Sunday read: The losses of 2020

Every year, The New York Times Magazine runs an issue it calls “The Lives They Lived” on the last Sunday of the year. The issue is devoted to highlighting some of the people who passed in the year previous, both the famed and the footnotes.

Well, it’s the last Sunday of the year, and right on schedule, here’s “The Lives They Lived.” It’s my Sunday read.

You’ll know some of the names — Tom Seaver, the legendary Mets pitcher; Chadwick Boseman, the “Black Panther” actor who died, far too young, of colon cancer; Helen Reddy, the celebrated singer. But you’ll also learn about Mimi Jones, who became momentarily famous during the Civil Rights movement for one shocking photograph, and James Harvey, a movie critic’s movie critic.

That’s the joy of “The Lives They Lived,” and the sadness, too — that it takes a special issue of the NYT Magazine to give many of these lives the proper consideration.

Take a little time and read it here.

Review: ‘Answers in the Form of Questions’ by Claire McNear

Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy! by Claire McNear

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Claire McNear’s history of “Jeopardy!”, “Answers in the Form of Questions,” is about what you’d expect: amiable and breezy, optimistic and self-deprecating, with a few nice insights but also few surprises.

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Snow day

I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, right in the path of the nor’easter that plowed up the Eastern Seaboard yesterday. We got somewhere between 8 and 12 inches, the third-heaviest December snowfall the Lehigh Valley has ever seen. That’s pretty horrendous, though actually light compared to some of the earlier forecasts, including one from the Weather Service that warned we could get 1 to 2 FEET.

(And it’s not Binghamton, New York, which got 40 inches. That’s more than THREE feet, if you don’t want to take time to do the math.)

The school system I work for near Philadelphia called a snow day today. Makes sense, even though Philly and near environs got 4-6 inches, because the far reaches of nearby counties got much more. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, anyway. The alley my garage backs up to hasn’t been plowed.

As a kid, snow days mean freedom, but they’re weird when you’re an adult. I barely remember them when I was of an age to enjoy them, since we moved to New Orleans when I was 7, and New Orleans doesn’t have snow days. (Hurricanes and floods, yes.) We may have had a couple when I was in college in Atlanta, and certainly there were a few after I moved back to Atlanta in 1991, but by then I was more concerned with how I was going to drive from A to B in the white stuff if I had to.

Each time, I was fortunate. Even during the 2014 storm — the worst, one that left some of my CNN co-workers stranded for several hours on the highways — I got home in about 90 minutes, a hairy hour longer than my usual commute. And then, well, you stayed put, logged in remotely, and worked.

Today I don’t have to log in remotely, so the day is loose. But given the rest of the 2020 world — Covid, job loss, politics — I feel unsettled. Covid has already trapped us in our houses, so today feels less like a respite than more of the same: more to stew on and chew on, no relief from everyday strains. I tried to do some work on my desktop, but it failed to boot up properly, so even though I’ve backed up most of its hard drive, I’m wondering what I’m forgetting or missing. Sounds like a metaphor. Everything sounds like a metaphor.

And then there are some of the students from the evening GED class I teach. Last night, as the snow came down, a couple of them mentioned that they wouldn’t be getting a snow day. One, I gathered, was listening to my lecture on his phone as he cleared streets; another had to be at work at 6 a.m. to spell a co-worker completing a 12-hour shift. These are the people who truly keep the world turning, as we’ve learned over and over again during Covid. (And, I worry, we keep forgetting, too.) I already had a great deal of admiration for them: Imagine how hard it is to make time to take a thrice-weekly class to prep for your high school diploma while juggling work, children, language issues, and lives. But they’re also the essential workers who allow so many others to work from home.

When all this is over — snow, Covid, the endless doom of 2020 — I hope we all remember.

Sunday read: Dream a little dream

Image by Alex Blajan/Unsplash, via Science Alert.

A few days ago, I thought I’d come down with Covid.

Because that’s the default now, isn’t it? Any other winter, you feel weary and sniffly, you think “cold” or “flu.” But now you think, “my mask wasn’t on tight enough when I went to the DMV” or “a stray sneeze must have been hanging around the room with those kids,” and you’re checking your temperature and your SpO2 every hour and waiting for the Grim Reaper to make his appearance.

For me, it started Wednesday afternoon. Let my quote from my social media post:

So yesterday afternoon I’m feeling a little nauseous. Could be the slightly stale cake; could be the caffeine from three cups of tea on a cold, snow-dusted day. I conduct my 2-hour GED class on Zoom starting at 6. My throat gets rough quickly and by 7:30 I just want class to end. Later, I take my temperature and check my pulse and SpO2 (because now we all have those finger devices, right?). They’re OK, but I still feel, to use the medical term, “icky.” I go to bed around 10.

I sleep heavily, as if I’m glued to the mattress, with lots of dreams. When I wake up in time for work, I still feel fatigued. Any other year, I’d go to work — again, no fever, good stats, just tired. But I call in, because not only do I not want to be sick midway down the turnpike, I definitely don’t want to risk spread (IF I have it).

(Just to update: I was feeling fine by Thursday afternoon. I still feel fine. For now. Given the overfilled hospitals and general tumult in the U.S. and A., I take nothing for granted.)

In retrospect, the most striking part of the experience — besides my panic — was the dreams. I dream often, and try to write down as many as I can remember. But this night was like a quadruple feature of vivid stories: me on the bimah at a synagogue, lying on a large, leather-upholstered platform where a Torah had just been read (with a shard of wood as a yad); me being driven to an assembly by one of my special-needs students in the morning, telling him he’s early, dozing off, and not awakening until 5:30 in the afternoon with my parents talking in the next room of a house.

I have no idea what they mean. I had talked about Judaism and Hanukkah with my students earlier that day, so perhaps religion was on my mind, but there are also bits that have nothing to do with any of that.

Someday, five or 10 years from now, I’ll read all the dreams in the file I keep and see if they tell any story at all. In the meantime, I urge you to read about something called dream hacking in a Mashable article, “Dream Hacking at the Edge of Sleep,” by Chris Taylor. It’s my Sunday read.

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Sunday read: When Paul was still a Beatle

Paul McCartney recording “Abbey Road,” July 1969.

I was surprised how gleeful I was to read a new interview with Paul McCartney — or, should I say, another interview with Paul McCartney.

Because I’ve read and seen many interviews with Macca, whether in magazines, excerpted in books, or broadcast on air. And yet I never get tired of them, even when it’s obvious he’s playing to the camera (so to speak).

He comes across as a working-class lad made good: still slightly stunned by the success of the Beatles, still trying new things (his new album, “McCartney III,” is due out December 18), still taking great pleasure (perhaps greater pleasure) in his family and friends in this, late in the eighth decade of his long, rich life.

I remember reading a comment by U2’s Bono that, upon arranging to meet McCartney and expecting him to pull up in some priceless overly large car with a chauffeur, McCartney himself pulled up in some little runabout. He tries to keep himself down to earth, even though much of the public would be willing to literally roll out red carpets for him to walk on.

And yet, he’ll always be a Beatle. That’s the way most of us think of him, despite 50 years of him being a non-Beatle, and also despite the perhaps apocryphal story of the 1970s teenagers who found a Beatles album in a record store and said, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”

Well, yes he was, and it was a miracle.

At the time, though, who knew that almost nothing would ever compare to the music and the impact of the Fab Four? Certainly not the Fabs themselves.

So, for my Sunday read, I dug through the endlessly interesting archives of beatlesinterviews.org. In there there’s this everyday chat with one Mr. P. McCartney, conducted by the BBC’s David Wigg in September 1969. “Abbey Road” was about to be released, and McCartney took the opportunity to talk about his favorite songs on the album, the relationship between the Beatles, and what else was going on in his life. You would never know that the band was just months away from its official split, and the cracks had already started widening. (This was not long before it was revealed that McCartney had died and been replaced by the mysterious William Campbell, but that’s a very different story.)

McCartney has generally been a sunny, optimistic type, and in many respects the tone in this interview is little different from the one he gave The New York Times’ David Marchese. Still, there are nuggets of recognition for future scholars. My favorite is this exchange, when Wigg asks Paul about his just-born daughter:

DAVID: “How is the baby?”

PAUL: (proudly) “She’s fantastic, yes, she’s beautiful. She’s about the best looking baby I’ve ever seen. Nicest. Just started on cereal, took every drop!”

DAVID: (laughs)

PAUL: “For all the mothers and fathers listening.”

DAVID: “And now, are we going have a ‘Mary’ song?”

PAUL: “I don’t know.”

DAVID: “Soon?”

PAUL: “I don’t know. There’s, we did a song which has Mary in it, but it was written before she was born.”

DAVID: “I see.”

That song may sound familiar.

We now know that “Mary” was a reference to Paul’s mum, and that the idea for the song came to him in a dream. And as he tells the NYT’s Marchese, he’s a big believer in dreams.

Which I find charming, since pretty much all of his dreams came true — enough, in fact, for the rest of us to indulge in them.

You can read the 1969 McCartney interview with David Wigg here.

Saving Manuel’s Tavern

The legendary bar of Manuel’s Tavern. This picture was taken during the 2016 renovation of the building.

I’ve written many times about my fondness for Manuel’s Tavern, the Atlanta watering hole where I watched Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, celebrated many a personal occasion, and hosted Team Trivia for 25 years. The bar was very good to me, and one of my regrets about moving to Pennsylvania was that I wouldn’t be able to drop by and have a McCloskey Cheese Burger and a root beer whenever I wanted to. (And leaving Trivia, of course.)

So it was with shock that I saw an item, shared on Facebook, from SaportaReport, an Atlanta business journal, with the headline: “Manuel’s Tavern in danger of closing.”

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