Friday, March 30, 2018

plumber's pants

Yesterday on my way to work, taking a route that I rarely use, I saw a fellow doing some work to the front of his house.  The house was set back from the road by a good thirty yards, could have been closer to forty or even fifty.  He was a large man, not large as in strong, large as in more than a little bit of extra weight on him.

What was noticeable more than anything was his plumber's pants.  Driving way away from where he was toiling I could see how low the jeans were riding in the back.  Not for the first time I wondered how it is possible that someone with plumber's pants is unaware. You have to think they would be aware.  There must be a breeze that can be felt.

Another time several years ago I was in a bar watching a football game. It was a sports bar. There, much closer to me than the worker was yesterday, was a woman cheering hard for one team or another.  Her back was to me.  Her plumber's pants were remarkable. How could she not know what everyone behind her could plainly see?

Beyond plumber's pants I have wondered what it is that we can't see about ourselves that is so plainly obvious to others.  There is a yiddish expression that when translated means: Noone can see their own hump.  It is true I guess. But plumber's pants are not subtle.  When the shirt comes out of my pants I can feel the air against my shirtless stomach.  Plumber's pants folks have to feel the air.  How could they miss it?

So, today I had to renew my passport. I fished it out the other day more to make sure I knew where it was than for any other reason.  I flipped through the pages and saw that it expired two weeks ago. Fortunately I am not planning to go to Timbuktu this weekend, but I did have to renew it. I went on line and read about the procedure.  I printed out the form, filled it out, went to my local post office where they facilitate the renewals, and will also take your passport photo.

Now, it was early. Only about 820 am.  I wanted to beat any crowd and, as it turned out, there was a gentleman in front of me.  In short order though the clerk was able to attend to me.  I had done my homework so all he needed to do was take the picture.  I walked over to the stool by the white screen- akin to ones they used to show films on in high school.  He took a picture, glanced at it, made a face as if to say the shot came out, and we walked back over to the counter.  He was able, thank you 21st century, to almost instantly make copies of the photos. He stapled one to the application and gave me the other.

The truth is that the photo made me look like a convict. An old convict. A gangster that perhaps has been living on the down low for years and finally, thirty years after hijacking trucks, has been caught.  Some sort of minor league thug from the Goodfellahs movie.

If I had not been sitting on the stool and centrally involved with the photography I might have told the postal clerk that he had taken the wrong photo from a bunch. "You are wrong sir. Yes, this person looks like me, actually more like some relative twenty years my senior. Ha Ha. But that is not me."

But I knew it was me. I was there. He had just taken the picture. He hadn't slipped a photo of say, Johnny, Two Hats, Patchagaloo onto my application.  That was me. "I don't look like that" I heard myself say.

But I do. Obviously.

Kind of like plumber's pants.  What is discernible to everyone, may not be obvious to ourselves.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Almost Heaven

I had no intention of actually buying a ticket.  I decided last night to take the Orange Line down to North Station and feel the energy around the Garden.

Thursday began the Sweet Sixteen portion of the tournament. One of the regionals is here in Boston. So last night players and fans of West Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, and Texas Tech are hereabouts. I wanted to see if Causeway Street--the street by the arena--was buzzing.

It was. Causeway Street was populated with garbed fans identifying their loyalties with sweatshirts, hats, and windbreakers. At 650 pm it was mostly West Virginia and Villanova folks since that game was the first of the doubleheader that would begin at 730.  Amidst the fans were dozens of scalpers peddling tickets they hoped would fetch a fortune.

I walked into a tavern that in the Fall is the home of Buffalo Bills loyalists. It was jammed as in you had to turn sideways to get anywhere through Villanova rooters.  It was fun to hear the buzz but uncomfortable to get around without jostling a beer and those who were toting them.  So, I left that place and went around the corner. In this place, one where I have rooted for the Patriots on occasion, it was a madhouse of West Virginia fans. In fact, as I walked in they were crooning--many of whom not looking as if they would pass a sobriety test--the John Denver song, Almost Heaven West Virginia. It was fun to hear the place rock with the fans.

I figured that in a few minutes both the first and second place would empty out as the denizens therein would be going to the game.  Very wrong.  These people live in the Boston area and are alums or otherwise followers of West Virginia and Villanova. Not going to the game. Congregating to watch the game.  It was wild, and the publicans were not shedding any tears. This was like they had a double shot at St. Patty's Day.  Two weeks in a row the joints were jammed.

I only stayed for the first half.  The game was exciting but for me the more engaging phenomenon was observing those engaged and how, a sport, can bring together community in a way that few other causes can.

On a related note, I wanted to stay up to see the Syracuse Duke game that was on late coming from Nebraska.  As exciting as Syracuse's last game was, this one was a soporific. Both teams played stifling zones and the offense for each possession was the same.  I kept nodding off.  The announcers were saying intermittently what a great game it was.  Not for me.  If all contests during this tournament were similarly played they would not refer to this period as March Madness.

Friday, March 23, 2018


I have watched a high percentage of the fifty-six games played thus far. There may be only three or four that I've missed entirely, and there are a few that were on late at night when the snooze button in my head was repetitively activated. And then, like last night, there are times when games are concurrently played so, if at home like last night, there is only one game I can see at a time.

But I have watched a bunch. Some comments.

Several teams are playing with little guys. Little guys, in college basketball are about six four.  And sometimes these teams are prevailing. Last night Kansas State somehow beat the University of Kentucky and it was like the little guys against the big guys out there. The winning layup was made by a relative midget driving against a tall Kentucky player.  In an earlier game, Loyola and Vermont were scoring often by driving to the hoop with no shot blocker there to swat the ball away.

Three of the four teams already in the Elite Eight are nine seeds or higher. This is remarkable and an indication of either poor seeding or parity or just some bizarre games. Speaking of bizarre games...

UMBC lost to my alma mater by forty points early this year. And then they beat the number one seed in the tournament, Virginia, by 20. By 20.  And because of this the coach of UMBC is now hot stuff. When he lost to Albany by 40 I imagine he was considering taking the head coaching job at PS 194 in Brooklyn, my elementary school where the gym smelled, every single day, like tomato soup.  And now, no tomato soup gym for this coach, he is likely to make over a million dollars next year because of one FLUKE win.  For those not following the tournament, UMBC got into March Madness only because a player hit a long shot at the buzzer of his preliminary tournament. When I played every once in a while I would get so hot that everything I tossed up went down. UMBC had a night like that against Virginia.  It was a FLUKE.  A million dollar FLUKE.

I loved the way Syracuse beat Michigan State. That was as gritty a win as I have ever seen. Syracuse's zone is unpredictable. Sometimes they look like five old guys playing a 2-1-2 at the Y. And other times you simply cannot penetrate the zone.  My favorite part of the game was when some Syracuse players fouled out and the Orange had to put in a player for six very meaningful minutes who had played a grand total of 11 meaningless minutes the entire year. 

Too bad for Gonzaga. Mark Few is supposed to be one of the good guys.

Route and destination

Yesterday I had the experience that any reader who regularly drove to the same work place for years has had.  I pulled into the lot, parked the car, and realized that I could not recall how I got there.

I knew of course that I'd left the house, but after leaving Auburndale, a spot on my route, I had only a fuzzy recollection of making the left on Moody, then right on whatever the name of that road is that I have made a right on for twenty years, made the next right, made the right at the Ribs place that I have to go back to, made a left onto the ramp to the Pike, got on the Pike, got off the Pike, swung around Copley passing the Cheesecake factory, made the left on Mass Ave, waited at the sometimes interminable light, dodged the bicyclists who are forever thinking that there is a bonafide lane when there is not, made the right on Columbus, and pulled into the garage where the attendant squinted her eyes to make sure I had a parking decal.  Couldn't remember much of anything after Auburndale.

I sat there for a moment and wondered how I could have gotten to this spot without remembering anything about the drive.  It was as if I was two individuals.  One: the conscious person who was thinking about my classes, a writing project, whether it is worth it to keep paying for satellite radio, the condo in Florida, the snow that was predicted and did not come, the parents of school aged kids who must be livid that they cancelled snow on the basis of a forecast of snow when there was not a flake on the ground. Two: the autopilot me who made all the correct turns without registering them.

There I was in the parking garage and could not remember much of anything about how I got here.

And then the metaphor surfaced.

How did I get here? How did we get wherever we are?  How conscious have I been of the turns in the road when I have taken them such that I wound up where I am. I would imagine for people with children and particularly large families this sensation is even more pronounced.  What with taking kids to soccer games, planning for overnights, getting ready for holidays, deciding who is going to pick up the dry cleaning and who is responsible for remembering that we need paper towels--a day can be packed with so many chores that twenty years of such days later you find yourself somewhere and ask how the hell that happened.

But you don't need to have multiple tasks to find yourself in a spot and say whoa, how did this happen?  There is a scene in About Schmidt with Jack Nicholson, where he wakes up and asks himself how did he wind up in this bed, in this city, sleeping with this old person on the other side of the bed (and his wife when she awakens probably thought the same thing).  The healthiest among us are those who are aware of our routes and desired destinations.  But it is inevitable that even the most self actualized of us will have an awakening periodically and ask with some discomfort, "how did I get here?"

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Yesterday I saw parts of nearly all the games.  It was not like being in Las Vegas for a number of reasons. 

I did not hear the incessant ringing of one armed bandits while I watched, either downstairs or when I decided to recline in the bedroom.  I did not consume a single malt beverage yesterday-very non Las Vegas like.  When I went out for a short drive, the street where I live was not filled with people holding cards on which pictures of very scantily clad stormy daniels wannabes could be seen. For  dinner I did not sit at a buffet and devour more calories than the entire population of say, Guam, consume in a year. And I did not lose my shirt betting on games that are essentially a flip of the coin. 

But otherwise there were similarities. I kept a chart of the spreads and the over unders.  I did not pick teams because what is the point. Nobody in my household would be paying out if I had a winner.  Still I looked at the odds and followed the games.

An interesting thing occurred. If you read the book you know I argue that betting on college basketball games can be fun, but it is not going to bring anyone any real money except in very rare instances. All the games are presented as even propositions. That is, if you wanted to bet on Duke today you have to give up 9.5 points to Rhode Island. At last glance this should not be a problem, but going into the contest it is tossup. 

To prove that point, yesterday the favorites won 7 games by beating the spread, and the dogs won 7 games by getting within the spread. One was a push (a tie) and one game was a pick-em.  And, guess what--8 games made the over, and 8 games came in with the under. 

Now it doesn't always work this way. I can remember one time in Las Vegas--relayed in the Madness of March--where a well oiled gambler opined, "the dogs, the dogs, the dogs, the dogs," and this night he was right as nearly every dog beat the spread.  But typically it is even.

And that is why the lights are on in Las Vegas, and in some casinos they give free beer.  The casinos are raking it in.

I make the point in the book that when people go to Las Vegas this week, they do so for a lark. It is fun, a vacation. Earlier this year I was contacted by someone who heads a facebook group of people who travel out. He wanted me to send him a couple of autographed books that he raffled off to his buddies. I did so delightfully (and am now an august member of the group).  I am not there as I have written, but I can just imagine the fun.  The amateur bettors are hunkering down now because in ten minutes or so the six night games to be played in the next 7 hours are about to begin. 

The reason I went to Las Vegas during March Madness the first time in 2001 is because it was billed as one of the 100 things to do before you die. If you are a fan, trust me. It is. Go. 

Friday, March 16, 2018


I read this morning that a Congresswoman has passed after she fell in her home. She was 88.  I recall that when my dad and mom were alive they would refer to friends who were hospitalized after falling. I could not get my arm around it as a relatively young man.  And this is to my discredit. Obviously it happens that what I once considered a simple fall can have disastrous consequences.

The point was driven home to me as I read the article today because last night-- I fell. I was walking in downtown Waltham which has become a rather busy place with more than a dozen restaurants and taverns, a movie theatre, ice cream shop, Indian grocery store the size of Kansas that people come from all over to frequent, and other enterprises of this and that. 

We have had some weather hereabouts. Three times in three weeks--no exaggeration--we have  been hit with storms. I was away for storm two but was back for storm three. Often in New England what passes for a blizzard would not be considered much of anything by those in Buffalo where I resided for the better part of a decade in the seventies and early eighties. But the third one here was a snowfall. Lots of wind and lots of snow.

A fellow who moved to San Diego left me a primitive snowblower when he departed.  I don't use it much because I don't mind shoveling snow and it is such a primitive device that it takes some energy to push the guy along. Also for certain kinds of snow--wet snow--it is not that helpful.  On Tuesday I went out twice during the day with my shovel. I should not have bothered. By the time I went out at 8 pm everything I had done was undone by the snow that had come by in the interval.  So, I took out the blower. It was great, but even with it, I was out there for close to 90 minutes.

Much of it melted in the past days, but last night it got cold again. So as I was walking home I watched my step for black ice.  Missed a spot and came kerplunking down half on the sidewalk and half in the street as I recollect it.  I knew or at least thought I had not broken anything and felt fortunate for that. But I could have. I was wearing my specs and could have come crashing down face forward. But did not.

Nevertheless today I woke up, and all day long, I cannot lift my left arm over my head. Very painful. I'm not a wuss, but if someone put a gun to my head I do not think I could stick em up with my left arm.

I wonder at myself often, as I approach three and a half score, of how foolish I was when I was even ten years younger, and how many of the things I assumed had to be true for everyone--like someone in good shape would not be hobbled by a simple fall.  I also recall my folks talking about people they'd lost and how that was depressing.  I knew it was not easy to lose friends, but I did not realize how much it could bring you down and, whether you liked it or not, thrust your mortality right in front of you.

Fire and Fury

I finished Fire and Fury this afternoon.  If half the things in the book are true, we are in greater jeopardy than I thought, and I thought--prior to reading the book--that we were cooked.

In parts very funny, but the prevailing reaction is concern.  And occasionally wonder at how strong our country must be to be able to function with such a strange duck nominally leading the nation.

Trump is described as someone who does not read or listen, and is not particularly knowledgeable. He has surrounded himself with people he can tolerate until he cannot--and then jettisons them, sometimes for good reasons but those reasons are the reasons they should not have been hired in the first place. Steve Bannon actually comes out as one of the more sane people who worked in the white house.  That is not comforting.

If you are an anti Trump liberal, I am not sure this book will do anything other than make you feel even stronger that the man is unfit. If you are a Trump fan you are likely to dismiss the contents as bogus. If you are neutral you will not be so when you are done.

The author has been criticized as playing loose with the facts in the past. Even if some incidents have been mischaracterized, too much must be so. 

Where are the responsible Republicans and responsible Democrats?  Neither population gets any credit for behaving as they have. The Republicans don't criticize sufficiently. The Democrats appear to be cowards.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

spring training

I drove up to Jupiter this afternoon to watch the Florida Marlins play the St. Louis Cardinals.

Spring Training is an interesting scene. The games mean nothing but the fans are there rooting for wins regardless.  The Marlins and Cardinals share the same stadium. In a strange reversal, whereas all northern teams go south for Spring Training, the Marlins actually travel north.  And despite the proximity to what I assume is the Marlins fan base in Miami, the stadium was packed with Cardinals fans. Real ones too. Bonafide serious Cardinal fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite players.

I sat next to three delightful guys from Springfield Illinois--serious Cardinal fans. The fellow immediately to my left was the genuine article.  He knew more about baseball than I do and I know my fair share. He was relaying terrific anecdotes about Bob Gibson and Augie Busch and even the midget Bill Veeck sent up the plate (number 1/8th) as a stunt. He told stories about Earl Weaver--the Orioles long time manager--that were priceless. We both exchanged memories about the 64 and 67 Cardinal world series.  Terrific game watching partner.

I was sitting next to these guys by luck. They had sold their extra ticket to a fellow who then sold it to me.  The trio had travelled to Jupiter from Fort Myers where they had watched games over on the west coast and were going to see two games in Jupiter and then at least one other in West Palm Beach.

In addition to these two, there were some real fans in front of us who, it seemed to me, wished we behind them would shut up so they could focus on the game.  It is Spring Training, the games mean zero, many of the players have as much a chance of making the team as I do--yet when a pitcher started to falter one said to the other in all seriousness--better get someone warmed up.

The atmosphere in Spring Training is far more laid back than during the regular season.  The stadium is like a miniature with an appropriately miniature (but substantive in terms of offerings) concession area.  A fellow in a golf cart takes you from where you park your car to the stadium.  The drivers are not into making a shekel, they are retirees just having fun doing something fun on a beautiful afternoon.

Worse ways to spend time, than watching a Spring Training baseball game.

Pickleball day 2

Okay, now I have the scoring down.

Played for the second consecutive day.  I am almost to the stage where I know the rules and have become adjusted to the racket.  Not quite aware of all strategy of course.

The players with whom I have been learning are seniors. So am I for that matter. I may, however, be a better athlete than many of the others and of those who are gifted, I am a few years younger.  I am not sure what this game is like with people who are young and naturally athletic.  There is a lot of hand eye coordination and instinctive reactions.  I can do that well enough but I imagine there is more to it for those who take this seriously.

Today was chilly by Florida standards so even though I played several consecutive games I did not break much of a sweat.  The leader of the group told me that there is a website which will identify where in Boston there are courts and players. I'll explore this.

The best part of today was the same as the best part of yesterday.  I had no pain moving and twisting my torso.  Now 12 hours later I am a bit stiff from not having done much in the way of twisting for the past four years, but my hip does not hurt and my achilles tendon seems just fine.

Probably the best player on the court is 84.  He told me today that he used to play paddle ball with my father nearly fifty years ago. I can recall substituting for some of Dad's regulars on at least one occasion.  I am not certain, but I believe the one occasion that I can recall clearly, I was subbing for the fellow I met today.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pickle Ball

About five years ago a buddy of mine tore my ear off talking about a game I'd never heard of. The fellow is prone to exaggeration, so I listened, more amused at what I assumed was hyperbole than intrigued. Then two years back someone else mentioned pickle ball and how it was becoming a popular sport.  Then last year, March of 2017, I came to the condo in Florida and two of the tennis courts had been converted to pickle ball courts.  I thought to give it a try sometime down the road. Today I found myself at that place on the road.  While the folks up north are getting walloped with yet another storm, I arrived yesterday to see some spring training games and, apparently, learn how to play pickle ball.

I had not planned on playing when I did. I drove toward my breakfast spot early this morning and saw the courts were occupied. I gave a look. Next thing I knew I was recruited.

If you read the book, The Accidental Tourist, you remember how quirky the main character's family was and how they played a bizarre card game. Only the family members knew the rules and whenever an in-law tried to get it, the outsider became confused initially, and then exasperated.  Well, I did not become exasperated today, but the scoring and rules are unfamiliar.  By the third match (games go to nine) I think I got the scoring. (1-4-2 is a score. It refers to the score of the server, the opponent, and the person serving).  The rules I am less certain about. Here is an example of a strange one. You must serve into a box and while typically you can hit the ball on a fly, you cannot hit it on a fly after the serve has been returned, and you cannot get into "the kitchen" (essentially close to the net) unless the ball bounces.  Double partners switch sides sometimes but not others.

Really, I was just playing simon sez out there--following the regulars.  I know I will get the rules, but it seemed like the card game in the Accidental Tourist in this my first outing.

You play with a paddle that is not as big as a paddle racket, but bigger than a ping pong racket. The ball is something akin to a whiffle ball. It does not bounce. Couple that fact with the size of the racket and someone, like me, who always was good on half volleys, will whiff on more than one humbling occasion.

Can you break a sweat?

Just by learning the scoring you can break a sweat.  But seriously I did and only played three games. Each game lasted less than 20 minutes.  Of course I am in Florida not in Boston where I hear there will be much snow for me to shovel when I return.  So perhaps I would not have perspired so much in the northeast, but I can see how you can get a workout. Also, we played doubles. Singles I could definitely see making you sweat. Not a lot of running, but quick movements are key. The whiffle balls do not go far so there are nearly no breaks between points except when someone is contesting the score.

The best news of the day is that my bionic hip which has not been tested really in anything approaching a competition since 2014, and my achilles tendon ripped exactly 51 weeks ago on St. Patty's Day 2017, both held up.  I'm looking forward to going out tomorrow and giving the whiffle ball a whack.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


My plane was an hour late taking off for Charleston, but I still arrived at the North Charleston Coliseum in time on Sunday to see the entire second game of the first doubleheader.

Last weekend, running into last night, the CAA played its end of season tournament to decide which school would be invited to the big dance that begins in earnest on Thursday.  I had followed Northeastern's basketball all season, and was there both as a scribe/researcher and also as a fan to see the games. I'd bought the package of tickets that would give me entrance to nine basketball games in a four day period.  Had it not been for some miscommunication with my hotel's shuttle service, and the flight delay,  I would have been able to see four games on Sunday alone. As it was I saw three. Lots of basketball. Very good seats.

The CAA is a mid major conference.  As it relates to the big dance,--the moniker for the NCAA Division I basketball tournament-- being a mid major means that only one team from that conference will be invited to participate.  Therefore the energy at these conference tournaments can be significant.  In the SEC the tournament will be exciting, but the consequences not especially significant. A team like Kentucky will be invited to the big dance, even if they get shellacked in the first round.  Not so in the CAA. You lose, you are out.  Also, in the mid majors it is not unheard of for a team that stunk up the court all year to suddenly get hot and win the tournament. A team can be stellar all season, and have an off night, and then are not invited to the dance.

So for a fan and a scribe the CAA could provide--and in fact this year did provide--a good deal of excitement.  The problem for my university and, by extension really the whole league, is that the venue for the tournament happened to be a short distance from one of the participating schools' campus.  And this year, that school was a team that advanced to the finals.  So last night, Northeastern played what amounted to an away game in the championship, and while leading almost the entire game succumbed at the end and lost in overtime.

I saw the three games on Sunday and two on Monday. Then on my flight on Tuesday I take my window seat and overhear the fellow on the aisle speaking about how he is getting people to go to the championship game.  We talked  basketball all the way from take off to landing. For those engaged, March Madness can be all engaging.

One of the announcers last night claimed that these moments can affect us for life.  I think they can. Nobody who played in the championship game last night will forget what took place. I feel for our Northeastern players. The headlines today will read that they squandered a lead. This is so, but the reason they had a lead to squander is that they played brilliantly in the first thirty minutes. I have watched many games this season and that is as good as we play.  So, maybe give credit to the team for being up by so many in the first place.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Garbage Day

Bad day for garbage day in the Northeast.

About fifteen minutes ago I returned from some errands--dry cleaner, post office, library, grocery store.  Driving today in my neighborhood is an olympic event.  Today is garbage day and it is also a day when the rain and wind have come with force.

They call storms nor'easter's in these parts. It is not always accurate. This storm for example has headed our way from the midwest and it seems often to me that we get hit after those to the west have already been pummeled. If I studied meteorology or watched the weather channel regularly I might get the name.

I am not someone who spends a good deal of time on the weather channel or weather sites. I figure I can step outside to see how cold it is, and look out the window to check if I need a raincoat.  But yesterday I took a look and we are in for some real wind and rain.  We live adjacent to a wooded area, so when storms like this hit, we are regularly waiting for one of these huge trees to fall. Thus far, and I will find some wood to tap, we just have to pick up debris after these storms. Once we did have a tree take out part of a fence.   You would have to see how close we are to the woods to get a sense of how precarious it could seem when it is windy.

So since it is garbage day, and since our garbage trucks usually visit this street and those in the vicinity about 1 pm, and since it is now only 10:34, all over the streets are garbage cans and the garbage that had been in them. Driving to the various spots on my itinerary was a test of my steering capabilities particularly given that some items were rolling.

The metaphor here is not lost on me.  Aren't we often dodging garbage as we navigate time.  I think our maneuverability is being put to a greater test in 2018 than it has in previous times, because our country is being led by a bonafide solipsist. The decision yesterday to raise tariffs was certainly not a Republican standard idea.  The Wall Street Journal of all pubs gave Trump some heat this morning. But it is not just economics. We have the NRA intransigently blocking laws that would protect us hiding behind transparently illogical arguments.  The Russian investigation gets more frightening the more that is revealed.  Is our democracy an illusion?  Then of course there is our personal trash that we generate and leave out there because it is often too stinky to deal with.

Lots of garbage to dodge, today. Tomorrow too.