Wednesday, August 30, 2017


My annual excursion to observe a different brand of fans at the US Open is nearly complete.  I am now at LaGuardia after the session.  Some observations from my two day stint in and around New York City.

  • LaGuardia airport is an absolute mess.  It is difficult to describe the state of construction. My buddy Gary dropped me off at the airport. Had he not known the area it would have been a nightmare. The situation was exacerbated because, unfathomably, LGA decided to close down the TSA security lanes.
  • The Open is as beautiful as LaGuardia is, currently, not so.  Just a gorgeous setting.  Happy smiling people moving from one arena to the other.  
  • They sell too many tickets.  The lines to get into some of the stadiums were so long that it made no sense to wait on them. 
  • We saw no player, either man or woman, serve and volley.
  • The fans for tennis are a different breed from hockey or baseball fans. I saw no slobbering drunks and the language was not offensive to any sensibility.  Yet they are zealots.  You can tell by the shape of the attendees that over half spend their time on tennis courts.
  • We saw only one "name" player: Maria Sharapova.  Yet everyone we saw was pounding the ball. Just whacking the ball and playing inspiring tennis.
  • New York is ridiculously expensive. You have to just prepare to lose your shirt if you want to spend time there.
  • We went to see a Bronx Tale. Pretty good and faithful to the movie.  I am still not a fan of actors wearing microphones.
  • Times Square at 10 pm last night had more people hanging out than I saw in an entire year when I worked in western new york.
  • I sat in a bar at about 11 and it was not crowded, yet it seemed as if the adjective for all occasions was the f bomb.  A couple to my left were talking about the f meetings, f supervisor, f shifts, f cleaning people--apparently all who worked with them except for them.  They paused f-bombing long enough to step outside for a smoke.  The f-bombing seemed a bit like foreplay.
  • The Strand book store is amazing. Just amazing and I am a bookstore guy. I could have spent an entire day in there and I am not exaggerating.
  • My hotel, the Roosevelt, was quite nice.  It seemed as if everywhere I looked there was an amenity of some sort. And outside the hotel within blocks was times square, grand central, diners, taverns with imbibing clients, all night convenient stores, and to sober all tourists thinking this all was wonderful people sleeping on the street.
  • Grand Central Station itself is something to see. Just to stand in the middle and look up at the ceiling.  Now that I think back on it, I recall the scene from Revolutionary Road set in the 50s. Yet it looked just like that 50 years later.
  • My high school and college buddy Kenny drove me from Waltham to Hyde Park on Monday night. On Tuesday morning I took the metro north into the city.  On the way to Hyde Park he reminded me that nearly fifty years ago this week, we two took the bus from Penn Station to Albany to begin our college careers. He also reminded me that we spent the time on the bus finishing up--at the last minute-the required reading that had been assigned to us over the summer. 
  • Madison Square Park and Union Square were both humming on Tuesday afternoon when it was raining.
  • I stopped in a place called the Bean for a cup of coffee and a bagel.  There, near the Strand bookstore, I saw four young women.  Each had a shirt on that read NYU class of 2021.  I had a similar shirt on half a century ago that read 1971. This was the most jaw dropping sight that I witnessed in two days. Not the Strand. Not LaGuardia looking like post Iraq bombings.  Not thousands of tennis aficionados near the Unisphere. Not Times Square at 10 pm looking like 10 am. It was the 2021 tee shirts on the NYU students reminding me that the earth has revolved around the sun a number of times since Kenny and I took a bus in 1967.
I have finished this blog at North Station in Boston waiting for the 10:40 train that will take me to Waltham. Long day.  I have enjoyed these last 30 plus years living in Boston, but here at 10 pm in Boston at North Station the buzz is nothing like it was at 10 pm last night in New York.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Playing Hurt

John Saunders was a very good sportscaster on ESPN.  I just completed his autobiography titled, Playing Hurt.  The book recently came out, and as those who follow sports may know, came out posthumously. Saunders passed a year ago in August.

There were some conjectures at the time of his passing that his death was a suicide since the book is about his lifelong battle with depression. In Playing Hurt Saunders describes his painful relationship with his parents. His dad beat him when he was around, and his mother is portrayed as indifferent. Both parents were irresponsible with money. The dad, a deadbeat, both in terms of child support and keeping promises to help with college tuition. The mother not above stealing from her kids and, in one staggering episode, telling her two boys that their younger sister had leukemia and needed a good deal of money to stay alive. Once they gave the mother the money it became apparent that this was a ruse.

The title is a very good one. "Playing Hurt" is a phrase that athletes use when they put themselves on the field despite injuries, managing to fight through the pain to excel. This is what Saunders apparently did.  His depression may have been a residual of his upbringing or maybe just congenital, a function of some chemical imbalance.  But he is often sad, often crying, and then bucking up to function personally and professionally. He was revered by fellow broadcasters and loved by his wife and two daughters.  I thought he was a much better than average sportscaster.  He did not get in the way of the game and remembered that sports fans are fans because of the event, not because of the personalities of announcers.

The epilogues to the book, not written by Saunders, make it clear that his death was not a suicide yet a reader might have doubts because of all the times in the book that Saunders speaks about considering taking his own life.

The book very effectively describes what it is like to suffer from depression. It is a disease that seeks sadness.  No matter how positive things are, the depressive finds the negative aspects and dwells on them.  Good feelings from success on the air are ephemeral, replaced by a sense of how he could have been better, and how he does not deserve the fame, and how he was a bad son, and how he is an irresponsible friend.

We all go through periods that are dark when we cannot see the light even when it is shining in our faces. But for depressives, these periods are the norm and not exceptions. Depression is not brought about because the loss of a lover, or failure on an exam.  For depressives the loss of a lover exacerbates a tendency to find sadness even when you are loved unequivocally.  At one point a doctor tells Saunders that a depressive cannot will themselves to be happy any more than one can will themselves to be tall.

For the first 100 pages or so, I found the narrative a bit whiny. But the more I read the more I understood the hell he must have gone through.  A professional hockey prospect, a successful business person, an alluring lover of many beautiful partners--it did not matter. Fortunately, towards the end he was making some progress until, if you believe the autopsy, he succumbed to an enlarged heart.

If you suffer from depression or know someone who does, I recommend the book. Easy to read, short of 300 pages, you can knock it off in a few days.


It did not get dark here.  Someone by the pool had a box gizmo. Put that on your head,  look at the sun and you could see the moon blocking portions.  But the sky remained every bit as bright as it had been.

It was an interesting phenomenon watching the news from noon until three yesterday.  It was all eclipse, all the time.  And it made me think about the importance of gatekeeping as it sets our agenda.  If yesterday had not been an eclipse day, CNN would have had different stories on the air.  Probably experts predicting what the President was going to say about Afghanistan, or the wisdom of Ryan's town hall meeting, or the latest Trump faux pas. Regardless of the specific segments, there would be some stories that would pass for news that would be consumed by news consuming viewers.

So the news that was yesterday, was the news about the eclipse, and that fueled the discourse of the day.  Today, there will be other stories, maybe there will be reports on how the eclipse affected communities, local economies, individuals who trekked from here or there to get to a good place for the sighting.  But slowly the story of the eclipse will end and the void will be filled with something else.

The power of gatekeepers in determining that something else is enormous.  On Sunday morning I woke up chuckling about the president's comments urging the country to "heel."  We spoke about that much of the morning. Yesterday it was the eclipse. Today it will likely be pundits opining about the Afghanistan speech or the timing of the Afghanistan speech or the fluctuations on the stock market.

 Will Rogers is credited with saying, "All I know is what I read in the newspapers.".  Well now, all we know is what we see on CNN, read in whatever is left of newspapers, view on web sites, hear on NPR, or spot on the web when individuals re/post comments on the internet.  Of these, the only one with nontraditional gatekeepers is the internet.  The gatekeepers for the internet are essentially us.  I can post something, but unless someone reposts and until it goes viral or at least something close to viral, it does not get to the masses.

Point is that the media can and does eclipse what would be news and present as news what might not be newsworthy. And we, in part, are the media.  The media is not just some external ghoul who messes with our consciousness.  We participate in what is eclipsed, what is presented as news and what affects our national and international conversations. And that reality brings to professional gatekeepers and all of us important responsibilities.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

all the fun

Those Guys Have All the Fun is intended to be a history of ESPN.  It is not. What it is, is a very long book. It is a very long book composed almost wholly of excerpts from interviews conducted with people who worked for, or were somehow involved with, the evolution of ESPN. In parts the book is humorous, insightful, and interesting. However, the book is not efficiently organized, far longer than it needed to be, and only a history if one pieces together details from the excerpts.

I looked at the AMAZON reviews after I finished and was surprised to read that many readers loved the book. This is what makes horse racing I guess. Maybe if one is more interested in sports than I am the detail, repetitiveness, and poor editing does not deter one's voracious appetite to learn everything about the sports network.  My take, as someone certainly more interested than the average bear on this topic, is that the book needed much more care.

Ninety five per cent of the book is composed of excerpts. Five percent are comments from the editors. The editors' italicized sections either relate to what had been discussed on the prior pages or serve as transitions to the next topic.  There does not seem to be a meaningful reason why one subject ends on say page 13 and then another one starts on 14. Chapters do not mark the end of one subject and the beginning of another.

The positive: there are interesting discussions of (a) the advertising of Sportscenter (b) the rationale behind management decisions to hire talent and put certain people in a booth (c) characters who were administrators at the network (d) on air errors and how they affected the station, and (e) personal relationships.

If you are a true zealot you might enjoy all 745 pages.  For me, the editors could have saved a tree or two, knocked out two thirds of the book, and organized the content topically with clear reasons for the sequencing.

Monday, August 14, 2017


The last time I drove on the Cross Bronx Expressway was in 2009. At that time, as I have on all previous occasions on that road, I muttered "The next time I decide to take this road remind me to get my head examined."

I have driven on the Cross Bronx about a dozen times in my life. Never has it been congestion free. Despite my history, I followed the wisdom of Mapquest on Sunday and, after three hours of easy driving, was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as I approached the George Washington Bridge.

I was on my way to the third or fourth annual Zaremba-thon.  My cousin Hillel has organized these in the summer.  The first must have been a dozen years ago and I went to it.  I have missed the last couple as the prospect of trekking to Philadelphia has been offputting. This year I was determined to go which did not seem like a wise decision as I was cursing myself for taking the Cross Bronx Expressway.

When I finally got over the bridge it was smooth sailing until I got to Philadelphia itself.  Then, because Mapquest apparently believes I am a pelican as opposed to a motorist, it guided me to the most direct route to my cousin's home which, unfortunately, is a road with 2,011 stop lights.  Eventually, six and a half hours after I started out, I arrived at my cousin's home.

And after only 15 minutes, it was clear that the entire six plus hours were worth every bumper to bumper second. Jack was in the pool, as was Noam and Moshe.  Sophie was on a raft with some floating things on her arm so the three year old (she told me four times) could not sink despite her efforts to see if she could swim.  Hillel's kids, Alex, Sarah, and Dan, were all there smiling in the sun.  I got to speak with Sam, and Joan and Joan's mom, a former Bostonian. Matt and Shannon continue to be beyond wonderful. What a treat.

We ate and shmoozed and laughed.  Jack, now all of 8, decided to coordinate a race "of all the kid cousins" which he, go figure, managed to win.  Hillel took out a photo of his folks' wedding and identified to Jack who the people were in the picture.  "This is my mother and father. This is your grandpa and grandma. Here is your great grandfather. All celebrating my parents' wedding." Jack was engaged and impressed.  "Hey" he asked, "Was this the first Zaremba-thon?"  That brought a laugh from the assembled.  "Yeah" said Hillel, "I guess in this country, this was the first Zaremba-thon."
Our parents would have been so tickled by this exchange.

Back now after quite a bit of driving. Worth every second on the road.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Not My Day?

I belong to a library in downtown Boston called, appropriately, the Boston Athenaeum.  I had somethings I wanted to do today and thought that venue would be conducive to getting those things done.  Took a late morning train and was in South Station, a half mile easy walk from the library, by a few minutes after noon.

South Station is a hopping place. It used to be a dreary and not particularly comfortable place in which to linger.  But about ten, maybe even twenty years ago, they overhauled the space and it now is bright with restaurants--fast food and otherwise-taverns, all sorts of amenities, not to mention the comings and goings from everyone who is just commuting from a suburb, to those--like my table partner for an hour--who was off to Syracuse to visit his fiancee after having traveled from some spot in Maine to make the connection.

I sat in South Station sipping some ice coffee reading a tome I picked up which has become a burden to carry and given its length, something of a burden to plow through (These Guys Have All the Fun). After my fiancee visiting neighbor went for his train ("It's always late" he told me.  Prompting my sophomoric--unstated--thought that I bet he hopes his fiancee won't be after their rendezvous), another fellow--he silent-sat down for a spell.  Then a young dad with his son who attempted to grapple with a slice of pizza that was about the kid's size.  The mom came by with a chicken sandwich for the kid having gotten her signals crossed with dad about who was taking care of lunch.  Then I left.

I walked up through what is called Downtown Crossing. There, not far from where Macy's and Filene's stood next to each other in their hey day, a choir of Mennonites, were crooning for the passersby.  They were singing, very sweetly, about religion while those, I imagine, who could not carry a tune were mingling with the audience handing out pamphlets that conveyed the same message.  It was more fun to listen to the singers.

 I proceeded up through the Boston Common which is the route to the Athenaeum.  What a diversity of humanity were sprawled here and there.  Businesspeople eating lunches, homeless sleeping with their life in bags near them, tots darting around, appropriately, childishly as their parents told them to get back over here.  A cluster of teenagers walked past with boys gossipping about girls, and girls pretending to ignore the boys.

There were a couple of calls I needed to make. So I dialed, thanks to the Jetsons coming to our lives, from my portable phone.  After I left a message for two people, thanks again to the Jetsons, I got a hold of my erstwhile tennis partner to shmooze about something.  He and I have not played in three years as I have been out of commission and he too has had bouts on the injury list.  We are about ready in a month to give it a whack.

Finally about two hours after arriving in South Station I move toward the Athenaeum.  Today, Friday, the place closes at 5, so I was startled when I got to the doorway and a librarian told me that the place was closing. Apparently I did not notice a banner on the website that said that today had a special closing for staff.

Okay,  a bit disappointing, but it is a gorgeous day in New England so I walked through the Common again, and then to the adjacent Public Garden which is a magnificent rectangular spot that includes a duckboat ride and statues of ducks from the kids' story, Make Way for Ducklings.

The Boston Public Library is beyond the Public Garden a few blocks west and I figured I would park myself there.  I get to the entrance and there is a crowd around it.  I am told that it too is closed because of a fire scare.  Fortunately, this was only a temporary scare and within fifteen minutes we were allowed in.

When I was first told that the library was closed, I said to myself, "Not My Day."  The fact is, though, that it had been and will continue to be a great day even if every building I go to in the next few hours is closed like Fort Knox.  I am here, living and breathing.  Drop dead beautiful day here.  Get to talk with a guy who is seeing his sweetheart in Syracuse, and the dad of a kid that is struggling to hold up a slice of pizza, and talk to my tennis partner, and see the duck boats, and listen to true believers speak about their lord, and do all those things dead people are screaming at us, we the living, to take advantage of before we join them on the other side.

Not my Day? No. The challenge is to remember that every day is our day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Personal Invitation

It is happening with amusing frequency.

I received today a personal letter, addressed to me in cursive writing.  It looks like an invitation to a wedding.  But I knew it likely was not that because of the stamp.

What the letter was, was a "personal invitation" to a "special event."  The event was being hosted by a young woman named Gabriella Indeglia whose title according to the smart looking invitation is "Hearing Professional." I am invited to have someone look inside my ears using a Video Otoscope. This way I can be introduced to a "fascinating tool" that will help Fraulein Indeglia assess the cause of my "hearing difficulties." And then sell me a device.

For the record, I have no hearing difficulties.  You sneeze in Kansas I am at the ready with a handkerchief.  I can hear the chatter at the ball park nearby and the little league ball park farther away without difficulty.  And also, should Ms. Indeglia have a versatile background in the therapeutic professions, I could inform her that with spectacles I can see distances just fine. For reading, I need no glasses at all.  My short term memory is from hunger, but long term memory is very good--so if Ms. Indeglia wants to peddle an elixir to cure memory, she needs to find another client.

What Beltone Hearing Aid Centers (the employer apparently of Dr. Indeglia) is betting on is my years.  In Spanish we learned to say, Cuantos años tienes usted?*   How old are you?  Beltone does not need to ask. Beltone somehow knows how old I am, and figures they have a shot that I am losing my hearing. Other folks send me letters because they figure I cannot see. And other folks send me brochures thinking I am looking for assisted living. And other folks figure I have low testosterone, And other folks think I could use a colonoscopy. And other folks figure I may need a nurse to help me do this and that. And other folks think it would be useful if I could attach an elevator to the handrail that goes upstairs.

I get it. I am getting older.  But still, don't you think this type of peddling is a bit like meddling and is insensitive.  I'll let you know if I can't see or hear or need a nurse. I'll tell you what, I will send all you meretricious no-goodniks some letters.  I will invite you to

  • lessons on sensitivity
  • maturity training
  • lectures on ethics and values
  • workshops on how to deal with the end of your life when you have lost all your friends because you sold your soul.
Stuff like that.

No more personal invitations please.  I'll get in touch when I need you.  

*(I probably butchered the spelling with Cuantos años tienes usted? But I know I got the tilde over the n in años right.  I know this because I am familiar with the horrible error that Dupont made when peddling their paint in Spanish speaking countries. They wanted to write "Dupont for years", meaning Dupont paint will last for years.  The word for years in Spanish is años, but make sure that tilde is over the n. If not and you advertise your product as Dupont did writing:  "Dupont for anos" instead of "Dupont for años" you are not telling all that Dupont is good for years, but Dupont is good for anuses. In other words, if you are an ass this stuff is for you.  Remember the Maine? No. Remember the tilde).