Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout, the author of My Name is Lucy Barton also wrote Olive Kitteridge--winner of a Pulitzer prize for fiction.  Olive Kitteridge is a masterpiece. My Name is Lucy Barton is not quite as good but still a wonderful read and a book I strongly recommend.

In the last page of Olive Kitteridge, Olive, a widow, thinks of a fledgling relationship she is considering. She likens it to "pressing two pieces of Swiss Cheese together", that each person would bring "holes" with them to any union, holes representing the pieces "that life took out of you."

How we live with the holes in our being that life has "taken out" is in essence what My Name is Lucy Barton is about.

The character Lucy Barton is the narrator of the story.  She has to spend several weeks in a hospital recovering from a complication related to an appendectomy.  While hospitalized she is visited by her mother whom she had not seen in many years. In conversations with her mother and flashbacks we learn about Lucy's family and the holes in her heart.

All of us have been bruised along the way, some of us have had families that were bruise making machines. I have had my share of bumps but as family issues go I think I caught a big break. Lucy did not and many readers will be able to identify with her.  You may not be a small town farm girl, and your mother, father, sister, and brother of a different ilk completely, but you will likely be able to identify with Lucy Barton.

This is an easy book to read.  The writing is engaging, the chapters are short, and some pages are only half pages.  A lot of book in less than 200 pages.

There is only one thing about which I can quibble. We find out that Lucy has become a successful author. Yet the book is deliberately written (told as if it is written by Lucy) amateurishly.  Lucy, before she became famous as a writer, took a class on writing.  This book reads like one someone might have written who was just starting out--perhaps after having taken such a course. But we find out that she is writing this after her successes as an author, so the style does not match the style of an accomplished writer.  But maybe that is a point of the novel; when you are dealing with the holes in your heart you are hobbled whether you know it or not.

Beautiful read and a book that will become even more meaningful to me in the days that follow.  Are we all "hospitalized" because of emotional trauma and need to "meet" with forebears to purge the viruses that course through our bodies?

Monday, January 25, 2016

past, present..and future

The good news is I know my hip is getting much better. The bad news is that I know this because after the first half of yesterday's Patriots--Broncos' game,  I did not sit down once and paced for most of the two plus hours, all to no avail.  The hip passed its test, the Patriots did not-- succumbing to the team that played better yesterday, 20-18.

The postmortem analysts are omnipresent in Boston.  I just left a grocery store where there is an alcove for those who want to sip coffee or eat lunch before they depart.  I was not in my seat for a minute before I heard three construction workers (so identified because of their garb) yakking about the Patriots' inability to move the ball on first down.

One could dissect the game in terms of how well the Broncos defended, the mistakes that Tom Brady made and the ones that Peyton Manning did not, the missed extra point that forced the Patriots to try a two point conversion with twelve seconds left--or many other factors. But I think such analyses would be superficial.  And the point I hope to make in this blog transcends sports; it applies to our own reflections and decisions.

I had to look up this morning a quote I heard which goes something like: "The past is never dead; it's not even the past."  The author is William Faulkner; I know I never read this quote in something Faulkner wrote because aside from a long short story we had to read in high school called "The Bear", I never read anything by Faulkner. This quote, I found out, is from a novel called, Requiem for a Nun.  I don't know anything about Requiem for a Nun.  What I remember from "The Bear" was that it seemed to me interminable and I wished I did not have to read it.  My best guess is that I just wasn't mature enough at 16 to have a shot at understanding "The Bear". Maybe I would not see the significance of "The past is never dead; it's not even the past" had I been 16 when I came across it. But half a century later I get it--in spades.

How does the quote apply to the Patriots-Broncos' game?  The Patriots lost by two points yesterday, true. But they really lost the game on November 29th, and they lost because of arrogance.

November 29th was Thanksgiving weekend's Sunday night. The Patriots were playing the Broncos in Denver and were leading by two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter.  The Broncos were able to trim the lead because of a muffed punt by a Patriot, but New England was still ahead when the Patriots do what they do--they became arrogant.  Instead of running and bleeding the clock, the Pats-"in-your-face-we-are-better-than-you" kept throwing the ball in the fourth quarter with a lead that, had they run the ball, would likely have been insurmountable.  The Broncos went on to win the game.

Both the Broncos and Patriots finished at 12-4 this past season, but Denver won the tie breaker by virtue of having won on 11/29.  Consequently they got to play yesterday's championship game in Denver. The bookies figure home field advantage is worth three points. Home field advantage was absolutely worth two points yesterday. No way the Broncos beat the Patriots in Boston yesterday.

So it's just a game and we fans will be fine. But the significance beyond sport, I think, is not insignificant.

When we decide what to do, today, it is dependent on yesterday because yesterday put us in the position we are in today.  And what we do today, will put us in the position we are in tomorrow.  We are not handcuffed to our past, but our lives are a series of moments that, in some part, evolved because of good or bad fortune--but in larger part because of what we did in our yesterdays.  The Patriots played a well prepared Broncos team yesterday in Denver because the Patriots decided on November 29th for no intelligent reason to throw the ball in the fourth quarter when it could have come close to running out the clock.  I am sitting here now in the Weston Public Library writing this blog because of decisions I made in 1969 in Albany New York--long story that--but that is why I am here now.  You could say I am in Weston at 2 pm this Monday afternoon because of some library books I needed to return--which is in part true. But I am really here because of something that I thought about in 1969.  Too long to go into, but you get the point.   The outcomes of today are grounded in our past. The past is not even the past.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Australian Open

I was just about to go to bed about two and a half hours ago when I heard that Novak Djokovic the number 1 seed in the Australian Open was playing.  I like to root against Djokovic which has provided no small amount of aggravation over the years because the guy is great and seldom loses.  I thought I'd put on the match for a half hour or so and get sleepy.  I was up real early this morning so I figured it would not take more than a set for me to have my date with the sand man.

Now 126 a.m. I am riveted to the screen. The number 14 seed Giles Simon is going toe to toe with Djokovic in what will be a marathon match. Already at the two hour and twenty six minute mark as I write this second paragraph and the players are only midway through the third set with each player splitting the first two.  They are playing each point like warriors as if every stroke could be the last one.  Simon was broken early in the third, broke back, and now is playing yet another interminable game in which he is fighting mightily to hold his serve.

Both of these fellows are as lean as a string bean and you can see why.  In the last 2 1/2 hours they have burned more calories than I have in the last 2 1/2 months, and I am not exaggerating.  How contested are these games? I wrote above that it was 126.  It is now 135, nine minutes later and they just completed the game they were playing when I began this blog.  For comparison, it took Serena Williams 44 minutes to win two sets the other day.  These guys are taking over an hour for each set they are playing.

I do not think this is about money.  Both of these players do well. Djokovic probably needs his own country just to store his shekels.  Simon is doing okay also. I just checked and over his career he has earned 10, 500, 000 bananas.  So these guys are not competing to make the rent.   Djokovic wants to remain the best in the world, and Simon wants to be able to defeat the best player in the world.

I keep saying I should go to bed, but I find myself saying "one more game." The way this is going, I could go to sleep, wake up, and they will still be out there in Melbourne whacking tennis balls over the net at impossible angles retrieving them in ways that would be incredible, except I have to believe it since I am seeing it with my own wide open peepers.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Richard B. Ross Way

I have gotten good at identifying various walking routes from my office to the medical complex where I go for physical therapy.  For someone very efficient at using a map, I do not have a great sense of direction. Give me a road map I can get from nearly anyplace to anyplace else. But tell me to walk to a place in this city of winding roads, I often take a circuitous stroll--excellent for my cardio vascular system and the healing of my hip, but a little tough on the extremities when it is below zero in New England.

I think I know the fastest route now.  I took it this morning for my 8 am appointment for getting beat up in the name of good health.  Just kidding. The people whom I have met at physical therapy have been dedicated professionals, each with a different set of strengthening exercises which I have embraced and, consequently, the various contortions have accelerated my recovery.

When I walked this morning to physical therapy I noticed a shortcut on a street I'd never seen before called, Richard B. Ross Way.  It would have been a shortcut, except that seeing the sign made me stop and consider it.   I knew, very peripherally, a Richard B. Ross and I was pretty sure why the road had been named in his honor.

About twenty five years ago a colleague suggested I meet with a Richard Ross to explore consulting opportunities.  My colleague had worked with the man, found him to be kind and professional, and thought--given my skill set he and I would connect.  I remember meeting him in the Prudential Center where he had an office at the time. He was, as advertised, a kind and professional man.  As it turned out I did not do any consulting work for him but, as I recall, this had less to do with him and more to do with my not getting back to him with some material he suggested I send along. Regardless, it was his soft smile and pleasantness that I remembered more than anything else.

So, I reacted with stunned horror when I read fifteen years ago that Richard B. Ross had been on American flight 11 that September day that nobody will ever forget.  Nearly everyone around here knows someone who was on one of those flights.  I hardly knew Richard B. Ross, but did know fairly well another victim, Nick Humber, who was on the same flight. Nick and I were regular squash partners. I see that Nick was in seat 22A. Next to the window. Left hand side of the plane. Good guy. You can tell a lot about someone on the squash court.  Nick was a mensch. Ross was sitting first class--2J first row on the other side against the window.

As I wrote above, you can't know many people who lived in Boston at the time and did not know at least one of the victims.

When I saw Richard B. Ross Way on my now efficient walk to physical therapy I was taken aback.  I had been feeling so good on my walk.  Feeling good ambling without a limp, early in the morning, whole day ahead of me--and then I saw the sign and there was a reminder of how irresponsible, insensitive, unethical, inhuman, the delusional hijackers were in thinking this asinine act was an act for God. What God? What God takes the life away from people in the name of God.  To hell with them. And they are there: burning in Hades for the duration, leaving a legacy that no person with a soul can respect.

I'm glad the city of Boston named a street after Richard B. Ross.  And I am glad I saw it this morning and will see it every morning I go to physical therapy-- a reminder of how wonderful is this precious life and how indefensible is any act that deprives another of the opportunity to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Gate House

I had previously read one book by Nelson De Mille. Like this one it was long, actually longer.  It was called The Lion and it moved.  Very fast, exciting, and cleverly written.

This book The Gate House was recommended to me by someone who had been convalescing. He'd never read a De Mille book before and therefore had nothing to compare it to. He was given the book as a gift, thought it was a good read, and gave me the title.

My feeling is that The Gate House took a long time (845 pages) to go not very far.  Not poorly written, but sort of a waste of time. The last forty pages were kind of exciting and there were other moments that were engaging, but you could have thrown out 400 pages here easy and not lost a thing.  I found out afterwards that The Gate House was a sequel to The Gold Coast.  My best guess is that The Gold Coast, which received positive reviews, was so well received that the author--or the author's publisher--said "write a sequel." So he got going on this book not really sure where it was going and what came out was this loooong novel that really is not that substantive.

In addition to the bloated plot, the only major character that I found sort of attractive was the narrator. Everyone else, less than meh. For example, I could not be in the same room with the love of his life for an hour without calling a cab. His in-laws are caricatures as wss his own mother. So many people seem so superficial.  I don't mind banging one back now and again, but if these people drink as depicted, they will all be dead before 50 from damaged livers or observing each other's  condescending behavior.  Elizabeth a minor character had some positive stuff going for her, as did one of the detectives, but they were peripheral.  Otherwise, I do not want to hang out with these people.

There is a scene where a couple, having been estranged for ten years, get together and make life decisions that are truly incredible.  Just not to be believed.  This scene changes the direction of the plot, and I just cant believe the event would have taken place as it did given these persons' histories.

There was some suspense--toward the end--and the narrator is clever with his story telling, but I cannot recommend this book. I may read another one of his, because I saw today with the exception of this one, all the rest are very positively received. So maybe this is just a stinker that my buddy did not know was a stinker because he never read the others.  I will not read the prequel though, because I do not want to spend ten pages again with Susan or her parents or any Bellarosa.

In short, if you are a reader, there are better books to read. If you liked The Lion like I did, maybe pick up another of De Mille's novels.

Fifty Per Cent

My pro football predictions this past weekend were not as stellar as my forecasts during the wild card round.  During wild card week, I picked four out of five games correctly (counting the college championship game). This past weekend I got the two games on Saturday right, but was incorrect for the Sunday games.

The good news is that my New England Patriots are still alive. The not so great news is that they have to play a nemesis, the Denver Broncos in Denver where the air is thin and the Patriots have had no mazel.

Everyone is counting out Peyton Manning. I agree he looks a little frail as if the years have caught up to him, but do not count out Manning until he is down and out. The man has a head on his shoulders and can read defenses as well as anyone. Manning did not have a great game against the Steelers. He will be the real Manning on Sunday. Also his receivers will not drop passes like they did against the Steelers. Manning will be a force. Also, I read a few minutes ago that the Patriots placed one of their defenders on IR (injured reserve)--which means the player, Jerod Mayo--a team captain, will not play against the Broncos.  He is an effective defender so this is not good for my Patriots.

But we are in it, and that is exciting.  I have a professional job, have written several textbooks, and in general am more responsible than the average bear, but I am acting like a young boy in grade school this week, trying to get all the information there is to be had about the upcoming game.  Yesterday instead of listening to a CD from the sixties as is my wont, I had the car radio on sports talk all the time I drove in the car.  It was comforting to know that some of the callers on the talk radio, are far more zany than I could ever be.

The enthusiasm is not about betting. It is about passion. One can have passion about a number of things. True love, of course.  But sports is something else many are passionate about--which is a, if not the, central message of my book, the Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas.

As it relates to writing and Bonding and Betting with the Boys, my brother and I will be off again to Las Vegas soon--but this time not for March Madness. We will do our due diligence somewhere for the tournament in March certainly, but in a few weeks we are going to observe the bettors on the weekend of February 5-7th--Super bowl weekend.

In the book, I relay my interaction with a March Madness bettor in Las Vegas who had been there for a Super bowl and described how crazy he found it to be.  We want to see what it is like ourselves. Unlike the March Madness first weekend, the Superbowl is just one game, yet the strip is supposedly wild with fans who wager on anything from who will win the flip of the coin, the length of the singing of the national anthem, which team will first be penalized, how many yards a quarterback will throw in the first quarter--let alone who will win the game. It should be a lark to observe the scene and then write about it.

My predictions may be fueled by my heart, but I am going with the Patriots over the Broncos in the early game this weekend. The late game, I think Carolina will win, not because they are so extra but because I don't think Carson Palmer is so extra, and Larry Fitzgerald while unbelievable, is not super man.  So Carolina wins--not sure it will be pretty. The Patriot game, no doubt, will be beautiful.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Some Adult Beverages Will Be Consumed

This is the best weekend for professional football fans.  At 435 eastern time, the remaining eight teams in the NFL will square off during the following twenty four hours.

My predictions for the remainder of the playoffs are as they were in my original post, with the only exception that since Houston was eliminated last week, New England's victory today will be over the Chiefs.  Pitt is a tough call since they have lost two players and their quarterback is hurting, but I still have a feeling that somehow they will prevail.

Division Playoffs 1/16-1/17
Pitt over Denver
NE over Houston Kansas City

Seattle over Carolina
AZ over Green Bay

Championship Sunday 1/24
NE over Pitt
AZ over Seattle

Super Bowl--2/7
NE over AZ

Our shot

For some reason, yesterday a conversation I had with my dad surfaced to my consciousness.  I don't know what spurred it on.

I think I can place the chat in terms of location and era, and it would put dad at about my age when we were speaking, maybe even a few years younger.

I'm not sure why we got to talking about this, but at some point he said to me, "Mom and I have had our shot."  What he meant by this I could figure out, but he elaborated anyway.  The point was that they had had their opportunity in this precious life to make the most of it.  He wasn't complaining that they had wasted their shot, or bragging that they had maximized it.  He was just making a statement that we all have our shots.  I don't think he was even suggesting to me that I needed to make the most of mine.  It was more philosophical.  We all have our shots.  One shot to make our life valuable, meaningful, joyful.

This morning I read through the Globe (delivered on time for the fourth day in a row.  A big article in the Globe about the snafus with delivery).  I read through the various sections I like to peruse, came across an interesting obituary about a woman named Florence King.  While she is described as very conservative the obit narrative made me think I would want to read her books.  She was unconventional--earned money early in her career writing pornographic books under a pseudonym--took on phony political correctness, referred to herself as a celibate lesbian who had male and female lovers, never wed, and--as incongruous as it may seem--blasted liberals.  Anyway, I was intrigued by the obituary and, once again, humbled to learn of a well known author of whom I had never heard.  It sounds like Florence King maximized her shot.

Another section of the Globe that I often look at is the part that lists events that took place on this day in history. Included in it are famous people's birthdays.  I see that William Kennedy, the author, is 88 today.

Most of William Kennedy's books are tough sledding for me. I love sections of them and his writing skill, but I find myself losing my train of thought as I read through them.  Exceptions are Legs--a great biography of sorts about Legs Diamond the gangster--and, of course, Ironweed.

Ironweed is a masterpiece. I read it during a particularly troubling time in my travels.  A time when it was easy to lose consciousness while reading.  It did not matter. The novel, while still Kennedy complex, is so good that I was riveted throughout.  And it has stuck with me for over thirty years.

There are a number of messages in the book that have hung around. The novel is about a bum, Francis Phelan, who lives in Albany.  It keeps darting from the present to the past.  (Jack Nicholson plays Francis unconvincingly in the movie which does not and could not do justice to the novel).  We learn why Francis became a bum and why, despite his wife's willingness to take him back into a life of normalcy, he is haunted so by his past so that he cannot do that.  A life of comfort and convention is there for him with a loving partner, but he cannot do it. Not because of drink, or irresponsibility, but because of his past.  What he thinks he has done with his shot.

The fact is that what I thought of most this morning was not what Francis had done wrong with his shot, but what he had done right.  In one of the flashbacks we learn that Francis while a very young teenager had a sexual fling with a crazy neighbor.  She, an adult, was not as we might say, "with it" but she engages Francis and he, as a young teen is, not unsurprisingly, taken by the affection.  He promises this crazy neighbor that he will love her forever.  But then later, he meets a contemporary, Annie.  They go to a lumber yard to talk and then decide to kiss.  It is some kiss. Francis calls it a "goopy" kiss.  And decides that he has to "break up" with the crazy neighbor.  He figures that once you have a goopy kiss like that, you know that is what you need to pursue.  So he says to his relatively elderly lover, "Katrina, I will love you forever. But something has come up."  If you want to go to a local library, the pages that deal with the goopy kiss are 155-157.  They are classic.

So what does this have to do with our "shot."   I think the trick is to follow that goopy kiss.  That is, to maximize our shots, we have to follow our hearts.

Not always easy to do.  Today, for example, I woke up and heard the cats and dogs rain pelting our house.  I did not think of how romantic this might be, and it did not trigger thoughts of goopy kisses. Instead, I wondered if the playing field in Foxboro for the playoff game this afternoon might have a deleterious effect on the Patriots chances of defeating the Chiefs.

But despite my tendency, or our tendencies, to default to what is immediate, I think if we want to expire knowing that we had maximized our shot, we have to default to thinking about how we pursue the messages that emerge ineluctably from our hearts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Predictions Redux

Just saying...If you go to my 1/7 post entitled Predictions you will see that I picked four out of five of the games this weekend.  I was very wrong with Houston and Kansas City, but Pittsburgh (somehow) prevailed over Cincinnati, Seattle (miraculously) defeated Minnesota, Green Bay handled the Redskins, and Alabama--in a very good championship game--beat Clemson.

So, 80 %--a very good rate for a predictor.

The end of the Minnesota game is worth thinking about as it relates more to life than sports.

The teams, Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, played in subfreezing temperatures for close to 60 minutes.  The Vikings were trailing by one point with a few seconds to go, but were in a position to win if their kicker could put through a very easy twenty something yard field goal. This kicker, in the tundra, had kicked another short one previously in the game, and two long field goals in temperatures which must have made the football feel like a rock. So, to kick a 27 yard field goal would be nothing.

Travel back to 1970.  My brother and I were in Albany after an intramural game or practice.  Our late friend Kurt Legler had been the kicker for our team.  He showed us how easy it was to kick a short field goal.  We didn't think it was so easy, but after he showed us how to do it, we took a ball out and tried.  After a spell we were kicking them through with no problem.  It did seem to me impossible that someone could kick a ball through the goal posts from 40 or 50 yards away, but from close range, it really was simple.

A professional kicker can kick a short field goal in his sleep.  Sure there are 3000 pounds of beef coming at you, but your teammates can block them away.  If the ball is held right, kicking a short field goal should be automatic.

But what happens when 80,000 people are screaming for you, millions of people throughout the world are watching from their living room, and your team's entire 2015 season depends on whether or not you can kick it straight.

What happens is what makes us human can interfere.  The kicker for the Vikings can kick that ball through the goalposts 100 times out of 100 in practice from that range.  Take twenty steps back from your bathtub.  Take a bar of soap. Throw the bar of soap in the bathtub.  That is how easy it is.  But he got nervous. The kick was not even close. Yanked the ball way left.

So what does it mean for those outside of football?  I think two things. One is that we can sometimes choke in the clutch. That is, when it is important for us to be strong and do the right thing we can become nervous and choke. That is okay. We are human. Sometimes we will choke, but the thing is we can get up and try again. Give ourselves a second chance.  To cite another football example from the weekend. Brian Hoyer the quarterback for the Houston Texans played as bad as a quarterback could play on Saturday. Just awful.  He choked. He is much better than he played.  However, he can get back on the saddle, deal with the failure, and come back again.  As can Blair Walsh the kicker for the Vikings who missed the kick on Sunday.

The more insidious choice is to avoid situations where you might fail again.  Take a road that is less risky, avoid putting it on the line.  Then you, apparently, do not fail.  But you, actually, have failed, because you have not given yourself an opportunity to succeed at something you may really desire.   A lesson in sports is to pick yourself up and try again.  In other walks of life, I think what people often do is--after failure--not put themselves in a situation where they might fail again.

On a completely unrelated note, last night I went to a Chinese restaurant.  I was famished.  They brought out my dish and I started consuming with pleasure. I am halfway done, when a waitress comes over and says that my real waitress had brought out the wrong dish.  She puts down mine takes away the one I was eating.  I can barely tell the difference.  One was beef, one was chicken. Both were 90 percent vegetables.  The dinner came with ice cream. I asked for pistachio. They gave me vanilla before they realized that vanilla looked different than pistachio.

I hope the proprietors do not have a second business dispensing drugs to pharmacies.

Last point for betters: If you bet Pitt to win against the spread, you lost by a half a point. If you bet Alabama to win, you lost by a point, because of the "meaningless" touchdown Clemson scored with twelve seconds left.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cincinnati finds a way

Could any team, besides the Bengals, blow a game the way the Bengals blew the game tonight?

Truly, I have never seen a team choke a game away like the Bengals just did. Stunning.

Is there a word to explain how stupidly the Bengals played the last two minutes? A fumble, two meshugeneh penalties. I picked the Texans who got demolished earlier, and the Steelers who somehow won the game a moment ago.  But who could figure that even the Bengals could Bungle a game like that?

Fortunately, I am not a Bengal fan. But I feel for them.

And oh, by the way.  The Raccoon Lodge--courtesy of me--had picked the Texans who lost by 30 and the Steelers. But in the pool you pick against the spread.  The final tonight, 18-16 Steelers.  The Raccoon Lodge had to give up 2 1/2 points.  Final for the Raccoon Lodge, Bengals 18  1/2  Steelers 18.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


You read it here first.  These picks are NOT against the spread.

Wild Card  1/9-1/10
Houston over KC
Pitt over Cincinnati

Seattle over MN
GB over Washington

Division Playoffs 1/16-1/17
Pitt over Denver
NE over Houston

Seattle over Carolina
AZ over Green Bay

Championship Sunday 1/24
NE over Pitt
AZ over Seattle

Super Bowl--2/7
NE over AZ

College Championship--1/11
Alabama over Clemson

Last year, I was very accurate with these. However, I did predict that Carter would defeat Reagan in 1980.  So do not bet anything substantial on the basis of this wisdom.

On the subject of wisdom, my brother and I--under the heading of The Raccoon Lodge--have participated in a pool this past year as we have for the last 10 years or so. In one year, we actually won the pool.  We really do know a lot about professional football. The two of us can respond to many questions about football that others would be hard pressed to answer.  Yet, this year we have failed so miserably in this pool that it is remarkable. On Thanksgiving weekend we were doing so poorly that we agreed to let Sophie, my brother's 1 year old granddaughter make the picks. The only reason we did not, was because we forgot during the hubbub of the Thanksgiving gathering.

The pool requires that one bet against the spread. As I wrote in the Madness of March, betting against the spread is like flipping a coin.  The leader in the pool of 61 teams has predicted 55% of the games correctly. This is very good. Only 11 out of 20.And this player is in first place.

Where is the Raccoon Lodge?   I just checked, with reluctance. To be clear this year I did most of the picking.  On a couple of occasions we picked together and my brother on a couple of occasions did the honors.  Again, we know football.

We are all by ourselves in 55th place out of the 61 teams.

Again, my picks above are NOT against the spread. These are the teams I think will win.  It is very interesting to note for those interested in such things, that three of the four HOME teams this weekend are underdogs. The pundits believe that Seattle will beat Minnesota at Minnesota; Pittsburgh will beat Cincinnati in Ohio, and Kansas City will defeat Houston in Texas. The only home team that is a favorite is only favored by 1 1/2 points and that is the Redskins who are playing in DC and are favored over the Packers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Will Power

My last several weeks have been mostly sedentary.  Not much in the way of exercise beyond the physical therapy requirements which burn some, but not a whole lot, of calories.   One of the short term side benefits of having the surgery was that I dropped about eight pounds that were doing me no good.  In addition to having not my usual voracious appetite I had something called night-sweats. I've had these my whole life whenever my body has experienced some trauma. Fortunately there have been few of these episodes, but when they have occurred I awaken two or three times a night completely drenched in my own perspiration. The bad news is, of course, I am cold until I get dry duds on and the washing machine works overtime.  The good news is that the sweating has therapeutic effects, plus weight flies off of me.  I went into work just before the break, was admired by colleagues for my svelte appearance and besides was able to get into a pair of pants that had, previously, limited my ability to exhale to one breath every hour so.

But I am back to not sweating and my appetite has returned.  Which brings me to this issue that I think is, if not universal, applicable to many.

I decided to take my folders and computer to Panera this afternoon.  A new one opened just about a mile from the house.  Plenty of tables, free wifi. Good coffee and aroma.  I've been here early in the morning and it is better than a library then. Quiet with sippers working on their computers or reading the paper. It is a little more rowdy now, about 330 in the pm.  A group from either Brandeis or Bentley has gathered here to welcome each other back.  And they are loud.  They are entitled. This is, after all, not a library.

Still, even with the noise it is a good place to come and work on projects.  There is no coffee in the libraries at least the ones in my hood.  So, the coffeeshop/bakery is a good place to hang and think.

I digress.  What has spurred this blog post is what happened to me as I approached the counter for my cup.  There staring in front of me was a blueberry scone.  Panera and other establishments of this ilk have taken to doing something that seems to me to be bad business--at least for bakeries. They post the calories of any item you might want to purchase.  I am (I thought) committed to return to my post surgery weight.  It felt good. I looked better. And I like the pants that previously had required no breathing.  So, when I saw that the blueberry scone was 470 calories I was taken aback.  It takes me 45 minutes on the elliptical to burn 500 calories. And I cannot get on the elliptical for that long at this time. Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time since the pipe was placed in my leg.  I was able to do the elliptical for ten minutes.  If it takes 45 minutes to burn 500 calories, then in 10 minutes I burn 112 calories (I have just thanked John Duffus, my tenth grade math teacher, for my ability to make this computation).  This means that if I indeed do go to the gym tonight and spend 10 minutes on the elliptical, this blueberry scone is costing me about 358 calories.

I did not figure this all out while I was standing at the counter, but I knew the scone was trouble generally speaking.  The thing is that the customer before me was taking her sweet time musing about the virtues of pumpernickel or rye and discussing the advantages and disadvantages with her teenage daughter whose kisser all but screamed, "whatever."  Nevertheless the mother had trouble making up her mind. So, I had ample time to just go with the coffee.

But I did not. I am now as of this writing 358 calories in the hole assuming I go the gym tonight. And I could have easily rejected the blueberry scone which, one could see, was glistening with sugar.

So much for the wisdom of a college professor now eligible to collect social security.  Below is a picture of guilty me at Panera post-scone.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

lummer dur shoyn zayn uff yenner zyte teer

My father and mother were Yiddish experts.  Dad was a lecturer and with my mother an entertainer telling yiddish stories to audiences as far west as Louisville, but most often in the greater New York area and South Florida.

I had the good fortune of learning some Yiddish just by hanging around.  My memory is not bad so I could remember many of the expressions they would use, not only when entertaining, but when giving a dig to one another--or to me.

The last time they visited here was Memorial Day in 2012. A friend of theirs who lives hereabouts had a granddaughter who was getting married.  We were trying very hard to make their visit a good one and, I fear, may have been a bit too solicitous. They were appreciative however.  At one point we were going to take a walk while my folks were resting on the deck to the home. I wanted to make sure that they had everything they needed.

After I asked if they wanted a cold drink or could hear the radio or whatever it was that I wanted to provide for the hour or so we would be gone, my father made this quip in Yiddish.

 lummer dur shoyn zayn uff yenner zyte teer.

It was an expression I had never heard before.  I found out that loosely translated it means "get lost."

More specifically, it means:   Let me see you on the other side of the door already.

lummer  dur  shoyn   zayn   uff  yenner      zyte    teer
          Let me   you  already see     on   the other  side    of the door

I got a laugh out of the wisecrack and liked it so much that I asked my mother to write it down. Yesterday I was doing a new year's day cleaning and found the piece of paper that she had written on three plus years ago.  It made me smile to remember the incident, but today it got me a sad.  I miss giving them a call on New Year's and wishing them well.  They are now on the other side of the door.  
Of course, it happens.  We all will go through that door.  

If you can hear me folks, happy new year.  If they can, I am sure dad has a Yiddish wisecrack coming back at me.

For those on this side of the door, Happy New Year.

Around the Clock

I have not received the newspaper for the past three days.  In late December the Boston Globe sent a note to all subscribers informing we all, that they were changing their delivery system--and therefore we subscribers might experience delays.  They apologized for the inconvenience.

Such apologies mean absolutely nothing to me. In fact, I find them to be sometimes amusing, and sometimes an irritant.  If the Boston Globe was truly concerned, it would have made sure that the delivery transition was seamless. To apologize in advance seems odd and inconsiderate.  Say you were going to bounce a check. Would it be appropriate for you to write to the bank ahead of time with this message, "I am low on funds. I intend to write a check for far more than what is in my account. Please bear with me during this transition period while I seek gainful employment. I apologize for any inconvenience."

The first few days after the announcement I did receive my newspaper. Then three days ago it stopped coming.  I went to a website the Globe provided for all customers. There was a long list of municipalities whose residents might experience delayed deliveries. My town was not among them.

I noticed another link on the website where one could send an e-mail indicating a problem.  A Globe representative, read the text, would get back to me.  In fact, a notice on the website acknowledged the problems. The notice assured readers that customer service representatives were working "around the clock" to address concerns.  Perhaps they have only two representatives Hank and Shirley who are working around the clock, because in three days, I have not received anything other than robotically sent responses informing me that "my e-mail is very important to us.  We will get back to you within the next 24 hours."  Nothing from Hank.

There is also a chat line set up so that if you are having a problem you can chat with a representative. I have tried to chat. Seems like nobody would like to chat with me. After a few moments of "please wait, a representative will be available shortly" another note comes up that says "All of our representatives are unavailable to chat."

I can live without the newspaper.  The last few days have been just fine. Throws me off a bit to be sipping my coffee while staring into space instead of looking at the newspaper, but I can adjust. What is amusing and interesting to me as I stare sans newspaper is how a venerable organization can do something so mind bogglingly short sighted. Could they not predict that during a time when many people are getting their news from the internet, such a blunder might encourage people to stop their subscriptions. And if this occurred, could they not predict that advertising revenue might plummet, and then maybe heads would roll.

I sit in on meetings at times and hear the most outrageous suggestions made.  I am not shy about offering diplomatic counter points and like to think that such comments have derailed preposterous plans on occasion.  But what happens when a group of well paid executives make a decision "to go with another delivery system and just send a note out to our customers that there might be delays, and just put on our website that you can e-mail us or chat--never mind that we have only two people who are chatting anyone up."  Does everyone nod and say, "Good idea, RK."

Not everything I write relates to sports, but in a way this does.  There are many people in this region who devour the sports pages at this time wanting to read minutiae about the Patriots in these last weeks of the season. I have a buddy who probably has not read the front page of a paper in a decade, but will tell me whose knee is hurt on the Patriots because of a one sentence reference in the newspaper.  These folks are livid these days. They need their Patriots fix.  And when they awaken before they go to work, they want to read if Tom Brady has a cold.

But that is okay figure the execs at the Globe.  We'll just apologize. That will probably work.

Go have an affair with your neighbor. Then send a note to the neighbor's spouse and your own:

Sorry for any inconvenience.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Hips and Hearts

When you go into a best buy, or store of that ilk, and purchase a new television or sound system, the salesperson spends time identifying the wonderful attributes of the product.  It is, according to his narrative, the cat's meow. When you decide to purchase the item and have signed on whatever form makes the purchase official, the salesperson makes a 180 degree turn and begins to identify all the ways the product can deteriorate in an attempt to sell you a warranty for the item.

For a couple of years I had been limping about. After serving a tennis ball one day in December 2013,  I felt a searing pain in my groin which I assumed was a muscle pull.  I have had these before, so tried to play through it. Even in doubles though, it became apparent that I could no longer move laterally without a jolt.  I thought it might be a hernia.  I went to a doc and she thought it was not a hernia but could be a groin pull.  Rest was prescribed.  It did not go away. Went to my doc, who took an ex-ray.  Seems as if I was bone on bone around my hip.

I went to a couple of orthopedic specialists, did some homework on their pedigree, checked out an alternative procedure to hip replacements, tried a cortisone shot in an attempt to put off surgery and eventually met with a surgeon who was going to do the deed. He explained the process to me and what I could expect. In November I went to a class where the nurse running the class again explained what to expect, and passed around a piece of metal that looked like it should be under my sink. This was going to be my new hip.  In about two months after the surgery I ought to be better.  In two weeks--out of the woods in terms of pain.

So, in early December I got knocked out by an anesthesiologist, and carved up by a surgeon. The first night I was fine, higher than anyone had ever been in the sixties.  But after that I found that I was in a good deal of pain.  It did not help that the 78 year old man who was my roommate, was two days after hip surgery and he was remarking that he was in no pain at all.  When the doctor's colleague came by to ask how I was, I said I was in a good deal of pain and was, also, running a fever.  Well, she said--as if she had sold televisions in a former life at Best Buy--"what did you expect, we took a knife, we carved you up, we had to chop away at the bone on bone which you did nothing to address in two years, we had to move things around, put in a pipe or two, and your body has taken one major blow. Of course you are in pain and running a fever."  This post surgery explanation of what occurred was less muted than the pre surgery description in my class.

And that is a good thing. Otherwise I might not have had the surgery and would still be looking like Walter Brennan in the old tv show, the Real McCoys.

Four weeks and two days later, I am feeling okay.  I no longer limp particularly in the afternoon. I have been a good boy following the physical therapists' directions.  A post op visit to a physician's assistant included him oohing and aahing at the incision, which to me looks like an angry burglar took a knife to my side when I revealed I was penniless, but to the doctor looked "beautiful."  According to him, but he may say that to all the patients, I am way ahead of the game in terms of walking because I guess many people who go through this operation are older and are carrying around more weight.

So, it looks like it will heal.

Hips and, I have heard, knees, and all sorts of body parts can heal.  Modern medicine and surgery will keep us alive for years after our parents succumbed. The heart, however, is a different piece of equipment. There is no pipe in the wizard's bag of tricks to make the heart adjust to a blow.  Donna stayed a little longer this year before visiting her clan in Virginia for the holiday to make sure that I was able to function. And then we arranged for my brother to come up for a few days to again ensure that nothing problematic would happen. And then as soon as he left, my buddy Kenny came up to stay for a few days. And then my friends Ken and Margie kept checking up on me. I got phone calls from people I had not heard from in years wishing me well.  My colleagues at work checked in on me.  Old colleagues from Fredonia sent me notes and called up.

Hips can be cured with pipes.  Hearts can be soothed by love.

When Kenny came up he brought a picture of us in 78.  And here is me post operation at the end of 2015. Happy New Year.