Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who are we anyway?

The Likeness is the second novel by Tana French that features detective Cassie Maddox.  In the first novel, In the Woods, Maddox works with Rob (nee Adam) Ryan to solve a murder case.  We learn in the first novel that Cassie had at one time worked undercover.  While Rob and Cassie identify the doer in the first novel, there is a problem which precludes really nailing the main culprit.  Partly as a result of the snafu, Rob and Cassie split, and Cassie finds herself working Domestic Violence cases-- not homicides.

When I finished The Likeness I read through some of the surprisingly glowing reviews.  My comments are not as glowing.  I did spot one reviewer comment that resonated. The critic wrote "The premise was intriguing, the promise was there; it just took too long to get there."

Amen.

This 466 page novel could have been a very good short story of fifty pages or so.  There is one preposterous postulate upon which the story is based, and that would be a problem even with a short story, but the message could have been one that lingered nevertheless.

Who are we, anyway?  Am I Alan Zaremba a former college professor turned administrator?  That is what my resume suggests, but could that just be who I am for this stretch.  Might I just as easily become someone else entirely with a different job, living in a different city, with a different spouse. And could there be a time when I could not be sure who the hell I was even though I had been, up to that point of self doubt, certain I was what my resume said I was.

I don't recommend this book. It is too long, just dawdles too much and, contrary to some of the comments in the reviews, I do not think it is particularly well written. That said, it is intriguing if you go beyond the plot line.

It's a mystery, a whodunit, so if you gobble mysteries voraciously, you may want to read it. And there sure are a lot of people who liked it judging by the Amazon reviews. If, however, you are a reader of my blogs and tend to agree with my take on novels, I think there are better ways to spend your reading time.

Here's the premise.  Cassie is surprised one day to receive a phone call asking her to come to a murder scene.  She is surprised because she no longer works in Murder but rather is involved with Domestic Violence.  She protests but is told that there is something about this case that is different.  So, she goes to the scene of the crime where she sees her boyfriend (not Rob) who is near the body but as white as a proverbial ghost.  Cassie goes to look at the body and is taken aback because the dead woman looks exactly like her.  Cassie has no twin, no sibling of any sort, but this murdered person looks just like her.  If that is not enough to stun her, she is aghast when she sees the identification card of the murder victim.  The dead person has been using the name that Cassie used when she worked undercover: Lexie Madison.  Somehow this dead person became the fictitious person, Lexie Madison, who Cassie had pretended to be.  She stares at the dead person, essentially looking at herself or her fake self.

This dead Lexie Madison lived with four others, three men and a woman in a sort of commune. The four housemates become prime suspects.  The plan to solve the murder is for the detectives to tell the housemates that Lexie miraculously survived a stabbing. Then Cassie--the look alike--was to come back to the house, pretend she was Lexie and sleuth out who had murdered Lexie.  But, of course, not only is Cassie not Lexie, but Lexie is not Lexie since Lexie was a made up person in the first place.

In the course of pretending to be Lexie, Cassie kind of sorta becomes Lexie, and a member of the commune.  Meanwhile the reader finds out how the dead person came to be Lexie, which she did by changing lives several times in various countries.

What is preposterous, of course, is that no matter how much of a look alike you are to someone else, someone who knows you well will pick up on mannerisms that are different.  So, the notion that Cassie could pass as Lexie without suspicion is suspicious.

But if you suspend that disbelief, (and knock out about 400 pages) this is an interesting tale.

Can we change on a whim and then become another. And if we can, well, who are we anyway? Who is anyone?


Monday, February 20, 2017

impeachable offense

Let's see. Bill Clinton got a blow job and was impeached.

Donald Trump is threatening the first amendment to the Constitution and the lobotomized in Florida are shouting hosannahs.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

More Probable Than Not

I went to see Northeastern play its last home game today.  I love our coach, Bill Coen. His team plays hard and intelligently each game.

Earlier this year we had won eight games in a row. I witnessed a whipping of Delaware in January which made me think we might win a game or two in the big dance. But then we were hobbled by a series of injuries.  Today we had only seven players participate.  On the bench were two starters who were hurt. One attempted to play and lasted a minute. The other was in street clothes.  Seven players.  We played hard but could not keep up with the College of Charleston.

Still, I think if the hurt players come back we could go far in the CAA tournament. I don't see us winning it all which means our season will end during that tournament. Even if this occurs and we have no post season it has been fun to watch us play this year.  TJ Williams who had, previously, been just a complementary player, has emerged as something special.  I would not be surprised if some pro team gives him an opportunity to compete for a job.

After the game I took a walk downtown.  One of the perks of working at a university right smack in the middle of a city, is that after you work or go to a game, you can amble to various parts of a vibrant downtown.

So, today I walked to Copley Place to a sports bar that has the largest screen I have ever seen at any such establishment.  There I saw what--to date--is my favorite tee shirt. In the past my favorite tee shirt--as those who read Madness of March may remember was worn by a real sourpuss of a guy I saw in the early hours of a Sunday morning.  He was parked with a nasty mug at a bar as if he had sat there for six hours and hated the world (or more likely had lost a bundle at the tables).  I spotted this miserable looking guy and noticed his tee shirt.  It read, "My anger management class pisses me off." Perfect.  Later that day I saw what had been my second favorite tee shirt.  I was leaving the Flamingo and walking to an adjacent hotel.  I saw a couple walking from the rail system that links the various casinos. They were beaming. Her tee shirt, a take-off on the Nike slogan, read: "Just Did It."

But that is in the past. The one I saw today is the topper. No sexual innuendo with this one. Nothing about anger management.  Just a plain tee shirt with five rings on it.  The shirt reads, "More Probable Than Not."

Fans of the New England Patriots know what those words refer to.  Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL who does not have the integrity in his entire body that his father, Charlie Goodell, had under a fingernail. Roger Goodell who never would have gotten his 40 million dollar job if it had not been for the courage of his dad who, a Republican during the Nixon years, stood up to Tricky Dick.  Roger Goodell was the architect of the mind bogglingly farcical Deflategate matter which resulted in the decision--sans any real evidence--that it was "more probable than not" that Brady attempted to deflate footballs during a playoff game in 2014.

Only lawyers have read the documents more thoroughly than I have. It is pure speculation that Brady was culpable.  Because Goodell deemed that it was "more probable than not" that Brady was guilty, the Patriots lost a number one draft choice, a million dollars, and Tom Brady had to sit out the first four games of this season.

What are the odds, Herr Goodell, that the  Patriots without its star for 25% of the season, and without a first round draft choice, would win its fifth championship in the past 16 years.

More Probable Than Not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hermans

One day after Valentines Day and I thought of Hermans.

In 1980 my mother and father came up to visit when I was renting a house on Cape Cod.  My mom was reading the book Ordinary People.  This concerned me.  Mom at that time was a few months past 55 years old.  It concerned me because I knew that she had read the book previously.  I asked her why she was reading the book again.  She said,she thought it had seemed familiar.  Years later when she was in her 80s, I was visiting my folks in their condo. She was reading The Laws of Our Fathers.  She was really into this novel and was, with excitement, telling me about the story.  I knew she had read it just a few years earlier.

What do we remember and what do we forget?

The other night we were watching a Columbo rerun.  Donna said we had seen the episode previously--more than once.  I said I had no recollection of having seen it.  She looked at me strangely.  I saw the entire episode again and I had the eerie feeling that I had, indeed, seen it before, but the fact is that I did not remember much about it including the surprise ending which surprised me in a way that if I'd seen it previously, I should not have been surprised.  A few times recently my brother has said something like, " remember when... " I'll respond and say that I was not there. He gives me a look and says, "Cmon. You were there!" And then incredulously "You don't remember when dad said...!" And I have no recollection of it.

With me, those things are atypical.  My ability to recall minutiae has startled others at high school, college, and camp reunions. I become the go-to guy for trivia in the past.  I find myself listening to friends recount events inaccurately.  Good friends, contemporaries, talk about incidents and alter them so that these distorted recountings are chilling.  I'll say to myself "Can they really think that happened that way?"

What do we remember and what do we forget?

I got to thinking about Hermans yesterday.  For those of my vintage and even for those a bit younger we will recall when our noggins are jostled that Hermans was a chain sporting goods store.  Go into Hermans and you could buy anything from golf pants to a tennis racquet to a basketball, to football spikes, to a ski jacket.  It had everything sports. I remember when I lived in Buffalo there was one downtown and likely were several in the suburban malls. I lived downtown and on Memorial Day 1975 my roommate and I got a hankering to play tennis. We were happily surprised that Hermans was open on the holiday, drove down Main Street and bought some tennis balls. I think I got a tennis shirt as well.

Hermans now is a trivia item. To write this next sentence accurately I went on line and read that the company went out of business in 1996, and had filed for bankruptcy three years earlier.  Having started in the early parts of the 20th century it ended 80 some years later. Hung around for nearly a century and now is essentially a forgotten piece of retail history.

I  don't know why I started to think about Herman's, but when I did it triggered a notion about Valentine's Day.

Hermans could have lasted 8 decades but is now forgotten. What we don't forget, however, is 8 months, or 8 weeks or 8 days, when our heart has been touched. We don't forget about love.

People might embellish the nature of relationships, and exaggerate events.  I have heard cronies talk about old girlfriends and incidents with them which I know for a fact to be exaggerations because I was standing right there at the time, either because I double dated with them or attended the same event.  But real engagement, true love..we don't forget that.

My mother may have forgotten that she had read Ordinary People, but she never really forgot how much she loved my father.  Maybe they couldn't agree on where they spent their first vacation, but how they felt about each other that was seared into the heart.

We don't forget the thrill and insane wonderful sensation of being in love. And on Valentine's Day, unless we actively work to suppress it, those feelings waft up and can be intoxicating.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

U Conn Women

Typically I am not a fan of women's basketball. I've gone to games here at Northeastern and been engaged to some extent when I've attended. Once even, I was an honorary coach during a period when our then coach had members of the faculty sit on the bench. On that day I got to listen to pre game and halftime conversations. I did find that fascinating.  The coach had the team so well prepared.  They knew everything about their opponents. Could a player go left? Shoot foul shots? Play tenacious defense? It was remarkable how complex the game plan was and how dedicated the coaches seemed to be. It was eons ago but when I played college basketball in 1967 we received a mimeographed (smell the ink) sheet with a list of the players and some information on it.  We, the freshmen team, would eat and look at the scouting reports with the varsity.  Their, the varsity's, scouting report was like ours. Very basic. The Northeastern women knew the size sneakers (an exaggeration) of the opponents.  The detail was unbelievable and eye opening.

But watching the game, even for a zealot, did not do too much for me. It wasn't like women's softball, hockey, or volleyball that can have me riveted--or men's basketball and football.

There is one exception to my lack of interest. And that is the Connecticut Women's team.  The Connecticut women are something special and something else. I watch them whenever they are competing against a top opponent.

Last night I made sure to switch the channel in time to see Connecticut go after its 100th consecutive victory. I became irritated when the contest being broadcast right beforehand went into single and then double overtime.  I felt as if I was missing a part of the super bowl. Eventually, the UCONN game was aired.  Connecticut defeated a tough South Carolina opponent last night, prevailing by 11 for their 100th straight.

You read it here first. Connecticut will not win the championship this year.  I don't know if South Carolina will win, but someone will. Last night the opponent was more skilled than UCONN. Very big on the inside. Deeper. Nevertheless Connecticut won.

So, they will lose eventually, but when they do so they will have won more than 100 straight games. Think about that for a few seconds.  100 straight games. (And before this current streak started they had won 47 in a row).

A question that often surfaces when speaking about UCONN is whether the basketball team's achievement is akin to a similar men's team achievement.

The answer is no, but it still is amazing.

It is not the same as a men's team 100 game streak, because most of the opponents UCONN women face could not beat the Huskies if the opponents were spotted 30 points. So, as opposed to men's teams who night after night face teams that could beat them, UCONN often faces teams that have no, as in no, chance of winning.

Still, 100 games. 100 games! If you went to the school yard with the biggest baddest guys in the neighborhood. And played 100 games against weaker opponents. You would not win 100 straight times. 100 games!

The streak, I predict again, will not last the season. But lordy has it been an accomplishment that should go down in sports history as absolutely remarkable.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Next year in Naples

Since 2007 a number of fraternity brothers have reunited in February to catch up.  Sometimes we meet twice a year rendezvousing in October as well.  Each time we've connected in Albany where we met, studied, and cavorted as college classmates in the late 60s and early seventies.

February is not the balmiest of months for those who live in Albany. Usually the snow is up to your knees and it is every bit of frigid. In 2016 the temperature during our weekend was atypically warm. We ambled easily around the municipal golf course with hundreds of Albany denizens who were strolling or walking their canines on that atypically spring like day for February.

This year we decided to change it up a bit. We decided to meet in Boston where two of the regulars of the crew reside.  We have had this planned for six months.  One of our cronies bought tickets to a Harvard hockey game on Friday night. I purchased ducats to a Northeastern basketball contest for Saturday.

The problem was that on Thursday we on the east coast got whacked with a storm.  One attendee from Chicago could not fly in. Another driving from Montauk faced a daunting drive through slick highways and decided, wisely, to take a pass.  That left four of us. We made do.

What do four guys pushing 70 who went to school during the revolution discuss during reunions. Here were the items that got the most air time.


  • Donald Trump.  Not only did none of us consider voting for Trump, we spent a good deal of time talking about how anyone could.  When we met in October it was the weekend when, on Friday, his "you can grab their pussy" comment was broadcast.  At that time we made fun of him as a goof, and also as someone, of course, who was sure to lose.  This time we identified incident after outrageous incident. The Trump conversations often concluded with one of us asking rhetorically "how could he have been elected?"
  • The weather.  Albany is typically colder than Boston, so we figured that this year it would be a little more balmy than are our usual rendezvous. Not.  Much of our conversation this weekend was about how cold we were.  We had great seats for the hockey game, but were right near the ice, so it was not summery at the rink.  But let me assure you that the walk from the rink to the car after the game was the kind of stuff you might consider would make a prisoner confess and give up his mother.  It was so cold that we four sat in the car for 15 minutes with the heat trying to blast us warm-- wagon train waiting to exit the arena, then drove another 15 minutes to a restaurant, yet we were still frozen a half hour later when we parked ourselves at the table.  Saturday night was a little better since the basketball arena was more temperate and the walk to where we dined shorter.  Still damn cold. I think we will speak about how cold we were this weekend for several reunions to come.
  • Children. The other three who made up our group, are parents. It was interesting to hear them talking about the joys and tribulations of parenting, in much the same way as we--in our early twenties--talked about the joys and tribulations of being parented.  I imagine that our folks talked about us in 1967, in much the same way as the guys this weekend asked/talked about their kids.  Do the kids have relationships. Did they like their kids' others.  One of the guys said that when his son had asked him, years before, about what to seek in a partner, his response was simply "low maintenance."  This seemed to resonate with all.
  • The Patriots.  It was fun to talk about the recent startling super bowl game. Each of us relaying "where we were then" almost like talking about the Kennedy assassination.  Where were we watching it? How did we react when the Patriots went down so big?
  • Old girlfriends.  This has been a bigger issue at other reunions, but it got some air time this visit as well.
The party's over.  We, in  Boston, are getting blasted again by another storm. My buddy Kenny left at 10:45 driving into the teeth of it.  We dropped the other non-Bostonian off near his daughter's apartment last night and I hope if he knows what's good for him, he's nearly home already.

I always find it nourishing to see these folks.  One of the guys who did not make it has a condo in Naples, Florida.  Last night while cold, and recalling how much colder we were the night before, one of the fellows suggested that next February we meet in Florida.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why the Patriots Won

Almost immediately after the Patriots miraculous comeback on Sunday night I received an e-mail from my buddy from New York who is still angry at Bill Belichick for not taking the offered Jet job and deciding to coach the Patriots instead.  His e-mail declared that the reason the Patriots won was because Atlanta choked.  He went on to list the various foolish things the Falcons did to lose--as opposed to acknowledge why the Patriots were victorious.

Gary is as fervid a Jets fan as there is. The Jets have not been in the super bowl since 1969, and Gary is understandably frustrated. Besides he is a good guy, so I cut him some slack.  However, the fact is that the Patriots won because the Patriots were the better team.

Here is why the Patriots won.

Understanding Talent
The team understands that the key to victory is not necessarily the skill level of individual players, but the willingness of players to adhere to a system that is likely to result in wins.  Sure, you need to be skillful and strong, but you don't have to be the most skillful or strongest; you need to be the most committed and smartest.  The best receiver on the field on Sunday was an Atlanta Falcon: Julio Jones.  While Edelman's catch was an optical illusion and brilliant--Jones's catch earlier was even better.

The best receivers for the Patriots are (1) a former college quarterback who never played receiver until he came to the Patriots--Julian Edelman (2) a former lacrosse player for Penn State who played only one year of college football at Monmouth University in Division I-AA--Chris Hogan (3) an undrafted free agent--Danny Amendola (4) a running back who two years ago when the Patriots went to the superbowl was not even good enough to be active for the contest--James White (5) a rookie from Georgia-- Malcolm Mitchell and (6) a tight end--Martellus Bennett.  I heard a pundit after the game opine that he would be stumped if he was a defensive coordinator trying to game plan against the Patriots NOT because the receivers are so good, but because none of them are really good--so he could not pick out who to focus on.

Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round. His best asset is his brain, not his arm.  His second best asset is that he seems to have no need to demonstrate that he is the greatest.  He really does not seem to care that he didn't throw the winning touchdown pass--and that it was rather run in by James White.

Malcolm Butler was undrafted and two years ago literally stole the super bowl by intercepting a pass. This year he blanketed very talented Falcon receivers for nearly the entire game. He got beat badly on one play but for the most part was all over the Falcons.

So, the Patriots won because they had the talent--talent defined as players who are smart and industrious.

Coaching
I watched 95% of all the plays the Patriots ran this entire season.  And I saw plays on Sunday that I had not seen all year.  Both two point conversions were brilliant.  The first I had seen before--in the 2004 superbowl game with Kevin Faulk--but I do not think the Patriots have run it all year.  The second two point conversion was also well conceived; again I do not believe the Patriots used it all year. Similarly the pass to James White that set up the overtime winning run, was new and very cleverly designed.    The fake kneel down at the end of regulation has, I will bet, never been used by any team ever.  Defensively the play that led to the strip sack during the comeback was brilliant. The guy who was supposed to pick up the blitzer was so confused, he barely saw Hightower rushing past him.  The Patriots were better prepared and always seem to be.

Opportunism
Atlanta made some decisions that in hindsight were not the greatest, but in the first half they made enough good decisions to go up by 25 points.  What happened though was when they did falter, the Patriots took advantage of the errors.   Sure it was not the most brilliant move in the world to try and pass when a field goal would have nearly clinched the game, but when forced to punt they pinned the Patriots inside their own ten.  Down 28-20, the Patriots mounted a 90 yard drive--including a 3rd and 11 first down--not to mention Edelman's circus catch.

Character
Belichick never throws his team under the bus.  When they lose, he takes as much heat as everybody. He praises his opponents and does so, it appears, genuinely. Even when an opponent has been hurling snide remarks his way, publicly at least Belichick does not disparage the player often saying he has a great deal of respect for the other.  As a coach you have to be able to deflect praise to create a culture that is conducive to winning.



In December 1981 I remember screaming my head off because the team I was rooting for then, the New York Giants, had finally gotten into the playoffs on the last day of the season. For many franchises just getting into the playoffs is a big deal.  Since 2001 the Patriots have missed the playoffs two times. They have appeared in 7 of the 16 superbowls. That is amazing. And they have won 5 of those 7.

It's not luck. It's not because their opponents choke.  It's because they recognize that if a lacrosse player can catch a ball and understand the pass plays, then he is worth a shot.  And that an afterthought like James White might be your go-to guy, simply because he works harder than the next player.