Saturday, August 17, 2019

fortnight

On Monday it will be two weeks since I had open heart surgery. When I am not immersed in thinking about the ongoing rehabilitation, taking the meds, doing the walking exercise, and in general contemplating front and center necessities--I am very grateful that the condition was detected so that it could be addressed.  Otherwise there would have been few blog posts in my future. 

Some observations about the experience.


  • One loses all modesty in a hospital. I was exposed at various times and so frequently that I stopped caring who saw what. So what, who sees what. Purging fluids is key post surgery so nurse's assistants were encouraged to encourage me to so purge, congratulating me for the liquid I was able to deposit in a plastic container while they propped me up in the middle of the night.  "Good job" they would say after such a curious victory. And then they had to help me get back in bed.
  • I could not sleep in the hospital. It was not primarily dealing with the rhythmic bells and periodic testing of my blood pressure and temperature. That would have been a challenge had I been able to fall asleep in the first place.  I was speeding every night. I'd gone into the hospital with some tricks to use to help me fall asleep, but they were no contest for the commingling of drugs I was consuming or just my individual brain activity.
  • When I ran road races I would like it when bystanders would accurately tell me how many miles it was to the finish line. Those who thought they were encouraging and said "only 100 yards" when it was five hundred, did me no favors.  To date every doctor and nurse who has looked at my scar after removing the bandage, has said words to the same effect.  "It looks beautiful" they say.  They all need new eye doctors. My scar begins a bit below my collar bone and goes to my solar plexus.  The truth is that it is not beautiful.  
  • It is amazing what they did.  Cracked me open. Stopped my heart. Put in a pacemaker. Removed an artery from my arm. Bypassed, three times, blockages in my arteries. Closed me up. Connected the two separate pieces together with something that amounts to scotch tape for the skin.  And I did not feel a thing....
  • Until later.  Not a whole lot of fun the first three days in the hospital, moving any old way. Burping, for example, hurt. Coughing very painful. Thank God I did not have to sneeze. After a while the pain dissipated, but even now nearly two weeks later I have to take some tylenol or else I will be reminded of what transpired. Feeling good today I skipped the tylenol and then at midnight had to take some.
  • The nurses in the hospital were so positive, and so helpful.  What they were called upon to do at all hours of the day and night was significant. They worked 12 hour shifts, three days a week.  The nurse's assistants were often college students. My university has an experiential education requirement for many majors. Students are required to work during portions of their academic program in lieu of taking classes so that they leave with actual experience in the field. We have a Health Science College. One of the nurse's assistants one day was a Northeastern student. Others were students at other universities. I was taken by their dedication in what had to be a difficult job.  I am an easy patient I believe, but I can imagine some of the grousing they get from people in pain or people just grouchy by nature.
  • Before they knocked me out, I had to be prepped. Several people were in that cubicle getting me ready. One guy was just shaving me clean. Another spoke to me about the anesthesia process, a third had me listen to what they were going to do and sign documents, a fourth came in and wanted to know if I would be willing to participate in a study related to anesthesia. (I declined).  I was also supposed to meet the surgeons, but whatever they gave me knocked me out before we could shake hands.
  • I had read the documentation ahead of time about restrictions after surgery, but still found it difficult to internalize them. Four weeks before driving a car, okay that makes sense. But ten weeks before you can lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.  Ten pounds is not much. A gallon of milk is close.  Laundry detergent jugs can be over 10 pounds.  In the hospital a bunch of blankets were on the floor. I went to pick them up. Not wise. You would be surprised at what you pick up that weighs more than 10 pounds.
  • Not for the first time I have been taken by the power of love and good wishes from friends and family. I received phone calls and e-mails and texts that were, in a real way, therapeutic. The surgeon touched my heart literally, but others did so as well.
The bottom line, however, is that it is a miracle. I'm typing this now.  It may take two and a half months of doing not a whole lot, but by November I ought to have essentially a new heart.  I can go back to this wonderful horn of plenty called life.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

M is for Mortality

I ran a marathon a few weeks before my thirtieth birthday.  At that time I ran 10 miles a day and fifteen on weekends. Then I cut back to five a day.  Until I was past 60 I ran five miles five days a week. In my late forties, I would run five miles on the day of a tennis match to get the nerves out.  And then play tennis.

In the year I turned 50 I won five consecutive tennis tournaments on five consecutive weekends and 6 tournaments out of 7.  On most of those weekends I played two back to back matches on a Saturday, and then two back to back matches on a Sunday.  I have been able to go, up until very recently, 90 minutes consecutively on the elliptical at a decent clip.

Whenever I have had my annual physical, the numbers all come back so glowing that the doctors have been, or have pretended to be, surprised at the kind of shape I have been in.  The only medicine I've ever had to take is for blood pressure which I started after I was eligible to receive full social security benefits.

So it was surprising when a few months ago, call it February, maybe March or even April, I started to feel tension on the elliptical machine after only 10 minutes. I'd have to stop, get some water, and start again.  It got so bad that I had to reduce the resistance on the machine.  When I had my annual physical I reported this and the doc felt I should have an EKG. As usual, no problem. Then a stress test, some ambivalent results that suggested I should take another one with a sonogram.  The second stress test made the cardiologist say, hmm, let's do an angiogram.  There looks like a blockage that will require a stent.

This was not great news. It was in some ways good news because I had been scheduled for a hip replacement and, if there was even a little bit of blockage, clearing that would have been a good idea before I went under.

I started thinking about mortality. The doc described the mortality rates as minimal for the procedure, but 2 out of 1000 is still something.

They did the test and while they were poking around and I was feeling fine on the bed as they, an army it seemed like, were looking at a screen I tried to glance at the screen myself.  I felt pretty good so I figured they would come by and say, "guess what, there's not much in there, we can clean this up with a minor procedure."

Did not happen. Head doc comes up to my head and says, "It does not make sense to put a stent in. You are completely blocked in one artery, and nearly completely blocked in another, and 75 % blocked in a third.  We'll need to schedule you for a bypass in a week or so."

They wheel me out. I see a procession of doctors and nurses.  I schedule the bypass for 8/5.  I meet the surgeon. A nurse draws blood and then, to test for some infection, sticks a cue tip up my nostrils in an attempt, it appears, to see if it will come out of my eyeball. Then she comes back forty minutes later to tell me that she used the wrong type of cue tip and has to do it again. The surgeon seems nice. I looked him up and he gets rave reviews.

It seemed surreal, and still does. 

All day Wednesday through today the following Thursday, I think that this is not real. I feel pretty good.  I have lost some weight by design and now weigh what I did ten years ago.  I have not gone back on the elliptical, but gee before I had the angiogram I had been able to go for 45 minutes, having to stop every 9 minutes or so. I'd go for 9, then another 9, then another 9, and then do 18 minutes without a problem. Apparently one's body builds its own routes when everything is stopped up, so I guess I had built my own routes. Otherwise this blog would require some very fancy software to be distributed from my perch in the sky--putting new meaning, I suppose, to content being stored in the cloud.

I have been told by animate objects (as opposed to the internet) that this is a routine procedure and most people do fine. The doctors also said that I am in very good shape and am a prime candidate for doing well. My pulse rate, from all the exercise, is around 50 and often less.

But still, they told me the procedure. They crack open my chest. They stop your heart. They create a detour for your arteries.  And you feel good as new,. Except for the cracked chest. And the fact that you cant resume stressful activities for 12 weeks.

Sobering for someone who thought he would live forever.

I find that I am irascible.  Could be the new medicine. Could be the anticipation of being cracked open with something probably like an axe. On Sunday we had a spat. It comes with the territory of sharing space.  (I was right of course) I became very tense. For about two hours I sat stiff and felt angry.  (Did not help that the Red Sox played lousy that evening--vu den)  Cant be good for someone who is blocked up to stew. I'm making light of it, but I really did tense up. Nothing went shooting down my arm, but I knew this was not good. Not good to feel this way, and not a good sign that something minor could--I hope because of the blockage--make me so upset.  I'm usually a sweet fellow.  Not a mollusk by any means but, I've been told, fun to be around. Not lately.

They said this buildup has happened over several years and I try to think about manifestations.  I read on the internet (good to scan the internet if you want to, repeatedly, get punched in the stomach) that one manifestation of clogged arteries is high blood pressure. Well, it is possible then that the blood pressure meds giveth and taketh away. Yes, they reduced my blood pressure, but they masked the reason for the elevation.

The good news is that this is 2019 and not 1965 or 1945.

Monday, July 15, 2019

For the Ages

During the post match commentary a broadcaster remarked that in thirty and forty years from now people will still be speaking about the contest.

In thirty to forty years I am likely to have used up all my tickets at the ultimate amusement park we call life.  However, as long as I am here, and capable of remembering much of anything, I will remember this match.

I was thinking yesterday afternoon that there are few such sport events that rival what those who watched saw yesterday. There was the Miami-Nebraska 35-34 Orange Bowl in the mid 80s.  The Rangers 2-1 overtime victory over the Devils in 94. I was fortunate to attend two college basketball games that my alma mater played in that were similarly riveting and thrilling.  And then there was the Patriots-Carolina Super bowl game in 2004 at the conclusion of the 2003 season.

Yet I think yesterday's tennis match for sheer excellence beats them all.  I am not a big fan of the personality of Novak Djokovic, but he has a backbone of steel.  I am a big fan of Roger Federer and he too is other worldly.  These two warriors took it to the cliched next level in a five setter that was remarkable.

Sports transcend sports. This was about will, and personality, and play within the rules sans gamesmanship--particularly Federer--that it is to be admired.  Federer caught a bad break in the final tiebreaker when a Djokovic ball he could have clocked was called out, then reversed on appeal, thus requiring a new point which, had the ball been called in, would have resulted in a Federer point.  Federer just went back to play the next point.  Neither player took bogus health breaks to unnerve their opponents. Just a remarkable match.

Both players "forced heart and nerve and sinew to serve their turn long after they were gone. And so held on when there was nothing in [them] except the will to say hold on."

A treat. And you did not even need to enjoy sports to enjoy it.






Wednesday, July 10, 2019

law and the law

I completed Kate Atkinson's Big Sky a few days ago, and am nearly finished with a non fiction book that deals with a similar issue.

Big Sky is the fifth Jackson Brodie novel.  Atkinson has written several books that do not involve Brodie, but the four that preceded Big Sky that did, were very well received and in my opinion, for good reason. Case Histories was the first and it is brilliant.  Then came One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News, and Started Early, Took My Dog. Case Histories was the best with three cases cleverly related.  And When Will There Be Good News has a message that is so powerful that it, in and of itself, makes the book worth reading.  If you are interested I've blogged about the Brodie books before.

This one, Big Sky, is not as good as the others. To me, it reads like her publisher said, "They want Brodie, give us Brodie" and Atkinson after resisting for a spell said "Fine, you want Brodie I'll give you Brodie." But her heart wasn't in it.

However, it does bring up a point that is present in the other book I mentioned, Furious Hours. I've got about 40 pages to go in it, but the section that deals with the common question has already passed. I am not giving anything away with this following brief synopsis.

There is a man in Alabama, a reverend no less, who is killing off his kin. He is doing it for the insurance checks. He takes out insurance on his wife, and then kills his wife, and collects the insurance. Then he remarries, takes out insurance on his second wife, and kills his second wife and collects the insurance. And he does it to other family members as well. Remember this is NON fiction. This really happened.

The insurance companies are, go figure, reluctant to pay up.  The Reverend hires a lawyer who initially is able to get a not guilty verdict on a murder, and subsequently successfully defends the reverend's rights to collect on the insurance policies.  After the reverend knocks off a step daughter, at the funeral of the step daughter, a man stands up and, at the funeral home, shoots the Reverend.  The shooter then hires the same lawyer that defended the reverend to acquit the shooter for murdering the reverend.  And the lawyer is successful. Again remember this is non fiction. All this really happened.  The last part of the book, the part I have not fully completed is about Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who intended to write her second book about this case.

Question is this: is a person innocent of killing someone if the victim was a nogoodnik like the reverend? In Big Sky at the end there is a similar ethical challenge.  If a slime ball is killed by a decent person, is the killer someone who authorities should let go.  Readers of To Kill a Mockingbird with a long memory, may recall that the bad guy is killed by Boo Radley, an innocent, and the sheriff encourages those who witnessed the killing, to not press charges against Boo.

Are there laws and laws?  Is the reverend's killer a hero?  Are good guys responsible for killing bad guys?  And if so, how can we be sure that those who assess a bad guy to be a bad guy, have an accurate read on the character. What if the bad guys are the good guys, and the good guys are the bad guys.  Lynchings in the south were incomprehensibly regular in the early and middle 20th century. Probably a sheriff or two who felt that the killers were not bad guys at all. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Boys of Summer


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The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn came out nearly fifty years ago. Since it was published many have recommended it to me. For who knows what reason, I just picked it up last week.

The Boys of Summer is a very good book that got more engaging the more I read.  It was one of those reads that I did not want to end.  I finished it in a library and looked around to see if there were newer editions which might have more inclusions. The edition I read had a late 1990s addendum so I thought that since the author is still alive, he may have included more stories. I discovered that I had read an edition that included all the subsequent additions.

The Boys of Summer can seem like two separate books. Initially I thought they were so distinct that it should have been two separate books, but later I thought the connection was less tenuous. The first part of the book describes how the author got his job covering the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 and 1953. There is a good deal about him growing up, his folks, the steps he took to become a journalist, and some stories about the 52 and 53 Dodgers.  

The second part is "where are they now?" That is, where are the Dodgers in 1971 that he covered in 1952 and 1953. Where is Preacher Roe, Andy Pafko, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Joe Black, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine.  In 1971 he was able to meet up with these ex players and learn how they had fared once the summer ended.

Now most if not all the people he interviewed in '71 are dead.  Jackie Robinson And Gil Hodges died  very shortly after the book was published. Carl Erskine and the author are alive, but the rest are gone.  

Where are they now books may be more popular now than they had been when The Boys of Summer was published. One of the reasons for the book's enormous popularity could be that there were fewer such books at the time. Also, the book was about a team that was beloved among New Yorkers. Reading about the Dodgers to many was an opportunity to relive young years.

 But the book, to me, is more than about the Brooklyn Dodgers.  We all have our summers, and we are all boys and girls of summer at one point—but then there is fall and winter.  The people who come out the best in the book are Pee Wee Reese, clearly number one, and Jackie Robinson. Some others kept their heads up and were mensches. Others fell on hard times or took routes to hard times. 

Billy Cox went home to an area that was very racist,  Furillo retained anger that was debilitating.  The people who fared the best were those who, like Reese, dodged the inevitable toxins and did not "give way to hating."

There are several good stories in the book, but my favorite is how Reese, when Robinson was getting berated by racists, walked across the diamond from his shortstop position and put his arm around Robinson at first.  And Reese was from Kentucky.  When Robinson was promoted to the Dodgers, several players approached Reese and asked him to sign a petition refusing to play with Robinson. Reese, refused to sign.  

I had heard of nearly all the people Kahn interviewed, but did not really know the Dodgers of 52 and 53. My consciousness with baseball arrives when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in 1956.   One could contend, I suppose, that I like the book because it was about baseball regardless of the era. Yet, I think anyone who is interested in what happens to people past their prime, will find the book engaging.

The title comes from the first line of a Dylan Thomas poem. "I see the boys of summer in their ruin."

We are all, as I wrote above, boys and girls of summer.  We have our moments in the sun.  What happens in the fall and how we decay is up to us and the choices we make..

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I see you.

Twice in the last month there have been incidents in which I was startled to see myself as a young man. And it was not in a photo.

I've moved my office once again.   I am now back in an office I'd been in a few years back. We at Northeastern have become excellent in many ways. One has to do with the broad area that is called Facilities. Facilities folk do a number of things including moving furniture from one space to another. You fill out a form on line and at a mutually convenient time, movers come to your new space bringing items from the old one. They patiently ask where items are to be moved and place them there.

So, on an assigned date a few minutes before the scheduled time, I arrived at the office. As I turned a corner to a hallway that leads to the office, there I sat.  Two people were there, ahead of time, but one was me.

In the summer of 1970 I took three classes during summer school.  I had switched majors and in order to complete on time I needed nine credits.  Before school actually began I sought work to help pay the tuition bill. I had a short stint in a fast food restaurant chain, another as a pot washer in a catering outfit, and eventually got a pretty high paying job as a toll collector on the New York State Thruway.  There was another job too.

I knew a man who worked in what was the equivalent of Facilities at the university. It may have even been called Facilities. He got me a job as an assistant to a worker who did anything and everything in our multipurpose Campus Center.  An air conditioner had to be moved, it came to him.  Someone wanted a chair that was on the first floor of the campus center. We got the chair. The bowling alley had to be cleaned so bowling balls had to be carted somewhere; he was in charge of the carting.  I was an assistant. There was another fellow there too, a guy from Brown University who played baseball for them who was a relative of the head of the Campus Center. So, he worked with me as an assistant too.

What I remember most about the job was that I felt sorry for the fellow we worked for. He was about 50 and had been laid off by the railroad. This job in the campus center was either beneath him, or paid less than what he earned at the railroad.  And he looked at the two of us with some mixture of envy and sadness.  He had, he thought, had his shot, and here he was shlepping air conditioners. But we, the guy from Brown and me, were just shlepping on the way to something possibly grand or hopeful.

I'm not sure how long I lasted as an assistant, but at some point when the toll collector job came through I hauled my last air conditioner. But during the time I found the job to be a lark; I kibbitzed with the kid from Brown, and listened respectfully to the stories from the head guy with sympathy. 

So fast forward to 2019 as I approach my door waiting for the furniture.  And slumped along the wall are two people who had gotten to the job early.  I came up short because there was me and the guy who worked for the railroad.  The elder person was courteous, and the kid was energetic and helpful.  Lugging my furniture here and there with a sense that this was just a summer gig.  About a week later I found some furniture in the campus warehouse that I wanted so the same two but this time with another young guy came to the office and there I was again, smiling and looking at the furniture. The two of them oozing, hey this is just a summer job and, well it is kind of fun. You want the bookcase here, sure. You want the cabinet there, nothing to it.

And I wanted to stop the kid and shake my hand. And say something like, "hey young man, I am you fifty years down the pike.  Take a good look.  And don't lift like that you could hurt your hip, and guess what-- it isn't going to be as smooth sailing as you think it might be."

But he would have thought I was crazy. So I just smiled in a way that he would have thought strange if he thought about it at all.

Then a week or so later, again I ran into myself  We bought a couch.  And we needed to get rid of the 85 inch monster of a couch that had been in our living room for 25 years. Even I agreed it was time for this guy to go, even though it was in decent condition.  I called the sanitation folks and they said we could bring the couch to the curb.  But the thought of Donna and me lifting the couch and carrying it to the curb was, sadly, comical.  Even when my buddy Kenny came to visit, I didn't even ask.  We would have left our groins on the deck if we tried to carry that thing.

Coincidentally, I had contact with one of the two cousins I have living in the area. She called me for a ride and I happily obliged since we see each other far too infrequently.  In the course of our ride I asked how her 30 something year old son was doing. Very well, she told me, and he was moving to a new apartment.  I asked her if Alex might want the couch.  She did not know but gave me Alex's number.

He did want it.  He just needed a buddy of his to be available with his van to be able to transport it.  In a few days, Alex called to tell us that the fellow with the van was available. He came at the appointed hour.  Out of the van popped Alex, his friend, and his friend's girlfriend. And there I was again.

Three happy bouncy 30 something year olds.  Moving furniture. How many times I moved furniture in my day, I do not want to count.  There was a stretch when I was about Alex's age when I drove a very large truck from Buffalo to Boston having stopped at a number of places along the way to pick up couches, chairs, and bookcases. Quoth the raven...

In no time Alex and his pal, picked up the couch which would have left Kenny and me crotchless, and carried it through our slider and around the corner.  The three maneuvered the couch into the van as Donna and I stood by. Most of the couch was on the bed of the van; part was in the air. After a number of tries they shut the van trunk.

They had a problem, I was sure. The couch took up the entire back of the truck.  How they managed to get it in there was one thing. But there were only two seats in the cab part of the car. Where would the third sit. I offered to drive one of them to the apartment.

No need they said easily.  They sort of laughed and the woman said that she had been in more cramped places.  The two fellows got into the cab.  Then as if it was the simplest thing in the world, the woman climbed through a window into the back of the van and lay down on the couch as if she was in someone's living room. Head on the ground. Legs in the air.

Donna said, "We used to do that." Meaning it metaphorically. I don't remember an incident where one of us had so contorted to climb through a van window and kerplunk on a couch that was part on the bed of the truck and part in the air, and drive however long--but there was a time even before we had met, that we would think nothing of hauling an 85 inch couch into a van and then sleeping on it as we drove here or there.   And doing similar things.

So I saw myself in the van and speaking for myself, but maybe for both of us, it was an odd sensation standing on the lawn watching the van drive away with me in it.

Again, like with the Facilities guy, I wanted to shout out classic middle age platitudes--"Enjoy yourself, seize the day, don't blow it" as the car drove away,

We had a '50 Ford in Brooklyn. It was the only car I knew until we moved away. We drove that car everywhere. In 1961 a year after we moved to Plainview, my dad bought a Rambler.  He put an ad in the paper to sell the '50 Ford for 50 bucks. We could not believe how many calls we got to buy that car. The lucky guy, a hot rodder or so it seemed to me, came by and gave Dad fifty dollars. Dad began to explain the problems with the car. The kid didn't need to hear anything.  He said something like, "I got it." And took the keys. Dad called mom from the house so that she could see the '50 ford for the last time. My brother and I were already at the curb.  By the time my mother got out the door, the '50 Ford was zooming down Forest Drive. And there Dad stood looking a bit stunned at the past, take off down the road.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What we need

There is a bagel place I go to when I am in south florida.  It's a couple of miles from the condo my brother and I inherited.  It sits in a strip mall and two doors away from the bagel establishment is a Starbucks.  A fancy restaurant anchors one end of the strip mall and a bank sits at the other. Near the bagel place and Starbucks are outdoor tables for sipping on coffee or eating bagel sandwiches while sipping on coffee.

Outside of the Starbucks there are two tables pushed together. And there, every time I have gone to this spot, a cluster of what I take to be octogenarians sit and hold court.  The thing is that while often the octogenarians are different; the conversation and reason for convening is essentially the same.

Yesterday for example, there were 8 of these fellows who chatted about politics, tv shows, and-- until a woman crony joined them-- their assessments of the asses of the women who went in and out of Starbucks.  One woman with high heels and very tight jeans--easy pushing 50 and maybe 60--who came over and gave one of the fellows a hug and a kiss--drew several quips once she walked away. Close your eyes and forget where you are in the country, and these could be fraternity boys based on the chatter.

Today I went back, in part to see who all would be there one day, and a few hours, later. Yesterday I had arrived around 8; today--a Saturday--it was closer to 1030.  Same two tables pushed together. Different octogenarians holding court.  I did not hear much kibbitizing about the sexual allure of the passersby.  (Because, maybe, it was shabbas?). Today the conversation had to do with the starting salary of pharmacists-"straight out of college, and they don't mix a damn thing, they just pour pills from one jar to another!"; problems with the tenure system; the mandatory retirement age which forced one of these fellows out of work; and the quality of hamburgers at two competing restaurants in the area.

So, why the clustering and kibitzing? These folks could have consumed their coffee and sandwiches at home.

Yesterday--when I went into Starbucks for the smallest coffee they had (and wound up wired until 4 pm)--I noticed several folks camped with computers at the indoor tables. This, as I blogged once before, is standard at all Starbucks.  Why are they sitting there long after their beverages have been consumed.  Just hanging out by others at nearby tables.

They are hanging around others for the same reasons the octogenarians gather--they need human interaction. We need to interact.  There are fewer encumbrances when we travel and sit alone. Nobody can irritate you with their own brand of craziness if you are at home.  Yet we travel and seek out the interaction with others because such contact is a balm despite the potential for off putting behavior.

Yesterday, one of the fellows at the table (I sat one table behind)--twice offered his opinion about two women who had walked by on separate occasions looking combative. The 80 year old's comment-twice, was the same. "She needs to get laid" he said. That, he seemed to suggest, would solve all problems.  I think this was this fellow's standard refrain. My bet is the next time I sit at Starbucks and he is around, he will comment similarly about some other annoying pedestrian.

In the general sense of the phrase, and generally speaking, the fellow is correct. That is we ALL need to "get laid." We need social intercourse. We need to shmooze, opine, chat, tell stories, try out jokes, and touch others.  Stay at home and you won't have to deal with a person pontificating about how all doctors are rat bastards because of one episode in a life, but you will miss the nourishment of the intercourse.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Dive from Clausen's Pier

There was a time about half way through this book that I became so angry at the behavior of a character. And I thought, temporarily, that the author was condoning the activity.  Even though I was 160 or so pages invested, I did not want to read any more of it.

I'm glad I continued.  The author was not, I believe, condoning the activity--she was describing it. And describing it well. I am still not certain if there was some degree of acceptance mixed in with the description.

One of my favorite lines from a novel is from Ironweed.  A character is describing a reprehensible activity of another.  The listener says, "He was just doing what he had to do."  The character responds dismissively and says "That's what everyone does."

Everyone does what they have to do. But some people do cruel inconsiderate things in the name of doing what they have to do. And others, do not do cruel things. What they have to do, the responsible ones, is behave within the confines of a conscience that compels one to be considerate of others-even when it is painful to be so considerate.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer is a very good book. It is disturbing at times but it is well written, and can be read from the perspective of a story as well as something beyond a story.

Not giving away much below since it happens right in the beginning, but if you want to know nothing, then skip the next paragraph.

Carrie is 23 and engaged to Mike who she met when she was 14.  Things are cooling from Carrie's perspective, but they--with their friends--embark on their annual Memorial Day weekend picnic. Mike dives from Clausen's Pier and there is an accident.  Now what.  Even though things were cooling off, there is a deep love and history that they share.   There are several important and well described (but certainly not all well liked) characters. A best friend of Mike, Mike's mother, Carrie's mother, Carrie's best friend, Simon a high school acquaintance who becomes a friend, Kilroy, Lane.

The issue for me in events or novels like this is simple: one does not have the right to behave reprehensibly because the world has given them a bad deal, or there are people in the world who are irresponsible.  You'll have to read the book, but I am not at all suggesting that Carrie is morally and in any way obligated to stay with Mike. I am suggesting that no matter what bad things come your way, you are not entitled to hurl them back. You are entitled to dodge the foul matter, but not at the expense of someone else.  Somebody dumps garbage on your lawn.  Fine with me if you dump the garbage back at the perpetrator. Not fine with me if you dump it on your neighbor's lawn or if you feel the insult of having garbage thrown on your property gives you permission to treat people who did you no harm as if they are, collectively, the garbage dumpers.

I think the author here does such an excellent job of drawing the characters and scenes as they would have likely occurred. I cannot stand people like Kilroy, but they are out there.  I think the way she describes them is just the way Jamie, Rooster, and Mrs. Mayer would have behaved. There are some beautifully written steamy scenes as well. I wondered at times if they were gratuitous, but I did not mind reading them. And if she left them out, she might have left out a key part that explains the fuel of a relationship.

The metaphors and tale beyond the story are special as well. The house in New York where everyone is doing something that they are doing temporarily before they do something else.  Do we all live there? And more than anything, Carrie's sewing skill: the ability to mend and alter and create.  And the sense the reader gets that it is this, that will be her calling.

This book will stay with me for a while. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

crawdads

Not sure what to make of this book, Where the Crawdads Sing.  It had been on the New York Times best seller list forever, so I requested it from the library consortium.  About a month later, it arrived.

It is engaging and well written enough to have me go through it in a couple of days during Memorial Day weekend.  I enjoyed it, but have this caveat.

If the book was intended to be taken literally, as in an event that actually could take place--then it does not cut it.  The book does not pass the ridickalus test for plausibility. Kya could not have survived as she did for as long as she did.  Even if she had been as resourceful, she would have been discovered and unable to continue as she did.  Maybe what happens to momma could have happened, poppa is a caricature but there are such poppas-but not the three other siblings.  Other stuff too. The trial was not real in any way. Even for 1970 which, just for you young-uns, was not a prehistoric peirod. I was not living in rural North Carolina then, but still.

So, if the book was intended to be taken as the telling of an event that could have occurred, then my comment is that it reads as a young adult novel.

But as a novel with meaning beyond the alleged events, it is a good one--fantastic in the literal sense of the word.  Very sweet. An adult fairy tale.

I already have recommended the book and will continue to do so. I think it will stick with me, but not because of the plot which, as I have written, could not have happened. 

A question: Are there times when a wrong can be a right? And if so, who has the right, to commit a wrong when that wrong is right?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Our Man


Our Man by George Packer is a long book ostensibly about the life of Richard Holbrooke, an American diplomat who served the country in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. The book is as much a history of these three conflicts as it is about Holbrooke.  However, you get to know that Holbrooke was a pain in the ass, an irresponsible father, an adulterer (in the land of politics where apparently everyone is messing around) and so self absorbed that he did not even know he was being inconsiderate.

Obama could not stand him, and Obama was not alone. At his fiftieth birthday party, he was roasted by the invitees but you could not tell who was joking and who was serious. He sat through it with a pasted smile on his face and later said it was the worst night of his life. What kind of dad was he? His son commented that he would not recognize his grandchildren if they showed up in a lineup. Except for Hillary Clinton, Holbrooke did not have many admirers.

However, the guy was supposedly so knowledgeable and so effective as a diplomat that he managed to work for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton and even Obama.  Holbrooke knew the war in Vietnam was  a sham while he was in it, and worked industriously and successfully to end the conflict in Bosnia. Even as he was dying he kept trying to figure out how to end the impasse in Afghanistan. As I was reading the book, on more than one occasion, I asked myself how does this person do so much in a day.  

 My take is that having your heart in the right place, and working industriously, does not absolve you from interpersonal responsibilities. And I think Packer makes the point throughout. The person who comes across as the best character in the book is a long time acquaintance Tony Lake, who worked with Holbrooke in Vietnam and remained cordial with him for years, despite the fact that Holbrooke had an affair with his wife, and in general was rude and inconsiderate.  Holbrooke lived with Diane Sawyer for several years, was married three other times, claimed and behaved as if he was madly in love with his third wife, but had two affairs while so claiming. (His wife was no nun either. A disconcerting part of this book was how much shaking outside of marriage appears to have been going on. And while I am not at all averse to enjoying intimacies I felt very much like a person looking in on a fictional world while reading).

I am glad I read the book, but it was tough sledding and I think far more detailed in terms of the three conflicts than was necessary. I was very interested in the Vietnam part. Very powerful--but the detail was not necessary to get the picture of Holbrooke. Same thing with Bosnia and Afghanistan.  In most long books I think one can knock off many pages, and that was the case here.

The last section when Holbrooke is dying and being rushed to the hospital was done very well and does tell a lot about Holbrooke’s character. There are a number of reasons why I enjoyed the book, but would have been happy to have read it if only because of the last pages describing the trip to the hospital.

It would have been good to know how Packer knows so much about Holbrooke. Also I think this book needs better sourcing. Packer uses the method where a reader has to identify what needs a footnote and then goes to the back. There are no superscripts indicating a footnote is in the back. This has become common, but in general I don't think it is effective.  In Our Man, often where I thought a footnote was essential, there was none.  There is an explanation of why the book is noted as it is, but it does not help the reader, at least it did not help me.

What enticed me to read this was an excellently written and positive review in the New York Times Sunday book review.  I thought the review was special not so much because of how it positively reviewed Our Man, but how it was written and what it itself revealed about Holbrooke’s character.

Hats off to Packer for the detail here.  I think there are essentially two books. One, that describes Holbrooke. Two, a book that describes international politics.  The Vietnam part, like many other books on Vietnam, leaves no doubt that what we did in Southeast Asia was outrageous even relative to other international conflicts.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Don Margotta




So, I am at the Knotty Pine ready to dig into a number 10--three scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, hashbrowns, scali bread and black coffee. What could be wrong with the universe?

I find out.

I open up my smartphone as I wait for the dish to be plated. I read a note from the dean of the college of business.  I read that my colleague Don Margotta died suddenly on Monday.

Don Margotta is my favorite person at Northeastern.  A mensch's mench if there ever was one.  Never boastful despite being such an expert in an area of finance that he was regularly called in as an expert witness for various court cases. The guy never did anything half baked.  If he accepted an assignment you could count on it being done thoroughly.

It was about thirty years ago when we first met. He was by the racquet ball courts in the gym, had a racquet and a clipboard. He asked if I wanted to play. I said sure, and there began a friendship.  We played racquetball for a spell--I'll guess a year-- and then switched to tennis.  He knew just where and when courts would open up at MIT and we would meet to knock the balls around. He then developed some health related problem that shut down tennis and racquetball.

I am thinking it was twenty years ago that I heard he had a heart issue. I visited him in the hospital and he was cautiously optimistic. Always with the smile you see in the photo above.  Unable to play tennis or racquetball he adopted another regimen to remain fit.  He told me what he did every single morning.  That he ate a special omelette and made sure not to wake up his wife by doing something or other than I cannot recall so that his exercising would not disturb her.  He kept a book with him all the time and could tell you, to the calorie, how many he had consumed thus far in a day and how many more he could consume.  Once we went out for a beer and he took out that book and wrote down precisely the number of calories he knew that were in that beer.

We made a pledge to see each other once a semester, but neither of us made sure to make it happen.  One of the last times I saw him he told me he was having trouble walking to school. His place is about a fifteen minute walk to his office. He told me exactly where he knew he would feel pain and would have to stop and rest, before he could resume.

The news of contemporaries leaving us has come in more frequently and will only speed up as I continue to move around the track. This one hit me particularly hard.  It sounds trite, but the world has lost a true gentleman, and a positive force in the universe. 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Move the Damn Gym

I meet Denny near the Pagoda.  The Pagoda is the spot where the National Guardsmen pivoted and shot into a crowd, killing four students, two of whom were not even protesting.  The two protestors were so far away that they posed no threat, as in none, to the twenty something National Guardsmen who fired for thirteen seconds. Count to thirteen.  They shot for thirteen seconds, helter skelter, into a group of unarmed twenty year olds.

Denny tells me he was there that day and his life was saved twice.  He was a freshman and watching the activity. When the Guard marched up from the practice football field to the Pagoda, he was to the left of the soldiers. When the soldiers wheeled around to shoot he was to the right. Very close to the Guardsmen.

The first time he was saved was a few moments before the soldiers got to the Pagoda. He said to a buddy of his that they should go down to the Prentice Parking lot to get a better vantage point.  His buddy said, "No, let's stay here."  He would not necessarily have died if he had gone to the parking lot. But that is where the four others were slain.  Jeff Miller the closest, 270 feet away, then Allison Krause a little further away and to the right of Miller,  William Schroeder an ROTC student was behind Miller, and Sandy Scheuer was a few steps behind Krause.

I asked Denny about the second time, though I knew something about what had transpired.

As soon as the shots went off, the students including my new friend Denny, hit the ground. They all thought the shots were blanks, but hit the ground automatically anyway. When Denny stood up he saw the fallen Jeff Miller. It is Miller who is the student on the ground in the iconic photo.  Denny and all the rest of the students were outraged.  They began to rush down the hill toward the Common.  They were ready to confront the guardsmen. The guardsmen, empowered, were reloading their weapons.

A professor named Glenn Frank acted as a go between. He begged the guard not to open fire, and he begged the students not to confront the guard. Running back and forth between the soldiers and the students, he screamed at the students words to the effect of, I don't care if you never listened to anyone else in your life, listen to me.  Glenn Frank averted what would have been an uglier event.

The May 4 Memorial Service today was moved indoors. It was not raining, but it threatened rain--and it was chilly.  The inside venue was a comfortable place to view the ceremony.  When I was here last we had to stand on the hillside.  Here the entire ballroom was filled with chairs and attendees.  The most powerful speaker was the woman representing Jeff Miller, but there were other interesting moments.  The sister of one of the students wounded made a few comments regarding her recently widowed mother. Her mother suggested that her daughter convey three things. I can only remember the third: Move the damn gym.

In the late 70s to the fury of those who had been shot at, the administration decided to build an auxiliary gym near where my friend Denny had stood that day.  There were strong objections and demonstrations, but the administration prevailed. It is still a source of irritation to the survivors.

After the sister spoke, the president of the university made a few comments. She apparently has been very supportive of those who want to remember this day. Nevertheless as she got up to the podium, a fellow behind me bellowed, "Move the damn gym." And there was applause.

It was something to see a bunch of we early 70 year olds limping around the area where the shots were fired. I overheard one guy squawking about the nature of the demonstration to anyone who he could get to listen. Others paused at the various markers around the shooting site.

The overall sense I have is that I am so glad that I made this trip.  The national guard and the government has never wholly apologized for this travesty.  Unarmed students were shot at for exercising their first amendment rights or observing others who were exercising their first amendment rights.  Forty nine years later, we still remember.

Oh, I did not see Dean Kahler, this year.  He is alive, but he was paralyzed for life, one day after his birthday, by a stray bullet. He'd just transferred into Kent earlier in 1970.

Move the damn gym.

Friday, May 3, 2019

unnecessary, unwarranted, inexcusable

This is my fourth time in Kent, Ohio.   Today is the second time I came up for the midnight candle vigil.  And twice before I was here to do research in the May 4th Special Collections part of the Kent State library.

It is a few hours before the vigil. I am here in my nondescript motel room waiting for the hours to pass before the vigil starts.  Starting my evening at midnight or thereabouts went out with my sophomore year in college. But I will make it.

When I was here last the vigil began near the May 4th memorial exhibit. My recollection is that they told all to get there at 11, but the candles did not start lighting up for an hour or so.  And then we walked around the campus--maybe two hundred of us carrying candles. We ended up in the Prentice Hall parking lot where Jeff Miller, William Schroeder, Sandy Scheuer, and Allison Krause were killed.  When all arrived at the lot, there were some prayers and a ceremony. Then someone representing each slain student stood in the "graves"--the places in the lot where the students fell--all night long.

I went to the site of the killings earlier today.  As I walked up the hill from where Jeff Miller was shot, to where the Guardsmen opened fire, I got nauseous in a way that I don't get nauseous. It started just about where my belly button is and moved up towards my solar plexus.  It was a strange sensation. I don't know if I felt that way the other times I have been here.  I remember feeling something similar after 9-11, and then after the marathon bombing--but this was more acute.

I noticed some folks about my vintage milling around the area--and a tv reporter had set up for a shot of where the vigil will begin.

I've studied what happened, much more than the average bear.  The national guard opened fire into a crowd.  Jeff Miller was the closest of the four to the shooters. He was 270 feet away.  What kind of threat could he pose from nearly the length of a football field? William Schroeder was shot in the back. Sandy Scheuer was walking to class.

Last time I was here I got to talk with Dean Kahler for a short time. Dean Kahler was paralyzed for life by a gun shot that day.  He had just had a birthday and was a transfer to Kent. Hardly a political agitator, he had come to observe what was going on.  His birthday present was a wheel chair for life. Eight other students were injured that day.

It sounds strange to write that I am looking forward to walking with the candle this evening, and then speaking for a spell with others who are similarly observing this tragedy--but I am.  Tomorrow there will be a service at noon which, when I was here last, featured a niece of Allison Krause.  Each student who was killed has someone make some comments for her or him.  The one I remember most was the niece.   There was a time limit on the talks and when her limit was up she essentially gave the finger to the coordinator, and just kept on. Nobody listening had any objection.

The Scranton Commission that investigated the shootings called them unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable. Yet the shooters were essentially exonerated.

49 years ago tomorrow.




Monday, April 29, 2019

Starbucks

I am sitting in a Starbucks restaurant that, until a year ago, was a gas station.  The station often seemed empty.  Not empty anymore.

The Starbucks sits across the street from a Dunkin Donuts that itself is very popular. The Starbucks is more popular. I have rarely come here when there was more than one open spot in the ample parking lot.  And empty seats are at a premium.

On the other side of town, at the junction of Main Street and Moody Street, there is an Independent coffee shop. If one were to drive west on Main street, in less than a half mile you'd find an all night Dunkin Donuts that is always busy.  In addition there are a couple of convenient stores that have coffee for takeout. Keep going west on route 117 and in short time you could go into a Panera's that is well attended. Drive about half mile further and you can pull into an outdoor shopping plaza that has a Market Basket, liquor store, Marshalls, Verizon, and three relatively high end restaurants.  Very busy plaza.  Tough to get a parking spot in this plaza.

But the place in the shopping area that is more crowded than any of the other popular establishments in the plaza or any of the coffee shops en route to the plaza, is a Starbucks that sits in the middle of the parking lot.  It has a drive through. I have never, ever, ever, been in the shopping plaza when there was not a line at the drive through.  I sometimes go to the Market Basket at 7 am.  Never ever has nobody been on line waiting for a cup of coffee. Donna went to meet someone for coffee at this Starbucks and the two could not get close to a table.  I once got a seat at 6 am on a Sunday.  But now I don't bother even trying.  So if I feel like Starbucks I drive to this other side of town where I have a fighting chance of getting a seat.

What is it with Starbucks?  Why is it that in New York City in particular you can't walk two blocks without seeing one.  Why are they so successful?  The one where I sit now is really kind of a pain in the neck to get to. Which is, I suppose, why the gas station--a Mobile--left Dodge.  The site was no problem for Starbucks. It is 308 in the afternoon.

One thing that puzzles me is how the clientele are encouraged, or at least not discouraged, from loitering. I bought the smallest size coffee they have (called a "tall"--the smallest is a tall) and I am sitting here with my laptop. To my left are four tables of people who are on their computers.  How can they make the loot to pay for the rent,when the occupants buy 5 dollars worth of whatever and park themselves for hours at a table.  It's not like a bar where a waiter comes by and asks if you want something else and if you say no, you are essentially given the heave ho.  Here I can stay til my laptop runs out of juice.

I go to Starbucks for two reasons. The first is that there must be more of a jolt in their coffee because after two cups of this I can do the Mexican hat dance--and I need a hip replacement for hip two--and I already have a pipe holding hip #1 together.

The second reason is that I like hanging out and using my laptop.  I could do without the two kids in front of me right now, playing with straws, blowing the paper wrapper off, watching it fly for a few seconds.  But these kids are aberrations. Usually, the place is more quiet and I can do work or whatever I want to on the laptop. Their moms,--the straw blowers' moms--are meeting and have kid duty apparently, so they are discussing some business issue while letting their kids run around.

My theory about why Starbucks is popular relates more to my first reason than my second, but the second reason counts too. I think primarily it is the drug.  This is a legal drug.  Like speed with a nice hat.   But Starbucks is also a place where someone who wants to get out of the house and be among people--even the occasional obnoxious kid straw blower--can be among people and do solitarily whatever they would have done in a an actual solitary setting.

P.S.  I drove past the Starbucks in the plaza at a little past 7 am the morning after I first posted this blog. There were more than five cars on line at the drive through. However, I did glance through the windows, and you could easily have gotten a seat inside at that time.
 



Saturday, April 27, 2019

Juxtaposition

I had an idea for tonight. The FAU Owls men's baseball team and women's softball team were playing games at the same time. I looked at a map before I came down south and saw that the stadiums were not far from one another.  I figured I would watch some of the men's game, a single game against Old Dominion University. And also watch some of the women's game, a double header, against UNC Charlotte.

Some observations.


  • It was hot.  In both stadia or stadiums.  Not much shade in either. The games started at 4, which I thought might provide some reduction in temperature.  It did not seem that way.
  • I started at the men's game.  It seemed very slow probably because it was so uncomfortably warm. I walked the 3/4 of a mile to the women's game after a little less than one inning.
  • The men's ticket cost 10. The women's 7.  The men's stadium had regular individual seats. The women's had metal bleacher type seating. Right behind homeplate there were backs to the bleacher seats. But in the sections to the right and left no backs to the seats.
  • By the time I arrived at the women's game, UNC was up 5-0. I asked a woman to my left who told me that the pitcher had been wild and then gave up a grand slam. UNC did not score another run all game. The final was 5-2.
  • The women's game was much faster and much more fun to watch than the men's game. I returned to the men's stadium after the women's first game was over.  It was not as enjoyable to watch.
  • Nobody but nobody on either women's team throws "like a girl."  Let me tell you the players on both squads could throw rockets. On one play a UNC player attempted to score from second on a single to left. The left fielder threw a strike home and nailed the runner.  When I was in college we had a women's softball team that would have lost to either UNC or FAU by 30 runs.  Not exaggerating. Maybe 50 runs. These were serious athletes. The third baseman for FAU made one great play after another. I did notice the UNC centerfielder hugging the left fielder after she made an especially nice catch. 
  • Both fields were in similarly good shape.
  • The women's team had little ball girls and several groups of elementary school looking girl fans.
  • There were a few more fans at the women's game than the men's. This was a special day for seniors so that could have accounted for it.
  • The slogan for FAU for both teams is "winning in paradise."  Maybe paradise, but the men lost their game as well. The women did win the second game which I did not see.
  • Lots of kibbitzers at the men's game. One guy was holding court, not obnoxiously, but you could tell he was a regular.
  • In the women's game there is a 5th inning not a 7th inning stretch. I was at the men's game for its 7th inning stretch and the women's 5th inning stretch. The women fans sing take me out to the ball game with more enthusiasm.
  • A host of fans were sitting on top of cars beyond the left field wall in the women's game, beating the 7 buck admissions fee.
  • Beer was sold at both stadiums. I did not see too many folks knocking them back.
  • The defense for the men's game, like the women's game was impressive.
  • FAU men got within one run in the bottom of the 7th, but then all hell broke loose in the top of the 8th. Several pitchers came in to try and stop the bleeding.  Final was 12-6
  • Bottom line, if this tiny sample experience is anything close to typical,  title ix is a tremendous success. The women's game was engaging and exciting, more-so than the men's. The women on both teams were serious players.  They obviously had had an opportunity to play since they were little. If I had an opportunity to choose going to another game when both women and men were playing at the same time, I would definitely go to the women's.