Monday, July 29, 2013

bagels and tuna fish

I am down in south florida visiting with my dad.  Yesterday we were invited to a camp friend's home for brunch.  Wally, Andy, Brownie, me and Dad.  All former campers and counselors.

We had bagels and lox, tuna fish, egg salad, and conversation.

The food was fine, but it was the conversation that was the most nourishing.  My father had been the head counselor at the camp and we relative younguns talked about where was this one and that.

Sunny day, Brownie's beautiful home, and talk.

The spirit is such a powerful variable.  What we do, or feel we can do, on a given day is often less a function of our intelligence and more dependent on our spirit that can fuel our industry, or not.  It was so good to see these folks and chat with them. The nostalgia was great, but more than that it was the affection that was floating above the bagel tray and ruggeleh that we picked at with our coffee.

Take the brunch away and yesterday could have been a depressing afternoon for all five of us involved. Maybe not. But maybe so. Brownie invites us to brunch andwe are all buoyed.

Remarkable. When we think of what is essential for life we often think of the right foods and exercise.  But if you don't acknowledge the importance of contact and healthy relationships you miss the boat.  Even for a family of eaters, and we are, what we will remember from the day are not the delicious sandwiches we made, but the company we shared.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: Await Your Reply

Unusual book.

Are  we who we purport to be?  This book is, on the surface, about identity theft.  It is presented as three discrete stories which are presented alternatively 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1...  For the first 150 pages at least you wonder how they relate.

It was not a page turner in the beginning. I found myself looking forward to Lucy's tale, for example, and not excited when it was Miles's.    Some of the novel is far fetched, though perhaps not as far fetched to those who are knowledgeable about identity theft and computers.   Also, while impressed by the plot as it unfolds, I found some of the story amateurish and some subplots were unresolved.

My take-away is the message that seems to pervade the book.  Who we are may not be who we purport to be and, the same can be said of those we think we know.  That is, who they claim to be, may not be who they are.  That message is powerful enough for me to recommend the book, but only for those who find this idea worth investigating.  It would not be the book I suggest you read when you are reluctand to explore  just who your spouse turned out to be or if you are not even so sure who you yourself have become.

I am very curious to know what happens to Lucy.  Maybe that's going to be the sequel.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review- Father of the Rain

This is the best book I have read in some time.  Beautifully written and engaging story by Lily King.

It's about a father-daughter relationship written from the perspective of the daughter.  My childhood and relationship with my folks is not of their world.  They were"privileged" in the sense that the word has been used in that they were wealthy and, apparently, despite some expensive habits never were concerned for money.  Also they were boozers---boozing to that extreme or even much at all was not something I observed in my household or in those of my neighbors.

So, it could have been difficult to relate to the novel.  Father of the Rain might have seemed trite or whiny in the hands of a less skilled writer. That was not the case here at all. The book was just terrific--the sort you shlep wherever you are going in case you have a few minutes.  Some of the characters,  I think, were superfluous and once near the end I saw a reference to one and had to go back and try to remember who he was and why he was even mentioned in the scene.  Couldn't find a mention of him and, significantly, it did not seem to matter. But these are minor complaints.  Lily King captures moments so vividly that on occasion I would have to put the book down just to appreciate how she had, just right, managed to describe what a character would have done in a similar situation.  Her depictions of the father were remarkable and I feel as if I can see him right here, right now.  This is not typically one of my strong suits as a reader.  I often don't see characters physically in the way they are described.  In this book I can see him, I can imagine his mannerisms, and predict what he might say--and marvel when she has written what I imagine to be the precise things he would do and say in a given situation.

Not a terribly uplifting book so if you need a laugher, I'd put this book aside for now. But I would pick it up later.  The kind of read that makes you glad that reading is a hobby.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Strange day.  Woke up to rain. Then bright sunshine. Then rain. Then a thunderstorm.
Then beautiful skies and sun. And now, serious cats and dogs.

The lights flickered and went out about two hours ago and moments later came back on.  Then, twenty minutes down the road, they went out again.  Go figure this out.

This morning I was having breakfast with my friend Ken and, not for the first time, we spoke about all that we did not know.  He suggested a book called Heaven is for Real. I’d never heard of it, but it sounds interesting even if, to my cynical head, tough to swallow. He explained that a doctor was essentially dead for a seven day period and then miraculously came to life. The doctor asserts that while dead he was able to transcend what we humans can comprehend and claims that there is another reality, a greater one, which explains phenomena that we don’t even have the intelligence to ask about.

Well, maybe.  Go figure, 300 years ago, electricity.  Television 100 years ago.  Computers.  There is no way anyone could imagine 2013 if they lived in 1013.  So, by extrapolation, what can we possibly know about what life could be like a thousand years from now.  If it were not for weathermen telling me this morning that today would be a strange day, how could I have made sense of the alternating sun, clouds, and now pelting rainstorm.

I think the next frontier is love.  I mentioned this to Ken this morning and probably we have discussed this before.  How do you explain the sensation of romantic or maternal love?  You’re a kid and your sixth grade girlfriend breaks up with you. Why does it hurt? There is actual pain.  I remember when my mother’s friend lost her only son when he was only 18. She said to my mother that she did not know how she or anyone could endure this pain.  Not pain in your head. Pain, pain. It hurts. Who can explain the actual feeling you have when you meet someone who touches your heart?

In years ahead, the learned among the living, will consider us primitive—as we are—because we could not get why.  Today we are powerless to understand the power and pain of love, but we can feel it.

The power came back on a while ago.  Must have reconnected some wires.  Reading a book now about a woman who tries very hard to win the love of her father.  And when a small connection is made she feels elated.  Go figure.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

trading tomorrows for a single yesterday

Traffic was not bad this morning coming in.  Typically if I leave at 8 I am cooked.  Today, while the drive was not smooth like it would be at 2 a.m., it did not feel like rush hour either.  Got on the Mass Pike without too much congestion, exited easily at the Prudential, and came up Huntington ready for my daily turn onto Parker.

There at Huntington and Parker something was doing. The light there is interminable anyway--it's as if some sick traffic officer set up the timer to infuriate anyone heading thataway. But today I could not even see the light as it was blocked by a truck or two and several autos were waiting to make the turn.  Highly unusual for such a long line of cars to be there waiting to make this turn.  That was the bad news. The good news was that I was listening to one of my favorite late 60s crooners--Gordon Lightfoot--and had multiple opportunities to hear his rendition of Me and Bobby McGee while I waited for the wagon train to move to the light.

I put the song on repeat, and paid attention to the lyrics in the detailed way I rarely do.  A line from the song engaged me in a way that it had not before.  "I'd trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday, holding Bobby's body next to mine."

I purged the hyperbole and began to consider the idea of trading any tomorrows for a single yesterday. Would you? Should we?

I can think of some very special yesterdays.  They were special not in the way that sometimes ordinary events take on an idyllic utopian hue because we photoshop the recollection in hindsight. They were special--even if we did not realize just how special at the time.  Would I trade tomorrows, even a single tomorrow, for such a yesterday.

It's tempting. Today is a Wednesday.  I've got nothing special planned for tomorrow, Thursday.  Should I, if I could, trade it in for a day when I was, as the song goes "holding [someone special's] body close to mine?" We can all remember such days.  

Not sure. Certainly would not trade in all my tomorrows.  But even any tomorrow has the potential to be a special day.  Those who have lost family members or lovers, and who over 25 hasn't, know how much we can long for a single yesterday--but trade in tomorrows?  The more healthy wish is to duplicate an especially singular yesterday or to do what we can in an attempt to repeat them. Can't do much about death--can't repeat an event with someone who is gone.  But we, the living, I think would be wise to keep our tomorrows and cultivate the turf so that our future may include replicas of our most cherished yesterdays.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God and Behavior

If you decided one day that you did not believe in God, would your every day behavior become any different than it had been when you were a believer?

I remember that Bob Cousy used to cross himself before he took a foul shot. I still see players say prayers or make the sign of the cross before an at-bat or important kick.  I recall being on a very very bumpy flight in late April and feeling a sense that it was time to get religion.  The best whodunnit novel of all time in my opinion is, Presumed Innocent.  At one point, the lead suspect and first person narrator of the novel, is reeling from the sense that there was no way out of his crisis. He leaves an office building and is faced with the steamy weather of a hot Chicago day. Dazed from the accusations and the situation, he says (and I paraphrase) God, who I do not believe in, please help me.

In sports the praying to God, and the expressions of gratitude to God when a team is successful is troubling to me.  No matter what religion you believe in, I can't imagine that religion supports the idea that God will help you win.  If God were to do so--help you win--it would mean, of course, that God was helping someone else to lose.  God could not help one team at the expense of another  (though the success of the 1969 Mets is a counterargument).  But despite what seems to me at least to be incontrovertible logic, people do pray to God to help them win.

And I wonder if the consideration when they do so is this:  "if I don't pray to God and acknowledge God before the game, then She or He will take offense and then I will be at a disadvantage when I compete."

So, I go back to the original question. If you became a non-believer one day, would your behavior change subsequently and consequently?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

long and winding road

I left the office about 7 pm last night.  My route takes me around the Fenway and onto Storrow Drive going west.  On baseball evenings, there can be quite a bit of traffic on this drive.

Last night, when I got close to the ballpark I saw a traffic jam that beat all others.  Fortunately, for me, it was heading the other way, but it was a doozy.  Drivers abandoning passengers.  Cars just essentially stopped.  When I swung onto Storrow Drive going west I saw that the incoming eastern exiting lane was backed up for what seemed like a half of a mile.  Maybe longer. It was as far back of a traffic jam that I can ever recall.

And the Red Sox were playing in Seattle.  Nowhere near the ballpark.

But someone else was playing at the park.  A fellow that used to be part of a quartet that had some fame in the 60s and early seventies.  Fellow by the name of Paul McCartney.

Almost fifty years since the Beatles sang on the Ed Sullivan show on a night that most boomers can remember nearly as vividly as the day when the president was assassinated, Paul McCartney is still packing them in.  A colleague took his wife and his teenage son to the show.  Set him back a few coins I will tell you that.  But the three of them were eager to get to the show last night. He told me that the performance started at 630.  So, when I drove toward the park at 7, and saw that back-up, the show was thirty minutes old if my colleague had the time right.

For someone stuck in that traffic, not sure that crooning "I Want to Hold Your Hand" would placate an annoyed spouse who had wanted to leave the house a little early.  "She Loves You" might have to be rewritten in the past tense.  Long and Winding Road.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Went for a ride on Friday to Vermont.  It was hotter than Hades in Boston and there were some friends who had invited us to a town in what I'll guess is the northern Berkshires.  Hot in Vermont too, but relatively comfortable compared to what was doing in the city.

Got about half way and were in stop and go traffic in a town that connected the interstate to a country road. Very charming little burg, but it was losing its charm as we chugged for what seemed like twenty minutes through the main street.  We were just about on the other side of town and ready to go on what would prove to be a pretty country highway, when we spotted what looked like a park.

We had some sandwiches in the cooler and figured this was as good a place as any to pull over and have lunch.  As we drove into the lot we saw that this was not, despite the appearance, a public park, but something called a Retreat Center.  Still, there was this picnic table on the lawn and the grounds were not swarming with retreaters. There were a number of cars in the lot, but I figured how much heat would a constable give me on the fourth of July weekend, for eating a sandwich at a picnic table even if the grounds were typically reserved for executive retreaters.

I had stuff on my mind, work and personal related, and that-added to the heat and the snail like traffic through town- had me in a mood one might call irritated.  Not much conversation taking place at the picnic table. Eating our sandwiches, passing the napkins, plucking some grapes, and drinking the water we'd packed. My nephew's wife once took a look at my mug when I was in one of these contemplative/irritated moods and commented, accurately, "Well Mr. Grumpy has joined us."

In the middle of our quiet lunch we noticed a couple emerge from the Retreat Center building.  He was dressed in a blue blazer with summer dress slacks.  She too was wearing a summer outfit, like what one might wear to work in August.  Summery, but staid.  She had a name card necklace that jangled about near the bottom of her top.

The couple looked subdued.  Did not seem to be having a great time at their retreat.  Holding hands but solemnly.  They took a look at us, got into their car silently and drove away.

We finished the sandwiches and packed up the car.  Then, just out of curiosity, went up to the front of the Retreat Center.   The sign at the door, we realized, was code.  This was no executive retreat center. This was a place, it seemed, for people who were in need of help.  Perhaps addicts, perhaps teens with behavioral problems.  This, it seemed, was a home for the troubled.  The couple we saw, we now figured, had been visiting someone.  Visiting day. Maybe meeting with the therapist to discuss the pain of their loved one, now, essentially, locked in the darkness on this sunny day.

The realization was a good antidote for Mr. Grumpy.  I can take the heat and should be able to withstand traffic even if its bumper to bumper. The travails that may seem debilitating to most of us, are very insignificant when compared to the emotional pain that others have to endure on a regular basis.  Probably a good idea to juxtapose the issues in our heads with the pain of wearing a name tag that reads "Guest" as you visit a tortured child who has retreated.  And the walk to your car holding the hand of your spouse silently.  And the drive back to what passes for normalcy with a hole in your heart where the whole used to be.

They're out there

This appeared on an espn web site.  A testament to fandom and a sense of humor.

A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan has gone to his final rest, but not before making one last request from the team.
Scott E. Entsminger, 55, of Mansfield, Ohio, died on July 4. Entsminger, a Columbus native, was a musician and a Browns season-ticket holder who wrote a song for the team each year and sent it in, along with his advice on how to run the team.
According to his obituary in the Columbus Dispatch, Entsminger also "respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time."
The family also has requested that "everyone" wear their Browns clothing to Entsminger's funeral Tuesday.
No word from the team on that request for pallbearers.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cut Off

On Wednesday night I left the gym and turned the Red Sox game on the radio.  The score was 1-1 in the bottom of the 8th and the Sox had Pedroia on second and Ortiz on first with nobody out.   I'd gone to see the Red Sox the night before and had been following their regular successes.  I wanted to see if the team could take the lead.

So, I pulled over near a tavern that was on my route.  There was plenty of room at the bar so I took a seat and watched the rest of the 8th.  Not much to the rest of the 8th, the Sox went down with a weak strike out and two other ineffective at-bats. The game went into the ninth tied 1-1.  I figured I'd stick around for the ninth and if the game remained tied, make my way home then. I had ordered a light beer less because I am a fan of that variety, and more because I had just perspired aplenty on the tennis courts, and thought more than a light beer might make me a little less secure than I want to be behind the wheel.  I don't know whether to be pleased or not, but the fact is that as I have gotten older my ability to consume beer has diminished. After a night of hard exercise, unless I drink a good deal of water concurrently, one or two beers is all I can consume before I start thinking wistfully about lost love and realize that I should not be behind the wheel.  It had been hot on the tennis courts on Wednesday, plus I'd done some swimming beforehand. I knew I needed to cut myself off after one.

 I could nurse a beer for one inning no problem. In my cheapskate graduate school days when I was earning a grand total, no lie, of 3K a year for three consecutive years, I once watched an entire Buffalo Braves basketball game with my beer glass ticket for the bar stool remaining sufficiently filled throughout. One beer to watch one inning of the Sox game would be no problem.

Between the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth a fellow came into the establishment and took a seat next to me.  He looked like a man who just got off a shift doing something that was tiring. He had a key ring jangling about him which looked like it had fifty keys on it.  I was reminded of many guys I had worked with at universities who are treated shabbily, but without whom the place does not function.  Often these characters swing their keys around like another set of manhood.  This guy who sat down next to me, did not seem too self consumed. He just seemed exhausted.

The thing about this guy that was most distinctive about his appearance had nothing to do with his key ring.  The man was about 5' 5" not particularly broad shouldered, but had an enormous belly.  But caricature like.  As if he came off the human being assembly line and they put the wrong gut on an otherwise relatively normal looking guy.  Narrow shoulders, and then this huge belly that looked like it preceded the rest of him by a good second or two.  He had to lean back on his bar stool some, because otherwise his gut would have rammed into the bar itself. Not exaggerating here. I've seen bigger guys, but rarely someone so disproportionate.

I said to myself this guy should not be drinking beer.  This guy should be running around the block hoping to reduce his girth. This guy was a heart attack waiting to happen. You can't be lugging that amount of weight around your frame without your body wailing, "look boychik, there's just so much I can carry for so long. You want to stick around, unload some cargo."

The guy orders a beer anyway, and then now pushing about 10 in the evening asks for a menu.  By this time the Red Sox have retired the Padres in the top of the ninth and will soon come to bat in the bottom.  I exchange a smile and hello with my neighbor at the bar as people tend to do.  He glances at the menu and then picks it up waving not offensively at the bartender.

"What'll it be?" asks the bartender.

"The Buffalo Cheeseburger" he says.

The bartender nods and begins to walk toward the kitchen with the order.  He glances over his shoulder.  "Fries with that?' he asks.

"Fries" affirms my neighbor. Vu den.

And I am sitting at the bar and thinking that if I were drinking too much beer the bartender would say to me, or should say to me, "No more buddy, you've had enough." He would cut me off.  Do we have an obligation to say the same thing to a fellow who looks like he can not endure another Buffalo Cheeseburger without reducing his time on the planet by several months?

I understand we all have freedoms. I also know that in part a reason that the barkeep will tell people that they're cut off is because they dont want a drunk driving home.  Still, do we sit back and nod "good choice" when a too fat man orders a killer of a meal.

I did not get into it with him. My bad?  Who knows.  I had a lame excuse. Jonny Gomes led off the Red Sox ninth with a pinch hit walk off homerun.  And I'd promised myself I'd leave after the ninth. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rebuilding year

The Boston Celtics have traded away their two best players and their coach.  The unofficial word is that the upcoming season, 13-14 will be a rebuilding year. There has been some talk that what the Celtics should do is "tank" this season. To "tank" in this context means to deliberately lose in order to gain a high draft choice following the season.  In an attempt to assist losing teams, the league allows the worst teams to select first when drafting college and other non professional players onto their teams.

The concept of a rebuilding year has, always--as far back as I can remember--been one that made little sense to me.  The idea of "tanking" makes NO sense and I would argue is worthy of some punishment.

Tanking violates the foundation of all sports. That is, fans expect that both teams are attempting to win and working as hard as they can to win every time they play.  Whenever a spectator begins to believe that teams are not trying as hard as they can, then the sport ceases to be a sport and fans would lose interest. Sure, there are professional wrestling fans, but they are of a different ilk. They watch for the show.  Sports fans like the show, but they want their teams to win.  So, tanking is wrong in that it undermines the game.  On a practical level--that is even if you were considering tanking to get a top draft choice-- tanking is indefensible.  There is no guarantee that tanking will result in getting a player you need to change the direction of the franchise. The Celtics, fifteen years or so ago, tanked a season in the hopes of getting the best player available, Tim Duncan.  Because of a nuance in the drafting procedure, the Celtics had the worst record, but could not draft Duncan.  Even when you get the player you want, there is no guarantee of success with that player.  While Duncan turned out to be great, there are lots of stories of "can't miss" players who are drafted and are unsuccessful in the professional game.

The idea of having a rebuilding year makes a little more sense, but not much.  Why is the 14-15 season a more desirable season for a championship run, than the 13-14 season?  One could argue reasonably that there are times when the luck of the draw is such that you just dont have the horses to compete in one year as opposed to another.  However, when you plan to dump your players as opposed to either keeping your stars or trading them for other stars, you are essentially saying that a year down the road is better than the one coming up.  Garnett and Pierce are long in the tooth.  How did the Celtics get to a time when their stars were long in the tooth without some talent being groomed to replace them?  When it came time to trade the stars, why not trade the two of them for one stud, who in combination with others could make the Celtics contenders.

Taking the concept of rebuilding beyond the world of sports, is any one day more precious than another?  Yes, there are times when we are fragile and need to build up our strength/self-concept to enjoy life to its fullest. But this day, here, July 3, is probably as precious as say July 5 or August 17th or any day.   Sure, you might want to diet for a couple of weeks in April so that you don't look flabby in a suit in May, and you might want to save some shekels for a vacation thus rebuilding your assets to enjoy some greater time later on.  But, in general, I think there is a tendency--and maybe I am speaking just for myself--of not acknowledging the potential in the here and now, and each day putting off the opportunity for success because you imagine in the future a day that will never come because when it does, there will always be another future date looming, illusorily, looking like a better time.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why should I buy a Truck?

Occasionally, when I read a news story about some incredible behavior, I say aloud, "What were they thinking?"

A millionaire like Aaron Hernandez throws his life away.  What could he have been thinking?  Baseball players snort cocaine risking their careers for the rush of a drug.  What could they be thinking when they take that risk.  A basketball coach egregiously and repeatedly violates recruiting regulations.  He is hoping he can get away with it, but the rationale is so short sighted that you have to wonder if they could have been thinking when they did what they've done.

I've listened to a lot of public speeches in my day.  I have taught courses in public speaking to both undergraduates and graduates as well as assorted other populations in workshop environments.

One assignment that I tend to give when I teach these courses, is for the presenter to develop and present a persuasive talk. This is very standard in these classes. The presenter has to think of a topic that they really consider important, something that they can get heated about, and make a presentation to the twenty or so others in the class in an attempt to convince the audience to change an attitude or reinforce an existing one.

 I've heard hundreds of excellent such talks.  Surfacing to my consciousness now are presentations that argued against mandatory sentencing for drug offenders, contended that the Beatles more than political activists changed the philosophy and culture of the baby boomers, and one that asserted, categorically, that  driving while impaired is tantamount to attempted murder and should be punished in the same way.

Not all the talks have been excellent. Some topics repeat: eat healthily, exercise regularly, don't smoke, love your fellow citizen, don't pollute.  But the speakers in these at least understand the assignment.

One fellow early on in my career did not get the assignment.  He started out his persuasive talk this way.  "Why should I buy a truck? I'll tell you why I should buy a truck."

His talk went on to explain why he should buy a truck. He had the money.  He needed to haul large items.  He did not have any family so the seating would be sufficient.

The class listened incredulously to this talk.  Persuasive talks are not intended to convince the speaker of something, but convince the audience.  One woman wrote on the student evaluation form, "Why the hell should I care if you buy a truck."  The speaker had not wowed the group in class discussions previously, but this seemed to really irritate the gathered. Didn't he get it?

I took the student aside after class and tried to explain, though I was still a bit stunned, why his persuasive talk, "Why should I buy a truck?" was an inappropriate one for the assignment. He nodded at me as if he got it. "I see" he said, "I see."

I wasn't sure if he had.

The final talk was the equivalent of the final exam for the course. It too was to be persuasive and required at least some sort of visual support and demonstration.

The talks in the class were going along smoothly until the truck fellow began his oration.  "Why should I quit school and take a job in the post office?" was the topic.  Again, he had some arguments.  Post office paid well. There was no guarantee that if he passed up the job now it would still be available when he graduated.  He commented that the previous summer he had worked at the "Super Duper" in Gowanda and had not made as much as a bagger there as he would as a postal employee.  He projected a picture of the Super Duper in Gowanda.

The class was not happy during this talk. On the evaluation forms several students wrote different versions of "Given the truck speech, how could you deliver this? What could you have been thinking?"

Well, he couldn't have been thinking.

When we try to understand something that is inexplicable, we might want to reconsider the assumption that logic is the foundation for behavior.  I am not sure why my former student gave a persuasive speech entitled, "Why should I buy a truck?" And then gave a second speech of the same ilk.   Sure, it is possible that the fellow was just a dullard.

 But it is also possible that the wiring was not quite right. That  what he thought made sense and was logical was based on a twisted set of connections.

How could Aaron Hernandez throw away his millionaire life by being complicit in a murder.  How could Steve Howe or Daryl Strawberry stick powder up their noses and blow away their fortune.  Somehow when they did these things they thought they made sense. Just like my student who tried to explain to his class why he should buy a truck, thought that made sense.

So, when you try to figure out what someone was thinking when they do something inconceivable, don't start with their logic.  Start with their wiring.  What wires are missing? What pieces were damaged and bruised this way or that.  I'd suggest checking first the love wire.  See if it is dangling somewhere. Broken or never been appropriately secured.