31 October 2007

Nice to Find Someone Else Doing an Onerous Job

You may have figured out that I was planning on chronicling the tearing down of old Cobb Field as well as the building up of the new stadium in its place. I now have the pleasure of pointing my readers to a splendid website run by the Parks and Recreation Dept of the City of Billings. Let us call the link the New Baseball Stadium.

Mazel Tov!

The Past is Still with Us

Yesterday it was damp and cold, as sometimes happens here in Billings as mother Nature gets us ready for winter, so we turned on the furnace, put sweaters on, and Carol looked up one of her old favorite recipes for taking the edge off a cold day in Montana. This is from a newsletter put out by the management of a place we used to live in Cincinnati, back in the late 60s.

I was an intern and resident from 1965 to 1970 at the Children's Hospital and Cincinnati General Hospital in pediatrics and pathology. We lived in an apartment complex called Williamsburg of Cincinnati, a pleasant place to live with great neighbors.

One of the points of interest in the newsletter item is the high cost of trans-Atlantic calls in the 60s and later too for that matter. Isn't it amazing what competition and decreasing government regulation can do for us ordinary folks.

Edith and Donn Cramblette have both passed on, bless their souls, but Carol and I remember playing bridge with them whenever we have this chili. We had some last night without stale beer but with some excellent dark Moose Drool, brewed right here in Montana, I think in the People's Republic of Missoula, if I'm not mistaken. I drank the leftover beer and took a second helping of this really good chili.

Forgive me Mom, but what you called chili really was not, so for many years I thought I didn't like chili. That last sentence sounds like it was freshly translated from the German, but I think it gets across what I mean. Perhaps I will try to fix it at a later time.

29 October 2007

Something is Wrong at Albertson's

Albertson's is our local grocery store. They are usually pretty good, though the wine is a little cheaper and the selection is better at CVS Drug Store. Albertson's produce section is pretty fresh, at least the one on Grand and 13th is.

I worked for some years in my father's meat market when I was a teenager and before that too, so I like to check on the price of this and that from time to time. Usually I just check on the price of good steaks and ordinary hamburger because that is about all I can remember from the late 40s and early 50s.

In those days people often ate cheese if they couldn't afford meat. Nowadays it's the other way around. I am sure $2 a pound for ground chuck is a bargain because we used to sell it for about 40 to 50 cents a pound. Good steaks were about $2 a pound in 1950, and now they vary from $5 to $8 a pound, again a very good deal as most everything else is at least 10X as much now as then.

I was startled by the item above in the meat counter at Albertson's at 13th and Grand Ave right here in River City.

I hope you can read that they are trying to sell smoked oysters for $35 a pound!! I checked some other bags just to make sure it wasn't a mistake. Maybe Albertson's has taken a lesson from the airlines and this is really their equivalent to the full fare, fully refundable and changeable anytime coach seat price, which of course, no one pays, and everything else is some sort of discounted price.

I might guess that real Russian caviar might cost $35 a pound, but smoked oysters? Who do they think they are kidding? Are the Chinese buying up all the oysters in the world? Viagra is pretty cheap I'm sure, even in China, in fact it is probably cheaper there than here. And it works better than oysters. Have I not been paying attention again?

Of course my favorite place at Albertson's is the checkout lane where I get to know what is happening in the real world of Jen and Brad and Angelina. Isn't there a limit on the number of kids one person can adopt? This is a magazine prominently displayed at the checkout. I don't have the courage to open it up, but I did sneak a picture of the cover. I don't suppose their prime readers are guys, are they? How old are their readers? Maybe this explains some of the behavior I witnessed on my Semester at Sea jaunt this past summer.

Please don't ask, my ears are red already. I wonder if the author of the "Hands" article included handing your beloved some incredible ravioli?


I had an eery feeling things would turn out this way after the first game, a blowout, and an almost predictable result after not playing for eight days, especially after winning a dizzying 21 of 22 games before that long layoff.

That kind of trip needs almost daily fixes. Any baseball team capable of winning 21 of 22 games could easily lose 4 in a row.

This picture just above is of Main St in Hustisford, more accurately Lake Street, but everyone called it Main St in those days and probably still do. It looks about the same as it did in the 40s. The picture to the right is from a recent entrance into that fair village. In the 40s the population was 564.

I was reminded of my rough introduction to beginning statistics by the Sox sweep of the Rockies. I was 10 years old. I had lied about my age to get a paper route. My father had not yet hit upon the idea of using my profits from delivering papers from 5 to 6am every day of the year in deepest Wisconsin to pay for my orthodontic beautification. So I felt fairly fat in the wallet in early October 1950.

Murphy the barber had one of the few TV sets in the village. He had it brought down from the apartment above the shop (we lived above the meat market too) and set it up in the barber shop (a little further down the road on the picture above) so his customers could all watch the Series. In those days that was all that happened in the world for that week or so, or so we thought.

The picture to the left is the house we lived in in the 50s. I remember drinking pop and sitting on the front porch in the slightly cooler evenings after the scorching summer heat. Mr Johnson, our upstairs lodger, and the high school band and choral director and history and civics teacher, would join us. We thought we were fairly advanced in those days.

Perhaps you remember or may have read of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, the Whiz Kids they were called. They were to play the hated Yankees for the World Championship. In those days upstarts like Cuba and Japan were not even heard of in our baseball world. I was so convinced that the Phillies would humiliate the Yankees I bet Murphy the barber $1 on the first game. I couldn't believe it when the Phillies ace, Robin Roberts, lost that first game.

Murphy kindly offered to double my bet on the following day. I was a little wary but since my income in those days was about $3 per week, I thought I would take the chance. Double or nothing, how could I lose? Of course, by this time I was deeply hooked and eventually out $27 by the end of the fourth and final game. That was 9 weeks of delivering papers in the damp, dark days of early October, 1950!

So then I learned something about statistical arguments the hard way. After that I took to learning things the easy way: in school.

The picture above right is of the cemetery, duh, though I suppose it could easily be a setting for the 3rd Act of Wilder's Our Town, a play I am reminded of everytime I visit this particular graveyard because I knew so many of the people whose names are carved on the headstones. I loved the idea of a Stage Manager and particularly one who could violate the fourth wall at will, and could speak to his audience.

15 October 2007

Hurrah for the Ides of October

The ides of October, which I think is singular, either the 15th of some months or the 13th of other months, is often more favorable than the ides of March, especially if you use the Roman rather than the Julian calendar, and of course, it is particularly more favorable if your name is Julius. But then, not many parents name their kids Julius anymore. One of these days the breeders are going to revolt and switch from names of towns to colors, just you wait. Or are they doing that now? How about Orange Julius? Well, no matter, ever since I opened my first Crayola box, the normal sized one, not the huge one, I have wanted Burnt Sienna as my first choice were I to find myself back in the naming racket, the color, not the band. I only knew about the latter because I looked it up in Wikipedia.

Carol and I just returned from Oregon where the Shakespeare Festival (that is the outdoor theatre above, only used for evening performances from June through September) runs from late February to late October in Ashland, and a really good jazz festival has been held the 2nd weekend in October for the last 19 years in nearby Medford. I was surprised by a waiter, who had lived in Ashland for more than a couple of years, who said he had never heard of the Medford Jazz Jubilee. I suppose we could have found someone in Medford who was unaware of what was going on in Ashland, just 15 miles down the 5.

My favorite was Gem of the Ocean, August Wilson's ninth and penultimate exploration of a special family or group of people wrestling with their and our problems. This one is a part of Wilson's multi-faceted project of getting 20th century African-American life on the stage. The story takes place in Pittsburgh in 1904. Aunt Ester, a very old lady (285 years! to be exact), has the task of guiding younger generations in the business of soul cleansing. G. Val Thomas and Kevin Kenerly play some important parts wonderfully well, not surprising of course, but then all these players did well. The title refers to the paper boat Aunt Ester uses to sacramentalize the Atlantic Ocean passage that all their ancestors endured. Yes, there is something about water that has that hopeful quality.

Wilson is obviously getting more confident by this time (2003) as he seems to almost effortlessly engage his audience in the business of "making the invisible visible." Like Joe Dimaggio, effortlessly, going after a flyball to deep centerfield in Yankee Stadium, we are carried along by the players to another time and place, somewhere we could never have gone by ourselves. I liked the a capella singing of the ensemble, calling up rhythms and words from an earlier time and generation. Sadly for all of us, Wilson died in 2005 just after completing his tenth play in the series, called I think Radio Golf. I wonder if he was aware of his impending early death when he wrote this play? As Aunt Ester says, "It's all adventure . . . you signed up for it, and didn't even know it."

The director of Gem of the Ocean, Timothy Bond, says it is a “secular African-American Passover Seder.” It didn’t look all that secular to me, not all that Jewish either, except for the idea of passing over the ocean, similar to passing through the Red Sea, as constituting an identity for African-Americans. Highly recommended.

10 October 2007

Decline and Fall of Cobb Field, Billings, Montana

Back in the 1940s, when almost all of us were young, or not even imagined by our parents, though God probably had us in mind, a man named Bob Cobb and some friends built a ballpark in Billings, Montana. This guy was not related to the famous Ty Cobb, though he did invent a marvelous salad. Yes, that is true, leading to the now well known Cobb salad. A manly salad if there ever was one. This recent picture of Cobb Field shows the shadows, especially this past summer, getting longer.

I hope that one of these days someone will go through the back issues of the Billings Gazette in order to write a proper history of the ballpark. The little I know I gathered in dribs and drabs from folks who had been around the park since the beginning, guys like Ed Popp, who used to farm not too far away from the ballpark, and was a well-established long-time regular in the first row just outside the Mustang's dugout back in 1980 when I first started coming to games here. I saw some of those old guys at the last ballgame, shaking their head and fighting off a tear. Ed and I patrolled that first row of boxseats fairly regularly in the 80s and 90s, sometimes allowing a real fan to join us, as long as they would buy the beer. The picture to the right would have been taken from that seat right next to the dugout that Ed finally gave up.

The bond issue went through on the second try in the spring of '07 as all the fans realized they better get out and vote because otherwise their Mustangs were likely to pick up their spikes and head on down the road. Ironically, the first try at voting in a new park was a failure even though it had the slickest campaign I've ever seen here in Billings. The problem was it was so good it alerted every nay-sayer in town to show up at the polling place. Much better for the outcome was the low key, person to person campaign on the second go-around. The park aged fairly well, looking good even in the winter time. I used to love to sit in the bleachers about 9pm or so on a balmy summer evening, as almost all were at least in my memory, and watch an old DC3 still in service for what I don't know, rising gracefully from Logan airport atop the Rimrocks, so full of time that if you used your imagination you could easily transport yourself back 50s years to when the plane was new. That was how I saw it anyway.

This old park has seen a lot of baseball in the 60 or so years it has been in existence. Legion teams and the Mustangs, rookie league advanced for the Cincinnati Reds, and now lately, the revived baseball program at Montana State University Billings, has usually meant at least on average a game every day from April through Labor Day. Dave McNally was a big name for the Legion team back in the late 50s, going to the final game of the Legion World Series in New Orleans in 1960 I think. And of course, he did have more than a few pretty good years with the Baltimore Orioles from 1962 into the 70s. He and Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith were instrumental in getting the old "reserve clause," an almost medieval relic of a baseball rule overturned, and led to the modern day free agency.

Dave and Jeanne used to live a couple houses down from us on Ramada Drive here in Billings until he died from a lung cancer a couple of years ago.

There were others who played professional baseball from Billings. The one I remember the best was Jeff Ballard, who pitched and played 1st base for the Scarlets in the late 70s and early 80s. He went on to do well for Stanford and the Baltimore Orioles until he was hurt in an auto accident.

Some years ago I saw a guy start warming up in the park where the Mariners used to play; he still had his jacket on but his motion was so distinctive I knew it was Jeff from the stands in deep right field where I was looking around. I guess ways of walking and pitching and maybe thinking stick with us perhaps all of our lives.

The swimming pool was taken out even before the season was over. And lots of things were not repaired or replaced properly because we were soon going to have a new ball park, though in the end it was a remarkably close referendum. The old park, mostly wood, was knocked down fairly quickly and easily, and the early stages of the new park can be seen if you look closely. See above and below. The old outfield is still there with a few of the larger advertising signs still present as well as the old scoreboard. Maybe we will get an electronic one with all the bulbs working for the first time since I've been coming to the park.

Below is an artist's and maybe an architect's idea of what the new park will look like come July 2008. I found this in a Wendy's Restaurant on Grand Ave. Let us hope it is playable before that time as the college and Legion teams start fairly early in the spring. Even as the old falls down the new starts popping up as you can see above right.

[ Added later, 31 October 2007: I just discovered that the City of Billings has a webpage with a series of pictures from the destruction of Cobb Field to the building of the New Field, whatever it will be called, and not only are the pictures good but they also have helpful and sometimes funny comments attached to them. Good going, Billings Parks & Recreation Dept! Check it out by clicking on the page New Field.]

05 October 2007

Books and the Shelves that Hold Them

This is a picture of my bedside table soon after one of those bi-weekly cleaning and organization fits overtook me, usually at the command of my first wife, Carol, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Over the years we have collected a fair number of bookshelves, well, collected is not quite the right word, more like they were a necessity becoming a virtue.

The picture to the left is a built-in bookcase that was an essential part of the sunroom we added about 15 years ago. I love rooms to have built-in bookshelves.

If worse comes to worst, you can even allow people to put a few pictures or knick-knacks on the shelves as long as the books have someplace else to go.

I probably don't have any pictures of our first shelves which consisted of a combination of cement blocks and parts of plywood boards.

I wouldn't be surprised if we used some cardboard boxes too, (see right) and maybe some wooden fruit crates, but I do have pictures and the originals of almost all shelves since my student days.

My favorites are the "lazy
I really like the "lazy
susans" that you can pile on top of each other to as high as you care to go I suppose. See left.

I remember how excited I was when I first saw them in the Levenger catalog, you know, the only one that has any useful things in it at all. That reminds me: I bought some 3X5 cards from them with my name and address on which they used in their advertising. I got two extra Xmas cards that year from friends I hadn't heard from in a long time, each one commenting that he had seen my name in a Levenger catalog. So those advertising people may have a point.

We sometimes wonder what kind of people can live in a house with no bookshelves। Well, I suppose you can borrow every single book you read, or give it away after you do, but that doesn't seem quite right, does it?

I can't think of a single room in our house that doesn't have at least a few books, even the smallest rooms, yes I think even the closets and the garage, the latter because that is the marshalling space for books on their way to being donated or recycled in some manner. See left.

"They also serve who only sit on their shelves and wait," with apologies to John Milton I think.

A good friend who is really a master craftsman, especially with wood, did some interior re-modeling for us about 20 years ago, including some shelves and storage places below in our family room. Here is a picture below right.

As you can see, Carol gets to use this space quite a bit too.

The storage space is below, including a place for a TV. Of course, what can one do with large books that don't fit conveniently in ordinary bookshelves?

The easiest solution is to just pile them up in a neat way of course, like across the room next to the fireplace in the family room.

Or you can look for an end table that is better than just a place to put a lamp.

I'm pretty sure that these were screwed into the wall when we moved in to 3033 Ramada Drive.

When I pointed out that I expected them to stay, the former owner's kid quickly went to the living room and the bedroom to rip out a bunch of speakers that he had fastened to the wall, so we lived with loose wires high on the walls for some years before finally fixing that problem.

I think Mike Brown, the leader of the Band of Renown, put in some similar shelves on a wall in our bedroom, soon after moving in I would guess.

Probably about 12 or 15 years ago I was moseying around Billings Nursery antique shop and saw this absolutely beautiful cherry free standing bookshelf. Right.

I didn't even look at the price tag it was so stunningly beautiful, nor would I take even the chance of haggling over the price. This picture doesn't really do it justice. It stands in our upstairs hallway. I like to keep my favorite books there because it is so beautiful.

Have I forgotten any places or shelves? Yes, I haven't even mentioned our lovely teak shelves from Denmark in the Dining Room formerly known as the Living Room.

We found these at the Base Exchange in Upper Heyford while I was serving with Her Majesty's Royal Air Force in the early 70s. They fit together in various ways, similar to the ones sold by Levenger, so they are very flexible. So there is a wall in the Dining Room, (see the picture to the left) a short wall next to our bed, and the leftovers in my basement lair. And then almost finally, there is the wet bar in the family room, above right, which doesn't serve very well as a bar but does do a fair job in holding volumes of the Library of America. And various glasses, knick-knacks, and all sorts of odds and ends on their way to some other place when I can figure out where they should go.

A few more odds and ends are scattered around. There is an end table from Levenger in our bedroom, as well a bedframe that actually holds a few books as well.

I almost forgot Carol's place for cooking books, and some scattered barrister's bookshelves they call them I think. I found some more books in the unfinished part of the basement. I wonder how bad a book has to be to wind up down there? A neat little trapezoidal table that also could hold a few books was noted in a quick survey of the house. Of course, I haven't even thought about the shelves in my office at the hospital. This is getting embarrassing.

There is a nice coffee-table book about living with books and their shelves, called At Home with Books by Ellis, Seebohm and Sykes. Another book of interest along these lines is Susan Susanka's The Not-So-Big House.

04 October 2007

A Jaunt in Eastern Montana

I left for the Prairie County Courthouse in Terry, Montana at 6am, well before first light. I sailed out the 94 fairly quickly, slowing to 85mph or so when a little light came up in the east and the road showed a few curves. I wonder why it is easier to drive in total darkness than it is in twilight? (Or does that early morning half-light have a name of its own?).

I was driving Carol's Navigator and so didn't worry much about suicidal deer. The radio runs out fairly quickly, even when you switch from station to station because of all the little valleys.

MtheD was a little worried to start with as she usually wakes to empty her bladder at this time of the day, then goes back to sleep for another hour or two. The picture to the left is one of the main streets of Terry Montana. As I was walking around looking for likely pictures I heard the train passing nearby which reminded me of living on South 139th St, or maybe it was 239th St in Harvey, Illinois. That lonesome whistle sound has a way of hitting the old memory key on the keyboard of my brain.

Around 8am or so I stopped at McDonald's, naturally, in Miles City for their best breakfast, a cup of pretty good coffee (I think it is Seattle's Best) and an Egg McMuffin with Sausage. After allowing Mag to pee, I am back on the road to arrive in Terry at 8:30am.

Prairie County must be one of the few counties not to have one of those old-fashioned courthouses with the cupola so popular in Montana early in the 20th century. When I ask about this they tell me that a distraught defendant set the original afire about 10-15 years ago. I guess I wasn't paying attention or was gone at the time. MtheD takes a crap on the courthouse lawn, which is difficult to see from this angle; I hope no one was watching. Otherwise she is a model dog.

Last night I checked on Terry in Michael McCoy's Off the Beaten Path—A Guide to Unique Places in Montana, supposedly revised and published for the 7th time in 2007: It mentioned Evelyn Cameron, an English lady living in this area in the late 19th century/early part of the 20th century who liked to take pictures of ordinary people, nearby scenery and area events. Someone managed to save her negatives and now they are housed in a nice museum, which is only open, however, in the summer. And in addition it mentioned the Prairie Drive-In Theatre, which had been operating for 50 or so years. McCoy warned that it might not be open anymore. When I drove by it on the way in to town it looked fairly bleak and rundown and when I checked with one of the deputy sheriffs he told me that it had been closed for about 10 years, so I guess my reference book is more than a little out of date.

The trial has already started and there is a witness to testify before I get called. I chat with some of the law enforcement people and then with other witnesses, mostly from the state. It is a little unusual to have a trial in this sort of vehicular negligent homicide, so I suspect the defendant or his family think a good lawyer might be able to get him off, or maybe they are more well off than usual in this part of the state.

The Prairie County Attorney is a lady as is the lawyer from the state assisting her. She hurries through my testimony. The judge does not allow me to testify about the effects of alcohol because the defense objects and the prosecution did not identify me as that kind of expert. After being excused I have to hunt up the secretary to get the address for sending my bill.

By 10:45am I am buying a good-looking double dip Wilcoxson ice cream in a plain cone ($1.50) at the Scoop Shoppe and on my way home. Outside on the left and inside on the right below.

I can't resist my usual double cheeseburger from the dollar menu (only a double cheeseburger is now $1.25!) at McDonald's in Miles City. Rush is difficult to get on the radio until I get close to Billings. Arrived safely at Border's about 3pm. Carol is using the house for some PEO affair so Maggie and I are banished to the bookstore 'til 4pm.

I noticed that I was getting low on gas around Hysham, so filled up there for about $60 and headed west on what was variously called Old Highway 10, and Hwy 311, and perhaps some other named roads, but anyway it looked like the "Old Road" to Billings. It petered out near Custer, so I went back to the Interstate. It's meandering ways reminded me of the now paved gravel roads of my early years in Wisconsin. We always drove in the middle of the road until we met someone, which was not very often. During the day you could always see the dust trail a long way off.

02 October 2007

?Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy?

Do I need to increase my medication or has there been a concerted effort in recent days to throw some of our truth-telling friends in the upper echelons of the media off the cliff of respectability?

When things just don't make sense I usually find that I don't know the whole story. Is it possible that this curious campaign is part of the larger project that some of our Washington leaders have in mind of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

I saw reported an enlisted Marine's quote in the Wall Street Journal; this was in Fallujah: "There's nobody to shoot here, sir. If it's just going to be building schools and hospitals, that's what the Army is for, isn't it?"

Downtown Billings in the SummerTime

Downtown Billings in the SummerTime
At The BrewPub on Broadway

Downtown Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix
Downtown Phoenix in the Winter Time

Good Cheese Here

Good Cheese Here
Vermont Cheddar & Minnesota Blue


Dehler Park, Billings MT, July 2008 This is what Bart Giamatti recommends for good mental health.

Me and Joan

Me and Joan
Early elderly and middle middle age: We May Know Something You Don't

Mrs America

Mrs America
Fortunately these girls had a good-looking mother

Rimrocks @ Billings MT

Rimrocks @ Billings MT
“In beholding old stones we may feel our anxieties about our achievements–and lack of them–slacken . . . Vast landscapes [and seascapes] can have an anxiety–reducing effect similar to ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time, against which our weak, short-lived bodies seem no less inconsequential than those of moths or spiders.”—Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety

Easter Sunday at St Patrick's Co-Cathedral

Easter Sunday at St Patrick's Co-Cathedral
12 April 2009

Pleasant Hillside at Hustisford, AKA The Grassy Knoll for you conspiracy buffs

Pleasant Hillside at Hustisford, AKA The Grassy Knoll for you conspiracy buffs
A Lot of Muellers Are Buried Here
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