August 09, 2008

Olympics, New York and St. Blaise Day    i.e. a week in the rear view

Caught the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It’s always heartwarming to watch the huge number of countries represented, big and small and in between. The common humanity always comes through, along with the diversity. Asians in general seem to be especially good hosts and there was something exotic in seeing the perfect grace and posture of the lady (ladies?) who led the delegations holding a sign identifying the country. Perhaps it merely my thinking of the East’s greater discipline and self-control. That discipline was also shown by the dancing girls who greeted each delegation for four hours in pentitential heat. “Dance, Dance, Dance” as Japanese author Murakami titled his book. I was tired for them.

Spent Saturday reading like the wind, “going long” in QB parlance, and I fell into the sweet spot of smittenness while reading O’Neill’s “Netherland” which is proving to be that elusive annual good novel. So far O’Neill has that uncanny ability to say meaningful things while having a lyrical bent. I'm fortunate if I encounter one good novel a year and if it doesn’t get read during the summer it likely won’t. Last year was Annie Dillard’s “The Maytrees”, the year before Bill Luse’s “The Last Good Woman”, the year before that Randy White’s “Sanibel Flats”, the year before Roth’s “The Human Stain”, the year before that TC Boyle’s “Drop City”, the year before that there was none, the year before was Saul Bellow’s “Ravelstein”, the year before a John MacDonald novel, the year before that “Cold Mountain”, the year before that… I could go on you know. I keep records.

Despite the evidence above the good novel feels elusive. It also feels irreplaceable since the summer isn’t the same without it. Full days spent outside preclude television but not books, which is a feature not a bug as the programmers say. (Which reminds me of a comic who, during his routine, once asked me what I did. “A programmer,” I said, to which he said, “oh like on television?”. Funny as a crutch!)

I also read a lot of “The Great Gatsby” since it’s for work (my personal development goal even though it can’t be documented anywhere since reading a novel is seen as irrelevant by upper mgt though my immediate supervisor occasionally hounds me). Also tasted a bit more of Hamill’s nostalgic look at New York, purely for nostalgic purposes.

It’s possible I’ve been remiss in reliving vacations – really reliving them, actively holding them close in memory, like what you’re supposed to do with Scripture and God. (Come to think of it…?) Perhaps I treat vacations too cavalierly, like they’re disposable or something when I can recycle them in my memory, like a good environmentalist.

New York is magical and I can relive a tinge of it by re-playing some of the All-Star game on the DVR, set sentimentally in Yankee Stadium. That’s major league baseball for you – they only love you when you're dead. Like giving someone a gold watch and a big retirement party during a downsizing. Was chutzpah invented by television execs?

Nostalgia is a key to baseball in a way it isn’t to any other sport. “Bronco Nagurski” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Lou Gehrig”, especially after the latter’s “luckiest man in the world” speech. Baseball produces either great saints - Clemente, Williams, Gehrig, Maris – or great sinners, Rose, Bonds, Cobb. “Say it Ain’t So, Joe” wouldn’t be said of a football player since we have lower expectations. Football, in general, produces more mediocre characters.

The baseball gods (i.e. television execs) see nostalgia as no different from mawkish sentiment but mawkish sentiment is fine if I’m into it. (And the kids eat it up, so let’s do it for the kids.) I watched as they rolled the red carpet down 6th Avenue in the heart of midtown Manhattan on a gorgeous summer’s day and interviewed the stars. Shots of Yankee Stadium hung on the screen like fireworks or erotica, and I tried to identify those buildings just beyond center field that I’d gazed upon in between innings a couple months ago. The pre-game show ended with a sparkling rendition of Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, an appropriately nostalgic, mawkish song that never seems so while you’re listening to it. And it took me back to hearing it as we walked out of the stadium after a Reds win, which made the song seem at the time stirring rather than gloating.

* * *

We replaced the old patio this week, such that I can almost imagine it as part of a Mexican hacienda. The pavers are of sandstone, desert-colored brick with a hint of adobe. We put them over concrete and the change is pleasingly natural, surprisingly so as I’d not thought about that, not really expected it. Nor did I expect the feeling of it having been expanded, presumably because the old one was so patchwork (cracked concrete with add-on cement pavers). This week the furniture in our primary room – the back patio – was strung out all over the yard like castaways set adrift on the Atlantic. Now it is back where it belongs… A busy summer it’s been but that is what summers are for. Some rest in the summer and work in the winter but if you ask me the bears got it right…

* * *

Took Kindle into a grueling two-hour Friday afternoon meeting that felt like two hours 48 minutes. (The German in me likes precision.) I’d actually looked forward to the meeting since I knew I could Kindle during it, but it turned out that I’d misjudged the efficacy of the situation. For one thing it taints Kindle, in associating it with work, and one can’t do that too many times before Kindle begins to take on the savor of disfavor. Second, it’s impossible to have undivided attention since I’m too conscientious to completely mentally abandon the meeting. Despite past performance, I always have hope that I might learn something and so I keep my antenna attuned should that remote possibility occur. I ended up jumping from one book to another and it only fragmented my already fragmented attention span. Multi-tasking is overrated. On a related subject, I’d heard someone say on the radio that reverence and technology are inversely related. The more technology, the less reverent we become.

My boss took me and another employee out after work for a couple o’ beers and it was interesting to hear, from this other employee about other employees. Not gossip, necessarily, but information about co-workers of a deeper level than I’d expected. He’s more than a decade younger than me and an extrovert. I always suspect extroverts of “breadth rather than depth” but I was surprised to learn that his relationship with our mutual co-workers seems much less superficial than mine, i.e. breadth and depth. Appears that there is a lot of religious diversity going on in our neck of the woods. The guy I was talking to is a Lutheran. Another guy at work is a devout Mormon. Another is of a Christian of a church which apparently believes in taking the Old Testament literally, such that he doesn’t eat pork and follows the OT laws and celebrates the Sabbath. Basically a Jew who also believes in Christ though having no Jewish ethnic background. I was shocked to learn his religious denomination is huge. My boss and the other guy dislike/don’t believe in organized religion, and I thought of all the good lines afterwards (i.e. “my religion is very disorganized”). My boss doesn’t like the Mormon because he’s offput by all that “one true Church” stuff, which I couldn’t, of course, in good conscience feel similarly offput being Catholic though I’d wished I’d have said something like “well, some Church has to be the true one, doesn’t it?’ but that would’ve fallen on deaf ears because they believe that details over which churches split don’t really matter. Although shouldn't God decide what is trivial?

My boss’s mother was fiercely anti-Catholic and his Presbyterian college so strict that drinking and gambling were expulsion-offenses, which probably explains why he's big on drinking and gambling today. I told him he should be Catholic since we can drink and gamble. He tells an interesting story of a Catholic roommate bringing him to church on St. Blaise Day, and my boss was in the middle of the pew when people were going up to have their throats blessed and he wanted nothing of this, knowing that he shouldn’t even be in a Catholic church though he was curious and had wanted to come. There seemed no way to easily extricate himself from going up without being obvious about avoiding it, and his friend said it wouldn’t hurt to go up there. And so my boss did and, would you know, a few days later got a sore throat? He said this was punishment for going into a Catholic church. (Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, I say.)

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