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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

Peel

December 19, 2014 | by

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From the cover of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl.

The past, as we know, is another country, and from the age of four or so, I wished passionately for dual citizenship. What old-fashioned meant, I couldn’t even have told you. But for most of my early life I worshipped the idea devoutly. To me it meant inheritance, placement, being part of something larger. 

I think I envisioned this vague past as a world where I belonged. Other children were kind and wholesome; clothes were strange and modest; I was not ridiculous. Paradoxically, my communion with the past made me wholly ridiculous. Sporting bloomers to the third grade has rarely been a road to modern popularity. 

As might be clear, my family had no particular veneration for ritual, but I still cleaved to the idea of holidays as a tradition-steeped idyll. I baked and decorated and played carols, and my homemade gifts were very strange. The primary reason for this is that I got all my ideas from a series of vintage books with names like Let’s Make a Gift! and Fun and Thought for Little Folk, and the youngest of them dated to the late 1930s. As a result, my parents were treated to pen wipers and blotters, a pipe cleaner “embroidered” with the word Father (my dad did not smoke a pipe), and, on one particularly lackluster occasion, a “brush for invalids” that involved wrapping a stick in a piece of flannel so the bedridden individual did not need to wash her hair. Read More »

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Story Time

September 11, 2014 | by

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From the cover of a “Fun with Music” disc.

Ann Rachlin, storyteller, MBE, and pioneer of music appreciation, has been working for years—she’s now eighty—but she really came to prominence in the mideighties, when she started teaching little Prince William. I wonder if that’s when my mom bought her records. Whatever the reason, her “Fun with Music” series was in heavy rotation at our house, and the distinctive, lilting rhythms of her idiosyncratic narratives was the sound track of our childhoods. I think if you’d asked me between the ages of four and six which celebrity I would have most liked to meet, the answer would have been Ann Rachlin. (Well, Ann Rachlin and Jeff the mannequin from Today’s Special.)

The records (and later tapes, for playing in the car) featured narration over classical music pieces. Sometimes, as in the case of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, or the deeply distressing Swan Lake, Rachlin based her tale on a preexisting story. Others were wholly original, and often unabashedly bizarre. (I am thinking especially of Lost Coin in a Fountain, set to Respighi.) To call Rachlin’s style “expressive” is a vast understatement: her voice rises and falls dramatically, she takes on all characters with gusto, she evokes laughter and tears and bafflement. She is so wholly uninhibited that it’s shocking even to a child. Maybe especially to a child. And while her tales are all designed to capture a child’s imagination, she does not shy away from sadness and even, occasionally, tragedy. (See: Swan Lake.) Read More »

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Field of Dreams

August 19, 2014 | by

Chasing down one grand slam.

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From Baseball ABC, 1885

It was my 3,664th day on Earth, as I later calculated, and I was in a Little League fantasy scenario in Princeton, New Jersey. Play-offs, bases loaded, up at bat against an intimidating pitcher with a gnarly high kick. For an instant, my Louisville Slugger met with the ball, the leather and rubber shape-shifting against the aluminum. A roper up the middle into deep center—I can still feel the smack off the fat of the bat. I’d hit an inside-the-park grand slam. This was my finest moment as an athlete. It’s forever seared into my brain, scored by the cacophony of yelping mothers and fathers loud enough to drive kids away from the ice-cream truck to investigate.

This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Little League’s existence, culminating in August’s Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Williamsport’s Carl Stotz founded the league in 1939 by rounding up his nephews and their neighborhood friends. With the added attention to Little League this year, I began considering my brief moment of glory and how many children over the decades have received such a jolt of confidence—or the opposite—on ball fields nationwide.

The league has since ballooned into an international behemoth, with more than two-hundred thousand teams in all fifty states and more than eighty countries the world over, from Uganda to Kyrgyzstan. Each year now, more than two million boys (and some girls) play ball—their teams often sponsored by local businesses and larger corporations—and get schooled in triumph and failure, sometimes life and death. (The year 1956 marked the first on-field death in Garland, Texas, when Jerry Armstrong hit the twelve-year-old Richard “Rick” Oden in the head with a pitch.)

Our own conquests may not occur in front of the forty-five thousand live fans and more than a million TV viewers the Little League World Series attracts, but they mold our characters nonetheless, before modest collections of parents and siblings. Still, I realized how little detail I actually recalled from my big day. Who was the pitcher? What was the weather like? How old was I exactly? Read More »

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You Belong to the City

August 18, 2014 | by

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A still from 1986 Mets: A Year to Remember.

1986 Mets: A Year to Remember is quite possibly the most amazing video yearbook for any professional sports team … ever.” That’s a comment from someone named the Wright Stache, who’s done God’s work by putting most of said video yearbook on Vimeo. But it could be anyone who grew up a Mets fan. There’s the series itself, of course—Game Six, Buckner, Jesse Orosco on the mound—but anyone with an ESPN subscription and a memory can tell you about that. A Year to Remember—known in our house simply as “The Mets Video”—is something different. 

“I watched that video,” said a friend of mine recently. “I don’t really get what’s so great about it.” I didn’t even know how to respond to this. Is the Mets video tied up for me with my brother and my childhood and past glories and the pain of defeat and the entire nature of youth, life, and maybe death? Obviously. But it’s also pretty obvious that it’s just objectively awesome. 

It’s an official Major League Baseball video; I remember that it came in a blue plastic case. Why we had it, I don’t know. I guess it was just what you did in the eighties. Because we weren’t the only ones; a bunch of my friends also owned it, and we can all recite the narration and replicate the “routine double play” from the play-offs and, of course, do a hotfoot in a pinch, as demonstrated by Roger McDowell and Howard Johnson. Indeed, the Mets video occupies a place of honor in a certain varietal of NYC psyche: for those of us who were really young in 1986, that long-ago triumph was symbolized by the video. And scored by Duran Duran. Read More »

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Overheard in New York

August 8, 2014 | by

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Georgios Jakobides, The First Steps, 1889

Now that it is going to be sold, my grandparents’ house, and the summers we spent there, seem cloaked in romance. I remember the trips to the thrift store, the games in the phalanx of sheds, the maple bars from Red’s Donuts, nature walks with my uncle, reading Green Mansions in the woods. It is easy to gloss over the rest.

It was a place of strong smells. Mint in the yard. Eucalyptus trees on the drive. Talcum powder and Lysol and always a potato rotting somewhere in the kitchen. It would have been a good place to be blind. Or, it would have if every inch hadn’t been covered with constantly shifting stuff.

I can’t seem to stop thinking and writing about my grandparents, lately. Well, they’ve been on everyone’s minds as they clear the property and sort through the family politics. I suppose I’ve been fumbling for some sort of eulogy. I’ve started to write about singing gay nineties songs around the piano, about family holidays and the day we all dressed in costumes for a group portrait. But I don’t think any of that really tells the story. If I were to try to say goodbye with one story, I think it would need to be a conversation I overheard one day. My grandfather called every evening; I walked into the kitchen to find my mother on the phone. 

“Has Mom agreed to this?” A beat. Then, exasperated, “Then that’s not a suicide pact, Dad; it’s a murder-suicide.”

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The Open Book Book, and Other News

August 8, 2014 | by

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Doug Beube’s contribution to the Open Book Project “reimagines the book as a reconstructible sculpture of maps and zippers.” Image: the Open Book Project, via the Atlantic

  • James Wolcott on the scourge of nineties nostalgia: “Mostly a white people’s pastime, nostalgia used to be a pining for an idealized yesteryear, for a prelapsarian world tinted in sepia … the Internet and cable TV have colonized the hive mind and set up carnival pavilions. Now every delight is obtainable and on display at an arcade that never closes … This anxious, ravenous speedup of nostalgia—getting wistful over goodies that never went away—is more than a reflection of the overall acceleration of digital culture, a pathetic sign of our determination to dote on every last shiny souvenir of our prolonged adolescence, and an indictment of our gutless refusal to face the rotten future like Stoic philosophers.”
  • With the Open Book project, two professors held “experimental book workshops … to help define what the classic book—and the new book—could be.” Now there’s the Open Book book, “an amalgam of essays on and artwork made from books. ‘Not all of these books are made from and with paper-based books … We purposely sought book-like work for the Open Book exhibition that transcended paper media.’”
  • What does a minute feel like? Sixty seconds. What does sixty seconds feel like? A minute. “I was a lab rat in a performance-art piece on the High Line. The artist, an Argentinian named David Lamelas, arranged forty-odd people—friends, tourists, commuters, passersby—shoulder to shoulder, like an extra-long police lineup. ‘The time is now six-thirty-five,’ he announced, looking at his phone. Starting at one end of the queue, we were each supposed to wait for what we estimated to be one minute and then call out the time.”
  • In the UK, a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a remarkably creepy cover. “It features a cover photograph of a young girl in make-up and marabou feathers, perched on her mother’s knee with the blank-eyed expression of a doll.”
  • Eighteen months ago, Steven Soderbergh retired from filmmaking. Now he’s made The Knick, a grisly TV drama series about a hospital in the earliest days of the twentieth century: It’s “a gritty glimpse of Gilded Age New York … The first ten minutes of the premiere are among the most gruesome I’ve seen this year, as [the doctors] attempt an emergency C-section on a woman with placenta previa, an operation they have already failed at twelve times before.”

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