Wednesday, April 30, 2014

seventh game

I have written before that of the four major sports, hockey is my least favorite.  However, as I have also written before,  Stanley Cup hockey is as exciting as any playoff sport.  And the seventh game of  a series in hockey is almost difficult to take.

My brother is a season ticket holder for the NY Rangers. Tonight he and his son went to the seventh game of the Ranger-Flyers series.  I made sure to get home in time to park myself in front of the tube for the game.

The Rangers went ahead 2-0 in the second period. In the third the Flyers dominated and scored a goal in the first several minutes. For the remainder of the then 2-1 contest the Flyers were carrying the puck and the Rangers were attempting to just hold on.  I was essentially holding my breath for the last twenty minutes.

I have sat with my brother for seventh games before and I know that being in the Garden for a seventh game is difficult to take. For those who have read The Madness of March you know that the epilogue is a recounting of a seventh game which the Rangers eventually won in double overtime.  I think I did that game as much justice as one could in describing it. It remains the most exciting sporting event I have ever witnessed either on tv or in person.

The Rangers prevailed tonight by the same score that they won that double overtime seventh game twenty years ago--2-1. I imagine the joy my brother and my nephew are feeling as they walk out of Madison Square Garden, and, myself, will begin now to inhale and exhale more regularly.  For those who wish to test the strength of your heart, there are two more game sevens being broadcast tonight on NBCSN.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The first round of the NBA playoffs has been thrilling. Very exciting games, several of which have gone into overtime.  And yet the story of the playoffs has been the offensive, insensitive, and ignorant comments of one of the owners.

I often marvel at how businesspeople make money despite themselves. And I have met several fools who are wealthy not because of family wealth, but because-- despite their ignorance-- they have latched onto a business that was lucrative.  On the basis of what I have heard this weekend, Donald Sterling, is one of those fools who have become wealthy despite poor wiring.

Many have commented on Sterling's remarks.  My comments on theirs.

Charles Barkley remarked that Sterling should be suspended. One reason he cited for the suspension is that 80 per cent of the league is black. Sterling should be suspended, yes, but regardless of the percentage of players who are black.  A relatively small percentage of black players are on major league baseball teams. If a baseball owner made similar comments those would be no less egregious.

Mark Cuban said that Sterling has created a problem, but it is not his problem. No, Mark Cuban, this is your problem. It is anyone who has a stake in the NBA's problem including the fans.  This incident has been a distraction from the excellent product that is the NBA.

Anyone who suggests that racism is pervasive is, of course, correct.  Anyone who suggests that because racism is pervasive that somehow justifies racism is incorrect.  There is the argument that all that happened in this instance was that Sterling was exposed/caught and others are just as culpable--they just have not been caught.  It is likely true that others who have not been caught are similarly culpable. This, however, does not exonerate those who have been caught.

I heard Sterling's wife comment that she cannot be sure it is Sterling's voice on the tape. Then I heard Jeff Van Gundy comment that this is implausible.  One need not be especially insightful to agree with Van Gundy.

If there was any information that Sterling could provide that would show that this tape was bogus, it would have been provided.  It is true that due process is essential in our system, but it is also true that individuals can be suspended pending investigations.  If you catch a carpenter stealing while doing construction work in your home, you may not be able to imprison the thief immediately, but you certainly can suspend him from the job no matter how much he squawks that he is innocent.

For the sake of the league and the enjoyment of the fans who would rather focus on the games, the league commissioner-- supported by the unanimous voice of the other owners-- should suspend Sterling.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Studs, Pressure, and Us.

With less than ten seconds left in today's Indiana-Atlanta playoff game, the Indiana Pacers had a three point lead and the ball.  An inbounds pass was made to Paul George who was fouled as he went to catch the ball.

Indiana started the season extremely well.  Even though they played poorly at the end of the season they are the top ranked team in the East during this year's NBA playoff tournament.   Because of their top seeding they get to play the worst team in the East that made the playoffs--the Atlanta Hawks. How bad were the Hawks? Despite getting into the playoffs, the Hawks had less than a 500 record. For those mathematically challenged, this means they lost more games than they won.

So the best team in the East is playing the worst team in the best of seven first round.  But the Indiana Pacers look dazed. I had watched parts of the first three games of the series and thought neither team was playing well and the Hawks had won two out of the first three games.  There has been some media talk, that if the Pacers were to lose to the Hawks in this series, the Pacers' coach would get fired.  In addition, the players have been criticized for not showing up and playing like amateurs after playing so well in the early part of the season.

It looked like the Pacers were going to win the game and tie the series because they were up by three points with less than ten seconds to go and their stud, Paul George, was going to the foul line .  All George would have to do is make one of two free throws to seal the game, because then even a three point shot by Atlanta would result in an Indiana victory.  Paul George is the leading scorer on the Pacers; he was a first round draft pick selected 10th overall in the 2010 draft--meaning he was the tenth best player eligible of all those aspiring to play professional basketball that year.  And, Paul George is a terrific free throw shooter.  This year he made 86.4 % of his free throws.

Paul George has been making free throws his whole life.  All he needed to do was make one of two to seal an important game.

He missed the first one badly.  Very short.  If you played the game, you know that you miss short like that when you are tight. You don't extend your arm because you are nervous.  George nodded his head as in "no problem I will make the second one."  The second was jacked up worse than the first. It hit the back of the rim and bounded away.

So, Atlanta had a chance to win. They did not missing a three point shot as time expired, but that is peripheral to the point.

One of the best basketball players on the planet, did not miss two foul shots, he choked on them. His anxiety got to him and altered how he does things.

Does this happen to all of us. No matter how skilled we are, are there moments when a lot is on the line, and what we can do in our sleep and effortlessly, is done poorly because of anxiety.  Having a conversation, something we do regularly daily, becomes a task when we believe there to be a lot on the line.  We search for words and can't find them.

Paul George is a millionaire. He makes the shots or misses the shots, he will still be able to buy the most expensive suit on the rack.  He has proven himself as an outstanding athlete.  He has probably made dozens of foul shots in a row when practicing. Of players this season who attempted at least 400 foul shots, he has the fourth highest foul shooting percentage in the entire league.

Yet he throws up two bricks when there is a lot on the line.

I think for us all, a key to success, is to make the foul shots when a lot is on the line.  And as we get older, our ability to--metaphorically--make foul shots is there, but our ability to withstand the pressures that accrue each time we run around the track, makes it more difficult to sink the shot.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home--Book Review

This is a debut novel by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I had not heard of her before. I was returning a book to the library and took a look at other books on the shelf, saw this one, and noticed that there were some excellent review excerpts printed on the cover of the book.

One should never judge a book, by the review excerpts.    I think sometimes good buddies write nice things about good buddies' works.  One of the excerpts on the first inside pages compares the telling of the story to To Kill a Mockingbird.  Not close.  A Wall Street Journal quote says the book is Tremendously Moving.

I liked the book okay. Glad I picked it up, but I was not tremendously moved by it.  It is told from the perspective of a fourteen year old who has lost her artist uncle. The book is set in 1987 and the uncle is a victim of the AIDS epidemic.   The narrator, June, was close to her uncle and becomes close with the uncle's lover.  The relationship with the uncle, and then subsequently the lover, has effects on June's family, most significantly her sister and to a lesser extent her mother.

Maybe this is the kind of book that is more appealing to young women or women who remember vividly their teenage years.  I was engaged by the novel because the writing, at least initially, was engaging.  But I could not relate to the kid or her sister, and thought the parents were just stick figures. There is a reference to South Pacific throughout because the sister has a major role in it. There is a hint of an unorthodox situation between the sister and the play director, but that never gets explained--nor can I figure out why the references to the play were so frequent.

The book seemed like the diary of a young girl written in the mid 80s that had been edited and published twenty five years later.  I read the first sections of an interview with the author that appears at the end of the book, and my notion does not seem to be accurate.

In sum, easy and sometimes engaging read, but I could not relate to the main character or believe many of the others.

Friday, April 25, 2014

shabbat shalom Dad


Sometime last September, I started calling you every Friday night to say Shabbat Shalom.  It sounded to me when you picked up the phone and heard my message, that you liked that.  There were not too many times when your voice picked up after mom died, but your response to my shabbat shalom, was always a strong shabbat shalom in return.  I think I may get back in the habit.  I don't think I will hear much in return, but it might feel good.

One thing I was thinking of today was how you would say that the problem with going to high holiday or any religious services is that there is too much God in it.  The first--actually every--time you said that I would smile at the irony. But I get it.   Services should be a place where we refocus and get back on track if we've detoured, or stay on track.  Instead in services there are a whole lot of pleas to this notion of God as a body of some sort, as opposed to the embodiment of truth.

The marathon went off without a hitch on Monday. The Heat are up 2-0 in their series. They play again tomorrow.  They don't look so extra.  Nobody does really.  Even the Spurs and Thunder have lost games. The Thunder are down 2-1, but I think they will come back.  Red Sox got walloped by the Yankees last night. We had to bring in a position player to pitch the ninth.

I got a note from Bernie and Marlene today. They had donated to a charity and the charitable organization was notifying us of their thoughtfulness.  For some reason this message hurt more than the flurry of others we got right after the funeral. I think we were so busy with the preparations, then the immediate needs of stopping this credit card and that, and then answering the dozens of initial sympathy notes, that I must have steeled myself to avoid the pain in order just to get through the first weeks. This note from Bernie coming several weeks later, just reminded me that I cant pick up the phone and talk about whatever, or hear your clever jokes.

Your quips still make me laugh. I was thinking today of what you said when I came down to visit you for your birthday one year.  You, as always, wrote me a check to defray some of the plane costs. I told you I could not accept money for coming down to visit you for your birthday. You said that you weren't giving me money for coming down, you were giving me the money to leave.  I smile every time when I recall that.  Or the time I bragged that I had gotten a cape-jacket for a bargain price of a buck. Then you looked at it and asked me how much change I got.

The ceremony at the Yiddish Book Center that Ona arranged is a go for May 11th in Amherst.  We'll be there. Not sure what is involved, but you and mom will be honored.

Shabbat shalom, Dad.

avrum ben mayer.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Kenyans are Drinking your Beer

I saw a link on the internet to the top forty signs that were held up during the marathon to urge on the runners. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I could not get close enough to the runners on Patriots Day to see any such signs actually held up.  I saw plenty of signs lugged around by despondent spectators who had not gotten close to the line.  The most startling one I saw was in the form of a tee shirt worn by a woman apparently intending her message for a crony of hers who was running.  The shirt read simply, "Run, Bitch, Run."  I sure hope it was for a buddy of hers.

The signs I saw when I clicked on the net link were very clever.  My favorite was one intended, it seems, to any and all runners who were passing this particular spot on the course.  It read:

"Hurry, the Kenyans are Drinking Your Beer."

If you have run in any sort of road race or attended in support of a family member or chum, you know that at the end of the race, there are goodies for the participants.  Beer is a staple.   The last road race I ran, the beer was such a popular part of the goodies table, that they ran out in a hurry. I think the problem there was that the vendors did not discriminate between runners and those who just figured this was high time to get a couple of free cold ones.  Usually only the runners get the goodies.

Of course, you don't get to drink the beer until you cross the finish line.   The Boston marathon has been dominated by Kenyan winners for so long, that the sign struck me as pretty funny.

On my way to work today, a delightful ride owing to the great American tradition of Spring break for public schools, (resulting in relatively congestion free, freeways) I was thinking of the sign and, as is my tendency, started to wonder about the message metaphorically.

If we poke along on the highway, not focused, or believe that there is no such thing as mortality, will there be beer left for us when we reach our finish line? The analogy is not perfect. In life, as opposed to road races, there is an infinite amount of "beer"/rewards.  In this country at least, the opportunities to pursue happiness are there for the taking and happiness is not an entity that can be devoured and depleted by others.

I do think, though, that if we don't "hurry" or seize our days we can miss the opportunity to indulge in what can be enjoyed.  We have just so much time to write a book, nourish a family, achieve professionally, develop loving friendships, love our parents, exercise our talents, frolic with our avocational interests, and romance our wildest dreams.  There is beer out there to quaff, and if we don't hurry we will not feel the sweet high of realizing our dreams.

When I was in college, the motto of my university was "let each become all he is capable of being."  My age is reflected in the school's then use of the generic male pronoun for all students. They changed the motto after I graduated, but the old one with a slight edit is a good one. "let us become all we are capable of being."  Hurry, the Kenyans are drinking our beer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stimulation vs. Catharsis theory

In media studies, or what used to be called Mass Communication studies, two dichotomous theories are often used to explain the effects of consuming mediated communication. One theory is called Stimulation theory; the other Catharsis theory.

Used often to examine the effects of watching violence on television and film, catharsis theory argues that watching violence does not beget violence.  Rather watching violent acts cause the viewer to purge any latent violent tendencies one has.  So, you watch a film like Goodfellas, where people get pummeled and killed and you do not feel like fighting, because the viewing has taken that violent energy and defused it. Stimulation theorists argue the opposite.  By watching violent activity one is likely to go out and be violent as it stimulates viewers to go do what they've seen done.

Which one is it? Are we more inclined to not do what we watch, or does that energize our desire.

The booming pornography business would suggest that Stimulation theory is on target.  People who watch porn don't go read a book when the film is over.

Some people argue that what happens when people watch sports illustrates the merits of catharsis theory.  Watching sports allows spectators an opportunity, for example, to purge their aggressive tendencies. If you watch a football game or a physical hockey or basketball game, you don't feel stimulated subsequently to tackle your neighbor or cross check your spouse into a wall.

I think these antithetical theories are interesting to contemplate in the context of sport.

Does viewing sport encourage or discourage participation?  There are a lot of pot bellied men watching sports in bars. When I go to Fenway I don't see too many in the stands who look like they can catch anything other than a beer.  On the tv show the Honeymooners, a kid once asked the rotund Ralph if he might substitute on a stickball team because a kid player had the measles.  "What do you say, Mr. Kramden, can you cover second base."  Before Ralph could spew characteristic boasts about his prowess, his sidekick Ed Norton told the kid, "You are looking at a man who can cover the infield, the outfield, and four sections of the bleachers."  And there is no shortage of such men who follow sports teams.  Few seem to have missed the buffet line. It doesn't seem like they have been stimulated to run wind sprints after watching basketball or hockey games.

We might imagine ourselves as a hero after watching sporting events, and after a game we might have wanted to pick up a basketball--when we were kids--but as it relates to sports and adults, I think catharsis theory is more likely the better way to conceptualize the effects of spectating on behavior.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Are the Heat Doing

When Dad was in the hospital, he was not eating properly, lips were cracked, and he was having trouble sitting up by himself.  This, he continued to say to us, was "not him."  He had told us for years, that when he could not take care of himself he would be better off not being here.

Yet, he fought some.  When they put a pace maker in him, he was willing to give that a shot.  When they put him in rehab, he occasionally refused the aide who would wheel him to the meals, preferring to walk himself.

He was depressed  no matter what we did. He missed his wife, our mother, and there were few hours that went by when he did not refer to some episode in their life together that enhanced the quality of their collective self.

One day after being condescended to by patronizing nurses, and doctors, and food service reps, and blood pressure and pulse takers-- he and I were talking.  He looked terrible and sounded terrible.  We talked about the prospects for improvement. He did not want to entertain this as he thought, presciently it turned out, that improvement was not on the horizon.  Then I mentioned something about a game on the tv and he said with interest:

"How are the Heat doing?'

Close to dying, not able to eat or drink anything worth eating or drinking, confined to a bed and dealing with pontificating pretentious and calloused health care professionals, Dad wanted to know if the Heat would make a run in the playoffs.

It was an example of the lure and attraction of sports and how it can be a shining light in someone's life.  Dad loved the NBA playoffs and I felt his absence yesterday when I watched Kevin Durant play like a magician and the exciting way the Thunder almost defeated the Grizzlies--and then the way the Grizzlies held tough and won the game in overtime. When he was healthy I or Bobby would call Dad after one of these games and ask, if he had seen "that". And regularly he had. And we would talk about the nuances of the game.

I felt bad for Dad last night that he was missing the playoffs.  He would have enjoyed the games to date.  And his pleasure in sports was one of the few uplifting aspects of his last few months of life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

no victories for cowards

I am not a police officer, or the mayor of Boston, or the governor, or a fireman.  I was not injured in last year's bombing.  Nor do I know anyone personally who was injured.

Maybe what I will write in the following paragraphs would be different if I was a cop, or the mayor... But maybe not.

Today I took the train into Boston to watch the marathon.  I nearly always go in to see the event, but today I especially wanted to be there.  I wanted to be among those standing up to the miserable bastards who gutlessly killed and crippled spectators in the name of nothing a year ago.

The train was jammed.  It was twenty minutes late because typically fewer people get on this commuter line at noon on a Monday and it took more time to get all on board.

 At least 25 % of the riders were kids less than 12, traveling with their parents going down to the finish line to stand strong and cheer on the runners and the event.  Some had signs or wore shirts celebrating the anticipated accomplishments of friends and family.

I got off at the stop and walked to a spot where my buddy Kenny and I have stood for years during the marathon.  I noticed many more officers than usual as I walked to the vantage point. As I got within 250 feet I saw that there was a crowd.  And two police officers.  The access to Boylston Street at that vantage point was blocked.

The marathon ends at Boylston street.  Runners turn a corner onto Boylston having run on Commonwealth for what must seem to them to be forever. They turn onto Boylston and the crowd cheering swells. 

Not today. 

 I could not get close to the sidewalk by the usual spot.  I walked to another location which I figured might be open.  No way. More police officers and barricades. And crowds of sad spectators who had come on my train and many others hoping to root for their friends or just celebrate the day.

I had another idea. There is a back way I know to the area near the finish line.  I tried it.  No go.  Cops there too. And a crowd of others who were being turned away. Maybe in other spots, the viewing was possible, but many could not get anywhere near the runners.  Marathon day today was not the kind of fun it has always been. The festive atmosphere was subdued and not because of the memory of last year, but because you could not get near what was festive.  

I understand the need for caution, but the gutless pukes who bombed the marathon last year cannot enjoy any degree of victory.  If the marathon becomes less than what it was, they will have.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Sport fans in Boston must feel as if they hit the jackpot this weekend.  Today, the NHL and NBA playoffs have begun and a game will be on the air until we all meet the sandman tonight.  In addition, tonight the Red Sox will vie for the fans' attention as they play the Orioles on national television.

Tomorrow from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to the finish line by the Boston Public Library, the sidewalks will be jammed with fans shouting way-to-goes to the runners who will be racing along the 26.2 mile course.  And at the same time, 37,000 plus will be at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox play a morning game.

Is it time to sing the 59th Street Bridge Song or what?

My dad would often opine that those who do not get sports are missing out on so much of life. This was, while unintentional, a bit of a barb toward my mother who did not get sports.  And while I believe dad is right, there are other avocations that can fill one up, if sports is not your passion.

Yet for so many, sports is a passion and a thrill.  In Boston alone tomorrow there will be over 100,000 in downtown.  As I wrote a few days ago, some of the attendance will be a thumb in the face of the terrorists. A "take this", "idiots", we are still here.  You cannot stop us.  But some of the fans are just zealots.

The other night I went to a sports tavern to see a couple of innings of the Red Sox game. There must be forty sets in the joint. Only one was on the Red Sox. The rest were tuned into the Bruins-Red Wings playoff game.  Man the joint was jumping.  Wearing Bruins gear. Shouting for their favorite players. The Bruins game starts at 3 today. I wonder if you can get into the joint today.   There probably will be some guy dressed up as the Easter Bunny slugging down a beer and screaming for the home town team.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

That was the year that was.

Those of my vintage remember a tv show in the 60s called, That Was the Week that Was.  David Frost was one of the regulars. It was a humorous review of the news of the week. When WINS in New York-- a radio station that had been rock and roll--went to an all news format, the television program spoofed the transition.  They suggested that a report on new tax policy at the IRS might be introduced on WINS as "I Want to Withhold Your Hand." Stuff like that.

For me and my immediate kinfolk, this has been the year that was.  I was very fortunate to have had my folks for nearly ninety years.  They were ethical people who loved me and defaulted to doing the right thing modeling that behavior for my brother and me.

A year ago today, right about now in the evening, my mother shouted something to my dad while he was in the bedroom. He came to find my mother slumped in the kitchen. She had had a stroke.  I'd spoken to her just four days earlier and had had a good conversation.  That would be the last normal conversation we would have. After the stroke, she occasionally would recognize me, but the words came slowly. And occasionally I would ask her who I was and she would shrug an apologetic, "I don't know."

She died six weeks after the stroke and my father never recovered. During the time my mom was in rehab, dad neglected his own health and once she died, he was not the same guy emotionally or physically.  He'd become irascible during his visits to the doctor and no news, no matter how uplifting, could bring him out of the depression of losing his sweetheart.   He passed nine months after she, and anyone who had spent time around him during the time after she had passed, knew that it was inevitable that he would soon be joining her.

So a year ago today I went to sleep with two parents who both had all their marbles, mobility, and sense of humor.  Then around 6 a.m. dad called to tell me the news of the stroke.  (Characteristically for him, waiting until 6 so as not to disturb me during the night).  In less than 11 months, I've buried them both.

I have my moments of sadness--I lost two very loving people--but as I mentioned I was fortunate to have had them for a lot longer than most of my contemporaries.  The take-away for me is simply that things change.  And if you don't take advantage of the time you have, you are foolish.

 Andrew Marvel's great poem, To His Coy Mistress, is a poem of seduction, but one line can be extracted from it, that is--metaphorically at least--very apt.  The line: "The grave's a fine and private place. But none I think do there embrace."

Time to embrace good food, good company, nature, the Red Sox, those you love.


It was a year ago today when the city of Boston and several surrounding suburbs were in what was called "lock down."  We could not leave our homes because the miserable deranged savages who bombed innocent spectators in the name of an irrational political agenda were, allegedly, on the loose. As it turned out one of the killers was dead and the other was wounded lying in a boat in someone's backyard.

But at the time nobody knew for sure what was the case. So we all sat in our houses at the request if not order of the governor waiting for resolution.  In the evening they ended the lock down and shortly thereafter found the remaining killer.

Patriots Day is something to see if you have never been to Boston on that day.  It is a big city party. There is a baseball game at 11 a.m. and the Red Sox fans spill out of Fenway at the game's conclusion to complement the throngs of spectators lining Commonwealth and Boylston streets to cheer on the runners.

The city is hopping, kids are there with balloons, seniors sit on the sidewalk in folding chairs, friends cheer their running buddies along, runners make sure that there are supporters by writing their names on t shirts.  A Karen will write Karen on her shirt, and the crowds yell Go Karen Go when Karen whisks by.

I suspect that the energy in the air will be augmented this Patriots Day on Monday.  It will be more than the runners and the baseball game and the kids with their balloons.

There will be an undercurrent of "Go to Hell you miserable bastards" that will energize the crowd.

You tried to stop this.

Take a look.

We're here.

We're back.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Block Ice

My dad and I were sent on a mission. It was a very hot memorial day weekend, 1964.  And it was the day that we were hosting a reception in honor of my brother's bar mitzvah.

My folks had decided to have the reception in our home.  It was May so the idea was that people would come into the house, but then eventually move to the backyard where we had tables set up.  We had a large, but not enormous yard.  A delightful feature was that there was a covered patio where we often ate meals in the summer, most enjoyably.  It could be pouring but we would bring the food down to the patio level and eat on a picnic table on the covered patio.

On this day it was not pouring. A bit overcast which caused some nervousness because our house could not hold the guest list if some couldn't spill out into the backyard beyond the patio.  The forecast was that clouds would dissipate and that is what, as it turned out, occurred.

But it was hot.  Humid 90 plus degree energy sapping hot.  In those days we did not have any air conditioner units in the house except for some window units in upstairs bedrooms. The living room was a furnace.  Add onto this the fact that maybe a hundred people would be parading through the house, and the plan was for some food to be warmed up--our not inaccurate feeling was that we would broil in the living room.

The general atmosphere pre party was frenetic. We kids were sent to this room and that with a rag to clean something or other.  Some item had to be moved from one storage spot to another.  We had to arrange the chairs in the backyard and put some sort of paper table cloths on the tables we opened up.

One job was to put cans of soda and beer in a large new garbage pail purchased specifically for this purpose.  One thing we should have, but did not, foresee was a need for ice to keep the soda and beer cold in the 90 plus degree day.

Much was presented as crisis during the hours before guests would arrive. I am not sure exactly what my mother said when she realized that the cubes of ice we had might be enough to put in glasses, but were not nearly enough to keep the cans of soda cold in the garbage pail. It was probably something like two screaming words, "Meyer! Ice!"

My father's sputtering response probably coming out staccato--because he had been sent in five directions at once to (a) check the tables in the backyard, (b) see if there is enough toilet paper, (c) make sure the bridge chairs are washed down,  (d) take our coats out of the closet for guests even though nobody sane would arrive that day with a coat, and (e) dust the coffee table)--his response to "Meyer! Ice!" was probably a stammer of "Ice...What... What... Ice...?"

My mother's compassionate retort was likely something akin to, "Ice, Meyer. I-C-E. Ice."  Again dad probably sputtered, "Ice? Why? We don't have ice?"

"Meyer, if we had enough Ice, would I be standing here spelling Ice for you.  Ice. Let's offer our guests a nice hot soda. Ice. Meyer. Ice."

So, dad and I went on a frenzied mission. Frenzied because people were coming shortly and we had the tables to clean, coats to take out of the closet, etc.

The beverage barn had ice machines. We'd been there before on other occasions. Put in a quarter you got a bag of cubed ice.  For 50 cents you could get block ice.  We never got the block ice.  Dad kept putting in quarters for bags of ice cubes.  This was going to take forever. We needed a lot of bags of cubes to fill up the entire garbage can so that the soda would get cold.

So, I made a suggestion.  Why not get the block ice.  I figured instead of a bag filled with cubes, we would get a bigger bag filled with blocks of ice more likely to do the job.  This was not something we ever did, but the bags of cubed ice were already melting as we were buying the next bag. So, he reluctantly agreed to the block ice idea, put two quarters in, and pushed the button that read, "Block Ice."

And instead of a bag of anything coming out of the chute, out kerplunked a huge cinder block of ice. The look on my dad's face when that block of ice slid out will forever be etched into my consciousness. The ice staring back at him as if saying, "You wanted block ice, you got block ice."

What the hell were we going to do with this block of ice?  The thing was melting as we were staring at it.  I started cackling hysterically. Dad was not amused.

The block was too big for either of us to pick up ourselves. Plus where were we going to put it. It was not in any sort of bag.  Dad found some newspapers somewhere, spread them in the trunk, and the two of us carried the ice like a boulder from the machine to the car.  It nearly slipped out of our hands a couple of times as we were carrying it. We plunked it down in the trunk and then got in the car and drove home fast, before we had a flood in the trunk.

We are coming up on fifty years since this incident.   Today it crossed my mind as I was driving to work, thinking about my dad. Until the day he died,  this was a live joke for us.  If he asked for ice for a drink, I'd ask him if he wanted block ice.  I tried to explain it to others and almost always would start crying from laughter before I finished the story when I recalled my dad's face when that huge block of ice slid out.  But the thing is, it is one of those events that just he and I shared.  How precious it was to have had that shared memory and connection and laughter.

Shared memories and moments are value added elements to true love--familial and romantic and fraternal.  It's rarely a bad time to dwell on those moments and immerse ourselves in them when we feel the pain of having lost romantic, filial, or fraternal love.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Someone-Book Review

It has been a while since I have read a book worth reviewing.  I just finished Someone by Alice McDermott. This is a book worth reviewing and worth reading.

Someone is not much of a story, but it is not intended to be one.  It is a depiction of a character, Marie, a girl and then a woman who grows up in Brooklyn during the thirties. If you are looking for an action novel or one with an intriguing plot line, this is not it.  It is more like a puzzle, as if the author provides pieces of Marie and at the end we can put these pieces together to form a complete picture.

The book is not told in sequence. We meet Marie when she is young, but readers are taken to when she meets her husband; her baking lesson with her mother; walks with her dad, and interactions with her sweet brother Gabe. We meet her first boyfriend of sorts, characters in the funeral home where she worked for a spell, her children, the doctor who presided over the birth of her first child, and several others.  And not a lot is sequential.  She can be with her mother in one section- and in the next, she is 70 or so sitting with her daughter in a doctor's waiting room---and in the next is giving birth to her first child.

At the end of the first part of the book Gabe consoles Marie when her heart is broken. She wonders if anyone will ever be interested in her again.  Gabe assures her that "Someone" will.  I thought when I read that, that the title of the book would prove to be about this person who Marie will meet.

But it is not. The title refers to the person who is the composite of the puzzle pieces, Marie.  Her life is not especially unusual, except in the way that everyone's life is unique.  Who we meet, love, are parented by, have as siblings, spend work hours with--for all of us, we are "someone"--a composite of puzzle pieces.

Beautifully written novel.  McDermott is able to depict the nuances of Marie's interactions and her thoughts in a way that will make one marvel at the author's skill.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Union College is a small school located in Schenectady, New York.  Since I had a brief stint as a toll collector on the New York State Thruway I can tell you that Schenectady sits at exit 25, one exit west of the junction of Interstates 87 and 90.

I am not much of a hockey fan so was startled to read a few days ago that Union College was in the Frozen Four competing for a national championship.  Union is not a big time sports school. They play Division 3 football and for a while the hockey team was also Division 3.  Twenty plus years ago the school went Division I in hockey.

Nevertheless this tiny school--that sits in a town that has seen its heyday come and go (and go far)--won the national championship tonight. On Thursday Union beat perennial power Boston College in the semi-finals and then, just an hour ago, Union defeated the mighty University of Minnesota Gophers in the finals.

The Union players were as jubilant as one can imagine when the game ended. The managers without skates threw caution to the wind and ran onto the ice--slip sliding their way--so they could join the shaking mass of athletes cavorting in a pile. Players were tearing as they were being interviewed.  Not likely anyone on this team will make a living playing hockey, yet each player said words to the effect that this was the biggest game in their lives.

It probably will be.  Financial rewards are overrated.  I have never seen a bunch of faculty colleagues jumping up and down because they had negotiated an extra percentage point worth of raises.

A tiny school of 2200 has just won the national championship. Well done Union.  Of course the real reason they were victorious is that my cousin Gary is a Physics professor at the school. .

Thursday, April 10, 2014

juxtaposition 2014.

I was on the elliptical last night watching a sporting event that went to commercial break.  Up came soft music and testimonials for a product called e.harmony.  This is a dating service that claims to have success finding mates for those looking for them.  I have noticed a proliferation of such services.  For a while a company called Christian Singles was buying a good deal of advertising time.  There is a related product called J-date, for Jewish people seeking romance.  When I go to Pandora for internet radio, my screen fills up with photos of attractive women who all, it is intimated, are out there and waiting for a partner.  I even saw an ad for a company that seemed a bit like a spoof. It was a dating service for farmers.

The e.harmony ad had a voice over that reported data about the number of marriages that have resulted from the use of e.harmony and how it was not like rival companies. Yet, the rival companies all make similar claims. They all suggest that if you sign up, romance is in the near future. Since these companies are not there to do a public service,  and there are so many of them, one suspects that there is a big market for these services.

The e.harmony ad ended with some sweet music and a couple embracing.   There was a quick cut and a transition to the next advertisment.

The next ad... A fellow is standing behind a desk in a shirt and tie.  He said he was, let's say, John Smith, from the legal firm of Smith and Smith.  What does Smith and Smith do?

Smith and Smith are divorce attorneys that specialize in helping those who are in the legal and financial throes of a break-up.  Smith says that there are issues with homes, cars, and bank accounts. Smith and Smith is the perfect firm for this need.

I thought this to be an odd juxtaposition. E.harmony followed immediately by divorce attorneys. And, again, I mused that companies don't advertise unless there is a market.

Seeing the divorce attorney after the romantic couple, coupling, reminded me of what happens when I buy a stereo or tv or furniture.  The salesperson spends the first hour trying to tell me how swell the product is, and then after I buy, immediately tries to sell me a service contract listing all the reasons why the item is going to fall apart because it is not what it claims to be. Same thing?

e.harmony and divorce lawyer.   An interesting juxtaposition for we baby boomers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

new app

I am a member of something called the Zaremba-Sukenik web site that is affiliated with MyHeritage. My father's mother's sister married a man named David Sukenik many years ago.  As could be deduced, My father's mother married a man named Zaremba.   All descendants of the two sisters are on this website.

Occasionally, the website sends us "notifications" which are reminders of upcoming events.  My cousins' anniversaries and birthdays, for example.  Open the "notification" and you will see that a Zaremba or a Sukenik has an event and readers are invited to send a greeting to the person.

I got such a notification the other day. It reminded me that a first cousin had a birthday on the 7th and then was taken aback when I was "reminded" that my mother's birthday was upcoming (today, in fact) and was invited to "send Helen Zaremba a greeting."

Sending Helen Zaremba a greeting will require a new app with a very sophisticated algorithm since my mother has been dead for several months now.  A particularly powerful wifi system would need to be in place.  I read in today's Globe that the city has invested in free outdoor wifi that is so strong that not only will people be able to use it in public places, but local apartment dwellers will be able to use. it. Still don't think my mother would be able to access the net.

The Zaremba-Sukenik website has apparently not been updated, but I am reminded now of a paper I heard delivered at a job talk. It was about how the internet has become a place to somehow keep people alive. The candidate made the case that on facebook and other sites, people continue to send messages to others who are gone and conversation takes place on these sites.  I have looked in the past for a buddy of mine who died a few years ago.  Her facebook page is still active with visitors writing in and wishing her well or commenting on how she is missed.

It is an interesting concept to consider that people who are gone from this earth are still in some way here because of cyberspace.  Don't think we are likely to get much of a response to any of our postings, but it may be cathartic to send a note now and again.

Happy birthday, Mom.  I think you can hear me even if you don't have the new app.  Happy birthday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


The Connecticut Huskies Women's team won the championship tonight ending their season 40-0. They beat Notre Dame that had been, going into the game, 37-0.  Undefeated.

And UConn defeated undefeated Notre Dame easily. Twenty one points, and it was not even that close.  At the end of the first half Notre Dame made a bit of a run.  In the second half, however, it was like the varsity against an intramural team.

How is it that the UConn women, year after year, are so dominant.  This is the ninth time they played for a championship and the ninth time they won.  Even if Geno gets the best athletes, the other teams have good players too.  Connecticut seemed to be not only quicker and far more skilled, but smarter. The only bad thing about the way they dominate, is that they dominate, and there is little drama in the games.

Congratulations to the athletes and the coaching staff.

And guess what. The best player on the court was Breanna Stewart. She was, in the current vernacular, awesome.  And she is a sophomore.  Next year, the Connecticut women will be back holding up the trophy.

Where I've Been

It's over twenty years at least since I read Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon.  If you've ever been a hitch-hiker, or someone who has for the sake of distance or mind travel taken to the road, you will like it.  The author gets fired from his job and is estranged from his wife when he decides to pack up his car, leave his home state of Missouri, and travel the circumference of the country.  He drives on "blue highways" not the interstate. He calls these second tier roads, "blue highways" because on old maps (remember them) the secondary roads were marked in blue.

You have to figure that a book that stays pretty fresh in the memory bank twenty years down the road-- so to speak-- has to be a good one.  It's not a page turner; the book is made up of the episodes of his travel. Stops in Texas, then off to another place on his odyssey.  A trip on route 2 in Montana or was it North Dakota is especially memorable.  So you can put the book down after one episode, and then pick it up without having to remember what happened in the previous chapter.

More than any individual episode in this travelogue, it's the line at the end of the book that is in my head and will never leave.

The author is nearly all the way back from driving thousands of miles on the periphery of the country. He is heading into Missouri, almost done, and is gassing up one last time before crossing into the Show Me state.

The gas station attendant, sees the Missouri plates, and asks, "Where You Coming from "Show Me"?

The answer: "Where I've Been."

The gas station attendant responds with a statement of truth in the form of a rhetorical question  "Where else."

Where else could anyone be coming from, but where we've been.  Our "travels" and our stops are the backdrop to our present.  A good reason to use a compass when we move about.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Connecticut 60. Kentucky 54

If you read the last paragraph of the previous blog you'll see I picked Connecticut by five.

Just saying.

One Shining Moment

On my flight to New York for the sweet sixteen games, I met a woman who was a big fan of March Madness and was set to attend the doubleheader that night at Madison Square Garden. She told me that at her wedding the couple's first dance was to the tune of One Shining Moment.

For those not familiar with the tournament, or for those who give up waiting for it at the end of the championship game, "One Shining Moment" is an uplifting song that is the backdrop to a montage of tournament highlights.  The reason the announcers tease viewers with "coming up next, One Shining Moment, is that it really is fun to watch And the more time viewers wait for it, the more advertising time CBS can sell late at night.

This has been a great tournament.  One nail biter of a game after another.  The sight of the Wisconsin players at the end of their game against Kentucky was enough, without any words, to explain why "the agony of defeat" is a real phenomenon.  And Kentucky's explosion when the last shot bounded away captured "the thrill of victory."
I can understand how my airplane riding friend could select the Big Dance's One Shining Moment for her Big Dance.  We can all identify the shining moments in our lives.  The times we put it on the line and reached for the sky.  Even the basketball metaphor is apt:

"The ball is tipped and there you are, you're running for your life, you're a shooting star, and all the years, no one knows, just how hard you worked, and now it shows...for one shining moment"

Life, I say to any who will listen, is a cornucopia.  The ultimate amusement park. The trick is when the ball is tipped to try and capture those shining moments available to us. And when we have done so, we look back happily. Nobody looks back at those moments when we made extra money; we look at those moments that touch our hearts.  Nobody in the tournament tonight will yelp in joy or in agony because of a nickel.  The exuberant winners will jump like maniacs because their hearts are filled up with the joy of working together successfully.  And my friend on the plane wanted that music played at her wedding because--I am guessing since I never met her before and will likely not see her again--for that one shining moment of her wedding she had reached for the sky and her heart would soar.

Prediction: Connecticut wins. Why? They do not have any business winning and this tournament has been so unpredictable. Connecticut should lose by 20, so they will win by 5.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Hawk Never Dies

It was freezing in Buffalo during the first week in the tournament. I stayed at a hotel that was no more than three quarters of a mile from the arena.  But that was a long three quarters of a mile on the first day of Spring in Buffalo.  I overheard a fellow from Dayton, mostly jubilant because his team had defeated Ohio State in a thriller, say to his girlfriend. "How the hell does anybody live here." The wind and the blowing snow prompted the question.

That was three weeks ago. My March Madness odyssey to Buffalo for the first round, then New York for the Sweet Sixteen, and Dallas for the final four is now over.  There is much that I remember. Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, for example, I will never forget the game last night between Kentucky and Wisconsin.

One of the other things I am likely to remember is the first Thursday of the tournament in Buffalo where I nearly froze myself walking to the doubleheader between Connecticut and St. Joes, and then the nightcap of Villanova against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  I wrote about the following yesterday after Connecticut advanced to the championship game. St. Joe's had the first game won.  They really did. Connecticut, now a finalist, should have lost in the very first round.

But as much as the close game, I will recall the St. Joe's fans. I was seated in the student section. Painted kids took up several rows.  Bemused older alums sat nearby, not as decorated, but as passionate.  The students stood for nearly the entire game despite multiple warnings from ushers and complaints from nearby spectators.  I, at one point, had to put my fingers in my ears because the din was almost unbearable and incessant.  A woman to my left had played for the women's team at St. Joe's and she knew every member of the men's team. She and her husband were serious supporters.  A man in front of me, at least 40, must have been an alumnus because the simplest of successes ( a foul shot made) or failures, had him bounce up in the air alternately applauding or shaking his head.

When Connecticut tied the game at the end of regulation the fans sagged some. And when, in overtime, Connecticut clearly went ahead, the fans were sad.  But they did not leave.

The game was over. Literally over. The players were shaking hands.  And up from their seats, the faithful St. Joe's painted rooters, started chanting,

The Hawk Never Dies. The Hawk Never Dies.

The hawk mascot was flying around the court. The game was over. The team was dead, but the chant continued, The Hawk Never Dies. The Hawk Never Dies.

The enthusiasm for this tournament is remarkable for good reason.  Mercer beats Duke in the first round, Albany gives Florida a scare in the same afternoon.  Kentucky wins three games in a row with the same player hitting long threes.  UConn's run.

At my hotel after the game last night, some Wisconsin fans came into the lounge.  They had gone to the game, and were despondent but still said following the team had been wonderful.  A fellow seated to my right was an Arizona fan who had bought airline tickets to Dallas assuming his team would have been in the final four.  Team got knocked out, but he still came.  He and I talked basketball for a while.

The energy in the Sheraton Boston with the tall attendees talking basketball for twelve hours straight was something almost thrilling.  I meet a woman in the lobby who tells me her husband is at the game.  He and she are of normal size. She said that they felt like they were walking through a redwood forest as they tried to navigate the hotel registration lines.

There was great energy in every venue.  Buffalo, New York and Dallas.  That is why the tickets are expensive, the hotel rooms expensive, and the advertisers are boxing each other out to pay for the right to sell their product to the spectating public.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I Said Evenin' Ma'am

Not sure you will ever see two better games than the ones tonight.

Connecticut, after a horrible start, played better than the number one seed in the tournament beating Florida.  What is head shaking to me is that Connecticut, in the very first round, was losing the entire game to St. Joe's--the entire game except for the last minute when the center for Connecticut made an acrobatic shot and was fouled. He hit the foul shot and the game went into overtime where Connecticut prevailed.  That is one of the things that makes this tournament so exciting.  Connecticut could have been knocked out on the first Thursday--and would have been if not for a shot that belongs in the top ten of the entire tournament.  And tonight they play better than the best team in the country, a team that had won umpteen consecutive games--before tonight.

The second game was even better. It will go down as one of the best college basketball contests ever. Both teams were just terrific. Wisconsin nearly perfect at the foul line, but missed one at the end which allowed one of the Harrison twins to nail a three pointer at the end--as he has in three consecutive games.  

For the record, I picked both of these games incorrectly. I thought Florida would cover the spread, and Wisconsin would win on the money line.  Wisconsin did, in fact, beat the spread but if I had been in Nevada I would have gone on the money line.

An eight seed against a seven seed on Monday night.  I would be surprised if that contest will be as good as either of the games tonight.

This is why advertisers pay a fortune on sports.

I just heard Charles Barkley say, "I feel for Wisconsin." Anybody who follows sports would.  I am not a fan of all kids who play on teams getting ribbons even if they lose a game. I think you have to have experience with disappointment because you inevitably will face it.  But today, I think Wisconsin deserves ribbons.

Do You Mind Sayin' That Again

Off to day two at the NABC meetings.

I have heard quite enough of the ESPN pontificators analyzing the game.  I will be better off overhearing the wisdom of the coaches.

A side note, at the boutique hotel I stayed at last night on the outskirts of Dallas, I believe that I may have been the only person in the lobby area which doubled as the restaurant--without a tattoo. Perhaps that is a criterion for citizenship for the under forty set here in Big D. I may also be the only person who sat in the lobby and did not come right up to the small bar upon entry and order a double shot of something.

Just an observation.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Evenin Ma'am

Big D.

Finally got here after an aborted trip last night.  My evening flight was cancelled as Dallas was experiencing weather and Minneapolis had a snowstorm starting.  Was rescheduled for this morning and the snow had come down heavily. Got out around 830 and landed in Dallas around 11.

I am at the National Association of Basketball Coaches meetings.  There are two things I notice immediately.

(1) I am a dwarf. Basketball coaches are often former basketball players.  I feel like I am at a tall man's convention which, essentially, is the case.  I played college basketball although only on the freshman level. This, of course, was many years ago.  Now players are inhaling thinner air.  And they do not shrink when they grow older and become coaches.

(2) I can still be a kid among famous people.  The convention is filled with familiar faces from the sidelines of basketball games.  This is where all those screaming coaches get together to shmooze. All but four of them have been eliminated in the NCAA tournament. The rest are shaking hands with colleagues.  My head was turning like a pinwheel as I stargazed.  Some of them I knew by name, Tubby Smith, Rollie Massimino,  Al Skinner, Bruce Pearl. The majority I could not quickly recall the name but certainly knew from watching so many games.  The Cincinnati coach, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Wichita State, Creighton and dozens more.

Another thought crept in my head as I moved through the crowd and saw some former coaches.  This, like the academic conferences I attend, is a place where out of work coaches were looking to network.

The moment of the day, though, was not the stargazing or meandering through the basketball esoterica at the conference.  It was driving past the grassy knoll and seeing where the president was shot. I had not been to Dallas previously except to change planes in the airport.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014



You've been gone now for three weeks. We buried you on the 12th of March.

People were elbowing each other to get to talk at the funeral.  Mel came and he has been sick. Yaakov was there too. He had to cancel a host of doctor's appointments.  Both Mel and Gilda spoke.  Diane Schwartz too. Bobby and me of course.  So many wanted to speak to honor you that the Rabbi had almost no time to talk. He made some nice comments at the cemetery though.  Sprinkled soil from the Mount of Olives on the casket.  Then they lowered you into the ground and we took turns with the shovels.

Several times in the last few days I've wanted to tell you things.  Bobby and I got together this past weekend. Had a good time.  Felt like we should call and let you know we were together. We were in NY for the sweet sixteen games played at the Garden.  Spent some time observing drinking rituals of the Michigan State, Iowa State, and Wisconsin faithful.  In the morning we reviewed some correspondence about your death. Thank you for taking care of so much making it easy for Bobby and me.  No surprise with that.

Toward the end you used to say that you hoped you made a difference with your life.  We have received so many glowing letters from your friends, camp people, relatives, former teachers--you wouldn't need to "hope" about whether you made a difference.  Recurring comments about how special you were, accomplished, versatile, kind, sensitive, and how you made an impact on this one and that.  Very moving. The sympathy cards are comforting to read except they remind me that you are no longer here.

Bobby spoke beautifully. He mentioned the seders and how you would always sing that song about the rebellion in the Warsaw ghetto.  "We will never lose our courage in the fight"  He sang a verse like you used to.  I won't ever forget him saying that at the funeral or you singing it at the seders.

I referred to those lines from Les Mis about the stars that make me think of you.

"Stars...filling the darkness with order and light.
You are the sentinels. Silent and Sure.
Keeping watch in the night...
You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aim
and each in your season return and return and are always the same."

That is what you were for me from the time I was a little boy. You were a sentinel. Filled my darknesses with order and light, and kept watch in the night. You knew your place in the sky. You held your course and your aim. And you returned and returned and I always knew you would be there for me and be always the same.

You are around dad. In me and Bobby and Matt and Jack.

Still I miss you.

I'll be in touch.