Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hosannah plus

Several unrelated thoughts this day after Christmas.


 I heard this afternoon that Aaron Rodgers will be starting for the Packers this Sunday in the winner- take-all game Green Bay has with the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers has not played in over two months.  However, the way the story is being presented it is as if the messiah will be arriving to quarterback the Packers in this do or die game.  Below a couple of soberly written points:

Neither the Bears nor the Packers are going anywhere in the playoffs. They are the two best teams in a division comprised of four stinkers. So the winner of this game on Sunday may "do" as opposed to "die" but they will expire the next week when they will be beaten like a drum by San Francisco or New Orleans.

Second, Aaron Rodgers is likely to be a wee bit rusty on Sunday. The man has not played in two months. Think of your job. Think of taking two months off and coming back to work. Whether you are an accountant, short story writer, history teacher, or gardener, you will be a lot out of shape. Rodgers will be rusty as well and, of course, as opposed to the accountant, teacher, writer, and gardener-Rodgers will have eleven 300 pound men charging at him in an attempt to knock his block off.

Hold the hosannahs please. Rodgers can not save the team.  In 1971, Joe Namath sat out almost the entire season after injuring himself in preseason, but entered a lopsided fourth quarter game toward the end of the year and threw several touchdown passes nearly pulling out a victory. During the ensuing week the Jets faithful were spewing hosannahs. Here comes Joe the messiah. That next Sunday against the Cowboys, the Jets were losing 28-0 in the first quarter before anyone had finished a beer.

Don't bet the farm on Green Bay this week.

I was flipping through the channels this evening and came across an episode of Bonanza.  It is stunning how bad the acting and how predictable the story line. An old friend of Ben came to the Ponderosa with his son. The friend was on his way to San Francisco to take care of a business deal. The son is a snot. The father leaves for San Francisco, leaves the kid, and will be back in two months. Ben turns the kid around by kicking his ass and making him work. At the end of the hour, go figure, the kid is a poster child for one swell well behaved boy--practically perfect. Two months under the thumb of the Cartwrights and anything is possible.

Bonanza was the number one show for many years on Sunday nights.  Now we have matured. I caught a few minutes of Two Broke Girls the other day as I was on the elliptical. A real laugh a minute. No joke was funny and every joke made me wonder how this program is on the air. On the particular episode I saw, the waitress said penis several times, and referred to her "rack".  Each of these references brought the house down (the artificial laugh track house).


There is quite a bit of talk now about who should be the coach of the year in the NFL. There should be no such chatter. The Patriots last year had four receivers who were each terrific. Wes Welker--now with the Broncos, Rob Gronkowski, now in a cast, Danny Woodhead now in San Diego, and Aaron Hernandez now in jail. The Patriots lost all four of their receivers.  On defense they lost their best interior lineman, their best linebacker, and another very good lineman.

The Patriots are 11-4, have won their division, and are doing well because of the brilliance of Bill Belichick. The Patriots should have lost 8 games this year. Maybe they won't win another, but Belichick should be coach of the year.


I woke this morning and could not help but notice that my cat was sleeping on my face.  Imagine the field day the writers of Two Broke Girls would have describing that scene.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Eventide and Painted Ladies

Typically I drive to Virginia during this holiday week.  This year I didn't have it in me to make the 1200 mile round trip journey.  So what does a yid do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone with a non-observant cat?  There are basketball games to watch and a great bagel bakery in Brookline where I went this a.m. to address my cholesterol deficit.  But most of the time I spent sitting in my easy chair and read.

Eventide is the sequel to Kent Haruf's Plainsong and the novel that precedes Benediction.  All three of these books are about a small town in the flat lands of eastern Colorado, that he calls Holt.  Some easy sleuthing discovered that Holt is based on a town called Yuma Colorado.

Eventide is a true sequel in that the McPheron brothers who play prominently in Plainsong are central to this novel and without having read its predecessor you might miss out on something when reading Eventide.  The novel is, like his others, a beautiful depiction of life in this town not without its problems.

Two challenged parents cannot protect their children from a ne'er do well abusive uncle.  A mother to two daughters discovers that her husband off in Alaska for work has decided not to return.  A young boy is left to take care of his grumpy grandfather when his mother passes.  And then there is the story of the McPheron brothers and their adopted daughter.  I read Plainsong about a dozen years ago. Tough to forget the McPheron brothers   Eventide is highly recommended.

Painted Ladies was written by Robert Parker the author of the  Spenser novels.  This is the next to last Spenser book that he published. It is not the best Spenser, but not the worst one either. Spenser is trying to discover why a client of his was murdered and unearths a relationship between descendants of holocaust survivors.  The plot is thin, and not atypical, but still an easy and enjoyable read.  Spenser survives, but sadly,  Parker is gone.

 What I liked about the series was the ethical nature of Spenser's pursuits. He was always guided by some moral principle and I would come away from the books with the reinforced sense that toeing the ethical line was more or at least as important as toeing the legal one. In some of the novels it was a little tough to tell the good guys from the bad ones, but not in this one.  Fast read. Another writer has gotten the Spenser "franchise" so there will be more books with Spenser leading the way but Parker will not be the one driving the action.

Probably time now for me to go get some Chinese food.


Happy Day to all who celebrate.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I wake up this morning and see the fog.  Last weekend on Saturday night and then again during the week we had several inches of snow in the New England area.  I spent last Sunday morning and then time during the week shoveling out from the weather.

Then, on Thursday, it became warm.  Unusually warm.  Yesterday it was close to 50 and today we are supposed to have temperatures reaching 60 degrees.  So, when I rubbed my eyes this a.m. I looked out and could not see the neighbors' homes right across the street.  The snow was leaving us and there was no visibility. It is a good thing this is not a work day because the traffic into the city would be impossible. My newspaper, I am sure, will not get here for hours because the poor driver who hauls them is unlikely to be able to see where he is going.

How could you explain fog to someone from another planet? You could ask the same question as it relates to snow, or rain, but there is something about the eeriness of fog.  What is right in front of you becomes invisible. In this way fog becomes a great metaphor.

It has been over forty years since I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but as I recall Kesey uses fog as a metaphor.  It is what is produced by what he calls the Combine which makes it difficult for all to see and proceed. It is everywhere in the asylum precluding clear vision manufactured, in the novel at least, externally--by the Combine.  It takes a McMurphy to convince the inmates that, with work, the fog can go away.

I remember once watching a football playoff game on tv played in the fog.  Players could not see their opponents, or the ball, or their teammates.  Lots of people running around chaotically. Kind of funny to watch. Was on a hike once and knew I was near an oasis, a place called the Hut in the Clouds.  But I could not see it. I could not see it because the fog/clouds were so dense that I truly could not see what was right in front of me. Fortunately, just as I was about to clank into the hut, someone from inside the building opened a door and I could tell the building was there.

How could you explain the metaphor of fog to someone from another planet.  People not able to see what is right in front of them, running around chaotically, banging into walls, because either their fellow humans or the individuals themselves have generated a fog so dense that what passes for normal progress is nothing more than aimless motion.  Like football players ostensibly pursuing the goal in a fog affected game, our movements would seem haphazard and foolish.

On another note. I like the Patriots today to beat the Ravens and I think Houston can give the Broncos a scare.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Annual Rant

Today, my graduate alma mater, the University of Buffalo--identified almost always as UB when I was there--will be playing in a bowl game.

We, UB,  will be competing with San Diego State in the august Idaho Potato Bowl.  No, check that. I just glanced at the newspaper to my side and see that the game is called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.  (This first word, no doubt, inserted to separate it from all other Idaho Potato Bowls).

I am not unhappy that UB is gaining some recognition because of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.  The point is that their season was only mediocre.  So they/we have no business playing in a post season game.  And the very existence of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is a joke. UB is 8-4 this year. San Diego State 7-5.  Neither team is anything special.  Of course compared to the New Mexico Bowl where a 7-6 team is pitted against a 6-6 team, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is a place to crown champions.

Division I college football is the one sport where the post season--except for one game--is made up of a series of exhibition contests. In most sports the exhibition games precede the season and a post season determines a champion.  Not in college football. The good people of Idaho want to make some shekels so they are hosting this meaningless game this afternoon.

As significantly, the teams that do compete for the championship are SELECTED by pundits. They do not emerge because of some tournament.  Some wizards with the help of a computer determine which teams compete. This year one of the combatants is competing because of a fluke play that occurred during the regular season. Auburn scored to beat Alabama at the end of a game on a play that you will not see occur for another 20 years. Just a fluke. And now Auburn will compete for a championship.

Ridickalus.  Ohio State should be able to compete. They, like Auburn, also lost only one game this season. But Auburn has been selected.

Okay. End of rant.  College football Division I is ridickalus. Next year, finally, there will be a mini tournament to determine the winners,  but even then someone will select the four participants. It is better than what is, but still there will be Idaho Potato Bowls (er Famous Idaho Potato Bowls) littering December.

Go UB, sort of.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Benediction: Book Review

The demons were out Wednesday night. Three a.m. could not sleep. Coursing through my consciousness were recollections of missed opportunities all jockeying for position and gaining access to my head as if elbowing each other to get face time.  Tried classical music to get some sleep which often helps, but on Wednesday the station mostly served to supply weather reports every half hour.  Occasionally, as if to add salt to the wound, the host would announce the time reminding me that it was say, 343 in the a.m. and I was still awake.

Probably no coincidence that on Wednesday I was nearly finished with Benediction--an excellent but sad novel by Kent Haruf.  I finished the book yesterday. While the last ten pages were unnecessary, too schmaltzy, and could have been edited out to make the book even more powerful, I still highly recommend the book. Just beautifully written, easy to read, and about any of us who is in touch with our hearts and life.

It is about the owner of a hardware store in the rural plains of eastern Colorado who has discovered that he has only a month to live.  In that month he revisits and is revisited by his life and disappointments.   If you've been around the track enough times, you do not need to be given a death sentence to identify.  Our history lives in our head and when the time is right and we are not kidding ourselves, we are confronted with the episodes when we zigged instead of zagged--particularly when we sensed or knew at the time that we should have zagged.

When I was in camp as a kid, every Friday night we had services. At the end of the service the camp owner was called to a podium and delivered what was called "the benediction".  To me, the word benediction has always been associated with this short talk he gave which every single week was exactly, but exactly, the same. It was so clearly repetitive that his message, after a spell, became meaningless and we wise guy kids would mouth the words we had gotten to know by heart.  What the word, benediction, actually meant was something I was unsure of when I picked up the novel since to this day I immediately thought of Uncle Chic's one minute talk as what a benediction was. So, I looked it up.  In the dictionary by my side I read that a benediction is "the short blessing with which public worship is concluded."  By extension, a stretch perhaps, the last month of the main character's life is his conclusion and the way he addresses his history and the way his loved ones communicate with him is a benediction, a blessing to and for his life.

The author has an enviable ability to depict people and conversations precisely as you might think they would be.  For the reader this story is as real as fiction can be.  Beautiful book. Highly recommended.  But don't be surprised if some stuff from your past is unearthed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snow time

In about an hour I will be going out to get my exercise for the day.  I am not going to my health club because, no doubt, it is closed.  At about 3 pm it started snowing here and is still coming down now 5 plus hours later.  If I have any shot of getting a car out of the driveway tomorrow, I better start shovelling shortly.

For someone who lived in Albany and Buffalo and Binghamton and Angola (NY) and Fredonia (NY) I have had my bouts with driveways and shovelling.  Actually had some battles with snow as a teen when our Long Island home got whacked with snow travelling up the eastern shore.  My father was a firm believer of getting the snow while it was coming down, a principle I claimed to be false.  So, now as an adult I typically wait until the snow stops before I get out there.  This time, though, I don't want to be shoveling at midnight.

Took an hour to get home tonight.  This is mostly because drivers in the Northeast have never lived in Albany or Buffalo and drive like chickens when it snows.  Also the volume is greater here so there are more chances for scaredy cats to be out there or knuckleheads who feel compelled to tweet while skidding--both phenomena slowing down other motorists.

I'll soon be eligible for social security but I still don't mind the shovelling that much.  Burn up a lot of calories, make room for a doughnut or two, and purge the tension that accrues during the course of the day.  But this is the second storm in three days.  Shoveled quite a bit on Sunday morning.  Usually sometime in March I get tired of snow and winter.  Perhaps it is an indication of how long I am becoming in the tooth, that the March sensation is creeping into my consciousness in mid December.

P.S. I just heard a forecast on the radio that I'd never heard before.  The forecast is for snow AND frozen FOG. I can let anyone interested in knowing what frozen fog means by about 10 pm. eastern.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Uncle Dynamite--P.G. Wodehouse Book Review

When I was a kid, my father raved about the author P.G. Wodehouse.  On one of his shelves he had the book Joy in the Morning which he recommended. Of course as a teenager I did not see the point of reading a book my dad recommended.  But,  I did remember the recommendation. And in my early thirties I read Joy in the Morning and recall laughing out loud.

For some reason, though, I'd not picked up another book by P.G. Wodehouse until last week.  Uncle Dynamite, is one of the dozens of novels PG Wodehouse has written. For a stretch he was churning out at least one and sometimes two a year.

If you like clever language you will enjoy how Wodehouse writes. For me, however, after about twenty pages I'd had enough.  The story was silly, but it was not meant to be anything but. A boy meets "Uncle Dynamite" on a train and relays how he is in love with his cousin who has little or no interest in him. Uncle Dynamite has the sad duty to relay that the cousin is in fact engaged to be married to another. The boy is distraught.  The book is about how Uncle Dynamite gets this and several other related complexities worked out.  There are several side plots. There is a maid who won't marry a goofy policeman unless he quits the force and opens a pub; an American woman who wants to smuggle jewels back into the states through a clay statue; an icy author, an irascible uncle, mistaken identities, prospects of a baby naming contest, and assorted other Keystone Cops episodes.

Is it clever? yes .

Are there laugh out loud moments? some.  

But the bottom line is that whereas there are books I don't want to end because I enjoy living in them,  I hurried to finish Uncle Dynamite. I think you need to be a devoted fan of Wodehouse or an Anglophile to select this book as an essential read.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Miracles Happen

For months, across from where I sit here at work, there were bundles and stacks of cardboard boxes filled with books.  I'd moved items from one office to another and awaited bookcases.

The delivery of my bookcases was sit com like.  A number of times the wrong bookcases came.  I am not especially fussy but after a "special order" had been submitted what first arrived was just not what had been specially ordered. Then came a bookcase that was broken, then a third delivery arrived which also was not what had been ordered.  Finally, four months after they had been ordered two bookcases arrived from the North Pole or somewhere which I could have picked up at a local Staples in twenty minutes.

This past Monday I finished unearthing all that had been in the boxes and placed the books on the new hoo hah shelves in my office.  When I was done I took a plaque that I'd received as a birthday gift some years back, and placed it in a conspicuous spot on the shelves. The plaque reads, Miracles Happen.

I was not thinking of the arrival of the bookcases when I placed the sign on the shelves, though the message would have been apt.  I was not even thinking of the Patriots incomprehensible victory over the Cleveland Browns last weekend when the Pats were down 26-14 with two minutes left and managed to win 27-26 in a way that still has me shaking my head.  I guess if you cheer for the Miami Dolphins my sign would be apt as last week after collapsing on the last play like a bridge table burdened with an elephant, the Dolphins won when an unimpeded Steeler runner heading for a touchdown and a victory, stepped out of bounds inadvertently.

A few months back I was talking with my dad about a subject that I can't recall now. What I remember was dad's response to a quip I'd made that if such and such happened it would be a miracle.  His comment--"If it happens, it won't be a miracle."

Like his dad--my grandfather--dad is a non believer. Like me, he identifies with Judaism not because of any sense that it is necessary to adhere to a prescribed series of prayer utterances, but because of the need to identify with a population that has had its share of enemies.  Want to be clear that we Jews seem to still be around.

But as it relates to believing in an almighty, my dad, cannot.  His father was even less of a believer. My grandfather's simple response to religious adherence was a head shake and the comment "it's ridickalus."  So, when my dad says that if something happens, it can't be a miracle, he means that the "miracle" may seem miraculous but there really is some phenomenon that explains it.  We may not know what that phenomenon is yet, but there is a reason behind what appears to be miraculous.

I am not sold on this.  Not convinced.  I will not attribute phenomena to some omnipotent, omniscient source, but sometimes things happen and there can be no phenomenon that could explain it.

There is a subtitle on the plaque on my bookshelf that "miraculously" arrived after a four month journey in a meandering van.  The subtitle reads, "The most astonishing thing about miracles is that they happen."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Goldfinch. Book Review

Are we tethered to something that restricts, redirects, skews or retards our progress? And is it possible that the things we think we are tethered to, are illusions, and we can easily snip the ties that seem to bind?

The Goldfinch is a long book.  Nearly 800 pages and I think two or three hundred could have been edited out and the book would have been stronger because of the revision.  Still, it is a good book and one that is likely to remain in my head for a long while, if not for as long as I have left.

A boy, Theo, has behaved badly and needs to see the principal in school with his mother.  The two travel to the school meeting together but are very early so they decide to stop in a museum. While there they observe a painting, the Goldfinch, in which the bird seems to be chained to a perch.  The mother tells the son about the history of the painting.  Shortly thereafter there is a 9-11 type attack in the museum. The mother dies, the boy regains consciousness. Before he escapes another patron who is dying in the rubble hands Theo two items. One of these is the painting, the Goldfinch.

What happens to the painting and the boy is at the heart of the plot.  At one point what comes as a huge surprise to the then young man Theo, is no surprise to the reader.  We are not always tethered to what we think inhibits us.  And sometimes, an apparent obstacle can turn out to be actually a catalyst for positive change.

I had to read Great Expectations in Junior High School. Then as a high school English teacher I had to teach the novel. So, I may be more familiar with the book than most, but some of the characters in the Goldfinch are right out of Great Expectations even though this is set in contemporary times.  Hobie made me think of Joe Gargery, and there is even a character whose name is Pippa.  I had trouble believing Boris, who is so central to the story.  Born in the Ukraine but living in the United States since he was a teen, Boris still speaks broken English as a thirty year old. Also, Boris's ability to extricate himself from situations is out of a Super hero comic book.  Boris does a lot of drugs as does Theo.  I never was a druggie and perhaps I am not with it,  but I found this aspect either unrealistic or an indication of how far out of the loop I have become..  Perhaps the drugs were meant to suggest how we all employ some 'drug" to navigate the terrain made bumpy by events and losses.

In short, the book is too long.  That written, if you are a reader I would recommend it.  It is well written and the message is strong.  I remember once being nervous about a seminar I was scheduled to lead.  I had all my materials locked in an office and could not find the key.  I was panicking with fifteen minutes to go before having to greet the high paid and paying executives who had signed up for the session.  I called custodians, a locksmith, and security and nobody could get me in. Finally, I tried a key I had on my chain and discovered that it worked.  I thought there was a metaphor there.  We often think we are stifled when we possess the very tools that allow for liberation.  The message in this book is similar. The goldfinch was tethered, but we may not be.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Send in the limousines

 A few weeks back I was listening to a sports radio station on my way to work. A fellow was being interviewed. Very altruistic fellow.  If you did not listen carefully it sounded as if he was a leading player in a charitable organization.

As I continued to listen I realized that this fellow ran an organization that, for a fee, gave bettors tips on who to bet on in upcoming football games. Breezily he talked about how he had won this game and that the previous week and had hauled in a good bit of cash.  His selfless message was that he knew that this was the time of the year when people were buying gifts for one another and he was happy that he could help out.  If you called him, he would tell you his picks for the upcoming week. Since he was so clearly clairvoyant you would gain the benefit of his wisdom, slap some money on sure things, and walk away with enough loot to make you a hero at holiday time.

What a guy.  Great to know that there are people out there who are concerned about the little guy, who know how tough it is to make ends meet, and who want to help.  Just great. Tis the season to be jolly.

Well, swell. I remember when I did some radio interviews after my book came out.  A question that surfaced from callers regularly was if I had any tips for the upcoming games.

I do. Here's is my tip.

If you need the money, don't bet on the game. Only bet on a game if the money you are spending is your recreational dough.  If you have money that you would typically spend on dinner or to see a movie and you think it will be fun to bet on the Saints tonight as opposed to the Seahawks, well knock yourself out.  But if you are betting to make money, use the funds to get your head examined.

You cannot win betting on sports if you bet on a regular basis. You cannot.  Sure, you might win one week, or two weeks, and then think you are a wizard, but keep betting and you will lose, and lose big. The fancy hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard are, brick by brick, paid for by people who thought they could win and lost.  If they thought they could win, and did win, then Las Vegas would not have fancy hotels.

The interview with the altruist has surfaced in my consciousness because I am reading a book that had a minor character who killed himself after he started losing his shirt betting on football games.  The guy, before he drove drunk in the wrong direction, had stolen his kid's social security number and "borrowed" from his son to pay his debts only to lose 65 K more.

I play, for fun, in an NFL pool.  Been doing it for years.  One year we, the Raccoon Lodge, won it all. My brother and I put up short dough in the beginning of the year and if we win a single week we get the dough back. Haven't won a single week in a couple of years, but we did, one year, win the grand prize which was enough to buy a decent dinner.  Since then, I have won bubkas. Nothing.

The thing is, I really do know something about football. I watch a lot of games, know the teams, have a pretty decent sense of who is the better squad. But when you bet on games you bet against the spread, not even up.  You cannot win for an extended period of time betting against the spread, any more than you could win betting on heads or tales for an extended period of time. Case closed. You bet enough, you cannot win.

That radio altruistic hawker of wisdom is a class A louse for suggesting that to help you pay for the kids' gifts you should just give him a call and he will be Uncle Friendly and tell you who to bet on.  He knows you will lose. He will take his cut, and you will need even more money.

Once on one of those talk shows I was on, a fellow, in response to my comment that you cannot win, opined confidently that he knew how to win because he had a system.  I am reminded of what my uncle said once when we informed him that we had a system. He nodded his head a few times and then told us, "they send limousines for those who have systems."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miracles and Thanks

I read in the paper yesterday that Thanksgiving day and Hanukkah will not coincide for another 75,000 years.  I mentioned this to my dad, who quipped, "I can wait."

He was kidding. We can't.  Miracles happen, but I don't think living 75,000 years longer is a miracle on the horizon.  So, it is probably wise to celebrate now.

Is there ever a time not to celebrate now?  Once bought a bumper sticker that read, "Don't Postpone Joy."  A coincidence of a day set aside to give thanks occurring on a day that begins the celebration of a miracle, is as good a time as any to seize the day. Tell those you love that you love them now. Brighten their day and illuminate yours.

Also, and as long as I am writing, take the Lions in the early game.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

cool customer

Last night I sat next to a fellow on the plane who was returning to New England for one reason.  His family has had season tickets for the Patriots for close to thirty years.  He has been living in D.C. since he went to college in 1995.  He was flying back home to go to tonight's game between the Patriots and the Broncos.

I just took a walk to mail a letter. There is no witch who has a chest as cold as it is tonight.  I took the walk as much to get some exercise as to mail the letter and the round trip was 1.5 miles.  I came in and it felt like it does when I return to the house after I've shoveled snow.

So, my thoughts have returned to my neighbor on the plane.  We are a minute or two before kick off. He has probably been sitting in the ice box of a stadium for at least a half hour.  I'd love to know if right now he has second thoughts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

mlk memorial

Around noon today I was feeling very tired.  I was at a conference in the nation's capitol and one of the panels I wanted to see had been at 8a.m.  For reasons related to the number of attendees and the time when I registered (more than a month ago) there were no rooms left at the conference hotel. This meant I was staying over a mile away and my wakeup for the 8 a.m was much earlier than I would have wanted it to be. I am an early riser. Just don't move so fast when I rise early.

All this is to explain that when I came back from the session and some other activity at the conference, I was more tired than I typically am on a Saturday at noon.  I'd done a full day of conferencing the day  before on Friday so, lying on the hotel bed seemed like a fine thing to do.

But something had been on my mind. I'd been told to make sure to see the new Martin Luther King Memorial.  I knew this would be a good idea, but could not get my mind to move my body.  Finally, I got off my back, packed up, and went to the lobby for a cab.

I am not a museum sort of guy.  Typically, I get antsy within forty minutes of a trip to a museum. The Museum of Fine Arts is literally across the street from where I work and I have been there about ten times in over thirty years.  And at least three of those times I was there because there was a function of some sort sponsored by my university. So, museums are typically not stimulating.

Memorials are not quite in the same category. The first time I saw the Vietnam Memorial I was surprised at how I reacted. And the Lincoln Memorial with the Gettysburg address engraved on the wall can bring tears to your eyes even if you know the speech by heart.

Still, despite my experience with memorials, I was surprised at how powerful the Martin Luther King memorial is.  There was a park ranger there who, on the hour, gave talks to those who gathered. I was easily the oldest in the crew there, and the only person there who was more than a child when King delivered the 63 speech.  The ranger pointed out some things that I found interesting about the reason for the Memorial's shape.  If it had not been getting cold, I might have stuck around and become more educated.  However, after his initial spiel I peeled off from the group and took in the Memorial by myself.

There are King quotes on the wall surrounding the main part of the Memorial. The statue of King will make even the most cynical among us involuntarily mutter "wow".  Very large and it blends in with the sky. The Memorial is intentionally set right in line with the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments.  All three leaders made the same claim in their Gettysburg address, Declaration of Independence, and I Have a Dream rhetoric:  All of us are created equal.  If you go to the nearby Lincoln Memorial you can see an engraving at the spot where King delivered the 63 speech.

When you don't do things, you don't know what you missed.  When you do things that you were considering not doing, you--or at least I--think that I would have been foolish had I not done what I was considering not doing. Going to the King Memorial was wise.  If you have not seen it and find yourself in DC and are hanging around in a hotel room tired and thinking that you need the rest---get off your back and go see the memorial especially if you've not seen the others that are nearby.

We Are Water: Book Review

Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True is one of the best books I've ever read. And, besides, I love the title.  There are things we just know are true. No indecision. We just know they are facts even if they cannot be proven.

His book, She's Come Undone, is also excellent.  How do we undo our undoing? Can we undo our undoing?  His newest novel, We Are Water is similar in this way.  Can we overcome events that have or could undo us?

I don't think We are Water is as good as either of the other two books I've mentioned, but it is well written and, for better or worse, very engaging.  The problem with being engaged by a  book like this is that there is so much sadness that one might prefer not to have to deal with the pain and, perhaps, see the relationship between the characters lives and one's own.  When I get into a book like I got into this one, it is as if I'm hanging around in the same place as the characters so whatever is going on in the fiction seeps into me and my reality--and not just while I am reading.  Fortunately, I've not experienced what the characters in this book have, but I think the book could be difficult for those who have.

You have real tsuris here. There is a pedophile; a man whose father never acknowledges him; a woman whose mother died in a storm as did a younger sister, and whose father becomes a drunk because of the losses.  You have an innocent person who is killed and a not so innocent person who is killed.  A man's spouse leaves him for another woman and subsequently he and a daughter are attacked (separately).  So, a lot occurs that is not going to make you start doing a happy dance.

That written, the book keeps you turning the pages and has stayed with me for the day since I finished it.  The chapters are written from the perspective of different characters. The author is very good at changing voices and capturing the thinking of these diverse narrators.   The author's ability to get into the heads of a pedophile, the spouse of a racist, the victim of sexual abuse--really special.

I'm not quite convinced that the author knew where this story was going when he got going. I think he knew he was going to write about a storm and loss, but some of the peripheral characters don't really seem to evolve in the way you would expect.  Viveca, for example, the woman for whom the spouse left, is portrayed negatively in the first half of the book, but it seems as if the author decides that she should be characterized more positively by the time he is done.  Can't quite buy Orion's (male main character) and his ex-wife's (Annie's) evolving relationship.  And I wonder if he thought it would end up that way when he began.  There is an allusion to art theft that sort of gets dropped about half way through the book.

Still, withal, I would recommend the book. However, I would not recommend it if you are in a sad place to start with. If the love of your life has left you I'd pass on this for a spell.  And worse, if you have been the subject of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse--I would definitely pass on this, until you are feeling as if you can get immersed in a book where the central characters have themselves been abused.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A half a century old

There is the Challenger.  And, of course, 9-11.  And when John Lennon died.  We remember another Kennedy's assassination and Martin Luther King's.  And when we heard that four of our peers were murdered in Ohio because they protested the war. (Actually two of them were protesting. The other two were just nearby).  Most of us over 60 can tell you when they heard the news about these events.

But none of us, not one of us, will ever forget where they were fifty years ago tomorrow.

It was also a Friday. I was home from school and at the grocery store. My mother had sent me for a product called Lawry's Garlic Spread.  In the King Kullen I heard some conversation that gave me a sense.  Couldn't find the garlic spread. Went to a convenience store two places away in the strip mall. Found the garlic spread.  The usual affable owner was listening to the radio somberly.

"What happened?" I asked.

"They've shot the president."

I paid for the garlic spread and started home. My brother met me at the light and asked me if I had heard. I told him.  He mentioned how the president's will to live was identified on the radio as being such that he would survive.  We got home and heard Walter Cronkite tell us the news.

Fifty years later.  There are few hours that are more vivid in my memory bank.  If you are thirty or so, ask your parents.  I guarantee they can tell you in detail about that day five decades ago.  Go ask them if they know where their keys are, you have only a fifty fifty chance. This recollection of a half century ago is a lock.

Friday, November 15, 2013

shabbat shalom

I don't observe shabbat the way my forefathers did.  Despite popular notions, the most important Jewish day for observance is not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. It is each Saturday, beginning with Friday night.

If you are observant, when the sun goes down on Friday night, you welcome the Sabbath and begin a day to refresh and dedicate to rest and reflection. No television, no work, no driving, no cooking, no toil of any sort. You stop what you typically do and welcome the sabbath.  Shabbat shalom literally means, Sabbath welcome.

About a dozen years ago my uncle, an observant Jew, passed on a Thursday.  Starting on Friday night there was nothing funereal about family gatherings. It was shabbat.  I visited with some of my uncle's friends and while there must have been some conversation about the loss, it was a typical shabbat for them--and it was delightful. I remember talking with my dad afterwards and we both spoke about what a wonderful thing it must be to look forward to Friday night as the beginning of a moratorium on the stresses of normalcy.

When I was a kid at a summer camp, Friday night was ushered in by young teenage women singing a song that began like this:

The sun on the hilltop no longer is seen.
Come gather to welcome the Sabbath our queen. 

It is an engaging image, no?  Come gather to welcome the Sabbath.  As the sun descends, welcome a period when you attempt to shed that stress and crud that has accrued because of toil, disappointments, heartbreak and loss.  Each Shabbat you can look forward to that time when rush hour is irrelevant, nobody is hocking you to do this or do that, and the only pressure is to try to get your consciousness in tune with your conscience and heart.  

Friday's sun goes down, embrace your loved ones and say:  Come gather to welcome the Sabbath. Shabbat Shalom.


There are violations and there are violations. Some are relatively minor, and as violations go, the one I am about to report is in that category, but still unnerving.

Couldn't find my cell phone this morning.  I realized I did not have it half way down my quiet street.  Looked over by the passenger seat, saw it was not sitting on its usual perch, so I backed up the street and went into the house to do my at least two day a week searching for the phone.  Checked the usual spots and could not find it.  This is a very common drill for me. No sports jackets, no overcoats, not near where I park myself to watch television, not in a remote place being charged, nowhere. Step two is to call the phone. Did so and heard an unusual message indicating that the phone was off. I almost never shut my phone off unless I am in a meeting or a movie.

Went back to my car and saw that the charger had been yanked out.  Someone had come into my driveway and taken the phone or come into a private parking lot where I play tennis and helped her or himself.

As I have written, as violations go, this is minor and I will get over it. But the idea that someone would come into my quiet driveway, open the door, and grab the phone is unsettling.

Very foolish person who did this.  My tennis rackets, old tennis balls, wet shirt from working out at the elliptical, wrapper from dunkin donuts, cold coffee in the travel mug, coupon for cat litter, beach chair still in my car even though it is November, Red Sox baseball cap, navy blue sock hat, directions to get to Marcia and Ken's; thing I picked up off the car floor but don't know what it is and put by the radio, forty two cents in my change box; and three sports illustrated magazines with varying degrees of footprint stains--all left undisturbed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ghosts and Consciousness

I meet a friendly couple at the hotel restaurant called The Dancing Bears.  We talk about this and that and I discover that they hail near where I spent some time as a college student. These two are so pleasant that I think that if we lived closer we could become good buds despite an age difference that is likely to be thirty years.

I comment on the rooms in the hotel and the views. They agree that the views are spectacular, the staff friendly, the fireplace in the lobby picture perfect--but they are concerned with the ghosts.

They laugh when they say this as if they know that there are really no ghosts, but the woman continued to explain regardless.  Seems as if they were settling into their room and they heard some noises that could not be explained. Must be ghosts, they said. I countered that it could have been a neighbor, or running toilet, or the clanking of someone unpacking in the room above.  Again, it was mostly tongue in cheek, but they shook their heads and concluded that the room was likely to be haunted.

For some reason this conversation seeped into my consciousness at about 5 a.m. this morning.  I had, as I occasionally do, conked out in front of the television set.  I was awakened by my cat Pumpkin who thought this was a fine time to hover above my head and meow in order to persuade me to open the door so he can cavort outside doing whatever in the world he does when he scampers away into the neighborhood.  So, I was up at 5.  The living room here has many windows so I could see the sky go from dark to light and the remaining leaves change color as the sun made its way to the eastern time zone.

I replayed the conversation about the ghosts. They had asked me then if I believed in ghosts and my response was that I did not.  I was pretty sure my room had no ghosts in there and told them so.  But this morning when I replayed the chat, I realized that I should have elaborated.  I do believe in ghosts. They are the ones in my head. And they are in everyone's head.

 I am not a big dreamer, but occasionally I have one.  This morning before my cat decided to purr near my head, I had a dream.  In it I had some argument with my mother about my birthday--just a couple of weeks back.  In the dream, she had missed it.

This was interesting since my folks never missed my birthday, always sent a card and called. They could have been in Timbuktu for a month, but I would get a card and a phone call on my birthday. Also, interesting that I would have this dream because my mother recently died, so she missed this year's birthday but had a great excuse. My mother is not a ghost in the sense that my restaurant friends meant it, of course. She is not rattling the furniture.  But she, like all people in my life that were once central and are now gone are hanging around in my subconscious lingering at the gates of consciousness.

As I wrote above, I don't dream much which I suspect means that many such ghosts are not near the doorway, but who knows if how we think and what we do, relates to ghosts just beyond the entrance to our head.  And who knows that for those who really do believe in ghosts, it is the memories to which I refer that create their notions of other beings occupying real time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Placid Lake Placid

I sit now in the Saranac Lake airport.  The producers of Wings could have used this building as the set for their program.  Actually, the terminal here is smaller.  Cape Air flies three times daily to Boston from this tiny airport.  I am on the 11 a.m. flight.  There are three other people in the waiting area.  The four of us including the pilot will make up more than 50% of the passengers.  They asked me my weight when I checked in.  Good thing I passed on dessert last night or I might have had to jettison a sweatshirt in my suitcase.

The people in this region of New York are either remarkably friendly or I have gotten used to the hard edge of Boston.  A fellow named Pat operates the Hertz counter at the airport. There was a sign on the desk when I went to bring the car back. "I'm upstairs at the Cafe. Come up and find me, Pat."  I did, and we conducted our transaction near where he and his chums were having eggs.

I've been to Lake Placid before, but it has never seemed as magical as it appeared these last two days. It is not "season" but the scenery is magnificent, the people friendly--both tourists and villagers--and the shops fun to visit (this comes from a fellow who is not especially fond of shopping).

The main street of Lake Placid does not actually sit on Lake Placid, but rather on Mirror Lake.   Lake Placid is contiguous, but for those who walk up and down Main Street or take the beautiful 2.7 mile walk around the town, Lake Placid is not visible. What is visible is the magnificent sight of Mirror Lake. My room had a view that would, no doubt, cost an arm and a leg if this were "season."  Outside my window were spectacular scenes of Mirror Lake and the Adirondack mountains beyond.

The town was not overly jammed this weekend, but there were plenty of customers in restaurants and in the stores.  Happy people for the most part.  I was here to watch a hockey tournament and try to figure out what I don't know about sports, communication, and culture.  Others seemed to be here on a lark. I met a couple at a place called the Dancing Bears last night who live in Albany and on the spur of the moment decided to drive up.  The evening before I met parents of the hockey players who had driven half a day to see their daughters play in the games.  Earlier last night I went to a place my buddy Kenny has recommended and shmoozed with the barkeep as we watched the LSU-Alabama game.  In a way, I felt that this was like the Truman show. Actors playing the parts of tourists and business people as I navigated the streets.

Quaint and gorgeous. It is the kind of place that makes you want to be a millionaire, not to point to your bank account, but rather to have the money for a home in this dream spot.  No doubt there are the same tensions here as elsewhere. I overheard a woman, a villager, on her cellphone grousing about her husband who expected dinner while she tended to the kids and he sat idly.  So, Shangra-La it is not, and no place is.  Yet, two days here and I feel far more placid than I did when I left.

Now, of course, I will soon get on a plane the size of a volkswagen and bump all the way to Boston. Not looking forward to that with enthusiasm, but assuming we land, it will have been worth the jostling.  Learned a bit about hockey culture and the trials of preparing for the Olympics, met some kind folks, and took a step back from the routine.


I arrive at the rink just when the puck is to go down for the start of the United States consolation match with Sweden this afternoon. There are many more fans in the stands for this game than for either of the matches yesterday.  Still, one side is reserved for media and scouts, but the other side which probably did not have as many as 200 people total last night, must have close to 500 and this only for a consolation game.  Lake Placid is a short drive from the Canadian border, so I imagine many more will be coming later to see the finals between Canada and the human shot blocker, Noora Raty of Finland.

To my right when I arrive at my perch are two other media sorts, or so I think when I sit and remove my laptop.  I asked if they minded if I took a vacant spot at the table-- inquiring only to be polite as there is plenty of room--not thinking that there might be an opposition.  In fact, they said they would move down. I stated the obvious--moving down was unnecessary as I had enough space as it was--but the man of the twosome said that they would move because they would be talking. So they did. And they were.  These were not media folk, but scouts or coaches from the Swedish team who were sitting across from the bench to get another perspective. Later when the Swedes scored, the woman of the tandem, jumped up and applauded.

The United States had beaten this same team 10-0 on Tuesday night. Today, eight and a half minutes into the first period the score is tied at zero.  I wonder how difficult it will be for the United States to get up for this game since this is simply a consolation. The Swedes on the other hand probably are motivated since (a) they are seeking their first win in the tournament and (b) they got shellacked by the Americans a few days ago.

TEAM USA scores first at the nine minute mark after a scrum by the net. The players leap for joy and it does not seem artificial.  With 339 to go the US scores again, and again it is after a scrum. just a bunch of sticks whacking at it.  Then the Swedes score in the last minute sending my neighbor out of her seat. The period ends 2-1 U.S.

Might be interesting to contemplate how regular folks celebrate when we score, when we achieve.  Do we jump up and hug our colleagues at work when we have completed a project that required cooperation and skill.  Doubt if we would do this every time we are so successful.  And, unlike hockey players, our celebrations would be more muted.  Imagine if at work, I write a particularly on target e-mail with the help of colleagues--and then to celebrate we all bounced out of our offices and hugged in a vestibule.  Not likely.


The Swedes had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the first minute of the second period, but couldn't put the puck in the net. When the US had a power play it was successful and scored with 445 gone in the second period.  The Swedes have another opportunity on a power play but this time cannot even get a single shot on the goaltender. The fellow adjacent to me who is a scout or coach for Sweden became animated when a skater could not do what he thought wise. Whatever he said in his native tongue was far removed from "Way to go."

The play becomes very chippy in this second period. At one point the Swedes have three players in the penalty box. The US scores two more power play goals and a third almost immediately after a skater for Sweden returned to the ice. After two periods the score is 6-1 USA. The third period begins like the second. The US is pummeling the Swedes and the poor goaltender for Sweden must feel like she walked into an ambush. Meanwhile our goalie can take a nap. Nothing is happening on that end.

Kendall Coyne, the Northeastern student, makes a beautiful pass to set up a short handed goal. She dug out a puck made a terrific pass and the teammate banged it home 7-1 with 929 to go.  She is really quite a player, moves like she has a magnet toward the puck, and appears to have her head in the game throughout.

Before the buzzer sounds, another goal skids past the Swedish netminder making the final 8-1.  The teams shake hands, but it seems obligatory. Not much love out there for a team that has beaten you 10-0 and 8-1 over the course of five days.

Afterwards, a couple of Team USA players are interviewed. They all say the right things and the words seem genuine. They are connected to their teammates, would have loved to play in the championship game, but they played hard in the game they had.  The coach came out and, as was the case the previous night, very professionally and eloquently responded to questions.  The team played hard, she was--rightly--proud of the players.  It would have been better to play in the championship game, but the goaltender the night before had, as was obvious to all, a game for the ages.

My favorite part of the post game media session occurred when a group of youngsters, ten year olds it seemed-- who are in town for a tournament of their own rushed the media room hoping to get autographs from the women Olympic athletes. A young kid asked for, and received, a photo standing next to the coach.


I decided to stay and watch at least the beginning of the championship match between Canada and Finland. I had to see again the woman who seemed superhuman for the Fins the prior night. So, I did, and within two minutes she let through the kind of shot she had stuffed repeatedly the night before.

And then she gave up another, and then another.

She was nothing like she had been against the Yanks. Before the period ended she had given up four goals, and while Canada looked tough, she had been under much greater pressure when the United States blasted her repeatedly on Friday night. In twenty minutes she gave up four times as many goals as she had the night before in 60.

She would give up two more goals in the remaining period and Canada went on to win the Four Nations tournament 6-3.  It will be interesting to see what happens in Russia this February at the Olympics.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sports and Joy

I could not understand what they were saying of course, but when I walked by the Finland team locker room last night they were singing--maybe it was a chant--some victory song. Then I heard players shout exuberantly.  Lots of enthusiasm oozing out of that locker room after the upset victory over the United States.

A recurring theme in my blog has to do with the thrill of the game for fans and for players.  Last weekend in Boston thousands lined the streets to cheer the Red Sox as the team paraded through the city after the World Series victory. Why? Last night twenty somethings from Finland are overjoyed while twenty somethings from the United States are sad after a contest.  Why. The teams both played hard. A goaltender from one team was just spectacular. Why were the US players disappointed and the Fins thrilled?

It is common for people to think that money is what drives people to do what they do.  Well, this theory does not apply in amateur sports and I'd argue not in professional sports either.  The women who are representing their countries this weekend are not becoming rich because of the energy they're expending. Certainly, their parents who are making 12 hour drives and staying in pricey hotels, are not getting rich following their kids.  If you played team sports or followed your kids' who played you know that a freshman volleyball game can make you or your loved ones antsy such that thoughts of the financially meaningless contest dominate your musings for a time.

Even in the professional sports,  players may desire to make as much as they can, but the extra dough they make when they win a championship is not what drives them to douse each other in champagne. Players who want to make more than anyone else are not fighting for the extra salary so they can buy a better car, but because they want to get the strokes of being considered the best.

If you want to identify the most powerful forces in the universe, you need to start at the heart.  It is not money.  It is not even sex, although that tends to move the unmovable as well.  But I would argue that the second most powerful force in the universe is that which makes screaming joyously after a victory in an amateur tournament natural and predictable.  (The first, of course, is whatever it is that makes your heart pound when you hug those you love).  The players may have been shouting in Finnish, but the language really is universal.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Finland --USA

The United States is supposed to win this game to set up a final with Canada on Saturday night. There had been a fight in a match a few weeks back between the two teams, so the anticipated championship game is something to look forward to.

It is not difficult for me to find a place to sit. There are more people in the Herb Brooks arena for this second game of the doubleheader than there had been for the Sweden-Canada preliminary, but still an entire side of the rink is empty and reserved for people who are writing about the game or taking photographs.  I can be as close to the ice as I want to be, and the pregame activity is far more revealing than any television broadcast can be as it relates to how fast these women can skate and how hard the shots that come screaming at the goaltenders.  I walk past the Finland net during warmups and flinch when a puck smashes against the protective glass.  This game is not for the weak.

The starting six for each team is announced and I hear that the Northeastern star, Kendall Coyne, is skating on the first line.  She has taken a leave from school to compete for the team. Currently there are thirty women on our team. Five will be cut before the games in Russia this February. I cannot imagine what it would be like for those five athletes who will have worked for months to make the team.

The teams line up for the national anthems for Finland and the United States and then the puck drops. Only thirty seconds in and you can feel the excitement on the ice. Watching some events live is nothing at all like watching them on the tube. College hockey and basketball are at least two of these sports.  The experience of being there watching these athletes skating ferociously, fighting for the puck, and sending the scorching shots at the goaltenders is not the same as watching the event on television.  These players are very talented.

The seat I have selected is only a few rows behind the penalty box. Early on, a Fin is sent off the ice for two minutes and takes a seat below. But before the Americans can take an advantage, a woman from Finland takes a zetz from an American who joins the Fin in the penalty box. I can see how rough this game can be. Women are collided into each other and are coming at each other at great speed. At one point a woman from Finland takes a puck to the head.  She is helped off the ice. After the game she is interviewed with an icepack around her noggin.

Early in the game particularly, Kendall Coyne is impressive. She skates quickly and seems to be able to get to the puck before the others. At one point, she makes an excellent move, gets free right in front of the Fin goaltender, and slams a shot that is stopped, apparently effortlessly.  While I did not know it then of course, this stop foreshadowed what would take place throughout the game. Blasts from the US, somehow absorbed by a remarkable goaltender.

I realize as I watch this first period that as long as this game stays close the pressure will be on the Yanks and it will ratchet up as the minutes are exhausted.  The US is heavily favored to win and advance to the championship game. If we lose, then we play in the consolation game on Saturday rendering this a disappointing tournament which will not auger well for the Olympic games in Russia.

(Interesting to observe that the coaches for the Fins are all male, and two of the three coaches behind the US bench are women).

Finland gets a power play with 7:53 to go in the first period. The penalty is killed, but not without a terrific save by the US goalie. With 521 the US has a power play, but can do nothing with it.

Down to 225 in first period with no score. With 46 seconds left in the period we have a clear shot but the goalie makes a great save. She has made so many great saves this period that I glance down on my score sheet to check out her name. She is Noora Raty and something special.  The first period ends scoreless even though the US has outshot the Fins 13-6. There will be some nervous hockey players and coaches in the US locker room.

In the tunnel before the start of the second period one can hear the chant of USA from the players as they raced onto the ice.  The US, very predictably, has more fans in the arena than the Fins and there are some kids close to the ice who are urging the Americans on.

The goalie from Finland is now making me think she might get a shot in the NHL.  In the first minute the Americans come out smoking and pepper her with shot after shot, which she deflects as if it is the easiest thing in the world-as if she is taking time out from reading a magazine and when she notices a puck coming at her, she easily gets in the way or snares it before she goes back to reading her article.  We are dominating so much that I wonder if our goalie may have trouble retaining concentration and this seems to be the case when the Fins shock the arena and score.  Then nine seconds later they really silence the American supporters when they score again and lead 2-0.  There's not a whole lot of energy on the US bench and whatever there is, is doused further when Noora Raty makes two terrific saves in a subsequent rush.

Maybe to give his under siege goaltender a breather, Team Finland calls a time out. Since the arena is more than half empty I can hear the shouting, of course in a tongue foreign to me.  I think about the language issue again in a matter of moments when the Fins contest a call that puts the US in a power play, but cant seem to get the message across to the referees.

Two of our shots hit the post, but I wonder if that is because that's the only part of the goal we can get access to given Noora Raty's remarkable play.  At one point she goes down in a heep after being banged in a scrum near her net.  She shakes it off, gets up, and resumes stopping shot after shot.  We get another power play, and then a two player advantage.  Finally, after skating 5 on 3 and pummeling the goalie, and after one of the three Fin players loses her stick, one of the screaming slapshots from the US makes it past Raty.  The period ends 2-1.

During the break I go into the media room and ask some others to tell me about this goaltender. I discover that she played for the University of Minnesota in the US and was remarkable for the Gophers. Still, I wonder if she can possibly withstand the constant pressure put on by the Americans. She had already stopped, after just two periods, over forty shots.

The third period starts and we still can't get anything past her. Then with 9 minutes to go in the game, the Fins score again to make it 3-1. I sense the air going out from the US bench as scoring twice against Raty seems highly unlikely. Even if we were to tie, we would have to either win in overtime or win in a shoot out to advance to the championship game.

I look up with three minutes to go and see that we have already pulled our goalie.  All the action has been at the Fin net anyway, so why not. We pummel Raty without success. The Fins commit a penalty so for the last minute and thirteen seconds we have a 6-4 advantage and yet the buzzer sounds with the score 3-1. Noora Raty has made 58 saves.

I have access to the post game media space and walk past the locker rooms. The Fins are cheering wildly. This is a big upset in the Four Nations tournament.   A couple of members from the Fin team come out one by one and happily respond to questions. The somber US coach meets with the media and very professionally comments about the game. She says that it is a disappointment but when a goaltender "stands on her head" to stop shot after shot, you need to take your cap off to the player.

Sad night for American fans. Later I sit in a restaurant where some parents of the USA team have gathered.  Having travelled in some cases hundreds of miles to come to the games, the loss clearly is a disappointment.  Still I am impressed by their loyalty to the players and children.  And the players deserve this loyalty.  They are giving up a year of their life to play in the Olympics.

Four Nations--Friday

I am here in Lake Placid in the famed Herb Brooks' arena.  It is difficult to believe that I am sitting in the same place where the United States defeated the Soviet Union in that thrilling game.  There are framed pictures throughout this room commemorating the 1980 games.

I arrived to see the last few minutes of the Sweden Canada preliminary. Canada just eked out a victory. This is surprising since the United States defeated Sweden 10-0 in a game on Tuesday, and Canada defeated the United States 4-2 on Wednesday night.  This counterintuitive result is a reflection of just how important motivation is in sports--and likely in all life.  Before they took the ice Team Canada knew that it was guaranteed a spot in tomorrow night's final. So, they apparently sleepwalked through the game with Sweden.  The next contest between the United States and Finland that begins in an hour will be different. The victor will play Canada tomorrow night.

The plane I was on this afternoon was the smallest commercial plane I have ever been on.  How small was it?  There were eight of us on board, including the pilot. One of the passengers sat in the co-pilot seat. I have been in station wagons that are bigger.  The pre flight speech was delivered by the pilot himself who took off his headphones and turned around to tell us that the flight might be bumpy.  He promised a ninety minute flight and ninety minutes later we had a perfect landing at Saranac International Airport.  Very friendly folks there.  Took me two minutes to get my bag, a thirty second walk to the car rental counter, a one minute walk to where the car was parked.  Kennedy airport it was not.

It is November 8th and it is snowing in Lake Placid.  Beautiful town.  Homes right on the various lakes. I can see why tourists flock to the area in the summer and also why people would love living here year round. The smell of fireplaces, quaint storefronts, hotels galore--some vestiges from the 1980 Olympics I am sure--, cute restaurants.  But it is cold on November 8th.

I wonder how many will be attending the US Finland game.  The arena was empty for the Sweden-Canada contest. You could have counted the house.  Tomorrow for the championship game might be different particularly if the United States is one of the contestants.  I am one of only four media folks in the media room, but it is still forty five minutes from the first period.  The chatter in the press room such as it is, is about the close score in the Canada-Sweden afternoon game.  I wonder if the small number of folks in the press room is related to the fact that this is a women's event. If the men's hockey team were playing in a tournament would the press room be a buzz?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Four Nations Cup

Tomorrow I will get on a plane that has a grand total of nine seats.  I am flying to Saranac Lake in order to watch the last round and championship game of the Four Nations Cup.  This tournament is an annual event and this year it serves as a preview of the Olympic women's ice hockey tournament.

Of the four major sports ice hockey is the one I know least about.  Last year I went to watch our Northeastern University team play in the women's Beanpot tournament. The men's Beanpot is a very big deal in Boston.  Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard play two consecutive Mondays in February to determine who will win the coveted cup.  The women's Beanpot is held concurrently (on the Tuesday following the men's Monday matches) but is less of a spectator draw.

One of our college's students was on the Northeastern team last year and I had heard she was an excellent player.  So, I went to the game and was very impressed not only by her skill, but by the excitement generated by the teams.  Northeastern won the women's Beanpot last year and it was truly thrilling to watch the contest. The student-athlete to whom I've referred is now on the United States Olympic team.

I travel tomorrow in a nine seat plane not primarily to watch a student play, but because of a grant I have received to examine communication issues in sport. There is nothing I know of the Olympic team to suggest that there is anything but positive communication there.  When I wrote the basketball book I traveled to watch games not knowing for sure what I might learn related to the research.  The motivation this time is similar.  I am not sure what I will discover, but I think informal conversations may reveal best practices and challenges.

And besides my academic interests, I think it will be exciting to go watch the games. The first two rounds have already been played. The United States trounced Sweden in its first game, but lost to Canada in its second. The chances are good that the US team will defeat Finland tomorrow night in the first game I'll be attending. And if they do, then there will be a rematch for the championship on Saturday night in the same arena where the 1980 men's hockey team startled the world by defeating the Russians.

Not crazy about flying in a nine seater.  I have flown on small commercial planes before, but only once on one this tiny. That was on a flight from Boston to Burlington, Vermont. When I got on that plane I was shaken when I first noticed that I could see right into the cockpit and then observed the captain looking at a map shortly before take-off. A bit unsettling.

As a fan, I am fairly certain that what I will remember most about the tournament will be the excitement of watching a championship game.  Nobody of my vintage can forget the 1980 Olympic victory.  The Lake Placid arena is actually named after the coach of that team, the late Herb Brooks.  Al Michaels did the television broadcast for that game. Michaels would have been a star broadcaster regardless, but his career trajectory was positively launched when at the game's astonishing end he said what has become the line he is most famous for uttering: When he finished counting off the last seconds he exclaimed, Do you believe in miracles? Yes! I'll consider that line when the wind picks up as I bounce along in the nine seater.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


The other day I was sitting next to a fellow whom I've known for at least two years. We were in a meeting and he turned his head such that my vision was a little obstructed by his neck.  And then I noticed a birthmark on his neck, just a little north of his shirt collar.  I've seen this guy daily for years, never noticed it before, but there it was.

Everyone has a birthmark but unless you are an intimate of someone, it's more likely than not that you won't be able to see some other's mark.  Like other biological phenomena they're odd things birthmarks when you take a step back. Of course, so are fingers, and ear lobes, and toenails.  In those cases though we all have pretty much the same equipment in the same shape in the same places. Not so with birthmarks.  Some are tiny and obscure. Others the shape of continents and visibly on someone's arm. Some seem dark, others-- like my colleague's--barely discernible.  Strange things birthmarks.

Seeing his birthmark made me, for some reason, muse about another type of mark we all--if we've been around the track for some time--are likely to have. Perhaps what fueled this contemplation was the value of the particular meeting I was attending.  Regardless, it surfaced into my consciousness and has been hanging about for a spell.

What if we all could see our life marks.  Not birthmarks, but vestiges of singular experiences we have had.  Unlike birthmarks we'd likely to have more than one.  And unlike birthmarks they'd likely all be around the same places on everyone's anatomy.  A lifemark from when you first fell in love; a mark from when your heart was broken; a mark from when you first enjoyed the thrill of physical intimacy; from when you felt as if you had done something extraordinarily valuable at work; from when a parent died; from an evening walk for an ice cream cone you shared as a teenager; from a moment that was beyond mortifying; from a time when you know in retrospect you did something reprehensible; from when you brought life into the world; from when you knew you could not; from when your heart was broken again; from the time you celebrated your happiest birthday.

These would be our lifemarks. And unlike birthmarks, so capriciously placed and sized, lifemarks, would tell anyone who could see them all they would need to know about who we are. And if we, ourselves, allowed ourselves to see them, we could--emerge from the shower, stand naked in front of the mirror, allow the steam to disappear--and see who we are and how we've evolved.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Miracle after the Marathon

I was speaking with my dad last night and told him about the Miami Dolphins unlikely overtime victory on Thursday night.  The Dolphins beat the Cincinnati Bengals on an unusual play, sacking the quarterback for a safety and winning 22-20.

When I relayed what had occurred he, a Miami fan, said, "See, there is a God."

We both laughed at this because neither of us are believers.  (Even those who are believers, I would hope, don't think that God is concerned with the outcome of football games).

While I don't believe in a God that determines events and to whom we can pray for things we desire, I do believe that there are moral imperatives and think of God as the embodiment of them.  In my opinion, these imperatives are not always or even often consistent with the dogma of organized religion or societal norms--but they exist. I'm not always successful adhering to the imperatives, but--regardless--that is what I think of when I think of God. I don't think of a God as someone who is calling the shots. And since my dad feels similarly, we both knew he was kidding when he attributed the Miami Dolphins victory to divine intervention.

But I do think sometimes there is a something that is beyond our 2013 abilities to comprehend that affects things. I don't think it is God, but there are things that are inexplicable.  Serendipity, for example.  How do you explain sometimes meeting someone when there are no logical explanations for the serendipity.  How do you explain miracles.

And this brings me to the 2013 Boston Red Sox and the fact that they won the world series the year of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Yesterday there was a parade through the streets of Boston.  When the players got to the finish line of the marathon, the amphibious duck boats on which they were riding stopped, two players alighted, hung Boston uniforms at the site and then meaningfully (not melodramatically) there was a singing of God Bless America.

I follow the Red Sox, watched parts of most of the games this year. The Red Sox did not have a good enough team to win the World Series. It sounds silly to write, because they in fact did win the World Series, but how they did it makes one wonder about another force operating.  Strange to read from a non believer, but consider this.

If you watched the playoffs you saw that the Red Sox throughout the games got meaningful hits from people who had done nothing before their meaningful hit.  The collective batting average for the Red Sox was abysmal, yet they continued to get big hits throughout the games.

The Red Sox had three key players on the team during the year. Two were predictably essential, the third came from nowhere. The predictable studs without whom the team does not win are David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.  The third key player is Koji Uehara. Without Uehara the Red Sox go nowhere.

Uehara was the closer and if you only saw the World Series you did not see how effective this guy was even though he was good in the World Series.  Uehara was unhittable during August and September.  Not an exaggeration.  Uehara was not supposed to be the closer for the team. The designated closer got hurt. Then his replacement got hurt. Then they tried Uehara and nobody could hit him.  He never would have even gotten a chance to be as good as he was, unless there were injuries.

 There are other examples of how games were inexplicably won and players played beyond reasonable expectations. Is there such a thing as "luck?" Is it possible that a team could just get lucky and win a championship. My gut response is typically, no, you make your own luck. But as much as I pull for the Red Sox, they really did not have the horses to win. Mike Napoli had some very weak stretches during the season and then kaboom he hits a 450 foot homerun off of a stud like Justin Verlander so the Sox win 1-0 against Detroit in the ALCS.  Before that at-bat he, and the entire Red Sox team, looked like little leaguers against Verlander.   Napoli hits a shot that goes into orbit and the Red Sox eventually advance.

Is it possible that there is a force we can't explain that makes things right, has a sense of adjusting the universe.  All my intelligence screams no, but the evidence of miracles makes me wonder.