Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Silver Star

Jeannette Walls wrote one of the best memoirs I've ever read, The Glass Castle.  So when I saw this novel of hers in the library I thought it was worth a shot.

Not much here, and I was inclined to love it because of her earlier book.

This reads like it belongs in the young adult section except there are a few sentences with language in them.  Still, it is very simple--nothing wrong with that in and of itself--but neither the story or the theme has much to it.

The narrator, Bean, and her sister have a an irresponsible mother who abandons them regularly so that they have to fend for themselves. Bean is about 12 and her sister a year or so older.  Once while the mother is gone for a couple of weeks, they decide to take a bus to the rural south where the mother's brother lives.  And that is where most of the story takes place.  It is 1970, the schools in the south have just been integrated, and the controversies over the Vietnam War are increasing in intensity.

That is the setting for the stage, but not much happens in front of the background.  There is a bad guy who hires the girls to do work and something happens there.  There are references to tension because of integration. A cousin is considering marrying a Vietnamese woman and is questioning the wisdom of the war. The mother pops back in and then pops back out.  There are emus who are adopted as pets. An uncle crawls out of his shell.

There is a central incident that has a resolution, but nothing novel happens in the novel.

After I finished I went to Amazon and saw that the book has a four star rating and over a thousand reviewers. I think the number of readers is a function of the excellence of The Glass Castle.  And my guess is that the positive reviews reflect spillover because of how good The Glass Castle is.

If you are interested in an easy, sweet read, this will not disappoint, but you're not likely to think there is much to this.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Scenes from NY and the Open

Annually, myself and two high school buds meet in Queens and attend the USOPEN.  Yesterday was our day for 2014.  A number of thoughts from our rendezvous-- and my following day, today, in New York.

There is nothing like New York.   Within a few block radius from my hotel I could have eaten pizza, had burgers, gotten a hot dog from a vendor, gone to several happy hours, bought a dozen t shirts and/or shot glasses, purchased a suitcase for a song, stayed in a number of hotels, paid anywhere from 2.99 to 35 dollars for breakfast, seen 8 Broadway shows, taken one of a half dozen tours around the city, and of course visited at least 5 Starbucks.

The quality of play at the tennis center was remarkable.  A boy who looked like he might have been 14 played a terrific mixed doubles match against far more wizened opponents.  John Isner's serve looks unhittable.  The Williams sisters are so popular that spectators were hanging over a railing to watch their doubles match.  Even at the annually increasing ticket costs, the visit to the center for the Open is a bargain.  And I cannot be the only one who feels that way. The place was packed.  Citi Field where the Mets were playing concurrently, a few steps away, was half empty.

We three high school pals are getting older. Instead of discussing dates with former sweethearts, we discussed potential dates for retirement, best times for hip replacement surgery, the deaths of former teammates, and the medicine we should take before eating food that is not good for us so as to avoid stomach problems.

In mid town Manhattan I noticed that equal opportunity has hit Times Square. For years a person calling himself "the naked cowboy" had paraded about in his underwear, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat. Well chiseled above the elastic of his briefs, he posed for a sum with giggling women from around the Globe. Three women seem to want some similar action. In Times Square where thousands parade by within thirty minutes, these women were standing with nothing on but thongs.  Nada. They have, to demonstrate patriotism I guess, painted their bodies red white and  blue, but there are no duds at all north of the thong, just painted body parts. And there they stand willing to pose in any way one might like for a photo.  The naked cowboy and the naked ladies in Time Square.  Lots of folks were taking pictures.

Tsongas has lost some weight and he looks very good.  Won in straight sets against a fellow who looked mighty good himself.  Roger Federer has an easy draw and will make it to the finals.

I am not ready for football.  When I got back to my hotel last night there were games on tv but they had little appeal.  This is about the time of year for my annual rant against the silliness of college football's bogus champions. However, this year the NCAA has finally decided to employ a four team tournament at the end of the season.  This should make the season far more interesting--once I get into it.

I was on 56th and 7th.  One of the bellhops told me to go to 58 and 8th to catch the 1 train to 242nd street in the Bronx. Another told me to go to 49th and 7th.  This seemed like one of those math puzzles in school where you know there has to be a trick to it.  The guy who said 49th and 7th snorted that it was the faster way to go.  It did not make sense so I went to 58th and 8th.  The 49th and 7th turned out to be closer.  Complicated reason, but it was so.

Central Park is beautiful.  Plane flew over it when it came in from Chicago.   Remarkable green area in the middle of a city that has it all.

Waiting for the train to take me to Waltham. I asked about the senior citizen rate when I bought my ticket.  She said I have to wait two months.  And then she said, "it's half price then, but not worth it."

Monday, August 25, 2014

$15 Burger

Is it sacrilegious to write that I know for sure that my parents are no longer with us, because while waiting for my delayed (vu den) American Airlines flight, I stopped in an airport restaurant and paid 15 dollars for a hamburger.  If my folks were alive, and knew that I paid that much for a burger, I would be getting an e-mail from my father that my mother would have dictated.

And they would be right.

I got to the airport early as is my tendency post 9-11.  Now, thirteen years after the abomination, airport security does not require the delays that once were characteristic in the early post twin tower years.  Still, I have recollections of very long lines and don't want to miss a flight.  A number of times that nearly occurred--though not in the last half dozen years.  Regardless, I get to the airport early, do my e-mails while waiting for the flight, and in the case of American or USAir always have even extra time while their late planes get to the destination.  Remarkable how rarely Southwest and JetBlue are late.

Anyway, I was here early, saw the predictable sign that I even had more time because the plane was delayed, had not eaten much since around 11, and was hungry.  There was a seat at the bar so I parked myself and my bags.  

(An aside, I just saw that my flight is now delayed three hours. Just great. And since this is one of the rare times I have checked a bag, I cannot take one of the earlier flights because if I were to do so, I would still have to wait for my bag to arrive with the later flight).

So, when I got here I sat at the bar and opened the menu.  There was no item less than ten dollars. I had a hunger for a burger.  Can't recall what they called it, but I spotted the burger on the menu.  Maybe it was called the airport burger.  I ordered it. 15 bucks.

Sometimes these gala burgers look and taste special. The sourpus bartender who took the order asked me if I wanted "everything on it."  I am not a picky eater so I figured "everything on it" would include lettuce, tomato, maybe some mushrooms and onions.  I said, yeah, everything on it.

Out it came. Not much there.  No lettuce, tomato, or onion.  Relatively small burger--bout the size of a quarter pounder at the McDonalds around the corner at the food court. On top was a piece of american cheese that looked like it had been tossed maybe frisbee style on top of the burger and covered about half of it.  On top of the cheese was one sorry piece of bacon.  That is it. But, ho ho, the ketchup was not in a bottle but served in a paper cup.  When I was a kid and got a burger in what we called "luncheonettes" such cups were where the cook stuffed the cole slaw.  There were a few fries on the plate.  End of 15 dollar dinner.

With the beverage and tip, my trip to the tavern at the airport cost me close to 30 dollars.  Wherever they are, my parents are rolling their eyes and wondering about my wisdom for having decided to dine there.  And they are right.  Meanwhile, before we board the flight, I will probably have to go to McDonalds and buy a three dollar burger because I will now not get into my hotel in Chicago until midnight and I am hungry already.  Odds are fifty fifty that the carrier loses my bag.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Marriage Plot

Excellent, if depressing and unsettling--at least to me--novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. Very good book.

I think I write well, but every once in a while I read a book like this and I realize that there are the minor leagues, and then there are those who are major leaguers.  This guy is in the majors, and on the all-star team.  A half dozen times I would read a sentence, stick my finger at the place in the book, close the book around my finger, and shake my head marveling at how this guy can string words together.

The book is about three students--two men, Mitchell and Leonard, and a woman, Madeleine-- at Brown who are graduating in 1983.  One of the men is part Greek from Detroit who, after graduation, travels to India.*  He is a religious studies major and has an epiphany during his sophomore year that Madeleine is the love of his life.  Problem is, she, a literature major, is not interested in him but has her eyes on Leonard, a science major and resident lothario. Problem with the lothario is that he is a manic depressive.

So, you have a love triangle in Providence Rhode Island during the Reagan years with the main characters very bright college students: a religious studies major, a fledgling scientist who is maniacal but has several dancing partners, and a woman--a literature major--who eventually publishes an essay entitled, "I Thought You'd Never Ask: Thoughts on the Marriage Plot."

The characters are so well drawn and nuanced.  I have this tendency when I read books to adopt the thinking and speaking patterns of the characters in the book.  It can be kind of wild to hear myself saying something to a colleague in the way a character might utter it.  Imagine my discomfort while on the subway yesterday and reading a brilliantly written section about the musings of the manic-depressive.  I did not want to talk to anybody on that train.  Not kidding.

If you are a reader, then you will enjoy this book.  It is not as easy sailing as say an Ann Tyler who I am crazy about.  This author, Eugenides, jumps months without much warning and you have to keep track of where you are and what country.

But it is worth the ride to try to figure out where you are.  I'm guessing that's a message in the novel.

*(The author, Eugenides, is a Brown 1983 graduate, from Detroit, of Greek origin who travelled to India, Just fyi.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Red Sox tickets

A friend who has season tickets to the Red Sox cannot go tonight.  So I with my buddy Ken will be at Fenway Park to see the home town team.  A few weeks ago, a colleague who also has season tickets asked me and another colleague to join him.  I accepted.

If this seems as if I only go to the Red Sox when someone gives me a ticket, that is how it should seem.  The fellow who invited me a few weeks back has to be paying 200 bucks a seat for his really special seats.  I have the tickets for tonight's game in my pocket.  They are a bargain at 28 dollars.  (They are 28 and not 48 because they are in the non alcohol section. People do not want to sit in the non alcohol section because they cannot pay 10 dollars for a light beer in the section).

When people kvetch about the economy I hope they will consider these realities.

  •  If someone takes a spouse and a child to see the Red Sox tonight--
    • even in the non alcohol section
    • and even if they abstain from buying popcorn and a soft drink or a hot dog
    • and even if they don't have to park their car near the stadium and just take the subway
    • this trio is paying 100 dollars for the privilege of watching the game.
  • And if someone sits in the alcohol sections
    •  and buys a malt beverage for the couple
    •  and a bag of peanuts for the kid
    • and has to park the car, 
    • we are talking about a 200 dollar night.

How bad can the economy be?

The Sox are, as my father would say, "from hunger" this year.  They cannot hit a lick.  They are as bad this year as they were good last year. The pitcher tonight takes a month between pitches.  The one slugger is surrounded by players who can barely hit their weight. (This, for the uninitiated, means that their batting average is less than what their scale reads.  A good hitter in baseball averages 28 hits for every 100 at bats, or averages .280. Most athletes weigh about 200-220).

Still the place will be packed tonight. 37,000 plus.  When I found out I had the tickets I was buoyed like a kid. When I e-mailed my buddy with the news that I had a free ticket he accepted instantly.

So the Red Sox are in last place; I can read War and Peace in between Clay Bucholz's pitches; if the Sox score 5 runs it will be an aberration.  They will likely lose.  When I went a few weeks ago and sat in my colleague's 200 dollar seat, the Sox lost 14-1.

Can't wait to get to the park.

We will be sitting down the left field line near the foul pole.  It is a good spot to catch a ball. Damn. I forgot to bring my glove to work.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hall of Fame

On my ride to work today I heard sports broadcasters musing about the Red Sox Hall of Fame induction held last night.  Joe Castiglione--the long time radio voice of the Sox, Nomar Garciapara, Pedro Ramirez, and Roger Clemens were inducted.

The announcers were discussing whether Clemens should have been inducted. Some may think that the essence of the debate was related to whether a player who left the Sox for Toronto and New York for many years should be in a hall dedicated to Red Sox success.  That, however, was not the issue.

The discussion centered on whether Clemens, long suspected of using drugs to enhance performance, should be permitted the honor. He was not inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility and many suspect that the reason he did not make it (and did not come close) was because he is suspected as a cheater.

The case is complicated because despite a good deal of evidence Clemens was found not guilty.  This verdict is seen by many as akin to OJ Simpson being found not guilty of murdering his wife and Ron Goldman. Yes, that was the verdict, but nearly everyone who has studied the case thinks that OJ was the perp.  Nearly everyone who looks at the evidence against Clemens thinks he was taking the performance enhancing drugs.

So, do you keep a player out of the hall of fame because of this.  While I am adamant that Pete Rose should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame because of his behavior betting on the game, I am not sure about Clemens.  My feeling is that he should not be in the Red Sox hall because he only played a few years in Boston and often was a nemesis.  But depriving him of entry because he did drugs, not cut and dry for me.

I am not a druggie if you exclude coffee and beer.  I have, however, often found it reprehensible to identify some drugs as okay and others as problematic.  It has seemed to me that the drugs that are okay are sold by companies that have the okay, and drugs that are not okay are sold by Charlie who lives in the duplex over by Nostrand Avenue.  And while you would think that the companies that have the okay are more honorable and considerate than Charlie, I am not buying it.  I think the best bet is to check out what BOTH the drug companies and Charlie are peddling. The point is that I am not sure if what Clemens was using was much different than what others might be using legitimately.  If he was using a substance that had been specifically banned then a punishment is in order, but that the substance might have given him a greater advantage than some other product not banned, I just am not sure.

Believe me, I am no fan of Roger Clemens. And Barry Bonds--identified similarly as a user--is also not the kind of guy I would like to dine with.  And if I had to lean one way or another I would not allow either into the hall of fame because of their consumption AND because they clearly are lying about having taken the drug.  Yet what Bonds and Clemens did can not be equated--regardless of a jury's decision--with what Pete Rose did by betting on games when he was a manager.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Jew Store

The Jew Store is a very sweet memoir written by Stella Suberman about her family's life in Union City, Tennessee in the 1920s.  Her father, Aaron Bronson, moved the family to Union City, a small town in northwestern Tennessee, to open "Bronson's Low Priced Store" where dry goods were sold and where the Bronsons were the only Jewish family and certainly an anomaly in a town where residents harbored strong antisemitic feelings.

The author is the baby of the family. Her brother Joey and sister Miriam become immersed in the culture as does the father, whereas the mother fears that the children will become assimilated.  She, the mother, lobbies for her son to move to New York so he can be properly trained for a bar mitzvah.  And then when Miriam falls in love with T, a wonderful boy from the community, the mother--while fond of T--convinces the father that after over ten years in Union City, the family must move back to New York.

Interesting and troubling recollections of the Ku Klux Klan, attitudes towards African Americans, child labor, and ignorance.  When they first arrive in Union City (called Concordia in the book) a well meaning young boy refers to Aaron Bronson as Mr. Jew.  The store is known by one and all as the Jew store, and people seriously look for horns when Stella--not yet born when they move to Union City--arrives a few years later.

Impressive depiction of Lizzy Maud, a maid; Miss Brookie a liberal agnostic spinster in a world of God fearing conservativism; and the author's mother and aunts.

Easy read. Troubling in many parts particularly as it relates to the routine and condoned subjugation of African Americans by most people in the town.  When Bronson hires a black clerk the Klan intimates that the store might be in jeopardy and had not the land on which the store sat been owned by a member of the Klan, there was fear that the store might have been destroyed with or without the black clerk.

Worth the few days it will take you to read The Jew Store.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Pleasures of the Harbor

Five fraternity boys, now eligible for social security, united this weekend in Martha's Vineyard.  One of the five was beyond graciously hospitable inviting this crew to his summer home.  On Thursday the photo here was taken as the erstwhile members of Kappa Beta sailed for a few hours around the beautiful resort beaches.  Then on Friday we repeated the sail, this time for seven hours, spewing philosophy, embellishing tales, telling jokes, and kind of, sort of--for two of us--learning how to sail.

Best line among the many of the day occurred when the novice (pictured in the back with the UAlbany shirt) was at the helm.  His tutor,  our host in the white. was providing some coaching. At one juncture when we were leaning very far in one direction, the novice, clearly rattled-- straining with limited success to keep his voice as well as the boat on an even keel---blurted: "What do I do now?"

The tutor, maintained the calm of a driver's ed instructor at a teaching moment: "I don't know what to tell you."

"You better tell me something," barked the helmsman in not much of a mood for a lesson as we were approaching a 90 degree angle with the water.

I am writing this today as proof that yesterday we righted the then nearly vertical vessel, and then came home, consumed a delicious steak repast with wonderful conversation. 

We Five was a popular group when we were in college.  I had to leave this morning to take care of some business in Florida, and I find now that I miss the crew of five.  In a variation of what the group, We Five, once crooned, When I woke up this morning.. the frat boys were on my mind.  I am still feeling as if I am moving from the time on the boat. In a way, I am.    

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Home and Away

Home and Away is a memoir written by Scott Simon that is subtitled, Memoirs of a Fan.   The book is mostly about the author's affection for sports particularly Chicago teams--the Cubs, Bears, and the Bulls.  Simon also writes about his relationship with his parents and his work as a journalist.

The book is well written. I came away from the reading thinking that the author would be a good friend and, in general, as Maynard G. Krebs used to say, "A real human being."  It is not just because of his love of sports which is, if the descriptions are accurate, akin to mine, but because of his comments about his folks, step father, and the people who are affected by horrific political crimes.

As someone who lived at home in New York during the summer of 1969, and followed the Mets' improbable impossible dream season in which they overcame the Chicago Cubs who, improbably themselves, had been leading the national league through August, I especially enjoyed reading Simon's recounting of the Cubs '69 year.  His version, of course, was relayed from the opposite perspective of the Met fans who were delirious following the likes of Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee, and Donn Clendenon that summer. Simon and the Cub following were crashing when the Met fans were jubilant.

I began to like the author so much that I feel a bit uncomfortable making the following comments. Simon's writing was not uneven--it was engaging throughout--but the book itself was less a cohesive or coherent memoir than three parts fan love of Chicago teams; two parts reflections on his loving dad's debilitating sickness, his mother's strength, and step father's menschlikite; and one part experience as a journalist.  On the surface this might not seem like a big problem, and it probably is not, but Home and Away was less a memoir than a compilation of chapters and essays, on various only peripherally related subjects.  The part about the Bulls in particular read like a fan's three year chronicle of the Jordan/Jackson threepeat, as opposed to a component of a memoir.

In sum, an enjoyable read; it was nice to get to know someone like Scott Simon.  Also, touching to read about his dad and mom.  

Monday, August 4, 2014


Last Wednesday I parked at the airport for a short trip.  I pulled into a vacant space, opened the door, put one foot on the cement parking lot floor, and then wheeled around placing my other foot on the ground ready to walk to the trunk of the car to get my suitcase.

What happened next would have been a sight had anyone been watching. From a distance it could have looked like I had, suddenly, decided to practice a tap dance step or a gymnast's move for some competition. I hopped up, spread my legs, landed with feet splayed, hopped back, and shuffled sideways, Virginia reeling my way to the back of the car.

I performed this maneuver which--I'll boast--was no easy feat (pun unintended), because as I began to move toward the back of the car I noticed what appeared to be a fecal deposit (how is that for a euphemism) in my path that would have been on the bottom of my dress shoes had I not been gifted with athletic skill.

For a moment I thought this must not be what it appeared to be, because after all, how does such matter get in an indoor airport parking lot.  But the stuff did not pass the smell test. And since I had to move at least once from the back of the car to the front to retrieve items, I felt like I was playing the kids' game of hopscotch as I skirted the mess.  I had avoided any contact, but was bothered--as one might understand--by the incident.

The thing is that someone left that there.  Occasionally you see an animal in an airport and my first thought was that someone had not curbed the dog and just left the remains on the grounds. I am not an expert on the looks of who leaves what, but I think it is possible that what was left there was not necessarily from a dog, but some other being.

And regardless, what kind of person leaves that there. What kind of person leaves that there so that someone else who parks in the spot has to audition for a chorus line in order to avoid getting messed up.

Inside the terminal, I placed my credit card in a machine and out popped my boarding pass, with my name, flight, time of arrival, and frequent flier number.  I went through security and a machine was able to undress me and see if I was carrying some weapon. Another machine x-rayed my belongings.  To get to my plane I enjoyed the convenience of an electronic walkway to help me along to the gate.  I counted, and more than one out of every two people in the waiting area were spending the time on their tiny hand held phone/computers that can give you the weather in Istanbul, the dow jones average, and photos of a buddy who lives in Albuquerque.

Our technology is so sophisticated that those who have died no more than 15 years ago would think this was the 23rd century not the 21st if they could be brought to earth for a day or two.

And yet someone had inconsiderately left a pile of manure in a parking lot, knowing well that someone would have to deal with it in someway or other.  It seems to me that metaphorically a lot of folks are perfectly content to shed their waste instead of dealing with it, leaving it to others to function--not only with our burdens, but the droppings of people who are capable of rationalizing leaving messes for others.

Our technology is misleading. Not sure we have evolved that much.