Friday, September 28, 2012

johnny hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew

Partridge, Partridge you better stop hummin'
Look around you who's that coming
Johnny Hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew.

My former SUNY Fredonia colleague and now friend, Dan Berggren is an accomplished folk singer and writer.  His cd, Adirondack Green, has given me hours of joy as I listen to it in my car or at home.  Dan taught Radio and media courses when we both were in western New York. Together with a few others we started a Communication and Media department at SUNY that flourished and as far as I know is still popular.

There are many songs on Adirondack Green that I like, but my favorite is Johnny Hunter.

Old Black Bear You Better Not Wait
If I were you I'd hibernate
Johnny Hunter will find you quick and you'll wind up in a stew.

I first heard Dan perform this at an outing for kids near the college campus.  The kids loved it but I think I enjoyed it even more.  As you can tell from the excerpted stanzas, it is about critters in this case in the Adirondacks who are on the lookout for Johnny Hunter, lest they wind up in a stew.

The idea of a group of animals getting together to warn each other makes me smile. And while you can't tell without listening to the accompanying music, the tune is catchy  as well. Each time the song comes along on the cd I break out in a little smile.  I probably have heard it thirty times this past week as I tend to play the hell out of cds for a stretch and then when I realize I have heard the same songs over and over, make a switch.  Today when I heard Johnny Hunter I smiled as I do, but then thought of Johnny Hunter a little differently.

What if Johnny Hunter is not a real hunter, but is metaphorically, some agent out there that if we dont watch out can mess with our path.  If you think of Johnny Hunter as the anti-Cupid, some agent that derails us from following our heart, well the song works that way as well.  If we do not follow our hearts, then Johnny Hunter tends to find us quick and we wind up in a stew.  How many of us have wound up in a stew when instead of doing what our heart has suggested, we follow some safe and comfortable path to avoid hunger?

The last stanza of Dan's song goes like this:

Whenever you're in the woods alone
Sing this song with mighty tone
Or Johnny Hunter will find you quick
And you'll wind up in a stew.

Not bad advice whether you're a partridge avoiding Johnny Hunter, or a person sensing that if you're not careful, and continue on an enticing if incorrect path, you might wind up in a stew.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

A colleague of mine back when I taught at SUNY Fredonia raved about this book. He and I usually have similar tastes.  At the time, over thirty years ago, I picked it up and read the first chapter and it did not grab me.  I figured I would read it at another time.

Since the original recommendation, every few years or so, I hear or overhear someone speaking glowingly about A Confederacy of Dunces.  The most recent such conversation took place in the locker room of my gym.  A fellow was going on and on about how hilarious the book is. Then a couple of weeks ago I went to a used book sale at a local library and saw A Confederacy in the Classics section of the sale.  I bought it and figured I would give the book another shot.

The title, I discovered, is derived from a Jonathan Swift quote: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."  This factoid appears right before the novel begins and is preceded by pages of reviewers' testimony from reputable publications attesting to the  quality of the book.

I can't agree.  The book is about a very intelligent, but irreponsible and inconsiderate, iconoclast. Ignatius Reilly.  The author does not intend to make him out to be anything other than he is.  Reilly is a lout, has an inflated sense of self worth, a mooch, and all around trouble maker.  John Kennedy Toole, the author, depicts Reilly as a genuine, if clever, pain.   While it is never stated explicitly, Reilly considers himself besieged by a confederacy of dunces and he, Reilly, to be the only true genius.

My feeling was, after only a few pages, "enough already".  The character and story does not really go anywhere. We read about Reilly as an incompetent and irresponsible jerk when he works in a clothing factory, and then as a hot dog vendor, as a son throughout, and occasionally as a sort of boyfriend to a bohemian woman he met when he was in school in NY.

Yes, there are clever quips from Ignatius, and the literary/historical references are impressive, but for me the laughs were infrequent, the story not there, and I felt no sympathy at all for Reilly or really any of the characters save perhaps the fellow referred to as "Jones" throughout.

Interesting and sad fact about the book is that it was written in the early 1960s, but was not published until 1980.  Toole tried to get the book published throughout the 60s and was unsuccessful. In 1969 he took his life.  His mother, subsequently, pestered people to read the manuscript and finally got a professor to do so.  He, Walker Percy, loved the book and worked towards publishing it.  The edition I have lists Toole as the sole author with an introduction by Percy.  I have seen more recent editions of the book where the authors are listed as both Percy and Toole. Don't know the backstory on that.

In sum, I can't recommend this book, but a whole slew of others can and do.  Yes, I think we are all at times the victims of a confederacy of dunces.  Ignatius Reilly though is a victim of his own silly narcissism and laziness.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

hooray for our side

I read this morning that a plane that Ann Romney was on yesterday had to make an emergency landing when the cabin began to fill with smoke.  Fortunately she is safe and unhurt.

Regular readers may be able to detect my political leanings, but I don't like to campaign in these blogs for any candidate.  I have found some of the political postings on Facebook a little offputting regardless of whose side is being endorsed.  Sure, I am amused more when my guy is not the brunt of some cartoon, but in general the back and forth reminds me of the stanza from the old Steven Stills/Buffalo Springfield Song,"For What It's Worth"

What a field day for the heat
a thousand people in the street
singing songs and carrying signs
mostly say "hooray for our side."**

It's not just the social media, of course.  Fox News and MSNBC are neither, despite the name, news programs. They're both there to yell Hooray for Our Side.

I heard yesterday that Ann Romney shot back at some of the GOP supporters who were critical of her husband's campaign.  She said something like, "cut it out, it is tough out there.  You try getting in the ring."

I bet it is.  One might be inclined to respond to that with the Truman quip, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."  I have got to think that both the Romneys and the Obamas often want to flee the kitchen.

The problem this week with the Romney campaign is that it seems as if he has turned up the heat in the kitchen himself.  And the emergency plane landing with the smoke in the cabin has got to seem to them and their supporters as something of a metaphor.  The cabin must seem as if it is filling up with smoke.

I am not a dispassionate observer of the election.  I know who I want and I am following the election carefully.  But I do have what I hope will be a dispassionate observation about an event that took place just yesterday, probably around the time that Ms. Romney's plane filled up with smoke.

Mitt Romney, after being hounded by both Republicans and Democrats released his 2011 tax return and a summary of his last twenty years of returns.  I think the former is a long time coming. The latter I believe is a big mistake.

During the 1973 Watergate Hearings a man named Alexander Butterfield revealed that President Nixon recorded his oval office conversations.  These conversations, special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, and before him, Archibald Cox, suspected would reveal if the President indeed had conspired to obstruct justice in the aftermath of the Watergate burglary.  The President did not want to give up the tapes and claimed Executive Privilege.  The prosecutors were persistent, but Nixon after significant pressure only agreed to provide summaries of the tapes.  The prosecutors would not accept this, eventually went to the Supreme Court, and Nixon was forced to release the tapes.  When that happened, the so called Smoking Gun was revealed which led to the President's resignation.

There are those who claim that if President Nixon had come forward with the evidence right away and had apologized for his activity, he might have been spared the ignominy that is and will be at least a part of the history of his presidency.

Romney's tax return for 2011 might not force his plane to go down, but there are some questions there.  I think he will be able to endure the criticism related to it.

The twenty year summary is another thing. Big mistake. He is going to be pressured to release the actual returns and not the summary.  Already, in today's paper there is speculation about why the summary was released and not the actual returns.  In one article it was conjectured that the summaries might be an attempt to camouflage returns in which the Republican candidate paid no tax.

If Mr. Romney does eventually release his returns, and if there are smoking guns therein, his plane is going to go down.

And the plane might have been able to stay aloft if right from the start he released his returns and explained why he did what he did.

Hot in the kitchen.  Next week it may be the Obamas who need to adjust the thermostat.

**(To make sure I had the lyrics right for the song, For What It's Worth" I went to Wikipedia. There I read that the song was recorded in December, 1966.  Only nine plus months later, in early September 1967, I bought, for the grand sum of about four dollars, two tickets to hear both Janis Ian and the Buffalo Springfield, at a concert in Albany.   The campus center room where they played probably held no more than a hundred people and it was not packed.  Janis Ian was well known. But the Buffalo Springfield, not so much at that time.  Now of course the 1966 song is viewed, accurately, as a remarkable predictor of what would transpire on campuses in the last years of the 1960s and early 70s.  I really can remember hearing Buffalo Springfield play "For What It's Worth" live on that night.  Not sure I quite got it when I heard the song.  I was not then much of a politico.  My largesse "splurging" for the tickets was done largely to try to impress a date).

Friday, September 21, 2012

times winged chariot, again.

Last night, as is typical on Thursday evenings, I participated in my regular Thursday night doubles game.  We started this quartet in 1995 or thereabouts and the same foursome played for fifteen years.  Then one of the four had to pull out because of some recurring ailments and we have now a new fourth for the games.  Last night one of the originals had to sit out with an injury, so we played with a substitute.

This need to find a substitute for one of us is occurring with greater frequency.  I was the youngest of the original quartet when we started and I am old enough to have been born during the Truman administration.(Second term, please note).  Given our vintage, it is predictable that regularly one of us each week might be prone to a physical setback.

I played fairly well last night, got to shots that were, as we say in the game, tough "gets" and made a number of shots at the net reflecting the quick hands which has always trumped other weaknesses in my game.  It was doubles though and I did not have to run a whole lot.

But last night when I got home my legs hurt when I tried to stretch them out in the recliner, and then when I went to bed.  The legs still hurt today.  Nothing permanently wrong, of course, just soreness.  Ninety minutes of doubles yesterday and today I am careful when I go up and down the stairs.  Just a dozen years ago I played in tournaments which required playing four singles matches in less than forty eight hours.  The last such tournament I won was in 2000. I played my first match on a Saturday early afternoon.It was a tough two sets.  Then a challenging three setter Saturday early evening.  I came back to win another difficult three set match on Sunday morning, and an hour later began and eventually won a three set final for the trophy--all before the sun went down that Sunday night. Four matches in a little more than a day.  I felt no pain the next day.  Today, after 90 minutes of easy social doubles last night, I don't feel like walking to my car which is less than a quarter of a mile from where I sit.

It's a good thing in a number of ways. I've referred to Andrew Marvel's famous poem "To His Coy Mistress" in another blog.  A key line in it reads:  "At my back I always hear, times winged chariot drawing near." Any notion that we are going to live forever can be trumped in a hurry when you sense that you are not especially resilient.  When it is tough to move, you have to know that it's time to start moving.

My physical tribulations, however, have no effect on what is necessary to play for the Raccoon Lodge, my brother and my entry into the NFL football pool.  Two years ago we won the whole season.  There has, alas, been some deterioration on that front as well.  There are forty teams in the league.  The good news is that after the first two weeks of the season we are ranked 38th.  The bad news is that we are tied with the teams that are in 39th and 40th place.

We are, nevertheless, looking forward to Sunday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vince Young

I read yesterday that Vince Young is broke.

If you watched the 2006 Rose Bowl game you would have trouble believing this.  I watched the 2006 Rose Bowl game with my dad and we agreed that it was one of the better college football games ever played.  Texas played USC and prevailed 41-38, with the quarterback for Texas, Young, and the quarterback for USC Matt Leinart, putting on a stunning show.

As good as Leinart was--and he was magnificent--Young was better. He could run, pass, and make intelligent decisions.  At certain points in the game I wondered if anyone could tackle this guy and marveled at how, while running, he could pass the ball precisely to the only spot that would allow his receiver to catch the ball.

Young signed a professional contract with a guaranteed signing bonus exceeding by millions and millions what I will earn in my entire lifetime.

Now it is gone.  Vince Young--still a relatively young man--is out of a job.  He was cut by the Buffalo Bills where he was hoping to catch on as a back up to Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick.

How does someone with so much talent, lose it in such a quick period of time? How does someone with so much money lose it in such a short span?

When he played for the Tennessee Titans in his rookie year, Vince Young seemed to be everything that the scouts expected.  Then a year or two down the road he got into a public disagreement with his head coach.  After that he became the backup for the Philadelphia Eagles. Because of injuries to the starter, Young had an opportunity to play for the Eagles, a team that had an offense geared to Young's skills.  Did not work. He goes to Buffalo this year and does not make it out of training camp.

Sadly, this is not such an uncommon story.  Ryan Leaf another college quarterback heralded as the next great hero, seemed to self destruct in a matter of months not only in terms of talent, but because of off the field stupidity that was beyond what we normally define as very stupid.

There is a recurring lesson here for those who aspire to be sports heroes--and are successful in that endeavor.  Don't let the cheers go to your head.  In Circle, Harry Chapin croons,

I've sung my songs to silence
To empty clubs and crowded bars
I've sung my songs to standing room
Even sung 'em to the stars
But the faces they fade together
And the applause it's gone so fast
And the story of every darkened stage
Is that the glory just does not last

It doesn't. The only thing that lasts is true love. That does not go away, but talent, adulation from the masses, money--all that can go away and if you are not ready, the crash from such a tumble can be devastating.  Good luck to Vince Young as he tries to regroup.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Bumpy flight this afternoon.  I flew in ahead of a storm brewing in the northeast but the pregame show was making the plane dance.  A young woman to my left was having conniptions which, alternatively, had the effect of ratcheting up and reducing any anxiety I might have felt--the reduction occurring because by comparison I was feeling swell.   When the plane landed she immediately got on the portable phone and told her whoever that this was the worst flight EVER.  She must not have flown much and I would not want to be flying with her as a neighbor on a regular basis. I remember once being on a small plane flying from Hilton Head to Atlanta.  We got caught in a thunderstorm and boy did we ever do the mambo up in the air for a while.  My young neighbor would have really been a treat on that flight.

To whatever extent bumps on a plane make you think about an out of control quick demise, you might or at least I have wondered who I have not said what to and wish I had.  Then, of course, the plane lands and the concern becomes less to get the message out and more to catch the Blue Line in order to make the 4:50 commuter train. It can be easy to take life and time as a given when it is not in apparent jeopardy.

On the subject of demise and out of control circumstances that might cause it, my mother told me a family story this weekend that I had never heard before.  I knew the background, but not a key component.

The background I knew is this.  My maternal grandmother came to this country on a visit with her father in the early 20th century.  My great grandfather had a successful business in Europe and my grandmother was, comparatively, privileged.  When my grandmother returned to Europe she made up her mind that she would come to the United States when she was 18.  My great grandfather did not want his daughter to travel alone to America, but my grandmother was persistent and came over.  There she met my grandfather and married, eventually having five children.  She was certainly no longer wealthy and matters abruptly became much worse when in June 1929 my grandfather perished in a work related accident.  At that point the eldest of the clan was 11 and my mother was 4.

I knew all of this.  But here is what I did not know.  My grandmother wrote to her father in Europe and asked for some help.  Her father may well have provided some financial support--my mother is not sure. However, as an alternative, what my great grandfather suggested was that my grandmother move back to Europe with her children and live with her parents.

This must have been a tempting offer.  My grandmother has no money in what must be still a relatively unfamiliar country. Her husband is dead.  Still, my grandmother did not accept her father's offer.  She told him that she wanted her children to enjoy living in America. To move the brood back to Europe would deprive her children of that life.  What she did not know is that to have moved the family back to Europe would have deprived her children of any life.

After the mid 1930s my grandmother never heard from her parents or her brothers and sister again.  She did not hear from them because they were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis.  My grandmother had a picture of her family on a bureau that you could see as soon as you went into her apartment.  I have a vague recollection of asking when I was a little kid, where they were.  Can't remember how the adults responded then, but now I know what happened to the people in that picture.  It is, despite how much I might read about that time, still inconceivable

In another sense of the word, if my grandmother had gone to Europe this life of mine would have been, literally, inconceivable.  My mother would likely have been killed sometime in the late 30s or 40s.

Makes you kind of enjoy a bumpy plane flight.

Friday, September 14, 2012

begin again, finnegan

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan. He had whiskers on his chinagin. Along came the wind and blew them in again. Poor old Michael Finnegan. Begin Again.

This children's song kept me occupied as a youngster and occasionally pops into my head as an adult. I can recall a drive back to Boston from Albany once when I heard myself singing the song over and over for about ten miles. Fortunately, I was by myself and therefore was not committed.  I think I also recall the song because in one of my favorite Philip Roth novels, When She Was Good, the lead character sings it to herself when she is in one of her rare good moods.

For those in my tribe, this weekend begins the new year. Unlike the December 31/January 1 celebration, this new year is not brought in with wild soirees, but rather is intended to be set aside as a reflective moratorium.  It is time to begin again and take stock of who you are as a person and how you have behaved as a citizen of our universe with others.

Not sure that all in my tribe use the time as intended, and for me I certainly find myself over the two days considering more mundane matters as opposed to being introspective.  But that is what the time is for.  Check yourself out. How are you doing in terms of living within the confines of your conscience.  And how can you improve.

I love how football coaches after even a resounding victory meet the press and talk about how there is always room for improvement. I don't know how resoundingly winning my behavior has or has not  been, but like the football coaches I know that when I review the game film of the previous year I can see things that make me flinch.  So this time is supposed to be set aside to resolve how to avoid flinching so much when we review our next lap around the track.

I was impressed this morning reading excerpts from a speech that Secretary of State Clinton made about religious strength.  In these hours after the attacks at US embassies she remarked that truly religious people, regardless of their faith, do not resort to violence when their beliefs are attacked. All religions are attacked by fools at one time or another. "The response to insults is what separates people of true faith from those who would use religion as an excuse to commit violent acts."

And I think the response to all of life's turbulence is similarly what separates people.  In When She Was Good the lead character eventually dies despite the short lived singing of the children's song.  She could not find a way to begin-again.  She had gotten lost in some bad weather and died from the elements. The cause of death was listed as Exposure.

That is the cause of everyone's death.  Yet exposure is also our gift. We are exposed to life with all its  turbulence and how we react to the elements is what causes us to be joyful or sad.

 And so, for all people who take time out to reflect on what is what--whether as part of a religious holiday or during the chorus/course of any rhythmic musings--the question is how can we each day, begin-again, and religiously adhere to principles that allow us to contribute to this wonderful opportunity we call life.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Opening Day

Today, September 9, the NFL begins its football season in earnest.  Some interesting matchups and story lines. Randy Moss is back, now playing for the 49ers. Peyton Manning has a new team and will take his first snap for the Denver Broncos after a year on the sidelines.  The Saints high powered offense will see if it has been affected by the wounds of what has been called Bounty Gate, or will receive a boost because on Friday four players who had been suspended had that decision reversed.

The Raccoon Lodge is back in business. This is the team my brother and I have, named for the club Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton frequented in the great Honeymooner series. We pick games each week. In 2010-2011 the Raccoon Lodge won the league defeating all the imposters who thought they could pick better than we. Ha!  Last year in 11-12, the Raccoon Lodge showed its consistency by not winning a single week during the entire 17 week season.  We are, however, ready for today.

Fans throughout the country are itchy for professional football and have been ever since the Super Bowl game last February.  Many of these fans are donning their game day jerseys and beginning to watch the pre game shows even this early at 919 eastern time.  I wrote in the Madness of March that I have heard some people discuss the virtue of living on the west coast by identifying the singular advantage of left coasters being able to watch the eastern time 1 pm NFL games beginning at 10 a.m.  Seriously commenting that the morning wait for football is shorter.

I find myself not that juiced today for the start of the season.  I'm looking forward to watching the Patriots as I always am, and have planned my elliptical schedule to make sure I am on the machine and watching during the contest--thus making the workout less difficult.  However, I think I will skip the four pm games and the night one as well.  For some reason, very little interest.

A thought that has crept into my head this morning is a sobering one which puts into perspective the NFL season. I clearly remember a prior time when September 9th marked the first Sunday of the NFL season.  I recall that I had to work that day during the Patriots initial game as I had a gig running a workshop on Presentation Skills.  After the program, I went to a hotel bar nearby to catch the end of the games.  There was a fellow at the bar who I will never forget. He was sitting there ostensibly watching the games, but when I asked him even the simplest question to find out what had happened in one game or another, he smiled--a mixture of amused and cryptic. And then I heard him take a cell phone call during which he asked if "we were all set in Chicago."

I'll never know whether I am reading anything into that fellow at the bar or not.  I do remember what happened two days later as everyone who was conscious in this country will never forget.   A brilliant Tuesday became a date on which our world pivoted when planes taking off from Boston never reached their destinations. Every person who lives around here knows someone who was murdered that day.   The people who perpetrated that outrageous crime belong in the same hell as Eichmann and other myopic self serving subhumans.  Brains conveniently short circuited to conceive, plan, and execute abominations.

It puts a damper on the day to recall the prior September 9th, opening day.  Every day, I guess is an opening day.  A new opportunity to embark on a course that is healthy for us and others.  Jimmy Durante said you gotta start off each day with a smile.  Not a bad idea.  Probably it is as wise or wiser to start off each day with a genuine acknowledgment of the power and importance of love.  If we only have love--not self serving hate--we can melt all the guns, and give the new world to our daughters and sons. If we only have love, than tomorrow will dawn and the days of our years will rise on that morn.

And, oh yeah. Go Patriots.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I was driving Donna to the airport early last Saturday when we heard a story on the radio that the sales of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey had reached some astronomical level.  I asked if she had heard of it. She asked me if I had been living under a rock.  The book and its two sequels, apparently, have been the top three books on the New York Times best seller list for quite a while.

I like to go to Harvard Square and just sit and read in an outside cafe that looks out onto Massachusetts Avenue. I'd go there more often if it was easier to find a parking spot in the vicinity. On a Saturday morning at 8 a.m. there is no problem getting a parking spot, so after the trip to the airport I parked near the square, got a coffee and a bagel and watched the world go by.  I decided to take a stroll down to the nearby Harvard Book Store and see if I could get a copy of this hot selling book.

It was there alright--in two separate places. But in both spots the stack was nearly depleted.  I started reading the 500 plus paged book that Saturday and nearly completed it by Labor Day. Work interfered during the week, so I just finished it last evening.

Let me begin this review by commenting that if you removed the steamy scenes from the book, Fifty Shades does not make the best seller list.  The popularity of the book and its sequels has little to do with theme, plot line, or character development.  It is about steam.  Take out the steam and it is an ordinary girl meets boy story.  Bring in the steam and the book sells like hotcakes.

I've often thought that the line between pornography and erotica was difficult to identify and moved this way and that depending on your and a society's attitudes toward sex.  This book is billed as erotica, but I am not sure it is a whole lot different from what people--in the past at least--called pornography.  While I was reading it, I thought that had the author been a male, he might have been lynched by the critical press because of the nature of the erotic scenes that the author describes.  To be sure the public reviews on Amazon have ranged from one extreme to the other and both men and women have weighed in on each end. Still, I think that if the E.L. in E.L James (the author) stood for Edgar Lawrence, the reviews might have been more critical.

Is it worth a read?  I think it depends on (a) your comfort level with reading erotic/pornographic material and (b) how you feel about the particular brand of steam that is described in the book. It is not vanilla.  Since I believe that the popularity of the book is because it is sexually stimulating and not because of its inherent literary merits, one would have to be stimulated by this type of erotica.

Obviously, a whole lot of readers are so stimulated.   A while back I posted a blog about how conservative candidates vying for a primary win were trying to outdo one another by talking about how much they supported abstinence programs.    One might think that their position on this issue was foolish since, judging by sales of Fifty Shades, a whole lot of voters are interested in sex. But there is another point to consider.  Some readers privately thrilled by this book, may be the same people who publically and hypocritically advocate for abstinence programs and moan about the promulgation of sexual themes in films and books.

In sum, Fifty Shades is an erotic novel that may or may not depict what you consider erotic--but judging by the sales, it is a good bet that you will not be disappointed if pornography/erotica is not offensive.

Friday, September 7, 2012

the joy of our lives

My nephew Matt visited this past week with his wife Shannon and three year old son Jack.  The visit was a delight.  The kid was a continuous source of sunshine.  Running from room to room; singing nonsensically; reading from his children's books; and yes even when snoozing--he was so cute you wanted to take a picture of the way he looked with his eyes closed, his tiny body breathing in and out.

I read a post on facebook from a grandmother who commented to a friend that her grandchild was the "joy of our lives." I can see that after spending just two days with Matt, Shannon, and Jack.  Jack was three feet of joy 24/7.  Of course, I was not the one who had to potty train him, or discipline him on the rare occasion the kid needed any--and I didn't have to worry about him behaving badly when the four of us went to a restaurant (the kid did not need to be disciplined--he behaved better than the tipsy trio at an adjacent table).  I understand that there are draining responsibilities, but they come with the territory and that territory seems rich with joy. The three days were a good illustration of what was meant by the facebook post.   The "our lives" inclusion was revealing as well.   There is as much joy in sharing time and being able to refer to life as ours, as there is in observing a young life develop.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Boise State--semi annual rant

Semi annually--once right about now in early September, and once again in January--I write a rant about the problems with college football.   Things will improve somewhat as the NCAA has agreed to have a playoff system in a few years, but as of right now the problems are as they have been.

The college football season began three days ago.  No team has played more than one game. Nevertheless the season is over now for Boise State.  Over.  On Friday night they played Michigan State University at Michigan State. They lost a closely contested game by less than a touchdown in a hostile (away game) environment.  Because of this loss they have absolutely no chance, as in zero, to compete for the national championship.  One loss by less than a touchdown and, if winning a national championship was its goal--and there is no reason to think it was not, they might as well get ready for next season.

In basketball, lacrosse, baseball--every college sport including division 1AA, 2, and 3, football, a single loss would be an obstacle, but not an insurmountable obstacle to competing for a championship.  In division 1 college football, you lose one game and play a schedule like Boise State's and you are done.  Division 1 college football is like a single elimination post season tournament except that it begins during the regular season.

Other teams lost this weekend and are also essentially eliminated, but I feel particularly bad for Boise State. In 2010 and 2011, they lost only one game in each season, and were not allowed to compete for the championship. Moreover, Boise State always plays a powerhouse during the first week and has won these games prior to the loss in East Lansing on Friday.

College football operates as if the season is actually the post season, and the official post season--the bowl games--consist of nothing but exhibition contests except for one tilt in which two teams selected by a committee get to compete for a championship.  Last year's computer selected "championship" game was such a snoozer that it made sominex look like a stimulant by comparison. Tapes of that game are used to  pacify ADD kindergartners from what I am told.

Yesterday Michigan (not Michigan State) got pummeled by Alabama.  Because Michigan  plays  in the Big Ten, it is not as if they are absolutely positively eliminated but, realistically, they do not have much of a chance of playing for a championship unless they win every single one of their next games and do so by more than ten points.  Michigan was ranked 8th yesterday, but because of one shellacking they are out of it.

It is ridiculous.  College football is an exciting sport, but until a championship can be decided on the field, it will pale in legitimacy when compared to college basketball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer and any other sport that has a post season in which deserving teams are entitled to compete.

Book Review--Lucky Bruce

I went to the library last week to get, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy.  While there I spotted a book called Lucky Bruce, an autobiography by Bruce Jay Friedman.  It caught my attention because I thought the author had written a short book I had read as a kid that still makes me laugh when I think about it. That book, How to Be a Jewish Mother was, I found out, actually written by someone else (Dan Greenberg).  Nevertheless, I borrowed Lucky Bruce from the library and finished it yesterday.  I'm glad I read it.

When I read the front matter in the book I realized that I had read another book by Bruce Jay Friedman many years ago.  When I was in graduate school, Stern--Friedman's best known novel--was a required reading in one of my classes.  I don't remember much about it except for a vague sense that I did not think it was "so extra."

While Lucky Bruce  is not the sort that compels you to snag strangers and tell them to get it, the book is an interesting read particularly for anyone who wants to get a sense of what it is like to be a writer.  The downsides of the book are that there does not seem to be a pattern at all to what appears between the covers. It is not chronological really.  It does start with his early years and ends with the present and does proceed sort of between then and now. However, the chapters are essentially unrelated episodes.  There is a chapter that centers on Elaine's--the writers' restaurant/bar in NY.  Another about his interactions with Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Several that address his relationships with Mario Puzo and Joseph Heller.  In the early parts of the book we read about his start working for a Magazine company and how he worked at writing plays and novels when not on the clock at his day job.   However, there are only loose linkages between one chapter and another.  The reader discovers that his first marriage was not a good one and the second one a very good one, but little about why in either case.  He apparently adores his four children, but one wonders about how the lifestyle of a writer has affected his personal relationships.  Some of that in the book, but given the many references to his children and the several pictures of his family in the photo section, I wonder why that detail was left out.  Also, several references to his mother, but not much about his father.  So, I was curious to know more about his non literary relationships because I would think that the world of a writer could have an impact on traditional lifestyles. Again, some of that, but it was superficial and, to me at least, curiously left out.

What I liked about the book is that it did provide many insights into the turbulence and pleasures of a writer's life.  Bruce Jay Friedman has written novels, plays, screenplays (some of which he has been credited for when he acknowledges that his input was minimal or discarded by Hollywood producers).  He has written many short stories and been published in prestigious magazines.  His financial fortunes have swung like a Sine curve, but he obviously did well enough to live in the prestigious Hamptons (Water Mill specifically) and be a regular at various expensive restaurants.  He downplays his talents which I found attractive, but he is and he must be very talented to be as published as he has been.

You get the sense that despite the struggles and the shots to one's self esteem that come with being rejected--capriciously at times as part of the territory of submitting artitcles--he has enjoyed his life as a writer.

Relatively easy read.  290 pages; so you are not going to get bogged down with it.  If you can pardon the gaps and don't mind that the memoir is more a pastiche than a sequentially linked narrative, then I think you will like it.