Nov 19

The one allows for the other

Tuesdays are the longest days. Spend a day at work. Get home just in time for dinner, which is later, because there are TV productions to monitor. So I get home in time to change clothes, make an ice water (it isn’t as easy as they say) and dip some food onto the plate. I’ll spend a few minutes after dinner just sitting still, and then it is time to do the dishes, perhaps attend to the recycling or some other very small chore. And by then it is 10 p.m. So it is time to iron clothes for tommorrow, and then bed, because while Tuesday runs long, Wednesday arrives at the normal time.

But you get to hang out with fun people:

There’s a gif, somewhere on my Twitter account, of this infinity effect. It’s a great little moment. The monitor on the wall is showing program and the floor director moves camera one over for that shot and before they get a graphic into the system … you get this really trip image. And look closely. Charlee, on the right, is smiling, except she isn’t.

To be fair to both of the co-hosts, I think I shot that picture just before both were about to say something clever during their mic checks.

Today was another day of blue skies. That makes five in a row. We are tied at five over the last 10 days, but we know which condition is going to win out, in the end. And yet we still do it. What else would you do? You can’t change it, as my grandfather said to me on the phone this evening. You just accept it.

Do you ever talk to your elders and wonder if they’re still trying to teach you things? Maybe this isn’t casual small talk. Maybe he knows there are still plenty of metaphors I need to learn from. Maybe I’m now old enough to accept that. Which is a lot like saying that you accept that maybe you do need to be taught new things. And maybe that conversation tonight wasn’t about the weather.

Which is an awful lot for a regular old phone call, if you think about it. It’s getting cold and damp for him. It will be exceedingly cold here. And he laughed, a lot, at my latest tale of getting old. Like you’d know anything about it, he probably thought, I’m still teaching you about the inevitability of the weather.

He doesn’t think like that at all, I’m sure of it. He mentioned my great-grandmother’s house in passing, part of a story about a water heater. He still refers to his mother-in-law by an honorific and her last name and she passed away 15 years ago. Things and habits and routine and niceties matter. That’s not just a generational thing, but it certainly stuck in him and with his generation. Also, he’s perhaps the second kindest man I’ve ever known. His father is the kindest man I’ve ever known. It must have come naturally to most of that family.

I’ve been thinking about his dad a lot, lately. He was born 100 years ago this week, and he died several Octobers ago, now. Plus there’s the upcoming Veteran’s Day, and we’ve talked about his role in the war a fair amount here. Probably right about now, I don’t know for sure the date, he was getting ready to sail to Europe. His war started 75 years ago in December.

You can read a bit about it on this map tracing the unit history, if you’re interested.

This weekend I’m going to pull out a pocket knife he gave me and polish it up once again. It’s beautiful, rugged, used, purposeful. He found it on the roadside somewhere. I’ve never been able to bring myself to carry it, lest it be lost.

Anyway, Tuesdays are long, but Wednesdays make up for it, somehow.

Probably the blue skies, definitely the phone call.

Oct 19

Just add music

Tonight was the annual Halloween concert at IU Auditorium. We watched the legendary Dennis James play a score to the 1925 classic The Lost World, an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story.

The organ at the auditorium dates to 1889 and is a legend itself: 4,543 pipes, 109 stops and has been playing on campus since 1948. It was built for the Chicago fair, at a cost of $65,000. The Internet tells me that would be almost $2 million today. It came to IU after a restoration in Boston in 1944. The largest pipe is 32 feet, it takes two people to move the organ on station, and has more than 100 miles of electric wiring. Also, it sounds darned impressive.

James, meanwhile, is a graduate of IU. He started this particular gig when he was a college student, as a joke and an excuse to get to play the organ. Now he’s a world-renowned performer. He’s played everywhere and touched anything with keys worth operating. He comes back each fall, for 51 years now, to play a Halloween show. And the spirits are looking in.

He told us how music worked in cinema before they put sound to film. It’s a fascinating process, one we’ve all forgotten to think or ask about. Turns out most movies just sent a basic system of sound cues and the resident organist would fill in the spaces based on their interpretation and their own personal libraries. James reeled off a bunch of the music we’d hear in his performance, but I was too lost in trying to imagine how any movie would have as many personalities as it would performers to jot many of the titles down.

The Bat Signal!

The movie was state of the art stop-motion animation. You can find the full film, and various different edits, on YouTube, but it’s just not the same as being there feeling the music coming from everywhere around you.

By the way, this was the first movie to be shown as an in-flight movie. (Which was dangerous in a lot of ways in 1925.) And it was lost for about 80 years, James said, because an order came down from the movie company to destroy the prints, and so most of them were burned. The copy you can enjoy today was held by a private collector and “discovered” in 2003. I’m sure there’s a good story, there. Anyway, the movie!

So no one in England, Jolly Old, believes this one professor who says he’s found dinosaurs living in contemporary Brazil. It’s always the jungle, you see. And so he creates a team to go bring back proof, and find the missing member of his original team. So we follow the adventures of this intrepid bunch — including a famous big game hunter, a young journalist, the daughter of the missing man and a few others — into the Amazon. They find the dinosaurs and a whole lot more. And the dinosaurs are some pretty impressive work, giving the state of the film-making art of the time.

Watterson R. Rothacker, whose name you see on the title card, was the owner of one of the early film processing laboratories. The Industrial Motion Picture Company opened in 1909 and Rothacker and his partners made industrial films that were used for advertising companies, and produced newsreel footage. From what I’ve read, he was keenly interested in using film to educate the masses. Our man was running one of the largest laboratories in silent film on a strip of land in North Chicago where Northwestern is today. By 1914 IMP could put seven cameras in the field at once. And then came The Lost World, which was apparently the firm’s biggest popular project. First National Pictures, which brought you this lovely movie, would ultimately fall under Warner Brother’s control.

And it turns out, in addition to our musical accompaniment being a world-class professional, he is a total ham.

The show was great. It’s one part organ concert, which was our purpose for being there — my step-father loves the pipe organ and this was the first opportunity he’s had to enjoy the old Roosevelt machine — and one part classic theater. During the intermission we all agreed that it was easy to forget the one and concentrate on the other. The film was a lovely 1920s romp. I found myself suspending disbelief about the idea of dinosaurs, but not about the geography required to have a volcano on top of a mesa. And how the volcano is only a bit part, meant to showcase some action. There were plot holes, is what I’m saying. But there was good action! It’s a romp for kids, and we all felt like kids again seeing it. No one moreso, perhaps, than James. I shot this from the hip, but isn’t it interesting how the mask is the part that comes into focus …

Tis the season for spooky things.

Oct 19

Let us look at a new book

Today is Fall Break. The university gives the students the day off. Just the day, not a full week like you see in the spring. And since it was today, that means it really began in earnest on Wednesday or so. By yesterday afternoon the building had a Night of the Comet feel.

Fewer teens, yesterday and no zombies yesterday, though. Thankfully. We’re not really built or kitted out for zombies. And it would give the safety people fits.

The zombies were today.

We’ve got a new book today. This is a Reader’s Digest from 1969, and it is the last one Reader’s Digest from my grandfather’s collection that I’ve inexplicably saved and will have to do something with. Like take photographs of the ads and make fun of them. They’re dusty and moldy and I’ve realized you have to wear a mask even to deal with them. The cover on this one is pretty rough …

But some of the stuff inside is worth seeing, and in much better shape. If you click the cover you can see the first six samples from this issue. We’ll probably get about five or six weeks out of this book before we move on to some other piece. If you click here, you can see all of the books I’ve put on the site so far. There are eight textbooks, notebooks and magazines so far, and there’s a huge stack still to go.

So, anyway, the April 1969 issue has ominous titles like “Is Congress Destroying Itself?” Still? Again? “Our Son is a Campus Radical.” Get in line. “Man vs. Virus,” Now you’re just trying to scare the parents of campus radicals.

Another selection is “Can Baseball Be Saved?” Yes, Cal Ripken did it just 26 years later. I was watching at my grandparents house, where this book lived all those years, in fact the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak and did his lap around Camden Yard. It seems baseball is always in need of saving. Someone probably has to do it again these days. But we won’t read about it in Reader’s Digest, I bet.

“NATO: An Alliance in Search of a Future.” I think we could all argue that’s a good thing. And a weird thing, given we were still at a high part of the Cold War when this was being written. “Frenzy on the Freeways,” but mass transit will save us all, I’m sure. “From the Brink of Extinction,” some themes stick around, what can I say?

But you want something a bit more contemporaneous, I hear you say. That’s fine. Here’s some sports television the Award-Winning TM sports crew produced last night:

It’s a brief show, but they did it in one take, which I think was a first.

What’s your weekend like? We’ll have some beautiful weather, and we have to find ways to enjoy it all, while it lasts. I hope yours is incredibly long lasting.

Aug 19

The silver eagle has landed

We had a little family thing today. My stepfather ended his career as a commercial pilot, these last 31 years flying with UPS. They let his family and friends come onto the tarmac on one of their terminals to watch his last landing. Here’s a bit of video:

He flew in from Seattle. His son, who is also a pilot and presently in training to join the UPS fleet, was able to ride the jump seat with his dad. How neat and unique an experience for the both of them. He taught his son to fly and one day he’ll perhaps be covering the same sky routes. The rest of us had a great view for the touch down and the ceremonial fire truck action. Rick walked down the steps from the cockpit, did his last ever inspection and saw his many friends and family who had gathered to celebrate with him. He had family who flew in from Texas. Retired former colleagues came from all over. There was a professional photographer to capture the wonderful little moment. Meanwhile, UPS was trying to get the plane ready for its next flight. They don’t sit still for very long.

Some of us got to go up and take a quick picture with him in the cockpit. This is a quick one, though I’m promised a few more.

It was a wonderful treat, one of those moments that you instantly know will become a keepsake.

There was also a little ceremony in the UPS offices, where the management folks and his many professional friends were able to say a few lovely things. Rick got to speak last, of course. There were many kind memories and laughter and tears and even a song or two shared. All of the people that had gathered to see him off were saying happy and wonderful things about the man. He was humbled and proud of the turnout and the sentiment. He kept thanking people for coming and they kept saying “Of course we’d be here.” I always think, in moments like that, “Where else would I be? It is a privilege to be a part of this,” which is no kind of answer to people who are pleased to see you in their moment. But that’s the emotion of the moment.

And it is a big moment for him, of course. He’d still fly if they let him, but federal laws are things big companies sometimes follow. He will still fly, but now only privately.

In between elements of the day’s festivities The Yankee and I invented a new game. We’re now taking photos of the most arcane things possible. The game is made up and the points don’t matter, but we had a good time with it. She won, but only barely. I’ll share a few of mine in a few days.

Aug 19

Perfect timing

Last night I was sent on a mission to dig up two photographs from 19 years ago. I found one of them. But I also found others, from 18 years ago. One of them is now here, because two weeks ago, I spun together a tale of a book I’m reading and my great-grandmother. It’s a pretty fantastic post, and I think you should read it. Anyway, this is that great-grandmother, Flavil:

While searching an old hard drive for other old pictures, I re-re-re-discovered this rich vein of photos I took just before moving out of the state for work in 2001. I’d taken the time to go see all of the family and visit and laugh and eat and take pictures, and such.

A few weeks later I was in Little Rock for a new reporting job. I’d been there about three days on September 11th. No one in the newsroom knew me or trusted me yet (Indeed, the news director at that station had a stunned look on his face a few days prior when I filed my first report. Maybe I was wrong, but I interpreted it as “He’s literate?”) and I saw the first cut-ins and had to tell the morning anchors.

The lead story that day had previously been the local zoo re-gaining its accreditation, and one of the anchors had spent part of the morning making animal noises on air. (My literacy was not the problem in that shop.) I imagine my great-grandmother probably watched her local stations go to the network feed right there in that chair, but all of that was still almost a month later.

It was gray the day we took that picture, you can see it in that south-facing window in the background, and I remember the rain was coming in later in the evening. When it gets gray there, the ceiling moves in for sure, but it never seems too low, and the sky always seems full of … possibility, I suppose. This storm could be a gentle shower, a toad strangler, a gully washer, the wind could really blow, lighting could strike. It could move on without an explanation. It probably wouldn’t get very bad, not in August, not like the spring and late-autumn storms I spent several years covering, but every cloud looks familiar if you’ve been through some of the bad storms. There’s a sense of energy there in watching a storm roll in, and I don’t just mean the perceptible feeling of the barometric shift. Plenty of places have that sort of experience, but not every place, and somehow even under perfect cloud cover the sky can still seem somehow bright.

Usually there would be a small group of us going to visit her. We’d sit in her tidy little house and exchange pleasantries and speak up, and ask and answer a few questions. It might have just been me that day. I always enjoyed visiting with her, she had candy after all, and I know she appreciated when her family came over, but, in retrospect, I was usually young and loud and in a hurry. By then I was smart enough to finally slow down a bit and listen a little. I was somehow brighter for it, too.

The young person’s lament: I wish I’d caught on to that earlier.

Do you know what I just caught on to, just now? Look at the date stamp on that photo.