Saturday, February 27, 2016


Last night I went to see our department of Theatre's production of The Heidi Chronicles.  The new Theatre chairperson, Scott Edmiston, has done an excellent job of rejuvenating the program for our students.  The Heidi Chronicles is yet another example of the program's renewed strength.

I had not seen The Heidi Chronicles before and don't like to know anything about a production before I go to see it.  Invariably someone previewing a show tells me something that affects what I anticipate will happen.  I do not like to be anticipating anything when I watch--except for what I think might unfold because of what I am watching.

The Heidi Chronicles centers on a woman named, go figure, Heidi and, primarily, is about the evolution of the women's movement in the US from 1964-1989.  The play, however, is not just for activist women nor is it wholly about the women's movement. It is relevant for anyone who came of age in the sixties and experienced the political and emotional turbulence of those times.

Each scene is from an era very recognizable to boomers.  We meet Peter, Heidi's lifelong friend, at their first encounter at a high school party in 1964. We meet Scoop, Heidi's lifelong love, at an elect Eugene McCarthy rally. We see Heidi's best friend transform from a typical teenager in '64, to an ardent feminist in 1970, to a Montanan working on a women's commune in the early 70s, to a city executive in the 80s.

I may have been the only one in the small theatre eligible for social security and I wondered how the college students in the audience could relate to the times depicted.  At one point in the 70s Peter refers to Watergate characters with an allusion to Heidi's feminism. He calls two of Nixon's henchman, Erlichperson and Haldeperson.  We boomers know he is talking about Nixon associates and Watergate convicts H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman, but I think you kind of had to be there to get the joke.

The play was nostalgic for me. I remember Clean Gene McCarthy's campaign, the height of student protest whether specifically feminist or more broadly political, how friends transformed from ardent this-es or thats to more sedate conventional members of what we used to disparagingly call "the system."

As mentioned the play is centrally about the evolution of the feminist movement, but the message is the same for all the political movements of the 60s. Idealism was rarely met with the necessary commitment and energy from those spewing the ideologies.  A lot of people in the 60s who were screaming for reform became, in the 80s, just like the people they had urged to reform.

Not Heidi though.  Heidi seems to stay true to who she is, for better or worse, in terms of happiness. Scoop tells her that in life you need to shoot for a six, because if you shoot for a ten, and you get a six, you will be disappointed. And, he contends, you're likely only to get a six. Heidi doesn't buy it.

If you are hanging out in your mid sixties and came of age in the mid sixties, I think you will find The Heidi Chronicles worth attending if a local theatre troupe is performing it.  The Northeastern production closes on Sunday. The twenty somethings last night did a very good job of representing their elders' eras.

Friday, February 26, 2016


Anyone who ever played basketball seriously has spent time in the gym imagining what it would be like to be on the foul line shooting one and one with no time on the clock and your team down by a single point.

One and one, for the uninitiated, means being entitled to a single foul shot, but if that shot goes in, getting an opportunity for a second one.  In a one and one situation, if your team is losing by one, and you are on the foul line with very little time to go, the pressure is on.

If you miss the first shot your team loses and you are the goat.

If you hit the first one your team has at least tied. And if you make the awarded second shot by virtue of having made the first, you become a hero.

Last night the Northeastern men's team played an important game in the Colonial Athletic Association conference. The College of Charleston was in town and the victor would likely get a first round bye in the upcoming CAA tournament.  The game was a thriller, both teams playing very good defense. There were multiple lead changes.  With about twenty seconds left a player for Charleston hit a jump shot to put the South Carolinians ahead by one.

Northeastern called a time out to set up a play.   When action resumed Northeastern had some difficulty finding a rhythm that would allow for a decent shot.  Eventually the ball wound up in the hands of Quincy Ford-- one of the two main studs on the team. Ford is very important for the Huskies. How important is he? When Ford couldn't play for a spell after suffering a head injury, Northeastern lost six consecutive games.

Quincy Ford, whom his coach referred to as just Q in the post game press conference, had about six seconds left when he made a strong drive to the basket. During the drive he was fouled.  The foul did not occur in the act of shooting, and it was not the tenth foul against Charleston. By rule then Ford/Q would go to the foul line for one and one with 4.7 seconds left with his team losing by one, very much needing a victory.

What happened next is the kind of thing that typically happens when you are the visiting team.  There was moisture on the court so a janitor of some sort was asked to come out to dry it off.  When you are waiting to take a foul shot that will determine the outcome of a game, you do not want delays. Opponents will often call a time out before a crucial shot to try and "ice" the shooter. That is, make him feel nervous so he might miss the shot.  Typically your own janitor does not try to ice the shooter, but this guy was taking a month to get the court dry all the while Quincy Ford was waiting to get the basketball for a shot that, essentially, could end the season.

Ford waited for the janitor to get done.  He received the ball from the referee and with 4.7 seconds left made the first foul shot.  Nothing but net. The game was tied. The Charleston coach called a time out to indeed try to ice the shooter so that the game would remain tied and there would be an overtime.  Ford made the second free throw.

A Charleston player took a desperation shot at the buzzer, but he was off balance and missed the long attempt.  Northeastern won.

We all have moments at work where we have to come up big and do something well in a crucial situation. I have had to write sensitive letters, draft position papers, edit books, and prepare programs for key audiences.  All readers have had to do similarly challenging things that, if not done well, could have taken us down an unattractive path.  But we typically don't have people screaming at us while we are doing whatever it is that we do.   And maybe we might have help or feedback and time to revise what we intend to do.  If you miss the first end of a one and one with 4.7 seconds left, that's it--no edits, feedback, revisions or do-overs--your team will lose.

A basketball game is not the Cuban Missile Crisis, so the ramifications of missing a shot are relatively minor. But players are not thinking about the Cuban Missile Crisis when the game is on the line. It says something about athletes who--when they have one shot to be--will be--successful.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Papi and Price

I met up with some college buddies this past weekend. While together at one point we all asked each other what the other was up to. When it was my turn I told them that when I was on the clock I was researching the relationship between sports and communication.

Sports communication is a new area within the discipline of Communication Studies. Even inside the academic departments and associations people are not familiar with what the phrase means.  Even those who focus on communication and sport within the association don't have a unified notion of sports communication.

There were six of us around the table when I started to respond. A lawyer, real estate executive, health care executive, retired teacher, and a college dean in student affairs. All educated folks who, for very understandable reasons, did not know specifically what I was talking about.  They started guessing, "you mean PR for teams; spin doctors when there is a crisis of some sort; sports information directors; sports writing; tv broadcasters?

Sports communication actually deals with all these issues and others.  One of the key areas though and one not initially considered when I talk about this, relates to internal communication within teams.  Interactions between players and coaches, and communications between players themselves.

There are at least two fundamental ways one can look at communication. One the transmission perspective--the most common way-- is to consider communication to be the process by which a message gets from point A to point B.  When you study communication from this perspective your goal, as a researcher or just someone who wants to improve communication, is to identify the factors that can affect getting the message from point A to point B.  The analogy often used is to think about someone trying to haul a bucket of water from here to there.  If the water is retained when it gets to its destination, there is success. If there is some spillage or pollution en route, then there is a lack of success. 

The transmission process is far more complex than it may seem on the surface. Let's say, in a sports context, the coach does not speak well, or a player has a superiority complex or an inferiority complex. Let's say the coach uses e-mail and not face to face methods. Let's say the coach is a screamer or asks assistant coaches to relay the messages and somehow it gets skewed. Let's say there is racial tension.  Maybe players want to communicate with a coach and she or he is inaccessible. There are many reasons why the bucket might not be filled with the same kind of water when it arrives. When this occurs messages are not received accurately. Consequently the team may not perform as it should.  

A basic example: A basketball coach who has the team playing a zone defense tells a player to make sure to defend opponent X. The player thinks the coach means to play a man to man on player X. What the coach may have meant is to make sure to pay close attention to opponent X when X is in the zone area.   However, the player having received the incorrect message chases opponent X away from his zone responsibility. Another opponent in the vacated zone takes a pass and makes an uncontested three point shot. There has been a breakdown. Hardly an international crisis but an example of how when messages are not received accurately, there could be a negative consequence.

But there is another vital way to look at communication that is not about transmission.  This is not so much a different way but a complementary perspective and it is crucial.   Think of communication as a factor that creates an organizational culture. Think of communication as something that can shape and form relationships.  In a team context these relationships are very important.   

No matter where you have worked, if you examine the culture of the organization and really studied how it had been formed, you would notice two things. One, the culture was formed because of how and what was communicated in the organization.  Two, the culture could, in and of itself, advance or retard the organization's chances of success.

And this brings me to what happened a few days ago between David--Big Papi--Ortiz and David Price two baseball players for the Boston Red Sox. Price was a free agent this year and signed with the Red Sox. Ortiz is a long standing star of the Red Sox. Prior to this year the two, when on different teams, did not get along. There had been a feud that was not minor.  

Price got to Spring Training and he was admittedly nervous about his first meeting with Ortiz.  When Ortiz arrived he went right up to Price and gave him a big hug.  He told him that he had "his back." It seemed genuine. Price was relieved. There were photos of the two of them smiling and practicing together.  

That act, coming in and hugging his adversary, will have a dramatic effect on how the team performs. Sure, Ortiz will have to hit 25 homers and Price will have to win 15 games or the team will be weak hugs or not. But the communication between Ortiz and Price at their first encounter removed a potential obstacle to success that could have infected the entire organization. That bit of communication beyond the transmission was a seed that will affect the team's culture and success.


Sunday, February 21, 2016


I read yesterday that an athlete at Louisiana State University, someone who is billed as the best college player in the nation, was benched--as in did not start--in a game this weekend because he had had some academic problems.  He was inserted into the game with approximately 4 minutes gone in the first half and played the remaining 36 minutes.  He was benched for 10 percent of the game.

Let's juxtapose this with a situation that occurred with my school, Northeastern University.  Northeastern is playing hard and intelligently in an attempt to get a good seed for the CAA tournament that begins in two weeks.  The team is fighting to at least get the 6th seed in order to avoid having to play what amounts to an extra play-in game in the tournament.  On Thursday they won a thrilling triple overtime contest against James Madison University 95-94 and today they lost by five to Hofstra University.  In order to get the sixth seed the Northeastern Huskies will need to win its final two games and hope that another team stumbles.

So, there was a lot on the line last week when the Huskies played twice.  I did not go to either game but I did review the box score after Thursday's match.  I noticed something that seemed strange.  The starting point guard for Northeastern did not play at all. Not one minute in a triple overtime game. Even if the game had not gone into three overtimes it would be strange for a player who typically is on the court for a lot of minutes not to play at all.  Three players on the team were on the court for more than 40 minutes. One player who typically only plays 10-15 minutes logged 44 minutes in the triple overtime contest.

I was puzzled why a starter did not play and listened to the post game press conference to hear an explanation from the coach.  When asked about the missing player he said that the student-athlete had some academic problems and he needed to be reminded of why he was in school.

It was a surprising and telling response.  I looked at the box score after today's game and noticed that the player also did not play this afternoon.

Now, I do not know the magnitude of the offenses by the LSU player and our player, but I do know that one cannot lose eligibility for poor academic performance during the course of a semester. Therefore, the Northeastern decision to bench a starter was one that the coaching staff did not have to make.  Coaches are rewarded for winning games.  Our coach, apparently, made a decision to remind a student-athlete that he is a student first at the possible expense of losing key games in the season.

A university can create a culture that supports the idea that academics trumps athletics.  It seems to me that when you do not play a starter in the heat of a conference race you are making a statement to not only your athletes but to your institution. And it is an important message for the current students and faculty members at your school, and all those who are considering attending the institution.

Meanwhile, Northeastern last year came within one possession of defeating Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame went on to compete with and very nearly beat powerhouse and then undefeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight.  This year Northeastern defeated the University of Miami, a team that is currently rated as the 11th best men's basketball team in the country.  Miami won 12 out of their first 13 games with the only loss against us, Northeastern.

A university can emphasize the student in student-athlete and still excel in athletics.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Murder Room

A while back I read a murder mystery by PD James called Devices and Desires.  A few days ago I finished another of James's mysteries called The Murder Room. I write little summaries for books I have read as much to make sure that I don't read again a book I've already finished. It has happened on more than one occasion that I come across a book that looks interesting, but I think the title is familiar.  When I go to my summary file, I see that I read the book and have registered my opinion for my own benefit--not to be confused with the reviews I write now and again in this blog.

When I read what I had written about Devices and Desires I was a little surprised to read that what I had to say about that mystery was very much what I have to say about this one. There is one difference. In my first summary I wrote--incorrectly it turns out--that I probably will not read another of her novels again.  Now, after reading this one, I know my earlier prediction was wrong and I think I might read another.

The downside of reading these mysteries is that the level of detail is just too much at least for my head.  A police officer does not come into a room to interview a suspect in James's novels.  What happens in James's novels is that a tall tanned officer with a graying mustache and a slight limp comes into a room and stares at a painting by Van Gogh which reminds him of his sister Gwen before she stopped coloring her hair brown to match the quilled suit she wore every other Wednesday in the spring that she purchased second hand from a store with a leaky roof that is now, sadly, out of business.

You get the picture, nothing is simple.  The bad news is that if you are not into that detail you can drift. The good news is that if you like being a sleuth sometimes there is a clue in the detail that might help you find the perpetrator.  Still it is too much. In this novel the doer, we find out at the end, had one motivation that was apparent but another that was embedded in one of these deep background descriptions.  That is, I think it was embedded because when I was done I tried to find a smoking gun and, while I found a gun, it really was not smoking unless I missed something else.

If you think you might read this novel, stop right here.

The Murder Room is a room in a museum that has a quirky niche. It is only about events that took place between world war 1 and world war 2.  One part of the museum is dedicated to strange murders that took place during the period. The murders in the museum are actual murders that did take place during this period, but what happens in the novel is that two others are murdered in or near the murder room in a way that imitates the real murders.

James is pretty clever presenting all the characters in the first part of the novel who could be the doers and the reader is given some clues to suggest that this one or that one could have done it.  It reminded me in a way of the game of Clue you played as a kid.  The Butler did it in the living room with a corkscrew kind of thing.  Several potential killers are described.  By the time I waded through the heavy descriptions of every single interview, I just wanted to know already who was the killer.  Initially I had my money on one of the volunteers, but it was not she.

I can't really recommend this book unless you really like to read descriptive mysteries. I might read another to see if I can figure it out by paying more attention to each scene.  It's been about five days since I finished the novel and while I was writing this blog it took me a while to remember who one of the victims was--an indication of how long the story has stayed with me.


For some reason I suspect that if Bruiser Flint and I got to know each other we would be good friends. Or at least I would find him to be someone for whom I would have respect.  I can't pinpoint why I feel this way. Maybe I heard him interviewed at some point, or he was a guest commentator on a game.  But there is something about the little I know about him that makes me think he is a class act.

I think Bruiser Flint will get fired soon from his position as head coach at Drexel. The team has won only three games this season, and in the Colonial Athletic Conference--their league-- they have only been victorious once.  A few years ago Drexel was 29 and 7.  They did not get a bid to the big dance that year and this decision was a crime.  Drexel did not get the automatic bid when they lost in the championship game of the CAA tournament to a very strong Virginia Commonwealth University team.  I had watched them play during the season and they were terrific.  Drexel did win its first two rounds of the NIT that post season before succumbing to the University of Massachusetts in the quarterfinals. Still not getting to the big dance must have been a disappointment.

I saw Drexel play last Saturday against my university, Northeastern.  Drexel lost by 10 for their umpteenth straight defeat.  I was seated right behind the Northeastern bench, and just a few feet from the Drexel coaches as well.

I am reading a book now that is in part about employee motivation.  The section I just read is about what motivates people to excel--specifically whether negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement is motivating.  If someone criticizes you, are you likely to work harder to gain their respect, or if someone tells you that you are doing well, will that be a catalyst for better performance.

The book does not just speak about managerial factors.  Does one's failure make one want to do better or will it just be deflating; will success make you want to be even more successful or result in you becoming complacent.  In sports terms, will a great shooting basketball game encourage you to practice more to get even better, or will a lousy shooting game make you grab the ball and head to the gym to improve.

I was thinking about Bruiser along these lines even before I read the section in the book. But when I read these pages, it reminded me that I wanted to post this blog.

On Saturday, no matter what his Drexel players did, Bruiser was upset.  He was furious at bad plays (even when to me--a harsh critic often--the players did not do something so terrible).  He yanked players out when they made mistakes and was in the face of the exiting miscreants as they came to the bench.  Bruiser was on his feet for what seemed like 80 per cent of the game. And for a 100 percent of that time he was complaining about one thing or the other.

It seemed to me that his players were trying very hard. And they made some excellent defensive plays and strong offensive ones as well. They could not hit a foul shot with a gun to their heads, making less than 50% of the free shots. I haven't picked up a basketball in years and I know I could hit 75% right now.  But it was not the missed free throws that angered Flint especially, it was everything else.  Even after his team made a terrific play, the first thing he did was scream at them to get back on defense or excoriate a player for not getting in position for a press faster than a speeding bullet.  I remember thinking that I wonder if in practice he is a little more gentle. I hope so for his health as well as his players.  There was nothing, but nothing, his team could do right and they were working hard.

I don't know if the ten point loss would have been twenty had he not been so hard on his players, I did think that it would not be a whole lot of fun to play for Drexel at least on Saturday.  For what it is worth, I prefer Bruiser's style than that of the coaches who blow kisses on their players when they are lazier than lazy.  A particular pet peeve is when I see coaches clap or teammates give "skin" (that is what it was called in my day) when a scholarship athlete MISSES a foul shot.  If I was a coach I would prohibit that. A guy misses a foul shot, you do not give him skin. Points matter in games. Free throws are, go figure, free. Nobody is guarding you.  If you are getting paid a gazillion dollars a year in the professional ranks, or getting a 50,000 dollar education per year, or 200,000 dollar opportunity for a free degree (more if you count books), then you damn well better practice so you can hit 4 out of 5 free throws.

So, I am not a fan of coddling coaches, but there is an in-between.  Just like in the workplace, if your boss passed out lollypops to people who did not do a damn thing more than the minimum, it would demotivate those who worked hard.   But if all your boss did was tell you how lame you were, it is unlikely you'd wake up in the morning with a bounce to your step ready to meet the Czar when you punched in.

I feel for Bruiser.  He is still a relatively young man, but not a spring Chicken at 50.  I think he needs a new venue.  His 2011-2012 team was great and his teams can be great again, but an attaboy now and again would not be a bad idea.

Monday, February 15, 2016


I am not sure why Gary Jackson's face popped into my consciousness today as I was driving into Boston.  The last time I saw Gary was in 1983, and I heard-in 99 I believe--that he had passed.  I think of him now and again, but it has been a while.  So I tried to figure out why he surfaced today.

If I had to pick ten unrelated influential people in my life, Gary would be one of them.  I met him by pure coincidence.  I had just moved to Buffalo a few weeks before our encounter and we did not get off to a good start--not due to any behavior on either of our parts.

I'd come to the department where I would be studying because I wanted to meet the chair and introduce myself.  My 23 year old crazy head did not think that dressing in overalls with my wild curly hair would be inappropriate when first meeting with the chair of the department. It was the early seventies and the hair was not wholly out of whack, but even revolutionaries probably would have put on something that did not smack of a peace march.

Anyway I get to the lobby by the chair's office and ask for Dr. Smith (his actual name).  The person I asked was in fact Dr. Smith (dressed in a suit).  When he asked me who I was and I told him, he greeted me like I was a very important person.  And his secretary chimed in.  "Alan Zaremba--we've been looking all over for you. Come in. Come in."  And then he whisked me into his office.

Rapid fire he told me that there was an assistantship available and he wanted me to take the job. He had been trying to track me down as I was one of the incoming students who was not funded.  Maybe (but I doubt it) he knew this assistantship was a teaching job and I had had teaching experience. More likely, he was trying to find money for those who were not getting support and came across my name.

Whatever the reason, this was terrific news for me since I had no scholarship money coming. And this job was not only going to waive tuition but pay me more than the going rate for teaching assistants.  Dr. Smith got on the phone to call the fellow who had the job.   In no time you could tell the chair was not happy.  Apparently the person who had told him about the job had given it away while Smith was looking for me.  The chair was furious and really let the guy have it before slamming the phone down.

I was more startled by the episode than upset about the loss of the job.  I had not expected anything other than an introduction when I walked in with the overalls.   As it turned out Smith and I became friends and are still such.  But Gary Jackson the man on the other end never forgot Smith for his tirade.

A few days later I received a phone call at home from Gary Jackson. He was wary but told me that another spot had opened up on his staff and he wanted to know if I would come in for an interview.  I was delighted with this second chance and drove to campus in a hurry and in a tie. Gary told me that he had been reluctant to call because of the encounter with Smith, but he was able to put that aside.  I might have gotten the job anyway, but Gary was desperate. Someone had just quit and he needed a person to teach a class that was about to start.  I think I started the next day.

Gary was my boss, and as kind and decent a person you could ever want to meet.  He was extraordinarily dedicated to what we were about.  Our enterprise was improving the speaking skills of undergraduates by tripling or quadrupling their vocabulary.  Initially I thought this--teaching vocabulary-- would be boring work, but it was far from it.  He had a creative way of teaching which indeed did increase vocabulary and speaking skill concurrently.  I taught with him for three years and in the course of working with undergraduates increased my own vocabulary by virtue of having to learn the words I was asking others to learn.

At the end of my second year Gary's spouse died.  For several months you could tell that he was having a very hard time.  They had had season tickets to the professional theatre in Buffalo.  During the third year Gary would invite me and some of the other instructors occasionally to use the extra ticket.  On one, probably the first, occasion I offered to pay for the seat.  He made a face, "Zaremba, do you know how important it is to have this company.  I can't go to these alone."

It is that face that popped into my consciousness today as I was weaving around downtown Boston.  I know when I visited him in New Orleans there was a woman friend with him who was hitting on him very hard, so the void may have been filled somewhat before he passed. But at that moment it was very much there.

Gary gave me an opportunity to work my way through the doctoral program and, because of the nature of what we taught, helped me improve my own writing and speaking skills.  The world would be a better place if there were more people like Gary Jackson living here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The 33

Today, thus far, has had at least one very positive moment.  That moment is not that I flew from Fort Lauderdale where the locals were complaining that it was not going to reach 70, to Boston where it is so cold right now that I can't believe I took the flight.  That moment was not that I made every connection on the shuttle bus, blue line, then orange line to make the 505 to Brandeis-Roberts easily. And that moment was not when I had a particularly tasty slice of pepperoni pizza as I waited for the 505.

When I deplaned I knew from cockpit comments that it was cold in Boston. The sweatshirt I had on to cope with not quite 70 degree weather in Fort Lauderdale would not do.  So, I opened my suitcase and yanked out another sweatshirt, a long sleeve thermal undershirt, and a sock hat I had brought with me for just this purpose.  Then I looked out the glass doors and saw that the 11 shuttle bus which billed itself for all terminals would be arriving in two minutes.

This was good news because once I stepped outside I again wondered what could have possessed me to select February 11th as a fine time to leave Florida and go to the northeast.  But the 11 shuttle would soon be arriving.

I've lived in Boston for over 30 years and taken the airport shuttle probably 100 times.  I can never remember the bus routes. This may be because they change them periodically--not sure of that but it seems that way.  It also could be that I have, on occasion--the last time specifically just a few weeks ago--got on the wrong shuttle and the driver waved me on anyway as if he was going that way.

The shuttle at Boston (Logan) airport is--like shuttles most places, a series of busses that go from terminal to terminal, A-E, in Boston. Plus the airport shuttle stops at the Blue Line subway station as well as the car rental center.  The Blue Line subway station in Boston is really terrific. For the price of a token you can get on at the airport after taking the shuttle and get nearly anywhere in the greater Boston metro area.  It sure beats a 75 dollar cab ride out to the suburbs.

So, I was happy that the 11 which advertised that it goes to all terminals while I shivered even in two sweatshirts, a thermal undershirt, and a sock hat was coming in two minutes.

It actually came in less than two minutes and I was a happy fellow. I hopped on board and, to make sure, asked the driver if this would take me to the Blue Line. How could it not? all is all.

No, she said. If I wanted the Blue Line I had to take the 33 which stopped across the street at a location not far away if you avoid the traffic. Seems like all terminals means literally just terminals and not the subway.

That I had to go out into the cold and take the 33 was very unwelcome news.  It was across the street near no shelter (the 11 was actually close to a shelter).  I got off the 11 and then saw that at just the same time, the 33 was pulling in across the street.  The shuttles come every ten to fifteen minutes so missing this 33 meant tundra.  But I had to get across the street.

And this is the news that was very positive.  When I saw the 33 across the street, I bolted suitcase and all across the street which fortunately had no traffic at the moment. I got to the island and then raced to the entry way of the door, then popped up the stairs like a steeplechase participant.  This, it turned out, was not entirely necessary because the 33 had arrived early and was compelled to wait a few moments before taking off.  Still, this was great news because for the past two years if someone put a gun to my head I could not have run that distance.

It is now 11 weeks plus a day since I was carved up and a pipe went into my leg. These were the first racing steps I have taken. I've done some very fast walks and mimed a jog step or two, but have done nothing like racing since December of 13 when I first felt a jolt in my leg.

I sit now on the commuter rail which I made easily because I made the 33.  It is an easy walk from the train stop to the house, made more problematic because of the cold, but if I have to,  in a pinch, I know I can run some of the way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


I am back from Las Vegas after a super bowl weekend jaunt.  It was not a wholly enjoyable weekend, but it had many positive moments.

The downside was the smoke.  I do not recall the casinos being so engulfed with cigarette refuse as it was this weekend.   My recollection, to the contrary, is that in the last few visits, cigarette smoking had been relegated to specific areas.  Not this time--or not enforced this time.  Coming out of the elevators or in from the strip was like walking into a wall.

Smoke aside there was much to enjoy. The sites on the strip were, as always, fun to watch.  People dressed like super heroes--I saw Batman, Superman, and Spiderman--not traveling together-- in one short walk.  People attired in such seductive revealing attire that made you wonder where they could have purchased the garb and on how many possible occasions could the garments be appropriate  Wobbly senior citizens stumbling through the casinos with a drink the size of a silo in one hand and the other hand reaching clumsily out now and again for balance.  What do these people do 9-5 when they are not in Las Vegas?

The bettors were classic.  A guy sitting in front of me on Saturday betting on the horses was really fun to watch. Every ten minutes bouncing up in his chair shouting for the 2 or the 3 or whatever number horse he bet on to bring it on home.  The Golden State professional basketball game on Saturday night was exciting. The Warriors were giving up 7 1/2 and up by only 6 until a spectacular pass resulted in a crashing end of the game dunk giving the Warriors an 8 point win to the delight of a cluster of Golden State bettors.  Some Denver fans on the day of the game near us were a show in and of themselves. Bouncing up and down and screaming Omaha like crazy people.

The superbowl wagering was something else.  We are pikers compared to the serious bettors.  We risked a grand total of 65 dollars on various bets in the super bowl and we won a grand total of 59, losing six dollars--not enough to purchase a slice of pepperoni for four hours of rooting. Others were betting thousands. Thousands on really strange propositions. As an example here was our betting slate.

  • Carolina to win the coin toss---Win
  • First pass by Peyton Manning to be a completion--Win
  • Jersey number of the player to score the first touchdown 22 or less--Loss
  • Panthers will win first quarter by at least one point--Loss
  • The Panthers will score a rushing touchdown-Win
  • The Panthers will win by more than 5 points--Loss
  • The total points scored will be less than 44--Win
  • Both teams will kick at least one field goal longer than 33 yards--Win
  • The total touchdowns in the game will be 5 or fewer--Win
  • Denver will not score in all four quarters--Loss
  • The total interceptions for both teams will be two or greater--Win
  • Total points by Panthers in first half will be greater than 13--Loss
There were over a hundred such bets one could make on this game.  So there were people yelping for no apparent reason all game long. Add to this that where we were watching the game there was a delay on the sets from one room to another. So in one room the roar would go up and then ten seconds later another would go up.

When the game ended the people pouring out of the various viewing areas resembled the throngs coming out of the stands after a ball game.  The Denver fans outnumbered the Panther fans by quite a bit judging by jerseys worn and the smiles coming through the smoke.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


I am in Las Vegas for the super bowl. Las Vegas is its typically wild self with the extra dollop that today's frenzy has an extra scent.  Some people are just the regular stumbling Las Vegas sorts.  Lots of alcohol consumption; men and women letting their wild side be wild.  But others are here for what is dubbed as the "big game."  Apparently the casinos cannot advertise using the term superbowl as that is owned by the nfl.

The prices of everything here have rocketed. Gone are the days when restaurants in casinos were lures for gamblers with very inexpensive fare. Now it is an arm and a leg for everything.  When I arrived I walked into a pizza alcove for a slice. Seven dollars for nothing special.  A cup of black coffee downstairs from a starbucks wannabe was 5.  You can lose 50 bananas here having a snack.

What lured me to Las Vegas at this time was not the general wildness or foodstuffs.  After having spent so many years here during March Madness I wanted to see the fans/bettors on super bowl weekend.  I'll know later today more about behaviors, but so far it has been amusing just to see what people are betting on.

It is only one game so betting on that game would not make the day for the casinos.  All the sports books have printed out stapled sheets with all their proposition bets.  What can you bet on?

  • Who will win the coin toss?
  • Will the Panthers final total score be an even number?
  • Will the opening kickoff be a touchback?
  • Will an interception occur before a touchdown pass?
  • What will be shortest touchdown run?
  • Will there be more than three field goals in the game?
This is just a tiny sampler. There are, literally, over a hundred of these proposition bets on the sheets. You can bet on how many points will be scored in any quarter and by whom. Who will win the mvp? What player will score the last touchdown? Will there ever be a safety?  How many penalties?

It ought to be wild later hearing people screech for no apparent reason except that they have bet on the first team to sack a quarterback.  It is actually a bit overwhelming for me to consider all this, but I think it will be interesting to watch the crowd.

No need for a password.

Why bother with a password?

Last week I wanted to access a bank account on line. For some reason I could not access it. There was a prompt that asked me to put in my cell phone number. I did that—and again—the number was not recognizable.

It was not urgent that I get to the account, but the episode was disconcerting.  In our computer age, when you stop and think about it, do we really have any money in the bank? You make a deposit and then your balance on a screen increases, but the money is not really there. If everyone at your local bank came in one day and asked for their shekels, the bank would run out before ten percent of the customers got to the front of the line.

Every once in a while—when there is a computer snag of some sort and I can’t access my account—I begin to consider the possibility that the shell game is just that.  I don’t really dwell on that since every time, thus far, somehow the glitch is resolved and I return to make believing that there really are some savings stored away in case I need to pay a bill. 

Back to the day last week when my account could not be accessed. After I tried my phone number and that did not work,  I received another prompt. This one read that if I so desired, the computer could generate some questions from public records that would confirm I am who I am.  I hesitated, but gave that a shot figuring that the questions would be about social security numbers last four digits or where I worked.

Within seconds of my clicking ok to the “public records” inquiry,  a series of questions popped up that I had only a couple of minutes to answer.  So, within seconds a computer knew what questions to ask and, of course, what the correct answers were.

The questions were stunning.  What was the color of my car? Where did I live in 1965?  What city was a street address for my parents in the mid 90s?  When did I buy my home?

I answered the questions and was able to get into my account.  But I was a bit dazed by the experience.

What is the purpose of having a password?  This bank knew things about me that I had never disclosed.  My personal questions—which I thought were important-relate to the name of my nephew, paternal grandfather, and cat.  These questions are nothing for big brother.  They want to know who I dated in 66 and if she thought I was a good man.  And they know the answer to both.  How do they know what color my car is.  I never told the bank the color of my car. (They also knew the model).  How do they know where my parents resided in 1995?

It does not seem as if much is a secret anymore so just bypass the password. They knew who you are.