Take Me Out to the Ballgame

We did it! Although our efforts weren’t broadcast, we sang the national anthem and “God Bless America” at the Red Sox game yesterday. The adrenaline rush was beyond description, and I am still basking in the memory of 35,000+ cheering fans.

The fact that they weren’t necessarily cheering for us is pretty much beside the point. Red Sox fans love to cheer, and they gave us everything they had. When we sang to them, we did our best to return the favor.

When I finally crashed last night, it was as if someone had dropped a brick on my head. I slept like a stone, but I’ve still been tired today. The truth is that I’ve spent most of the day in a state somewhere between coma and outright death.

The Grateful Dads on the JumboTron at Fenway ParkRed Sox home games are rich with tradition and ritual, a lot of it musical. Since shortly after 9/11, for example, live performers have sung a verse of “God Bless America” at every game during the seventh inning stretch. Since 2002, fans have sung along with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before the bottom of the eighth inning. “Sweet Caroline,” in fact, has evolved into a sort of performance art piece where audience participation is necessary to complete the song. In some ways it reminded me of the audience participation material that has developed and evolved in midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Baseball being what it is, of course, the antics at Fenway are a whole lot more wholesome.

But not necessarily more sanitary. The way vendors sell hot dogs in the stands, for example, was enough to turn my stomach. Here’s the deal: If you’re sitting in a middle of a row in the grandstands and you want a hot dog, the vendor takes the hot dog and bun and wraps a single cheap paper napkin around it. Both ends of the bun are completely uncovered. The vendor gives the hot dog and bun to the person at the end of the row who then passes it to the person beside him. And so it goes. Hand to hand to hand, until it reaches the customer. The customer then sends money back to the vendor, hand to hand to hand. Change, if any, then goes back to the customer, hand to hand to hand.

A young couple with two little boys sat at the end of our row. As we passed hot dogs and money back and forth, I said to her, “Isn’t it fortunate that all the people in in this row just washed and sanitized their hands.” The little boys looked puzzled. The young mother blanched.

The boys did not get vendor hot dogs, and neither did I. Make no mistake. If the Red Sox ask, we’ll go back to sing at Fenway Park again in a heartbeat, but if I want a hot dog I’ll go to the concession stand.

The Grateful Dads on Fathers Day

If all goes according to plan, The Grateful Dads (the quartet in which I am privileged to sing lead) will offer up the national anthem and a rendition of “God Bless America” at the Red Sox-Braves interleague game in Fenway Park on Sunday, as the Red Sox observe Maine Day and Fathers Day simultaneously. MPBN Radio, prompted by the first press release I’ve written since 2001, interviewed me yesterday. The interview now resides on the MPBN website with the headline Local Barbershop Quartet Lands Gig of a Lifetime.

This being New England, however, the potential fly in the ointment is the weather. The forecast for Sunday afternoon changes frequently, but it’s been nothing but variations on the theme of rain, rain, and more rain. As I write this, the forecast reads, “Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers.” Until I got the telephone call from the Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t care at all what Sunday’s weather might be. Ah, but what a difference an appeal to my vanity has made!

Blog Ethics 101

As an old fart with eight or ten treasured stories that friends and family are sick of hearing, I can set up a blog and hold forth at will without drawing much attention and without causing any harm at all. I like to think that’s at least partly because I have some sense of what’s appropriate.

The real reason, of course, may be a matter of demographics. White dudes over 60 don’t attract much attention unless filthy rich (see Warren Buffett), particularly grotesque (see Donald Trump – also rich) or otherwise infamous (see Dick Cheney – also rich and grotesque). Well over 90% of Americans, after all, are not white, male and over 60.

Apparently it’s an altogether different situation for young women. A recent story in the Chicago Tribune reports on a blog devoted to the grief of a woman whose baby supposedly died. The problem is that none of it happened. This left those who had supported her feeling like fools. There were thousands of them, and they resented being tricked.

The only parallel I can imagine is if I had spun a tale in the CaringBridge account of Marge’s cancer struggle—if I had told the story I told when she didn’t really have cancer, or if my actual response to her cancer had been to go all John Edwards on her.

You can gossip over the back fence without much in the way of real consequences. You can sit on a barstool and tell lies (isn’t practically everything said on a barstool a lie?) but blogging is somehow different. Blogging can feel anonymous on the writer’s end of things, but it is intimate on the reader’s end. If you tell your blog readers that your heart is broken, it damned well better be broken.

The Name Sayer

Portland High School, Portland, Maine

Since 1987, my wife Marge has taught at Portland High School, one of the most diverse schools in the country. For the last 15 years or so, she has read the names at graduation. It’s a formidable task because each graduating class includes students from every corner of the world. A typical class includes Bosnian, Cambodian, Chinese, Congolese, Croatian, Ethiopian, Hispanic, Polish, Russian, Rwandan, Serbian, Somali, Sudanese and Vietnamese names, along with the more familiar French, Irish and Italian. It’s a United Nations of names, and this year’s class was no exception.

As an added complication, some families, after being in the U.S. for a while,  have partly or completely Americanized their names. This is why Marge spends hours and hours in preparation. Last year a Cambodian girl whose first name was Touch (pronounced Tooch in Khmer) corrected Marge. “Nah,” she said, “it’s just Tuch, like ‘don’t touch that’.”

This year, however, a Cambodian girl with the same name wanted it pronounced Tooch. The class also included a student from a Polish family named Dziedzic. Marge consulted with a colleague who speaks Polish and learned how to say the name more or less in Polish, something like DJUH-djeetz. “Nice try with the Polish,” the smiling student said at graduation rehearsal, “but we just say DEEZ-ick.”

During Marge’s fierce battle with ovarian cancer through the winter, one of her goals was to be able to return to school in time to read the names at graduation. Pretty much everyone at the school was rooting for her because of who she is and also because there really isn’t anyone else in the school willing or able to tackle those names.

Just before Marge returned to school this spring, the principal met with a group of teachers to discuss scholarship recipients. In identifying the students, he apparently mangled many of the names. He later reported to Marge that after the meeting about five concerned teachers each approached him privately with the same urgent question: “Is Marge going to be back in time for graduation?”