Friday, September 22, 2017

5778- l'shana tovah

Wednesday night began, for those in my tribe, a period of introspection.  It was the start of the new year.

I had a traditional erev Rosh Hashanah meal. (Erev means-night of, Rosh-means head, ha-the, shanah year).  But before that, because of the new world of new media, I received dozens of new year's greetings from friends.  It was good to get these notes. All those who pooh pooh the internet and social media ought to give it a try.   It was warming to read well wishes from those whom I likely would not have heard from had I not been connected to them electronically.

It is traditional to dip an apple into honey to begin the year, as a symbol of a sweet year.  So I dipped the apple, and then a piece of challah in the honey, said some prayers that I have somehow retained through the years and ate an unusually full meal.  It was pretty much just what my folks did during the years when I was growing up.

The next day I went to, of all places, an orthodox synagogue. I did this not because I have become orthodox--far from it--but because I like the shape of the temple.  Rather bizarre reason I know.  I live within a two minute drive from Brandeis University. There, there are several services going on during the high holy days. The orthodox building is the smallest, but I find the most attractive. It is shaped like a triangle.

I did not want to attend an entire orthodox service.  I find myself uncomfortable in these because, as my father used to say, these guys are all in business for themselves.  They all are chanting and know what they are doing. I typically need leadership to tell me what page we are on, and require some interpretation by a rabbi.

Not only did I not attend for the entire service, I got there after--by accident--the service had concluded. It had just ended.  What was happening when I arrived was that people were practicing blowing the shofar. A young man approached me, wished me a happy new year, and asked if I wanted to try blowing the shofar.  I declined, but appreciated the warm welcome.  He introduced himself as the rabbi for this group which startled me because really the guy looked younger than my nephew.  Then another young man came over and wished me a happy new year.  It was so sweet.  I asked if I could sit in the sanctuary and the rabbi said by all means.  So, I sat there for about an hour or so thinking about things that one ought to think about when you are assessing how well you did on the most recent revolution around the sun.

After this period of meditation, I started reading the introduction to the prayer book.  I typically don't read the introduction to prayer books. I show up. The rabbi tells me what page they are on, and I read the English translation to the Hebrew.  But this time I read the introduction.

It was a riot. The author was all but besmirching authors of other siddurs explaining why this one was better. The others translate poorly. The others use language that is antiquated. The others are sloppy. And my favorite line and one I am glad I read in an empty sanctuary because I burst out laughing was one where the authors wrote that in the other books there is poor proofreading and some books have inaccurate spellings and incorrect (so help me) grammEr.  Yes, while whining about sloppiness the author spelled grammar incorrectly.

Still the siddur's introduction aside I felt good about my time in the sanctuary and found it refreshing.  I went home and decided to end the day by going to Walden Pond.  There is a part of rosh hashanah where congregants go to a body of water and cast bread crumbs into it symbolizing throwing bad behaviors away.  We never did this as a kid because it is an orthodox thing to do. The rabbi had told me that the congregation was going to do this at a local pond. I figured I would go to Walden Pond because some congregation would be using it for this ceremony.

Nobody was.  I was there and there were others at the pond, but I saw no group of congregants.  I brought a chair and a book so I sat peacefully by the water again assessing how I thought I stacked up on this most recent lap around the track.  And then the best part of the day happened. That which made this rosh hashanah most memorable.  Readers may think nothing of it, but I think a lot of it.

I was still wearing my tie and suit jacket from my trip to the orthodox temple, but I had removed my yarmulka (skull cap) and had taken off my suit pants replacing it with more comfortable jeans.  An announcement came out over the loudspeaker saying that the pond would close in twenty minutes.  I sat for a few more minutes going through my last year and talking to my loved ones--those now gone and those still with us.  Then I yanked my chair up and walked up the hill to the lot where my car was.

As I walked into the lot, I noticed a young woman walking toward me.  I had my specs on and thought I might know who she was.  She smiled at me as we approached. But as we got close I realized I did not know her.  Still she kept smiling.  And as we walked past, I said to this person younger than my nephew, something like hello.  Her response startled me. "L'Shana Tova" she said. A good year.  I stopped and returned the greeting, and said, "how did you know?" She said "you've got a tie on".

Well, I guess, since I was coming from a beach area that might have been a give-away, but still I found this greeting from a complete stranger, out of context from any synagogue, like a sweet breath of fresh air.

What would be so wrong with this world, if we all, regardless of day wished strangers a happy new year.  Today and yesterday are the beginnings of the Jewish new year, but every day is the beginning of a new year.  And it would not be such a terrible thing for people always to say to strangers, L'shana Tovah.  Have a good year.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Flintstones

I am very happy with my dentist.  I was very happy with the dentist who preceded this one. Sadly, he died suddenly in 2004 while resting during a bike trip.

For years afterwards I did not go to the dentist. One day I felt a pain and decided to try a local dentist that rents space near the post office where my mail is delivered. He could not have been nicer. Very welcoming.  Very helpful fitting me in when I did not have an appointment.  He has a partner in the practice. It is his wife and she too seems to be a great dentist.   In addition, I have gone there at times when there was an emergency and even the receptionist seems to be knowledgeable and helpful.  Twice she has taken me into the chair to take x-rays when I walked in off the street without an appointment.

The second time this happened was Wednesday. Tuesday night, a couple of times, I was awakened with serious tooth pain.  I took a few aspirin at 2 and then at 6 to alleviate the pain, but I knew I had to have the problem addressed. So I went to my friendly dentist.

They have two storefronts and on this day, both dentists were at the downtown Boston office.  So, I just saw the receptionist. She got me into the chair and took an x-ray.

When she saw the image she looked alarmed.

"You're going to have to have that out."

She tried to explain the problem.  The best I could understand was that where I'd once had a root canal there was something growing and causing an infection. When last I had a cleaning it probably looked, she said, as if I might need to have another root canal.  But, she went on, that was not the case.  I needed to have the tooth out, and have it out soon.

So I made an appointment to go to the downtown facility this morning.  When the dentist took a look at the x-ray he confirmed the original diagnosis and said the tooth should have come out yesterday.

Okay, big deal. The tooth is way in the back. I won't look like a relative of the Clamperts when it is over. He'll do what he does and I will be on my way.

He gave me a bunch of novocaine, came back in 10 minutes, gave me a shot more, came back in ten more minutes, and finished numbing me.

What happened next really was comical though I did not laugh real hard.  I said, jokingly, "You just going to yank it out?"

"Basically, yes." he said. "But first we'll try and loosen it."

At this point he took a tool that looked like a screwdriver designed to not look like a screwdriver and jammed it into my mouth.  A few moments later, he took what looked like a pair of pliers designed not to look too similar to a pair of pliers and, literally, yanked the tooth right out of my mouth.

My face must have looked startled.  I mean the guy just yanked the tooth out of my mouth.  When he got it out, both he and the assistant, gushed or gasped.

It felt like the Flintstones.

He still was wonderful and helpful, but I would have thought that the technology of 2017 would have been more sophisticated.   With one big tug that sucker came out. Then he had to go in and get some other culprit. This he did in a few seconds.

I felt fine until about 2 pm when I felt like my head was going to rocket off my neck.  Then I took one of the pills he prescribed and I am feeling just fine now.  In two or three hours the result of the Flintstone maneuver will return, but by tomorrow I should be swell.  Swell as in fine.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

22

The Cleveland Indians won their 22nd consecutive game tonight.  This game is why I, and millions of others, like sports.

The Indians' victory had an effect on the standings, but the passion in their dugout had little to do with their lead in the American League Central. The players wanted to keep the streak alive.

In the bottom of the ninth with one out remaining, one of the Indian studs rammed a double off the wall allowing a teammate to score the tying run.  In the bottom of the tenth a player hit a single that because of unusual smarts and hustle he stretched into a double.  After what amounted to an intentional walk, another Indian swatted a double down the right field line and the team went berserk. And the fans went berserk.

The reaction was not because of a world series game 7 victory, or a pennant clinching--it was because they did something that no team has done for over one hundred years. The Indians have won 22 baseball games in a row.  It is a stunning achievement.

The reaction, the crazy celebration, the Cleveland fans praying and then exulting because of the come from behind victory--that is why sports has captured the attention of millions; why there is an ESPN, and an ESPN2, and an MLB network, and an NFL network and dedicated sports channels on Fox, NBC and CBS.

A post script. It could not happen to a more decent and effective manager--Terry Francona. He managed the Red Sox for years and was terrific here.  The success of the Indians is in no small part because of the managerial prowess of Terry Francona.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

stats

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."
-Andrew Lang (1844-1912)


I came across this quote earlier today and it reminded me of one of my notions about metrics and sports.  We hear coaches and pundits speak about athletes' "intangibles."  By this they mean skills an athlete may or may not have that can not be measured--or at least to date people have not been able to identify a way to measure these intangibles.

It is true in every sport, but certainly in football, using statistics to assess an athlete's contributions is risky business.  Some quarterbacks can put up some impressive numbers but they do not win many games. Yet others have modest records in terms of passing yardage yet they win games.  Drew Bledsoe could throw beautiful passes and often had games with a good deal of passing yardage, but his won loss record was average. Similarly Jeff George had a great arm, but did not win as much as his statistics would suggest.

I just watched an NFL film called Do Your Job.  This was the second version of Do Your Job as a documentary of the same name came out after the Patriots had won the 2014 super bowl as well. The film explains the thinking and preparation that went into the Patriots' victory.   The film documents that decisions by the coaching staff and players that can not be measured were key to the great comeback.  Hightower decided to line up on the outside before he sacked and stripped Ryan in the fourth quarter.  The coaching staff called a pass defense before Ryan was sacked prior to the Patriots tying drive.  

Pundits don't typically quantify smart decisions, they quantify sacks and tackles. But if the tackle was a derivative of a smart decision, then maybe what needs to be counted is how many times a player or coach puts the team in the position to do something that is traditionally quantified.

About twenty years ago the Tennessee Titans lost a super bowl to the St. Louis Rams. The record will show that on the last play of the game a Titan caught a pass and stretched out but was inches away from the goal line when tackled.  The reason he was inches away and not over the goal line was because he had cut in before he was supposed to do so.  Therefore he received the pass away from the goal line and not across it. In the record books the last play will be counted as a reception, but it was a negative play because of a poor decision.  

The Titans themselves were in the game because of a mental mistake that was made by the Buffalo Bills earlier in the playoffs.  The Bills were ready to go ahead on a field goal with seconds to play.  The Bills quarterback was supposed to wait until there were three seconds left before calling time out before the field kicker would come in and do what field goal kickers do.  

Instead of waiting until three seconds remained, the quarterback-Ron Johnson-called time out earlier.  The kick went through putting the Bills ahead, but because the time out was called prematurely, the Bills had to kick off to the Titans who miraculously scored on a trick run back. I once got into a sports related dispute with a fan of the then Bills quarterback. The person I was debating with said that Johnson had done everything to get the victory.  He cited the statistic that indicated that Johnson had moved the ball into field goal range for the winning kick.  But by not waiting a few seconds, a mental mistake that is not tabulated, the Bills ultimately succumbed.

SSo, the quote above resonated. Stats, in sports at least, are used often for support but the illumination they provide is often illusory. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

noam

Dad,

You would have loved yesterday.  Noam, Sammy's younger son, had his bar mitzvah.  The kid did great and was cool as a cucumber throughout.

Sammy, Hillel, Moshe, Bobby, even Jack and Sophie, Matt and Shannon--got some time up on the bema.  (Sophie in Matt's arms).

I thought of you often during the ceremony and how much you would have enjoyed taking it all in. Gail was there, as were several of my contemporaries from the Sukenik crew.  I didn't go with them, but a whole gaggle of Zarembas went to the DC zoo between the service and the party at night.

I've often commented on how nourishing family can be at joyous occasions and even sometimes at sad ones.  It was the case yesterday. Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, we were joined by Hillel and Joan and then a bunch of Zarembas came by as they checked into their rooms.  It was more enriching than the food we were eating at the time.

The opposite is also true. That is if one feels nourished by family,  one can also become malnourished if there are few times when loved ones gather together.  I think that is the case and the absence of the love vitamins can have insidious effects.  Dan and Sara have invited the entire army for Thanksgiving so we will see them all again in a few months.  The food then will be a secondary nutrient.

At the party last night there was a slide show of Noam's life.  It was touching especially when Deborah's image was on the screen.  Also Aunt Ethel was in a few pictures.  Sammy deserves such credit for having reared those two boys as a widower.

You would have kvelled.

And, hey, if you in the next life have any pull, see what you can do about reducing the impact of a hurricane that is now doing quite a bit of damage above where you rest.  The state of Florida is being walloped as I type this.  Bobby is going down this week to make sure the place is still on the ground after the storm bullies its way through.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Happy Anniversary folks


Number 71.  September 8, 1946.

I hope you can see this.  We are still thinking of you.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thank you Rudyard Kipling

Sometime in the 60s or early 70s I was home on a visit. Dad and I were watching the Andy Williams show.  It was a variety program and Williams, or one of his guests, sang a version of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If".  I'd somehow missed that poem in high school or college--no doubt spending time considering some athletic activity or carnal pursuit.

I often don't get lyrics right away, but this one nabbed me. I mentioned to dad how much I liked it. And then, of course, he recited from memory the entire poem.  I decided the words were valuable enough that I would try to do the same.  I have, on occasion, since then tried to recall what I once memorized, sometimes with more success than others.  I tried today with near complete success, but had to look up some lines. Then I worked on it this afternoon. Just now--after the afternoon refresher course--I got it down and wrote it below.

It's a great self-help message.  And important to retain given the challenges of daily interactions which can jostle you off your ethical grid.

What do I think is most significant in each verse?

(1) "Keep your head about you."  Tough to keep your head about you when people keep challenging what you hold to be true.  It is a tight wire act to keep your head and "make allowance for their doubting too."

(2)"meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."  There are triumphs and there are triumphs. If you can separate the meaningless ones from the meaningful ones, then you have a shot at happiness. And, of course, one has to have the good sense to know which are meaningful and which are not.

(3) "force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they are gone".  Just that.

(4) "fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"  it is something to strive for. It is important to remember there are only 60 seconds in a minute.  My dance with mortality is such that I sometimes forget there is an end. It is important to fill the time we have with "60 seconds worth of distance run."

Thank you Rudyard Kipling.


If you can keep your head about you
When all around you men are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can trust yourself,
When all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too
If you can wait,
And not get tired waiting
Or being lied about
Don't deal in lies
Or being hated. Don't give way to hating
And yet not look too good or talk too wise

If you can dream and not make dreams your master
If you can think, but not make thoughts your aim
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to set a trap for fools
If you can watch the world you gave your life to broken
And stoop to build it up with worn out tools

If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss
And lose and start at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve their turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to you, hold on.

If you can talk to crowds and keep your virtue
And walk with kings, nor lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run
Then yours the world, and everything that's in it
And what is more, you'll be a man my son

Sunday, September 3, 2017

peanuts

When I was at the US OPEN with my friend Gary he relayed that his granddaughter had gone to summer camp very close to where I had gone as a boy.  She had gone to Camp Blue Ridge which was the girls camp of Camp Equinunk.  We played Blue Ridge/Equinunk in inter-camp games.  They were no more than a five minute drive from where we were in Galilee, Pennsylvania.

I can recall gathering together by the camp office to ride off to Equinunk to compete against them in basketball, softball, and volleyball.  The camp owner had a huge Ford pick-up truck.  Most of the campers went on the truck. Some drove with counselors, but those riders were not happy. The thrill was getting on the back of the truck.

The owners of the camp were both lawyers. A rarity then for a woman to be a lawyer but she and her husband had been members of the bar for years.  When I think back on that truck--which took us to everything, canoe trips, outings to nearby Honesdale, cookouts--I cannot believe the owners decided it was okay for a bunch of twelve year olds to ride in the back of an open truck in the country. The counselors were forever yelling, "head down" when a long tree branch extended into the roadway. All sorts of accidents could have occurred with a bunch of excited youngsters riding in an open truck. But there never was a problem.

On Wednesday, Gary told me that his granddaughter, her younger sibling, and a cousin were going to attend the OPEN on Friday, two days after he and I were there.  He wanted to check with the concession stands where he planned to buy the kids lunch to see if the pizza vendor made its dough with a peanut oil base. One reason Blue Ridge had been selected for the granddaughter is because they were known to cater to those who have peanut allergies.

Now, where did peanut allergies come from? When I was a kid I did not know a single person who had to be choosy about foods lest they inadvertently had peanut something in them.  In our camp dining hall, actually, peanut butter was the regular "substitute" offered when a kid did not like or could not eat something else on the menu.  In junior high school a decent percentage of us who packed our own sandwiches had PB&J in those bags. In college I cannot remember a soul asking the cook if, perhaps, there was a peanut base to any dish. If someone had so asked they would have been considered a kook of some sort.

At the risk of sounding like a caricature of the old person I now am, what happened? Okay I understand why you might not want to jam thirty kids in the back of an open pick up truck. That seems foolish in retrospect (though at the time I did not give it a second thought).  But how come when we were kids nobody was allergic to peanuts and now you can't go to any restaurant where there is not a billboard that reads that you should tell your server if you have an allergy to peanuts.  Fifty years ago nobody had a problem with peanuts.

I'm not suggesting the peanut thing is a made up hypochondriac's claim.  Yet, I do not understand how it is now everywhere and fifty years ago it was nowhere.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Puns Plus

I have purchased a book on puns, Away with Words, and I fear that I will be unbearable by the time I have completed it. The first page offers some groaners.  "Not walking in a light rain is a mist opportunity"; "When considering two options for anesthesia the dental patient selected the number one."  These appear on page 3.  I ought to be a barrel of laughs by page 270.

Glorious weather in New England.  The place is abuzz with incoming students in U-Hauls moving into student apartments. Within fifteen miles of where I live are Brandeis University, Bentley College, Babson College,  Boston College, Tufts, Boston University (separate school completely from Boston College), Northeastern (the best of the lot), MIT, Suffolk University, UMass Boston, Leslie College, Lasell College, Radcliffe, and Harvard.  And I am leaving out several small colleges. You can imagine the energy in the city.

You like sports, this could be your weekend.  The tennis championships continue in Queens, the Yankees host the Red Sox in the Bronx, college football games flood the fields and airwaves, the National Football League forces teams to cut thirty seven players on each team by 4 pm eastern, the Boston Celtics have just completed a major trade which has the fans chatting on the airwaves, soccer balls are in play--it is tough for a zealot to keep up.

I finished Over Time by Frank Deford this past week. Deford was a sportswriter and this book is subtitled My Life as a Sportswriter.  Some interesting musings. The book is not cohesive; rather a compilation of perspectives about the profession, his activities, and the people he met in his travels as a writer.  A little too self-deprecating particularly in the beginning, but an interesting book for those of my vintage and a little older--or those just curious about how people get to where they got.

Last night for the first time since very early in 2014 I got on the tennis courts at my gym.  It felt great. I still can't move laterally all that well, and if we were playing competitively I would have had to let some short shots go as I just don't have the ability to burst for a ball.  Also, while I have been walking and swimming for weeks, I was sucking wind on the tennis courts after about 20 minutes. Still hitting the ball reminded me of what I had been missing and hope it is an indication that I will be able to start playing regularly.  An amazing Ripley's Believe it or not, aspect to the activity is that I stopped before overdoing it.  So, a feat for

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2021




My annual excursion to observe a different brand of fans at the US Open is nearly complete.  I am now at LaGuardia after the session.  Some observations from my two day stint in and around New York City.


  • LaGuardia airport is an absolute mess.  It is difficult to describe the state of construction. My buddy Gary dropped me off at the airport. Had he not known the area it would have been a nightmare. The situation was exacerbated because, unfathomably, LGA decided to close down the TSA security lanes.
  • The Open is as beautiful as LaGuardia is, currently, not so.  Just a gorgeous setting.  Happy smiling people moving from one arena to the other.  
  • They sell too many tickets.  The lines to get into some of the stadiums were so long that it made no sense to wait on them. 
  • We saw no player, either man or woman, serve and volley.
  • The fans for tennis are a different breed from hockey or baseball fans. I saw no slobbering drunks and the language was not offensive to any sensibility.  Yet they are zealots.  You can tell by the shape of the attendees that over half spend their time on tennis courts.
  • We saw only one "name" player: Maria Sharapova.  Yet everyone we saw was pounding the ball. Just whacking the ball and playing inspiring tennis.
  • New York is ridiculously expensive. You have to just prepare to lose your shirt if you want to spend time there.
  • We went to see a Bronx Tale. Pretty good and faithful to the movie.  I am still not a fan of actors wearing microphones.
  • Times Square at 10 pm last night had more people hanging out than I saw in an entire year when I worked in western new york.
  • I sat in a bar at about 11 and it was not crowded, yet it seemed as if the adjective for all occasions was the f bomb.  A couple to my left were talking about the f meetings, f supervisor, f shifts, f cleaning people--apparently all who worked with them except for them.  They paused f-bombing long enough to step outside for a smoke.  The f-bombing seemed a bit like foreplay.
  • The Strand book store is amazing. Just amazing and I am a bookstore guy. I could have spent an entire day in there and I am not exaggerating.
  • My hotel, the Roosevelt, was quite nice.  It seemed as if everywhere I looked there was an amenity of some sort. And outside the hotel within blocks was times square, grand central, diners, taverns with imbibing clients, all night convenient stores, and to sober all tourists thinking this all was wonderful people sleeping on the street.
  • Grand Central Station itself is something to see. Just to stand in the middle and look up at the ceiling.  Now that I think back on it, I recall the scene from Revolutionary Road set in the 50s. Yet it looked just like that 50 years later.
  • My high school and college buddy Kenny drove me from Waltham to Hyde Park on Monday night. On Tuesday morning I took the metro north into the city.  On the way to Hyde Park he reminded me that nearly fifty years ago this week, we two took the bus from Penn Station to Albany to begin our college careers. He also reminded me that we spent the time on the bus finishing up--at the last minute-the required reading that had been assigned to us over the summer. 
  • Madison Square Park and Union Square were both humming on Tuesday afternoon when it was raining.
  • I stopped in a place called the Bean for a cup of coffee and a bagel.  There, near the Strand bookstore, I saw four young women.  Each had a shirt on that read NYU class of 2021.  I had a similar shirt on half a century ago that read 1971. This was the most jaw dropping sight that I witnessed in two days. Not the Strand. Not LaGuardia looking like post Iraq bombings.  Not thousands of tennis aficionados near the Unisphere. Not Times Square at 10 pm looking like 10 am. It was the 2021 tee shirts on the NYU students reminding me that the earth has revolved around the sun a number of times since Kenny and I took a bus in 1967.
I have finished this blog at North Station in Boston waiting for the 10:40 train that will take me to Waltham. Long day.  I have enjoyed these last 30 plus years living in Boston, but here at 10 pm in Boston at North Station the buzz is nothing like it was at 10 pm last night in New York.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Playing Hurt

John Saunders was a very good sportscaster on ESPN.  I just completed his autobiography titled, Playing Hurt.  The book recently came out, and as those who follow sports may know, came out posthumously. Saunders passed a year ago in August.

There were some conjectures at the time of his passing that his death was a suicide since the book is about his lifelong battle with depression. In Playing Hurt Saunders describes his painful relationship with his parents. His dad beat him when he was around, and his mother is portrayed as indifferent. Both parents were irresponsible with money. The dad, a deadbeat, both in terms of child support and keeping promises to help with college tuition. The mother not above stealing from her kids and, in one staggering episode, telling her two boys that their younger sister had leukemia and needed a good deal of money to stay alive. Once they gave the mother the money it became apparent that this was a ruse.

The title is a very good one. "Playing Hurt" is a phrase that athletes use when they put themselves on the field despite injuries, managing to fight through the pain to excel. This is what Saunders apparently did.  His depression may have been a residual of his upbringing or maybe just congenital, a function of some chemical imbalance.  But he is often sad, often crying, and then bucking up to function personally and professionally. He was revered by fellow broadcasters and loved by his wife and two daughters.  I thought he was a much better than average sportscaster.  He did not get in the way of the game and remembered that sports fans are fans because of the event, not because of the personalities of announcers.

The epilogues to the book, not written by Saunders, make it clear that his death was not a suicide yet a reader might have doubts because of all the times in the book that Saunders speaks about considering taking his own life.

The book very effectively describes what it is like to suffer from depression. It is a disease that seeks sadness.  No matter how positive things are, the depressive finds the negative aspects and dwells on them.  Good feelings from success on the air are ephemeral, replaced by a sense of how he could have been better, and how he does not deserve the fame, and how he was a bad son, and how he is an irresponsible friend.

We all go through periods that are dark when we cannot see the light even when it is shining in our faces. But for depressives, these periods are the norm and not exceptions. Depression is not brought about because the loss of a lover, or failure on an exam.  For depressives the loss of a lover exacerbates a tendency to find sadness even when you are loved unequivocally.  At one point a doctor tells Saunders that a depressive cannot will themselves to be happy any more than one can will themselves to be tall.

For the first 100 pages or so, I found the narrative a bit whiny. But the more I read the more I understood the hell he must have gone through.  A professional hockey prospect, a successful business person, an alluring lover of many beautiful partners--it did not matter. Fortunately, towards the end he was making some progress until, if you believe the autopsy, he succumbed to an enlarged heart.

If you suffer from depression or know someone who does, I recommend the book. Easy to read, short of 300 pages, you can knock it off in a few days.

Eclipsed

It did not get dark here.  Someone by the pool had a box gizmo. Put that on your head,  look at the sun and you could see the moon blocking portions.  But the sky remained every bit as bright as it had been.

It was an interesting phenomenon watching the news from noon until three yesterday.  It was all eclipse, all the time.  And it made me think about the importance of gatekeeping as it sets our agenda.  If yesterday had not been an eclipse day, CNN would have had different stories on the air.  Probably experts predicting what the President was going to say about Afghanistan, or the wisdom of Ryan's town hall meeting, or the latest Trump faux pas. Regardless of the specific segments, there would be some stories that would pass for news that would be consumed by news consuming viewers.

So the news that was yesterday, was the news about the eclipse, and that fueled the discourse of the day.  Today, there will be other stories, maybe there will be reports on how the eclipse affected communities, local economies, individuals who trekked from here or there to get to a good place for the sighting.  But slowly the story of the eclipse will end and the void will be filled with something else.

The power of gatekeepers in determining that something else is enormous.  On Sunday morning I woke up chuckling about the president's comments urging the country to "heel."  We spoke about that much of the morning. Yesterday it was the eclipse. Today it will likely be pundits opining about the Afghanistan speech or the timing of the Afghanistan speech or the fluctuations on the stock market.

 Will Rogers is credited with saying, "All I know is what I read in the newspapers.".  Well now, all we know is what we see on CNN, read in whatever is left of newspapers, view on web sites, hear on NPR, or spot on the web when individuals re/post comments on the internet.  Of these, the only one with nontraditional gatekeepers is the internet.  The gatekeepers for the internet are essentially us.  I can post something, but unless someone reposts and until it goes viral or at least something close to viral, it does not get to the masses.

Point is that the media can and does eclipse what would be news and present as news what might not be newsworthy. And we, in part, are the media.  The media is not just some external ghoul who messes with our consciousness.  We participate in what is eclipsed, what is presented as news and what affects our national and international conversations. And that reality brings to professional gatekeepers and all of us important responsibilities.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

all the fun

Those Guys Have All the Fun is intended to be a history of ESPN.  It is not. What it is, is a very long book. It is a very long book composed almost wholly of excerpts from interviews conducted with people who worked for, or were somehow involved with, the evolution of ESPN. In parts the book is humorous, insightful, and interesting. However, the book is not efficiently organized, far longer than it needed to be, and only a history if one pieces together details from the excerpts.

I looked at the AMAZON reviews after I finished and was surprised to read that many readers loved the book. This is what makes horse racing I guess. Maybe if one is more interested in sports than I am the detail, repetitiveness, and poor editing does not deter one's voracious appetite to learn everything about the sports network.  My take, as someone certainly more interested than the average bear on this topic, is that the book needed much more care.

Ninety five per cent of the book is composed of excerpts. Five percent are comments from the editors. The editors' italicized sections either relate to what had been discussed on the prior pages or serve as transitions to the next topic.  There does not seem to be a meaningful reason why one subject ends on say page 13 and then another one starts on 14. Chapters do not mark the end of one subject and the beginning of another.

The positive: there are interesting discussions of (a) the advertising of Sportscenter (b) the rationale behind management decisions to hire talent and put certain people in a booth (c) characters who were administrators at the network (d) on air errors and how they affected the station, and (e) personal relationships.

If you are a true zealot you might enjoy all 745 pages.  For me, the editors could have saved a tree or two, knocked out two thirds of the book, and organized the content topically with clear reasons for the sequencing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Zaremba-thon



The last time I drove on the Cross Bronx Expressway was in 2009. At that time, as I have on all previous occasions on that road, I muttered "The next time I decide to take this road remind me to get my head examined."

I have driven on the Cross Bronx about a dozen times in my life. Never has it been congestion free. Despite my history, I followed the wisdom of Mapquest on Sunday and, after three hours of easy driving, was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as I approached the George Washington Bridge.

I was on my way to the third or fourth annual Zaremba-thon.  My cousin Hillel has organized these in the summer.  The first must have been a dozen years ago and I went to it.  I have missed the last couple as the prospect of trekking to Philadelphia has been offputting. This year I was determined to go which did not seem like a wise decision as I was cursing myself for taking the Cross Bronx Expressway.

When I finally got over the bridge it was smooth sailing until I got to Philadelphia itself.  Then, because Mapquest apparently believes I am a pelican as opposed to a motorist, it guided me to the most direct route to my cousin's home which, unfortunately, is a road with 2,011 stop lights.  Eventually, six and a half hours after I started out, I arrived at my cousin's home.

And after only 15 minutes, it was clear that the entire six plus hours were worth every bumper to bumper second. Jack was in the pool, as was Noam and Moshe.  Sophie was on a raft with some floating things on her arm so the three year old (she told me four times) could not sink despite her efforts to see if she could swim.  Hillel's kids, Alex, Sarah, and Dan, were all there smiling in the sun.  I got to speak with Sam, and Joan and Joan's mom, a former Bostonian. Matt and Shannon continue to be beyond wonderful. What a treat.

We ate and shmoozed and laughed.  Jack, now all of 8, decided to coordinate a race "of all the kid cousins" which he, go figure, managed to win.  Hillel took out a photo of his folks' wedding and identified to Jack who the people were in the picture.  "This is my mother and father. This is your grandpa and grandma. Here is your great grandfather. All celebrating my parents' wedding." Jack was engaged and impressed.  "Hey" he asked, "Was this the first Zaremba-thon?"  That brought a laugh from the assembled.  "Yeah" said Hillel, "I guess in this country, this was the first Zaremba-thon."
Our parents would have been so tickled by this exchange.

Back now after quite a bit of driving. Worth every second on the road.








Friday, August 11, 2017

Not My Day?

I belong to a library in downtown Boston called, appropriately, the Boston Athenaeum.  I had somethings I wanted to do today and thought that venue would be conducive to getting those things done.  Took a late morning train and was in South Station, a half mile easy walk from the library, by a few minutes after noon.

South Station is a hopping place. It used to be a dreary and not particularly comfortable place in which to linger.  But about ten, maybe even twenty years ago, they overhauled the space and it now is bright with restaurants--fast food and otherwise-taverns, all sorts of amenities, not to mention the comings and goings from everyone who is just commuting from a suburb, to those--like my table partner for an hour--who was off to Syracuse to visit his fiancee after having traveled from some spot in Maine to make the connection.

I sat in South Station sipping some ice coffee reading a tome I picked up which has become a burden to carry and given its length, something of a burden to plow through (These Guys Have All the Fun). After my fiancee visiting neighbor went for his train ("It's always late" he told me.  Prompting my sophomoric--unstated--thought that I bet he hopes his fiancee won't be after their rendezvous), another fellow--he silent-sat down for a spell.  Then a young dad with his son who attempted to grapple with a slice of pizza that was about the kid's size.  The mom came by with a chicken sandwich for the kid having gotten her signals crossed with dad about who was taking care of lunch.  Then I left.

I walked up through what is called Downtown Crossing. There, not far from where Macy's and Filene's stood next to each other in their hey day, a choir of Mennonites, were crooning for the passersby.  They were singing, very sweetly, about religion while those, I imagine, who could not carry a tune were mingling with the audience handing out pamphlets that conveyed the same message.  It was more fun to listen to the singers.

 I proceeded up through the Boston Common which is the route to the Athenaeum.  What a diversity of humanity were sprawled here and there.  Businesspeople eating lunches, homeless sleeping with their life in bags near them, tots darting around, appropriately, childishly as their parents told them to get back over here.  A cluster of teenagers walked past with boys gossipping about girls, and girls pretending to ignore the boys.

There were a couple of calls I needed to make. So I dialed, thanks to the Jetsons coming to our lives, from my portable phone.  After I left a message for two people, thanks again to the Jetsons, I got a hold of my erstwhile tennis partner to shmooze about something.  He and I have not played in three years as I have been out of commission and he too has had bouts on the injury list.  We are about ready in a month to give it a whack.

Finally about two hours after arriving in South Station I move toward the Athenaeum.  Today, Friday, the place closes at 5, so I was startled when I got to the doorway and a librarian told me that the place was closing. Apparently I did not notice a banner on the website that said that today had a special closing for staff.

Okay,  a bit disappointing, but it is a gorgeous day in New England so I walked through the Common again, and then to the adjacent Public Garden which is a magnificent rectangular spot that includes a duckboat ride and statues of ducks from the kids' story, Make Way for Ducklings.

The Boston Public Library is beyond the Public Garden a few blocks west and I figured I would park myself there.  I get to the entrance and there is a crowd around it.  I am told that it too is closed because of a fire scare.  Fortunately, this was only a temporary scare and within fifteen minutes we were allowed in.

When I was first told that the library was closed, I said to myself, "Not My Day."  The fact is, though, that it had been and will continue to be a great day even if every building I go to in the next few hours is closed like Fort Knox.  I am here, living and breathing.  Drop dead beautiful day here.  Get to talk with a guy who is seeing his sweetheart in Syracuse, and the dad of a kid that is struggling to hold up a slice of pizza, and talk to my tennis partner, and see the duck boats, and listen to true believers speak about their lord, and do all those things dead people are screaming at us, we the living, to take advantage of before we join them on the other side.

Not my Day? No. The challenge is to remember that every day is our day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Personal Invitation

It is happening with amusing frequency.

I received today a personal letter, addressed to me in cursive writing.  It looks like an invitation to a wedding.  But I knew it likely was not that because of the stamp.

What the letter was, was a "personal invitation" to a "special event."  The event was being hosted by a young woman named Gabriella Indeglia whose title according to the smart looking invitation is "Hearing Professional." I am invited to have someone look inside my ears using a Video Otoscope. This way I can be introduced to a "fascinating tool" that will help Fraulein Indeglia assess the cause of my "hearing difficulties." And then sell me a device.

For the record, I have no hearing difficulties.  You sneeze in Kansas I am at the ready with a handkerchief.  I can hear the chatter at the ball park nearby and the little league ball park farther away without difficulty.  And also, should Ms. Indeglia have a versatile background in the therapeutic professions, I could inform her that with spectacles I can see distances just fine. For reading, I need no glasses at all.  My short term memory is from hunger, but long term memory is very good--so if Ms. Indeglia wants to peddle an elixir to cure memory, she needs to find another client.

What Beltone Hearing Aid Centers (the employer apparently of Dr. Indeglia) is betting on is my years.  In Spanish we learned to say, Cuantos años tienes usted?*   How old are you?  Beltone does not need to ask. Beltone somehow knows how old I am, and figures they have a shot that I am losing my hearing. Other folks send me letters because they figure I cannot see. And other folks send me brochures thinking I am looking for assisted living. And other folks figure I have low testosterone, And other folks think I could use a colonoscopy. And other folks figure I may need a nurse to help me do this and that. And other folks think it would be useful if I could attach an elevator to the handrail that goes upstairs.

I get it. I am getting older.  But still, don't you think this type of peddling is a bit like meddling and is insensitive.  I'll let you know if I can't see or hear or need a nurse. I'll tell you what, I will send all you meretricious no-goodniks some letters.  I will invite you to

  • lessons on sensitivity
  • maturity training
  • lectures on ethics and values
  • workshops on how to deal with the end of your life when you have lost all your friends because you sold your soul.
Stuff like that.

No more personal invitations please.  I'll get in touch when I need you.  


*(I probably butchered the spelling with Cuantos años tienes usted? But I know I got the tilde over the n in años right.  I know this because I am familiar with the horrible error that Dupont made when peddling their paint in Spanish speaking countries. They wanted to write "Dupont for years", meaning Dupont paint will last for years.  The word for years in Spanish is años, but make sure that tilde is over the n. If not and you advertise your product as Dupont did writing:  "Dupont for anos" instead of "Dupont for años" you are not telling all that Dupont is good for years, but Dupont is good for anuses. In other words, if you are an ass this stuff is for you.  Remember the Maine? No. Remember the tilde).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Banana Republic

We, the US, are not a banana republic. However, if one did not have a sense of history and just arrived on Earth, and followed the Trump administration the last week or so--that person might have a different assessment.

Today I read that the tenure of "the Mooch" has ended. The erstwhile Director of Communications lasted a week and a half.  Eleven days.  The new chief of staff, John Kelly--in this role for a few days,--urged the president to make the change.

So, in a couple of weeks, the press secretary, chief of staff, director of communication have all resigned.  Russia is threatening to remove over 100 members of the US diplomatic core in Russia. North Korea has threatened the United States.  The President made a speech to the boyscouts that would have gotten him tossed out of Student Government in any high school in the country.  The extraterrestrial might figure we are a banana republic.

I just completed a book of short stories by O.Henry.  It is called, appropriately, Stories of O.Henry.  I was surprised to read in the preface that O.Henry was a different sort of person than I had imagined. We all are familiar with his most famous story, "The Gift of the Magi" which is in the collection.  Also, while it is not in the collection I remember reading "The Ransom of Red Chief" in high school which is pretty funny. It is about some no-goodniks who kidnap a kid to get money from his rich folks, only to find out that the kid is impossible to control.  The parents, aware of this, force the kidnappers to pay them to take the kid back.

If not a no-goodnick, O.Henry was a bit of an eccentric character.  The guy drank himself to death allegedly knocking back two bottles of whiskey a day for the last decade of his life. He had worked in a bank, was subsequently arrested for embezzling, and spent three years in jail. When first arrested he went south of the border to avoid capture, only to return when his wife proved too sick to join him.

His stories, I figured, would be easy to digest.  I'd read "The Gift of the Magi" which is not too difficult and "...Red Chief" and then another very short one called, "It Makes the Whole World Kin."  These three are relatively simple, but they are aberrations. Most of the stories in this volume are work--sometimes work that is worth the effort, but nevertheless, not walks in the park.

It was worth the entire collection of 23 stories to read a long paragraph on page 113 about adventurers and those who do not have courage to take chances.  Also, a story about pancakes was excellent.

In the pancake one, a cowboy is interested in a friend's niece. He attempts to court her and is initially successful. One day he comes to visit and a rancher is out riding with the woman.  Well, the cowboy is upset and approaches the rival ready to duke it out. The rival tells him he has no interest, that he is a homebody, and is only riding with her because she has a terrific recipe for pancakes.  If, says the rival, the cowboy can get the recipe from the niece, he promises to never see the woman again. This strikes the cowboy as a good deal, but every time he brings up the pancake recipe to the woman, she looks at him strangely which he interprets to mean that nobody gets this family recipe. Each time he mentions pancakes, she stares at him frostily, disappears, and then the uncle comes out with a glass of water to placate the suitor.

One day the cowboy comes to visit the woman and the uncle says that she ran off and married the rival.  The cowboy is furious.  He finds out that the woman never made a pancake in her life, but the rancher rival had told both the woman and the uncle, that the cowboy was a bit crazy and you could tell he was about to go postal whenever he started talking about pancakes.

Anyway I can't recommend the collection in its entirety as it really was hard work. Besides a number of the stories I could take or leave.  The stories aside, however, I found the history of O.Henry interesting particularly when I read today--on the heels of the Mooch firing-- that it was O.Henry who coined the term "banana republic" from his outlaw days living south of the border and observing the ways of countries where he was hiding.

On a peripheral note, I read a best seller called, The Woman in Cabin 10.    Very high on the ridickalus scale.  I'd pass and move on to cabin 11.

Friday, July 28, 2017

McCain

When I was in high school, and probably when everyone was in high school, there was a big fat reader that was used in English class. In it were dozens of short stories.

I have forgotten most of them, but a few stick in my head. One had a title close to the saying, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."  I tried to find it last night, but could not so maybe the title I've recalled is a little bit off, but I remember the essence of the story.

The essence was, what you do in life plants the seeds for what will happen later in life. Your actions will affect future developments even if those developments are unrelated to the prior action.

And that is, at least in part, what fueled what happened last night. The bad news last night was that I woke up at 1 am and had some trouble getting back to sleep. The good news was that I went to the computer at that hour and saw that the senate was voting on what has been called the skinny health care bill--a repeal of ObamaCare and a replacement with a thin health care bill that had been cobbled together.  I flipped on CNN and watched the drama live and its aftermath.

The vote was going to be close because all 48 Democrats were going to vote against it.  Support required 50 of the 52 Republican senators to vote for it.

I attempt, without much success, to separate the fact that I do not like the person Donald Trump from my assessment of how he performs as president.  It is not an easy separation because the character of a president is a component of what makes a president a good or bad one.  Also character influences behavioral decisions.  Still, I try to say to myself, "just because I don't like him, doesn't mean he might not be effective."

Well so far, Trump has solidified my sense that he is not a good person. His speech to the boy scouts was outrageous--just for an example.  Not accepting responsibility for failures of his administration is another.  The president reminds me of the fraternity guy who brags about how much money he has, but whenever you try to get a few bucks from him to pitch in for a keg, pats his pockets and says he must have left his wallet in his BMW.  Or the guy who walks out of the can where he has left a predictable odor, but yanks his thumb over his shoulder like an indifferent hitchhiker saying "Wasn't me." He's boastful and not the slightest bit willing to take responsibility.  Just don't like the guy.

What irks me most is how he speaks of other people.  During the campaign he referred to his Republican competitors--two sitting senators--as "those two morons".  President Obama was appropriately professional during the transition, yet since taking office Trump has gratuitously disparaged him.

Perhaps the most outrageous thing he has ever said, was when he was discussing Republican Senator John McCain.  When someone pointed out that McCain was a war hero, Trump commented that he is only a hero because he got caught.  Trump continued saying that he liked people who did not get caught.

So last night Trump needs 50 senators to vote in support of the skinny repeal and replace.  Murkowski from Alaska, and Collins from Maine, two Republicans, vote against it.  It comes down to McCain's vote.  The guy just had brain surgery. The guy has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  He comes back to Washington to vote.  And votes against Trump's repeal and replace.

Now maybe it was ideology, but maybe it was "Hey you sob, let me tell you what heroism is."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Save Box

Every couple of months either I or my brother, or both of us, go to Florida to check on the condo we inherited.  Typically we/I stay only two or three days before heading back.  That was the plan this time.

I got here on Sunday, watered the plants, checked on the general condition of the place--then met up with my Camp friends Wally and Eileen for the dinners which we always enjoy whenever I stroll into town. On Monday I met a guy for lunch down by the beach, and on Tuesday I enjoyed lunch with my twin cousins who live in south florida.  Plan was to depart on Wednesday morning.

I returned from my afternoon lunch with my cousins and walked into a steam bath.  It has been broiling in Florida this week. Very humid, every day in the 90s.  When I walked into the unit I expected the refreshing cool air of the air conditioner. But nay.  It was hotter than Hades in the condo.

The bad news was that the air conditioner unit had stopped working. The good news is that it had stopped working while I was here.  Otherwise it could have been months without air and the place would be mold city.

I had to scramble to get HVAC people to take a look and give estimates (which were widely disparate in terms of what they thought the problem was).  Meanwhile I had to cancel flights, extend rental car, and in general rearrange quite a bit.

One fellow came out and shook his head predicting financial disaster. Another guy got it to work by ramming his hand on top of the unit, and them pushing the fan with his screwdriver.  Alas that inexpensive remedy did not last through the night.  Today a third person took a look and explained in what amounted to a foreign language what was wrong and what he fixed.  So far, knock on wood, because of his actions the ac is working. I will be staying here tomorrow, just to make sure it works for a day before I head back to Boston.

I figured that I had some extra time (a) waiting for the repairmen to come during their 1:30 to 4 slot (arrived at 3:50) (b) waiting to see if the work worked.

 Previously my brother and I had gone through the entire house and thrown out various items that needed to go. We did keep some items in boxes marked "Save Box" for either one of us.  It is well over a year since I put stuff in my Save Box.  With the extra time waiting to see if the air will remain cold, I thought I'd go through it.

This could be a testament to my failing memory, but much of the stuff in that box i had not seen before. I think in our haste to go through items in the past, there were some things that looked like they might be worth saving, that I put in my box, without really studying the item.  I hope that is the case, otherwise my memory is shot.

Regardless, the items in there were remarkable. There were telegrams my father sent to my mother when he was stationed in Japan during WWII.  I saw an invitation to, not my parents' wedding, but to the reception that followed.  There were the formal thank you notes to those who sent gifts at the wedding.  A bunch of letters that I had sent to my folks--many far wittier than what I compose nowadays.  A poem that I'd composed to the pace of The Raven that I remember writing and mailing, but did not remember having seen in the last 30 years.  A great card with a picture of a sheep on a desert island.  You open it up and it reads "Isle of Ewe." Dad must have loved sending that and mom probably is still rolling her eyes in the grave.

Also in the box was junk that I cannot believe I saved the first go round.  Those items did not make the second cut.

Well, I kept the items I thought were special, but I wondered who else would think they were.  Would my nephew get a charge out of going though the Save Box.  Would his kids at some point think it was neat.  I do know that I enjoyed the romp through the Save Box.  Our past is just the backdrop to our present.  It helps put what is current in perspective.

I took a break during the sifting through the Save Box and thought it would be appropriate to go to a Chinese restaurant my dad liked in the area. He went there so much that he had his own card with a discount.  On his last Thanksgiving, after my mother died, I was down here to visit.  We were going to go to get a turkey dinner, but instead ate Thanksgiving dinner at the Chinese restaurant.  It was hardly the only time I had gone there with him.  But tonight, three years later, when I was eating my egg rolls and hot and sour soup, I recalled that Thanksgiving and sitting across from him.  I smiled, looked up at the empty side of the table, and said, "thanks for the stuff in the box." It sort of felt like he smiled back.  I should have said, "Isle of Ewe"

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Magpie Murders

The best word I can use to describe, Magpie Murders, is "clever."  "Clever" popped into my head, thirty pages into it, and it remains there as an apt descriptor now that I have finished.

Yesterday, when done, I thought that while it is certainly clever I am not sure I can recommend spending 470 odd pages with it, just to be impressed with the author's impressive ability to have thought this up.  Today, I am not so sure. I find myself thinking about how he put it all together and some parts that I did not get until this morning.  There are a number of instances in the novel when a sleuth realizes that a key to solving the mystery lies in an anagram.  So, this morning I took the name of the main character, Susan Ryeland, and tried (and am trying) to sleuth out what that anagram might be.  (I will succumb after I finish writing this review and check Amazon to see if someone smarter than me got it, if indeed the name is a revealing puzzle of sorts).

In short, hats off to Anthony Horowitz-the author- for putting this together, but readers of this blog might get enough out of the following to decide not to read it.  I will not give essential parts away.

A non revealing synopsis:

A fiction editor of a publishing company sits down to read a whodunit which is the most recent one of a series.  This series about sleuth Atticus Pund has been the key breadwinner for the editor's publishing company.  So, four pages into the book, the editor (and we readers) begin Magpie Murders which is both the title of the most recent fiction featuring Atticus Pund detective, and the title of Horowitz's book.

It's classic British whodunit.  There's a funeral, all the potential suspects are introduced, someone seeks out Atticus Pund for his wisdom, Pund comes to town with his assistant, and works collaboratively with the local police.  Meanwhile 217 pages later the editor (and we readers) stop reading the detective story.  The editor has to solve a new (real life) mystery that is related to the novel's fiction.  She then becomes the sleuth for the real mystery and in several ways mirrors Pund, the fictional character, as she interviews all potential players in the real life mystery related to the fictional mystery set decades earlier.

Eventually, the fictional and real life mysteries are solved, in the way that fictional whodunits are solved. There is a scene at the end of both where the sleuths reveal who done it and how they come to know who has done it.  Life imitating art using art to demonstrate.

Sometimes I think I am very creative, but I don't think I could conceive of this intricate novel that contains another novel.  Horowitz even paginates the book separately from the Pund novel.  So you read four pages in the beginning and then start on page 1 of the Pund novel. Then 217 pages after that, you go back to page 5 of Horowitz's Magpie Murders that encompasses the fictional Magpie Murders, for 200 plus pages. Then the reader is taken back to page 218 of the fictional novel.   You can pick up this fat book and look at the last page and see it is numbered 236 which makes no sense given its heft.  But then you realize there is a 241 page novel inside.

What I liked second most (beyond just the idea) was the Pund novel. It was as good as the Agatha Christie type books I have read. Horowitz really imitates that style. And it is a good story in and of itself. (No, I did not figure out who done it).

If you like puzzles and like to read, you will probably enjoy Magpie Murders. However, I think the thing you will come away with more than anything else is an appreciation for the creativity of the author. And you will enjoy how sleuth Pund solves his case as well.  If, however, you want a straight forward short novel, with perhaps a message that will hang around in your head, I'd put this one on the back burner.




Ball Hype

Lonzo Ball may turn out to be better than I believe he will be in the NBA.

In the summer league, he had one very good game which I did not see, one very bad game which I did see, and one game where he showed some passing skills which were admirable.

The Lakers played eight games in the summer league and won the championship last night.

Of those eight games, Ball did not play in two of them because of injuries.  In a third he sat out a good deal of the second half with the same injury that kept him out of the finals.  The Lakers went 3-2 in the games he played in.

BEFORE the championship game last night--in which he did not play--the league voted him summer league MVP.

Come on.

The guy did not play in the championship game which the Lakers won.  They won another 1 1/2 games without him. They lost two games with him.

How do you name a player MVP when he does not have an impact on over 25% of the short season?

It's hype. The father has a big mouth.  A lot of people went to the games because of the hype surrounding Lonzo Ball.  Maybe 15 years ago I went to a summer league game in Boston. It was held in a local gym.  It was fun to watch, but maybe there were 500 people in attendance.  Daddy Ball and NBA's marketing changed that this summer. So the kid is a draw.

 But when you don't play in the championship game or in over 33 % of the games your team won, and your season opener was a Johnny on the spot latrine stinker...how do you win league MVP?

As I wrote in the beginning, there were some clips from his very good game which were impressive and they made me think that my overall assessment of the player could be wrong. And in another game, I saw some passing that was extra special.  It is possible that he may be somewhere nearly as good as the experts think he will be. I am still not convinced, but maybe.

However, the decision to make him league MVP reflects the hype.  You can't give the MVP to someone who does not play, unless you yourself have consumed the Dad's batch of Kool-Aid.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thanks for the Memories

My brother came to visit last week. We had a number of moments where we recalled things about our folks which were, at once, funny and touching.   At one point, he said something like, "Remember the house sale and dad with the furniture."

I didn't.  He said, "you were there. you don't remember?"  And I said I didn't.

I do remember the house sale. The home had been sold and we came in from Boston and New Jersey to help out as we attempted to sell various items that my parents did not want to haul to Florida.  I have a pretty good recollection of various moments during the day.  Our folks told us that anything we wanted we could have--and I still regret not taking this expandable table which did not go until closing time.  I remember the goniff who tried to bid low on some pretty hoo hah picture frames.  And the woman who showed up two hours before we were starting.

But this particular episode my brother was relaying, I did not recall. So when he told the funny story, I laughed so hard.  The two of us were giggling like school kids.

Which was great.  The problem was that the next day I remembered that he had, in fact, told me the story before. But when he told me the story the prior day, I had no recollection of it.

The last twenty five years of his life, my father's memory had failed him.  He still was sharp in terms of reasoning and things like current events and politics.  But I could tell him a story five times during a year and each time he said that I'd not told him the story previously.  In the first ten years or so, I would say to him what my brother said to me the other day.  "You were there, you don't remember?"

A college friend lives nearby and a few times a year we get together and have a drink.  She told me some news on Friday which I professed not to have heard before. She said she was pretty sure she had mentioned it.  I said I would remember.

On Saturday I went for a walk and stopped short when I had the realization that she had indeed told me this news at a prior quaffing session.

Point is I am not certain of what I had been certain about.  I still can remember things that are stunning and my relatives are appropriately shocked when I pluck a fact from the fifties or sixties or remember how to get to a place I haven't been to in forty years. I know I will wow my classmates at our fiftieth high school reunion in the fall with trivia, and will be the go-to camper for esoteric questions about camp history when Chicopee cronies rendezvous in September.

The thing about memory though is when you lose it, you don't know it.  So, unless it wafts up the next day--you could be under the illusion that what you don't remember did not occur.  I am grateful for the memories I have and am also grateful that I have been fortunate enough to have a better memory than most--but these episodes have been yet another example that there is such a thing as deterioration and mortality.

Seize the day.


Palindrome Redux

I had to go to the bank today.  I went to fill out my slip and realized that today, is another palindrome.

7-1-7-1-7.  Backwards and forwards

And then a moment ago, a week late, I realized that every single day since July 10, and up until July 19th will be a palindrome.

7-1-0-1-7 and 7-1-2-1-7 and etcetera.

So much for novelty. After the 19th we will have to wait until August of 18 when again we will be lousy with palindromes.

That was an expression my father and mother used to use. If you were lousy with something, that meant you had a lot of it. It actually stemmed from "lice"--that is if you had lice you were lousy with them.  I imagine the derivative of the adjective lousy as it is commonly used is based on the wonderful experience of having lice.

----
On Saturday morning I noticed that the basement sink was overflowing.  There is a trick I use to clean out clogs in the elbow drain but that was not working. Eventually I carted out some water because it was close to toppling over.  I measured the distance from the top of the sink to the water. It was 6 inches.  I took a shower. Measured again. it was three inches. I knew I had tsuris.

 I tried some home remedies to no avail. All day Sunday the water would have cascaded out of the sink had I not bailed out gallons of water and stopped using water in the house.  I had to go to the gym to take a shower and shave.  I called local plumbers. Most plumbers, I was surprised to find out, do not do clogs.  There are some specialty outfits which cost, hold onto your plunger, 300 bananas to unclog your pipe. One fellow was very friendly and he agreed to come out this morning.

I took him downstairs. We went to the sink. The water was gone. For two days the water was hanging around like the neighbor who comes to chat and doesn't take a hint when you are all but begging him to leave.  The clog cleaner comes by and and for 300 dollars there is nothing in the sink. He ran his gizmo through the pipe anyway and cleared the pipes of roots. I was lousy with roots.

We noticed that there was a leak under the sink.  His comment. "You'll need to call a plumber."

The guy was very nice but explained to me that you need a plumber's license to do plumbing, but just a powerful machine to clean major league clogs. So now, 300 bananas after my pipe was cleaned, I need to call a plumber.

Good news is I can take a shower.

Bad news is that I can't afford the soap.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summers of Love




About a week ago it crossed my mind for the first time that the "Summer of Love" was at its fifty year anniversary.

The black and white above was taken at the end of the summer of love.  The color photo is a selfie taken this past Sunday, half a century later.

For the longest time I had a tee shirt that read, "A Summer in Life--1967."  I was not in California wearing a flower in my hair in July and August of '67, but it was nevertheless a wonderfully romantic summer.

In the summer of love The Grass Roots encouraged us to live for today. The Doors urged all to light our fires. Johnny Rivers sang "All summer long we were dancing in the sand. And the band kept on playing, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

I can remember, almost vividly, a July day fifty years ago, sitting shotgun in a car with three others humming "Live For Today".  I was leaning out the passenger window, adjusting the side view mirror thinking that the future and present seemed so bright.

Did the summer of love leave a lasting imprint?

How did that "live for today" philosophy work out for us?

Did our fires remain lit?

Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford is a novel about a summer of love.  But the summer was 1936. And, in addition to the questions above, a question that the book wants the reader to address is this: "How much would you do for love?"

In a nutshell, in the summer of 2004 an 80 something year old woman asks her son to come visit.  The father has already passed. Now his wife, the mother, is dying. She tells the son that when he visits she has "something of a surprise" she must relay.

When the son visits, the mother--still lucid and feisty despite the sad medical prognosis--tells her son about her experience in Germany in 1936 when she was on the women's Olympic swimming team.  The son knew that his mother was on the team. What he did not know was the essence of the surprise. He did not know that within days of arriving in Berlin his mother met and fell immediately in love with a young German. The German's father was a diplomat and consequently, the courtship with the German allowed her not only to meet Hitler, but to attend a gala Nazi party hosted by none other than Goebbels.

To the son, the mother's relaying of this "remembered bliss" is a bit disconcerting. Nazis aside, he has a fond recollection of his father and, apparently, this German/Horst character swept his mother off her feet before Dad had come into the picture.  The book continues with the reader learning about what happened to the lovers after the summer of 1936 and into the first years of the war.

To relay more of the plot is to spoil the story for interested readers.

Is it worth reading?  The novel is engaging even if the ending is more than a little implausible.  Not the love parts. Those are very plausible.  But the resolution, could not have happened.   Even three quarters of a century ago.

Also, the way the story is told can be a bit off putting. While the narrator is the son, most of the book is told in the first person by the mother. The son has a tape recorder and the mother speaks into it, with a few interjections from the son. About eighty other pages are from a manuscript the mother has written that describes the sequence of events. So again the manuscript is in the first person from the perspective of the mother, with the son occasionally making first person comments like, "I didn't really think mom would do that."

For the mother in this novel, the summer of love was 1936, even though that summer was a summer of hate.  Her German sweetheart does not have Nazi sentiments, but his brother-in-law, sister, and father have consumed the Kool-Aid. When the Olympian visits the German's parents she is asked repeatedly about her last name to sleuth out if she is Jewish. She is not, but she knows there is something wrong about attending a party hosted by the slimy Goebbels, yet is so taken by her lover that the shine of love trumps logic.

For her, the summer of love--1936--the Bliss, is remembered and it leaves a multigenerational imprint.   It was interesting to me how much the mother followed, naturally and beautifully, the advice of the Grass Roots and followed her heart so that her fires might be lit.

This book is not as good as Deford's, An American Summer, which I reviewed in this blog several weeks ago.  But readers will enjoy turning the pages of Bliss, Remembered and, at the end, when you say--"That could not have happened"--you might also find yourself saying, "so what."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ball Round 2

I watched most of Lonzo Ball's second game last night.  And endured an interview a sideline reporter had with his outrageous father during the first half.

As for Lonzo--he showed me something in this second game. I have been unequivocal in my prediction that he will not be particularly extra as a professional.  He was not super last night, but he was not as awful as he had been in his first game.

There were some bright spots.  He can pass--better than I thought. He made some very good connections with teammates last night which opened them up for shots.  This is only the summer league so the opponents are not of the caliber that he will be facing in the fall--but still some of the passes, and his passing in general made me rethink a comment I had made that he is an overrated passer. If yesterday is an indication he is better than average.

Still other parts of his game are mediocre at best. He did make some shots last night, which when juxtaposed with game one when he could not drop a bar of soap in a bathtub, was an improvement. He did not, however, shoot the lights out.  Just made a few shots.

His defense was abysmal.  It looked like the person he was defending frequently attempted and was able to drive on him whenever he got the ball. But Ball did show me that he can rebound at least with the players in the summer league.

His father was as insufferable as he has been. During the interview the dad was all over the place saying things like it was the "show" that mattered, and how Lonzo changed the culture of the Lakers, and how he was now the new Magic Johnson and soon would surpass him.  The father is a circus act and I feel for his son, who has to carry the burden of having a man who may be a decent person, but is behaving like a jackass.

In sum, in Ball's round two his passing made me see what the hoopla about the guy could be about.  Not that the outcome really matters in the summer league, but the Lakers got off to a strong start, but lost again despite the presence of the new Magic Johnson.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

First Ball game

I was flipping channels last night, just before ending the day.  I came across a Summer League game between the Lakers and the Clippers. 

It was the debut game of Lonzo Ball.  Ball was the number two pick of the draft and hyped, irresponsibly, by his father LaVar Ball, who compared his son to Michael Jordan.  On May 12th in this blog, I wrote the following:


"Let's start with this.  Please remember this.  I am promising you this.  Lonzo Ball will not be a change maker in the pros. He is very good, but so is every player in the NBA.  Lonzo Ball will not be that good. If you are an NBA executive and are looking for someone who can catapult your team into a championship contender, don't sell the farm for Lonzo Ball.  Lonzo is a kid. He is 6' 6" and 190 pounds.  Just for comparison, Jae Crowder on the Celtics is 6 6 and 235 pounds and not the Pillsbury Doughboy. Lonzo Ball is going to get bounced around like a pin ball when he drives to the basket. He has great court vision, but he is nothing extraordinary in terms of shooting or passing.  Claiming that Lonzo Ball is better than Michael Jordan is just beyond belief.  Jordan is probably collecting social security now and could defeat Ball in a one on one game ten times out of ten."



You can't extrapolate too much from only one game, and a summer league game at that.  But Lonzo Ball stunk up the gym last night.  At the risk of sounding self congratulatory Ball was everything I described on May 12th.  

And I will comment now as I did then that his father's incredibly selfish promotion of his son will do nothing to help him on the court. Off the court, the bragging may have helped get his son a fat contract. But on the court it just heaped pressure on a young man who will now be playing against great players, and I do not think will shine except sporadically.  Maybe, this one meaningless game will be atypical, and in the pros he will dominate.  I will be surprised if that is the case. I also noticed that the kid took some ill advised shots, and that the defense was egging him on take them--as if they had already doped out that his shooting was not all that special.

Friday, July 7, 2017

body issue

Okay. I am not a prude, by any stretch of the definition.  My feeling about sex and the discourse related to intimacy is that we, in America, are in the very dark ages.  And that is for those who believe and adhere to their beliefs about intimacy.  Others are hypocrites; spewing the values of abstinence and perils of intimacy while engaging in practices that people of their ilk, outwardly, condemn as sinful. The ubiquitous chatter about the evils of the flesh are at odds with the overwhelming evidence that the pornography business is beyond lucrative.

Not only do I think we are in the dark ages about sex, but we are worse off for it.  Sexual repression has got to be no good for you.  Think of how you felt the last time you engaged blissfully in consensual intimacy.  Now imagine not being able to purge whatever had been purged. It has to go someplace.

So,  with that background, this rant may seem peculiar--but the two paragraphs above actually are foundational to the following argument.

The SI swimsuit issue is, without question, the fattest issue that SI puts out all year. This is not because they are taking a lot of pictures that require pages. It is because advertisers want to advertise in the issue thus expanding the size.  The reason advertisers want to advertise is that many people purchase the swimsuit issue.

As anyone who has perused that issue knows, the lure for the consumers is not the particular garb that the models use when they go to the beach. It is because the models pose with not a whole lot of garb, sometimes no garb, and the pictures are less of the "check out this great bathing suit" variety and more like "come hither and imagine what I look like if my suit is removed."

My problem with the swimsuit issue is that given the size of the audience, there must be a whole lot of people who squawk about the perils of intimacy, but nevertheless check out the photos.

However, the swimsuit issue, has been topped.  ESPN-the magazine has published in the last few weeks what they call their body issue.  Essentially they have said, "we don't need no stinking swimsuits."  Naked athletes, men and women, in softball, hockey, basketball, football, tennis, rugby--and other sports are posing naked. Every single one is in the buff. There is no frontal nudity, but you want to see what Julian Edelman's ass looks like, or anybody else's, you are in business.  Six women from the 2014 silver medal hockey team stand, backs to the camera, with nothing on but their skates. Each looks back at the camera, but my hunch is that the gazing is at regions further south.

When I was a kid, the Body Issue would be something that would be found behind the counter. There was a sign at the candystore near my house that read, "Ask for Playboy."  You'd have had to ask for the Body Issue in 1964.

Does the Body Issue bother me?  In some ways yes, (a) because ESPN-the magazine is trying to claim that what they are showing off are the athletes' physiques; what you have to do in training to be a winner--and that is baloney--they are peddling sex and (b) because so many of the full of baloney people will scream about how we are all going to hell, yet will check out the images on line a gazillion times fueling some creative daydreaming.

We as a society would be a whole lot better off, if people got off a whole lot more. and there was no stigma surrounding consensual intimacy.

My beef with the swimsuit issue and the body issue is that they do not really puncture the prevailing bogus morality, but rather create a vehicle for indulgence while maintaining the status quo.

In high school we had to read a play called Miss Julie.  Completely lost on me in high school.  I read it again last night as I am on a kick now of reading plays.  In it, Julie, an aristocrat, does the slow dance with one of her servants.  Afterwards, she does not know what to do. She has been disgraced. She wants to move away with the lover, who has little sympathy calling her a whore, and acting toward her, as if she is forever stained.  The play was written in 1883.  Yes attitudes have changed some, but not enough.  And despite what might seem to be the case, the Body Issue and Swimsuit Issue do not help the cause.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Black and White

I remember Gordon Hayward from when he played at Butler.  He was the only real stud on the Butler team that came within one shot of beating mighty Duke in the NCAAs.  The next year Butler, again, without Hayward--who had gone to the NBA--went to the finals- this time with no stud.  Nobody who would make a real dent in the NBA was on that second Butler team.

The fact that Butler went to the finals two years in a row with those teams is either the aberration of aberrations, or a testament to the coach--Brad Stevens--now the coach of the Celtics.

As for Hayward, he has made a dent in the professional ranks. He was a strong player for the Utah Jazz and then, at the end of last season, became a free agent.  There was a scramble for his services over the last few weeks.  And the Boston Celtics came out the winners. Hayward is now a Celtic.

In July, months after the Celtics were eliminated and months before the next NBA season will begin, the hoopla in the post Hayward signing days has been such that there is an article in the Globe daily about the impact he will make on the team. Very big deal.  The Red Sox are on a tear during baseball season. Edelman is posing naked in ESPN's body issue, but people are talking about Hayward.

Maybe I am being cynical and could be proven to be wrong with this claim.  I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

The hosannahs for Hayward are as loud as they are because he is white.

I do think he will be an impact player for the Celtics, but I don't think he is someone who will carry the team, or inevitably take the team to the next level. With Hayward the Celtics do not compete any better against the Cavaliers or Warriors.  I read in today's paper that in order to sign Hayward the Celtics will need to jettison either Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, or Jae Crowder.  I like all three of these players.  Do I think that Hayward is better than each one? Yes. But not by a hoot and a holler.

One of the things that makes me unhappy about the signing is how the courting of Hayward must have affected Crowder.  Crowder plays the position that Hayward will take and Crowder was a tough quality player for the Celtics.  By going after Hayward the Celtics were saying that Crowder is not good enough. Kind of like seeing the girl you have been hugging, shopping around at the dance to find a better smooching partner.  "Hang on there Louie, I'm trying to snag Rex here who is going to be a doctor. If I can't get him to do the dosey do with me, then I'll be back."

Crowder must be thinking what more can I do than what I did.  And, this is where it gets uncomfortable, Crowder must be thinking--as I am--if he were white would his gifts be seen as better than Hayward's--particularly if Hayward was black.

It's tough for Hayward as well. In a sport where most players are black, a white player is often looked upon as someone who has gotten a shot because of race. I remember Cedric Maxwell commenting that when Larry Bird came to the Celtics a number of black players thought that the hype about Bird was because he was white. Bird soon demonstrated that Maxwell's notions were inaccurate but he had to overcome the stereotype that a white man can't really be all that good.

And I imagine Hayward has to overcome that as well, and it does not help when writers like me suggest that his stock is a function of race.  But I think in a city like Boston with a troubled history of race relations, one has to wonder if the courting of Hayward isn't in part to do with race.  I am sure the Celtics brass would shake their head and scream no. And maybe race has nothing to do with it.

But I think if I were Avery, or Crowder, or Marcus Smart--all terrific players--there could be some resentment.

I hope Hayward proves to be a savior, and I wish my experience on planet earth was such that these possibilities never surfaced to my consciousness,  but they have.