MARCH 29, 2015 LOCAL HOOPSTERS WIN AGAIN
All the college basketball excitement this week is about the NCAA Division I mens tournament. Here in the Pittsburgh area, locals had been following the fortunes of Robert Morris University and West Virginia University, until those teams were eliminated by Duke and Kentucky respectively.
But there are many other tournaments going on, for smaller schools as well as the NIT and for women as well as men. Weve still had teams to root for.
Three years ago, I described televising games after driving all the way to California which is only a 60-mile trip. California University of Pennsylvania is located in the Monongahela River town of California, PA. This year, the CalU womens team made it to the Elite Eight of NCAAs Division II, played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And the Vulcans won it all! With an 86-69 victory in the final game Friday night, they claimed their second Division II national championship in 11 years.
On Saturday afternoon, another nearby school, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, almost won it all. IUP was the runner-up in the men's Division II tournament for the second time in five years.
Both games were televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network. I watched the CalU women's game; it was fun, with a lot of scoring. There wasnt much defense. Players were frequently able to quickly dribble past their defenders and score on driving layups. But contrary to some womens games Ive televised, these players actually made those layups, and they were deadly on jump shots.
The venue was the 3,250-seat Sanford Pentagon. When I heard the name, I guessed correctly that it was a five-sided building, but I guessed incorrectly that it must be in Sanford, Florida. Actually, this Sanford refers to Sanford Health, a medical facility in Sioux Falls.
The Pentagon, home to a pro team in the NBAs D-League, opened only a year and a half ago. Although its design includes modern amenities in the corners like luxury suites and a huge video board, its supposed to be a throwback to the look of old-time basketball gyms.
MARCH 26, 2015 THIS IS AS EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE
Like shooting fish in a barrel: What do the old movies Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have in common?
Highlight the following text to view the answer: Both titles contain exactly 25 letters. (So does the simile about fish in a barrel.)
Crossword constructor Eric Albert took advantage of this obscure fact (which, as you know, also applies to Return of the Killer Tomatoes as well as the Food and Drug Administration) before he added cross words to the oversized 25x25 grid that I puzzled out last week.
MARCH 20, 2015 NOT THE BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES
Tonight in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Chanticleers (from Big South champion Coastal Carolina) will play the Badgers (from Big Ten champion Wisconsin).
Chanticleers, huh? I remember that the term comes from Chaucers Canterbury Tales, where its the name of a proud rooster. So I looked up Chaucers description of the bird, which includes these lines:
MARCH 15, 2015 SELMA
The nation and I were watching on television 50 years ago tonight.
What happened in Selma, President Lyndon B. Johnson told a joint session of Congress, is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome!
MARCH 11, 2015 ANTI-SPLICING SONGS
A knot that attaches the loose ends of two pieces of rope is called a splice.
A hundred years ago, according to my old hometown's Richwood Gazette: Clergymen and justices, known as splicers, who tie the matrimonial knot are the latest sufferers from the national war tax. To each marriage certificate they hand out must be attached a 10-cent revenue stamp.
Another edition of the newspaper noted that local resident Al Hamilton has written a number of very pretty pieces. Sheet music was available at M.F. LaRue's music store for Al's latest song, Let the Parson Tie Cupid's Knot and Splice Your Name to Mine.
Fifty years ago, as a Richwood High School student I wrote some parody lyrics that speak disparagingly about splices that, for self-centered reasons, remain imperfectly intertwined.
On a related subject, my lyrics also deplored the liberation of women. Damsels in distress have a charm that makes men want to help them all they can. But today's females have gained all the rights that the males have, so they don't need any man to help them. Girls today are not the same!
MARCH 5, 2015 O, BE SOME OTHER NAME!
The memory still haunts me, half a century later. There I was, in front of the whole school, misapplying a quotation from a classic drama. How embarrassing!
Richwood High School would sometimes take a few minutes out of its week for a pep rally. Actually, I think we had to give up the last third of our lunch period. Wed assemble in the gymnasium and the cheerleaders would challenge us to express vocal support for our athletes, in hopes that we would be similarly enthusiastic at the big game that night. A little humorous entertainment was also included.
As nearly as I can reconstruct the incident, the cheerleaders had recruited me for a skit. Sitting on a stool at midcourt, I introduced another character, who was supposed to enter from my left. His entrance was slightly delayed for some reason.
In mock frustration over his absence, I cried, Wherefore art thou?! My ad-lib was badly chosen.
Most of my audience probably didnt realize it, but wherefore does not mean where.
It means why.
So Juliet doesnt call out, Where are you, Romeo? She wonders, Of all possible names, why are you Romeo?
In defense of my audience and myself, in daily life we are no longer required to know the meaning of wherefore. The word is now considered archaic. I think we should expunge it from Shakespeares play, where it hampers our modern understanding.
Our heroine walks out onto her balcony and, as young girls will, toys with the name of the boy on whom she has a crush. Oh, Romeo! Roam-eeeh-ohhh. Why are you Romeo? Deny your father and change your name.
Or else tell me you love me, and Ill change my name. Ill no longer be a Capulet. Ill be Mrs. Romeo Montague. Mrs. R.M. Juliet Montague. Doesnt that sound much classier than Juliet Capulet? I always detested that et-et rhyme.
What do names mean, anyway? We call this flower a rose, but if we called it a stinkbloom it would smell just as sweet, wouldnt it? Ay me!
FEBRUARY 27, 2015 THE NEW ORANGE
The Cleveland Browns are being ridiculed again. This week, people have been joking about their announcement of a brand new logo (left) thats only slightly different from their old one (right).
Another detail: Because the teams name is not the Red-Oranges but the Browns, theyve painted the face mask brown. As though anyone will notice.
That brings me to a recent quote from Stephen Hawking.
FEBRUARY 23, 2015 THE MORNING AFTER
Most Oscar acceptance speeches used to be cut off by wrap-it-up music, and I used to think the orchestra waited too long. We dont need to hear thirty seconds of the winner's self-conscious giggling and false modesty and hurried personal thanks to everyone from hairdresser to high school drama teacher.
But at the Academy Awards last night, many of the speeches had actual content, such as Patricia Arquettes call for equal rights for women of the United States of America!
And then there was Graham Moore:
And finally there was Alejandro González Iñárritu:
Let me also comment on the music. Ive been out of touch. I havent really paid that much attention to popular music since the last time I worked on MTVs Spring Break telecast nearly 30 years ago.
Nowadays I hear celebrity news about female singers like Beyonce, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Jessica Simpson, or Lady Gaga. Usually the news is something outrageous. Also, I get the impression that their performances are typically loud and aggressive and aimed at energetic young folks who like to dance. That description doesnt include me, so I dont listen.
However, my cable system has forty audio-only Music Choice channels, and one night I happened to stop on channel 420, Love Songs. I heard all six of the previously mentioned artists singing melodic tunes that I didnt mind listening to. It turns out that they all have talent!
This was demonstrated last night when Lady Gaga amazed all of us with a medley from The Sound of Music.
Local movie reviewer Sean Collier tweeted, In her most shocking move yet, Lady Gaga wears a normal dress and sings regular-type. Piers Morgan commented, This is, to my utter astonishment, fabulous. And Patton Oswalt said, Um... Lady Gaga is completely, unarguably, nailing it. Sorry; I know Im supposed to be snarky. But that's what's happening.
Also, last nights Best Original Song came from the movie Selma. Id heard the name John Legend but had never listened to him or Common perform, until their powerful rendition of Glory.
And the previous Sunday, during the Saturday Night Live celebration, the usually controversial Miley Cyrus covered Paul Simons 1975 hit 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover with a smoky countrified rendition that I for one enjoyed. I also like Mileys performance of Jolene, a 1973 hit written by her godmother Dolly Parton.
I need to listen more to the music todays young people are making.
FEBRUARY 18, 2015 FEBRUARINESS
Here in Pittsburgh, were enduring a couple of weeks of snow and subzero temperatures. (At least were not in Boston!)
I worked a basketball telecast Saturday. Afterwards, during the four minutes it took to walk from the TV truck into the arena, snow blown by strong winds covered the front of my coat and ski mask. The same squall caused a white-out on a two-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, resulting in three pileups involving a total of 20 cars.
(If screaming fixed the trouble, leave a note for the chief engineer.)
When I was in college, dozens of us had two-hour weekly shifts at the student radio station. We were all brilliant scholars, of course, but we were amateur disk jockeys. Very few had ever encountered an audio control board. Each of us had to be helped through our first show, then given a refresher course when we returned the following week.
For situations when no experienced engineer was around, the station actually provided a users manual, half an inch thick.
For example, because classical music has great dynamic range and listeners turn up their volume to hear the quieter passages, the announcers voice should also be quieter. For popular music, however, everything including the announcer is always at maximum loudness.
Even back then, I was aware that professional broadcasters frequently changed stations. As a later sitcom put it, they must have got kind of tired packing and unpacking, town to town and up and down the dial. Or, as the late DJ Lee Baby Simms put it, Forty years in the business. 25 markets. 36 stations. 41 jobs. Fired 25 times. I loved every minute of it.
Each time a DJ arrived at a new station, he confronted an unfamiliar set of controls. I wondered what kind of training program he had to go through before being trusted to solo on this 747. But I guess after youve seen a few boards, youve seen them all.
Thats not true of every business. Yesterday, when I visited the doctor, there were three office workers trying to learn the health systems new computer setup, plus three tech support people trying to teach them. I think it was the third day for the IT people. Why did it have to be so difficult? Couldnt they simply convert their old database into the new format somehow?
Well, it turns out they had done that. But they also had to adapt to a new computer screen layout, with functions concealed within new menus and submenus. There was a lot of note-taking going on. Also, the system now demanded digital images of my insurance card, my drivers license, my signature, and my face. And there were glitches. For some reason, entering Thomas Thomas took them to the top of the patient list (which is where I belong, of course), and they had to scroll all the way down through the alphabet.
My daily newspaper also has converted to a new computer system. Around Thanksgiving, they warned subscribers that Customer Service would be essentially unreachable for the entire month of December. It must have taken them most of January as well. Only this week did I finally receive my annual renewal bill for the year that will begin more than six weeks ago, on December 28, 2014.
Computers are great, but switching from one to another can be a real pain. Thats one reason I havent even considered migrating from Microsoft to Apple.
FEBRUARY 7, 2015 TOM VISITS TOM'S BIRTHPLACE
FEBRUARY 3, 2015 ONE-SIDED COMMUNICATION
At five oclock the other afternoon, a waitress came up to me and began talking about an unfortunate incident involving a little boy. I couldnt catch everything she was saying, as she was speaking loudly and urgently and rapidly. Apparently this boy had become separated from his parents. Gesturing to the far side of the restaurant, she told me, You can see the youngster sitting there, or something like that. Ironically, he lives only a few blocks away.
Okay, I said, I guess I can give him a ride home. She explained me a few more details about what had happened. Thats too bad, I remarked. She kept on talking. Fine, I said, Ill go over and introduce myself. Whats the boys name? But she didnt answer me. She kept on talking. What is his name? I repeated. The waitress told me her name! And then she went away!
What is the boys name? I called after her. No response. What is his name? I shouted to no one in particular, and no one in particular responded. I had a powerless feeling, as though I didnt exist. All the other restaurant patrons were staring numbly at a television set, from which I heard other voices speaking about other things.
I got up and walked over to the big table on the other side of the room. There sat several adults and at least two kids who could have been the little lost boy. I asked whether somebody needed a ride home. There was no reaction. They were all glued to the big screen, where a weather report was now in progress. We were warned of sub-zero wind chills overnight.
That was when I awoke from my nap. I had, of course, fallen asleep with the television on.