The Mick Hits Two

During the summer of 1961, Mantle and his Yankee team- mate and room-mate, Roger Maris, each threatened to break Babe Ruth’s seemingly unbreakable 1927 record of 60 home runs. As the summer progressed, nothing else in sports seemed to matter. While all that was going on, I was hitch-hiking  up the eastern seaboard with a friend named Gentry Lee.
Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (right to left). image by Corbis.

Journalist  Jane  Leavy was an acquaintance of Mickey Mantle, having spent an Atlantic City  weekend with him (in separate hotel rooms) in 1983, during which time he propositioned her.  She says she declined.  If so, she may have been in the minority of the girls and women who received similar invitations from the Mick.  His many legendary home runs were not limited to the ball park.  Ms. Leavy, who says in the book’s preface that she fell in love with Mantle, did do something that none of those other women did.  She wrote a best-selling biography called The Last Boy  Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s childhood. Of the numerous Mantle biographies, hers, published  in 2010, is by far the best.  She does a beautiful job of reconciling the man’s basic honesty and innocence with his philandering, boozing lifestyle and occasional streaks of meanness, while at the same time writing in vivid prose a riveting history of the Yankees’ greatest era.

This is not a review of that book, although I  recommend it to anyone, sports fan or not, who would enjoy reading a masterful biography about a fascinating  20th Century American icon.   Instead this is a brief account of one Mantle fan’s recollection of watching him play in one game during the summer of 1961.  Leavy’s account of that year’s season re-kindled the memory.

During the summer of 1961, Mantle and his Yankee team- mate and room-mate, Roger Maris, each threatened to break Babe Ruth’s seemingly unbreakable 1927 record of 60 home runs.   As the summer progressed, nothing else in sports seemed to matter.   Years later the season was chronicled by a writer named Ron Smith in a book Entitled 61* The Story of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and One Magical Summer. In that book, Smith wrote that “(Maris) stepped reluctantly into the New York spotlight in 1960, a naïve, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is small-town boy from Fargo, N.D.  (Mantle) had been auditioning for the role of New York icon for the better part of a decade, a handsome, fun-loving Oklahoma farm boy turned savvy sports star.”

In a forward to Smith’s book, Billy Crystal, a wildly enthusiastic, lifetime Yankee fan, declared that, “The summer of 1961 was the greatest of my life.”. . . “Maris started the season slowly; Mickey was on fire.  Then it happened.  Roger got going, Mantle matched him; Roger went ahead.  Mickey fought back.  We all started to take sides.  This was serious.  Someone was going to do it.  Two Yankees going after Ruth.  Perfect!”

While all that was going on, I was hitch-hiking  up the eastern seaboard with a friend named Gentry Lee. We were nineteen, somewhat foolish, and short of funds. We would stop and work for a few days, make a few bucks, and again hit the highways and byways, travelling through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington D.C. and eventually all the way to Montreal and back to Austin.  It was slow going because hitch-hiking was difficult at times, and we frequently had to stop and find work.

Along the way we would get a newspaper now and then to read about Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the “M&M Boys” as they had become known.  Mantle was our hero and had been for years.  We knew little about Maris other than what he was doing that summer for the Yankees.

By the time we got to Washington, D. C. on the Fourth of July, Maris had hit 31 homers, Mantle had hit 28, and we were almost broke.  Gentry finagled a job as a copy boy for the Washington Post.  I settled for a stint as an all- night hamburger cook at a downtown White Castle restaurant that filled up with rowdy and hungry drunks when the bars shut down at 2 am.

On the morning of Tuesday, July 18, the Yankees came to town, following a series in Baltimore, to play two games against the Washington Senators at old Griffith Stadium.  By then, Maris had hit 35 homers and Mantle 33.  Gentry and I must have made a few bucks because an hour or two before start of the July 18 afternoon game, we were perched in the cheap seats at Griffith watching the players warm up.  This was the first major league baseball game for both of us.

We were rooting for New York over Washington and for Mantle over Maris.  Odds heavily favored the Yankees, in first place with a 58-30 record, against the Senators, (later to become the Texas Rangers)  in 7th place with a record of 40-50.  Attendance, including Gentry and me, was 17, 695.

Pre-game batting practice was spectacular.  Both sluggers repeatedly blasted balls far over the fence and each time, as they say, “the crowd went wild.”  Drinking- age was 18 in D.C. then so we even had a legal cold beer or two in public  as the teams warmed up.  That, like the game itself, was a first for us two teenagers from Texas where the drinking age was set, sensibly, at 21.

On the mound that day for the Senators was right-hander Joe McClain. It must have been a daunting experience for him, a mediocre pitcher, to have to face the Yankees when the M&M boys had been hitting homers for weeks with seeming impunity.  McClain had only broken in with the big leagues on April 18.  He finished 1961 with eight wins and eighteen losses, and  only played in the majors for one more year.

Maris didn’t get a hit against McClain that afternoon; his fireworks all came in batting practice.  But in the first inning with a man on first and two out, the Mick strode confidently to the plate, took a couple of high inside fast-balls, and  on the third pitch slammed a towering two-run homer high over the right field fence.  The crowd went even wilder. It seemed that even the Washington fans were rooting for Mantle and New York.

Now Maris with 35 homers only led Mantle by one.  Nothing else spectacular happened until the top of the 8th when Mantle, again with two out but with no one on base, smashed an inside fast-ball deep over the center field fence to leave the two slugging team-mates  tied at 35 home runs apiece.   The Yankees won the game 5 to 3.  Mantle’s three RBI’s were the difference.

Mantle had been playing for most of his career with a badly injured knee (and often with a hangover).  After an infection put him in the hospital late in the summer, he faded somewhat and ended the season with 54 home runs.  On October 1 Maris hit number 61 to break Ruth’s record.*

The record book contains an asterisk pursuant to a controversial ruling by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick that Ruth’s record had to be broken in 154 games because there were only 154 games played when Ruth hit his 60 home runs in 1927.  Maris hit his 61st in the 162nd. Game of the 163 game season.

Getting to see Mantle hit  two home runs in that phenomenal  1961 season is a memory I have always cherished.  The game ended in time for me to make it to my cooking job at the White Castle.  After the bars closed, the 2 a.m. drunks seemed rowdier than usual that night.  Maybe they were Washington Senator fans who had been celebrating Mickey Mantle.

There Will NOT Be a Test

…there was, at one time, a set basket of knowledge that schools would provide and if you went to all of those classes, you were educated. In the past twenty years or so, the amount of information has ramped up so much and the rate at which it multiplies has grown exponentially, now there is no way anyone could settle on a group of facts to provide that would hold you in good stead in the future. So what we do is teach you how to learn. We cannot know what you will need to learn, but we can teach you how to think, how to solve problems, how to research to find answers, and how to communicate what you need and what you know with others. Algebra is a way to think, a way to solve problems by recognizing equations. Problems that may not even have numbers in them. They may have words, in which case we call it logic. So if A equals B, and if I add C to A, I have to add C or something very like it to B to achieve the same result.

relevance personified
Relevance Personified

“I love your class, it’s all I want to do at school. I can’t stand going to math class after this, I’ll never use algebra.”

My reply:  Back in my day as a public school student, the 1960s and 70s, educators felt there was a specific curriculum you could be taught to be considered educated. A canon, if you will, of math, science, English, and social studies. English, for example, had its American Lit, British Lit, essay-writing, and basic researching skills like use of the card catalogue, the Dewey decimal system, periodicals and books, footnoting their use within your writing, etc.

(I have always LOVED the Dewey decimal system. It’s comforting to think that you can put all of knowledge into groups and number them for easy reference. And the card catalogue! What an incredible piece of craftsmanship, the smooth maple cabinet with the perfect little drawers that slid in and out with the satisfying yet small muffled thok! when they slid flush into the cabinet.)
Back to why all of this is important, or relevant: when those kids told me they saw no need in learning algebra, and I explained to them there was, at one time, a set basket of knowledge that schools would provide and if you went to all of those classes, you were educated. In the past twenty years or so, the amount of information has ramped up so much and the rate at which it multiplies has grown exponentially, now there is no way anyone could settle on a group of facts to provide that would hold you in good stead in the future. So what we do is teach you how to learn. We cannot know what you will need to learn, but we can teach you how to think, how to solve problems, how to research to find answers, and how to communicate what you need and what you know with others. Algebra is a way to think, a way to solve problems by recognizing equations. Problems that may not even have numbers in them. They may have words, in which case we call it logic. So if A equals B, and if I add C to A, I have to add C or something very like it to B to achieve the same result.

(In the case of elementary math we were taught ‘New Math’. It was binary, meaning how to express all numbers as series of 0s and 1s. Of course, I have never used this since, and it is no longer taught to the general population, but do you know how computers work? If you break it all the way down, everything is composed of groups of 0s and 1s to a computer. So somebody got it, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and here we are.)

When I explained it this way, the students grabbed it immediately, and were satisfied to go off to algebra class as a useful activity. If only math teachers were able to explain the relevance of their subject the same way. Because that’s what you have to do with education: make it relevant and make it explicit that it’s relevant, all the time. Just think about yourself. What would it take for you to want to sit your butt in a chair and listen to someone else for an hour or more? Well, it would have to be to get something you could use in your life, something relevant.

I applied once for a job teaching adult education. I now am quite happy doing that in the real estate industry, but this was in an area in which I had no real expertise, medical. It was a communications class, though, so it wasn’t too great a stretch. The interviewers asked me, “What makes you think you can teach adults if you have only taught high school?” It doesn’t matter what you are teaching, or whom, whether it is a class of kindergartners or adults. You have to make it relevant, and you have to make that relevance explicit. You have to tell them, “This is relevant to you because…you will use this in this situation…,” or you lose them. If they can’t see how they can use it, they glaze over and you become like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Mwaaaah, mwah mwah mwah mwah,” like a muffled trombone.

We need to teach math teachers, and all teachers, that making it real, making it relevant, is what matters to students, and if they can’t do that with their subject material, maybe they shouldn’t be teaching it. Look for another way to get it across, something that makes sense to the person in the seat, not just learning abstract knowledge for its own sake.

Once I thought up a speech in which the speaker identified with an object, and told us why. It is like ‘discovering your metaphor.’ I guess I was wrapped up in an English or Poetry class and wanted to make them think symbolically. They didn’t all get it, and limiting the metaphor to an object you could carry in to school didn’t really open up the world of imagery to them as I had hoped.
To get the idea across, I did the assignment myself. What I came up with as a metaphor for myself was a set of battery cables. I am a connector. I connect people to ideas, to resources, to other people, to themselves. And there is a spark, an energy involved. I bought a new, clean battery cable and after the speech it became a decoration for my classroom, displayed along the top of the whiteboard to generate the question of why it was there. It gave me a chance to let them know how I thought about my job–not as a parent-child relationship, or master-servant, nor anything else that put me higher than them, but on the same level. A tool for them to use to learn, to understand.

Everybody is back to school a week now, so this is a good reminder to students, teachers, and parents. Seek relevance and call it out as often as possible.


Teeth with Braces

I am convinced that had I not had the meddlesome and sausage-like fingers of one Dr. Blackwood in my mouth at the age of 13, my face would work better today, including lusher lips. Judging from my sons’ faces, lips like Angelina Jolie.

At my age, lip lushness is an issue. Why is it that lips get narrower and narrower with age? Why can’t they be like ears and noses that continue to grow throughout our lives? I’ve even heard that those appendages continue for a while after death, although I can’t imagine who is circulating that rumor, nor how they would be checking its veracity.

When I was 12, my mother was told that I had an overbite that rivaled a rabbit, but looking at my front teeth now I can’t imagine it. Who told her? Our dentist, who lived in our neighborhood and ran off and left his wife and children for his hygienist. His name was Dr. Swindle, if you can believe that. Who would truck with someone who was named Swindle? His wife should have seen it coming. Probably made part of the $2000 proposition, the cost of braces, at that time. $2000 in the 60s!! And you can be sure that it was intimated that the parent must not really love their child if they weren’t willing to spend it.

Upon stern recommendation that I obviously had too many teeth for my mouth, four permanent teeth, the 4th away from center on top and bottom in both directions, were pulled and the rest yanked back using an ever-tightening wire attached to each tooth by running it through a track that protruded from bands attached with cement around each tooth. Hurt? Lord, yes! But not enough. We had to increase the speed with which we pulled those teeth from their rightful places by using rubber bands for constantly increasing pressure. Tiny rubber bands that would not even encircle your pinkie, were attached to a tooth’s track assembly on the sides of your upper teeth, and then anchored to a similar assembly on the bottom teeth an inch or two further back in your mouth. The resulting tension was STILL NOT ENOUGH!! I also had a “mouth-bow”. This was an apparatus (I use this term with the full knowledge that it is only the first of two apparati I have had inserted into my body, the second being a gynecologist’s speculum, duration about 2 minutes) (Don’t try this at home.) that I used nightly. All night. Every night. My braces had small metal tubes on the offending upper side teeth. This bow-shaped apparatus fit into those metal tubes inside my mouth, had a parallel bow outside my mouth attached to an wide elastic strap with Velcro closures running around the back of my head. It was padded, thank you! Don’t want to create pain! The pressure this monstrosity created was like having a fish hook with tension on it attached to a finger or toe nail 24/7.

After all this are my teeth straight? Yes they are, but my tongue has never fit in my mouth. When I close my teeth, my tongue is further back in my throat than feels normal. If my tongue is relaxed, it is between my upper and lower teeth. I’ve gotten used to it, of course, but it just goes to show, don’t fool with Mother Nature. Was it a good thing? Probably not. Now that I see how my own children’s teeth turned out, and how what was mildly out of alignment went into place as the jaws grew to accommodate them.

There are jokes made about the Brits’ awful teeth, and how they are not nearly as interested in perfection as Americans. They believe it gives a face character to have some flaws. Americans believe in magazine perfection, and that it is not just attainable for each of us, but imperative. I believe that somewhere in between lies the answer—isn’t that always where the answer lies?

Coming Soon: Memoirs of a Girl on the Red Velvet Swing

Dawn Erin as The Swing Girl

Dawn Erin performed nightly for four years as the famed Girl On The Red Velvet Swing at The Old San Francisco Steakhouse, an 1890s-themed fine dining institution that served generations of Texans.

Sadly, the Steakhouses were closed several years ago and only memories remain .

Coming soon, a serialized account of life on the Swing that goes beyond the fishnets and feather boas, told by the girl who witnessed it all!

Why I Don’t Live in L.A.

Metamorphosis: a visionary live art exhibit. 99 High Art Gallery. Venice, California. Photo by Mary Lowry.
99 High Art Gallery. Venice, California. Photo by Mary Lowry.

While I was visiting LA last week, my friend Diego invited me to go down to 1st Friday, an event in which galleries on Abbot Kinney in Venice showcase art. “It’s kind of like 1st Thursday on South Congress,” Diego explained.

Though I avoid the throngs swarming SoCo on 1st Thursdays the way farmers try to avoid locusts, I told Diego I was game to go. But when I emailed my friend Dille to see if he wanted to come along to Abbot Kinney with us, he emailed back an apt warning: “1st Friday is a shit show.”

Nevertheless, a gang of us (including Dille) ended up at 1st Friday, wading through the crowds of stylishly clad gazelle-like women with hair, makeup and clothes directly out of the pages of magazines designed to give female readers an inadequacy panic attack, followed by the unquenchable urge to buy something. At least some of these gazelles must have had male dates, but leave it to the non-descript nature of the average westside LA male compared to the picture perfect beauty of the average westside LA female to explain that none of the men remain in my memory.

My friends and I stopped on the sidewalk in front of the 99 High End Gallery, which was exhibiting a show entitled Metamorphosis: a visionary live art exhibit. This oh-so-visionary exhibit included a woman, naked but for pasties, panties, white gogo boots and a giant wig, standing in the front window of the gallery. Directly behind her was a canvas painted with butterfly wings. As the giggling, oogling audience watched from the sidewalk outside, a non-descript man with glasses painted the lovely naked woman green, ostensibly completing her metamorphosis into the body of the butterfly.

“High smut!” Diego said gleefully.

As the man with glasses set to work painting the crotch of the woman’s panties, my friend Meredith noted, “She looks like she’s enjoying that a little too much.”

We laughed and moved along down the sidewalk in search of a bar without a line of gazelles wrapped around the block, waiting to get in.

High art, indeed.

Modern-Day Saints

As a young girl, I loved the Virgen de Guadalupe. Not the Virgin Mary — not that I had any issue with her, as she seemed like a very nice lady; but I loved la Virgen, specifically. While obviously kind and saintly, the Virgin Mary seemed like a woman who would faint a lot — pale and quiet-tempered, truly chaste, as her name suggests, and not much like anyone I knew or could relate to. She seemed sad, as if she had long since despaired of getting whatever it was that she desired.

La Virgen de Guadalupe, on the other hand, seemed so festive, so vital, glowing amidst a riot of color and bursting rose blooms. Like Mary’s, her expression was one of repose, but there was still a liveliness, a sense of humor, a hint of sexuality, a certain je ne sais quoi about her that spoke to the riotous, fiery color I felt blooming inside of me.

Unfortunately, not being Latina or having grown up Catholic or even Christian, I felt I had to adore la Virgen in private. It seemed disingenuous to adopt her as my non-Latina, non-religious own. But love her secretly I did, in part through regular pilgrimages to the saint candle aisle at Fiesta Mart. I was drawn especially to the La Virgen candles with pink wax that gave off the faint scent of roses, which represented how I wanted my life to look and smell: sweet, colorful, flowery, busy and, yes, exalted, but in a friendly, accessible way.

(I am reminded now of a Spring 2007 trip to Puebla, Mexico, where I was enchanted by pictures I saw everywhere of what I called “Approachable Jesus.” Of course I had seen all sorts of representations of Jesus, ones in which he looked saintly or holy or concerned or even beleaguered. But in these pictures all over Puebla, on the walls of restaurants and for sale in the mercados, his expression just looked so friendly and approachable, like a guy you would want to sit down and have a beer with, and talk over your problems. Viva Approachable Jesus!)
Continue reading “Modern-Day Saints”

Bales of Cocaine

The postings on DogCanyon the past few days have been–appropriately–content heavy and focused on the BP oil spill. But we all need a little levity now and then, even in the darkest of times.

So here’s a video from Dallas’s own, the Reverend Horton Heat, which takes us back to 1982, a simpler time when great fortunes sometimes came raining down unexpectedly on humble Texas farmers.


Yuppies Off the East Side

E. 4th Street & Waller. Austin, TX. Photo by Mary Lowry.

It’s an old story. Artists move in to poor and minority neighborhoods, driving up the taxes a bit and driving out some of the locals. Then the rich folks move in to drive up the taxes even further and drive out the artists, along with the last of the long-term residents. It’s not a happy story for everyone.

But in this moment–even as home prices and upscale condos go up–East Austin has an interesting mix of old and new businesses, artists, long-time inhabitants in passed down family homes, and yuppies. A nice place for a bike ride, a Tecate in a can, a homemade tamale, an amplified call to Catholic prayer, a jukebox blaring Tejano music, a fancy coffee drink, a swanky new bar, or an old shotgun shack.

I say enjoy it now, ’cause change isn’t gonna stop coming.

The Mercers: Rocking the 21st Century

To listen to The Mercers’ music and/or sign up for their new
subscription service, click here.

my modern fears coalesce in Laredo/my honest years are stacked up like
Leggos/these modern years have messed with my mind

–The Mercers

The Mercers are: (left to right) Brian Ray (bass), Peter Wagner (vocals, guitar), Erik Ray (keyboard, guitar), Ethan Herr (drums).
The Mercers are: (left to right) Bryan Ray (bass), Peter Wagner (vocals, guitar), Erik Ray (keyboard, guitar), Ethan Herr (drums).

New technologies are making the current model for marketing music
obsolete; at the same time, they’re allowing bands like The Mercers to create new ways to explore the rapidly changing terrain of the music industry.

The Mercers, who have been bringing big crowds and receiving radio
play on Austin radio stations such as KUT and 101X, are often described as “the Who meets the Shins.” The Mercers don’t mind the
description, but don’t feel it’s totally accurate either.

“We never really sat down and talked about what kind of band we wanted to be or what influence we would emulate,” says drummer Ethan Herr. “We just do whatever comes next and makes sense.”

Erik Ray adds, “Genre isn’t something we think about too much.”

Peter Wagner
Peter Wagner.

The band’s lyrics—written by Austin-born lead singer Peter Wagner—are brilliant, the music well-composed, sophisticated and tightly
delivered. The band’s live set is a blow-your-cock-off rock show. But
perhaps the most arresting aspect of their music is Wagner’s haunting voice, which ranges from high and otherworldly to affectingly deep.

The members of The Mercers have recently launched an innovative way to deliver new songs directly to their fans as soon they are recorded as part of a “subscription service.” This service is essentially modeled after online magazine subscriptions.

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Habeas Coyote Corpus

elmer_fudd11“The more ignorant you are, the quicker you fight.” – Will Rogers

The governor of Texas is a weinie.  I can’t reach any other conclusion after reading the report about him shooting a coyote that threatened his daughter’s puppy.  Rick Perry said that he was jogging on a hill country trail near where he lives in a rented home and the animal came out and threatened his little dawgie.  Governor Gun pulled out a Ruger and sent the coyote to the big lonesome and empty prairie coyotes go to when governors gun them down.

But I’ve got some questions, your governorship.

First, I can say I’ve run thousands of miles on trails in Texas and I have never once thought of carrying a gun.  Well, yeah, a squirt gun.  I used to have a Doberman that came after me on a dirt road and I solved that by mixing some ammonia into water and putting it into a little squirt gun.  Got the big dog in the eyeballs next time he came barking after me and when he saw me pass by a few days later he ran away more like a chicken than a dog.  No shot fired in anger.

Perry said he carried the gun because he was afraid of snakes and that a number of people living in that area have lost pets to wild animals.  Well, Governor Gun, that’s the way nature is ordered.  Big fish eat little fish.  Wild animal eat domestic animal.  You don’t want your cat turned into a coyote hairball, keep it in the house.  But afraid of snakes and you carry a gun?  I don’t know any trail runner under the Lone Star sky that hasn’t come across a rattler or seven.  And not one of them ever said, “Hey, I think I’ll carry a gun and kill rattlers the next time.”  Unless you surprise a rattler, it’s going to slither away real danged fast.  And governor, I’ve seen you run; you aren’t going to surprise a snake or a turtle.

Perry's nightmare - a 9' 1" rattler found near Tow, Texas this spring
Perry's nightmare - a 9' 1" rattler found near Tow, Texas this spring

Too much of yer yarn just doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense.  Whenever I see you plodding around Lady Bird Lake, you generally have two DPS guys, but always at least one trailing you. Sometimes they run.  Often they are on bikes.  And they have guns.  What the hell do you need a gun on a running trail for when you’ve got, according to the AP story, two DPS security guys running with you?  Three guns and one coyote?  That’s just not an honorable way to handle these things governor, and not the way we do it in Texas.

more at the jump…. Continue reading “Habeas Coyote Corpus”