Jul. 1, 2011

Howdy Duncan Managed Our Team

by Paul Zimmer

in the Junior Baseball League in 1950.
Twice divorced, without children,
Howdy liked his Schlitz too much.
Our team was his only other pleasure,
but we were taking our licks
at the bottom of the standings,
embarrassed and blaming our manager.
Gus Thurman arranged a petition
for Howdy to be replaced and
brought it around to our houses.

Of course we won our next game.
Howdy was boisterous and thrilled.
After he thanked the umpire and
shook hands with the losing manager,
he turned with a smile to his team.

Just then—at that very moment—
Thurman handed him our petition.
Howdy read it carefully, studied all
our signatures. When finally he raised
his stricken face, we were all looking
at him from the bench, our mouths open
like a row of empty, baby swallows.

It was dusk and shadows were long.
Our girlfriends waited and watched,
their tawny legs crossed in the bleachers.
A distant freight, full from the mills,
whiffed its way through the switches
out of town. A covey of dirty wrappers
flapped up across the first base line.
The neon sign in the window
of the Cricket Bar and Grill
across the Eighth Street bridge
blinked once, then came on full.

"Howdy Duncan Managed Our Team" by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited. © The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the French novelist George Sand (books by this author), the pen name of Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, who was born in Paris in 1804. Her father died when she was little, and her mother and grandmother didn't get along. She grew tired of being the "apple of discord" between them, and entered a convent when she was 14. She liked the contemplative life, but her grandmother was worried she would become a mystic, and so she was called home. She first wore men's clothes while horseback riding, at the suggestion of her tutor, and would gallop over the countryside in trousers and a loose blouse, reveling in nature and freedom.

She married the son of a baron at 19, and they had a son and a daughter, but Aurore grew bored with the life of a wife and moved to Paris when she was 27, leaving husband and children behind. She began writing articles to earn money, collaborated on a novel with her lover, Jules Sandeau, and wrote another on her own — Indiana (1832) — under the pen name of George Sand.

She rebelled against the conventional view of womanhood, and she took to wearing men's clothes and smoking cigars in public; she also took many lovers — among them poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frédéric Chopin. Her cause was not political equality for women, but equality in love and the right to behave and choose whom to love, as men enjoyed.

The Battle of Gettysburg began on this date in 1863, about 35 miles southwest of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Confederate Army had just defeated Union forces at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and Robert E. Lee thought that it was time to invade the North.

The battle lasted three days, and it was one of the bloodiest of the war; around 45,000 soldiers were wounded and nearly 8,000 were killed.

From Herman Melville's poem "Gettysburg":
Sloped on the hill the mounds were green,
Our centre held that place of graves,
And some still hold it in their swoon,
And over these a glory waves.
The warrior-monument, crashed in fight,
Shall soar transfigured in loftier light,
A meaning ampler bear;
Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer
Have laid the stone, and every bone
Shall rest in honor there.

It's the birthday of American grammarian William Strunk Jr. (1869) (books by this author), born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was an English teacher at Cornell for 46 years, and edited works of Shakespeare, John Dryden, and James Fenimore Cooper. In 1918, he self-published a little book for the use of his students, called The Elements of Style. It was a 45-page volume intended, according to Strunk's introduction, "to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention ... on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated." He revised it in 1935; and in the late 1950s, one of his former students, the writer and New Yorker editor E.B. White, revised and reissued the 1935 edition. It's now colloquially known as "Strunk and White."

The Elements of Style is full of helpful advice to aspiring writers and despairing high school students everywhere. In it, one may find such wisdom as, "Instead of announcing what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so," and "If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or phrase, simply use it; do not draw attention to it by enclosing it in quotation marks. To do so is to put on airs, as though you were inviting the reader to join you in a select society of those who know better," and "Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason."

It's the birthday of film director, producer, and actor Sydney Pollack, born in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1934. His father was a pharmacist who had paid for his own college tuition by boxing; his mother was an alcoholic with emotional problems, and she died when her son was 16. He had originally intended to go to college and medical school, but changed course abruptly and moved to New York when he graduated from high school. He entered show business as an actor and an acting teacher, and then he took the advice of Burt Lancaster, who told him to stop "horsing around" trying to be an actor and become a director instead. Pollack moved to Los Angeles, where he began directing television shows in the 1960s. His first feature film was The Slender Thread (1965), and it starred Sydney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. He directed Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie in 1982, and they argued constantly. Hoffman convinced Pollack to appear in the film as his character's agent, and Pollack agreed, though he hadn't taken an acting role in 20 years. Their on-screen bickering bore a strong resemblance to their off-screen relationship.

He had a fruitful working relationship with Robert Redford, and the two collaborated on seven films, including The Way We Were (1973), The Electric Horseman, (1979), and Out of Africa (1985). His last film with Redford was Havana in 1990, and they always meant to do one more, but Pollack died of stomach cancer in 2008. When The New York Times asked Redford for a statement on his death, he e-mailed back: "Sydney's and my relationship both professionally and personally covers 40 years. It's too personal to express in a sound bite."

Writer Michael Henry Wilson said: "There's a line that you hear in practically all of Sydney's films — "I'm going home" — and so many of his films are about finding yourself, finding your roots, finding your home. The journey is really what a lot of his films are about."

The United States Postal service introduced ZIP codes on this day in 1963. "ZIP" stands for "Zone Improvement Plan," and they're designed to make sorting and delivering mail more efficient. The first three digits represent the part of the country the mail is going to, and the last two identify the post office within that region.

In 1983, the U.S. Postal Service rolled out "ZIP + 4," which added a hyphen and four additional digits to the end of the current ZIP code to speed things up even more. The first two digits of the addendum stand for a specific group of streets or cluster of large buildings, and the last two narrow it down further, specifying one side of the block or even one floor in a large building.

ZIP codes start with zero in the Northeast and get bigger as one moves south and west. There are more than 42,000 ZIP codes in the United States.

On this day in 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman portable cassette player. Sony's co-founder, Masaru Ibuka, liked to listen to music when he traveled, but he was tired of lugging a full-size cassette player with him, so he commissioned designers to come up with something more portable. Cassette player technology had been around since 1963, but Sony miniaturized it and made it portable as well as private, with no external speaker. They took the idea of the Pressman — a portable tape recorder that was popular with journalists — and removed the recording mechanism and added stereo sound. Skeptics doubted that it would sell, since it lacked recording capability, but Ibuka replied, "Don't you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea?"

The first Walkman model was the TPS-L2; it weighed 14 ounces, had a blue and silver chassis, chunky buttons, and two headphone jacks so you could listen with a friend. The Walkman was first available in Japan for a cost of 30,000 Yen, about $150 U.S., and Sony sold 50,000 of the players during the first two months, two and a half times more than they had projected.

Four years later, cassette tapes were outselling vinyl records for the first time, and in 1986, the word "Walkman" made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. Eventually, Sony came out with all kinds of new features — automatic reverse, AM-FM receivers, "bass boost," and weatherproofing — but the writing was on the wall for cassette tapes once compact discs were introduced in 1982.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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