Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stewardess, I Speak Jive

Cedar Springs, Michigan

Monday, October 18, 2010.

This will be my last dispatch from home; leaving tomorrow. My wife and I will be traveling together in the motor home down to New Mexico, and she will depart for work at the end of the week, flying out of El Paso. Then it will be back to walking for me.

Okay sports fans, I think I might have jinxed Jim Tressel with my suggestion last week that he should come and coach at Michigan. I'm not sorry for that, however. Practically the only joy here in Mudville on Saturday was the victory of Wisconsin over Ohio State. I never get tired of seeing the Buckeyes lose. It just doesn't happen often enough to get tiring.

Despite his loss, my invitation to Tressel still stands. I'm thinking fat Jack McCaffrey (known to some of my readers) could do at least as good a job with Michigan as Rodriguez and his minions have, even though old Jack has probably already departed for that great locker room in the sky. To be sure, it's not all DickRod's fault, as much as I'd like it to be. He doesn't throw the intercepted passes, nor does he kick the blocked field goals that are run back to midfield. But he's the skipper, by God, and the ship is sinking. Again. Before we drown, we might just get lucky against Penn State, Illinois, and Purdue. I have no illusions about Wisconsin or Ohio State. A finish of 8-4 is therefore possible, and would set up my nightmare scenario, in which people would point to the fact that Rodriguez has improved once again from his previous season, and use that to justify his existence in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have finished off Minnesota, and are taking a 1-1 tie with Texas into a three-game home stand starting tonight. Right now that's my focus. I know most of you Michigan football fans don't care about Yankees baseball, and vice versa, but I need both these teams, and this is the beautifully brief time when they overlap. There's also a European contingent who are indifferent to both these American sports, not to mention our local politics, and look forward to the resumption of the walk so I'll start talking about something they understand. Soon.

Speaking of Americana, like many of you I am in mourning this week for Barbara Billingsley, who played the mom on Leave It To Beaver. As odd and remote as it seems now, I grew up in a home that was very like that of the Cleavers in many respects. I was about the Beaver's age, and I had an older brother who was more or less a version of Wally. My dad came home wearing his dignified suit and tie and kept it on while he read the paper before dinner, and my mom wore dresses all day around the house, though she didn't have a string of pearls to go with them.

Besides being kind of dumb, the Beaver was the beneficiary of dumb luck, in that his folks were some kind of new parental model that hadn't been tested in the real world yet. It was a rare example of television attempting to lead its audience, rather than pander to it. It was the parents who were new and different on that show, not the kids. Father didn't bellow, he didn't whine, he wasn't an absent-minded clown, he wasn't the center of attention. He didn't even necessarily know best. And mother wasn't bossy or smug; mostly she just stood by and watched, patiently and lovingly, stepping in once in awhile with a glass of milk when things got dicey. Ward and June were sane and in control of themselves in an almost eerie way. Wally was equally self-assured, not to mention athletic and good-looking. The only thing you couldn't figure out about that show was how this little dope Beaver managed to find himself in the midst of such a together family. You were supposed to see his penchant for screwing things up as typical boyish goofiness, but more often than not you were left scratching your head over his stupidity. Even as a kid I thought the hidden key to the show might be that the Beaver was an actual beaver that had somehow been transmogrified into this kid, and the others were trying to make him feel like he fit in. I think of the hearbreak of having that little boy as having been June's biggest challenge. Standing there looking wholesomely beautiful and cultured, every hair in place, every pleat sharply pressed, faithfully serving her family, all the while thinking to herself, "Jesus, how could those people at the hospital have switched my baby for this ... this retard!"

Here's to you, Barbara, for having pulled it off with panache.

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