Character Study

Sunday night was the series finale episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  Kish and I have watched the show with pleasure since its inception, and we were very sorry to see it end.  (Spoiler alert:  if you haven’t seen the last episode, you may not want to read this.)

Part of the attraction of this terrific series was its lush recreation of bygone and forgotten places, whether it is Atlantic City in the late 1800s, America in the early days of Prohibition after World War I, or New York City during the grim days of the Depression.  The sense of period accuracy was total, down to the starched collars and spats.  Part of the attraction, too, was the many tremendous performances the show routinely delivered, from Michael Kenneth Williams’ simmering Chalky White, to Jack Huston’s partially masked, tortured Richard Harrow, to Kelly McDonald’s deeply conflicted Margaret Thompson, to Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano, who probably changed more over the more than a decade covered by the show’s story arc than any other character.

It all revolved, however, around Nucky Thompson, as brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi.  The last season, in particular, drilled down to the core of this fabulous character who is loosely based on a real Atlantic City politician.  Through the splices of scenes from his childhood as a straight-laced, polite boy trying to help his sick sister and protect his mother from his abusive father, to his early adulthood as a deputy sheriff trying to lift his family up and making choices that would set his future path, to the fully grown man who was a mixture of master political manipulator, far-sighted visionary, and ruthless criminal, we got to know Nucky as well as you can get to know any TV character.  When Nucky saw the early TV broadcast in the last episode, you just knew that he was looking at it with wonder — but also with an eye toward how he might profit from it in the days to come.

What a complex character Nucky Thompson was!  Consider his relationship with his faithful manservant, Eddie Kessler, who he risked his life to save.  Or his mentoring of Jimmy Darmody, only to turn and kill him in cold blood when Darmody became a rival.  Or his refusal to give up on the ne’er-do-well brother who betrayed him, even to the point of giving Eli a bag of cash (and shaving utensils) so he could clean himself up and reconcile with his wife.  Through it all, Nucky showed a deep understanding of the meaningful people in his life and their motivations, anticipating and defeating their moves against him.

And that’s why I don’t buy the last scene of the show.  I refuse to believe that the Nucky Thompson we came to know could so completely lose touch with the son of Jimmy Darmody and the grandson of Gillian Darmody that he wouldn’t even recognize him and therefore could be shot and killed by him.  Given the significance of the two Darmodys to his life, I think the Boardwalk Empire Nucky would have always kept an eye on the Darmody boy, recognizing him as a potential threat and dealing with it by helping him and co-opting him.  Nucky’s shocking death was a powerful way to end the show, but I just don’t think it was true to the character that I came to know.

Eminent Domain

Today we received a notice that we needed to update our blog domain name.  Following the handy instructions from WordPress, I switched our domain name from webnerhouse.com to webnerhouse.wordpress.com.

The reason for the change is that our old domain name, webnerhouse.com, is “set to expire” and “will stop functioning” on November 25, 2014.  That sounds final and irreversible, so I made the change to a new domain.  Why is this happening, after more than five years of blogging?  I have no earthly idea.

Of course, I have only the dimmest understanding of what a “domain” is, anyway.  In fact, when I hear the word “domain,” I inevitably think of the Seinfeld episode “The Contest” — which of course involves an entirely different domain as well as one of Cosmo Kramer’s greatest moments, shown above.  The domain I’ve changed is a lot less interesting, and involves names assigned by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.  Who cares, really?  As long as loyal readers can find our humble blog — and the redirection of visitors to our new domain is supposed to be automatic — that’s good enough for me.

15 Minutes Early

Lately my standard commute to work has been torturous.  Whether it is random accidents, or increased congestion due to the new homes and apartments being built in New Albany and points east, I am consistently enduring traffic jams on my way to the office.

I’m not a happy camper about it.  There are few things more irritating than crawling along in stop-and-go traffic, trying to figure out which lane might have the accident or be most likely to start moving.  It’s intolerable, and I inevitably reach the office in a foul mood as a result.  It’s not good for my car, either.  The interior has been severely scorched and some of the plastic fixtures partially melted by my more heated traffic jam epithets.

So, it’s time for a change.  Living in the ‘burbs, that means I have two options:  take the other route (because there really are only two options) or leave early.  There are a bunch of homes being built on the other route, so I’m going to shoot for leaving 15 minutes early.

This is not as easy as it sounds, and there are risks.  As Kish would tell you, I’m a creature of habit, and I like to follow my morning routine of walk, coffee, blog posting, get dressed, drive.  I’m going to have to speed up the schedule.  And all those accidents I’m encountering obviously have to happen before I leave at my standard time.  Who knows?  Perhaps the early departure time will put me squarely into the bad driver/accident zone.

It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because the traffic jams just suck.

Gun Poses

When I graduated from high school in 1975, senior photos were pretty rote.  Guys had laughable and elaborate coiffures and wore loud jackets, girls had hair that was long, straight, and parted in the middle, and that was about it.  The only breakout photo that I remember was of a friend who was a photographer for the yearbook and had his photo taken with his camera cradled in his hand.

In Nebraska, the approach to boring senior class photos is a little bit different these days.

Apparently Nebraska kids want to be photographed with guns.  So one school district had to come up with some rules about whether gun photos would be considered appropriate, and how they might be regulated.  It concluded that gun photos would be permitted if they were “tasteful and appropriate,” didn’t feature students pointing guns at the camera, and also didn’t include an animal in “obvious distress.”

I’m glad they added that last condition to the rule.  Who would want to open their high school yearbook and see poor blasted Bambi or a partially skinned squirrel on the page?  After all, the acne issues and the hair styles are bound to be ugly enough.

Eerie Electoral Indifference

We’re about a week from the midterm election.  Can you feel the excitement?  No?

You can tell that Voting Day is drawing near because the Ohio State football games now feature ads for the well-heeled state and local candidates, showing them in old family photos or walking kids to a park for a little swing while the narrator talks about the need for security.  Ohio State games are the most expensive local TV programming on which to run commercials because they always draw a big audience, so the campaigns tend to husband their resources and run the feel-good ads only on the eve of the election.

IMG_3387Other signs of the impending election come in our mailboxes, both tangible and electronic.  Most of the mail we get these days is political junk mail, with glossy pictures of candidates and urgent descriptions of their qualifications and positions.  Does anyone, even the loneliest shut-in or the most zealous partisan, actually read this drivel?  In our house, it gets automatically pitched into the recycling bin, and the incessant over-the-top email appeals for money, money, money — “Our opponents have launched a new ad!  Won’t you contribute $10 to help us meet our goal?”  — get the same treatment.

But there is one telltale sign that you won’t see, around here at least:  average citizens actually talking to each other about the election.  Instead, there’s an eerie silence about it.  In Ohio, that’s partially explained by the fact that its a midterm election and because the governor’s race and other statewide contests are uncompetitive, but I think something deeper is at play.  Many people, of all political persuasions, seem to be disgusted and disaffected with the political process and would rather disengage than be disappointed by a perceived champion who turns out to be a bumbling, unprincipled hack.  That’s understandable, but dangerous in a democracy.

On November 4, the polls will open, people will vote, and winners and losers will be determined.  How many Ohioans will even care?

Trappy Valley

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley to play the Penn State Nittany Lions.  Penn State has struggled this year, but this is a game that concerns me.  It’s one of those classic “trap games” that can reach up and bite you when your opponent gets pumped up because they can salvage their season with a win..

Since the Virginia Tech loss, Ohio State has racked up a lot of yards and put a lot of points on the board.  Many members of Buckeye Nation think Ohio State’s offense is an unstoppable juggernaut and terrific redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett is the second coming of Peyton Manning.  Let’s take a deep breath, people!  Ohio State’s recent performance is all well and good — but it has occurred against defenses that really aren’t comparable to Penn State.  As is always the case, Penn State has a lot of tough, hard-nosed athletes on the defensive side of the ball.  Statistically, the Nittany Lions are the best defense in the Big Ten, and they are especially good against the run.

With a huge home crowd behind them and roaring on every play, it’s not hard to imagine Penn State’s defense stopping the high-octane Buckeyes and keeping the score down.  Sure, Penn State’s offense has not been impressive, but Ohio State’s defense has given up a lot of big plays.  If the Nittany Lions can break through for a long score or two, and their defense keeps Ohio State out of the end zone, this game could turn into a close slugfest — and the longer the game is close, the more the crowd will become a factor.

As Ohio State knows all too well from the very successful Jim Tressel years, you don’t need to lead the nation in offense to win a lot of college football games.  Careful game management, a solid defense that doesn’t give up long touchdowns and keeps opponents off the scoreboard, and good fundamentals in the kicking and punting game can go a very long way to make up for a weak offense.  Tonight Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes might see some Tresselball from the opposing team, and Tresselball isn’t that easy to beat.

2008 Time Warp

IMG_3471In 2008, the President Obama “Hope” t-shirts and posters were everywhere, so popular that the image became iconic.  You don’t see the image much anymore, with President Obama’s approval ratings sinking in the direction of the 40 percent level, according to the Real Clear Politics average.  However, the “Hope” t-shirts are still being sold at a souvenir stand at Reagan National Airport for $12.99 apiece — although they don’t command nearly as much shelf space as brightly colored, generic “Washington D.C.” hoodies.