Wednesday, December 29, 2010

the highwayman

When I was seven or eight or so, and was running a high fever, my dad came into the bedroom where I was sprawled to keep me company for a spell. He had a book of poems with him and he read me, The Highwayman. I don't know if this was his choice, or he simply said to me, pick one, and I haphazardly selected it. I think it was the former, but can't recall for certain.

Afterwards, this became a tradition. Whenever I got sick, Dad, in what came to be thought of us as a therapeutic step toward recovery, would come into the bedroom where I had, no doubt, a cold washcloth over my head, and he would read the highwayman to me.

I once told a girlfriend about this ritual and she was startled. "Your father read you that poem when you were eight?"

I don't know if she was familiar with the poem or went to read it after I told her about it, but either way shortly after I told her about Dad's therapy, she was stunned that this would be a poem you'd read to your kid.

You might think she had a point. The poem is about a robber; an illicit lover; police depicted less than honorably; a jealous snitch; and two bloody murders.

But I was as startled by her reaction as she was by the fact that dad read me the poem when I was a young boy. The poem was beautiful as far as I was concerned, nothing out of whack about it.

In the poem, a highwayman--a robber--rides his horse to an inn. There, "Bess the landlord's black eyed daughter", was waiting for him,"plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair."

The highwayman would be plying his trade that night and so informs his lover.

"One kiss my bonny sweetheart, for I'm after a prize tonight, but I should be back with the yellow gold, before the morning light. Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, then look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, and I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

A jealous hostler--the groom who takes care of the horses--secretly loves Bess. He surreptitiously listens in on the conversation between Bess and the highwayman. After the highwayman rides away, the hostler contacts the redcoats.

With this tip, the police come to the inn and set a trap for the highwayman. They say "no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead." Then they go to Bess and tie her up "with many a sniggering jest" placing a rifle barrel "beneath her breast." They tell her to "'keep good watch' and they kissed her"

Bess knows her lover is doomed because the redcoats will wait for him at the inn and she, tied and gagged, will not be able to warn him. She remembers his last words to her:

"Look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, and I'll come to thee by moonlight though hell should bar the way."

Eventually, she hears her highwayman riding in. She had wrestled with the rope while she was waiting. While she could not get out of the binding, she could reach the trigger of the rifle that was pointed at her breast.

She hears the horse again.

"tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot, tlot, in the echoing night. Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light. Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath, Then her finger moved in the moonlight, her musket shattered the moonlight, shattered her breast in the moonlight, and warned him with her death."

The highwayman races away not knowing that the shot he heard was Bess's warning, but the next morning he discovers what's transpired.

"Not til the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew gray to hear, how Bess the landlord's daughter, the landlord's blackeyed daughter, had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

"Back he spurred like a madman shrieking a curse to the sky. With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high. Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine red his velvet coat, when they shot him down on the highway, down like a dog on the highway, and he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat."

This is a poem you read your eight year old? A lover kills herself to warn her lover. And the saved lover is so crazed that he rides into his own bloody death.

You bet your 2011 it is.

In a few days we begin our next lap around the track. Can there be any message more meaningful for us to carry as we travel than to remember that the most powerful force in the world--and the most precious therapeutic balm for our sickness--is love.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kyle Brotzman

I am rarely up at 2 in the morning, but now it is 2:33 and I am wide awake.

The old Wide World of Sports program would begin each show with a narrative that included, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." A cynic might wonder how agonizing can defeat be. It is just a game.

Tell that to a fellow named Kyle Brotzman. I am up because I wanted to see Boise State University play a game against the University of Nevada at Reno. Boise State has been heralded all season as the little engine that could. A team from the regularly dissed Western Athletic Conference (WAC) that had not lost a game in two years. Earlier this season it beat Virginia Tech in Virginia, and since then Boise State has mowed down every one of its opponents, attempting en route to dispell the idea that all they play in the WAC are patsies. All Boise State had to do was beat Nevada, a very good team itself having lost only one game this season, to have a shot at being part of the discussion regarding the best team in the land.

As has been typical, they went way ahead and led Nevada 24-7 at the half. But then Nevada playing at home with wild fans rooting them on, came back and tied the game with only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. In true championship form, Boise State came right back to go ahead 31-24. Then in true championship form, Nevada tied it at 31-31. With nine seconds to go, Boise came out and threw a hail Mary, an expression used to refer to a prayer that might be answered. Someone up there was listening and a player for Boise made a beautiful catch with two seconds left on the 9 yard line.

Enter Kyle Brotzman, the regular kicker for Boise State and an excellent one. After a delay to check and see if the time was correct, Brotzman lined up for what would have been the last play of the game, a dead ahead 26 yard field goal. Incredibly he missed it. The ball went wide right and Brotzman berated himself as he walked to the sideline.

In overtime, Boise State moved the ball to the 9 yard line. In came Brotzman to kick another 26 yard field goal. This one he hooks to the left.

Out comes Nevada and they get in position to kick a thirty yard field goal which goes in. End of national championship season. End of winning streak. Beginning of conversation that believes Boise State is a fraud.

So what, you might say. Fans should get over it. What is this agony, people are sick, wars are going on. This is not agony.

Well, it shouldn't be, but Kyle Brotzman's life will never be the same again. The hell has just started. And it won't be external. His greatest challenge as an athlete will be to not let this event define him. I went to a site before I started writing and I see that Brotzman was a star athlete in high school. I wish I could talk to him and may yet send him a note. This does not define him. I know this, and you know this, but the challenge will be for him to know it. Otherwise this defeat will be a long agony.

A number of years ago, Sports Illustrated wrote an article about Scott Norwood, the kicker for the Buffalo Bills who will forever be known as the player who missed a 47 yard field goal at the end of a super bowl game. A successful kick would have made the Bills champions. In the article, the authors make this very correct point. What makes someone a hero is not a failure, we all fail, but the measure of success: is how we react when we fail and whether we are willing "to pick yourself up and try again."

I feel for Kyle Brotzman today. He will become the butt of jokes and people in Idaho, from where he hails, will never forget him. People will tell him obligatorily that it is "all right." Some will mean it. The challenge, however, will be for him to realize that what anyone says is irrelevant. We all mess up. The champions are those who can dust themselves off, and keep on moving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Potemkin Love

My parents met each other at a sweet sixteen party in the early forties. My dad asked my mom if she would like to take a walk. Sometime during that stroll he says they knew. Sixty plus years later they still know. It is remarkable, I think. When I was a kid it was not at all unusual for me to come into the living room and find my folks embraced in a big smooch. Every December 31st in a way that seemed just natural to me until I realized otherwise, as soon as the ball dropped my folks engaged in a long kiss that I figured was what you did when you grew up and it was midnight on New Years.

There are so many things we cannot understand and explain in the same way our ancestors could not explain so many things. Get in a time machine and go explain to citizens in 1800 about the internet or airplanes. It's not possible for them to understand the phenomena. If we go fast forward from 2010 and imagine 2300, maybe the people we would encounter then could explain to us, scientifically, the pull and nourishment from genuine love.

In the absence of that genuine love or the substitution of Potemkin love we stumble about, making as best sense as we can out of the world, but we need drugs of some sort because the natural drug is absent or falsified. I have been lucky as have been my parents, but I think that if we want to enjoy our upcoming thanksgiving we need to give thanks and respect the real, not Potemkin loves, of our lives and realize--in ways we might not be able to understand right now, the importance of familial, fraternal, and romantic love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bus Ride

This really happened.

I am in San Francisco this Monday morning attending a conference of the National Communication Association. I am taking the opportunity of this meeting to visit with my cousins who live just a 20 minute bus ride from the conference hotel.

This morning my cousin walks me to the stop and I get on the Geary Limited which will take me to where most of the sessions are held. The bus is jammed and I can't get a seat so, in a manner I'm familiar with having been reared in Brooklyn and having lived in Boston for the past 30 years, I am hanging onto a metal railing leaning over a number of riders fortunate enough to get a seat.

The woman below me and to my right is on her cell phone. And she is animated. Initially I think she is venting about some issue related to work, then I think it is not about work but some investment. But I realize it is not either of these areas. I realize this because I hear her say touchdown, and then quarterback, and then penalties, and then Singletary.

This woman is ranting about the 49er game played on Sunday--a game which the 49ers won. She is referring to plays from the game and then she comments about "the catch" a phrase that football aficionados know refers to a catch made by Dwight Clark in 1982.

When she gets off the phone I ask her if she likes the 49ers. Her answer is concise.

Actually, I don't she says. But, she continues, she loves the Ohio State Buckeyes. Then this woman who tells me, without solicitation that she is in her 50s, is off to the races. I hear about Troy Smith the quarterback for the 49ers who is a Buckeye. I hear so much esoterica about the Buckeyes and the 49ers that I, a fairly knowledgeable sports fan, feel like I know nothing at all. She is crazy about Singletary, upset with the referees for not letting the boys play, happy to speak with me (really all I am doing is listening) because she rarely gets a chance to talk about football.

I ask her if she is from Ohio. She says yes, from Columbus. I mention Woody Hayes the revered coach of the Buckeyes. To that name she reacts as if I have said Yahweh. She then produces a bit of esoterica that only a zealot could produce. She tells me that she would have done the same thing Hayes did at the end of the Gator bowl.

I know what Hayes did, but what are the chances a stranger in 2010 will know what Hayes did in the late 70s that got him fired. Hayes, when a fellow named Bauman for Clemson intercepted a pass in the Gator Bowl that ended Ohio State's chances for a victory, hauled off and punched Bauman when he came to the sideline. To this date, I have never heard anyone say anything positive about this action. Today, I met the exception. With no solicitation my neighbor says, "I would have punched that Clemson guy myself."

I hope I am not painting her as an unsavory character. On the contrary, while I think punching a player is reprehensible, as I write in the Madness of March, I believe anyone who has such a passion for anything--stamps, coins, or football, is someone who has a nourishing hobby.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Corner of the Sky

I blogged earlier about seeing, almost by pure luck, the musical Pippin in December of 1973. We had gone into New York for the day intending to see a play or plays and stumbled into Pippin with the original cast. Ben Vereen as Leading Man, John Rubinstein as Pippin, and Jill Clayburgh as Catherine.

The story is of Pippin, Charlemagne's son, and how he attempts to find himself. His introductory song includes the lyrics, "Rivers belong where they can ramble, Eagles belong where they can fly. I want to be where my spirit can run free. Gotta find my corner of the sky."

Eventually Pippin meets the woman who is to be his wife, Catherine. Too restless initially to stay with her, he leaves, only to come back at the end of the play despite some ambivalence. At the end he croons, "If you are never tied to anything, you'll never be free."

When he first leaves Catherine/Jill Clayburgh, she sings a song entitled, "I Guess I'll Miss the Man". I guess I'll Miss the Man, Explain it if you can. His face was far from fine, but still I'll miss his face, and wonder if he's missing mine."

Today I read in the paper, that Jill Clayburgh 66, has died of leukemia. Sounds a bit trite, I know, but I Guess I will Miss the Woman.

There was something ingenuous about Clayburgh when I saw her in the parts she played in the movies and that one time I saw her on stage. In an Unmarried Woman, and Starting Over and Pippin. My sense is that the time to find your corner of the sky is when you are underneath it, and from the very little I know about her, and in the characters she played, she seemed willing to find her corner by following her heart during the short time that she had.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

red thong

I heard this morning that Aubrey Huff, the first basemen for the now World Champion San Franciso (nee New York) Giants, wore a red thong each day during the last month of the season because it was good luck.

In the Madness of March I write about the superstitions of sports fans. Athletes are in the same category in this regard. Stories are legion about how players cling to notions that some supernatural connection works for them. Ron Bryant a pitcher for the Giants a few decades ago actually sat in the dugout with a five foot stuffed bear because he was certain this was a factor in his successes. His teammates agreeably put up with this while he was on a winning streak.

My guess is that all over San Francisco and wherever Giant fans reside an assortment of lucky charms were brought out last night in an attempt to rid the Giants of their 56 year drought. It must have been the charms/thongs that did the trick as the Giants finally won a world series.

The first game I ever went to was in the Polo Grounds. My dad took me to see the Giants play the Phillies in a double header. I can still see myself walking with dad to the subway and can imagine my open mouthed awe when I walked into the stadium and saw the field. When I was six or seven I had the baseball cards of the Giant players pasted to the wall above my bunkbed during the season. I don't remember the 54 World Series but I sure remember the loss to the Yankees in the 62 World Series.

Sometime in the 70s about fifteen years after the Giants moved to San Francisco my allegiance to the Mets and then in the 80s to the Red Sox once I moved here, trumped my fondness for the Giants. Still, I was happy last night to see the Giants revel when the last batter for the Texans struck out. I thought of the Giant fans I know, my cousin Marilyn, my friend Warren Greshes who is as fanatical as they come, and others who were glad that their individual brand of rabbit's feet came through for them fifty six years after the Giants swept the Indians in 1954.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marilyn and Marty Redux

I blogged before about my cousins, Marilyn and Marty, who have as strong a relationship as any of my first cousins. I wrote that their foundation would be put to the test in October because The Giants were likely to play the Phillies in the NLCS. Marilyn is a serious San Francisco Giant fan. Marty is just as committed to the Phillies.

The Phillies did indeed play the Giants in the NLCS. The Giants won the first game 4-3. After that contest I sent a quick note to my cousin. The subject line was "4-3" The message was similarly concise. "Still married?" I inquired.

The response came back quickly. "Check back in a few days."

This was all tongue in cheek, of course. Love trumps all if it is real--even team allegiance which can be surprisingly strong. I do know of New York Ranger hockey fans who, and I am not kidding, would consider it a deal breaker if they discovered that their blind date was a fan of the Islanders. They'd hear that and just know the relationship could not launch.

The Giants prevailed over the Phillies last week. I had occasion to write to Marilyn and Marty about some other matter this week and in the course of my note I asked how they had fared during the 6 game series. Marilyn told me that Marty had been a good sport and that he was even rooting for the Giants during the World Series. No real surprise there. Not sure there was a lot of smooching going on when Juan Uribe hit the clinching homer in the 6th game of the NLCS, but when the dust settled love trumped even strong team allegiance. This, as only a true fan knows, is the acid test of a relationship.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

zigging and zagging

Last night I finished my workout and was about to leave the locker room. Just before I stepped out I spotted my friend John and for about 90 seconds I stopped and shot the breeze. I went downstairs to the club lobby and there was Margarett and Mayank, two regular tennis playing cronies. For about thirty seconds we traded good natured barbs as is our wont. I went to the parking lot to drive off. Another member was driving off at about the same time and the route I would have taken was blocked off. So, I circled around and it took me about 15 seconds longer than otherwise to drive off the premises.

It was rainy and miserable. Plus at 630 pm the traffic was heavy on the road I take to get home. About half way through the drive I saw a vehicle, two cars ahead of me stop suddenly. The car right in front of me either did not see the stopping car or could not brake on the slick roads. I said, whoa, because I knew this would be close. It was not close, the car in front of me smashed into the stopped car. I was only seconds behind him--so close that my car's forward motion after the crash had me by passing both the rammed vehicles.

What is the difference between a pleasant drive home and a horrific accident that at the very least will ruin a weekend and at worst could be physically debilitating? Spotting John in the locker room? Seeing Mayank and Margarett in the lobby. Spinning around in the parking lot spending fifteen seconds more exiting?

How many times in our lives do we zig instead of zag and the zigging is either life saving or sends us on a route that gets us lost.

At the reunion last weekend I spotted a couple who looked nearly exactly like they did when they dated in 1969. They had these genuine smiles on their kissers. Most people were smiling at the reunion, but these folks looked like they smiled as a matter of course. I remembered them when they were "going out" in college. When did they decide to zig and stay together when they might have been tempted to zag.

Zigging and zagging is what we all do. Each step can matter. Sometimes it is a matter of luck, like last night, stopping to talk to my friend in the locker room. I don't stop, I am likely ramming into the car in front of me.

But sometimes it is not luck. We have a choice to zig or zag. Zig and we are beaming forty years later, zag who knows? I think about this couple at the reunion and I imagine just who they might have been, how well preserved they might have been, and how they might have smiled had they taken a different route.

Friday, October 8, 2010

sand and trees

The brothers of old KB will be reuniting this weekend at our alma mater. Kappa Beta, blue and gold, was one of several local social fraternities at what is now called the University at Albany. Annually a group of about seven of us meet up to see a basketball game. This year, for the first time since 2002, an entire collection of erstwhile sophomoric cavorters are gathering. At last count 63 brothers will be in attendance, some foolish enough to bring their spouses to the event. (I don't understand this, having attended high school, camp, and college reunions in the past I am not sure there is a population that seems and feels more like a "what am I doing here" appendage than a spouse at a reunion).

I looked at the list of attendees and there are people coming that did not show for the 2002 shindig whom I have not seen in nearly forty years. Because of social networking sites like Facebook I have been in communication with some of these people and look forward to seeing them and sharing in-person tales of how we've fared.

The physical changes are always a little surprising. I think of Kurt and Eggs, for example, two cronies who I have not seen in decades, and all I think of is there 1971image. I don't know about those two, but I know that for others there will be more pounds, more gray, and less hair. But soon after the initial encounter, the old personalities merge with the new look.

Nearly everyone of us has a story. And I have found in former reunions that there is less posturing and more transparency during these affairs. It is as if the baloney that we might dispense in our daily lives is left at home and we can talk freely to people we knew before we began accruing our adult history, successes, and disappointments.

I, like many of those I will see this weekend, have developed a frightening loss of short term memory. I can and have poured myself a cup of coffee, gone to sit down with it, and seen a steaming cup already sitting where I typically park myself to sip. I have intended to check the cat litter and can't recall if I have already acted on these intentions seconds before. I look for my gym bag in the house, then give up and go to drive to work only to see the bag in my rear view mirror having, apparently, packed it in the backseat earlier.

But what has stayed with me is a very strong long term memory. I recall conversations I had with people from the 60s that are vivid and, I'll bet, are dead on accurate. I've startled relative strangers with recollections of things they have told me.

I also remember excerpts from stories I've read, even if I've read them decades earlier. And, subconsciously, these excerpts--sometimes lyrics of a song--rocket to my head and I start thinking of (or singing) them because of something that is occurring that makes the words apt. Even if I am not consciously thinking of the particular event at the moment, up pops--like an internet pop-up-- the novel or short story excerpt.

This week a line from the short story, The Open Boat, has kept surfacing. The story that most of us 60 somethings had to read in high school is about men in an open boat who need to be rescued. Often in the story one character or another says:

"If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?"

I read that story in Mrs. Brodkin's class in 1965 or 66 and it is still in my head.

All of we KB folks, all of all folks, have contemplated sand and trees when we have been adrift wondering if we will get out of a particular maelstrom. The 63 of us who reunite this week, no matter how successful we have been, know how painful it can be to contemplate sand and trees, to have experienced sand and trees, and be unable to access our dreams and the comforts of the harbor.

A wonderful thing about reunions is that they can remind us that we all have been there. I wonder how many times we will raise our mugs this weekend and sing the song that we, often beerily, crooned when we knew from nothing.

"Raise high your steins men, and drink a toast then, to the colors of blue and gold, and let your hearts sing, while foaming steins bring, golden memories of old, so be glad then, that you have drunk when hearts were gay and handclasps free, be glad that you have drunk as one of the men of old KB."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Marilyn and Marty

Of my eleven first cousins, my cousin Marilyn and her husband Marty are among the strongest of tandems. They seem to get along effortlessly with natural love. This is not to imply that the rest of us are at screaming odds with our mates, but rather that they--like many of us--seem to enjoy spending loving time with each other.

This, soon, will be put to the test. My cousin Marilyn was reared north of San Francisco and since childhood has been a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants. She listened to the Giants when the games were not televised and has a remarkable capacity for sports detail which I discovered when the two of us took a long drive to Lake Tahoe in the late 80s. Marty, her husband, was raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania and has every bit of the enthusiasm for his Phillies as Marilyn has for her Giants.

It seems apparent that the Giants and the Phillies are on a collision course to meet in the National League championship series. To my admittedly American League pay little attention to the National League lens, it sure seems as if the Giants and the Phillies are the premier teams. What will happen in October.

A few months back I spoke with Marilyn and Marty on the phone and they mentioned that they'd purchased the MLB television package so they can watch their respective teams' games all summer. My cousins are no casual fans. Maybe the first game of the seven game series there will be good wishes for their sweethearts' rooting interests. But what will happen with a game 7? Will all cheers be muted?

Love will trump all in the final analysis, but I don't see snuggling on the couch while watching the 7th game and I think a fly on the wall would hear, "Get your own beer" more than once.

I am glad their union is as strong as it is.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

the trunk

Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, some take walks looking for birds. I like to read. There are probably many philatelists and numismatists, and birdwatchers who also like to read, but the point is that we all have different hobbies. I have a buddy with whom I regularly have breakfast. He often asks me when I have time to read. I tell him that when you like to do something you tend to make time for it.

For me reading helps me think. Actually read a book in the late 70s which had that as a line in a conversation and it has stuck in my head. The book was called The Last Convertible, and when I read that sentence, I said--"that's me." Books give me ideas for me to consider, accept, or discard--as if they are fuel for my internal conversations. I would likely converse internally with or without books, but the discourse because I read is--I think--more informed.

There are authors whom I read because they have earned a reputation with me. Anything by Anne Tyler for example I typically snort. And some of her lesser known books--A Patchwork Planet for example--has hung around my head for a long time, as has A Ladder of Years and the Accidental Tourist. Not sure I always heed the wisdom of the authors, but the thoughts make appearances in my consciousness long after I've finished the book.

Richard Russo is another author whom I read. The Risk Pool and Bridge of Sighs are special. I was in the library a couple of weeks back returning some cds and saw a book of his on the shelf that I'd heard about but not read. It's called That Old Cape Magic. So, I took it out and finished it recently.

If you think you might want to read That Old Cape Magic, I'd stop here. I won't be giving the whole story away, but if you are like me, and don't want to know anything about a book before you read it, you won't want to read what I write below. (Even though what I will write is far less than some incomprehensibly insensitive reviewers who damn near give away the whole story in their reviews when an objective is not to do just that).

The Old Cape Magic is about a college professor who, when he was a kid, travelled with his college professor parents to Cape Cod for weeks in the summer. He returns there in the beginning of the book, now with his marriage to Joy on shaky ground, and is there in part to discard the ashes of his father, sitting in his trunk, who wished to be scattered on the Cape. During the course of the book the son winds up with both the ashes of his mother and father in his trunk. Yet, for various reasons he can't seem to get them out and scatter them. Several almost comical episodes preclude his attempts, and it seems as if only when he can get the ashes out of his trunk will he be able to engage his wife (Joy) again.

It's a little heavy on the symbolism, trying to find Joy and all. And it's not one of Russo's better books, but still it is hanging around my head. Fortunately, I am blessed with two healthy parents who provided and provide a remarkably sturdy ethical foundation for my life. But if we extend the metaphor some, how many of us are hauling around ashes in our trunks that we either don't want to address or just seem unable to--and it is that which precludes our ability to engage Joy.

Sometimes despite all efforts Joy is elusive. But sometimes it is only an illusion that Joy is elusive and that what prohibits engaging Joy is that we can't seem to get into the trunk, learn from the ashes therein, and free ourselves by scattering them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

cleaning and cleansing

In about an hour I, as well as others from my tribe, begin a 25 hour period of introspection and concomitant self assessment.

This summer I read an article from a religion pundit who claimed that the notion that all religions were fundamentally the same was inaccurate. This claim piqued my interest since that was and is my assumption. That is, my assumption is that while people take different routes to what they consider to be the best way to live spiritually, the ultimate goal of being considerate, loving and self loving, friendly, and giving is the same in all tribes.

After reading the expert's article I still felt the same way. The only thing the author convinced me of was that he has become exasperated by those who do not accept his perspective. Some irony there.

So, while I am no expert on alternative religions I suspect that all religions have some time and prescription for repentance and self assessment. And the objective of this time of self analysis is a removal of the debris that somehow accrues and interferes with the functioning of our hearts. A cardiologist would argue that an unhealthy heart can undermine wellness. Similarly a heart infected by accrued litter impedes our capability to live and love as we should and could.

My favorite part of the day of atonement starts in about an hour here in the East. It is called the Kol Nidre prayer. I haven't missed a Kol Nidre in twenty years or more. I think as much as the message of the prayer, the fact that people all over the world are chanting the same prayer to start this period of introspection is a powerful starting point to my own day of evaluation.

Whatever route we take, I think it is important now and again that we stay on the course suggested by our pure hearts. Old story. My dad is watching me saw a piece of wood. He has used a ruler to draw a pencil line that I'm supposed to move my saw along. Somehow I move away from the line. Dad spots this as he pauses from his own sawing. He tells me to go back to where I veered off the line. I am maybe 7 and I tell him to look how far I am along, albeit away from the line. He tells me to go back to where I veered off regardless of how far along I might be.

It is I think the goal of this day of atonement to examine the forces that made us move off the line, and get back on track.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

going for it

In the epilogue to The Madness of March I write about how sport fans are occasionally disparaged by people who believe they should "get a life".

Today, there would not have been many better ways to spend this day of one's life than by enjoying sports. Since noon Eastern there has been football, basketball, tennis, and baseball to watch on television. In Boston, the weather was beautiful--a great day to run, take a canoe on the Charles, play touch football or kick a soccer ball around. I do have other hobbies, and I do have other "lives", but today was a day to frolic watching and playing sports.

I'm not sure there will ever be a tennis match as exciting as the semi finals today between Federer and Djokivic. And, beyond the fun of watching the game, the match was valuable as a lesson--as so many sporting events can be.

When I played club tennis competitively I used to tell my teammates that when the game was close at the end, it was not a matter of athletic skill. It was a matter of backbone. In the final set of a match it was no longer who had the better serve, it was who had the stomach to win.

Federer is one of my favorite tennis players. He doesn't squawk, he plays brilliantly, and is as gracious on those rare times when he loses as when he is victorious. But this afternoon he was beaten. And he was beaten because Djokivic in the final set, "went for it". Facing two match points on his serve, Djokivic wailed on a couple of shots that, had he not made them, would have made him a loser. But he went for them. He put it on the line, took a chance to be as good as he could be. And he won. In the final analysis, he beat Federer--a man with a sturdy backbone himself--because he had the courage to do what he needed to do--he went for it.

Sports are fun in and of themselves. Today Michigan beat Notre Dame in the last seconds. Last night West Virginia stunned Marshall by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come back for a victory. Earlier today, James Madison University, a team that plays in the college football subdivision out of tiny Harrisonburg, Virginia, beat mighty Virginia Tech ranked thirteen in the country.

While sport can be exciting in and of itself, it often transcends itself and provides a lesson to spectators beyond the victories and losses. And today the message in Djokivic's victory--to any who had the courage to listen--was this: if you want to reach the high note--you have to go for it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I open today's Boston Globe, back from an in and out trip to New York to watch athletes play a game far different than the tennis I play. What they were doing at the USOPEN and what I do when I play was as similar as my cat Pumpkin and a Tiger.

In the Globe I noticed a photo and caption about a convention being held at a hotel very near where I work. It is the Boston Tattoo convention. The photo has a woman wincing as she is being inflicted by a tattoo artist (one assumes, you can only see a gloved hand in the picture).

Tattoos are something I don't quite get. When I was a kid the only people who had tattoos did not travel in my circles. There would be some kid in high school who perpetually had a cigarette behind his ear, awaiting the time when his mandatory English class would let out so he could bolt and go the bathroom or some other illicit spot, to smoke up. That guy would come back from somewhere with a tattoo of boxing gloves one day and make sure to wear a short sleeved shirt. Then sometime when he was thirty he wished he did not have it any more and began to wear long sleeves in the summer.

This is not the case anymore. Now, it seems, that a very high percentage of people in their twenties and thirties have a tattoo. I approached a student last summer who, like most students during the hot months, wore shorts and a tee shirt to class. Because there was no ink on her, I confided my puzzlement about the appeal of tattoos. She was an excellent student and the kind of clean looking bright eyed smiley kid who was in the national honor society throughout her high school years. "Why do so many people have tattoos?" I asked. "They're cool." she replied. "I'm going to get my third around Christmas." Where her ink was, was a matter for conjecture.

I have a number of shirts that I really like. I wear them regularly. But sometimes I like to wear other shirts that typically are not in the rotation. So, I take off the shirts that I regularly wear, and put on the other ones. When you have a tattoo, though, you can not bring in the lefty. It's indelible.

I've been thinking about this regarding tattoos ever since they became prevalent. But another thought entered this a.m. when I saw the photo in the Globe. I had been musing about some ongoing matter when I opened the paper and maybe that is why this thought seeped into consciousness when I read that the Tattoo convention was in town.

What about the other tattoos? That is, what about the tattoos that are not visible. Sure, the guy with the boxing gloves--to me at least--is stuck with a "I put boxing gloves on my arm" message every time he wears a tee shirt. But what about the tattoos that we don't see from people who never went to an inkmaster. How indelible are these--and moreover are they even more difficult to get out. The girl who is dissed by her parents has a tattoo. The boy whose heart is broken as a teen has a tattoo. The girl who goes to the dance all duded up but noone asks her to dance has a tattoo, The kid who gets picked last every time sides are chosen up.

What happens to those tattoos.

I think we can get them out, but most of the time, like the high school kid with the boxing gloves tattooed on his arm, we--down the road--consciously or otherwise choose to cover them up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

out of the loop

There are signs when one is aging. You walk a bit stiffly in the a.m. Find that you are not quite as resilient after a workout. Might wake up multiple times during the night. Maybe you're not quite as frisky as you used to be.

Tonight, I discovered yet another sign.

In the bottom of the 7th of a Red Sox game I decided to go to the Shopper's Cafe to watch the end of the game. The lure was not so much the Sox, because I could see them at home, but also the Yankee game, and a football game. At the Shopper's Cafe where there are a dozen sets in front of the bar alone, I figured I could watch all contests.

Not the case.

The Shopper's Cafe was mobbed. Someone left as I walked in and I grabbed the seat at the bar, but this was pure luck. It was four or five deep behind me. I was at a corner where patrons not fortunate enough to get a seat would approach the bar to order their beverages. If you want to make some money, I think you should invest in a tavern. I could not believe the booze flying out. Drinks I never heard of. One woman and her tribe ordered six lemon drops. There were only three in her tribe and let me tell you they banged those suckers down very quickly. Long Island Ice teas which, I have been told, can take you from Brooklyn to Riverhead in a hurry were very popular, as were various malt beverages.

But this is not what made me feel old, while I sipped, apparently a member of the WCTU when compared to my bibulous neighbors.

What made me feel old was that the Red Sox were on only two of the sets. And the Yankees nor any other baseball or football game appeared on any other. At ten oclock even the Red Sox disappeared until I squawked.

What was on all the sets was something called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. This was a pay per view event which the Shopper's Cafe had purchased for a song relative to the fortune they were bringing in from observers.

What is the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Well, I had to ask my neighbor, there with his woman. Unfortunately I could not understand a single thing he told me because the explanation was interspersed with phrases like "tap out" and other bits of jargon that you have to be a young un to understand. I love sports, but this spectacle seemed like two guys I knew in Brooklyn who went outside to settle a dispute and beat the crap out of each other. My neighbor told me some things were illegal, of course. What was illegal? I asked. Well, he told me, eye gouging was illegal.

Glad to hear it.

There was one set on the Red Sox game when the Rays blew my evening by hitting a walk off homer in the bottom of the 10th. It was, coincidentally, the same time the UFC fight was over. It seems as if it ended when the loser was, literally, about to choke to death.

Time for me to collect social security.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

illuminating the wild scene

I just finished a book about a tennis match that has been called the match of the century--meaning the 20th century. It was the rubber match of the 1937 penultimate round of the Davis Cup between the United States and Germany. Don Budge played against and eventually defeated Gottfried von Cramm. The book is called, A Terrible Spendor.

Unless you are a sports zealot and a tennis aficionado as well, I wouldn't recommend the book. There is a good deal of tennis detail and the author jumps around so much--without a pattern that at least I was able to discern.

However, the book is more than about the game. The backdrop of the event is the rise to power of Hitler's Germany. Gottfried von Cramm would not join the party and for various reasons was playing for what must have seemed to be his life.

The title of the book comes from a Thomas Carlyle quote: Fate envelopes and oveshadows the whole; and under its lowering influence, the fiercest efforts of humans will appear but like flashes that illuminate the wild scene with a brief and terrible splendor, and are lost forever in the darkness.

As it relates to the horrors of the Nazis, the quote is accurate. But I think for most eras the quote is not only inaccurate but dangerous. If we assume that we are dust in the wind, simply unable to overcome fate except for brief flashes of illumination which will eventually succumb to the darkness, then there is no hope for progress or self love or love at all. Why work toward anything if we assume that we are overwhelmed by fate.

I like Don Quixote and used to say to anyone who would be willing to listen, that the windmills never have a chance. And I believe this for the most part. Yes, there are times when fate does overwhelm us. And in totalitarian regimes people do not have the freedom to help themselves. But for those of us who live in bona fide democracies, the idea that all we can have are flashes that will illuminate for short durations is to take an easy road. We have our chances to keep the scene lit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

let's cross over

If you have not seen Eat, Pray, and Love and you plan on seeing it, you may not want to read this blog now.

I read the book about a year ago, and saw the movie just yesterday. Typically I do not like movies when I've read the book. This was an exception. I don't know what the critics who disliked the movie saw that disappointed them. I found it to be particularly moving and I am not inclined to be moved emotionally unless there is a good reason to be.

I read a book a while back called, Crossing to Safety. Can't remember much about it, but the title has come back to me now that I have seen, Eat, Pray, and Love. What do we cross and when do we cross? Can safety on one side of the river be an illusion? Can the prospects of joy on the other side be similarly illusory. Once we cross might we then, when the road is not as smooth as we suspected it would be, desire to cross back?

My best guess is that once we are in tune with ourselves, we trust our tuned self to make the decision on the basis of what is in our heart.

Last night I went to the Shopper's Cafe after my constitutional stint perspiring at the health club. When I sat down the Red Sox were down 9-0. Before I asked for a beverage it was 11-0, when my Buffalo chicken sandwich arrived it was 14-0. The good news for the Sox is that they get to play again today.

We don't. This is our shot. Down 14-0 before you get your sandwich. It may be time to consider crossing over. If you don't, being down 14-0 will get to seem to be normal.

Of course, it's not always easy to cross over.

I used to play a lot of rummy 500. And my stategy then was always, always, always, to pick up from the cards that were discarded whenever I could make a meld. Yes, I ran the risk of being stuck with all the cards I had picked up. But it always seemed that in the long run, that was the best thing to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's gonna be I believe

I think I knew about Bobby Thomson before I knew the names of my uncles.

It is, as I try to recall the sequence now, one of my earliest if not my earliest recollection--hearing both my mother and father tell me about the 1951 pennant race.

Down thirteen games in the middle of August, the Giants clawed back to tie the Dodgers and force a three game playoff.

The teams split the first two games. In the third the Dodgers led the Giants by two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Bobby Thomson came up with men on second and third and then..

"Branca throws. There's a long fly ball. It's gonna be I believe. The Giants win the pennant. the Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. Bobby Thomson hits a line drive into the left field stands and they're going crazy, they're going crazy. Ahhhhhhh"

According to family lore, my father--a salesman at the time--had stopped in a restaurant to watch the end of the game. When Thomson hit the homerun he jumped up and down and coins flew out of his pocket. He retrieved one of the dimes and phoned my mother. When she picked up, my father--without much of a hello--simply repeated "Did you see that. Did you see that. Did you see that."

Fifty nine years later I still get goose bumps when I listen to recordings of the Thomson at-bat. And fifty nine years later a generation that witnessed the homer, and the generation who heard the narrative from their mothers and fathers were saddened yesterday when they heard the news that Bobby Thomson passed. Strangely, Clint Hartung, the runner on third when Thomson connected, passed within the last several weeks himself.

Two books, at least, have been written just about the homerun. One is called The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff. The other, The Giants Win the Pennant. The recording of Thomson's homerun has been played on sport shows dozens of times in the last 24 hours. It is, of course, an indication of the power of sport that an event 59 years ago can stay alive and still excite people six decades later.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pumpie's in love

My cat has been acting strangely recently. Coming in at all hours of the night and then sleeping it off for longer than usual, sprawled out like a spent lothario on the spare bed.

Today I think we have discovered why. While perched at my spot on the deck which might as well have a sign that reads "summer office" we hear a meowing unlike the typical sounds that are regularly audible at the 27 moments during the day when he feels the time is ripe for a snack.

We go into the yard and there is Pumpkin, gazing wistfully at a white cat with a black tail. She, the white cat, is looking back at him inscrutably. He is clearly smitten and she does not look like she minds the attention, but is not initiating. Now twenty minutes later, they are still doing this courting nonverbal dance.

What to do?

Is it time for me to have a man to cat talk with the Pump. He looks so forlorn. Should I tell him to forget her, that there are lots of cats in the sea. Should I tell him to be aggressive, "go ahead put your paws on her, she probably feels the same way about you." Should I suggest that he pull some flowers from somewhere (he won't find any in this yard, I specialize in weeds) and present them with a bow.

Not sure how to handle this situation. I wonder if the key is to just let them be and what happens is what happens. If she doesn't purr back, don't chase, there is nothing you can do. But then again, why is she in our yard? She came here. She's not a stray, there is a nametag on her neck. Maybe she is hanging around hoping for the Pumpkin to make a move.

I hate to have him moping around the house. Hope she comes across.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

song of songs

My father is an unusual man. He has written a number of books one mistitled Thoughts of an Ordinary Man. No ordinary man could have written this or conceived of the thoughts therein. No ordinary man would have realized the value of the book to his children.

He just sent me his newest effort. It is an analysis of The Song of Songs and, I think, an important one. His take is that the Song of Songs is a declaration of the value of physical love. It was decked out in disguise to get past the censors, but for those willing to explore it, it is nothing other than an exhortation to love. Moreover, he argues that bereft of intimacy we can never become fulfilled humans and the stigma our societies have placed on sex has had a deleterious effect on our individual and even collective growth.

An octogenarian's take on intimacy is worth noting, not only because it happens to be my dad's perspective, but because octogenarians are often associated with prudish or disinterested perspectives on intimacy. And besides he is right.

There is nothing more important than being held and loved by those you love. It is wasted time and life to deny such pleasures, and those courageous enough to embrace in this world have enriched not only their own humanity, but also the collective health of our world.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

illegitimate child

I put the radio on in the morning for background music while I read the paper. There is a station that plays classical music which I enjoy, not because I am anything of a classical music expert, but because it is soothing background for my contemplations. Periodically on the station an announcer interrupts the music flow to tell us listeners about the history of the piece. My feeling about these interruptions is that the shorter they are the better. Rarely, but sometimes, I am interested in the name of a piece if I had been paying enough attention to it to appreciate it expecially. More often, I would just assume that the music be continuous.

Yesterday morning, I am here as I am each morning on my perch on the deck drinking my morning drug, reading and letting my issues and the world's do their poorly choreographed dance in my head. The music is interrupted by an announcer who tells us who've tuned in about the next piece to be played. It is a lengthy interruption spiced up, he thinks, because he goes into a detailed bio of the early life of the composer. The composer I hear was an illegitimate child. His mother had travelled to south america to avoid the stigma attached to her child's origin.

My cerebral meanderings had been interrupted by the announcer's decision to go into the biographical narrative, but when I heard the composer described as an illegitimate child, I stopped for a longer spell than usual to consider the label.

Do you think there is a statute of limitations that prohibits hanging the arrogant bastards who first considered this notion and then hung a label on it. Illegitimate child. On what pedestal of wisdom sit the omniscient to so describe anyone.

I was born three years into my parents' marriage, but what makes me legitimate has nothing to do with the decree of the state of New York. I either earn or don't earn my legitimacy as I become an adult. Illegitimate child is an oxymoron. And those who attempt to subjugate others on the basis of a capricious grid of right and wrong have lost any claim to legitimacy.

I know the stigma attached to being "illegitimate" is not what it once was. Still, the phrase exists, we know what it means, and it should mean nothing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

scar tissue

Last summer it did not get hot in Boston until the end of July. This year, it has been hot nearly every day since May. So I sit this Sunday morning on my deck, barefoot in jeans and no shirt, enjoying the few hours of the day before the humidity will drive me into an airconditioned space.

I've got the newspapers stacked up on the table beside me and my feet are propped up on a chair that's facing me. And I see it, and sort of smile.

What I see is the very first scar that I ever got. I probably don't notice it more than once every three years because it has faded some and is in a spot where the bone leading to my toe can obscure it. In 1955 while wading, reluctantly no doubt knowing me, in the kids area of the pool, I scraped the top of my foot on the coarse bottom of the pool. Had I been swimming with the big kids on the other side of the fence instead of forced to stew with the wusses my age, this never would have happened. It's not unlikely, though I'm not sure, that the scraping was the result of my trying to circumvent the authorities and wiggle around the fence.

I can't recall exactly what happened, but I think it started to burn and bleed and some lifeguard or other agent of the pool told me to get out. They applied something on it. Eventually the scrape closed, but I had myself a little scar in the middle of my foot. And it's still t/here.

I've got a bunch of other scars too. On my chin, under my lip, on my wrist, under my arm--a remarkable accomplishment which occurred when the seat in a makeshift wooden phonebooth gave way, and I seared my arm on an exposed nail as I skidded to the ground.

I think it is a good thing to notice scar tissue every once in a while. The question is to what extent do you dwell on it.

Last night Jon Lester was pitching a perfect game for the Red Sox going into the 6th inning. He recorded the first out in the sixth and then got the second batter to fly to center for what should have been an easy second out. The outfielder dropped the ball. My cat Pumpkin could have caught the ball in his mouth, but the outfielder dropped the ball. The next batter hit a homerun for the first hit of the game. The Mariners went on to win the game.

The center fielder probably feels miserable today. Big scar. His error cost a teammate a chance for a perfect game and led to a team loss. The question is, to what extent will he linger on the cost of the error and stare at the scar. Probably be a good thing to be more careful the next time he catches a ball, but will his confidence erode because of the episode, will he think he doesn't have what it takes, and will his game suffer.

Athletes have to have short memories. Otherwise they will always dwell on their scars. But I think the challenge to remember but not linger and brood about our scar tissue is a reality for all who want to enjoy time and life. Some scars are tougher to shed than others, but we all have had accidents and sometimes have been responsible for them. The toughest scars to shed, I believe, are not those that are visible but those that we construct when we dwell on the ones that are.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the path of least resistance

The problem with taking the path of least resistance is that you're likely to get to a spot where you shouldn't be. And also it can be difficult getting out.

The story of the Miami Heat grabbing three superstars has been on the sports talk shows over the past week. The great (and make no mistake he is great) LeBron became a free agent and signed with the Heat. It comes out that he and two other free agents conspired to become free agents at the same time, and then sign with the same team creating, instantly, a powerhouse. There was nothing illegal about what they did, but there sure were many who spoke negatively about what they'd done.

The ploy does not really bother me, but I'm not sure it enhances my view of the three stars. I used to play pick up basketball at the health club where I am a member. I don't anymore, partly because they removed the courts and replaced them with every machine known to health clubs each with its own personal television. But I wouldnt be able to play anyway. No matter what I do these days I hurt something or the other. Played tennis last night and added, just today, to the treasury of a local chiropractor and my neighborhood Walgreens.

When I did play there was a tall lanky fellow who typically if not always acted a little bit like LeBron. The fellow was tall and could just hang around the hoop and swat the ball away from players 6 inches or so smaller. He was okay otherwise, but not really special. If I played him one on one (when I could walk) I would slaughter the guy as I could still shoot at one point and if he came up to guard me I could go around him like he was a piece of furniture. But in a four on four game he was the MVP. Whoever had him knew they were getting all the rebounds and many garbage baskets. The thing about this guy was that whenever we chose up sides he was not content with the configuration unless he could almost guarantee a victory.He'd look at the sides and then do a trade making sure there was no chance of a loss. I always preferred to play against him even if it meant losing a game and having to sit out the next contest. It was more of a challenge. What does it do for you to win when you've stacked the teams. What is the point of enjoying competition if there isn't any.

Professionals are different of course. they can earn more money if their teams win. However, these guys are loaded, winning a few extra thousand dollars for them is liking picking up pennies on the street for us. So, the reason why LeBron et al did what they did was to ensure they'd win. They created a path of least resistance.

So, if they win, so what. But if they lose, a big what.

Had a friend in college who sadly has passed. We both took Astronomy as did my brother. Astronomy required a lab. My brother says to our friend, "What do you think of this Lab?" She says, "I'm shooting for a D"

My brother and I still get a kick out of this. If you shoot for a D you will likely get it. Then you're stuck with a D when you could have, or at least might have, earned an A.

I think LeBron took the path of least resistance and it probably will be relatively easy to play this year. I am not sure he will enjoy the view when he gets to the end of the season.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's f#*king raining out.

On Tuesday night I was driving back to Boston from Stockbridge on the Massachusetts turnpike. I stopped at a rest area and walked toward the indoor food court. It was raining, not drizzling, but not a downpour. I did not feel the need to run.

Out from the food court emerged a young family. A man, probably about 26, and a woman about the same age. The woman was carrying an infant. As he walked away from the protective roof of the rest stop, I heard the following:

"It's f#*king raining out."

He didn't say it as if if he was particularly horrified. It sounded like he didn't really want it to be raining, and so it was not quite like a weather report, but it was not an utterance that you thought would be followed by a mad dash to the car. And in fact there was no mad dash. The threesome continued walking. The only other thing I heard was his wife's sober rejoinder.

"F#*k." she said. And then the couple with the infant continued to move through the parking lot.

Am I a prude? I don't think so. I have banged my thumb with a hammer now and again and spewed some words meant to be expurgated. And, just for example, I can clearly remember the Giant-Patriots Super Bowl game, when my Patriots went into the game with an unblemished record. And I can clearly remember the Giants drive when Eli Manning went back to pass and then, abetted, by at least one egregious hold, and likely three holds, threw a pass up for grabs which was caught by a bench warming receiver who secured the ball against his head. This play preceded the score that ended the Patriots perfect season. I think it is a fair bet that what I spewed at the conclusion of that play will not be in any sermons this weekend, regardless of your denomination.

But still. What's with the omnipresent modifier.

In the Madness of March I describe one fellow I overhear on a betting line. He is describing the meal he has consumed at a hotel's buffet. Chicken ala king, peach pie, salad bar...whatever the item, the fellow modified it consistently with the same adjective. Pick a noun, any noun.

I have just completed President Obama's Audacity of Hope. It's no page turner because the content matter while important is not always engaging--at least not to me--but the author's ability to select the correct word to match his thought is remarkable. Brilliant really. His vocabulary is extensive, but the words he chooses are not so chosen to impress, just to express. I marvelled at how often he seemed to pluck just the right words to describe a nuanced perspective.

Ages ago I was hired to teach a course in vocabulary. I took the job because I needed one. The result of having to learn the words I was to teach was that I was able to think more effectively and express myself more efficiently.

If all you have is one adjective, then you are sort of limited in how you can conceptualize.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


So, I get an e-mail from Eleanor in September that she and Larry will be in Boston for a conference in October and we should get together. We arrange to meet downtown at their hotel. We laugh our way through dinner recalling old stories and fond characters and reminiscences. Their son Greg will be married in December. This will be the last of their three kids to go down the aisle. I'd seen Greg once since he was a tot, but my most vivid image of him is when he was 2 and attempted to push a bowling ball down an alley. Larry had to do the funky chicken dance half way down the alley because the ball otherwise would never have made it down to the pins. I'm not positive, but I think we were tossed out of the establishment after that.

Every once in a while I marvel how an act of kindness, or what seems to be an insignificant gesture can have a dramatic effect on one's life. In 1976 I was living in a duplex that Larry and Eleanor owned. We students lived on one side, and Larry, Eleanor and Christopher--Greg's elder brother, lived on the other side. Greg was not yet born. Larry and E had bought the place while we were living on the one side and let us stay on as their tenants once they moved into the other side. We became good friends. We were contemporaries. Larry was a doc completing his residency. E was not only raising Christopher but getting a nursing degree and MBA, not to mention redecorating the place.

My roommates were law students and they took the bar exam in July 1976. They were ready to leave town and start careers or vacations. I still had about a month more work left to complete my degree and, significantly, had no job on the horizon once that was done.

So in August of 1976 Larry and E suggested I just come on and move in with them, rent free, until I finished up and could find work. They rented our student place out to some other doc, let me haul my belongings including my own phone (in case one of the schools to which I'd applied were to call) and I moved in next door.

I had applied to at least fifty schools by August 1976 and had a varied assortment of rejection letters to show for the effort. By the end of August I was essentially done with the dissertation but still did not have a place to work. I'd lined up some part time teaching, but that was all. Larry and Eleanor told me not to worry about it, and just stay with them until I could find work. They were unusually accommodating. There was no quid pro quo. They just were good people and friends.

In either late August or early September I went for a run around Delaware Park. When I came back perspiring through their house, Eleanor told me I'd had a call from SUNY Fredonia, a small college 50 miles southwest of Buffalo. I'd not applied to Fredonia so I was unsure of why I was being called.

And here is how serendipity works. Someone at Fredonia had quit at the last minute. The dean there was in a frenzy to find a quick replacement. He called the local university center, University of Buffalo, and coincidentally reached my adviser, who mentioned me as an option. My adviser gave the frantic dean my number and Eleanor picked up the phone and told me to call. This was at a time before answering machines.

I got an interview and got the job. I had five happy years there, earned tenure, and then went on to my present work at Northeastern.

We recalled this event over dinner and again they pooh poohed their kindness. Eleanor was a big sports fan and had read my book. She enjoyed it quite a bit--or at least said she did, and had bought a few copies for Greg who is now an unusually successful basketball coach and some other friends interested in sports.

Around March Madness this year I get an e-mail from Eleanor telling me that Greg's high school team won the state championship. Then I get another one telling me that she is at the final four of the NCAA. She sounds unusually happy.

In late April I receive another note from her, but this one is a forwarded note. The kind of letter you get on e-mail with a message that you are supposed to forward to ten friends. This was a terrifically upbeat message about how if you knew you had only a short time to live, what would you do, who would you call. It was the type of seize the day message that you want to pin to your bulletin board to make sure you don't squander time.

I jot a quick note back to her telling her how uplifting that note was and that I am grateful that she sent it out to me. I am in the library doing something I think is important when she posts a response that I retrieve from my laptop.

The response informs me that the seize the day message came to her coincidentally, but is particularly relevant for her. Right after Gregory's wedding she went for a ho hum check up and was told that she has gall bladder cancer.

I am, of course, startled by the news. I write a quick note back wishing her well and then bolt to my car where I keep an address book that I hope has Larry and Eleanor's number. I reach her about a half hour later.

She is upbeat. I ask her what she is doing. She says they are just finishing dinner. "Well, how are you?" I say.

She gives me the lowdown. When I ask, hopefully, about the prognosis she says she will be lucky to be talking with me in two years, and the doctor who diagnosed the problem had said it could be as quick as 6 months. Still E sounds like a trooper. She is taking chemotherapy and she is going to the shore with the whole family in June and then they are having their traditional July 4th celebration. I tell her, genuinely, that if anyone can make it, it is she.

I write to them when they are at the shore and I receive, again, an upbeat response. "Feeling a little beat, but the kids are here and we're having a blast. Weather is great..." etc.

I write on July 4th knowing that it is a big day of celebration for them. I am surprised when I don't receive a note and became concerned that the situation had deteriorated.

Today I am worrying about something relatively inconsequential--will the garbage men pick up this huge bookcase I have put out.

I go to check my voice mail and hear the beeping sound which indicates that I have a message. The message is from a stranger who says that she is a friend of Eleanor's and would I give this caller a return call.

I do.

And she tells me that on July 9th, yesterday, my friend Eleanor succumbed, six months after she was diagnosed.

I'm unlikely to have a better friend. This is the third contemporary of mine who has passed in the last several months.

Seize the day.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

steady gaze

In President Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope he writes, "I find comfort in the fact that the longer I am in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes...and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience."

I like the book. Sometimes it's work and often I wonder if I like it primarily because I tend to agree with him on what he is writing about. I am not finished with the book yet, but the line I refer to in the first paragraph is, to me, especially meaningful.

We are all answerable "mainly to the steady gaze of our own consciences." And the extent to which we can maintain that gaze and respond to our conscience, is a measure of our character. I think that I do this relatively well, but I have my moments when it is work, and heavy lifting at that. Yet it is a good guideline for me to employ.

Of course one's conscience has to be well calibrated and this, itself, requires a tune up now and again. Pretty easy for the settings to be conveniently altered so that a gaze at one's conscience could justify all sorts of careless and inconsiderate behavior. I can actually feel myself flinch when I recall an episode when either the calibration was off and I was under the illusion that my behavior was consistent with appropriate behavior OR, more irregularly I am happy to say, I did something that was inconsistent with what I knew to be wrong when I did it.

No medals for me or anyone else for acting within the confines of one's conscience. Being conscious of one's conscience and acting accordingly is what one should do, like saying thank you when appreciation is called for, or taking courageous action when it is unpopular. Still it is tough work and I am aware of my transgressions. Judy Collins entitled a book, Trust Your Heart. When asked why she so entitled the book that way she said simply, "When I didn't trust mine I found myself in trouble." The heart and the conscience are attached meaningfully. Trusting the heart is a good method for keeping one's conscience tuned.

I hope our president keeps his gaze as steady as he suggests he should and trusts his heart to ensure that his gaze stays steady.

World Cup

I've been watching the World Cup this past month. Like many american sports fans, soccer--or football to the rest of the world--had not captured my attention or satisfied my enthusiasm the way other sports have. Yet this world cup, and to some extent the last two cup competitions, have made me understand some more about the game.

Americans talk about soccer being low scoring and slow. Yet I wonder how many of these same fans would understand baseball had they not been reared in this country. Like soccer, baseball can be seen as slow and some leads in baseball, like leads in soccer can appear to be insurmountable. It's not quite the same because even a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning can be overcome, whereas a two goal lead in the first half in soccer can seem to make watching the rest of the game a waste of time. (Yet the American soccer team overcame just such a deficit in one of their matches. And yesterday in the semifinals, Uruguay nearly overcame a two goal deficit in the last two minutes of their game with the Netherlands).

Often I read books while I am watching sporting events. Between pitches in baseball, plays in football, and timeouts in basketball I read whatever book I am in at the time. I find it pretty easy and a good time to do the reading if I am otherwise occupied doing other things. I tried to do this yesterday while watching the Holland/Uruguay match. Could not do it.

And this I think is the appeal of soccer. The more you watch, the more you realize that every play is significant and could lead to a scoring opportunity. If you just watch it now and again it seems like many times the ball is just being booted around. But try taking your eye away from the screen during any time except for injury time outs and you could miss a scoring chance. Also, since the games are so low scoring, any scoring chance is a big deal. Unlike basketball when a final score will reflect many made shots, in soccer all play is like sudden death because any one goal can force the opponent to play catch-up even in the first minutes of a contest.

Still the game does not do for me what it does to the zealots in other countries who fanatically watch the games. But I can see the appeal. A buddy of mine has a son who is home for the summer looking for work. He couldn't get a job but finally managed to get the low man on the totem pole morning and early afternoon hours at a bar in Cambridge. Well, the kid is raking it in as the multi-cultural denizens of Cambridge are packing the place.

So, for American sports fans who tend to dismiss soccer as an unfathomable allure, imagine a south american asking you what you see in baseball. Imagine that fan shaking her or his head after your explanation and saying, almost condescendingly, "I just don't get it." Then try to watch the world cup game this afternoon or the championship contest this Sunday from the point of view of someone who wants to get it. I think you will.

P.S. I wrote the above this morning. It is now 430 pm and at 330 I was to meet a colleague at the Starbucks on campus. The Starbucks here is a large facility as Starbucks go. It doubles as part of the student union. It is separated from the food court section and rectangular in shape about the size of a NBA basketball court. Usually, even during the school year there are many vacant tables and chairs for students or whomever to sip their coffee and check their laptops. In the summer, the Starbucks is often close to empty. However, today when I arrived to meet my colleague, I could not get into the joint. It was jammed with students all facing a giant screen that was showing the world cup game. In the adjacent huge food court it was also packed with students and faculty rooting for the combatants. When Spain scored there was a roar akin to the roar that one hears in Sports Books in Las Vegas. I was once in the same space when a Red Sox pitcher, Derek Lowe, was about to, and indeed did, pitch a no hitter. It was a Saturday so maybe the comparison is not apt, but the place was nearly empty then.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

independence and anomie

On what must have been a Wednesday during my December 1973 holiday break I went into Manhattan to see some Broadway shows. We didn't have any tickets but figured we'd wait on the lines for half priced shows that met our student budgets. We really scored that day seeing That Championship Season in the matinee and then Pippin in the evening. We splurged nearly breaking our bank accounts even with the discounts paying something like 15 bucks a seat, but were in the orchestra down low for both shows.

I liked That Championship Season, but Pippin--which I'd known nothing about previously, touched and left a mark on my heart.

Usually it takes me a while to get the lyrics to a musical and one performance won't do it. An example is Evita. I saw that with my brother and minutes afterwords he was laughing recalling lines that I'd never heard or understood until I bought a recording and listened to it many times. But with Pippin, I got it right away. Maybe it was because I was 23 at the time and identified with a character who in his first appearance sang a song with a refrain that I thought was right on target.

"Rivers belong where they can ramble.
Eagles belong where they can fly.
I want to be where my spirit can run free.
Want to find my corner of the sky."

Several lyrics from the show surface now and again, but the one that has seeped into my consciousness regularly this weekend is the line not from the beginning of the show, but from the end when Pippin realizes:

"I'm not a river or a giant bird
that soars to the sea
and if I'm not tied to anything
I'll never be free."

I have often thought of myself as very independent. According to my folks I was that way even as a toddler. But the gap between independence and anomie is, at once, not large AND cavernous.

Anomie--that sense of being disconnected and isolated and, "not tied to anything" may seem desirable, but if I have learned five things in my 60 plus revolutions around the track, one of these five is that independence without genuine connectivity is an illusion. Being genuinely connected, heart to heart, is emancipating. Of course artificial connectivity can create an illusion of being emancipated--and then subsequently you find yourself tied up in knots. But truly being connected, I think, that is what makes one independent.

Firecrackers are likely to start bursting any minute now in downtown Boston. A lot of noise and a lot of revelry as the Boston Pops cranks out Stars and Stripes forever.

Those truly celebrating independence are holding on and allowing themselves to be held.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

I am about 8 years old. It is a hot weekend day and I'm on my way to Sherrie's candy store to get an Italian Ice. Sherrie's is on the corner of Avenue W and Knapp right near P.S. 194. My biggest concern in the world is whether it will be Cherry or Lemon today.

Just as I approach Sherrie's a truck drives by along Avenue W. As it reaches Knapp a bundle of newspapers roll out from the truck.

I figure the men in the truck lost their newspapers. There is a wire bundling the papers together and I try to yank the stack up. I shout out at the truck, "You dropped your newspapers?" There is a fellow riding shotgun in the truck who looks out the window at me strangely. The truck drives on.

Now what? The poor men have lost their newspapers. The stack sits at my feet. What to do?

I have an idea. What I will do is become a paper boy. I knew some big kids in the projects were paperboys. There were six floors in our apartment building, and maybe fifteen buildings between Avenues W and V alone. I wouldn't even have to cross the street to sell the papers. This way, I would never have to ask mom for money for italian ices again.

I forget about the Italian Ices, lug the newspapers two blocks back to the monkey bars near Avenue V that often served as a gathering spot for my cronies. Ronald wants to know what I'm carrying. I tell him what I have and that now I am a paper boy. Lenny wants to know where I got the newspapers. I tell him.

Gregory snorts. "They did not fall off the truck. The drivers threw them off. They were delivering the papers to Sherrie's."

"Don't tell me. I was there. They fell off the truck." I say this, but I am feeling a bit uneasy.

"Uh uh." says Gregory. "They delivered them. You stole Sherrie's newspapers."

It hits me that I am in big trouble.

Gregory has an idea. Lenny and Ronald agree that it is a terrific plan. I'm not convinced.

The plan is to put the papers in the basket of Lenny's tricycle. We would then ride to the vacant lot across Bragg Street that sits right in the middle of Bragg between Avenue V and W. Then when we get there we'd dump the papers into the vacant lot and scram.

I don't know if I want to compound the heavy duty problem I have by going to the vacant lot. The vacant lot is a place all we 8 year olds have been told never to go to. It is an overgrown weedy depressed area surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire at the top. According to the collective parents' lore, it is a spot where juvenile delinquents hang out. Besides we would have to jay walk to get there, another prohibition.

"I don't know if I want to go to the vacant lot."

"C'mon. Don't be a fool. Nobody will ever know."

They don't need to twist my arm. We toss the newspapers into Lenny's tricycle and start a career of crime. We jaywalk along with Lenny as he crosses Bragg and get to the vacant lot.

The four of us together can't weigh much more than 200 pounds so it takes all of our collective strength to bench press the newspapers high enough so that we can toss them over the barbed wire fence. After a number of comical tries where the stack nearly knocks us over as we drop it, we get the papers over the barbed wired and see them disappear into the weeds of the vacant lot.

We race away as if we just robbed a bank, running helter skelter in different directions. We are not cool crooks. I walk the last fifty yards to our apartment building dreading a confrontation. I take the elevator up to 5D. It's a weekend day, probably a Saturday, so both Dad and Mom are home. Dad wants to know where I've been. It's taken a lot longer than it usually does to get an Italian Ice.

"Where's the Italian Ice?"

"I ate it."

I probably am not particularly convincing. A few minutes later after a mild interrogation I know I am cooked. I spill. Everything.

I stole the papers.
I went to the vacant lot.
My pals and I dumped the papers into the vacant lot.

My mother and father huddle up and I sense that there will be major punishment. But not so. My father leaves the huddle and says that when I took the papers I made "an honest mistake".

If this is all the heat I'm going to take I feel terrific. I nod my head like a madman and repeat what is, I figure, the key exonerating phrase. "Yes, I made an honest mistake." That, apparently, is the ticket.

Dad continues. "Taking the newspapers was an honest mistake. But throwing them in the vacant lot, that was wrong."

Ok fine. I'll cop that plea. Yes. throwing them in the vacant lot was very wrong. I shake my head soberly.

"Okay pal" says dad "let's go to the vacant lot and get the papers."

The man has to be kidding me. Imagine going to the vacant lot with my father? And people thinking my father hung out there, smoked cigarettes, and was a juvenile delinquent.

I plead my case.

"Dad we can't go to the vacant lot. We'll never find the papers. It's where juvenile delinquents go."

"Let's go Al", he says.

We get to the vacant lot and in a move that is truly athletic he climbs the fence, vaults over the barbed wire, and disappears into the weeds. Then he reappears with the bundle of papers. Again, he impresses me despite my fear as he easily tosses the papers back over the barbed wire. Then he vaults back.

"Alright" he says "Let's go and return the papers to Sherrie's".

No! This day has been horrible. Just to think I had been on my way for an Italian Ice just a couple of hours ago. I take a stand. "No. I am not going to Sherrie's. They will never miss the papers. Today is a holiday." Please God make it be some minor holiday. "Not going."

"Let's go pal." He has to drag me to the corner of Knapp and Avenue W. I walk into the candy store behind him. He finds the owner, a sourpuss as always, hands over the papers and explains what happened. He makes sure to say that I made an honest mistake. Then he tells me to apologize.

Eight year old me walks around my dad and tells Mr. Sherrie or whatever his name was, that I am sorry. The proprietor is not magnanimous. He mutters something about the neighborhood going south. Dad repeats it's an honest mistake.

We leave Sherrie's and I am furious.

"I can't believe you made me do that. He never ever would have known."

"Look Alan" said Dad. "Sometimes people make mistakes, honest mistakes like this one. But sometimes people leave the mistake alone hoping it will go away and it hurts them, or they try to do something to get rid of the mistake that is worse than the mistake itself. Your friends thought they were helping you. But you can't just do what is easy or what people tell you to do. You have to do what is right, regardless of what is easy."

What is the man talking about? After this horrible day I have to listen to a speech?

I repeat my position furiously "I can't believe you made me do that."

"Come on, Alan, don't you feel better that you returned the newspapers."

"No!" I scream with unequivocal certainty. I stomp ahead in irrational child rage.

"You will" he called after me.

Thank you, Dad. I love you.

Happy Father's Day


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Truth

The nickname for Celtic star Paul Pierce is "the truth."

Today many people at work are far more concerned with "The Truth" than their own jobs. The Celtics play the Lakers tonight in a single game that will determine the NBA championship. The truth will be a key.

I am almost finished reading "A Bright Shining Lie"--a 790 page tome about the war in Vietnam. It is a troubling read. While I thought I had the gist of what had transpired, my understanding had been superficial. A Great Shining Lie does not present the opinion of War Protestors. Quite the contrary. It is presented from the perspective of military personnel who realized that fabrications were presented as truths. Nobody now--even those who allowed for the distortions--denies this. The boys--who in the name of patriotism went to be slaughtered--were lied to as were their parents and all of the citizens of the country. The book's title is excerpted from comments made by the main character--someone who had nothing but antipathy for war protestors. He was a dedicated military man who personified the courage of the boys and men we sent to this war and was frustrated by the counterproductive misrepresentations. "We had also, to all the visitors who came over there, been one of the bright shining lies."

The appeal of sport is that there are no bright shining lies. Tonight the NBA champion will be the team that scores more points than the opponent. Nobody will come out tomorrow and say that despite the score "our intelligence indicates" that another team has won and will continue to win. A player who commits a 6th personal foul will be disqualified and will not be able to appeal because of special circumstances. A ball shot within the arc will count for two points. A player will not be able to get three for the goal because he knows somebody important.

We were lied to in Vietnam. By Democrats and Republicans. Our contemporaries were sold a lie and were slaughtered. There was no reason. Even McNamara acknowledges this now. (The South Vietnamese were as dictatorial and corrupt as the North were alleged to be). There was no intelligent plan.

The championship game tonight has its allure, in large part, because we can count on the truth and truths that are foundational to it.

P.S. I am wearing my Celtic shirt. If The Truth scores more than 25 the Celtics will win. Watch out for Derek Fisher. Fisher, a Laker, is one of the more clutch players ever to play the game.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seventh Game

The Celtics did not come to play last night and the Lakers did. Now there will be a 7th game for the NBA championship.

When I was a kid the Celtics and Lakers had some terrific series and 7th games with Bill Russell pitted against Wilt Chamberlain. I recall one in particular when the opener for the game was a head shot of Chamberlain saying how he was determined to win, and then a head shot of Russell who gave a rambling--I got this game on my mind--talk saying the same thing as Chamberlain did, but more convincingly. Russell's Celtics won and I think it was because they, as a team, worked harder at it.

I wonder if we all should treat every day of our lives like a seventh game, not recklessly, but intensely. The players will be quoted, no doubt, in the next 24 hours as saying that they intend to "leave everything out there" during the 7th game.

And they will. If we all left everything out there each day of our lives, I think there likely would be more joy--assuming that our energy was expended in an intelligent pursuit.

Prediction. Lakers can not play better than they did last night defensively, but Kobe can score more. I hope I am wrong, but I think the Lakers win by at least 7. Of course, I thought Jimmy Carter would beat Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I understand that last night's game between the Celtics and Lakers was exciting. I did not see it, just read the score this morning.

I've been on the road for a while first driving through Albany and Buffalo on my way to Toronto for a conference. Driving alone except for the luggaged I've lugged--far too much for the week--in the car. Even for someone who enjoys independence and autonomy as I do, the road can deplete one's energy, at least mine.

On the way back through Buffalo I stopped at my friends Carol and Tom Rywick, who entertained me, fed me, and indulged my quirky desire to visit some nostalgiac spots around the city where I'd done my graduate work. They could not really understand why I not only had to visit the Buffalo and Erie County Public library but locate and parade around in certain spots that had sharp memories. I left Buffalo and stopped in Newark, New York, where I visited a friend from my freshmen year in college who looked, remarkably, preserved. Then off from Newark to Binghamton, New York where my dear friends Fran and Helen Battisti whom I've known since 1969 welcomed me as we discussed our past and futures.

Tom and Carol made lunch for me and took me to dinner. Fran and Helen broiled steaks on their grill and we ate on their magnificent deck overlooking their wooded yard.
But the nourishment from all--as corny as it may read--came from their love.

I sit now in the Honesdale Public Library posting this blog. In minutes I will drive about 20 minutes from here to a reunion with camp folks with whom I matured (or at least grew up) in my early years.

The vitamins there, I think, ought to be special as well.

I love sports, but last night as Fran and Helen and I discussed where we've been and where we are going, my interest in the Celtic and Laker series was minimal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The Community Action Corp (CAC) was a student organization at the University of Buffalo in the early 1970s. It had evolved because the university had been the center of student activism in 1970 which had created a clear rift between the school and the community. Most schools after the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings had become sites of student protests, but UB (as it was called for short) had been especially strident.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, several altruistic students created the CAC. I remember the student newspaper referring to the head of the CAC as someone who was too altruistic to be believed. He seemed genuine enough to me, but I only knew him superficially. I got involved in the CAC as a basketball coach for 10-12 year old kids in the community. Someone I knew from a camp where I'd been employed recruited me for the job and it was a delight.

Every Sunday morning from October until April, I coached my squad at either 8 a.m. or 930 depending on the schedule. In early October there was a "draft". Fliers had gone out to Buffalonians and to the elementary schools announcing that the CAC basketball league was about to begin. One Sunday morning in October, hundreds of kids came to the big university gym (big to them, the place was actually tiny by college gym standards) had a number tagged to their tee shirt and bounced basketballs in something akin to drills as we coaches decided who we would take. Then there was a draft where the coaches picked the players. Every kid got on a team. And every kid that showed up had to play every week in an intricate system of 8 time periods per game.

The kids loved it. The coaches loved it. The parents sat in the bleachers and thanked us, the "coaches" for giving up our Sunday morning for their kids. We had, the CAC, helped bring the community closer to the students. We weren't all, apparently, snooty privileged anti establishment miscreants.

Were those of us who participated in CAC altruists?

Altruism is a word that is often contrasted with selfishness. I often wondered though if the words were not different at all. Isn't an altruist someone who enjoys doing something for someone else, and if so, isn't the enjoyment the self derives from that activity the reason for the behavior, and consequently then isn't it just a more attractive form of selfishness.

I liked coaching those kids on Sunday mornings. My roommates and occasional Saturday night sleeping partners would often shake their heads when I bolted up at 7 on a Sunday morning to get to the gym. But I liked it.

By the way, my team, The Braves, won the championship in one of the three years I was coaching. We won in a sudden death overtime game--a peculiar rule implemented because the woman's volleyball team was about to come in and take over the gym. I'd brought a cigar to the game and ala Auerbach who used to light up a stogie when a game was won, I lit up after we won the game. I can still see two of the parents pointing at me and laughing.

One guy whose son was the star came up to me at the end of that championship run and thanked me for giving up the time for his kid. Fact is, I loved it.That's why we do things. For love.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Once my dad, brother and I were visiting my uncle who, himself, was visiting a friend of his. The five of us were in the man's living room trying to get the fellow's brand new television set to work. This was well before the days of cable. Yet this was a snazzy tv model. Problem was that no matter how we turned the rabbit ears this way or that, the picture kept coming in fuzzy. My uncle's friend then issued a remark that has become something of a family joke ever since.

"I have a prediction to make about this set" he said, "It's gonna be a helluva set."

I still snort when I am reminded of this. I have no idea if the set ever became "a helluva set" but I get a laugh when I think of this guy whose knowledge about televisions began and ended with the on-off switch.

My knowledge of basketball and ability to predict outcomes may be a little less rudimentary, but I am often incorrect when I try to predict the future. That said, "I am going to make a prediction about the Celtic--Laker series. It's gonna be a helluva series."

The Lakers will win on Sunday and in the course of going up 2-0 will get Rasheed Wallace to commit not one, but two technical fouls, and Kendrick Perkins will commit one. This will disqualify both for game three under the NBA rule. The Celtics will lose game three and go down 3-0. However, they will win the next three and tie the series 3-3. I'm not sure yet who will win game 7.

It's going to be a helluva series.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Pump

At about 11 pm on the Sunday night of Patriots Day weekend--a holiday only in Massachusetts that primarily, at this point in history, celebrates the Boston Marathon--our cat Pumpkin was acting peculiarly. Usually frisky, rambunctious, but pretty easy to hang with, the Pump was getting in and out of his litter box with a frequency that was abnormal. I went to pick him up and he gave out a yelp that I had not heard before. Since, of course, it was the Sunday of a three day weekend, we phoned the local vet hospital (Ka Ching) as opposed to our regular vet who has been terrific for us. The hospital told us, much to our dismay, that these symptoms could be a matter of life and death. Zoom, into the car and to the hospital.

Quite a scene in the emergency room to a vet hospital especially if you are a newcomer to pets as I am. Seven years ago had you told me that I would rush to a vet hospital with a sick cat, I would have laughed at the suggestion. Yet here I was at about 1 a.m. pacing in the waiting room like a worried parent. I was not alone. I was there with a family waiting for a dog named Ollie and a woman concerned about her Great Dane that had done the tango with some barbed wire.

Seems as if Pump had a urinary blockage that had we not acted on it would have resulted in no Pump. However, after a few days--and a big dent on my credit card-- the man was back to his usual tricks and was delightfully annoying--a juxtaposition that is not an oxymoron if you are a pet owner.

Of course today begins another three day weekend. And last night at just about the time the Lakers miraculously beat the Suns on what has to be called a lucky play at the buzzer after which the Sun Set for all intents and purposes, the Pump started doing the in again out again finnegan dance with the litter box. He was not particulary whiny, so we waited until the morning. We were able to see our regular terrific vet this a.m. who unblocked the poor guy.

But the Pump is staying the night on the disabled list at the hospital. Maybe we will bring him some very tiny helium balloons tomorrow.

Very grateful to Dr. Susan Rosenblatt who not only did the job, but showed me how it was done today. Fascinating, truly.

Root for Pumpkin, and the Celtics. My prediction is that they both will prevail and move on to the next match tomorrow.