t know the address, and in any event, I wouldn’t expect a rock-star getaway to be visible from the road.

I was more interested in the general milieu. When one of my favorite songwriters and performers got the country itch, he could have gone anywhere. So what did the place he chose look like?

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There’s nothing revelatory along Mink Hollow Road; it’s pretty much as wooded and winding as you would expect it to be. The homes visible from the street are not mansions by any stretch … though, again, if you were going to put a fancy house on a road like that, you’d probably set it back in the woods someplace.

The heavy tree canopy made me think that they’re probably no strangers to power outages in that area. I wondered if the studio had a generator; whether it’s even possible to record usable tracks with a generator roaring outside; or whether the hint of approaching thunderstorms would force Rundgren to put the lid back on the Fender Rhodes for the day.

While Mink Hollow Road is certainly a change of pace from New York City, it seems a little too out-in-the-sticks for my personal taste (not that my personal taste has any bearing on the matter, of course). It seems to have worn thin on Rundgren after a while as well, as he subsequently moved to the Bay Area and then to Hawaii.

Mink Hollow Road is located in the hamlet of Lake Hill, which is close to Bearsville. Probably the one noteworthy thing you’ll see on a Google Maps tour of Mink Hollow Road is the image screen-grabbed below, which suggests that — while Bearsville isn’t actually named for bears — you might still run into one.

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Encore Performances: … and I feel fine.

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I was reading something on the old blog from May 2011 that made me think:

One of the things that won’t happen in Pandemic America this fall are the late-night dormitory lounge bull sessions where college freshmen spread the complete nonsense they’ve learned. (Unlike other years, the risk of them spreading other things is just too great.)

The following observation came about after I attended a Red Sox game at Fenway Park on the night some nutjob group predicted the Rapture would occur. Right at the specified moment, the PA played R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.)”

While I was mentioning R.E.M.’s soundtrack to Rapture Weekend, I neglected to mention a uniquely Bostonian connection — one that contributed to my pleasure at hearing the song at Fenway Park.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, it was a popular urban legend at Boston University that the first line of the song’s second verse was “Six o’clock, TV hour / Don’t get caught in Warren Towers” — a reference to the monstrously huge BU dorm of the same name, one of the country’s largest non-military dormitories.

I never bought it, myself.
Why a bunch of guys from Georgia would refer to a dormitory in Boston never got explained well enough for my taste.
(Usually, the legend got repeated with an offhanded “They went to school here” or “They visited BU when they played in Boston.” No, they didn’t; and no, they didn’t.)

Listening to it now, it’s clear that Michael Stipe is singing “Don’t get caught in foreign towers.”
Why people had trouble understanding that 20 years ago, I have no idea.
(Worn cassettes, maybe?)

Still, it’s a fondly remembered tidbit that brings back my freshman year of college pretty sharply.

One of the great things about freshman year — especially if you go to a school that draws people from a wide geographic area — is that everyone unloads all the crap they believe is true on each other.
The kids from Long Island share their misty fourth-hand friend-of-a-friend legends with the kids from Hawaii and the kids from Chicagoland; and pretty soon there’s this vast morass of bullshit percolating in the late-night lounge sessions all over campus.

And if you get enough bullshit piled up on itself, the library starts to sink under all the weight.

But that’s another story …

Storming.

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Given how much I loathe significant storms, it would seem like reading about past severe weather events would be a poor choice for my limited free time.

But I always love it when I find a database from which I can milk quality historical content … and I have discovered another one, in the form of the NOAA’s monthly Storm Data publications.

(Previous collections that have sent me off onto similar jags include the U.S. Board on Geographic Names‘ quarterly reports on place-name decisions, and a database of past issues of the Maine Department of Inline Fisheries and Game’s “Field Notes” publication.)

Back to the NOAA: Every month it publishes, or maybe published, a state-by-state roundup of punishing or unusual weather events. Fifty or so years of these reports can be read online, for free, here.

I am not sure as I read whether to take them with a pessimistic or optimistic slant. The pessimistic slant is that man’s doings sure seem to get torn up by Mother Nature, over and over and over again. The optimistic view is that it hasn’t yet stopped people from coming back. (Maybe we just haven’t learned.)

The other lesson I take from these reports is not to move into a mobile home unless I absolutely have to, as enough mobile homes get crushed, tossed and toppled in these reports to stock a whole series of weather-horror movies.

I’ll feed the blog-beast tonight with a couple samples of unusual weather taken (not always word for word) from these reports. If I wanted to go for audience participation I’d spike the list with one or two fake ones and see if you could pick them out. But audience participation never really flies around here, so I’ll stick to the truth.

November 10, 1975: The NOAA report of a statewide windstorm in Michigan begins with the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. The report goes on to total up other, less celebrated damage from that storm — including six pleasure boats damaged or sunk; two men swept off a pier and drowned at Grand Haven; widespread damage to signs, trees, windows, roofs and antennas; and damage or destruction to 12 mobile homes or trailers, nine business buildings, four barns, two campers, a tractor-trailer, a light plane, a smokestack and a church steeple. (Does any man know where the love of God goes?)

October 28, 1975: Concentrated heavy rainfall of up to six inches causes flooding in Orange and Seminole counties, Florida, submerging cars. One motorist “got out of his Volkswagon when it began to float and pushed it out of the water.” God bless the Volkswagen Beetle. Could you do that with any car on the road now?

February 2, 1982: Lightning causes a fire at a large barn in Oskaloosa County, Florida, that is being used for the commercial sale of crickets. Damage to the property totals $100,000. Destroyed are several tons of feed, equipment, tools, a trailer, and about one million crickets.

February 3, 1982: A man south of Jackson and Port Huron, Michigan, is shot (non-fatally) in an argument over snow removal following several heavy storms.

Oct. 12-13, 1981: Heavy rains of up to 20 inches cause flash flooding in Cooke County, Texas. The Gainesville Zoo is flooded, causing the deaths of several animals. Gerry, the zoo’s elephant, is swept downstream by flood waters but lodges in a tree and holds his trunk above water for 36 hours until he is rescued.

September 1, 1974: A 15-year-old boy in Soso, Mississippi, is severely injured on the left side of his face and suffers eardrum damage when lightning strikes a line while he is talking on the telephone.

(Similar cases of injuries suffered by telephone users during thunderstorms are scattered throughout these monthly reports. This representative sample is included just to remind us all that, however much 2020 might suck, there are aspects of life in today’s world that are much improved over how they used to be.)

September 9, 1974: Lightning strikes a farm field south of Battle Creek, Nebraska. The NOAA sums up the damage thusly: “A few beans were burned.”

October 19-20, 1974: Heavy snowfall results in widespread power outages in the Erie, Pennsylvania, area. The NOAA description of the storm’s only fatality begs to be reprinted in full: “One man, startled by a neighbor who knocked at his door to inquire about the storm, jumped through a window and was severely cut, but ran several blocks before collapsing and dying.” What, now?

November 11, 1974: A disastrous storm featuring heavy winds and a tidal wave results in damage to a city-owned reindeer corral in Shaktoolik, Alaska.

May 19, 1980: A tornado touches down at the Gulfview School in Waveland, Mississippi. A half-million dollars of damage is done to the school, but no injuries are reported in the school’s gym, where eighth-grade graduation ceremonies are in progress.

December 20-22, 1973: A $200,000 “inflated runner track stadium” at Harvard University is flattened in a windstorm. (Not quite sure what that means.)

July 31, 1971: After a tornado sweeps through Turner, Maine, the occupant of a destroyed mobile home finds himself running through a field with minor cuts and bruises and no memory of how he got there.

July 24, 1971: Lightning burns an abandoned building “frequented by vagrants” in Guilford County, North Carolina; one person is killed and another critically injured. Sucks when you’ve lost everything and the lightning finds you.

August 19, 1978: Up to 10 inches of rain falls in the headquarters area of White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, causing flash flooding. The NOAA reports extensive damage to buildings “and to much sophisticated electronic equipment, including computers.”

October 25, 1980: Afternoon winds of up to 50 mph take down power lines, starting house fires, in the Rochester, N.Y., area. Uprooted trees block roads, and thousands are without electricity for hours. I would have been seven years old; wonder if I noticed or was affected by this.

I could go on, and maybe another time I will, but the hour grows late.

(I will sleep tonight, if you were wondering, under light rain and patchy fog, with an overnight low of 61 degrees and a northeast wind of 8 mph. It does not sound like I will end up in this month’s NOAA report. Or, at least, not tonight.)