Thursday, August 23, 2018

irony

Today I saw something that was ironic. A woman in a full burqa--the only thing exposed was her eyes--was walking with her family.  She was conversing with a man who I took to be her husband and a few children.

In Boston, it is rare that you see someone in a full burqa. When I was in England last month, I noticed people so attired more frequently, but in Boston it is a rarity.

But what was ironic was not the woman with her normal looking brood.  What was ironic is the woman with only her eyes exposed was carrying a bag.  The bag read Victoria's Secret.  She had shopped, apparently, at Victoria's Secret.

So, explain to me the extent of cognitive dissonance reduction that could make these decisions--to wear a full burqa, and to shop at Victoria's secret, seem rational.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rarity

A rarity for me.  I cannot find sleep.  I know that this is something that plagues many, but I have been remarkably blessed. I go to bed, I fall asleep. If I wake up, I go back to sleep.  Lucky guy. Not today.  Some turbulence I guess is keeping the zs away.

So, some random thoughts. This and that.

Terrell Owens deserves to be in the hall of fame as much as a kangaroo deserves to be in the White House. He never won anything.  He has gaudy statistics but was a terrible teammate.  Hall of fame athletes ought to have helped their teams win.

The Red Sox have been fun to watch this summer. Their ability to come back has been the stuff of fiction, not reality.

It is frightening that 40 % of the country thinks that Donald Trump is doing a good job. A woman I know said that she has trouble saying his name without throwing up.  I am not there. Just stunned that people can look past his obnoxious character. He reminds me of the guy who tries to rush a fraternity bragging that he has 50 million dollars and a wench in every dorm wing,  but whenever you need a dime for a keg, he claims to have left his wallet in his room, and the only women on his arms are those that he appears to have bought.  His regular claims that the press is evil, is enough to make me wonder how anyone who does not have oatmeal between the ears, can believe Trump should be the leader of a democratic country where respect for journalists is a foundational plank.

I am regularly in awe of the incompetence at various high levels of organizations.  It strikes me as singular that a knucklehead can be the head of a lucrative company indicating that the value of whatever product or service trumps the irrational decision making of decision makers.

If pornography is the abomination that the right claim it to be and many even on the left publicly decry, then how come there is a stunning abundance of it. If the majority believe it is horrible, how can so many pornographers be cashing in. 

Outside of the library I visit, there is--daily--someone who wants patrons to sign a petition to outlaw marijuana shops in the community.  Sure. If they are so concerned with drugs, how come the petition doesn't include outlawing CVS, Walgreens, and the liquor store.

I don't give a damn that Donald Trump slept with Stormy Daniels or a former Playboy bunny. The guy is a cancer on so many fronts, dwelling on his infidelity is like focusing in on an axe murderers unwillingness to use the turn signal at intersections.

Where are the Republicans?  The true Republicans. The ones that believe in less government, conservative fiscal policies, free trade. Are so many people tickled because the stock market is going up, that they are ignoring the stench.

I do not know how some books have gotten published.  There are some real stinkers out there.

Anne Tyler is an amazing author. I read a review of her recent book, Clock Dance. Very good book and very good review of it.  One comment the reviewer made was that there were critics who deride Tyler because her books are so easy to read.  Really?  What Tyler excels at is taking complex situations and explaining them effortlessly.  Her books often have what seem to be quirky characters in them. But maybe the characters are just like you and me, she just does a good job of bringing out all of our eccentricities.

Yesterday and Monday were hotter than hell.  Those who poo poo Global Warning should leave an address for their great grandchildren when they kick so that their descendants can direct their shvitzing wrath.

Every month it seems as if another friend has departed.

I don't think the Patriots will be so extra this year. Belichick does not seem to have the same fire. Brady is Brady because Belichick is Belichick. Had Brady been on another team with another coach, his main asset--his head--would be a limited asset.

Will try to meet the sandman now.


Friday, July 27, 2018

drew me back in

Yesterday, according to headlines in the Boston Globe, Facebook lost billions of dollars. I don't think this means that Mark Zuckerberg will be staying at a youth hostel the next time wanderlust kicks in, but his company took a hit.  I am not sure why.  And as I wrote in my last blog, on balance I like Facebook. It has put me in contact with people that had been lost to my horizon.  I find out about comings, goings, children, grandchildren--get to see happy pictures--wish people birthdays. 

I wrote recently that I had decided, despite my generally favorable view of the social network, to take a break. I was spending too much time on it and that, plus concerns about privacy, and a general desire for temporary reclusiveness, had me deactivate the account.

If you have never done this, give it a try. It is not easy to deactivate. Lots of navigating steps which might make someone not all that sophisticated with technology to say "the hell with it I'll keep the account" But that day I worked at it, and finally deactivated.

And I was doing fine.  I did notice that I periodically subconsciously typed in the url until realizing I was no longer a member.  But I was getting used to it. And I had not missed it much.

Then I received an e-mail that told me that my niece had posted some pictures on facebook.  She often posts sweet pictures of their children which I like to look at.  I did not think I could access the photos because I no longer had an account. But I tried. I clicked on the link and was able to access the pictures.

The problem is that because I did click on the link, on that device at least (a laptop) I was back to "active." Yesterday I found that I am active on my desktop at home as well. How that happened I don't know.

Fact is, that once I found I was able to prowl around, I stayed on it and looked at the various posts. But I am mildly annoyed that I returned to being a member when I had actively tried to deactivate.

There was probably a clause somewhere when I went to deactivate that read that should I click on any link I would be back in the fold, but fine print should not govern this.

Facebook will return no doubt. I see that it is up over a dollar a share today.  Zuckerberg will not have to rush to make the Early Bird special tonight. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Deactivated

Last week I deactivated my facebook account.

I was in a cranky mood when I did it.  I have at times become concerned with privacy issues.  And also, I spend a good deal of time reading the posts.  I've thought that I might be a bit more productive without the account.

Several days later what have I noticed?

The first thing is how often I must have gone to Facebook. On a number of occasions I have mindlessly typed in facebook and then realized I did not have an account. So, previously, without thinking I must have gone to the site regularly.

I have missed the connectivity.  I like how facebook could and did expand my network. I had become acquainted with people I'd not seen in years.   I got to see pictures of family members that I would not have seen otherwise. I was connected to friends from various lives--college, camp, high school, sports teams, graduate school--and I enjoyed the virtual reunions. Peripheral friends have opened up in ways that have made our relationship less superficial and more meaningful. I have found out about illnesses and people's need for emotional support and have been glad to offer support to whatever extent my words may have been comforting. I have read about acquaintances' children and grandchildren and the joys they have experienced.

So, that is the bad news. I have missed these things.

The good news is that I am not spending twenty minutes at a pop, reading these posts.  And nefarious sleuths will have more trouble finding out about my interests, buying habits, "likes" and "loves."

In a way it's like being on a diet or giving up booze.  I miss the sweets and buzz, but wonder if, when all is said and done, I will be healthier.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Back from the Dead

Today, three plus days after I returned from London, is the first full day when I feel like a human being.  On Sunday night I attempted to work out. Afterwards, I do not know who the fellow was who was looking back at me in the locker room mirror. Yesterday, I felt like more of a mensch. Worked out again, and I felt better. Still sweated through my tee shirt overnight--a sign throughout my life of something less than stellar in my system. When I am really sick, or even on a night like Saturday evening, I can look like I dove into a swimming pool at 3 in the morning.  But tonight, and tomorrow morning I think I will be dry and my normal self when I awaken.

I'm in a local library, not my town's, one nearby. This is a very good community library. There is a system in the Boston burbs, that links over a dozen of these places and it is quite good. The place where I am sitting may be the best of all the participating facilities --though it has competitors. The town that houses this particular branch is quite affluent. My home in blue collar Waltham would be worth nearly double just a short ride away.  Still whenever I come to this library, I am reminded of how many people, regardless of wealth, are sick, lugging around their illnesses, and do not know it.

Thirty minutes ago a guy I have seen before came smiling into this section where I now am parked. He had the gleam of a person who was for some reason recently amused, or a religious zealot who beams because she or he has found the spiritual answer, or the person with such a gleam is a nut.

As the man got closer to me I knew it was (c). I'd seen him here before. In fact, the last time I saw him he was sitting directly across the table from where I now sit. I was afraid he was going to join me again, and my fears were warranted. But nearly a minute after he sat down he popped back up. When he was here before he was filling out a crossword puzzle frenetically, and alternately doing math computations which looked legitimate but could have been residual graffiti from courses he took forty years ago.  He was so manic then that I had to move my seat as his scribbles were jostling the table.   There's a woman now at a nearby desk who is speaking loudly in a library in a way that she would have to know is inappropriate. On Sunday I was at my university library and another person was bellowing there.  My point is that there has to be something off-kilter about an individual over the age of 18 who speaks loudly in a place where it is supposed to be quiet.

My night sweats are probably over. I will get off the elliptical tonight and feel like I appropriately purged tensions and calories to allow for the inevitable accumulation of the former and the necessary consumption of the latter in the following 24 hours. (I did spot a blueberry pie in the refrigerator which might require some extra time on the machine).  The beaming guy with the cross word puzzles, and the human megaphones in the library, though--they never recover from their temporary bouts with whatever, because whatever brought on the illness is likely here to stay.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Shall We Dance


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On Wednesday night my brother and I  bought tickets to see The King and I which was playing in the London theatre district. Our dad was a big fan of musicals in general but had an especial fondness for The King and I.  We heard him croon the lyrics to “Tis a Puzzlement” on many an occasion.

There are times I often think I am not sure of what I absolutely know.
Very often find confusion in conclusions I concluded long ago.
In my head are many facts that as a student I had studied to procure
In my head are many facts of which, I wish I were more certain I was sure.


That was dad in a nutshell. A wise man who, modestly left room to doubt what he “knew.” A favorite refrain of his, after he had opined on a subject was “Yeah: but what the hell do I know?”

I thought I knew the play, but I really did not. I knew the score from the album we would listen to in the house.  I had the gist, but there is more to it. 

A widow who had been a schoolteacher comes to Siam in 1861. She travels there at the request of the King of  Siam so that she can teach his many children whom he has fathered with several wives and lovers. The King, while a blustery and, well, imperious man is beginning to feel conflicted. He is not quite saying “What the hell do I know” but he finds “a puzzlement” in some of his conclusions. He wonders how to teach his eldest son.

What for instance shall I speak to him of women?
Shall I educate him on the ancient lines?
Shall I tell him that as long as he is able
To respect his wives, and love his concubines?
Shall I tell him every one is like the other
And the better one of two is really neither?
If I tell him this I think he won’t believe it
And I nearly think I don’t believe it either.


The king is also puzzled about how to deal with other countries.
           
Shall I join with other nations in alliance?
If allies are weak am I not best alone
If allies are strong with power to protect me.
Might they not protect me out of all I own
Is a danger to be trusting one another
One will seldom want to do what other wishes
But unless some day somebody trust somebody
There’ll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes.

How many times did we in the Zaremba household hear those last four lines? I think someone in Washington might be wise to consider this wisdom. Unless some day somebody trust somebody, there'll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes.


Ana the school teacher is a big hit with the kids.  And the kids are a big hit with Ana.  There is a melody that I always heard on the record, but had never seen performed called “March of the Siamese children.”  Just beautiful, with little ones stealing the show. After the show I went on Youtube and saw the original Broadway version from the 50s. It was good but not as powerful as what we saw on Wednesday.

Ana tries to tell the King that the groveling of his subordinates is inappropriate. The King is not quite convinced, but she is making a dent.  The audience begins to wonder if the two might have developed some feelings for each other. 

The King is to be visited by an emissary from London. He has been called a  barbarian by some in the west and he does not like it.  He wants Ana to help him create a good image for the ambassador. He is too kingly to ask for her help, he asks her to "guess" what his ideas are, and then of course adopts them. The ambassador actually knows Ana, and has a thing for her. Before Ana met her beloved, Tom, the ambassador had tried to initiate a love affair with Ana.  Ana was not interested.

And then she met Tom. The love of her life.

When I think of Tom. 
I think about a night
When the air was full of wonder and the night was full of light.  
And the sweet mist of England was nestled on the hill 
I remember him.
And I always will.

There are new lovers now on the same silent hill. 
Looking at the same blue sea
And I know Tom and I are a part of them all.
And they're all a part of Tom and me.

She breaks into a song called “Hello Young Lovers” which will touch anyone who has ever fallen.  A reviewer for this London performance called it the best rendition of “Hello Young Lovers” that he had ever heard.  (The London production is the same cast that performed the New York version this past year).

What makes the song particularly meaningful is that another woman has been “gifted” to the King which the king thinks is normal stuff. The problem is that this woman is in love with someone else. Ana in covert ways helps these two rendezvous.

The last song on the album is “Shall we Dance”  The King and Ana begin to dance and you get a sense for sure that there is something there more than platonic.

The two sing while dancing.  Nobody else is on the stage. Each verse ends with the refrain, Shall we Dance?

Shall we take a chance on loving family, friends, sweethearts. And dance toward that possibility.

As the two dance around the stage, you certainly get a sense that they are considering romance.  What actually occurs, I won't spoil. But the metaphor is there regardless. Things can happen if we dance with our family--whether individuals are still with us or not. Exciting, wonderful, perhaps wonderfully dangerous things can happen if we dance with our family, friends, and our sweethearts.

With the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen, Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we dance?

Yes. 

With the clear understanding that love and friendship can evolve, we should dance toward this end.
This is the message my dad told us our whole lives. 

With the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen.  Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we dance?

Invoking dad again, his answer to the question would be, "Only, if you know what's good for you."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Getting there

I almost never think of myself as the age I am.  In most ways, I feel like I did when I was a young man.  I can exercise or walk forever. Yesterday my brother and I must have walked 6 miles, if not more.  While I was not keen about waking up at 4 in the morning for Wimbledon, I had no real qualms about lying on a blanket in the middle of a field to watch the tennis, or taking the subway back, or cheering in a crowded pub listening to assorted encouragements from well oiled patrons.

Occasionally something happens that reminds me that I am not 25.  Usually it is in the form of someone saying something to me that reflects their accurate assessment of my laps around the track.  On Monday, while riding back on the subway from the tennis matches I could not get a seat. So, like a new yorker or bostonian, I just hung onto the straps thinking nothing of it.  A man who I will put at about 45, stood up and offered me a seat. He is fortunate to have all the tissue in the back of his head given the heat stare I gave him all but screaming, sit your ass down.  

I wrote the following in a blog a few years back, but since few follow my wisdom religiously, I'll repeat it here. I was sitting in a bar once and a young woman came up and sat in the barstool next to me. She started speaking to me in a way that seemed like she was hitting on me. I found this flattering. Her comments were so atypical for Harvard Square where this tavern was located, that I began to wonder if she was on the job.  She put that notion to rest with the ensuing chat. At that juncture she said that she did not like this bar much any more. Why is that? I inquired. "Well, no offense" she began, "there's just a lot of old people in here now."  For a moment I could not fathom why she had prefaced the comment with "no offense." When it dawned on me, the expression, "getting taken down a notch" seemed most apt.

Which brings me to what occurred about 50 minutes ago here in Gatwick airport.  When I got to England last Friday I took the train from Gatwick to London, and then took a cab.  After being in London for a week I learned the subway system pretty well. I saw that the distance from the hotel to Victoria Station was a mere three subway stops.  In fact, I had taken that ride on a number of occasions when I had gone beyond Victoria Station exploring the city.  I felt like it was not necessary to take a cab from the hotel to Victoria when I returned. I'd just hop on the subway, go three stops, get on the Gatwick express--I'd already bought a ticket before I departed Boston--and zip zip I will be at the airport.

And that is what I did. I got to the Gloucester road stop from my hotel in ten minutes, had to add some money to my "oyster" card, but then was ready to go. 

Problem number 1 was the response to my inquiry about a lift. "Sorry mate there is no escalator or lift down to the district line platform. "  I packed well for this trip, not too much, just right. Just right was a lot.  So, Okay, I lug the bags downstairs. Take the subway three stops. Get off at Victoria Station and follow the signs to the Gatwick express.

A word about signs. Boston has the worst signs. The worst, They all but scream, "fuck you if you don't know where you are going." Well, let me tell you we are not called New England for nothing. The English taught us well. I am pretty good with signs, and I was turning around like a pinwheel trying to find the Gatwick express. I did.

Then I get on the train and take it the thirty minutes to the airport.  I get off. Again a war with the signs. There's departures and departures.  And I am lugging these heavy bags.  I find where I am supposed to go and there is a long line. I had arrived in plenty of time but still I had just about had it.  I get through check in. What gate? I ask. She tells me they will announce it at 245.  That would be fine except there are no fewer than 93 gates and they are all in different directions. I need to find a central place to park my tired body. I go through security and wander here and there.  I find a spot, and then mumbled something to myself that I have heard others say, but rarely have said it meaningfully to myself before: "I am too old for this shit" I said.  I am not talking about traveling, I hope to travel until I go to the terminal terminal. But maybe I don't take the subway to the Gatwick express. Maybe I dont even take the Gatwick express and tell the cab driver, I am going to the airport. 

It is about an hour since I got through security. I am drinking an ice coffee and feeling more like a human being.  I still do not where the plane leaves from as it apparently is a top secret. I am in a  coffee shop at gates 31-38. Very few are in this vicinity so I figure I will be shlepping elsewhere and now, caffeinated, feel fine about it. Maybe even stop in a duty free store. The signs for these are, go figure, very clearly marked.

Day 2 at Wimbledon

When I suggested to Gary that we did not have to get up to meet a 4am uber for Tuesday, the second day,  he was incredulous. The second day was--we had been assured--lighter in terms of fans than the first.  So why did we need to beat the sun to the queue. Gary countered and said we had the drill down now.  He had a point. It is a drill I would be delighted to forget about it by Wednesday, but this is why we had travelled to England. So I agreed.  He yielded some so we gathered at 415 in the lobby of the London hotel.

Neville, our uber driver from Monday was the same fellow who picked us up at 415.  In much better spirits on Tuesday, he again got us to the queue in a short time.  We followed the stewards' directions, walked to the flag and got our card.  We had a number in the 1600s, 600 positions closer to the front than on Monday. On Tuesday on the queue we met two sisters from London directly behind us and two chums one of whom worked for a London newspaper.  Again, another group--less boisterous than Monday's revelers--were knocking them back before 5 am.  This group was, judging by the newspapers and books they were reading, more cerebral than Monday's. Still they had laid out a blanket like a tablecloth. On it, were glasses filled with red wine,  beer or champagne. The sun had not yet come up.

What neither Gary or I predicted, and what I will remember for months, was how cold it was on this second day.  I was wearing shorts and, fortunately, a long sleeve top with a windbreaker.  Gary was similarly attired. Nevertheless, we were freezing as were many on the line.  We had brought a blanket to lie on, but instead took turns wrapping it around ourselves to stay warm. We went to get coffee from the vendors and also bought some warm doughnuts which tasted delicious and, beyond the taste, addressed the cold. We discovered a cafeteria about 1/4 of a mile away and took turns going to it, less for any food, but more because it was warm.  By the time we arrived at the grounds, and later in the day, it was nearly as warm as it had been on Monday, but it was freezing cold on that queue until about 7 or 8 am.

The line moved much more rapidly on the second day.  We were in the arena a full 45 minutes if not an hour earlier than the day before. Also because I had agreed, however reluctantly, to the 415 departure we were able to pay a bit more and get seats into one of the three stadiums that we could not get into the day before.  Wimbledon retains a number of seats in these prestige arenas for queuers. We knew that, and knew we would get shut out of these on Monday.  We thought that we would get shut out on Tuesday as well, but we were able to buy these tickets.

And they were terrific.  We were four rows back, center court.  When we heard they had retained some seats for the peasants, we figured they would be on the moon.  Not so. These seats would cost 1000 dollars easy at the US OPEN. And, the people we met from California who had bought the tickets in advance, had paid over 800 dollars a seat in the same arena.  They could not have been as close as we were.  I got to see Djokovic easily beat an opponent with strokes that were just remarkable.  We saw two other matches from these incredible seats.  Earlier we were in the second row on an outer court watching a match and I marveled at how close we were to the competitors.

While there might have been fewer people on the queue when we arrived to line up before 5, the grounds at Wimbledon themselves were more crowded on the second day than the first.  Just jammed. More crowded than I can recall at the USOPEN. The grounds at Wimbledon are not as open as they are at the USOPEN. The lines to get into certain venues are a bit longer in New York than at Wimbledon, but there is more room to move about on the grounds in New York.  Food prices in Wimbledon are more reasonable, but the lines to get to them can be challenging.  We gave up considering the strawberries and cream because the lines were too long whenever we considered waiting on them.

Some observations from the tennis and the spectators.

The players' abilities to get to dropshots was something to see. A ball that seemed completely out of reach they could manage to get and in some instances do something clever with the ball.

You could hear, from where we sat, the comments from the players to themselves, the officals, and each other.

I could get a sense of whether a player was a cry baby from their gestures and attitudes toward their opponents.  On one of the outer courts a guy was clearly getting trounced, and he kept looking at the officials as if they were the cause. At one point he was caught at the net when his opponent flipped the ball over the whiner's head.  He raced back to try and get it, but when he knew that hitting the ball back was hopeless, he hit it away from the court as far as he could, the ball probably landed near the strawberries and cream stand.  The referee called him for a sportsmanship offense. The offender turned around with an incredulous "who me" look on his face and began to plead his case in such a transparently disingenuous way that I wrote this guy off for evermore.

I am recalling now a fellow we met on Monday. He was charting every single play. When I asked him why, he said he was a journalist from Luxembourg and one of the competitors was from Luxembourg himself. Still, he charted every single point.

The ballgirls and ball boys had a paramilitary style when play began, during points, and when they were relieved as they were periodically throughout the match.

One player routinely foot-faulted and it was not called once.

More than I recall it from the USOPEN, people cheered for their countrymen and women.  When an Aussie was playing, the Australians around me shouted for him. When Kyle Edmund, a Brit, played the place was very supportive of him.  Meanwhile he was real good.  I saw, from the fourth row, Edmund whip his first round opponent. I read yesterday that he won the second round.  He plays Djokovic in the next round, and I think his ride will be over. Still very impressive.

During the Djokovic match at almost exactly 7pm, people were cheering on his opponent so that the match might be a bit longer.  When those cheers were voiced, followers of Djokovic also shouted their support.  Then in the amidst of cheering for the competitors, a yell came from the crowd that  caused both players to laugh. Someone shouted, GO ENGLAND, at about the time when England's world cup match against Columbia was about to begin.

After we returned to the hotel I went to a pub to see the end of the soccer match.  England had led by a goal nearly the entire game, but the home town team was tied very late in the contest.  I got to the pub just in time to see the end.  Quite a scene in there when England prevailed 4-3 on penalty kicks.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

wimbledon day 1

I once said that if the business of america is business, the business of England is tradition.

On the first day of the tournament, we started out at 415 in the morning. Our uber driver, who had driven around the block looking for us, was not especially jolly when he picked us up. In short time, however, he got us to the Wimbledon queue line.

We followed the directions of the many stewards already there at that hour of the young day. They told us, as they told us yesterday they would, to line up and follow another steward's yellow flag with a large Q on it.  When we arrived at the end of the line we were given a card with a number on it.  Our number, at 440 in the morning or thereabouts was in the 2000s. That means, for those not certain, that 2000 people had already lined up waiting for tickets before 5 am.

The people in front of us, a couple from Australia, set up with their chairs. Gary and I got our blanket and chairs out as well. Immediately behind us, two women unfurled a blanket and pillows. Within minutes these strangers were sound asleep inches from us.  It was not easy for them to become sound asleep, because beyond them a group of about eight chums, were chatting noisily next in line. These buddies who looked like tennis players themselves, and I kid you not, opened up a bottle of champagne, and started knocking it back nearly as soon as they got settled. This, I found out-- the sound of popping champagne corks--and various types of imbibing before the sun came up was not especially unusual.

We chatted with the folks from Australia. Their son lived in London and they were visiting. We exchanged names and in short time became as friendly as one can be with strangers with whom you have had not much more than thirty minutes of kinship.  Several entrepreneurs had set up portable coffee stands beyond where the last queue line would be. They were doing terrific business.  I was on a line for about a half hour which only got bigger as the sun came up.

It was not until about 8 oclock when the queue started to move.  So, we waited over three hours before anything happened. When instructed by the officials, up we went and began to follow the 2000 people in front of us. We waited another half hour at one junction, and then proceeded on.  On the queue, we got to meet the previously sleeping women. They were both from the US, friends from high school in Idaho.  One was a sports enthusiast who traveled the US to watch baseball games.  She wanted to check off her to-do list going to Wimbledon on the first day of the tournament.  Her buddy now living in Seattle, was just tagging along. The two had left from San Francisco, flown to New York, and then to London. There were other stops on their UK itinerary but this they did not want to miss.

The queue trudged on. At one point, people who had pitched tents, or we, who had chairs, stored our luggage at a spot for such storage. Then eventually we went through security. Then another long line to where we bought our tickets. We got into the Wimbledon grounds at about 1045, having been nearly six hours on the queue.

And, as I had been told, it was not an ordeal but rather an interesting experience.  Gary's assertion that we had to leave at 4 was not quite so. We could have arrived at 530 and still been okay. But I did not mind the wait. Got to meet our new Australian friends, the women from Idaho. We got to observe people drinking champagne before the sun came up in the east. We were able to see people emerge from their tents, like you might see at a national park, roll up their sleeping bags, march to the temporary rest rooms, and return with steaming coffee.

We arrived at the arena and watched several matches in much the same way we watch when we have gone to the USOPEN as we have for the past two decades.  For the USOPEN you just buy your tickets in advance. You bring your tickets. You go in.  You do not have to get up at 4 am to get in for an 11 am match. Why they do the queue thing in England is, I imagine, because they have always done the queue thing in England.  And it was kind of fun.

I would have been pleased to arrive a little later for the second day, but Gary felt that we had gotten in the 4 am groove.  Next blog will describe day two, on the queue.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

q

We meet up this morning in the lobby and embark on a reconnoitering mission to Wimbledon. On the subway we meet a couple who appear to be carrying a tent. Gary speaks with them and they are, as their accoutrements would suggest, going to camp out at Wimbledon to make sure they get in for tomorrow's matches. Last night I met a woman who had travelled from Los Angeles. She and her husband were here with her mother. They would not be camping out. They had purchased tickets in advance for the games. The price was approximately 800 dollars a seat. She said, and I can understand it, they did not want to travel all the way to London and not get in. We saw them, both the daughter and mother again this morning. On Tuesday they will all be going to Scotland so getting in on Monday is imperative.

We decided to follow the couple with the tent.  We both got off at the Southfields subway stop.  He and she started race walking to the field where the queue begins.  We walked through a gate and there, 24 hours approximately before the matches are to begin, there are officials answering questions.  There are, I am estimating close to 1000 people in tents waiting for tomorrow. The couple we met on the train get in the back of the line.  An attendant tells me that the field will be complete with campers over night.  A veteran attendant says he has never seen it so populated.

A fellow I know in Boston told me that as long as we arrive by 7 in the morning we ought to be fine. Gary is nervous and wants to get to the queue by 6.  I am not so nervous. I want to slay the attendant who says we should arrive by 530 tomorrow morning.  I want to murder the next attendant who suggests we arrive by 5.  Gary is all for it. I suggest we cancel our hotel rooms and pitch a tent if we want to get here any earlier than 5.

Tomorrow we have scheduled an uber for between 4 and 415. We will get to Wimbledon by 5. I have acquiesced to his request to leave at 4 by making a deal. The deal is he does not squawk if we cannot get in to see a certain group of matches he is interested in seeing.

Pablo, a clerk at the hotel, tells us to go to a city area called Portabello to watch Spain play in the world cup. We do. Interesting scene. We leave after regulation with the score tied 1-1. Boring game even for the aficionados who are populating this outdoor bar.  Spain eventually succumbs in penalty kicks.  I wonder if Pablo will show up for clerking tomorrow.

We go out to dinner to a very good restaurant on Gloucester street recommended by the concierge.  The place is jammed and is adjacent to another italian place that is nearly empty.  We get seated and have an enjoyable conversation with a couple from southwest England, a three hour train ride from London.  He is a tennis player and with his wife are going tomorrow to see the games as well. They have secured a reasonably priced ticket through a club to which he belongs.  After dinner Gary spots the mother, daughter and husband here from LA.  They say they have met others at our hotel who are leaving at 730 in the morning to queue up.  Such sweet music that.  But I have agreed to the 4 am uber ride in exchange for the no squawking promise.

Across from the italian restaurant is a pub, so we stop there and see the shootout between Denmark and Croatia. Bad day for western europe. The Russians beat the Spaniards, the Croatians beat Denmark. Bad day for soccer as well. Two less than exciting contests in the world cup.  Last stop of the night is an ice cream place like no other I have ever seen. They actually make the ice cream, right in front of the customer. Not just put the scoops in the bowl. They pour the cream, mix the ingredients, have a freezing contraption like none I have ever seen, and serve up a scoop of ice cream.

Another interesting note. Waitresses are taking orders on mini cell phones. No pads here, none that I have seen.  I should get some sleep. My wake up call at 340 London time will precede the last pitch of the Yankee Red Sox game starting at 8 pm Eastern Time.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

W

For years, my high school friend Gary and I have gone to the US Open during the last week in August.  For several of these years we have been joined by another high school crony who has sometimes made the trip from as far away as Australia.  We are going again this year and adding yet a fourth high school bud to our trip to Flushing Meadows.

But the big news this 2018 is, after talking about it for years, Gary and I are leaving tomorrow for Wimbledon.  Years ago I actually did see a tennis tournament in England, but I have never been to Wimbledon and a smile creeps onto my face when I think about next week when we plan to attend.

I'm working on a book now about sports and communication.  So, in addition to just the fun, this excursion will be edifying I believe as I'll be able to juxtapose tennis fandom in Wimbledon with the fandom at the US Tennis Center. We have been told that we need to queue up beginning at 7 to gain entry.  A friend of mine who has done just that in the past said that waiting on line even for the three hours is kind of fun as you get to mingle with other aficionados.  It is there, I hope, where I plan to do some informal research.

My prediction is that except for some of the rituals, the experience in Wimbledon will be akin to what occurs in New York. The USOPEN is really an international gathering.  And I imagine the same will be true at Wimbledon. Of course the majority of spectators will be from the UK, but there will be representatives from all over the world there who are watching the games.  What they serve at the refreshment stands might vary and the costs different and protocols confusing, but my hunch is that I will observe more similarities than differences.

An aspect of the trip which we did not think about, which to me at least will be valuable, is that coincidentally the World Cup round of 16 games will be played while we are there.  And England is still alive in the competition.  If I have the times straight, some of the matches will be played while we are at Wimbledon watching tennis, but one match a day may be in the evening. It will be a hoot for me, someone who does research in sport bars, to watch the fans congregate in pubs and cheer. Since Wimbledon is likely to draw many from all over the world, it would not surprise me that fans from all countries represented will be cheering madly.  Yesterday, here in a super market where there is an alcove dedicated to coffee sipping, I watched the end of a match with some shoppers.  A woman who I assume from her concern has a Mexican lineage, wanted to know how Mexico was faring and others in this area were similarly riveted to games.  If in a grocery store, in a Boston suburb, where the US has been eliminated, there are people riveted to televisions while they sip coffee amidst bags of celery stalks, laundry detergent, and doughnuts, I think the noise in the English pubs will be robust.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Say Something Smart About That

You've been surfacing more regularly over the last week or so. In my dreams and occasionally when I am awake.  Yesterday I was driving and I remembered something from a seder, probably in the 70s. It was the second night and you invited friends from work.

The seders typically impressed our guests. You made sense out of them as opposed to the ceremonies that people often attend.  I've been at seders that ranged from very religious affairs that I could barely follow, to what amounted to a dinner that only nominally referenced the holiday. Yours made sense. We followed a hagadah in English.  We finished up after the meal.  Your buddy Larry once sighed when you said we were going to finish up, but when it was over he was grateful.

On this one occasion that floated up yesterday, we were talking during the seder about some current event. One of the guests said, "Say something smart about that Meyer."  He wasn't being sarcastic. You had not been holding court and pontificating.  It was just that you regularly had insightful things to say. So the guest was interested in your thoughts.

Father's Day is coming up. I don't think the Hallmark holiday is what has brought you to my consciousness.  But since we are approaching the day, and since I have been thinking about you, and since mail may take a long time to get to where you are at even with the internet,  I might as well write this now.

The most apt father's day gift I ever got for you--far better than shirts or ties or tennis racquets--was a compass.  I think this was in the early 90s.  It was most apt because the best thing you ever did for me was be someone who knew where you were, and travelled in the right moral direction as best as you could figure it out.  Quite an irony since you had such a terrible sense of direction as a motorist. As a person, though, you went the right way--not right in terms of pragmatic--right in terms of right.  And you defaulted to it.  Whenever I feel as if I am losing my way, I have a sense that I am doing so--I might not stop and get back on track--but I feel a tug like a voice saying, "Uh look where you are going, boychik." It can be annoying.  Nevertheless I am grateful. In nature versus nurture, this is nurture.  

Without a moral compass, it becomes more difficult to avoid faustian bargains.  One can zoom along what seems like a smooth road, then find out way down the highway that you took a route that leads to a hell of some sort.

Happy father's day.  thanks for the travel guide.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A coupla meshugenehs walked into a...

It is raining cats and dogs.

I went to the office today. Gorgeous for most of the day.  Sunny, maybe a little too humid.

The forecast was for some severe weather from 4-8.  That weather included the possibility of hail. We have had hail here before and it can do a number on the hood of your car.  I was parked in an indoor lot on campus and I figured I would wait out the storm.

At 430 I looked out the window. It had not started to rain yet. I figured maybe I could beat the storm home. There were predictions that power could be lost and trees could be coming down. I did not want to come home and be surprised by a tree on my deck. The wizards thought the chances of hail in my locale were only 5 %.

So I left the office. When I stepped outside it was just starting to drip a bit.  My car was parked in a lot that is a 4-5 minute walk from my office. Still not teeming when I get to the lot.  I come out and am on the road that will take me to either Storrow Drive, a winding river road, or the Mass Pike--a straight shot to my town.

It is pretty congested on the approaches to the highways.  At one point, 5:26, I say to myself.  "This could take a while." Traffic is not moving real well.

And it is around this time when kaboom, it really starts to come down. I actually consider going back to my office. There is a tiny road that branches off near the Fenway and if I take that I can return.  I try to brave it.

It takes a good stretch of time before I can get to Storrow Drive.  I turn on the radio to the station that gives you traffic on the threes. I get to hear, on three occasions, how fakakt the traffic is. I heard this, traffic on the threes, report three times before I get onto Storrow Drive.

Sometime along Storrow Drive it gets worse. It looks like the day the earth stood still. Now 90 minutes later it still looks that way, but I am behind a computer not a driving wheel at this juncture. Thundering, lightening. Bad visibility.

I get out of Boston and cross a street called Galen Street in Watertown. It is still coming down heavy but at least I can see.  I am driving now on Route 16. It is definitely the long way home, but I do not want to get on the Mass Pike.  The traffic on the three guy has described the congestion on the Mass Pike in a way that is not enticing.

I know Route 16.  There used to be a very good Chinese restaurant there that was good enough to pass other Chinese restaurants to get to. When I first started getting take out from it, the very friendly proprietor would remind me that his place was right across from a Dunkin Donuts. I get to the Dunkin Donuts. Still pouring.

Meshugeneh number 1 is exiting from Dunkin Donuts. He has one of those carriers where there appears to be some coffee and a bag presumably of donuts.  Mishuguneh number one is strolling. Not moving with any kind of speed. It is pouring. He is carrying his donuts and coffee and begins to diagonally cross route 16.  I think of Wimpy, the Popeye character. This fellow with the tray has not passed up many donuts. I would put him at 5' 6 ". He is wearing shorts and he is taking his time crossing route 16. By the time he gets to wherever he is going he will have one wet donut bag. Does not seem to be troubled by this.

I keep driving. Still pouring. I see Meshugeneh number 2. He has running shorts on, no shirt. He is running. Getting in his daily jog.  Thundering and lightning. Putting his feet down in puddles that come up to his ankles. Not an issue.  I was once a runner and I ran in some bad weather. My thinking is that maybe this guy started out some time ago when it was not raining and is now far from the starting point. Otherwise, if he started when the thunder and lightning started, he is certifiable.

It takes me over an hour to get home. Crazy scared drivers, puddles on the highway making me think I would have been better off in a canoe. Barely visible in certain places.  Today going in, well after rush hour, I was parked at the U in 15 minutes.  Going home 60 tense minutes. Still pouring. It is 7 04 pm. Looks like 9 04.

Hope that guy is enjoying his donut. I, myself, had a shot of scotch as soon as I walked through the door.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

[Our] Back Pages

The Waltham Steampunk festival was held today.  This is the fifth year or so when our town has hosted this event. Waltham is a blue collar town surrounded by genuine affluence. We are nestled between Concord, Newton, Lexington, Lincoln, Belmont and Weston.  Each of these other towns is hoo-hah.  We are barely hoo.  Because of our proximity to Boston and since our real estate costs and taxes are a fraction of our neighbors', many aspiring rich people have moved here and are mingling with those who are middle class at best. In addition to our relatively sweet real estate costs, there must be incentives for restauranteurs and businesses of various ilks. Our major roadway, Moody Street, is now filled with a dozen high end eating establishments and several pricey watering holes.  I noticed the other day that a very snooty grocery store has opened near where high end condos have been built. I went in there today and the fare was impressive and pricey.  The good news is that there must be people in our town now who can afford the fare. The bad news is I have to think some of our neighbors will be forced out because of rents.

I imagine something about our relative affordability is what brings events like the Steampunk festival to town. It is a gas. People dressed up from another era parade through the streets. It is not unusual at all to see someone pedaling a unicycle or people who look like they just came out of a Victorian novel. I don't think there are strict guidelines regarding what era or culture people should represent. I noticed today on the front lawn of our library there were several civil war looking soldiers standing under a tent that one could imagine Ulysses S. Grant emerging from.  Sad for the participants today that it was pouring rain. But it was an interesting sight, even if those adorned from an era before autos, were scrambling into ubers to avoid being drenched by the downpour.

I thought of the Faulkner line, "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Maybe these words surfaced because of the movie I saw last night.

I was in the mood for a flick last evening so I walked to town. My plan was to stop after the movie into a local imbibing emporium.  My ability to drive and drink these days is not great. So I walked the mile to the film and planned to walk the mile back with a stop for a beer to watch the last innings of the Red Sox tilt.

The movie I saw was Tully. It will be a challenge to describe it without giving away the key message.  Let me just write that as Faulkner contended and what the Steampunk enthusiasts reflect comes across clearly once you exit the theatre. I do not, do not, recommend that you read a review of the film before you go see it. I only look at how many stars a movie receives before I go and don't read reviews. If I had read a review and it gave away what I will not, it would have made going to see the film far less valuable than it turned out to be.  If you are over 40 and not dead in your head, I recommend the film. If you are dead in the head you probably won't get it.

I left the movie theatre and could go right down Moody Street or left as I had my choice of where to watch the Red Sox and drink beer.  I went right and about three quarters of a mile later on Main Street I stopped in a place I go to periodically but not regularly.  When I go there it is usually late, but last night it was only about 945 when I parked myself at a table.  I noticed something that looked odd, at least initially. The place seemed to be populated with people five to ten years older than me. This is unusual these days when I tend to feel that each person in a joint is a grandchild of someone I went to high school with.  But not last night. These were geezers and I was startled to realize that I fit right in. There was a band playing and I took a glance in its direction and, again, the group looked like a bunch of old guys who were going to sing songs from the 40s and sound like Lawrence Welk.

Well I got my beer and I was surprised to hear the band play "All My Loving".  This, those of my vintage will know, is a Beatles song and the first number that the Beatles played in their famous Ed Sullivan appearance in 1965. Well one Beatles song followed another. Then I heard Run Around Sue and My Little Runaway.  Throughout it all a guy who looked to be 75 but may have been my age was at an adjacent table, tapping his foot, and mouthing the words. A fellow at the bar who was, I do not exaggerate, a dead ringer for Fred Mertz was crooning into a beer bottle.  He had a host of others who leaned into him at the choruses. It was so incongruous. Who were these old guys singing my songs, knowing all the lyrics?

They were me. I am he as you are me as we are all together.

What is time anyway?  Are we any different now than we were. Have we just accrued the crud from travelling around the track multiple times.  The steampunks are pretending it is another century. Except for the technological advances, what is the difference between then and now. Are we just, stripped of our good and bad decisions, who we were-- and would we be to wise to get in touch with who we were if we have lost our bearings.

Ah but we were not much different then, we're just like we were now.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Killing Time

Last Saturday night we had a wedding. One of Donna's former colleagues' sons was to be wed. I've known this boy since he was a teen, and now he was getting hitched.  The colleague is someone I have gotten to be friendly with on my own.  She lost her husband a few years back and he too had become a friend.  So, this was to be a joyful occasion only diluted because Ken would not be there to share the joy.

The wedding was in a town that is South of the city.  We live due west.  The distance between the burghs is not far at all--maybe 20 miles tops--but Monday through Friday the route can be a headache.  You would easily have to plan for an hour's drive if you needed to arrive somewhere punctually.  The wedding invitation said the event would begin at 545. My experience with weddings is not all that substantive.  Usually, however, when you are told to get someplace at 545, the hosts have planned for tardiness and the dance does not begin for at least an hour afterwards.

Just to be sure to be on time we left at 5 giving ourselves only 45 minutes instead of an hour since it was a Saturday.  We got there in 20 minutes.  Since we did not think the event would begin until 615 at the earliest and we had arrived at 520 or so, I said "We've got to kill some time."

And immediately my head rocketed to an event that happened in 1959 or earlier.  My folks were visiting friends of theirs who lived on Staten Island. In 1959, while it may be difficult for anyone to believe who is not eligible for social security, there was no bridge that linked Brooklyn to Staten Island. You had to take a ferry boat to get to one of the boroughs of New York.

The thing with the ferry boat was that you could never tell how long you might have to wait on line to get on the thing if you were driving.  There were just so many cars the boat could handle.  We would always turn into the ferry line with trepidation not knowing if we were going to have to wait forever to get on.  This time, for some reason, there was no back up at all and we got on right away.

That was the good news. The bad news was that having anticipated a long wait we were in Staten Island way ahead of when we were supposed to meet the friends.  And I heard dad say to mom, "We have to kill some time."

I was at most 9 pushing 10. Could have been as young as 8 or 7.  The guy we were visiting actually died suddenly in December of 59 and I am nearly certain our visit was in the spring. I mention my age because I remember then that the expression "Kill some time" was new to me.  "Kill some time."  What did that mean?

(An aside here is that the phrase is apt right now because having checked the website before I got to the airport, and seeing that my flight to Boston was "on time" I am now parked in the august Pittsburgh international airport for three hours and have two more to wait, but that is a rant I will save for another date).

Kill time. What a concept.  I get its application of course in certain situations, but removing it out of such contexts, it is nonplussing.

A buddy of mine and I were discussing baseball strategy several years back. He asked me what was the most valuable element of a baseball game. I thought for a while and then got the right answer. "An out" I said.  They are the most valuable because you only have 27 of them in a game.  Once you are out of outs, you're out.  And there is a finite number of them.  The conversation was about the virtue of sacrifice bunts. His contention was that it was foolish to sacrifice because then you were losing a precious out.

Same with time.  We don't know the finite number of hours we have, but we know it is finite, or at least not infinite.  So killing time is the act of sacrificing, and exhausting, our most precious commodity.

This is an uncomfortable notion sitting here in the Pittsburgh airport at 9 having arrived at 528 and having been told that the plane we will be flying on, has still not left the runway at the airport it is coming from--but hey it's not like I had a choice.  If I had a choice, though, would I park myself someplace and not use the precious time I have?

Meanwhile we did a good job of killing time last Saturday. Drove down a long road. Came back. Parked in front of a synagogue to kill some more time.  Finally got back to the event venue at about 555. We walked in, and the place was packed. Everyone was seated.

They were not kidding saying to be there at 545.  We found seats way in the back in the last row that had any vacant ones. Within a few moments the ceremony began.

 I guess the wed couple to be didn't want to kill any time.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fortunato

On Tuesday I went into a local bank where I have had, up to that day, only positive interactions with persons who work there.  As opposed to other, larger, banks there is almost never any line to reach a teller. When there is any sort of queue someone from the back offices will come out.  Always efficient and polite.  Typically I actually enjoy going in there because it is a place of efficiency and normalcy.

I had a small check.  I inherited from a grandfather who died before I was born a few shares of Kraft. He'd been employed by Kraft and somehow bequeathed shares to grandchildren yet unborn.  We all, eleven of us, received two shares. In the late 80s Kraft sold or was absorbed or something.  In the transaction instead of Kraft I somehow received a couple of shares of another stock. This company, to this day, sends me quarterly checks for amounts that are likely not worth much more than the postage and human power that is required to mail them out.  Earlier this week I got a whopper in my post office box--a check for six dollars and twenty four cents.

I walked to the bank near the post office.  I had fished out of my wallet and pants pocket, three dollars and seventy six cents. With my windfall and the 3.76 I had unearthed I would be able to get a ten dollar bill at the bank. I have done this many times when I have received these tiny checks.   I try to find the change that would give me an even dollar amount and walk to the bank. Never had any problem.

I go to the bank where I have both a savings and checking account. The teller, a woman I had never seen previously, takes my check, my driver's license, and my bank card.  She seems a bit puzzled and I figure I may be working with a newcomer.  She starts to write down my driver's license number on the check, crosses it out, writes another number.  She sees that I have put 3.76 on the table.

"What's the cash for?" she says--not truculently--but as if I am some sort of difficult customer.  I tell her, without any sort of edge, that when this amount is added to the amount of the check, I would like a ten dollar bill.

She says "The computer does not like that."

"Say again?" I respond.

"The computer does not like that." she repeats flatly.

"I'm not asking the computer to do anything.  If you add this to the amount of the check it equals ten dollars."

She sighs.  "Fine. How do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"I am just going to give it back to you. I don't care how you give it to me."

Again she says, "how do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"Whatever is easier for you. A five; fine." I say, still more incredulous than rancorous.

She puts on the counter a five dollar bill and twenty six cents in change.

I say, "The check is for 6.26"  Now I have an edge.

She looks at the check. Sees I am correct but says matter of factly "The computer read it as 5, not 6."

Now she has to call in a manager.  Before she does so, a woman to her right with whom I have interacted effortlessly for well over a year, offers to handle my case.  I am delighted to make this change but the rookie bristles and says that she has it.

The manager comes over. Does something with the computer.  The rookie says, "Okay now" and places 6.24 cents on the counter.

"Good" I say. "Now take the 6.24 and add it to the 3.76 and give me a ten dollar bill."

"Okay" she says "That is much better."

It was all I could do to refrain from asking her when she had the lobotomy.

But I leave and feel as if I did not need that. I am on my way to work, all was well, I have a simple transaction and I have to deal with someone--who has the fingers on my accounts in a bank--who can't handle a simple transaction involving a tiny check.

Not a big deal, but immediately the words that begin the Poe short story "The Cask of Amontillado" rush to my head. "The thousand insults of Fortunato I had endured."

I read the story in high school--no doubt because we had to read a short story and it was the shortest one I could find.  But apparently I remembered it, at this moment.

I thought of it because while what happened at the bank was not a major insult, it was a bump--the kind of bump we all endure. Sometimes we are at 100% bump capacity and in order to move along calmly we have to purge the bumps; otherwise we can get tense or focus on something relatively insignificant. Sure, she was a dolt, and sure she acted as if the simple transaction--counting to ten; someone who worked in a bank--was an imposition, but it still was only a bump.

All day long we endure bumps. The question I thought of as I rode into work is this: what do we do with the bumps? Can we just "forget about them" or when they accrue do they somehow skew our consciousness. If you are lugging around hundreds of bumps can you start becoming irrational with others and make inane decisions not because you are inherently irrational, but because the bumps have jostled you and you're not in balance?

Remember when we were kids and would play on a pin ball machine. If you moved the machine in your eagerness to score points, the machine would read TILT.  And the game ended. If we endure the thousand insults of Fortunato, do we not tilt, and then not function--or not function as well?

If you remember the story, the narrator decides to revenge the insults by walling Fortunato up in a wine cellar. Not advocating that here of course.  We have to endure the bumps--certainly those as minor as dealing with a lunkhead in a bank.  But we all have to be careful that as we haul these bumps around-- the thousand insults we endure--we don't let it interfere with our ability to behave considerately with others, and be kind to ourselves as well.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Marathon Monday

In 1979 I trained for, and then ran, the Skylon International marathon.  The race was, like any other marathon, 26 miles 385 yards. We started that October day from an area near an art museum in Buffalo and finished up in Niagara Falls, Canada.

I remember the event clearly. It was chilly and yet most of us wore shorts.  I finished in 3 hours and 44 minutes--and it could have been better had not the first minute or so been essentially walking as all of the runners were jammed in a very tight spot. I hypo-thermated at the end and, I was told, looked a bit blue in a tent before I could get warmed up.  But besides that short-lived setback it was a wonderful day and I'm happy to have that accomplishment on my resume.  The preceding summer and all through September I ran close to 60 miles a week in order to prepare. Toward the end of the training period I upped my regular jaunt to 15 miles a day on the weekend, and then one day--as prescribed in a book that I had--did a 20 mile run. The thinking was that if you could run a 20, with the adrenaline of the actual day you could run a 26.

And I did. I hit the wall around mile 20, but just kept plodding until I got through and then it was not all that difficult to finish. I was beat, no doubt about it, but I remember talking normally when I was done and walking around unimpeded until I turned blue.

So, every year in Boston when it is marathon Monday I think, at least for a fleeting moment or two, of how excited, more like a three year old than an almost thirty year old, I had been.

And today, all I could think of was how disappointed I would have been to wake up and see what is doing outside.

Certainly, today is better than five years ago when two unconscionable bastards suffering from hate in the brain syndrome that turned potentially constructive gray matter into manure, decided to bomb the finish line.  However, that horrible day aside, today had to be a disappointment.

Let me paint the picture for you.  It is pouring.  Now worse than it was at the start, but for a lot of plodders like I was, they were finishing around the time that it really started to rain cats and dogs, as opposed to just cats that had been the case almost all day.  And it is not rain on a warm easy day. It is a cold nasty day appropriate for say early March or even February.  Last night I decided to walk to the library to return a book. I had not exercised all day so I thought I'd walk. It is only a mile point two to the library--over two round trip.  I was an icicle by the time I returned, and last night it was not raining. Nasty. Raw. Stay at home and put the cover over your head rain.

If you ran today you ran soaked and shivering.  The fast folks are done in two hours and change.  The guys like me took nearly four hours.  When was the last time you were outside in your shorts for four hours in a cold rain. This wasn't a football stadium when you brought layers and a flask.  You are in your shorts, your shoes are soaked, your hat probably worthless after the first mile, and your shirt ready for a wet tee shirt contest. In the warmth of my house, I felt for the runners.

Add to the miserable conditions, the fact that your group of cheering supporters must have, even if they love you, decided to go someplace warm periodically and easily could have missed you at what would have been their natural viewing spots. The thing about the Boston marathon is that typically for the entire race there are people cheering you on. Today, I am sure the crowds were one deep when there were folks lining the roads at all. And your buddies were probably holed up someplace drinking brandy.

Momma get out that chicken soup for your daughters and sons that ran today. Cold and nasty and, I am sure, a bit sad for those who prepped all year for the day.

Friday, March 30, 2018

plumber's pants

Yesterday on my way to work, taking a route that I rarely use, I saw a fellow doing some work to the front of his house.  The house was set back from the road by a good thirty yards, could have been closer to forty or even fifty.  He was a large man, not large as in strong, large as in more than a little bit of extra weight on him.

What was noticeable more than anything was his plumber's pants.  Driving way away from where he was toiling I could see how low the jeans were riding in the back.  Not for the first time I wondered how it is possible that someone with plumber's pants is unaware. You have to think they would be aware.  There must be a breeze that can be felt.

Another time several years ago I was in a bar watching a football game. It was a sports bar. There, much closer to me than the worker was yesterday, was a woman cheering hard for one team or another.  Her back was to me.  Her plumber's pants were remarkable. How could she not know what everyone behind her could plainly see?

Beyond plumber's pants I have wondered what it is that we can't see about ourselves that is so plainly obvious to others.  There is a yiddish expression that when translated means: Noone can see their own hump.  It is true I guess. But plumber's pants are not subtle.  When the shirt comes out of my pants I can feel the air against my shirtless stomach.  Plumber's pants folks have to feel the air.  How could they miss it?

So, today I had to renew my passport. I fished it out the other day more to make sure I knew where it was than for any other reason.  I flipped through the pages and saw that it expired two weeks ago. Fortunately I am not planning to go to Timbuktu this weekend, but I did have to renew it. I went on line and read about the procedure.  I printed out the form, filled it out, went to my local post office where they facilitate the renewals, and will also take your passport photo.

Now, it was early. Only about 820 am.  I wanted to beat any crowd and, as it turned out, there was a gentleman in front of me.  In short order though the clerk was able to attend to me.  I had done my homework so all he needed to do was take the picture.  I walked over to the stool by the white screen- akin to ones they used to show films on in high school.  He took a picture, glanced at it, made a face as if to say the shot came out, and we walked back over to the counter.  He was able, thank you 21st century, to almost instantly make copies of the photos. He stapled one to the application and gave me the other.

The truth is that the photo made me look like a convict. An old convict. A gangster that perhaps has been living on the down low for years and finally, thirty years after hijacking trucks, has been caught.  Some sort of minor league thug from the Goodfellahs movie.

If I had not been sitting on the stool and centrally involved with the photography I might have told the postal clerk that he had taken the wrong photo from a bunch. "You are wrong sir. Yes, this person looks like me, actually more like some relative twenty years my senior. Ha Ha. But that is not me."

But I knew it was me. I was there. He had just taken the picture. He hadn't slipped a photo of say, Johnny, Two Hats, Patchagaloo onto my application.  That was me. "I don't look like that" I heard myself say.

But I do. Obviously.

Kind of like plumber's pants.  What is discernible to everyone, may not be obvious to ourselves.



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Almost Heaven

I had no intention of actually buying a ticket.  I decided last night to take the Orange Line down to North Station and feel the energy around the Garden.

Thursday began the Sweet Sixteen portion of the tournament. One of the regionals is here in Boston. So last night players and fans of West Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech are hereabouts. I wanted to see if Causeway Street--the street by the arena--was buzzing.

It was. Causeway Street was populated with garbed fans identifying their loyalties with sweatshirts, hats, and windbreakers. At 650 pm it was mostly West Virginia and Villanova folks since that game was the first of the doubleheader that would begin at 730.  Amidst the fans were dozens of scalpers peddling tickets they hoped would fetch a fortune.

I walked into a tavern that in the Fall is the home of Buffalo Bills loyalists. It was jammed as in you had to turn sideways to get anywhere through Villanova rooters.  It was fun to hear the buzz but uncomfortable to get around without jostling a beer and those who were toting them.  So, I left that place and went around the corner. In this place, one where I have rooted for the Patriots on occasion, it was a madhouse of West Virginia fans. In fact, as I walked in they were crooning--many of whom not looking as if they would pass a sobriety test--the John Denver song, Almost Heaven West Virginia. It was fun to hear the place rock with the fans.

I figured that in a few minutes both the first and second place would empty out as the denizens therein would be going to the game.  Very wrong.  These people live in the Boston area and are alums or otherwise followers of West Virginia and Villanova. Not going to the game. Congregating to watch the game.  It was wild, and the publicans were not shedding any tears. This was like they had a double shot at St. Patty's Day.  Two weeks in a row the joints were jammed.

I only stayed for the first half.  The game was exciting but for me the more engaging phenomenon was observing those engaged and how, a sport, can bring together community in a way that few other causes can.

On a related note, I wanted to stay up to see the Syracuse Duke game that was on late coming from Nebraska.  As exciting as Syracuse's last game was, this one was a soporific. Both teams played stifling zones and the offense for each possession was the same.  I kept nodding off.  The announcers were saying intermittently what a great game it was.  Not for me.  If all contests during this tournament were similarly played they would not refer to this period as March Madness.