Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Washington Jaunt

Last week UVa chums invited me to an impromptu get together in Washington the evening before Thanksgiving. I don't see them very often and they're lots of fun, so I said "Count me in!"

When I go to Washington, I park at the closest Metro stop to State College (Shady Grove), and take the Metro into the District. I'm a do-gooder yokel; I think mass transit can be fun, except when you are sitting by smelly, annoying, or stupid people, which, in fact, is most of the time. Nevertheless, it's a moving hell as opposed to the stationary hell of bumper to bumper traffic and parking in the city.

Wednesday night with the gang was indeed a great time. I went to Italy with most of them in the summer of uh, 19-ahem, and we hadn't gotten together as a group since until last year when we all went to the not very interesting memorial service (no singing, no dancing, no guns, no strippers) in Virginia of the professor in charge of our Italian trip. On the bright side, I did learn the word "polymath" from the only good eulogy of the afternoon and have been trying to work it into conversation steadily ever since. While the service was boring, the ride to and from wasn't as we caught up in the way that long lost friends used to, before the invention of social networking.

This time we covered everything from how aged and infirm (or dead) our parents currently are to story of Di and Bill receiving anonymous postcards accusing them of being in a Chardonnay and brie consuming cabal that has taken over their town, to the amusing tale of the quiet classmate who joined the gay rodeo. Yes, there is gay rodeo. This is not code for something that I would be embarrassed to put into English.

At the end of the laughter-filled evening, we shared semi-boozy goodbyes and posed for not very good photos taken by the restaurant waitstaff. We promised that we'd get together again soon. And ya know, I think we will.

Early Thanksgiving morning, I got up with only a trace of the Country Club Flu (i.e. hangover) and decided to head out to the Dupont Circle Starbucks for coffee. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a Starbucks is a Starbucks is a Starbucks. There isn't much room for local color, except on the bulletin board. At my Starbucks in State College, the flyers on the bulletin board are about seeking a former majorette turned accountant for a mini twirling troupe or searching for Prius-driving Republicans with sleep apnea to participate in traffic studies. In Washington, they're about taking fencing lessons in a building designed by Stanford White. Finally, the chance to say En Garde! and really mean it!

I was sold on the fencing lessons until I got to the part where they called it "physical chess". As opposed to metaphysical chess, with the board and all that. Obviously this flyer was written by the same person who called architecture "frozen music."

Speaking of architecture, the fountain in the center of Dupont Circle is a monument to Samuel F. Du Pont (yes, he's a big "D" and a big "P") and was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, who also teamed up to bring us the Lincoln Memorial.  Because Dupont Circle is Washington's gayborhood, and I have the maturity level of a 13 year old, I always chuckle when I walk by and read that Samuel F. Du Pont was a Rear Admiral. Even when I am alone at 8:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning with a slight hangover, I find myself to be so amusing.

The locals are a brave lot, because even when toting artisanal green bean casserole to Bruce and Lenny's for Thanksgiving dinner they are not frightened by menacing pinheaded shadow-casting aliens.

The shoppes of Dupont Circle feature all sorts of interesting wares. This outfit really puts the ho in "Ho Ho Ho."

I suppose the calligraphy on the side of these high heels turns them from plain old hooker shoes to Trained in the Mysterious Love Arts of the Far East hooker shoes. Then again, the writing might just be a recipe for General Tso's Chicken.

The sign in the window promised  Naughty Toy's and Nice Prices. Presumably they know more about erotica than they do about grammar.

Just across the street from Santa's buxom helper was sort-of-vintage clothing, where-every-word-was-lower-case-and-hypenated-unnecessarily. Yes, I know those are books instead of clothes in the window. I didn't understand that either.

The Cafe Dupont looks as if it could be an ad in Dwell magazine. I've always meant to stop there for a mid century modern omelet but have never gotten around to it. Maybe next time. The woman in the black dress will probably still be there when I get back.

Soon enough, it was time to head back to State College to make an apple pie to take to Thanksgiving dinner with friends. The Metro out to Shady Grove was just about deserted except for an attractive woman, neither smelly nor annoying, with an enormous Vera Bradley duffel. (OK, I wouldn't have picked out the duffel.) She'd been in some sort of race and was still wearing her number. It was a sunny day, my headache was gone, and I had some great new party shoes in  my overnight bag. And maybe, just maybe, a new recipe for General Tso's Chicken.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Yes, We Did Go Out Wearing That

My friend Pat sent me these great photos of the student section--that's right, the student section--at a UVa football game in Scott Stadium circa 1978. (Thanks, Pat!) Please take time to soak in the ostentatious displays of school spirit. The stands are a veritable sea of blue and orange and you can practically hear the whoops and cheers.

I believe this young woman, in a plaid skit, white blouse, and red cardigan wandered into the game when she was looking for a Junior League rally. Or maybe a United Daughters of the Confederacy event. Today her kids and their friends come to the stadium half naked, covered in blue and orange body paint. Some would call that progress. I might...if they're hot.

Miss Red Cardigan still hasn't told her husband or kids that she put herself through graduate school as a professional phone sex operator, earning a tidy sum on each $3.99 per minute phone call. She occasionally has a flashback when friends call to discuss upcoming social events and ask "What are you wearing?"

The guy in the orange corduroy trousers decorated with fox hunting motifs was Virginia's leading Snidely Whiplash impersonator. He frequently took part in festive grand opening celebrations at Kroger supermarkets, where his act included tying a comely female cashier (in the role of Nell Fenwick) to fake railroad tracks leading to the beer and wine section of the store. The store manager would then arrive just in time to save Nell and announce a special on Budweiser pounders.

Note that he is being ogled by the woman with the eyeglasses in a plaid jumper and Dorothy Hamill-esque haircut. Exhaustive research led me to identify her as Vanessa McAdoo, currently the shop steward of the United Federation of Schoolmarms, Local 1421 in Staunton, Virginia. She's fond of telling people at union meetings that she was a "saucy minx" when she was younger. So far, I'm not buying it.

Even in Ralph Lauren ads, college boys no longer wear boater hats. As they say on Project Runway, and any other television show that has a gay character, this guy is really working it. However, the photo proves that you gotta work pretty hard to attract a saucy minx when you're competing with a Snidely Whiplash impersonator. 

Close inspection reveals several orange plastic 16 oz. cups (aka Wahoo cups) in this photo. Sure, I'll have some rum in my Coke!  Oh, the rum's kicked? Why I would be delighted to make do with Rebel Yell. For medicinal purposes only, of course, I have been rather under the weather!! At least members of the crowd are engrossed in the on-field action. Chances are they weren't watching football. It's likely that they're watching the season-long Frisbee dog exhibition. Two dogs (and their handlers) would face off before kickoff each week, with the victory going to the pooch whose performance earned the loudest applause. The winners eventually faced off in a single elimination tournament, sort of like March Madness except with dogs and without Dick Vitale. It was incredibly entertaining. It wasn't all bandana-wearing Labrador Retrievers and Border Collies, there were also some little dogs that could really catch a Frisbee and put on a good show. Even when it comes to Frisbee dogs, size isn't everything.

The three people in the foreground are engrossed in discussing their plans to see Emmanuelle, the French soft-core porn film playing in Gilmer Hall later that evening. It would be a novel experience for them. Not because of the French dialog or of the Gallic sexual shenanigans on the screen, but because it involved three experiences foreign to UVa football: waiting in line, buying a ticket, and being embarrassed at seeing someone you know.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

All Football is Not Created Equal

I grew up in a football town. I was naive enough to think everyone did. As people have noted over and over, Penn State football is one of the things that turned a nondescript burg in the middle of nowhere into Happy Valley. When it was time to spread my wings a bit, I went away to college. I didn’t go to a football school, and that was helpful in making me realize that there’s life after football. It's a lesson more of us need to hear.

UVa was famous for lots of things. They included its founder, Mr. Jefferson (everyone in Charlottesville knows that his first name is Mister, not Thomas), the beauty of the University grounds (no, it’s not a campus), and the distinguished pipe smoking tweedy types on every corner. Oh and the well-regarded faculty too, can’t forget about them! But a successful football team wasn’t one of the bright spots. The team never won more than two games a year when I was in school.  

Back in my day, football was so unpopular that students didn’t need tickets to go to games. Apparently the university administration felt there were enough better options on any given Saturday—genealogy seminars, skydiving lessons, or trying to recover from eating the local delicacy--a grilled glazed doughnut topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream---that printing student tickets would have been an unnecessary expense. Life was simple: you flashed your student ID at the stadium gate and you were in. 

Scott Stadium held 28,000 in two gentle arcs of seats dug into a hillside. At the top of each arc of seats, right on the 50 yard line, were little neoclassical temples of red brick with white columns, like so many buildings on the grounds. One was for the University President and the other for the press. From the looks of their gracious digs I imagined that the local press dressed and acted like Heywood Hale Broun, while President Hereford and his chums drank mint juleps and munched on ham biscuits on the other side of the stadium in the President’s Box. 

I’m sure the team tried, but typically they could only beat schools like VMI and the Warren G. Harding School for the Mentally Bewildered. At schools with real football teams, such as Clemson, where the “n” stands for knowledge, UVa didn’t stand a ghost of a chance.

I didn’t know anyone who went for the action on the fields but knew lots of people who went for the action in the stands, where it was sort of a fashion show meets cocktail party. In the days before people drank water, and even worse, proselytize about its putative health benefits, the beverage of choice was Coca-Cola. It came in something called a Wahoo cup, a wide-mouthed orange plastic 16oz. cup that everyone recognized as the perfect receptacle for Coke and a medicinal slosh or three of rum. Or of Jack Daniels, if you were hard core. If anything makes bad football good, it’s a medicinal slosh or three of rum in the first quarter. And in the second quarter. And at half time. Well, you get the point.

Our cheerleaders wore uniforms with a large Virginia looking like the masthead of Variety, the Hollywood newspaper, across their breastal areas. They looked like normal cheerleading uniforms to me. However, according to the school newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, the cheerleaders’ uniforms were a sign of the impending apocalypse, and even worse, of “creeping State U-ism”. This was an insidious fifth column movement that threatened to change dear old UVa, the home of Nameless Field (yes, that was its name) and the Lady Astor Tennis Courts (ditto) into a Big Ten University where everything was named for international agribusiness conglomerates, students wore shapeless polyester fast food uniforms, and Soylent Green was dining hall fare. 

At one game, a man in the front row, clearly intoxicated and wearing a Viking helmet (that’s Viking, not Vikings), was ejected from the game for expressing his opinion of the cheerleaders by throwing a croquet mallet at them. Sic semper creeping State U-ism! as a descendant of John Wilkes Booth might have said. While a croquet mallet certainly can be a dangerous weapon, especially when wielded by a man in a Viking helmet, it fell well short of its intended targets. I’ve always wondered where he got that Viking helmet. I should have asked him if his mother was an opera singer. 

At the end of the season when I was a first-year student it became obvious that our coach, Ulmo Shannon "Sonny" Randle, Jr., was going to be sacked, and I don’t mean in the football sense of the word. Students reacted joyfully...perhaps with a new coach a win was on the horizon! A rowdy but erudite section of students unfurled a large banner in the stadium saying Sic Transit Randle. If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times, fans don’t bring nearly enough signs in Latin to football games these days.

The Pep Band, officially The Award-Winning Virginia Fighting Cavalier Indoor/Outdoor Precision (?) Marching Pep Band, & Chowder Society Review, Unlimited!!! was our Stanford-style scramble band. In white painters pants, blue oxfords, orange vests, and crazy hats the band routinely skewered our opponents, their parentage, SAT scores, dental hygiene, and anything they might hold dear. It was great! Some years later the President of UVa and the Governor of Virginia grew tired of apologizing to assorted Governors, College Presidents, Grand Viziers, and just about everyone else for the Pep Band’s antics and the Pep Band was abolished. 

A scene very much like this one played out at just about every game I went to:

Trip, (yes, that's his name), an athletic slightly sunburned tousled blond, is wearing paint spattered khakis, Bass Weejuns held together by white athletic tape, and an oxford shirt. He has a cigarette propped behind his year and is obviously well acquainted with the medicinal qualities of the rum and Coke in the Wahoo cup he's holding. Margize (yes, that’s her name. Really.) looks as if she stepped out of the Pappagallo catalog in a wraparound skirt with a demure blouse accessorized with a Ray Ban aviator sunglasses and gold ball add-a-bead necklace. She is using a mini L.L. Bean tote bag as a purse. 

Trip: We’ll I’llllll be! How are yew?!  You're a sight for sore eyes.
Margize: Tripster!  My lord. I don’t remember a thing about last night, but when I woke up this morning I was fully clothed but wearing one pink espadrille and one green one. I was mortified! And my mouth...well it tasted like the inside of a sneaker. But then I took my Granny’s advice and brushed my teeth with Pepsodent and Jack Daniels. Bless her heart, it worked like a charm. Languidly exhaling smoke from her Merit Light cigarette (this is the 1970s, people smoke)  Who are we playing today?

Trip: Margize, we’re 1-8. We’re playing with ourselves. He quickly pulls his free hand out of his pocket. Metaphorically speaking, I mean.

Trip: Hey are we going to hook up later?

Margize: Suddenly serious, Trip, you know I don’t know the slightest thing about fishing! 

Clearly we didn’t want to win our conference championship. I’m not sure that we even wanted to win a game, well, with the exception of the contest against the Warren G. Harding School for the Mentally Bewildered. After all, he was a Yankee. Trying too hard to win at football would be the epitome of Creeping State U-ism. In retrospect it seems that we were a Division 1 team pretending that we were in Division 3. When the weather was nice everyone had a good time, and people were kept occupied until the really important time of year, basketball season.

Creeping State U ism seems to have carried the day. Scott Stadium has been supersized (if you call 61,000 seats supersized) and it even has a larger name, Carl Smith Center, Home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium. There are orange Vs painted at intervals on the major streets near the University grounds, like the footprints of a preppy dinosaur. The football team has snazzy uniforms, there’s a real band, and tickets are even required. And a recently fired (deservedly so) coach even urged students to wear t-shirts--t-shirts!!--to games. But there have been changes for the good, too. There is real grass instead of that plastic stuff that Scott Stadium used to have and a cavalier on horseback makes a dramatic entrance at the start of each game. And UVa wins more, too. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like that.

Trip and Margize’s kids may care more about football than their parents, but not enough to go to Virginia Tech or Penn State. I’m hopeful that they’ll remember that they went to college for the education rather than the spectator sports. I know that they learned the most important lesson of all: it's not if you win or lose, but what you wear to the game.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Maybe I Shouldn't Drink Before Bedtime

Sometimes at night I dream that I'm wearing a black polo shirt and golf shorts and am between the legs of a statuesque woman wearing a red bikini with hair like Gloria Borger.

Oh wait, that really happened.

And yeah, I never called.

On those non Gloria Borger nights, I occasionally lie awake at night worrying about something I'm supposed to remember to do the next day. Or I come up with an idea, or a phrase, or an image for my blog. Since the memory isn't what it used to be, I can't depend on the old grey matter to conjure up the thought in the morning. So I get out of bed, go to the bathroom, get the tablet and pen out of the drawer, and write down the thought, my to do list, where to find the photo, and so on. Then in the morning, I look at the note pad, and say to myself, "Oh, I knew that already".

I looked at my note pad this morning and saw that I had written: "Do you really want a tall Nordic former underwear model cutting the ribbon at the tattoo removal studio in the county home for the aged?  Hell yes! "

Presumably last night it made perfect sense.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ties That Bind

Last weekend I went to the Penn State vs. Illinois football game in a snowy October nor’easter.

I was with my two great nephews Hayden (age 7) and Calvin (age 6) and their fathers, my two nephews Bryan (age fortysomething, in the yellow slicker) and Aaron (age fortysomething minus 8, iPhone in hand).  In the immortal words of Mr. Jefferson, I was spending time in the bosom of my family. It was a special occasion--the first Penn State game for both Hayden and Calvin. Their fathers are both Penn Staters.

We had a fine time, despite getting too cold and too wet and leaving shortly after halftime. On the other hand, discovering that your tickets are not good for the entire game can lead to watching the second half on a gigantic high def television in the toasty confines of someone’s living room. That is, of course, what happened. While we missed being in Section WE, Row 35 for the play for the ages, when Illinois' game-tying field goal attempt bounced harmlessly off the upright as the clock wound down to zero, we were satisfied that everyone at Beaver Stadium could, if just for a moment, hear us cheering through the television set.

Watching football has been a part of my family's life for a long time. I’m pretty sure that in one of my old boxes of uncatalogued photos (everyone has at least one) there’s a photo (a daguerreotype, no doubt) of my grandparents in the stands at a Duke football game. My uncle went to school there, and my brother Jim did too, though Jim made an early and unplanned exit.

I didn't find the photo of my grandparents, but I did find a photo of the Duke band. I believe this was taken with a Kodak Brownie camera from a precursor to the U-2 spy plane. In my grandmother’s writing on the back of the photo it says. …"Duke Band coming on field at Duke - N.C. University game at Durham, N.C. Nov. 28, 1953.  Duke 35 N.C.U. 20." I thought that including the score was a nice touch on my grandmother's part. Take that, Tar Heels.

I was going to say lots of pithy stuff about how five generations of my family have enjoyed college football and isn’t this an interesting family tie, even though, as everyone on the planet knows, I throw like a girl and got a C in gym. ("Flunked sandbox" in the words of my father.) But on second thought, I realized that half of my family (I’m only including the living ones, dunno about the others.) doesn’t care at all about what happens on the gridiron on any given Saturday. Instead, the Bryants are joined together by bathroom humor, beer drinking, guns, cars, and crossing the line during the battle of wits at the dinner table. Or better yet, all of those things at once. As much as some of us love football, compared to all those other things, watching college kids move a little ball around a field is indeed pretty darned boring.