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.