Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Buck

I've read two books this month and both are worth reviews though for different reasons.

Buck is a memoir by a young man named MK Asante.  I was in the Watertown library several weeks ago and, instead of doing what I had gone there to do, started looking at my computer (which I could have done at home) to see what my former adviser has churned out of late.

My dissertation adviser is a man named Molefi Kete Asante.  He has written, no exaggeration, over 60 books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  When I met him he was 31 and I, 23. At that time just one year over thirty he had written five books. One was an anthology he had edited, so call it four but still an anthology counts for plenty in terms of time and energy and coordination and soliciting manuscripts.

Every time I have looked to see what he has done lately-- I notice that he has written two or three books since the last time I had checked.  I saw on my computer list, that there was a book called Buck written by MK Asante and it was a memoir.  I had not known that my adviser had written a memoir and was eager to read it.  I checked and the Watertown library had the book.  I found it on the shelves and started reading.

When I saw the cover and simply read the book flap I realized that this book was not written by my adviser, but by his son whom I never met. When Molefi was at the University of Buffalo where I studied, MK Asante was not yet born.

I started reading Buck and while the first few pages did not grab me the more I read, the more engaged I became, so I decided to read it through. It's a short book--about 250 pages.

The most interesting parts to me were those that referred to his dad.  Interesting yes. Bothersome, also yes. The depictions of Molefi troubled me.  I have no idea about how Molefi was as a father, but I know he is as industrious a person as I have ever met.  And his dedication to his scholarly work and perspectives is unrivaled.  He is not the sort of fellow who sees something offensive and says, "What can you do?"  He does something about it. And the son does not give the dad the credit he is due.

Buck is about the son's evolution from a ne'er do well who keeps getting thrown out of school and into trouble, to someone who sees the light and exercises his creative abilities when he is enrolled in an alternative school.  The younger Asante has, he claims, an epiphany when staring at a blank piece of paper which compels him to express himself. The younger Asante has expressed himself with the well reviewed Buck and his poetry and some hip hop work.

The thing is that without Molefi and the young man's mother, an accomplished choreographer, the child does not get three chances at high school. His parents first enrolled him in a private school in Philadelphia from which he was tossed. Then he goes to a public school in Philadelphia where he is part of the problem. And then finally after he gets into big trouble, the parents find him an alternative school.  If it wasn't for his parents and their concern for him,  the son never makes it to the moment when he has the epiphany. If it wasn't for his dad I will bet that the young man does not get into prestigious graduate schools, nor get a tenure track job, nor get tenure at a very early age.

His father's efforts and love paved the way, and young Asante (as well as his step brother)  does not give his dad the respect he deserves.  If I did not know Molefi I would have a far different impression of him because of reading the book.  The son does do an excellent job of drawing the father in certain moments.  I can see Molefi speaking and acting as he is portrayed in many of the scenes. But overall, MK Asante does not do his old man justice.  The kid is where he is because he got a shot at having an epiphany. Asante the senior, was one of 16 kids in the rural south who was reared when Jim Crow still had a strong hand. And Asante, with no dad paving the way, became a full professor with tenure with five books at 31.  With no dad paving the way, MK Asante, is not a full professor with tenure.

Buck was a good read, but it troubled me.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett will get a separate blog in a day or two.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Governor

Today I am feeling tired and not quite over whatever it was I had last week, whether a bad cold or a mild fever or just a system rebelling because I had gone to my friend’s son’s wedding and consumed more calories in four hours than I typically process in a week.  

I’ve also come to wonder if my office is not filled with toxins of some sort. I know there is construction going on below me because I can hear the pummeling racket of a jackhammer for thirty seconds at a pop.  So, I’ve wondered if the construction doesn’t involve the emission of something not meant for those to inhale.

Whatever,  I am still not completely through whatever is running its course.  And when that happens my emotional meter also dips.  In other words I am dragging myself around town with less hop to my skip than is usual.

So, that was the state of the author of the Madness of March when I went to the Orange Line early this afternoon.  I belong to a library in downtown Boston and had a book that needed to be returned.  I have an app that tells me when the Orange Line is a’coming, but I never use it since they run every few minutes.  Besides I am not sure how it works, though I will bet it is simple.

I put my terrific Senior Citizen subway pass on the turnstile sensor and for half the cost of what young ‘uns pay, I got through to the Ruggles stop.  I approached the down escalator to the tracks and saw that an outbound train was parked there. No need for me to rush because I was going inbound.  I saw the sea of folk coming up the escalator as I was starting to descend.

It was then that I spotted him or at least I thought I did.  About half way up the escalator there was this old guy emerging with the rest of the army. Every stair on the escalator was taken and this guy—when I first spotted him—was half way up crammed between two kids scanning their cell phones.  The man was gray-had to be pushing 80 (just looked it up, 84)—and was a little tired looking.

As I went down and he came up, it became clear that it was he.  And also it seemed to me that nobody on that upcoming escalator and nobody on the down one I was on, knew who he was.  I knew he worked at Northeastern and have seen him on campus now and again. It was definitely he. I smiled and waved at him, and he smiled back in the way that famous people do when someone else recognizes them and they know that they are recognizable.

And it struck me that whatever garbage is coursing through my system and causing me to feel blue and tired, this guy at 84 has better reasons to be exhausted and blue. Nobody, I will bet, nobody on that Orange Line knew who he was. He had not taken a cab, or a limousine, or an uber. He was riding on the Orange Line with about 150 others near the platform.

I looked at the oblivious escalator riders and wanted to tell them that this person between them, just under thirty years ago, ran for president of the United States on a major party ticket. President of the United States. He was not running on the Free the Pelicans ticket, he was the Democratic candidate for president.  Had it not been for a dumb commercial and dumber answer to a stupid question by CNN journalist Bernard Shaw, this gray haired man likely would have been president.  In addition, for twelve years this fellow that nobody recognized, was the Governor of the state of Massachusetts. Almost the most powerful person in the United States, and for over a decade the most powerful person in Massachusetts.

But there he was, thirty years later, riding the Orange Line in Boston at the age of 84, just another Charlie of the MTA.  Me, if I were he, would still be thinking about that dumb commercial, dumber answer to the stupid question.  And I would have trouble shaking it.   Not Michael Dukakis.  Eighty four years old going to work on the Orange Line, apparently unconcerned that he had been one dumb advertisement away from being president and unconcerned that nobody knew who he was, Governor Michael Dukakis was seizing the day riding to his office to go to work.  


Monday, November 20, 2017

Jones

Jerry Jones's behavior is particularly offensive to those of us who live in New England.

Anyone who has read my blogs on Deflategate is aware that I thought the NFL acted inappropriately when dragging Tom Brady through the mud when there was no clear evidence that he had, as it was claimed, requested that footballs be deflated to maximize his performance.

One of the issues I brought up at the time was that other owners should have been sympathetic to the Patriots.  They should have been sympathetic not to show camaraderie like a gang defying authority, but because it was the right thing to do to question the severe punishment (four game suspension) since the evidence did not exist.  No other owner came to Kraft's defense. I thought, and still think, that was gutless and reprehensible.

Now Jones wants to purge the league of the commissioner. He wants to because now he feels that one of his players has received a punishment that is far too severe.  And Jones is seeking support among the owners.

However, the player in this case, Ezekiel Elliot, committed a far more egregious act than the offense that Brady did not commit.  An NFL investigation found that on three separate occasions Elliot violently attacked his girlfriend.  Given the NFL investigation during Deflategate and how sloppily they examined the allegations, it is possible that Elliot too has been unjustifiably accused.  The protests from Jones, however, do not suggest that is the case. Jones appears to be protesting the severity of the punishment not whether the acts were committed.

If Jones was willing to let Brady hang, then he should not be squawking about punishing someone for beating up a girlfriend.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Cloudy

It is a gorgeous sunny day in New England.  November 3rd and I do not need any sort of jacket.  I have the day off.  Looking forward to a relaxing autumn day.

I met my long time friend Ken for breakfast in Newton Centre.   We, as we do during these monthly get togethers, discussed all sorts of this and that, from politics, to retirement considerations, to sports--pick a topic and it surfaced above our eggs.

When we separated I saw that I'd placed a letter in the car that I needed to mail.  I could not recall where the post office was in Newton Centre, but it had to be around where we met to eat.  So, I put another quarter in the meter giving me twenty minutes to walk around the Centre and find either a mailbox or the post office itself.

It had gotten even warmer.  Not too hot so it was uncomfortable, but an unseasonably comfortable November day for these parts.  The town of Newton Centre has a bunch of different types of stores. Most of them are not my type.  Boutique clothing joints for the most part and expensive eateries with some sort of peculiar niche.  When I first came to  Boston to live temporarily in the summer of 1979, this same Ken took me to an Israeli restaurant which no longer exists, but is not atypical of the different kinds of eateries one can find in the area.

I found a mailbox, deposited the letter, and still had a few minutes left on the meter. I decided to take a walk around the block where the cute subway station is located.

Standing outside a parked car was a gray haired gent who I'd put about 70, but could have been a little younger.  He was leaning into the car and shouting.  As loud as his voice was when I first encountered it, it became even louder.  I thought he might have been a deranged fellow because at first I did not see anyone in the car, but then I saw a younger man in the passenger seat.  It was not difficult to make out what the older guy was saying. The message was something along the lines of, "I told you I don't want to ever see you again. This is not good. Get out of my life."  I then heard a bellowing from inside the car which I could not quite make out.  The older guy responded again shouting.

I deduced, maybe inaccurately--but I think correctly--that this was a father and son situation.  I heard the child screaming that the father should never threaten him this way again.  And the father again bellowed a response.  Then I heard the kid wail, "I just can't do this all alone."

I circled back. It was not because of altruism. I didn't think there would be a brawl. I was more curious than anything else.  I saw the younger man step out of the car.  He looked emotionally beaten, and maybe even physically so. There was a scab above his nose that could have been the result of some fight the night before, or even, the kid himself--I'm guessing in his mid to late thirties--banging his head against a wall.  He had on a rotten sweater with holes and not the kind of scarred garment kids now buy off the rack to be cool.

I doubled back a second time and the two were now in the car and the conversation had simmered some, but it was clear not all was settled in their universe.

Later I started to think about how cloudy even a beautiful day like this can be for those in emotional pain.  Who knows what is going on between those two.  I can imagine that the kid is a ne'er do well, and the dad has had it with the kid. The dad, according to this extrapolation, is at a point in his life where he cannot deal with the weight of whatever the kid is bringing to the table. And the kid, who knows for sure, is lugging around a hole in his heart after years of a less than loving homelife. And the kid has consciously or otherwise used the emotional gap in his guts as an excuse to veer along a destructive path that he could have avoided, but did not.

I am so fortunate to have come from a home where such a battle as the one I witnessed would be other worldly. Sure we had our spats. Unless you are a robot and parents were robotic as well, there are always bumps when rearing kids, but this was different by a time zone from any tete a tete we ever had.

For various reasons I have cloudy days even when the sun is bright, but for the most part I am able to enjoy the sunshine and laugh.  For the two I bumped into in beautiful, affluent, Newton Centre, I'm not sure the sun shines a whole lot today or on any day.  For them, the sky is forever cloudy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Heady

In the last six weeks I have attended three reunions.

The first in mid September was a gathering of people with whom I'd gone to summer camp.  I had last attended the Camp in 1967. There had been other reunions of this group so I had seen several of these former campers in the past.  Still, what surfaced as we shmoozed were recollections from at least 50 years ago.

On October 20th, about three dozen fraternity and related folks gathered in a restaurant outside Albany.  Six of us had started college together a half century before.  The others were either older or younger by a year or two, but for the six of us we had met in the freshman dormitories before the end of the Johnson administration.  The next day was homecoming and I saw maybe another dozen or so senior citizens whom I'd first met as we began our post high school history.

Then last weekend on the 28th over 120 congregated in my home town to shake hands, hug, and marvel at the fact that we had all graduated high school five decades ago.

Of the three reunions, the high school one was the most intense.  There was an open bar on one side of the room, but I could not get there as every step I took I bumped into someone I had not seen in forever.  The exchanges were just as intoxicating as the booze would have been.  We paid a bunch for the event and it included a dj, appetizers, a full buffet, and dessert.  I barely ate a thing.  Too much shmoozing to do.  I saw the woman who drove me to the motor vehicle bureau to get my driver's license, the guy who taught me a trick regarding how to comb my hair,  at least three kids who were in my sixth grade class, and one who was in my 5th.  I talked with a guy who taught our class how to speed read, a woman who once invited me to a barbecue where the poor shnook who was cooking the burgers nearly burned his eyeballs from the smoke.  The captain of the football team was there and he still looked like he could play.  My date from the senior prom was there, as was my backcourt mate on the JV basketball team.  I spent some sweet time talking to a guy who I of course knew from high school, but who also worked with me in the borscht belt in 1968.

The formal part of the event ended at 11, but a bunch of us stayed in the hotel bar until 1, and were still shmoozing at 2 well after last call.  I got to hear about peoples' post work careers, their children and grandchildren, some tales of duress, and of course high school reminiscences.

Fifty years just evaporated at all three of these reunions.  For the high school one, there was some sadness as it's likely this will be the last shindig for that group. If there is another one it is unlikely as many people will show. So, I said goodbye to some people at 2 am and then realized that it is quite likely that I will never see them again.  That all week has been a sobering potion.

Friday, October 27, 2017

50

Tomorrow night is the date of our fiftieth high school reunion.

I've been to several others in the past.  Our 20th was very well attended. After that, fewer people came.  There was a small get together last weekend for those of us who started college 50 years ago. Some there talked about their 50th high school reunion.  It seems as if the turnout has not been robust for many of these.

Social media has been active in terms of ours.  People have been chatting for months asking about who is coming and from what distance.  A buddy of mine who I have seen a bunch of times since 67 is now living in Malaysia and he is coming in (not just for this).  Others from various parts of the US.

These can be heady experiences. For one night you rocket back to the past. Almost everyone is recognizable if you imagine that they went to a make-up artist in 67 and were made up to look 50 years older.  There's typically more pounds on us all, and hair is either grayer, colored, or gone.  But the mannerisms after a few minutes are just like they were and even manners of speaking.

There was a request for the place to be a no politics zone and I am hopeful that this request is honored. It will not be easy because some of the back and forth a year ago on social media was less than respectable.  We've always had open bars at these, but for reasons that I can't actually identify, in the past nobody has gotten ripped at the event. If this proves an exception the gloves may come off. I remember thinking that at the 20th, it would be a boozy affair recalling how some would, illegally, bang them back as high schoolers. But almost nobody went to the bar and the buffet wasn't touched much either.

The thing about this one is that, as someone mentioned in a post, this is likely the last time we will see many of our classmates.  And not necessarily because this could be the last official reunion.  The list of deceased, of course, gets longer each time we meet, but now the numbers are coming at a more rapid rate.  It's sobering.

Tonight there is a cocktail hour warm up event at the hotel where the shindig tomorrow takes place.  I won't be at it.  One reason is that I no longer live near my high school home. Another is more fundamental: one night is enough. There are people from my high school whom I see regularly without official reunions.  I will be happy to see others, very much so, but after three hours of conversing there will not be much to say to these acquaintances. Except maybe goodbye.

The past is not even the past, said Faulkner, or words to that effect.   It would be wise to think of the future as the present.

Go Gulls.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Act One

So the story goes like this.

When I was a junior in high school my English teacher gave us all an assignment to read a biography. The idea was that after reading the biography and becoming acquainted with the subject we would have to, in lieu of our usual book report, give a speech to the class.   For the speech, we would pretend that we were introducing the main character in the biography to a group that was attending an event where the main character would be speaking.

It was I think--now having the perspective of a teacher for 40 years--a very good assignment.  It would, one would think, force us to read a biography and understand it sufficiently to be able to "introduce" the subject of the book to the class.

I have a vague idea of how I selected the book.  I think I waited, go figure, until the last minute to find one and asked dad if he had any ideas.  It may not have happened that way, but I know I picked a book that had been in dad's bookcase for a spell.  It was called Act One an autobiography of the great playwright Moss Hart.  I did not know who Moss Hart was, but the book on the bookshelf satisfied the requirement, and maybe Dad recommended it.

I started reading it and I liked it.  It was funny in parts. Hart relayed how he had wanted to be in the Theatre from an early age and stayed focussed on that goal.  His family was poor and, maybe like all families, quirky. There was an eccentric Aunt who encouraged Hart's aspirations, a domineering grandfather, a shy brother, a dad who could barely make a living, and a mother who tried to keep the starving family together.

What happened was that the deadline for making my speech was coming up and I had only finished the first part of the book--232 pages of the 450 plus page autobiography. I figured I would not have enough time to finish the book so I started writing the speech based on what I had read.  On occasion, even as a kid, I was able to make decent presentations.  I crafted an engaging introduction and delivered the speech to the class well enough to get some genuine strokes from classmates who were no doubt more prepared but less poised when delivering a talk. I earned an A, as I recall, on my effort.

Dad asked how the talk had gone and I told him. And then I said half as a brag, that I got an A even though I had not finished the book.

Dad was not the kind of guy who would get riled up about this sort of thing usually. His attitude, more often than not, about my less than studious habits as a teen, was to wave his hand meaning a combination of "there's nothing I can do if you want to be a goof" and "I got bigger fish to fry than to worry about you."

I remember once when he and my mother came to Albany where I went to college. He saw a list of the various lectures that were scheduled on campus and said something like, "These are great. They've got famous people coming here. Do you ever go to these?" I probably looked at him as if to say, "Dad, you know me. I play basketball in the afternoons."  He made a face, but did not read me the riot act.

However, when I told him that I had not, and did not plan to, read the second part of Act One, he got uncharacteristically upset.  He said the first part was good, but the second part very very important to read.  He then said something that he never had said to me previously and never said again. He said that if I did not read the second half he was going to tell my teacher.

Well, I knew that was a bluff and being all wise and smart and knowing everything I needed to know on planet earth at 15, did not even consider reading the second half of the book.

Libraries around here, and I am sure libraries everywhere, hold annual used book sales. There is one in particular that is very popular. When I am around during the time of their sale I tend to go into this basement where they store the books and see what I can get.  I have become something close to a book worm as an adult and find reading a fun hobby as anyone who reads my blogs regularly will know.  So, I am often in that basement poking around for a good read.

On a recent visit to the book sale I spotted Act One and I was reminded of the incident with my dad, the speech assignment, and his desire for me to finish the book.  I decided that I would get it, reread the first part and then finish what I had not finished 50 plus years ago.  Just completed the book this afternoon.

I was surprised at how much I remembered from the first part.  I enjoyed it the second time around as I had the first.  I am not sure the book is really appropriate for a fifteen year old. Lots of sophisticated vocabulary that I am sure I glossed over as a kid. Also, the issues that Hart dealt with, with his family were ones that I would not have fully appreciated in my teens.

The second part, while a tougher slog, became very powerful to me. It became so not because of the story itself but because of my recollection of how important Dad thought it was for me to finish it.

 The first part concludes with Hart taking a writing pad to the beach and deciding to become a playwright. The second part, for almost all of it, is about Hart's first successful play, Once in a Lifetime. There were many times when Hart could have quit.  He thought he had a winner, but then a reader decided that Hart needed a collaborator. The collaborator, George Kaufman, was a wonderful person to work with, but was idiosyncratic enough to make a lesser person decide to pack it in.

Hart did not pack it in. The two of them rewrote the play together. Then they went to Atlantic City for a tryout. And the second and third act stunk up the place.

They rewrote Once in a Lifetime again., with Hart coming up with an idea that seemed to be a real winner. They tried the play out again--the third act stunk up the place.

At one point Kaufman said essentially he had given it all he had. Hart was about to give up, but then he decided he would not.  He just could not. His parents and kid brother were still starving; he had no money to rub together, but he decided that come hell or high water, he was going to make this work.

So, he took the subway up to Kaufman's apartment barged in while Kaufman was taking a bath and said that they had to try again. They did.

They took the play to Philadelphia and the third act stunk the place up.  Hart and Kaufman at first decided they had no choice but take the stinker to New York. Maybe there would be a miracle and the New Yorkers would love it.  But then Hart reconsidered and thought that he did not want to bet on a miracle. Again, Hart rewrote the third act.

This time it worked. They went to New York. The audience loved it.  The reviews were fantastic.

Hart went to Brooklyn where his parents and brother were living in squalor and said, "pack a bag" we are moving to New York and never looking back. It's not in the autobiography but after that first hit, Hart had success after success as a playwright and director, most famously directing My Fair Lady.

So, what Dad wanted me to do was read the book to know and to never forget that if you have a dream you should chase it and despite the storms, if you believe in your ability to pursue the dream, deal with the storm to see the rainbow.

Vocationally, if not in all areas, I have been industrious and persevering despite never having finished Act One until two hours ago.  Regardless of how valuable it could have been to me at 15,  I know why he wanted me to read the book then.  And I wish I could tell him now, that I finished it.

After all this, do I recommend Act One? Well, for the reason that my father wanted me to read it, yes, but with a few qualifiers.

The first is that it can be tough sledding. Lots of pages with no conversation. My vocabulary now at three score and nearly eight, is pretty sophisticated, but I had to keep underlining words that were new to me.

Second you might get tired of reading about playwriting and the theatre if you are not naturally interested.

The third is a big qualifier. Before I finished I read a wikipedia article about Hart as I became intrigued about him in general and his collaboration with Kaufman.  I found out something that was mildly upsetting.  In this article it said that in the autobiography he had altered the facts about his quirky Aunt, and not insignificantly.  What is problematic about this is it made me start to wonder if he had changed any other facts to make the story better.  When you read an autobiography or biography you want, like Dragnet, the facts ma'am.  And if an author plays with the truth in one part, you wonder about the truth in another part. For example when Hart gets telegrams wishing him well on opening night, some of the well-wishers, it seemed to me, would be unlikely to even know that Hart was still in show business. It made for interesting reading though to think that people from his past had sent him telegrams.  Our past does create our background, but if these people did not all send him telegrams, then it was inappropriate to write that they had in something that claims to be non fiction.

In sum, even though I cannot unequivocally recommend the book. I am so very glad, Dad, that I finished it. And thank you for knowing that the lessons in those pages are important ones for anyone on the cusp of this life's journey.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Abomination

The decision of the NCAA today regarding the UNC scandal is an abomination. Just unbelievable. Stunning baloney.  If you want to read my academic diagnosis of the scandal, then go to the new book Casing Crisis and Risk Communication where I have published a chapter that describes in detail the travesty at UNC.  On pages 57-67 I explain what occurred there.

In a nutshell, UNC players were kept eligible by taking bogus courses. For 18 years. Eighteen *%$# years. And the coaches claimed to have no knowledge of this.  Sure, for nearly two decades coaches never got a whiff of this.

The phony courses were created to service the athletes.  A side effect of having created the classes was that non athletes who found out about them could get into them. This fact was not good news to the people who created the ruse.

Today the NCAA said in effect that UNC could not be sanctioned for the easy classes because the NCAA does not police a school's curriculum, and since other UNC students took these classes then it was not a sports team violation, but a problem with curriculum.

This is what is wrong with college athletics. The NCAA did not take a stand on a case that is beyond egregious. What good is the NCAA if they do not sanction a school for such an outrageous offense.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Connie Hawkins

It had to be before June 1959.  My dad left the city school system then to work in the suburbs.  But prior to 1959 he worked in PS 83 in Brooklyn.  After school he had a regular moonlighting job as an after school faculty presence in a gym somewhere in Brooklyn.  There, a number of aspiring high school stars would come to the gym to strut their stuff.

On one or two occasions I would be with dad at the gym.  It wasn't that close to where our apartment was, so I am figuring that these were days that nobody was around at home and dad drew the responsibility of watching over us.  I was 9, pushing 10, in June 1959 and by that time my folks did not worry about me getting into too much trouble, so I'm thinking it was probably 1958 when this incident occurred.

I was hanging around dad, probably bouncing a ball on the sideline watching the "big kids" playing on the court. Dad asked me if I wanted to meet Connie Hawkins.

I don't think I knew who Connie Hawkins was at the time.  But dad brought me over and Hawkins shook hands with me when dad introduced his kid to him.  I remember the guy's hands were just enormous. Afterwards, I probably said something to my father like "who is this guy." And dad told me that Connie Hawkins was probably the best basketball player in New York City.  Dad had gotten to know him from the gym and followed Connie Hawkins's games because of this acquaintance and Hawkins's fame. Plus Connie Hawkins played for Boys High, the school where my dad graduated from in 1940 or 41.

So, I started following Connie Hawkins. He was such a star that other teams would just hold the ball and try to stall the game in the years before a shot clock. I have a memory of a picture of an announcer allegedly falling asleep in the PSAL (Public School Athletic League) championship game because Columbus did not want to take a shot. The final score (which incredibly I remembered accurately--just checked on Google) was Boys High 21-Columbus 15.

Hawkins earned a scholarship to play basketball at Iowa. And then things went south. Hawkins was accused of shaving points in a gambling scandal. He was kicked out of school and banned from playing in the NBA.  I remember dad shaking his head sadly when he read that news.

But the facts came out subsequently. Connie Hawkins had not been involved in the illegal activity.  A terrific book, Foul, described how he had been inaccurately accused and inappropriately convicted.  Hawkins sued and was victorious. He got to play in the NBA, became an all-star and is now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Connie Hawkins was Dr. J. before Dr. J. He defied gravity when he went up to shoot and, as my early introduction indicated, he had huge hands and could hold a basketball like it was a tangerine. Just a terrific player.

So I got a case of the blues this morning when I read that Connie Hawkins, at 75, passed away on Saturday.  Sad for Connie Hawkins; sad for me as it was yet another reminder that life is not infinite; and sad that I couldn't call dad and talk with him about the time he introduced me to Connie Hawkins at the after school program in Brooklyn.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher plus

I've read a number of decent books lately--one I'd describe as good, two very good of a certain ilk, and one is in the excellent category.

Sum it Up--By Pat Summitt is the autobiography of the outstanding women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. The story of her life is presented with the backdrop of her decline in health with Alzheimer's disease.  The book begins with her diagnosis which she categorically rejects and, like everything else she set out to do in life, believes she can and should be able to outwork.  Then we learn about her poor upbringing and playing/coaching successes with some marital ups and down sprinkled in.  Readers can not miss her devotion to her one child and Summitt's own hunger for paternal approval.

It is a good book if you are interested in women's basketball.  Readers will gain an appreciation for how hard she worked, and how hard she worked her players, to be successful.  What is also evident is that because of her father who could not express affection, there were some significant emotional gaps. She does not dwell on the demise of her marriage nor excessively criticize her husband, but you have to wonder if the marriage had any chance what with her need to compete and win as a coach.

 If you are interested in how Alzheimer's can abruptly change a life course, it is evident in the book. I came away thinking that Summitt was a much tougher person than I had thought she was.  I am not surprised that her son, whom she loved unconditionally, has had a bumpy go of it despite his mother's affection.

Here and Gone & The Couple Next Door--Let's say you have no desire to read War and Peace but you just want a page turner that is not ridickalus to hang out with for the weekend.  Either of these will do the trick. My favorite was the latter, but they are both very good and keep you turning pages.  Both, coincidentally, involve a mother who is looking for her kidnapped children. I did not seek out books about kidnapped children. My occasional source for book tips--the part time cashier at a local liquor store who is also a full-time librarian--recommended these.  Good tip. They are very well done, especially the second one.

Mrs. Fletcher--This book is outstanding.  I have liked Perrotta's others especially Little Children which was made into an entertaining movie and The Abstinence Teacher.  Also thought The Leftovers was good, though a little too Twilight Zone-ish for me.

Mrs. Fletcher is probably better than any of these others.  A forty something divorced woman takes her son to college and his absence at home highlights her loneliness. The book is told, mostly, from Mrs. Fletcher's perspective, but a large part is told in the first person from the son's vantage point.

The dialogue is both funny and, as they say or used to say, spot on. You can hear characters or have known characters who speak like this.  Mrs. Fletcher, aka Eve, (the name is maybe intended as an Adam and Eve reference) explores her own attitudes towards men and sex, and so do several other well drawn characters.  The book is not pornographic or erotic unless thinking about sexual issues is arousing just because it forces you to contemplate activity.  But the book doesn't excite you in the way erotica does.  What it does is make you think about what Mrs. Fletcher considers.  Other characters are also thinking about sexual conflicts as well. A former classmate of Eve's son and a co-worker at Eve's place of work.  There's a voluptuous female professor who has an atypical background. Eve's son is sort of a frat jerk and he gets a lesson in appropriate behavior from a woman who had been at one time sexually attracted to the kid.

The book is laugh out loud funny and is a catalyst for thinking about intimacy as well.  Highly recommended.

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.