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."