Astros pummel Harvey, but did father really know best?

 

Good day Austin:

You got to admire the grit of Matt Harvey, the Mets pitcher, taking the mound against the Astros Saturday in the first game back at Minute Maid Park since that other Harvey, the hurricane.

It was Harvey’s first game back off he disabled list at the end of a miserable, injury-plagued season both for him and his team, and it didn’t go well Saturday, except as a cathartic exercise for Houston.

I went to the night game. I grew up in New York. I was eight the Mets’ first season. I’m a lifelong Mets fan. I had never been to Minute Maid Park. I hadn’t been to Houston since Harvey, so I drove to Houston Saturday for the night end of the double header.

Before I even took my seat, I saw in the centerfield bleachers a sea of blue, and they were chanting “Let’s Go Mets.”

 

There were a lot of them and they were loud. I went over and sat with them.

They were the 7 Line Army, Mets fans who buy tickets as a bloc and go to a bunch of games both in New York and on the road. Some were from Texas, but a lot weren’t. The guy behind me was an ex-Marine from the Bronx. He said his two favorite teams were the Mets and “whoever is playing the Yankees.”

Good man.

The 7 line refers to the subway you take to get to Citi Field, and before that Shea Stadium, where the Mets play in Queens, N.Y.

One may recall Atlanta pitcher John Rocker’s choice words about the 7 train  in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1999.

–On ever playing for a New York team: “I would retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.”

–On New York City itself: “The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. I’m not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up
there. How the hell did they get in this country?”

This drew the favorable attention of Jared Taylor when I met him at the 2000 American Renaissance Conference, named for the white nationalist on-line site, back then a print publication, that he edits. In my story on that event, I quoted Taylor  describing Rocker as “the one sane man in sports.”

I also quoted Taylor as declaring at the conference,“We’ve lost the ability to say ‘us’ or ‘we.’ Most whites simply cannot bring themselves to say, ‘This is our culture, this is our nation and it belongs to us and no one else,’”

Last year, Taylor cut radio robocalls for Trump in Iowa (independent of the Trump campaign), and as for Rocker …

From the New York Daily News in January 2016:

Retired redneck reliever John Rocker says there’s one New Yorker who doesn’t make him sick: Donald Trump.

The ex-major leaguer, who famously dissed the No. 7 train and its culturally diverse riders, jumped aboard the Trump express with a Tuesday endorsement of the GOP front-runner.

“I think he has really woken America up,” said Rocker, 41, who retired after the 2003 season, in an interview with The Daily Caller.

From the Daily Caller interview:

“I’m probably as disheartened as everyone else is, as Trump supporters seem to be, with the status quo and the glad-handing politicians and the soundbite politicians always looking for the right comment to make and walking that fine line trying to make every single faction out there, who could be a possible voter, don’t make anybody mad and wear kid gloves,” he said.

“I wish someone, excuse the frankness here, would have the sack, would have the backbone to make unpopular comments, and when folks come out — mainly media, special interest groups, factions, things like that — and just start hammering them and demanding apologies… I’ve always wanted to see the person that’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve made these comments, these are my beliefs, and you know what, if you don’t like it stick it. I’m not apologizing, I’m not changing,” Rocker told The DC. “I think that is something that millions and millions of Americans have been waiting for probably a decade or two to hear something. Maybe even since Reagan.”

Anyway, in the second game, the Mets’ Seth Lugo pitched five great innings for the Mets, but things fell apart in the sixth and the Mets lost that game (and Sunday’s as well) doing their part to lift Houston’s spirits.

Which is all good, except in the fourth inning of the second game when Wilmer Flores, who had hit a grand slam for the Mets in the first game, came to bat to the chants of the 7 Line Army …

… only to foul off a ball that smashed him in the face, breaking his nose and leaving him bleeding profusely.

 

Anyway, it’s been that kind of season for the Mets.

I left Minute Maid after the game and got a little turned around looking for my car when I saw a vision – a billboard of the Anderson family of the 1950′ TV family sitcom, Father Knows Best.

I was born in 1954, the year Father Knows Best began its six-year run, though it would be repeated in prime time for a few more years, and I grew up on its reruns.

After the opening music, one is presented with a pack of Kent cigarettes with one cig smoking in an ash tray, as the announcer brags that Kent is the only cigarette with a Micronite filter, and, lo and behold, Robert Young, who plays the father who knows best – Springfield, USA insurance salesman Jim Anderson – lifts that smoking cigarette to his lips and the announcer intones that this will be the story of “a man, his home and his family.”

Meanwhile, what about that Micronite filter.

What exactly is Micronite?

Well, it turns out, it is abestos.

Oh my.

This is from asbestos.com, created by the Mesothelioma Center:

In their quest for the perfect fiber to use for filters, Hollingsworth & Vose (H&V) produced one made with crocidolite asbestos and tightly packed crepe paper in 1952. H&V produced the filters for Lorillard, and they were used in the Kent Micronite brand of cigarettes. The new filter was marketed as “the greatest health protection in cigarette history.” The company never revealed to the public that asbestos was the primary ingredient in its “dustless” cigarette.

From 1952 to 1956, Lorillard sold nearly 11.7 billion Kent Micronite cigarettes in the United States, all constructed with asbestos filters. The filter was considered effective because it filtered 30 percent of the tar from the smoke. Ultimately, though, the filter was judged to be too effective: smokers complained of a lack of flavor, and Kent only accounted for 1 percent of all cigarettes sold. The asbestos filter was abandoned, and Lorillard ceased production in 1956. The Kent Micronite brand is still sold today without asbestos.

Many people who smoked the original Kent Micronite cigarettes experienced health complications in later life as a result of asbestos exposure. One study revealed that smoking one pack of original Kent Micronite a day would expose a smoker to 131 million crocidolite fibers with a length of 5µm (5 micrometers or five thousandth a milimetre) a year. Studies suggest that fibers at this length or longer are the most carcinogenic. Each filter contained 10mg of asbestos, or as much as 30 percent. Because the study only analyzed the amount of asbestos inhaled from two puffs, the actual amount of asbestos inhaled by the average smoker would be far greater.

Kent, flavorless and deadly, a killer combination preferred by America’s iconic 1950s father, who knows best, and later, as Marcus Welby, MD, would be America’s iconic family physician.

In their wisdom, Father Knows Best in later seasons switched from Kent to Scott Paper products, which can produce a lot of pollutants in the making, but at least does not offer customers a personal asbestos inhaler.

Anyway, I liked Fathers Knows Best in both a straightforward and ironic ways.

Father Jim was a bit of a doofus and easily frustrated, but generally good hearted and, bless his heart, a devoted newspaper reader. Wife Margaret had a suspiciously British or upper-crust accent. Eldest daughter, Betty, aka Princess, who is obliterated in the billboard by a cone, was an entitled know-it-all – a princess and pain-in-the ass. Kathy, aka Kitten, was annoying. But Bud, aka Bud  (I think he was James Jr.) was super-cool. And like the best television – well maybe not the best but some of the best – it had a calming effect.

But what were the Andersons, now so long gone from American consciousness, doing outside Minute Maid Park? How did they get there? What did it mean?

I must admit, I wondered whether in the age of Trump, this wasn’t a benign vision of what Make America Great Again was all about. Wasn’t the Again in MAGA a reference, conscious or not, to the Father Knows Best white America, which, Houston, as much or more than any city in America, has left behind.

In 2004, I did a series of stories about America’s changing demographics, beginning one as follows:

When did Miami become 12 percent Anglo and Chicago a quarter Hispanic? When did the chockablock neighborhoods of Houston come to feel more like a sweaty Queens than an overgrown Galveston? When did Patel and Singh become the Smith and Jones of Edison, N.J.? When did the suburbs of Los Angeles _ until 1960 the whitest big city in America _ become less than a third white? And when did the shining beacons of New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, indeed the whole state of California, places that once drew people from every corner of the nation and the globe, lose their luster at home?

And what did those cones, with the Klan hood shape, symbolize?

From the 2015 book on Father Knows Best by Mary Desjardins.

When I got home very late night Saturday night I did some Googling and find that it was a piece of public art created by a remarkable Houston artist by the name of Prince Verughese Thomas who is a professor of art at Lamar University. Thomas, a U.S. citizen, came to the United States as a child. He was born, an Indian citizen, living in Kuwait

Here is something Lamar wrote about he piece, which is entitled Family Portraits, in March 2016.

The city of Houston recently installed a billboard-sized work of art by Prince Varughese Thomas, associate professor in Lamar University’s Department of Art. Located on Jackson Street near Minute Maid Park “Family Portraits,” is a permanent installation commissioned by the Houston Art Alliance.

“I was thrilled to be selected to have my work displayed for the public,” said Thomas. “As an artist, that is our primary goal: to get our work to the public. The location is just perfect for high pedestrian traffic, especially during the Major League Baseball season.”

Thomas created “Family Portraits” to reveal different bits of information from various viewing distances. From far away, viewers see a picture of the family from the television show “Father Knows Best,” which represents the traditional American family of the past. As the viewer walks closer to the artwork, the picture, which is composed of large half-tone dots, “disintegrates” into basic circles.

A secondary component of the work is a row of cones that is visible when a viewer gets closer to the installation. Thomas arranged the cones to resemble people from multiple races and ethnicities.

“I chose a theme of family, both past and present, as an underlying conceptual frame for the piece,” said Thomas. The arrangement of the cones represents a new family portrait that reflects our contemporary community, with its beautiful mix of cultures and races coming together to form our modern society. This also ties to me personally, because my wife and I are of different races.”

I exchanged emails with Thomas overnight, asking him my questions.

Here is what he wrote me back this morning.

The City of Houston commissioned me to make a piece – if i remember correctly about 15 years earlier they had invited some artists to make billboards in Downtown and through time, weather, and age they were ready to refurbish the original set of billboards while selecting an additional set of artists to make more billboards to place around downtown.  The city selected the location of each artist’s work so i was thrilled to see where they put mine.  Perfect location for pedestrians leaving the game to have exactly the experience that happened to you.
The location is perfect  – many people do not see art as something of value or relevant in their daily lives… so having it in a place where pedestrian traffic will be high during games just allows for the work to be discovered and hopefully thought about it and considered.
My experience with Father Knows Best and all the other shows from the Golden Age of Television was not as direct as yours.  We immigrated to the US in 1972, so I was watching those shows in re-run as a young boy – but it was my first experience of the United States and how I believed Americans lived for a long time.  When we first got to the US, we had no American friends so that was the model I used for how Americans lived/behaved.  Also, these shows helped me learn english. But obvious to me even as a boy was the strange absence of people of color. 
The use of that image of Father Knows Best was multi-fold – 1) for them to be held as the standard bearers for the classic American Family; 2) to evoke a sense of nostalgia of a better time; & 3) hopefully to have a viewer recognize that that better time was maybe not that great as we remember for all.
You picked up on the references of the cones too – a set of black, white, and gray cones.  if a viewer pays attention to the placement of the cones – the implication of the placement is that it is a family with mothers, fathers, and kids. A new American family of mixed race – whether that family be related through blood or a metaphor for a community of people like Houston – which is my life – as a citizen in a major metropolitan city and in my personal life in an inter-racial marriage. 
The cones can reference many things – simply stand-ins for people, some have seen them as the hoods that some Spanish monks wear, and others have seen them as Klan Hoods. – My intent was the Klan Hoods – simply to acknowledge the reality that no matter the family or group of people, we all have our biases and prejudices – to acknowledge them and open ourselves up to dialogues…  it wasn’t necessarily intended as a negative versus the reality that all people have their inherent biases and prejudices whether based in race, religion, or politics.  and dialogue/communication is what a city must have in the 21st century to survive – acknowledge the inherent prejudices and inequalities where they are – and then address how change/understanding must occur as a community -not an easy process but necessary.
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I wondered how Thomas fared in Harvey.
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He sent me his most recent Facebook post.
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First of all, thank you to everyone that reached out on Facebook and Phone.  I truly appreciate it.  As you know, I am not really a facebooker but do see the value in Facebook and sharing information in times of difficulty.  Thank you again.  It really did touch me to know so many cared.

As far as my art goes, between Brittney Thomas, Shane Platt, Caleb Sims, Butch Jack we were able to remove everything from my Art Storage unit in two intense days.  Thank you to these special people for giving me the gift of their time and strength (Physical & Emotional).

Thank you to Torie Shelton and Caleb Sims for accepting seven of my crates into their studio to dry out.

You won’t believe this but after two days – when we were finally finished – finished with moving the art, finished emotionally and spent physically… Britt & I are driving home at night and I run over Harvey debris and we get a flat tire.  It just seemed so appropriate.  It was too late in the evening and I didn’t have the patience to fight with those freakin’ lug nuts in the night so we came back this morning to change it.  What can you do but Laugh!

As of now it looks like roughly 30% of my work is gone for good and 50% of all the frames.  30% might not sound like much but when you times it by 25 years worth of working….  It hurts.  Time will tell as things dry if this number goes even higher.  Works from the early 90’s to works from my last show that closed in May 2017 that can never be replaced.

We had both home insurance and flood insurance but apparently that doesn’t cover a storage unit that is off my premises.  That was my mistake, years ago, when I first got these policies it did cover an outside storage… but allstate’s policy changed somewhere down the road and I never read the fine print.  My Mistake.

I contacted FEMA but they denied my claim because my home was not damaged.

Such is Life.

Oh my God. He lost about third of his life’s work. Not a loss of life, but still wrenching and truly tragic.
I wondered what insurance agent Jim Anderson would have done if Thomas had come to him with his claim Turn him away? Tell him he was out of luck?

I asked Thomas about that.

Jim would have never said, “Sorry you’re out of luck…” Hell, Marcus Welby MD would never have said – “You don’t have health insurance, sorry go seek treatment somewhere else.”

 Looking at Thomas’ work I came across another compelling installation. It was called Obituary and it was about the death of American newspapers.

 

 

The response to Harvey by Texas newspapers has been remarkable.

And yet …

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Think of it, almost 11,000 people by going into winds that the media would not go into,” Trump said at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, before gesturing toward the press.

“They will not go into those winds, unless it’s a really good story,” he said.

And this …

What follows is, in four installments, a film that the Father Knows Best cast made, in character, to persuade Americans to buy U.S. Saving Bond by turning the show into Führer Knows Best, in which Jim becomes a domestic despot, as a preview of what could happen to the United States if we don’t pay attention and invest in America.

 

 

 

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