Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

Happy Thanksgiving, A.D. 2018

Why at the hell on earth or in hell are e you here today, or anywhere else on the internet? Today is Thanksgiving Day, when you get a day off from the day’s news and a rare chance to reflect on all the rest of it, for which you can mostly be thankful for to God.
Better you should eat some turkey and drink some wine and be merry. for tomorrow we might die, as the Good Book suggests. Embrace yourself in the warmth of family and friends, and go ahead and watch some football if you’re so inclined. Tomorrow brings another dark and cold and dreary business day until the Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth, and we’ll be back on the glum job of noting it, yet no matter what comes in the next year this is as good a time as ever to be thankful for the best of life on God’s blessed Earth.
To all those who drop in even on days like today, we wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and a happy whatever other holiday your might celebrate at this otherwise miserable time of year.

— Bud Norman

An Early Start on Thanksgiving

A dear old friend treated us to a Coors and some chicken tenders at one of the rough and tumble Delano district’s swankest joints on Tuesday, which led to a chance encounter with an entire family of old and dear friends, which led to one of the family’s talented musicians participating in a fine jazz concert at a cigar bar over in the Old Town district, where we had another Coors, and with Thanksgiving coming up we arrived home in too good a mood to give the day’s news more than a cursory glance at the news.
There was plenty of it, of course, and as usual much of the news provided plenty of opportunity for grumpy old Never-Trumpers such as ourselves to bash President Donald Trump. The stock markets had another dreadful day, and although that’s not necessarily Trump’s fault it leaves him with nothing to brag about. There was yet another embarrassing story about the apparent con man Trump has at least temporarily appointed to run the Justice Department, apparently to stymy the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” According to a report in The Washington Post senior White House advisor and First Daughter Ivanka Trump has reportedly used a private e-mail server to conduct government business, which is at least somewhat similar to what led to all those “lock her up” chants about Democratic presidential nominee at Trump’s still-ongoing campaign rallies. According to another report in The New York Times, Trump did try his best to have Clinton locked up, which strikes us as a pretty damned banana republic kind of thing to do. He also once again dismissed the conclusions of the nation’s intelligence communities and accepted the assurances of a friendly dictator, n this case making it clear that America would let the Saudi Arabian dictator get away with the murder of a legal American resident.
As tempting as it was to pile on, we decided to give it all just that brief sneering mention. Better for now to warm ourselves in the soothing flames of family and friends, and embrace the holiday spirit of thanksgiving and glad tidings to all men and the dawn a brand new and unsullied year that make the cold and darkness grayness almost tolerable. Besides, those damned Democrats will have a majority in the House of Representatives installed in early January, and we expect that all of their nosy investigative committees will eventually make sufficient hay out of all the scandals.
We’ll even go so far as to acknowledge that Trump handled the nation’s endearingly weird longstanding tradition of the annual “turkey pardon” ceremony quite well, and note that even The Washington Post agreed, despite the snarky headline. This year’s updated “turkey pardon” decided which of two turkeys would be spared the Thanksgiving dinner ax by an internet vote on the White House web site, and Trump couldn’t resist a couple of jokes about the loser demanding endless recounts, and obvious allusion to the Florida and Georgia midterms, but everyone agreed it was it uncharacteristically good natured. Should Trump decide to go with the folksy nice-guy shtick instead of his usual “lock her up” tough-guy persona we expect his poll numbers would improve, no matter what direction the stock market indices might go, but no amount of holiday cheer can make us hopeful about that.
Even so, we’ll try to pay less attention to the news today and tomorrow, and be thankful to God for family and friends and an abiding faith in the endearingly weird traditions and institutions that have made and thus far kept America great. Friday’s forecast calls for another cold and dark and possibly snowy day in this atypically cold and snowy autumn we’re having around here, and by then we’ll be recovering from a Thanksgiving Day’s L-triptothan hangover and get back to brooding about the latest news, but until then we’ll wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving for all the good stuff.

— Bud Norman


Happy Halloween

There’s a lot of intriguing news out there, but we’ll take some time off today to enjoy Halloween, as none of the ghosts and goblins and monsters who arrive on our porch this evening will be nearly so scary as what’s going on in the real world.
Way back when we were young Halloween was for the young, and it was a favorite night of the year. Dressing up in costumes never had much appeal to us, but the free candy made it worth the trouble. Now that we’re old Halloween seems to be more of a grown-up thing, but at our age we find it rather undignified to go out in public in wearing some weird garb, and we’ve lost our sweet tooth, so we’ll enjoy handing out candy and watching the kids have their fun.
Among other advantages of not dressing up as anything, we’re unlikely to give offense to anyone. Halloween is fraught with political peril these days, given how touchy almost everyone has become. There are a few religious conservatives who consider Halloween a Satanic right, and Sean Hannity thinks it teaches socialism to children, and the left is even crazier.
Way back when we were young it was common for children to dress up as hobos, which we did on at least one Halloween, but these days those free-spirited kings of the road who rode the rails and lived job-and-tax-free lives have largely disappeared, and the very word “hobo” is now exceedingly rare, so a hobo costume probably would seem to be mocking the homeless. There was never a time we can recall when black-face wasn’t considered rude, and we wonder what the heck that Megyn Kelly woman was thinking when she said on a nationally televised network that it isn’t rude, and we still roll our eyes recalling a usually sensible friend who thought it was acceptable for her to show up at an adult Halloween party dressed as Adolph Hitler. Another friend went to a Halloween party as the “Flo” woman from the Progressive Insurance ads, with a name tag identifying herself as “Flow” and her white pants stained by menstrual blood, and we have to agree with pretty much all of our other women friends that it was tasteless.
Other than that sort of thing, though, people should just lighten up and let their fellow young and old Americans act harmlessly foolish for a night. In recent years we’ve noticed that the kids who arrive at our door favor comic book superhero costumes and princess or angel outfits, rather than the ghosts and goblins and monsters that predominated in our childhood, and we suppose that might well be a hopeful trend, and they look darn cute. Our friends’ adult costumes tend to have some twisted sense of humor or attempt to be erotic, which strikes us a damn silly, but we’ll indulge their once-a-year silliness just as they indulge us the other 364 days of the year.
So enjoy the cute kids and the childlike behavior of your adult friends, and take a brief respite from all the scary stuff that will resume tomorrow.

— Bud Norman

Our Nostalgia for a Religious Right

Not so long ago Republicans were stereotyped as a bunch of blue-nosed religious fuddy-duddies, and a couple of stories that caught our eye on Tuesday made us nostalgic for that bygone era.
One unavoidable story was about President Donald Trump’s ongoing “Twitter” spat with a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels, which is another one of those cover-the-children’s-eyes things that didn’t happen to Republican presidents back in the party’s good old sexually repressed days. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump back in his reality show days, a few months after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and although Trump denies it he’s been forced by public records to stop denying that he paid her $130,000 to stop stay quiet, and it’s been hard to keep the ongoing legal wrangling out of the papers.
At this point Daniels isn’t being at all quiet about it, as she’s figured out that her tawdry tale is worth far more than a mere $130 grand, and her recent best-selling tell-all book has included some rather explicit and unflattering descriptions of Trump’s penis and sexual skills, and these days it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of the papers as well. Trump won a legal victory on Tuesday when a judge dismissed Daniels’ defamation suit against Trump for calling her claims “a total con job,” and she was even ordered to pay the defendant’s legal fees, with the decision explaining that “The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
At this point there really is no denying that “rhetorical hyperbole” and presidential “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers are now normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States, but that only makes us all the more nostalgic for pretty much every Republican president prior to Trump. We were also disappointed to see that the court didn’t even bother to put sneering quotation marks around “tweet,” but expect that the Twitter company’s lawyers will soon send it one of those threatening letters about using a trademarked term in a generic sense. Still, Trump couldn’t help gloating about his victory with one of his trademark ad hominem “tweets.”
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Daniels lawsuit against Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees,” Trump “tweeted,” adding a link to his friends at Fox News. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con job.”
The true-blue Trump fans will love it, because “at least he fights” and all that blather, and they probably won’t notice that if you parse that last sentence according to the strict rules of the English language he’s confessing to being a total con job. By now the vast majority of the Republican party is no longer the least bit embarrassed to have its president engaged in a tawdry “Twitter” war with a pornographic video performer, and a more elevated level of presidential rhetoric is no longer one of those cultural heritages that conservatives care to conserve. They also won’t mind that “Horseface” nickname a bit, as that’s also by now normally associated with politics and public discourse, but they should be worried that Trump has picked a fight with an equally shameless and very formidable “Twitter” foe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president,” Daniels “tweeted” back. “In addition to his … umm … shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN. And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.”
Trump fans can say what they want about this publicity=seeking pornographic video performer, but they must admit that at least she fights, and rather effectively by the current cage match rules of politics and public discourse. Most people figure that Trump probably did do the deed with Daniels, very few people pretend to believe he’s not at all the unfaithful sort of fellow who would ever do such a thing, and they’re already making excuses for him even if he did, so we expect that “Horseface” will fare better against “Tiny” in their mutually embarrassing “Twitter” war. That “Tiny” nickname will surely enrage Trump, and delight his critics to a similar degree, and might even explain a few things, so it could well stick.
We had previously been unaware of the existence of Dennis Hof, but we were intrigued by his obituary in The Washington Post on Tuesday. Apparently the 72-year-old Hof was the owner of a legal Nevada brothel called The Bunny Ranch, and thus became a star of a long-running reality show about the operation on some cable network that aired occasional nudity, but we were mostly struck by the fact he was also the Republican candidate for his district’s state Assembly seat. We’d like to think that candidates who proudly traffic in women’s flesh still wouldn’t pass Republican muster around here, but in the last presidential election most Kansas Republicans found no tolerable choice but the candidate who once ran a strip club in one of his bankrupt casinos, and for now we don’t see either side seeking the higher moral ground.
Oh how we long for those good old days of the stereotyped and ridiculed rock-ribbed and religiously upright blue-nosed Republican fuddy-duddies.

— Bud Norman</p

After a Slow and Busy Weekend

For the next week or so the denouement of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination awaits the results of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of his high school days, and for now the special counsel’s ongoing investigation of the “Russia thing” seems on a traditional hold until the mid-term elections, and although those mid-term-elections are already heating up in this cool fall weather they’re still more than a month away. In the meantime, we had a pretty good weekend around here.
The highlight of our weekend was accompanying our beloved Mom to the Saturday night opening of a new exhibit at the nearby Wichita Art Museum. She very much wanted to go, but these days our our beloved Dad isn’t getting around well, so she called to ask if we were willing to accompany her instead, and of course we couldn’t refuse the offer. Our Mom is the main reason we’re such culture vultures, as she dragged us every few months to the Wichita Art Museum and subjected us to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s young people concerts and took us on weekly visits to the Wichita Public Library,as well as occasional visits to nights at the local theater, and we were eager to partially repay the debt and re-live the precious memories of our childhood.
The new exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum features some exceptional photographs of the subtly beautiful Kansas landscape, as well as some tough-but-true accounts of the off-beat Kansas farmers who keep it going, and if you happen to be in Wichita while it’s still up we highly recommend it. Our beloved Mom seemed impressed that we were friends with most of The Haymakers, the outstanding country-jazz-folky-and-bluesy outfit that played the opening, although the usual bass player was preoccupied due to his first-chair gig with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and we were delighted to introduce her to several of our weird culture vulture friends, and they all seemed to enjoy meeting our beloved Mom, too.
The rest of the weekend was filled with a rousing but relatively early morning worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ, followed by a long afternoon nap afterwards, and then some joke-swapping with a Navy veteran at Kirby’s Beer Store, and on the whole it was a pretty good weekend. All of the politics is for now unresolved, and won’t be for at least another five weeks or so, but in the meantime things seem to be working out well enough here on the south-central plains of Kansas.

— Bud Norman

A Hip-Hop Heave-Ho to “Suge” Knight

As caucasian and conservative Kansans of a certain age, our musical tastes tend  more to Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Chuck Berry and The Ramones than the latest cacophony, but we’re familiar enough with the “gangsta’ rap” genre that we took note “Suge” Knight has pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge which might result in what amounts to a life sentence.
If you’re not familiar with the oeuvre of Knight’s Death Row Records label we envy you, but you should know that over the past few decades it has exerted an undeniable influence on America’s popular culture. Back in the early hip-hop days that the youngsters now call “back in the day,” Death Row Records records made a ton of money peddling the most violent and misogynistic and generally nihilistic “gangsta’ rap” available on the open market. The shockingly violent lyrics were always delivered with a machine-gun staccato over a scary bass line, and they eerily echoed what we were reading in the local crime stories, and judging by the thudding music we’d hear every time we were stopped at a red light in certain parts of town it was a very lucrative trade.
At the time we covering the music beat for the local newspaper, and had interviewed Ice-T after his “Cop Killa'” peaked on the charts and one of the “Niggaz With Attitude” when they were the hottest thing going with equally anti-law enforcement sentiments, and even though  we witnessed the violence at their concerts we couldn’t argue with their rationalization that they were only expressing their reality. Even so, we argued with both that surely something more hopeful was going on in the ‘hood, and that things might better in the ‘hood if they stressed the best of it rather than glorifying the worst of it, and worried that “gangsta’ rap” might be both a cause and effect of the worst of it.
Back in the day, as the youngsters fondly call it, “gangsta’ rappers” used to shoot one another with alarming regularity. Death Row Records’ “artists” were often among both the victims and perpetrators, and Knight himself wound up facing various felony charges following various shoot-outs, but his record business was all the more brisk. Young black men of lesser renown were also gunning one another down at an alarming rate, here and everywhere else, and Death Row Records provided much of the soundtrack.
Since then things seem have calmed down a bit. Death Row Records is no long a major player on the music scene, and the few music critics we still occasionally read tell us that hip-hop is now about black empowerment and spirituality and other upbeat things. Ice-T has spent the last few decades playing cops on network television dramas, and that surprisingly friendly guy from “Niggaz With Attitude” has been playing the Dad character in some charmingly family-friendly blaxploitation flicks, and so far as we can tell from our red light stops in certain parts of town the latest hip-hop is less heavy on drive-by shootings and slapping  women and around and  generally defying law-enforcement and social norms. Except for a few mostly Democratic-run outlier big cities the black-on-black crime and the crime rate in general has been steadily declining since the heyday of “gangsta’ rap,” and we suspect both trends are both cause as well as effect.
It makes us feel suddenly aged to see that that this newfangled rap stuff is now so old that Knight is a rpideed 53 years old. Back in the day he’d have earned some valuable street cred by copping to a 28-year sentence, which would have been a mere 22 years if it weren’t his third felony strike, but these days he’s a hip-hop has-been who will go to prison for what might be the rest of his life with little notice.
C’est la vie, Suge. We well remember a better age of black music when Aretha and Sly and Otis and the Staple Singers were laying down far more musical tracks promising a new age of peace and brotherhood and equality, not to mention the likes of the great Duke Ellington Orchestra and Chuck Berry, and we hope it will long outlive the legacy of Death Row Records.

— Bud Norman

Try to Remember a Time in September

September is perhaps the most sporting month of the year in America, and usually provides some refuge from all the political and cultural squabbles that dominate the rest of the papers, but not this year.
This year the big story at the United States Open tennis championship was the women’s final singles match, which ended with a big brouhaha about sexism and racism. The professional football season started with the same acrimonious debate about free speech rights and proper respect for the national anthem that had already taken so much out of the past two seasons. Most of the baseball races in the big leagues have already been run, and around this double-A city our beloved Wichita Wingnuts have played their last-ever game in the gorgeous and history-laden Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that is scheduled for the bulldozer, which has the home folks arguing.
Not having followed tennis closely since way back when the undersized by scrappy Australian Rod Laver was winning his calendar Grand Slam sweep, we’ll not venture any strong opinions about what happened in the finals match between American Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. As even such casual fans as ourselves well know Williams has dominated her sport for the past couple of decades, but after the recent birth of a child and at the ripe old age of 36 her dominance is soon coming to and end, so fans were eager to see how she’d fare against an-up-coming who was three months old when Williams won her first Gland Slam title, but everyone hated out it turned out.
Youth proved better than experience in the first set, with Osaka racking up an easy win, but Williams has a long history of impassioned but calm comebacks in the second and third matches, and everyone was expecting another classic effort to tie Margaret Court’s record of 25 Grand Slam singles titles. The umpire made a couple of calls that annoyed Williams, one of them claiming she had illegally been getting coaching from the sidelines, which Williams took quite personally, and she wound up screaming loud and long at the referee and breaking her racket on the court and eventually getting penalized by two games, which put the set and match out of reach against such formidable competition.
A hard-earned win by either the aging superstar or the youthful newcomer who was playing against her life-long idol in her first Grand Slam final should have made for one of those corny feel-good stories we always look for on the sports pages, but in this case it ended for the aforementioned brouhaha about racism and sexism.
Some observers opined that tennis umpires routinely endure far worse verbal abuse from male players, and should extend the same courtesy to female players, while others suggested that the fact it was a strong black woman doing the screaming and racket-smashing might have had something to do with it. We don’t follow tennis closely enough to judge all the arguments about the calls or how commonly cheating violations are called or that particular umpire’s history of enduring verbal abuse from male players, but by now we’re all too familiar with the sexual and racial contretemps, so we’ll venture an admittedly ambivalent opinion that it’s much ado about nothing.
Ever since the days of America’s superstar tennis brats Jimmy Conner and Pat McEnroe those poor umpire’s in tall white chairs have indeed been putting up with a whole lot of verbal abuse from the male players, but we’d rather they stop doing that and start handing out game penalties rather than begin putting up with such nonsense from the fairer sex. Tennis is perhaps the most international and multiracial played on this increasingly interconnected globe, too, and in a match between a black woman and an Asian in front of an umpire with a Latin-sounding name, with Williams chasing a 25th Grand Slam title, it’s hard to imagine racism was much of a factor.
We fondly remember the days when tennis was a game of white shorts and shirts and friendly post-match handshakes and the most genteel standards of sportsmanship and decorum, with such great African-American champions as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe best exemplifying the best of it, and if tennis wants to return to that better era we wish the sport well.
As for all that fuss about football and the flag, we’ve pretty much lost interest in the sport and are fed up with both sides of its ensuing controversies. Let the players rack up the debilitating brain injuries along with the hits that will likely hobble them into a premature old age, as that’s their choice and they make plenty of money for it, but we’ll choose to watch baseball and then wait until basketball season comes along. If we get to go to any more games around we’ll stand and hold our ever-present hat over our heart as the national anthem plays, with due respect to the freedoms the flag represents, and the men who fought and died for those freedoms, but we’ll not worry how some football player we won’t be watching exercises his freedom.
The Nike sneaker company has recently signed a promotional deal with one-time star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the whole kneeling-during-the-anthem fuss and is now out of the league, partly because defenses started figuring him out and largely because of his politics, and we note that their sales have since gone up, but that others are burning their Nikes and vowing to never buy another pair from the oh-so-liberal company that makes its products mostly in Asian sweatshops. There’s no point in us boycotting Nike even if we were inclined to do so, as we’re old and creatures of habit and plan stick with the classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star footwear that have adorned our feet since our junior high days on the pickup courts, and as far as we’re concerned you can wear whatever you want.
The demise of the Wichita Wingnuts and the destruction of that grand old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hits closer to home, of course, and serves as a sad reminder that politics will always prevail over sports. The mayor and some local capitalists are promising a far grander stadium somewhere along the same picturesque location on the west bank of the Arkansas River, with the same postcard view of downtown, and the preliminary sketches indicate there will be luxury boxes on a second deck, and they’ve already signed up a major league-affiliated triple-A team that wasn’t drawing well down in New Orleans. What’s left of the local media is making a big deal, and the talk is that if you build it they will come in far great numbers than the few thousand who showed up to watch independent and double-A Wingnuts in an aging old park for the very last time.
That “if you build it they will come” stuff is straight from a bad Kevin Costner movie, though, and we have our doubts about all the rest of it. No matter how fancy a park they build you won’t be able to tell your kid that Satchel Paige once pitched there, or how ‘Shocker and Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter once hit a homer clear across the street and into the Arkansas River, or share any of other history that the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in America has racked up over the years. Nor do we expect that whatever the losing “New Orleans Baby Cakes” are re-named will be as entertaining as the desperate outsiders’ hustle of the winning Wingnuts, and there probably won’t be a smoking section where we can watch with our cigar-chomping friends, and they’re even talking about how it’s going to screw up the scenic MacLean Boulevard drive along the river.
You can call all these developments social progress, we suppose, and there’s no denying that all the players in all the sports these days are bigger and faster and more scientifically conditioned than the heroes of our long-ago youth. Still, the kiddos should know of a happier time long ago when September offered a few more weeks of respite from the most brutal game of politics.

–Bud Norman

Burt Reynolds, RIP

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82, and we were sad to hear about it. He was in a few movies we quite liked, a few more that were forgettable but well worth a couple of hours and the ’70s and ’80s prices for a movie ticket, and even in the lousy movies that made up the most of his filmography he was always an appealing figure on the screen. Also, his passing makes us feel old.
At our age we can remember way back when the handsome and hunky and hirsute Reynolds was the biggest box office star and premier male sex symbol of the day, and suddenly it seems a long time ago. Reynolds was good-looking in a hyper-masculine way that is out of fashion with women in these oh-so-sensitive times, and he offset it with a self-aware sense of humor that today’s tough guys eschew, and his biggest hits had a low-tech earnestness about them that will probably strike the current crop of movie-goers as downright corny. There’s something to be said for such modern sensibilities, perhaps, but we hopefully expect that the best of Reynolds’ work will endure in our popular culture.
After an injury ended his promising career as a football player at Florida State University, Reynolds joined the theater department at the school in hopes of meeting hot co-eds, and thus began an acting career that started with co-starring roles in “Gunsmoke” and other television shows, followed by co-starring roles in some forgettable low-budget movies. He got his big break when he was cast in “Deliverance,” a hard-to-watch but must-see classic, and gave a clean-shaven and critically acclaimed performance as a hyper-masculine city slicker on an ill-fated canoe trip in hillbilly country, and after that he was for several years a very big movie star.
The eventual hero of “Deliverance” was the oh-so-sensitive character played by Jon Voight, and despite Reynolds’ nuanced performance it was his undeniable on-screen machismo and charmingly self-deprecating wit on all the talk shows that made him a much bigger movie star. Reynolds had a long run at the the top of the box office with the likes of “Smokey and the Bandit,” an extended car chase involving Reynolds’ macho-but-self-deprecating “Bandit” character trying to win a bet involving a six pack of Coors while a stereotypical southern sheriff played by Jackie Gleason pursues, and it’s not nearly so bad as it sounds. Another big hit was “Cannonball Run,” which has a cast of B-list all-stars on a coast-to-coast interstate highway race, and you could do worse on a rainy day of movie watching, although we can’t say the same for “Cannonball Run II.” He also made movies such as “Gator” and “The Longest Yard” for the southern white boy exploitation drive-in market, which were also huge hits, and despite our art house tastes we can heartily recommend “The Longest Yard.” Reynolds quite convincingly portrays a wisecracking football star who winds up in prison, where he leads an excellent cast of tough-guy character actors to victory over the guards’ semipro team, and it’s a faded color testosterone-laden little flick that is far better than it sounds.
While he was hot Reynolds also directed and starred in “The End,” a very dark comedy about a businessman with a terminal illness, and although it bombed at the box office we and the rest of the critics agreed that it was well worth watching, and that Reynolds really could act when given the chance. After years of relative anonymity his last round of critical acclaim and Oscars came with “Boogie Nights,” a very fine film about the pornography industry of the late ’70s and early ’80s, with the the graying but still-handsome Reynolds playing a pornographer with with artistic ambitions he could never achieve.
Although he always seemed a likable enough enough fellow to us, he was such a fixture of the news for so many years that we also read about what a jerk he could be, and we don’t doubt that at least some of it is true. He was married to Judy Carne, the British actress who went on to be the bikini-clad “Sock it to me” girl on “Laugh In,” and after the divorce and at the height of his male symbol status he dated the 20-years-older diva Dinah Shore, followed by a well publicized romance with “Smokey and the Bandit” co-star and America’s Sweetheart Sally Fields, and then a very public and acrimonious divorce from the blond and buxom sit-com star Loni Anderson. He always admitted everything in his self-deprecating way, however, and we’ll miss having him around in America’s increasingly crazy popular culture.

— Bud Norman

Happy Labor Day, and Good Luck With Tuesday

Today is Labor Day in America, which is our most bittersweet holiday of the year. We like the idea of everyone taking a day off to honor all the hard work folks are putting in the rest of the year, and relish the bratwurst and beer and baseball that the day always brings, but it’s always followed by a Tuesday when summer is over.
There will probably be more than a few hot and sunny top-down driving days left here on the Kansas plains, but we’re already noticing that the days do indeed grow short when you reach September, even here on the far western edges of the vast central time zone, and Labor Day always signals that the blissfully lazy and hazy days of summer are officially over. School is back in session, those crawling school zone speed limits are back in effect, pretty much everyone on the streets is back at some unpleasant chore, the nation turns its attention from the elegant sport of baseball to the primal combat of football, and in these even-numbered years an even more brutal political campaign season commences.
Our advice is to put all that off until tomorrow. Better you should charbroil a plump bratwurst and put it in a bun with some roasted jalapeño slices and smother it in plenty of mustard, drink a beer or two or three, watch your hometown baseball team if the game doesn’t get rained out, as our local forecast warns, and enjoy what a great country all that American labor has somehow produced. There will be time enough for the rest of it starting on damn Tuesday.

— Bud Norman