Saturday, March 17, 2018


Yesterday I saw parts of nearly all the games.  It was not like being in Las Vegas for a number of reasons. 

I did not hear the incessant ringing of one armed bandits while I watched, either downstairs or when I decided to recline in the bedroom.  I did not consume a single malt beverage yesterday-very non Las Vegas like.  When I went out for a short drive, the street where I live was not filled with people holding cards on which pictures of very scantily clad stormy daniels wannabes could be seen. For  dinner I did not sit at a buffet and devour more calories than the entire population of say, Guam, consume in a year. And I did not lose my shirt betting on games that are essentially a flip of the coin. 

But otherwise there were similarities. I kept a chart of the spreads and the over unders.  I did not pick teams because what is the point. Nobody in my household would be paying out if I had a winner.  Still I looked at the odds and followed the games.

An interesting thing occurred. If you read the book you know I argue that betting on college basketball games can be fun, but it is not going to bring anyone any real money except in very rare instances. All the games are presented as even propositions. That is, if you wanted to bet on Duke today you have to give up 9.5 points to Rhode Island. At last glance this should not be a problem, but going into the contest it is tossup. 

To prove that point, yesterday the favorites won 7 games by beating the spread, and the dogs won 7 games by getting within the spread. One was a push (a tie) and one game was a pick-em.  And, guess what--8 games made the over, and 8 games came in with the under. 

Now it doesn't always work this way. I can remember one time in Las Vegas--relayed in the Madness of March--where a well oiled gambler opined, "the dogs, the dogs, the dogs, the dogs," and this night he was right as nearly every dog beat the spread.  But typically it is even.

And that is why the lights are on in Las Vegas, and in some casinos they give free beer.  The casinos are raking it in.

I make the point in the book that when people go to Las Vegas this week, they do so for a lark. It is fun, a vacation. Earlier this year I was contacted by someone who heads a facebook group of people who travel out. He wanted me to send him a couple of autographed books that he raffled off to his buddies. I did so delightfully (and am now an august member of the group).  I am not there as I have written, but I can just imagine the fun.  The amateur bettors are hunkering down now because in ten minutes or so the six night games to be played in the next 7 hours are about to begin. 

The reason I went to Las Vegas during March Madness the first time in 2001 is because it was billed as one of the 100 things to do before you die. If you are a fan, trust me. It is. Go. 

Friday, March 16, 2018


I read this morning that a Congresswoman has passed after she fell in her home. She was 88.  I recall that when my dad and mom were alive they would refer to friends who were hospitalized after falling. I could not get my arm around it as a relatively young man.  And this is to my discredit. Obviously it happens that what I once considered a simple fall can have disastrous consequences.

The point was driven home to me as I read the article today because last night-- I fell. I was walking in downtown Waltham which has become a rather busy place with more than a dozen restaurants and taverns, a movie theatre, ice cream shop, Indian grocery store the size of Kansas that people come from all over to frequent, and other enterprises of this and that. 

We have had some weather hereabouts. Three times in three weeks--no exaggeration--we have  been hit with storms. I was away for storm two but was back for storm three. Often in New England what passes for a blizzard would not be considered much of anything by those in Buffalo where I resided for the better part of a decade in the seventies and early eighties. But the third one here was a snowfall. Lots of wind and lots of snow.

A fellow who moved to San Diego left me a primitive snowblower when he departed.  I don't use it much because I don't mind shoveling snow and it is such a primitive device that it takes some energy to push the guy along. Also for certain kinds of snow--wet snow--it is not that helpful.  On Tuesday I went out twice during the day with my shovel. I should not have bothered. By the time I went out at 8 pm everything I had done was undone by the snow that had come by in the interval.  So, I took out the blower. It was great, but even with it, I was out there for close to 90 minutes.

Much of it melted in the past days, but last night it got cold again. So as I was walking home I watched my step for black ice.  Missed a spot and came kerplunking down half on the sidewalk and half in the street as I recollect it.  I knew or at least thought I had not broken anything and felt fortunate for that. But I could have. I was wearing my specs and could have come crashing down face forward. But did not.

Nevertheless today I woke up, and all day long, I cannot lift my left arm over my head. Very painful. I'm not a wuss, but if someone put a gun to my head I do not think I could stick em up with my left arm.

I wonder at myself often, as I approach three and a half score, of how foolish I was when I was even ten years younger, and how many of the things I assumed had to be true for everyone--like someone in good shape would not be hobbled by a simple fall.  I also recall my folks talking about people they'd lost and how that was depressing.  I knew it was not easy to lose friends, but I did not realize how much it could bring you down and, whether you liked it or not, thrust your mortality right in front of you.

Fire and Fury

I finished Fire and Fury this afternoon.  If half the things in the book are true, we are in greater jeopardy than I thought, and I thought--prior to reading the book--that we were cooked.

In parts very funny, but the prevailing reaction is concern.  And occasionally wonder at how strong our country must be to be able to function with such a strange duck nominally leading the nation.

Trump is described as someone who does not read or listen, and is not particularly knowledgeable. He has surrounded himself with people he can tolerate until he cannot--and then jettisons them, sometimes for good reasons but those reasons are the reasons they should not have been hired in the first place. Steve Bannon actually comes out as one of the more sane people who worked in the white house.  That is not comforting.

If you are an anti Trump liberal, I am not sure this book will do anything other than make you feel even stronger that the man is unfit. If you are a Trump fan you are likely to dismiss the contents as bogus. If you are neutral you will not be so when you are done.

The author has been criticized as playing loose with the facts in the past. Even if some incidents have been mischaracterized, too much must be so. 

Where are the responsible Republicans and responsible Democrats?  Neither population gets any credit for behaving as they have. The Republicans don't criticize sufficiently. The Democrats appear to be cowards.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

spring training

I drove up to Jupiter this afternoon to watch the Florida Marlins play the St. Louis Cardinals.

Spring Training is an interesting scene. The games mean nothing but the fans are there rooting for wins regardless.  The Marlins and Cardinals share the same stadium. In a strange reversal, whereas all northern teams go south for Spring Training, the Marlins actually travel north.  And despite the proximity to what I assume is the Marlins fan base in Miami, the stadium was packed with Cardinals fans. Real ones too. Bonafide serious Cardinal fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite players.

I sat next to three delightful guys from Springfield Illinois--serious Cardinal fans. The fellow immediately to my left was the genuine article.  He knew more about baseball than I do and I know my fair share. He was relaying terrific anecdotes about Bob Gibson and Augie Busch and even the midget Bill Veeck sent up the plate (number 1/8th) as a stunt. He told stories about Earl Weaver--the Orioles long time manager--that were priceless. We both exchanged memories about the 64 and 67 Cardinal world series.  Terrific game watching partner.

I was sitting next to these guys by luck. They had sold their extra ticket to a fellow who then sold it to me.  The trio had travelled to Jupiter from Fort Myers where they had watched games over on the west coast and were going to see two games in Jupiter and then at least one other in West Palm Beach.

In addition to these two, there were some real fans in front of us who, it seemed to me, wished we behind them would shut up so they could focus on the game.  It is Spring Training, the games mean zero, many of the players have as much a chance of making the team as I do--yet when a pitcher started to falter one said to the other in all seriousness--better get someone warmed up.

The atmosphere in Spring Training is far more laid back than during the regular season.  The stadium is like a miniature with an appropriately miniature (but substantive in terms of offerings) concession area.  A fellow in a golf cart takes you from where you park your car to the stadium.  The drivers are not into making a shekel, they are retirees just having fun doing something fun on a beautiful afternoon.

Worse ways to spend time, than watching a Spring Training baseball game.

Pickleball day 2

Okay, now I have the scoring down.

Played for the second consecutive day.  I am almost to the stage where I know the rules and have become adjusted to the racket.  Not quite aware of all strategy of course.

The players with whom I have been learning are seniors. So am I for that matter. I may, however, be a better athlete than many of the others and of those who are gifted, I am a few years younger.  I am not sure what this game is like with people who are young and naturally athletic.  There is a lot of hand eye coordination and instinctive reactions.  I can do that well enough but I imagine there is more to it for those who take this seriously.

Today was chilly by Florida standards so even though I played several consecutive games I did not break much of a sweat.  The leader of the group told me that there is a website which will identify where in Boston there are courts and players. I'll explore this.

The best part of today was the same as the best part of yesterday.  I had no pain moving and twisting my torso.  Now 12 hours later I am a bit stiff from not having done much in the way of twisting for the past four years, but my hip does not hurt and my achilles tendon seems just fine.

Probably the best player on the court is 84.  He told me today that he used to play paddle ball with my father nearly fifty years ago. I can recall substituting for some of Dad's regulars on at least one occasion.  I am not certain, but I believe the one occasion that I can recall clearly, I was subbing for the fellow I met today.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pickle Ball

About five years ago a buddy of mine tore my ear off talking about a game I'd never heard of. The fellow is prone to exaggeration, so I listened, more amused at what I assumed was hyperbole than intrigued. Then two years back someone else mentioned pickle ball and how it was becoming a popular sport.  Then last year, March of 2017, I came to the condo in Florida and two of the tennis courts had been converted to pickle ball courts.  I thought to give it a try sometime down the road. Today I found myself at that place on the road.  While the folks up north are getting walloped with yet another storm, I arrived yesterday to see some spring training games and, apparently, learn how to play pickle ball.

I had not planned on playing when I did. I drove toward my breakfast spot early this morning and saw the courts were occupied. I gave a look. Next thing I knew I was recruited.

If you read the book, The Accidental Tourist, you remember how quirky the main character's family was and how they played a bizarre card game. Only the family members knew the rules and whenever an in-law tried to get it, the outsider became confused initially, and then exasperated.  Well, I did not become exasperated today, but the scoring and rules are unfamiliar.  By the third match (games go to nine) I think I got the scoring. (1-4-2 is a score. It refers to the score of the server, the opponent, and the person serving).  The rules I am less certain about. Here is an example of a strange one. You must serve into a box and while typically you can hit the ball on a fly, you cannot hit it on a fly after the serve has been returned, and you cannot get into "the kitchen" (essentially close to the net) unless the ball bounces.  Double partners switch sides sometimes but not others.

Really, I was just playing simon sez out there--following the regulars.  I know I will get the rules, but it seemed like the card game in the Accidental Tourist in this my first outing.

You play with a paddle that is not as big as a paddle racket, but bigger than a ping pong racket. The ball is something akin to a whiffle ball. It does not bounce. Couple that fact with the size of the racket and someone, like me, who always was good on half volleys, will whiff on more than one humbling occasion.

Can you break a sweat?

Just by learning the scoring you can break a sweat.  But seriously I did and only played three games. Each game lasted less than 20 minutes.  Of course I am in Florida not in Boston where I hear there will be much snow for me to shovel when I return.  So perhaps I would not have perspired so much in the northeast, but I can see how you can get a workout. Also, we played doubles. Singles I could definitely see making you sweat. Not a lot of running, but quick movements are key. The whiffle balls do not go far so there are nearly no breaks between points except when someone is contesting the score.

The best news of the day is that my bionic hip which has not been tested really in anything approaching a competition since 2014, and my achilles tendon ripped exactly 51 weeks ago on St. Patty's Day 2017, both held up.  I'm looking forward to going out tomorrow and giving the whiffle ball a whack.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


My plane was an hour late taking off for Charleston, but I still arrived at the North Charleston Coliseum in time on Sunday to see the entire second game of the first doubleheader.

Last weekend, running into last night, the CAA played its end of season tournament to decide which school would be invited to the big dance that begins in earnest on Thursday.  I had followed Northeastern's basketball all season, and was there both as a scribe/researcher and also as a fan to see the games. I'd bought the package of tickets that would give me entrance to nine basketball games in a four day period.  Had it not been for some miscommunication with my hotel's shuttle service, and the flight delay,  I would have been able to see four games on Sunday alone. As it was I saw three. Lots of basketball. Very good seats.

The CAA is a mid major conference.  As it relates to the big dance,--the moniker for the NCAA Division I basketball tournament-- being a mid major means that only one team from that conference will be invited to participate.  Therefore the energy at these conference tournaments can be significant.  In the SEC the tournament will be exciting, but the consequences not especially significant. A team like Kentucky will be invited to the big dance, even if they get shellacked in the first round.  Not so in the CAA. You lose, you are out.  Also, in the mid majors it is not unheard of for a team that stunk up the court all year to suddenly get hot and win the tournament. A team can be stellar all season, and have an off night, and then are not invited to the dance.

So for a fan and a scribe the CAA could provide--and in fact this year did provide--a good deal of excitement.  The problem for my university and, by extension really the whole league, is that the venue for the tournament happened to be a short distance from one of the participating schools' campus.  And this year, that school was a team that advanced to the finals.  So last night, Northeastern played what amounted to an away game in the championship, and while leading almost the entire game succumbed at the end and lost in overtime.

I saw the three games on Sunday and two on Monday. Then on my flight on Tuesday I take my window seat and overhear the fellow on the aisle speaking about how he is getting people to go to the championship game.  We talked  basketball all the way from take off to landing. For those engaged, March Madness can be all engaging.

One of the announcers last night claimed that these moments can affect us for life.  I think they can. Nobody who played in the championship game last night will forget what took place. I feel for our Northeastern players. The headlines today will read that they squandered a lead. This is so, but the reason they had a lead to squander is that they played brilliantly in the first thirty minutes. I have watched many games this season and that is as good as we play.  So, maybe give credit to the team for being up by so many in the first place.