Saturday, April 29, 2017

The narrator with no name.

Usually, very shortly after I finish a book I write a very brief summary of it and store it in a file.  I do this in part to record the accomplishment and in part to refresh my memory of what the book is/was about.  Also, alas, I keep a record to ensure that I don't read a book for a second time.  This has become handy in recent years.  Subsequently, if I think the book is worth a review, I post one in this blog.

So, when I finished Swing Time earlier this afternoon I went to write a few sentences about the book. I was thinking when I started to write that it would be difficult to describe what the book was about. I started writing anyway.  The book begins, and appears to be, about two friends, Tracey and the narrator.  I was going to write in my synopsis the name of the narrator and was surprised that I could not remember the name.

I had just finished the book an hour before and this made me feel queasy that I could not remember the name of the main character less than 60 minutes after I finished a 450 page book about her.  The book was nearby so I picked it up and leafed through the pages trying to find a reference to the narrator's name.  And then it dawned on me, that there had been none mentioned. That in the entire book nobody identifies the name of the narrator. Not the narrator herself or any of the characters.  And that, I think, is the point of the book.  It cannot be a coincidence that Zadie Smith, the author, deliberately decided not to name the main character.  The narrator was in fact anonymous.  There was no identification. She had no identity.

I do not think this book is one of Zadie Smith's best efforts. I thought On Beauty was terrific and while I don't remember the details I do remember thinking that White Teeth was excellent as well despite a rushed ending.  But this book lacks focus unless the point is that the narrator lacks focus as well.  It begins as if it is a story about two friends in London who meet taking dancing lessons as kids.  The narrator is the child of a black mother and a white father.  Tracey, the friend, is the child of a white mother and a black father.  If nothing else, this book makes the case that race matters and has a powerful effect on societies.

The book goes back and forth between the relationship with Tracey and the narrator's experience being a personal assistant to a white rock star. The rock star has an idea to create a school in Africa for women which will be illuminating. It is the narrator's job in part to facilitate the creation of the school.  So we the readers periodically jump to Africa and then back to London.

When in Africa we meet a bunch of characters who are involved with the school. In London we are brought up to date with what has happened with Tracey. Also, the narrator's activist mother plays a large part as does her sweet if powerless father.  Then there is a college boyfriend who spews the rhetoric of black nationalism and speaks condescendingly to the narrator because of her lack of similar commitment--that he intimates is because she has a white parent.  Then we discover that the boyfriend is the scion of a white mother.  So, lots of messages about race.

Yet the various parts of the book do not cohere. Tracey seems to be going off the rails--her father is a ne'er do well and there is a strong suggestion of child molestation--but then the father kind of disappears.  Then Tracey takes over her mother's apartment and has three children from three different men.  The narrator's mother leaves her female lover after a stint with a male "noted activist" who talks more than does.  Then the mother finally succumbs to cancer while trying to dodge a series of caustic and critical e-mails coming from Tracey of all people.  And yes, the narrator, takes up with a man from the African village who is also fancied by the rock star for whom the narrator works.

The book is well written but does not gel. (It is almost worth the read for the scene where the narrator describes her brief stint working in a pizzeria).  If you like Zadie Smith you might enjoy the book simply because she writes so well. But don't bother if you expect an ending which ties things up.  Or if you want to be clear about who the narrator is.  Because the point is, and maybe this is a point for many of us, she does not really know.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Emotion Runs the Show

"One out, last of the ninth, Branca pitches. Bobby Thomson takes a strike call on the inside corner. Bobby hitting at .292. He's had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants first run with a long fly to center. Brooklyn leads it 4-2. Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second but he'll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one. Branca throws. THERE'S A LONG FLY. IT'S GONNA BE I BELIEVE... THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT. THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT. THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT.THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT. BOBBY THOMSON HITS INTO THE LOWER DECK OF THE LEFT FIELD STANDS.THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT AND THEY'RE GOING CRAZY. THEY'RE GOING CRAZY. AHHHHHOHHHH."

"Forty three seconds remaining. Morrow checked into the boards. It comes back to center ice. Thirty-eight, thirty seven seconds left in the game. Petrov with it, the Americans on top 4-3. Long shot. Craig able to get a piece of it to sweep it away. Twenty-eight seconds. The crowd goin' insane. Kharlamov shooting it into the American end again. Morrow is back there. Now Johnson. Nineteen seconds. Johnson over to Ramsey. Bilyaletdinov gets checked by Ramsey. McClanahan is there. The puck is still loose. Eleven seconds. You've got ten seconds. The countdown goin' on right now. Morrow up to Schultz. Five seconds left in the game. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES!!!!!!"

"There's a ball hit to the outfield.......Swoboda makes the dive.................


My friend Leslie says that in twenty years our whole life will be run by computers.

"What do you mean Leslie? Our whole life will be run by computers. What about emotion?"

"They're saying that soon they will be able to program computers to have human qualities--like emotion."

"They'll never successfully do it."

"Sure they will," she says "Computers are already dehumanizing our experience and emotion is becoming less and less important."

"I don't think so. Emotion is not becoming any less important or less of a factor in our daily lives. In fact, emotion runs the whole show--the whole shebang."

"Give me a good reason why computers can't run the show."

"Okay. The reaction to Bobby Thomson's home run off of Ralph Branca in the 1951 playoffs."

"What? Who?"

"Bobby Thomson. The reaction to his home run off Ralph Branca.  That's a good reason. And I'll give you a couple more. One, the US Olympic hockey team's victory over the then Soviet Union in 1980 and two, Ron Swoboda's catch off Brooks Robinson in the 1969 World Series. Yeah. Those ought to do. Bobby Thomson, the US '80 hockey team, and Ron Swoboda.  There are many more but those will do."

"What are you talking about?"

"Those three sporting events explain why computers can't run the show."

"You want to explain in a little more detail?"

"Sure. When Bobby Thomson hit his home run off Ralph Branca in 1951 the whole city of New York went bonkers.  Why did that happen? A fellow named Thomas Kiernan wrote a whole book about the home run.  An entire book about a home run. He wrote that 'strong men wept and embraced total strangers, people danced in the streets and booze flowed like water.' He said it was 'the Armistice, Lindbergh's homecoming, and the repeal of prohibition all wrapped up in one crazy unbelievable event.'

"Go figure that. What propels people to scream deliriously over a home run, over a pennant race, when there's nothing tangible in it for them.  Nobody in the stands goes crazy because they won some money on a bet. Russ Hodges doesn't scream THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT five times because he gets a bonus if the Giants goes to the Series. It doesn't make a nickel's worth of difference to the fans who watched the 'shot heard round the world.' Why do they go crazy?

"How do you figure the US hockey team, playing with college kids, beat the Russians in Lake Placid. The Russians were essentially a professional team. It was like Boston College beating the Boston Bruins. How do you figure the kids did that?  Why do you think the players pounced on goalie Jim Craig after the game?  Why do you think one of the players kept banging his hands on the ice after it was over? Why did announcer Al Michael's shout, as the last seconds ticked away, 'DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES----YES.'

"I figure it's because emotion runs the show--pure and simple. We are emotional beings with brains that act as dependent variables for our hearts. Even for those who have decided to lead with the brain and not with the heart that decision somewhere along the line was not cerebral but the residual of something emotional. The crooner in Simon and Garfunkel's 'I am a Rock' decides to be an island not because of anything logical but rather because if he never loved he "never would have cried.'  Those who seem staid, stoic, objective, rational, and logical have devolved into that persona not because they're unemotional, but because sometime in the past their emotions surfaced and it hurt. Their hearts told their brains to cut it out--or try to.  Emotion.  Emotion runs the show.

"Tell me. Why does Swoboda try to catch that ball in the World Series. Think about it. Why does Swoboda dive to catch that ball? The situation didn't logically call for it. The Orioles had runners on first and third and there was one out. Swoboda's Mets were winning 1-0 in the top of the ninth. It was the fourth game of the World Series and Brooks Robinson hit a ferocious line drive to the right of right fielder Ron Swoboda.  Any rational individual could see he did not have a chance for the ball.  If he dives for the ball and the ball gets past him, two runs score easy, maybe even three and the Mets would be behind.  Even if he were somehow to catch the ball the runner on third would tag up and score to tie the game.

"Why did Swoboda try for that ball? Whatever propelled him, Whatever it was, that's what we have to harness. That 's the real energy crisis in my opinion. It's channeling that. Tapping that. Thinking about how to utilize that. That's the secret.

"Go ask Siri if Swoboda should make a try for that ball. Imagine seeing Robinson's blast go off the bat and you can stop all time for a minute and check in with Siri.

Question. Should an outfielder dive for a line drive hit thirty feet away from him in a one run ball game in the ninth inning of the fourth game of the World Series with runners on first and third.

Siri--Who is the outfielder.

Answer--Ron Swoboda

Siri--Don't make me laugh.

Swug, Swug Swoboda. Casey Stengel's myth of a right fielder for the Amazin' Mets. Swug who used to lose the ball in the lights during day games. Swug who made routine catches, adventures. Swug, who often was lifted for a defensive replacement in the ninth inning.

"'Ron Swoboda" Siri snorts derisively, "Ron Swoboda should let the ball drop, throw to third base. ALLOW THE ONE RUN TO SCORE TYING THE GAME BUT STOP THE RUNNER ON FIRST FROM GETTING TO THIRD.'

"But Swoboda does not let the ball drop. He attempts a ridiculous catch, an impossible catch for even a skilled outfielder let alone iron fingers Swoboda.  And he makes it. He makes it. And if you have never seen it on youtube, go see it because it is absolutely unbelievable. Sports Center top ten number 1 material. It looks like some video trick.  Nobody could have caught that ball.  Not Willie Mays. No one makes that catch.  But Swoboda caught it.

"But what is more important is that he went for it. What possessed him to go for that ball. What urging what source of energy propelled him to dive headlong at a ball that was practically in a different time zone. What incredible element of our human-ness served as the catalyst for that attempt.

"It is the same source which drives us to yell for Bobby Thomson or aspire to be Bobby Thomson. The same source which had Americans screaming for the US hockey team, or cry at a movie, or bear hug our mothers. It is the same source that accounted for Beatlemania, Elvis hysteria, and nearly world wide mourning when Prince died last year.  It is the source which explains why Communism never worked and why there's no business like show business.

"It is the source which serves as director and producer and star of our movie, our play, our life. It is our emotional energy which directs our life. It is that source which is stockpiled in our guts and which we invest in our lives and loves. It is that source which all too often subconsciously decides our careers, chooses our lovers, selects our fantasies.

"And it is so unrefined, so raw, and so ready to come abursting out that we often don't think about how we will channel it, how we will invest it. We just want to use it and get it out, even if we don't realize we want to use it and get it out.

"Where should we invest our emotional energy, into what bank, into what stock. We should make sure we invest it wisely. We should make sure it accrues genuine and not artificial interest. We should make sure the investment is in something that is for real, not spurious; in something that is lasting, not ephemeral; because if that stock goes down we really crash.

"Should we buy into monogamy, the dollar, the game, the orgasm? Should we buy into politics, or education, or philanthropy, or music? Should we buy into Scientology, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism. How shall we invest our energy?

"If it was a bunch of dough we all would think about it. It is our essence and our guts. We ought to think very carefully about it.

"And no computer, no Siri or Echo or Google gizmo, will ever do a satisfactory job of doing that for us."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

new car

I picked up my new car today.  I talked to my Element on the way to the dealership saying goodbye and I had ample time for the conversation. Tonight I found myself in one of the worst traffic jams in my thirty six years living in Boston.  In a way this was a good thing. My left foot, still in the boot, had to hit the clutch maybe forty times in the seven mile ride.  I will miss the standard--but on the way out to the dealership I felt relieved that my bum foot will not have to depress the clutch on the new vehicle.

When in the past I have picked up a new car the handover has taken five minutes. Not today. About an hour.  I am feeling like an old timer in spades this week and the introduction to the new car did nothing to dilute that sense.  Before we even got in the car, the explanation of how to get in the car was other worldly.  As long as the "key" is in your pocket you can open and lock the car (don't ask me how--I will have to read the manual to review).

The tutorial in the car was out of the Jetsons.  I would have really preferred a simple--"press this to get heat" but noooo.  Nothing is that straightforward. God forbid you want to blow air thisaway at 65 degrees and your passenger wants air thataway at 63 degrees.

I can put on the emergency brake with a flip of the button which I just realized now in the house on a rainy night and my new car parked in a sloped driveway, that I did not do.  Also if you get within a short distance of another car you get a beep beep beep.  If you have the sonuvabitch on cruise control the sucker will stop itself if you get too close to a car.  I will not use the cruise control ever.

The thing that floored me, that really made me feel like Methuselah--after a litany of explanations which made me ready for the Home--was the salesperson's answer to a simple question.  The fellow who could be thirty years if not forty years my junior, showed me the manual and added that the book comes with a CD.  "Great" I said. "And as long as you are talking about CDs, where is the CD player?"

"There is no CD player."

Say what.

This car can do everything except bring the driver to orgasm, and this guy is telling me there is no CD player. He chuckled, when he saw my reaction-- the kind of chuckle a salesperson manufactures to try to win the favor of a customer.  What he really was saying was, "Nobody plays CDs any more old man."

One of the things I did over the weekend to ready myself for the transfer was put all my cds in a couple of carriers and place these vessels in the old car.  When I got to the dealership, I just moved the cds from one car to the other.  Now, I might as well throw them in the garbage.

The salesperson proceeded to tell me how, on my phone, I could replicate nearly anything I could listen to on a CD.  In a dizzying speech he explained the method and in no time signed me up for Spotify.

When I was in my 20s and 30s I collected records that now sit in the basement because I cannot imagine throwing them out.  Now I have a boatload of souvenirs that I might as well place near the records.

I have Sirius radio in this car.  They give you x months free, because they know you will sign up for more.  It will take me one month to figure out how to use it.  I pulled over on the short ride home and could locate only Sinatra, Gospel, and several baseball games.

jeans 425

I just read on facebook that a department store is selling jeans with fake mud on them for 425.00.  I am glad I read this as it reminded me of an event that made me laugh on this rainy day.

My grandfather was a no-nonsense guy.  He had immigrated from Poland to the US and, like many other immigrants, had next to nothing when he arrived.  He married, raised both my uncle and my dad, and lived through the depression.  He was, truly, a jack of all trades. He could wallpaper, paint, put cuffs on your pants, sew your drapes, build a bookcase--a remarkably talented man.

 If he had more of an entrepreneurial nature he would have been a successful inventor. One day in the seventies he asked me to drive him to the airport. He was going on a trip by himself (my grandmother had predeceased him years prior).  He had seen some travel agent's advertisement, signed up, and needed to get to JFK.

When I grabbed his suitcase from his apartment I saw something that I'd never seen before.  He had put wheels on the bottom of the bag so he could roll it.  This I thought was typical grandpa. He had found a way to do something more intelligently. I would love to know when the first suitcase company came out with a rolling bag because I know he and I got all sorts of stares as we travelled through the airport rolling his valise that day.  I asked him about the novel approach and he said that he spotted someone's discarded roller skates in the trash and it gave him an idea.  So he took the roller skates, removed the wheels and placed them on his suitcase.

My grandfather made his own suits and was often asked by family members to darn slacks or a dress that had somehow been damaged.  And this is what made me smile today when I read about the 425 dollar jeans with the fake mud.  We were in a shopping mall one day in the late 60s and he spotted something in Macy's which made him make a face for the ages.  On the jeans rack he saw that there were pants for sale that, new, were being peddled with holes in them.  And they were as, or more, expensive than the jeans that had no holes in them.  I break out in a smile every time I see that look on his face.  A man who struggled through the depression, survived in the US barely knowing any English, a man who could do wonders with a sewing machine--seeing new merchandise being sold for not small sums--with holes in them.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

how terribly strange to be 70

When I was in my early 30s a woman friend of mine, a few years older--maybe 37--asked me what I thought about her going out with a guy who was 50.   She said she was looking for a man and belonged to a matching agency (before the web). They had turned up some fellows in their 50s.  She thought that was awfully old.  I wasn't sure but was leaning to her way of thinking. Fifty seemed ossified. Now I would, of course, trade in many so-called valuables to be transported immediately to 50.

 I played regularly in tennis tournaments when I was in my early 50s--four matches in two days.  I just took an experimental walk to and into a park adjacent to our house.  Probably there and back was less than a 1/4 of a mile. Took fifteen minutes.

I find myself reading the section of the newspaper that lists the birthdays of the day. There was a time when the old guys were strangers.  Now the only people I have heard of are the very very famous or the old guys.  I like to go to "where are they now" sites, but lately the "celebrities" that are mentioned are people that I did not even know then.  I figure the next time I go to a wedding I will be seated at the old people's table.

What brought this up is that a crony of mine from college and I say we will get together every month.  The last time we met was in October.  This year we were to rendezvous for her birthday.  Her birthday was January.  So, we probably average getting together two or three times a year.  We tried to find a day last week.  We thought we had a date, but then she realized the night we'd considered was the night of her friend's 70th birthday party. I, too, have a couple of 70th birthday parties to go to this spring. If we are about to celebrate 70th birthdays we remember the Simon and Garfunkel lyric (penned while they were likely in their 20s) "how terribly strange to be 70."

Doesn't seem that strange. Actually the people I know who are 70 are rather spry. One party I am going to in May is for a former tennis partner who is still playing singles.  Another is for a crony who looks terrific and is, knock on wood, as healthy as he was when we were in our forties. Not sure 70 now is really equivalent to what 70 was then. Still while it is always time to seize the day, for we boomers the time has never been more ripe for the seizing.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


During Thanksgiving weekend of 2006 I was in a self inflicted automobile accident.  I had attempted to exit a parking lot which I saw, as I got closer to the exit, was barricaded. I had not gone too far when I saw that the exit was blocked off, so instead of doing a three point turn, I attempted to back out.  Bad decision. It was nighttime and I did not see a cement staircase with a metal hand rail.  I clocked the handrail and staircase. Glass came flying into the vehicle and the back side was damaged.

The car was a black Element that I think was only 1 1/2 years old at the time. When I went to check out the cost to repair the damage I was stunned.  I decided not to have the car repaired, but to trade it in. I figured that it would cost a dealership a lot less to fix it, dealers are always looking to sell cars, so I might get a good deal.  And I did.  They accepted essentially the value of the car even with the damage since it would cost them peanuts to fix it.  Then they sold me a brand new spanking 2007 red Element, at a very good price that I have been driving ever since.

I am crazy about this SUV.  It maneuvers like a car, parks like a car, has enough space to carry nearly anything you can imagine, and has been fun to drive.  I have been a Honda owner since my thirtieth birthday when, while driving back from the Buffalo airport, I pulled into a dealership and decided to buy myself a new car for my day.  Since then, I have had one of the tiny civics, a civic sedan, a civic station wagon, a CRV, the Element that was in the accident, and this guy pictured here.

I like Hondas because they are reliable.  While I am mad about this car, it was-by Honda standards-a lemon.  I never once had to change my brakes or clutch in any of the other Hondas I'd purchased and drove each over 100,000 miles. I've replaced the brakes in this guy three times, and the clutch once. If you have a standard and know how to drive, you should not have to change your brakes. The baby had 125,000 miles on it which by Honda standards is not much.  And I should not have had little things go wrong that may typically erode on other vehicles but not Hondas.

Still I love/d the car.  Last year when I clearly needed brakes I vacillated about buying a new car. Honda no longer makes Elements, and I was not crazy about the CRV.  One reason I was not crazy about it was you could no longer buy a CRV with a standard transmission.  Also, until this year I just did not think they were that much different from a Fit.  So last year I paid for the brakes and kept driving the Element.

But my guy was showing some age.  I could no longer tell how many miles per hour I was going. The dial just broke off and it would have cost an astounding amount to replace it because it meant the entire front dashboard had to come out (or so they said). There was a rattle in the back that was not due to anything loose. A tire was persnickety, I replaced a battery with a fresh one but before that if I left the interior light on for any sort of duration the car would not start subsequently.   I found myself renting cars with new gizmos that made my 2006 feel like a jalopy.  My radio was from hunger, the disc player on its last legs, the mileage only good for gas stations. Another factor was that I will be getting my boot off next Friday if my heel continues to heal.  And then, I am not sure I will be able to depress the clutch with the bum heal--or at least may not be expediting recovery using the clutch in bumper to bumper traffic.

So I gave in. Today I went and paid an appendage or two for a new CRV. This year's models are way cooler. There is a sun roof, heated seats, remote starting which in January will be one sweet treat--the sound system is supposed to be remarkable.  The seats fold down effortlessly (Element's seats were a chore to get down) there's a bunch of room, and plenty of places to store this and that.  I'll be able to take the new car on long trips which I have not done with the old fellow in years.

It makes sense but still I will miss my 10.3 year old Element.  I pick up the new car on Monday night. Two more days to drive my baby.

Bruins, Rangers, and Caps.

I have written this before but each April I feel like the comment is worth restating.  There is nothing more exciting than Stanley Cup hockey particularly in overtime games.

The most exciting event I have ever watched I describe in the Epilogue to the Madness of March.  It was a 2-1 double overtime in a seventh game of a Stanley Cup playoff series.  I recall thinking then of an expression that I've often used, but had never meant previously--"I don't know how much more of this I can take."

The last two nights have provided similar levels of thrill.  On Thursday night the Rangers won in overtime defeating the Montreal Canadiens.  Last night the Bruins, down 3-1 in its series, won in double overtime beating the Ottawa Senators.  For those into nationalism it was a tough two nights for those north of the border, as the Washington Capitals also won last night in overtime defeating Toronto. (The prig in me wants to know why the Capitals, who play in the Capitol, spell their nickname with an a not an o).

The thing about overtime playoff hockey is that within, literally, seconds a team can be in a position to win or immediately lose.  The rapid nature of the game is difficult to appreciate if you are only a casual spectator. During the regular season the intensity is not the same, the method for deciding winners in tied games different, and the ramifications of losing not nearly as great.

Even a minor error by a player can create an open shot for an opponent. A pass off by an inch, zigging this way instead of that, not getting off the ice fast enough for a substitution, letting the puck careen off your skate to your right or left--it is remarkable how many variables can immediately and suddenly change the outcome of a game.

Last night if the Bruins did not score the first goal in overtime its season was over. Tuukka Rask had made several incredible saves in the overtimes which kept the Bruins alive until a rookie put in the deciding goal.  What made this game even more dramatic is that twice previously in the game the Bruins had appeared to win only to have a replay disqualify the goal.

The description of the 2-1 game in the book is one of my better writing efforts. (I will opine that it was better still before the editor took the knife to several pages which I believe depicted the tension at Madison Square Garden more completely).  So, if you want to get a sense of what that event was like and a more detailed understanding of the excitement of playoff copy, go find your Madness of March and reread the Epilogue.

But if you would rather not dust it off, go watch the end of the third period of any of the hockey playoff games that are being broadcast during the next few weeks. If the game goes into overtime sit tight and hang on.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Acid Test

I've always dreaded the injury I now have.  I have seen athletes go down with achilles tears and thought it would be hell to have an injury where one could not exercise for an extended period of time.  Since the summer of 1975 I have religiously exercised 5-7 times a week. Most of that time I was a runner. Occasionally when I had relatively minor foot injuries I would swim. Tennis and racketball were very regular activities in my late forties and fifties. Then the past few years I have spent 45 minutes to an hour and a half on the elliptical machine.   I played racquet sports for fun, ran and did the elliptical for the catharsis the activities gave me as well as the caloric expenditure which allowed me to consume calories without expanding my girth.

Since St. Patty's Day I have not been expending many calories.  I am now in week five of wearing a boot, and there will be a week six.  Then two or three more !@#$%&!@ months before I can resume full activity.  Not being able to exercise not only keeps the tensions within, but my innards seem to be expanding. I am not a happy camper.

Of course I could be more disciplined and cut down on what I consume. I decided that today I would have to start doing this.

And today happened to provide the acid test.

I arrived at work for a three hour meeting.  To nourish we conveners someone went to Paneras and brought in an assortment of pastries that were to kill for. Nothing plain in the box.  All sorts of sweets the kinds which I do not typically reject. I made it through the meeting eating just the pineapple chunks that were going begging because everyone else glommed on the pastries.  One credit for me.

Then at noon to celebrate the end of classes our office sponsored a pizza party for the students who are either completing final projects or preparing for exams which begin tomorrow.  At the last minute the decision was made to invite additional members of the community to enjoy our largesse.  The problem was that these additional invitees did not attend.  I am not exaggerating when I write that there were thirty pizzas left over.  One well meaning assistant asked if I wanted to take a pizza home. When I returned to my office there was a pizza sitting on a table.  I had a slice.  It was a veggie pizza. Still, no credit.

In late afternoon we had our college honors presentations. God forbid we should have an event without food. There, to nourish the attendees, there were an assortment of cookies and brownies plus lemonade.  I did not succumb. One credit for me.

Once in 1971 I went on a diet and decided to go to a tavern.  I requested a beer and figured it would be good will power to just sit and stare at it for an hour.  I did this and felt good about myself and subsequently had a successful fortnight of dieting.

The old will power is not what it once was.

Oscar the Grouch has nothing on me.

Monday, April 17, 2017

West by West

Regular readers of my blog and book reviews know that I've commented about my tendency to think and even sometimes speak in a way similar to how a book I'm reading is written. So if I am reading a book by comic writer Dave Barry I sometimes hear myself speaking in his cadence.  A mystery has me thinking about clues in every day life.  It is a strange idiosyncrasy and is certainly not done on a conscious level.

I just finished a very good autobiography by Jerry West, the basketball great. Sports fans collecting social security certainly remember West.  Even youngsters who follow sports know about him.  He was a great player at West Virginia University and then went on to play on the amateur dream team in the 1960 Rome Olympics.  Professionally, West played on the great Laker teams throughout the 60s and early 70s. It was his misfortune to play at the same time that the Boston Celtics had Bill Russell. The Celtics defeated the Lakers six times in the NBA finals. After his playing days West became a successful basketball executive.

This is no typical sports autobiography.  It is titled West by West: My Charmed Tormented Life.  If the autobiography is accurate then the subtitle is right on target.  West by his own admission is a tormented depressed person who is an impatient perfectionist.  He has not been able to get through the death of a brother nor the abuse of his father.  No matter his achievements in college, the Olympics, the NBA as a player, and the NBA as a general manager--he is troubled, sad, filled with self doubt.

One thinks of professional athletes--particularly Hall of Fame athletes--as people who are as rich spiritually as they are in their bank accounts.  Not the case with West.  And his book (co-written by Jonathan Coleman) depicts his multifaceted complex hell.

Very good book.  It helps if you are a sports fan because you will be familiar with West, but you don't really need to be that knowledgeable. More than about basketball, this is about a person, who cannot escape depression.

Given my tendencies to adopt the style and syntax of books I read, I have been a barrel of laughs to be around this weekend.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

why ihop

Donna called me on the way home from Church this morning. She is not a regular church-goer but on Easter she likes to attend. And there is a church she has been going to for years downtown on Easter Sunday.  The church is right near the finish line of the marathon. Since tomorrow is Patriots Day and the Boston marathon, getting there and parking was not an easy feat.  As early as yesterday Commonwealth Avenue up by where I live in Auburndale has been cordoned off. You could drive on it, but the lanes were narrowed and the ropes to restrain spectators already in place.  She eventually got to the service which in part, and not inappropriately, addressed the desire for the race to be peaceful tomorrow with a special blessing for the runners.  

I did not join her since I am a member of the tribe.  We have on the island in our kitchen a box of matzohs sitting adjacent to the chocolate easter bunny I purchased while she was out.  I also visited a grocery store while she was winding her way around cordoned off Boston. There I purchased a ham and some other easter stuff for dinner.  If there is life after death, my mother is rolling her eyes, nudging my father and telling him that it is his fault because, as the legend goes, in the late 50s he brought home a slab of bacon against my mother's wishes.

Anyway, here I was with the matzoh, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup from a seder on Monday night sitting adjacent to a ham the size of Kansas (smallest one I could find), a chocolate bunny which claims to have peanut butter inside it, three "crispy" bunnies, and a plastic egg that has on the label information claiming to contain several chocolates.  Oh yes, next to the flowers she bought on Monday night, is a lily I got.  If she can explain the purpose of the lily I will explain bitter herbs and a burnt shankbone.

I am not a religious person.   As my father used to say to the fury of my mother, I don't really believe in a god as someone who watches over us.  This would drive my mother bats.  (My dad was a rabbi compared to his father who thought all religion was, in his word, ridickalus).  Even though I am a non believer, I--and certainly my dad--liked to acknowledge the holidays to identify.

So, today, on the way back from church Donna calls saying she is going to stop for breakfast before returning home.  When she gets home I ask where she ate. She tells me I-HOP.  She adds that for we geezers IHOP has a senior citizen's breakfast which is a good deal.

I-HOP.  When I first lived in Boston in the summer of 1979 before I moved here permanently, I lived very close to IHOP. My buddy Ken and I went in there for breakfast one morning and had a singularly bland--bordering on bad--meal.  I have never been back since. IHOP is on my beat.  Right on Soldiers Field Road.  Moreover, whereas very few diners are open past 10 in Boston, IHOP is a 24 hour a day establishment.  Yet I never think of going there.

So, why is that.  Nearly forty years after one bad meal I have never even considered going to IHOP.  How much of what we do or don't do is based on what we have done and what we experienced. Why do I eat matzoh on Passover. Yes, I know it is a holiday and I like to identify.  But I have my beefs with Passover.  I do not understand for the life of me, why things that are called Kosher for Passover are eligible to be consumed.  The whole reason for eating matzoh is that the Israelites did not have time for the bread to rise when fleeing Pharoah. Okay, I get the matzoh. But kosher for Passover ketchup, soda, jelly, cake.  Hey the Jews did not have time to stop at Walmart and pick up sponge cake and kosher for Passover diet coke either.  I figure you should be able to eat anything on Passover except for bread.  And what is it with the Easter eggs?  Maybe because it's another team it makes no sense to me.  But what is there about the resurrection that is connected to plastic eggs with Reese's pieces in them?

Sometimes I think we do what we do, or don't do what we don't do, because we have always done or not done what we will do or not do.  For a fellow who eats like I do, and who must pass that IHOP every day during a week, why have I not stopped there since 1979. Perhaps observing holiday customs are not analogous to steering clear of a restaurant because it has become a habit.  But I think it is worth considering that what we do, who we vote for, what we believe in, where we go, is all too often an habitual practice.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What game was that.

I didn't even bother to watch "One Shining Moment."

After a great tournament, with terrific play and clutch players, the final game last night was beyond disappointing. And this had little to do with the play of the players.  

It is true that there were some players who underperformed. The big guy from Poland, Karnowsky, couldn't dunk a doughnut into a cup of coffee.  The foul shooting from both teams was atrocious.  North Carolina could not stick a three.

All this is true. But what made this game a drag--appropriate word here--were the men in stripes.  

I typically find post game accusations about poor officiating to be nonsense. The refs may miss calls, but these few likely even out over the course of a game or season.  And besides, any errors are unlikely to be made because of incompetence or a hidden agenda.

Last night was different. The referees decided to call touch fouls on both sides of the ball.  Two big guys for Gonzaga had four fouls apiece. The third big guy who was playing better than any of the other bigs fouled out.  Similarly, North Carolina's inside force had to sit for a chunk of the game with four fouls.  

The flow of the game was undermined by this unnecessary whistle blowing.  Sure, you want to make sure that violations are identified, but in basketball if you follow the letter of the law (it is officially a non contact sport) then there never would be any action.  And last night there was next to no action. Just fouls and foul shooting.  The score at the end of the game did not reflect a basketball contest.  A touch foul against Collins (the 7 footer who was effective) essentially put the end to his night.  It was his fourth. He came back in for just a few moments before getting his fifth. The fourth on UNC's big was also one that should have been let go.  He was bumping for position. That happens on every play.

The perspective that the result of the game is meaningful--because the referees called it the same for both teams--is meaningless. If a game is supposed to be played one way, and you change the rules or how the rules are enforced, then the game becomes a different game, and the victor therefore is not the winner of the game as it has been, but rather this new entity.  And the better team therefore has not been identified, because the team that is deemed the better team is the better team of the different game, and you never know who would have been the better team of the original game.

A UNC stud made a terrific play in the last minute and perhaps that is enough to argue that UNC deserved the victory because Gonzaga did not respond. But who knows what would have transpired before the last minute had the contest not been marred by officious officials who just did not get it.  I think these teams were physical, but so have been a lot of teams and consequently games in the tournament.  

Put another way, if all March Madness games were officiated this way, there would be no phenomenon called March Madness. College basketball would not have the allure it has earned when the officials understand that the game is not about them.

I was pulling for Gonzaga and I have wondered if I would have felt so offended if Gonzaga had prevailed.  I think I would have felt less insulted but still upset. I wrote a short blog when the score was about even at the 8 minute mark registering my disdain.

Monday, April 3, 2017


Whatever happens in the last 8 minutes, the referees have officiated abominably in the second half. What could have been an exciting game became a foul shooting contest.

Last Dance

My success at picking money line winners continued on Saturday night as both Gonzaga and UNC won as I thought they would.  However, if you wagered on the spread based on my wisdom I am likely not a welcome guest at your household. Gonzaga won by four and the spread was seven.  UNC by one and the spread was 4.5.   So, 2-0 on money line, 0-2 on the spread. This brings my sweet sixteen and onward totals to 12 out of 14 on the money line, and 8 out of 13 with one push against the spread.

Tonight is easy pickings (always words that make Las Vegas folks smile broadly).  But I think I have this one. Gonzaga is getting a point.  I think the Zags win and therefore will win both on the money line and against the spread.

If you are superstitious, you might not want to follow my wisdom.  Since 2013 most of the basketball games I have attended live, have been Northeastern games. However, in 2014, and 2016, I saw both Connecticut in '14, and Villanova in '16 play live.  And in both years Connecticut and Villanova went on to win national championships. This year I saw North Carolina play live.  So, since UNC is a competitor in the game tonight, if you believe in superstitions, go with UNC.  But I do not think they will win.  Gonzaga has depth. They have two seven footers each of whom is skilled. In fact, the player who comes off the bench may be better than the starter.

When I saw UNC play against Miami in January, Miami outclassed UNC.  UNC did not look like a .500 team that day.  Also, UNC is fortunate to be playing tonight. They are alive because of a bonehead play by Oregon in the semi-finals.  A bone head play that occurred twice in the last seconds.

Every coach in the country (except for the Oregon coach) will be happy with the last five seconds of the UNC-Oregon game.  That is because clips from the last seconds will illustrate what coaches preach regularly, certainly at the college level and beyond.  When I played for Albany, then a division 2 school (which then was the lowest level), the drills we spent the most time practicing were boxing out drills.  One was so effective that I can remember it now nearly fifty years later.  The coach put a lid on the basket. Then two players faced off at the foul line. One acted as if he was the offensive player. The other acted as if he was defending.  The coach threw the ball toward the hoop.  Since the basket was covered there had to be a rebound.  The goal was for the defender to box out the offensive player, and the offensive player to dodge the box out.  It was a great drill because the coach would often put a small guy as defender and a tall player as the offensive player.  And it became apparent that with good technique the smaller player would get the rebound even if he was outsized.

Every coach in the land must give at least lip service to the importance of boxing out.

In the UNC-Oregon game, with five seconds left and UNC up by 1, a UNC player went to the foul line and missed both shots.  This was good news for Oregon as they could get the rebound behind only by a single point and would likely have enough time to get off a decent shot.

The problem was, as replays clearly showed, neither Oregon player on the foul lanes made even an attempt to box out. So UNC got the rebound.  Oregon immediately fouled again.  So another UNC player went to the foul line. He too missed both shots now with four seconds left.

And then, incredibly, after getting burnt the first time, the Oregon players did not box out again so UNC rebounded the ball and won the game. Those five seconds will be shown over and over to players.

Earlier in the tournament Oregon made a dumb play but got away with it when they did not foul a Michigan player poised to win the game.  Oregon exulted because the Michiganite missed the shot, but they could easily have lost because of the mental lapse.

In sum, I don't think UNC is as good as they need to be, to beat the Zags. The Zags have two seven footers and a bunch of other solid players.  Gonzaga would have to get into early foul trouble or get a bad case of the heebie jeebies for them to lose tonight.  Take the point, bet the spread. On the money line, bet the Zags.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sorry that this prediction came true.

In a February blog--2/14--to be exact I wrote what appears on the bottom of this post.

I enjoy watching the UConn women play, but last night I could not stay awake.  I saw parts of the first half, woke up intermittently in the second, fighting for consciousness,  but eventually succumbed.

I stumbled to the computer at about 5 and read that Mississippi State had won in overtime. I watched a clip which was incomprehensible.  Connecticut had an opportunity to take the last shot and took a silly one with 12 seconds to go, giving Mississippi State the chance that they capitalized on.  Can't explain why UConn took that shot.  I have no idea of the context.

Tonight's games are a little tougher to predict.  I think both Gonzaga and UNC will win and cover.  I write this reluctantly, because I will be pulling for Oregon over UNC and had them to win it all in my brackets.  For some reason I think UNC will get it together to win and cover the 4.5.  I think South Carolina has exhausted all their fuel.  It is a wonderful story but I think the Zags will win and cover the 7.

From February 14, 2017:

You read it here first. Connecticut will not win the championship this year.  I don't know if South Carolina will win, but someone will. Last night the opponent was more skilled than UCONN. Very big on the inside. Deeper. Nevertheless Connecticut won.