Now let us move on to what are known as mitigating circumstances. There are many. Here are some, in no particular order: (1.) They are the thoughts of a New Orleans icon. (2.) They are just about 50-year-old thoughts and you may be surprised how current they can be. (3.) It's that time of the year again. (4.) Even in something so yesterday there is evidence that some things don't change.
This is from a column written by Hap Glaudi for the long-gone New Orleans Item in the spring of 1958. Hap was a true Son of Downtown who went on to find fame as a beloved sportscaster on WWL television and radio. But before all that, Hap Glaudi saw something about TV and sports and the quality of our lives that gave him deep pause.
I couldnÕt get past the headline that said thereÕll be more than 800 games on television this season. Eight-hundred cotton-picking games.
And that was when there were three TV channels locally, not 63 or 112 or 376, bringing every game ever played, plus NASCAR, tobacco-chewing and a reality show from Mali featuring men who did not father a child by Anna Nicole Smith.
I had visions of guys shut up in air-conditioned cubicles, watching all those games. Visions of small boys on their backs in living rooms, watching all those games.
But whatÕs worse Ñ on this balmy spring day Ñ is that a lot of kids coming up may never get to a ball park, boo an ump, dive around in the stands for a foul ball, see a whole field and a whole team and a whole stadium in that magic combination of sight, sound, feeling and smell that is a baseball game.
Glaudi then promised to invent a magic potion that could pierce the TV trance. The potion would enable you to flip off the set and ...
ItÕll let you load the tribe in a car and go to a park. You heard me. A park. With ducks. And if youÕre smart, youÕll grab some stale bread and let your Indians feed the ducks. Sound dull? You oughta see the way it lights the faces of your kids, though É kids who have maybe never seen any duck but Donald.
It could get you and your kids into a boat. Who cares how big or fancy the boat or how wide the lake. With or without poles, theyÕll like the water.
There may be a sunrise or sunset on the water. Without commercials.
Have you seen Cinerama? The potion lets you take Õem. And youÕre swallowed up in brilliant sights and sounds never before captured on a screen, and the screen is bigger than your whole house and itÕs a healthy way to feel your smallness against the majesty of what God made.
The feeling of smallness is easier if there's a big part of you that remembers what it's like to be a kid, to take joy in kid things. Glaudi seemed to remember:
I think weÕve all let TV make us fat. And it ainÕt in the stomach.
TheyÕll wear me to an absolute frazzle, but this summer my kids are going to live Òbig screen.Ó The one that was here when we got here. The one that lets you see great sweeps of beaches and cities and parks and ball games and lakes and animals and people. The one that lets Õem sweat and love it. That lets Õem tan and eat big and sleep happy and move.
And best of all, theyÕll see the sky. Blue above Õem plummeting down into a big lake, slashed with slanting rainfalls in the distance, or maybe filled with white clouds that look to one kid like a kangaroo, to another like the face of a fat uncle, to another like 50 puffed balloons.
My trouble is Ñ 800 baseball games reminded me that I was knee-high to a Louisville Slugger. I played barefoot baseball on the hot tar street in front of my home on South Johnson Street in New Orleans.
At Pelican Stadium, Larry Gilbert used to let me dig into a big canvas sack, bumpy with baseballs. I rode trolleys and fished with a handline and sweated. I was in a room once with Jack Dempsey. É I walked half the length of Canal Street with my family. Often. All of us, just walking.
Keep in mind that Hap Glaudi was bemoaning a growing television habit that was replacing the slower, reflective communal pleasures. Add to Hap's TV, high-definition and flat screen, not to mention Nintendo DS, X-Box 360 and The Wii. It all only makes Hap's plea more urgent.
The big show is right where it has always been. Outside your door. The price of admission? Not much more than your willingness to break the hot television habit and move away from the set. To go see it. To let the kids see it, too.
Yes, television is a communications miracle. É And if you insist, glue your eyes to it for five or six hours a day.
But will you do yourself a favor this summer (and maybe next winter too)? See whatÕs doing all around you. YouÕve got eyes with wider vision than any camera going. And you ought to see the ÒspectacularÓ God has produced.
It is a triumph of color and shape and movement and space and scents and sounds. ItÕs yours. YouÕre the star of the show.
If you give it a chance, a strange thing will happen. Maybe while youÕre riding an old train or sitting on a park bench or walking through your town or easing a boat through a quiet morning sunrise É some place maybe Ñ along the way Ñ thereÕs that one, lonely, peaceful, breath-taking moment, thereÕs that whisper way in the back of the mind.
You tell 'em, Hap. You sound like you heard some whispers in your day.