Lost game

I originally intended to publish this piece in issue 37 of my print-only ‘zine METANOIA, but thought it’d work better as a blog post, so…

“Fellas, I don’t want any one of you to feel bad about this.
No one of you coulda done this on his own. This was a team effort.”
~ Casey Stengel,
manager of the 1962 New York Mets,
after the team lost its final game of the season
to become the losingest baseball team in history (40-120)

One of my few remaining childhood possessions is a beat-up circa 1979 Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap. I bought it when I was in high school, and it’s traveled with me ever since then, and, not being a sized wool cap, it still fits. I used to have a “14” written in black magic marker under the cap’s brim, representing my favorite Phillie, Pete Rose, but that number, like Rose’s reputation and standing in the game, faded to a black smear long ago.

I’m saying this because some of my earliest memories are of Phillies baseball on the radio. I was always a Phillies fan, so much so that I actually chose my undergrad program (Temple University) in part because I knew I could hop on the subway in Philly and go to Phillies games quickly and easily. I was studying communications, and it was between Temple and Point Park, and what… was I going to go do my undergrad in the PIRATES’ home city???

Yet…

This past season, the Phillies, who have always been one of my two favorite teams– the other is the Orioles– the teams I grew up following and loving as a fan– made it to the World Series. The Phillies lost to the Astros, four games to two.

I’m going to trace a progression of steps that led me from being a hardcore, loyal diehard fan of two teams in the 1990s to where I am now as a baseball fan:

* First, there was the owner’s takeover and gutting of the commissioner’s office, so that the office of Baseball Commissioner no longer was an authority in the league offices who functioned independently of the owners, player’s union, or umpires, but was a puppet installed by the owners to rubberstamp their agenda.

* Next, there were steroids, and the two ways that Major League Baseball as an entity reacted. First, while the PED-enhanced players were unnaturally breaking record after record, the league promoted those players and profited from them. Then, once the revenue was in and the dust settled and the ledgers balanced, the league did a turnaround:
Now, now, we can’t have any more of that. Not only are we imposing stricter testing and penalties for PED use, but all those records we loved while they were being set? Those all get an implied asterisk, and the players who set tham are persona non gratis. Not saying they can’t go into the Hall of Fame, but, you know…
Nothing sours me on something quite as effectively as a veneer of sanctimony over hypocritical, revenue-driven opportunism.

* Then there was realignment. Divisional realignment meant that one of my team’s (Phillies) longest-lived, deepest and most natural (geographic, same state) rivals, the Pirates, were moved out of the Phillies’ division, as were two other traditional divisional rivals (the Cubs and Cardinals). Same thing with my other team (the Orioles) in the AL East.

* The league’s “solution”? Institute interleague play and promote interleague rivalries, and while Mets-Yankees regular season games are fun for the fans, the upshot is that a team’s in-league record as league champion no longer really means anything.

* The playoffs were expanded. This was one of the things that made me lose interest in the NBA and NHL in the late 80s-early 90s. The regular season became a de facto “play-in” round for the playoffs.

* What MLB allowed to happen (or, more accurately, “did”) to the Expos as a franchise and to Montreal as a city was inexcusable. The league wanted Montreal to build a new stadium. Unlike US cities, though, where the teams push to get those venues built at taxpayer expense, the voters in Montreal and Quebec said NO PUBLICLY-FINANCED STADIUM. MLB responded by allowing the team to be gutted from the inside (puppet ownership and management absconded with the team’s scouting reports, traded away its best players and prospects, etc.) and then finally moved the team to Washington. Yes, DC needed a team, but not at the expense of Montreal.

* The BUILD US A NEW STADIUM thing ties into another factor: teams started building nice new stadiums, which in some cases was necessary, in other cases extortion of the sort that Montreal refused (“build us a ballpark or we’ll move the team”), but the result for fans was that every ticket was expensive, and there were no longer cheap, abundant bleacher seats. Say what you will about the Phils’ old home, Veteran’s Stadium, but in the 70s, 80s and 90s, the Vet had the 700 level: an upper deck of cheap, unreserved seats. This meant that a fan could go to a game inexpensively and on the spur of the moment. But with the new cozy ballparks, seating became limited and ticket prices soared, so that going to the ballpark became a boutique experience. There was no such thing as “spur of the moment:” planning to go to a game was like plotting out D-Day. And I don’t have a military mind.

* Next, players around my age or older started retiring. Baseball is partly about youthful hero worship, and when the rosters on my teams started filling up with players who were younger than me, it got harder for me to “look up to them.” Cal Ripken Jr, Brady Anderson, and Jim Thome were the last players I cared about and admired in the same way that I admired players when I was a kid.

* Similarly, broadcasters that I loved started leaving the game. I’ve always primarily enjoyed baseball on the radio, and when the play-by-play men I liked left the booth, the games literally no longer sounded the same. This paired perfectly with my teams moving their broadcasts from clear channel AM stations (which you could pull in anywhere on the east coast) to local FM outlets, which, for me living in Vermont, meant that if I wanted to hear my team’s radio broadcasts, I either had to pay for a subscription to an online streaming service, or just stop listening. So I stopped listening.

* Finally, the owners insistence on MORE OFFENSE! as the solution to the supposed “Why are young fans abandoning baseball” problem led to a bunch of rule changes that are too numerous to catalog, most notably pitch clocks, the “runner on second in extra innings” rule, and, worst of all, the DH being instituted in the National League. As someone who had a team in both leagues, I neither loved nor hated the DH. I liked seeing a pitcher take his turn at the plate, but I also liked it that two different rules in two different major leagues meant two different approaches to the game. Now that’s gone, and both the AL and NL have the DH, “just like,” as a writer once said, “every other minor league.”

The end result? This season, the Phillies made it all the way through the playoffs to the World Series, yet I did not watch, listen to, or read about any of their games: not just postseason, but preseason and regular season as well.

Not one pitch of one inning of one game got my deliberate attention.

I’d say it’s just a matter of the things to which I’m now choosing to devote my attention instead, and, yes, my writing and other interests have crowded out a lot of former “distractions” like movies, TV, news, and pop culture in general.

But every weekend this fall, I’ve carved out time to listen to Penn State football games. Joe Paterno dying, and players and coaches being generations younger than me, and revenue grabbing and conference realignment, haven’t killed my enjoyment of those games. Part of that allure is that in the fall, Penn State football feels like “home:” reminding me of my dad and his tales of being on the PSU freshman football team with head coach Rip Engle and a Brooklyn-born grad assistant coach named Joe, and it SOUNDS like home: hearing the games on the radio every Saturday fall weekend growing up.

But… Dad and I shared a similar love of baseball. You’d think that’d be equally hard to kill.

It wasn’t a conscious choice, and I still love baseball, but due to all those reasons above, and a few others, Major League Baseball lost me.

I wonder if I’m alone in this.

Fellas, I don’t want any one of you to feel bad about this…

Great AND colorful

In celebration of Artemis I’s successful launch at the beginning of what will, hopefully, mark a successful flight to the moon and the first small step in our next set of giant steps on the moon and beyond, I am posting this article, which originally appeared in issue 26 of my ‘zine Metanoia.

“If you can’t be great, be colorful.” ~ Pete Conrad, Apollo 12 commander

A couple issues ago, in my article about Jacques Tati, I noted that the only one of Tati’s feature-length films that I hadn’t seen was Trafic. I finally watched it, and one of the surprises in it was the way that Tati wove television coverage of the second Apollo lunar mission– Apollo 12– into the movie.

Tati may have been a space geek, because Apollo 12 has become a favorite mission of space geeks everywhere.

Funny; until recently, I would have been puzzled by this. I started really following the space program at age four, with Apollo 7.

Most people, if pinned down, might be able to name four missions: Apollo 1 (where three astronauts died during a routine preflight test), Apollo 8 (the first manned lunar orbital flight), Apollo 11 (the first manned lunar landing), and Apollo 13 (the one that Tom Hanks made the movie about). But I always prided myself that I’d seen every launch live, from Apollo 7 through the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and could tell you a little bit about each one…

…except Apollo 12. Honestly, if you’d asked me, I might have said Well, it was the second lunar landing…


So why all the space geek love for it?

After delving into videos and articles about the mission and the crew, I get it. Apollo 12 has become my favorite mission, mainly because of its colorful crew.

Apollo had other colorful crews, of course. The Apollo 7 crew (Wally Schirra, Walt Cunningham, and Donn Eisele) was certainly colorful to me at age four (the signs the crew held up during their TV broadcasts– KEEP THOSE CARDS AND LETTERS COMING IN, FOLKS!— were high comedy to me back then), but unfortunately, the crew was colorful to NASA in a different way. Sinus infections threw the astronauts off their game; they rankled their superiors by refusing to carry out several assigned tasks, including a scheduled TV broadcast; when the crew splashed down, the astronaut office told the trio that they’d never fly another mission, and they didn’t. Schirra retired and is probably best remembered as CBS TV’s space commentator alongside Walter Cronkite.

You might think that Apollo 12 would’ve had similar image problems. Mission commander Conrad, after all, had washed out of the testing for the original Mercury Seven astronaut corps because, as he told it, he questioned (some might say “mocked openly”) the endless psychiatric and medical tests that NASA gave the candidates.

“I think they classified me as ‘psychologically unfit to fly,’” Conrad said with a chuckle, but he tried again and joined NASA to fly with Project Gemini.

Conrad and Dick Gordon were the veterans on Apollo 12, with Al Bean the rookie, and the sense of play they brought to their flight stood in contrast to the straitlaced demeanor of the Apollo 11 crew, who were unquestionably the most qualified astronauts, but who also came across as three Joe Fridays in spacesuits.

Compare recordings and transcripts of the two missions. Apollo 11 was exciting and memorable because it was the first, but during the landing, the most memorable voice was Buzz Aldrin’s flatlined readouts of altitude and position –“Two and a half down, kicking up some dust… drifting to the right a little… four forward… four forward.” When they touched down to become the first human beings to land on another world, everyone seemed elated but them. Nope; had to read the post-landing checklist. Yes, they had a job to do and they were admirably All Business, but if you didn’t know what almost happened right before they landed (they had ten seconds of fuel left when they touched down), you certainly wouldn’t have known from their voices.

By contrast, in the transcripts of the Apollo 12 landing, you can almost hear the excitement in Conrad’s and Bean’s voices when they spotted the designated landing site and started their final descent:

Conrad – Hey, there it is! There it is! Son of a gun! Right down the middle of the road!
Bean – Outstanding! 42 degrees, Pete.
Conrad – Hey, it’s targeted right for the center of the crater! I can’t believe it!
Bean – Amazing! Fantastic! 42 degrees, babe!

I’ve listened to and watched footage of the Apollo 11 landing numerous times, but I don’t remember (and can’t imagine) either Aldrin or Armstrong calling each other “babe” at any point during their mission.

Perhaps because one of the seldom-acknowledged subplots of the Apollo 11 mission was that Armstrong and Aldrin reportedly didn’t like each other too much; they had to work together, but their camaraderie was strictly professional. That may account for some of the coolness.

By contrast, the Apollo 12 crew seemed to not only like each other, but they seemed to be having fun, in spite of the seriousness of their task. This was most evident in the first five minutes after launch, when the entire mission could have been scrubbed.

On Apollo 12’s scheduled flight date, the weather was rainy, but no one at NASA seemed concerned: the Saturn V rocket was possibly the most powerful vehicle ever constructed; the astronauts had run sims (simulator tests) for every possible contingency; why should a little rain stop the show? So Apollo 12 lifted off on schedule, and for the first half minute, everything seemed nominal, as they liked to say… but then, about 35 seconds into the flight recording, we hear a burst of electrostatic crackling, followed by Conrad’s voice on the in-cabin recorder: “What the hell was THAT?”

It didn’t take Conrad long to figure it out: “I’m not sure we didn’t just get hit by lightning, gang!”

In the words of spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel, “As the Saturn V tore through the electrically-charged storm clouds, the rocket and its contrail acted like a lightning rod (and) was struck by lightning twice.” This shorted out the command module power supply, and nearly every alarm light on the capsule’s instrument panel started flashing. Conrad’s recitation of the alarms is almost comically overwhelming, and even if you have no idea what he’s talking about– “I’ve got three fuel cell lights, an AC bus light, a fuel cell disconnect, AC bus overload one and two, main bus A and B out” –it’s clear that things weren’t “nominal.”

That wasn’t the only problem, though: in mission control, the usual stream of data from the capsule was suddenly indecipherable; in Teitel’s words, “a complete disaster of telemetry.” The telemetry was the means of communication between the spacecraft computers and the ground control computers. No telemetry meant no mission.

While everyone in Apollo 12 and on the ground tried to sort everything out, a mission control manager, John Aaron, recognized the gibberish they were receiving from the spacecraft. In an almost-forgotten simulation, a power failure had caused a platform called the Signal Conditioning Electronics (SCE) to malfunction, which meant that the spacecraft could no longer send coherent telemetry to the ground. Aaron remembered that in the sim, switching the SCE platform from NORMAL power to an auxiliary power source got the telemetry working again.

So Aaron passed on the word: “Tell them to set SCE to AUX.”

Conrad’s reply: “FCE to AUX? What the hell’s that?”

They repeated “SCE;” Bean flipped the SCE switch to AUX; telemetry resumed; and the crew reset the power supply and other systems.

On a cabin recording, the crew laughed as they discussed the first three minutes of the flight:

Gordon – God darn almighty, wasn’t that something, babe?
Conrad – Wasn’t that a sim they just gave us?
Gordon – Jesus! That was something else. I never saw so many… (laughing) There were so many lights up there I couldn’t even read them all!

When Conrad spoke to mission control, he said, “I think we need to do a little more all-weather testing.”

Five days later, when Conrad went down the ladder of the lunar module to become the third man to walk on the moon, he said, “Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!”

Long, great, AND colorful.

METANOIA is my print-only ‘zine, published twice a month or so.
To receive the latest issue, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Max Shenk; 39 S Main Street, rm 138; White River Junction, VT; 05001.
Click here to subscribe.
Click here to get a sample pack of five randomly-selected past issues plus the current issue.

Ad (doesn’t) work

I usually watch Youtube on my laptop, which has adblockers installed, so it’s always astonishing to me when I try to watch a video on the Youtube android app and see (a) the number of ads, (b) how intrusive they are, and (c) how poorly targeted they are.

(c) = I live in Vermont and my Youtube account, linked to google, shows a Vermont zip code, but I persistently get New Hampshire political ads. No Vermont ads whatsoever, not that those would reach me either, but… whatever they’re doing to target me, they’re missing. Why can’t they get a simple demographic like residency down? If I have a Vermont zip code, that means I live in Vermont. Why would they think I care about political ads for races in a state in which I don’t live?

(b) = ads just pop up in the most annoying spots on videos. Doesn’t the algorithm or whatever understand that if an ad gets my attention by pissing me off, it’s already lost me? My annoyance is both at the app AND at the advertiser.

(a) = I discovered a while back that if I refreshed a video page when the ad started, it’d clear. A couple days ago, I had to refresh a page TWELVE TIMES before the irrelevant, poorly targeted ads (“DON BOLDUC SAYS… SENATOR MAGGIE HASSAN SAYS…”) cleared. If an ad doesn’t work seamlessly, and in fact hinders me from doing what I want to do, that’s a problem, reference “my annoyance is both at the app AND at the advertiser” above.

Look, I get advertising. It’s necessary if you have a message or a product. I’m not saying it should be abolished, or that some of them don’t reach me, or that I don’t advertise my own works myself.

But ATTENTION YOUTUBE: WHAT YOU’RE DOING WITH ADS ISN’T WORKING THE WAY YOU WANT IT TO WORK!!!!

Neville’s Concise Guide To Using The Law

This excerpt is from Neville Goddard’s lecture “Creating One New Man Instead of the Two” (11 April 1969). At this point in his life, Neville was lecturing almost exclusively on what he called “the Promise”– a series of mystical experiences that resulted in his awakening and knowing of himself as God, as paralleled in scripture– to the extent that, when he recognized several audience members whom he had not seen at his lectures in several years, he seemed almost apologetic. “They haven’t heard anything like this,” he said of The Promise, “and so you will tolerate me for a moment to go back and pick them up where we left them off. I left them with the law, not the Promise. For their sake, it is the same thing, only raised to a higher level.” It’s an excellent brief summary of the law in Neville’s own words.

This lecture transcript is included in the book of 1969 lectures entitled The Return of Glory, edited by Natalie Bernet.

————————————————————-

“For those who only knew the law, let me now pick it up for you; just the law.

“The law is very simple. There are infinite numbers of states, infinite numbers—the state of health, the state of sickness; the state of wealth, the state of poverty; the state of being known, the state of being unknown. They are only states. You’re always in a state. Every moment of time you are only in a state. The state to which you most often return constitutes your dwelling place. So we all have one state that we feel more at home in that state, and so we return to it moment after moment. That constitutes our dwelling place.

“But if it is not a pleasant state in which to live, we can always get out of it. But we remain in the state and try to get out of it through external means, and that is not what we teach. You don’t get out of it by trying to pull wires from the outside, manipulating things on the outside. You get out of these states simply by a mental adjustment within yourself. As you fell into the present state either deliberately or unwittingly—chances are you did it unwittingly—so you are in a state and you are the life of that state and the state becomes alive and grows like a tree and bears the fruit of that tree. But you don’t like the fruit that you are bearing—it may be the fruit of poverty, may be the fruit of distress, the fruit of all kinds of unlovely things. Well now, how do I detach myself from this unlovely harvest that I’m harvesting all the time?

“I do it by simply an adjustment in my own wonderful human Imagination. I ask myself what do I want instead of what I seem to have. When I name it, I ask myself, how would I see the world if things were as I desired them to be? How would I see them; what would the feeling be like if it were true? When I know exactly what the feeling would be like were it true, I try to catch that feeling. And to aid the feeling I imagine that I’m seeing people that I know well and I allow them to see me as they would see me if what I am feeling were true. I let them see me in my Imagination and when the whole thing is adjusted in my mind’s eye so that they see me as I would see them and it now produces in me the feeling I desire, then I sleep. I fall asleep in that assumption. That assumption is a state, that’s all that it is, it’s a state. Now, let me make that state as natural as I made the former state that I did not like. If I find myself returning to this new state constantly, all of a sudden it becomes natural. As going home tonight, it will seem natural to me to go home and undress and sleep in my familiar bed.

“If tonight I went to some other place, no matter how glorious it is, beautifully furnished and everything at my command, it wouldn’t seem natural. When I leave here to go to San Francisco or New York and go into those lovely hotels, certainly, I pay much more money in these hotels than I pay in rent where I live, but it’s not as comfortable and not as natural. So you go to a hotel and you pay twenty-two, twenty-three dollars a day. Well, I don’t pay that sort of money in my rent, but it doesn’t compare to my natural state where I am. I feel so natural when I go home tonight and just get into my bed, get into my place. Well now, you must make this state just as natural. At first it seems unnatural like buying a new suit or buying a hat: it doesn’t seem natural. So you walk down the street and no one knows you, but you have a new hat, and you really believe that every one who passes by is looking at your hat, that they can see a new hat, and they don’t care whether you are living or not. But you are aware of the fact that it is new and until it becomes an old hat in your mind’s eye you are conscious of the fact that you are wearing a new hat. Well, you’re conscious of the fact that you are wearing a new state until you make it natural. So the state to which you most constantly return constitutes your place of home. I call it your home.

“Now, most of us have this great weakness. We know what we want or we think we know what we want, and we construct it in our mind’s eye, but we never occupy it. We never move into it and make it natural. I call that perpetual construction, deferred occupancy. We don’t occupy it. I can have a lovely place where I think one day I am going to go, but I keep on postponing the day, postponing the day, and I don’t occupy it. ‘I wish so-and-so were’ and I name it. But if I wish so-and-so were as I would like them to be, that’s the state from which I view them. Well, I’ve had the state, I’ve built it, I’ve constructed it, but I don’t occupy it. Perpetual construction, all day long I have the state. ‘If she were only’ and I name it, but I don’t go into the state and view her from that state; I don’t occupy the state. So she remains in my mind’s eye in the unlovely state in which I see her.

“Now that’s the world in which we live. There are only states, an infinite number of states. You can’t think of a thing that you could not reduce to a state, but the life of the state is the individual when he occupies it, because his Imagination gives life to the state. You can’t give life to it from without, because God’s name is I AM. God’s name is not ‘you are’ or ‘they are;’ his eternal name is I AM– that’s the light of the world, that’s the life of the world. So, if I would make a state alive, I must be in it. So I can say I am here. If you are here, what are you seeing? Well, I am seeing her and she is lovely. Things are just as I’ve always desired them to be for her. So that’s how I’m seeing her right now: I’m in the state.

“Now make that state natural. Sleep in that state for her sake and then you’ll make that state and incorporate it into your own lovely state so that whenever you think of her you’re thinking of her from that state. You can take everyone, one after the other, and make it a natural thing for them until finally when you discuss them or refer to them or think of them, it is always from that state. Others may not see them in that light. It doesn’t really matter what they think. I’m quite sure if I took some survey concerning what people think of me in my small world, no two would agree. Some would say, well, he’s a charlatan, why, he’s a deceiver; others would say I think he’s the nearest thing to God that I’ve ever seen. You have all kinds. What a range, from the devil to God, and all about the same person based upon the state in which you are when you’re called upon to define me. And so, you define me based upon your state.

“So, everyone in this world could be what he would like to be if he knows this principle and applies it. We are the operant power; it doesn’t operate itself. I may know it from A to Z, but knowing it is one thing and doing it is another. Can I really do it? Well, I can do it– then do it. Don’t say knowledge is enough. Knowing it will not do it. I am the operant power…

“…Apply the law. Don’t for one second fail to do it, because while we are in the world of Caesar, we must master this principle and live knowing there are only states. There is no such thing as a good man or a bad man. He’s in a good state as he conceives it and the other one is in a bad state as he conceives it, but the occupant of the state is really God. And so as (William) Blake said in his Visions of the Last Judgment: ‘From this you will perceive I do not consider anyone either good or evil, just or unjust, but simply to be those who unknowingly fell into states.‘ They fell into states, identified themselves with the state, and then they were pronounced by others to be good or to be evil. They are only in states.

“So tonight, if you are unemployed or you find it difficult to get promotion in your present employment, or you are in need, remember all the solutions of your present state are still states. I hope I have made clear how you move into a state. You move into a state by knowing how you would see the world if things were as you desire them to be, and then you begin to see them in your mind’s eye as though it were true. And then you sleep in that assumption just as though it is true. That assumption, though at the moment is denied by your reason and your senses, if you persist in it and make it natural, will harden into fact.”

Flip!

This was originally published as a short story in Green Mountain Trading Post and then the story collection What’s With Her?, and I later incorporated it into my novel You Don’t Think She Is. Ordering info for these books is at the bottom of this page. –mhs

==================================================

Scott Perry was one of those kids who was easy to miss when we were little. He was just on the fringe of our neighborhood, and he’d show up at an occasional pick-up ballgame; I knew him to say “Hi” at school, but really, I barely noticed him up until sixth grade. That was when he grew… and as he grew, my best friend, Margo LeDoux, started to take an interest in him. If I’d had any sort of non-best-friend interest in Margo myself, her suddenly smiling and saying “Hi” all quiet and shy to him as they passed in the hallway might have made me really, really jealous.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t interested.

Through elementary school, Scott had been little, stick-thin and wiry, but in sixth grade, he started to get tall, and the summer between the end of sixth grade and the beginning of seventh, he finished. When we came back to school in late August 1972, he was six-four. Not a mature six-four, mind you –he was gangly and a little gawky, like a baby giraffe– but he was a good-looking kid with that sad look that breaks 13-year-old hearts: thin lips, deep, dark eyes, a long face, and (as Margo said to her friend Christy Kelly one day after school), “Scotty’s Mom’s a Dental Hygienist, so not only does he have dreamy eyes, but straight white teeth and minty-fresh breath!”

Scott also had Beatle Hair: a mop of reddish-brown hair which he swept in an informal part to the left, and which he always seemed to be fighting… first with his fingers, then with a comb, and finally with a backwards jerk of his head… which worked almost as well as a comb most of the time.

     Margo’d noticed Scott and Scott definitely had his Dreamy Eyes on Margo, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about this, but, like most boys, Scott saw Margo and me together and kept his distance. But that didn’t mean he didn’t look…

One of the first times he looked was Friday of the second week of the school year. I left gym class and met Margo at the caf, and while I snagged our seats, she got in the ala carte line to get her lunch. I started into my Lebanon Bologna With Cooper Sharp On White and watched as she slowly made her way up to the single cashier: sixth in line… fifth… fourth…

     And there, almost directly across from her, in the hot meal line, was Scott Perry, paralleling her forward movement: fourth… third… second…

     The two of them met at the cashier’s (why they had only one cashier was beyond me) and Scott, being a gentleman, nodded to Margo to step up in front of him and pay for her food first. As the cashier rung up Margo’s meal and Scott stood there waiting, he checked out my best friend as slyly as he could…

     …and as he did, that shock of brown hair slipped lower and lower and lower… down his forehead, over his eyebrows, down into his eyes.

He couldn’t brush it back with his fingers: his hands were full of tray. So he did what he’d been doing lately: he tried to flip his hair back out of his eyes with a jerk of his head…

     …only what he flipped was his tray. The hot meal of the day (Turkey in gravy with Mash Potatos and Savory stuffing, Butter succotash and Apple Sauce) leapt up onto the front of his tan cableknit sweater. Scott’s silverware clattered to the concrete cafeteria floor, and his opened carton of milk spilled down onto the cashier.

Silence for a second, and then laughter from the few people who’d seen the whole thing, including me… and Margo, who stifled herself and stepped toward Scott to help. When their eyes met, he was so horrified that he dropped his tray on the floor and ran out of the caf to the boys’ room.

“God, Bri,” Margo said when she sat down across from me, “did you see that?”

“Yeah,” I chuckled as I took my milk off her tray. “Pretty funny, huh?”

“I guess,” Margo said. She took a bite of her sandwich, her long honey blonde bangs falling in her eyes. “Do you think he saw me laugh at him?” she said as she chewed.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Margo sighed. “God, I feel like such a jerk.” She took a sip of her milk and I ate the last bite of my sandwich. I felt like I was being watched.

“Brian?”

“What?”

“Could you please run to the bathroom and check on him?”

I laughed. “Check on him?”

“Brian, I feel bad.” She reached across and touched my bare arm. I noticed the red delicious polish on her fingernails. “Come on, Bri,” she said. “You know him. Please?”

“I don’t really know him, Margo…”

Margo just took a bite of her sandwich and looked at me, big-eyed.

Sigh…

I took a swig of milk and pushed my chair out.

Margo sat up. “Thanks, Bri!” she said as I got up from my seat.

I maneuvered my way through my classmates, down the narrow aisle between the crowded tables, taking note of the time (11:05. Why did we eat lunch so early?), and then stepped out to the boys’ room in the lobby right outside the cafeteria and stuck my head in the door.

“Scott?” I said.

Echo… echo… echo…

I opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside. The sound of the door shutting behind me echoed off the tile walls and floors as I scanned the stalls…

No feet visible. And the window was shut, so he hadn’t climbed out. Maybe he went to the office, or the nurse, but he wasn’t in that bathroom.

I opened the door to go back out to the caf, and as I did, I heard the distinct sound of a sneeze from one of the stalls…

…but I just let the door shut behind me and fought my way back down the aisle to take my seat across from Margo.

“Well?” she said, straightening up a little.

I sat down and opened my baggie of carrot sticks, and looked straight at the wall behind Margo.

“I didn’t see anybody in there.”

===================================================

“Flip!” is available in two different books:

It was a chapter in my novel You Don’t Think She Is, which is available in print, Kindle edition, or as a PDF e-book; click on the highlighted text for product page links or click here for complete ordering info, including ISBN info for ordering from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.

It was also included in my short story collection What’s With Her? , originally published in print by New Plains Press, and available as a Kindle book here. A new print edition will be issued in autumn 2022 along with a PDF version.

(Loss of) Commanding Presence

Of all of the fanboy nonsense I’ve read concerning the new season of Star Trek: Picard (of which episode five just aired, or dropped, or whatever you call it), the most fanboyishly nonsensical was from a Facebook commenter who complained that he realized that lead actor Patrick Stewart has aged, “but he no longer seems to have a commanding presence.”

Star Trek: Picard – Patrick Stewart (R) as a 90-something Jean Luc Picard is even more bewildered than ever by the machinations of his nemesis Q (John DeLancie, L).

I replied that, correct me if I’m wrong, but… isn’t one of the main themes of Picard that the title character has aged and no longer feels (or appears to those around him) that he has a “commanding presence”??

Five episodes into the second season, one thing that I love about Star Trek: Picard, which was true in its first season and is true thus far in this season as well, is Patrick Stewart’s performance in the title role. For you who haven’t watched the series, Picard has aged 30+ years since last we saw him onscreen in the Star Trek movies.

I’m trying to think of another elderly fictional character who has been depicted so realistically and played so well by the actor.

One thing I’ve always loved about Star Trek is that it never shied away from the topic of aging. The two best– to me– Trek movies featuring the original cast were the second one (The Wrath of Khan) where Kirk has to come to terms with his aging (think of Kirk grudgingly putting on fucking READING GLASSES so he can clearly see a navigator’s display panel while his nemesis Khan waits arrogantly on the comlink), and the last one (The Undiscovered Country) where all of the other characters are dealing with it as well (Spock’s beautiful line: “Might it be that you and I have grown so inflexible in our old age that we have outlived our usefulness?”).

Pop culture and pop entertainment is produced and consumed by and geared to the young. That’s because traditionally the young have the money and time to consume it. When elderly characters appear, they’re often a diversion, comic relief, etc. I don’t see a lot of pop entertainment where an elderly protagonist is the star attraction.

Stewart’s performance as a 90-something-year-old Picard resonates with the sort of bewilderment-about-self (“how did I get this old”) that anyone who’s dealt with someone in their 70s or 80s or older will recognize instantly.

The supporting cast seems to have gelled as well, but it’s the series’ title character that makes it worth watching.

If that’s not “commanding presence,” I don’t know what is.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Kirk (William Shatner, L) curses his reading glasses while Spock (Leonard Nimoy, center) and Saavik (Kirstie Alley, R) watch…

What is METANOIA, and why haven’t you asked me to send you a copy?

The picture above, as they used to say at print newspapers, is my “morgue”: all back issues of my print only ‘zine METANOIA.

I’ve had contact with a couple people who, when I asked if they wanted me to send it to them every couple weeks, seemed to balk, for whatever reason. These aren’t strangers; they’re people whom I consider friends, and yet they seemed hesitant– scared?– to just say “Yeah, send me a copy,” as if NEXT I’d be pestering them for payment, or expecting FEEDBACK of some kind, or they wanted me to send them a link (read again: PRINT ONLY. NO ONLINE!!) or who knows what else… 

No.

This is usually a single page or two pages, two columns, front and back.

So what is it?

The title of this is METANOIA; it means “a radical transformation.” I like the word and I try to embody it in my life and as a writer, so that’s the title I gave it.

I do it for these reasons:

* I am a writer, and writers write.

* Writing, though, is not just putting words on paper or screen. It’s honing a piece, editing it, getting it published, and connecting with readers.

* I’d reached a point, a few years back, where I was writing in my journal and online (mainly through my characters) but not PUBLISHING. 

* I also didn’t like that online writing was ephemeral, too easily ignored.

* I also love getting physical mail: letters, magazines, packages, cards, postcards. I like to hold a piece of paper in my hand that someone thought enough of to send me.

* I also know and have “met” via social media a lot of like-minded people who have given me of themselves in every way imaginable, and I wanted to give them something back. And “gold or silver I cannot offer thee, but that which I have, I will give you freely.” (Or something like that. 😉 ) And as a writer, what I have to give is my writing.

* With all this in mind, two years ago this week, as the first wave of the pandemic hit, I decided to publish this ‘zine.

It would be a writing discipline– I would write, finish, edit, and publish new writing every couple weeks and PUT IT OUT THERE for readers.

It would be print only– that way it wouldn’t get lost in the online weeds of links and blogs and websites– and I would mail those physical copies to people who expressed an interest in me or my writing, or vice versa. 

I didn’t stick strictly to the “every two weeks” schedule the past year or so, as health issues overtook me, but I’m back on that schedule. Issue 31 came out last week; issue 32 will come out NEXT week.

People have paid for it and that is appreciated and it helps me cover the necessary expenses of postage, paper, envelopes, toner, and stuff like this website, but if you want to read it and can’t pay or don’t want to, you’re under NO OBLIGATION to pay.

It’s not a burden on me. It is MY PLEASURE to create this and share it with you.

If you like ME and what I post on social media and on this website, or liked my books, or like my radio show, you will like METANOIA. Each issue contains, generally, an article on something that interests me, a metaphysical article of some kind, fiction pieces from my ongoing character fiction project on social media, a cartoon (yes, I draw that, too; see my posts on The Twins for samples), and whatever quotes I can fit in to fill space.

The topics these past two years have ranged from… let’s see… my uncle Ed, metaphysical lessons in STAR TREK, online shopping, Thoreau’s journal as his TRUE literary magnum opus, John Burns (the “hero of Gettysburg”), the Beatles’ LET IT BE remaster, 60s misogyny in the “good old days,” character development in M*A*S*H, dealing with “Writer’s block,” Penn State football, the silliness of record collecting, how online interactions can sometimes destroy friendships, parenting, French and American cultural norms and faux pas, my process of learning to play a seeming impossible song on the piano, PEANUTS and Charles Schulz and “canon” in story, the lives of blue jays, why I hate the phone, along with the writers and thinkers who stoke me: Neville Goddard, Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Henry Miller, Jacques Tati, Orson Welles, and Thoreau (did I mention Thoreau? He is my favorite and appears frequently, even if it’s just a quote).

The metaphysical stuff simply reflects my ongoing life work of reconciling the spiritual with the world. Isn’t that what most of us are trying to do?

Anything in that incomplete topic list that interests you?

Again:

It’s print only.

If you’d like to read a copy, here’s the complicated, convoluted process:

Send me your snail mail address and I will send you the latest issue.

That’s all.

If you want a back issue and saw a topic in the list above that interests you, mention that and I’ll send it along. If you want to go random, pick a number between 1 and 31 and I’ll send that back issue.

You are under no obligation to PAY or BUY anything. If you want to subscribe formally (several people have), it’s a buck an issue in the USA. If you want to donate via my ko-fi page, great. If you want to send stamps (as a couple people have), great.

If not any of the above, great.

You’re not even required to READ IT. One of the most bizarre exchanges I’ve had was with someone whom I’d quoted liberally in an issue, and I messaged him telling him and asking if he’d like a copy, since he was quoted in it, and if so just send me his snail mail address and I’d pop it in the mailbox for him. After five or six messages, he didn’t seem to get that I just wanted to give him this. Further, the tone of his replies made me feel like he saw this as ONE MORE ADDED OBLIGATION IN HIS ALREADY BUSY LIFE.

No. This is a gift, from me to you.

If you’re interested, email me (maxshenkwrites@gmail.com) or use the submit comment feature on this website, or, if you want to pay, you can either get a subscription by becoming a monthy donor or buy back issues.

That’s all there is to it. Honestly.

As my buddy Skip Heller said once about giving away his music on MP3s, a musician’s job is to make music, and a listener’s job is to listen.

As a writer, my job is to write. The reader’s job is to read.

Become a reader of METANOIA!

Hey, Jay! Hey, Red!

This article was originally published in issue 22 of my print-only ‘zine Metanoia.

From my current living space, I don’t see a lot of birds, or at least I don’t see the number of birds that I used to see when I lived in (relatively) rural Vermont and could put up feeders, or take a walk in the woods by just stepping out the back door. This has led me to satisfy my birding interests virtually via Youtube, specifically on two channels: the first hosted by a Newfoundland woman named Lesley the Bird Nerd, who produces beautiful informational videos; and the second a live bird feeder cam hosted by a user named B.A. Birdwatcher; that cam livestreams from (ironically, since I grew up less than 30 miles from there, lived there briefly, and consider it one of my favorite places in the world) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The videos on these two channels have both stoked and fed my interest. Lesley’s channel is mainly informational– four-to-ten-minute-long videos about the the birds she sees– and from it, I’ve not only been tipped off to behavior I might have missed otherwise; I’ve also had a few misconceptions shattered.

For instance, it’s the start of spring, and I’ve already overheard one conversation this year from someone who was excitedly reporting that they’d “seen their first robin.” Uhhh, sorry: as I learned from one of Lesley’s videos, robins are mostly non-migratory. They’re drawn to the suburbs, it’s believed, because the closely-trimmed lawns make it easier for them to find worms and other food, and in winter, those feeding spots being mostly unavailable, they retreat to the woods. They’re still local, in other words; they’re just off in the woods feeding instead of on our lawns.

Lesley’s favorite birds are blue jays, and she’s at least passed on her love of them to me. Watching her videos, I’ve learned more about jays than I have from any book or live observation. Both her videos and the live “feeder cam” have reminded me that I learn best through a combination of facts and observation. Some of the things she’s learned by watching blue jays for almost 30 years are:

  • Blue jays are monogamous. They don’t necessarily always “mate for life” (Lesley has observed some nasty blue jay breakups, with spurned former mates being driven away from their territory), but they do pair up, and several of the mated pairs she’s observed have been together five or more winters.
  • Blue jays eat paint chips. It doesn’t hurt them; this, Lesley says, is an apparently instinctive attempt to get calcium in their diet, which they naturally get from eggshells. It’s fascinating to me that a bird would know to eat calcium-laden paint chips to supplement its diet.
  • Blue jays, like most birds, have different calls and sounds and body language, all of them communicative of different messages. For example, jays do a bobbing movement accompanied by what she calls “the squeaky gate” call, which is a sign of dominance or aggression: this is my limb/ my tree/ my feeder/ my mate, so go away NOW. I’d never noticed this call before, but now when I hear it, I know I’ve heard it before, and it’s unmistakable.
  • Blue jays can mimic other birds, sometimes strategically. Lesley reports that several times, she’s heard what sounds like a sharp-shinned hawk calling from the trees above her feeder, which, of course, caused the smaller birds at the feeder to scatter for cover… all except the jays. (Insert hmmmmmm…here.) She scanned the trees with her binoculars, expecting to find a hawk, but instead found that the source of the call was…a blue jay. The jay had learned to mimic a sharp-shinned hawk’s call; the threat of an assumed nearby predatory bird sent the smaller birds flying away from the feeder, which meant that the blue jay and his jay friends now had the feeder all to themselves.

Learning these things about jays and other birds, I find I can sit for hours watching the “feeder cam,” and I notice all birds’ interactions in a new way.

Cardinals seem to dominate this feeder– maybe not surprising: it’s a tray feeder filled mostly with sunflower seeds, which cardinals love. While I can easily tell a male cardinal (bright red) from a female cardinal (duller brownish red), it’s impossible for me to distinguish between different males or females (even with 1080px streaming video, there’s only so much detail you can discern). However, the birds’ behavior tells me that there are, indeed, different cardinal groups and pairings. There are males who sit alone at the feeder, cracking open and eating sunflower seeds one at a time. (They’re not swallowing them and storing them in their crops for later, like some bigger birds do. I once watched a jay at this feeder pack 37 shelled peanuts and uncracked sunflower seeds into his crop before taking one last peanut in his beak and flying off!) At least one of these solitary cardinals chases off other males who attempt to come down and share the feeder. There are also (apparently) mated pairs who come down, and, again, when another cardinal tries to come in and partake, one of the perched birds chases the other cardinal off, sometimes before it can even land. There is also at least one pair of male cardinals who come in to feed together, sometimes with a lone female. Are these family or siblings from a previous year?

Watching these videos has not only rekindled my interest in birding, but has made me place “living in or near the woods, where I can observe birds in their natural habitats and also have a back yard bird feeder” at the top of my list of “criteria for next home.”

Metanoia is my biweekly print-only ‘zine, usually two, sometimes four, pages.

To receive the latest issue of it, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to
Max Shenk
39 South Main St, rm 138
White River Junction, VT 05001

OR
You can go to my shop at Ko-fi.com, where you can get either a subscription or back issues. Or both!

How much SOUL do you need??

This article originally appeared in issue # 16 of my print only ‘zine Metanoia

The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul recently celebrated its 55th anniversary. Or should that be Rubber Souls: since its release in December 1965, there have always been two different versions ofthe album. The covers were identical, but the UK version contained fourteen tracks. That album was released worldwide…

…except in North America. Capitol Records, the group’s US label, habitually trimmed their fourteen-track UK LPs to twelve tracks (sometimes eleven!), and then further reshuffled the contents to make space for the UK singles (which were customarily not included on UK LPs). Reportedly, Capitol exec Dave Dexter wanted the US Rubber Soul to have more of a “folk music” feel than the UK version, so he snipped four “rock” songs from the UK track listing– “Drive My Car,” “What Goes On,” “If I Needed Someone,” and “Nowhere Man”– and replaced them with two “acoustic” songs– “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” –cut from the earlier UK Help! album (which, in the US, was a soundtrack LP with seven Beatles tunes and five non-Beatles instrumental tracks).

The result was that, even though the two Rubber Souls shared ten common tracks, the US edition had a warmer feel than its UK counterpart, with acoustic instruments dominating the songs. Beatles fans are divided on which Rubber Soul they prefer, but many of them own a copy of both. I used to own both, and while the UK version has grown on me, I grew up with the US version, and that’s still the one that I prefer. As a Facebook friend of mine said, “If it doesn’t open with ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face,’ it’s not Rubber Soul.”

However, the Rubber Soul variations don’t end with the track lineups. Up until 1968, pop albums were issued for both stereo and mono phonographs. The Beatles directly supervised their mono mixes, leaving the EMI engineers to create stereo mixes based on those mono versions. This means that– guess what?– many Beatles collectors have not just two, but four different Rubber Souls: both UK and US releases, in both mono and stereo.

Right now I don’t have any vinyl copies of either edition, and so, spurred by this anniversary, I went to eBay to see if I could score a cheap copy of my favorite Rubber Soul: a US mono pressing. I bid on a copy…

…but then I found myself second-guessing. Buying a vinyl copy of an album I owned on CD and in digital form might seem excessive, if not obsessive, to many people.

Why did I NEED to not only have a vinyl copy, but that specific vinyl copy?

Then I saw this picture on Facebook, posted by a collector in a Beatles group.

These records are said collector’s FIFTEEN copies of the US Rubber Soul. From the top left, he has the original east-and west-coast pressings in both mono and stereo; then a late-‘60s stereo disc (the label almost identical to original issues save for some wording in the manufacturing disclaimer); next, a late ‘60s stereo disc with Capitol’s new label design; then a record club release, the 1973 Apple Records reissue, and, finally, three late 70s and early 80s reissues.

Oh… and, in the lower right corner, for good measure, in addition to those eleven vinyl pressings, he also has the 8-track and cassette releases, as well as two CD editions.

(No, I don’t know where his reel-to-reel tape went.)

The thing that might be astounding (if not confounding) to a non-collector is that musically, most of these eleven Rubber Souls are as identical as they appear! Two of them are mono mixes, while one of the early stereo pressings was a unique “east coast mix” that was never reissued. (Remember my distinction between “east coast” and “west coast” pressings? This was one of the few times that the pressing plant location equated to a musical variation.)

That having been said, the remaining eight albums are just musically identical reissues of the same twelve-track stereo album. Yes, granted: earlier pressings of these discs sound better than later pressings, but later pressings were made in smaller quantities, so, therefore, they’re technically “rarer” and perhaps more “collectible”…

…and as my character Margo might type at this point, “do you even care about any of this?”

I can’t sit here and type that I don’t indulge this sort of obsessiveness in my own way. Within slightly-more-than-arm’s length of my desk sits a crateful of Beatles 45s containing multiple copies of records which appear to be “the same” but are slightly different from each other in some way. I have four different US copies of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that differ only cosmetically (mainly label variations), but then I also have two different pressings of “For You Blue” that look identical but differ musically; same with “I Feel Fine” and “I’ll Cry Instead” and “Love Me Do” and “Misery” and a bunch of other tunes.

When I lost my 2000+ disc record collection a few years back, I told myself that I now had the fun of acquiring those discs all over again if I wanted to. Label variations, stereo or mono mixes, album or single versions, country of origin, picture sleeves… sussing out these kinds of variations is part of the fun of collecting anything.

So even though I’m kind of mocking this collector’s bring-n-brag picture of his Rubber Soul library, in a way, it’s surprising that I don’t have even one vinyl copy of Rubber Soul.

I don’t think I want or need eleven, but at least that gives me a benchmark.

Whether that’s a benchmark of completeness or of obsessiveness is another question.

* * * * *

Metanoia is my biweekly print-only ‘zine, usually two, sometimes four, pages.

To receive the latest issue of it, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to
Max Shenk
39 South Main St, rm 138
White River Junction, VT 05001

OR
You can go to my shop at Ko-fi.com, where you can get either a subscription or back issues. Or both!

The constraints of liberation

PSSST! Doing a podcast, a vlog, a newsletter, a blog, an article? Here’s a little tip that I learned from working in both radio and on newspapers: 

Set a limit defined by your chosen media (time, words, space, pages) and DON’T EXCEED IT.

Word counts and time limits and space restrictions are your friends, and they’re even bigger friends of your audience.

Doing an open-ended vlog or podcast or written piece may feel liberating, but it’s really just self-indulgence, and it’s also disrespectful to your audience. It’s like handing them your notes or your rough draft and saying “Here… the bigger point is in here somewhere, but I don’t feel like slogging through all this shit to find it… you’ll suss it out.” 

And my attitude, even with a person I like, is usually “No, I won’t. Get to the point.” 

And ultimately how can I enjoy someone who has so little respect for me –their audience– that they assume that I’ll drop everything and sit for as long as they’re going to take to stammer through whatever point they’re trying to get to? 

That’s the big problem I have with a lot of podcasts, vlogs, etc: that they just tend to go on and on and on and on and on. Every diversion, every stray thought, gets included, and the bigger points get lost in what, in the wrong hands, just comes across as discursive, self-indulgent, stream-of-consciousness rambling. Yawwwwwwn.

Radio, by contrast, is a finite medium. When I do a radio show on the air, the show starts at a certain time, I have a finite amount of time to do my show, and then the show ends at a certain time. 

If I’m on from 6-8 am, I’ve got two hours.  So I have to decide: what do I want to communicate to my listeners? What’s important? What isn’t? What songs do I want to play most

It forces me to make choices. If I want to ramble self-indulgently, I’m free to do that, but when 8 am comes, I have to relinquish the mic.

One thing I love about instagram is that the video length is capped at one minute. I can’t present anything extraneous. So if I do a video for instagram, I’ve got to present my thoughts in one minute. Not 1:05, because then I have to trim either from the beginning or the end. One minute. There’s no temporal room for self-indulgence. Unless I want to send my viewers link-jumping to a continuation, again, I need to pare it down to the essential.

Following these examples, when I decided, earlier in the spring, to do an online weekly “radio show,” I decided that it’d be one hour long. I just finished putting together this week’s, and at one point, I realized that it might run 1:00:54. I had to find 54 seconds to edit away. 

Fifty-four lousy seconds. What’s the big deal? 

The big deal is: if I decide that 54 seconds overage doesn’t matter, then, eventually, that 54 seconds becomes 1:54, then 2:54. It’s important because it means I haven’t kept my word. It’s an unwritten agreement: I tell listeners that my show is one hour long. You like and respect me enough to take an hour of your time and listen; in turn, I respect your time enough to not go a second over an hour. 

And yes, this show had a thirteen minute talk segment which could have been trimmed. But I liked that part. And I think most people who listen won’t mind it, because they know that I’m not adding that thirteen minutes on top of an hour that’s already there. 

Finding 54 seconds to trim was easy! 

Moral of the story: don’t disrespect your listeners and readers. Set a limit and don’t exceed it. 

P.S. Here’s the link to this week’s UNCLE MAX RADIO SHOW. https://tinyurl.com/uncle-max-2020-04-26
One hour and not a second more, although this week it was 9/10ths of a second less

I’ll make it up next week. Promise!