Sunday, March 24, 2013
There's a whole lot of "little accumulation" on my deck as of 6:47 p.m. on this Sunday, March 24.
Sleet fell for most of the afternoon, but it started snowing later, not long before 5 p.m. This is what accumulated in just a couple of hours.
It's a pretty snow -- fluffy and wet and making lacy sculpture out of the everyday stuff of life outdoors.
This will likely be the last snow of the season for Richmond. We've been lucky so far this winter, although I wouldn't say that if I were 10 years old. The snowfalls we had this winter were light and manageable -- and mostly gone within hours. As this one is forecast to be.
Loving unusual winter weather is for the young. I had Sunday dinner with the family today, and my young great-niece Milagros pestered me mercilessly until I agreed to go outside with her so she could "play in the sleet." She bundled up and ran out into the backyard, dancing with joyful abandon. She delighted in sticking her tongue out as far as she could, trying to catch ice pellets so that she could see what they taste like.
I stayed on the porch, under cover.
Were I still her age, I'd have been right out there tasting the sleet with her.
Posted by Don Dale at Sunday, March 24, 2013
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I think it must happen when you pass 60 years old.
You'll see a published list of memorable events or movies or whatever, and you think, I lived through that!
One good thing about hanging out with people my own age is that we all remember the same things, even the stuff we'd like to forget. Like pink shirts and black knit ties. Or truly dreadful lyrics, like "Julie, Julie, Julie, do ya love me?"
(For the record, the title of the song was "Julie, Do Ya Love Me." It was by Bobby Sherman, and it made it to No. 5 on the Top Ten list in 1970. You can listen to it by clicking here. Remember, you've been warned.)
But I digress. I'd rather talk about good memories.
I was reminded of how long I've walked the planet this week when the Library of Congress announced that it was adding 25 more songs, albums and other audio recordings to the National Recording Registry for preservation.
I'm familiar with a lot of the new entries -- not all, though, since some predate even me. But two of them stuck out: "The Twist" by Chubby Checker and "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkle.
Both have sticking power. If you're at least a teenager today, you probably know them. One was memorable because it made a dance form de rigueur with young people in the early 1960s, and the other was memorable for the artistry of its music and the poignancy of its lyrics at a time when the 1960s were becoming the Sixties.
It was "The Twist" (1960) that was responsible for the dance craze that bears its name. People danced the twist at fraternity parties, in church basements and at country club soirees for several years. My memories of the twist originated at Phi Delta Theta parties at the University of Richmond. The carefree exuberance with which we threw ourselves into this simple dance was fueled by warm nights, perhaps too much bourbon, and sheer youthful enthusiasm.
On a Saturday evening, you could walk the length of Fraternity Row and see people in every house dancing the twist with wild abandon. It was a young person's dance. Older people just couldn't seem to let go of their inhibitions. "The Twist" deserves to be remembered, if only because of its brief but pervasive influence on party culture.
"The Sounds of Silence" (1966) couldn't provide more of a contrast. It was originally released by Simon and Garfunkle in a purely acoustic version on their first album, which didn't sell so well. A Columbia Records producer, without telling the artists, took another listen to the song and overdubbed the acoustic version with drums, electric guitar and electric bass.
The title of the remixed song was changed to "The Sound of Silence," and it was released as a single. It was a surprise hit. You couldn't listen to radio without hearing it.
The two songs illustrate the dramatic shift that took place in popular music between the early 1960s and the mid-1960s. The bubble-gum sounds and lyrics of those earlier times were replaced by lyrics that spoke to a frustrated generation that was beginning to recognize itself as an instrument of change.
It was the difference between "We're gonna twisty, twisty, twisty, till we tear the house down" and these lyrics written by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle:
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming ...
Both songs say so much about their times, and they tell us about a generation that was at times dissolute and at times courageous.
By the way, this week also marked the 50th anniversary of the U.K. release of the Beatles' first album, "Please Please Me," in 1963. I remember it well.
Like the hits, the recollections just keep on coming. And they keep reminding me that what seems to me to be current events is really history.
Posted by Don Dale at Saturday, March 23, 2013
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The people responsible for the words you see on screen during local newscasts are not dumb.
They’re just doing too much work in too little time. The evening news starts at 6:00:00 p.m., not at 6:00:30 -- whether you’re ready or not. And when a deadline is seconds away, there’s not always a dictionary at hand.
That said, however …
They do make misteaks … um … mistakes.
Take the full-screen graphic I spotted (see above image) on the WTVR evening news on Feb. 24: “IN THE WEE AHEAD.” That just sounds creepy. What happened to the missing letter? Is there a “k” shortage, and nobody told me? Here are a few, just in case somebody needs them: KKKKKKKKKKKKKK
Then there was the graphic on the 6 o’clock news on WWBT on Feb. 2: “HOSTAGE SITUTATION.”
Or how about another one from WTVR on Feb. 5 in the 6 a.m. newscast: “HISTORICAL SOCIETY WANTS MORE MOMENTOES.” They’re “mementos,” not “momentoes.” The word is from the same Latin root as “remember” and “memory.” Try not to forget.
Sometimes the fingers fly across the keyboard so fast that things just get all jumbled. When the city announced new rules about trash cans being left out in the alley or front walk too long, we got this on WTVR: “RICHMOND TO FINE RESDIENTS $50 PER DAY.” Resdients might have to pay that fine, but will us residents?
The same station recently gave us “PRINE WILLIAM COUNTY.”
There must be something about princes that flummoxes WTVR. Three days later, we got “RINCE GEORGE COUNTY” on the evening news.
Or maybe it’s counties, not royalty, that are tripping up the much-maligned graphic artists. When it snowed last week, Channel 6 brought us a live report from “HERNICO COUNTY.”
The so called “grocer’s apostrophe” is making its way to our TV screens, too. You know what that is. Signs in grocery stores often seem to reflect confusion about how you make a plural out of a singular noun. So we get signs that say “BANANA’S ON SALE.” There ought not be an apostrophe in the plural of “bananas.” Just add an “s” and be done with it. No need to make it complicated. Instead, on the local news one night last month, we got “POLICE FOUND ESCAPEE’S IN HER HOUSE.”
Sometimes, it’s not the graphics but the pronunciation that trips up TV broadcasters. The deadlines are tight, and they just bluff their way through. That’s no doubt what happened recently when Mark Holmberg blew it, big time.
I like Mark Holmberg’s work. He goes places where other reporters are afraid to go -- under bridges at night to talk to the homeless or into the thick of the action on the streets to work a crime scene. He seems fearless. But it’s clear he’s never worn a military uniform.
His heart was in the right place last week when he reported at 11 o’clock on Channel 6 about the line-of-duty shooting death of a Virginia State Trooper. “State Troopers are a different breed...” he told us, “more like the Marine Corpse, really.”
By now I’m sure uncountable Marines have told him that the “p” and the “s” in “Marine Corps” are silent. It’s pronounced “Core.” (His report is preserved for posterity on the Internet. You can see it by clicking here.)
Deadlines: I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
It reminds me of the old saying about work product: “You can have it fast, right, or cheap.”
Pick any two.
Posted by Don Dale at Sunday, March 10, 2013
Saturday, March 9, 2013
I was looking out of my dining room window at the snow swirling sideways last Wednesday morning when I remembered what an important job my brother Jimmy Jr. had back in the 1960s and ‘70s.
He was the man who could close Henrico County schools.
Jimmy was by then Director of Construction and Maintenance for Henrico public schools. When snow was falling he’d brave the weather and drive the roads of the county -- which was much more rural then -- to determine whether school buses would be able to make their runs safely.
I talked to Jimmy’s daughter, my niece Terry Dale Cavet, this morning about what it was like to live with such an important personage. Ironically, Jimmy lived in the city, in what is now the near West End, and his decisions didn’t affect Terry, who was a teenager attending Albert Hill Middle School in Richmond.
“In those days, he was much more conservative than they are today. He’d only close the schools if there was an absolutely obvious danger,” she told me.
“Might be,” she said, “was not a good enough reason.” He would, however, keep a close eye also on what other local school jurisdictions were doing.
Those test drives of the Henrico county roads mostly happened when it was snowing late at night, just before Jimmy went to bed, although sometimes snow would begin to fall overnight and he’d have to get up to make his test drives very early in the morning.
Jimmy was well-qualified to make the decision. He had a degree in building construction from VPI and a master’s in education from U.Va.
And he had a driver’s license and a car.
Terry lobbied hard for Henrico students, even though she lived in the city. She pleaded with her father to shut down the schools on those occasions when the decision might go one way or the other. I doubt that he took her requests for a school-free “snow day” in Henrico into account.
Jimmy stayed on the job for Henrico schools, making those hard calls, until the day he died, at age 48.
Terry reminded me that when Jimmy died, the county school system flew its flags at half-staff. That was in late October of 1974. On the day he was buried, the high temperature was 82 degrees, and it did not snow.
Posted by Don Dale at Saturday, March 09, 2013
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Forty-two years ago, two friends and I were talking about movies. I said something that has haunted me since.
First, a little setup. One of the friends was, even then, a movie snob. Except he would never call them movies. They were films. The other was decidedly less so, although he did and still does approach movies with more reverence and attention than I give them. I think his secret is watching more closely and analytically while still losing himself in the plot.
The first friend, the snob -- and he was a condescending person in many other ways, as well -- went on to study, teach and write about film.
Me? I usually just let a movie wash over me. Unless, over the years, I find myself drawn back to it. Only then do I start to notice the hows and whys, the lighting, the acting, the direction.
For example, I have gone back again and again to movies such as "Casablanca," most anything by Hitchcock except his early British efforts, movies in which Cary Grant plays Cary Grant, "Charade," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "How to Steal a Million," "Gone With the Wind," "Gosford Park," "Nashville," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming," and "High Society."
That's not a complete list. Although it shows that my interests range wide.
But I digress.
Forty-two years ago, I told my two friends that I had seen and liked "The Sterile Cuckoo," a 1969 movie starring a then almost-unknown Liza Minnelli and directed by Alan J. Pakula (who would later direct "All the President's Men" and "Sophie's Choice").
They laughed and mocked my taste. They said my judgment was frivolous and unstudied.
Minnelli was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for "The Sterile Cuckoo." (She lost to Maggie Smith in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"). Critics said Minnelli's performance was commendable, but that the direction was flawed. I thought she was very young, talented, awkward, and gangly -- perfect for the part -- yet she had an un-self-conscious elegance and grace.
My opinion of the movie became a joke, and it continued over the years. I might say something at dinner or at a party, and one of those two friends would say, "But you liked 'Sterile Cuckoo'!" It always got a laugh, eventually even from me: I learned to play the non-sophisticate in their game.
Recently, one of the friends took the joke up a notch and sent me a DVD of -- you guessed it -- "The Sterile Cuckoo." I was nearly afraid to watch it. Would I still (gasp!) like it? Or this time would I look at it as a waste of time?
Eventually, I popped the DVD into the player.
Here's a slightly edited version of what I wrote later via email to the friend who sent it to me:
I think what I identified with at the time was the neediness in Minnelli's character. Always feeling like an outsider, unsure but determined to appear confident. A tendency to latch on to people. An inclination to exaggerate stories to make an impression. A lack of self-esteem. "Yeah, I know what that's like" was something I said to myself a lot on first seeing the movie.
But it held my interest 42 years later. Watching it today, I was still filled with compassion for the character and for the me that found something relevant in the movie in 1970.
It's quite a daring story for its time. Boy meets girl. Both are virgins. They have sex. In the end, he walks away. It's not a difficult plot. But remember the times and remember how young love was most often depicted in movies in those times.
Minnelli, about whom I knew little then ("Cabaret" hit the big screen two years later), demonstrated her remarkable presence and potential.
The male lead was as dull as dishwater.
Today ... well the movie is an artifact, not all that memorable but interesting as Minnelli's first major movie role. I am not at all embarrassed for having liked it a lot ... in 1970.
I'm glad that a movie that I liked long ago still holds something for me.
"The Sterile Cuckoo" has met the test of time. For me, anyway.
Posted by Don Dale at Sunday, January 27, 2013
Saturday, January 26, 2013
When snow falls -- even as little as we had yesterday afternoon -- I stay home, where it's warm and safe.
Sometimes I build a fire in the woodstove just because watching the flames reminds me of my childhood, when snowfalls made everything seem somehow more special. My mom used to slow-cook a soup or a stew and make yeast rolls or cornbread, because she thought it warmed her family. She was, I think, correct.
Sometimes I do the same. You can get creative and make a soup or stew using most anything you have on hand. The secret is in the broth (a slow process) and the simmering of the whole concatenation all day in a big pot on the back burner. The aroma that fills the house is almost as good as the taste of whatever eventually comes out of the pot. Almost.
I stay at home because I don't like being on the streets and roads. What worries me is not my driving. I'm troubled by all the other drivers.
Richmonders don't know how to drive in the snow. Not even with as little snow as we had yesterday afternoon. Some don't slow down much. Most fail to plan ahead or anticipate what other drivers might do. There's a litany of things Richmonders don't know about safe driving when the streets are snowy or slushy or icy.
Yesterday afternoon, I had an appointment in Carytown, and it started snowing while I was inside. By the time I walked out 90 minutes later, snow covered the streets and was falling hard. You couldn't go six blocks without seeing some driver who had run into something, either another car, a ditch, a tree, or a lamp pole. Local police reported 60 snow-related accidents in three hours.
I made it home safely. But slowly.
I lived in a German mountain village for three years in the late 1960s. I learned how to drive in the snow and ice because the roads were snowy or icy all winter.
You can see a live image of the streets of that village, Bitburg, by clicking here. As I write this, it's the middle of the night in Bitburg. There's snow against the village gutters and the streets look icy. The temperature is 27 degrees.
Summers were glorious in the Eifel Mountains in Germany -- while they lasted. We always thought we were lucky if the temperature reached as much as 80 degrees on July 4. It reminded me a lot of the Appalachian region of Virginia. But the winters were cold. Very cold.
By the time I got home yesterday evening, it was dusk. The temperatures were falling further below freezing. It was good to walk into a warm house.
It was even better to have a bowl of rich beef, carrot and tomato stew. (I used a few of my home-frozen bags of Hanovers from last summer.) I made the stew the night before with a heavy hand on the garlic, basil and oregano.
I built a fire in the woodstove.
Life felt almost as good and safe as it was when I was a child.
Posted by Don Dale at Saturday, January 26, 2013
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Everybody has his or her own special Christmas traditions. They come in many forms, and they’re repeated in homes around the world. Others are more quirky.
Some don’t emerge to be recognized as traditions until somebody says, “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It must be a tradition.”
When I was a little boy, the tradition was that the tree didn’t go up until after my sister and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. “Santa brings the tree and decorates it,” my parents told us. (It was only later that I realized my parents, children of the Depression who made the most of every penny, knew that trees were discounted late on Christmas Eve.)
But Christmas morning was all the more exciting for us kids because of that tradition. We saw the tree for the first time on Christmas morning, beautifully decorated and lit -- and surrounded with presents.
After all the gifts had been opened and the wrapping and ribbons discarded (into the trash, not the fireplace, my mother insisted), we’d begin sniffing for the aroma of Christmas dinner. (I later learned that the first whiff of the feast to come was of celery and onion sautéing in butter for the stuffing.) The dinner was a set affair: roasted turkey, giblet gravy, cornbread and sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce, a relish tray, candied yams, green beans cooked to death with a chunk of country ham, a Waldorf salad (which was my father’s only creative contribution to the feast) and a choice of homemade pumpkin or pecan pie. Or even a slice of each.
As my sister and I grew to be teenagers, I got involved playing a Roman soldier in the city’s annual Christmas Eve pageant at the Carillon at Byrd Park. Afterwards, the family would have a special Christmas Eve dinner: oyster stew, ham biscuits, baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad. Then we’d open the presents. I took to going to midnight service with friends.
The next morning we’d sleep in and then have Christmas dinner.
The “new” tradition stayed the same until the early 2000s, when the only members of my immediate family who were left were my mother and me.
After she died in 2007, my niece and nephew began inviting me to holiday gatherings, mostly at my nephew’s house where Becky, my nephew’s wife, and Terry, my niece, both cooked for a gathering of about a dozen. Both women are amazing cooks, and I quickly grew to love this “new” (to me) tradition. Becky, like my mother, has a wizard way with homemade yeast rolls, which I dearly love.
In the late 1970s, still another tradition evolved, and I didn’t recognize it as one of my important and even cherished Christmas customs for many years.
A group of us, mostly friends I have known forever, began to celebrate the holiday with a Christmas-night dinner at a Chinese restaurant. If you’ve ever wanted to go out for dinner on Christmas night, you know that most of Richmond’s restaurants are closed -- except for Chinese restaurants. For more than three decades, my friend Jerry Williams has organized reservations for the 12 of us. (He even makes place cards to make sure we don’t sit next to the same people we sat next to last year. Thanks, Jerry!)
Chinese restaurants all over town are packed on Christmas night, and the service is always slow, but that’s become part of the charm.
This year was no exception.
And so this year I pay tribute to this tradition and these old friends, a few of whom I see only several times a year. But I know I’ll always see them Christmas night.
In the picture above (which was taken by the receptionist at Peking on West Broad Street), you can see most of them. From left to right, they are Robyn, me, Jill, Jim, Danielle, Jane, Alan, Jerry, Shenandoah, Mark, John, and Barry.
By the way, there is a reason why Barry looms large at the forefront. He was in the bathroom when the receptionist took the picture of the rest of us. Mark -- who is our photo archivist -- took a separate picture of Barry and then worked some digital magic.
Old or new, you’ve gotta love ’em. They make the holidays memorable.
Posted by Don Dale at Thursday, December 27, 2012