Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Hamilton" - What Music!

No, I have not seen the transformative musical, "Hamilton", but I finally got around to downloading the Original Cast Album and have been listening to it for much of the last twenty-four hours, and it is what everyone says it is.  The music, the lyrics, and the way it is performed by author/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast is unlike anything I have ever heard.  Just an amazing musical experience.  Everyone says that Miranda is a true genius, and after listening to this recording, I am inclined to agree.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

I doubt very much that I will ever have the opportunity (or the disposable income!) to see "Hamilton" on Broadway, where the neon lights are bright, but sooner or later, "Hamilton" will be sending out touring companies, and I will be among the first in line to see it when comes to a theater near me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Golf Story

Our Tuesday Retiree Golf Group convened at Scenic Valley Golf course in Finleyville yesterday.  The foursome in which I played was the first of our groups to go out and we found ourselves playing behind a group of four older gentleman.  Yes, they were older than we were, which slowed down the pace of play a bit, but what the hell, it was a beautiful Fall day and we were playing golf, so no complaints.

Because of a commitment that Marilyn and I had last evening, I had to cut my round short, and I only played nine holes.  As I was washing up in the rest room before heading home, I encountered one of the gents who was in the foursome in front of us.  I asked him of he was about to head out for their back nine.  

"No" he said, "I've found that I am a pretty much just a nine hole golfer now that I'm in my nineties."  

"Are you serious?", I asked, while doing  a classic double take.  If I'd been drinking at the time I'd have done a classic Danny Thomas spit-take.

"Yep, I'm ninety-three."

Honestly, if you had seen this guy playing golf, or even just stood there talking to him, you'd have said he was maybe in his late seventies, and you'd have been mildly surprised if you'd have been told he was over eighty.

So, God bless this guy, and his playing partners, who were probably in the same general age range.

Moral of the Story?  Well, I'm not sure, but it has inspired me to keep playing golf for as long as I possibly can.

Monday, October 17, 2016

It Was A Busy Weekend....

Some recollections of a busy weekend before it gets too far in the rear view mirror.....

  • The weekend began for us on Friday afternoon when we took in the new, heavily promoted Ben Affleck movie, "The Accountant".  It was exciting, it was action packed, and it was somewhat original, and we enjoyed it a lot.  Both Marilyn and I are big fans of Affleck, so we were not disappointed.  However, when you leave the theater and reflect upon it, you can begin to see some of the elephant sized holes that were in the storyline, and you start asking questions like "Well, where did he learn how to do.....?" or "How did he know to go to....?"  You know what I mean.  Don't let that stop you, though, because as I said, it's really entertaining.  Also quote violent, so be forewarned. I give it two and one-half stars.
  • Saturday afternoon gave us that amazing 45-31 Pitt victory over Virginia.  After a first half in which neither team could stop the other, a Jordan Whitehead 58 yard interception gave Pitt a 35-28 lead right before halftime.  And then, Pat Narduzzi and the defensive staff made some kind of miraculous adjustments at halftime and stopped UVA cold over the final two quarters.  This has seemed to me to be a hallmark of Narduzzi in his time at Pitt.  When adjustments are needed to be made at halftime, they make them.  Doesn't happen all the time, but it happens more often than not, it seems to me.
  • Then came that Steelers 30-15 loss at Miami yesterday.  This highlights a disturbing trend over recent seasons of the Steelers losing to crummy teams, teams that the should be beating.   And make no mistake about it, the Dolphins are a bad team.  They will finish below .500 by a wide margin when all is said and done. the injury to 
  • And as for the injury to Ben Roethlisberger.....  As I write this, it is not known how many games he will miss, but with each game that he doesn't play, the Steelers chances of that predicted Super Bowl win, or even a run in the playoffs, decrease exponentially.

  • On a much happier note, we took in our first play of the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Public Theater season on Sunday night, "The Fantasticks".  Until last night, all I knew about this play was that it was the longest running musical play in American theater history (it has been running in New York City continuously since 1960), and the song "Try To Remember" came from it. A story about two young people falling in love, in sprite of the (seeming) objections of their fathers, overcoming the rough spots when the bloom is off the rose, and then cementing that love forever.  I thought it was delightful, and, as usual, the staging and presentation by the PPT was fabulous.  The show runs through October 30 at the O'Reilly, and I highly recommend it.
  • The three leads in "The Fantasticks" were played by Mary Elizabeth Drake, Jamen Nanthakumar, and Josh Powell. Each of these young actors were making their debuts with the PPT, and I hope that we will see them again in the years to come.
  • Theater Trivia: The part of El Gallo in "The Fantasticks" was originated way back in 1960 by Jerry Orbach.  Orbach was at the beginning of what would be a long career on Broadway (he would later win a Tony Award) and in the movies, but he will probably be best remembered for playing hardened and sardonic Detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law and Order".
  • The program gave a list of some of the actors who have played in "The Fantasticks" over the course of it's long history.  In addition to Orbach, you can also include folks like Liza Minelli, Elliott Gould, Richard Chamberain, and F. Murray Abraham.
  • We got home Sunday evening in time to see the final five innings of the Dodgers 1-0 win over the Cubs, led by the dominating performance of Clayton Kershaw.  The performance of Kershaw both last night and in the NLDS against Washington has put to rest, it seems, the notion that "Kershaw stinks in the post season".  He's STILL not the "next Koufax", though.
  • The Dodgers' win is going against the hoped for conclusion of a Cubs pennant.  The series now stands at 1-1 with three games now coming up in LA.   In the American League, the Indians have taken a 2-0 lead as that series now heads to Toronto.  You know that MLB and Fox, in spite of possibly losing a large chunk of that LA market, are dying for a Cubs-Indians World Series. Two teams that, between them, have not won a World Series for 176 years. It would be quite a story line, but pardon me if I am cheering for Joe Maddon to be dealt one giant dose of humility.  I am, however, rooting like hell for the Tribe!
  • And on one final note, we stopped at Appleby's for dinner on the way into town for the play last night, and I had a cheeseburger, the "American Classic Burger" to be specific.  Long time readers know of my never ending quest for terrific burgers, and that search usually avoids chain restaurants, but I gotta be honest, that burger at Appleby's last night was absolutely terrific.  I can't recommend it highly enough!

Friday, October 14, 2016

MLB Predictions, Round Two, and a Pace of Play Comment

Before getting to The Grandstander's LCS predictions, allow me to review how I have done so far.

To save you from looking it up, I called the following for the League Division Series:

  • Blue Jays over Rangers
  • Cubs over Giants
  • Dodgers over Nationals
I believe I had that!

Oh, what's that you're asking?  Well, why yes, I did pick the Red Sox over the Indians.  Can't win 'em all, but if you bet with those four picks, you'd have made money.

So what do I see coming up?

In my previous selections, I had the Red Sox over the Blue Jays, so I need a reset here.  I can't make much of an informed choice here, I have to admit.  I couldn't name many players from either team, to be honest, but I do know that much of the Indians' starting pitching staff is lost to injury.  They got away with that in a three game series with the Sox, but I am thinking that the Jays have a lot of fire power that will overcome the Tribe's short staff.  In all honesty, I will be rooting for the Indians and Terry Francona, but I will call this one as a Blue Jays win.

My original prediction called for the Dodgers over the Cubs, and I will stand by that,  I have no doubt that the Cubs are the best team of the four remaining, but I somehow think that the Cubs' history will continue to catch up with them and cause them to somehow kick it away.  However, the manner in which they won the clinching Game 4 against the Giants does make me think that maybe the nonsensical "curses" that Cubs fans so love to talk about, if they exist at all, may well be banished as a result of that win.

I will also stand by my original prediction of the Dodgers to win the World Series, albeit over a different team than I originally thought.

Before I leave, how about those two final games in the two NL series?  Imploding bullpens, over-managing, endless pitching changes, games that take FOREVER to complete, and in the end, storybook heroics from Clayton Kershaw.  Great theater, to be sure.

Baseball does have a problem, though.  The Cubs-Giants game four, and Dodgers-Nats game five were dramatic, terrific ball games, but, as noted above, they took forever to complete.  Both ended well after midnight.  The seventh inning alone in the Dodgers game took one hour and six minutes to play.  The entire game took four hours and thirty-two minutes.  Dusty Baker made FOUR pitching changes in that inning alone.  Yeah, yeah, I know that the charm of baseball is that it has no clock, you can't go into four corners, take a knee, or run out the clock.  I know all of that, but who really has time for that?  If I was still working and had to get up with an alarm every morning, there is no way that I see the end of either of these games, and these are the most important games of the year, the Showcase Events of the season.  And when these four hour games involve a couple of also-rans playing out the string in August, and those games do happen, who cares?

Like it or not, Baseball Purists, the game really does have a Pace of Play problem, and if MLB doesn't make real efforts to address it, pretty soon, all us old guys who love the game no matter what are going to be gone, and then, no one will care.

Revisiting "American Graffiti"

This past Wednesday evening I visited the Cinemark North Hills to take in another Fathom Events presentation of an old movie on a big screen.  This one was 1973's "American Graffiti".  This was the second feature film directed by George Lucas, and it depicts a single night in the lives of a group of teenagers, the night before two of them were to leave their small California town and set off for college "back East".

When this movie was released in 1973, it was viewed as a "nostalgia piece" which is odd when you consider that it takes place in 1962, a mere eleven years in the past.  However, when you think about it, 1962 could have, indeed, been viewed with nostalgia in 1973...Jack Kennedy was still alive and in the White House, no one in America had ever heard of the Beatles, there was no drug culture to speak of, no hippies, and no mention was even made of a place called Viet Nam, although we are starkly made aware of it in the coda at the end of the movie, just before the credits roll.

This movie is probably most remembered for two things.  One, an absolutely terrific soundtrack featuring vintage pre-British Invasion American rock and roll.  The music plays almost continuously throughout the movie, sometimes even drowning out some of the dialog, something that I did not remember from when I first saw this movie back in '73.  

The second notable thing about the movie is the cast which included, among others....

Ron Howard, just after "Andy Griffith", just before "Happy Days", and long before he went on to become one of America's best directors, and an Oscar winner.

Richard Dreyfuss, before "Jaws", before an Oscar in "Good-Bye Girl", and many other great roles.

Cindy Williams, before "Laverne and Shirley".

Suzanne Somers, before "Three's Company" (she wasn't even billed in this one).

MacKenzie Phillips, before whatever that sitcom was that she was in.

And perhaps most famous of all, Harrison Ford, before "Star Wars" before "Indiana Jones" and on and on.

That George Lucas sure had an eye for talent, didn't he?

So, the question put to me was..."How good is this movie, really, forty-three years after it first came out?"  My answer:  It's a good movie, but I'm not sure that I'd call it a call it a classic.  It does a great job in setting the mood of one particular point in time in our culture.  It also captures the insecurities and the fears of kids on the cusp of adulthood.  In those respects, "American Graffiti" nails it, especially when it gives you that "Whatever happened to..." bit at the end.

There are some really good scenes, but I was struck by one comic scene of which I had no memory.  Towards the end of the movie Laurie (Williams), after a fight with boyfriend Steve (Howard) allows herself to be picked up by Bob Falfa (Ford). She jumps into Ford's hot rod  and icily says "Don't say anything and we'll get along just fine."  Hotshot Falfa/Ford regards her sitting all the way across the front seat from him and begins to sing, in an affected deep voice, "Some Enchanted Evening".  It was totally out of character for Falfa and out of context for the rest of the music in the movie, but it worked and was just a great scene by Ford and Williams.

As with all of these Fathom events movies, it played once on Sunday, and twice on Wednesday.  I don't know how many people came on Sunday, but when I bought my ticket on Wednesday, the ticker seller told me I was the first person to buy a ticket for it that day.  Three other people showed up after I did for the 7:00 show.  That can't be good for business, but I hope that this was an aberration, and that these Fathom Events special screenings will continue.

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

The world yesterday learned of the decision of the Swedish Academy to Award the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016 to Bob Dylan.  Dylan, the first American to win this honor since Toni Morrison in 1993, can be described as many things...musician, singer, songwriter, Chronicler of a Generation (a trite title which Dylan himself eschews), a "song and dance man" (his own description), lyricist and poet, and it was that last description that the Academy used in making this award.  Sara Danius, Secretary of the Academy, in making the announcement, described Dylan as "a great Poet in the English speaking tradition" and credited him with "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."  She also suggested that people seeking reasons why they award was bestowed could start by listening to the seminal album, "Blonde on Blonde", and that, by the way, is what is currently playing in the background as I type out this post.

Of course, such a non-traditional awardee is being greeted with some skepticism and even derision by some in the literary world, proving that Bob Dylan at 75 years of age and after over fifty years in the public eye is still capable of shaking windows and rattling walls.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan, and thank you.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Football in Pittsburgh, 2016

We are not quite one-third (actually, 31.25%) of the way through the Steelers season and halfway through the Pitt season, and 2016 has been nothing if not wildly entertaining for fans of these two teams.

At the beginning of the season, I said that the Steelers would "win twelve games, win the AFC North Division and gain first round playoff bye, win the AFC Championship, and win the Super Bowl."  Today the team sits at 4-1 and are one, two, and three games ahead of their AFC North rivals, and are playing at a level that is almost impeccable. Yes, they did fall behind the Jets at one point yesterday, but was there ever a moment in that game when you felt that they were NOT going to comfortably beat the Jets?

There have been injuries to some key players, but it hasn't appeared to slow them down a bit.  And, yes, there have been times when that bend-bit-don't-break defense can get a bit scary, but they have been more than adequate, in fact, they have been quite good, when it comes to surrendering points, and all four of those wins have been laughers.

Well, there was that blip in the form of that 34-3 loss to the Eagles in Week Three.  Not sure how you account for that, and I am thinking that when the season is over, that game may well qualify for the NFL Aberration of the Year Award.

And as long as none of those key injuries happens to #7, I see no reason to back off of my pre-season prediction.

And while none of us can look past the Dolphins next week (it's the kind of game that the Steelers have lost in recent seasons), that match-up with the Patriots at Heinz Field on October 23 is shaping up as a possible AFC Championship preview.


Then there are the Pitt Panthers.  

They are half way through the season and are 4-2 (1-1 in the ACC).  Save for the opener against Villanova, everyone of the Panthers games have been high scoring, decided in the final minutes of each game, and wildly entertaining.  Pitt could very easily be 6-0 today.  They also could very easily be 1-5.  They are just that kind of a team, and it has been that kind of a season.

What remains before them are home games with Virginia Tech, Duke, and Syracuse, and road games with Virginia, Miami, and Clemson.  The only game among those six that appears to be a sure thing is a loss to Clemson.  Of the other five, it would be a surprise but not a shock if Pitt went 4-1 or 5-0.  It would also not be a shock to see them go 1-4 or 2-3.

Two more wins are needed for Pitt to gain Bowl eligibility, which is no great shakes in today's college football scene, but winning their division in the ACC is also in play given some help from some other schools.  My buddy Bob Middleman, who has forgotten more about Pitt football than I will ever know, told me before the season that he thought Pitt would be a 7-5 team this year, maybe 8-4.  Those numbers are attainable, so if that is how it ends up, I suppose that you would be able to call this a reasonably successful season.  It will then be up to Pat Narduzzi to continue to bring in his kinds of players and continue to coach 'em up.

And no knock on Nate Peterman, but a top flight college quarterback would be nice.  And more guys named Quadree.