Friday, April 27, 2018

Killing Time

Last Saturday night we had a wedding. One of Donna's former colleagues' sons was to be wed. I've known this boy since he was a teen, and now he was getting hitched.  The colleague is someone I have gotten to be friendly with on my own.  She lost her husband a few years back and he too had become a friend.  So, this was to be a joyful occasion only diluted because Ken would not be there to share the joy.

The wedding was in a town that is South of the city.  We live due west.  The distance between the burghs is not far at all--maybe 20 miles tops--but Monday through Friday the route can be a headache.  You would easily have to plan for an hour's drive if you needed to arrive somewhere punctually.  The wedding invitation said the event would begin at 545. My experience with weddings is not all that substantive.  Usually, however, when you are told to get someplace at 545, the hosts have planned for tardiness and the dance does not begin for at least an hour afterwards.

Just to be sure to be on time we left at 5 giving ourselves only 45 minutes instead of an hour since it was a Saturday.  We got there in 20 minutes.  Since we did not think the event would begin until 615 at the earliest and we had arrived at 520 or so, I said "We've got to kill some time."

And immediately my head rocketed to an event that happened in 1959 or earlier.  My folks were visiting friends of theirs who lived on Staten Island. In 1959, while it may be difficult for anyone to believe who is not eligible for social security, there was no bridge that linked Brooklyn to Staten Island. You had to take a ferry boat to get to one of the boroughs of New York.

The thing with the ferry boat was that you could never tell how long you might have to wait on line to get on the thing if you were driving.  There were just so many cars the boat could handle.  We would always turn into the ferry line with trepidation not knowing if we were going to have to wait forever to get on.  This time, for some reason, there was no back up at all and we got on right away.

That was the good news. The bad news was that having anticipated a long wait we were in Staten Island way ahead of when we were supposed to meet the friends.  And I heard dad say to mom, "We have to kill some time."

I was at most 9 pushing 10. Could have been as young as 8 or 7.  The guy we were visiting actually died suddenly in December of 59 and I am nearly certain our visit was in the spring. I mention my age because I remember then that the expression "Kill some time" was new to me.  "Kill some time."  What did that mean?

(An aside here is that the phrase is apt right now because having checked the website before I got to the airport, and seeing that my flight to Boston was "on time" I am now parked in the august Pittsburgh international airport for three hours and have two more to wait, but that is a rant I will save for another date).

Kill time. What a concept.  I get its application of course in certain situations, but removing it out of such contexts, it is nonplussing.

A buddy of mine and I were discussing baseball strategy several years back. He asked me what was the most valuable element of a baseball game. I thought for a while and then got the right answer. "An out" I said.  They are the most valuable because you only have 27 of them in a game.  Once you are out of outs, you're out.  And there is a finite number of them.  The conversation was about the virtue of sacrifice bunts. His contention was that it was foolish to sacrifice because then you were losing a precious out.

Same with time.  We don't know the finite number of hours we have, but we know it is finite, or at least not infinite.  So killing time is the act of sacrificing, and exhausting, our most precious commodity.

This is an uncomfortable notion sitting here in the Pittsburgh airport at 9 having arrived at 528 and having been told that the plane we will be flying on, has still not left the runway at the airport it is coming from--but hey it's not like I had a choice.  If I had a choice, though, would I park myself someplace and not use the precious time I have?

Meanwhile we did a good job of killing time last Saturday. Drove down a long road. Came back. Parked in front of a synagogue to kill some more time.  Finally got back to the event venue at about 555. We walked in, and the place was packed. Everyone was seated.

They were not kidding saying to be there at 545.  We found seats way in the back in the last row that had any vacant ones. Within a few moments the ceremony began.

 I guess the wed couple to be didn't want to kill any time.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


On Tuesday I went into a local bank where I have had, up to that day, only positive interactions with persons who work there.  As opposed to other, larger, banks there is almost never any line to reach a teller. When there is any sort of queue someone from the back offices will come out.  Always efficient and polite.  Typically I actually enjoy going in there because it is a place of efficiency and normalcy.

I had a small check.  I inherited from a grandfather who died before I was born a few shares of Kraft. He'd been employed by Kraft and somehow bequeathed shares to grandchildren yet unborn.  We all, eleven of us, received two shares. In the late 80s Kraft sold or was absorbed or something.  In the transaction instead of Kraft I somehow received a couple of shares of another stock. This company, to this day, sends me quarterly checks for amounts that are likely not worth much more than the postage and human power that is required to mail them out.  Earlier this week I got a whopper in my post office box--a check for six dollars and twenty four cents.

I walked to the bank near the post office.  I had fished out of my wallet and pants pocket, three dollars and seventy six cents. With my windfall and the 3.76 I had unearthed I would be able to get a ten dollar bill at the bank. I have done this many times when I have received these tiny checks.   I try to find the change that would give me an even dollar amount and walk to the bank. Never had any problem.

I go to the bank where I have both a savings and checking account. The teller, a woman I had never seen previously, takes my check, my driver's license, and my bank card.  She seems a bit puzzled and I figure I may be working with a newcomer.  She starts to write down my driver's license number on the check, crosses it out, writes another number.  She sees that I have put 3.76 on the table.

"What's the cash for?" she says--not truculently--but as if I am some sort of difficult customer.  I tell her, without any sort of edge, that when this amount is added to the amount of the check, I would like a ten dollar bill.

She says "The computer does not like that."

"Say again?" I respond.

"The computer does not like that." she repeats flatly.

"I'm not asking the computer to do anything.  If you add this to the amount of the check it equals ten dollars."

She sighs.  "Fine. How do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"I am just going to give it back to you. I don't care how you give it to me."

Again she says, "how do you want your money, singles or a five?"

"Whatever is easier for you. A five; fine." I say, still more incredulous than rancorous.

She puts on the counter a five dollar bill and twenty six cents in change.

I say, "The check is for 6.26"  Now I have an edge.

She looks at the check. Sees I am correct but says matter of factly "The computer read it as 5, not 6."

Now she has to call in a manager.  Before she does so, a woman to her right with whom I have interacted effortlessly for well over a year, offers to handle my case.  I am delighted to make this change but the rookie bristles and says that she has it.

The manager comes over. Does something with the computer.  The rookie says, "Okay now" and places 6.24 cents on the counter.

"Good" I say. "Now take the 6.24 and add it to the 3.76 and give me a ten dollar bill."

"Okay" she says "That is much better."

It was all I could do to refrain from asking her when she had the lobotomy.

But I leave and feel as if I did not need that. I am on my way to work, all was well, I have a simple transaction and I have to deal with someone--who has the fingers on my accounts in a bank--who can't handle a simple transaction involving a tiny check.

Not a big deal, but immediately the words that begin the Poe short story "The Cask of Amontillado" rush to my head. "The thousand insults of Fortunato I had endured."

I read the story in high school--no doubt because we had to read a short story and it was the shortest one I could find.  But apparently I remembered it, at this moment.

I thought of it because while what happened at the bank was not a major insult, it was a bump--the kind of bump we all endure. Sometimes we are at 100% bump capacity and in order to move along calmly we have to purge the bumps; otherwise we can get tense or focus on something relatively insignificant. Sure, she was a dolt, and sure she acted as if the simple transaction--counting to ten; someone who worked in a bank--was an imposition, but it still was only a bump.

All day long we endure bumps. The question I thought of as I rode into work is this: what do we do with the bumps? Can we just "forget about them" or when they accrue do they somehow skew our consciousness. If you are lugging around hundreds of bumps can you start becoming irrational with others and make inane decisions not because you are inherently irrational, but because the bumps have jostled you and you're not in balance?

Remember when we were kids and would play on a pin ball machine. If you moved the machine in your eagerness to score points, the machine would read TILT.  And the game ended. If we endure the thousand insults of Fortunato, do we not tilt, and then not function--or not function as well?

If you remember the story, the narrator decides to revenge the insults by walling Fortunato up in a wine cellar. Not advocating that here of course.  We have to endure the bumps--certainly those as minor as dealing with a lunkhead in a bank.  But we all have to be careful that as we haul these bumps around-- the thousand insults we endure--we don't let it interfere with our ability to behave considerately with others, and be kind to ourselves as well.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Marathon Monday

In 1979 I trained for, and then ran, the Skylon International marathon.  The race was, like any other marathon, 26 miles 385 yards. We started that October day from an area near an art museum in Buffalo and finished up in Niagara Falls, Canada.

I remember the event clearly. It was chilly and yet most of us wore shorts.  I finished in 3 hours and 44 minutes--and it could have been better had not the first minute or so been essentially walking as all of the runners were jammed in a very tight spot. I hypo-thermated at the end and, I was told, looked a bit blue in a tent before I could get warmed up.  But besides that short-lived setback it was a wonderful day and I'm happy to have that accomplishment on my resume.  The preceding summer and all through September I ran close to 60 miles a week in order to prepare. Toward the end of the training period I upped my regular jaunt to 15 miles a day on the weekend, and then one day--as prescribed in a book that I had--did a 20 mile run. The thinking was that if you could run a 20, with the adrenaline of the actual day you could run a 26.

And I did. I hit the wall around mile 20, but just kept plodding until I got through and then it was not all that difficult to finish. I was beat, no doubt about it, but I remember talking normally when I was done and walking around unimpeded until I turned blue.

So, every year in Boston when it is marathon Monday I think, at least for a fleeting moment or two, of how excited, more like a three year old than an almost thirty year old, I had been.

And today, all I could think of was how disappointed I would have been to wake up and see what is doing outside.

Certainly, today is better than five years ago when two unconscionable bastards suffering from hate in the brain syndrome that turned potentially constructive gray matter into manure, decided to bomb the finish line.  However, that horrible day aside, today had to be a disappointment.

Let me paint the picture for you.  It is pouring.  Now worse than it was at the start, but for a lot of plodders like I was, they were finishing around the time that it really started to rain cats and dogs, as opposed to just cats that had been the case almost all day.  And it is not rain on a warm easy day. It is a cold nasty day appropriate for say early March or even February.  Last night I decided to walk to the library to return a book. I had not exercised all day so I thought I'd walk. It is only a mile point two to the library--over two round trip.  I was an icicle by the time I returned, and last night it was not raining. Nasty. Raw. Stay at home and put the cover over your head rain.

If you ran today you ran soaked and shivering.  The fast folks are done in two hours and change.  The guys like me took nearly four hours.  When was the last time you were outside in your shorts for four hours in a cold rain. This wasn't a football stadium when you brought layers and a flask.  You are in your shorts, your shoes are soaked, your hat probably worthless after the first mile, and your shirt ready for a wet tee shirt contest. In the warmth of my house, I felt for the runners.

Add to the miserable conditions, the fact that your group of cheering supporters must have, even if they love you, decided to go someplace warm periodically and easily could have missed you at what would have been their natural viewing spots. The thing about the Boston marathon is that typically for the entire race there are people cheering you on. Today, I am sure the crowds were one deep when there were folks lining the roads at all. And your buddies were probably holed up someplace drinking brandy.

Momma get out that chicken soup for your daughters and sons that ran today. Cold and nasty and, I am sure, a bit sad for those who prepped all year for the day.