Monday, May 29, 2017

Since We Fell

Every so often I read a book and feel that the authors either (a) changed their mind at some point about what they had set out to write or (b) never had a clear plan in the first place. Dennis Lehane's latest novel Since We Fell, is in this category.

We learn in the first pages that Rachel Childs has shot her husband on a boat.  We then flash back to Rachel's childhood.  Rachel is the daughter of a professor who has become famous for writing a book about marriage. The irony is that Rachel's mother has never married and refuses to tell her daughter who fathered her.  The first 100 pages are a gripping story of Rachel's search to find her father.

Then the book veers off slightly. It is again gripping and well written. We learn of Rachel's career and a marriage and divorce. We meet a character who returns after having appeared in the first section when Rachel was searching for father.  For the next 100 pages again the reader is engaged trying to discover the truth about something.  Very suspenseful. Terrifically relayed.  Only problem is that this part is only tangentially related to the first 100 unless...(I will get to the "unless" at the end of this blog).

The third part of the book is so unrelated to the first part that I feel that the author must have decided to hang a left at an intersection and go in a different direction.  And it is in this part that the book, while still a page turner, does not pass the sniff test for plausibility.  I can buy the search for paternity and think the characters are very well drawn. I can buy the search for truth in the second 100 pages though we start to get a little unrealistic.  But the rest-even though I darted through it and wanted to see how it turned out--just is ridickalus. Could not happen. Could not. Would not.  Harlan Coben-esque adventure like.  And I think this is unfortunate because the book had previously been so well drawn and realistic.

The unless part.  A theme of a number of books I have read of late relates to identity and how who we are is not only not monolithic, but not static. Of course who we are is a composite, but how we morph is something a little different. In this book and others, the message--as best as I can tell--is that knowing who we are is a trick made difficult by the fact that who we were may not be who we are, and who we think we and others are is likely to be illusory and/or elusive.

Do I recommend the book? Yes for the first 230 pages or so. But really the search for paternity has almost nothing to do with the last part.  Still, the last 200 are fun to read even if you have to suspend belief while finishing up.  And if you are intrigued by the idea of transforming, evolving, and multiple identity, you might find Since We Fell to be food for musing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To hell with the hat

Gloomy day here in Boston.  Rainy, cloudy, and I have tickets to the Red Sox tonight. Go figure.  Probably no more than 55 degrees outside.    

Besides I still feel lousy.  I am out of the boot nearly 100 percent, but at most moments I walk a little like a wobbly drunk.  If I get up a head of steam I can appear almost normal, but I am still a long ways away from being able to square dance.  I am more bemused than amused by the disparate projections of my recovery time. Since March 17th, the day of the deed, I have heard everything from four weeks to eighteen months.  Just this week a physician's assistant said 6 months--(his boss had thought 3-4)--and a chiropractor a day later suggested it would be more like 8 months to a year.  Yet everyone says "I'm doing great."  Does not feel so great.

But the fact--and great news--is I'm still here on planet earth which is a lot more I can say for the millions permanently parked in a cemetery.  I visited my parents' grave last week. They are buried up a slight incline near the end of the berm. So to get to their site I have to pass dozens of others.  Every single one of them would be screaming that they would take my limp, and the essentially useless Red Sox tickets and the gray sky, and the extra poundage that comes from being sedentary, and the fluctuating predictions, and the cost of a flight to St Louis where a buddy is having a 70th shindig next week, and bobbing heartbreak, and friends who are hurting or dead, and whatever else one could glom onto when feeling blue. The guys in the cemetery would be screaming for a shot at life.

Life is a horn of plenty.  It is the ultimate amusement park. All the rides are available. I had a sweetheart once whose uncle ran the roller coaster ride, the Cyclone, at Coney Island. She could go anytime she wanted on the roller coaster.  And that is what life is for all of us, a free ride on a roller coaster.   Sure there are ups and downs. Yes, there are times when we limp and it would sure be good to eat all the pizza we want,--but there is so much opportunity to do what the various people beneath the headstones at the cemetery cannot.  As Andrew Marvel wrote in his poem, "To His Coy Mistress", "The grave's a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace."

The inspiration for this blog came to me about a half hour ago.  I was looking through some old books and came across one that is really just a compilation of jokes. It is called Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar.  I read it a few years back and it still kills me to pick it up and see the jokes therein.  (A real benefit of losing my short term memory is I forget jokes and get to laugh a second and third time.)  I came across the joke below and, once again, got a good laugh from it.   

A Jewish grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea. She pleads, “Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.”

And a big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, good as new.

She looks up to heaven and says, “He had a hat!”

As one of my uncles would have said, "To hell with the hat."  We're alive. Ride that roller coaster.  Every day. It is free.

Another joke from the book goes like this.

Three friends are killed in a car accident and meet up in an orientation session in Heaven.  The celestial facilitator asks them what they would most like to hear said about themselves as their friends and relatives view them in the casket.

The first man says, "I hope people will say that I was a wonderful doctor and a good family man."

The second man says, "I hope people will say that as a schoolteacher I made a big difference in the lives of kids."

The third person says, "I'd like to hear someone say, 'Look, he's moving.'"

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A verb not a noun

When I was a kid the word "friend" was a noun.  Then there was Facebook and friend (as well as Facebook itself) became a verb as well as a noun.  We friend (verb) others on Facebook and they become our Facebook friends (noun).  I have heard students shout to another "facebook me". This assumes of course that the two acquaintances have already been friended.

But maybe it wasn't Zuckerberg who made friend a verb.  Maybe friend was both a noun and a verb from the start.

I have been reading quite a bit this last week or so.  I took two days off at the end of last week, had a couple of relatively long plane rides, and just got into some books.

A couple of weeks back I read an article about an author I'd never heard of previously.  The author, Penelope Lively, is in her 80s and has been--and is still--churning them out.  According to the piece I read, her books are often about how a single event that may seem insignificant can alter many lives.  A regular reader of this blog (and one with a good memory) might remember one I wrote called "Here There and Anywhere" about how a decision I made to get on a line at a certain time had an effect on several lives.  How it All Began is a book I bought by Lively after reading the article about her. It is, absolutely, a book about how a single event can have dramatic effects. In the novel a sixty something year old former teacher is mugged in London.  Her daughter has to take time off from her work as a personal assistant to an academic in order to tend to the mother. The academic's niece has to take the place of the daughter on a professional trip. Because of this all sorts of things happen.  An affair is revealed, a business takes off and then doesn't, an immigrant falls in love with a married woman, a television series begins and then is aborted--other things as well.  It is a fun read--many laughs along the way.  The point of the novel though is simple.  One's life can take significant turns because of seemingly insignificant events.  A downside of the novel is that if you are not familiar with British slang and just not a fan of British writing, you might find the book tough sledding.

Touch and Go is a classic beach read.  I'd not read anything by the author, Lisa Gardner, previously but she has written a bunch of novels. This one was recommended as a fast read and it is that. It is more substantive than some of its competitors but still on the ridickalus side.  A wealthy man, his wife, and their daughter are kidnapped.  The book is about the kidnapping and how sleuths find out who did the deed.  It really is a page turner.  Can you put it down? Yes.  But you don't mind picking it up.  I'm not sure there are enough clues to allow a reader to figure out who did it or how it was done, but there are a number of interesting suspects.  This is nothing like a good Scott Turow novel or Richard Price.  But if you are going to the beach and want something to zip through, you might enjoy it.

I just finished Trajectory a collection of four short stories by Richard Russo. I will read anything Russo writes.  I bought this, in fact, well before it was published putting in my order with Amazon  so that they would send it to me when it came out. I am not a big fan of short stories in general, but I liked Russo's last collection The Whore's Child.  So, I was looking forward to reading these.  The short stories in Trajectory are really not that short. The two briefer ones are about 35 pages each.  The second longest about 70, and the long one is close to 100 pages--more like a novella than a short story.  One of the four seems to be about Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Newman was the lead character when Russo's Nobody's Fool came out as a movie.  He also had a role in the tv series based on another of Russo's novels, Empire Falls.  I liked the story about Newman and two of the others, but these three pale compared to the story called  "Interventions."  This 35 pager will stay with me a while. "Interventions" is about a realtor who has cancer who's trying to sell the house of a woman who is a hoarder.  The woman will not listen to the realtor when he suggests that in order to sell the house some of the many boxes that litter the house have to go.  And the realtor seems reluctant to take the advice of his wife and an old buddy who give him the name of a specialist in Boston who may be able to address the cancer.  What happens is that the realtor intervenes and gets the clutter-a metaphor if there ever was one--out of the woman's home.  And the realtor's wife and the friend intervene and make the realtor see a specialist for the cancer.  My synopsis doesn't make the story sound like a lot of laughs but there are a lot of laughs in "Interventions" and the message is important. We all need interventionists.

In "Interventions" particularly, but in How it all Began and Touch and Go the stories involve friendship and love. I remember reading a quote a while back that, in essence, suggested we need strong ears to hear criticism and those who are willing to be critical perform an act of friendship.

Those who notice when we are going down a path that is self destructive and are willing to intervene are friends because they friend us. They tell us what we do not want to hear, and may redirect us to another avenue that is in our best interests.   These people's interventions reflect what was the case before Zuckerberg came on the scene. Sure friend as in "to be a friend" can be a noun, but in order to be a friend you have to friend as well.   Similarly, we all know what it feels like to be in love (noun) but a lover--discounting the connotation of sex that comes along with that word--is one whose behavior reflects an awareness that love, the noun, needs love, the verb.

So What

In Bonding and Betting with the Boys I write that nearly all of the avocational gamblers I met while in Las Vegas were essentially sports fans.   I make the point that unless you were atypically successful, wagerers were likely to lose money given the flight, lodging, and assorted vacationing expenses.

I also point out that while nearly all will place bets based on their "wisdom" and most of the bets are made against the spread, a number of people told me that they did not like to bet the spread on "their team."   The reason was that they wanted to be happy if their team won regardless of the spread and they would be disappointed if the team lost even if they covered the spread.

Such are my sentiments today.  If you read my short blog entry last night you know that I picked correctly that the Celtics would get within 16 points of the Cavs and beat the spread. Also I felt that the under was the way to bet as I did not think that both teams would get beyond 217 points.  The Celts did indeed get within 16 losing by 13.  And the total points for the game was 211.  I would have been a winner had I been in the great state of Nevada yesterday evening.

However, I am disappointed today.  There is a small sense of satisfaction regarding my sports betting acumen, but since I am by far and away predominantly a fan of sport as opposed to a wagerer, I wanted the Celts to win.

And they almost did. The Celtics played a great first half. For the first time in a long time I was impressed with their rebounding. I am not a big fan of Kelly Olynyk, but he played very well as did nearly everyone on the team.

The problem was that Kyrie Irving was remarkable.  With the exception of a game that Eric "Sleepy" Floyd played in 1987 (that I still remember) in which Floyd scored 29 points in a quarter, Irving's play was the best example of one on one basketball I have ever seen.  Not only did he hit very long distance threes, his drives to the hoop were stunning. And everyone knew he was going to get the ball.  He drove past anyone who attempted to guard him and was dazzling.  Once in 1971 ( I do have a great long term memory, which is as good as my short term memory--frighteningly--is bad) I saw Earl the Pearl Monroe have a game where he hit such remarkable shots, but in a single quarter...?

Had Irving not had such an outstanding game, the Celtics would have won.  True, Kevin Love continued to make me a liar as he played very well ( I do not think he is so extra) and LeBron in the fourth quarter was LeBron--but the difference was Irving.

So, had I been in Vegas I would have some shekels in my pocket, but so what. My team lost even if it covered the spread.

Another point, that is also in the book:  Over the years I have watched carefully to see if a coach or player has any awareness of the game spread and, in fact, plays in a way that reflects that awareness. It would seem to me to be a difficult thing NOT to be aware of the spread and not be tempted to make decisions based on the spread or the over/under.

However, it almost never does seems to me that players or coaches are so tempted. Last night was an example.  With thirty seconds left and the Cavs holding a thirteen point lead, LeBron had the ball.  He did the classy thing and just dribbled out the 24 second clock without taking a shot.  Trust me, I wasn't there, but I just know that guys in Las Vegas were plotzing because had LeBron hoisted a three and hit it the game, in the parlance of sports betting, would have been a push.  (A tie) And had the Celtics responded after such a three by making a meaningless and consequently uncontested  basket, those who bet on the over would have been victorious. But neither James, or the Celtics did anything that suggested an awareness of the spread, or the over/under.  And this is a very good thing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Take the points

The spread tonight is Cleveland minus 16 and the over/under is 217.5.

I like the Celtics with the 16 and if I was now in the great state of Nevada I would take the points and run. Sixteen points is a lot of lumber.  The Celtics got clobbered in the first game and came within 16.

 I would not bet the Celtics on the money line, but I would not bet the Cavs either. I think the Celtics have a decent chance of winning the game.

I like the under.

Tip off in nine minutes.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Uh, what was the score tonight.

In case you missed it, the Cavaliers proved that they were mortal and the Celtics took a game in Cleveland.

Who would have predicted such a thing?

Someone wrote the following yesterday.

"Despite my dubious wisdom revealed in yesterday's blog, I do not think the Cavs are that good. If heaven has a team, it would not be that good.  And the Celtics are not that bad. The Celtics can hit threes, they can play defense, it is just difficult when everything your opponent throws up is a three and is going in.  And even LeBron cannot play at this level every night. He has been ridickalus.

I still like the Celtics to win two games in this series--one in Cleveland, and one in Boston"

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Last night provides another example of why I should not move to Nevada. If you read my blog yesterday you know that I predicted that the Celtics would not only get within the five point spread, but win outright. The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics like a professional team might defeat five kids who were hanging out in the park.  I did, in fact, pick the under correctly but that was the least certain of my forecasts and besides, I picked the under for the wrong reason. I thought the Cavaliers would be cold.

On the contrary I have never seen a team be so hot, or an opponent be so outclassed.  This was a stunning beat down.  The Celtics looked like they were trying but it was the big kids against the little kids. LeBron James proved once again that he is the best player on planet earth, but everyone else on the Cavs looked like all pros as well.  And all the Celtics except maybe the kid Jaylen Brown, stunk up the court. Particularly noteworthy stinkers put in by Horford, Olynyk, and Thomas who figured the ignominy from the first half was such that he did not show his face in the second.

Question du jour from all who follow sports is simply this: Are the Cavs that good, or the Celtics that bad.

Despite my dubious wisdom revealed in yesterday's blog, I do not think the Cavs are that good. If heaven has a team, it would not be that good.  And the Celtics are not that bad. The Celtics can hit threes, they can play defense, it is just difficult when everything your opponent throws up is a three and is going in.  And even LeBron cannot play at this level every night. He has been ridickalus.

I still like the Celtics to win two games in this series--one in Cleveland, and one in Boston before Cleveland closes it out in game 6. Last night, however, was humbling.

But I did pick the under.