April 2014


Baseball and Spring and Poetic Things



Baseball is no longer our national pastime. Football in the form of the NFL, has long since usurped that role.


Baseball at its peak, never experienced the collective gluttonous celebrations that we see on display each year, in homes and sports bars across the country on Super Bowl Sunday. (Or on any Sunday during the season for that matter, though of course on a much smaller scale).

A record breaking 111.5 million people tuned in for game XLVIII this year (115.3 million for the half time show!). The final game of the World Series last fall drew 14.9 million. And while one might argue that this sort of comparison is one of apples-to-oranges, given all the obvious differences between the two sports regarding the number of games played etcetera, no one can dispute that Super Bowl Sunday has become de facto, a national holiday. Baseball, even in its said golden age of the 50’s, never achieved that sort of stature. Though Bobby Tompson’s home run in ’51 was said to be “The shot heard round the world.” A moment bordering on American history, it serves as a prologue in Don DeLillo’s 1997 bestselling novel Underworld.


George Carlin offered a comparison between the sports in a classic comedy bit, that also hit on an underlying truth in our psyche, as to why perhaps football has become our preferred sport (JUNE, 2013 Muse-letter A Riff on the Zeitgeist of Modernism: George Carlin Remembered).

“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use a shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! —I hope I'll be safe at home!”

Or, of a more poetic distinction, football is The Iliad… baseball is The Odyssey.


Baseball means another spring. Even sports atheists are aware each year of the advent of Spring Training and the rebirth to follow, what with the throwing out of the first ball on Opening Day, an almost sacramental rite.

Play Ball, 1982; Michael Langenstein; Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball 1987


Baseball lends itself to poetry in a way no other sport does. Perhaps because, in addition to its Odyssean journey, it is the only major team sport absent a clock (and therefore timeless?). It lends itself to quirky nuance and anticipation.

I got to experience that firsthand when a haiku of mine was published in an anthology Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems many years ago, in which I felt honored to appear on the same pages alongside noted literary figures such as Charles Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa and the late great Major League relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry, who wrote a book of baseball poetry on the side.


In the book’s introduction, the editors spent 400 words offering possible meanings buried within my thirteen word haiku which read…

Nine men stand waiting
           under storm clouds that gather.
                      Someone asks for time.

Their speculations covered a lot of ground, but it is essentially a matter of how unforgiving “the game” (life?) can sometimes be. Were it to be called off due to rain having only reached its midpoint, a team trailing at the time would be denied the chance to catch up and therefore lose the game. So stalling, however fruitless, could be a way of trying to avoid the inevitable (death?). Ah yes, rain.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring, rain

                                 —T.S. Eliot

The bigger point though, is can you imagine a book of 100 poems dedicated to football? Basketball? Hockey? Soccer? Curling? Not to mention having ongoing literary publications exclusive to those sports, as has been the case for baseball, with the likes of Spitball, Elysian Fields and Fan, in which some of my work has also appeared.


And finally, beyond its transformative seasonal associations—spring…an unwelcomed downpour (“I’ll take a rain check on that”)… the dog days of summer to follow— it is its pace that takes it to another place. It is the very thing for which it is often criticized: too slow moving. It is a contest in which time seems to stand still. Not enough action. And that, like, OMG, is so unacceptable.

I’ve never seen this criticism turned on its ear any better, nor put in a more interesting perspective, than by Chad Harbach in his novel, The Art of Fielding—a New York Times Book Review’s “Best Book of the Year” for 2011:

“Baseball, in its quiet way, was an extravagantly harrowing game. Football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse—these were melee sports. You could make yourself useful by hustling and scrapping more than the other guy. You could redeem yourself through sheer desire.

But baseball was different…not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people the way you did while playing football. You stood and waited and tried to still your mind.”


And so another spring… another opening day…another return to Yankee Stadium, wherein once waxing poetic, I mused…

And I sat there rocking to the gentle rhythm
    of the you and the me and the bat and the ball.


I’ll be there yet again. Batter up!








Quote of the Month


                                           —E.B. White
                                                       Charlotte's Web


                                                            Art design by Ron Vazzano©








Bullets (Find Their Mark) Over Broadway

The Farrow family is not going to like this. Woody Allen has done it again. Another hit. This time on Broadway. See you at the Tony Awards.

All a bit premature perhaps as the show doesn’t even officially open until April 10th and there might still be a few kinks to be worked out, but having seen Bullets Over Broadway in preview last month, it has “can’t miss” written all over it. The packed house seemed to think so as well. A hearty applause and cheering followed the many emphatic moments in the show—particularly at one point over the demise of a rather overbearing character. Yes, it is a comedy. And still one more musical adapted from a straight (i.e. non-musical) movie, in what seems to be the latest trend on Broadway. Other such adaptations currently enjoying success at the box office and with critics, include Rocky, The Bridges of Madison County and Matilda.

While four such plays running simultaneously might be new, the concept itself really isn’t, when you consider the many hit musicals born of straight movies over the years: Sunset Boulevard, The Color Purple, The Full Monty, Sister Act, Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, Billy Eliot, Sugar (i.e. Some Like It Hot), Promises, Promises (i.e. The Apartment) and Catch Me If You Can, come to mind.


But the real template for Allen’s return to Broadway through this rather unlikely door, is The Producers; a show that made history winning a record breaking 12 Tony awards with its six year run of 2,502 performances. The success of Bullets Over Broadway will nowhere match that of The Producers. Few shows could. Still, they share an interesting pedigree.


Both productions have a similar premise: “a play (and a bad one at that) within a play.” Both have been adapted for the stage by their original comic-genius creators, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Such is not usually the case in adaptations. And both have the same five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, operating in the double barrel role of Director/Choreographer.


Of course, BOB doesn’t pack the star power heat of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Instead it must take aim through the steady, though more modest hand of Zach Braff, who is making his Broadway debut. Most noted for Scrubs, a medical comedy-drama that ran for nine seasons on network TV, he does display much talent in a role for which he was so “goodly” cast, that of a struggling playwright named David Shayne.

Interestingly, Braff was outside at the front door of the theater—not the stage door— immediately following the curtain call, autographing Playbills before the audience had a chance to clear out. In all my years of Broadway theater going, I had never seen that particular sort of audience bonding, and wondered afterwards if it isn’t part of some goodwill strategy designed to help spread word-of-mouth during the previews on how charming the entire experience of going to this show can be. And in so doing, perhaps offsetting the less than charming associations many make with Woody Allen, that could potentially keep some of them away? In any case, Braff exudes a boyish charm that obviously doesn’t end after the curtain comes down, and his energetic, and seemingly impromptu autograph session, certainly couldn’t hurt either.

The only other recognizable name in the cast, might be Vincent Pastore, who played Big Pussy on The Sopranos, until he was unceremoniously bumped off. (Spoiler alert…he plays another hood here and lives to tell— and even sing—about it).


But a notable difference between the two plays, is that while The Producers could cut across generational lines with its irreverent black comedy as personified in the outrageous musical number “Springtime for Hitler,” BOB is content to skew older in resurrecting old pop and show tune standards, while putting them in a much tamer 1929 storyline— all gangster bullets aside. Though that old chestnut of a song, “Up a Lazy River,” does take on a menacing and memorable implication in its new context.

No, the Farrows won’t be going to see this show. But enough others will. And they will be buying up those seats that might have otherwise been taken by that eight hundred pound gorilla that was addressed yet again, as recently as two weeks ago in The New York Times Magazine by Chuck Klosterman in his “The Ethicist” column.

One might now come to call it, “The Woody Allen question.” In effect: do you support the art of the allegedly immoral artist who has created it, if you believe the allegations to be true? It is a question that might find its mark one day in a rather interesting Broadway musical all its own. Something Sondheimesque? But until then, “Bullets…” is flying.







The killing of time.
Is there a word for that?


May I suggest

So I sat there committing
chronocide and wondered:

can you do time
for killing it?

Then do more time
for the time spent

doing nothing but
waiting, counting

the days till release?
And if so could there ever be

a chance for parole?
Animals murder it.

And re-murder it.
Then play with it

for good measure.
The cat takes pleasure


in 21 hours of sleep a day.
Then walks away.

Free as the bird
he has swallowed in his dreams.


                                                   —Ron Vazzano







An Ad Man on Mad Men and a Final Season



What first made me aware that this was Mad Men’s seventh and final season (beginning on the 13th of this month), was reading that legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser had been hired to create ads and posters to promote it. I am a fan. His classic Bob Dylan poster still hangs on my wall—an original though now somewhat faded. And what he created for Mad Men was fabulous. Coming to a bus near you.

What I am not a fan of, is the show itself. Maybe that’s because I actually did work at a major ad agency on Madison Avenue in the 60’s?

I started in January of 1968, which coincides with the year depicted in Mad Men’s 6th season. I realize this puts me in a minority, and shades my contrary opinion of a show that everyone seems to love. In short, its over-the-top exaggerations (an apropos redundancy) did not ring true to me, having well remembered the thirty years I spent in that industry. They lost me with the very first episode.

It was filled with so many icky cardboard characters, speaking incessantly in corporate macho clichés—when they weren’t making sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, while chain smoking and “chain drinking” —that it was laughable. Or would have been, if written and being played for laughs, or at least with any satirical sense of irony. But no, they were dead serious in what they saw as an accurate re-creation of a typical day in the lives of these so called mad men. Wall to wall atrocious behavior, in but a single day! Imagine what a full week would be like.

But the worst, and the coup de gras for me, was a client meeting in that first episode that had to do with finding an advertising positioning for the Lucky Strike cigarette brand. For want of a better descriptive, I can only call it… impossibly implausible.

The head honcho of the American Tobacco Company—Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s prized account— begins to head out the door in disgust. Not only has his heavyweight agency failed to come up with any feasible ad concept, but they also have obviously come unprepared. Don Drapper, who has been at a loss for words during this entire, yet very short meeting, suddenly pulls an idea out of the air (or his butt), which stops everyone in their tracks with its brilliance: “Lucky Strikes are toasted.” And in an instant, he goes from being a goat to a hero. The client returns to his seat enthralled and buys into the idea on the spot. And of course, drinks all around afterwards.


To be fair, I’m told the show has gotten much better over time, and that its characters have expanded beyond their original two dimensions. And I’m aware of the cult status the show has reached in many quarters. And admittedly, from time to time, I have caught an episode, such as the one containing a signature moment in the series when Jessica Paré as Megan Drapper, sang that French song to open the fifth season. How could you miss it? It wound up all over mass and social media. And now, with the promotional teaser tagline “It’s all up in the air,” and that captivating Milton Glaser artwork for this final season, my curiosity has once again been piqued. How will it all end?

There has been some buzz, that that falling man tableau that opens each show, foretells some great tragedy to come. And it has not been without its own controversy, what with being criticized for evoking that harrowing photo taken of a man who had jumped to his death from a burning World Trade Center building on 9/11. And in so doing, being insensitive to the families of the victims of that great tragedy.

I’ll close here, having spent 654 words on a show I care nothing about. Funny how advertising works.





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