Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

The Awards Shelf

February 16, 2018

It’s in a recording studio in a corner of the building that isn’t used very much.  A reel-to-reel machine still sits there with its editing block where you’d cut out slices of audio tape with a razor blade. It hasn’t been used in close to 20 years. Behind that are the awards.

My daughter found them — waiting for a ride home — as I was  checking something on the computer because she looked into a space it never occurred to me to look.

When I came to KPBS we were still using those tape machines and I’m sure I’ve seen some of these awards before, when they were kept in a more prominent place. The Golden Mic Awards are on the top shelf. Some of the mics (they are golden) have  fallen off the tops of the trophies. Emmy’s dating back to 1978 are also falling apart, the plaques that name the winning entry had come off after the glue dried up.

They honor stories about important issues of the time and we gave each other awards for doing them. But memories fade and awards get old and fall apart, and I guess we eventually wonder why we thought they were such a big deal. The subjects seem to be the same ones we talk about today.

It reminds me of old cemeteries and the forgotten people they speak about. I remember seeing a cemetery in East London that the owners left to the elements. Grave stones had  fallen over and wild plants were consuming the grounds, making a true symbol of death and rebirth and mocking the conceit that we can enshrine a life that has passed like millions of others.

For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.

I don’t know how long those awards will stay on those shelves, though I imagine they will stay there until the next building renovation when someone will find them, like I did, and finally decide they need to go to the landfill. Until then they will deteriorate, nature will follow its course and we will see what becomes of our pride.

 

 

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Star Wars’ Endless Rebellion

January 9, 2018

Last night my wife Karen and I saw the most recent, and surely not the last, movie in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I came to it with high expectations and came away with mostly positive but various views. It was good. It was also too long.

But I’ll resist the urge to go into the fine points of film criticism and zero in on my main point about the decades-long Star Wars saga. How long can they keep telling the same story?

The first Star Wars film came out when I was 17 but it’s still fair to say I grew up on Star Wars. I saw the first three. Skipped the next three, which were actually the “first” three in the story line. (I hear they all sucked) I started up again with The Force Awakens and I’ve seen the next two after that.

Though never a Star Wars geek, I spoke the Star Wars language with its many references and allusions… a language shared by nearly all Americans of my age. I admired the genius of George Lucas in creating a myth so powerful that to resist it was futile.

But then I saw The Last Jedi and I wondered how much longer this rebellion can keep on rebelling, especially if the point is to keep cranking out good movies.

Sure, Star Wars is a fantasy, but a fantasy won’t make sense if it’s not grounded in reality, and the George Lucas’s world is grounded. The Empire is clearly Nazi Germany. Take one look at Darth Vader’s SS uniform and that becomes obvious. The Force is borrowed from Christianity’s Holy Spirit.

The rebels are… OK that’s a little more tricky. They’re the good guys, for sure, but are they the French Resistance in WWII? America has a strong mythological story of good-guy rebels but ours fought the British, who weren’t quite the same tasty villains that the Nazis were.

And these Star Wars rebels just don’t seem to have a plan, or any allies for that matter. At the end of Return of the Jedi (that movie came out 35 years ago) our rebel buddies have killed Darth Vader and they’re partying with the Ewoks and everything seems great. But next thing you know the Dark Side is back in business and everything sucks again.

So there I was watching the end of The Last Jedi where the rebels are on the run — again — from some new incarnation of the dark lord. It’s just like it was at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Like I said… they’re telling the same old story.

Rebellions don’t go on forever, unless it’s by some institutional fakery. You know, like those old commie leaders who wanted have a continuing revolution so they could accuse of people of being counter-revolutionaries and lock them up or string them up.

The American revolution showed how a revolution leads not to more revolution but to a new institutional authority. It was an authority that was flawed and racist and expansionist, but it did lead to something. The Star War rebellion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I’ve been watching Star Wars for what feels like my whole life but all good things come to an end. I know there will be a sequel but The Last Jedi could end up being the last Star Wars I’ll ever see.

 

 

 

 

Kenny’s Revenge

November 29, 2017

Our bike ride through the San Diego backcountry took place in a hot sun on our way up to 2,500 feet of elevation on roads sometimes straight and sometimes switchback.

I rode with Matt, Kenny, Jeff and Andrew. The ride was billed as Kenny’s Revenge, because last time he did it they say Kenny just about died trying to complete the 45-mile trip. Sadly he didn’t get his revenge. The mountain kicked his ass one more time.

If Kenny hadn’t been there I would have been the one they had to wait up for. Matt, Jeff and Andrew were all native San Diegans, all a lot younger than me and very fit.

In fact, Andrew was a positive maniac when it came to bike training. He’d ridden three times on RAAM, the Race across America. Though we started at a parking lot at the Jamacha Junction, Andrew didn’t a park a car there because he’d driven his bike the 20-some miles from his home in Point Loma to our starting place.

Kenny and Matt are my fellow co-workers. Jeff is a young, black-haired guy with a small frame and enough energy to spend our roadside breaks riding wheelies. He lived in the same apartment building as Matt, their units separated by a common wall. Jeff claimed if he wanted to go riding with Matt he just had to bang on the wall.

I couldn’t tell what color Andrew’s hair was because he never took off his cycling helmet. An attorney by profession, Andrew talked pretty much non-stop. When he reached a summit where we’d stop for a while, waiting for Kenny to catch up, he’d ride back down the hill to egg Kenny on and climb it again with him.

Eventually we’d see two figures coming slowly up the hill, but before we saw them we’d hear Andrew’s stream of verbal encouragement.

Jeff riding a wheelie.

The “Kenny’s Revenge” route was the toughest ride I’d ever done in San Diego. But there were payoffs, and they came in the form of awesome downhills. Near the end we zoomed down some mountain switchbacks, leaning our bikes into the turns and feeling the air rush by. Other payoffs: The amazing views of rugged hills across the a valley once we passed the halfway point.

It was a fun time with some cool people and a minimum number of douche bags, flipping us off as they rode by in their trucks.

 

 

 

 

RIP Peter Reilly

November 14, 2017

It was a four-hour plane ride to Des Moines then a half hour drive to Ames, Iowa where the temperatures were in the 20’s. Unseasonably cold for the first part of November. We were there for Peter Reilly’s funeral.

 

Peter Reilly

My wife Karen’s father was from New Jersey but he lived in Ames more than forty years, teaching bio-chemical engineering at Iowa State. He died on November 2, 2017 of intestinal cancer at the age of 78.

My family of four all went to his funeral and we stayed at a Hilton hotel on the edge of town, though the edge of town wasn’t very far from everything else, because it’s Ames.

I haven’t seen a lot of death in my closest family, and I’ve only attended one funeral inside that group; my uncle Homer’s. We stood in a room at the funeral home as Homer lay in an open casket, looking like a prone statue as my aunt Doris said something to me about how he looked, hugged me and cried a little.

The visitation for Pete in the sanctuary of St. Thomas Aquinas Church was different because his ashes were in a box and so it seem less of a “visit.” I and the other close family formed a receiving line. Pete’s friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow parishioners, former students and two cousins formed their own line that curved around the alter, moving slowly as they waited for their time to give us their regards.

Pete’s brother Tom did not show up for the funeral.

For the family it was two hours of greeting people. All but Rae, Pete’s widow, had to quickly figure out what their connection was to the deceased. Then we drummed up a short conversation. I learned that the impression Pete and Rae made on their community was huge.

They belonged to St. Thomas for four decades. They rarely missed a Sunday mass. They always sat in the first row. Rae was my wife’s stepmom, and she served on the committee that expanded the church. Pete would typically linger for an hour after mass to talk with people about anything possible. At the visitation we shared stories about how ending a conversation with Pete typically meant you had to tell him at least twice that you “really had to go.”

Pete was accomplished in his field. In fact he was named a distinguished professor at Iowa State. He was a nerd. At the funeral the priest told the story of how Pete had visited 60 countries, and that doesn’t count those countries where he only had airport layovers. Who told him that? Pete did.

Karen and Sophie in line for lunch in the church basement after the funeral

He was obtuse when it came to understanding many facts of life. That includes the trauma his daughters went through dealing with a family that had been split apart, or the trauma the girls felt, just being teenagers.

He had quirks and blind spots. He could be a snob. He knew how to hold a grudge. But with it all, Pete really liked people. He loved to meet them and talk to them, and he helped a lot of them though his teaching and his sponsorship of study-abroad programs.

At his funeral I thought about that movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Pete’s wonderful life in Ames, Iowa, was not so different from George Bailey. And as I watched the people standing in that slow-moving line at the visitation, I asked myself how many people would miss me when I died. How many people would remember me as somebody who helped them, made time for them and really enjoyed talking to them.

In the hotel, the day after the funeral, I saw the University of Texas women’s volleyball team as they got breakfast. They were beautiful girls who were all at least six feet tall.  They won their game against Iowa State… undefeated in the conference, one of them told me in the elevator.

On the plane to Chicago (our layover) I sat next to a guy who lived in Chicago but had season tickets to Iowa State football games. He grew up in an Iowa town of 850 people and, like Pete, talked to me non-stop from liftoff until we landed at O’Hare.

 

Temps in the 20’s in Ames, the Iowa State campanile in background.

He said his baseball coach in high school was the shop teacher and he made the players try to field baseballs with boards strapped to their hands, instead of gloves. Good training, he claimed. This guy also told me he played three sports because athletes had to do that in a small town, otherwise they wouldn’t have enough guys to field a team.

In small towns, you’ve got to be involved. You’ve got to coach a team. Serve on the volunteer fire department. Plan the church expansion. Pete was involved. He’ll be remembered fondly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ortwine Hardware R.I.P.

September 17, 2017

Ortwine Hardware in January, 2011.

The Ortwine independent hardware store was the first hardware store I visited when I moved to San Diego. It was on Federal Blvd. in City Heights, a few blocks from where I lived. It was a wonderful place where the customer service was unsurpassed. The owner kept all the products and their locations in her head. And she knew what you what you were looking for even when you didn’t know what you were looking for.

For more details check out this profile I wrote six years ago for a previous blog.

But now the store is closed. It first opened in 1946. I went there recently in search of a miniature Phillips-head screwdriver. Barbara would have known exactly what shelf it was on. But I saw the front door caged shut and a sign saying the next occupant in that strip mall would be some kind of beauty salon.

Here, I guess I could lament the dominance of corporate stores. The loss of San Diego history. But I’ll only say I’m sorry to see them go.

Ortwine Hardware closed, September, 2017.

 

 

Records

September 4, 2017

It was a birthday present for my daughter. It’s a small black box and when you open it you see the record player inside. Put a record on and it reaches over the edge of the box like a dinner plate on an end table. This should be in a dorm or a kid’s bedroom. But I mean one from the 60s, before college kids could find or afford pricey stereo equipment.

My wife and I have two boxes of records we listened to when we were young. Hearing them is a nostalgia trip for us and I don’t know what it means for Sophie. Maybe she just likes records.

I listened to my old Bruce Springsteen record, the Wild the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle. The record spins and the needle bobs on the gentle warps in the disk.  I see the song on the record because a black circle marks the end of it and the needle rides the grooves until it gets there.

A record is a physical thing and I think that’s why I’ve never loved a CD like I love this Springsteen album. It’s a glorious package, the album cover with the art you see every time you play it, and the record inside that embodies the music.

You hold it in your hands like a sacrament – touching only the edges – and lay it on the turntable then gently touch the stylus to the beginning of the record where it floats for a moment until it is seized by the groove and you hear that pop. Then the magic begins.

Grandpa

August 21, 2017

My grandfather was named Leonard William Fudge. He and I share the same middle and last names. He liked to hunt small game, following a pair of beagles. He liked to go fishing. He died when my father was only 11 years old. I never knew much else about grandpa until I picked up a book called The Song of My Life; the life being my father’s. Dad didn’t write the book. He narrated his story to a woman, and she wrote it.

Leonard William Fudge as a young man.

I can tell dad didn’t write it. I never knew him to use the word rueful, for instance. And yet there are things in the book that required an interloper to get out… someone who didn’t know my father and his stories. And some of the things she discovered have touched me deeply.

I never met my grandpa, though I’ve heard my father say that he was a kind man who loved to laugh. It doesn’t surprise me since that’s the person my father has always been. But I never knew about the things they did; their Saturday trips to town to visit Lowell’s Sofa Fountain. I didn’t know about the fishing trips my dad and his father took as they jumped streams on their way to the Chemung River near Elmira, New York.

Going fishing became a game where they pretended to be Lewis and Clark, my dad being Merriweather Clark. My grandfather would shout, “Look out for that snake, Merriweather!”

In the book, my dad described his thoughts of what could have been, if his father hadn’t died so young.

“I imagine more father and son fishing trips to the Chemung River; happy days spent on the bleachers at Dunn Field in Elmira, watching minor league games. And how ecstatic dad would have been to see the Dodgers playing right here in Elmira.”

The Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom Elmira was a farm team, did come to Elmira after my grandfather died with their then-batting coach Babe Ruth, who hit a home run in Dunn Field.

That chapter in the book ends with this:

“Daydreams, by nature, capture us from the present and transport us through time and space to a place where anything is possible. This is the place where I can always go to find my father.”

They say you can’t miss something you’ve never had. But reading my dad’s story makes me very sad I never met my grandfather. Why didn’t my dad ever tell me the things that appeared in that book? And why did I never ask him? “Dad, what was your father like? What did he enjoy and what did you do together? What were the things that made him laugh?”

My dad lost his father to a heart attack when his dad was young and vital. Cheated out of many years of his father’s life, my father looks back on his dad as a clever, fun-loving man in his prime. By contrast, my father has lived to be 92 years old, and he has senile dementia. I have to block out the picture of a failing old man to find my father, the way he used to be.

And I can find my young father in my daydreams. But now I also daydream about another man with a fishing pole, leading me to the Chemung River. If he’d lived a long life it could have happened, and I could have called him grandpa.