Monday, July 15, 2019

For the Ages

During the post match commentary a broadcaster remarked that in thirty and forty years from now people will still be speaking about the contest.

In thirty to forty years I am likely to have used up all my tickets at the ultimate amusement park we call life.  However, as long as I am here, and capable of remembering much of anything, I will remember this match.

I was thinking yesterday afternoon that there are few such sport events that rival what those who watched saw yesterday. There was the Miami-Nebraska 35-34 Orange Bowl in the mid 80s.  The Rangers 2-1 overtime victory over the Devils in 94. I was fortunate to attend two college basketball games that my alma mater played in that were similarly riveting and thrilling.  And then there was the Patriots-Carolina Super bowl game in 2004 at the conclusion of the 2003 season.

Yet I think yesterday's tennis match for sheer excellence beats them all.  I am not a big fan of the personality of Novak Djokovic, but he has a backbone of steel.  I am a big fan of Roger Federer and he too is other worldly.  These two warriors took it to the cliched next level in a five setter that was remarkable.

Sports transcend sports. This was about will, and personality, and play within the rules sans gamesmanship--particularly Federer--that it is to be admired.  Federer caught a bad break in the final tiebreaker when a Djokovic ball he could have clocked was called out, then reversed on appeal, thus requiring a new point which, had the ball been called in, would have resulted in a Federer point.  Federer just went back to play the next point.  Neither player took bogus health breaks to unnerve their opponents. Just a remarkable match.

Both players "forced heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they were gone. And so held on when there was nothing in [them] except the will to say hold on."

A treat. And you did not even need to enjoy sports to enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

law and the law

I completed Kate Atkinson's Big Sky a few days ago, and am nearly finished with a non fiction book that deals with a similar issue.

Big Sky is the fifth Jackson Brodie novel.  Atkinson has written several books that do not involve Brodie, but the four that preceded Big Sky that did, were very well received and in my opinion, for good reason. Case Histories was the first and it is brilliant.  Then came One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News, and Started Early, Took My Dog. Case Histories was the best with three cases cleverly related.  And When Will There Be Good News has a message that is so powerful that it, in and of itself, makes the book worth reading.  If you are interested I've blogged about the Brodie books before.

This one, Big Sky, is not as good as the others. To me, it reads like her publisher said, "They want Brodie, give us Brodie" and Atkinson after resisting for a spell said "Fine, you want Brodie I'll give you Brodie." But her heart wasn't in it.

However, it does bring up a point that is present in the other book I mentioned, Furious Hours. I've got about 40 pages to go in it, but the section that deals with the common question has already passed. I am not giving anything away with this following brief synopsis.

There is a man in Alabama, a reverend no less, who is killing off his kin. He is doing it for the insurance checks. He takes out insurance on his wife, and then kills his wife, and collects the insurance. Then he remarries, takes out insurance on his second wife, and kills his second wife and collects the insurance. And he does it to other family members as well. Remember this is NON fiction. This really happened.

The insurance companies are, go figure, reluctant to pay up.  The Reverend hires a lawyer who initially is able to get a not guilty verdict on a murder, and subsequently successfully defends the reverend's rights to collect on the insurance policies.  After the reverend knocks off a step daughter, at the funeral of the step daughter, a man stands up and, at the funeral home, shoots the Reverend.  The shooter then hires the same lawyer that defended the reverend to acquit the shooter for murdering the reverend.  And the lawyer is successful. Again remember this is non fiction. All this really happened.  The last part of the book, the part I have not fully completed is about Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who intended to write her second book about this case.

Question is this: is a person innocent of killing someone if the victim was a nogoodnik like the reverend? In Big Sky at the end there is a similar ethical challenge.  If a slime ball is killed by a decent person, is the killer someone who authorities should let go.  Readers of To Kill a Mockingbird with a long memory, may recall that the bad guy is killed by Boo Radley, an innocent, and the sheriff encourages those who witnessed the killing, to not press charges against Boo.

Are there laws and laws?  Is the reverend's killer a hero?  Are good guys responsible for killing bad guys?  And if so, how can we be sure that those who assess a bad guy to be a bad guy, have an accurate read on the character. What if the bad guys are the good guys, and the good guys are the bad guys.  Lynchings in the south were incomprehensibly regular in the early and middle 20th century. Probably a sheriff or two who felt that the killers were not bad guys at all. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Boys of Summer

The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn came out nearly fifty years ago. Since it was published many have recommended it to me. For who knows what reason, I just picked it up last week.

The Boys of Summer is a very good book that got more engaging the more I read.  It was one of those reads that I did not want to end.  I finished it in a library and looked around to see if there were newer editions which might have more inclusions. The edition I read had a late 1990s addendum so I thought that since the author is still alive, he may have included more stories. I discovered that I had read an edition that included all the subsequent additions.

The Boys of Summer can seem like two separate books. Initially I thought they were so distinct that it should have been two separate books, but later I thought the connection was less tenuous. The first part of the book describes how the author got his job covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 and 1953. There is a good deal about him growing up, his folks, the steps he took to become a journalist, and some stories about the 52 and 53 Dodgers.  

The second part is "where are they now?" That is, where are the Dodgers in 1971 that he covered in 1952 and 1953. Where is Preacher Roe, Andy Pafko, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Joe Black, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine.  In 1971 he was able to meet up with these ex players and learn how they had fared once the summer ended.

Now most if not all the people he interviewed in '71 are dead.  Jackie Robinson And Gil Hodges died  very shortly after the book was published. Carl Erskine and the author are alive, but the rest are gone.  

Where are they now books may be more popular now than they had been when The Boys of Summer was published. One of the reasons for the book's enormous popularity could be that there were fewer such books at the time. Also, the book was about a team that was beloved among New Yorkers. Reading about the Dodgers to many was an opportunity to relive young years.

 But the book, to me, is more than about the Brooklyn Dodgers.  We all have our summers, and we are all boys and girls of summer at one point—but then there is fall and winter.  The people who come out the best in the book are Pee Wee Reese, clearly number one, and Jackie Robinson. Some others kept their heads up and were mensches. Others fell on hard times or took routes to hard times. 

Billy Cox went home to an area that was very racist,  Furillo retained anger that was debilitating.  The people who fared the best were those who, like Reese, dodged the inevitable toxins and did not "give way to hating."

There are several good stories in the book, but my favorite is how Reese, when Robinson was getting berated by racists, walked across the diamond from his shortstop position and put his arm around Robinson at first.  And Reese was from Kentucky.  When Robinson was promoted to the Dodgers, several players approached Reese and asked him to sign a petition refusing to play with Robinson. Reese, refused to sign.  

I had heard of nearly all the people Kahn interviewed, but did not really know the Dodgers of 52 and 53. My consciousness with baseball arrives when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in 1956.   One could contend, I suppose, that I like the book because it was about baseball regardless of the era. Yet, I think anyone who is interested in what happens to people past their prime, will find the book engaging.

The title comes from the first line of a Dylan Thomas poem. "I see the boys of summer in their ruin."

We are all, as I wrote above, boys and girls of summer.  We have our moments in the sun.  What happens in the fall and how we decay is up to us and the choices we make..

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I see you.

Twice in the last month there have been incidents in which I was startled to see myself as a young man. And it was not in a photo.

I've moved my office once again.   I am now back in an office I'd been in a few years back. We at Northeastern have become excellent in many ways. One has to do with the broad area that is called Facilities. Facilities folk do a number of things including moving furniture from one space to another. You fill out a form on line and at a mutually convenient time, movers come to your new space bringing items from the old one. They patiently ask where items are to be moved and place them there.

So, on an assigned date a few minutes before the scheduled time, I arrived at the office. As I turned a corner to a hallway that leads to the office, there I sat.  Two people were there, ahead of time, but one was me.

In the summer of 1970 I took three classes during summer school.  I had switched majors and in order to complete on time I needed nine credits.  Before school actually began I sought work to help pay the tuition bill. I had a short stint in a fast food restaurant chain, another as a pot washer in a catering outfit, and eventually got a pretty high paying job as a toll collector on the New York State Thruway.  There was another job too.

I knew a man who worked in what was the equivalent of Facilities at the university. It may have even been called Facilities. He got me a job as an assistant to a worker who did anything and everything in our multipurpose Campus Center.  An air conditioner had to be moved, it came to him.  Someone wanted a chair that was on the first floor of the campus center. We got the chair. The bowling alley had to be cleaned so bowling balls had to be carted somewhere; he was in charge of the carting.  I was an assistant. There was another fellow there too, a guy from Brown University who played baseball for them who was a relative of the head of the Campus Center. So, he worked with me as an assistant too.

What I remember most about the job was that I felt sorry for the fellow we worked for. He was about 50 and had been laid off by the railroad. This job in the campus center was either beneath him, or paid less than what he earned at the railroad.  And he looked at the two of us with some mixture of envy and sadness.  He had, he thought, had his shot, and here he was shlepping air conditioners. But we, the guy from Brown and me, were just shlepping on the way to something possibly grand or hopeful.

I'm not sure how long I lasted as an assistant, but at some point when the toll collector job came through I hauled my last air conditioner. But during the time I found the job to be a lark; I kibbitzed with the kid from Brown, and listened respectfully to the stories from the head guy with sympathy. 

So fast forward to 2019 as I approach my door waiting for the furniture.  And slumped along the wall are two people who had gotten to the job early.  I came up short because there was me and the guy who worked for the railroad.  The elder person was courteous, and the kid was energetic and helpful.  Lugging my furniture here and there with a sense that this was just a summer gig.  About a week later I found some furniture in the campus warehouse that I wanted so the same two but this time with another young guy came to the office and there I was again, smiling and looking at the furniture. The two of them oozing, hey this is just a summer job and, well it is kind of fun. You want the bookcase here, sure. You want the cabinet there, nothing to it.

And I wanted to stop the kid and shake my hand. And say something like, "hey young man, I am you fifty years down the pike.  Take a good look.  And don't lift like that you could hurt your hip, and guess what-- it isn't going to be as smooth sailing as you think it might be."

But he would have thought I was crazy. So I just smiled in a way that he would have thought strange if he thought about it at all.

Then a week or so later, again I ran into myself  We bought a couch.  And we needed to get rid of the 85 inch monster of a couch that had been in our living room for 25 years. Even I agreed it was time for this guy to go, even though it was in decent condition.  I called the sanitation folks and they said we could bring the couch to the curb.  But the thought of Donna and me lifting the couch and carrying it to the curb was, sadly, comical.  Even when my buddy Kenny came to visit, I didn't even ask.  We would have left our groins on the deck if we tried to carry that thing.

Coincidentally, I had contact with one of the two cousins I have living in the area. She called me for a ride and I happily obliged since we see each other far too infrequently.  In the course of our ride I asked how her 30 something year old son was doing. Very well, she told me, and he was moving to a new apartment.  I asked her if Alex might want the couch.  She did not know but gave me Alex's number.

He did want it.  He just needed a buddy of his to be available with his van to be able to transport it.  In a few days, Alex called to tell us that the fellow with the van was available. He came at the appointed hour.  Out of the van popped Alex, his friend, and his friend's girlfriend. And there I was again.

Three happy bouncy 30 something year olds.  Moving furniture. How many times I moved furniture in my day, I do not want to count.  There was a stretch when I was about Alex's age when I drove a very large truck from Buffalo to Boston having stopped at a number of places along the way to pick up couches, chairs, and bookcases. Quoth the raven...

In no time Alex and his pal, picked up the couch which would have left Kenny and me crotchless, and carried it through our slider and around the corner.  The three maneuvered the couch into the van as Donna and I stood by. Most of the couch was on the bed of the van; part was in the air. After a number of tries they shut the van trunk.

They had a problem, I was sure. The couch took up the entire back of the truck.  How they managed to get it in there was one thing. But there were only two seats in the cab part of the car. Where would the third sit. I offered to drive one of them to the apartment.

No need they said easily.  They sort of laughed and the woman said that she had been in more cramped places.  The two fellows got into the cab.  Then as if it was the simplest thing in the world, the woman climbed through a window into the back of the van and lay down on the couch as if she was in someone's living room. Head on the ground. Legs in the air.

Donna said, "We used to do that." Meaning it metaphorically. I don't remember an incident where one of us had so contorted to climb through a van window and kerplunk on a couch that was part on the bed of the truck and part in the air, and drive however long--but there was a time even before we had met, that we would think nothing of hauling an 85 inch couch into a van and then sleeping on it as we drove here or there.   And doing similar things.

So I saw myself in the van and speaking for myself, but maybe for both of us, it was an odd sensation standing on the lawn watching the van drive away with me in it.

Again, like with the Facilities guy, I wanted to shout out classic middle age platitudes--"Enjoy yourself, seize the day, don't blow it" as the car drove away,

We had a '50 Ford in Brooklyn. It was the only car I knew until we moved away. We drove that car everywhere. In 1961 a year after we moved to Plainview, my dad bought a Rambler.  He put an ad in the paper to sell the '50 Ford for 50 bucks. We could not believe how many calls we got to buy that car. The lucky guy, a hot rodder or so it seemed to me, came by and gave Dad fifty dollars. Dad began to explain the problems with the car. The kid didn't need to hear anything.  He said something like, "I got it." And took the keys. Dad called mom from the house so that she could see the '50 ford for the last time. My brother and I were already at the curb.  By the time my mother got out the door, the '50 Ford was zooming down Forest Drive. And there Dad stood looking a bit stunned at the past, take off down the road.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What we need

There is a bagel place I go to when I am in south florida.  It's a couple of miles from the condo my brother and I inherited.  It sits in a strip mall and two doors away from the bagel establishment is a Starbucks.  A fancy restaurant anchors one end of the strip mall and a bank sits at the other. Near the bagel place and Starbucks are outdoor tables for sipping on coffee or eating bagel sandwiches while sipping on coffee.

Outside of the Starbucks there are two tables pushed together. And there, every time I have gone to this spot, a cluster of what I take to be octogenarians sit and hold court.  The thing is that while often the octogenarians are different; the conversation and reason for convening is essentially the same.

Yesterday for example, there were 8 of these fellows who chatted about politics, tv shows, and-- until a woman crony joined them-- their assessments of the asses of the women who went in and out of Starbucks.  One woman with high heels and very tight jeans--easy pushing 50 and maybe 60--who came over and gave one of the fellows a hug and a kiss--drew several quips once she walked away. Close your eyes and forget where you are in the country, and these could be fraternity boys based on the chatter.

Today I went back, in part to see who all would be there one day, and a few hours, later. Yesterday I had arrived around 8; today--a Saturday--it was closer to 1030.  Same two tables pushed together. Different octogenarians holding court.  I did not hear much kibbitizing about the sexual allure of the passersby.  (Because, maybe, it was shabbas?). Today the conversation had to do with the starting salary of pharmacists-"straight out of college, and they don't mix a damn thing, they just pour pills from one jar to another!"; problems with the tenure system; the mandatory retirement age which forced one of these fellows out of work; and the quality of hamburgers at two competing restaurants in the area.

So, why the clustering and kibitzing? These folks could have consumed their coffee and sandwiches at home.

Yesterday--when I went into Starbucks for the smallest coffee they had (and wound up wired until 4 pm)--I noticed several folks camped with computers at the indoor tables. This, as I blogged once before, is standard at all Starbucks.  Why are they sitting there long after their beverages have been consumed.  Just hanging out by others at nearby tables.

They are hanging around others for the same reasons the octogenarians gather--they need human interaction. We need to interact.  There are fewer encumbrances when we travel and sit alone. Nobody can irritate you with their own brand of craziness if you are at home.  Yet we travel and seek out the interaction with others because such contact is a balm despite the potential for off putting behavior.

Yesterday, one of the fellows at the table (I sat one table behind)--twice offered his opinion about two women who had walked by on separate occasions looking combative. The 80 year old's comment-twice, was the same. "She needs to get laid" he said. That, he seemed to suggest, would solve all problems.  I think this was this fellow's standard refrain. My bet is the next time I sit at Starbucks and he is around, he will comment similarly about some other annoying pedestrian.

In the general sense of the phrase, and generally speaking, the fellow is correct. That is we ALL need to "get laid." We need social intercourse. We need to shmooze, opine, chat, tell stories, try out jokes, and touch others.  Stay at home and you won't have to deal with a person pontificating about how all doctors are rat bastards because of one episode in a life, but you will miss the nourishment of the intercourse.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Dive from Clausen's Pier

There was a time about half way through this book that I became so angry at the behavior of a character. And I thought, temporarily, that the author was condoning the activity.  Even though I was 160 or so pages invested, I did not want to read any more of it.

I'm glad I continued.  The author was not, I believe, condoning the activity--she was describing it. And describing it well. I am still not certain if there was some degree of acceptance mixed in with the description.

One of my favorite lines from a novel is from Ironweed.  A character is describing a reprehensible activity of another.  The listener says, "He was just doing what he had to do."  The character responds dismissively and says "That's what everyone does."

Everyone does what they have to do. But some people do cruel inconsiderate things in the name of doing what they have to do. And others, do not do cruel things. What they have to do, the responsible ones, is behave within the confines of a conscience that compels one to be considerate of others-even when it is painful to be so considerate.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer is a very good book. It is disturbing at times but it is well written, and can be read from the perspective of a story as well as something beyond a story.

Not giving away much below since it happens right in the beginning, but if you want to know nothing, then skip the next paragraph.

Carrie is 23 and engaged to Mike who she met when she was 14.  Things are cooling from Carrie's perspective, but they--with their friends--embark on their annual Memorial Day weekend picnic. Mike dives from Clausen's Pier and there is an accident.  Now what.  Even though things were cooling off, there is a deep love and history that they share.   There are several important and well described (but certainly not all well liked) characters. A best friend of Mike, Mike's mother, Carrie's mother, Carrie's best friend, Simon a high school acquaintance who becomes a friend, Kilroy, Lane.

The issue for me in events or novels like this is simple: one does not have the right to behave reprehensibly because the world has given them a bad deal, or there are people in the world who are irresponsible.  You'll have to read the book, but I am not at all suggesting that Carrie is morally and in any way obligated to stay with Mike. I am suggesting that no matter what bad things come your way, you are not entitled to hurl them back. You are entitled to dodge the foul matter, but not at the expense of someone else.  Somebody dumps garbage on your lawn.  Fine with me if you dump the garbage back at the perpetrator. Not fine with me if you dump it on your neighbor's lawn or if you feel the insult of having garbage thrown on your property gives you permission to treat people who did you no harm as if they are, collectively, the garbage dumpers.

I think the author here does such an excellent job of drawing the characters and scenes as they would have likely occurred. I cannot stand people like Kilroy, but they are out there.  I think the way she describes them is just the way Jamie, Rooster, and Mrs. Mayer would have behaved. There are some beautifully written steamy scenes as well. I wondered at times if they were gratuitous, but I did not mind reading them. And if she left them out, she might have left out a key part that explains the fuel of a relationship.

The metaphors and tale beyond the story are special as well. The house in New York where everyone is doing something that they are doing temporarily before they do something else.  Do we all live there? And more than anything, Carrie's sewing skill: the ability to mend and alter and create.  And the sense the reader gets that it is this, that will be her calling.

This book will stay with me for a while. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Not sure what to make of this book, Where the Crawdads Sing.  It had been on the New York Times best seller list forever, so I requested it from the library consortium.  About a month later, it arrived.

It is engaging and well written enough to have me go through it in a couple of days during Memorial Day weekend.  I enjoyed it, but have this caveat.

If the book was intended to be taken literally, as in an event that actually could take place--then it does not cut it.  The book does not pass the ridickalus test for plausibility. Kya could not have survived as she did for as long as she did.  Even if she had been as resourceful, she would have been discovered and unable to continue as she did.  Maybe what happens to momma could have happened, poppa is a caricature but there are such poppas-but not the three other siblings.  Other stuff too. The trial was not real in any way. Even for 1970 which, just for you young-uns, was not a prehistoric peirod. I was not living in rural North Carolina then, but still.

So, if the book was intended to be taken as the telling of an event that could have occurred, then my comment is that it reads as a young adult novel.

But as a novel with meaning beyond the alleged events, it is a good one--fantastic in the literal sense of the word.  Very sweet. An adult fairy tale.

I already have recommended the book and will continue to do so. I think it will stick with me, but not because of the plot which, as I have written, could not have happened. 

A question: Are there times when a wrong can be a right? And if so, who has the right, to commit a wrong when that wrong is right?