Sunday, June 25, 2017

Everything old is new again

Because it was raining and I was being held prisoner in my den, I had no choice but to lay back and surf through the 1,102 channels on my television.

I did that for a moment or two until an old back-and-white flick caught my eye. It was on Turner Classic Movies and the picture that stopped me dead in my remote was "Flying Down to Rio," a 2.5-star Hollywood musical probably most noted for the first on-screen pairing ever of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

It was made in 1933. I'd never seen it before.

What actually stopped me was the repartee in the dialogue between grown men and women. A lot of it was stilted, as you might expect. But a lot of it was pretty racy, too. Suggestive. Wiggle your eyebrows stuff. Wow stuff. Wink, wink stuff. More than you might think for the era.

But that was incidental. I mean, there are Marx Brothers flix just as suggestive. I was actually here for the dance numbers.

The movie is about a band leader (not Astaire, thankfully), who also happens to be a pilot and who keeps losing gigs because of his questionable flirtatious behavior. You know, like dancing with the women he lusts for when he should be leading the band (in one scene, he hands his baton to Astaire, who is the band's accordion player, to finish conducting the tune while eyeing a patron).

Anyway, to make an impossible story short, the band gets a gig in Rio and the pilot/band leader flies ahead of his band down to Brazil in his two-seater with the latest object of his desire, who needs a lift to Rio as well. Convenient to the plot.

 Never mind. What caught my attention here was the airplane. It's a 1930 Monocoupe 90, according to IMDb. Impressive. Especially considering this was state-of-the-art aviation just three years after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and only 27 years after the Wright Brothers. Oh, yeah. The plane comes equipped with a little piano behind the pilot's seat so the band leader can compose songs while in flight. OK. Sure. I'll bite.

The nightclub dance scene, which lasts forever, occurs in Rio. People are doing something called the Carioca, which requires some quick-step dancing with a man's hands placed occasionally on the woman's hips perilously close — if not actually close — to sizzle. They also mostly dance with forehead touching forehead, which requires eye contact and therefore the even more passing of suggestive messages of intent (One guy gets his face slapped while dancing and he didn't even say a word).

It is Rio, you know.

Look, I don't consider myself to be a prude, but I think my mouth was hanging open by now. Kind of like, "This is the 1930s? This is what my grandparents did?" I guess this is how you got through The Great Depression.

And Astaire and Rogers hadn't even shown up yet. When they finally did, it was without the suggestive stuff, but loaded with the incredible stuff: leaping; twirling; flying. All I could think about was the supposed quote from Ginger Rogers later in her life in which she pointed out that she had to dance every step that Astaire did, only she had to do it backwards and in high heels. True enough, I guess.

I later read that Astaire said that after Rio, he wouldn't mind making another film with Rogers (they would do nine more movies together), just as long as they weren't considered to be a team. Sheesh. Men never seem to know what's good for them, especially when a woman is involved. But I guess it worked out.

It gets better. During one dance number, the film suddenly flips through scenes in one-second bursts like flipping through a deck of cards. Whaaa? Maybe is was just inventive film editing, I don't know. I didn't watch the movie from start to finish.

So apparently, there's some movie magic that I missed. IMDb tells me there are scenes of chorus girls doing wing-walking on a high-flying fleet of airplanes, and many are wearing see-through garments, thus giving us some added definition to the term "special effects." Whaa? Turns out, 1933 was before the censoring Hays Code went into effect. No ratings. You could take your kids to see a Rogers and Astaire musical and end up seeing more burlesque than you ever bargained for. Oh, the humanity...

They sure don't make movies like that anymore.

Well, enough got to be enough. After about a half hour of this, the fantasy was just too much for me. I needed an anchor. I had to get back to the real world. You know. The one with the latest presidential tweets...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Cooling it

We had to do something, and fast.

It was already getting unbearably hot, and it was still spring. A couple of days in the 90s, with the corresponding humidity to go with it.

Our little A/C unit just couldn't keep up...
So about two months ago, we started collecting estimates for a new cooling system. Our little Ruud central air unit, already about 10 years old when we bought our house about 13 years ago, was on its last legs.

In fact, last summer, when we had about a month of consecutive 100-degree days, the little unit simply couldn't keep up. We called a repair service, who put in a new condenser. That got us through the rest of the summer, but just barely. Even when the unit was running, it still got to be 84 degrees inside the house.

So we gainfully employed four of our six ceiling fans and one 30-year-old portable oscillating fan to good use. We used that strategy again this spring when the little Ruud finally said "Enough" and stopped pushing cold air.

We ended up with four estimates, ranging from four figures to five figures. If that sounds a bit wide ranging, keep in mind that we live in a house that will be 100 years old in a few years. There is no duct work to the second floor, which is cooled by two bedroom window units and heated by electric baseboards.

...The new unit is huge, but quite efficient.
 We considered ductless units for the upstairs, but anything we opted for would have required messing with 100-year-old plaster walls, and none of our potential contractors were really excited about that prospect. Neither were we.

So for the time being, we opted to keep the upstairs bedrooms as is. If you should happen to stay overnight with us, bring a heavy blanket in the winter or sleep au natural in the summer. Sorry, that's just how it is.

Anyway, after a couple weeks of agonizing, we decided to go with something called a gas pack. This is a combination heating and cooling system, which made sense to us. It brought us into the 21st century. Our neighbor had his gas pack installed about two years ago, forcing me to keep up with Jones's (so to speak). Even better, it meant I no longer had to navigate through the crawl space under my house, on my hands and knees, to change the furnace filter. I hated that job. I imagined snakes and cockroaches lingering everywhere.

No more. With a gas pack, I can change the filter outside.

The outfit we selected to install the unit (David Kinley's Services) was very professional. They tore out the old furnace and put in the new unit in two days. Just in time for the hot weather.

I was surprised when I cut on the unit for the first time. It was quiet. And, apparently, efficient. The first floor actually got cool, within minutes, it seemed. I ended up setting the thermostat at 74, and could probably get away with 75, which is amazing to me. Sometimes, we had the old unit set at 68 in an effort to stay cool.

It is big and a little ungainly. It looks like it could be used for commercial use. But we have it hidden — somewhat — amidst our hydrangeas.

It's all good now. I'm happy. I'm excited. And I'm soooo incredibly cool.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Gary Whitman

Maybe it was because we were both from Pennsylvania. I don't know for sure.

But I always got along with Gary Whitman.

Not many sports writers could say that. During his first tenure as Lexington's football coach — the one from 1981-88 in which he won consecutive state champions (1985 and 1986), an era that still rings loudly in the Yellow Jacket timeline — Whitman had something of a reputation as a dead-aim straight shooter who could aggravate sports writers at will. Curt. To the point. Suffered no fools.

I was a sports writer for The Dispatch then, primarily covering the teams in Davidson County, so I had little contact with the city schools.

That is, until I became sports editor in the 1990s. Until Whitman came back to Lexington in 2004. Then I had to deal with him directly.

I was a little apprehensive of him at first, not only because of his reputation as a no-nonsense guy, but also with how he dealt with the media.

Turned out, I had nothing to worry about. We got along just fine. Every Wednesday during football season, I'd go to his office in the field house to get an advance story on the upcoming Friday night opponent. But before we'd get into any particulars, we'd simply shoot the breeze. Sometimes he'd offer me a Coke or Pepsi, and we'd talk about Pennsylvania. The Phillies. The Pirates. The Steelers. The Eagles. Tastykakes.

He was from Lock Haven, in the sparsely populated central part of the state above Harrisburg. I was from Allentown, smack dab in the corridor between New York and Philadelphia. There was six years difference in our ages. All of which means nothing.

So the Gary Whitman I knew, the one I had to work with, was cordial. Mellow. I even wrote a column in 2003 about that seeming personality change that nobody quite could put a finger on. Looking back, I'm thinking by then he'd already accomplished things he didn't need to prove anymore. He collected a third state championship with nearby High Point Central. On top of that, as Lexington's tennis coach through the years, he won state titles in 1986, 1987 and 1991. Plus, he was a little older. Age is almost always a mellowing factor.

What more was there?

I enjoyed my time with him. I never played organized football, so he occasionally explained to me some of the nuances of the game. Once in a while he'd show me game film, to show me some technique, to see what went wrong, or what went right. Those were eye-openers for me. I still try to look for those things when I watch games on TV.

He was 80-22 in his first tenure at Lexington, and 26-34 his second time around. He ended up with an overall record of 292-141-1 in a 44-year career with seven different schools.

When I heard the other day that he had died, at the age of 72, I was saddened. He was a helluva coach. He was a contemporary. And he was a friend.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Yeah, baby!

Back in February, back when all the pieces of the annual jigsaw puzzle were on the table waiting to be assembled, I wonder if anybody had an inkling that North Davidson's fabled softball program had another 4-A state championship in it.

The Knights won their only state title back in 2010, and that seemed to be enough. Coach Mike Lambros had created a remarkable program that had won everything in sight, up until then, except for the big one. His résumé was therefore incomplete: he was like the best golfer on the PGA Tour never to have won a major tournament.

A slogan, "Yeah, baby!" was born about 20 years ago to help bear the load and the team responded to it, through the good and the bad.

Then came 2010. The team went 33-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. Lambros and the Knights had done it. It could never be better than that.

Certainly, this season didn't offer that kind of promise. Last August, Lambros was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and it seemed doubtful he'd ever be in a dugout again. But when February rolled around and practice began, there he was, a little thinner, a little grayer, giving instruction, shouting encouragement. The girls were listening.


Only six seniors dotted the 28-player roster. There were no big-name stars, no 15-strikeout per game pitchers. The team occasionally made uncharacteristic bonehead errors. In March, the Knights lost 2 of 3 games in one stretch, which almost never happens. Then, in April, they dropped a 7-3 nonconference decision to 3-A rival Ledford, quickly followed by a 5-3 nonconference loss to Enka in extra innings. Consecutive losses never happen.

There were no clues in sight. The Knights lost their Central Piedmont Conference tournament championship game with a lackluster 8-0 defeat to league rival Davie County. It was not the way you'd want to begin a run through the state playoffs.

Then, in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs against Watauga, during a game she was attending, Lambros's mother passed away. Lambros, himself, was traveling peaks and valleys in his cancer treatment that left you wondering exactly where this man was finding his strength just to stand up.

And, yet. And, yet...

The Knights cut their way through the playoffs, winning six straight games and setting up a best-of-three championship with Fayetteville Cape Fear. Again, the odds seemed steep. Cape Fear had gone through the regular season undefeated, had one loss in the best-of-three semifinals, and came into the finals as the second ranked team in the country.

No problem. North responded by winning 4-0 in Friday's first game, and followed that with Saturday's 3-2 capper. A sweep.

Could a state title ever be so satisfying? Lambros' career numbers are staggering: 880 victories against 131 losses in 38 years. No high school softball coach in North Carolina has more. That's a winning percentage of .870. That's an average of 23 victories per year. Per year.

Through all of this, Lambros has deflected attention — or tried to — from his own circumstances and put the spotlight on his team. "I am not a woe-is-me type person," maintains Lambros, and he leaves you no choice but to believe him.

And so, the familiar slogan offers a new perspective, a new line of thought:

Yeah, baby.