Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One Man's Heroes...

Hero worship, for the most part, is a male activity. Oh sure, there are little girls who cheer the exploits of the stars of women's basketball or soccer. In tennis [which is in the middle of a long drought of memorable male stars], the Williams sisters have their fans. But women who pick their favorites usually base their choices on a variety of factors that only begin on the field of play. Boys and men don't care about their stars' fashion sense, or favorite music, or anything that doesn't impact their skill during the game.
As I've gotten older, it's been harder to find sporting heroes. I think I've gotten cynical, more observant to those off-field peccadilloes that make it hard to admire a player. Then again, in this era of Too Much Information, the less-than-edifying habits of athletes are as easy to find as a well-worded Google search. (I've so far resisted the temptation of Googling my own name, but, knowing myself as well as I do, I cringe at the thought of what such a search would turn up.)
Further, as I've gotten older [I'm rapidly approaching my 50Th birthday], my definition of heroism has changed. Instead of sporting exploits, I'm finding myself admiring the skill of people who live their everyday lives in extraordinary ways. I've written about my father in this space (, and I find myself admiring his quiet skill at living with respect for his fellow human beings. As you look around yourself, there are probably people who've earned your honor and praise. But, from time to time, the heroes of your youth come back into your head with a vengeance.
Last Saturday. The Woman I Love and I found ourselves sitting in uncomfortable chairs along the corridor of a shopping mall. We were awaiting the arrival of Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, and Rene Robert. Together, they were the most dangerous scoring line in the history of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team. The line also had a memorable nickname: The French Connection [noting the fact that all three grew up in French Canada]. Long-time fans of the team will tell you that Buffalo clubs are usually more notable for their goaltenders than their forwards. That's because no line caught the public fancy [or performed so well] as the Connection. TWIL had bought me the opportunity to get their autographs as an early birthday gift. She'd also gone to the trouble of buying a poster-size photo of the three (not the image at the top of this post; I don't have a picture of it available. But you get the idea) for their signatures (Thank you very much, Darling).
We got to the signing area early enough to be near the front of the line. There were a few discussions of the Sabres' chances in the upcoming season. But most of the talk was about...autographs. You were expecting it to be about hockey memories. Well, I was. I really though that people at such an event would be remembering the great plays of the trio we were waiting on. But no, the chat was about this or that player, and how hard it was to get them to sign, how much they had paid to get an autograph, whether the items they had brought to sign would be valuable on eBay, that sort of thing. (Understand, I'm not an autograph collector, as such. I get the names of players I admired. So far, that's Perreault, Martin, Robert, and former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker [someday, I may write a post as to why I wanted his autograph].)
The three arrived almost on time, and moved quickly to the signing table. They looked in great shape for guys in their late-50's. They were very polite [then again, they were picking up a nice pocketful of cash for their penmanship], posing for photos as they signed, joking with the fans as they added their signatures to this or that item [some people brought five or more bits of memorabilia to be signed].
When I reached the head of the line, I fished my poster out of its protective case, and placed it on the table. I made sure TWIL got a picture of me standing behind the players as they signed. I wanted to say something, let them know what their skills had meant to me; Hell, meant to the success [and survival] of an expansion team. But nothing worth saying was coming out. Finally, as they finished, I told them the truth: "When you're around your heroes, you don't know what to say. Thank you". I'm not sure how they felt about all that, but they did thank me for coming. All in all, it was a wonderful and slightly embarrassing situation (I don't like to be at a loss for words; given my job, it's not professional).
I've been wishing that I'd told my father (and mother) what they meant to me. Sure, I could [and did] tell him I loved him, but not that he was a hero of mine. I think we both would have been embarrassed by the sentiment. But sometimes, the embarrassing things need to be said. With this in mind, I'm hoping that you, during the next week after you read this, tell someone in your life the embarrassing truth, "You're my hero".
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Marxist Theory 101

I thought I'd try adding visuals to these posts. I hope you enjoy it, as well as whatever I add in future communiques. Between the picture, and the title, you've probably guessed that we're talking about the Marx Brothers here. Over the weekend, the 30Th anniversary of Groucho's death passed, virtually unnoticed except for a well-put-together feature on CBS-TVs Sunday Morning [Groucho had this misfortune to pass within a day or two of Elvis Presley. Jesters are always more beloved, but less memorialized, than Kings).

Times change, as I'm sure you realize, but tastes change more markedly. By the time of Elvis' death, the style of rock he forced to the front of the stage had been pushed into the realm of nostalgia. He was forced to spend most of his on-stage time trying to perform music that, to be blunt, he was in no shape to perform. (there's no getting into the psyche of the deceased, but I've always been of the theory that Presley used the drugs he used to one, help him get the best performances he could out of himself and, two, to numb the pain of the fact he wasn't capable of performing to his former high-energy level. Just a theory...)

In the same way, while the movies of the Marx Brothers were highly prized during Groucho's later years (and, for the most part, did well in their original runs), their popularity has fallen into something of a decline. Of course, new movies continue to be made, and there has always been more admiration for new things than old (someone ought to translate that lest sentence into Latin. It's an aphorism waiting to be carved in stone). But I believe there's something else at work here.

In her 2005 book Talk to the Hand, British broadcaster Lynne Truss speculates on, among other things, why Good Manners and Common Courtesy have fallen off the end of the Earth. One of her theories is based on the decline in acceptance of the Class System, especially, of course, as it existed in England. For the most part, the same factors have come into play here in the U-S. Like Truss, I think the end of worrying about embarrassing oneself around one's "betters" is probably a good thing. That being said, though, it has led many people to believe that, not only is no one better than themselves, they are now free to act as rudely as they wish [or, to put a slightly nicer face on it, to act fully for their own interests, without considering anyone else]. Even a quick view of the Marx Brothers' career shows them to be experts at puncturing the inflated worth of anyone brave enough to have an inflated self-worth around them.

They usually played characters that would have been part of their era's "undesirables"; Groucho was basically a con man, Chico, a stereotyped immigrant, Harpo never spoke [mentally challenged, we'd say, while in his time, he'd be condemned as an "imbecile"], while Zeppo, ostensibly the straight man, always seemed to have a touch of larceny in his mix. And, as any fan of the Marxes will tell you, they were seldom funnier than when bumping up against "polite society" usually personified by Margaret Dumont

Of course, this strain of humor has always run through American culture [no, this isn't a course, but you can investigate this yourself if you wish]. But the success of the Mark Brothers movies helped push it into the mainstream, as did other factors [please let's not make this a course, OK?]. Thus, the success of the Marx Brothers in their time, as well as during their late 60's revival, may have contributed to their current decline (You knew we'd get to this sooner or later, didn't you?). No real reason to tell you any of this, of course. I was just fascinated by the thought...

-Mike Riley

P.S.: We have a new sponsor. ships popular Irish food products to the U-S and other countries. Their prices are reasonable, and their service superb [By the bye, if the idea of a fry-up makes your arteries harden just by thinking of it, they are also a great sources for real Irish oats. From personal experience, rolled oats really will help reduce your cholesterol levels.]. Click on one of their locations. We'll both thank you... - MR

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What's "Write" About The Blogosphere

Regular visitors to this spot will probably notice a few changes. The familiar "It's Always After Midnight Somewhere" clock has been given a vacation. Its replacement is a count-down clock [as usual, provided courtesy of the clever folks at Clock Mouse over the clock to hook up with Clock Link, if you're interested], as well as a couple of banners. There's a story behind it all, of course.

Virtually everyone who blogs is connected with one or more blog network. Over the year or so I've been doing this, I have signed up with a few of these services. The one that seems to be the most active [for my blog, anyway] is Blog Catalog ( They are home to a wide variety of posters, who blog on just about anything under the Sun. The authors are uniformly talented [present company excepted, of course], and know their subjects. It's also one of the few [maybe the only] sites that actually is selective as to what blogs are allowed in [I've gotten over another blog I write not making the cut. I really have...].

Another thing I like about Blog Catalog is that, from time to time, it asks its members to consider the larger world in their writings. A couple of postings back, you'll note that I wrote as part of a campaign dealing with organ donations. On September 27Th, we've been asked to address the topic of abuse. In an interesting move, the organizers of this campaign have decided not to select a particular form of abuse to consider. Of course, this opens up the discussion to anything from physical to verbal abuse, from environmental outrages to the case of a professional athlete sponsoring dog fights [a cause celebre here in the States just now].

As you've probably guessed by now, I will be part of the campaign. Are you in? Click on either the "poster" or the "Bloggers Unite" badge for more information. And even if you're not a member of Blog Catalog, I hope you'll look at abuse as a topic for a post on our around September 27Th. We have many examples of mis-treatment of our fellow creatures, the earth we all walk, the fellow humans we interact with in our lives. Blog for a cause on September 27Th!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Atomic Dog

Sorry I've been away from the keyboard again [and yes, I can hear Someone groaning in the background, "If you spent as much time blogging as you do apologizing, you wouldn't need to apologize"! Well, yeah.], but if you'd grown up here in Western New York, and you'd experienced the heat and humidity that's gone thru here [no, actually stopped and set up a picnic table], you wouldn't want to go near the Blogosphere, either.

Actually, the Blog World has been pretty hot of late, with the YouTube Democratic Presidential debate and its fallout remaining just ahead of the pride of lions on attack in that safari video that's all over the 'Net. There were those unfortunate cases of pedophiles who were cruising MySpace and Facebook, to name just two, in search of what we do not know, but can only suspect the worst, in the name of safety [considering what the Government wants to do keeping an eye on citizens whose prior records are squeaky clean, in the name of safety, the pedophiles got off lightly with just being booted off the sites].

Then again, hot is indeed the operative word. It's a warm Summer season across most of North America [I don't keep as good a check on Mexico as I should, but if the temperatures in the American Southwest are any indication, it's too warm there as well]. I'm hoping that this is not an intentional ploy of Al Gore's, to increase sales for An Inconvenient Truth, but you never can tell, can you?

Why, it's been so warm, I forgot to do something I'd promised myself I'd do once a year for the rest of my life: take a few hours to re-read Hiroshima, John Hersey's masterful reportage of the first use of the atomic bomb, and its aftermath. In the 1980's, he returned to the subjects of his original work, and traced their difficult life journeys since August 6, 1945. I have tried to read it every year, as close to the anniversary as possible. I haven't had the chance to search the apartment for my copy, but I'll feel guilty until it turns up, and I can take up my penance, penance for being one of the creatures whose ancestors felt the need to build so powerful a weapon of devastation. Well, maybe it'll cool off this weekend...

I finally got my first "new" computer to rights this week, so, if i feel the need, I can write to the 'Net from home, instead of waiting to get to work. Well, I'm excited about it! Stay tuned to this space. I'll try to get back to it more frequently, and more fervently. And, stay cool [except for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, where the advice is, Try to stay warm (a sentiment I can understand!)].