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Posts Tagged ‘1972’

With unrepentant and oddly zombie-ish expressions, the two young lovers (or the two young actors hired to portray lovers) sit on the coffee table at 1107 Hope Street, as uncomfortably as if they were there in person.

They are here — like others in their space, before and after them — to tell the straitlaced elders of the Blumenau family about a problem they didn’t know they were supposed to be concerned about.

From the other side of the generation gap they stare, their blank faces promising little in the way of explanation or enlightenment.

But they must have something to tell the world:

They’re on the cover of Time.

August 21, 1972.

August 21, 1972. The young man, in particular, looks like Scorpio Murtlock.

On some levels, there is nothing about the August 21, 1972, cover of Time to set it apart from hundreds of other red-bordered covers from the same time period. I’m shamelessly using it because it’s attention-getting.

(Which, I imagine, is the reason Time created it in the first place.)

But on other levels, it makes a fine launching pad for a consideration of my grandfather’s relationship to mass media in general, and America’s largest news magazine in particular.

I’ve mentioned a few times that my grandpa worked as a draftsman at Time-Life in Stamford for many years.

He didn’t have any connection with the editorial side of the business; it wasn’t his job to rush off to Haiphong or Paris or Milwaukee on Henry Luce’s behalf to take the world’s ever-changing pulse.

Still, he was a faithful reader of the magazine. In fact, he held a lifetime subscription, courtesy of his longtime connection to the company.

(Time-Life arbitrarily canceled his “lifetime” subscription in the final year or two of his life, which was a rich source of black humor for a couple of weeks there.)

His grandson, in contrast, does not read the slimmed-down, dumbed-up mag that passes for Time these days.

For one thing, I have a very limited tolerance for Joel Stein. For another, I’ve discovered The Economist, which seems considerably more informative, comprehensive and adult than today’s Time.

And for a third, big trend stories — like “Sex & The Teenager” — tend to draw out my BS antennae. I rarely get very far into one before I start mentally punching jagged holes in the research, supporting evidence and conclusions.

It makes me wonder what attitude my grandpa took when he sat down to read stories like that in his latest copy of Time.

I think my grandpa trusted authority more than I do, and if an institution like Time magazine told him something, his default setting was to believe it — especially if he had no firsthand evidence to the contrary.

(There were no teenagers, sexy or otherwise, at 1107 Hope Street in the summer of 1972.)

But, he was not a stupid or credulous person. He had the analytical mind of an engineer, a tinkerer and a shade-tree mechanic, and I have to imagine he turned it to things beyond the merely mechanical.

When he sat down to stories like “Sex & The Teenager,” I wonder if he asked himself some of the base-level questions every consumer of mass media should ask themselves:

Who is telling me this?

Why are they telling me this?

What is their interest in telling me this?

How much of their evidence is one-off anecdotal, as compared to systematic study?

Do they answer opposing arguments with substance, or do they shrug them off?

Are they trying to influence me about the story’s importance through play and space? Is this subject truly as important — to me, and to society — as the story’s prominence would indicate?

And so on.

(Unfortunately, past cover stories from Time are only available to subscribers, so I can’t apply these questions to my own critical read of “Sex & The Teenager.” It might have been a decent story, for all I know … though I doubt it, kinda.)

The proper approach to mass media was just another of a million topics I never really covered with my grandfather.

So I can’t muster an honest guess on how he responded to lusty teenagers, or campaign finance, or the rise of skiing, or the troubled state of the Jesuits, or the bucolic joys of Minnesota, or any one of thousands of stories his favorite news magazine fed him over the years.

Perhaps he swallowed them all whole and unquestioned.

But I’m sure he read them with a decent degree of attention and concentration, anyway, which is a necessary prerequisite for critical thinking.

So I’ll leave him sitting in a comfortable chair in the front room … with the sound of traffic on Hope Street buzzing everpresent through the open window on a humid late-summer evening … furrowing his brow a little bit as he gets the word about Sex & The Teenager.

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We all know what happens to a dream deferred — or what might happen to it, anyway.

This week, we’ll use up some words (it’s cool, they’re free) asking the same question about dreams that get abandoned.

What happens to a wedding anniversary after the divorce?

It’s supposed to be a date dearer to us than any other, except for children’s birthdays. We put effort into rendering it indelible.

And then, the change comes.

Perhaps an uncelebrated anniversary chafes and stings its principals all day. Or maybe it only raises its head once or twice, a minor irritant, like a cough stuck in the gullet or a passing cloudstorm.

Perhaps, given enough time and will, it disappears entirely.

I imagine there are always reminders, though. Too many pictures get taken, and too many words get put on paper, to ever be fully excised.

June 19, 1972.

June 19, 1972. The Mets get one-hit.

This is the second straight week I’ve mentioned my cousin Bob, and the second straight week I’ve mentioned his (long-ago) divorce.

I don’t think he reads this; but if he does, I assure him it’s coincidental and not personal.

I was trolling the archives for blog-fodder, and this old mention of his anniversary brought to mind thoughts of faded dreams, frustration and resignation.

Not his faded dreams, specifically — I don’t know them, and I wouldn’t repeat them to the world if I did.

I’m thinking more generally of the hopesĀ  of millions of people who pledged their futures together and then, for any combination of reasons, turned away again.

Think of all those unopened (maybe even trashed) wedding albums, and all those promises, and all those shared memories that seem in retrospect like they couldn’t possibly have been that happy.

(Think, too, that walking away from each other is in some cases the correct decision. The intent of this is not to lecture those whose dreams change course on them, but to ponder what the old ones mean after they run out of steam.)

I am no authority on divorce, and neither were the Blumenaus of Hope Street (married almost 60 years) or their children (each past 40 years).

But an uncounted number of Americans — hundreds? thousands? — will, at some point today, remember what this day was supposed to mean to them.

Everything put together falls apart, as the song says. There is no single answer to how we all learn the lesson, or what it means to each of us after we do.

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Last week, the mayor of Stamford and the U.S. Representative representing the city made a cameo appearance.

This week, we’re going to circle back to a prominent public figure of a different sort who showed up on my grandpa’s calendar:

September 1972.

September 1972. Please don’t call the number; God only knows what it connects to these days.

Don Russell, born Rustici, got in on the ground floor of television in the 1940s and seemed poised to make a big-time career of it.

He worked for the DuMont network, served as Jackie Gleason’s on-camera announcer, and anchored the first national broadcast of a presidential inauguration in 1953. He hosted early TV news programs in New York, and produced broadcasts of the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.

But, having made his mark on a larger stage, Russell apparently decided he preferred the comforts of home. For the last few decades of his professional life, Russell split his time between WSTC-AM — Stamford’s local AM radio station — and the local daily paper, the Stamford Advocate, where he wrote a column about current and historic local events.

It strikes me that — with the decline in newspapers and local radio — the likes of Don Russell may be on their way out. The local media celebrity may be an endangered species.

On the other hand, the media outlets I worked for in the ’90s and 2000s were eager to create their own local celebrities, crafting ads that promoted reporters who had no deep ties to the local area and were likely to be gone in two years’ time.

(I worked for one such chain of papers in Massachusetts in the Nineties. I left the chain just as it was about to promote me; but I know it advertised others whose attachment to the company was just as short-lived.)

Perhaps the issue is not that Don Russells do not happen any more, but that they do not happen organically.

You can’t really fake a connection to a community, nor can you douse it with Miracle-Gro and hope it develops overnight.

“He loved this city like few people have, and while he was not afraid to criticize it, he always looked for the best in Stamford, throughout its history, up into our time of momentous change,” Stamford Advocate editorial page editor Tom Mellana is quoted in Russell’s obit (linked above).

Every city needs a Don Russell to tell its stories. And while Russell’s coverage probably seemed provincial at the time, it probably looks deeply informed and sincere by comparison to whatever passes for commentary these days.

I have no way to know what my grandpa called Don Russell about. Perhaps the great man did a news item about one of my grandpa’s local art exhibitions. Or maybe he wrote a scathing column about dirty water in the Springdale neighborhood, using my grandpa as a source.

Either way, I give Russell credit for knowing who Bill Blumenau was. A truly top-class local columnist or reporter can’t just rely on their own experience. They have to have a network of townies willing to pass on the scoop from their neighborhoods.

The truly great local reporters have to have an amicable relationship with City Hall, but must also be able to rip open its poses and bluffs using the word of real people. If my grandpa was one of those real people, it’s a credit to Don Russell that my grandpa felt he could pass along information and get results.

Don Russell died in 2010, nine years after my grandfather. The old WSTC disappeared a year later, when the station was sold to a nonprofit organization broadcasting National Public Radio programming.

I have no idea what means a Stamford resident might use nowadays to get publicity for a local story. They probably have to call some twentysomething reporter who’s already busy covering three events at once.

Good luck to them both.

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There are a bunch of weighty subjects I never had the opportunity to discuss with my grandpa, just because they didn’t come up in the normal course of a grandfather-grandson relationship.

And I never asked about them, ’cause I never thought I’d find myself 40 years old, sitting rye-soaked in front of a computer screen, wondering what my grandpa thought on such-and-such subject.

One of those subjects, I suppose, is homosexuality.

I imagine that my grandfather was the product of an era when LGBT recognition was not what it is today, and we are all, for better or worse, the product of the times when we grew up.

The typical social attitude toward gays and lesbians was none too progressive even in the ’80s and early ’90s, when I was growing up. I still remember the popular schoolyard game “Kill the Carrier,” which was commonly known in my schoolyard by its alternate name, “Smear the Queer.” My children claim not to recognize the name “Kill the Carrier,” which gives me hope that they do not know its homophobic cousin.

If I did not grow up in bastions of acceptance, I suspect my grandpa’s attitude toward gays and lesbians was even less enlightened. Again, I’d like to think that he was open-minded enough at his core, but that he was simply touched by the world in which he grew up.

It’s never easy to confront the potential biases of your ancestors.

I’ve written in other forums about my Great-Uncle Jimmy, who served on the Detroit police at the time of the 1967 riots. I’ve read that those riots were caused, in part, by the chronic abuse of Detroit’s black community by the city’s police force.

So where does that leave my Great-Uncle Jimmy (a sunny, amiable, fair-minded sort, by all family accounts)? Did he look on and say nothing while his colleagues wielded their swagger sticks?

Was he blind that day?

All of this reflection comes about as a result of a calendar item in which my grandpa’s path crossed that of a prominent person who was homosexual — or, more accurately, bisexual.

October 10, 1972.

October 10, 1972.

Stamford Mayor Julius Wilensky has already made one or two appearances on this blog.

The new arrival is U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney, who represented Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District from January 1971 until his death in May 1987 from complications of AIDS.

At the time of McKinney’s death, his physician (according to Wiki) suggested he had contracted AIDS as a result of a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery.

Two days later, the New York Times reported that McKinney had taken part in homosexual encounters, while downplaying the chances of his having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion.

McKinney didn’t come out during his lifetime. But I imagine that rumors about him almost certainly circulated, as they always do about people who don’t seem to follow social norms to the letter. (McKinney was married with children, so perhaps he was not talked about. But, like I said, rumors do tend to spread.)

I wonder whether my grandpa gave two thoughts to the gay Congressman, or whether he simply queued up for a handshake with all the other congregants afterward.

I know what I’d like to think, but reality might have been different.

Conveniently, there is no historical record.

So I will assume the best; and forget the ensuing decades of social contempt and stigma; and go to bed content in the thought that my grandpa treated everyone the same way, and that he managed — in the language of later generations — to be straight, but not narrow.

I may be lying to myself.

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Another trip through the warmth.

Another season of growth and wonder.

Another graceful, spiraling dance ending in forgotten stillness.

Am I writing about the lifespan of a leaf?

Maybe.

September 22, 1972.

September 22, 1972. I do not exist yet, but I will in roughly two weeks.

I am reaching for new things to say about autumn but it all feels like cliche.

Life, death, the onslaught of cold, the encroachment of darkness, the crispness in the air, the last brilliant flames of foliage — you don’t need me to lead you through the drill.

My grandpa has more nuance to offer on the subject than I do.

Look at the shading on his leaf, and the pattern it traces through the air. Another instance where a picture is worth a thousand words.

Look also at the equinoctial temperature that complicated year — a high of 78, and a quite temperate low of 60. Short-sleeve weather, not flannel.

Another reminder that life is not as clear-cut as we sometimes make it, and that the calendar doesn’t really get the final say. When does summer really end and fall begin? How about youth and middle age? Middle age and old?

(David Crosby, who was in some position to know, once suggested that what people thought of as “the Sixties” actually lasted from 1965 to 1975. I’m not sure what Crosby was doing in September 1972, but I bet it was potent.)

A more complicated subject than it seems, autumn … and I am coming up blank trying to find interesting things to say about its arrival.

I look forward to inhaling its essence for the next couple of months, anyway.

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