Monday, April 30, 2012

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Review

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a Starbucks waiting a rather long time for a cup of coffee.  I am glad the coffee at Starbucks is strong and distinctive, but you would have thought I ordered a special dinner given the length of time it took to pour some joe into a paper cup.

While I was waiting I noticed that they had a book shelf where sippers were invited to leave or take a book. I saw Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I'd heard about the book and had seen that it spent some time on a best seller list.  So, I picked it up.

It is surprising to me on more than an irregular occasion how some books are heralded and remain on best seller lists when I just don't see what all the commotion is about.  The Tipping Point has been lingering on the list forever, yet I found the book, as my grandfather was prone to say, "not so extra."   While I imagine I will be attacked by the cognoscenti I still cannot see the hoopla behind The Great Gatsby and Catch 22.

Hotel.. is not really in the category of these overpraised books.  I liked Hotel, but what I found most interesting about it, was that it was so simple, just ordinarily written, so similar in plot line to many books, and yet a book that people loved.  And I think I understand why.

Here is what the book is about.  A boy falls in love with a girl when he is a young teenager. She feels similarly, but forces separate them.  After a long period he seeks her out, knowing that she was the love of his life.

How many books, movies are like this.  Slumdog Millionaire, Love in the Time of Cholera, come quickly to mind.  Hotel... has the added plot line of an intercultural romance and the Japanese internment during World War II.  Those who saw the film or read the great book, Snow Falling on Cedars are familiar with this as well.  But not nearly as nuanced or as well written as Snow Falling on Cedars.

So, how come books like this one are grabbed out of libraries and bookstores?  It's not a bad book, but from page 10 you can predict what is going to happen and, if you are knowledgeable even a tiny bit about World War II and the Japanese internment you probably know why.

The answer, I think, is simply that many people can relate to the power of relationships and the need for people to stay connected and not be forgotten.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

2-1 in 508 redux

Those who read the Epilogue to The Madness of March might remember that this last section describes my attending a Stanley Cup Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. That game remains to this date, the most thrilling sporting event I ever watched in person. The Rangers led 1-0, before the Devils tied the game with less than ten seconds to play. The Rangers eventually prevailed in double overtime 2-1.

That night I sat in a section I called section 508 in the book. There is no section 508 at the Garden but since a large portion of the Epilogue described some of the fanatics who sit in that area I did not want to seem to be disparaging those fans. To the contrary my point, which I hope was obvious to readers, was that these people who seem like fanatics have just found a way to invest their emotional energy in a way that is, to my way of thinking, mostly healthy.

Last Thursday night I again was invited down to New York to see a game 7 in the Stanley Cup. The Rangers were playing the Ottawa Senators. For a second time, in a game 7, I got to sit in section "508" and watch with the rabid Ranger faithful a thrilling game.

Of the four major sports, hockey is my least favorite. I do not follow the game during the regular season and can not tell anyone the names of the teams or even how many divisions are in each conference. However, I will write as I have before that there is nothing more thrilling than playoff hockey. And no playoff hockey like a 7th game.

The game on Thursday was a real hold your breath affair from the start. The faithful, nearly all wearing a Ranger shirt, arrived into the section nodding to the regulars, chatting with nervous faux optimism. I donned a Ranger shirt myself for the occasion and proudly wore it throughout the contest. I saw some of the same people I recalled from 18 years ago. The fellow to my right shaking back and forth almost from the opening faceoff. There may be fair weather fans somewhere in the Garden, but the people in 508 are the real deal. Serious and knowledgeable followers of their beloved New York Rangers.

As was the case 18 years ago, the Rangers took a one goal lead into the third period. This time they held on. However, the third period was enough to make anyone a lifelong hockey enthusiast. For five of the last 7 minutes the Senators had the puck down in the Ranger end and continuously pummelled the goalie, threatening to tie the game. It was not until the Senators were called for a penalty with about one minute to play when you could hear Madison Square Garden exhale.

 It was a joyous group of people who high fived each other as they watched the combatants shake hands at the end. As I walked to the parking garage at the end of the evening still wearing my Ranger shirt a number of people on the street raised their fists in triumph. One couple who spoke with a different accent stopped me and asked, "What was the result." I told them that the Rangers won 2-1.

 2-1 in 508 Redux.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

how is it going to look to a fourth grade girl

I read this week that a women's volleyball coach in a religious school is being fired because she is pregnant and unmarried. A spokesperson for the school said that the coach/teacher was fired because "how is that going to look to a fourth grade girl who sees her teacher is pregnant and not married." The school's philosophy is that all teachers are essentially ministers. Ministers, apparently, should not be sending this kind of message.

I am wondering whether the principal of the school fires teachers/ministers for being obese. What kind of message does that send? Does a teacher get fired for smoking cigarettes, or carrying a gun, or implicitly preaching racial superiority? Are teachers fired if they believe that non believers are inferior.

I figure if what is key is how is it going to look to a fourth grade girl, there are significant fish to fry and this issue with the volleyball teacher is not one of them. I am wondering who anointed this principal as interpreter of religious values.

Apparently, the school believes that sex outside of marriage is unconscionable. My recommendation to someone of this mindset is that they do not have sex outside of marriage. I might suggest to such a person that the year is 2012. And I will bet my bottom dollar that they are hippocrites. If they are not hippocrites and just a wee bit like most people, the advertisers, movie makers, novelists, and playwrights sure have their heads in the sand.

I can think of nothing more reprehensible than an educator dictating mores of this nature to a fourth grade kid. You want to teach values. Fire people who carry guns, laugh at racist humor, DON'T respect the value of physical and emotional intimacy, force people to think the way they do, and take up two parking spots in the garage because "they are in a hurry" as if nobody else has a care in the world. Fire those who are insensitive to people who love them and insensitive to those whom they purport to love.

The fourth grader that you are trying to protect, Herr Schoolmaster, is going to look back at you with anger unless your sick brainwashing was successful.

Monday, April 2, 2012

starting five

When I was a college freshman, the starting center for our excellent division 2 varsity team was 6' 2". A few moments ago the starters for the combatants in tonight's championship game were introduced. The smallest player on the court was
6' 2".

Occasionally when I was a freshman, we would practice against the varsity. I had played against some very good players, but some of the guys on our varsity just did not miss. The drills were stunning. If you left a player alone for a jump shot, the ball would go in many more times than not. The best player on that team is now the Athletic Director at one of the NCAA Division I teams. I saw him a few years ago at a reunion. He looks like he could still suit up. He would lose 15-0 in a game of one on one against the worst player on the bench for either of the teams tonight.

Darwin had it right. We evolve. I am a shrimp now at 5' 10". Our best player in college would have played intramurals had he somehow found himself in 2012 competing to play on a competitive team. It is difficult to fathom, even for those who have played, how good the players are in tonight's championship game.

Bumper Sticker

Since I have switched jobs, my commute has become a challenge. It is only about 13 miles to work, and it is essentially a straight shot in on the Massachusetts turnpike. However, now I have to travel during rush hour at least a few days during the week. Today, for example, a ride that can take door to door less than fifteen minutes was the standard forty five during rush hour.

There are some advantages. One is that I get to read some interesting bumper stickers. In a state that voted for McGovern and has, at least in the Boston area, a stunning percentage of universities per square mile, there are some clever bumper stickers. My favorite du jour was on a black SUV that I was behind for several minutes in today's journey. The sticker read, "I may get lost, but not stuck."

An irony there since, metaphors aside, he was stuck like me awaiting the last toll going east on the Mass Pike. But it was something for me to chew on as I waited my turn through the booths. There is something to be said for acknowledging the inevitability of losing your way, but having the will and courage not to stay stuck having taken the wrong turn. It is so easy to stay put and rationalize where you are at, and hard labor to seek out the directions to the right place and then follow them. I wondered if the fellow in the black SUV was good at following the wisdom on his bumper.

If Kentucky doesn't lose its way tonight, it should be no contest. When last I looked the spread was six. Lay the lumber and run. There are times when a really talented team gets beat by a more intelligent design. Kansas beat Oklahoma once that way and Duke beat UNLV similarly a few years later. But I think the Wildcats have just too much talent and are well coached so I dont see this game being real close at the end.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

8 1/2 and the Killing

I was not there, but the last seconds of yesterday's Kentucky--Louisville semi final must have been wild in the las vegas sports books. The final was 69-61. The spread was 8 1/2. Louisville took a shot with six seconds left and missed. Kentucky got the rebound. I was seated 2500 miles away and I could hear the bettors screaming "foul" all the way across the country. It made no sense for Louisville to foul. Even if Kentucky had missed both foul shots, and Louisville scored a last minute 3, they still would have lost by 5. Nevertheless, teams sometimes with a "never say die" attitude try to extend the game. Had Louisville fouled, Kentucky might have gone to the foul line and extended the lead to 9 or 10 making winners out of losers. That is why I am positive that all along the strip, bettors for Kentucky were screaming FOUL at the end of the game.

But there was no foul and bettors for Louisville won by a half a point. There was closure. And as I have written before what is attractive about sports is that at the end of the game there will be a winner determined based almost entirely on the rules of the game with the only subjectivity a function of referees decisions.

Not so in other aspects of life. Last year I got hooked into watching a Sunday night serial show called The Killing. I saw the first episode reluctantly and then the second with a little more enthusiasm. Then I was hooked. The last episode was sometime about a year ago. I am still seething because the producers promised that the last episode would explain who had done the deed. And it did not. In a clear attempt to keep you hanging, the last episode threw another clue into the mystery but not the solution to the mystery.

So, tonight the producers are starting season 2, now promising that this year we will find out who killed Rosy. Not sure I will watch. If I watch the women's final four instead, I know that there will be closure at the end of the evening.