Saturday, April 25, 2015


Americanah is a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It was recommended to me by a parent of a prospective student at my university.   As I was reading it a number of people who saw me with the book mentioned it had also been highly recommended to them.

My take is that the book is not so extra. It reads as more of a memoir than a novel. It may not be. It could be pure fiction. However, there are a number of similarities between the author's life and the main character's.

Americanah has several components. It is about life and culture in Nigeria; the tribulations of living in the United States and in England as a Nigerian: relationships with an aunt and cousin; two American romances; and a long term love affair.

Each of these are interesting, but the book does not gel.  Yes, they all help depict how Ifemelu--the main character--evolves, but they might as well have been discrete entries with one thread--the long term love affair--throughout.  We read about a friendship with an employer and then suddenly she disappears and never returns.  One of the love affairs seems unlikely to have developed/ended as it did.  A near tragedy with the aunt/cousin is not explored completely.  The long term love affair, while sweet, is not particularly unusual.

I liked the writing style and feel like I know about Nigeria in a way that I did not know before.  The author's descriptions in each episode are good and I like the way she portrayed several characters which seem spot on, especially Blaine, her father, Kosi, and Emenike.  The presentation of the difficulties of finding work in America for a Nigerian and the humiliating/depressing racism that the character endures was illuminating--almost worth the read itself.

If you are interested in learning about Nigeria and reading about a long term relationship interrupted by others of lesser consequence, then I would recommend the book.  But if you want a crafted novel with related plot lines, you may be disappointed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Britt McHenry

I watch ESPN a lot, but until this morning I had never heard of Britt McHenry.  I just read that there was an incident that has caused her suspension from ESPN.

Ms McHenry's car was towed. When she went to the tow lot to pay, she berated the attendant.  The exchange was recorded and has gone viral. ESPN suspended McHenry for the way she interacted with the attendant.

Three questions.

(1) Did McHenry do anything wrong?

(2) If the encounter had not been recorded and ESPN officials had just heard about the event, as opposed to the event going viral, would she have been suspended?

(3) Does an employer have the right to suspend an employee for non criminal behavior that is outside and unrelated to the workplace?

QUESTION 1: Did McHenry do anything wrong? 
Have you ever had your car towed or known people who have had their car towed?

It is a wonderful experience. You have to go to some disgusting spot in the city--often with barking snarling dogs.  You meet an attendant who likely has been verbally abused hourly who has become calloused and is a first rate snarling sourpuss regardless of how you behave yourself.  They sometimes only take cash, so now you have to come up with a wad of dough to get  your car back.  To complement the injury you receive a parking ticket in addition to the towing charge.

The whole experience makes your day.  If you believe you have been towed for no good reason you are really ready to blow a fuse.  Even if you know you took a chance when you parked, you are not a happy camper. You tend to rationalize your parking decision and squawk about big shots who can park in your living room without paying a nickel.  It is not a happy scene.  I never met a person who had his car towed who mused philosophically, "Towing my car was the proper thing to do."

So, for McHenry to behave badly--while it is not condonable--maybe she should get some slack.  She did have some choice comments for the attendant, but we do not hear the other side.

Did she do something wrong? Yes, but we have all been upset at times and many have spewed vitriol under trying circumstances.

QUESTION 2. If the encounter had not been recorded and ESPN officials had just heard about the event, as opposed to the event going viral, would she have been suspended?
I don't work for ESPN and do not know their culture, but my guess is that if this did not go viral, the reporter is still working for ESPN.  And, maybe, she is retelling her story inserting the quips for the amusement of colleagues.  "So I told her, that if I had no teeth maybe I could have her job."  A group chortles.

So, my guess is that ESPN is only reacting because it went public, not because of the behavior.

QUESTION 3  Does an employer have the right to suspend an employee for non criminal behavior that is outside and unrelated to the workplace?
If the answer to this is yes, then we all could be in big trouble.  I have heard some language from drivers in cars that sounds like an x rated monologue. Several drivers can be referred to as an orifice on a short thirty minute journey.  Would the drivers' employers have the right to suspend?  My sense is--unless the driver is driving a taxi or bus--the answer is no.  

This is unlike the NFL suspending a man who pummels his wife or beats his kids.   Both of these are crimes.   An employer does have the responsibility of policing employees who are breaking the law.

I do think that McHenry's behavior was reprehensible.  But I also believe that ESPN should think twice about whether it truly warrants a suspension.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Opening Day

Today as I backed out of the driveway and then drove down my street I saw, as I often do, a cluster of children ambling in their little-kid way along the sidewalk.  As is regularly the case there was a big sister or mother herding the group down the road.

We live across the street from an elementary school.  A parent taking kids to school from our neck of the woods would 99 times out of 100 walk right past our house as we live on a quiet street that parallels the main road where the school sits.  A policeman stands at the intersection at the end of the road and takes the kids from their big brothers and parents into the wonderful world of kindergarten, first, second, and third grades.  

Once I turn onto the main road this morning I spot a woman who is hustling.  She has some weight on her and is exercising big time.  Picking them up and putting them down, perspiring on this, hallelujah, warm day in New England.  The woman has a sweatband on her brow and some weights in each paw and appears determined to sweat off the suet.

Yesterday we attended the funeral of a colleague's spouse.  I had met the guy a number of times and liked him a lot.  The ceremony was as inspiring as any I could imagine.   While I knew this guy some, I had no idea of the range of his personality.  His sons, wife, friend, and co-worker spoke. Each with such inspiring words indicating how much this man had meant to so many others. In Judy's--his wife's--eulogy she said that when he proposed, Ken promised her an adventure.  And that she could say 45 years later, that he had not reneged.

The temple was packed with family and friends.   The ceremony made me think about primary criteria when we assess how we did in our precious life.  Did we make the most of it. Did we positively touch others. Did we have a positive effect on our universe.

Today is opening day in Boston. The Red Sox are playing the Washington Nationals in the annual first play-ball shout at Fenway Park.   The season starts anew.

I see the kids this morning. I watch the woman huffing and puffing.  And I think of the eulogies for Ken Berk--a class act if there ever was someone who could be so called.

Every day for us is opening day. An opportunity to change the course or revise the course of our lives so that we touch others, love those whom we love, have a positive effect on our universe, and make the most of our precious time.  Each of us has the opportunity to make our life an adventure.

Might be good to repeat this mantra when we feel we are not doing all that we can:

It's Opening Day. 

Play Ball.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hey Mom. You're 90.

The last time we had a normal conversation was on the day of the marathon bombing. It was a short talk. I knew you were a watcher of CNN and did not want you to see that there had been a bomb and maybe worry that I had been a victim. You sounded tired, but as always, you were there with all your marbles.

The next to last time we spoke was on your birthday, a few days earlier, two years ago today.  We had a long chat then and you sounded so up, so happy, and I felt very fortunate to have you in my life. Then, on the day they captured the surviving marathon bomber, you had the stroke.

You're 90 today.  Happy birthday.  Been thinking about you.  I made a seder last weekend and you were all over the place.  Made the matzoh ball soup and you nodded approvingly. Set the table ahead of time and you were beaming. You were not so crazy about how I vacuumed and dusted the joint, but for the most part you were proud of how I got it together.  Robbi and Marcia came.  Went through the first half of the seder and then ate our meal.  Dad would have been disappointed that we did not do the second half, but we all sort of ran out of gas.  Marcia's grandchild was there and it was way past his bed time at around 10 when they had to go.  Robbi and Jonathon also got tired.  Maybe it was the wine.  I cleaned up about sixty percent that night. I know you would have made the place look like we had never had a piece of matzoh before sleep, but I had had it--so finished cleaning up on Sunday. I kept thinking about you during the seder.  Often brought a bit of a smile to my face.

Went to Sammy's kid's bar mitzvah last weekend.  Hillel's daughter will be married next weekend so the family will be together again soon.  Your great-grandson Jack is a joy and you have a great-granddaughter now, Sophie.  She will be one in a couple of months.  Crawling around the hotel room while big brother Jack jumps about.

You're lying right next to him but if my way of thinking is the way it is, you are unaware that Dad died a few months after you did.  His love of you was evident every single moment of his waking hours from the time you passed until he did.  Spoke of you all the time.  I remember the last words you were able to mutter when I saw you last.  "He's wonderful." you said.  I hope I am wrong about the afterlife.  At the unveiling Jacqui said that she could only imagine that you two were beneath the ground holding hands.

So, you are ninety.  The world is as the world was.  A lot of tsuris. Israel, of course, is still hated by its neighbors. Obama, of course, is still pilloried by his detractors--many of whom are about to bust just because they still cannot get through their racism.  Fox News and MSNBC are still, neither, news programs--though I know you thought MSNBC was.  Your former governor Jeb Bush is making noise about seeking the presidency.  Hilary Clinton is a likely Democratic opponent.  We had a devastating winter.  Cold with lots of snow.

Bobby and Matt are doing great.

A lot of people miss you.  We still have the house in Florida and whenever Bobby and I are there your neighbors, like always, will comment so positively about your character and Dad's.

Happy 90th birthday, Mom.  Love... alan

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Oranges and Apples

Last night the Connecticut women defeated Notre Dame in what is being described as a close game. The final differential was ten points.  By Connecticut victory standards this is close.

Gene Auriemma, the coach of the victors, won his tenth championship. This ties a record with John Wooden the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins who had a string of victories in the sixties and seventies with the then Lew Alcindor, Walt Hazzard, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich and other future NBA stars.

Does it make sense to compare Gene Auriemma's successes with John Wooden's?

The answer is mostly no, but not 100 per cent no.

To win ten basketball championships on the college level you have to win big games and win them consistently. Auriemma is 10-0 in championship games.  Remarkable.  In addition, you have to be able to recruit.  Auriemma must be brilliant at this.  Women basketball players who are great can get full rides at dozens of Division I basketball schools.  How come Auriemma seems to always get the best of the best.  He must be an excellent recruiter.

Third you have to be able to coach the great talent you get.  When one watches the Connecticut Huskies women play, even a layperson can see that the team is well coached.  And, significantly, when you get great players to join your team you must be able to address the egos that come with the talent.  He must be able to do this and do it well.

So, in many ways what Auriemma has done is comparable to what John Wooden did at UCLA.

However, there are some big ways that this is Oranges and Apples.  There are not nearly as many excellent teams in women's basketball as there are in men's basketball.  The idea that on any given night a team can knock off another team, does not apply to women's college basketball.  In the first round of the tournament Connecticut could not lose if every one of their players were out drinking until dawn the night before.  The talent disparity is just too great.

In the women's basketball tournament like in men's basketball, one has to win six games to win a championship.  However, the wear and tear on your team before you get to the tournament is not nearly the same for a squad like Connecticut.  During the regular season Connecticut beat RANKED teams--that is teams ranked in the top 25--by 18, 34, 31, and 25 points.  They won some games by over 50 points.  So, it is not as if each contest was a game that could be lost.

In the tournament Connecticut won its first three games by 56, 36, and 51 points.  In the sweet 16 Connecticut won a game by 51!

In John Wooden's day he had to win four games to win the championship, but each game could have been lost. During the regular season he had to win his conference to even get to the tournament. That, especially with USC in the conference, was very difficult. Now, several teams from a conference can be invited, but then Wooden had to win a tough conference and then win four games against difficult teams.

Gene Auriemma is the best women's college coach there is.  He coaches well, he coaches excellent players well, he finds the very best players to come to Connecticut, and he wins championship games. It may be relatively easy to get to the championship game, but he still has to win the games. And he is 10-0 in championship games.

He should be compared to other women basketball coaches and in this regard he is not only the best, nobody can touch him.  I do not believe other coaches could take his players and win 10 championships. They might win a lot of games, but they would not be able to be 10-0 in championship games or even get to ten championship games.

However, to equate his work to the accomplishments of John Wooden is like comparing Oranges to Apples.

Oranges are not better or worse than apples. They are just different.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Smoking Lounge

I have become familiar with the innards of airports over the last months. Detroit, last week, had the longest stretch I have ever had to navigate on foot from gate a to gate b.

Dulles where I spent a few hours on Sunday is not as long in terms of the hike but--not unlike many contemporary airports--one has to take a tram to the gates.   And Dulles is complex. From where the rental car van drops you off, to where you have to go to get through security, is not for the wet behind the ears.  You can easily wind up at Air Ethiopia if you don't focus.

The good news for me on Sunday was that while I had a long wait before my flight, there were a number of places in the waiting areas that were showing the Elite 8 games. I watched nearly the entirety of the Michigan State--Louisville contest and did not have to yield an appendage or two for a glass of something to view the game at the bar.  Beyond the flat screen tvs, the waiting area was modern in other ways.  Nice and spacious, attractive art on the walls, contemporary lighting.

I took a stroll at halftime and ambled down the corridors.  Tony store after tony store.  The shops were tres "hoo hah", as my mother would have described them;  "high end" as a baron of the malls might say.

And then I saw an anachronism. It was as if someone inserted a museum piece to add a throwback exhibit to the terminal.  I've occasionally seen this "exhibit" at other airports, yet it startled me in Dulles.

The "exhibit" was a smoking lounge.  A place where those who indulge could go and inhale with others similarly addicted. I could only imagine how it smelled in that sealed container and how much you would need a fix to enter the cloud.  It seemed so odd there, as if there ought to have been a plaque affixed to the glass in front:

1950's airport scene. People inhaling poisonous smoke of their own free will.

I don't know too many people of my vintage who smoke anymore. We were all warned in the mid 60s, and then even those who poo poohed the advice, eventually coughed their way to wisdom.

Yet there it was, near the current iteration of "The Sharper Image" in Dulles International airport; a smoking lounge. And there was no shortage of  tenants.

What a bunch of fools I thought.

But a few hours later I had another thought.  Maybe there are different types of smoking lounges.  I look at the exhibit in the airport and I think "How can they do this to themselves", but what about the smoking lounges we all sit in.  Jobs we stay at because they are secure but not fulfilling. Relationships that provide a comfort, but are insidiously stealing time away. Clubs we frequent to pass the hours to avoid confronting the reality that we have not worked hard enough to find more joyful things to do.

Don't we all have smoking lounges? Places that are not good for us, but we nevertheless continue to visit, throwing some strawberry deodorant around our rear view mirrors to obscure the reality that we are ingesting toxins.

Have to be careful about disparaging the folks in the smoking lounge.  They could be looking at us too.

P.S. Kentucky got lucky against Notre Dame. They will not be asleep when they play Wisconsin. MSU is done.  I don't think Duke has the horses to beat Kentucky on Monday.