Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Governor

Today I am feeling tired and not quite over whatever it was I had last week, whether a bad cold or a mild fever or just a system rebelling because I had gone to my friend’s son’s wedding and consumed more calories in four hours than I typically process in a week.  

I’ve also come to wonder if my office is not filled with toxins of some sort. I know there is construction going on below me because I can hear the pummeling racket of a jackhammer for thirty seconds at a pop.  So, I’ve wondered if the construction doesn’t involve the emission of something not meant for those to inhale.

Whatever,  I am still not completely through whatever is running its course.  And when that happens my emotional meter also dips.  In other words I am dragging myself around town with less hop to my skip than is usual.

So, that was the state of the author of the Madness of March when I went to the Orange Line early this afternoon.  I belong to a library in downtown Boston and had a book that needed to be returned.  I have an app that tells me when the Orange Line is a’coming, but I never use it since they run every few minutes.  Besides I am not sure how it works, though I will bet it is simple.

I put my terrific Senior Citizen subway pass on the turnstile sensor and for half the cost of what young ‘uns pay, I got through to the Ruggles stop.  I approached the down escalator to the tracks and saw that an outbound train was parked there. No need for me to rush because I was going inbound.  I saw the sea of folk coming up the escalator as I was starting to descend.

It was then that I spotted him or at least I thought I did.  About half way up the escalator there was this old guy emerging with the rest of the army. Every stair on the escalator was taken and this guy—when I first spotted him—was half way up crammed between two kids scanning their cell phones.  The man was gray-had to be pushing 80 (just looked it up, 84)—and was a little tired looking.

As I went down and he came up, it became clear that it was he.  And also it seemed to me that nobody on that upcoming escalator and nobody on the down one I was on, knew who he was.  I knew he worked at Northeastern and have seen him on campus now and again. It was definitely he. I smiled and waved at him, and he smiled back in the way that famous people do when someone else recognizes them and they know that they are recognizable.

And it struck me that whatever garbage is coursing through my system and causing me to feel blue and tired, this guy at 84 has better reasons to be exhausted and blue. Nobody, I will bet, nobody on that Orange Line knew who he was. He had not taken a cab, or a limousine, or an uber. He was riding on the Orange Line with about 150 others near the platform.

I looked at the oblivious escalator riders and wanted to tell them that this person between them, just under thirty years ago, ran for president of the United States on a major party ticket. President of the United States. He was not running on the Free the Pelicans ticket, he was the Democratic candidate for president.  Had it not been for a dumb commercial and dumber answer to a stupid question by CNN journalist Bernard Shaw, this gray haired man likely would have been president.  In addition, for twelve years this fellow that nobody recognized, was the Governor of the state of Massachusetts. Almost the most powerful person in the United States, and for over a decade the most powerful person in Massachusetts.

But there he was, thirty years later, riding the Orange Line in Boston at the age of 84, just another Charlie of the MTA.  Me, if I were he, would still be thinking about that dumb commercial, dumber answer to the stupid question.  And I would have trouble shaking it.   Not Michael Dukakis.  Eighty four years old going to work on the Orange Line, apparently unconcerned that he had been one dumb advertisement away from being president and unconcerned that nobody knew who he was, Governor Michael Dukakis was seizing the day riding to his office to go to work.  


Monday, November 20, 2017

Jones

Jerry Jones's behavior is particularly offensive to those of us who live in New England.

Anyone who has read my blogs on Deflategate is aware that I thought the NFL acted inappropriately when dragging Tom Brady through the mud when there was no clear evidence that he had, as it was claimed, requested that footballs be deflated to maximize his performance.

One of the issues I brought up at the time was that other owners should have been sympathetic to the Patriots.  They should have been sympathetic not to show camaraderie like a gang defying authority, but because it was the right thing to do to question the severe punishment (four game suspension) since the evidence did not exist.  No other owner came to Kraft's defense. I thought, and still think, that was gutless and reprehensible.

Now Jones wants to purge the league of the commissioner. He wants to because now he feels that one of his players has received a punishment that is far too severe.  And Jones is seeking support among the owners.

However, the player in this case, Ezekiel Elliot, committed a far more egregious act than the offense that Brady did not commit.  An NFL investigation found that on three separate occasions Elliot violently attacked his girlfriend.  Given the NFL investigation during Deflategate and how sloppily they examined the allegations, it is possible that Elliot too has been unjustifiably accused.  The protests from Jones, however, do not suggest that is the case. Jones appears to be protesting the severity of the punishment not whether the acts were committed.

If Jones was willing to let Brady hang, then he should not be squawking about punishing someone for beating up a girlfriend.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Cloudy

It is a gorgeous sunny day in New England.  November 3rd and I do not need any sort of jacket.  I have the day off.  Looking forward to a relaxing autumn day.

I met my long time friend Ken for breakfast in Newton Centre.   We, as we do during these monthly get togethers, discussed all sorts of this and that, from politics, to retirement considerations, to sports--pick a topic and it surfaced above our eggs.

When we separated I saw that I'd placed a letter in the car that I needed to mail.  I could not recall where the post office was in Newton Centre, but it had to be around where we met to eat.  So, I put another quarter in the meter giving me twenty minutes to walk around the Centre and find either a mailbox or the post office itself.

It had gotten even warmer.  Not too hot so it was uncomfortable, but an unseasonably comfortable November day for these parts.  The town of Newton Centre has a bunch of different types of stores. Most of them are not my type.  Boutique clothing joints for the most part and expensive eateries with some sort of peculiar niche.  When I first came to  Boston to live temporarily in the summer of 1979, this same Ken took me to an Israeli restaurant which no longer exists, but is not atypical of the different kinds of eateries one can find in the area.

I found a mailbox, deposited the letter, and still had a few minutes left on the meter. I decided to take a walk around the block where the cute subway station is located.

Standing outside a parked car was a gray haired gent who I'd put about 70, but could have been a little younger.  He was leaning into the car and shouting.  As loud as his voice was when I first encountered it, it became even louder.  I thought he might have been a deranged fellow because at first I did not see anyone in the car, but then I saw a younger man in the passenger seat.  It was not difficult to make out what the older guy was saying. The message was something along the lines of, "I told you I don't want to ever see you again. This is not good. Get out of my life."  I then heard a bellowing from inside the car which I could not quite make out.  The older guy responded again shouting.

I deduced, maybe inaccurately--but I think correctly--that this was a father and son situation.  I heard the child screaming that the father should never threaten him this way again.  And the father again bellowed a response.  Then I heard the kid wail, "I just can't do this all alone."

I circled back. It was not because of altruism. I didn't think there would be a brawl. I was more curious than anything else.  I saw the younger man step out of the car.  He looked emotionally beaten, and maybe even physically so. There was a scab above his nose that could have been the result of some fight the night before, or even, the kid himself--I'm guessing in his mid to late thirties--banging his head against a wall.  He had on a rotten sweater with holes and not the kind of scarred garment kids now buy off the rack to be cool.

I doubled back a second time and the two were now in the car and the conversation had simmered some, but it was clear not all was settled in their universe.

Later I started to think about how cloudy even a beautiful day like this can be for those in emotional pain.  Who knows what is going on between those two.  I can imagine that the kid is a ne'er do well, and the dad has had it with the kid. The dad, according to this extrapolation, is at a point in his life where he cannot deal with the weight of whatever the kid is bringing to the table. And the kid, who knows for sure, is lugging around a hole in his heart after years of a less than loving homelife. And the kid has consciously or otherwise used the emotional gap in his guts as an excuse to veer along a destructive path that he could have avoided, but did not.

I am so fortunate to have come from a home where such a battle as the one I witnessed would be other worldly. Sure we had our spats. Unless you are a robot and parents were robotic as well, there are always bumps when rearing kids, but this was different by a time zone from any tete a tete we ever had.

For various reasons I have cloudy days even when the sun is bright, but for the most part I am able to enjoy the sunshine and laugh.  For the two I bumped into in beautiful, affluent, Newton Centre, I'm not sure the sun shines a whole lot today or on any day.  For them, the sky is forever cloudy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Heady

In the last six weeks I have attended three reunions.

The first in mid September was a gathering of people with whom I'd gone to summer camp.  I had last attended the Camp in 1967. There had been other reunions of this group so I had seen several of these former campers in the past.  Still, what surfaced as we shmoozed were recollections from at least 50 years ago.

On October 20th, about three dozen fraternity and related folks gathered in a restaurant outside Albany.  Six of us had started college together a half century before.  The others were either older or younger by a year or two, but for the six of us we had met in the freshman dormitories before the end of the Johnson administration.  The next day was homecoming and I saw maybe another dozen or so senior citizens whom I'd first met as we began our post high school history.

Then last weekend on the 28th over 120 congregated in my home town to shake hands, hug, and marvel at the fact that we had all graduated high school five decades ago.

Of the three reunions, the high school one was the most intense.  There was an open bar on one side of the room, but I could not get there as every step I took I bumped into someone I had not seen in forever.  The exchanges were just as intoxicating as the booze would have been.  We paid a bunch for the event and it included a dj, appetizers, a full buffet, and dessert.  I barely ate a thing.  Too much shmoozing to do.  I saw the woman who drove me to the motor vehicle bureau to get my driver's license, the guy who taught me a trick regarding how to comb my hair,  at least three kids who were in my sixth grade class, and one who was in my 5th.  I talked with a guy who taught our class how to speed read, a woman who once invited me to a barbecue where the poor shnook who was cooking the burgers nearly burned his eyeballs from the smoke.  The captain of the football team was there and he still looked like he could play.  My date from the senior prom was there, as was my backcourt mate on the JV basketball team.  I spent some sweet time talking to a guy who I of course knew from high school, but who also worked with me in the borscht belt in 1968.

The formal part of the event ended at 11, but a bunch of us stayed in the hotel bar until 1, and were still shmoozing at 2 well after last call.  I got to hear about peoples' post work careers, their children and grandchildren, some tales of duress, and of course high school reminiscences.

Fifty years just evaporated at all three of these reunions.  For the high school one, there was some sadness as it's likely this will be the last shindig for that group. If there is another one it is unlikely as many people will show. So, I said goodbye to some people at 2 am and then realized that it is quite likely that I will never see them again.  That all week has been a sobering potion.

Friday, October 27, 2017

50

Tomorrow night is the date of our fiftieth high school reunion.

I've been to several others in the past.  Our 20th was very well attended. After that, fewer people came.  There was a small get together last weekend for those of us who started college 50 years ago. Some there talked about their 50th high school reunion.  It seems as if the turnout has not been robust for many of these.

Social media has been active in terms of ours.  People have been chatting for months asking about who is coming and from what distance.  A buddy of mine who I have seen a bunch of times since 67 is now living in Malaysia and he is coming in (not just for this).  Others from various parts of the US.

These can be heady experiences. For one night you rocket back to the past. Almost everyone is recognizable if you imagine that they went to a make-up artist in 67 and were made up to look 50 years older.  There's typically more pounds on us all, and hair is either grayer, colored, or gone.  But the mannerisms after a few minutes are just like they were and even manners of speaking.

There was a request for the place to be a no politics zone and I am hopeful that this request is honored. It will not be easy because some of the back and forth a year ago on social media was less than respectable.  We've always had open bars at these, but for reasons that I can't actually identify, in the past nobody has gotten ripped at the event. If this proves an exception the gloves may come off. I remember thinking that at the 20th, it would be a boozy affair recalling how some would, illegally, bang them back as high schoolers. But almost nobody went to the bar and the buffet wasn't touched much either.

The thing about this one is that, as someone mentioned in a post, this is likely the last time we will see many of our classmates.  And not necessarily because this could be the last official reunion.  The list of deceased, of course, gets longer each time we meet, but now the numbers are coming at a more rapid rate.  It's sobering.

Tonight there is a cocktail hour warm up event at the hotel where the shindig tomorrow takes place.  I won't be at it.  One reason is that I no longer live near my high school home. Another is more fundamental: one night is enough. There are people from my high school whom I see regularly without official reunions.  I will be happy to see others, very much so, but after three hours of conversing there will not be much to say to these acquaintances. Except maybe goodbye.

The past is not even the past, said Faulkner, or words to that effect.   It would be wise to think of the future as the present.

Go Gulls.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Act One

So the story goes like this.

When I was a junior in high school my English teacher gave us all an assignment to read a biography. The idea was that after reading the biography and becoming acquainted with the subject we would have to, in lieu of our usual book report, give a speech to the class.   For the speech, we would pretend that we were introducing the main character in the biography to a group that was attending an event where the main character would be speaking.

It was I think--now having the perspective of a teacher for 40 years--a very good assignment.  It would, one would think, force us to read a biography and understand it sufficiently to be able to "introduce" the subject of the book to the class.

I have a vague idea of how I selected the book.  I think I waited, go figure, until the last minute to find one and asked dad if he had any ideas.  It may not have happened that way, but I know I picked a book that had been in dad's bookcase for a spell.  It was called Act One an autobiography of the great playwright Moss Hart.  I did not know who Moss Hart was, but the book on the bookshelf satisfied the requirement, and maybe Dad recommended it.

I started reading it and I liked it.  It was funny in parts. Hart relayed how he had wanted to be in the Theatre from an early age and stayed focussed on that goal.  His family was poor and, maybe like all families, quirky. There was an eccentric Aunt who encouraged Hart's aspirations, a domineering grandfather, a shy brother, a dad who could barely make a living, and a mother who tried to keep the starving family together.

What happened was that the deadline for making my speech was coming up and I had only finished the first part of the book--232 pages of the 450 plus page autobiography. I figured I would not have enough time to finish the book so I started writing the speech based on what I had read.  On occasion, even as a kid, I was able to make decent presentations.  I crafted an engaging introduction and delivered the speech to the class well enough to get some genuine strokes from classmates who were no doubt more prepared but less poised when delivering a talk. I earned an A, as I recall, on my effort.

Dad asked how the talk had gone and I told him. And then I said half as a brag, that I got an A even though I had not finished the book.

Dad was not the kind of guy who would get riled up about this sort of thing usually. His attitude, more often than not, about my less than studious habits as a teen, was to wave his hand meaning a combination of "there's nothing I can do if you want to be a goof" and "I got bigger fish to fry than to worry about you."

I remember once when he and my mother came to Albany where I went to college. He saw a list of the various lectures that were scheduled on campus and said something like, "These are great. They've got famous people coming here. Do you ever go to these?" I probably looked at him as if to say, "Dad, you know me. I play basketball in the afternoons."  He made a face, but did not read me the riot act.

However, when I told him that I had not, and did not plan to, read the second part of Act One, he got uncharacteristically upset.  He said the first part was good, but the second part very very important to read.  He then said something that he never had said to me previously and never said again. He said that if I did not read the second half he was going to tell my teacher.

Well, I knew that was a bluff and being all wise and smart and knowing everything I needed to know on planet earth at 15, did not even consider reading the second half of the book.

Libraries around here, and I am sure libraries everywhere, hold annual used book sales. There is one in particular that is very popular. When I am around during the time of their sale I tend to go into this basement where they store the books and see what I can get.  I have become something close to a book worm as an adult and find reading a fun hobby as anyone who reads my blogs regularly will know.  So, I am often in that basement poking around for a good read.

On a recent visit to the book sale I spotted Act One and I was reminded of the incident with my dad, the speech assignment, and his desire for me to finish the book.  I decided that I would get it, reread the first part and then finish what I had not finished 50 plus years ago.  Just completed the book this afternoon.

I was surprised at how much I remembered from the first part.  I enjoyed it the second time around as I had the first.  I am not sure the book is really appropriate for a fifteen year old. Lots of sophisticated vocabulary that I am sure I glossed over as a kid. Also, the issues that Hart dealt with, with his family were ones that I would not have fully appreciated in my teens.

The second part, while a tougher slog, became very powerful to me. It became so not because of the story itself but because of my recollection of how important Dad thought it was for me to finish it.

 The first part concludes with Hart taking a writing pad to the beach and deciding to become a playwright. The second part, for almost all of it, is about Hart's first successful play, Once in a Lifetime. There were many times when Hart could have quit.  He thought he had a winner, but then a reader decided that Hart needed a collaborator. The collaborator, George Kaufman, was a wonderful person to work with, but was idiosyncratic enough to make a lesser person decide to pack it in.

Hart did not pack it in. The two of them rewrote the play together. Then they went to Atlantic City for a tryout. And the second and third act stunk up the place.

They rewrote Once in a Lifetime again., with Hart coming up with an idea that seemed to be a real winner. They tried the play out again--the third act stunk up the place.

At one point Kaufman said essentially he had given it all he had. Hart was about to give up, but then he decided he would not.  He just could not. His parents and kid brother were still starving; he had no money to rub together, but he decided that come hell or high water, he was going to make this work.

So, he took the subway up to Kaufman's apartment barged in while Kaufman was taking a bath and said that they had to try again. They did.

They took the play to Philadelphia and the third act stunk the place up.  Hart and Kaufman at first decided they had no choice but take the stinker to New York. Maybe there would be a miracle and the New Yorkers would love it.  But then Hart reconsidered and thought that he did not want to bet on a miracle. Again, Hart rewrote the third act.

This time it worked. They went to New York. The audience loved it.  The reviews were fantastic.

Hart went to Brooklyn where his parents and brother were living in squalor and said, "pack a bag" we are moving to New York and never looking back. It's not in the autobiography but after that first hit, Hart had success after success as a playwright and director, most famously directing My Fair Lady.

So, what Dad wanted me to do was read the book to know and to never forget that if you have a dream you should chase it and despite the storms, if you believe in your ability to pursue the dream, deal with the storm to see the rainbow.

Vocationally, if not in all areas, I have been industrious and persevering despite never having finished Act One until two hours ago.  Regardless of how valuable it could have been to me at 15,  I know why he wanted me to read the book then.  And I wish I could tell him now, that I finished it.

After all this, do I recommend Act One? Well, for the reason that my father wanted me to read it, yes, but with a few qualifiers.

The first is that it can be tough sledding. Lots of pages with no conversation. My vocabulary now at three score and nearly eight, is pretty sophisticated, but I had to keep underlining words that were new to me.

Second you might get tired of reading about playwriting and the theatre if you are not naturally interested.

The third is a big qualifier. Before I finished I read a wikipedia article about Hart as I became intrigued about him in general and his collaboration with Kaufman.  I found out something that was mildly upsetting.  In this article it said that in the autobiography he had altered the facts about his quirky Aunt, and not insignificantly.  What is problematic about this is it made me start to wonder if he had changed any other facts to make the story better.  When you read an autobiography or biography you want, like Dragnet, the facts ma'am.  And if an author plays with the truth in one part, you wonder about the truth in another part. For example when Hart gets telegrams wishing him well on opening night, some of the well-wishers, it seemed to me, would be unlikely to even know that Hart was still in show business. It made for interesting reading though to think that people from his past had sent him telegrams.  Our past does create our background, but if these people did not all send him telegrams, then it was inappropriate to write that they had in something that claims to be non fiction.

In sum, even though I cannot unequivocally recommend the book. I am so very glad, Dad, that I finished it. And thank you for knowing that the lessons in those pages are important ones for anyone on the cusp of this life's journey.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Abomination

The decision of the NCAA today regarding the UNC scandal is an abomination. Just unbelievable. Stunning baloney.  If you want to read my academic diagnosis of the scandal, then go to the new book Casing Crisis and Risk Communication where I have published a chapter that describes in detail the travesty at UNC.  On pages 57-67 I explain what occurred there.

In a nutshell, UNC players were kept eligible by taking bogus courses. For 18 years. Eighteen *%$# years. And the coaches claimed to have no knowledge of this.  Sure, for nearly two decades coaches never got a whiff of this.

The phony courses were created to service the athletes.  A side effect of having created the classes was that non athletes who found out about them could get into them. This fact was not good news to the people who created the ruse.

Today the NCAA said in effect that UNC could not be sanctioned for the easy classes because the NCAA does not police a school's curriculum, and since other UNC students took these classes then it was not a sports team violation, but a problem with curriculum.

This is what is wrong with college athletics. The NCAA did not take a stand on a case that is beyond egregious. What good is the NCAA if they do not sanction a school for such an outrageous offense.