Book Acquired Recently: Adirondack Ghosts II

Macken, Lynda Lee. Adirondack Ghosts II: Haunting Tales of New York’s North Country. Forked River: Black Cat, 2003.

This evening the old Utica psychiatric hospital (“Old Main”) was open for tours for the first time in several years, and I went with some friends. I was excited to see inside of the building (which is gorgeous on the outside) because I have had a number of students do research about the building. The tour was interesting, though not as exciting as if people had been allowed to wander around on their own. The event was sponsored by the Landmarks Society of Greater Utica. Admission was free, but people who donated to the society received a copy of Macken’s book, which is appropriate because Old Main is said to be haunted.

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Books Acquired Recently

Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. 2012. Boston: Mariner, 2013.

I will be teaching Bechdel’s book about her father, Fun Home, in one of my classes this fall, and as preparation for this I acquired Are You My Mother?, which is her book about her mother. If it is even half as good as Fun Home I will be pleased.

Gooden, Dwight, and Ellis Henican. Doc: A Memoir. Boston: New Harvest, 2013.

Somehow I missed this book when it was released last year. I recently found out about it, and, in light of my obsession with the ’86 Mets, ordered it immediately.

Schrag, Ariel. Adam. Boston: Mariner, 2014.

I read a review of this novel in BookForum that intrigued me, as it centers around LGBT issues. It has blurbs from Bechdel and Aimee Mann (!), thus I am very eager to read it.

All three books were acquired from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

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Book Acquired Recently: Mary McCarthy’s The Group

McCarthy, Mary. The Group. Orlando: Harvest, 1989.

I just won this book in a raffle at the Utica Public Library. I haven’t read any of McCarthy’s work before, but the raffle ticket was free with my purchase at a local coffeehouse. The novel’s blurb is an enticing one, and apparently it is scandalous enough that it was once banned in Australia, thus I look forward to reading it!

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Lucy

I decided to see the movie Lucy today because the commercials I’d seen for it made it look like it would raise some interesting philosophical questions about what it means to be human rather than simply being a stereotypical action film, and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed it thoroughly; it was one of those rare art pieces that helps me touch the sublime. My mind is still buzzing from it.

I won’t go into too much detail about the film here because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that the major reason I liked it was because it dealt rather explicitly with two of my favorite theories: Walt Whitman’s idea that everything is connected and thus life is in a sense eternal (though not in a religious way) and Donna Haraway’s idea of humans as cyborgs, beings that extend beyond the boundaries of their physical bodies to encompass other elements of the world. At one point Lucy says “we never really die,” and this idea is never explained clearly within the context of the movie itself (I fear that most viewers will miss its significance), but in light of Whitman’s constant assertions throughout “Song of Myself” that we continue to exist after our bodies die in the natural world, the statement makes perfect sense. At the end of the film a character asks of Lucy “where is she?,” and she, for lack of a better term, texts “I am everywhere,” just as the 1855 version of “Song of Myself” ends “I stop some where waiting for you.” Likewise, the film explores Whitman’s idea of universal divinity as Lucy becomes a kind of secular Christ figure, connecting humanity back to the Big Bang and reconnecting with the first human, “Lucy” (for whom the title character is, of course, named), reminding us that we are all interconnected.

Similarly, with regard to Haraway’s idea of what it means to be “post-human,” Lucy literally becomes a cyborg in the RoboCop sense of the word, melding with a super computer before her ultimate meld with the universe. This post-humanness is the saddest part of the film, and is acknowledged by Lucy as such, because even though she breaks the restrictive bonds of what it is to be human, in doing so she loses her humanity, her selfhood, and is not given a choice in the matter. She is impregnated with her powers in a way reminiscent of the virgin Mary (i.e., it is not literal rape, but it is very close, and yes, Lucy is both a Jesus figure and a Marian one, but the film manages this double symbolism quite nicely), forced to do her best with her lot. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job portraying Lucy’s other-than-humanness in heart-breaking, compelling fashion. By the end of the film, her character makes the viewer uncomfortable because as a post-human she has become objectified, and this objectification verges on exploitation, but at the same time Lucy recognizes her objectification and uses it for the good of humanity, so maybe it is okay. I’m still trying to process it. But that is a good thing because the best art refuses to offer easy answers, and this is why Lucy succeeds.

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The Baseball Hall of Fame’s New Ballot Eligibility Rule

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced today that candidates for election will only be allowed to stay on the ballot for ten years rather than fifteen. Three players who have already been on the ballot for more than ten years (Here they are, along with my opinion on whether or not they should be elected: Don Mattingly-no, Alan Trammell-yes [it seems that in a number of cases of fringe Hall of Famers from the 1980s (Keith Hernandez and Lou Whitaker come immediately to mind) voters have ignored defensive excellence when considering players' candidacies, and Trammell has certainly suffered from this trend], Lee Smith-yes, though he almost certainly will not be elected because voters have thus far generally been prejudiced against one-inning closers [i.e., Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, and Goose Gossage fall into a different category]. I understand that saves are a fairly meaningless stat and that the way closers are used makes no logical sense because a manager should use his best reliever when the game is on the line, which is not always the ninth inning, but it is not closers’ fault that they are used this way. They are now an integral part of the sport and voters should treat them as such, but, like kickers in football, their odd role results in prejudice from voters.) will be allowed to finish out their fifteen years if necessary.

This is a good change. While the reason for making it is questionable (its goal is clearly to get controversial figures from the steroids era such as Barry Bonds [who should be in] and Roger Clemens [who shouldn't] off of the ballot as soon as possible), the move itself is logical because if a player is such a borderline candidate that they have not been elected during a decade of eligibility, they probably do not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. One player whom the change really hurts, though, is Tim Raines, who should be in but is a controversial case because his statistics look much better from a sabermetric view than a traditional one, and voters haven’t yet quite caught up to sabermetrics’ obvious superiority. Raines loses five years of eligibility during a time when many more recent excellent cases will continue to come on the ballot, so it will be a tight squeeze for him as he now only has three appearances on the ballot left. But this one example is not enough to make the change a bad decision.

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Magazine Acquired Recently: Baseball Cards, April 1990

My favorite hobby as a boy was collecting baseball cards, and in my infinite nerdiness–present even then–my first-ever magazine subscription was in 1990 to the now-defunct Baseball Cards magazine. I have been unable to ascertain when Baseball Cards stopped publication, though a safe guess is that the major mid-1990s sports card market crash caused its downfall. Its publisher, Krause Publications, is still in existence and publishes magazines and books on various hobbies.

I subscribed to Baseball Cards after receiving an advertisement in the mail for it sometime toward the end of 1989 (How was I already receiving junk mail as a nine-year-old? I suppose it is in junk mail’s [and now spam’s] nature to be all-pervasive. Maybe my Little League sold the address list of their players to vendors of children’s magazines?) and actually had enough allowance saved up to subscribe. It was something like $14.95 for a year’s subscription, which included twelve issues plus six special-edition cards per issue. The cards used the 1969 Topps design to showcase current players, and were the major selling point for me. Unfortunately, they came in sheets rather than separately, and my young hands mangled some of them pretty badly when I tried to cut them out.

I read the magazine thoroughly, and I still remember some of the articles vividly. However, unfortunately at some point I got rid of my copies. I still buy baseball cards occasionally, mostly for nostalgia’s sake, and during a recent card-hunting session on ebay decided to buy an issue of Baseball Cards as a part of this nostalgia. I bought the April 1990 issue because I found it for a good price (less than $5.00 including shipping).

While this issue does not have any of the articles that I remember (so I might have to buy more…), reading it was thoroughly enjoyable. Nearly a quarter-century after it was published, three points stood out to me from the issue:

1. I had a horrible sense of foreboding as I read the generally well-written and light-hearted articles knowing that in a few years all of the hype about rookie cards, limited-edition sets, and cards as investments would be proven hollow as the hobby came burning to the ground. The emphasis on cards as monetary objects, as business, rather than as an enjoyable hobby pursued because of the love of sport is what ultimately gutted the market (as Karl Marx says, capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction…) because it got too glutted with, not just special issues, but with cards in general: the card companies were to blame for the collapse just as much as dealers were. The hobby forgot its roots as a pastime for children, thus losing its fiscally-essential base along with its soul as it became over-professionalized by adults.

2. The hype about all of 1990’s rookies, the special focus of the issue, is hilarious because so much of it is inaccurate in hindsight, which goes to show how elusive baseball success can be. Todd Zeile was hot stuff in 1990, and he had a very respectable career, as did Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker, but players such as Eric Anthony, Andy Benes, and Jerome Walton, all of whom get fawned over in the issue, did not. The only player mentioned in this section of the issue to make the Hall of Fame (or to have a legitimate shot) was Frank Thomas.

3. The numerous ads were a delight to read (unlike when I was a child and mourned my lack of funds), in part because they illustrate how different the card-collecting landscape is now than it was then, and in part because they make me wonder what happened to all of the businesses and their proprietors. Some might still be hanging on as dealers via the internet, but a good number must be out of business. What did their owners do once the bubble burst a few years later? Where are they now? Does anyone remember the businesses, or are they basically lost to history (thinking about this question always makes me depressed when thinking about businesses that close)? Answering these questions would make a fantastic research project, albeit one with a limited audience. My favorite ad, which is for The Card King in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, urges customers to make their purchases quickly because “These stunning… cards are disappearing faster than communist dictators.” Ah, those halcyon days.

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The All-Star Game and Baseball Fandom

The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Minnesota. I have loved this game since I became a baseball fan, and still try to watch it every year. Honestly, I make more of an effort to watch it than to watch the World Series some years, depending on who is playing. I love the pageantry of the All-Star Game, how each player wears his own uniform (it is a travesty that this year they will wear league caps instead of their own caps), how the players get introduced individually along the baselines before the game, how the ballpark is festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. I love how, even though it is an exhibition game, the players clearly take pride in playing in it and trying to win it.

In thinking about how I grew to love the All-Star Game as a boy, I realize that part of my fanaticism for it resulted from the rarity of, not just that game itself, but televised baseball in general when I was growing up in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so there would usually only be two or three games on per week that I was interested in watching: NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday (I would watch no matter who was playing; I remember being crushed one April Saturday in 1988 or 1989 when there wasn’t a game because both games that NBC was going to show were cancelled due to weather. One was in Chicago, with the Cubs getting snowed out, and the other game was rained out. I still remember Marv Albert in the studio saying “No game today” like a death-knell.) and the Mets on WWOR channel 9 on Sunday. Sometimes the Mets would also be on Friday night (though I couldn’t watch the entire game because I had an early bedtime), and if I got desperate the Yankees would usually have one or two games a week on WPIX channel 11 (it is still incredibly weird to me that WPIX now televises the Mets). During the postseason it did not get much better because, even though all of the games were on network television, I was usually only able to watch the first half hour or so before bed.

As result of this limited television exposure, my baseball fandom took a much different form than it does now. I learned much more about the game from print media—especially from the newspaper and statistics on the backs of baseball cards—than from television, whereas now the ratio is switched. These days I almost never watch baseball aside from the Mets during the regular season because I am now fortunate enough to have cable and they are on SNY nearly every night (and my cable package even shows the games when they are on WPIX). Every once in a while I might watch a bit of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball to close out the weekend, but, unless the Mets are playing, I no longer watch Fox’s nationally-televised game on Saturdays. (A necessary aside: one reason I do not watch regular season baseball on Fox is that Joe Buck is their play-by-play announcer, and he is pedestrian at best. In hindsight, I realize that I was lucky to grow up in an era when Vin Scully was the national play-by-play man for NBC and Al Michaels was the primary play-by-play man for ABC’s postseason telecasts. It kills me that an entire generation of fans has grown up with Joe Buck as the voice of baseball. No wonder young people are not drawn to the game!) These viewing habits mean that I follow the Mets closely, but the rest of MLB much less so until the pennant races heat up in September. As a kid, aside from my favorite Mets I was also a fan of other good players such as Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.), but now, although I appreciate the feats of players such as Miguel Cabrera in a general way, I do not feel any connection to them, and whereas I liked and respected Mike Schmidt growing up because I viewed him as a baseball player rather than as a divisional rival, that viewpoint has flipped and I have nothing but hatred for present-day Phillies like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.

Thus the All-Star Game is the one time during the summer when my baseball gaze widens to observe the game in all its glory. I root for the National League, I hope the Mets’ representative (Daniel Murphy this year) gets a hit, and I remember why I fell in love with the sport in the first place: it is fun to watch, and it is a national language that, at its best, brings us all together.

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