Saturday, December 31, 2011

last/next lap

A moment ago I was stunned by an e-mail. Still reeling a bit. And the subject is not an inappropriate one for an end of the year message.

My university sends out notices when a faculty member has passed and so I received the message that Bruce Wallin died on Thursday.

The last time I saw Bruce we were sitting around a conference table. We both were on a committee related to sports and student athletes. Bruce had been a member the year before and I was new to the committee. He apologized repeatedly at the session because he would not be able to participate since he was having hip replacement surgery. This was in September of 2010.

Our paths did not cross that regularly. I first met Bruce at and around sporting events at the school. He was always friendly and welcoming something I appreciated. I got to know him better at a retreat on Martha's Vineyard about a dozen years ago. We were roommates and found ourselves chatting about this and that when not engaged in the retreat program, nearly like college freshmen.

He was an interesting man with a varied background. He was a college basketball player at Princeton where he played during the era when Bill Bradley starred there. He was a good friend of John McEnroe the tennis great. Bruce regaled me for quite some time on Martha's Vineyard with descriptions of his stint working for the Minnesota Twins. Bruce was the guy who drove in the relief pitchers back during the era when, to speed up the games, baseball required that a car drive the players from the bull pen to the pitching mound.

I saw him once around on campus from a distance after the surgery which had, I assumed, gone well. But apparently afterwards he had become ill with cancer. The notice from the school said he died after a short fight with the disease. Probably no more than 65, and he looked a lot younger. Plus he was full of life and energy--almost no pretension. Just a good guy.

We are about to finish the lap for 2011. Every day is precious, a gift. I hope I, and those I love, can remember this as we begin another trip around the track.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sine or circle

One of my favorite singers and song writers is the late Harry Chapin. I first heard of him when his "hit", Taxi, made it to popular radio stations in the early 1970s. I like Taxi, but it was sometime later in the 70s when I listened to some of his other songs and found him so engaging. I went to hear him play near Buffalo in 76 or 77 and he seemed so ingenuous and genuinely caring. Then, in October 1979 he came to sing at the small college I worked for at the time--SUNY Fredonia. At the end of that night he had the audience in a tizzy.

It is difficult for me to identify one song in particular that I like the most, because so many resonate with me. But if I had to pick one, and only one, I think I would have to go with Circle. The chorus goes like this.

All my life's a circle
Sunrise and sundown
The moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There's no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

Typically, I don't think of a circle when I think of a metaphor for life. I think of a Sine curve. Sometimes you are up and sometimes you are down, and it is likely that, like the Sine curve, you will have regular ups and downs.

For those who have retained a bit of high school math, you know that the sine curve varies in terms of frequency--metaphorically how often we experience highs and lows, and the amplitude--metaphorically how high we get when we are happy and how low we get when we sink. I think it is inevitable that we will have highs and lows, the questions: Are we able to stick around long enough during the highs or are we always dipping down, seconds after we are aloft. And do we get too high or too low.

But whenever, I hear recordings of Circle, I wonder if the circle, not the Sine, is the right geometric figure as a life metaphor. A stanza in Circle goes like this.

I found you a thousand times;
I guess you've done the same;
But then we lose each other;
It's like a children's game;

As I find you here again;
A thought runs through my mind;
Our love is like a circle;
Let's go 'round one more time.

Maybe life is a sine curve, but the backbone of life--love--I think may be a circle. And if the backbone is a circle, perhaps the sense of the sine curve is just an illusion.

Monday, December 26, 2011

One of those Guys

In the summer of 1969 my brother and I worked in the post office trowing (we were trained to trow not throw) parcels into bins. We were summertime vacation replacements. One of the fellows who started with us decided to continue working at the post office after the summer was up. A year later my brother went to visit him and his report was amusing. Don, the full time worker, reminisced with my brother about the employees we had met when we first started out. Then he said, "Guess what. Now I am one of those Guys."

The Raccoon Lodge will not win the football pool this year. We were the champions last year, but after my performance this past weekend, we have no shot to finish close to the top. My brother left it to me to pick the teams this past week. Very unwise choice on his part. While I sleuthed out the contests diligently, had a plan that seemed like it made sense, and won a number of the early games--including Indianapolis upset win over Houston and Buffalo startling Tebow and the Broncos--six of my other picks were incredible losers.

I have mentioned regularly in this blog how when one bets against the spread it is like flipping a coin. In football it is like flipping a coin while walking a tightrope. So many strange things can happen. I remember years ago meeting a self-impressed basketball better in Las Vegas who told me he does not do football. He said, "Football will drive you crazy with last minute stuff."

So, it can. Let's consider the fate of the Raccoon Lodge.

We won Indianapolis, we won the Giants, we won the Panthers, we won the Steelers and, hah, we won the Bills--up five and we had not even finished the one o'clock games. The rest of the story is this...

Baltimore was beating up on Cleveland and had plenty to beat the 13 point spread. Then they decide to relax. Final score 20-14. Tennessee is up by 20 points to Jacksonville. Another easy winner giving up only 7.5. Tennessee decides to take an afternoon siesta and the final is 23-17 which sinks the Raccoon Lodge,

Those are nothing though. How about San Francisco giving up 2.5 and winning 19-17. And there are the Bears getting 13 points to the Packers. The final 35-21. KC is giving up 1 and loses in overtime by 3. The Patriots are giving up 9.5 and go up 27-17 in the fourth quarter which would make me a winner, but they give up a meaningless touchdown at the end to the Dolphins who can barely swim. Final 27-24.

But my favorite of the day is Arizona and Cincinnati. This made it clear that the Raccoon Lodge is out of business. I have Arizona plus 4. Arizona is getting shellacked so I figure it is a loser. But, lo, there is hope. There is hope. Arizona down 23-0 scores 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. And they are driving to tie the score. If they tie, the game will likely go into overtime. In overtime games are typically decided by a field goal, so with four points in my pocket it does not matter if Arizona loses by 3 or wins by 3. The Raccoon Lodge would still win. On fourth down Arizona lofts a pass to a player that is so uncovered that my maternal grandmother could catch it, and she is no longer with us. However this absolutely all alone player falls down like a toddler stumbling after learning how to walk, and the ball bounces behind him. The Arizona quarterback puts his hands to his helmet in a gesture of incredulity. He should have seen my gesture in the sports bar.

The Raccoon Lodge is dead.

I am one of those guys.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

John Brown and the religious right.

I just finished Midnight Rising, a book about John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. Today is Christmas and also, this year, the 6th day of Hannukkah which means that many are observing and celebrating this day. As I was finishing the book I thought about how Brown's act was related to spirituality.

I wrote in an earlier blog that I have been interested in Brown since I read a speech he delivered before he was hanged. I find out in this book that my memory is mistaken. He delivered the speech in the courtroom after he was found to be guilty.

John Brown was a zealot--his mission was to free the country from an abomination, slavery. The Harpers Ferry plan was beyond foolish. It was so short sighted that the author sugggests that perhaps Brown wanted to be caught and that the action more than the ostensible desired result of the raid is what Brown thought would further the cause. On face value the plan was ridiculous--truly worthy of ridicule.

But the raid did bring to a head the conflict between the states and the issue of slavery. Years later Frederick Douglass (I just read) said that the first battle of the Civil War was not at Fort Sumter but essentially at Harpers Ferry.

Since today is the 6th day of Hannukah and also Christmas, I got to thinking as I was finishing the book about the relationship between Brown's act and being religious. In his speech at his trial, Brown talks about the Bible and identifies the hypocrisy of those who kiss the Bible before testifying and then speak on the witness stand of the legitimacy of subjugating human beings.

Being religious does not mean crossing the ts and dotting the I's. Of course, there is no shortage of maniacs who in the name of some religious cause declare it fine to kill others--but in this case, Brown's cause was incontrovertibly right. And his activities toward to the cause expedited the end of an abomination.

Below is an excerpt from Brown's (unprepared) comments after having been declared guilty.

"I have, may it please the court, a few words to say."
"In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection."

"I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment."

"This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!"

"Let me say one word further."

"I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances. it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Consciousness of Guilt

I am reading a book now called, Midnight Rising. It is about John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

John Brown has been--for thirty plus years at least--an intriguing historical character to me. About ten years ago I was driving through Lake Placid and saw a sign indicating that his home was nearby. I hadn't known that he had lived there (according to the book he spent very little time in that home, leaving his wife to fend for herself while he pursued his mission). I pulled off the road and took a tour of the farm.

We all know the song John Brown's Body that we sang as kids, and most of us know about his role in the abolitionist movement. For me, though, what made John Brown a riveting character was the speech he gave just before he was hanged. I read it about thirty years ago when I was looking for important speeches for students to read. In the speech, Brown said at one point that he "felt no consciousness of guilt." It is this excerpt that I thought to be singularly powerful, meaningful (and apparently) memorable.

Of course we in 2011, know that Brown's goal was more than just admirable. Can there be anything that is more of a blight on American history than the fact that once slavery was a lawful institution. Why should Brown have felt any consciousness of guilt for trying to free individuals horrifically subjugated like subhumans.

But the excerpt stuck with me not only because of how right he was to feel no consciousness of guilt for fighting against slavery. The line has stayed with me because I thought that whenever one took any action, consciousness of guilt might not be a bad meter to use when considering whether the action should be done. Will there be consciousness of guilt? If so, then don't do it.

I have not finished the book--just half way into it--but I find it interesting to read about how quirky Brown was and how impossibly unsuccessful he was in almost any business enterprise he pursued. And certainly the raid on Harpers Ferry was a wild, myopic attempt to reach his goal. The raid we now know was a bloody failure--at least in the way it was designed to be successful.

I don't plan to be hanged, but I do hope that when I face some arbiter, I can say that I feel relatively little consciousness of guilt.

Raccoon Lodge

Last year my brother and I won the annual (not for profit) football pool picking games against the spread. Those who have read the Madness of March know that I argue that essentially picking games against the spread is like picking heads or tails in a coin toss.

This year we are still in the hunt with three weeks remaining--we are about six wins behind the leader. There are 47 left to play including one that is being contested as I write. I have a good feeling about our picks for tomorrow and I add quickly that I know from nothing.

I looked at the pundits in the newspaper today, people in the business of picking games. The Raccoon Lodge (our team) is doing as well as the experts--for the simple reason that there can be no experts when picking against the spread.

All this self effacement aside, look out for the Raccoon Lodge down the stretch.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12-15/16-11; midnight

After a big meal, when I was a boy, my father would lean back in his chair and say, "You know, if everyone had a meal like this every night, there would be no more wars."

This was one of several refrains we would hear from dad--and it is not insignificant that, now, forty plus years later I can still recall many of these comments and recognize the wisdom in the messages.

Tonight I arrived at my parents' home to celebrate my dad's birthday. As is always the case, I was greeted warmly by my folks. We shmoozed for a while, ate more than needed to be consumed, and now look forward to doing something special for my dad's day tomorrow.

If everyone had a loving home to come home to every day, there would be no wars.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rational or Irrational

Each December the New York Times publishes a list of the top ten books of the year. The list came out in today's paper and I had not only not read any of them, but had not heard of any. A couple caught my eye, but the one that has me thinking for the last few hours is called, Thinking Fast and Slow. Here is the blurb that describes the book:

We overestimate the importance of whatever it is we're thinking about. We misremember the past and misjudge what will make us happy....[the author] demonstrates that irrationality is in our bones, and we are not necessarily the worse for it.

There is something, of course, ironic about me thinking about this for the last two hours. But here are some of my musings--however irrational. Is it possible that what I am sure about represents a composite of misjudgements? If irrationality is in our "bones", and we are not necessarily the worse for it, does this means that rationality--valid logical thinking--has insidious effects?

I spend a good deal of time in my head. If I "misremember the past" and "misjudge what will make me happy" then it becomes very difficult to plan.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Box Tops

In September 1967, after the summer of love, the number one hit was a song taken from a movie called, To Sir With Love and the singer was a woman named Lulu. The song endured but shortly after it reached number 1, it was supplanted by a song by a group called the Box Tops. The song was called, The Letter, and it began with a lyric that reflected a frenzied reaction: "Give me a ticket for an airplane, aint got time for a fast train, lonely days are gone, I'm a goin' home, My baby she wrote me a letter."

The timing of the song release was likely fortuitous. Baby boomers in the millions were leaving home and going to college that September after the summer of love. The idea that a letter could be powerful enough to bring a sweetheart charging home was a comforting notion to those who had recently been separated. Of course it was likely in the realm of the real world that by the time the plane had landed, the "baby" who "wrote me a letter" might have had a second thought, making the flight's descent smooth sailing compared to the bumpy landing of the traveller.

One hears the Box Tops song now and again on Oldie stations, but I think it might have a muted impact in this next generation. By the time a sweetheart in 2011 is an hour away from a lover, there would be muliple texts, a call or two on a cell phone, and maybe a picture transmitted easily on a blackberry. "Here is me at the train station feeling blue."

Would someone be likely to bolt off the train if he received a text saying, "I miss you to bits" twenty five minutes after the last embrace? Maybe so, but I think there is a power to a posted letter that carries the weight of some time away. Would you rather get a birthday card that is handwritten, or a text wishing you a great day? Maybe soon the distinction between the two forms of communication will be blurred, but somehow I doubt that the lyric, "My baby, she wrote me an e-mail" would compel someone to hop on an airplane.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BCS without the C

It is time for my annual rant against the Bowl Championship Series.

In all of sport, and this counts wrestling, there is nothing so silly and patently false as the BCS. This year, the wisdom of who knows who, has determined that the University of Alabama should play LSU for the championship. Previously this year LSU defeated Alabama in a game that was a cure for insomnia. The final, 9-6, was less exciting than watching your neighbor walk the dog.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that there are several teams with only one loss to someone other than LSU, and several teams that are exciting, can score touchdowns, and have deserved the opportunity to compete for a championship, the oligarchy that runs college football has decreed this ridickalus game.

Let's consider Oklahoma State. They lost one game. They lost the game on the day after they discovered that the coach of the women's basketball team had been killed in a plane crash. They lost, I believe, in overtime after mourning all day. Well, hell, they don't deserve to play.

How about Boise State. They lost one game because a kicker missed a field goal. That is the only game they lost. They are exciting have lost only one game in each of the last two years. They are playing in what might as well be called the Toilet Bowl.

College football postseason is nothing more than a series of exhibition contests. Since two teams have been decreed the best teams, what difference does it make when others play. Can there be anything that is more like a soccer "friendly" than the Independence Weedeater Bowl.

In Division IAA, II, and III there are tournaments taking place currently. It is much more exciting and genuine, as far as I am concerned, to see whether University of Wisconsin Whitewater will defeat Mount Union in Division 3, than to see how the hoo hah University of Wisconsin/Madison division 1 team will win in the silly Rose Bowl.

When I was a kid I would watch wrestling with Bruno Sammartino, Gorgeous George, Haystacks Calhoun, Jumbo, and assorted other "wrestlers". My father would tell me that it was all phony. He was right. But no more phony than whoever is called the national champion in college football this year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

this is going to hurt

When I was nine or ten I got hit in the mouth by a baseball bat. It was an inadvertent strike. My friend Gregory and I were playing on a grassy area near our apartment building. As I recall we were near one of the several signs in the neighborhood that read, "No ballplaying of any kind." Scofflaws in training, I guess, though in the neighborhood it seemed that we were not alone. I recall that a number of years later I played football on a lawn and we, without really thinking much about it, used a similar forbidding sign as the touchdown goal marker.

I cannot remember now how exactly Gregory hit me in the mouth with the bat. It was certainly inadvertent. We might have been picking up the bats after our game and he accidentally swung a bat around or it could have been during a game when I was catching and caught the back of the bat as he finished his swing. It doesn't matter. I just knew I had been hit. I can't even remember now much bleeding if any. But I did not think it would go away.

My folks took me to the doctor who, and who knows if my memory is playing tricks on me now, always seemed to be there no matter when we showed up. I actually had two doctors like this. My pediatrician was a woman named Dr. Lipsett, and the family doctor was named Shapiro. I can vaguely remember Dr. Lipsett, but I can see Dr. Shapiro as if he was sitting on the nearby chair here where, currently, my cat Pumpkin now seems to be extraordinarily comfortable.

Dr. Shapiro was a heavy guy with a double chin who seemed jovial nearly every time I was there. We might have to wait a stretch to see him, but whenever we got to the doctors, eventually, he would see me.

So, Dr. Shapiro takes a look at my kisser and shakes his head a couple of times. Then he takes out something from his arsenal and tells me he is going to put it on the area where I'd been clocked. Then he tells me something that he rarely had told me previously, "This" he said "is going to hurt".

Well, I dont remember thinking much of this warning. I had been to doctors before and before a shot had been told that something was going to hurt. But often this warning came with a laugh as if to indicate that it was a right of passage and I would be fine. This time there was none of that. Nevertheless, I was not particularly concerned. He put the stuff on me.

It hurt like hell. I can remember it to this day. He was not bluffing. Whatever it was, when it connected with my bruised mouth I hit the roof. Eventually, of course both the pain and any vestiges of Gregory's bat left, but the pain was pretty good. I wrote in these blogs about a toothache I had recently that was off the charts painful. This was not in that category, but certainly it is memorable.

The thing is that throughout my life when something ominous was about to happen I have tended to downplay the pain that was upcoming. Emotional or physical. I figure something is going to hurt some and often am way off the mark in terms of the sum of the some. How bad can it be is a good attitude to take, but it is worth recognizing that sometimes the depths of pain can be beyond the capacity to conceptualize until we experience it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


In 1967 I was a freshman at what we then called SUNY Albany. The fall was a magical time for me. I marvelled at, and revelled in, the college experience. I had made some new friends, found History, Spanish, Literature, Math, something called Sociology engaging enough, had, somehow, made the freshman basketball team, and began to appreciate the simple joy of a local tavern listening to yarns from fellow students as well as old timers who were, no doubt, twenty years younger than I am now.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving I decided to take a bus home and surpise my folks by arriving a day early. I got a ride to the bus station and took a Trailways to Port Authority arriving around 11. There I subwayed to Penn Station and took a late night train to Hicksville. From there I took a cab to our home.

I left my suitcase in the living room and tried silently to climb the stairs. I woke up my brother. He had been feeling under the weather and had just gotten to sleep. So, while happy to see me, he needed the sleep and now at about 2 in the morning I did too. Seconds later, I conked out in the twin bed that was "mine' in the bedroom we had shared as we grew up.

In the morning my father was readying himself to exit the house en route to work. There he saw my suitcase in the living room and bounced upstairs to see that I had come home in the middle of the night. He woke up my mother who was delighted to see me as well. She, excited, woke up again my poor brother, still not finished with his rest.

The thing is that all of them. My mother, father, and brother were excited about my return. We were together again. And it was this, far more than the turkey we ate the next day that was the most nourishing part of the holiday.

Love is the foundation. I am aware of my good fortune.

November 22, 2011

I can rarely remember where I place my wallet and keys. Ask me what I did one year ago this month and I will have to check my logbook--and this assumes I remembered to record what I did one year ago in my logbook. I need to write my passwords down on a sheet otherwise I would never be able to check my messages or get into my e-mail.

But ask me, or anyone of my vintage where I was 48 years ago today, and nobody, but nobody, will have trouble telling you exactly where they were when we heard the news.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

onslaughts--real and imagined

Last Saturday I was talking with my parents on the phone. My father writes to the family regularly with insightful comments about his philosophy on life. Earlier that day he had sent us a letter about how stress can be reduced by realizing that much of what causes stress are events that we anticipate, but do not typically occur. He referred to the Mark Twain quote that goes: I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. My brother had responded to this letter by sending several similar quotes.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. ~Calvin Coolidge

Some men storm imaginary Alps all their lives, and die in the foothills cursing difficulties which do not exist. ~Edgar Watson Howe

When we were speaking I mentioned the popular book that came out in the late nineties called, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff* (*And it's all small stuff)

But it's NOT all small stuff. The author of the book, Richard Carlson, died at 45 when he suffered a blood clot in his lungs while on a plane. When the stuff is not small, but big, there is no balm.

The day after the phone call, I was reading the Sunday newspaper. I typically read the Sunday papers by first reading the Sports and second reading the book reviews. This indicates, very clearly, my priorities and hobbies. Joan Didion's book, Blue Nights, was reviewed. Blue Nights is a memoir about the death of her daughter. Previously she had written a memoir The Year of Magical Thinking about the death of her husband.

The review was beautifully written and included this line "The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss. [The book] is most provocative at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life's worst onslaughts nothing avails..."

I think this is so.

This week I wondered what it is like to be Joe Paterno. A man who was revered up until early this week and who now will forever, wrongly more than rightly, be linked to a scandal. Moreover, I wonder about those who were allegedly victimized by the accused perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky.

My father, as usual, is right about the therapeutic value of not worrying about things that are unlikely to happen. And Calvin Coolidge was right, nine out of ten troubles will not likely be troubling. But the tenth, even for the most resilient among us, is very difficult to overcome.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

loss and resilience

Can the players on the Texas Rangers ever forget game 6?

Twice they were within one pitch of getting a ring. Being world champions. The first time an outfielder made a play on a fly ball that looked like a little leaguer's attempt. I think I could catch that ball. I really do. But he ran back and took a stab that was nowhere near the ball. The result was a game tying triple. The second time was a little more digestible, a Cardinal player got a single to drive in the tying run. But still, twice, one pitch away.

I think coming so close to what you want and then having failed is a bruise on your heart that can't easily be removed. If you are successful at shaking it off and literally forgetting it, I believe you have created a callous that will make it difficult to feel good things later on. It is a reality. You lost. You could have been successful but you were not.

One could offset the failure by listing successes. One could also, legitimately, place the failure adjacent to more important successes. Missing a fly ball that cost your team the world series is big, but not as big as being a good person, parent, consistently responsible adult.

I think the source of resilience when confronted with failure is simply to acknowledge that tomorrow is another day and another chance to be successful. Not an easy posture to assume. When the Rangers lost game 6 the way they lost it, I figured they had no chance as in none to win game 7.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

There was soap

Today is a day of introspection for those in my tribe. I have wondered since I was an undergraduate, if not before, what is the best way to spend a day dedicated to introspection, identification of failure, repentance for transgressions, and forgiveness.

I was thinking about all of the above and I was reminded of a part in a book called Love in the Time of Cholera. The book is about a young man who falls in love with a young woman and spends a lifetime trying to reach her. At first he is thwarted because they are of different social classes and her parents forbid contact. She then marries a doctor and still, from afar, the young, then older suitor, attempts to reach the woman's heart.

The author takes us into the lives of both the suitor, and the woman married to the physician. In one scene the woman and her doctor husband have had an argument. It has surfaced because of something that on the surface appears to be minor. The husband makes a comment that there is no soap in the bathtub. The wife, the object of the other man's love, has had it with her doctor husband's regular identification of what she has failed to do. She insists that there was soap. He insists (and is correct) that there was no soap.

This husband's claim does it as far as the wife is concerned. She ceases to speak to her husband, compels him to sleep in another room, and goes about her activities in the house as if he is a piece of furniture despite his entreaties to stop the nonsense.

Finally after weeks of no communication and contact, the doctor stops his wife in a hallway and says simply, "There was soap." Nothing else. "There was soap."

Subsequently, she allows him into the bedroom and begins interacting normally.

I thought of this today. What does it mean when he said, "There was soap"?

It doesn't mean there was soap. There, in fact, had been no soap. It could mean, "Look I dont like the excommunication and I'll say anything to get back to normal." But it also could mean, "I love you, we both forget the soap now and then. Our hearts are entwined. Therefore, then and always, there was soap."

So, on a day dedicated to introspection it has crossed my mind that with the right intentions, "there was soap", might be something we not only say to those we love, but to ourselves when we in fact have succumbed to being human, and have transgressed.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sacco and Vanzetti and Sports

My knowledge of historical events is limited. In high school I was adept at learning what needed to be known to pass the State wide Regent's examination. In college I was adept at going to the library, but spent more time dwelling on peripheral matters than whatever it was I was supposed to be studying. For this reason while I had a general idea of who Sacco and Vanzetti were I really did not know more than the skeletal outline.

So recently I picked up a book about Sacco and Vanzetti and--until I forget what I just read--(and the over under is about 8 months)I will know a good deal about the details of their alleged crimes and their trials in both the literal and figurative sense.

Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists and, many feel, they were convicted of a crime and sentenced to death not because of any evidence linking them to the crime, but because they were anarchists. So the trial and the jury and the judge were determined to find them guilty and kill them in the electric chair while many throughout the world protested the unfairness of the trial. The most stunning example of the lack of due process was when an appeal was made for a retrial on the basis of the prejudices of the judge. And the judge assigned to the appeal to determine if the trial judge had been prejudiced was, incredibly, the trial judge.

And guess what? The appeal Judge Thayer, found that the trial Judge Thayer, was not prejudiced. Go figure.

I was on a plane on September 28th, the night that is being called the most exciting night of baseball ever. A night when three games with playoff implications were decided with walk off wins. The games were on tv on the JETBLUE plane. And to my left and right were fans cheering wildly for their teams. This was one bumpy flight and not because of the cheering. There was some weather and we were bouncing all over the air. Yet the zealots on either side of me paid no attention.

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on 8/22/27; the rules that governed the verdict were flexible and flawed. The Red Sox lost 4-3 on Wednesday, and the verdict was based on the rules of the game.

What kept spectators riveted on a very bumpy plane ride was the certainty that nobody could get robbed because of caprice and hidden agendas. If the umpire thought the batter was a Communist a ball hit out of the park would still be a home run.

There are a lot of people with broken hearts in Boston and Atlanta. The Red Sox and Braves were eliminated on the last night of the season. But the fans will be back next year, because they know the games are relatively and essentially fair. Had Sacco and Vanzetti enjoyed similar protection the world would not have been rocked by injustice in the 1920s.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


My friend Gary and I go way back. We met in high school, stayed in touch through the college years even though he went to school near home and I was three hours away. We annually meet up with another high school crony to attend the US OPEN, go to the school reunions, and generally keep abreast of each other's lives.

I remember meeting his then girlfriend in the early seventies and attending their wedding on November 17, 1973, the Saturday before Thanksgiving that year. I've been to both of his children's bar and bat mitzvahs, his daughter's wedding a few years ago, and then just last weekend to his son's wedding.

Gary and I have what I have always thought was a healthy dose of skepticism towards the status quo and convention for convention's sake. In the summer of 69 we worked together at a pool company unloading very heavy boxes that once assembled by the customer became outdoor pools for suburban back yards. In the course of that job and another working as waiter and busboy in the Catskills, we would regularly share a general laugh at what seemed to be done for show, ceremony, or without apparent reason.

There was a ceremony at his son's wedding last weekend, which on the surface was just the kind of thing that Gary or at least I would have ridiculed had we seen it while working one of the functions in the Catskills. It was called a Mezinka. The MC asked the parents of the groom to sit on some chairs in the middle of the room. And then asked each of the guests to circle around the parents and congratulate them on the marriage of their last child.

As I took my place in the circling guests I found myself not quite choked up, but feeling the power of this ceremony in a very physical way. Each of the guests, leaned into Gary and Cathy and congratulated them and I was very moved as I participated and watched Gary accept the well deserved congratulations.

Maybe getting older means realizing that there are reasons why conventions become conventions.

There is a power to having and raising a family and then seeing them move off on their own to continue the cycle. Gary, often the wiseguy, was engaged during the Mezinka and I could tell he was moved as he had a right to be. Afterwards, I told him that I thought it was a special moment and instead of pooh poohing it, he shook his head and agreed. He told me that his daughter was downstairs in the building taking care of her own young daughter who had walked down the aisle in the main ceremony. Gary's daughter was soon to be a parent again and I heard this week that she gave birth to a second child. The Mezinka congratulates him and Cathy and the cycle continues. Very powerful.

If we only have love, we can give the new world to our daughters and sons.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pants on Fire

There is a section in the Boston Globe which lists "what happened this day" I don't read it everyday, but today I did. The column also lists famous people birthdays. It is humbling to note that nearly everyone under 40 is someone I have never heard of.

But what caught my eye today, perhaps in the light of today's news about deaths in Afghanistan, was that today is the date that congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which allowed President Johnson to escalate the war in Vietnam.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution was a reaction to what President Johnson referred to as the Tonkin Gulf incident--an event he described revealing the sinister behaviors of our enemies in North Vietnam, an event he suggested that compelled the United States to increase military activity in South East Asia.

Most, if not all, historians agree that the Tonkin Gulf Incident never occurred. That it was a contrivance by the President to persuade Americans and their representatives to give Johnson the authority to increase our involvement in the war.

Nobody with a pulse who visits the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington is unmoved. And so many of the names on that Memorial died because we escalated our activity based on a lie. Today is the anniversary of the vote that was taken based on that lie. How many of our soldiers and all the worlds' soldiers have died because they assumed that government was telling the truth.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Apples and Oranges

I saw something in the paper today that at first startled me and then made me snort with laughter. I am not sure my employers will be able to similarly laugh it off.

Northeastern University, where I am employed, has advanced dramatically in the past ten years. At one point we were an open admissions institution with a reputation that did not rival our neighbors' in the Boston area. Last year, however, and in each of the last several years the university's qualitative growth has been remarkable. We were ranked 69th last year in US News and World Report. This year we will likely be ranked somewhere in the 50s. I have heard optimistic predictions that we may be ranked as high as the 30th best research university in the country. At the same time the numbers of students who have applied has soared. This year over 43000 students applied for 2800 slots. So, we are doing well.

I read in today's paper that another organization has ranked universities and this ranking has my employers justifiably irate. Instead of being in the top 100 we are not in the top 400. How can it be that USNews has ranked us so high, and the newcomer has ranked us so relatively low.

The reason is comical if one could maintain one's sense of the humor. It seems as if this other ranking agency has as a criterion the percentage of students who graduate in four years. This criterion has a hefty weight of 20 percent. And in this category we, Northeastern, appear to not measure up. Most of our students graduate in 5 years. Therefore, we would consequently fall in the rankings.

When I read about the criterion, as I write above, I was at first incredulous and then laughed. Northeastern is a five year--not a four year-- school. Nearly all of our students participate in what is called Co-op, Cooperative Education. That means they alternate periods of study with periods of employment in their field. Students do not pay tuition while they are "on co-op"; they get paid by an employer. So, an Accounting major studies Accounting and then works for 6 months in an Accounting firm. Then she or he returns to school, studies in a conventional classroom, and then during the next semester goes back to another Accounting firm. After five years the student has accrued the standard 128 credits and also has had three work experiences.

Since we are a five year school, graduating in five years is what we, the students, and the students' parents expect.

When my school discovered the ranking was based in large part on this alleged deficiency, we contacted the agency. Their response, "Well we have to use the same criteria, otherwise it is 'apples and oranges'."

Well, no. If you were to apply this same measure, then the apt criterion would be, do students graduate on time. If you were to claim that graduating in four years is the appropriate criterion, then Junior Colleges would head the list, because their students would seem to be remarkably quick graduating in 2 years. Six month certificate programs in, say, Cake Baking would do even better, graduating their students in 1/8 the time of say Harvard.

I am startled by how often people use shibboleths like "Apples and Oranges" to justify irrational or irresponsible behavior. My favorites are "Business is Business" and "I was just doing what I had to do." Under the umbrella of "Business is Business" you can steal and deceive. "Doing what I had to do" can justify behaving unethically with employers, friends, sweethearts, and family members.

I am more amused by the ranking than anything else. Nobody but a goof could think that the listing made sense, but I am troubled as I am reminded by how often platitudes are used to be unprofessional or inconsiderate or, in some cases allow for horrifically egregious behaviors. "Just doing my job" and "just following orders" worked well for genocide collaborators.

Now comparing perpetrators of genocide with college ranking irresponsibility would be apples and oranges. Hiding behind shibboleths, however, seems to work for all sorts of fruits.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I went to college during the late 60s and early 70s. Still, I was never much of a druggie. As opposed to President Clinton, I did inhale, but beyond that my recreational drugs were confined to coffee and beer. There were drugs all around me, but I never indulged. I solicit no points for my decisions. Essentially I did not want to take a chance and mess with my head.

I've maintained the same posture as an adult. I take almost no medicine except aspirin unless I am told that I really must take an antibiotic to ward off an infection. I've had back ailments in the past, but when I took pain medication it tended to rob me of my thinking apparatus as well as the pain, and I preferred the pain to feeling completely at sea. No medals for this decision to avoid drugs. I think individuals' bodies respond differently. I just think I, personally, am better off to just say no.

About two weeks ago I started to feel some pain in my head. About two months prior to that I had some dental work done and the dentist told me that I should make an appointment for a root canal. If I didn't, I was warned, eventually I would be in a good deal of discomfort.

I tend to pooh pooh such advice. I've heard it before from dentists and then when I visit another dentist and mention the warning, the new physician looks at my mouth and sees no problem. So, when I heard the dentist recommend I go for a root canal, I put the referral slip in my pocket, and intended to forget about it. As I was leaving the office the dental hygienist told me again to make sure I made an appointment and guaranteed me that I would regret it if I did not do so quickly.

But I didn't pay any attention. Until two weeks ago when I started to get headaches. I brought my aspirin with me on a trip to New York and found if I took a couple aspirin every four hours the pain would go away. So, I did, and I figured I would be fine.

But last weekend, I started to get the kind of headaches that I have only heard about. I've felt searing pain before with athletic injuries, but always sensed that the pain could be endured and eventually would go away. This was scary pain. This was hold onto the aspirin bottle like a wino holds onto Muscatel pain. At one point I thought maybe I had a tumor as the reach and duration of the episodes was debilitating.

I remembered what the dentist/hygienist had told me and hoped this was a function of my ignoring his and her advice. My dentist is on my route to work, so I stopped in Monday morning hoping maybe he could see me without an appointment. My dentist is really a special professional. He was about to consume his breakfast when I walked in. I told him what I was feeling and he suggested that I sit in the chair for a few minutes. He poked around, pulled up my ex rays, and explained that the pain was likely from the root canal that I needed. He phoned his associate right then and made an appointment for me, for Thursday. He also offered to write a script for some pain medication.

I adhered to my regular line about medication and told him I would prefer sticking with aspirin. He made a face like "suit yourself" but said if I changed my mind I should just give a call.

I got to work a little late, but felt relieved that I would soon be able to address the problem. And then an hour later, I felt pain in my head like I don't wish on anyone. Literally debilitating pain that had me holding my head in my hands. I called the dentist and left a message hoping he might write the prescription.

By the time I drove home I was feeling, almost comically, like my head was going to explode. I stopped at the drug store and my dentist had called in the prescription. I opened the vial feverishly and popped down the first pill.

Well, let me tell you, an hour later I was singing hymns to the CEO of CVS. There was no pain. I could drink hot, cold, walk around the house, read a book, watch tv. This stuff was great. What's more I was fully functioning. I was able to concentrate on work related issues. It was as if this pill knew just where the pain was and went right to it.

I "got" drugs, then. I almost got religion.

About six hours later I forgot I had problems with my teeth and head. Until I remembered again when about two hours after that I felt as if someone had slammed a brick onto the side of my head. I found the vial and popped another pill. Sea of tranquility in a half hour.

This drug stuff is great.

Last night I took one before I went to bed and slept like a marathon runner all night. But, my first steps this morning were a little wobbly. I took another pill before I went to work and thought I could hear the sounds of silence on my ride in.

I am supposed to take one pill every six to eight hours. About five hours into today's interval, I started feeling the pain again. I kept looking at the clock willing the time piece to go to six hours. Then I took another, and this time while the pain ebbed it has not gone away completely.

I am looking forward to tomorrow morning's appointment for this root canal like I might look forward to a reunion with a lost sweetheart. I cannot wait.

I think I was right about drugs in the first place. At least drugs that are taken to mask pain. They tend to be only good for the short run. If you use them for the long run, the natural problem will resurface--if you do have a natural issue, and then you will need more to suppress what is naturally surfacing.

Probably a metaphor in this related to sports and life. Perhaps the natural pains we experience from an absence of love and friendship, can be addressed by temporary coats of armor. But if the pain is so great and the source of the loss so natural, the armor/drugs will have only a temporary effect. But what do I know. The more times around the track, the more I tend to doubt what I at one time thought was irrefutable. So, maybe there is a metaphor in this, but right now I am more concerned with when the next brick will collide with my head.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Complete Circuit

When I was in elementary school--maybe in second grade-- each of us had to participate in the science fair. The idea was for us to come in with something we created related to science that would be put on display for visiting parents to view at an exhibit.

Science was not my thing. I had put off doing my exhibit until the last minute and finally fessed to my father saying I had no idea what to do for the science fair. So, he helped me. He found a piece of plywood someplace and an old insulated piece of wire. On the plywood he screwed in a tiny lightbulb that was encased in a small piece of hardware. He connected the wire to the lightbulb and ran the wire around the periphery of the plywood. He interrupted the wire about half way around from where the bulb was, and found an old manual switch. It was the kind of switch that you could pull down to get current. As I remember the top of the switch was not insulated so he yanked off the top of a nosedropper and put that on top of the switch. Somewhere on top of the plywood he hooked up a battery.

This he told me would illustrate a complete circuit.

I thought my father was a magician with this set up. What with the wire, lightbulb, even nosedropper and switch--this was impressive to me. However, I still did not get it. Then he demonstrated that when the nosedropper was up and not connecting with the base of the switch, the lighbulb would not go on. But if you depressed the nosedropper so that the metal on the top connected with the metal on the bottom, then the tiny lightbulb went on.

Now I was wide eyed. I must have asked a bunch of questions, but what I recall doing mostly was plunging the noseplugged top to the bottom and then releasing it to see that lightbulb go on and off. And then, periodically, picking my head up to look at dad as if to say, that's like a magic trick.

When we went to the fair there must have been 209 complete circuits that were brought in and there were exhibits that were like rides in Disney world, but it did not matter to me. I was still taken by the contraption dad had put together and kept plunging the nose dropper to see that light go on.

In early 2006 a woman who had been, to me, a little kid when I'd been a camper at a summer camp, endeavored heroically to organize a reunion of all those people who had attended the camp during a 20 year span. She was remarkably successful and in the summer of 2006 some 100 ex campers descended on a camp near the one where we attended and reunited for a weekend that was beyond rich. She not only brought together the people who could attend that reunion, she stimulated other connections that begat other connections. In December of 2006 she organized another reunion which I could not attend, but glommed onto the photos that were posted from the event. In the summer of 2007 she organized a mini reunion in New York which I could attend and seven of us sat in a midtown restaurant for hours reminiscing and connecting. In the summers of 2009 and 2010 there were other summer camp reunions near the camp where we had attended. Through this woman's indefatigable efforts she has brought lifelong friends, sweethearts, and even families back together.

The reconnections made are not artificial or superficial. They have established completed circuits that have enabled many of us--pardon the heavy metaphor--to light up and feel charged. Sure some connections might seem to fade as time goes on, but for those that were very real in the first place, we have embraced and been enriched because of the completed circuits.

I often wonder about energy. When we feel thrilled, relieved, joyous--it is almost a a palpable sensation. That is we can feel it. So, what happens when we don't have it. We know how we feel when we have a completed circuit, when we feel that rush of love, of having connected--what are the manifestations of not having a completed circuit. What happens to that potential emotional energy?

I am still not a science student, but I think that unharnessed emotional energy does go somewhere and it is in us. In the same way that a completed circuit is enriching and is genuinely salubrious, when that nosedropper goes up and the light goes off, I think something insidious begins.

Thank you Dad for helping me with my science project and explaining how a complete circuit works. Thank you Ona for the industrious and sophisticated wiring that allowed so many of us to complete circuits.

Keep that nose dropper down. Not only for the richness and illumination of a completed circuit, but to avoid the deleterious effects of a loss of power-- functioning in the dark, bumping into objects, substituting adjusting to darkness for genuine light.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

world cup

Since I was old enough to be aware of such things, I was surprised at how frenzied soccer fans were about their game. I knew of course how Americans would get riled about basketball, football, baseball, and hockey--but soccer seemed to be the kind of sport that could not engage enough people. And, of course, I was wrong--since soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

Today's match between the United States and Brazil might explain why that is. I noticed when reading the paper today that there was a world cup match at 11 a.m. eastern time. Sometime around 12:40 when I had some laundry to fold I put on the game while attending to the task.

Then I was hooked until the end of the second period, and the two overtimes, and the shoot out. The United States came back in the last seconds to tie the game, and then won in the shootout. The tying goal was truly a work of art. I found myself as excited about the end of that game as I have been for any sporting event in a month or two--and that includes the Bruins' championship.

So, for naysayers who consider soccer some inexplicable attraction, give it a chance. A game like today's would make a believer out of you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

emotional investment

Typically, I divorce myself from legal concerns related to sports. I don't bother during the off season to see who is a free agent and who my teams "might get". I won't know who will be playing for the Red Sox until opening day and it may take a few weeks for me to distinguish a Scutaro from a Lowrie (two shortstops for the Red Sox). Line 'em up, start the games, then I will start to follow the sport.

However, with the NFL lockout I find that I am interested. I am not at all concerned with the nuances of the dispute and how much the players might get from this revenue stream or that. I am concerned to see that they settle it. I look through the newspaper daily to see if there might be an article suggesting a looming settlement. On the sports websites I frequent I will click on NFL to see if they are any closer to opening the doors. I will even switch to the NFL channel when I am surfing to hear if there is any news.

I have no financial investment in football. I don't sell tickets, popcorn, own a parking lot near the stadium, or play linebacker. I have an emotional investment. And I am not alone.

It is an interesting concept--emotional investment. We tend to consider investment planning in terms of dollars. Fidelity has a long running campaign about how customers seeking to invest for retirement should follow a plan that will lead them to comfort. This is important, no doubt. Financial security is only irrelevant when you have it.

But emotional investments are as important. So I want the NFL to start, because I like following sports. I have an emotional attachment to my teams such that I feel happier when they win. If we feel this way about our teams or avocations, doesn't it follow that we all have a good deal of emotional capital that can be wisely or unwisely invested. Emotion, I once wrote, runs the show. Only sometimes we do not respect its importance sufficently so we consciously or otherwise throw our precious emotional capital away like some frivolous gambler who places $100,000 on a horse that shouldn't even be in the race.

For all of us--not just those who find themselves happy when their teams win, or those who will want to pop a beverage when the NFL strike ends--all of us have to respect the value of our emotional capital and invest wisely.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

don't postpone joy

I had intended to drive to town today. In early December I saw Tom Moore in the hallway and as we were going past each other he said, "You get that letter?" He was following up on a conversation we had had when we were at a meeting a few weeks prior. "Got it." I said. "Great" I heard as he walked beyond me. A week or two later I heard that Tom, the dean of our business school at Northeastern, was stepping down. The word was that he was ill. This past Thursday we received an e-mail from the university president that Tom Moore had succumbed to cancer. Six months, nearly to the day when he had put on his coat, asked an associate to cancel his meetings for the next day, and walked out of the office.

So today I had intended to drive to town and attend a memorial service. I can't, at least right now. A driver heading east on the Mass Turnpike today will not be able to exit the road, at least for a few hours. The Boston Bruins are world champions of the NHL and they are having the mother of all parades in downtown Boston. I flipped on the television and you cannot believe what is doing on Boylston street, a major artery in the city.

Those of you who have read the Epilogue to the Madness of March, may remember that I am not much of a hockey fan, but the point in the book is that there is something to envy about those who are such fanatics about hockey or basketball or anything else. The joy that is apparent among those who managed to get into town in time before they closed the pike and surrounding streets, is worth admiring.

It was on Wednesday night when the Bruins defeated the Canucks in the 7th game. I watched the first two periods on an elliptical machine in a health club. At the end of two, the Bruins led 3-0. Between the second and third period I went to shower thinking that I would see the end of the game at a tavern not far from my home. Another gym goer bolted into the locker room while I was looking at my locker changing from my exercising duds. I heard him talking to himself and, you might think, the entire Bruins team. "Just play the third period the same way. Just play the third period the same way." By the time I turned around to chat he had vanished. Nobody ever got from gym to street clothes faster.

When I stopped at the local tavern there were 10 minutes left. I thought the place would explode with glee--and it did. When the Bruins scored an empty net goal to make it 4-0 one fellow took it upon himself to high five the entire community of drinkers. When the Bruins won it was pandemonium. The same high fiver was behind me and began massaging the back of my neck before moving on to similarly express his joy to others.

The parade will end shortly and there is a separate memorial service for Tom at the university which I will attend later today. But the juxtaposition of this kind man's sudden demise and the unrestrained rejoicing in Boston is something to consider. Today my brother turns 60. I once bought a bumper sticker that he liked and I gave it to him. The sticker read, "Don't Postpone Joy." We talked this morning and he told me he still has the sticker. Truer words never appeared on the rear of an automobile. "Don't Postpone Joy."

Sunday, May 8, 2011


My least favorite player on the Celtics is Rajon Rondo. Next in line on this list is Shaquille O'Neill.

Shaq has been injured most of the season. He played last night in the Celtics victory against the Miami Heat. He looked like a man who is well acquainted with the buffet table. When he went to the foul line and missed both shots he looked like a man who had been yanked from the stands and told to try and shoot. Shaq gets paid a hefty sum. I believe that while he was injured he should have stayed in shape and could easily have practiced his foul shooting during this period.

Rando is another case. He is a very talented player and can sometimes win games because of his own prowess. Yet he often makes plays that suggest that either he is bored, stupid, or is using his head to explore his small intestines. During the last month of the season he played so poorly that the Celtics lost their home court advantage in the playoffs to their current opponent, the Heat.

Last night Rondo was not playing well and turning the ball over like a player not dedicated enough to winning. Then something happened. He became tangled up with an opponent and came down awkwardly on his arm. Replays made viewers wince as it appeared as if his forearm was twisted and about to break like a wishbone.

Rondo was helped off the court and it did not seem likely that he would return. But he did, and played essentially with one arm for the remainder of the game. And he played brilliantly.

So, how does that happen. A talented player plays like a fool while he is healthy, but then when hurt focuses and plays exceptionally.

There is no mystery to this although at first glance it seems odd. We all go through the same thing. Back when I played tennis competitively, I can recall winning two tournament matches when I had been losing and then suffered an injury. Forced to do everything right to compensate for when I could not chase down a ball, I made more shots than I otherwise would have.

This applies to our lives outside of sport as well. When healthy we take our health for granted and do not take advantage of the capabilities that we have. When injured we can become acutely aware of the value of our health and focus more intently on enjoying the time that we have.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


My father was a teacher and then a principal. My brother was a special needs teacher for over thirty years. I taught high school for one year and have been teaching college students for over thirty years. And yet, it was a fellow in a locker room who relayed an anecdote about teaching that I had never heard before and consider very interesting--even if I am not sure I completely agree with it. It may be that both my father and brother told me this story as did my own teachers in college, but I have no recollection of it--the marshmallow test.

So, we are in the locker room last weekend and shooting the breeze as is typically the case. He is asking me about work and we get to speaking about his playing days as a football player at Northeastern where I am currently employed. He tells me about one player who one just knew would be a leader on fields other than athletic playing fields. And this person did in fact become a leader.

I comment about how as a teacher you sometimes can sense that someone will become unusual and a leader. (By the way I will interject here that Michael Lake, a student in one of my classes several years ago, will--I guarantee it--be a senator or congressperson or perhaps president in fifteen years. He is now in his late 20s. If Las Vegas is taking odds on this--bet the farm).

When I tell my friend that teachers can sometime detect future greatness, he says--"well sure the old marshmallow test."

I smiled but confessed that I had never heard of it.

"You, a college professor, and you never heard of the marshmallow test?"

"This is one of many things that I do not know." I say. "But I am curious, what is it?"

He tells me that the marshmallow test is a good way to discover at a very early age who will make wise decisions and who will follow a path that is more difficult to travel.

He tells me that what you do is take children, isolate them, and put a marshmallow in front of each one of them. You tell the youngsters that they can eat their marshmallow now, or what they can do is not eat the marshmallow now, but wait thirty minutes at which time they can have two marshmallows.

My exercising friend said that the kid who eats the marshmallow right there is in for trouble. Whereas those who are wise enough to wait for the two marshmallows in thirty minutes reflect, patience, intelligence, analytical skills, and the likelihood of future successes.

I have been thinking of the marshmallow test all week. While I have found it intriguing, I am not sure the conclusions are necessarily correct. I am a two marshmallows in thirty minutes guy. No way do I snort that one marshmallow if I know that two are on the horizon if I wait. But I am not sure if that has served me well. Sure, two marshmallows are, all things being equal, better than one, but some people who are impetuous can benefit from this behavior. There can be tangible evidence of joy--and I have seen it--for those who grabbed that marshmallow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

sudden death in the NHL

In the epilogue to the Madness of March I write about my trip to New York to see the 7th game of the penultimate round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1994. The Devils played the Rangers in the game. The Rangers prevailed in double overtime 2-1.

Of the four major sports, hockey is my least favorite. I attended because the person I refer to as Larry Poppel (I changed the name at his request) is a lifelong friend and a serious fan of the Rangers. I had previously attended hockey games with him and his season ticket holding cohorts and it has always been an experience to do so.

That game remains, 17 years later, as the most thrilling event I have ever witnessed live. Today 17 years later, I feel for everyone of Larry's friends because last night the Rangers lost a heartbreaker of a game in double overtime to the Washington Capitals.

Those who are not fans of sport cannot understand how deflating it can be to watch your team go down in a tight contest. Last night's game was in the playoffs and the Rangers had been up 3-0 before losing the game 4-3 on a flukey goal with only a couple of minutes left in the second overtime period.

Again, I am not a hockey fan but I was riveted to the tv screen for both overtimes and most of the second and third period. I muttered a cliche at a few intervals that I've often said aloud but, except for in sudden death hockey games, I've never meant literally. After watching the Capitals and Rangers skating up and down the ice and screaming slap shots that could end the game instantly, I found myself saying, "I don't know how much more of this I can take."

The folks I've met in Larry Poppel's section on the occasions I've been to Madison Square Garden have been unable to focus today. Nevertheless, not one of them would argue with the contention that there is nothing in sport more exciting than a sudden death game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Objects in Your Mirror

My friend Kenny, annually, travels to Boston for Patriots Day weekend. The weekend is a bit of a mystery to those who do not live in the Northeast. Monday is a holiday, Patriots Day, and most businesses and schools are closed. It is on this day when the Boston Marathon is run. Also, the Boston Red Sox play a baseball game which begins at 11 a.m. When I was a kid, the Red Sox played a double header on this day, but double headers have gone the way of Black and White television sets and now it is a single game. Spectators can leave the park, walk to the Prudential Center and see some struggling athletes try to leg out the last half mile of their 26.2 mile journey.

If you have never been to the Northeast to see the Boston Marathon you should put it on your bucket list. It is quite a scene with thousands of runners engaged and thousands of viewers cheering them on. One time attending the event and the party that is Boston on that day will make it clear why my buddy likes to travel here for the weekend. Even before the race day/baseball day itself, the city is charged with those who have arrived and are awaiting the race day. Restaurants and taverns are jammed with family members of runners, the streets are decked out with the bunting of a party, and in general all appears festive.

It would be good I think if we could imagine all of life like the three day ride which is Patriots Day weekend. Over breakfast Kenny and I were musing about this and that and I told him about a calendar I'd received last year as a gift. The calendar was a New Yorker cartoon a day rip off number, so that each day one could be greeted by a drawing and cartoonist's quip that might brighten your morning. I save the ones that are especially funny to me, and talked about a few with him. One that had a bit of dark humor featured a woman who is, apparently, conversing with the grim reaper. The cartoon/caption has the woman saying to the grim reaper, "Oh My, I've got to introduce you to my husband."

Kenny got a laugh out of that one and then told me about a birthday card he'd received last year from a friend. In it a driver is in a car and is looking out at the side view mirror. In the mirror the driver sees the reflection of the grim reaper. The birthday card message is simple: "Objects in the mirror are closer than you think."

This is a good notion to carry around in your head despite what could be seen as a gloomy reality. It is time to enjoy Patriots days, and all the rest of them. The object in the mirror is closer than we think.

P.S. The World's Record for a marathoner was set yesterday. The more amazing news is that "Dice Kay" pitched a one hitter over seven innings and the Red Sox won their third straight.

P.S. #2 Best tee shirt at the marathon yesterday was a takeoff on the omnipresent Green Celtic shirts that read, "Beat LA" a reference to the chant encouraging the Celtics to beat the LA Lakers. The knockoff shirt for the marathon yesterday looked the same--green with the same lettering color and font. However the message was slightly different.

"Beat Kenya" it read.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sarah's Key--Book Review

One of my tipsters for good books is the check-out woman at a local package store. She is a full time librarian who moonlights bagging sixpacks and wishing people a nice day. Once when checking out I noticed she had a hardcover underneath the counter, reading it when she caught a break from the traffic. So, I asked what she recommended and she rattled off a few names that I scribbled onto the paper bag. One was The Help. The Help was a great read, so when recently I spotted the librarian in the store I asked her for another suggestion. She suggested Sarah's Key. .

I don't think Sarah's Key is an especially well written book, but it is a powerful one. It is very predictable in some sections and often reads as a thin story intended as a vehicle to describe an historical event.

That written as a caveat, I still recommend it. As predictable as the book is, I still found myself moved by it.

When I first began teaching at my current university I heard a speech about the Armenian genocide. It was a very good speech and what bothered me most about listening to it, was that I had never heard of the Armenian Genocide before and was embarrassed that I had not. I had a similar experience reading Sarah's Key. It is not about the Armenian genocide, but about an event that is called Vel' d'Hiv, a horrific occurrence that took place in Paris on July 16 1942. Sarah's Key centers around this event and I had never heard of Vel' d'Hiv. Sixty plus laps around the track, a relatively well read individual, and I'd never heard anything about this. Can't remember a lesson in high school, graduate school, anyplace. July 16th is two days after Bastille Day. I sure have heard about this. How is it possible I did not know about what took place in another year on July 16th.

There are several parts of the book that can move a sensitive individual to tears. One occurs at the end and despite the fact that nobody wise enough to pick up the book will not be able to predict it, you will still water up when you read it. However, to me the section that will stay with me more takes place about two thirds of the way through the book.

An American journalist has discovered something that connects her life with the Vel' d'Hiv incident. She too had never heard of Vel' d'Hiv. The journalist doggedly investigates what transpired and is looking for a woman who is central to the story of Vel' d'Hiv.

The journalist finds a relative of the woman and requests information. "Why find her?" says the relative. "What for?"

The journalist responds "I wanted to say I am sorry."

"Sorry for what" says the relative. Why should she feel sorry, neither she nor her country had anything to do with Vel' d'Hiv.

The journalist looked straight into the eyes of the relative and said. "[I'm] sorry for not knowing. Sorry for being forty five years old and not knowing."

I was less than forty five when I heard about the Armenian genocide, and older than forty five when I read about Vel' d'Hiv. And in both cases I felt sorry for not knowing.

So, in sum, Sarah's Key is a good and fast read, and I don't think anyperson who reads it will be unaffected by it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The light in the piazza

This past weekend my mother turned 86. To celebrate, my brother and I joined my folks for the weekend. It had been a while since the four of us were together like this and it was a joyous few days.

On the birthday night itself we all went to see The Light in the Piazza, a musical that had played in Lincoln Centre several years ago. I'd actually seen it then and had been impressed by the staging as much as the story. I am one of those people who has to listen to a song a dozen times before I get it, so while I got the general gist of the musical at first viewing, it was only after seeing it again, that I was able to appreciate it in its nuances.

The story appears to be simple. A woman takes her daughter, Carla, to Florence. The two of them are there to explore the city. The mother reads a guidebook that explains the various sights. What occurs one day is that the wind blows the hat off of Carla's head and it, serendipitously, is caught by a young man, Fabrizio. And in that moment when Fabrizio sees Carla to return the hat, the two are smitten. Subsequently problems develop and we, in the audience, wait to see what will occur between them.

Pretty standard plot. Boy meets girl. Tension surfaces for this reason or that. Boy and girl may or may not unite. I'll not reveal the ending.

But what is central to the story transcends the plot. You can take a guide book and try to explore this or that, but what we are really seeking beyond any landmark is that light in the piazza that is our true love. Understanding the value of that light, and respecting its significance, can render a simpleton a wiseperson. And vice versa, not acknowledging the value of the light, can render an otherwise bright person to be a fool.

At breakfast on the morning of the day we went to the show, my dad made a little speech before he drank his orange juice. He talked about how grateful he was that he had met my mother when he was 16 years old. And what a delight it was to be able to share this birthday with her as he had shared the others and would, knock on wood, share more in the future.

In essence, in his little talk he had summarized the play that we would see that night. There is nothing more important than finding the light in the piazza.

Friday, April 8, 2011

a dream deferred

There is a fine line between acknowledging a loss and failure, and feeling good about yourself because you fought hard to succeed even if you were unsuccessful.

The Butler Bulldogs lost to the UCONN Huskies last Monday night. None of the players on the Butler team are good enough to play professionally. What the players and the team did was miraculous. Just like the previous year, the Bulldogs won five consecutive games in a very competitive tournament to earn the rights to play for a championship. In 2010 they came within a last shot of being victorious. In 2011 they were determined to win the championship game.

Butler does not have a single player who would get meaningful playing time for Connecticut. Not one. Their two best players might not even make Connecticut's team. Yet they worked industriously and indefatigably on defense, had an offensive scheme that really was the stuff of genius, and had a chance, for a second year, to win the championship.

Not only did they lose, they looked on this championship night, as if they had no right to be playing. Nobody could make a shot. They had an awful, as in terribly awful, shooting night. I played some basketball in high school and college. Every single one of the players on Butler could beat me on my best day 15-0 in a game of one on one, 90 times out of 100. But on Monday night I have never seen a team, on any level, shoot so poorly. They could not drop a bar of soap in a bathtub.

So, not only did Butler lose, but they were embarrassed. And they had come so close.

The Butler players should feel good about themselves nevertheless because they had gotten so close.

But it must be difficult to hold onto feelings of self respect and at the same time acknowledge that you really messed up.

So, how do you handle this if you are a Butler Bulldog? You have got to be true to yourself and acknowledge that you did not score on the big stage. And at the same time you can not let this one event define you. Failure can haunt you, and an inability to reach a dream can be debilitating. I feel for the Bulldogs. As I have written in this blog before about similar competitive failures, the biggest challenge for athletes--and all others-- who have lost, is not to delude themselves that they have won--because in fact they did lose. But rather to understand that one loss does not define them however upsetting the defeat might be.

Monday, March 28, 2011

cost-benefit analysis

A friend recommended that I read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and I just finished it this morning. It is a good read in most, but not all, parts. In some sections it was written so well that I found myself making a spectacle of myself laughing out loud. Occasionally a few lines were so on target that I wanted to grab whoever was within the area and read a paragraph out loud.

One such part involves a conversation the Major, a 68 year old widower, is having with his son Roger. The Major is attempting to explain his interest in a widow.

"Unlike you, who must do a cost-benefit analysis of every human interaction, I have no idea what I hope to accomplish. I only know that I must try to see her. That's what love is about, Roger. It's when a woman drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in her presence. You hope she takes pity on you, and drops a few words of kindness in the vacuum of your mind."

The son responds while rolling his eyes. "Pigs'll fly before we see you at a loss for words."

Pigs will fly indeed because the Major courtesy of the author, Helen Simonson, is witty and eloquent throughout the novel.

But what about the Major's comments regarding cost-benefit analysis? Are we not wise, as his son suggests, to do a cost-benefit analysis even when it comes to family and romance?

Is there any accounting for what seems to be irrational emotion? Can someone explain why after each last second victory in the NCAA tournament players jump on top of their teammates in unrestrained glee? Why does this occur? In college sports, most players gain no pecuniary advantage for a victory. Maybe the stock of someone who could play professionally will go up, but for 90 percent of the players on the court, and every single one of the players on the bench, there is no benefit to outweigh the costs of acting like a crazy person, let alone the hours of travel and the loss of time in classes where one, ostensibly, will learn somethings that can add to out of school marketability.

I am fairly certain that many fans of Connecticut, Kentucky, Butler, and VCU spent work or school time today, poring over newspaper accounts of their teams' successes over the weekend. What is the benefit? For those who purchase tickets to the game and travel/lodging to watch the games, what are the benefits?

The Major and Roger are discussing love, not March Madness, but maybe it is the same thing. For some issues, if not for most, the wisest accounting is to let your heart record what passes for assets over debits. Can any reader write honestly, that the most significant moments in life were those in which there was a payday, as opposed to a time when a sweeheart "drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in your lover's presence."

Pigs'll fly when this ceases to be the case.

David and Goliath guaranteed

I occasionally wonder what, besides inertia, is stopping the NCAA from creating a tournament akin to March Madness, for its football season.

Before this current March Madness tournament began a fellow asked me if I was "into" this year's games. I responded by shrugging and saying something like "Not so much."

Well, now I am hooked. Riveted and for good reason. Ten of the twelve games this past weekend have been thrilling. Virginia Commonwealth's last second victory on Friday night against Florida State (on one of the best bounce passes I have ever seen) and the VCU victory again yesterday beating the overwhelming (11 point) favorite Kansas was stuff of theater. Then throw in Butler's two wins against favored opponents and this was a weekend for the dogs.

And if the David versus Goliath victories were not sufficient entertainment, how many games between the heavyweights came down to the last shot. Kentucky now has won several contests with a fellow named Brandon Knight demonstrating that he has no fear. It is startling to note, as it relates to Kentucky, that Princeton, another David, came close to beating Kentucky in the very first round. Had it not been for Brandon Knight's driving shot in the last seconds, the Princeton Tigers would have knocked out a team from the powerhouse SEC, that now finds itself in the final four.

When you see a play, there is--for those in the know--a predictable ending. I read a column over the weekend which alluded to the theater of sports but included the point that sports is the ultimate theater since, even those who claim to be in the know--don't know.

The tournament draws a tremendous audience, is beyond belief lucrative to the conferences and teams involved, spurs business (how many ads have you seen this week with some sale that is a take-off of March Madness) and is just fun.

So, explain to me why those who manage NCAA division I football continue to declare who shall play for the national championship game, without having a tournament that allows the combatants a chance to compete for the honor. If VCU can be in the final four and defeat USC (Pac 10), Georgetown (Big East), Purdue (Big Ten), Florida State (ACC) and Kansas (Big 12), in consecutive games, then maybe Boise State should have had a crack at a national title by playing games on the field.

Monday Aril 4th will be the national championship game. It is guaranteed to be a David vs. Goliath contest as either Butler or VCU will play either Connecticut or Kentucky. It will be great theater and a fitting finish to this year's tournament.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

divine retribution

With 35 plus seconds on the clock in a tie game, Florida was waiting for a final shot. If they missed the shot, BYU would have an opportunity to get the rebound and take a shot to win.

Florida missed. BYU would have had a chance, but Florida was able to get an offensive rebound with 13 seconds remaining. BYU did not get a chance to score and eventually Florida won in overtime.

Good chance if BYU had Brandon Davies, their leading rebounder all season, they would have gotten the rebound. Tough break.

Davies, one of the few black players on BYU, was suspended from the team before the NCAA tournament. He was suspended because he admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend. For shame.

For shame on BYU.

I am delighted that BYU lost tonight. I feel bad for the team who played valiantly without their best rebounder. I feel bad for Jimmer Fredette an outstanding scorer on BYU who lost one of his best complementary players in Davies. Fredette had 32 points tonight. With Davies's help Fredette and BYU might have continued on to a national championship.

BYU deserves no praise for adhering to moral high ground. There is no virtue in what BYU did to Brandon Davies. He did not deserve a scarlet letter. The letter should go to those who believe they can divine what is divine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

notes from the weekend

Various items that have coursed through my thinking apparatus after the whirlwind that is the first weekend of the tournament:

I was, apparently, incorrect about BYU losing to Wofford. I am, however, not incorrect regarding the hypocrisy of suspending the center for acknowledging to premarital intimate relations with his girlfriend. Does anyone think that other team members were interrogated subsequent to the center's revelations to ascertain if others had been similarly promiscuous. Do you think Jimmer was scrutinized?

The pontificators who are screaming for the Pitt coach's head because he had a player on the foul lane against Butler should view the last seconds of the Duke championship game against Butler last year. Up by two with Duke shooting a foul shot, Coach K--he of the 900 victories--has a player on the foul lane. The mistake on the play this weekend goes to the man in the striped shirt who called the foul.

The Michigan player who pulled up for what would have been the tying shot, instead of driving all the way to the hoop will replay that moment when he is in his 80s. He drives to the hoop, nobody gets in his way to risk a three point play. He would have stuffed it almost uncontested.

The call of five seconds against Texas seemed very fast.

I love Jim Boeheim, but Syracuse just did not seem to be awake against Marquette at the end.

VCU, now in the sweet 16, was defeated by Northeastern during the regular season by eleven points, 91-80. We, Northeastern, had a rebuilding year and finished 11-20. This is an example of how a team can get on a streak in the tournament and during the season not show up some nights. It also may reflect the powerhouse in training that is Northeastern.

Can anyone shoot better than Ohio State did last night? George Mason would have fared better if they were playing the Knicks.

I rarely think I have had enough, but last night I could not watch the last two games.

In a just for fun bracket pool that my brother and I are in, individually, my brother won a prize for finishing last, last year. He will not take last place this year. However there is a good chance that the honor will stay in the family. My wisdom notwithstanding, I have only Richmond, Kansas, Ohio State, Duke, Connecticut, and San Diego State remaining. 6 of the 16.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Wofford will defeat BYU today in the first round of the tournament. They will win despite the fact that BYU has the best scorer in the nation. They will win because the school, BYU, made a puzzling decision several weeks ago that resulted in the elimination of another key player on the team.

The starting center for BYU was suspended for inappropriate conduct. One might think the administration at the school deserves credit for sticking to principle despite the likelihood that the center's absence will preclude the team's advancing far in the potentially lucrative tournament. Maybe I will be wrong and Wofford will lose today, but I don't think so and even if BYU wins they are not going to win many more games without their starting center.

So, isn't this good? Isn't it good that a school adheres to rules and places conduct above basketball prowess and the financial bonanza that can come from victories in the ncaa tournament?

No. This is not good.

The center was suspended because he admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend.

I could write about my feeling about such an unnatural proscription that flies in the face of normal and healthy desires. There does seem to me to be a whole lot of shaking going on, and advertisers sure seem to me to acknowledge the lure of physical intimacy when they peddle their products, and movie producers sure seem to me to hire actors and actresses who, in addition to their acting capabilities, are alluring and suggestive. However, I don't have a corner on the philosophic wisdom market, and I am not going to write that BYU administrators are unequivocally wrong in their belief system.

But I will write that their suspension of this student is wrong.

It is wrong primarily because if you are to suspend him for having intimate sexual relations and do not suspend the others you are declaring that the other players on the team do not have intimate sexual relations. This, I doubt.

This player is being suspended because he acknowledged what he is doing, not because he is doing what he acknowledged.

BYU goes down today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Love Walked In--book review

My parents are big readers. Always were.

In their home they have a coffee table in the den with a stack of books on it about nine deep. Underneath where they keep the few bottles of spirits in the house is a stash of about two dozen books. (Anyone who knows my folks also knows that the drawer that contains the books has been opened--by a factor of about 100--more regularly than the cabinets that contains the spirits).

In the spare bedroom my father had special bookcases made to house his book collection. And I noticed on a recent visit a few weeks back that inside the closet of this spare bedroom is a stack of books awaiting consumption.

I saw one in the closet pile entitled, Love Walked In. I asked to borrow it and neither of my parents were sure how they had acquired it, a likelihood when you buy or borrow books on a regular basis.

While the book has some flaws and is, in parts, a bit implausible, it is such a comforting read. The title will be misleading to anyone who assumes this is a classic love story. It is not, but nevertheless the title is apt. On the inside cover the publisher cites some favorable reviews. The Washington Post critic referred to the book as a "warmhearted fairy tale for grown-ups." This too is apt.

It is a debut novel (Marisa De Los Santos) and the author can turn a phrase. She cleverly alternates chapters from first person, to third person--an approach that would seem unlikely to work unless you read it.

Open the door and you let love in. Sometimes when you have the door open and are loving you're able to discover that you already have what you are looking for.

Very good. Worth a read.

Right or Wrong?

Is there something inappropriate about watching basketball games when on the other side of the world an earthquake has caused devastation?

Yesterday, I watched several games many of which affected the entire seasons for the teams playing. The NCAA begins its tournament on Tuesday and makes decisions today about who will be invited. In at least three conference championship games I saw yesterday, the winner would, automatically, be invited to the tournament and the loser would very likely be disqualified. In addition, two other games that I watched went down to the very end with a player making a key shot at the buzzer to assure a team of advancing to the tournament.

I was working out last night on the elliptical machine watching Kent State play Akron--two rivals a mere 14 miles apart. The winner would go to the tournament and the loser go home. Adjacent to me was another exercise crony watching Arizona play Washington for the PAC 10 championship. That game, like the Kent State game, would go into overtime and be decided by a last shot in OT. At the same time we were watching the game we could see on another channel the devastating effects of the earthquake in Japan.

In the morning I had watched Stony Brook lead Boston University the entire game, until the last seconds when a bogus call on Stony Brook put the main stud for Boston University at the foul line. He hit both shots with 2.4 seconds left and a last second heave by Stony Brook just missed at the buzzer. The fans mobbed the players on the court.

On Saturday afternoon, Princeton and Harvard were playing on a neutral court to decide the winner of the Ivy League and who would be invited to the tournament. In the last two minutes the lead changed hands a number of times. Finally, Harvard went ahead with seconds to go only to have a Princeton player hit a shot as the buzzer sounded. Wild Tigers raced onto the court to smother the victorious players as the Harvard Crimson walked off stunned.

Earlier on Saturday, North Carolina was getting whupped by Clemson, only to tie the game at the buzzer and go on to win in overtime to the joy of the fans. On Saturday night Connecticut won its fifth game in five days to win the Big East--a feat that is truly remarkable given the level of competition and the fatigue that would have exhausted mortals. In post game interviews, satisfaction oozed from the remarks and the face of the winning coach and star player.

On Friday night, I witnessed something I have not seen previously in years of watching games. In its contest against Florida State, Virginia Tech scored a basket to go ahead with seconds remaining. State raced down the court and hit the game winner at the buzzer. The State players were mobbed and the Virginia Tech coach and its players were astonished--until the officials went to the scorer's table and looked at a replay of the shot. It sure seemed to me that the State shot got off before the buzzer, but when I and the officials saw the replay, the ball was still on the shooter's fingertips when the clock went from .1 to 0.0. The officials waved off the State shot, triggering wild jubilation on the seconds earlier depressed Virginia Tech side. At the same time the cheering Florida State team deflated like a ballon with a sudden leak.

Yet this morning, and during the day yesterday, I kept seeing images and reading about what is happening in Japan. And these seemed to render inconsequential the "do or die" jump or foul shots that were thrilling spectators throughout the country.

Is there something wrong with jumping for joy on a day when thousands have died tragically and an entire country is in danger?

I think you do what you can do. Concern and support is deserved for tragic circumstances and victims. And the thrill of victory should never be confused with the thrill of life and love. Yet, there is nothing wrong about celebrating life when we are fortunate enough to have it.