Last Saturday, while spending an excruciating 20 minutes inside a local GameStop, with young adults and kids blabbering in videospeak, a language whose fluency has escaped me, it was difficult to refrain from staging a nostalgic sit-in. This was, as my boys explained over and over, an extraordinary occasion. The store was taking reservations for Sony's PlayStation Portable game player, a $250 lemon-sorry, that's the wallet talking-that'll be released on March 24 to the kind of frenzy only comprehensible to me if it's compared to the anticipation of Manny Ramirez hitting a pair of three-run homers off Randy Johnson at the beginning of April.
When the bearded clerk was toting up the price, I asked my younger son if he'd finished The Diary of Anne Frank yet, an attempt to restore some sense of mental equilibrium. Whereupon Reddy, the GameStop employee who chatters with my kids about the visual pros and cons of competing video systems, chimed in. "Whoa, I heard that was like a really depressing book. You ought to check out this dude Art Somebody's comic Maus. That's a pretty cool treatment of all that shit that went down in World War Two."
You take what you can get. I mentioned that yes, Art Spiegelman's Maus was indeed a modern classic, regardless of his current mindless agitprop that appears in The New Yorker, and that I remembered first reading the series in the artist's ground-breaking Raw in the 80s. Reddy, the budding world-history scholar, was momentarily tongue-tied, and then said, "Cool. I was born in 1985, just when that stuff was coming out. Did you ever see Van Halen live?"
No, that was in fact a cultural deprivation, but somehow I survived. Although when I mentioned seeing Bruce Springsteen in a 300-seat venue back in '74, Reddy nearly dirtied his drawers and then raved about the very righteous Boss.
I'm very lenient about the games the boys can play, not caring about the ratings or simulated violence, just as long as they do their homework and achieve academic excellence in the fourth and sixth grades. And, in comparison to their pre-school days, when I'd be called every 10 minutes to read a sequence of words in one of the Nintendo Zelda games, it's fun to see them so excited about a pastime that seems really, really dumb to me. I also suppose there's some educational value in mastering the technical aspects of video games and the new systems that seem to come out every six months. Who needs a web geek to fix Dad's iMac hard drive when my 12-year-old son Nicky can repair it in the time it takes me to read a long Weekly Standard article?
You do wonder, however, what activity is squeezed out from the schedule of today's youngsters-and, apparently, adults into their early 30s-from the hours playing these games. Maybe nothing consequential: My mother used to nag me all the time about rotting the brain by watching reruns of The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy-as useless as playing Halo 2-and I doubt my intellectual capacity was reduced. What the hell, it's my own phobia. The kids will get their turn one day.
Back to 1974, when, as James Sullivan pointed out in a March 16 Slate article, Terry Jacks' abominable "Seasons in the Sun" ruled the pop-music charts for far too long. Sullivan treats the Rod McKuen?penned song too seriously, trying to explain its enduring popularity and why so many bands, most significantly Nirvana, have covered it. He writes: "The secret of the enduring appeal of 'Seasons in the Sun' is just that simple. How will we face our own final days-with grace, humility, a defensive sneer, or a loud guffaw? It's a sad song about death, and death gets us every time."
No. "Seasons in the Sun" isn't sad, it's just a horrible pop tune in the same category as "Afternoon Delight," "Ebony and Ivory," "Key Largo," "A Boy Named Sue" and almost everything Billy Joel has ever recorded. There are any number of fine songs about death-the Pretenders' "Back on the Chain Gang" comes to mind-but Jacks' huge hit, which drove me nuts more than 30 years ago, isn't one of them. And until I read Sullivan's piece it certainly wasn't "lodged" in my cranium.
Steinberg's A Hit
Finding even a trace of humor in the Daily News is usually a fruitless scavenger hunt, unless you're one of the millions of funnybone-challenged Americans who believe syndicated columnist Dave Barry is the modern-day H.L. Mencken. But there's a glimmer of hope in recent arrival Neil Steinberg, who writes a grab-bag piece every Sunday.
On March 20, the Chicagoan was in pretty good form, trashing Kweisi Mfume, who's running in next year's Democratic primary to replace Maryland's retiring senator Paul Sarbanes.
Steinberg: "People call me a cynic. But the truth is that on my worst day, with a hangover and a hemorrhoid and the world's hypocrisies lining up to pee on my shoes, I still can't quite grasp the utter shamelessness of some people." Steinberg congratulates himself, rightfully, for seeing through Mfume's bogus reason for ending his scabrous tenure as NAACP president last fall. Mfume said at the time he wanted to spend more time with his son Christopher, tearfully telling reporters, "I don't want to miss another basketball game. I don't want to be absent from another PTA meeting. And since he's in his first year of high school, I want to be there to help sew on the varsity letters on his sweater."
I've known Mfume since the late 70s, when he was a Baltimore deejay and then proceeded to the City Council and U.S. House of Representatives, and, despite his reckless rhetoric about George Bush in recent years-the influence of the vile Julian Bond-he's a pretty good fellow. But this "spending time with the family" canard is the kind of typical political crap that's beneath Mfume.
That aside, should Mfume win the Democratic nomination, he'll be immersed in perhaps the most closely watched national Senate race in 2006, since his likely opponent is the pro-life Lt. Gov. of Maryland, Michael Steele. Both men are black and riddled with Barack Obama envy, and money from the Democratic and Republican national treasuries will bolster the bottom line of the awful local television stations in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.
Maryland's a blue state, although like Massachusetts and New York, its governor is Republican (and unlike George Pataki, Bob Ehrlich really is a conservative), but this GOP opportunity will bring Bush to the state probably several times on Steele's behalf, while Mfume will have his pick of Democratic luminaries. I have a tough time figuring out exactly who those luminaries are-with the exception of Obama, who knows-but it'll be a dandy of a fight. (Mfume might want to tell DNC chairman Howard Dean, who told an audience in Toronto last Saturday night that Republicans are "brain-dead," to keep his distance.) And, unless there's a Democratic revival on the order of the Republican takeover in '94-a serious recession might do the trick-Steele's going to win and become Maryland's first black senator.