Cam Newton’s moment of horror

I believe there’s a moment in almost everyone’s life when they commit an act of cowardice. No one may notice it, but it lives within you forever. I know it has for me. And I’m ashamed of myself every time I think of it.  That’s why I have sympathy for Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers quarterback, who seemed to show fear in not diving for his fumbled pass attempt late in Super Bowl 50.

I wonder if that is why he was so sullen and silent in the post-game media session. Perhaps he was waiting for someone to ask him about that moment for which he had no answer and may have had to lie.  He could have said, “I thought it was an incomplete pass, not a fumble.”  Yes, he could have said that.

That moment there on the football field late in the fourth quarter was so out of character for Newton’s cocky demeanor that it would be doubly humiliating to confront reporters after the game.  Many of those reporters, he knew, probably did not like him and wished him the worst.  Some of that dislike was provoked by the quarterback’s seemingly sky-high views of himself.  Some of it was racist.  Reporters, no different than American society, are at odds with blacks who show-boat while accepting in their white counterparts.

Like Newton’s moment of fear, mine occurred on a football field when I was 18. The fear came upon me so suddenly that I was unprepared. I can not explain why it happened. It just did. No one ever mentiioned the incident to me. Maybe no one saw it for what it was. So it has gone as a dirty little secret all these years.

The difference for Newton of course was quite different.

NFL players are not to show fear. It is an unwritten rule of the game.  They must appear above all towers of physical and emotion strength.  It is the image the NFL likes.  To appear human is the antithesis of everything NFL.  

And of course while only a few hundred witnessed my dreary moment in a long-forgotten high school game, millions saw Newton’s so-called disgrace on television.  And the CBS analyst covering the game, Phil Simms, mentioned it for what it was to most of us viewers:  Newton was afraid to risk his body for what could have been a game changing moment.

If you really look at Newton’s demeanor in the post-game interview, it was not that of a fierce warrior crushed by defeat on his sport’s biggest stage.  What I saw was a little boy, pulling a hoody around his torment and sinking into the blackness of a reality that may scar him a long time.

It is a hard thing to get over, that moment, when the doubts that long have existed in you seem to prove utterly true. Will we ever see again the hot-dogging, fun-loving Cam Newton so visible before Super Bowl 50?


Deadbeat moms

Arizona’s right-wing governor is making political hay on his approach to dealing with so-called deadbeat dads.  These “deadbeats” are men who are so evil they will not pay court-ordered child support.  The governor plans to  shame them by publishing their names on social media along with amounts owed. He created a Twitter hash tag, #deadbeats,” to serve his cause.

I do not mention the governor’s name because I see this maneuver as a shameful attempt to further his national  political ambitions.  He has picked an easy target.  Who has a kind word, or even a nod of understanding, when it comes to the deadbeat dad?  If the governor could run on that issue alone, he would no doubt receive and ungodly percentage of the vote for president of the U.S.

We Americans are great at stereotypes.  Deadbeat dads are all the same in our eyes.  They are routinely called losers, scofflaws and worse.  But, really, what is worse?  A father who fails to pay money so his former partner can  ostensibly raise his child or a mother who takes child-support money and spends it helter-skelter on anything she so chooses.

It is a rotten system.

Mothers, particularly after they remarry, should be held accountable for how child-support dollars are spent. If you are a “deadbeat dad,” nothing galls more than the idea of subsidizing a deadbeat step-father. And then to think the child, in some instances, assumes the stepfather’s surname without legal adoption.  The mother’s new family may see good reason in that.  Doing the right thing, adopting a young child, would perhaps legally cut off or lessen income for his family.   In some cases, the new father-figure may resent his step-child and make demands on the child’s money.

The thing is this.  We don’t know if the child receives any part of the mandated payments.

Accountability and fairness, all the way around, just not on the father’s part, should be the rule of the land.  As it stands now, the law assumes it is the man’s fault a marriage fails and he alone should be penalized for it.

There are deadbeat moms too.


Understanding Jimmy

Reluctantly, I came late in the day to the 2001 television film, “James Dean,” sensing James Franco’s portrayal of the great actor could not possibly live up to the real thing.  While I was right on that score, two historical questions kept me engaged last night as I watched for the first time director Mark Rydell’s hollow interpretation of Dean’s life.

The first question:  What was Dean’s sexuality?  Was he gay?  Or was he straight or somewhere in between?

The second:  Why was Dean’s relationship with his father so strained and what effect did it have on his life and acting career?

For the record, Dean died at age 24 in a car crash on September 30, 1955, near Cholame, CA, after rocketing to fame with only three films under his belt:  “East of Eden”, “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant.”  His legend lives on still 59 years later.  He would have been 83 years old now.

Dean’s sexuality has long been in question.  Just two years ago,  the best-done of the Dean bio films, “Joshua Tree, 1951,” portrayed the actor as gay.  Although it is of no importance to me other than in a historical sense, I was eager to see the take given to the subject in “James Dean” by director Rydell and writer Israel Horowitz.

Two scenes stand out.

One occurs at a bar.  Dean and fellow-actor Martin Landau are having drinks.  Both are unemployed.  A “producer” approaches Dean about a TV role and invites him to a party that night.  “Come late,” Dean is told.  Landau rolls his eyes and tells Dean the guy is gay and infers the invite is a “casting couch,”  sex for possible career favors.  Dean knows this but goes to the party anyway.  He is seen entering the gay man’s apartment.   From what we see, it is an all-male party.  End of scene.  We are left to decide what happens, but Dean’s career soon takes off.

The second scene shows Dean having sex with the so-called love of his life, the actress Pier Angeli, at his seaside home near Los Angeles.  To my mind the sex scene was a heavy-handed attempt to make Dean appear heterosexual above all.  Nowhere else in “James Dean” did the actor seem to have sexual interest in women.  Certainly not with his friend, the actress Christine White.

The film’s verdict:  Dean was perhaps bi-sexual, having male relationships when his career and huge ambitions came to bear.  But primarily he was heterosexual.  Ho-hum.

That said, the primary aim of “James Dean” is to imagine what caused the rift between Dean and his father, Winton, and later repercussions.

The actor is envisioned as angry and confused about his paternal relationship.  In a flashback to his childhood, Dean’s search for love is  rejected by his father time and again.  And later, in Freudian moments, Dean is seen attempting to kiss men.  In an improvised scene in “East of Eden,” Dean attempts to plant one on the startled actor Raymond Massey, who plays the father who rebuffs him.  And at the end of a serious discussion with studio boss Jack Warner, Dean lands a kiss on the forehead.  Rydell sees the father-son ordeal as central to Dean’s core.   It is what makes him tick.  It is what makes him the actor he was.

Throughout the film Dean is rejected by his father.  But, shortly before the finale, the car-crash scene that ended the actor’s life, Dean and Winton reconcile in a teary, over-wrought scene.  The father reveals the cause of his frigid feelings for his son this way:

Dean’s beloved mother had an affair and unbeknownst to Winton was pregnant when he married her.  Winton had his suspicions Dean was not really his son, and he could not come to grips with the lie.  Later, on her deathbed when Dean was 9, the wife confessed to her husband. This scene was not based on fact, but only offers Rydell’s view of what probably happened.

But I can think of another, that Winton possibly saw his son as a budding homosexual and was repelled by the thought.  After all, this was conservative, Christian-right Indiana shortly before World War II.

In any case, the film does little to give a new understanding of the actor’s life.  It is by and large the same old stuff.

The mystery of James Dean’s personal life lives on.















The lesson of a lost trekking pole

Sometimes I forget the goodness in people, and something as small as a lost trekking pole reminded me of that a few days ago.

I had left the pole at Moeur Park in Tempe after a hike.   It was near sunset, and I was hungry and in haste left it at the curb where I had changed back into sneakers.  At home that night in Phoenix, I realized the pole was gone.  Hopelessly gone, I thought.

The trekking pole back at home.

The trekking pole back at home.

This was not just any old trekking pole.  It held great sentimental value.

I had purchased a pair of matching poles at a boutique in Grindelwald, Switzerland, more than a year ago.  I gave one to Nebra and kept the other for myself.  My pole traveled with me on almost every hike since then.  Under the “Wall of Death,” the Eiger’s sheer North Face in the Alps.  Up and down three peaks in the Adirondacks last summer.  In the mountains and along canals, washes and trails here in Arizona.

I even used this dinged-up green pole with “Grindelwald” written down its length on walks through our neighborhood in Phoenix.  Just in case I came across a grumpy canine.

The pole is carried in my right hand, balanced and parallel to the ground, swinging naturally back and forth to the rhythm of my footsteps. Only occasionally do I jam its reliable point into terra firma, usually while descending steep slopes with loose rock.  The pole has saved me numerous times from a nasty fall.   I feel naked without it anymore.  It’s strange how stuff grows on you.

So, on the following day, the 12th, I planned to return to Moeur Park with sinking hopes of finding my companion.  It was about that time that “good people” began popping up.

It started with this.  While I moped around, Nebra made an early morning call, unknown by me, to Tempe Parks.  She left a message:  Has anyone turned in a lost trekking pole?

The message eventually reached a woman named Denise Brewer, who has the title of  Public Works Supervisor for Field Operations at Tempe Park Services.  Denise, in short order, hopped on her bicycle and pedaled from her office to Moeur Park, a distance I later calculated via Google Maps as 1.6 miles. She found the pole leaned up against a bicycle rack and whisked it back to her office.  Then she called Nebra who called me.  Within an hour I had the pole in grasp again.

Denise would not accept my offer of a reward.  She was going to the park anyway as part of her job.  She said.  Whatever, I believe Ms. Brewer went beyond her job description on this one, and I am grateful more than I can express.

Not forgotten is the anonymous soul who plucked the trekking pole from the parking lot and placed it in a conspicuous spot.

Angels follow me around sometimes.

NOTE OF DISCLOSURE:  In a way “Long Row” is plagiarizing.  A person using the handle of “black toes” posted a very similar piece yesterday on a hiking website.  I trust “Long Row” and “black toes” will not go to war over the issue since they are one and the same person.

Slow-burn on the Interstate

A line of "cheaters" try to merge on the right.

A line of “cheaters” try to merge on the right.

Nothing burns me more than inconsiderate drivers on the highway or city streets.  This anger is something I have to watch.  It could quickly turn into road rage.

An example.

Last weekend while sailing homeward on I-17, traffic suddenly slowed dramatically.  From 80 mph,  I down-shifted the Civic into second and then first gear, stopping and going, top speed about 5 mph.  It was the clearest portrait imaginable for “inching along.”  Vehicles backed-up for miles.  I figured a bad accident had occurred.

This happened at a point just above Black Canyon City where no escape routes exist.  Mountains and desert on the right and left.  No place to turn around.  No exits that lead anywhere in particular.  Certainly not toward Phoenix.  Or so I thought.

This pace that only a snail could appreciate went on for about 30 minutes.  It was about then I noticed many vehicles starting to take the Rock Springs exit.   This exit leads into a small business district, past the popular Rock Springs Cafe, and then back out onto I-17.

It soon became obvious what these drivers were trying to do.  They had no intention of stopping at the cafe for one of its “world-famous pies.”  These cheaters were trying to bypass the rest of us, trying to save five or ten minutes of wait time, and jump back on the Interstate a mile down the road.   It was bad enough to see a car come down the  shoulder on my right and jump in front of me.  It was bad enough that two men on motorcycles also passed on the right and motored up to the front of the line, wherever that was.

This third line of traffic coming in from Rock Springs, now merging in front of me, slowed those in the right lane even more.  Infuriated, I did what any normal person would do.  I hugged the bumper of the car in front of me, refusing to let even more of these jerks get in front of me.  It was so satisfying to close out a car with its left turn signal on as if begging to be let in line.

I never discovered what caused the hold-up.   If it was a car accident, then it had long been cleared.  A Highway Patrol car with lights ablaze and some men working beside the road were the only clues.  I do know I lost about 45 minutes in reaching Phoenix.  No big deal.

All of  this anguish made me reflect on America.  Maybe such inconsiderate road behavior runs world-wide.  But, really, what kind of people are these drivers who think their time is more valuable than mine, who think I am a sap to be considerate?

I have no real answer.  But I firmly believe it is the great divide in America right now.  Those watching out for only  themselves, those who see life as a rat race with nothing but winners and losers, incapable of stepping into the shoes of others, that,  versus those who believe in teamwork and cooperation, that, really, we are all in this together.

The eternal battle.  Conservatives and liberals.

A sad farewell to the trumpet

I wanted to play the trumpet as a boy.   I was reminded of that a few nights ago while watching the film “Chinatown” for the umpteenth time.  The rich, melancholy sounds of Uan Rasey’s trumpet dot the soundtrack and capture the film’s essence, Los Angeles noir, to a tee.

It’s unclear when I first fell in love with the brassy sounds of the trumpet.  I suspect it was a 40s film toward the end of the Big Band era but really I do not know.

I was in fourth or fifth grade when the music instructor, Mr. Christopher, began meeting with parents, urging them to buy instruments for their children so the school would have a decent band by the time they reached high school.

My choice was the trumpet, or the similar cornet.   Making the choice easier was the fact my two best friends had signed up for the trumpet.  But to my great disappointment, Mr. Christopher, told my parents I didn’t have “the lip” to play trumpet and suggested the clarinet whose softer often squawky sounds marked it in my mind as an instrument for girls.  I didn’t like anything about the clarinet but in the end, wanting to please my parents, I capitulated.

I see now that I was probably the victim of a numbers game, that Mr. Christopher was less worried about my lip and personal desire than he was in having X number of clarinets to go with Y number o trumpets and cornets.

When I finally got old enough to start thinking for myself and making a limited number of decisions, I dropped the clarinet and gave up entirely on the music game.  I liked to listen to music.  I just didn’t want to play it.

Looking back, I wonder what might have happened had I been allowed to experiment with the musical instruent I admired.  Parents make a mistake when they force certain musical instruments on their children to please a band instructor.  Such decisions, I’m sure,  always turn out bad.

And people wonder why their children grow up frustrated just like they did.  It’s bad parenting.

A tornado and blissful disregard

Why were there no “safe rooms” at the Moore, Oklahoma, schools on Monday when a giant tornado roared through killing at least seven children at Tower Plaza School?  I did not need the New York Times to tell me the answer.   Cost and, most of all, powerful anti-government attitudes.

I can understand why some do not want big government to mandate what is done with individual homes although we all submit to government electrical and building codes without a flinch.  But to ignore safety in public buildings, particularly in our schools where young children can be trapped like sardines in a can as a storm approaches, well, that’s too much.

Shame on state leaders who reject protecting children because of their ideological beliefs.   Bite your beliefs, spend the money for the kids.

Again, what’s the value of a young life?