Monday, September 03, 2012

It Was the Third of September, That Day I’ll Always Remember

The Temptations, 'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone' (1972)The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” -- which memorably begins with that line about remembering the date of a father’s passing -- first appeared just about forty years ago in late September 1972.

It’s a great jam, with extended funky instrumental passages surrounding smart lyrics recounting a child’s curiosity about a wayward father who “spent most of his time chasing women and drinking.” “Wherever he laid his hat was his home,” explains the mother, “and when he died, all he left us was alone.”

It’s a song about a man’s legacy, or lack thereof -- really just a few stories reflecting badly on his character and a date for the gravestone -- with compelling characters, what can be construed as a kind of social commentary, and even broader messages about the tenuous nature of existence and our responsibilities to one another during this life (if you wanna go that far with it).

The third of September also happens to be the birthday of someone close to me. Thus is it a day I’ll always remember, though for a much happier reason than is the case for the child in the song.

Maybe it’s that underlying quest for meaning rumbling below the groovy rhythms of a song I can’t help but play out in my head every time the calendar rolls around to this particular day. Or maybe it’s the way birthdays bring to mind the passing of time. Or maybe it’s having gone yesterday with Vera to visit an elderly relative -- in her nineties -- and talking with her about the past (both recent and long ago) and the future (both near and distant)...

But for some reason today I’m waking up thinking about those Big Questions again, including the one regarding how best to make use of the time we have. What we owe each other. What we owe ourselves.

I continue to piddle for pennies online now and then. I break even there -- no, really, I do -- although every time I sign off after goofing for an hour or more I can’t help but feel I’ve lost something kind of significant.

David Hayano, 'Poker Faces' (1982)Of course, I’m just a recreational player giving a few hours here and there to a game I mostly enjoy, but to which I haven’t the commitment of many others. Still, I am reminded of that passage near the end of David Hayano’s 1982 study Poker Faces: The Life and Work of Professional Card Players about which I’ve written before, one coming in a section called “The Existential Game.”

“Because of the relentless instability and uncertainty of day-to-day gambling, players continually examine and reexamine their motives, feelings, and entire state of being,” writes Hayano as he tries to sum up the experiences of those many poker pros he’s been discussing throughout the book.

“If the life of the professional poker player were comfortable and predictable, I do not think that such extensive and persistent self-reflection would be required,” he continues. “Living, playing, and surviving in the chance world of the cardroom repeatedly assaults the sensibilities, and several pros have openly commented on the difficulties of ‘lasting’ and explaining what ‘all this means.’”

He goes on to point out how some are plagued with doubts about whether or not playing cards for a living is really worthwhile, as well as gnawing grief that playing poker is not a “particularly productive” way to live (no matter how much money one makes at it). Nor (worry some) is it much of a contribution to society, generally speaking.

Hayano further delves into the way the poker pro’s temporal existence -- specifically the way a cash game player fails to experience much sense of finality and/or structure -- can affect his or her well being. “The dimension of temporality, experienced as an undue prominence in the future, in what the next hand or thousand hands are likely to bring, manifests itself in an existential, if not socio-psychological, kind of imbalance,” suggests Hayano.

In other words, for some the third of September becomes nothing to remember. Nor is any other day, all of which run together in an endless game. Rolling along.

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Blogger JMF said...

Great song. I probably first heard it on a little AM radio when it came out. In the years since, the lyric I've heard has always been "all he left us was a loan." Wrong? Yes, but I bet the guy was a gambler and left behind some debts.

9/03/2012 10:51 AM  

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