Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Censorship Sucks

      Several years ago, vendors outside Safeco Field in Seattle sold "Yankees Suck" T-shirts, which caused a stir inside the stadium. Management of the Mariners baseball team decided that message ran counter to its Family-Friendly Policy, and under threat of expulsion, forced people wearing the shirts to remove them. Some of those people objected, the ACLU entered the fray, and the Mariners finally decided they would "not ask ticket-holders to remove or cover up any T-shirt."

      I'm a Yankee hater from way back in 1949. It fried me, the way the Yankees always stripped the one good player from the Washington Senators or the St. Louis Browns every August, then snatched the pennant, and in the World Series, ran over my Giants or the otherwise-detested Brooklyn Dodgers. As time passed, I gnashed my teeth at George Steinbrenner, who seemed to think that a World Series title was a Yankee birthright, and failure to claim it constituted grounds to sacrifice a manager or a fat toad of a player. And when A-Rod, Seattle's most-despised ex-player, decided that his interests would best be served by pinstripes, I rejoiced. Now, I could hate the Yankees with previously-unimagined passion.

      My daughter bought me a Yankees Suck shirt back in the day, and I've worn it ever since to Mariners-Yankees games. I had it on this past July 8, when an alcohol enforcement officer stopped me on the concourse behind Section 333, and demanded I remove my shirt, then and there. She told me that in accordance with the Mariners' Family-Friendly Policy, I should have been stopped at the gate and refused admittance, and that I would not be allowed to stay in the stadium with the shirt on. Since it was a hot night and I wore nothing under the shirt, she settled to have me strip to the waist and turn the shirt inside-out. Because I did not want to create a public disturbance, I complied, never mind the distress that the sight of my paltry corpus must have caused passers-by.

      During the game, I'd been sitting among groups of Yankee fans. None were offended by the shirt; in fact, they thought it was funny. It served as an icebreaker, and we were all enjoying the game together. When I returned to my seat with my shirt reversed, one of the fans – a man with two small children – asked whether I'd been compelled to turn my shirt inside out. When I said I had, his comment was, “That's ridiculous. He didn't seem to think his kids had been traumatized.

     This is not an earthshaking issue. I know that. Around the world, people are starving, drowning in floods, dying of preventable diseases, being slaughtered individually and wholesale. But as a professional writer, I need to complain about censorship. The actions of the alcohol enforcement officer are insupportable. I'm pretty sure the sentiment expressed on my shirt would get by all three prongs of the Miller Test for Obscenity, but the point seems moot. The expression has long since lost any sexual implication. I see it repeatedly in The Seattle Times and other mainstream publications; I hear it on the radio. If that word, used in that context, can get by the FCC, how can it stick in the throat of Mariners' management?    

     When I told a friend, a much-published writer of books for children, and a winner of many state librarian awards, what had happened to me at Safeco Field, her reaction was, "Unbelievable.   Walk into any elementary school in the country, and you'll hear kids saying that something sucks."      

      I sent a letter to the Mariners' Director of Community Relations, asking that she clarify whether the alcohol-enforcement officer acted on her own initiative, or whether she was in fact following stated company policy. As a long-time 16-game planholder, I thought I was owed that much in courtesy, But more than five weeks later, now, I've heard nothing.

      Local sportswriters have complained in print about the Mariners' overzealous Family Friendly Policy, and I couldn't agree more. One thing to be hassled by drunk and aggressive fans, another to be forced to disrobe so as not to possibly offend someone with an antediluvian acquaintance with American slang. Sorry, Mariners, but censorship sucks.    

      Unfortunately, on the field, unlike another team I could name, the Yankees don't suck. Still, win or lose, the Ms have been my team since 1977, and I'll continue to go regularly to their games, and cheer for them, even during massacres that would've turned ancient Romans pale. I admire Jack Z as a person and as a G.M., and think he's building a team that one day will make it realistic for me to wear a T-shirt saying, "Send 'em back to New York with their pinstriped tails between their legs." I just hope the Safeco Booze Bouncers won't tell me that reference to what's between legs is not Family-Friendly, and pitch me out onto Edgar Martinez Way. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Break in the Action

That mystery guy from Seattle
Took a break from his fictional battle.
All that cop-and-crook strife
Said his spouse, "Get a life."
He'll be back in a week, all a-prattle.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Get That Worm Out Of My Ear

      An earworm is a tune that goes round and round in your mind until you manage to drive it out with another one. It's a translation of a German word, ohrwurm, which means "earworm," and it has the same sense in Berlin as it does in Seattle. People with characteristics of O.C.D. are more likely to have frequent and severe earworm infestations, and yes, I've harbored the little critters all my life. Guilty as charged. The shoe fits.
      What may be odd about my earworms is that many of them are induced by dreams, then rage between my ears for hours after I wake up. Some of them are (as best I can tell) original compositions; some are ragtime melodies; some, themes from pieces of classical music. Some are operatic. Wagner seems to over-represented. I wonder if the Master of Beyreuth suffered from ohrwurmen.
      Yesterday morning, I woke up with what might have been my most unusual earworm ever. I'd been dreaming I was watching a Seattle Mariners baseball game, and the players in the dugout were singing a chorus about Ichiro's skills. The only line I remember was, "He's a; he's the King-of...the Bat." And then, Ichiro sang the verse, but I can't tell you how it went, because he sang in Japanese. How do I know it was Japanese, and not just some gibberish my subconscious cooked up? Because I knew. The subconscious is often wrong, but never in doubt. Whether Japanese, Japlish, or junk, the tune stuck in my mind in Ichiro's voice nearly the entire day. I could actually hum it aloud.  
      I guess it could've been worse. I could've been stuck all day in a stadium-full of old-time Yankee fans chanting, "Joe, Joe, DiMaggio, we want you on our team," while their Red Sox counterpoints bellowed, "He's better than his brother Joe, Dominic DiMaggio." Or Teresa Brewer, singly coyly, "I love Mickey. Mickey Who? Mickey Mantle." There was also a song about Willie Mays from those years, but I think I'm safe from that one: all I can remember of it is Willie's boyish countertenor breaking in every now and again with a loud, "Say Hey!"
      I once woke my wife by sitting bolt-upright in bed at three AM, and shouting, "Null and void!" at the top of my lungs. She wanted to know what I'd been dreaming, but I had no idea. Maybe I'd stumbled on an auditory vermicide. If so, it's probably suitable for use only by solitary sleepers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Do It Now or Kick Yourself Forever

      Some real-life events just couldn't make it as fiction.
      For more than thirty years, I've made it a point to reserve the three days of Memorial Day Weekend for Seattle's Folklife Festival, an extravaganza of ethnic music, dance, and food, a glorious welcome to summer.
      One of my favorite Festival performers, year after year, was Jim Hinde, a regular busker at the Pike Place Market. With his guitar for accompaniment, Jim projected his music through a warm, resonant baritone, rich with energy and emotion. Many of Jim's compositions were protest songs, taking their origin from the composer's experiences in Viet Nam, and the PTSC that followed that stint.  
      Sometimes, a tall, thin, white-haired man named Bob Crosby sang along with Jim, and the combination of Bob's counter-tenor and Jim's baritone never failed to raise every hair on my neck and arms to attention. If there's ever been a more gorgeous-sounding male duet, I've yet to hear it. At the 2008 Festival, when Jim's set was finished, I nudged my wife. "Crosby sings one song on one of Jim's CDs, but that's it. If they'd like to consider making a joint recording, what would you think of looking into bankrolling it?"
      Myra said she thought that was one of my better off-the-cuff, off-the-wall ideas. So I walked over to the singers, and briefly pitched my idea. They said yes, it did sound interesting. I told them my wife and I were going out to the midwest the following Monday, to attend the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival and do some book promoting, and I'd check in with them when we got back.
      The day before our return, we were visiting with friends in Milwaukee, and I told them about my plan. "I'm going to get right on it," I said. "Bob's pretty well along, and this is something people ought to be able to hear. I'd hate to have regrets."
      We returned to Seattle June 17, and as is her habit, Myra promptly set to work putting the past two-weeks worth of the Seattle Times into order, to read over the next few days. All of a sudden, she stopped shuffling pages, and looked stricken. "You're not going to believe this," she said. "There's not going to be any CD."
      It took me a moment to catch on. "No, you're kidding. Bob Crosby died?"
      She held out the article to me. Six days before, Jim Hinde, to all outward appearances the picture of hearty, enthusiastic health, had had a heart attack in his sleep. He was 56.