Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Here's a link to my belated Mardi Gras radio show

This is a little like
following Bruce Springsteen to the stage. Sometimes you just don't want to cover up the post on top. Beautifully said, Matt.

Ah well. Here's the message. I finally figured out how to make a podcast (whatever that is) of my weekly radio show on KGSP. I love doing this show and I'm really honored to be asked back on the air by the students. I started doing the show 20-plus years ago and have enjoyed the company of several students who wanted to learn about jazz and share their own understanding with me. Among them were well-known Kansas Citians John Trozzolo and Robert Moore.

Yes, THE Robert Moore of Sonic Spectrum fame. My favorite image of Robert is an impromptu baseball game we organized against another class on the women's softball field. Robert played third base like a champ -- barefoot. I do not think I have ever seen anything quite like that. Barefoot.

Ah, a California boy. I think it was Robert who told me about seeing a highschool championship baseball game in which the opposing pitchers were Brett Saberhagen and John Elway. Elway, he said, won 1-0.

Oh, forgot to give you the link. Here it is. This was my belated Mardi Gras show. I'm going to post my Tom Waitsesque show from Feb. 19th later tonight and I'll post tomorrow's show next week.

Of course, if you can tune in live, please do. Noon (central) Wednesdays. 90.5 FM if you're in certain parts of Kansas City. if you are not.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A letter to my nephew

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dear Bryce,

You are six days old today.  I am your uncle Matt, and I am significantly older - closer to twelve thousand days old. And even though, in the perspective of twelve thousand days, you barely even exist, I am enchanted by you. I fall deeper in love with you every time I see you (which is four times so far). And I know my life will never be the same now that you're in it.

You are the son of my brother, the guy you will come to know as "Daddy," and I know this is even more special for him. But you are my first nephew, and you are my parents' first grandchild. So it is special for us too.

And since you are less than one week old, we don't know much about you. However, here is what we do know:

* You were born with dark blue eyes, which are now starting to turn brown around the pupils, and it looks like they'll be completely brown before long. Although you spend most of your time with your eyes closed, on the rare occasions you open them, you open them wide. It feels like you stare right through me. I am melted by those eyes.

(When you are old enough to ask for things, I will probably give you whatever you want when you look at me with those eyes.)

* You hate being cold. Whenever your clothing is removed to change a diaper, you cry like there's no tomorrow. Welcome to Missouri, kid. It gets even colder.

(But don't worry. If you are cold I will buy you a coat, and if you are still cold I will give you mine.)

* Your cry doesn't seem loud, but your mommy says at three o'clock in the morning, it's ear-piercing. However you don't cry very often. Most of the time you nap.

(You have already slept in my arms, but someday soon I'm sure I'll fall asleep as well, and we'll have our first nap together.)

* You have your mother's chin, and possibly your father's nose, and you somewhat resemble your great grandfather Henry.

(Eventually, you will grow into your own face and you'll look like nobody more than yourself.)

* You were late to arrive on the scene, born nearly a week after your due date. This may be a sign that you take after your aunt Jamie and you'll be fashionably late wherever you go.

(But Jamie is the person I love in this world the most, and any traits you can borrow from her will be good ones.)

* Since you're being raised by my brother, I am confident you will become the following things: A baseball fan. A space fanatic. An avid autograph collector. An above-average foosball player. And more than a bit of a nerd.

(But you will have all of the best qualities of my brother, and for that I know you will grow up to be a good man.)

That's about all we know so far. But I'll be there every step of the way, and I can't wait to discover all the other wonderful things you'll become. I love you now and I'll love you always.

Your uncle,


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Border War!

Goodnight Irene.



Friday, February 24, 2012

Here's one athlete you have to cheer for, and not because his bat is like a rocket launcher: Josh Hamilton, I wish you joy and sobriety

I'm pulling for Josh Hamilton.

I don't share his religious convictions, at least not in the public way he goes about them. And I sure can't hit a baseball the way he does. But I understand enough about addictions to appreciate what he faces every minute of every day.

Today, according to an elegantly short Associated Press story, he walked into spring training with a Bible in his hand, armed only with Bible verses and, he said, a commitment to counseling. Pardon the metaphor, but that's like standing in against Nolan Ryan with no helmet.

What got me was the admission that his struggle and his daemons will be part of every waking minute for the rest of his life. Let me be the first to say I couldn't face such a realization. I'd stand a better chance of getting a hit off Nolan Ryan than facing a future so tenuous and so difficult.

And Josh Hamilton has to do this under stadium lights, which will never go out even after he leaves the clubhouse. He has to know every time he goes oh-for-four, people will wonder. He has to try to build a stable home life, yet play 81 games on the road. Eighty-one games is nearly one-fourth of a year, and doesn't include spring training or travel days.

I watched his Home Run Derby appearance at Yankee Stadium again recently. The sheer joy on his face and -- I don't know another way to put this -- the sheer joy in his bat, was breathtaking. It doesn't seem fair he should have such a hard road ahead.

But, of course, Josh Hamilton can't look at it that way. He has to see it for what it is, the cards he's been dealt and the work it will take to make his life whole.

I, for one, will be pulling for him.


where you will also find a wonderful, searching, post about Mr. Hamilton's struggles...

Friday, February 17, 2012

The promise of "The Future" coming true

Say what you will about Google. Sure, it's a big, evil conglomeration intent on running the world. But it's a pretty damn fascinating company to watch.

And I'm not sure about running the world - but if any current major company is going to change the world in a significant way, my money is on Google.

This morning, NPR ran a terrific story on a project currently being undertaken by Google. The story, and Google's current project, literally had me cheering inside the cab of my pickup truck on the way to work today.

Google is developing self-driving cars. The NPR story was about those cars being made road-legal (for testing purposes) in Nevada.

A self-driving car is one of those things that's difficult to concieve. They're featured in a lot of futuristic movies, such as "Minority Report" and "I, Robot," and whenever I see them, I always have a "yeah, right" moment in my brain. That's never gonna happen, I say to myself.

Well, it's happening. And it's happening not only during my lifetime, but during my parents' lifetime. That's pretty cool.

Of course, the technology to make it practical is still some years away. It's expensive, as you can imagine, and the engineers have to make everything safe - and, it would be nice to know the cars' robot brains won't try to kill us while we sleep. However, General Motors makes an optimistic predition in this ABC News article: the technology will be standard in GM cars by 2020.

Self-driving cars have the potential to virtually eliminate auto accidents (think about that!). And these aren't slow-moving granny-mobiles. These suckers can shake a leg.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Follow John and Matt on Facebook!

The Henry Wiggen Blog has jumped into the social media arena. Now we have a Facebook page!

Head over to Facebook and give us a "Like." On the Facebook page, we'll post links to the blog, original posts, videos and a whole lot more. Thanks for reading, and we're looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you on a new platform.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What kind of uncle will I be?

My sister-in-law Sarah is literally nine months pregnant. No kidding. Her due date was yesterday.

So as we await word that the water has broken and prepare to go to the hospital (whenever that day comes) to welcome our newest family member, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of uncle I'll be.

This is a big deal for me; I don't have any children, and this will be my first niece or nephew (nobody knows the gender yet, not even the parents). This is also my parents' first grandchild and my brother's first kid, so... yeah, we're all pretty excited.

I've been thinking about famous uncles, and I wonder if I'll share any of their traits:

Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey, "Full House"

"Full House" was the hottest show on television when I was a youngster, and Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) and Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) shaped my childhood ideals of what an uncle should be like.

Uncle Jesse was the cool uncle, a musician who rode a Harley, wore leather jackets and dated beautiful women - basically, an '80s version Charlie Sheen's character from "Two and a Half Men." I'm not particularly a badass, but I hope my niece or nephew will think I'm cool.

Uncle Joey was a stand-up comedian who was great at making his nieces laugh. And since most of my jokes are infantile, I think I'll do pretty well here.

Uncle Jesse, "The Dukes of Hazzard"

The second Uncle Jesse on my list was also a staple of my childhood. He's the irascible uncle to Bo Duke, Luke Duke, Daisy Duke, and a couple other Duke boys (none of whom are brother and sister). Jesse was always happy to take in his nephews and niece, and at any given time three of them lived with him full-time. If, god forbid, my niece or nephew needed a home, I would be first in line to provide it.

And, Uncle Jesse kind of reminds me of my dad. I love my dad, and I can't think of a better person to emulate.

Uncle Fester, "The Addams Family"

Fester was a little before my time, but I remember him from the reruns. Despite the picture, Uncle Fester wasn't the brightest bulb. But he had the capacity to be sweet. I know I'll be a sweet uncle too.

Uncle Scrooge, Disney

Scrooge certainly has some personality traits I wouldn't want to emulate, but according to a Time magazine article (via Wikipedia), Uncle Scrooge is worth "one multiplujillion, nine obsquatumatillion, six hundred twenty-three dollars and sixty-two cents." If I can gain Scrooge's wealth, maybe I can pass a few obsquatumatillion bucks down to my niece or nephew.

Uncle Buck, "Uncle Buck"

Buck wasn't exactly an attentive uncle, but he stood up for his nieces and nephews just like they were his own children. He even threatened to murder his niece's boyfriend. I'm sure my brother will appreciate that when dates start coming around.

Although I hope to borrow traits from each of these uncles, as well as my own great aunts and uncles, I want to be unique and special to my niece or nephew.

I want to be Uncle Matt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Art of Fielding is a brilliant baseball novel not to be missed -- and, yes! -- it contains no magic realism...

Read this book now. You’ll regret every minutes until you do.

This is what I’ve been telling friends about “The Art of Fielding,” Chad Harbach's first novel which is being touted as one of the best novels of the year.

I don’t know about that. I do know it is one of the best baseball novels of all time. It ranks in my top five. Top three. Well… give it time to settle in but right now… yes, top one

It’s that good.

Here’s a coincidence. I received the book for Christmas from my main squeeze. I also received Ted Williams book: “The Science of Hitting.” Batting approaches have evolved since Williams wrote “The Science of Hitting” but the ideas are still useful. After all, the bats are still wood, at least in the big leagues, and the balls still have 108 stitches.

The coincidence? “The Art of Fielding” is based on a fictional book with the same title written by a great fictional shortstop, a shortstop not unlike Ozzie Smith. His text, “The Art of Fielding” is obviously meant as a placeholder for “The Science of Hitting.”

Only the snippets we get of “The Art of Fielding” read more like Zen, more like “Zen in the Art of Archery,” than Ted’s prideful attempt at physics and geometry.

What I love is “The Art of Fielding” is not set in either the major leagues or the minor leagues. It is set in the world of small college baseball and, to my ear, Harbach has perfect pitch. He not only nails the life of small college athletes – in my opinion the last true heroes of sport – he nails the life of small colleges.

The president of Westish College is perfectly familiar to anyone who has taught in a small college. So is his daughter, who we often see sitting in the back row of our classrooms blossoming out of the funk of her previous defeats in life. I think the other three main characters were enrolled in my Theory and History of the Mass Media class last semester. Or, maybe the semester before. As I read, I had no trouble putting faces to names.

Thankfully, this baseball novel doesn’t suffer from magic realism like darn near every baseball novel you've ever read. You keep waiting for the magic moment when Joe Jackson walks out of the corn or the third baseman straps two-by-fours to his broken legs, and it never arrives. When our hero has gotten so strong and so obsessive he can’t stop doing chin-ups from a tree limb, you think maybe the magic moment is here. But that’s as close as it gets. The scene shifts and presumably he finally gets tired and walks back to the dorm.

This novel forces me to rethink my ideas about why writers use baseball to tell their stories. The story here isn’t really much about greed. It isn’t much about corruption. It isn’t about the sacred territory of men and it isn’t about the trouble women create when they invade it. In fact, I'm not sure it has a hero at all, let alone a typical baseball fiction hero.

All that seems to persist from other novels is the sense of baseball as a pure thing, an art. It understands baseball better than any other novel I’ve read. Late in the story, the college president stares at a baseball on a shelf and thinks how perfect it is, how it simply invites a person to pick it up and throw it. That's as true a thing as has ever been written.

I'll be back with more later. In the meantime, read the damned book. You won’t regret it.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The bastardization of American history

I'm a fan of the television show "American Pickers,"  the History Channel program where two "pickers," a.k.a. antiques buyers and sellers, visit farms, old houses and dead businesses across the country, buy their best stuff for cheap and then sell it for a profit.

While many have debated the obvious ethical questions behind such a line of work - Is it fair for these guys, who are experts in the field, to swoop in to an innocent civilian's home, buy items for bottom-dollar prices, then sell it at a huge markup? - I've come to peace with that part of it. "Picking" is a business, just like any other. When you get right down to it, everybody tries to make a profit by buying low and selling high. So I don't accuse the Pickers of any ethical violations here - if the owner of the property is unhappy with the Pickers' offer, nobody is holding a gun to their head making them sell. In fact, some of the best parts of the show are the tough negotiations between picker and pickee.

But then, while watching a rerun of the show this afternoon, I discovered something that makes my skin crawl.

The History Channel runs a website called the American Pickers Warehouse. On this site, you can purchase items discovered by the Pickers on the show.

Well... not exactly.

Take this Sinclair Gasoline sign, an American icon you can own for the reasonable price of $115.00. It's scuffed and rusty, which only adds to its beauty.

The problem is, it's a reproduction, made to look like something discovered by the Pickers after being hidden away in a dusty barn for fifty years.

The website makes no bones about the fact that the items are fake. Here's the description of the Sinclair sign:

Get the look of the featured Sinclair Gasoline sign seen in the show with this reproduction metal sign offering the same bright colors and classic logo; you’ll think it was the original!

At issue here is not the production of reproductions. That's been going on for centuries. My problem is the arrogance of selling these items openly to the masses. I don't know how much the actual, real-life Sinclair sign sells (or sold) for, but from watching enough episodes of "Pickers," I can make an educated guess that it would probably cost around $250 or $300. But hey, why sell one sign for $250 when you can sell a thousand signs for $115?

In addition to signs, you can also buy replica hood ornaments, fake record players, faux-vintage telephones, a bicycle costing $660, an inauthentic Coca-Cola soda machine for over a thousand bucks, and even a just-like-the-real-thing gas pump for a whopping twenty seven hundred bucks which, apparently, "has all the retro looks of the original."

There's another big problem here as well. By placing seemingly high prices on replicas, the History Channel is diluting the importance of having the real thing. If you were the owner of a genuine, vintage Sinclair Gasoline sign, and it was displayed proudly in your den... when I came over to your house, how would I know you didn't order it off the History Channel website as an authentic reproduction?

How can you tell the difference anymore between what's real and what's not?

Apparently, the buying public doesn't really care. The Sinclair reproductions have been a big hit. As of this writing, the sign is currently sold out.

But don't worry; there's plenty more fake history for sale where that came from.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The divorce is final, Some relationship advice for Missouri and Kansas basketball fans

Border War? come on.

No aspect of a college basketball game can be responsibly described as war. The Star's ombudsman may think it's silly to question his newspaper's poor choice of words. His tepid work on most others subjects speaks for itself. But the folks who have complained to him about the use of 'war' as a description of a basketball game, deserved more than a snicker.

War it is not.

Over, it is.

Missouri divorced the Big 12, not the other way around. Like all divorces, the split left hard feelings on both sides, but certainly more hard feelings on the divorcee's side. Like all divorces, the reasons don't really matter. The fact is, once you divorce you are -- if you are mentally healthy -- not going to date each other again.

This divorce is nearly final. The two sides have one more court date and it doesn't promise to be congenial. This is the time for Missouri and their fans to move on. You're part of the SEC now. Make some friends there. Date someone else. Build a relationship you can fashion into a rivalry.

KU will always have Kansas State to rival. Not a bad natural foe. Of course, KU also has a natural rivalry with Duke and a pretty special desire to beat North Carolina.

It is a shame money is driving a wedge into big time college basketball rivalries. It's 2012, and as Cindy Lauper said, money changes everything. The bottomline here is this relationship -- no matter how storied -- is over.

The divorce will soon be final; stop asking your ex if he wants to take you out to dinner for your birthday. He's moving on and so should you.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

After 365 days at full speed, one month off

I come to you in confession and apology today.

I apologize that I haven't written in a while, leaving all the heavy lifting in the able hands of John Lofflin.

I confess that I haven't written a single word in one month.

What have I been doing with myself? A full-time job, of course. A lot of reading. Playing with my new tablet computer. Playing a lot of video games. Watching some television. Taking more than a few naps.

Basically, I've been doing absolutely nothing of value.

As a writer, I feel crummy about myself. Writers stay sharp by writing. And my writing skills are dull right now. But as a person, I feel pretty terrific. The month of January 2012 has been extremely restful. I've shared lots of laughs with my wife, friends and family. I've grown more and more excited about the pending birth of my first niece or nephew, due in two weeks. I've refueled my tanks after a long, grueling year, and I'm now ready to tackle a variety of things.

(If you don't know, 2011 was grueling for me because of the blog My Daily Fortune. For that project, I opened a fortune cookie every day in 2011 and, basically, did whatever the fortunes told me to do. Then I wrote about it. Every single day.)

I have big plans for 2012 - in addition to being a great uncle. I have two book projects in the works, and more ideas bubbling up constantly. I plan on writing for this blog a lot. And I hope to re-sharpen my skills from a month off.

And it all starts now. I can't wait to see where this road leads.