It is hard enough to be funny in literary fiction these days, especially with the cognoscenti convinced that every laugh has to be paid for with several heaping doses of despair. It is especially difficult in short fiction, where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that “There are no second acts in American life” seems to have been adopted as the Golden Rule. I once was at a panel of short story writers when some innocent in the audience asked Ron Carlson why so many stories seemed to be about the terminally depressed and dysfunctional. He replied  that when people gather around the water cooler in the morning, they aren’t asking why things are going so well in Bob’s life. They are asking why Bob didn’t show up for work this morning.

bark   OK, I get it. But does every story have to end up with Bob sticking his head in the oven? Where does country music end and literature begin?

I’m happy, then, to report that Lorrie Moore has a new collection of short stories, entitled Bark, which are often laugh-out-loud funny and, although sometimes sad, not unrelentingly or hopelessly so. Moore, who taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin, seems to have a perfect ear for Midwestern irony that can be expressed succinctly and without pathos. In one of my favorite passages from her novel A Gate At The Stairs, her characters drive across southern Wisconsin; the narrator Tassie observes:

We passed through the marshland village of Luck, whose municipal welcome sign read YOU’RE IN LUCK.  And though on leaving I spied no sign saying NOW OUT OF LUCK, every aspect of it was soon implied. Edward had taken a wrong turn, and we had to turn around and go back through the town. YOU’RE IN LUCK, another sign said, and I imagined a horror movie wherein we never found our way out of this town…

It’s that kind of dilemma that seems to assert itself in the stories of Bark, which does have its share of relationships that are in various states of abandonment and disrepair, or at least are headed that way, or should be. But Lorrie Moore’s characters are delightfully observant, even as life seems to be spinning away from them.  In the opening story, “Debarking” (Moore, as if setting up the board for Double Jeopardy, has lots of fun with the title theme) Ira’s wife Marilyn has left him, and he has occasional custody of his eight year-old daughter, Bekka. He meets a woman named Zora who has a teenage son and tells him:

                “Once you have a teenager, everything changes.”

                Now there was silence. He couldn’t imagine Bekka as a teenager. Or rather, he could, sort of, since she often acted like one already, full of rage at the incompetent waitstaff that life had hired to take and bring her order.

If relationships don’t quite work out, it could be the result of recombinant pairings of people who probably couldn’t succeed in them to begin with, but haven’t given up. Perhaps it is their own sense of irony that makes them subject to disaster.moore2

Or sometimes they are perfectly matched, like Bake McKurty, the writer of a little-read biography of George Washington, and his wife Suzy, who deftly guides him through numerous social missteps. In the story “Foes,” Bake and Suzy are at a literary gathering for a small magazine in Georgetown. Suzy leaves Bake to his own devices as he thoroughly alienates a lobbyist named Linda who is sitting next to him.

Suzy leaned in on his left and spoke across Bake’s plate to Linda. “Is he bothering you? If he bothers you, just let me know. I’m Suzy.”

More often though, couples are mismatched. KC, the protagonist of “Wings,” is a singer of a certain age (“I may be older than what I seem. I don’t know what I seem.”) who is coming to grips with her limitations as a songwriter and the shiftlessness of her boyfriend, Dench. Like a lot of people we know, she can be uncannily observant about the world around her, yet helpless to recognize her own predicament. When Milt, an older man, asks her over for muffins, Dench bloodlessly remarks:

 “Giving the old guy a thrill? Good idea.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m just saying,” said Dench in a hushed tone. “He’s probably loaded. And gonna keel soon. And…”

“Stop.”

How KC navigates this path reflects a particular skill of Moore’s, weaving through KC’s self-realizations about her attraction to Dench as she strikes up a friendship with the elderly Milt.

By the time Moore presents us with the final story, “Thank You For Having Me,” it is presumably safe to be hilarious, in her understated way, from the beginning. The narrator is a single mom  who is mourning the news of Michael Jackson’s death while her fifteen year-old daughter Nickie (who has once gone trick-or-treating dressed as a sniper) prods her to get ready for the wedding of her erstwhile baby-sitter.

I tried to think positively. “Well, at least Whitney Houston didn’t die,” I said to someone on the phone. Every minute that ticked by in life contained very little information, until suddenly it contained too much.

It’s actually the second wedding for the woman, a Brazilian named Maria who has already divorced one local farm boy in favor of another. The first one, Ian, is providing the music for the ceremony. His father is hopelessly infatuated with Maria.  I could go into more detail, but you’d best discover it for yourself.

As someone who has spent a good deal of time in Wisconsin, including graduate school in Madison, it was always nice to know that one of the country’s finest writers was teaching there. So it was with some disappointment that I heard Lorrie Moore has decamped to Vanderbilt. Well, I don’t begrudge anyone greener pastures. I’ve never been to Nashville, though from what I’ve heard, the sensibility there isn’t quite the same as Madison. (What is?)

No offense, Nashville.

Minnie Pearl

Minnie Pearl

I hope Ms. Moore does not feel obliged to go around wearing hats with the price tag still hanging from them.

We’re not bitter, really.

At least she did not move out here to write screenplays.

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A gentle remind that my new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

Check it out.

Monterey Jazz Festival 2014 Preview

On April 4, 2014, in Music articles, by Michael Katz

MJF57 _2014_PosterHow exactly do you stage a world class jazz festival in 2014?  How do you program for diverse audiences, in an art form where performers continue to shine into their eighties, while younger players reach out to the rhythms of their own generation? Artistic Director Tim Jackson has made some intriguing choices for the 57th Monterey Jazz Festival, to be held September 19-21.

Let’s start with MJF’s principle headliners. There’s Artist–In-Residence, drummer Eric Harland, at 37 a relative youngster, who shines in different configurations including several pairings with this year’s Featured Artist, Monterey icon saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Then there is young pianist Aaron Diehl, with a commissioned tribute to the legendary MJQ pianist John Lewis. Add to that multiple appearances by Robert Glasper, Jason Moran and Christian McBride, and you are beginning to get the picture.

As a critic of a certain age, I naturally respond better to some parts of the Main Stage line-up than others. For example, pianist Billy Childs’ “Re-Imagining Laura Nyro” with Shawn Colvin, Lisa Fischer and Becca Stevens sounds inviting to me, having grown up with all the great Laura Nyro tunes. Similarly, bringing in Booker T. Jones (Booker T and the MGs!) on Saturday afternoon should be a hoot. And the Sunday show with the Next Generation Orchestra, followed by Jon Batiste and Marcus Miller, ought to be terrific as well.

Booker T

Booker T

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

I fully understand the logic behind The Roots, who anchor Jimmy Fallon’s red hot new Tonight Show. I saw them last year at the Playboy Jazz Festival and understand their appeal, but they blasted me and many others back to the buses early. Playboy, at the Hollywood Bowl, is a single venue; MJF offers many great alternatives, and I’ll get to them in a moment. There’s much more on tap at the Arena, including the debut of vocalist Cecile Mclorin Salvant Friday night, Robert Glaspar’s “Experiment” band and Herbie Hancock. (As you might guess, I’ll be hoping for an acoustic set from Herbie.)   Saturday afternoon begins with one of last year’s hits, Davina and the Vagabonds and, after Booker T, caps off with nuvo-bluesman Gary Clark Jr. Sunday night should be a beauty with Charles Lloyd’s quartet, featuring Eric Harland, Reuben Rogers and Jason Moran, followed by Michael Feinstein with his Sinatra Project, with MJF favorite Russell Malone on guitar and Harry Allen.

But, if Sinatra isn’t your cup of tea – or jigger of Jack Daniels…here comes the fun part.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that $125 invested in a three day Grounds Pass may be one of the great bargains in the history of this or any other festival.   Let’s start with the smallest venue, the Coffee House. Always an intimate forum for piano trios, this year all three nights are dedicated to the memories of the late Mulgrew Miller, who lit the place up two years ago, and James Williams. What a treat to hear Harold Mabern (Fri), Donald Brown (Sat) and Geoffrey Keezer (Sun).  This is a must see event.

Claudia Villela

Claudia Villela

Friday night has highlights everywhere: Brazilian vocalist Claudia Villela and tenor man Harvey Wainapel with a Getz-Gilberto retrospective, Christian McBride’s trio, Berklee College’s Sarah McKenzie, as well as Cecile Mclorin Salvant reprising her Main Stage debut and Charles Lloyd’s Sangam group featuring Zakir Hussain on tabla and Eric Harland. And that’s just a sampling.

Saturday afternoon features the usual raucous picnic at the Garden Stage, including the return of Davina and the Vagabonds, the Pete Escovedo Orchestra, Red Baraat and much more. Saturday night there’s a different look from Christian McBride with Booker T and Uri Caine, a Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer Chris Dave, Robert Glasper on keyboards, bassist Derrick Hodge and guitarist Lionel Loueke, all of whom have shined at MJF in recent years. Billy Childs and Aaron Diehl bring their ensembles over from the Main Stage, as does Becca Stevens. John Hanrahan leads a tribute to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Eric Harland leads his Voyager band both Saturday and Sunday nights.

Eric harland

Eric Harland

Sunday brings highlights from the Next Generation Festival in the afternoon. Garden Stage highlights include Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, and a duo of vocalist Youn Sun Nah and guitarist Ulf Wakenius, who last played at MJF with Oscar Peterson. Sunday night features trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and his father Ellis at the Night Club, along with Akinmusire’s quartet. And there’s the annual B-3 Blowout at Dizzy’s Den featuring the Tony Monaco Trio in one set and vocalist Pamela Rose with Wayne De La Cruz in the other.

I know I’ve left a lot out. My apologies if your favorite is missing. But really, the Grounds are a cornucopia of talent, and I haven’t even talked about the food.

For more info, go to… https://www.montereyjazzfestival.org/

Miss Me?

On March 15, 2014, in Blogging Life, Film, Mike's Fiction, Photography, by Michael Katz

It’s been a few months since Katz of the Day began its revised life as Katz of the Whenever I Feel Like Providing Free Content.   I’d like to report that the KOD Inbox is full of “Where have you been?”  and “We miss you!”  and “How Do I Know My Spam Filter is Working?” I’m happy to say that a few folks actually miss it, and it would be nice to say that the blog is a useful partner to my for-profit writing, which was its purpose. While I’ve been busy in the KOD-cave here in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, scribbling away at projects that might pay for the recent termite inspection, here’s a few news bits on the KOD Omni-Cultural Experience.

KOD Cave buried deep under the Santa Monica Mountains

KOD Cave buried deep under the Santa Monica Mountains

We’re happy to say that our indie film Remembering Phil,” the Kafka-esque tale featuring Nick Turturro, Joanne Kelly, Christina Murphy, Steve Valentine and special guest star Dan Castellaneta, is available on an ever-broadening scale. We are now on Hulu at this address:http://www.hulu.com/watch/589301    We are available on both Amazon Instant:http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Phil-Nicholas-Turturro/dp/B00I11COUE/ref=tmm_aiv_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1394240255&sr=8-1   and Amazon Prime.  And if you’re a Netflix subscriber, please keep requesting us at: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Remembering_Phil/70260086?locale=en-US , and someday they may actually supply the film.   If you are a fan of Remembering Phil, please do us the favor of posting a favorable comment at any of these venues. It’s a sad fact that most comments are posted by vitriolic sorts who have been possessed by the most wicked and malevolent of demons. This is social media, after all, so any positive word of thumb is appreciated. And don’t forget the Remembering Phil Original Soundtrack!

In the meantime, it’s getting toward spring, which is a great time to read a funny and charming story about a wedding in Yellowstone National Park.  Whether you are a photographer, fisherperson, film buff or just a believer in hopeless romance, Dearly Befuddled is for you! It’s available at Amazon. as a paperback and E-book – or BOTH, at a special price. Want to feel like you are making a special contribution to literature? Buy a copy and watch Dearly Befuddled leap 750,000 spots on the Amazon best seller list. And again, if you enjoyed the book, spend a few moments and write a nice review blurb on Amazon. The reader reviews are the “currency” for getting attention – such is life in the digital Me-verse.

To show how much I appreciate your patronage, I’ll provide some more of the wonderful essays that you’ve grown accustomed to over the past two years. For every 100 books sold, I’ll come up with a brand new, never-before-shared literary nugget. Such a deal! (I’ll let you know if I get close.)

And don’t forget to check out my photography site, with up-to-date images from last year’s trips to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and a few points in between.

Well, that’s about it for now. In the immortal words of Bob and Ray:

“Hang by your Thumbs.”

“Write if you get work.”

Eliane Elias Live At Catalina Jazz Club

On February 28, 2014, in Music Reviews, by Michael Katz

_Eliane_Elias_-_Photo_by_Bob_WolfensonLA jazz fans are getting a rare treat this week, with the first club appearance in many years of pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias. The Sao Paulo native was in wonderful form Thursday night at Catalina Jazz Club on Sunset, interpreting the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ari Barroso, Gilberto Gil and Dorival Caymmi as well as sharing tunes from her latest CD I Thought About You, a tribute to Chet Baker.

I have always loved Elias’ piano chops. She brings a verve and sensitivity to the bossa nova, agilely bridging the gap between American jazz and the Brazilian sound. Having grown up in Brazil and played with Jobim, Elias is able to make even Jobim’s most frequently covered compositions, such as Chega de Saudade (No More Blues) seem fresh and original. Her standard trio, which included husband Marc Johnson, a superb musician in his own right on bass and Mauricio Zottarelli  on percussion, was augmented by one of LA’s brightest young guitarists, Graham Dechter.

For many years Elias, who first garnered attention here in the States as a member of the group Steps Ahead, was essentially a pianist, with a few vocals dropped into her albums. That has changed in the last few years.   She makes the most out of a bright, airy range, teasing playful innuendos out of the Portuguese lyrics and drawing a breathy romance from American tunes, particularly evident in the Chet Baker material.  Thursday night, the Baker oeuvre  included a lilting version of I Thought About You. There was more than a hint of nostalgia – not too many of us “take a trip on a train” anymore, though we might if Eliane Elias was on board. This Can’t Be Love was fairly straight ahead, with a little Nat King Cole dalliance. My favorite of that group was Embraceable You which began with a lovely piano intro, then segued into a lush vocal, aided by Johnson’s fine bass work.Eliane and Marc Johnson

Still, the high point of catching Elias at Catalina was the chance to see and hear her extended piano work, especially on the Brazilian tunes. There were, among others, Ari Barroso’s Isto Aqui O Que E’, where the sly bossa beat works perfectly with the breathless vocal bridges, and Dorival Caymmi’s Rosa Morena. Caymmi’s work captures so much of the Brazilian ethos: haunting, with a tinge of regret, yet at the same time possessing the lilting pulse that sounds so optimistic. Eliane Elias can’t help but foster that with her lovely stature, friendly patter and sensitive performance. Most of the Brazilian tunes last night came from her CD Light My Fire.

ElianeElias_ITAY_5x5RGB300dpi The near capacity crowd at Catalina brought her back for a final riff on Jobim’s Desafinado,  which allowed the whole group to stretch out, and gave us another chance to hear guitarist Graham Decter and some pulsating drumming from Mauricio Zottarelli. Dechter, a terrific talent, has been profiled on these pages before.  Meanwhile, Eliane Elias continues at Catalina through Saturday. Don’t miss her.

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A   reminder: Our film Remembering Phil, with a great jazz score featuring Bob Sheppard, Michael Wolff, Roy McCurdy, Todd Cochran and John B. Williams is now available on Hulu at: http://www.hulu.com/watch/589301      And don’at forget Michael Katz’s  new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

A Minimum Wage For Humanists

On December 4, 2013, in Current Events, Literature, Sports, by Michael Katz

mikeveniceThere has been a lot of talk lately about the minimum wage, mostly by politicians who gravitate toward their red and blue corners, with the exception of a few enlightened conservatives who believe that raising it would help keep low wage earners off  welfare and illegal aliens on the other side of that big electronic fence they want to build. Closer to home, Gary Gutting, a Notre Dame philosophy professor opining in the NY Times, talked about the tough road facing us secular humanists – writers, artists, photographers, fly fishermen – who are woefully underpaid considering our obvious worth to society. (He didn’t mention screenwriters, who do have a minimum wage, if we can get ourselves hired). (He didn’t mention fly fisherman, either, but I thought their inclusion was implied.)

There were a couple of noteworthy thought bubbles in Gutting’s column, the main one being that our schools ought to serve as a well-funded estuary for us humanists. Writes Gutting:  “We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding.”

This assumes that we humanists really want nothing more than to be teachers, to grace eager young minds who would otherwise be occupied with X-Boxes  and skateboards with our humanistic virtues,  at a healthy guaranteed stipend. I’m not sure what the non-humanistic teachers think of this, or how they will feel when we ask them to take over our classes for a month or two while we finish our novels, symphonies or cathedral-sized frescoes.

At the same time, Professor Gutting compares our plight with that of schools’ athletic programs, and somehow uses as a point of comparison the Minnesota state legislature’s decision to pony up $500 million dollars for the NFL Vikings’ new stadium, while the Minnesota orchestra teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. As if a Notre Dame professor had to go to Minnesota to find instances of wretched excess in sports. Perhaps the orchestra could perform at halftime on Notre Dame’s exclusive NBC football broadcasts.

tyler flowersNow, I’d like to segue to some equally relevant White Sox news. The Sox yesterday re-signed weak-hitting catcher Tyler Flowers to a one-year, $950,000 contract. Flowers hit .195 with 10 HRs and 24 RBIs and missed the last month with a rotator cuff injury. Sports Illustrated’s baseball expert Tom Verducci, in a recent article on the “Worst Positions in Baseball” had the Sox catchers leading the AL in worstness. The minimum salary for major league baseball players, by the way, is $480,000, which could pay for a lot of humanists. The White Sox lost 99 games last year, so you could argue that they could have paid the entire team the minimum salary, with the exception of All-Star pitcher Chris Sale and the beloved Paul Konerko, and not done any worse. Moreover, Flowers’ contract is hardly the most egregious example of this supposed mid-market team misdirecting potentially humanistic resources to crummy players. John Danks, a pitcher, made $15 million and went 4-14. Adam Dunn made $15 million and hit .219.

Now, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that a lot of us humanists would rather be part of an “elite, professional faculty” of a major league baseball team than of some junior high school in Toledo. There are plenty of ways that a humanist could contribute to a baseball team. Here are a few:

  • Dugout Hygiene
  • Body Art
  • Music Appreciation
  • English as a Second Language
  • English as a First Language

I think you could make the argument that every major league team would benefit from having at least seven or eight humanists on staff. Every team could produce novels like The Natural or The Art of Fielding. And that doesn’t even include the Poet Laureate. We haven’t had a great baseball poem since Tinkers To Evers To Chance. All we need is a little funding.

So, as a White Sox fan, I urge my team to set an example. I propose a Katz of the Day Humanistic Formula, where the Sox take the difference between the MLB minimum and the amount they are overpaying our worst players (this would be somewhere around $45 million) and use it to fund the White Sox Elite Professional Humanist Faculty.

I hereby nominate myself Department Chairman.

hahnTo GM Rick Hahn, a fellow New Trier and Northwestern graduate…you know where to reach me.

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  A Hanukah/Christmas reminder: Michael Katz’s humanistic talents are on full display in his new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  available via Amazon.

 

The Story of Thanksgiving/Hanukah

On November 22, 2013, in Current Events, by Michael Katz

choco turkeyWe are approaching the once-in-a-gigamillenium confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukah, or the single moment in recorded history when Christians can rightly ask, “How come the Jews are getting presents on a national holiday and we’re not?” As we all gather around the Menorah and celebrate the moment when Moses descended from Mt. Sinai and discovered the Jews worshipping a giant chocolate turkey, it is a time to reflect on our bounty and wonder, “Could this happen if the Jews finally got with it and adopted the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar?”

            Kate Upton    I don’t think so. For one thing, the Swimsuit Calendar Thanksgiving is the 2nd week in February, which is really late for Hanukah. (Although we can always post a picture of Kate Upton in November and not feel the least bit guilty.) The last time this happened, from what I can gather, was either 1861 or 1888 (the latter according to the Swimsuit Calendar). Since Lincoln did not declare Thanksgiving as a holiday until 1863, you could call this the first natural occurrence, although a closer reading of the Middle C Scrolls, a document that was discovered in some old piano wires from an abandoned Baby Grand in Tin Pan Alley, tells a different story.

               judah-maccabee-potato-head According to the Middle C Scrolls, Judah Maccabee had led the Jews in a revolt against the repressive Greek army, retook Jerusalem and celebrated the Miracle of Hanukah when the sacred temple oil burned for eight days. What many people don’t know is that Maccabee scheduled a sumptuous celebratory feast on the following Thursday, complete with the recently imported turkey, candied sweet potatoes, cranberries and several kinds of pies, baked by Judah’s mom. To top off the evening, Maccabee planned to surprise the children with a sack of dreydls. He arrived via a herd of camels that were tethered to a nearby barn. In order to carry out his plan in complete secrecy, Judah  hauled himself up to the roof of the temple, from whence he slithered down through the chimney with his sack of gifts. He arrived bedraggled and somewhat worse for wear – the Jews, to protect themselves from marauding Greek soldiers, had lined the inside of the chimney with barbed spikes. Furthermore, Judah was greeted with disgruntled parents who thought their kids already got enough presents on birthdays and bar mitzvahs, and the general consensus was, “Let the Goyim turn their holy religious days into a commercial Toy Fest.”

                “But,” protested Judah, “I designed the dreydls myself. I can get the Philistines to mass produce them for 1 shekel a dozen. It would be a great holiday custom. Here, I even wrote a jingle for it: Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl…”

                “Put a sock in it, Maccabee.”

                “No, no! We’ll put the dreydls in a sock and hang them from the mantelpiece.”

                But it was all for naught. The Jewish parents did not want any more gifts for their children until Tu Bishvat, which itself was only one month from the Swimsuit Calendar Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Hanukah and the Jewish Thanksgiving never fell on the same day again, and it wasn’t until many thousands of years later that it occurred to Jews to give presents on Hanukah, so they wouldn’t feel left out during the Christmas season.

                Now, I know you are asking, How Can I Celebrate This Special Thanksgiving/Hanukah confluence? What would be the perfect gift for anyone from 7 to 70? Okay, how about 17 to 70?

I’m happy to report that my new novel, Dearly Befuddled, which features no camels but an equally exotic moose, and tells the story of a Jewish wedding in Yellowstone National Park, is available via Amazon for the equivalent of a small bag of chocolate gelt.

                gelt

What a lovely way to enjoy the festivities! And remember, another opportunity like this will not come until the year 79,811. Seriously. I’m planning a special sale for the return of Haley’s Comet or the Messiah, whichever comes first.

                Really, you don’t want to wait.

Nymphs, Nymphettes and Lenticular Clouds

On November 14, 2013, in Fishing, Nature, Photography, by Michael Katz
In Search of the Perfect Oak

In Search of the Perfect Oak

After three days of wandering through the meadows in Yosemite Valley in search of the Perfect Oak, I had it in the back of my mind to take one last fling at fly fishing before the season was out. I’d purchased a full season’s license for my trip to Tuolumne Meadows in July and used it exactly once;  I intended to get my money’s worth out of it.  The night before, while photographing Halfdome at sunset, along with several dozen other photographers who were under the aegis of a workshop, I’d heard the instructor mention that he’d spotted a healthy looking trout finning around, close to the river’s edge. With my flyrod stowed in my car nearby, I thought this might be an opportunity to treat the workshop students to a unique picture: Fly Fisherman Wading In The Reflection Of Halfdome.

I sensed impending ingratitude.

Wisely, I postponed the fishing until the next day. Warm weather had reopened Tioga Road, which connects Yosemite Valley with the Eastern Sierra and Hwy 395, so that became the preferred route back to LA. We passed through some blackened remnants of the Rim Fire around noon, and reached Tuolumne Meadows about an hour later immersed in sunshine, diffused by lenticular clouds and a perfect autumn breeze. There was scattered snow across the meadow and ice on the river.

Those lenticular clouds were a sight I’d first seen in Galen Rowell photographs, but had rarely witnessed myself.  I made a valiant attempt to photograph the Cathedral Range with my wide angle, putting the meadow in the foreground, but even with a polarizer, I knew I was way too early in the day. It was not in our game plan to hang around Tuolumne Meadows until sunset.

The actual game plan was this: head down to Hot Creek, the catch and release trout water just below Mammoth. Treat myself to an hour or two of fishing, then head south and catch a lovely sunset along the Alabama Hills, the foothill range of the Eastern Sierra. It was my fading hope that I could capture a trout on a dry fly at Hot Creek. It seemed whenever I was there in the spring or summer it was too hot or too cold or too windy or, most likely, the fish were just too smart and had seen too many dry flies. The fly patterns tended to be tiny and complicated, the most successful method seemed to be nymph fishing, which is one grade above my competency level (sans guide).

For those of you deficient in entomology, nymphs are a lot less interesting than they sound. They are bug larvae. The artificial ones are about the size of an ant, with some type of identifying mark on them.  You could more accurately call them nymphettes, but if you did, no fly fisherman’s wife would ever let him go fishing. The nymphs sink to the bottom of the river, and the trout kind of nub at them. Since the trout’s interest is hard for all but the most sensitive angler to detect, a small flotation device is attached to the leader. This is called a “strike indicator.” The uninitiated might know it as a bobber. If you really want to piss off a fly fisherman, sneak up behind him and say, “Hey! Your bobber’s down!”

Hot Creek

Hot Creek

The road to Hot Creek spills off of Hwy 395 near the Mammoth Airport and winds along the bluffs for a mile or so, turning into gravel and leading to a series of parking areas from whence you can climb down to the creek, a narrow, twisting stream that flows toward thermally active waters, the terminus of which used to be a popular hot springs but is now closed to the public. When I reached the river, it was perfectly empty. The breeze was slight. The lenticular clouds gave me some cover. There really was no excuse for not attracting a trout on a dry fly.

Except that nothing was rising, and I couldn’t tempt anything to rise.  Around 3:30, a small covey of fisherman began to infiltrate my personal preserve. They looked tanned and healthy. They had, in fact, been at Mammoth Mountain, where the ski season had opened that very day. They were capping off their festivities at Hot Creek. I was happy to share my misery with them, except for one small detail: they were catching trout. They were catching trout on nymphs.

It was getting about time for me to pack it in and head for the Alabama Hills, but I just couldn’t leave. One more cast. And another. And another. I like kvetching with the other fishermen, comparing notes, finding out which nymphs I should be using, should I ever decide to really learn how to nymph fish (sans guide). Sometime after four o’clock, I noticed that the lenticular clouds were starting to gain form and dimension. They were turning a kind of sunflower yellow.

I thought, Time to Go.

I scrambled down the stream, to the path leading up to the parking area. My friend was already focusing his point-and-shoot at swatches of pink and yellow along the volcanic plains. I took a few forays with my Powershot, intended for the documenting of trout, then got the Canon DSLR and tripod up and ready.

_MG_4936

I forgot about the trout pretty quickly. I can’t tell you what Tuolumne Meadows would have looked like, or the Alabama Hills, but the bluffs surrounding Hot Creek yielded some dramatic images.

_MG_4950

By the way, you can see the whole portfolio by clicking the Find My Photography button on the right, or www.michaelkatzphotography.com  And yes, our Commerce Department will be happy to accommodate you should you want to purchase a fine art print.

And speaking of Commerce:

My new novel, Dearly Befuddled, is now available in Yosemite at the Ansel Adams Gallery.  Or, take Advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Matchbook feature. Buy the paperback of Dearly Befuddled and get the E-book for $2.99.

Yosemite Fall Colors, 2013

On November 11, 2013, in Nature, Photography, by Michael Katz

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Catching the fall colors in Yosemite Valley is always a dicey proposition. Peak time usually occurs from the last weekend of October through the first week in November; if you want to stay in the Valley, you need to make plans weeks in advance. Despite the preponderance of conifers, there are a wide variety of deciduous trees: dogwoods, cottonwoods, maples, oaks and one (1) notable elm. My stay in the Valley this week caught the oaks at near peak, the cottonwoods about 50%, the dogwood and maples off playing golf somewhere. Oh yes, the beautiful spreading elm in Cook’s Meadow was naked as a jaybird (the Sierra Stellar Jay, of course.)

I’ve photographed in quite a few areas of Yosemite, but it’s undeniable that the Valley offers so many striking views, you can just wander around, aided by a basic understanding of where the light hits and when, and find images everywhere. Cook’s Meadow is a prime morning spot during the brief window after dawn, when the low lying tussocks are covered with frost and the sun is  peeking over Halfdome’s shoulder.

Cook's Meadow

Cook’s Meadow

A few years ago (wink, wink) I took a fall photography workshop in the park. We were led to Stoneman Bridge near Curry village. With the river low, we were able to frame some beautiful perspectives of the bridge. My Stoneman image was one of my first to gain entry into art shows. The river was not quite as low this year (though Yosemite Falls existed only as the merest trickle) but the changing cottonwoods made for a lovely view.

Stoneman Bridge Redux

Stoneman Bridge Redux

Before leaving you with an iconic Halfdome sunset, just a few words about the wonderful community that keeps Yosemite going. This has been a difficult year at the park. The hangover effect from last year’s Hantavirus outbreak was still being felt when 2013 began. But the double whammy of the Rim Fire and the government shutdown played havoc with those whose lives revolve around the park. I suppose fires are an inherent risk. But the government shutdown cost individuals and businesses tens of thousands of dollars, irreplaceable income for those who do not have much of a margin for error. I have yet to see a single one of those great Tea Party patriots (you know, the ones who were  hectoring Kathleen Sebelius about forfeiting her government healthcare program) offering to compensate the motel owner who lost $15,000  when the park was closed, or the thousands of dollars in lost income to employees in and around Yosemite. I guess Congressmen (and women) are not as accountable as the person whose careless campfire started the Rim Fire. But make no mistake; this was political arson of the first degree.

OK, feeling better now, Mike?

As I was about to say, no matter how many times we visit Yosemite, we’re still all looking for that perfect Halfdome picture. The turning cottonwoods gave some nice perspectives this year. It would have been perfect if the fading daylight lit the trees at exactly the same moments as it bathed the face of Halfdome in a pinkish haze. And yes, with the miracle of exposure blending, we could accomplish just that. But, as another politician once said, “We could do it…but it would be wrong.”

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You know something is horribly wrong when today’s politicians leave you nostalgic for Nixon.

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Speaking of great Photography Fiction, my new novel, Dearly Befuddled, is now available in Yosemite at the Ansel Adams Gallery.  Or, take Advantage of Amazon’s new Kindle Matchbook feature. Buy the paperback of Dearly Befuddled and get the E-book for $2.99.

 

Our Green Bay Packer Legacy: Or, That is So 92 Years Ago…

On November 4, 2013, in Sports, by Michael Katz

acmeThe Bears are heading up to Green Bay Monday night to play the Packers, and instead of moaning about our poor, beat-up Bears and their inability to beat the Pack lately, I thought it would be fun to share a little bit of family history. My late Dad, Stanley Katz, spent his early years in Green Bay. His father, Meyer Katz, was a principal in the Acme Packing Company. Yes, THAT Acme Packing Company, the ones that donated uniforms to the original Packer football team, and in fact had the original charter.

Getting the full story from my Dad was admittedly a bit murky. He was, after all, only 4 years old when this happened. He was, as it turned out, three years older than the National Football League. You can see where it might not have made a big impression. The story, as we got it, was that the original Green Bay football relationship was with the local Indian Packing Company, which in 1921 was bought out by Acme. My grandfather had, as best we can tell, worked his way up at Acme from salesman. According to the American Food Journal of January 1921, which I’ve excerpted here, Meyer was named Vice President of Acme Packing at the time of the merger. So we’re going to say that my grandfather had a big part in Acme’s sponsorship of the Packers.

You’re Welcome, Cheeseheads!

1921 packers home photo

Alas, the Packer heritage did not last long in our family. By 1923, the Katzes had moved back to Chicago, where Meyer Katz founded Rival Dogfood. Many times I asked my Dad whether he might by some chance have a few shares of Green Bay Packer stock sitting in a drawer somewhere, or maybe in the safe next to the secret recipe for Rival’s dogfood. No such luck. Actually, the Acme/Green Bay Packers version of the team went belly up in 1934 and was rescued by a group of local businessmen. It eventually resumed life as a community owned corporation, which was so successful in keeping the team profitable and in Green Bay that no one in professional sports was allowed to do it ever again.

My father’s family became Bears fans. My Dad used to say that whenever the Packers would come up to Chicago to play the Bears, “All the Jews from Green Bay would come stay at our house.”

My Dad and his brother Harry, along with their brother-in-law Bernie Pollack, eventually took control of Stock Yards Packing Company in Chicago, and turned it into the premier provider of beef for restaurants, hotels and home freezers in the country. Although pro football had come a long ways from its infancy in Green Bay, the players, well into the ’60′s, still had to find careers outside of football, and it wasn’t unusual for many of them to end up doing business with companies like my Dad’s.  Joe Stydahar, a Hall of Fame lineman with the Bears from 1936-1942 and later a coach, ended up in the container industry, and I remember him coming by, selling corrugated cardboard boxes to Dad. Marshall Goldberg, the Pitt All American and star of the Chicago Cardinals, owned a tool and die factory in Chicago, and I remember visiting him there with my Dad.

Marshall Goldberg

Marshall Goldberg

Joe Stydahar

Joe Stydahar

Those days are long gone.  Pro football is certainly a dangerous way to make a living, but the players are not working in factories in the off-season to supplement their salaries.

In honor of our family history, I’ve always had a grudging respect for the Packers and sometimes adopted them as a second favorite team (horrors!)

But I’ve got to say, getting crunched by the Packers has gotten a little old. And I’m afraid with Jay Cutler and half our defense on the DL, things won’t get any easier this week.

 

I guess it is too late to take the uniforms back.

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Why Tim McCarver Is Retiring and Vin Scully Isn’t

On October 29, 2013, in Sports, Television, by Michael Katz

 

Harry Caray, circa 1973 (I believe I am somewhere in this picture...)

Harry Caray, circa 1973 (I believe I am somewhere in this picture…)

With only one (or two) more baseball games left in the season, I’m reminded of the late Harry Caray’s annual season-ending lament, “What are we going to do without baseball?” That was usually uttered during the last series of a typically feckless season in Chicago, North Side or South (some people forget that Harry was at his best during his years on the South Side), and underlining the fact that Harry was having a great time, regardless of the results. Sadly, 2013 was a season that would have challenged even Harry’s relentless enthusiasm (though not his sobriety, which would have been gone by Mother’s Day.) Both the Cubs and White Sox were truly horrible – hopelessly boring and never in contention. As   crummy as the Cubs were, they managed to beat the Sox 4 straight, which might have been noteworthy had the Cleveland Indians not beaten the Sox 14 straight. This reminds us that Harry was also prone to saying, “You can’t ballyhoo a funeral.”

Things were so bad that some of us transplanted Chicagoans were forced to become Dodger fans, though the Dodgers had to go something like 50 and 2 to get us on the bandwagon. The main benefit of that was to remind us how wonderful it is to listen to Vin Scully. When I first moved here, I was bothered by all the Dodger fans that would come to games with their transistor radios and blare his broadcasts into my ear. Couldn’t they watch a *&!*!ing game without listening to Scully? Hadn’t they heard of earphones? (Note to younger readers: Google Transistor Radio). OK, Vin grew on me. Perhaps it was his description of a player fighting off a nagging injury: “He’s listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Probably it was just the day-to-day brilliance, the ability to use a lifetime of knowledge in arts and literature as well as sports to put the game in perspective. Not to mention the cadence of his instrument, the human voice, to add drama, as well as the ability to step back and let the game speak for itself.

Vin Scully

Vin Scully

I don’t think there has ever been such a disparity in talent between local and national announcers as the recent Division and League Championship Series, when Dodger fans could listen to Vinnie while the rest of the country was subjected to a pedestrian (at best) group from TBS. It was a challenge watching the video on TBS and the audio on radio, because the radio feed was almost 30 seconds ahead of the television. (This, apparently, is a technical glitch way beyond the capability of the Dodgers’ radio network. If the Dodgers were running a GPS system, they would be telling you to turn left about fifty yards before you got off the bridge.) Still, Vin Scully is so much better than the other guys, you could listen to him describing a play and then watch it happen merely to confirm his description. Scully is 85 and already signed for 2014, and yet I couldn’t help but treasure the last few innings of the NLCS, knowing that there’s no guarantee we’ll hear him in the deciding game of a championship series again.

So…it is the late innings of Game Six, in St. Louis, the Dodgers losing 9-0, the season all but over. On the screen, a long shot of the Dodgers in the field, the manicured silhouette of the Gateway Arch mowed into the outfield grass. On the radio, Vin says, “The Dodgers must feel like the Arch fell on top of them.” Perfect.

And on we go to the World Series, and the usual annoying Fox coverage. For years we baseball “purists” have complained about Fox’s abysmal productions, in which the game becomes almost unwatchable among rotating close-ups of players spitting and picking their noses or just staring into space, alternated with cameos of plaintive fans sitting in worshipful repose, doing what we cannot do, which is watch the game. Behind those images is Joe Buck, who is okay for a guy who would just as soon be doing a football game, and Tim McCarver, who is retiring at the end of the week, so we won’t be too hard on him. Ha ha, just kidding. Because the end of Game 4 provided the Ultimate Fox Moment.

It was the bottom of the 9th, the Cards trailing the Red Sox 4-2. Slugger Carlos Beltran was at bat with two outs and the tying run on first in the person of a rookie pinch runner named Kolten Wong. The Red Sox first baseman, Mike Napoli, was holding Wong on, i.e. playing close to the base so Wong couldn’t get a long lead. McCarver went on an extended harangue about this, excoriating the Red Sox, pointing out that Wong’s run was meaningless in a two-run game. By holding Wong on, McCarver blathered, they were opening up a wide hole for Beltran between the first and second baseman. What terrible strategy! It would have been even worse had not the Red Sox pitcher, Koji Uehara, picked Wong off first, ending the game.

Fortunately for McCarver, most people did not see the pickoff, as Fox was busy showing a plaintive Cardinal fan in worshipful repose. A flurry of replays followed, giving the viewer the impression that perhaps it was their fault that they had missed the game’s most dramatic moment. The Red Sox horrible positioning was never mentioned again.

Oh, well. Fox does what they do.

See ya, Tim.

See ya next year, Vinnie

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