Monday Blues (revisited)

Oh, it’s been awhile. How you doin’?

I’ve been wonderfully busy with family things and work things, both of which seemed to crescendo at right about the same time. Isn’t that how it goes, though? All I had time to get posted it seems was a post on an 80s TV sitcom that I prepped and queued last summer. From the outside looking in you’d think that this was a blog dedicated to nothing but a little baseball and the Facts of Life. Well, it’s enough to leave more than a few of my readers asking: Just what kind of Chicano/Latino/HIspanic are you, anyway?

Well, this kind.

Ray Charles (Florida, 1930-2004) playing “Merry Christmas Baby” in the Monastery Of Ettal, in Germany, 1979.

“The New Girl” (Nov. 19, 1980)

Thirty years ago today one of my all-time favorite shows began its second season with an episode titled “The New Girl.”  The show was The Facts of Life, and the episode introduced the character Jo Polniaczek (played by Nancy McKeon), and was among the more noteworthy in the show’s nine-season run.

The Facts of Life began as a show about a fictional all-girls boarding school in upstate New York, “Eastland Academy.” A spin-off from the NBC hit Different Strokes, the show revolved around the character Edna Garrett in her capacity as a house mother at the school’s dormitory, where a gaggle of girls experienced the trials and tribulations of teenage life.

After the inaugural 1979-80 season, NBC executives and Facts of Life producers agreed to alter the original format of the show, feeling it wasn’t working to its potential.  They eliminated some cast members and changed the basic setting of the action, both moves to free up space and better explore the remaining characters.

The most significant change was the introduction of Joanna Marie Polniaczek, or “Jo”, played by McKeon.  Loosely-based on the Kristy McNichol character in the movie Little Darlings, McKeon’s tough girl was suggested by NBC head Fred Silverman (after he saw McNichol’s performance) and was intended to be a contrast to the affluent and snobbish Blair Warner, played by Lisa Welchel.

The new format of the show, and the gradual improvement of the NBC lineup throughout the decade, meant a new life and new audience for the comedy.  It remained on the air until 1988, following the girls through high school and, eventually, into their own business.

My sister and I watched the first season of “The Facts” and I, many more.  It remained a fixture in our lives through both its run in syndication as well as its consistent place in the NBC Primetime lineup.  Partly out of interest, partly out of familiarity, I watched the show all the way through its final season, up to an including its final episode.  I even watched one of those “Facts of Life” made-for-TV movies that came on later as a reunion venue.

I won’t pretend the show was more important than it was, or even better than it was.  It was fairly popular, but not exceedingly so, remaining a top 30 show for most of its run.  More than anything, it probably benefited from (more than drove) NBC’s strong numbers in the 80s.  It wasn’t an Emmy contender, to be sure, but the actresses who made the show their home weren’t without their merits.  The show should receive some accolades for the topics they addresses in their near-decade run.  The Facts of Life did tackle the major teenage issues of the 80s–drugs and alcohol, abortion, prostitution, date rape, and suicide, to name but a few.  Most of these episodes received some attention in their day and, for young people like me, they left something of a lasting impression.

And maybe the combination of the above it why it remained such a memorable show for me.  I watched these four girls and Mrs. Garret so much, from such a young age, that I felt I knew them.  It was among a set of shows (along with Happy Days and What’s Happening!) that provided me a model of what teenage life was like before I was experiencing it.  That model wasn’t accurate, not by a long shot, but what the hell did I know at 8 years old?  It seemed authentic to my young eyes and, ultimately, entertaining.

I watch a lot of old TV nowadays and The Facts of Life holds up rather well, when you’re watching the early years.  It’s light years better than stuff like Gimme a Break, and (at its best) is probably as good as Night Court or Family Ties (although both of those shows had a lot more quality in their runs).  When it worked, the writers and actresses created moments where the girls were more than just superficial cut-outs of sitcom drivel.  They were human and, at times, even friends.

This episode was, for me, one of those times.  It’s formulaic all over the place, but Nancy McKeon really stands out to me.  It might be nostalgia for the the way she creates one of my favorite TV characters, but I think she had a formidable talent to play Jo as this vulnerable character with a tough exterior (see, formulaic) with these small but purposeful moments of letting you see that vulnerability.  it’s not an easy thing to do, especially while the show itself is undergoing its major format change.

Below is the first part of this episode.  You can watch the rest by visiting the link to YouTube.

Monday Blues

Ladies and Gentlemens, may I present to you the legendary Chicago blues band, The Aces. Founded and led by Dave and Louis Myers, two brothers from Mississippi, the band is perhaps most widely known for having been an early stomping ground for Junior Wells. Here, your eyes and soul will easily see that, even past their prime, this claim to fame is an under-estimation of their greatness.

The Aces!

But I thought you were a Dodgers fan

Since I was a kid, my priorities for a baseball season have been rather simple: I wanted the Dodgers to win the World Series. But I knew such an event was rare, thereby defining it’s value. And so, if it could not be, I wanted the Dodgers to at least win the NCLS, and if they couldn’t do that, to at least win the NL West.

When they failed to achieve even this last of achievements, all hope was not lost. I would still consider it an overall “win” if they would just beat the Giants.

Well, the 2010 Major League Baseball season has come to a close. Not only didn’t the Dodgers achieve any of the titular milestones I covet for them year after year, and not only did they lose 10 of 18 games to the Giants, but the San Francisco Giants have won the 2010 World Series.

And here’s a little secret: I was rooting for them.

Some of my friends might be mystified by such a decision on my part. After all, the rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants is one of the more legendary in sports history, surviving more than 100 years and a move to the West Coast. Any real Dodgers fan is obligated to hate them with every fiber of their being, and I am among the “blue at heart.”

Where did I go wrong?

Well, first of all, I have a history in the Bay Area. I lived there for 8 years of my life, and I have many friends there—many of whom are Giants fans. The San Francisco Bay Area is celebrating tonight, as are many of the people I know and love, and having been there before, I know part of what they are feeling. I can only imagine what it feels like to be part of your city’s “first time” and so I am happy for them, for that, and as a lover of the region, I am happy for the city.

But that’s only part of the story.

When it comes down to it, I am also a National League man. Even though I would have been okay with Texas winning, more of me wants an American League team to lose to a National League team, no matter who the teams are. I even have a connection to Ranger’s infielder Mike Young. He went to my high school. One of my very good friends is very good friends with his wife. I was at the first two games of his professional career, saw his first at bat, and his first hit. Even with all this, I still wanted his Rangers to lose more than I wanted them to win.

One of the other things that excited me was that the San Francisco Giants weren’t the best team in baseball this year. I don’t mean that as a dig, I really don’t. I don’t think the Dodgers were the best team in 1981 or in 1988. But you see, I don’t think the team with the most talent or the most talented players wins every year–or even should.

For me, the beauty of baseball is the intangible spirit of a team. There is a momentum that can build when a group of individuals play bigger than the sum of their parts, when they become a single whole. Not everyone agrees with my view; and certainly, this isn’t always the case. But I always find it enjoyable to watch it when it happens. It’s like proving gravity doesn’t always exist and then taking comfort in the security of knowing the world is as it should be.

All these reasons, though, are still only part of the story. Tonight I am also happy because the rivalry I love so much just got a big boost.

While I am severe in my allegiance to “the rivalry” (I don’t even go to Dodgers vs. Giants games because SF splits the gate with my boys and I will be damned if I’m going to give an of my money to that organization), my sports has never gotten in the way of my friendships. In a way, sports isn’t as much fun without those friends of yours who love the “other guys” as much as you hate them.

And that puts a lot of my feeling tonight into perspective. You see, for most of my life, Dodgers fans have taken a great deal of satisfaction from “the rivalry.” And why not? It’s something we’ve been rather good at. But satisfaction isn’t passion.

When it comes down to it, most of LA doesn’t care as much about the Giants as the folks of the Bay Area care about us. We’ve gotten sloppy in our investment in the rivalry, I think, because it no longer seems like much of a fight.

Partly, this is about numbers. This season’s losses do little to the already robust lead the Dodgers enjoy in the historic totals. The Giants have beaten the Dodgers more times when all of their contests (since 1884 and under various team names) are counted, but in the modern era of the rivalry (since the move West in 1958), the Dodgers come out on top with 478 wins and 449 losses against SF.

The Dodgers also dominate the rivalry on a season-by-season basis. From the 1958 season to the present, the Dodgers have won 25 seasons worth of match-ups with the Giants (SF took 17 and 11 have been tied).

Most importantly, the Dodgers have always had the greatest of advantages over the Giants: we’ve won World Series titles. While we have won 5 World Championships, until tonight, the Giants had won none. As a matter of fact, with 9 NL Championships since moving to LA, the Dodgers had lost more World Series than the Giants had even been in (again, before this year).

This might seem like a sore loser searching for a silver lining, but it’s not. I really view this as a historian first, and I describe the numbers we know so well as fans to mark the context within which tonight’s events unfold for me. A real rivalry can only exist when the two parties are around equal. Otherwise, at some point it becomes a condition where one team really, really cares and the other doesn’t give a shit because they’ve been excelling against their opponent for so long they can hardly remember feeling the other way. (Think Dodgers and Yankees.)

I don’t think the Dodgers and Giants rivalry was at that particular point, but it has been heading that way for a long time. It’s not anymore.

So, I am genuinely happy for the Giants. Their World Championship this year means a lot for them. It means a lot for their fans and for their city. Tonight I am happy for Steven, Jason, Ernie, Charlie, Michael, and all the rest of you.

But, as a Dodgers fan, your victory means something to me, too. It means an infusion of new energy and passion into something that helps define my love of sports, something I love deeply.

So congratulations to the SF Giants–the 2010 World Series Champions! I look forward to next year…and many more after that.

A Letter to the Overachieving Student

Dear Student,

Thank you for your inquiry. While I am not “frantically preparing” for the registration period (which doesn’t begin for another 3 weeks) I, too, am looking forward to next semester.

I’m sorry to say, however, that I do not have the syllabus for my spring class ready to share with you to help make your decision-making process “a little easier.”

I do wish you the best and hope to see you in spring.


A professor who cares about teaching too much to use the same old recycled syllabus over and over again without changing it AND who is appropriately busy focusing on life and work right now to be occupied with doing much related to three months from now.