The Ukrainian matter
Yesterday, as I read the discussion going on in Stephers’ post regarding the reality or falseness of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I was reminded that my name, Tokarski, originates in Ukraine, and is Ashkenazim Jewish. I am neither Ukrainian nor Jewish, but the name “Tokarski” is in the Jewish registry of surnames. The last I knew of my ancestors was a letter that circulated among us saying that my paternal grandfather’s family lived in Austria, “down the hill from Switzerland.” Legend has it that the surname Tokar, taken from the Tokar region of Ukraine (which I could not locate) spawned emigrants to the United States, many of whom landed in Pennsylvania, mining coal I imagine.
Indeed my grandfather immigrated to Pennsylvania, but not from Ukraine. The story is that while in school he had a particularly strict and unpleasant teacher. The boys in his class managed to subdue him and lock him in a closet. I would make him to be a young teen at that time. It was not shits and giggles. The authorities took the rebellion seriously, and enlisted police and military to hunt down the boys, who would be drafted. There was a war going on at that time (late 1800s, perhaps Franco-Prussian, a predecessor to WWI). My great grandmother stowed grandpa on the back of a potato truck, and he made his way to France, and then to Ellis Island, and only then to Pennsylvania. I assume he worked the coal mines, because he ended up in Great Falls, Montana. The “Great Falls” of the Missouri River, over which Lewis and Clark and their men (33 total) had to portage with massive outriggers, were by that time underwater, as the Anaconda Copper Company had a reduction/smelting operation there. They needed the electricity generated by the powerful movement of current, so no more waterfall.
Anyway, my mother under different circumstances was forced to move with her parents and six sisters to Ekalaka, Montana. Their family home in Wisconsin had burned down. Grandpa and Grandma loaded the girls on the train, and when Grandma got off the train in August of 1927 or so, Eastern Montana being dry country, she looked around and said “This is IT?” The nine of them moved into a three-room shack, outdoor privy, where my great uncle Mike lived and farmed. Mom told me that Mike was a very angry man in those days, but on reflection said “I don’t blame him. Pa did not tell him he was bringing his whole family.)
Anyway, they eventually moved out of Mike’s home and into a bigger one in Baker, Montana, where they farmed until the girls came of age and began to marry and scatter. Mom decided to attend Normal School in Billings, Montana (now Montana State University, Billings), and in Billings she met my Dad, and that’s how I got here. End of story.
By the way, I learned yesterday that Tokarski is merely the Polish version of Tokar, and that makes some sense, them living in Austria and my Grandmother, whom I never knew, being an illiterate German speaking person. I know, Poland and Austria are different places, languages, cultures, but the thing is that we only know of our family background by handed-down word-of-mouth. Genealogy does not work for most of us, as we are neither landed gentry nor aristocrats.
I notice everyone in my background prior to my parents were farmers. Mom and Dad grew up on farms. I would add “dirt-poor” to that. Because all their history would wash away with time, in 1998 I took time to interview my parents, to get their story down for posterity. I eventually transcribed the interviews, an ardulous task, and distributed transcripts to all my immediate living relatives, aunts, uncles and cousins. Maybe two or three actually sat down and read them. So it goes. (My older brother’s reaction on listening to the recordings: “My God, the poverty.”)
Regarding the Ukraine invasion, real or fake? I lean towards fake, knowing it could be distraction and misdirection with a hundred ulterior motives. But how can I know? I am in Colorado and I do not believe in news.
Some things never change
We used to be DirecTV customers, but I had enough of it, and my wife doesn’t watch TV at all unless we are involved in a heartwarming series or in nature programming. The only reason I hung on was to subscribe to MLB baseball, and to a lesser degree, to watch NFL football. Along came the Scamdemic, and suddenly I was seeing athletes competing before empty stadiums (stadia?), and I completely lost interest in professional sports. That has not changed.
So we decided to junk DirecTV. It gave me great pleasure to gather up all of the devices – the company did not want them back, so I took a whole box full of electronic gear to Best Buy for recycling. They did not want the dish back either, so I crawled up the side of the house and took it down, and it conveniently fit in our trash dumpster. We are now reduced to one wire feeding into our home, seen to the left, which feeds us Internet from our phone carrier, Centurylink. That is the extent of our being “wired”. Other homes we have visited have Alexa and gaming and multiple TVs, computers, and appliances that send emails and texts. We are behind the times. (It reminds me of when we told our son back in the early 2000s that we had just gotten Caller ID on our home phone in Bozeman. He said “Well, welcome to the 1980s’)
I had occasion to call Centurylink about router/modem issues, and as I said good bye, the man on the other end told me that DirecTV was now available via Centurylink over the Internet. I told him that I was not interested, as the company’s business model is outdated, forcing us to subscribe to 60+ channels, almost all of which we do not watch. “That has changed!” he told me. I could now choose among many options. He wanted to give me a month for “free,” the usual sales pitch. I told him I would check it out. Here is what I found. There are three “choices.”
In case you don’t deal with this company, that the exact same “deal” they have always offered, 60+ channels, almost all not watched, and after taxes and fees, at least $90 a month, for starters. DirecTV simply will not let go of that business model. They have changed the means of delivery of signal, but not the underlying sales pitch.
A relative of ours had an eye appointment, and was curious about my solution to aging eyes. I use a system called “monovision” wherein my left eye is given a low-power contact lens for close-up work, and the right a higher power one for distance and driving. The difference, 1.50/3.50 has worked for me for years, but I am now experiencing farsightedness. That means reading glasses, an annoyance I’ve managed to avoid since I started using monovision, maybe ten years ago.
Our relative wanted to adopt my system, but her optometrist refused, saying her astigmatism prevented it. She asked me if I too had an astigmatism, and I remembered that I do. We were both a little suspicious that her optometrist wants to keep her business in-house, and not give it away to Costco. Optometrists have more than one revenue stream, including glasses and contacts and various supplements, and all are way overpriced. Costco offers alternatives.
That is neither here nor there, not why I wrote this. I used to joke with eye doctors that if I had an astigmatism, then I must be a stigmatic. Only people brought up in an intense Catholic environment, as I was, would know about the stigmata, where certain people bleed in their hands and feet, just as Jesus Christ did on the cross. I was told as a kid that these people were walking saints, but as I matured realized that they are deeply psychotic. It can be no other way, to be so deeply propagandized as to show physical manifestation of a inner belief system. Religion can do that to some of the more vulnerable types.
Why sports are important for boys and girls
We went to hockey game over the weekend, our grandson, age 15, being the star attraction for us. We’ve learned a lot about hockey these past years from him and his father. I have come to admire hockey players, coaches, parents, and even referees. It is a violent and fast-moving sport. The rules can seem complicated at first, but are intelligent and make the game competitive and interesting. For instance, “icing” is the hockey equivalent of football’s delay of game. When the puck is in play and a player hits it to the other end of the ice, if the puck crosses three lines play is stopped, and the puck is brought back to that end and put in play in a face off. This rule keeps the game moving, and prevents defenders from merely hacking away to avoid the offensive thrust. Merely hitting the puck to the other end would make for a boring game.
Similarly, “offsides” merely means that the puck has to precede the players across a blue line, inside which is the real action, offense, defense, checking, even sometimes scoring.
My home town, Billings, Montana, had a team, the Billings Bulls, that played at the Metra when I was still in my first life. I went to a couple of games. There’s an old joke, “I went to a fight last night, and a hockey game broke out.” There were constant fights. The locker rooms to the side of the arena were adjacent, and the fights continued in there even as the Zamboni was doing its business. We could hear them. Sports are about controlling emotions – those were uncontrolled emotions. That is immaturity, the exact opposite of the purpose of sports, to grow kids into adults capable of negotiating this crazy planet. As violent as hockey is, even as in the NHL they allow fights to go on, there is still an element of professionalism underneath. Fans in the stands may put their adolescent rage on display, but players are expected to hold it in, and only play it out in the confines of the rules of the game.
The kids play hard, and are very intense. They arrive an hour before each game, and psyche up, getting ready for intense violence. You might say that is bad for a kid, but I don’t think so. Sports in general are good for all of us. Some sports, like golf, do not involve physical contact, but are equally as intense and athletic as hockey. Sports for youth teach them controlled aggression, and control of emotions in an intense environment. That is all that sports are – controlled aggression. Kids learn to work hard, bond with team mates, respect opposing players, and accept both victory and defeat as impostors, treating each with some jubilant or reluctant acceptance.
Mostly, that is. Our grandson’s team lost, and their season ended with that loss. After the game he was dejected and morose. His Mom says he gets like that when he doesn’t play up to his own expectations. Jordan Peterson has written a best-selling book called 12 Rules for Life, which I read and found to be a bit preachy. But so what. Younger people will find the book more useful, as I have lived most of the 12 rules, in fact, all of them. Two of the rules are to leave young boys alone when they are skateboarding, and to always pet a stray cat when possible. I would add a 13th rule based on our grandson’s experience: Leave a young person alone when he is disappointed, even morose. Don’t console, don’t fix things, although Chic-fil-A has never harmed anyone. The thing is this: Playing your heart out, doing your very best when best is not enough, and losing … that is part of life. No one ever said that life should be easy.
The backbeat of a generation
In a comment yesterday I mentioned the great Hal Blaine. I knew someone had said “I was disappointed to find out that my ten favorite drummers all turned out to be Hal Blaine..” I finally found the quote. It was Bruce Gary, drummer for the Knack, who died in 2006. Blaine was legend inside the music business, but not well known outside. He was a session musician, part of the Wrecking Crew, an informal name given to a group of studio musicians in LA. Unknown to outsiders, he was also the drummer for the Beach Boys. In fact, the Wrecking Crew were the sound, though not the faces, of the Beach Boys. The opening riff for Fun Fun Fun was performed by Glen Campbell. The bass line for Good Vibrations was created by Carole Kaye. These were studio musicians and part of the Wrecking Crew. Bryan Wilson is indeed a gifted and talented man, and the rest of his band were decent singers/harmonizers. But their albums were done by the Wrecking Crew, including Hal Blaine, playing the part of drummer Dennis Wilson.
In the 2008 movie The Wrecking Crew, the Beach Boys hit record God Only Knows, is laid down by the Wrecking Crew members, all of the augmentation done in advance so that Bryan and the “singing Beach Boys”, Mike and Al and the two brothers, could come in and lay down the vocal tracks. Other than Bryan, the other Beach Boys had little, if anything to do producing the albums.
It wasn’t just the Beach Boys, but every famous rock group of that time. Blaine, who died in 2019, played 35,000 sessions in his time. Go to this site to see a list of the hit songs for which he was the drummer. It is said that in addition to instinct and timing, he had a special gift of tuning his drums, making them just right so that sound engineers could pick them up in proper tone. Blaine studied percussion in Chicago, in school from 8AM until 4PM, and then working strip clubs till four in the morning. He said that each girl, when she came on stage, had a special vibe, and his job was to match his beat to her gyrations. That is OTJ training!
I mentioned that I was a fan of drums, but in truth I know nothing of them other than the sound that stirs me. Insiders will say that bands cannot exist without good drummers, and I know that I like certain songs only because of the drum beat. There are a large number of such songs, and below is one that always gave me a jump start, no matter how many times I listened to it.
America was a group of guitarists who feature prominently in Dave McGowan’s Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, military families and all that. I watched them play on Austin City Limits one evening, and was neither shaken nor stirred. The group did not have a percussionist. That did not please me at all. However, in the song above, the drums feature prominently, with perfect tempo, pitch and timing. Without that beat, this song is just a whiny complaint by a boy who wants to have sex without marrying his girlfriend. It was influenced by Harrison’s/Chiffon’s My Sweet Lord. Nothing new going on there.
The drummer? I have never seen this song credited to him, even at this site where the band members talk in depth about the origins of the song and its production (George Martin). Who is the drummer? To me, it sounds like Hal Blaine, as the descending beats speak of more than an average drum set. (See photo above.) But that is the life of a studio musician, never getting or taking credit.
I guess we’ll never know. Oh, wait! I will know. It was Hal Blaine, the backbeat of our lives, I am sticking with that instinct – I sense it more than I know it. Rest in peace, Mr. Hal Blaine. You left a magical legacy.
PS: There is a remarkable collection of personal remembrances of Hal Blaine by other musicians at this site.