Monday, November 05, 2012

You Can Get There From Here ... Sometimes

It's a biweekly ritual in my life, ever since I was invited - and happily agreed - to write for Type M. I leave Suzanne's on Sunday evening, and she asks: "What are you going to blog about tomorrow? You do remember that tomorrow is your day to post something?"

To which the answer is - usually! - "Yes, I do remember. And, no, I have no idea what I am going to write about. I'll think of something."

The thinking of "something" usually follows, or meanders along, a complicated route. Today's blog route is not much different from most of the others. I arrived back at my apartment at about 9 pm. Suzanne and I had just finished our weekend together by watching three episodes of Season Eight of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first I have ever seen. The show is wildly off-the-wall, and hilarious. The show's writers and performers clearly regard nothing as sacred. Would that the Enthusiasm crew were running the Presidential election campaign down south. (Remembering that I live in Canada, "up north".) If they did have creative and editorial control of events "down there", so very many of us - and of "you" - might feel less inclined to rush out to the nearest railway line and lay our heads on a steel track, anxiously awaiting the whistle of an oncoming freight train.

Of course, I jest. Somewhat. Like many Canadians, I am truly anxiously awaiting - not the approaching freight train - but the results of the Presidential election. This morning I read in the Globe and Mail, reputedly Canada's "national newspaper" - which Foxy Bill O'Reilly, in his charming way, has likened to the Havana Times - that if Canadians could vote in the election, more than 60 percent of us would vote for Obama, and about 15 percent for the other guy. Just who the other roughly 20 percent would vote for is not clear.

But I digress. (Which is part of the fun of writing a blog. You can go anywhere, and there is no security check. You can even write with your shoes on, and your belt still on your trousers.)

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the "cinema" (sounds so much tonier than the "movies") to see Flight, the new Denzel Washington film. Highly recommended, btw. But not, perhaps, if you are about to go somewhere in a jet aircraft. The plane-crash sequences are truly gut-wrenching. The story is probably well-known by now, so I won't dwell on it. The plane's pilot (Washington) manages to land his stricken jetliner more-or-less safely, losing "only" six lives. But for his brilliant and heroic actions, all 100+ on board would have died. He is a hero, but a hero with a problem: a mandatory NTSA tox-screen finds dangerous levels of alcohol and cocaine in his blood. I will say no more, other than to laud Washington for a brilliant portrayal of a seriously troubled man struggling to find himself; and the writers for a really good screenplay.

But there is another film - and story - that I want to finish up on. Before the main feature yesterday, there were the several mandatory previews of upcoming movies. One preview started off very ominously, with dramatic music, and a massive shadowy figure emerging from what looked like an underground cave. So often, in a theatre, you see the same previews over and over. But I hadn't seen this one. And then, suddenly, I knew what the film had to be about. The massive shadowy figure had a number on his back, in large print: 42. For many - most? - people, especially males, of my generation (I was born in 1939), the number 42 would be recognised as the one worn on the Brooklyn Dodgers uniform of Jackie Robinson. Until yesterday afternoon, I was unaware that a new film of the Robinson story was being made. It has been in the works for some time. A possible release date (from IMDB) is April of 2013.

There were several earlier films of the dramatic Robinson story. In 1950, Jackie starred in his own film, The Jackie Robinson Story. (Hollywood so often lacks imagination in choosing film titles. There is probably a religious-themed film out there somewhere, titled The Jesus Christ Story.) And there were other productions. In 1978, there was an ABC television special, A Home Run For Love; in 1990 a TV movie, The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson; and in 1996, the HBO film, Soul Of The Game, with Blair Underwood (of L.A. Law and In Treatment fame) playing Robinson. This time around, Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie.

I really hope they have made a good film. If they make a great film, I will be even happier. I was a huge fan of the Dodgers in their Brooklyn days, and a big fan of Robinson. Although I also have to admit that the great Dodger centerfielder, Duke Snider, was my number-one man.

For the record, I rarely watch baseball any longer. Yes, I did take in a few innings of the latest world series - was it the Giants vs. the Tigers? Yes, it was, and the Giants won - but the old interest, that saw the very young me agonising over yet another Dodgers (then in Brooklyn) loss to the hated Yankees, has been gone for decades.

Baseball was perhaps an odd obsession for a boy who grew up in Newfoundland, when there wasn't even local television on which to watch regular season games or the World Series. We didn't get TV in St. John's until 1955 or 1956, years after most of the rest of Canada; and never mind the USA. But the connections were there for me, and they were solid.

My Uncle Charlie Curren left Newfoundland shortly after World War I, moved to New York City, and married a German immigrant named Anna Meyer. They were both great baseball fans, and their team was the Brooklyn Dodgers. My Aunt Anna, with her rich German accent, spoke the way I imagined everyone in Brooklyn was required to speak. At least, to judge from the movies I'd seen up to that stage in my life.

My uncle and aunt implanted their devotion to the Dodgers into my entire family. Each year, starting in the late 1940s, the Dodger Yearbook would arrive from New York in the mail, and would be devoured by everyone in the household. Robinson - who joined the team and first took the field on 15 April 1947 - was just one of many names that flew across the dinner table when baseball was talked about. There were also, in no particular order, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella (from 1948), George 'Shotgun' Shuba, Billy Cox, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe (from 1949), Jim Gilliam (from 1953), Preacher Roe, and others. Baseball non-fans will have to consult Wikipedia to find out who these people are, or were. Or, better still, pick up a copy of The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn's immensely readable history of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And here, a family footnote. Roy Campanella was catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948 to 1957. In January of 1958, the year the Dodgers relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Campanella was gravely injured in a single-car accident when driving from Harlem to his home in Glen Cove, Long Island. His car hit a patch of ice, skidded into a telephone pole and overturned. Campanella's neck was broken, the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae fractured. His spinal cord was compressed and he emerged from surgery paralysed from the shoulders down. And the footnote? My sister was on the nursing staff at Glen Cove County Hospital when Campanella was brought in. She was an experienced operating room nurse, and when she heard that Campanella was about to be operated on, she volunteered for scrub duty in the OR. As a sometime Dodger fan, and with two brothers who were fanatically loyal to 'Dem Bums', there was nothing else she could possibly have done.

But back to Jackie Robinson, now. Given the intense drama that surrounded much of Robinson's life, it's no surprise that he has been the subject of a certain amount of crime fiction. (If Abraham Lincoln can be recreated as a "vampire hunter", it's very easy to imagine Jackie Robinson at the centre of a mystery/crime novel.) I have already alluded to the infamous court martial during WW2, later made into a TV movie. The court martial was based entirely on racism on the part of white army officers. The charges were eventually dismissed, but not before Robinson's military career was fatally compromised.

A fast internet search brought forward a couple of titles.

Donald Honig's The Plot to Kill Jackie Robinson, from 1992, involves a recurring Honig character, Joe Tinker, a New York Daily News sportswriter. Tinker is a WW2 veteran. In 1946, he witnesses a muder with racial overtones and then is drawn into a plot featuring a racist psychopath who is determined to prevent Jackie Robinson from playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. One review lauds Honig's evocation of the rhythms of the period and of the sportswriters' milieu. Honig's depiction of Tinker's education in the etiology of racism and his grimly accurate portrait of the casual bigotry of the time are seen as vivid reminders of a not-so-distant past.

Then there's Robert B. Parker's Double Play, from 2005. Parker, who died in 2010, is of course best known for his Spenser series. The Robinson book was well-reviewed by Publishers Weekly: "The fiction, told in the third person, focuses on Joseph Burke, a WWII vet grievously wounded physically and emotionally by combat and its aftermath. Burke is a hired gun who allows himself no feelings, but when he signs on with Dodger owner Branch Rickey to protect Robinson from racist violence during the ballplayer's rookie season, he comes to respect, then love, the proud, controversial player. ... Burke is a tough guy, and the narrative not set around baseball fields takes place in the white and black underworlds as Burke plays various gangsters against one another to protect (his girlfriend) and Robinson. Parker, always a clean writer, has never written so spare and tight a book.

I believe we sometimes like to think that "race" and its grim overtones belong in the past. Back in the days when Jackie Robinson had to 'turn the other cheek', even when enduring the racist taunts of opposing players (and even some on his own team), having baseballs thrown at his head, and trying - not always successfully - to avoid being deliberately spiked by baserunners. But with an African-American President of the United States running for re-election, the signs are there yet again. Consider this opening paragraph of a column in Saturday's Globe and Mail, from Imani Perry, Professor at the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University:

"I am no longer shocked when there are reports of Barack Obama dummies with nooses around their necks, hanging in public effigy. Such old-fashioned racist fodder is cliché in the United States. Our past is always present."

Would that it were not so.

You can read the entire article here:

And that's -30- for this week.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Tom, I'm so sick of all the election propaganda that it's a pleasure to read about baseball for a change.

I've heard the big move out of Brooklyn referred to as "The Great Betrayal" A lot of New Yorkers still haven't gotten over it.