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Mr Thursday is Dead

It has become abundantly clear to me, over this past year, that I am no longer a blogger. I’ve never been the most consistent poster of material, on this site or any other, but in 2007 I posted several times each week, rain or shine. Sometimes, my fervor to write something–anything–so overwhelmed my supposed goals for the site that I’d just Google simple phrases looking for news stories to comment on. I’ve imitated writers I’ve admired at various points: most notably, perhaps, William Safire’s NY Times Sunday column “On Language” with the “Foot & Meter” mini-series. I’ve considered only doing occasional, lengthy posts, with thorough and nuanced commentary on a given issue. I’ve tried to post several times a day, every day. I’ve tried to streamline my subject matter, and I’ve tried to categorize it.

That’s been sort of the beauty of this blog. It’s always been anything I’ve wanted it to be. But the fact is, I don’t want to write anymore. Nearly every post for the past 12 months has been pulling teeth. I currently have a host of new posts in draft form, waiting for completion and publication, that will never see the light of day. There is one from months ago about a performance of “Oedipus at Colonus” as performed in a skate park. There is an addition to the Do They All Die? series that is, at its core, a desperate effort to convince Mrs Thursday to rewatch one of my favorite movies. Another post that piggy-backs on that one talking about the place of symbolism in action movies.

There are pounds of thoughts about the Phillies winning the World Series, of course.

I’ve considered closing up shop here for a while, but I like the website, and I like having the forum to chitchat about whatever I like, whenever I like. But the fact is, I don’t want it anymore. The fact is, any time I write, I cannot seem to shake a singular thought from invading not my words and phrases, but my ideas. Everything I write is corrupted by it, and I don’t want to think about it anymore.

This is the last post of the Curious Mechanism. Thanks for reading.

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The Phillies Win the Pennant

Last night, Carlos Ruiz caught a foul popup, and the Phillies were, officially, in the World Series.  It’s the second time in my life the team I obsess over has made it this far.  And when Chooch caught that ball, what I felt was not elation, it was not joy, but rather, simply, relief.  Soberly, Phillies playoff games this year have not exactly been the most fun I’ve ever had.  They’ve been paranoid evenings.  I’ve sat in my house for 6 of the 8 games.  I’ve been mostly quiet.  I felt my heartrate slow and my blood pool in my feet.  I felt myself pale.  When Victorino and Stairs hit the home runs in game 4 to steal the game, I was relieved, but not excited or proud.  At least, not that day.  Maybe the day after.  And last night, and today, I think about that out and I don’t regret staying inside afterward, when I could hear people whooping it up outside, and Mrs Thursday wanted to join them.  Because I was happy.  I was glad this part was over.

When I was very young, my Dad would take my older brother and I to baseball games.  Charlie, my brother, is about a year older than I am, and we have a younger brother, Stephen, who is about three years younger than I.  I remember those first games so vividly.  Frigid April Philadelphia weather, sitting about 7,000 feet above sea level in the upper deck at the Vet, in the 700 level, or the 600, right behind home plate.  We’d go for the Phillie Phanatics birthday, too.  When Stephen was old enough, he’d come, and we’d go as a family, my mom and dad and Charlie and Stephen and I.  We either sat behind home plate, high above the Earth (which is now section 420 in CBP, and it is, perhaps, my favorite place in the entire world) or out in left field.  A bit lower to the ground, sure, but you’re a long way from home, out there.

In 1989, I think, I played in my first little league.  Cooperstown Little League, in Haverford, PA, or thereabouts.  One inning, I went out to the field having accidentally grabbed someone else’s glove, and using it, playing shortstop, I think, I managed to backhand a ball and throw out the baserunner at first.  My dad saw me do that, and saw I had grabbed a righthanded glove, instead of my natural lefty, and I was an immediate convert.  He was an assistant coach on my first t-ball team, which he sponsored.  He was frustrated with the head coach, who had doing baserunning drills every practice.  Dad was competitive, sure, and wanted to see his son’s t-ball team do well, of course, but more than that he knew that if there is anything a five or six year old doesn’t need instruction on, it’s running.

Because I loved to play, though, we’d play catch before and after practice.  He’d teach me to hit.  When my great Aunt Kate would babysit us, we’d play wiffle ball, and I would line ball after ball right back at her head.  She had a good sense of humor about it.  Less good was a coach of mine in the next league up, who had to duck after each pitch, so often was I lining baseballs six feet off the ground right up the middle.

I kept playing little league and advancing (and also gaining weight: I was the little league version of Albert Belle, but with glasses and a better attitude).  I played catcher, and I hit homeruns.  My baseball viewing life kept advancing, too.  The Phillies swayed somewhere between below average and awful, without quite reaching the status of Embarrassment, before exploding in 1993.  97 wins.  Lenny Dykstra was Dr Dirt.  Jim Eisenreich introduced this nine year old to Tourette’s Syndrome.  Pete Incavglia looked like a plumber, and my dad knew every one of his 24 home runs about 30 seconds before Pete launched ’em.  Dutch Daulton launched 24 of his own.  Dave Hollins invented the concept of the between-pitch routine that Nomar would someday imitate, but never duplicate.  Mariano Duncan played what seemed like every infield position.  Mickey Morandini made every play at second, and had a knack for hitting triples.  John Kruk was glorious and funny.  Kevin Stocker took over shortstop late in the season and was a revelation.  Terry Mulholland has baseball’s best pickoff move.  Curt Schilling was young and brilliant.  Tommy Greene was younger, and, it seemed, even more brilliant, albeit in a totally different way.  Larry Andersen was goofy and through junk all day and night.  And Mitch Williams, the Wild Thing, fell off the mound to the tune of 43 saves.

Baseball was so good that summer, we coudn’t get enough of it.  Dad and I started following the local leagues.  Minor leagues.  Legions.  High school.  College.  In 1993, if it had a box score in the local papers, Dad and I could tell you about it.  And then the Phillies went to the playoffs, gloriously ruining the Atlanta Braves, and then fighting the Blue Jays to the teeth before Joe Carter hit that home run.  Thinking about that home run causes me no pain.  I loved everything about baseball in 1993. I don’t care if they were on steroids.  I didn’t know it then, and I don’t care about it now.  Those Phillies made me as happy as I have ever been.

But then, in 1994, the strike struck.  My dad was not a union man in 1993, it seems.  He blamed the players greed for the strike, and I was devasted.  Schilling and Greene and Dykstra and the rest were all greedy villains.  I went to a couple of minor league games that summer, but it wasn’t quite the same.  The next year, I gave up baseball, little league.  And I mostly stopped watching the sport.  I remember Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s record.  I watched that game.  And I had interest in the home run race in 1998, but what really got me back into baseball was, amazingly, a stunningly bad Phillies team.  My friends in high school, as I was a freshmen and they were upper classmen, were into the Phillies, and so I kept going to games.  Chad Ogea was terrible.  Schilling was good and brash, and Rolen was good and sullen.  Doug Glanville led the league in outs.  Over 130 innings were given to relievers with ERAs over 7.  And somehow, I was in love again.

I started going to games, again.  With the exception of this year, I estimate I’ve gone to 20-25 games each year since 1999.  My dad was still skeptical of this game with its strikes, but, somehow he gradually started accepting it again.  At least, I wouldn’t have to fight to get the game on.  When they signed Thome, my dad’s interest grew, and when Ryan Howard took his spot, my dad became a fan again.  He went to a Steve Carlton bobblehead day a few years ago, probably his first live baseball game in a decade.  He liked Rollins and loved Utley.  He loved Hamels.  He was frustrated by Brett Myers.  He hated Wagner, and didn’t trust Tom Gordon.

We got him some tickets for the season.   A small package.  6 or 8 games or so, for 2007.  The final game of the year was Sept 30th, at home.  His 55th birthday.  The Phillies won the division that day, capping a fabulous comeback against the Mets.  We sat in the sun and sang.  We ate hot dogs and sausage and pasta salad and drank beer and soda.  Me and Dad and Mom and Charlie and Stephen, Uncle Rob, and Aunt Diane.  When I was very young, my dad gave me baseball.  When he turned 55, I gave it back.

He died from cancer less than three months later.  We miss him, of course, now.  And in a lot of ways, we’re all still trying to put it into perspective.  He had a lot of family members who died young.  My dad buried one his seven brothers on the day my dad turned 18.  He had a sister die before he was even born.  Another brother survived 2 broken necks and a war, and died in his sleep when I was 14.  The Shillingfords, they burn bright, and short.  My own dad worked his entire life.  He owned his own business, he was an electrical contractor.  He charged one of the lowest rates around, not because he was bad, but because he felt guilty about raising prices.  He had long running problems with religion, with his own faith, but he’d work for churches for free.  He developed a drinking problem when I was very young, and corralled it as he got older, without giving it up.  In retrospect, his ability to moderate his drinking is one of the more amazing feats I’ve ever seen.  He loved to drive.  He’s gone now, and the rest of us don’t really know what to make of it.

But the Phillies have won the pennant, and he’s largely what I’ve been thinking about.  About how much more this means to me because of him.

I miss you, Dad.  Still wish you were around.



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I Can See It In My Dreams

I had never been to New Orleans before the flood.  My deepest emotional connection to the city has always been Tom Waits’ brilliant ballad, I Wish I Was In New Orleans, which is the song used in the montage above.  I had know particular opinion of the place, except that I wasn’t much interested in the notorious debauchery of Mardi Gras, and I suspect a lot of exaggeration in terms of the seedy, dark side of the city that so many writers have so enthusiastically given their verbiage to.

My good friend Andy, who gave birth to the Do They All Die? series on here, has been living down there for the past year, aiding in the rebuilding project.  It’s hard work, what he’s doing there.  Work that burns out a lot of the people who try to do it.  Andy has signed on for a second year of rebuilding.  We’re proud of him up here in the northeast corridor. He’s been encouraging me to come and visit him in New Orleans all year.  Before that, he spent four years trying to get me visit him in Toronto.  Which I never did.  He called a few weeks ago and explained that he was coming to Philly, and I could hitch a ride down with him, splitting the cost of gas, and then I only needed to pay for a plane ticket back.  I agreed.

We left two Sundays ago, on August 10th.  The plan was to drive to Pittsburgh, spending the night at our friend Jess’ place.  On Monday, we’d drive to Tennessee, having dinner with an acquaintance of Andy’s, and spending the night.  On Tuesday, we’d get into New Orleans.  I’d fly back to Philadelphia at dawn the following Sunday, giving me roughly four and one-half days in the Crescent City.  The plan went off pretty smoothly on Day 1.  I met up with Andy a bit later than hoped, but we made good time to the ‘Burgh.  Jess took the two of to a friend’s birthday party, for free food and drinks.  Andy and I are dazzlingly charming fellows, and somehow, both Jess and the birthday girl, Sarah, were talked into joining us on the trip.  We thought as late as Monday morning that they weren’t coming, and, then, they bought plane tickets.  We decided we were now running late and twice as populated, and thus too much of a burden on some stranger in Tennessee who I can only imagine as being achingly beautiful.  We elected to drive straight from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a 1200 or so mile drive, getting into town around dawn.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

That’s us there, sometime early on Tuesday, probably somewhere in Tennessee or Alabama, two states in which we spent a lot of time.  Upon arriving, we met up with Maura, Andy’s better half, who made us pancakes as she and her roommate Caitlin prepared to eat their weight in ice cream, later that day.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right.  There were no survivors.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right. There were no survivors.

During the day we slept and took it easy.  That night, however, we went to the Maple Leaf, for Rebirth.

Andy had been talking about the Rebirth Brass Band for a while to me, and I was excited.  But to talk about Rebirth to people who haven’t seen it is like trying to explain the Sun to owls.  Rebirth Brass Band are eight or so black men.  They’re dressed like they belong in amateur rap videos.  Flatbilled, crooked hats, wifebeaters, jeans.  The Maple Leaf is dark, but they’re younger than you’d expect a 25 year old band to be.  The youngest members are probably in their 20s, and the oldest are, perhaps, in their 50s.  In the back of the stage stand the drummers, two of them, I believe, and the sousaphoner (sousaphonist?  sousaphone player?).  The front of the stage is all brass.  A couple of trombones, a sax, and a lot of trumpets.  Anyone in the front row may sing, apparently, but singing isn’t really the point of Rebirth.

Rebirth is shockingly loud, for starters.  Our ears rang all the next day.  At times, if you stand close to the stage, the volume is so extraordinary my ears couldn’t handle it, I heard the horns like they were coming through blown speakers.  They are, in fact, unignorable.

They are demanding, as well.  Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf allow no room for dissenters, for the indifferent, for the analytical or critical.  You go, you hear, you dance, and there is nothing else, anywhere.  You are with us, or you are someplace else.  They’re a tradition with all the passion and energy of a revolution.  They’re beautiful like fire.

The next day we awoke slowly.  It was raining, and our plans involved a bit of a tour of the city, so we had nowhere we needed to be.  The tour is a strange thing.  Of course, New Orleans, as a city, post-Katrina, is a strange thing.

New Orleans has a remarkable and distinct identity, geographically and architecturally.  It gets hot, but, at least during the week I was there, the heat was bearable.  As so many have said before, however, it’s not the heat, but the humidity that gets you.  In and around the Bayou, the humidity is so fierce that every time I stepped from an air conditioned building or car, my glasses fogged.  The humidity means it also rains, at least a little bit, just about every day.  The drainage system in New Orleans is absurd.  The rain water falls into a drain, from which is it pumped into the nearby Lake Ponchartrain.  When Katrina hit, Ponchartrain flooded, and the water in New Orleans had nowhere to go.  That, of course, was just one of the problems that others have thoroughly documented.  Anytime a hard rain lasts longer than about 30 minutes in New Orleans, the roads start to flood.

Of course the roads deserve a brief mention.  New Orleans roads might as well be unpaved.  They’re Third World rugged.  They have cracks, bumps, potholes, sinkholes, the works.  Near Andy’s house is a road where the pavement goes up.  Like a reverse-pothole.  You can’t avoid it.  And it’s only about a foot or so tall.

In some ways, New Orleans is like a European city.  It’s not nearly as densely populated, of course.  And not nearly as old as Amsterdam or Paris or London.  But the buildings follow adhere to a style that you don’t really find anywhere else.  And the city gives the impression that these buildings have always been here.  There was never any wild swampland, any plains or forests.  There have always been these brightly colored little shotgun houses, with their ornate column and draperies and shutters, live oaks sprawling above and beside them.

Beyond that sense, the houses themselves are something to behold.  They are, nearly every last one, ornate.  Pictured below here is the Wedding Cake House, as it’s known, on St Charles Street.  The house is immaculate, and its perfect whiteness is, really, the most significant separating feature.  The rest of the New Orleans architecture is similar, albeit, usually smaller, but still with the columns and rails and the rest.  The difference is a certain amount of decay.  Sometimes the paint is chipping.  Sometimes a house almost appears to be leaning.  Some houses are painted so garishly brightly, the owner must be some kind of clown, and yet, the house fits in perfectly.  New Orleans buildings are drunks in tuxedos.  A little bit of mud on the shoes, the tophat is the top punched through, a little stubble on the chin.  Huge trees line every main street in the city, and hanging from some of them, still, are beaded necklaces from February’s Mardi Gras parades.

The city satires respectability, that old-fashioned southern aristocracy is New Orleans favorite joke.

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

We took the tour of the destroyed areas of town, which, of course, is what most people back home have been curious to hear about.  So, how is New Orleans, after the storm?  Odd.  A lot of the buildings still have visible waterlines.  In general, the visible waterline is somewhat lower than where the water peaked, as during the storm the water would reach its height, then sink, resting a few feet below the high watermark, and staying at this second line for days or weeks.  So, if you see a watermark five feet high, the water probably reached seven or eight feet.  Many houses still have the spraypainted messages from rescue workers, signaling that a house had been investigated, and what had been found there.  Perhaps no message is more famous or haunting than this one, with 1 Dead in Attic spraypainted on the front of the house.  The resident climbed into his attic to wait out the storm.  When the water rose into it, he couldn’t get out, he drowned.  There are a lot of houses with messages, though, all over the city, but especially in the 8th and 9th wards.  Most are somewhat more abstruse than the bluntness that is 1 Dead in Attic, however.

The Lower 9th Ward has gotten a lot of press, and justifiably.  But it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be there.  There is nothing.  There’s not enough left to even get a good sense of what was destroyed.  All that remains of the Lower 9th are the foundations.  There are few battered houses, signs of rubble, all that.  I remember being in New York after 9/11, and seeing the stunningly large pile of rubble, broken glass and steel and concrete, and being shocked.  Seeing the Lower 9th isn’t like that.  You could drive by it and not realize that there had once been hundreds, thousands of houses there.  There was total destruction.  Utter.  All that remains is grass.  There are a few rebuilt houses there.  A few of them are even occupied now.  And I can only imagine it’s bizarre and even terrifying at times to live within the city limits, with hardly another soul within a mile of you most nights.

New Orleans is unique.  It’s a stunningly poorly run city.  Remarkably corrupt.  Irrepressibly infuriating.  It’s also beautiful.  Dynamic.  It’s alive in a way that few cities can be.  Strangers on the street say hello.  Your next door neighbor is probably dealing drugs, but he’s quiet and friendly as anyone you’ll meet.  There are jazz bands everywhere–at the clubs, on the streets, at the midnight bowling alley.  I could live there, I think.  After all, I live in Philadelphia, so I already have an affinity for flawed, great, American cities.

Post-script:  On Wednesday night, Jess, Sarah, Andy and I were joined by our new friend David, where we went to a bar known as Snake and Jake’s Christmas Lounge.  The place opens up around 9PM, and stays open till the bartenders feel like shutting down.  This is the kind of place that can’t exist just anywhere.  The picture below is what the place looks like during the day.  At night, it’s almost entirely invisible, except that wreath is lit up.  They’ve got Schlitz for $1.50 and the other beer is, I think, $2.  The bathroom has no door.  While I still feel a little dirty from the place, I’m glad such dark, joyful places exist in the world.

Dive Mecca.

Snake and Jakes Christmas Lounge: Dive Mecca.

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Joe Po, With the Rook, In the Hooters, With the Priest

The Big Lead has up a wonderful interview with our absolute favorite sportswriter.  Get to the site!

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Running, Running, Running

Well, friends, I’ve started another blog.  All you pale, mom’s basement dwelling, blog reading/writing types might be interested in the topic.  I’m getting in shape (I might be out of the basement, but I’m still a fatty), by training to run the 2009 Broad Street Run in Philadelphia.  It’s easier than a marathon (16.2 miles easier), but still hard enough that I couldn’t possibly do it without getting into shape.

The blog is called Broad Street Runner, and, yes, I’ve been updating it pretty regular for about a week without telling you.  Sorry.  The idea is document the experience of going from a fat, lazy slob to a healthy, running slob.  I’ll write about my improvements as a runner, any races I participate in, things I learn about running and stuff relating running.  Basically, if you wanna read a fat guy talking about his shoes, well, then I’ve got the blog for you.  Otherwise, if maybe you want to start running yourself, then, hopefully the blog well serve as a decent resource, and a reminder that out there, somewhere, is a fat guy trying to run for himself.

Broad Street Runner: A Blog About Going a Little Farther

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Sometimes, I Feel the Same Way (PSA)

I’ve never had Shiner Bock, nor any other Shiner beers.  I have no problem with the brewery, it’s just that the beer isn’t available out here (or, at least, not widely), so I haven’t had the chance to try it.  I do appreciate that Shiner seems to be one of those bridge breweries–they make beers that are widely consumed near the brewery, and well appreciated, and, I suspect, a lot of Texas craft beer drinkers moved away from BudMillerCoors thanks to Shiner.

All this, of course, is a long winded way to introduce a commercial and public service announcement from Shiner.  Yes, we’re apparently a video blog now.


Hat tip to Stan Hieronymus.

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I Sense… Col Mustard, in the Billiard Room, with the Candlestick

There will be a new crime drama this fall, on CBS, featuring a psychic detective.  The show is called The Mentalist.  From Ain’t It Cool:

“The Mentalist” is about a psychic (Simon Baker) who solves crime. It’s not to be confused with “Medium” or “The Dead Zone.” It’s from writer-producer Bruno Heller (“Rome”).

Hercules, of course, refers here to “The Dead Zone”, which was a USA drama starring Anthony Michael Hall as a man who fell into a coma, awaking after six years to discover that he has psychic powers which he uses to solve crime. The show began in 2003 and was canceled in 2007.

Completely independently, of course, is ABC’s drama starring Patricia Arquette as a woman who one day suspects she has psychic abilities, which she then uses to solve crime.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen either show, and I doubt I’ll find any interest in The Mentalist, as I’ve already found the best psychic crime solvers on TV:

It’s like video day around here.

Aint It Cool News: CBS Plans To Rehash Old Shit for Next Year

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