Michael Callahan, the executive editor of Philadelphia magazine, blogs every other Wednesday about civility and public discourse in and around Philly. A former deputy editor at Town & Country and Marie Claire, he is also a regular contributor to Vanity Fair.
My nephew Patrick was down at our Shore place over the weekend. I own a small abode in Ocean City with my brother and sister-in-law, which has proven to be a godsend innumerable times over. Ask anyone with a slice of real estate at the Shore, and they'll tell you what I am now telling you, that your blood pressure drops 20 points as soon as the marshy sea air starts wafting through the car windows as you approach.
I came back from the July 4th holiday last week and had a surprising message on my voicemail. It was Bob Costas, asking me to call. In the message he sounded, well, like Bob Costas, articulate and stentorian, but there was a hint of peevishness to it as he asked me to return the call. It took me a few minutes to figure out why he had phoned at all. And then it hit me.
I was 11 years old that night I went out after dinner to Mr. Grocer. Mr. Grocer was a small, 7-Eleven-type store a few blocks from our house, and as a pre-adolescent I often took my allowance money there to treat myself to a candy bar or a pack of Tastykakes.
I did something on Monday night I am reasonably sure no one else in Philadelphia did: I watched the Los Angeles Kings defeat the New Jersey Devils to win the Stanley Cup. Philadelphia can be odd that way—all cities root for the home team, of course, but here there’s almost a feeling that if one of our teams isn’t in it, it isn’t happening, no matter what the event. Although who knows? The way the Phillies are playing, we all may be scouting around for a new squad to get behind soon enough.
I've been flying more recently. This is not on purpose—I am all for safe and secure skies, but since 9/11, flying has taken on an almost Sisyphean cast. Like an octogenarian paging through a frayed scrapbook stuffed with yellowed clippings, I find myself waxing nostalgic for the “old days” of air travel, like when you could, you know, wear shoes passing through security.
When I graduated high school, back in the Paleozoic Era that was the '80s, my parents did not throw me a party. In fact, they didn't even take me to dinner. (I went with a friend and her family to the old 94th Aero Squadron in the far Northeast, which to us seemed like going to France itself—how fancy!) My folks did show up at the actual ceremony, though I recall even that was a game-time decision. I won a few awards, including one from the local VFW for citizenship, which I hoped was due to the fact that I had badgered the suitably apathetic girl sitting next to me in advisory all through high school to lustily recite the Pledge of Allegiance during assembly. Returning the favor, she printed the entire Pledge in my yearbook.
I have to admit, at first I thought it was a joke. The email came with the subject line, “The Smith Family Quarterly Report” (well, not the Smith family—I am changing names to protect the guilty, for reasons which will become obvious shortly) and was from a distant cousin I had bumped into during Easter dinner out with my parents. I come from a stereotypically large Irish Catholic family, so it's not that unusual to come face-to-face with people who somehow share my bloodline but whom I know barely, if at all.
Tonight, the seven remaining contestants on American Idol will each belt out two tunes in their continuing quest for singing stardom, and tomorrow night one of them will go home. (The judges are able to “save” one contestant from elimination each season, and last week they elected to do just that, for teen diva Jessica Sanchez.) Next month, the last one standing will be showered with confetti as he or she predictably dissolves into disbelief and tears, and then move on to a recording career that may or may not make them popular artists on your radio dial.
If you've been watching American Idol this season (and I am just outing myself here and telling you I have), you know that the quality of contestants this year has been judged by most observers of such things as a marked improvement over the last several editions. Tonight, the top nine contestants will forge on in their pursuit of reality-television glory, singing songs from the '80s, which pretty much guarantees that DeAndre Brackensick will deliver an ear-shattering rendition of “When Doves Cry.” But the leonine DeAndre had a pretty good week last week: He got a standing ovation from the judges. So did four of his other competitors. That means half of the contestants—including the guy who got voted off the next night—motivated the panel to rise from its chairs in raucous applause.
Watching, the only thing I could think was, Simon Cowell would have never gotten out of his chair for that. In fact, in the nine seasons he was on the program, I can only remember one occasion when Cowell rose to give a standing ovation for a performance.