Monday, September 30, 2013

Affordable Health Care Act

I do not know the nuances of the Affordable Health Care Act.  Here is what I suspect.

Those who are opposed to it are not driven by ideology. They are motivated by self-interest and the interests of wealthy supporters who oppose the Act.  To some extent, I think opponents are driven because they will (and have) attempted to do everything they can to discredit the president. (I don't believe the drive to discredit the president is entirely based on race.  But it would not surprise me that some of the energy behind the movement has been fueled by racism).

The need for health care reform has been supported by both parties for almost as long as I can remember. What the president has done, finally, is get it done. It has passed the congress. It was a major point of disagreement during the 12 elections.  Its legitimacy has been supported by the Supreme Court.

What the Republicans are doing is shameful; wasting time and money trying to pressure the country to undo what its citizens have declared they want done.   And tonight the government might shut down because the greedy, like some bully messing with the other kids in the neighborhood, want to get their way.

I know people who do not like the Affordable Health Care Act and I like them. At this point, however, it is not a matter of whether you like Obamacare or not. The fact is that it is the law and it passed the houses of congress and it was implicitly supported in the election.  In a democracy you can't always get what you want. And the way to get what you want is not to put a gun to the collective heads of the economy--unless of course you want to frame yourself, and go down in history, as some sort of criminal.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Another Hour Closer

Years ago I read a courtroom/whodunnit called, Degree of Guilt.  I think it was my mother who recommended it and I am glad she did. I can't remember the details but I do recall liking it a lot.  Time well spent reading the book, trying to figure out who did it, and admiring the craft of the author.

Yesterday I noticed an article in the Boston paper about the author. He has published a new novel--his umpteenth--and will be speaking about it in the city tomorrow.  The author, Richard North Patterson, lives on Martha's Vineyard and, if the photo of him in the paper is recent, looks terrific for a man 66.

It was a long article and I read it through impressed by how, through his writings, the author has made a difference.  He had been a lawyer and part time novelist until Degree of Guilt was published and sold very well.  He quit his law practice and became a full time writer sometime after the book's success.

As much as the novel was impressive, there was a comment made in the interview which will have a more lasting effect on my thinking.  Patterson was talking about how he prefers private dinners to cocktail parties which are a regular occurrence during the summer on Martha's Vineyard.  And, given his status, the author is often invited to these parties.

The comment was that when he leaves these parties he tends to say to himself,   "Another hour closer to death, and for what."

Parties can be fun and not always a waste a time, at least I have enjoyed them now and again. But the point is not about parties. The point is about how we spend our time and the undeniable reality that after whatever time we spend doing whatever we do, we are an hour closer.  I am not always as efficient about using time as I should be. Recalling this comment may be helpful.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Norm or Anomaly?

Today I went to the MA tax office to pick up some forms.   There used to be a filled rack of the forms outside of the customer service window. The rack was there when I arrived, the forms were not. I waited over 20 minutes for the one woman behind the one window to deal with a man who seemed to be asking a simple question.  I spent time calculating the percentage of my income that goes to pay for state services. When it was my turn I said, "All I need are the income tax forms."  This, I was told, was no problem. She retrieved the forms for me. "Why" I asked "are the racks that are supposed to contain the forms empty?"  "They're empty" she said "because when we left the forms out for people to take, people would take them."  Norm or Anomaly?

Before I went to the MA tax office I went to pick up the federal tax forms from the IRS located in a different building downtown.  There the forms were on the racks. I picked the ones I needed. I asked the attendant where the MA tax office was. He pointed to a sign on his desk. Apparently, this question has been asked before. The well worn hand printed card read: Directions to Mass Department of Revenue: Exit front door onto Cambridge Street.  Nothing else was on the card. When I pointed this out to the attendant, he looked at the note and laughed. No directions on the Directions card. Norm or Anomaly?

On Wednesday I had a 5 pm flight to NY on the shuttle, so called because the carrier flies every hour on the hour from Boston to NY.  Just before 3 I received a call from the airline telling me that the 5 was cancelled. The recorded voice apologized for the inconvenience in a voice that sounded like she wasn't too sad about it. I was told I could call an 800 number to change the flight. Made the call. I could get on the 4 if I could make it to the airport on time, otherwise the next flight that was not booked was the 7. The 7 does me little good. I need to make the 4.  I race to the airport and am ready to park at 330. The parking lot, however, is filled. No spots. A fellow at the entrance to General Parking tells me, as if he has been coached to be pleasant but he just can't help being a sourpus, that I "need to go to Economy Parking sir."  Economy Parking is the code word for the lot that instead of charging an arm and a leg to park overnight, only takes the arm up to the elbow.  To save the money, however, and retain a portion of your appendage one must drive to Nebraska and park in the Economy lot. Then you need to take a shuttle bus back from Nebraska. The shuttle bus is driven by the kind of Mr. Happy you would be if all you did was drive a bus around in circles for 8 hours a day listening to people squawk. The shuttle busses are programmed to stop at every stop in the airport and to make sure to hit each pothole along the way. I cannot imagine I will make the 4 oclock flight.  This becomes almost a certainty because when I get to the Economy Lot there are no spots in it as well.  The simpleton cousin of the sourpus who told me to go to the Economy lot tells we surly drivers to line up so that he can take our keys and plate numbers. He will valet park our cars.  Speed is not this fellow's strong suit.  It is after 4 when I get on the pothole-local shuttle bus.  I don't get to the terminal until 415.  However, I make the 4 pm shuttle. How? I make it because the 4 pm has been delayed over an hour due to whatever happened to be the reason for incompetence du jour such that the 4 does not leave until 5.  Norm or Anomaly?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sea Creatures--Book Review

The essence of this book is that we are all sea creatures, each with our bundles of idiosyncrasies and brand of kryptonite.  If we don't adapt to the inevitable storms, we drown. Even those who survive have their bruises.

The story is about a couple and their son who move from near Chicago to South Florida. The son does not speak. The couple themselves do not sleep; they met in what they refer to as "detention" a place where those who cannot sleep go for therapy.  More I cannot relay without giving away too much.

There are several stories going on in the novel, so many that instead of the book being cohesive it appears as if it's a loose confederation of incidents that relate to Frankie (the son) and Georgia (the mother).   There is a touching portion at the very end related to a character named Charlie who is a reclusive artist, and Georgia, but even that is just one of many incidents and relationships that Georgia describes. Charlie gets a lot of ink, but so does her father and Graham (her husband), to a lesser extent her step mother Lidia and even her dead mother. There's a neighbor, an old friend, a kid in a hospital, a pediatrician--all encounters that seem to live almost independently as opposed to components of a cohesive whole.  I felt there needed to be more of a focus.

So, while I did not dislike the book, I am not going to grab strangers and suggest they read it.  It may grow on me, as often is the case, as time goes on.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Soon I will be the age that the Beatles crooned about when I was 17 and Sergeant Pepper was the rage.  At the time, their lyrics, "will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64" had me conjuring up a gimpy, gray haired me, doing not much more than parking myself in an easy chair adjacent to my spouse as we watched the television together, joking about how we were ancient.

It is true that today after I stretched in the gym, it took a lot of time to get up off the mat.  And my walk to the car after I dressed will not be recorded for a "how to amble comfortably" demonstration. And there is gray around my temples. And when I got a haircut this noontime the "barber" (no barbers anymore--hairstlylist?) commented about how thick my hair was on the side of my head implicitly, of course, commenting that this is a phenomenon since you could count the hairs on the top without spending much time at it.   And after I played tennis on Thursday I decided to sit in the hot tub for 20 minutes to relax my muscles. And tonight if I make it until 1030 before conking out, I will be surprised.

All the above is true. But I don't see myself as the person I conjured up when I listened to the Beatles song.  Yet am I?  I do notice that people in restaurants tend to call me sir quite a bit. When I was visiting my father in his senior community recently people no longer looked at me--as they had previously-- as if I were visiting.  I asked at a restaurant what the age was for the senior discount listed on the menu. The waiter took a look at me and said, as if this would comfort me, "Don't worry. You're fine."

My best guess is that I am not who I imagined and am much younger.  But today marks one month before that song will be about me.  I'd think about this matter more right now, but I am getting sleepy.  I will not, however, warm up any milk before I get ready to slumber.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

the man and the legend

On Thursday I was on the Orange line, one of the four main subway lines in Boston. There are the blue, red, green, and orange.  The Orange line, painted as you might suspect in orange, has a stop right near where I work.  So I am on the Orange line headed for Downtown Crossing.

I sit across from a gentleman who, aside from his tee-shirt, is relatively normal. Dark hair, a beard, some conventional spectacles, and regularly looking duds--except for his shirt.

There are two arrows on his shirt. One is at chest level and is pointed up toward the neck. The other is around belly button level, this one pointed down toward his crotch.  Underneath the one that is at chest level are the words "the man".  Adjacent to the arrow pointed toward his crotch are the two words, "the legend."

My question is this:  What possessed this person to wear this shirt. Did he lose a bet?  Did his love tell him that he better wear the shirt, or else, the legend might as well be retired?

My guess is that he did not lose a bet nor was he threatened. I am thinking this person is missing something and not necessarily between the ears.  I think this person has as the shrinks are wont to say "a lacuna in cerebellum".  A lacuna is a gap.  Roughly translated this shrink-ese means someone has a hole in his head.  But the hole in this case is not actually in the head, but in the part of the head that steers the heart.

If you are a legend south of the border would you really wear a shirt like this?

red sox nation

Last night the Red Sox clinched the American League East.  The celebration on the field and in local taverns is another illustration of how sports can be thrilling regardless of any monetary factors. I wrote in an earlier blog how I was excited watching a college basketball game once and a fellow asked me how much money I had riding on the game. I told him I had none, just thought it was thrilling to see how a team (Syracuse) had defied predictions and was excelling in the Big East tournament.  The fellow doubted me. He said nobody gets excited like I was without some money being involved.

Very wrong.  I was in a tavern when the Red Sox clinched last night.  Half of the bar watching the game on television gave the Red Sox a standing ovation.  And this was nothing compared to the shenanigans at Fenway Park where the players and fans acted like children dancing and shpritzing everyone with champagne.

The Red Sox were not supposed to do well this year. It was two years ago when all heralded the team in April as likely champions. The team then was loaded with high priced talent.  The Red Sox did not win that year collapsing like a cheap tent in a hurricane during September.  And last year the Red Sox despite some sluggers on the roster, played like the American Legion teams that practice in the park near my home.

How come this team was so successful. They currently have the best record in the majors. Really only one slugger and just a couple of players batting over 300.

Sometimes, even in an individual based game like baseball, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.  A positive culture and climate can result in batters and pitchers concentrating more. Players run the bases intelligently, make sure they don't miss signs, bunt when necessary--just work harder when the culture is more supportive. And of course winning helps nourish that culture.

I was one of those applauding in the tavern last night. I did not get up and join the standing ovation, but I clapped heartily.  No money on the line.  Just enjoy sports.  And I cannot be the only one. Advertisers do not support ESPN and the plethora of dedicated sports radio and tv stations if I am alone.

One more bit of evidence. See if you can catch on Sportscenter the reaction to the Tampa Bay victory over Baltimore in 18 innings last night. And then tell me if this was about money or the joy of playing the game.

Monday, September 16, 2013


As usual, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns are from hunger. Also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find interesting ways to lose.

And there is a free agent quarterback available who has always won.

Tim Tebow was on the Patriots during the pre season. He was cut the last weekend. I saw quite a bit of him since the Patriots preseason games are broadcast here.  It is true that he did not look so good. He seemed like a novice and at times clueless. He threw bad passes and looked lost when the defense rushed him.  I can understand why more experienced football people look at his style and say that this guy can't be a professional quarterback.

There is just one point to make however.

This guy has been a winner everywhere he has been. When he played for the Florida Gators they won with greater regularity than politicians lie.  Then he was drafted by the Broncos and everyone said he could not play. The Broncos were horrible, so they gave Tebow a shot.  Every game seemed to be a copy of the previous one. Tebow looked like he did not belong stinking up the joint for three quarters.  But in the fourth quarter somehow the Broncos won.  When Denver played Pittsburgh in a playoff game the pundits thought the score would be lopsided.  Somehow the Broncos made it to overtime and then won the game on the first play of the extra period.

The Jaguars and Browns each figure that their quarterback is more skilled than Tebow and maybe each is.  But your teams always lose.  The object, as Herm Edwards reminded us, is to win the games. If you are losing games and looking pathetic while doing so, why not try someone who has always won games even if he looks like he shouldn't.  Penn State years ago had a quarterback named Chuck Burkhart who never got to play in the pros. In high school and college this guy had never, ever, lost a game. Never. Did not look all that special. But all he did was win. The pros did not think he had the stuff and he did not play professionally.

As anyone who has lived within earshot of me knows, I was not a fan of Drew Bledsoe. But this guy had the stuff. He could throw footballs like I throw darts. And he could throw long darts between two receivers. Remarkably strong arm. The thing is that the guy lost games he should have won.  Chuck Burkhart and Tim Tebow may not be able to throw a pass better than I can, but they win games.  

If the Jaguars or Browns sign and start Tebow the worst thing that can happen is that they will do what they are already doing, lose.  Why not try someone who might, somehow, help you win.  Even if you can't understand why.

Finding Frank

So, today I am finishing my tuna sub which has constituted lunch on many occasions in recent days. Our offices are adjacent to a SUBWAY shop and this month is, according to the advertisers, SUBtember.  Every sandwich is 5 dollars.  The bargain has me eating tuna subs, consuming the first half for lunch, and the second for my preworkout meal.

So, I am more precisely finishing a half of my sandwich when I decide to pop in a name into Google of a childhood friend who lived on my floor in the late 50s. Ours was a six floor apartment building with many baby boomers on each floor.  Let's say his name was Barry in case he might not want me to reveal his real name in this blog.

Barry moved in after our family did.  His father Ike and mother Janet (not real names) were friends with my folks.  Barry and I became great pals.

Every other weekend Barry would visit his brother Frank (again a made up name).  One Sunday I came along as a guest. Frank was mentally retarded and lived in an institute. It was an experience going with Barry and his parents to visit Frank.  His mother was visibly upset and I gathered she was, every other week, so upset because of the treatment in this facility.  The kids acted wildly, the place smelled from urine, Frank seemed so both hungry for affection and attention and at the same time unreachable. Barry's father handled the visit well, but his mother, was visibly disturbed--even noticeable to 8 year old me.

After that one visit, I never went back with Barry to the institute. I don't recall being invited again not for any reason other than, I'm sure, their assumption that such an outing was not something I enjoyed. But I still have a clear recollection of seeing Frank, what he looked like, and how Barry's parents--especially his mom--were jarred by a visit that occurred every other week.

When my family left Brooklyn, Barry and I promised to remain buddies, but we did not.  I saw him once or twice on visits back to the neighborhood. Then in the early 70s he was in an off Broadway play in NY.  I came to the performance and his parents were there coincidentally.  We greeted each other like the long lost friends that we were.  After the play Barry and I went out for a drink and that is the last I saw of him.

So, I put his name into Google images while eating a half of a tuna sub, and I see a person who looks like him. I do some more sleuthing and I see that Barry has produced a short documentary that was featured in a New York film festival.  And I am taken aback when I see that the documentary is called, Finding Frank.

I go to youtube and play a trailer of Finding Frank. It is a documentary about how Barry after both his parents had passed got to know his brother Frank, became his legal guardian, and essentially rescued him from the institutionalized living that had, ironically, retarded Frank's life for the entirety of his existence.  Even the first few seconds of the documentary were moving and not primarily because I saw my childhood friend on the screen.  I then found some essays Barry had written about his experience with Frank and these too were emotional.  In these he talks not only about Frank but references his parents by name and discusses aspects of his mother's demise and alludes to his father's as well.

This excursion into the life of Barry has been sobering and saddening.  Partly because of the recounting of Ike's and Janet's death--people I knew well.  But also because of Barry's altruism and his work with his brother which might have been rewarding but also had to be emotionally exhausting.  And this has set off in me a storm of self assessment regarding what I have done, what I have not done, and what I have tried to do and been unable to realize.  I'm not surprised to read about Barry's activity on behalf of Frank. He was a class act as an 8 year old.

Reading about Barry and Frank and Ike and Janet has jolted me to reconsider how I spend my time. Finding Frank may be inspirational.  When you find Frank, I think, it helps one locate oneself as well.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Endless Love--Book Review

This is the third of the Scott Spencer novels that I've read.  It is supposed to be his masterpiece.  I am glad I did not read this one first because I enjoyed so much Man in the Woods and Men in Black--two more recently written books. This one I did not like much at all and would not have read the others had I read this one beforehand.

The book is about a teenager who is obsessed with love.  How obsessed?  In the first pages we find out that he has been banned from his lover's home by her parents (and later discover that the lover was not averse to the banning).  He decides--again in the first few pages so this is not giving anything away--that the way to get to see her again is to start a fire outside of her family's home so that the lover, Jade, will have to come out of the house and he, David, will coincidentally be on the street then and see her again.  So, we are talking obsessed.  The novel continues to follow several years in David's life with and without Jade focusing on David's experience.

I did not like the book because I do not much like people like David.  He is insensitive and beyond rude to his loving parents, breaks the law, thinks nothing of sapping his family of money, is unconcerned with the effects of his behavior on the rest of Jade's family, and, oh yes, burns a house down.  All justified, implicitly, because he loves Jade.

The people I like most in the book are the people negatively affected by the inconsiderate behavior justified in the name of pursuing one's love: David's devoted parents, Jade's father, siblings, and to a lesser extent Jade's mother.

The author tells this tale in the first person, so the insensitivities may be evidence of effective writing depicting how a person obsessed with love loses sight of everything other than the pursuit of that love. Characters in the story just drop out of the narrative when they cease to matter to David.  For example, we don't hear a word about David's parents for about 100 pages. They play an important part in the story, but they do not appear to enter into David's consciousness at a time when any conscious reader would say, "he's got to get in touch with the people in Chicago."  At first I thought this was a flaw in the novel, and then I thought that to David his parents were not significant.  Peripheral characters become peripheral to the story line in the same way that someone who is obsessed makes everyone and everything peripheral to their obsession.  Nevertheless, obsessed people do not get a pass on their basic human and filial responsibilities.

I don't think a book can be salvaged by a single paragraph. However, the last paragraph of the book is special.  If you have been filled up by love and pained when it is no longer there, you have experienced the sensation depicted in these last sentences.  And I'm glad I read the book if for no other reason than I will always have that image and description in my head.

I add the following now a few hours after I initially posted this blog.  The last paragraph is even more powerful the more it stays in my head. It does not justify David's behavior, but it highlights the obsession and, to me at least, has an illuminating effect on the rest of the novel.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

hacking through the forest blind

In a meeting yesterday a woman described her work on a new project and said, candidly and eloquently, that often she found herself "hacking through the forest blind."  This may be a common expression that the cool or contemporary use on a regular basis. Predictably perhaps, I'd never heard of it, but it caught my attention and amused me immediately.

Years ago, my brother and I travelled to Glacier National Park and hiked on several trails there.  The most stunning, step for step, was one called the Garden Wall Trail.  The park has so many vistas that take your breath away and on this hike one could easily become breathless because of how often you need to stop and stare at what seems indescribable.

The trail is not for the weak kneed.  It is so named because early on one finds a garden hose attached to the side of a cliff. The reason for the garden hose is that the path is so narrow and the drop off so stunningly steep that even the tough ones among us want to cling to that hose to ensure that we don't topple over to oblivion.

We were half way into the hike well beyond the garden hose part when we saw, to our open jawed astonishment, that a hiker was clawing up the sheer steep incline and was nearing the top.  He got to the ridge, and like a cartoon character slapped one hand and then another on the trail.  He then hoisted himself up until he was upright and began to dust himself off.

The vertical nature of the cliff and the drop to the bottom was such that what he had done seemed outrageously dangerous.  What kind of nut would do this off the trail hiking?  The fellow got his bearings and saw the two of us stare at him.  I said something of the order of "why did you do that?"

He responded, sheepishly, that he was afraid of heights and therefore couldn't take the first hundred yards of the hike with the garden rail and the drop off.  To avoid this he "bushwhacked" his way up the mountain to begin his hike after the narrow garden hose path portion.  This explanation to us was, and still is, mindboggling.

"Do you mean" I stammered "you walked up a vertical mountain BECAUSE you are afraid of heights?"  He nodded and laughed self effacingly.  "Can't handle that garden hose path. Can't deal with that drop."

So illogical.  For some reason when the woman yesterday said she had been "hacking through a forest blind" this fellow who bushwacked up the sheer side of a mountain to AVOID his fear of heights came to mind. Maybe it was because what he had done was hack through whatever shrubs were in his way to get to the trail.  So the image of hacking through a forest was akin to what he had done.

But it also crossed my mind that in so many of our endeavors we are hacking through the forest blind--often unnecessarily and illogically. Afraid of some demon we avoid the path that might be screaming at us that it is the best way to go and hack dangerously and blindly through the forest.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where the Time Goes.

In my office I listen to a station called Got Radio--Folk Lore as background when I write or am otherwise occupied taking care of business that allows for that sort of interference.  Problem is that every so often a song comes on that takes me away.  An example just occurred when Judy Collins's voice penetrated my essence with her rendition of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes."

Six pm Eastern time now.  I know how the time went today.  Spent the morning riding in traffic on the mass pike, sitting in a meeting with two refreshingly brilliant colleagues from 930-10, another from 10-12 with colleagues discussing issues that were alternatively frustrating and energizing, another from 12-2 which had as a virtue that lunch was provided.  Since then I have been addressing the various issues that surfaced at these meetings that require my wisdom--such as it might be.

Then I hear Who Knows Where the Time Goes.

Visited my dad a few days ago.  I am now a few years younger than my dad was when he moved into his senior development.  I am now mistaken occasionally as a newcomer to the community there--as opposed to a kid visiting a parent.  However, my aging or my dad's pals' aging is not what I think of when Who Knows Where the Time Goes careens through my system.  I think about the opportunities in this wonderful life and how we seize them and, occasionally-sadly-, let them go by.

Today I was informed that G'mar tov is what one in my tribe should say to another at the end of this week of reflection. The week ends on Saturday night. For those who observe,  the week (days of awe it is called) is a time of assessment and commitment to become a better person.

Three score and three going on four and I'd never heard the expression, G'mar tov.  It literally translates as "A Good Finish";  figuratively meaning that one should end this period of reflection comfortably and ready to become the person we pledge to be when we consider how we desire to live with our fellow others.

When we have let the time go, it is difficult to have a good finish.  And that is why for many of us the lyrics to Who Knows Where the Time Goes are so penetrating.