Sunday, March 27, 2016

What are you drinking?

I remember once on rosh hashonah after services I went to my friend Gary's house.  His dad was there and wished me a happy new year.  Then he said to me, "Can I get you a drink?" He walked over to a small bar in the family room of the house--which looked exactly like my house as did fifty percent of the homes in the community.  "What's your drink, Zeke?" he asked.  I don't know what my drink was at the time or if I had a specific drink then, but I said something and he mixed it up for me. Then the three of us, Gary, his dad, and me, said, l'chaim--to life--and drank up wishing each other a happy new year.

That scene surfaced to my head as I was reading Somewhere Towards the End, a memoir by--at the time of the writing--an 89 year old woman named Diana Athill.  Interestingly (and encouragingly) I went to the library to get Somewhere Towards the End because I had read a review of a sequel that Diana Athill has just published written at age 98.  I guess Athill was not as close to the end as she thought she might be when she wrote the prior memoir.  The new book, Alive, Alive Oh! had a long list of people waiting for it at the library so I thought I'd read the first book since it was available.

I was intrigued by the review of the new book because in it, the critic commented on Athill's unconventional life and apparent attitudes.  She had never married but had often been the other woman in relationships with married men.  She, according to the reviewer, had no real pangs of guilt and no sense of loss because she led an unconventional and--from the perspective of many--societally unacceptable life.  I found this interesting particularly from someone of my parents' generation so I thought I'd read a book of hers.

My take-away, now having finished Somewhere Towards the End, is different from the critic's.  The memoir is comprised of a series of essays that relate to what it is like to be somewhere towards the end.  She writes about activity, care of seniors--both in terms of her care and her caring for others, childlessness, and religion. There are other musings.  It is a short book, about fifteen essays each about five pages or so.  While Athill can turn a phrase now and again I found the writing style to be not especially engaging. I had to read some sentences several times and often found myself reading paragraphs not recalling what had happened a half page before.

From the essays I don't see Athill as someone who has an aversion to traditional marriage.  Yes, she is someone who is not weighted down by convention, but not someone who truly had an aversion to traditional monogamy and family. Maybe in Alive, Alive Oh there is more evidence of such aversion, but not in the book I read.

In Somewhere Near the End there are a number of references to how her heart was broken as a young woman.  It seems that that heart break threw her off whatever path she might otherwise have taken.  Yes, she did have a number of affairs with married men, and does comment that she sees nothing wrong with such activity as long as the wife was in the dark. That does seem unconventional.  But the main man in her life--not the heart breaker, but a lover who was central to her adult life, was only nominally married to a woman from whom he was estranged.

The relationship Athill had with this man (Barry) was indeed very unconventional but not because it was extramarital or that it was primarily physical. It was unconventional because when the sex went out of the relationship, Barry remained as a lodger in the apartment they shared, met up with another (young) woman, who then came to live with Diana and Barry with Barry in the apartment. And then when that young woman met someone else and left Barry's bed, Barry and Diana embraced the new relationship, and became essentially grandparents to the new couple's children.  And, then, this new family became caretakers for Diana and Barry when they needed such care.  I don't know too many relationships like that.

Even given the peculiarity of the relationship with Barry, I am not convinced that Diana Athill is all that unconventional. There is one essay about not being a mother which I thought revealing.  To me it seems that when her heart was broken she left unnaturally her natural path.  In the metaphoric sense, like all of us, she started "drinking" to accept an existence without love.

I am not a conventional sort of fellow so I am not conjuring this up because I think anyone who is atypical is somehow self medicating her or himself to avoid reality.  But I did not buy the critic's suggestion that Athill's memoir reveals a life's course that was refreshingly atypical.   Somewhere Towards the End does not suggest that Athill is happy about all the choices she made.  She doesn't beat herself up and, to my way of thinking, has a healthy attitude about the ups and downs of her life, but--like all of us--did some (metaphoric) drinking that made the ride of life less bumpy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Just Saying

If you look at my blog of a couple of days ago, in which I picked upsets, you will see--just saying --that I got them all.

I suggested UNCW, a ten point dog, would cover the spread and they did.  Then I picked Gonzaga, Syracuse, Connecticut, and Wichita State to win in upsets.  Er, um, just saying--check the scoreboard.

What I did not predict were all the other upsets.  Middle Tennessee State over MSU? How many people took a bath on that one? Hawaii over California? Go figure.  Stephen F. Austin over Cincinnati.  Yale?  Yale? Goodness-- how many dogs won these past two days.

I was in Brooklyn for the day doubleheader yesterday. So much fun. The first game was a slaughter with Villanova unimpressively shellacking UNC Asheville.  I don't know how you can win by thirty and still look lame, but Villanova did.  The second game of the doubleheader was a real thriller with Iowa beating Temple in overtime. Very exciting.

The most stunning games though came after midnight yesterday. My brother and I were fighting off sleep in his family room as we watched the end of Northern Iowa/Texas and then Cincinnati/St. Joes. Within minutes two crazy things occurred.  Texas tied up the game against Northern Iowa, only to have a player for Northern Iowa launch a shot from half court that went in at the buzzer. With Iowa winning at the last second in overtime earlier in the day, and Northern Iowa winning on a chuck from another time zone, and Iowa State prevailing on Thursday, you have to wonder if there is something in the corn.

In the Cincinnati game, St. Joes went ahead by two with seconds left only to fall asleep on defense. Cincinnati came up the court and passed it to an open player who went in for a dunk. The player will relive that dunk the rest of his life as he held onto the ball for one tenth of one second too long. The basket came after time expired and St. Joe's won.

I had trouble falling asleep after that.  I'm back in Boston now and am ready for the 1210 tip off with Wichita State playing Miami.  These are two well coached teams.  I think Miami prevails but I would not bet any dough on it.  Then Duke against Yale.  Take the Duke game, give away the points, and run--this game will not be close and you will have money for dinner. Kentucky will beat Indiana, Virginia demolish Butler, Gonzaga upset Utah in a nail biter, Connecticut find a way to stay alive against Kansas, and UNC squeak by Providence.

Just because I won the first few days, don't bet on the basis of my wisdom (except for Duke).  I did not think Trump would still be a candidate for president several months ago.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March Madness Begins--Upset Specials.

I am not there now, but I can tell you what is happening.  In casinos up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, college basketball enthusiasts have been parked for an hour--at least--securing seats to watch the first of sixteen basketball games, (16!).  The games will start in two hours and will continue for twelve hours beyond that.

There are groups of people who, at 715 in the morning, have a twelve pack of beer sitting in the middle of a round table as they ponder their picks for today's games.

There is a line in the sports books-- at least thirty deep in a place like Bally's-- waiting to place wagers on the games.  Within the hour that line in Bally's will extend all the way to the top of a long ramp and be twice as long.

It is a wild scene and every year at this hour--when I am not there myself--I think wistfully about the experience. Having just been in Las Vegas for the superbowl where I was just taken aback by the wall of smoke in nearly every casino I visited, my enthusiasm for the experience has ebbed somewhat. Still, I know how wild a scene it is and how much fun--cigarette fumes aside--the first two days of the tournament can be.

I will be in Brooklyn tomorrow to see a doubleheader at the Barclay Center. I considered driving to Providence today--another venue--to watch my grad school alma mater (University of Buffalo) compete--but that game is an evening one and I have an early flight tomorrow.  But I will see Villanova and Asheville tomorrow at noonish, and then Iowa play Temple.  After that I will find some facility near the arena to watch the remainder of the games on Friday.

Watching the games live is a different experience than being in Las Vegas. I sit, when I go, in a dedicated fan section for the games.  There, true zealots congregate hoping not for a win against the spread, but for an opportunity to survive and advance in this thrilling three week tournament. When dogs (like Asheville tomorrow) get close to favorites the atmosphere in these sections transforms normal folks into lunatics.

Here are four upset predictions for today, Thursday March 17th.

  • Wichita State (an 11 seed) over Arizona (6)
  • Connecticut (a 9) over Colorado (8)
  • UNCW will play Duke tough and I think they (a 13) can beat Duke (4). If I was in Las Vegas I would bet this one for sure against the spread.
  • Gonzaga (11) over Seton Hall (6).
For Friday March 18th the only upset I like is Syracuse (a 10) over Dayton a (7).  

Do not place bets based on my wisdom. I thought Carter would beat Reagan in 1980.


Most of my friends, professional colleagues, and gym cronies spend time mocking Donald Trump.  I have joined in on the bashing. He is not at all my cup of tea.

What I don't like most about Trump is his complete absence of humility.  It sounds like he really believes his own narrative that he is "the Donald" and close to perfect in every way.  When I saw President Obama introduce Merrick Garland yesterday I imagined the contrast between Obama's presence and what it would look like if Trump was in a similar situation.

We--people who think like me--may get good yucks out of bashing Trump, but it is time to consider the possibility that we are not in the majority.  I heard a liberal panelist remark a day or two ago that she does not know "what Kool-Aid Trump supporters are drinking."  Well, maybe that is a clever and apt line, but it is time for those concerned about the direction of the country to think of Donald Trump as a serious candidate and someone who can defeat Secretary Clinton in November.

Nobody will move faster to the center and become more sedate (superficially) than Trump will once/if he receives the nomination.  He'll dart to the center faster than a defensive back closes in on a thrown football.  Before you know it, his policies will sound almost reasonable. We will hear less of the ridiculous wall he intends to build, his call to bar Muslims will become muted, and he is unlikely to suggest that he has a mighty penis.  I don't think we will hear many more of the outrageous comments he has made about his opponents and the media (referring to Rubio and Cruz as "morons" for example, or suggesting that a female journalist was asking a tough question because she was menstruating).

All those people who have voted for Trump and who have heard the snickers are not turning back. They are entrenched now as Trump supporters even if he backs down on his absurd comments.  As he moves to the center I fear that more people will say, "you know he's not so bad."  Some voters will hear something they like (e.g. we will not tolerate terrorists) and be swayed to not factor in that Trump once commented that he would "go after their families."  Then you'll have the misogynists. The misogynists ( and don't kid yourself for a second these cats are both male and female) might edge over to Trump because the idea of a woman in the white house (and an uppity woman at that) just does not sit with their world view.

I am concerned that Trump might win.  And I think it is time for those who have ridiculed him--for good reason--to stop ridiculing his supporters.  You may think they are foolish for not seeing who he is, but when you call someone an idiot, they are not likely to be persuaded to come over to your side.  It is time to find out what the supporters see in Trump and instead of making fun of their position attempt to respond to reasonable concerns they have.

I am a strong Obama supporter.  I do not get the vitriolic opposition to say "Obamacare" and him in general.  I tend to think it is about race more often than not.  And I don't feel like placating those who might be motivated to dislike a president or person because of race.  I'm not sure that is Trump's motivation.  I think Trump is just in love with Trump and thinks he can do no wrong. I believe this absence of self-awareness would embarrass and imperil the country. Yet I think Trump can win and it is important now for those who dismiss his followers as Jonestown nut cases, to start to respect whatever it is that is making people vote for Donald Trump.  And if possible get Independents and cross over Democrats to reconsider.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Can I Keep My Jersey

There's a spot I sit in at the local library which, coincidentally, overlooks a cemetery. There are some easy chairs there and low tables on which you can toss your bag and a (covered) cup of coffee.  Also there is a ledge in front by the window where you can kick up your feet. It is a good spot. I must have sat thereabouts for ten years when I visit this library.  When I decide to take a bit of a stroll I am in the Music and Performing Arts section of the stacks. Anything you want to know about musicians, television stars, acting, broadway shows.  Right there in the stacks.

The secret must be out as the last two times I went into the library some nogoodniks had taken the chairs in the section. So I moved down about thirty feet and found a few more chairs. These did not face the cemetery--faced more of a construction area--still there were the low tables for paraphernalia and the ledge for my legs.  So, I parked myself there.

When I got up to stroll and saw what was in the stacks near my new perch, I realized that this was a particularly appropriate neighborhood for me.  No music and acting books, but every sports book one can imagine. Baseball, basketball, football, biographies, memoirs, stats--I even was delighted to see that the Madness of March was in the stacks. (Less delighted to check the back of the book and see that the last person to take the book out did so before Obama's second term).

I spent some time glancing at the titles on the shelves and for some reason my eyes settled on a book by a man I'd never heard of named Paul Shirley.  Shirley was a 6 10 former basketball player who was not quite good enough to play in the NBA, but desired to be in the league. So to stay relevant (or maybe just to continue to get paid for playing an enjoyable game) he signed up to play for several professional leagues. He played in Russia, Spain, Greece, two minor league teams in the United States and intermittently got called up for a cup of coffee for three NBA teams.  The book, Can I Keep My Jersey, is his memoir about the experience of playing at all of these venues.

Shirley describes the experiences and weighs in on issues related to the general character of basketball players.  He writes well and in parts is very funny. His rants against hypocritical religious sorts are especially terrific and laugh out loud funny.

While he talks about his playing skills with appropriate self-criticism, he is critical and condescending when writing about the intelligence and the degree of commitment of his basketball playing colleagues. I can see how some people might take offense at the jabs he takes at his teammates and less brainy others. He must mention a half dozen times that he has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State and often suggests that the average basketball player is only a notch up from illiterate.

After I finished the book I was surprised when reading the Amazon comments that so many readers did not like the book.  I really liked it. It kept me engaged, made me reconsider the life of a professional athlete--certainly one who plays outside the country-- and made me laugh which is a good thing.

If you like basketball and are curious about the life of professional athletes you will probably enjoy Can I Keep My Jersey.  I am glad I stumbled across it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


In an old Sergeant Bilko episode, Bilko--always the conniver--is trying to lose a bet.  He is trying to lose because he always wins, and by losing he hopes he will be able to get a sucker to, yet again, bet with him sometime down the road.  I cannot recall the specifics of the episode, but I do remember that Ridzik--always a foil of Bilko's--is approached by the grifter. Bilko wants Ridzik to win so he suggests a bet.  He wants to bet Ridzik that his name isn't Ridzik.

Ridzik who has always been beaten decides to think it over. Seems like a sure bet, but it was a bet with Bilko. He goes home to his wife and says that Bilko wants to bet him that his name isn't Ridzik.

His wife's opinion:  "If Bilko says your name isn't Ridzik, your name isn't Ridzik."

I read earlier today that Brock Osweiler, the Denver back-up who played in seven games for the Broncos while Manning healed, has--instead of re-signing with Denver--signed with the Houston Texans.  I thought of Ridzik.

The Texans are hapless.  No matter what they do or how fast they start, somehow they mess up.  If the Texans think that Osweiler is a steal, he can't be.  If the Broncos say they don't want Osweiler, there is probably a reason why they were willing to let him go.

I was never sold on Osweiler even when he was winning games this season.  The Broncos had a resourceful defense that won games for them (including the superbowl and the AFC championship game).

The Texans find a way to lose.  The Broncos find a way to win.  If the Broncos say Osweiler is not the real deal, he's probably not.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Exit Ghost

I’ve read several books by Philip Roth.  Most of the time I enjoy the reads.  Roth is about fifteen years older than I am and often writes about people who are his contemporaries.  One reason I like his novels is because they provide some insight into problems I may have in a short period of time.

Nathan Zuckerman is a recurring character in Roth's books.  Zuckerman, it sure seems to me, is Roth himself.  The books I like the best are the ones when Zuckerman is narrating the story as opposed to the central character.   For example, Zuckerman is the narrator of American Pastoral--one of those books I know I am better off for having read.  The Roth/Zuckerman novels I am less keen about are the ones that are about Zuckerman himself.  In American Pastoral Zuckerman is writing about “the Swede.”  In Exit Ghost, Roth--in the first person-- is writing about Zuckerman.  And while I did not like this book as well as some others, Exit Ghost was valuable if also troubling as I think it may--metaphorically at least--be about many of us myself not excluded.

Zuckerman in Exit Ghost is 71 (which is about the age Roth was when he wrote Exit Ghost).  After spending eleven years as a recluse in western Massachusetts, Zuckerman travels to New York City hoping to be cured of a medical problem.  There is a new procedure. If successful he will be able to control his bladder and not wear the diapers he relies on and must change on a regular basis.  Zuckerman had grown comfortable in his home in the Berkshires, rarely seeing anyone, enjoying--or so he thought--the privacy of living alone.

Zuckerman arrives in New York where he used to live and is reminded of the energy and possibilities of living.  The doctor thinks the medical procedure has been successful and this possibility, of course, buoys Zuckerman.   He is so charged by the New York energy that he impulsively responds to an ad he spots for a couple who wishes to swap residences--move to a rural locale in exchange for their New York city apartment.  Following the impulse he travels to the apartment and on the spot agrees to make the switch.  He'll take their apartment, they'll take his secluded house.

But then stuff happens which reminds him of his vulnerabilities and, in the end, suggests to him that he can longer be energized.  The medical procedure, while initially indicating positive results, does not relieve him of the problem.  An aspiring author becomes a pest and pesters him.  A woman to whom he is attracted is lukewarm to his advances and he himself wonders if he could be a satisfactory companion.  He runs into a friend from the past who is disintegrating from cancer.  And Zuckerman's short term memory fails him too often for him to trust himself completely.

Exit Ghost is not an uplifting read.  Zuckerman's home in the woods is only superficially comfortable as is made obvious when he is initially energized by his visit to New York.  And yet the alternative to living in the woods--residing in the apartment in New York City--is a prospect with which, he fears, he cannot cope.  

Unlike Zuckerman, I am less pessimistic about life's turbulence.  Yes, we all have some type of ailment that can reduce us to something less than what we were.  And I, for sure, am stunned by my lack of short term memory even though my long term recollections are as keen as they ever have been.  And yes, we all are confronted with not being able to get all we want and are annoyed by pests we cannot get rid of.  But life still beats the alternative. We have opportunities to break through to a more enjoyable existence--something that our dead ancestors crave.

I am not sure of the meaning of the title, Exit Ghost, but I am sure that as long as we are here, we should not consider an exit, or that we are in fact, exiting.  Always we have an opportunity to enter regardless of afflictions and nagging pests.