’22 in review.

Usually I write my end-of-year wrapup post after the last run of the year. If all goes well I should have one more run left, two days from now … but I’m gonna write tonight anyway. It doesn’t matter.

So what happened around here this year?

Changing the blog’s template: Oui, I sure did that thing. It isn’t any better-looking, but it’s different, and I guess that’s what counts.

Quitting Twitter and Instagram: D-U-N, done. I miss some people, and maybe a few of them miss me, but I’m sure no one’s weeping in their cider.

I still find myself reaching for a phone or turning to a screen for entertainment too often. I’m hopeful I can reduce that habit in 2023 and redirect my eyes toward … I dunno, books or somethin’.

Watching baseball: I went to Fenway Park and to three new-to-me parks — Polar Park in Worcester, Fitton Field in Worcester, and Holman Stadium in Nashua, New Hampshire. Much enjoyed them all. There was also the usual round of frigid small-college action in March or so.

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Writing about baseball: Another new stack of SABR Games Project stories went live this year, and I will expand the writing into two new areas in 2023 unless the world interferes.

I’m working on my first biography article, of a former umpire; it would probably be submitted by now except that the Biography Project takes a holiday break. And I am slated to have pieces published as part of two planned SABR books this coming year. I think it will be a first for me to have my crap captured permanently between covers, so that’s kinda cool. I will, I’m sure, splooge at length about this when it finally comes to pass.

Listening to music: I tended more than anything to cruise the Internet Archive, looking for either (a) out-of-print obscure vinyl that people have ripped to digital, or (b) totally well-known in-print albums that people shouldn’t have posted there but did anyway. I found some of both. So there wasn’t one artist that owned my 2022, but a smattering of what-next, including a reasonably healthy quotient of classical. I also spent a bunch of my Tuesday nights listening to the Frow Show, on New Jersey’s legendary freeform station WFMU.

Watching music: Yes! There was finally some of that, as a couple of pop mini-festivals involving various Boston-area bands came to my favorite abandoned mental hospital, and I went out to see them in the company of two dozen of my new best friends. It was fun, and it’s what I suspect my future live music-watching will look like.

The hospital is being eyed for substantial redevelopment, but part of it will be an arts center, so I’m hoping I can keep going there in the summer to see the Doug McClanahan Band or the Bronzed Yucatecan Deathbuttocks or whoever.

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Playing music: There were two Bandcamp releases, the second of which I managed to slip onto WBCA, the little, municipally operated Boston radio station.

(I periodically check an airplay tracking site to see if my krap has been played. A few nights ago I checked the site and discovered that one of my songs had only just started playing. I was able to get to the WBCA site and actually hear most of the song being streamed. So I can tell you firsthand that the stuff actually gets played … even if I have no concrete proof that anybody’s listening.)

Running: The leg problems that sidelined me for a decent chunk of October and November seem to have (knock wood) subsided. I have run 795.2 miles this year, which is Boston to Washington, D.C. and back again, plus a couple miles.

If something doesn’t start growling again two days from now, there is half a chance I will end the year at or above 800 — which, according to this site, would be the equivalent of running from Boston to my old sorta-stomping grounds of Bath, New York, in the Finger Lakes, and back again.

(Edit, December 30: Made it! Ran 6.9 miles today to close the year at 802.1 miles.)

I am insanely grateful to be running at all after my break, and rather shocked to discover that I outpaced last year, when I only did 688.3 miles.

The year also included a torturefest half-marathon and four 5Ks of widely varying quality and speed.

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Getting COVID: I did, over the summer.

Anything else?: The baseball card thing slowed a little bit, I think, though I expanded the collection by buying two boxes of Japanese cards. No really noteworthy traveling except for a nice day trip to Cape Cod and a nice three-day leaf-peeping trip to Vermont and New Hampshire.

Coming attractions: At least one major family milestone and some travel are on the horizon for 2023. The diddley bow spent most of 2022 in pieces, but I have just very recently reassembled it, and five will get you 10 that the world hears something from it in 2023 (if the world chooses to listen, anyway.)

Oh, yeah: I set a goal at the end of December 2021 to eat an order of fried clams in the new year. Never did get to that. Maybe I’ll carry that over to 2023. Or, y’know, this year’s not over yet…

You gave me central heating.

The storm is off my radar screen, at least for the immediate time being, and through the blessings of fate a quiet home-style Chrimbus Eve is unfolding.

I am deeply grateful not to be in, say, Buffalo, which appears to be getting an ungodly crippling once-in-a-lifetime snow and wind storm that refuses to let up.

Nor, for that matter, am I in the big ice-blue swath that seems to encompass everything from Laramie to Chillicothe. (Wind chill values will reach 16 degrees tonight in Nolan Ryan’s hometown of Refugio, Texas.)

It is bitter outside here in Massachusetts … but I am not outside unless I want to be, and by and large, all systems are go.

At some point soon — maybe after stepping outside for a quick, bracing stab to the lungs — I will gather the “kids” and perform the now-standard annual reading of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, replete with absurd mispronunciations honed over time (and probably rooted in long-ago surfeits of ale — see, they were good for something!) 

The naturally unfolding arc of time will end this December tradition, sooner than later.

Not this year, though.

I hope all my readers (both my readers? there aren’t that many) will stay warm, will find a few smiles in this Christmas season, and will not be dealt more than they can handle. That seems like a gift in itself.

To the moon!

We’re pretty much gonna get pasted by a storm two days before Christmas and I do not fancy that.

On the bright side, the future of rocketry is taking shape in the town next door to me.

I went over to the old mental hospital and its adjacent athletic fields for a walk this afternoon (I’m off work this week, at least for now) and came across evidence that model rocketeers had recently been at play there.

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A kid who lived in my childhood subdivision was into model rocketry, and we spent some time in his sprawling back yard shooting stuff into the air and seeing where it landed — or, sometimes, where it hung suspended.

We also built model rockets one year in elementary school, near the end of the year, so we could fire them off at a field day and see what became of them. (A correctly built model rocket should follow a predictable trajectory, I would imagine, so I’m not sure we were supposed to learn anything from the actual firing. I’m guessing the lessons were in the construction process.)

I was sick on field day so my rocket, painted black and green, didn’t get fired. But since I knew a hobby rocketeer, I simply brought it over to his house, and he set it off.

It suffered some damage upon re-entry … that is, I’d wound the parachute too tightly, so the rocket approached Earth at an injudicious speed, and one or two of the fins snapped off. The rocket remained in the household collection of kidcrap for a while, until being swept out on a tide of cleaning. I did not pursue rocket science as a career.

I can’t recall seeing rockets at these athletic fields before. But on my way out I saw — some distance from the first rocket — two other signs that some kid had been shooting the moon.

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Three abandoned rockets, unfortunately, are just enough to make somebody in an affluent town piss and moan about litter in public spaces.

I find model rocketry charming, and I shouldn’t like to see the town fathers restrict it, so I hope whoever’s been setting these off does a little better job figuring out where they come down. Unlike Wernher von Braun, they won’t get away with “that’s not my department.”

Changing words while the ink is still tacky.

As part of my next baseball history writing assignment, I’ve spent a bunch of time chasing a long-dead guy named Luther through a variety of available records and documents. Another couple days and I’ll know what he ordered for lunch in 1944.

As a result of this immersion, I’ve been reminded of this Elvis Costello obscurity, which I’ve been singing to myself all day.

(I suspect my vinyl copy of Taking Liberties might be scratched; it might be time to spring for it in digital form. It’s one of those outtakes-and-B-sides compilations that’s better than a lot of people’s regular albums.)

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My SABR writing is fast approaching the size of an actual body of work. Not sure how that happened … like kung fu fighting, it’s a little bit frightening. There’s a honkin’ big stack of stuff yet to come, too.

(Because SABR is a volunteer organization, and because it believes strongly in accuracy, it takes several months for stories to get fact-checked, copy-edited, and posted. From time to time I get notified that one of my stories from the pile has been assigned to a fact-checker, and I think, “Oh, yeah, I remember that one.” I’m pleased to report that James Neamon Hutto‘s moment of big-league glory should be along in the new year, as will stories featuring James Michael Curley, Richard Cardinal Cushing, and, possibly, Alice Cooper.)

Anyway, if anyone out there wants to get lost in baseball arcana, the collected works are here.

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Tonight’s online rave is the Prelinger Library. I associated the Prelinger name with ephemeral films, but it turns out they’ve hoisted a bunch of interesting books and publications to the Internet Archive as well.

The Prelinger Library includes at least two government-agency postmortems on the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. In accordance with my personal and semi-professional fascination with nuclear power, I’ve spent some time tonight squinting at them with great interest.

(Somehow I remain a supporter of nuclear power, even after reading these reports on how the trained, experienced professional operators of TMI thoroughly misread and mishandled the situation, based in part on malfunctions in systems and instrumentation.)

The New England edition of the November 12, 1955, TV Guide is there, too, and that’s good for a few laffs:

  • I think I would have left my copy face-down on top of the set all week, rather than keep seeing the grinning coverboy.
  • Page Three notes that Esther Williams is in talks to play a dramatic role, but the right role hasn’t turned up yet. Hmmm, wonder why.
  • As regards the coverboy, TV Guide notes: “He sings! He dances! He makes love!” Uhhhhh … he does what, now?
  • Page 11 and Page 21 have info on an unusual new program on New York’s WBCA. Apparently the station wraps up its broadcast day with a five-minute “show” in which a young actress climbs into bed, stretches, and nods off. Would I have watched that in 1955? Yeah, probably. (Would I have watched that thirty years later, when I was staring at early-morning TV? Also, yes.)
  • Page A1, visible in the Page 11 link above, notes that Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn will return to the airwaves every third Saturday, hosting services on Temple Israel. Ah, the televised religious service.
  • A2 has the sports for the week and I’m immediately drawn to the Boston College-Boston University football game. Once upon a time they competed on more or less even turf. Over the years, BC went big and BU went small; in 1997, BU went bye-bye. (I went to one BU football game in four years. It was raining. James Madison won.)
  • I could easily wise-ass my way through the week’s programming, but it’s worth reading for yourself — from Winky Dink and You … to Chance of a Lifetime (“James Courtland is again the champion,” TV Guide summarizes, and now why do I need to watch?) … to a harvest festival parade of teenagers in New Haven (there’s a harvest in New Haven?) … to Webb Pierce and Lefty Frizzell on Ozark Jubilee (on Channel 9 from Cow Hampshire, natch) … to Leo Durocher guest-starring on George Gobel’s show … to Herbert Hoover Talk (“Herbert Hoover is seen in an hour-long conversation with his old friend Roy Henle”) … to Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour with “a special tribute to flood-stricken Winsted, Conn.” to … oh, hell, just read it. The past is an interesting place.
  • Page A19 has Amos n’ Andy showing on Channel 12 from Providence. Fnargh.
  • Time bombs! Spy rings! Females! Page A24!

That seems like as good a place to stop typing as any.

December 15, 1972: Joys of Christmas.

We continue the PAST LIFEs series, in which we revisit the last few months of LIFE magazine, issue by issue, on the 50th anniversary of its departure. This issue — December 15, 1972 — is the second-to-last. You can read along online here if you want. Pretty sure my grandpa didn’t save this one.

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OK, so the last person on LIFE’s cover during its original run turns out to be the baby Jesus. The second-to-last was Diana Ross. An innaresting combination.

(The final issue of the original LIFE is a year-in-review double issue, printed two weeks after this one, whose cover is a montage of words — including, tucked in at a bottom corner, “goodbye.” I might revisit it for the blog; I might not.)

New York Life takes a page for “A Christmas Prayer,” and I guess if LIFE has given its cover to the baby Jesus it might as well stick with the Christian thing all the way through the book. The prayer calls for men to overcome what divides them; it reminds me in obscure ways of “The Desiderata.”

A half-page ad for pipes says, “You’ve been meaning  to smoke a pipe. No other smoke gives you the same peace of mind.”  I’ll take two. Always liked the smell of pipe tobacco — in fact, I like the smell of just about any tobacco — though I don’t encounter tobacco smoke very often any more, and pipe tobacco basically never. I miss it, but not to the point where I’ll take up smoking it.

Norelco weighs in with its own batch of stocky, multi-headed electric razors. I bought my last electric razor maybe 10 or 15 years ago; somehow it miraculously went missing about two weeks later and I never bought another one. It’s been one long blade-edge since then.

Marlboro cigarettes use a small-town snowy sunset photo called “Peace” as its ad art. Tucked away in small type is an offer for copies of “Peace,” suitable for framing, for just 25 cents to cover shipping and handling. Write to “Peace,” Box 9827, St. Paul, Minnesota. I wonder who owns the rights to that post office box now, and what would happen if I sent them a quarter and a note saying, “If you have any more copies of ‘Peace’ laying around…” It would be a fun experiment, just to see who responded, but I won’t.

The mag proper opens with a series of photos of Bethlehem — not Pennsylvania, that other Bethlehem — presented without copy or captions. They’re pretty cool; I didn’t have much of a sense of what one might see in the original Bethlehem so it was all new to me.

Borden and Bacardi collaborate on an ad, urging America to combine quart cans of Borden egg nog with hearty slugs of Bacardi rum. It would take a whole bunch of added booze to get me to drink egg nog from a can.

Conoco takes a two-page ad to reprint a lengthy chunk of an address on America’s Energy Future given by its chairman and CEO. A copy of the full text is available by writing Conoco, High Ridge Park, Stamford, Connecticut. I wonder what’s at that address nowadays too. Google Maps tells me that High Ridge Park is six minutes and 2.5 miles away from 1107 Hope Street in current (Sunday afternoon) driving conditions.

Colgate toothpaste takes an interesting ad: It is, allegedly, the toothpaste of choice for etiquette expert Amy Vanderbilt. Sure, why not. Sherwin-Williams gets into the holiday spirit by urging people  to “gift-wrap a room” with wallpaper, paint, tiling, shelves, etc. Yup, let’s do the major house projects at Christmastime. Great idea.

(This reminds me that, during a hardware store run this morning, there was a table selling Girl Scout cookies. Do the young ladies usually sell cookies at this time of year? I don’t remember them doing so, and it seems like a questionable proposition, as they’re competing with an ocean of homemade December cookies. I don’t need any more cookies than the ones my family is likely to make. Anyway.)

“22 Years Ago in LIFE,” the main story featured dejected, freezing American soldiers in retreat in Korea. One can feel the winter wind just looking at the photos. Nineteen seventy-two reinjects itself on the next page with an ad for the movie Pete n’ Tillie, featuring a shirtless, hat-wearing Walter Matthau playing the piano. His Oscar for that role got lost in the same place as my electric razor, I think.

Ronrico rum takes an ad prominently featuring egg nog. I’ll take bourbon in mine, thanks, and not that flavorless Four Roses nonsense. Time-LIFE gives itself an ad for its The Cooking of China book series, promising: “Vast China offers not just one delicious cooking style … but four.” Somehow I think there’s probably more than that … I mean, there are probably four cooking styles in Pennsylvania.

LIFE seemed to pay a fair amount of attention to Broadway, but heck, maybe America did too. Back to the “22 Years Ago,” we see shots from the Broadway opening of Guys and Dolls. My failure to appreciate the the-ay-ter is well-documented.

This could be a reasonably creative week for ads: Remington brings back Fifties teen idol Edd Byrnes to promote something called the Mist-Air Hot Comb. You can practically imagine the ad-agency meeting where they coughed up the idea, but it’s silly and self-aware enough to work.

Photographer Leonard McCombe stops by with a package of photos from previous Christmases on his Long Island farm. (This photographing, it pays nicely, I guess.) The caption mentions that the photos were taken over several Christmases, which reminds me that every photo in this issue — or at least every photo with snow, lights, and/or hanging stockings — must be at least a year old and possibly more.

Apparently the McCombes captured their Christmas dinner in their own dooryard by throwing a net over a goose. That’s … a fresh goose. I like the crepuscular shot of his son hanging the old, bulby, energy-hoggy Christmas lights up on a bare tree in the yard. I also like the photo of his son playing “a roaring, out-of-season Take Me Out to the Ballgame on his tuba” for the benefit of an ill neighbor. Now that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

The McCombes’ Christmas ends with an accordion. Will yours?

W.C. Fields’ nephew writes about his celebrated uncle’s dislike for Christmas. I get a few polysyllabic words into Fields’ grumbling and keep moving. Remington promotes its bulky electric razors with a photo of a guy using one — wearing a shirt with massive collars and a seasonal holly-berry pattern. All I can say is, any man who would wear a shirt that stylish deserves a great shave to go with it.

Joseph Wambaugh gets a full page of advertisement for his new novel, which is an interesting break from electric razors and holiday-wrapped booze.

LIFE presents a list of events that have happened on Christmas Day … a listicle before such things have a name. Then they reproduce a medieval monk’s fanciful tales of Jesus, accompanied by 14th-century illustrations, and for a moment they ascend to the sort of lofty cultural perch usually occupied by public television. The story rather goes on, just as some public-minded PBS shows tend to do, until a garish ad for diamonds brings you back to 1972.

A spread on “Goodwill to Men” spotlights Americans who have kept the spirit of Christmas alive all year by performing selfless good deeds for others. From a thematic standpoint, it smacks of scope creep — gotta fill those double issues with something — but the examples are genuine enough.

Your Investor-Owned Public Light and Power Companies tout new electric-powered garbage collection systems: Drop a hot dog wrapper into one of these specialized systems, and a 60-mile-per-hour air stream will whisk it off into a giant bundle. This is presented as a great public service, sorta downplaying the fact that (a) an air-carried trash system seems like a massive electricity suck; and (b) there is nothing about an air-carried trash system that intrinsically makes people more likely to put their trash there, rather than on the sidewalk.

Christmas — or Natividad — in Mexico gets a scant two pages of photos, most of them small; I would have been interested in more and larger.

More booze and smokes later, LIFE comes up with another interesting idea: It gives children’s toys to creative adults and sees what they come up with. Car customizer George Barris gets a dozen toy model kits; Frederico Fellini gets an FAO Schwarz “Deluxe Disguise Kit;” the former head of the Yale School of Architecture gets a whole bunch of Legos. This is not essential journalism but it holds its piquancy for the brief moment it stays on the palate.

Puerto Rico rums (all of them working jointly, I guess) offer a decorative scroll about the history of egg nog, perfect for your home or bar. Must … ignore … photos of … egg nog.

Boy, LIFE’s really busting out the silly ideas: Next comes a spread of baked Christmas art — some edible, some not — created by the likes of Julia Child. The nice thing about this kind of story idea is you can put it together in April or May if you plan far enough ahead. The spread includes stained-glass cookies, which look particularly cool in a particularly ’70s sort of way.

We were probably overdue to see some Average Americans again, and so we get 20 years of photos of Stephanie Yeno of Van Nuys, California, sitting on the laps of department-store Santas.

Famous artistes are invited to photograph dolls and the results are creepy, particularly the GI Joe medevac scene and the closing shot in the doll hospital.

OK, now this is interesting: Just when I’d decided that every essay, column and creative-writing exercise in LIFE was flapdoodle, along comes Philip Kunhardt with a Christmas story worth reading.  The massive spruce tree in which Kunhardt liked to play as a child in New Jersey was cut down and trucked to Rockefeller Center one Christmas. The story retells his adventures in the tree, and his youthful heartbreak at its departure.

Crow Light, another of those damned flavorless whiskeys, at least comes in a box with a colorful bulging-circle pattern that resembles a disco ball on the verge of explosion. You’d probably see all sorts of great visual illusions on that box after about five bottles of Crow Light.

“About the best thing a kid can get at Christmas is something that moves,” the next piece begins, and …. sorry, no. But for holiday cuteness, little kids meeting a little puppy is guaranteed to play in Peoria, and that’s what we get here. The pup is an Airedale, the kids are in California, the photos are unremarkable.

LIFE runs a graphic showing the 1972 cost of the twelve gifts from “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Yes, I do believe this could have been a single issue.

Writer Dora Hamblin chronicles her long tradition of trudging back to her family home in Bedford, Iowa, every Christmas, no matter where she happens to be. I go to Newspapers dot com and find an article from the Des Moines Tribune of January 5, 1973, that mentions the recent LIFE piece — and admits that Hamblin was actually not able to get home at Christmas 1972, though she’d gotten there at Thanksgiving.

The Des Moines article also says that Hamblin was “completely unprepared for the collapse of the magazine,”  having thought LIFE had gotten through its worst challenges. There’s been no mention of that in this issue, has there? (Other things absent from this issue include letters, reviews, Managing Editor Ralph Graves’ column, anything to do with Richard Nixon, and Hanukkah.)

The American Gas Association takes out an ad explaining that natural gas wells, formerly a mile deep, now have to be drilled five miles deep. This is intended as an explanation of why the cost of gas is going up. Left unstated is the obvious conclusion: If we have to chase the stuff into the bowels of the earth, maybe we should find some other source of energy instead.

Finally (I think) LIFE dishes out a spread of photos on “Christmas present” — or, at least, American Christmas 1971, from coast to coast (though heavier on New York and California than elsewhere), in all its joyfulness and vulgarity and quietude and garishness and whatever.

In a gallery of Santa Clauses, Santa is shown eating “a counter dinner” in New Orleans, which I love. The phrase “a counter dinner in New Orleans” could mean anything from a greasy, keep-you-up-all-night tuna melt to a soul-sustaining cup of gumbo. I wonder which one Santa ended up with.

A Yogi Bear punchbag sits next to a Christmas tree in what appears to be a bare, well-waxed school hallway; it turns out to be the cellblock of a juvenile detention facility in Michigan. Motor-driven lights spin circles around a tree in California; a bare strand of bulbs decorates a tumbledown shack in North Carolina.

A homeless man, collar turned up, awaits a free holiday dinner in the Bowery. A pair of poles strung with Christmas lights lurk in a watery, dusky, barren bayou near Vicksburg, Mississippi. The image is “fragile and pure as a child’s dream of Christmas,” the caption says … but it’s more eerie than it is idyllic, setting down familiar trappings in new, harsh, unpromising terrain.

For one last time, America’s photo magazine is firing on all cylinders (or all shutters) again.

And there’s an ad for booze, and an ad for smokes, and that’s it.

You and your history won’t ruin me.

Listening to “Slip Kid” and remembering when I identified with the 13-year-old, and not the 63-year-old.

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Went out walking in the dark — it gets dark at about 4:15 hereabouts, and yesterday was the earliest sunset of the year. Anyway, I passed a woman with a flashlight out walking her dog.

“Summer, come!” she hissed.

“Ah, if only it were that easy,” I thought.

(Only 66 days until pitchers and catchers report.)

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I have two weeks of December hellcrunch at work leading up to a week off. This past week was the first one. All things considered, it went pretty well. All the planes that were scheduled to land, landed, and on the correct runways, even.

We retain hope for next week.

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My wife is listening to the books-on-tape version of Bono’s autobiography (you will forgive me for continuing to think of them as “books on tape”) on the days she is required to travel to and from the office.

I hold no great reverence for Mr. Hewson, so each day I ask things like: “Has he gotten to the point where he goes up to Billy Gibbons and says, ‘Please, Mr. Gibbons, it would be the honour of a lifetime if you would deign to notice my meager presence,’ and Billy Gibbons hits him over the head with a Mexican combo plate and starts laughing maniacally and playing ‘Cheap Sunglasses‘?”

Suffice to say that my version of Bono’s biography is considerably more entertaining than the real thing … to me, anyway.

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Probably gonna make some more-or-less Boston baked beans this weekend. I give in to the urge maybe two or three times a year. I’ve got the beans, I’ve got the molasses, I’ve got the onion, I’ve got the pork product. Why wait?

December 8, 1972: Home husband and babies.

We continue the PAST LIFEs series, in which we revisit the last few months of LIFE magazine, issue by issue, on the 50th anniversary of its departure. There’s this one, and then there’s two more.

We are up to the issue of December 8, 1972, which can be read here if you want to see what I’m talking about. This is not one of the issues my grandfather saved; I’ve never seen it before today.

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Presumably, Diana Ross’s agent (and maybe Miss Ross too) wants to put some distance between her real-life self and the junk- and pain-wracked Billie Holiday she is currently portraying onscreen in Lady Sings the Blues … and so we’ll get a spread this week of “home husband and babies.”

Also, I once again can’t accuse LIFE editors of writing what today would be called clickbait headlines. I’m pretty sure that this same headline in 2022 would simply be “A U.S. pilot faces his last mission,” or maybe even “A U.S. pilot’s final mission — will he make it home?”

It’s a given in 2022 that a little suspense or drama boosts readership. But LIFE editors in ’72 were content to give away the store and let us know that he’d be getting home again.

Anyway, here we go.

Two pages of Polaroid ad; two pages of Zenith television ad. The latter brings back memories: There was an appliance shop in the Rochester of my boyhood called Hill TV, locally celebrated for its earnest, wooden advertisements (whose unvarying backing music I can still hum to this day.) Its owner also owned a minor-league pro basketball team that he named the Rochester Zeniths in honor of his core product line.

The store, the ads, the team, and the TVs are all long gone.

Managing Editor Ralph Graves teases next week’s issue. Apparently LIFE has thought for years about doing a special Christmas-themed issue, but the idea always comes up too late to act on. Last year somebody finally set the wheels in motion at an appropriate time, and as a result, LIFE will finally present the Christmas issue of its dreams.

Incidentally, a visit to Newspapers dot com confirms that LIFE staffers were told about the magazine’s impending shutdown on December 7. This issue would have been put to bed by then. I’ll have to wait and see whether the Christmas special issue makes reference to it.

Good news, ladies: “The Beat of LIFE” begins with a mention that female U.S. Navy personnel have been cleared to serve as regular sailors, not just as nurses and secretaries. Less-good news: The lead photo still manages to capture a woman sailor with her arse to the camera and as much of her legs exposed as possible, in the classic LIFE fashion. (The explanation? A conveniently slippery gangway.)

A photographer follows Sherpas as they haul up supplies for a base camp on Mount Everest; the shots, while scanned in sideways for the online magazine, are impressive if you turn your head 90 degrees.

We then move to Camp David, where news reporters covering President Nixon are denied access to the camp and forced to use telephones set up on picnic tables under plastic sheeting in the rain. Cry me a river.

Editorials about Nixon rearranging his administration and property tax improvements follow. My opinion of editorials in general has plunged about as low as my opinion of White House reporters, and these don’t help.

Just ’cause you buy ink by the gallon doesn’t mean your institutional opinion (which at best means the opinion of two or three middle-aged white men at the top of the masthead, and at worst means the opinion of the guy who signs their checks) is worth using that ink to print.

Old Spice advertises decanters of cologne shaped like telescopes and cannons. “Tell him to keep the bottle – it could be worth plenty in a few years,” the ad counsels. This appears to be the same advertising approach used by the 2022 incarnation of LIFE magazine, which exists solely to churn out “Collector’s Edition” magazines, for sale at a checkout line near you, about the likes of Van Halen.

Four Roses is still promoting itself as “underwhelming,” and our editorial position here at Neck Pickup is that we will be glad to see the end of that misbegotten pitch. The ad does remind me, though, that it’s just about the season to make bourbon balls. I have of late been torn between the urge to make batches of cookies higgledy-piggledy, and the knowledge that I am not at present able to run off the resulting calories.

GE advertises electric appliances for the woman who cooks and irons but also does stuff like go for bicycle rides. I find the approach charming, even if half the appliances in question are still beauty-based. One step at a time, I guess.

Chevy advertises a new Camaro for 1973 called the LT, for Luxury Touring. Who buys a fastback Camaro to do luxury touring is beyond me; you buy something like a Monte Carlo or an Impala to do that.

The pic is shot at Zuma Beach, which makes me think of Neil Young, and also of that one line in the Stones’ “Some Girls.” (No, not that one line in the Stones’ “Some Girls.”)

Book reviewer Selma G. Lanes raves about the detail-intensive illustrations of Nancy Ekholm Burkert, which accompany a newly issued translation by Randall Jarrell of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Jarrell, a superb poet, had been dead for seven years at that point, but if his translation waited for the right visual accompaniment, it seems to have been worth the wait.)

Fruit of the Loom men’s briefs! I remember those. Never stopped to think much about what a gorgeously daffy name Fruit of the Loom is. It has as little to do with the product as … I dunno … Grape Nuts.

Next to ads for freeze-dried Sanka and the Plymouth Duster, my favo(u)rite TV critic sings the praises of the BBC as it marks its 50th anniversary. Cyclops doesn’t entirely laud Auntie Beeb: He points out that Americans tend to see their best stuff, and they also make a lot of trash. This is not a bad deal for Americans, though, who regularly see Beeb productions that clean the clock of almost everything produced here.

A Schick ad promotes its SuperSharp electric razor. This is the kind of implement I remember my maternal grandpa (the guy who got me on this LIFE kick) having — a chunky, buzzing fistful of plastic and metal. The design looks like it could double as a 16-story building in any third-rank city in the U.S.; I catch myself mentally picturing where in Allentown’s street grid I would insert a Schick Building.

Richard Schickel drills the movie version of 1776, which I’ve never seen but probably wouldn’t like either. He closes by hoping that its “tawdry historical sensibility” will not set the tone for the upcoming Bicentennial celebration. I don’t think it did, although I’m a touch too young to remember myself.

Garry Wills lauds David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, expressing the hope that it will save America from its best and its brightest. I don’t think I’ve ever read it; it sounds like the kind of thing well worth it if I find a gracefully worn 50-cent paperback at a library booksale. (One of the nicest things in post-pandemic America is the return of the library booksale.)

Oh, here’s a new advertiser: Cox, maker of motorized model planes, urges America’s fathers to “Fight a duel in the sky. It will make you better friends than ever.”  The reader is urged to “pit your flying skill against your boy’s” (we all know the skies are no place for a girl!) using Cox’s model Sopwith Camels and Fokkers.

It’s likeable enough, and it might have been fun … but at the same time, it summons the idea of a vast and urgent yearning among American fathers to be liked by their sons, and the thought of that unfillable national chasm makes me a little sad.

My own father and older brother participated in a program called Indian Guides when my brother was young — if it still exists today, it presumably goes by another name. For years afterward my father wore an old Indian Guides T-shirt with a slogan that went something like, “Fathers and Sons: Pals Forever,” or maybe “Fathers and Sons: Friends Forever.”  When I cared to think about it, the slogan touched me with its … naivete? Innocence? Fathers and sons aren’t friends or pals. They’re fathers and sons. The connection is more complex than that.

(This is not, incidentally, a criticism of my father. They gave him a T-shirt and he wore it holey, probably without thinking deeply about what it said. I do the same.)

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Being who I am, of course I had to go digging for visual proof. My dad wore this shirt forever, and it stuns me that I can’t find a full frontal picture of it. If you squint you can see the words “Father and Son” above the arrowhead, and the tail end of “Forever” poking in below it. The gent at right is the grandfather who saved the LIFE magazines and owned the beefy electric razors. This photo suggests they were doing a fine job.

Back to the magazine. Fleischmann’s is selling its blended whiskey in holiday gift boxes whose patterns would have made groovy wallpaper. I would need a bottle (at 90 proof) to get through the adjoining “Comment” column, another of William Zinsser’s attempts at humor — this time, a parody of the family Christmas letter. Maybe in 1972 that wasn’t the howling cliche it seems like now.

A full-page ad promotes the Fire Islander, a line of acrylic-plus-polyester doubleknit clothing, and I once again wonder whether this is a zoned ad for the Northeast, or whether they were pitching the Fire Islander to readers in Omaha and Coeur d’Alene. (If the former, I wonder what ran in other editions?)

United Airlines advertises its first-class dinner menu, and I wonder how many Alaskan king crabs gave their glorious legs for the dubious purpose of being served on airline flights. United also offers a “Poor Boy Sandwich, Garni,” which is not a New Orleans-style po’ boy but rather turkey, salami, ham and Swiss.

This issue’s cover date — December 8, 1972 — was coincidentally the day that a United Airlines flight crashed on an aborted landing in Chicago, killing 45 people, including a U.S. Congressman, an up-and-coming Black female TV journalist, and the wife of White House dirty-trickster E. Howard Hunt.

“33 Years Ago in LIFE,” Betty Grable in Du Barry Was a Lady gets the cover, and at least semi-leggy young women imitating Al Capp characters get big inside play. My wife went through a stage of interest in Li’l Abner and still has a bunch of the books. For the most part the appeal was lost on me, and Al Capp himself was kind of a disagreeable article.

Two Letters drub LIFE for its dreadful cover photo of Richard Nixon, while a third suggests that the cover question — what he’ll do with his big win — is easily answered: “He will exercise the ancient Latin of get even — Soc et tuem.”  As humor in LIFE goes, that’s pretty good.

LIFE’s look at the hijinks of typical NYC boy Brian Sullivan draws criticism from one reader who basically calls young Brian an undersupervised brat. Another writer, Sharon Smith of Los Angeles, asks simply: “I enjoyed your article about a boy growing up in a big city, but what’s it like for a girl?” Ding ding ding! You win a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, Sharon.

Next, LIFE gives me a view of a world I am grateful not to inhabit. The United Mine Workers, an organization traditionally riven by violence, is voting on a new president. LIFE points out negative aspects to both the incumbent and his rival, quoting the president of a UMW local: “I’m sort of leery of them both.”

It is a sharp leap from the black-and-white photos of local union leaders (of course the union spread is all in stark black-and-white) to a full-page color ad of Santa Claus toting a Kodak pocket Instamatic. Santa cannot erase the suspicion that the suspicious, ground-down men of the UMW will probably get a bitter deal either way.

(Wiki tells us that incumbent Tony Boyle not only lost the December 1972 election to challenger Arnold Miller, but was later convicted of charges related to the killing of rival union leader Jock Yablonski and his family shortly after the previous election in 1969. It is interesting to know that the man pictured here, campaigning furiously to hold his position, has a secret.)

“New Day for Diana” is next … and as I imagined, with no great prescience, Diana Ross is eager to separate herself from the Lady Day image. We see her husband, Bob Silberstein, shirt open to mid-chest in the Seventies style; and her mirrored piano; and her pool table; and her young daughter; and the Beverly Hills home she decorated herself; and her mentor Berry Gordy; and some other stuff.

The spread doesn’t convey much beyond the message that the real Diana Ross is successful, rooted, married, and not addicted to drugs. But, that might have been the point.

From Diana Ross’s glamorous contentment, we leap wildly to a spread on “CALCULATORS FOR A POCKET.” These remarkable new machines are “a spin-off of our space program,” LIFE notes. One- or two-sentence evaluations are offered of six of the most popular models. One is capable of trig or log functions; another does not handle decimals or negative numbers.

LIFE, bless its heart, resists the temptation to set up any of the calculator screens so that they read 5318008.

Feminism seems to be a recurring theme of this issue — surprisingly so for an issue with “home husband and babies” on the cover. The next story introduces America to Janet Bonnema, an engineer who sued her employer, the Colorado Department of Highways, because it wouldn’t allow her to work on a highway tunnel project — based on an old belief that it was bad luck for women to enter a tunnel or mine.

The story is surprisingly well done, giving us a fairly full picture of Bonnema as well as of a growing trend for women to sue in pursuit of jobs they were traditionally denied. And it has a happy ending: She settled her suit for $6,750, got permission to work in the tunnel (only one man quit in response), and was planning to use some of her money to take a trip to Africa.

(Newspapers dot com tells me that she died in 2008 in Florida at age 69, having retired from a civil engineering job with a regional water management agency.)

Jim Beam offers about nine different holiday booze options and takes out an ad to promote them. They include “Beameister” wines, imported from Germany and sold in ceramic crocks “to protect the delicate flavor of the pick of the grapes.” That sounds like a ceramic crock.

We move on to the spread on the American pilot wrapping up his tour in Vietnam. As the U.S. presses for a cease-fire, nobody still in Vietnam wants to be the last person to die there — including 25-year-old pilot Thomas Waskow.

Waskow, whose role seems to involve reconnaissance rather than bombing, navigates his final flight successfully and is greeted by his buddies, who drop him into a trough of water in celebration and hand him a foaming bottle of New York State champagne. (The brand is Taylor, a name I remember well from my time in the Finger Lakes. Nothing but the finest for our men in uniform.)

Waskow’s return home after a year’s absence is marked by a photo of him kissing his wife, Kathy; they have a young son, just two months old when his father shipped out. Like Diana Ross’s older daughter, we don’t see him.

LIFE mentions that Waskow was bound for a new military role as a flight instructor. Fifty years later, Wikipedia tells us that he built a distinguished military career for himself.

A profile of Laurence Olivier follows. The expected tributes are paid to his complexity. If you like Olivier or acting you’d find this interesting.

I have a blind/numb spot myself when it comes to actors and acting: I don’t appreciate or understand the mindsets or techniques that actors use to get themselves in the zone. So acting talk doesn’t hit my monkey nerve. (And anyway, the best way to understand a great actor’s performance is to watch it, not to read people talking about it.)

Kodak takes an intriguing ad for its Ektachrome movie cameras, a two-handed ship-shaped jobbie that allegedly films in natural light without requiring movie lights. I’d love to see a random sampling of home films shot with them, to see how true that really was. If I wanted to search YouTube I probably could.

Fiat talks about how popular its cars are in Europe. I wonder if they are any better-built there. Ah, for the golden days when an Italian car company thought it had a shot at conquering America. Magnavox advertises portable TVs (in beige or red — and don’t I wish the ad were in color?) and alarm-clock radios that stand tall like ungainly urban towers.

I guess the Olivier profile is this week’s go-on-and-on piece. There’s always one at the back of the book. I think the LIFE editors’ logic was, if you’re going to lose impatient people who put the magazine down two jumps into a long story, you’d rather lose them on page 60 than page 16.

LIFE gives itself a quarter-page ad, urging people to subscribe. I assume if you saw the issue on December 8 and called the phone number, they would still set you up with a subscription as if nothing were wrong. I wonder. A few pages later Time-LIFE gives itself a full-page ad to promote holiday gift subscriptions to Time, LIFE, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. Maybe in the Coeur d’Alene edition they sold that space to somebody.

Next up is the story of a well-regarded former New York police detective, retired from the force at 44, who took his own life in October 1972 with, apparently, no particular warning. The piece is accompanied by photos of the detective taken seven years earlier — I assume to accompany a different news story, either in LIFE or some other media outlet.

After lingering a touch longer than necessary on the physical impacts of shooting oneself, the story explores various reasons for police dissatisfaction — including a growing paranoia that cops are “wired” to entrap each other, and that every action they take or every remark they make could boomerang against them in court or in internal discipline.

Unfortunately, no one truly knew why old-school detective Bob Kenney killed himself — or whether it had anything at all to do with the issues described in the story. This lends LIFE’s story a certain hollowness. It feels as if they have used him, without full justification, to tell a larger story about police problems that could have been told equally well in his absence.

Another wild segue follows to a story marking the 150th birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed some of America’s most famous public parks.

The story makes only a one-sentence passing mention of his work in Boston, and the words “emerald necklace” seems to be entirely absent, which means the story naturally fails to meet my full approval. (The story ends with a Boston-centric stinger, reporting that Olmsted died in 1903 at McLean Hospital in Belmont, not far outside the city. He had designed the grounds there three decades earlier.)

Sears, whatever its other failures, at least has the good sense to realize that an ad for a portable television really works better in color.

The closing “Parting Shots” column touches on feminism once again, with a brief profile of an Evansville, Indiana, housewife who wrote the Western novel The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing on the quiet, as a remedy for housewifely boredom. Production was about to begin on the movie version, starring Burt Reynolds.

LIFE also provides a quick profile of Alex Karras, who since ditching the NFL has tried to reinvent himself as a TV host, an actor — and a critic of NFL owners. Conveniently, the short piece is written by the Chicago sportswriter who co-hosts Karras’s show. (LIFE acknowledges this; it still seems pretty weak. The world is full of other writers who could have fulfilled the assignment, after all.)

A shot of a cute, round-faced grinning two-year-old with a massive boa constrictor around his neck is … memorable. Apparently a Hollywood film studio put out an open call for a trained snake to appear in a movie, and young David Jackson was one of those who turned up. The snake belonged to an adult friend, but David apparently played with it on the regular, and the photographer captured him with it. It didn’t make the cut for the movie.

A peanut vendor is covered with pigeons. A Canadian whiskey brand is — get this — selling its wares in holiday packages.

And always, it seems, at the back of the mag, there are cigarettes.

Less slow, still thankful.

Just to follow up on my recent post about the turkey trot I jogged on Thanksgiving:

Today I ran the second of the two 5Ks I signed up for before I realized I’d done something to my legs in the half marathon.

My approach to this one was the same as it was on Thanksgiving: No running training in advance, just some walking here and there. Lots of stretching and walking in pre-race warmups, but no running — save every step for the race. Once the race starts, jog it at a consciously slow and noncompetitive pace. Run until the troublesome right calf complains, and be ready to stop when it does.

Somehow, the calf never complained … and while I was waiting for it to start, my pace kinda crept faster and faster. I ended up beating my Thanksgiving time by two-and-a-half minutes. Even kicked a little bit at the end.

I am totally powerless to explain it, but I appreciate it.

It’s actually kinda fun to run from the middle or back of the pack after all these years trying to be near the front. I have to be sure I don’t get too used to it. I still have my eyes on getting up somewhere closer to where I was.

(I did discover one hassle of starting further back, more so today than on Thanksgiving. Today’s race is the kind of family-oriented community race that lots of local kids run — or run/walk. The standard operating procedure for kids under 13 or so is to run a little while and then suddenly start walking, usually with no great regard for surrounding traffic. Kids that age also aren’t all that fabulous  at holding a straight line; they’re not in your way until they are. I think it’s great that they’re out there running. I just wish some of ’em would start a little further back, and/or grow some radar.)

Anyway. The 2022 racing season has come to a close in positive enough fashion. We will see what the fat man manages in 2023. He hopes he’s not done yet.

More regional fetishization.

Another pic from my travels yesterday — featuring 100 percent less bullets and pie.

I was convinced for a brief time that this photo had the germ of a Big E photo contest award-winner in it, if only it had a better background.

(Cue my dad, a one-man Statler and Waldorf: “And better handwriting!”)

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I spent some time slamming microfilm at the Boston Public Library, doing baseball history research for my ever-spewing fount of stories. (There are always more, somehow.)

One of my requests involved an issue of one of Boston’s now-departed evening daily papers, the Traveler  (originally known as the Traveller, so my spelling on the request form is not completely incorrect.)

For the newcomers in town, the Traveler merged with the Herald; the Record merged with the American; and the Herald-Traveler merged with the Record American to create the Herald American, which finally became today’s Herald. The Post, which for a while was bigger than any of them and the Globe besides, just sank beneath the waves without the pretense of merging with anybody.

Anyway, the BPL’s microfilm machines used to be located in Bates Hall, a.k.a., the gorgeous old study room with the green lampshades and studious English ambience. A twenty-year-old jar of gefilte fish would look cool and dignified in the surroundings of Bates Hall.

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Above: This is what doing newspaper research at the BPL used to look like in October 2018. That year’s walletcard is visible at right. I had a whole bunch of ideas for a 2023 walletcard, but they’re not worth much without a Twitter or Instagram account – unless I post pix here, which I just might.

Alas, they’ve moved the machines to another, much less picturesque part of the library.

So when the Boston traveler got his reel of the Boston Travel(l)er, the photo with its implied tale — one ticket back into the past; all aboard! — just couldn’t be made to look as good.

(It didn’t really matter, as I only had an iPhone to shoot with.)

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All of my tickets to ride, shown above. They told me I had two hours on the machine; I told them I’d be off well before then. I finished with three minutes to spare.

# # # # #

Speaking of baseball, the Internet Archive has hosted, for some years, a collection of more than 500 baseball radio game broadcasts spanning from the 1930s to 1973.

For whatever reason, the guy who uploaded this initial collection has reposted it in a new location — and he’s added 400 more games. There’s a St. Louis Browns game from 1953 (how many of those could possibly be knocking around?), and Boston Braves games from the 1948 World Series, and and and and and.

So much to listen to, so little time.

In Chicago in July 1953, the Browns are ahead of the White Sox 1-0 after half an inning on a homer by Dick Kokos. Just thought you’d like to know.

(Edit: On a hot July day at Comiskey Park, broadcasters Al Helfer and Art Gleeson mention that the wind has turned and they’ve just gotten a whiff of the stockyards. “They must be doin’ business over there,” Gleeson notes. “Chicago’s a great town … the more you’re in it, the more you know about it,” Helfer responds. I am reasonably sure you won’t hear a discussion of stockyards or bad smells on a MLB broadcast in 2023.)

The punctured crust of the naked city.

This is the sort of content I used to dump out freely on Twitter. On a blog I should probably be more sensitive to copyright. For today I won’t be; we’ll see how it goes.

Found this during today’s research trip to the Boston Public Library. (I sagged off from work.)

This is quite possibly the finest piece of crime-scene photography ever run in an American daily newspaper, and it deserves to be exhumed and seen.

From July 1970, the Boston Herald-Traveler shows you the city’s gritty underbelly — or maybe its gritty top crust:

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PIE, its crust ripped by gunman’s bullet“! Has there ever been a more vivid combination of the bloody and the absurd? The violent and the trivial?

It reminds me a little of Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh: Gunmen ripped my pie crust.

And that’s not all: Note dent in pan where slug went awry! Or was it the precise composition of lard and flour in the crust that rearranged the best-laid plans of the burglar?  (“It was a short crust, but it made a big difference,” police Sgt. Melton Mowbray said.)

Once you get past the absurdity of the pie-as-Exhibit-One, the rest of the package delivers a complementary dose of bracing crime-scene content.

This isn’t just any rank-and-file dogsbody in the picture, it’s a police ballistician. (WordPress is trying to tell me that’s not a word, but readers of the Herald-Traveler know better.)

And any time you see the back of somebody’s head in a professionally shot photo, you know subconsciously and immediately that something’s gone sideways, like getting a phone call from your kid in the middle of the day. Everyone knows news photos aren’t supposed to look like that.

There’s only one missing piece of evidence here, one which apparently didn’t occur to either the photog or the reporter:

What sort of pie?