Friday, October 27, 2017


Tomorrow night is the date of our fiftieth high school reunion.

I've been to several others in the past.  Our 20th was very well attended. After that, fewer people came.  There was a small get together last weekend for those of us who started college 50 years ago. Some there talked about their 50th high school reunion.  It seems as if the turnout has not been robust for many of these.

Social media has been active in terms of ours.  People have been chatting for months asking about who is coming and from what distance.  A buddy of mine who I have seen a bunch of times since 67 is now living in Malaysia and he is coming in (not just for this).  Others from various parts of the US.

These can be heady experiences. For one night you rocket back to the past. Almost everyone is recognizable if you imagine that they went to a make-up artist in 67 and were made up to look 50 years older.  There's typically more pounds on us all, and hair is either grayer, colored, or gone.  But the mannerisms after a few minutes are just like they were and even manners of speaking.

There was a request for the place to be a no politics zone and I am hopeful that this request is honored. It will not be easy because some of the back and forth a year ago on social media was less than respectable.  We've always had open bars at these, but for reasons that I can't actually identify, in the past nobody has gotten ripped at the event. If this proves an exception the gloves may come off. I remember thinking that at the 20th, it would be a boozy affair recalling how some would, illegally, bang them back as high schoolers. But almost nobody went to the bar and the buffet wasn't touched much either.

The thing about this one is that, as someone mentioned in a post, this is likely the last time we will see many of our classmates.  And not necessarily because this could be the last official reunion.  The list of deceased, of course, gets longer each time we meet, but now the numbers are coming at a more rapid rate.  It's sobering.

Tonight there is a cocktail hour warm up event at the hotel where the shindig tomorrow takes place.  I won't be at it.  One reason is that I no longer live near my high school home. Another is more fundamental: one night is enough. There are people from my high school whom I see regularly without official reunions.  I will be happy to see others, very much so, but after three hours of conversing there will not be much to say to these acquaintances. Except maybe goodbye.

The past is not even the past, said Faulkner, or words to that effect.   It would be wise to think of the future as the present.

Go Gulls.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Act One

So the story goes like this.

When I was a junior in high school my English teacher gave us all an assignment to read a biography. The idea was that after reading the biography and becoming acquainted with the subject we would have to, in lieu of our usual book report, give a speech to the class.   For the speech, we would pretend that we were introducing the main character in the biography to a group that was attending an event where the main character would be speaking.

It was I think--now having the perspective of a teacher for 40 years--a very good assignment.  It would, one would think, force us to read a biography and understand it sufficiently to be able to "introduce" the subject of the book to the class.

I have a vague idea of how I selected the book.  I think I waited, go figure, until the last minute to find one and asked dad if he had any ideas.  It may not have happened that way, but I know I picked a book that had been in dad's bookcase for a spell.  It was called Act One an autobiography of the great playwright Moss Hart.  I did not know who Moss Hart was, but the book on the bookshelf satisfied the requirement, and maybe Dad recommended it.

I started reading it and I liked it.  It was funny in parts. Hart relayed how he had wanted to be in the Theatre from an early age and stayed focussed on that goal.  His family was poor and, maybe like all families, quirky. There was an eccentric Aunt who encouraged Hart's aspirations, a domineering grandfather, a shy brother, a dad who could barely make a living, and a mother who tried to keep the starving family together.

What happened was that the deadline for making my speech was coming up and I had only finished the first part of the book--232 pages of the 450 plus page autobiography. I figured I would not have enough time to finish the book so I started writing the speech based on what I had read.  On occasion, even as a kid, I was able to make decent presentations.  I crafted an engaging introduction and delivered the speech to the class well enough to get some genuine strokes from classmates who were no doubt more prepared but less poised when delivering a talk. I earned an A, as I recall, on my effort.

Dad asked how the talk had gone and I told him. And then I said half as a brag, that I got an A even though I had not finished the book.

Dad was not the kind of guy who would get riled up about this sort of thing usually. His attitude, more often than not, about my less than studious habits as a teen, was to wave his hand meaning a combination of "there's nothing I can do if you want to be a goof" and "I got bigger fish to fry than to worry about you."

I remember once when he and my mother came to Albany where I went to college. He saw a list of the various lectures that were scheduled on campus and said something like, "These are great. They've got famous people coming here. Do you ever go to these?" I probably looked at him as if to say, "Dad, you know me. I play basketball in the afternoons."  He made a face, but did not read me the riot act.

However, when I told him that I had not, and did not plan to, read the second part of Act One, he got uncharacteristically upset.  He said the first part was good, but the second part very very important to read.  He then said something that he never had said to me previously and never said again. He said that if I did not read the second half he was going to tell my teacher.

Well, I knew that was a bluff and being all wise and smart and knowing everything I needed to know on planet earth at 15, did not even consider reading the second half of the book.

Libraries around here, and I am sure libraries everywhere, hold annual used book sales. There is one in particular that is very popular. When I am around during the time of their sale I tend to go into this basement where they store the books and see what I can get.  I have become something close to a book worm as an adult and find reading a fun hobby as anyone who reads my blogs regularly will know.  So, I am often in that basement poking around for a good read.

On a recent visit to the book sale I spotted Act One and I was reminded of the incident with my dad, the speech assignment, and his desire for me to finish the book.  I decided that I would get it, reread the first part and then finish what I had not finished 50 plus years ago.  Just completed the book this afternoon.

I was surprised at how much I remembered from the first part.  I enjoyed it the second time around as I had the first.  I am not sure the book is really appropriate for a fifteen year old. Lots of sophisticated vocabulary that I am sure I glossed over as a kid. Also, the issues that Hart dealt with, with his family were ones that I would not have fully appreciated in my teens.

The second part, while a tougher slog, became very powerful to me. It became so not because of the story itself but because of my recollection of how important Dad thought it was for me to finish it.

 The first part concludes with Hart taking a writing pad to the beach and deciding to become a playwright. The second part, for almost all of it, is about Hart's first successful play, Once in a Lifetime. There were many times when Hart could have quit.  He thought he had a winner, but then a reader decided that Hart needed a collaborator. The collaborator, George Kaufman, was a wonderful person to work with, but was idiosyncratic enough to make a lesser person decide to pack it in.

Hart did not pack it in. The two of them rewrote the play together. Then they went to Atlantic City for a tryout. And the second and third act stunk up the place.

They rewrote Once in a Lifetime again., with Hart coming up with an idea that seemed to be a real winner. They tried the play out again--the third act stunk up the place.

At one point Kaufman said essentially he had given it all he had. Hart was about to give up, but then he decided he would not.  He just could not. His parents and kid brother were still starving; he had no money to rub together, but he decided that come hell or high water, he was going to make this work.

So, he took the subway up to Kaufman's apartment barged in while Kaufman was taking a bath and said that they had to try again. They did.

They took the play to Philadelphia and the third act stunk the place up.  Hart and Kaufman at first decided they had no choice but take the stinker to New York. Maybe there would be a miracle and the New Yorkers would love it.  But then Hart reconsidered and thought that he did not want to bet on a miracle. Again, Hart rewrote the third act.

This time it worked. They went to New York. The audience loved it.  The reviews were fantastic.

Hart went to Brooklyn where his parents and brother were living in squalor and said, "pack a bag" we are moving to New York and never looking back. It's not in the autobiography but after that first hit, Hart had success after success as a playwright and director, most famously directing My Fair Lady.

So, what Dad wanted me to do was read the book to know and to never forget that if you have a dream you should chase it and despite the storms, if you believe in your ability to pursue the dream, deal with the storm to see the rainbow.

Vocationally, if not in all areas, I have been industrious and persevering despite never having finished Act One until two hours ago.  Regardless of how valuable it could have been to me at 15,  I know why he wanted me to read the book then.  And I wish I could tell him now, that I finished it.

After all this, do I recommend Act One? Well, for the reason that my father wanted me to read it, yes, but with a few qualifiers.

The first is that it can be tough sledding. Lots of pages with no conversation. My vocabulary now at three score and nearly eight, is pretty sophisticated, but I had to keep underlining words that were new to me.

Second you might get tired of reading about playwriting and the theatre if you are not naturally interested.

The third is a big qualifier. Before I finished I read a wikipedia article about Hart as I became intrigued about him in general and his collaboration with Kaufman.  I found out something that was mildly upsetting.  In this article it said that in the autobiography he had altered the facts about his quirky Aunt, and not insignificantly.  What is problematic about this is it made me start to wonder if he had changed any other facts to make the story better.  When you read an autobiography or biography you want, like Dragnet, the facts ma'am.  And if an author plays with the truth in one part, you wonder about the truth in another part. For example when Hart gets telegrams wishing him well on opening night, some of the well-wishers, it seemed to me, would be unlikely to even know that Hart was still in show business. It made for interesting reading though to think that people from his past had sent him telegrams.  Our past does create our background, but if these people did not all send him telegrams, then it was inappropriate to write that they had in something that claims to be non fiction.

In sum, even though I cannot unequivocally recommend the book. I am so very glad, Dad, that I finished it. And thank you for knowing that the lessons in those pages are important ones for anyone on the cusp of this life's journey.

Friday, October 13, 2017


The decision of the NCAA today regarding the UNC scandal is an abomination. Just unbelievable. Stunning baloney.  If you want to read my academic diagnosis of the scandal, then go to the new book Casing Crisis and Risk Communication where I have published a chapter that describes in detail the travesty at UNC.  On pages 57-67 I explain what occurred there.

In a nutshell, UNC players were kept eligible by taking bogus courses. For 18 years. Eighteen *%$# years. And the coaches claimed to have no knowledge of this.  Sure, for nearly two decades coaches never got a whiff of this.

The phony courses were created to service the athletes.  A side effect of having created the classes was that non athletes who found out about them could get into them. This fact was not good news to the people who created the ruse.

Today the NCAA said in effect that UNC could not be sanctioned for the easy classes because the NCAA does not police a school's curriculum, and since other UNC students took these classes then it was not a sports team violation, but a problem with curriculum.

This is what is wrong with college athletics. The NCAA did not take a stand on a case that is beyond egregious. What good is the NCAA if they do not sanction a school for such an outrageous offense.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Connie Hawkins

It had to be before June 1959.  My dad left the city school system then to work in the suburbs.  But prior to 1959 he worked in PS 83 in Brooklyn.  After school he had a regular moonlighting job as an after school faculty presence in a gym somewhere in Brooklyn.  There, a number of aspiring high school stars would come to the gym to strut their stuff.

On one or two occasions I would be with dad at the gym.  It wasn't that close to where our apartment was, so I am figuring that these were days that nobody was around at home and dad drew the responsibility of watching over us.  I was 9, pushing 10, in June 1959 and by that time my folks did not worry about me getting into too much trouble, so I'm thinking it was probably 1958 when this incident occurred.

I was hanging around dad, probably bouncing a ball on the sideline watching the "big kids" playing on the court. Dad asked me if I wanted to meet Connie Hawkins.

I don't think I knew who Connie Hawkins was at the time.  But dad brought me over and Hawkins shook hands with me when dad introduced his kid to him.  I remember the guy's hands were just enormous. Afterwards, I probably said something to my father like "who is this guy." And dad told me that Connie Hawkins was probably the best basketball player in New York City.  Dad had gotten to know him from the gym and followed Connie Hawkins's games because of this acquaintance and Hawkins's fame. Plus Connie Hawkins played for Boys High, the school where my dad graduated from in 1940 or 41.

So, I started following Connie Hawkins. He was such a star that other teams would just hold the ball and try to stall the game in the years before a shot clock. I have a memory of a picture of an announcer allegedly falling asleep in the PSAL (Public School Athletic League) championship game because Columbus did not want to take a shot. The final score (which incredibly I remembered accurately--just checked on Google) was Boys High 21-Columbus 15.

Hawkins earned a scholarship to play basketball at Iowa. And then things went south. Hawkins was accused of shaving points in a gambling scandal. He was kicked out of school and banned from playing in the NBA.  I remember dad shaking his head sadly when he read that news.

But the facts came out subsequently. Connie Hawkins had not been involved in the illegal activity.  A terrific book, Foul, described how he had been inaccurately accused and inappropriately convicted.  Hawkins sued and was victorious. He got to play in the NBA, became an all-star and is now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Connie Hawkins was Dr. J. before Dr. J. He defied gravity when he went up to shoot and, as my early introduction indicated, he had huge hands and could hold a basketball like it was a tangerine. Just a terrific player.

So I got a case of the blues this morning when I read that Connie Hawkins, at 75, passed away on Saturday.  Sad for Connie Hawkins; sad for me as it was yet another reminder that life is not infinite; and sad that I couldn't call dad and talk with him about the time he introduced me to Connie Hawkins at the after school program in Brooklyn.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher plus

I've read a number of decent books lately--one I'd describe as good, two very good of a certain ilk, and one is in the excellent category.

Sum it Up--By Pat Summitt is the autobiography of the outstanding women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. The story of her life is presented with the backdrop of her decline in health with Alzheimer's disease.  The book begins with her diagnosis which she categorically rejects and, like everything else she set out to do in life, believes she can and should be able to outwork.  Then we learn about her poor upbringing and playing/coaching successes with some marital ups and down sprinkled in.  Readers can not miss her devotion to her one child and Summitt's own hunger for paternal approval.

It is a good book if you are interested in women's basketball.  Readers will gain an appreciation for how hard she worked, and how hard she worked her players, to be successful.  What is also evident is that because of her father who could not express affection, there were some significant emotional gaps. She does not dwell on the demise of her marriage nor excessively criticize her husband, but you have to wonder if the marriage had any chance what with her need to compete and win as a coach.

 If you are interested in how Alzheimer's can abruptly change a life course, it is evident in the book. I came away thinking that Summitt was a much tougher person than I had thought she was.  I am not surprised that her son, whom she loved unconditionally, has had a bumpy go of it despite his mother's affection.

Here and Gone & The Couple Next Door--Let's say you have no desire to read War and Peace but you just want a page turner that is not ridickalus to hang out with for the weekend.  Either of these will do the trick. My favorite was the latter, but they are both very good and keep you turning pages.  Both, coincidentally, involve a mother who is looking for her kidnapped children. I did not seek out books about kidnapped children. My occasional source for book tips--the part time cashier at a local liquor store who is also a full-time librarian--recommended these.  Good tip. They are very well done, especially the second one.

Mrs. Fletcher--This book is outstanding.  I have liked Perrotta's others especially Little Children which was made into an entertaining movie and The Abstinence Teacher.  Also thought The Leftovers was good, though a little too Twilight Zone-ish for me.

Mrs. Fletcher is probably better than any of these others.  A forty something divorced woman takes her son to college and his absence at home highlights her loneliness. The book is told, mostly, from Mrs. Fletcher's perspective, but a large part is told in the first person from the son's vantage point.

The dialogue is both funny and, as they say or used to say, spot on. You can hear characters or have known characters who speak like this.  Mrs. Fletcher, aka Eve, (the name is maybe intended as an Adam and Eve reference) explores her own attitudes towards men and sex, and so do several other well drawn characters.  The book is not pornographic or erotic unless thinking about sexual issues is arousing just because it forces you to contemplate activity.  But the book doesn't excite you in the way erotica does.  What it does is make you think about what Mrs. Fletcher considers.  Other characters are also thinking about sexual conflicts as well. A former classmate of Eve's son and a co-worker at Eve's place of work.  There's a voluptuous female professor who has an atypical background. Eve's son is sort of a frat jerk and he gets a lesson in appropriate behavior from a woman who had been at one time sexually attracted to the kid.

The book is laugh out loud funny and is a catalyst for thinking about intimacy as well.  Highly recommended.