Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Look (RIP, Tiger Stadium)

Note: As a kid I was a huge baseball fan. That has long since passed, but I remember Tiger Stadium fondly.
     The text of this post was published in the Fall 2008 issue of Elysian Fields Quarterly. I have added some photographs. The black and whites were taken by me during the mid- 1980s (with one obvious exception). The color photos date to August 2008 and the events described.

I attended my first major league baseball game at the age of ten. It was pure Americana: my father took me, and I held his hand tightly as we walked along crowded sidewalks from the parking lot to the stadium, he in long loping strides, me in rapid double-steps as I tried keeping up.

After passing through a turnstile we went up a long steep ramp to the stadium’s upper section, where a dark and drafty walkway led to the grandstands. As we finally emerged back into bright sunlight, my first glimpse of the brilliant green playing field overwhelmed me.

We ate hot dogs and drank Coca-Cola. We sang the national anthem before the game, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. My father pointed out Sal Maglie, by then a coach for the opposing team, but once a fearsome pitcher and one of my father’s heroes when he was younger – which from my ten-year-old’s perspective seemed like somewhere back around the dawn of time.
The game that day was between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers, but I remember nothing of it. What I do remember is the venue: Tiger Stadium, a grand old ballpark from the game's golden age, a place as rich in baseball history as Fenway Park, Ebbets Field, and the House that Ruth Built. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but on that day of my first big league game, a bleak era of sterile, soulless stadiums with artificial turf and mostly symmetrical dimensions was just beginning.

Tiger Stadium was located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull, in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. It was further bounded by Cochrane Street to the west, and to the north, a service drive running parallel to the Fisher Freeway. Baseball was played within those confines at least since 1896, when a 5,000-seat, mostly wooden structure called Bennett Park first opened.

Bennett Park was torn down in 1911, and a new steel-and-concrete stadium called Navin Field opened on those same grounds the next year. Navin Field was gradually expanded to accommodate more spectators and the game’s ever-increasing popularity. By 1938 the entire facility was double-decked, and re-christened Briggs Stadium. It became Tiger Stadium in 1961.
Such things cannot be quantified, but Tiger Stadium’s most attractive feature may well have been its ungainly, asymmetrical interior. The stands were dotted with obstructed view seating; buy a ticket for one and spend the game peering around a steel girder.

On the field it was 340 feet from home plate to the fence down the left field line, and 440 feet to the deepest part of center, where a flagpole on the warning track was an occasional hazard. Down the right field line was a mere 325 feet, complicated by an upper deck extending some ten feet out over the lower deck. This created a curious overhang that occasionally snagged high fly balls that might otherwise have reached the lower deck seats.
Much of Tiger Stadium seating was up close to the action, giving fans an intimate connection to the game that just wasn’t there at most other big league parks. This more than made up for any shortcomings of design.

But Tiger Stadium is no more. After years of haggling, plans for a modern new stadium resulted in Comerica Park, where the Tigers began playing in the 2000 season. Except for a few amateur games and other special events, Tiger Stadium was left dormant, and thus was doomed. There was an ongoing struggle to save it, pitting preservationists against the city’s power structure, but demolition finally began in the summer of 2008.

That August I visited Detroit for the first time in fifteen years, and made a point of seeing Tiger Stadium – or what was left of it. Driving down Trumbull that day, I saw from a distance the towering light structures on the stadium roof. “So that much, at least, is still standing,” I muttered to my wife Caroline, who sat beside me in our rented Kia. I’d been following the demolition from afar via the Internet and knew that large sections of the stadium were already gone. The left field stands, both upper and lower decks, had been knocked down, as had part of the stands down the left field foul line. Now, with my camera, I would document what remained. I did not consciously acknowledge it, but I suppose I was also saying farewell.

As we drove closer, the stadium came fully into view. And it was shocking to see: not only the left field stands, but most of the center field bleachers were gone as well. For the time being, at least, about two-thirds of Tiger Stadium remained intact: the grandstands along the right field foul lines, and the stands around the infield and home plate areas. The entire stadium was surrounded by a tall security fence, itself covered in green fabric, preventing passersby from seeing much of what was going on in there.
But Tiger Stadium was coming down, and there was no mistaking it. We parked the car along Trumbull and began walking north on the sidewalk. I had my camera out and immediately began taking pictures.

We reached the entrance to the demolition site at the corner of Trumbull near the freeway service drive, by what used to be the center field bleachers. A security guard was on duty there, preventing unauthorized access. 

A short driveway, fifty feet or so, stretched from Trumbull to an opening in the fence, which served as the entrance to the site. There were no signs posted saying stay back, but the guard’s demeanor made it plain I should stay where I was on the sidewalk.

I pointed toward the opening in the fence. “Can I take a picture through there?”

“Sorry, no,” the guard replied politely.

“Can I take your picture, standing in front of the entrance?”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t like that,” he said. I lifted my camera anyway, but he ducked slightly and moved out of the way.
I could see enough through the entrance to make out a long, huge dumpster and piles of rubble – mostly chunks of concrete, old steel girders, and twists of cable. I shot a couple of frames. The flagpole that once stood next to the 440 mark in dead centerfield was still there; incongruously, a flag at full staff flapped in the breeze. How many millions had given it their full attention over the years, as they sang the national anthem?

I took a few more pictures before deciding to move along. Perhaps I'd find a better vantage point, one from which I could see a little more.

“I’m going to walk over that way,” I said to Caroline, pointing west toward where the left field grandstands used to be. “Maybe I’ll be able to see a little better.”

“Okay,” she replied. “I’m staying here, though.”

There is a pedestrian bridge spanning the freeway, over which baseball fans once found easy access to the stadium on game days. On the bridge’s south side, nearly adjacent to the stadium, I found enough elevation to see over the fence and take in the disquieting scene.
Heavy machinery occupied rough dirt where the outfield grandstands once stood: trucks and cranes and excavators and a wrecking ball. Men wearing hardhats and bright orange reflecting vests strode purposefully about. A sort of water cannon blasted a steady stream of mist to keep down the dust from all that destruction.
According to press accounts, the demolition of Tiger Stadium was drawing many curious fans to watch it gradually disappear. Only two others were present, though, while I was there. They were with me on the pedestrian bridge, like mourners standing vigil. Both were men, one old and one young – a father and son, perhaps. Mostly they leaned against a guardrail and stared, although the older man also shot some video.

After taking a few dozen photographs from the bridge, I moved on. Caroline was waiting for me back on Trumbull and I knew I should return to her right away. But I just couldn’t. This was, in all likelihood, my final chance to see what was left of this stadium that had once meant so much to me.

And so I decided to continue all the way around it, walking south along its west side across a broad dirt parking lot by Cochrane Street. Finally, I reached Michigan Avenue.
This was the heart of Corktown, an area founded by Irish immigrants from County Cork. It is said to be Detroit’s oldest surviving historic neighborhood. Today Corktown boasts restored Victorian-era row houses and a surrounding entertainment district. But the stadium, its most distinctive attraction, was nearly gone.

I walked east along the sidewalk, past the Corktown Tavern on the stadium’s south side. In just a few minutes I reached the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, thus completing my circumnavigation of Tiger Stadium.
Up and down Trumbull, and within the stadium itself, the machinery of destruction was poised. Surely, I thought, some of these demolition workers, maybe most of them, were baseball fans, local men who had been to ballgames at Tiger Stadium. Some must have taken their kids to games there, even held their hands as they passed through the turnstiles and climbed the steep ramp to the upper decks. What inner conflicts might they be feeling now?

By September, a month after my visit, all that remained of Tiger Stadium were the grandstands around the infield area. These were “stop points,” according to the demolition project manager. In fact, it resembled the original Navin Field configuration.

What happens next is uncertain. There is an effort to preserve this remaining portion of Tiger Stadium. Developed by a group known as the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, an imaginative proposal is in motion to use these remains as a sort of theme park. “Our plan envisions an adaptive re-use of the historic stadium as a one-of-a-kind heritage site with a restaurant, banquet hall, thematic retail, and museum quality exhibits,” the Conservancy states in official literature. “This plan will allow Tiger Stadium to support itself for years to come.”

On that August day when I walked around Tiger Stadium, I took at least a hundred photographs. I’d had my last look; and then it was good-bye. But what ghosts must haunt this Elysian field?
Babe Ruth hit his 700th career home run in Tiger Stadium in 1934, and it was there in 1921 that he hit what some believe is the longest home run in major league history, a blast that traveled an estimated 700 feet. It was at Tiger Stadium that an ailing Lou Gehrig voluntarily removed himself from the Yankee lineup in May 1939, after playing in 2,130 consecutive games.

Ty Cobb stole bases and racked up a phenomenal .367 lifetime batting average there, and Hank Greenberg slugged his way to the record books in a career interrupted by military service. Al Kaline spent his entire Hall of Fame career in Detroit, and Denny McLain had five great seasons at Tiger Stadium, his best during “The Year of the Pitcher,” 1968, when he won 31 games. In 1971 Reggie Jackson hit an All-Star Game home run so tremendous that Jackson himself halted barely one step out of the batter’s box and watched as the tiny white sphere went sailing up and over the right field roof – or would have gone over, had it not struck a light tower and fallen back down to right field.

Six thousand eight hundred and seventy-three regular-season baseball games were played on that plot of land over a period of 104 years. There were 35 postseason games and three All-Star Games. The Tigers appeared in nine World Series at Tiger Stadium and won four of them. Two of those championships are within my memory, and I was privileged to see game three of the 1968 Series. My seat was in the right field lower deck. Dick McAuliffe hit a home run headed straight to my outstretched glove – before it landed in the overhang of the right field upper deck.

McAuliffe’s was one of 11,111 home runs hit in Tiger Stadium. The very last of these came on September 27, 1999, in the final major league game ever played there. It was an eighth inning grand slam, hit by an obscure Tiger named Robert Fick, and it bounced off the right field roof before dropping back down to the playing field, sealing at 8-2 Tiger victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Book, Bad Movie

A web site I belong to regularly suggests a "blog topic of the week." Most of the suggestions don't interest me. But one recent topic, "favorite movie based on a book," caught my interest.

I don't have one.

My favorite movies don't usually come from books. In my experience, good books seldom make good movies. That old saw invariably applies: the book was better.

It's always that way, isn't it? A book is (usually) the original execution of an idea, carried out by the one who conceived it. Reading it is personal, even intimate. The pleasures of the story and the prose that carry it are between you and the printed page.

Disappointment with what turns up on the silver screen, someone else's interpretation of that idea, is almost inevitable. They muck around with the story. They add or delete characters, usually for the worse.
I read an article once that argued Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange might be the best film adaptation of a book ever. And I agree it's a very good movie. But it's a fact – only a footnote, perhaps, yet true – that Kubrick based his screenplay on a shortened version of the Anthony Burgess novel.

The book, published originally in England, had twenty-one chapters. But that last chapter was deleted from the first American editions, and it's the American edition that first excited Kubrick's interest. "Audiences did not exactly clamour for their money back," Burgess wrote. "But they wondered why Kubrick left out the denouement."

Here's how Burgess described that last chapter: "My young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction."

Burgess was a little unclear on why his publisher cut that last chapter. He may not have known. But he was clear on why he acquiesced. "I needed money back in 1961," he recalled, "even the pittance I was being offered as an advance, and if the condition of the book's acceptance was also its truncation – well, so be it."

That book had always been a favorite of mine. So when, in 1986, an American edition finally appeared with the last chapter restored, it was quite a shock. At first it was hard to accept there was more beyond "I was cured, all right."

The novel remains a favorite, but less so the movie. Like little Alex, O my brothers and like only real droogs, I can't take the violence anymore.

The book was better!

It always is. Sometimes the filmmakers change the story, which always pisses me off. Sometimes the casting is all wrong. At bottom, it's that personal relationship with a book that I crave – getting lost in its story, seduced by the author's prose. That can't be replicated on film.

I suppose that in the case of A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick cannot entirely be blamed for basing his film on the shortened version of the novel – assuming it was an honest mistake. It is ironic, though, that he made the movie in England. You'd think someone on his staff would have noticed that the American edition wasn't the whole story as told by Anthony Burgess. Maybe someone did, but Kubrick thought cutting the last chapter made a better ending.

None of this has ever stopped me from seeing the film version of a favorite book. I'm a sucker for movies. But when it comes to film adaptations of books I love, I'm usually disappointed with what I see.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Puppy Pictures

My daughter and I walk dogs at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. We used to go every single Sunday, as part of a regular set of rounds. We stopped for a while, but lately we've been going again.

We do this because my daughter loves animals. She has never met one she doesn't love. She loves horses, cats, rats, parrots, dolphins, cows, deer, monkeys, snakes, ferrets, goats, spiders, ducks, lemurs, elk, and all the others. The only possible exception is bees.
But she loves dogs best of all. The pup she's holding in the above photograph is a Humane Society dog named Penny.

Unfortunately, my wife is allergic to dogs. Her dermatologist gave her a test. And that's where volunteering at the Humane Society came in: it's a means of feeding our daughter's passion for dogs without having to actually get one.

For a couple of years, it worked. But lately she and her brother have been making a lot of noise about getting a dog of their own. I am unofficially on their side, although I am also a pragmatist.

Our daughter checks available dogs on the Humane Society web site ( on a regular basis. Almost every day she finds a dog she has to have. A few days ago she saw a litter of dachshund puppies – and it was love at first sight.

Pound puppy
They were still there when we visited on Sunday.
These pups are cute, there's no denying that. What puppies aren't? My daughter got into the kennel with them and they jumped all over her, yap yap yapping and wagging their little tails. None of them were any bigger than my shoe.
Puppies at the Humane Society get snapped up pretty quickly, for obvious reasons. They aren't free, though, and these particular pups are unusually expensive – four hundred bucks apiece. They must be purebreds. That price is about four times the average price for other dogs.

Not that we seriously considered getting one.
Meanwhile, my daughter's love for all animals continues unabated.
For now, we remain a dogless household. My wife says she'll get the allergy test again.

And then maybe – just maybe...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Litterbugs, Part Four – Heidelberg

The Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan, is one of those things that must be seen to be believed.
It's the creation of artist Tyree Guyton. It is not about litter or trash, and never has been. But it does say something about reclamation.

Located on the city's tough East Side, the Heidelberg Project is usually described as an "outdoor art environment," or as a political protest against the decline of a once-great American city.

It is all that, and more.

"I was told that my job as an artist was to come up with solutions," Guyton says. "I came up with a solution that makes people put aside the fear. And they come here because they gotta see it."

The project began in 1986 with Guyton, encouraged and assisted by his grandfather, painting brightly colored polka dots on a series of  houses, some of them abandoned. Then he began attaching salvaged materials to some of the houses.
I saw the Heidelberg Project back on March 1, 1990, when I still lived in Motown. By then it had already gained widespread attention. I don't know how many houses it consists of.

The environment has evolved steadily over the years. In spite of the positive, worldwide attention it has drawn, it's been the center of considerable controversy, most of it local. It's all that salvaged stuff attached to the houses, I think, that really pissed people off. Is it art? some wondered.

It is art, came one answer, that responds to its place. It is art that is giving its community a shot of adrenaline.

The City of Detroit owned the titles to some of the houses. On two occasions, they have had some them demolished. Most likely these include the house in the black and white photos in this post.

But where parts of the Heidelberg Project have been destroyed, new stuff has been added.
That's me in the mirror
Strictly speaking, the Heidelberg Project may not be about litter or trash. But it has turned trash into treasure; it has looked at a lot of cast-off stuff as a valuable resource.

The project still exists. It gets its name from Heidelberg Street, on which it resides, and where Tyree Guyton grew up. Many who live in the area today find it a point of pride.

"I want to be part of that great comeback for the city of Detroit," the artist declares. "And I do believe it's going to come back."

The Heidelberg website:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Litterbugs, Part Three - Recycling

A couple of years ago, my daughter's elementary school class went on a field trip to the local recycling center. I came along as one of several parent chaperones. I was very interested in seeing the place.

I had been recycling for years, but always wondered: where does this stuff go after curbside pickup?
Why, it goes to the local recycling center!

Where I live it's called Eco-cycle, and it's located on the far edge of town. It is enormous. Recycling trucks haul their loads into a huge garage area, and from what I could tell, empty them right on the floor, as in the lower-left quadrant of the above photo.
Next, an automated system separates containers like cans and bottles from paper products. They wind up on conveyor belts, where humans sort the stuff into more specific groups.
Needless to say, the kids found it totally fascinating. So did I.

After watching all the conveyor belts take stuff to and fro, we were escorted into a meeting room and our heads were filled with factoids.

Recycled cans, compressed and stacked
Over the last fifty years, we learned, humans have consumed more resources than in all previous history. The way we produce, consume, and dispose of products and food accounts for 42% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. consumes 33% of paper, 25% of oil, and 15% of coal.

This data all come from the EPA.

On a more positive note, about a hundred million people in the United States now practice some sort of recycling every single day. This is good. But recycling, in and of itself, is not enough; it will not end our dependence on landfills and incinerators.

This optimistic Eco-cycle graphic imagines the future
The goal promoted by Eco-cycle is Zero Waste. This is laudable. Discarded stuff, they argue, should be seen as a valuable resource. "A pile of 'trash' represents jobs, financial opportunity, and raw material for new products," they declare.

"Zero waste is a philosophy and a design principle for the 21st Century; it is not simply about putting an end to landfilling ... it heralds fundamental change."

Like the rest of the world, my town has a long way to go before fully embracing this fundamental change. Recycling is big here, but we have a town dump, too. To say nothing of litter: the crushed cups and cans, fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, and on and on.


This post is slightly revised from a January 7 post.

Have you broken your New Year's resolution yet? What's taking you so long? You've had a whole week.

I don't do resolutions, myself.

A few years ago I was invited to join a web site called "Red Room," whose tag line is something like "Where the writers are." Flattery will get you everywhere, so I joined.

I almost never visit the site anymore, but I still get weekly emails from them, usually with a suggested "blog topic of the week."

I have much better ways of wasting time. But recently one of these emails caught my attention. The blog topic was New Year's Resolutions, and the email began:
The journalist and author Eric Zorn wrote, "Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility."
What a load of crap.

For most people, New Year's resolutions are an amusing diversion, and nothing more.

Imagine some guy at a crowded party on New Year's Eve. It's a few minutes before midnight. He goes into the bathroom and lights a cigarette. My last smoke, he resolves. He flips on the overhead fan, crumples his pack of Winstons, and lobs it deftly into a wastebasket.

A short time later he's back with the other revelers. The clock strikes midnight, and in Times Square, the big ball falls. The guy yells Happy New Year! along with everyone else. Then he grabs a woman he does not know and presses his smoky lips against hers.

Fifteen minutes later he's back in the bathroom sifting through that wastebasket, in the throes of his first nicotine fit. There mighta been one last smoke in there, he thinks. But when he finds the package and uncrumples it, it is empty.

So he bums a cigarette from that woman he just kissed. The party's host says If you must smoke, please step outside. They do. The woman has but one cigarette left, for she too had thought of quitting, but at 11:45 changed her mind. They share this cigarette. It is a Winston, his brand. As they pass it back and forth they fall in love.

Or something like that. I could add that a year later they get married. Again it is New Year's Eve. This time, it doesn't even occur to them to quit smoking. Afterward they fly off on their honeymoon – to Winston-Salem, or Marlboro Country, or some other ironic destination.

Or something like that. I could add that both are ticking time bombs, with monstrously carcinogenic tobacco sediments in their lungs already spawning cancer.

I could, but I won't, because this isn't an anti-smoking rant.

No behavior will change because of a new calendar. Behaviors change because an individual wants to change. You want to quit smoking; you want to get off the couch and start working out. It doesn't matter whether it's December 31 or August 9. If you want to change some behavior to the better, there's no time like the present – if you'll pardon the cliche.

That Red Room email about resolutions went on to say:
Breaking them is part of the cycle.

Here's wishing you a belated Happy New Year!


It isn't likely anyone cares, but I thought I might briefly describe why this thing you're reading is called "Lung."

Once upon a time I was learning FrameMaker, which is desktop publishing software. As an exercise I created a multi-column newsletter and named it Lung – a silly, whimsical, entirely meaningless name.

But the name rolled around backbrain as I started fiddling with this blog. At first, I added "blue" to make it Blue Lung, which I thought sounded interesting.

Then I Googled "blue lung" to see if that phrase might be in use somewhere. Sure enough, "blue lung," according to the Urban Dictionary, is a condition affecting users of something called Adderall. This, apparently, is a delicious flavor of methamphetamine.

So I reverted back to plain old "Lung."

Anal-retentive postscript: I did indeed learn FrameMaker, and got pretty good at it. I always preferred it to Word. It is superior in every way and I used it for years.

Then I bought a new computer, and  my version of Frame wouldn't run on it. No backwards compatibility. A new version of Frame was far beyond my budget.

I had written virtually all my stuff in Frame, and faced the nightmarish prospect of converting hundreds of critical files to Word, that slightly more affordable lingua franca of the computer world. Which I did.

Microsoft Word. Bill Gates' cash cow. I'm stuck with it. I've learned it, and I've learned to live with it. I've even grown accustomed to it. I know it inside out. But I don't like it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Litterbugs, Part Two

Earlier this month I wrote in this blog about littering and my growing intolerance with it ("Litterbugs," January 1, 2011).

The sad truth, as if we didn't know, is that I (or you) could pick up litter all day every day for a year, and there'd be no appreciable dent in the problem. Supposedly, 48% of all Americans will admit to having littered at one time or another. Stir in those who don't admit it, and the rate is probably more like 99 or 100%.

I've littered. I don't anymore. I'll still toss down a banana peel or some other biodegradable item, but I don't consider that littering. Maybe it's a double standard. I'm concerned with the stuff that doesn't decompose.
In my town, there's plenty of litter. I still pick it up, in spite of the futility.

I did a little Googling on the subject. My keywords were "roadside litter statistics." I found a site called Green Info Services, which says the following are the biggest sources of litter:
  1. Trucks with uncovered or unsecured loads on local roads and highways.
  2. Pedestrians or cyclists who do not use the receptacles.
  3. Motorists who do not use car ashtrays or litterbags.
  4. Business dumpsters that are improperly covered.
  5. Loading docks and commercial or recreational marinas with inadequate waste receptacles.
  6. Construction and demolition sites without tarps and receptacles to contain debris and waste.
  7. Household trash scattered before or during collection.
None of this is at all surprising.

So I'm still picking up litter. On my walk today I took a bag along for the first time in over a week (see above photo). We had a good-sized snow storm recently and it covered everything.

But I still took my walks. I was out the other day after a cold snap broke and the Great Snowmelt had begun. Came across an empty Bicardi bottle just off the sidewalk near a bank, on a patch of newly-exposed grass. I had not brought a bag with me so I picked the bottle up and put it in my jacket pocket. A couple inches of its neck jutted out. I must have looked like  the town drunk.

When I went out today I forgot to bring a bag. But a nearby grocery store has a bag recycling program, so I stopped by and plucked one from their canister.

It didn't take long to fill. Mostly I picked up the usual crap: recyclable bottles and cans, empty potato chip bags, empty cigarette boxes, and so on. But I came across a scrap of a to-do list (I'll tell 'em what they can do!) and, curiously, a little Zen garden.
Zen and the Art of Littering

Of course, this isn't really a Zen garden. It's just some rocks piled up, probably by teenagers as they passed around a joint. Before I took this photograph I picked up a bunch of litter here. There was more than I could possibly stuff into my little bag, but I found a cardboard box and filled it with a bunch of crap. Left it by this rock pile as a sort of wastebasket. Think they'll get the hint?

I shall continue to pick up crap from the side of the road. Maybe I can start a new blog that deals only with trash. I'll call it, say, "One Man's Treasure," or maybe "Another Roadside Attraction" (with apologies to Tom Robbins). I can be like that woman, Julie somebody, who cooked her way through the Julia Childs cookbook. My rubric shall be "trash." Document all the crap I've picked up.

That reminds me: I pick up empty cigarette boxes, but I do not pick up cigarette butts. The reason should be obvious. By one estimate there are 4.5 trillion butts improperly disposed of each year.

How ever did they arrive at that figure?

Statistics cited in this post come from the Keep America Beautiful website.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Coda to "A Certain Type of Book"

Here are some additional comments about books on the assassination of JFK. A few of these titles are very obscure, but with Internet sites like they're still obtainable, so a commentary is not without value.

Eyewitness to History, by Howard Brennan and J. Edward Cherryholmes, is one of those books I wanted to see for a long time. But I could never justify its list price ($17.00), since I assumed it was unadulterated BS. So I left it in the same category as Case Closed, meaning I figured to find it in a used bookstore someday for fifty cents.

As it turned out, someone gave me a copy.
Howard Brennan: "Ol' Four Eyes"
Howard Brennan was one of the Warren Commission's star witnesses. He was a Dealey Plaza eyewitness who claimed to have seen Oswald, armed and dangerous, in the Texas School Book Depository's sixth floor window.

In Eyewitness to History (Texian Press) he does not veer far from the official story. Readers get the lone nut, and the second lone nut; they get the noble and wise President's Commission sifting countless facts in search of the awful truth. All of that was to be expected. Readers also get weird punctuation and repeated misspellings ("Dealy" Plaza and J.D. "Tippett") which were not expected and could almost be overlooked – except that this is such a dishonest book.

There is very little value to Eyewitness to HIstory. Brennan, the titular eyewitness, states at several points that he long declined all opportunities to tell his story. But with the guidance of his minister (J. Edward Cherryholmes, the book's co-author) he decided to "set the record straight for history."

Uh...didn't he do that with his Warren Commission testimony?

Maybe not.

The only thing Eyewitness to History has to offer that might be important is an observation Brennan said he kept from the Warren Commission and to himself for many years. Shortly before the assassination, Brennan asserts, he observed a car parked on Houston Street next to the TSBD – a spot supposedly closed to all vehicles by Dallas Police. It was a 1955 to '57 Oldsmobile with a lone, white middle-aged male at the wheel. As Brennan watched, a cop walked over to this car and began chatting amiably with its driver.

Just after the motorcade passed and the shots were fired, Brennan says he grabbed a second cop and told him, "The man you want is in the building!" Then, "I glanced back towards the street to the side of the building. The car I had seen PARKED there before the motorcade passed WAS GONE. Although only a few moments had elapsed and all exits were blocked except one, the car had disappeared ... I have always felt that he was somehow involved in the assassination" [emphasis in original].

Yet he didn't tell the cops or the Warren Commission about this possible getaway car.

Brennan claims he noticed Oswald in the alleged sniper's nest before the shots. After the third shot he hit the ground and looked back to the sixth floor of the TSBD.

"To my amazement the man still stood there in the window! He didn't appear to be rushed. There was no particular emotion visible on his face except for a slight smirk. It was a look of satisfaction, as if he had accomplished what he had set out to do."

Elsewhere in the book, Brennan goes to great pains to tell us his vision is "unusually good; I am one of a select few who, for some reason, are gifted with extraordinary eyesight." Yet he wore glasses.

Howard Brennan admitted to the Warren Commission that before he was taken to a police lineup he had twice seen Oswald on TV as a suspect, and that "I told them I could not make a positive identification." In his book he explains this away by saying he believed the assassination was "a communist activity," and he and his family would be in danger if he made his positive ID right off the bat.

Eyewitness to History was published in 1987, four years after Brennan's death. It is worth noting that among those listed in this book's acknowledgements are Forrest Sorrels of the Secret Service, Earl Warren, Gerald Ford, and "Mrs. Mohammad Bob Threlkeld, sister of the late Shah of Iran ... my best wishes to her."

Oh, What a Time!
I was browsing through a used book store in San Francisco a number of years back when I happened upon a novel I'd not seen before. I wasn't reading much fiction at the time, but A Time to Remember got my interest because it dealt with the Kennedy assassination.

I bought it. I read it. I hated it.

Written by Stanley Shapiro, A Time to Remember is basically Back to the Future meets the Warren Report. Be forewarned, I'm going to spill the beans on this one. If you don't like spoilers, you'd better stop reading right now.

I should mention first that this book has been kicking around for a while. It was published in 1986; the copy I found (for $2.50) is a Signet paperback.

The story of A Time To Remember is pretty simple, and indeed might appeal to science fiction fans. David, our hero, longs for a revered dead brother, who was killed in Vietnam. When David's path crosses with a Mad Scientist who has invented of a time machine, ba-boom – David decides he'll travel back to 1963 and stop Oswald from killing JFK. In the world of this novel, no Oswald means no assassination means no Vietnam war means no revered dead brother.

This same idea – stop Oswald to save the dead brother – could have worked with a conspiracy theory, and even provided a nice plot twist. Oswald could have been somehow neutralized by David – kidnapped or killed, or trapped inside an elevator perhaps – but, surprise! The assassination goes down anyway. What would David have done then?

But that isn't how it happens. Not only does David fail to stop Oswald; he finds himself the prime suspect in the assassination! David's girlfriend Laura comes back from the future to rescue him, but she too fails to alter history, and for a while Laura and David are both on the lam in Dallas, the prime suspects in the assassination.

The Kennedy assassination plays out several times during the course of A Time to Remember, but each time, our heroes fail in their quest to stop it.

Finally, after a few hard-to-swallow developments – David and his cohorts gaining an audience with new President LBJ, for example, and convincing him they're from the future – November 22 dawns yet again. Lee Oswald rises in the Paine home, leaves $175 and his wedding ring on a bureau, then heads out to the Paine garage to get his Mannlicher Carcano. He is still the Oswald according to Earl Warren.

Tense, almost fevered by the malice within him, he enters the garage, where he has hidden the rifle. Disassembled, it lies concealed in brown wrapping paper. Picking it up, he feels its hardness beneath its paper sheath. Soon it will bring him the sense of self-worth he has so desperately sought all his life.

Not so fast, Lee! The Mad Scientist inventor of the time machine has come back to save the day! Like Jack Ruby, he has stalked Oswald; unlike Ruby, he is a genuine good guy driven to murder. He is unfamiliar with firearms, so after consulting with the gun dealer "remembers the advice to aim and then fire." He drives off, leaving the gutshot Lee bleeding in a gutter.
He knows he will die on that curb, unnoticed, unknown. He is filled with outrage at this last cruel turn of a star-crossed life. He curses a fate that always stopped him just when he was about to make a move that would have given that life meaning. He dies wondering why anyone would have wanted to kill him.

But it's okay, because everyone else lives happily ever after. Kennedy is not slain, and goes on to a second term. The Vietnam War, fought only by the Vietnamese, is over by 1966. The revered brother doesn't die. David is reunited with him – not as his brother, since as a time traveler David has a time-space problem – but as a sort of surrogate brother. With his knowledge of the future (unaltered, even though history has been changed), David makes a killing on the stock market. He marries Laura, who is obliged to stay with him in 1963. All is well in the world. It is indeed a time to remember – but a book to forget.

My list of "good" assassination books contains, at position #2, Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers. Conspiracy was first published in 1980 and has been revised and updated several times. Some people love this book. Others do not.

Supposedly, Summers has since declared himself an "agnostic" on the question of conspiracy. That may be one reason why the latest reprint (in 1998) bore a new title, Not In Your Lifetime. This new title is derived from an astonishing remark by Earl Warren in February 1964, when he headed the commission that (informally) bore his name.

In the preface to Not In Your Lifetime, Summers calls it "outrageous" that, as of the mid-1990s, certain government agencies had still not made public all their records relating to the assassination of JFK. "What security-related secret of 1963," Summers asked, "can possibly be justifiably withheld today?"

It fascinates me that this very same question was posed by Theodore Roscoe in 1959, in a book about the Lincoln assassination called Web of Conspiracy.

There are some remarkable parallels to the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. I do not mean the silly stuff, like the oft-cited, "Lincoln's assassin killed him in a theater and ran to a warehouse, while Kennedy's assassin killed him from a warehouse and ran to a theater!" That sort of crap reinforces lone nut mythology.

I refer, instead, to the fact that in both cases, the government moved in after each assassination, embargoed most of the evidence, and buried it.

A final comment: Anthony Summers is decidedly anti-Jim Garrison. Many in this field use Garrison as a sort of litmus test on an author's reliability or integrity. Since Conspiracy and Not In Your Lifetime give great weight to the New Orleans milieu, it seems quite strange to me, if not suspect, that Summers could refer to the Garrison case as a "grotesque, misdirected shambles."

Who Killed Kennedy?, by Thomas G. Buchanan, began as a series of newspaper articles published in l'Express in Paris. Buchanan was an American expatriate. There are two versions of the book; neither, I'd wager, are very easy to find nowadays. It was published first in the UK by Secker & Warburg. Later, it was published in the USA by Putnam.

Each edition came out before the Warren Report.

The material is presented somewhat differently in the two versions. I read the American edition first, because it was lying around the house. (This goes back a couple of eons.) I thought it had a very powerful ending, culminating with the line, "It is not the light that we must fear; it is the darkness."

Imagine my surprise when reading the UK version, I found this climactic sentence moved to the end of the Preface, on page 8!

Some of the other content was juggled around, too.

There are other assassination books worth mentioning, especially for those who might not read anything else on the subject. I think Jim Marrs' Crossfire is a good primer on the subject. So is Stewart Galanor's Cover Up, which is not be be confused with Cover Up by J. Gary Shaw and Larry Harris – also a serviceable primer, if you can find it. Others of note include Henry Hurt's Reasonable Doubt (in spite of an unworthy chapter about a self-proclaimed assassination participant) and JFK: The Book of the Film, by Zachary Sklar and Oliver Stone.