Friday, December 14, 2012

Words To Live By

A few months ago, I posted a presumptive missive about a few of my favorite words, or, as one of my friends called it, pedantry for the people. Another friend quoted E.B. White, who famously stated that one should not use a three dollar word when a one dollar one would suffice. As I agree with both of them, I present the latest installment of a few of my favorite words:

Schadenfreude - my older daughter, Dr. Princess Julia, is particularly fond of this one. For those of you (like me) who prefer it in context, think of that over-compensating fellow who races by you on highway, zipping in and out of traffic, and how you feel when you see the same vehicle, pulled over by a police officer several miles down the road. Pleasure at another's misfortune, indeed!

Cacophony - Quickly, my fellow Americans, when and where was the most recent World Cup? If that escapes your memory, I will bet you recall the sounds of that particular event, those plastic horns called vuvuzelas (not a bad word, itself). My point: that was a cacophony of sound; loud, discordant, annoying.

Unuxorious - I shouldn't kick a man when he's down, but this one was too rich to omit. Prior to the recent Summer Olympics, Governor Romney was interviewed by a newsman, who asked if he was planning to attend the competition featuring the horse owned by he and his wife. The governor responded that Rafalca was his wife's interest, and he really knew little of it and would probably not watch it. A reporter thought this the opposite of his true feelings towards Mrs. Romney. If "uxorious" is "doting upon... or especially submissive towards one's wife", then unuxorious would be, well, not so much. This was at the same time that Stephen Colbert defined Dressage as the sport of the summer for those who use summer as a verb.

Feckless - I love a word that can be defined by its mere pronunciation. Come on, say this one aloud; what does it sound like to you? Doesn't it just scream lily-livered?

Epistemic Closure - This gained some traction in the wake of the recent election. Karl Rove, among other commentators on a particular cable channel, predicted a landslide victory for one candidate, despite mass evidence to the contrary from the polls. One columnist described it as life in the bubble; wishing does not make it so.

Finally, my nomination to be added to the year-end list of most over-used words: fiscal cliff. Any argument on that one?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of Year, Part Deux

I love college football. There is something about the tradition, the color, the rivalries, the pageantry and the possibility that maybe, just maybe, an unheralded school can knock off a traditional powerhouse (anyone remember Appalachian State?). Teams play in venues with stories passed through generations of families and students. Death Valley (times 2), The Swamp, the Big House, Happy Valley - all conjure images of unforgettable times in the lives of current and former students and fans across the country. Both of my daughters and their friends posed for photos in caps & gowns on their football field. I attended a function at the stadium in Ann Arbor a few months ago. Despite the rain, dozens of attendees took pictures of each other on that field. I know, it's a big business that exploits the labors of young men, euphemistically referred to as scholar/athletes whenever the crass venality of the business is exposed. It doesn't matter to me; I still enjoy it.

Just as I have some indelible memories of specific games over the years, I also have some in-bred likes and dislikes for various teams and personages. A few from the litany:

As a Catholic kid growing up in Oklahoma, I quickly learned that God, country and football are what mattered. At this time of year, however, the order altered somewhat, with OU football achieving primacy. Cheering for OU was just what one did. This loyalty could also blind one to the seamier side of life, like when some players encountered legal difficulty in the Switzer era. Of greater importance was winning; some coaches did not long survive, as they didn't win.

I naturally find it difficult to root for Notre Dame. Who can forget that those papists snapped the most storied streak in all of football, the 47 consecutive games won by the Sooners. Legend has it that the one score of the game (lost by OU, 7-0) turned on a missed clipping call against the Irish. A side effect: it was another 15 years before the state activities association would permit Catholic high schools to compete in state athletic tournaments. Notre Dame was later coached by Ara Parseghian, who allegedly perpetrated the food poisoning suffered by OU players when they traveled to play Northwestern, the team he was then coaching. This same Ara, while coaching Notre Dame, went for a tie in the next Game of the Century, against Michigan State in the late 60's, instead of going for the win. Naturally, Notre Dame was ranked #1. Maybe it's due to the legend of Rockne, or their national fan base or the televising of each game, but I have long believed that the Irish have been the beneficiary of some bias on the part of officials, perhaps unintentional. Their wins at Oklahoma and against Stanford this year each received a boost from very suspect calls.

I don't like decals on helmets. The teams that sport so many of them - Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State (aka the CCotUF; ask for a translation) - are among my least favorite teams. I know they're good schools. I have met many alums of FSU during my time in the hotel business, each of whom has proven to be smart and talented. Two of the peers in my current job whom I respect the most are graduates of Georgia. One of my daughter's grad school colleagues attended Ohio State; I have learned much about the programs they offer that have earned my admiration. Still, I don't get the decals. Do they get these stickers for great plays? Okay; does that also mean that they get some taken away for poor ones? I think not. I suppose there is some tradition at each school about these things; I would prefer to see a team sport something designed by Lisa Frank.

Most of the coaches at the college level appear to be humorless automatons who just aren't very good sports and will do anything to win. You want a reason to think ill of them? Here is the answer in two words: Lane Kiffin. Does anyone believe he had nothing to do with the deflated football kerfuffle in the Oregon game? Nick Saban yelled at his players for dousing him with Gatorade when they won their first title a few years ago. Seriously. Mark Richt and his players refused to shake hands with the upstarts from Central Florida when they had the gall to defeat them in the Liberty Bowl. These guys make millions of dollars a year, never pay for a game of golf, a car or clothes and don't need to work another day in their lives. Can't they act like they enjoy it? Bob Stoops and Will Muschamp seem to have things a bit more in perspective, although the Gators coach does tend to wear his emotions quite visibly. I have observed each of these two smiling and laughing on the sidelines, which certainly separates them from their counterparts.

Just as stadium names in college football are superior to their professional counterparts (Bank of America stadium is hardly anything to get excited about.), team names have similar preference. Gators, Sooners, Gamecocks, Crimson Tide, Longhorns, Ducks (the only team allowed to use a Disney character), Volunteers, Beavers, Nittany Lions are all names that can apply to only one place on earth. Now, most fans even know who the Golden Flashes are.

My children never saw a minute of football until they went to college. At Florida, they rarely missed a game. They became rabid fans, which they remain to this day. I have heard similar stories from people who attended Oklahoma, Florida State and Penn State. There is nothing quite like the loyalty and collegiality that fans share about their college teams. Although neither of my two favorites will be playing for the title, they may end up playing each other in the Sugar Bowl. As to that BCS championship game, it appears that it will pit two teams for which I have decades-long enmity against each other. Whatever will I do?

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Almost Over, Kids

Frequent visitors to this spot have doubtlessly been awaiting with nearly breathless anticipation a lengthy rationale why someone is or is not tempermentally suited for the office, or my suggestion on some obscure state ballot question. I'll pass. On a less-positive note, I would suppose that anyone who remains undecided, after a billion dollars of advertising and untold stories about everything from Rafalca to whether he said that or not, should perhaps be ineligible to vote.

I gave up in-person voting about 20 years ago. My reasons for this action had nothing to do with Acorn (remember them?) or any other such group. Instead, I was always angered when, approaching the polling station, I was besieged by people attempting to hand me a leaflet promoting one candidate or cause over another. My reaction was always the same: I would get into an argument with the offender, accusing her or him of having so little regard for the intelligence of their fellow citizens that the mere presence of a leaflet in hand would sway my vote at this moment of truth. It was such an unfair fight.

Over this span of time, I have not missed voting in an election, as I have used the absentee method. I sent mine in three weeks ago. I have since taken the time to note some of the foibles of this election season. Some favorites:

There are billboards plastered all over Atlanta, informing the local populace that voting enables the citizen to enter a contest to win a free gun. I'm not certain what cause that organization is promoting, but I am disturbed that ballots and bullets be so intertwined.

Bumper stickers are a perennial favorite soapbox. A couple of the winners I have seen of late:

On a car that could charitably be described as a heap: "This time, elect an American". I don't know if this person was from another country or not. When last I checked, Hawaii is a state in this Union of ours, which, according to the Constitution, makes our current President eligible for the job.

On a pickup truck with Texas plates: "Secede". I do not believe they have thought that one all the way to its logical fruition. Plus, wasn't that sentiment outlawed about 150 years ago?

My personal favorite, though, is one for the ages. A vintage Mercedes, with a like-new sticker, stating: "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McGovern." I immediately started to hum a tune from Rocky Horror.

As for all the blathering that will emanate from our televisions over the next 36 hours, I'll pass on that, too. I prefer to wait to hear how the two most literate pundits on the airwaves weigh in on the subject Wednesday night at 11 on Comedy Central.

For those of you who have not yet voted, please do so tomorrow. This right is also our privilege.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Save Big Bird!

I have been an observer of politics as far back as I can recall. I typically avoid the theater that is disguised as debate, as I can think of but one sentence of substance in all that have taken place since Carter was President (that would be Ross Perot in 92, asking his distinguised opponents how they would pay for their proposals). This week was no exception. Since neither candidate will state what they truly would like to accomplish as President, for fear of becoming the subject of a distorted ad, we are stuck with the frenzy of the chattering classes, who are seeking the next sigh, glance at a watch or a rolling of eyes.

I have always preferred the injection of humor into our otherwise staid, dishonest discourse. But, it's not a fair fight: to counteract Jon Stewart, who can the Republicans offer? One can always make fun of Louie Gohmert or Michele Bachmann (simply Google either name and the word "quotes"; you'll unearth some astounding intuitive leaps). There was also the great one-liner from Senator Jon Kyl, who, after offering up a whopper about some topic, on the following day mentioned that his comment was "not intended to be a factual statement." One of my favorites from Mr. Stewart this year was his characterization of how long it takes a candidate to do a 180 degree turn from a previously stated position. He called that a Romney, which is, in real time, about 3 or 4 hours. His description of the Moochocracy was another hoot.

When I saw the clip of Mr. Romney stating he would sack Big Bird, I thought he was auditioning for the Mark Twain prize that celebrates American humor. This man, who publicly stated that he likes firing people, finally identified one. I will guess that the humor may have been unintentional, since the discussion was about deficit reduction. This year, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received government funding of $445 million, which amounts to 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget. Meanwhile, estimates of federal subsidies to big oil companies are around $4 billion. Yes, the consonants on the dollar amounts are correct.

It makes me long for the days of Dick Tuck. Mr. Tuck was a staffer in the office of Helen Gahagan Douglas (yes, the dreaded Pink Lady) in 1950. He later engaged in a series of pranks targeting Richard Nixon. The most famous allegedly occurred in 1968, when Mr. Tuck hired a very pregnant woman to walk around a Nixon rally, holding a sign with the campaign's slogan: "Nixon's the One". Surely, someone can trot out Oscar the Grouch or Cookie Monster or even the noted Big Bird to hound Romney rallies. Now, that would be funny.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here We Go Round the Prickly Pear

I awoke Tuesday morning, took a nice walk in the brisk Fall air and returned home to enjoy morning coffee with a recap of the day's news. Little did I know that the world had ended the previous evening. It seems the football contest in Seattle concluded in such a way to cause immense weeping and gnashing of teeth in the nation's sports pages, blogosphere and social media outlets.

Of course, I found a clip of this latest example of the Decline of Civilization. My conclusion: yes, someone blew the call. This is not the first time an official's ruling has changed the outcome of a game. I can think of at least two examples from baseball: the Denkinger fiasco in the 1985 World Series and the non-fan interference call on Jeter's hit to the fence in the 1996 Playoffs (from which the Orioles have yet to recover). I am certain that there have been similar examples from football, but none spring to mind.

Admittedly, I am not a fan of pro football, finding it soulless, money-grubbing and entirely too time-consuming. As these are but my opinions, I agree that they are not intended to be factual statements. Still, I find this amusing.

It seems that the root cause of this situation is that the pros are using substitute officials, as there is a dispute with the organization representing the league's regular officials, resulting in a lock-out. The number I have heard bandied about is a $3 million difference between the league's position and that of the union. That, too, may not be a factual statement.

The lather continues its foment, with all sorts of people screaming for this strike/lockout/outrage to end. True confession: I am no fan of organized labor, due to my own life experiences. I will concede, however, that some good has come out of them and they do perform a critical role in certain fields of employment. This morning, I read that the governor of Wisconsin, perhaps the most famous foe that labor has at the moment, has come out in favor of settling this strike. Irony has a new face and its name is Scott Walker.

I will speculate that the onus of settlement rests upon the owners, hardly known for radical thought, social engineering or income redistribution, unless it results in padding their already hefty slice of the national income pie. Therefore, if fans of the game want the regular officials to be allowed to return to work, they should apply some pressure of their own and hit the owners with language that they understand. Some suggestions:

1. Don't go to the game this Sunday. I realize this is foolish, since most of the tickets have already been purchased, especially in those cities that traditionally sell out every game.

2. If you have to go to the game, carpool and park somewhere other than a stadium lot. Most owners receive a cut of the parking gate as a condition for gracing each city with the presence of their respective teams.

3. If you actually go into the stadium, don't buy any concessions. No beer, no hot dogs, no whatever it is they vend at stadia nowadays. Again, since owners get a cut of this revenue, this might take a bite as well.

4. Don't buy any beer that advertises during the football telecasts for a week or two. Hit the advertisers, they will put pressure on the owners.

I do realize that people will not give up the habits that have sprung up around the 12 minutes of action we are blessed to witness on Sundays. Even if they did so, it would probably have as little effect on the outcome as my decades-long boycott of Exxon. As for me, well, I just won't watch any game until they settle the thing. That'll show em.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Get Off the Bus

Frequent visitors to this site are aware of my distaste for words that have been grossly over-used. Of late, I have found that I cannot wait for the annual New Year's list from Lake Superior State College, as there is a new contender for the throne. I refer to the one word that has been used in nearly every article I have seen written about the next Republican nominee for President. It's bad enough that we have been bombarded with this for months; over the past week, after the announcement of the #2 person on the ticket, the same adjective has been applied to him, ad infinitum. The word has not been limited to print or online commentary; those talking heads on the networks spout it as well.

The frequency of the use of this word has led me to conclude that people reporting on this year's election are lazy. This is not a new phenomenon. My first exposure to this notion came from Timothy Crouse's tale of the 1972 campaign, The Boys on the Bus. One of the themes of the book was that reporters exhibit a pack mentality; they will, as a group, follow any tidbit that one of their members has unearthed, until their readers (and the writers themselves) become exhausted by it. The story then becomes a footnote to that campaign, remembered only by geeks like me who cannot unclutter their brains of such trivia.

There were but three synonyms listed in probable, possible, circumstantial. I cannot recall seeing the word used in any previous election. I am hopeful that after the offical dubbing concludes next week, I will not suffer it again anytime soon.

The picture above is from Poet's Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, certainly one of the more moving spots on the planet. Somehow, I cannot picture "presumptive" being chiseled on the floor alongside words penned by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wharton and Twain.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Freeky Friday: Movie Quotes

There are so many choices for my favorite movie quote. I suppose I should narrow my search to lines I have pilfered, then used in a different context. So be it.

My career has been spent in the customer service industry. During that time, I have heard countless tales of woe, abuse, indifference and complaints. I have been thanked far more times than blamed. I have seen people do the extraordinary (more on that next week) and the idiotic. I've been yelled at more than I care to remember. While it has not been often, I can probably recall every single time that it has happened.

Once, someone was berating me for circumstances that were far beyond my control (the weather at a Florida hotel). I listened patiently, allowing the customer to vent far beyond what was reasonable, for what seemed like 15 minutes. Finally, the customer asked me what my thoughts were on whatever he was ranting about.

I knew I only had one chance to defuse this person with a statement so sublimely perfect. Somewhere, out of the recesses of my memory, I pulled out this nugget from an old film. As I could not find the clip on You Tube, you will have to read about it here:

Warren Beatty, as John McCabe, a blowhard sort, is explaining the meaning of life to another character. "Sheehan, you sumbitch, if a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass so much, you know what I mean?"

For the sake of gentility, I omitted the reference to Sheehan's heritage from my citation. The guest looked at me, mentioned the film, then proceeded to tell me about his admiration for the work of Robert Altman, the film's director. We had a lengthy conversation, both concluding that Nashville is perhaps the 3rd greatest film of all time.

While I have quoted this on numerous occasions, only this one time did it have such a purpose. It worked beautifully, mollifying the situation, getting the irate customer onto another topic altogether and sending him away, happy. I don't think I would use it in such a situation again; kismet need only strike but once.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don't Make Me Stop This Car!

I have noticed a disturbing phenomenon of late: places that nominally sell gasoline have felt compelled to add sound effects to the place of purchase. I thought the playing of loud music was bad enough; the other day, I encounted a station that actually had a video screen, playing I know not what. How can I watch a silly screen while I'm cleaning the windshield; or, I as I used to tell my children, providing clear vision for myself?

There is simply too much noise out there. I despair at parents who have obviously not instructed their children in the art of using an inside voice. I have never liked the pounding of bass rhythm, no matter how near the offending car may be. Worse still, we're in an election year. Fortunately (or not, depending upon one's point of view) I live in a state that will not be in presidential contention, so I will be spared the massive amounts of noise spewing from either candidate's camp or their (unrelated) supporters hiding behind their Super PAC's. Still, I suspect I will be victimized by a near-constant barrage by mid-October, with various and sundry people and their lackeys spewing untruths, reckless accusations, or, perish the thought, out and out lies, for and against those seeking lesser offices.

I wonder why no one ever calls these people out on their lies? The media sources that accept the money for these ads disclaim all responsibility for their veracity. The opposing camps make wild, unproven accusations (Obama spokesperson hinting at felonious activity by Romney; Romney surrogate calling Obama a socialist). The news media report these same statements, with no effort to declare whether there is any truth behind them.

Finally, we have a hero, a beacon in the night willing to call out these pathological sorts, those who apologize for them and those who choose to look the other way. There may be an ad before the clip; bear with it. You'll be glad you did.

In other words, those seeking the highest offices in the land, to whom we entrust our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honors are held to a lesser standard of truth than the makers of Nutella? It's no wonder nearly half the eligible voters in our country choose not to exercise their right to vote. I may write-in Lewis Black; at least he's honest.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Can We Turn It Down, Please?

There are several older blog posts that I wish to revisit at some point. Ones about baseball and language immediately come to mind. This week, however, there has been so much noise about some things and so little about other, more important, events, that I feel the urge to comment.

I am fond of Chick-Fil-A. I like their food but, most of all, I admire their service. They compete in the same labor pool with McDonald's, shopping centers and all the rest, yet they continually find earnest people who genuinely seem to enjoy what they do and take pride in their service. They do untold good works in the communities in which they do business. Perhaps the most bizarre notion of their business model is that they are closed on Sundays.

Last week, the CEO of this firm expressed his opinion. The world has been in an uproar ever since, with some yelling for boycotts and others yelling, equally as loud, for Christians to unite in support of this beleaguered chain.

Please. Is this how you were raised to behave?

I have not purchased Exxon gasoline since 1989. Yes, I was incensed that they spilled all that oil in Alaska. I was more resentful of that company as a result of all the facts that came out after that ecological disaster. It seemed that the spill and the subsequent PR offensive that assigned blame were indicative of how this company went about its business. Rapacious, greedy, avaricious and predatory are words that come to mind. I am not so smug as to believe that my boycott of Exxon will change their behavior or impact their profits. But, it does make me feel somewhat virtuous.

There are other companies whose products or services I have also avoided over the years: Tyco, MCI/WorldCom/Verizon, BP or any company once headed by (Chainsaw) Al Dunlap. I have chosen not to bank at any of the "too big to fail" behemoths like Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase. Since their business practices decimated nearly half of my retirement savings, I don't feel they deserve another shot at destroying what I have left. I boycotted Circuit City when they fired all their highly-compensated sales people to replace with ones paid substantially less. I avoided commerce with all these companies, not because of their political views; instead, I detested how they went about their business.

As offensive as I may find Mr. Cathy's remarks about his opposition to any marital situation that differed from his own, I was also offended when the mayors of Chicago and Boston announced that they would not look kindly on applications for business licenses from Chick-Fil-A. I'm no attorney, but it seems there may be some legal issues with that stance.

In other news over the past week, there was a mass murder in another gathering place formerly considered safe. Again, the alleged shooter acted alone. Again, there were few hints of the unhinged behavior that lurked beneath. Again, there was much hand-wringing by politicians and others about this tragedy. I have not heard anyone propose a ban of semi-automatic or automatic weapons in the aftermath of this all-too-familiar tragedy. No one is demanding that the sale of ammunition magazines designed only for killing multiple people - and no other purpose - be restricted or eliminated.

Instead of all this noise about one person's opinion, which runs contrary to how his business operates, why don't we go after some businesses that really do foment truly heinous acts? I would like to see those two mayors (and many more) sponsor legislation that will ban these weapons of mass destruction. If banning this weaponry is too controversial, let cities and states impose a severe sumptuary tax (and channel the proceeds to something worthy, like education) so as to discourage commerce in these illicit goods. Why doesn't the NRA do something truly constructive, and organize a boycott of those people and businesses that traffic in such weapons and the ammunition that feeds them? No one's constitutional rights will be trampled by such a campaign. It might even save a few hundred lives down the road, too.

To Mr. Cathy, I respect your right to your opinion, but I respectfully disagree, along with a majority of our citizens. To the talking heads screaming for boycotts or whatever on August 1, turn down the volume. Let's focus on other things, like education, saving lives and making our country a safer place for our children to thrive in.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Freeky Friday: Staying Healthy

Freeky Friday

About 20 years ago, I awoke one morning, only to discover that all my shirts had mysteriously shrunk overnight. As this was at a time when I had to wear ties to work every day, this was quite inconvenient. That day, I joined a health club and began a rigorous exercise regimen. I did well for months, culminating in completing a 5K run a mere second off my targeted time. Over the succeeding decades, that devoted daily routine simply vanished.

Twenty years and thirty pounds later, I decided to do something different. Finally, I got onto an eating program that actually worked for me, for the simple reason that it forced me to evaluate every single thing I ingested, limiting the unhealthy and increasing the amount of fruits & vegetables. I learned a phrase some time ago that went something like "act with integrity in the moment of choice." It's easy to eat ice cream daily or to swill a six pack of 20-ounce soft drinks within a week. But, those are lousy choices which I try not to make.

What I eat is but one part of what I consider healthy choices in my life. The other two are equally important. I have long enjoyed reading. When I traveled, I frequently took at least two books with me, spending my waking moments on airplanes engrossed in one volume or another. I typically read about 3 or 4 books at once, on a variety of topics. Over the years, I have found that I cannot go to sleep without spending 30 minutes reading whatever my current choices are. I'm now reading a book about each day of December 1941, in addition to Drift, by Rachel Maddow, a memoir from Madeleine Albright and a novel about the Civil War. I just finished a novel about North Korea and am about to begin one about Watergate. One might characterize my taste in reading as scattered; I prefer the term eclectic.

The other component is walking. I hate to run and never liked swimming. Walking is more my pace. It not only gets my heart pumping, it affords a time of reflection every time I do it. I have written speeches and prepared sessions; each walk also results in a planned day. I try to do so 5 days a week, 45 minutes a day. More importantly, I find when I fail to walk, my energy flags throughout the day. Jon Stewart closes each show with a moment of zen. That's how I prefer to start each day.

About those pounds? I'm halfway to losing all of them. That's my choice.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Freeky Friday: Pick Me Up

Freeky Friday

Somehow, my sister became this extraordinary baker. At nearly every family gathering over the past several decades, she always brought with her (or prepared while we were together) batches of chocolate chip cookies and this other chocolate cookie that I have experienced no where else on the planet.

My brother, sister and I are in Tulsa this weekend to celebrate our mother's 90th birthday. The three of us were running errands this morning, when we decided to stop at a local coffee emporium. There, my sister whipped out this treat.

These delicious gems only add to the joy of every time our family has been together for many years now. It's the best pick-me-up I know. I think the rest of my family would agree.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Freeky Friday: My Umbrella Is Not Really Functional

The challenge - Who is your pop culture alter ego - has nagged at me all week. Should I choose a ballplayer? Musician? Writer? The answer: (d), none of the above.

I have long admired the work of Gene Kelly. From reading about him, I know he was an exacting task master, harder on himself than anyone else. I read somewhere that the teenaged Debbie Reynolds rehearsed a single number (Good Morning) for five weeks under his direction, so that those three minutes of celluloid would be flawless.

Mr. Kelly was an inordinately talented dancer; the contrast between his style (almost athletic) and that of his contemporary, Fred Astaire, who was more ballet-like, could not be more striking. What I most enjoyed about the art of his work was the exuberance he projected on the screen.

In his masterpiece, Singin' in the Rain, Mr. Kelly's character, Don Lockwood, has just kissed the girl and is on his way home. Every time I view this scene, I am struck by the joy that is all over each move. To be able to have that feeling, to have that indescribable elation in one's heart, if only for a moment, ah, that's an elixir for an alter ego to be bottled and trotted out only on the most necessary of occasions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freeky Friday - Summer Traditions

Freeky Friday

What's the best thing about summer in my neck of the woods? That's simple: ice cream. Probably the best memories of nearly every summer involve a trip to get this delicious treat. While I would probably eat it any day of the year, it just doesn't taste the same. More importantly, my life is chock-full of rituals surrounding the act of obtaining this delight.

When I was very small, my parents had these friends, Garner & Nell. They were this kind Southern couple, a few years younger than my parents. We all thought Nell pretty cool, as she drove a 53 MG, you know, the one with two seats and the running boards. After playing a baseball game, she would pile us all into her car (we were pretty small) and drive to the local parlor to get cones.

Fast forward about 30 years and I'm taking my children out for ice cream in the summer. When we lived in Charlotte, I would have special time with a young Julia by driving her to Larry's in Mint Hill. In Raleigh, I would take her and younger sister Amanda to Goodberry's (home of the Carolina Concrete!) for frozen custard. Summers in Scituate took us to Dribble's on Front Street. Summers at home in Florida (well, most of the year) frequently resulted in a B-R run. For a really special treat, it was Jaxson's in Dania Beach, which is like no ice cream parlor I have ever experienced.

I have not discovered a special place in Atlanta for my summertime sins, but I am optimistic. It seems my son-in-law has just acquired a new pickup truck. I have asked that my first ride result in a trip to some place that sells ice cream. Then, forever after, I will refer to his Ride as The Ice Cream Truck.

I think it's probably more the memories of the company than the actual ice cream, but it's a summer tradition that I will always treasure.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Freeky Friday

Freeky Friday

I have been asked, in the spirit of Freekware, to Spread the Soul by posting on Freeky Friday. The topic of the week is: what is the best thing that has happened to you the past year?

All in all, it has been a wonderful time to be alive. My niece Michelle gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. While I'm thrilled for both Keira's Mom & Dad, it was as remarkable to see the joy on the faces of my sister and brother-in-law at this little bundle of wonder.

Also, daughter Julia & son-in-law Dave bought a lovely house that rapidly became a home. I was honored to have a few holiday meals there, which I hope are harbingers of many more to follow.

The best thing, though, occurred a few weeks ago. I swelled with (lion's) pride at my daughter Amanda's completion of graduate school at Columbia. She took a tough path to lead to the lofty goal of changing the world, one student at a time. That she was able to find a job caused her dear old dad's heart to stop fluttering quite so rapidly. She undertook a huge challenge and conquered it.

While we were all together in New York for her big event, we visited the Museum of Natural History. Afterwards, she asked if I wanted to see Strawberry Fields, as it was but a few blocks' walk away. As this was the same day she had graduated and we were enjoying a respite from the deluge that had soaked us a few times that day already, perhaps I was feeling a bit more introspective than usual.

This simple plot of land in Central Park ranks among the most moving spots I have ever visited. Those around us seem to have been similarly affected. We decided to wander a bit deeper into the park, when we noticed this oddity that there were no cars; we never did learn why it was closed to vehicles, but it made the day even more distinctive.

But wait, it gets better: we decided to walk back to our hotel, which was a few miles south. Amanda and I were having this rambling conversation about topics ranging from the works of Olmstead to Simon & Garfunkel, from Tavern on the Green to Sheep's Meadow, even to a long-ago weekend I spent at the Sherry Netherland. Somehow, we got on the topic of life's work, or something like that. I confessed that I felt I had missed my calling in life; I should have been a history teacher. Without missing a beat, Amanda said, no, you didn't miss out on anything; your mission in life was to have us.

Thank you, Amanda, for that generous sentiment. That was the best thing that happened to me all year.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

That clinking clanking sound is all that makes the world go round

The Baby Boomers were going to save the world. The earlier members of my generation marched with Dr. King, stopped a war and ousted one crooked President. Two of the figures who stood for what was right were Ben & Jerry. You remember them, of course. They were the two kind, bearded souls who started a company that made good, albeit expensive, ice cream. They used natural ingredients, adding nothing remotely harmful to any environment beyond its consumers' arteries and waistlines. The names selected for their products were humorous, Cherry Garcia being a particular favorite. Ben (a person) and Jerry (a person) also ran their company (not a person) that followed strict ethical guidelines. A portion of their profits were donated to charity. They have partnered over the years with several charitable organizations to allow them to benefit from their annual free cone day. They also had a rule that the highest paid employee of their company could not earn more than seven times what an entry-level employee was paid.

My brain itched this past week when I read an article describing the amounts paid to CEO's in the past year. The average compensation for a CEO at a publicly-held US company last year was $9.587 million. That is not a typo. That works out to over $3072 per hour, or $51.21 per minute.

Sadly, I was not shocked by this astounding accumulation of wealth shared with so very few. Instead of allowing myself to be consumed by righteous indignation, I decided to determine what I could do with that amount of money. My list:

Since I would be compensated (note: I did not use the word "earned") this staggering amount, I could afford the best tax accountant in the land, who would arrange for me to pay a tax rate not to exceed 15%. After my tax liability of $1,438,050 was paid, I would be stuck with a paltry $8,148,950.

Let's take care of my retirement. I'm going to sock away $2 million. That would be enough to pay me $100,000 a year for 20 years. Of course, the previously mentioned tax accountant would cause that wealth to accumulate, so I could live much better than that, for much longer. Balance: $6,148,950.

Next, I would like to pay off my children's grad school loans. They actually do good things (teacher, physical therapist), but will never earn buckets of lucre. While I'm at it, I'll pay off my son-in-law's law school loans too. Rough estimate: $350,000. Balance: $5,798,950.

I should get a new car. Now, I could afford a Bentley (I guess they cost $500,000?), but I would not wish to be perceived as someone who flaunts their wealth so shamelessly. So, let's get my dream car instead: Honda Civic Hybrid. When fully loaded, this will run me $29,000. Let's round it up to $30K (includes: taxes, tag, title, dealer prep and destination fees); balance: $5,768.950.

My children should have some money, too. I'm going to give each of them $1 million. I'm also going to insist that they follow the advice of George Clooney's character in The Descendants: "You give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing." Balance: $3,768,950.

I know many who have lost loved ones, none dearer than my sister's son Mark, a youthful victim of a form of Hodgkin's Disease. Let's give the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society $1 million. Maybe it will help them to find a cure or to ease some other family's pain. Balance: $2,768,950.

Speaking of nieces and nephews, I'm quite fond of mine and my children are close to all their cousins. There are 5 cousins; let's let each of them have $200,000, again, following the caution uttered by Mr. Clooney. Balance: $1.768,950.

I want to take a great vacation. I wish to visit: Aix, Normandy, Salzburg, Florence, and see my ancestral stomping grounds in Ireland. Assuming I take a friend, fly business class, stay a month in the equivalent of Ritz-Carlton hotels, I should be able to consume another $100K, if I really work at it. I still have over $1.6 million left.

I should buy a new home. Assume $500K for a pair of them, which will bring me down to around $1.1 million. But, that's still far too extravagant an amount to use for such mundane purchases like groceries, clothes, shelter and reloads to my Starbucks card. Let's give $1 million to Children's Miracle Network, or some other organization that benefits children at risk.

All of which leaves me with a mere $100K to pay for the basic expenses of life; I think that's sufficient. I have stashed away far more than I will ever need to retire, taken care of my children for life, bought a new car, taken a dream vacation, helped out the cousins and donated a ton of money. I do not fear, however, that I will soon be applying for food stamps. You see, the average CEO salary goes up by about 20% per year. Next year, I'll be paid over $11 million!

At the risk of sounding like Marx (Groucho, not Karl), I ask the question: how much do you really need?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Better Angels of My Nature

My apologies to Mr. Lincoln, for pirating his line for the title of this blurb. Much of what I have read about the man expresses wonder at the wealth of his knowledge and the extent of his erudition, considering the grim poverty of his upbringing.

I'm not certain how educated my grandparents were. On my mother's side, her father probably made it through elementary school, but I would guess not much further. I know even less about her mother, as she died long before I came along. On my father's side, I don't think his mother attended school at all, as she grew up on a farm in Ireland. Her husband, my grandfather, perhaps did not go to what we consider high school either. But, both sets instilled something in my parents. Although my father's father died when he was but 8, there was money set aside for him (and his sister) to attend college, which they did. My mother had no interest in college, but she did go to secretarial school, where she embarked on a career at which she excelled, even with all the interruptions of raising children.

In our household, it was assumed that my sister, brother and I would attend college. I believe my father thought it best that we go far away from home to do so, as he did not, as he put it, want us bringing our laundry home on weekends. He did have ulterior motives: he often said that the smartest thing he ever did was to move far away from his family and upbringing, as it forced him to be on his own. He wanted his children to have similar advantages.

I married a woman whose passion was teaching. I was not certain how deeply she felt about that until we had daughters of our own. I was astounded at the number of craft projects, the amount of flannel board stories, the variety of the books and the constant educational "plays" through which she led our daughters. Many an evening, I would come home from work, unable to interrupt them, as they were in the midst of some saga or another. I stepped on many a Barbie through their childhoods; I read all the American Girl books with them, repeatedly, plus countless others. And, I answered all their questions, wondering how those young minds could be so inquisitive.

Our daughters grew, venturing to the swamps of Gainesville to expand their minds further, in the midst of all that Gator Nation mania. This was not to be enough for either one of them. Julia went to grad school to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy, so that she can now teach people how to function, despite the impairment of one or more motor skills. This week, however, is all about the younger one, Amanda, who will wrap up her 18 years of school.

Amanda was on an arc to a career in advertising. It made perfect sense: she is brilliantly creative, has an insatiable curiousity and has mastered every media she has encountered. Then, she took American Sign Language as an elective. At her ripe age of 19, she threw the ad biz out the window and found a new calling. She took every ASL class that UF had to offer, volunteered for as many teaching assistant opportunities that she could find and led a crew of younger TA's like some mother hen.

I had never seen her sign until I attended a father/daugther weekend during her senior year. She was signing the national anthem before a gymnastics meet. I was amazed at the fluidity of her motions and the expressions on her face. I could barely take a picture, I was so moved by her polished performance. A few months later, she was the bookends at her college graduation, as she signed the national anthem before and the alma mater after the ceremonies. Her quest has taken her to Columbia Teachers' College, where she will receive her Masters' Degree this week. During her two years in New York, she spent a semester teaching at Montclair State (oddly, about two miles from where my mother grew up). This past year, she has been a student teacher at PS 47, an urban school with a population that could be described as economically challenged. And, she loves it. Another oddity: that school is close to where my father attended high school. Is this kismet, serendipity, or some non-Disney Circle of Life?

In a few days, all those years of formal education will be over. I cannot express the pride I feel in both of my daughters, who have chosen careers that likely will not pay them even a tenth of what someone who trades futures on a commodity exchange will get. I doubt that either will purchase a new Mercedes or a luxury box at some sports arena. Instead, both my daughters are becoming the persons who will change people's lives for the better, who will find ways to connect with individuals, for which they will long be remembered.

So, a belated congratulations to Julia, for the degree she received two years ago and an advance tip of the hat to Amanda, who will receive hers this week. Their great-grandparents would be astounded at how far their descendents have traveled, while being thrilled at the fruition of the value they placed on education a few generations ago.

I am reminded of the line at the end of It's A Wonderful Life. Harry Bailey bursts into the room, holds his glass high, and toasts his big brother George, the richest man in town. I know exactly what he described, for I, too, am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I can summarize that sentiment in a simple phrase, which I will utter again this week, as I will say, to someone, "that's my daughter".

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Half Century Mark

It's a Saturday morning, I was having a relaxing idyll while surfing various sites I visit when I have the time, when I stumbled upon this nugget:

Yep, it has been 50 years since the premiere of the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird. The White House hosted an event to commemorate the occasion, which included the attendance of the woman who played Scout in the film. Though a half-century older, those eyes gave her identity away.

This may be the book I read as a child that had the greatest influence over me. I don't recall if I read it as part some summer reading program or if it was passed along to me by my parents or older sister. Consider the time I read it: it was after Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders, before Birmingham, Selma, or the tragedies that surrounded the push to register voters in Mississippi. It was also before the Kennedy assassination. Even in Tulsa, while there were rumblings that change was afoot, it was a time of innocence, when people did not lock their doors, children would walk to school (and even go home for lunch). There were no pictures on milk cartons; color televisions were rare and there were only 4 TV stations.

Introduce to my simple world the characters of Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, Jem, Scout and Dill Harris. Add to this mix Aunt Maud, the sinister Mr. Ewell, his hapless daughter and Tom Robinson. I could hear the nighttime sounds in their neighborhood, I could feel the oppressive heat of a summer afternoon steaming from the pages. I, too, had secret hiding places inside tree trunks for the treasures one discovers in childhood. Although I did not know a Boo Radley, I felt certain I knew exactly which house in Tulsa was his (it was in the 1700 block of South Detroit).

I don't think I had ever read a book that later became a film until this one came out. When I saw it, every image I had in my mind was visible on the screen. It was perfectly cast, seemingly filmed through some gauze filter. No character has moved me before or since more than Atticus. Mr. Peck played the role with such understatement, allowing the force of his character to dominate the scene instead of his acting. Oddly enough, the scene that had the most profound impact (and still brings a constriction of my throat) is when he is leaving the courtroom after everyone else but those in the gallery, where Scout is watching through the railing. "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise, your father's passin", said the minister. Such a simple scene, the respect for this character so eloquently illustrated. I know I have not seen a film treatment of a book since that captured the essence of its story so perfectly.

I have read disparaging comments about Harper Lee, that she only wrote this one great book. Perhaps, but it is one book more than nearly all the rest of us have written. I would be fine if Orson Welles had made no other film but his first one or Renoir had stopped painting after that boating party; genius need not be repeated, so long as it happens but once. I know my life is infinitely richer as a result of reading this book and seeing this film. I think I'll celebrate by buying a copy for each of my children. Perhaps it will inspire each of them to create an Atticus moment for someone else.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Few Of My Favorite Things

The richness of our language has long held a fascination for me. Partly, I'm attracted to voices that have a certain tone or timbre. Shelby Foote, the late author of the 3-volume compendium of the Civil War, had such a voice. I was exposed to him, like so many others, by his frequent appearance as a story-teller in Ken Burns' documentary of that conflict. I said at the time that I could listen to Mr. Foote read a grocery list and find it engrossing. Another such talent belongs to Carl Kassel, the host of several news programs on NPR over the years. He currently appears on a weekend quiz show, called Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Winners have the honor of having Mr. Kassel record their personal voice mail message, a prize worth pursuing.

At an early age, my father would frequently correct my grammar, syntax and pronunciation. Even though he may have been fascinated by the Okie Twang spoken in the city where I was raised, he was determined that his own children never utter the word "ain't" and that we place emphasis on the appropriate syllable for words such as "insurance" and "cement". When it came time for me to acquaint myself with the rules of grammar, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be hooked.

True, I was that precocious brat who used words that brought head-scratching to the adults around me. As I stumbled into the age of majority, that charming child became an annoying pedant, frequently using words that I felt would either illuminate my own candle power or the relative dimness of those around me. Antipathy is a word that comes to mind. While I do try to be less obnoxious about such things now, I do relish the joys of our language. Some words raise the hair on the back of my neck; others possess a charm all their own. A few of my favorites:

Gerund - I had the good fortune to work with a colleague from Boston whose passions were theater and language. He often recounted his early days as a substitute teacher, whose first assignment was to instruct his students in the proper use of gerunds. Yes, I immediately referred to the gigantic Random House Dictionary to learn the meaning of the term. In case you have forgotten,a gerund is an active noun.

Kerfuffle - I think I heard Senator Franken use this in some hearing a few years ago. It is certainly a better term than dust-up or dispute, although brouhaha has obvious qualities to recommend it.

Infelicitous - Some words hang in the recesses of our brains for decades, only to be dusted off at appropriate occasions. I used this one a few weeks ago in a text message, of all things, to my older daughter, Dr. Princess. Yes, it was felicitously applied.

Conundrum - Why use enigma, problem or poser (a word that has issues of its own) when this one rings so true? It's mere pronunciation brings to mind a corkscrew of thoughts.

Solipsistic - Ah, my favorite! I encountered this nugget in a book I was reading 5 years ago. I immediately looked it up in an online dictionary (that Random House tome long since donated) and stored it away. A short time ago, it was a perfect fit in a note I was writing to my younger daughter, Concrete Jane. Her immediate response: great GRE word! Why, thank you.

Enough for now. Are there any treasured words that you trot out on occasion?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did You Forget Everything Your Mother Taught You?

I apologize to the memory of Will Rogers, to whom I have mistakenly attributed a quote for many years. The proper reference is, instead, from Winston Churchill, who said "If two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary." I substituted the second phrase "...then one of them ain't thinkin". I always liked that line; it captured the wry, yet kind nature of the wit of this unique American character. The point of all this: it's acceptable, even rational, to have disagreements.

I have been rigid in my opinions for as long as I can remember. I can still recall my father's stern admonition that other people were not necessarily stupid, just because they had a different point of view than my own. He must be spinning in his grave now, given the current state of discourse in the land.

It's been eight years since Jon Stewart famously caused Crossfire to disappear from the airwaves. If you have forgotten that incident, he accused this standard of political debate of failing their opportunity to elevate the discourse. Within weeks, the show was gone. I purposely ignored that show, as I did not observe any debate on issues; instead, the people representing the different sides mostly tried to speak louder than the other one.

Since that time, the conversation has become much less civil and, if possible, more polarized. Issues have become so charged that it is no longer acceptable to disagree. Some examples:
  • The most-watched evening political tv show host tarred a physician in Kansas with the epithet "Tiller the Killer". After the man was gunned down, this host denied any responsibility for the act, while inferring that it was a good deed.
  • During a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress, a representative from South Carolina loudly yelled "you lie" during part of the speech. This rude character saw a large spike in his fundraising.
  • It may have been in the same address, when the President stated that a recent Supreme Court decision would have severe consequences, leading to more involvement of money in politics, one of the Associate Justices mouthed the words "that's not true". Actually, it has proven to be so.
  • The leading Republican Presidential contender has spent more money on negative television ads than all his competitors have spent on all media ad buys. While "going negative" is believed to be a winning formula, the end result is that fewer eligible voters participate in each successive election cycle, as they have become so disenchanted with the process. I think the fairy tale about the golden goose is applicable here.
  • The most popular host on talk radio recently spent the better part of three days accusing a young woman of having negotiable virtue. His apology, issued only after the bulk of his advertisers ducked for cover, was, at best, half-hearted.
  • Regarding that episode, the host's minions immediately responded with the argument that folks on the other side have done the same thing, which, apparently, makes it acceptable.
Good grief. In all my years, I have found that most everyone had a mother who instilled the same basic tenets of good manners in their children. Such aphorisms as:
  • If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
  • It's rude to interrupt another person while speaking; allow them to finish before you speak.
  • Don't call people names. While sticks and stones may hurt more, words can still harm.
  • Everybody's different.
Finally, about that whole notion of equivalency, that many have used to rationalize that radio host's uncivil harangue: The fastest and easiest way to lose an argument with my mother was to justify my behavior by stating that someone else did it or said it. If it was something verbal, I would get the threat to wash my mouth out with soap. As I truly believed she would do this to me, I would not repeat the offense.

Disagreeing with another is a hallmark of a free society. I can have a differing point of view than someone else (which I do, with many), but I do not hold up a sign of them with a Hitler moustache. I do not shout them down. I do not accuse them of being a socialist, fascist, wingnut, parlor pink or idiot.

While I wish I could state this as eloquently as Will Rogers, I'll merely wonder why so many people who are in politics or television seemingly neglect everything their mothers taught them. It's nothing a time out or a good bar of soap couldn't cure. In the meantime, I would prefer to hang out at the final bastions of courtesy remaining on the planet: a golf course or a Chick-Fil-A.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'd Rather Be Ironic

In my life, I have found a few campaigns that warranted my support. There was the quest to call out those who leave shopping carts wherever they deem fit in a parking lot. You know, those ill-mannered sorts who cannot take the additional 60 seconds required to return said cart to its rightful place. Another nit that sticks in my expansive craw are those who chew gum with mouths open. Age and its subsequent accumulated wisdom has taught me, however, that sometimes the juice is not worth the squeeze. I cannot unlearn years of boorish behavior by ranting about gum-chewing habits (including that nasty one of discarding said wad wherever one chooses) or people's neglect of others' cars in parking lots.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the continuing presence of one of the most overused words of 2009. No, my friends, that post was hardly iconic. In that brief span of time, I have seen this dreaded word in the following contexts:

In reading a discography of Diana Krall, mention was made of her marriage to the iconic rock singer, Elvis Costello. While his aim may be true, I would no more rank Mr. Costello with the ilk of Frank or Ella than I would liken Jonathan Papelbon to Mariano Rivera. I will concede that fewer years are required to merit this exalted status in baseball. I would caution the writer who elevated Mr. Costello: when he functions as one of the great practitioners of his art for a half-century, I will place him in the pantheon with Ms. Fitzgerald and Mr. Sinatra.

An ad for Coach purses: "Classic style, iconic design." I would only give such an appellation to a hotel designed by Morris Lapidus, or to a museum designed by I.M. Pei, not to some over-priced handbag.

A headline today: "Iconic Mall Razed". Does a building that has sat empty for 3 decades achieve this status merely by appearing in the Blues Brothers movie?

Billboard on I-75, north of Atlanta: "Be Iconic", with a picture of Usher as a boy, who, apparently, was a member of a Boys' Club. I would venture a guess that, as a lad, young Raymond may have expressed a desire to be famous or talented; I doubt he aspired to be iconic.

Is there no escaping this dreaded part of the lexicon? Will I have to join the ranks of Zonker Harris (the Doonesbury character who, in the mid-70's, embarked on a doomed campaign to ban leisure suits) in the listing of Sisyphean causes, unconquered?

This appears to be a battle I will not win. Instead, if this word must be cast about, some guidelines: For an athlete, only if they can dominate their sport for more than a decade. Music or acting? As Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar in each of the past 5 decades, I would hold that up as a standard that warrants the term. A building? I would recommend one that is revered for its originality for at least a half-century to be included in this club. I would not, in contrast, cite all those big league lookalike stadia that sprung like mushrooms in the 70's (Three Rivers, Riverfront, Veterans, etc.). For shopping malls, well, let's just omit them from the list altogether.

If it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon be called ironic.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's mid-February. Pitchers and catchers have already begun their spring workouts in leagues both Grapefruit & Cactus. Truly, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Optimism is in the air. Every team has an equal shot at winning the World Series, even the Royals. Wags and fans alike wonder if all the injuries have healed, if the players added over the winter will add to their team's performance, if this will finally be the year.

While it is still a marvelous game to behold in person, my last visit to a major league ballpark was a huge letdown. I visited Turner Field with my daughter and son-in-law last September, where we watched the (hated) Mets drub the Braves. I was astounded at the amount of distractions - music blaring, entertainment between innings, obvious delays for TV time outs and something that surely was a sign of the impending apocalypse, the kiss cam. Whatever happened to my game? Where was the organ? Can't players win a free suit by hitting some sign in the outfield?

I have found much to be objectionable in the Grand Old Game for decades. Now that I have this forum, it's time for me to offer some remedies.

First, ban the Designated Hitter. After 40 years, it's safe to say that it has added nothing to the game, save the extension of the careers of one-dimensional players. Whenever a pitcher in the AL brushes back a hitter, it causes a brawl. In the NL, the logical result is a little chin music for the offending pitcher when he next comes to the plate. Sal the Barber and the Big D must be spinning in their graves (The latter, by the way, hit a record 154 batters during his 13 years in the Bigs).

Other than the aforementioned travesty, the greatest single change to the game over the past several decades is the alteration of the strike zone. It used to range from the armpits (or letters) to the kneecaps. Over time, it has gradually sunk to the area from ankles to belt. This led to domination of pitchers, which begat hitters looking for an edge to counteract that (can you say steroids?), which, in turn, skewed statistics of the game forevermore.

Play a shorter season, certainly no longer than 154 games. It should run from April through late September, with the World Series ending no later than the middle of the following month. Bring back the October classic, which one played in November cannot ever aspire to become.

There are too many teams in the postseason. No more than 3 per league is sufficient.

Bring back afternoon games for the Series. Living in the Eastern time zone, no game ever ends before midnight, which is far too late for most kids to see; me either, for that matter.

Ban interleague play, except for the All Star game and the Series. I know it has the potential to draw fans and surely makes buckets of money. Yet, one of the charms of the game used to be how differently each league played. The NL had dominance for many years, due to its reliance on speed and defense (Ozzie Smith, for example), while the AL depended upon what Earl Weaver fondly referred to as Dr. Longball. Apparently, interleague play will become more prevalent. That can only lead to more parity, so they'll be just like the NFL, or mind-numbingly boring.

Which reminds me: awarding home field advantage to the league that wins the All-Star game? Seriously, Bud, you are way off base on that one.

Things that should result in automatic ejection: spitting, arguing balls and strikes, players wearing armor at the plate, curtain calls after a home run (for which I still blame the late, great Gary Carter for starting; sorry, Kid, but I still feel that way) and batters approaching the mound. I would also ban any nickname ending in "rod", sky boxes, trumpeted charges and mascots.

I took my family to Fenway Park in 1994; the cost for tickets, programs, hot dogs and sodas was over $100. I decided then that this was no longer family entertainment, as it was out of my price range. After the cancellation of the World Series that same year,I boycotted the game for 11 years (a plague on both owners' and players' houses); returning to Fenway in 2005, where the cost for each seat was $65. And those seats had an obstructed view.

All of which I offer as proof that MLB has killed their golden goose. Only the well-heeled can afford to go to games. I don't know why kids don't play baseball anymore. I wonder if little leaguers fight over who will have the honor of wearing number 7. Do they still pretend to be a Bob Gibson staring down Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente while throwing a tennis ball against the garage door?

I should have known the sport was doomed about 10 years ago, while working in a hotel where the Braves were staying. All the managers gathered in the lobby when their team bus pulled up to take them to the stadium, to keep the autograph seekers at bay. There were many who clamored for Larry (aka Chipper) Jones, or who swarmed after Gary Sheffield. Finally, Hank Aaron strolled across the lobby. No one even knew who he was. That was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen.

The next time I see a youngster throwing a ball against a house, I'll ask him who he is imagining himself to be. That will provide a clue if the game has a chance, or, if it's just another TV reality show.

Friday, February 17, 2012


The father of one of my great friends from college was affiliated with the American League. She would call him occasionally to secure seats for her soon-to-be husband and assorted hangers-on (that was me!) at the nearest ballpark, which, in those days, was Baltimore Memorial Stadium. We always had fantastic seats; far better than those any of us could have afforded in those youthful days.

Once, we had seats directly behind the Orioles' dugout. I don't recall who they were playing, but it didn't matter. We could see every move on the field, hear the chatter, feel the swell of the crowd when the home team hit one into the gap or executed a defensive gem. Then, all of a sudden, this enormous shadow passed in front of me, all orange-white-and-black. It was the Orioles mascot.

This was an era shortly after the Famous Chicken for some unexplained reason earned that epithet, bouncing around games in San Diego. Immediately thereafter, this phenomenon took root in ballparks across the land, much like that other scourge of the era, the Wave. I was horrified at this development, nearly as much as at the advent of the designated hitter (quick: name two, just two DH's, who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame; I rest my case).

I savored the Great American Pastime for its nuances, like watching the shortstop take a step or two right or left, depending upon the catcher's signal for the upcoming pitch. I found nothing more ballet-like than the pitcher sprinting to cover first base on a ball hit to the right side of the infield. No sight was more thrilling than that of an outfielder one-hopping a drive, planting his rear foot and throwing a perfect strike to the plate to nail an opposing base runner. A game of geometric precision, played in a park in an urban setting, on a summer afternoon. A game of language and oddities, quirky characters (imagine a football player called Spaceman!). In short, a purist's heaven.

Ah, back to the mascot, the interloper, this interruption to my idyll. During the 7th Inning Stretch (when they played Thank God I'm a Country Boy), this creature was dancing on top of the dugout, then had the gall to touch the top of my head and take off my ball cap. Every fiber of my being told me to avenge this assault upon my person and take down this abomination. However, despite the number of National Bohemians I had already swilled, I thought better of it and just seethed. Decades later, this episode still bothers me.

A few days ago, my charming younger daughter sent me a note, saying that she was thinking of buying this birthday present for me. This is what she sent:

She could not possibly have been serious. I told her that I had a bone to pick about mascots for years, a story she had not yet heard. Well, now she has.

I'm sure I'll have more comments about the Grand Old Game as the season progresses. For now, I am content at this moment in time, when every single team has a shot at the World Series, with not a single mascot in sight.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Teacher, teacher!

I spent about a decade doing training for the company I work for. One of the classes I co-facilitated taught the participants basic presentation skills.

The first thing that pops to mind about this class was that we opened it by discussing people's great fears about taking this training. It turns out there are two things that cause cold sweats and dread among folks: death and public speaking. Which, in turn, begs the question: if you are attending a funeral, would you prefer to give the eulogy or to be the guest of honor?

Sorry, we call that a bunny trail in the training world. I was fortunate to do this class many times with some truly remarkable people. One of my favorites was an exceedingly kind colleague from Texas named Patti. She would do this exercise to highlight some adult learning principles, in which participants were asked to list characteristics of the best and worst teachers they ever had. In every class, people came up with similar characteristics for each; I would guess that your own listing would bear resemblance as well. After observing Patti lead this section a few times, it finally dawned on me: our favorite teachers were the ones who treated us like adults, who had passion for their topic, who treated each student as a unique individual. Our worst teachers were the ones who simply went through the motions, appearing disinterested. When I mentioned this to Patti, I got this all-knowing look, as she was far too kind to remark at how truly obtuse I can be.

One of my daughters is currently earning her masters degree in how to teach American Sign Language. We have had many discussions since she began this field of study about learning styles, techniques, concepts and, sadly, the general disregard in which teachers are held. We are now in this back-and-forth discussion about the TV show, Friday Night Lights.

While my daughter and I do disagree about the comparative objectionable behaviors of some of the characters on the show, we are in complete accord about the portrayal of the two main characters, Tami and Eric Taylor, by Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, respectively. My attraction to the two stems from those lessons I saw imparted by my friend Patti in that training class.

In the corporate world, I have seen countless examples of poor training, which have included yelling, two-way arguments, the trainee stalking off the job and the supervisor actually firing them on the spot. My first reaction is horror that so many people have forgotten how to teach someone else how to perform a task; my second is to resolve never to return to that place of business.

Then I took a golf lesson. Here I am, paying about $100 for an hour of someone's time. I am long past my athletic prime and possess modest skills in this area. During this hour, I have one-on-one time with someone who is encouraging of the skills I do have. I will walk away from the session with confidence that I have been able to improve at least one facet of my game, which results in an actual improvement.

This is much of what I hear from my daughter as well, as she relates tales of student teaching in a grim, urban school. She has had some setbacks, but even more successes. Her triumphs occur when she takes a particular interest in a student, investing the power of her personality in treating this person as a unique individual with a particular learning style. All this, so that she can make a salary about one-fifth of what most politicians earn annually from making speeches to audiences who agree with most of what they say. That is perhaps the topic for another post...

Every day, I read that some state or local government is cutting teacher salaries or eliminating tenure or doing something else to make teaching even more difficult. I have a colleague who is asked to contribute $150 a year to her child's public school, to pay for such things as hand soap and toilet paper. All this in a country that is experiencing another decline in the performance of its students in math and science, falling further behind other countries in the world. For this, we blame teachers?

My job is to be a part of a management team at a hotel. Last summer, we had a youth baseball group staying with us. Their parents and coaches were hanging out at the pool one afternoon, drinking bottles of beer. I politely asked them to use plastic cups, as glass containers and swimming pools are a poor mixture. I even gave them the cups to do so. These guests told me, in rather harsh language, that I had no business telling them what to do, as they were such good, loyal customers. My instinct was to respond in kind. My experience, however, has taught me that arguing with a customer does, at best, only escalate the cost of solution. Instead, I asked if any of them watched Friday Night Lights. Many nodding heads ensued. I told them that they reminded me of a character on that show. No, not Eric Taylor, but Joe McCoy (for you non-fans, he was the father of the young stud quarterback who was reluctant to pay his dues). Head scratching and silence ensued. The next morning, they all came to me and apologized for their actions.

It's not radical to believe that everything good about life, I learned from my parents and from teachers. I learned values, tolerance, wisdom and a wealth of knowledge about topics ranging from geography to mathematics to faith that prepared me how to think and, concurrently, how to live my life. I could not begin to write all that I learned from the great teachers I have been blessed to experience, let alone put it on a bumper sticker.

As it is Valentine's Day, in addition to doing something sweet for a loved one, remember a teacher. Someone who taught you how to use your rational processes, gave you a life lesson you still use today, who showed you a path that you did not know existed before, who took you to a place you would not have gone by yourself. Your Eric or Tami Taylor, if you will, because each of us has had the benefit of at least one encounter with a teacher so memorable. If you can't find that teacher, tell a loved one about this person and how they changed your life.

So, to Sister Mary Robert, Brother Michael, Brother Damian, Dr. Brown and Professor Duncan, thank you for the lessons, for inspiring passions in me that I did not know existed. Thank you for showing me the joys of learning. Thank you also for helping me to realize who I was to become in my life. Thank you also to Patti and to the many others who led me on a path as an adult learner. I am privileged to have shared time with each of you.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What's in a word?

Each New Year's Eve, Lake Superior State University publishes a list of those words that deserve to be banished from the lexicon. It has become one of the events I anticipate every holiday season. In fact, they have been compiling this list for over 30 years now.

Some of the nuggets that have received this dubious achievement of late: amazing, baby bump, viral, man cave, epic and refudiate.

This enshrinement in no way causes these words to disappear from the status of the overused. I have been scratching my head for some time, wondering why this one particular word continues to appear on topics near and far. For, in 2009, Lake Superior State University deemed the word "iconic" to be worthy of this banishment. I could not agree more. defines iconic as: "of, pertaining to, or characteristic of an icon." Well, that doesn't help much. So, I next looked up icon: "a sign or representation that stands for its object by virtue of a resemblance or analogy to it." Okay, that's a little better.

At the place I worked most recently, our Director of Marketing referred to our building as iconic. Then, it started appearing all over the place, as if to haunt every turn in my un-iconic life. Since that time, I have heard the word applied to Chevrolet, Newt Gingrich, all New York sports teams (even those that ply their trade in New Jersey), the former Sears Tower, an early Atari game (pong?) and, most recently, Steven Spielberg and several full-length animated Disney films.

I am confused. Would not the multitude of people, places and things that are so designated diminish its very status as an icon? I am reminded of a headline I saw on some internet news site last year, referring to a tune as "the most downloaded song of all time." I guess that makes sense, if one is only defining "all time" as that period during which music could actually be downloaded, say, since 2001 or so. But, I digress...

Repeat after me: I solemnly promise not to use the word "iconic" in any sentence. Any violation of this vow will condemn the offender to a life, subject to bombardment of all the words banished by those wise folks at LSSU. Just sayin... Oh, sorry, that was on 2011's list.

I encourage you to peruse the lists yourself. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Longest Day

The most-watched television event of the year is, by far, the Super Bowl. I cannot fathom what all the fuss is about.

Don't get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoy football, but only the college variety. There's something about Fall afternoons on campuses, most of which have a century of tradition permeating the air. The pros may monopolize airtime, but they cannot replicate the Red River Shootout, the Little Brown Jug or the greatest rivalry in all of sportsdom, the Army-Navy game. The NFL gives us Redskins/Cowboys or Bengals/Browns, at least twice each season. Yawn.

Professional football teams don't play in the Swamp, Happy Valley or between the hedges. Instead, their labors take place in publicly-funded arenas bearing the names of banks or insurance firms. I heard a statistic some time back, that if one took all the money used to finance these palaces over the past 20 years, it would be sufficient to remodel every public school in the US. Wow.

These teams are, but for a few, owned by the less-than-the-1%-crowd who have no shortage of narcissism to fuel their quest for that ultimate ego-boost, the Super Bowl ring. The public faces of NFL ownership are not the Mara or Rooney families or the community-owned Packers; instead, we think of Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder, who only compel me to paraphrase the title of a Fitzgerald story about what is really as big as the Ritz.

Just once, I would relish the prospect of seeing a head coach on the sidelines, without headphones, with a smile on their face. Gosh boys, it's a game, after all; it's not war and peace. I do confess my gratitude that Jeff Greenfield perfectly nailed the resemblance of the Giants coach to Edgar Kennedy, the master of the slow burn (if that name doesn't ring a bell, look him up on imdb; you will recognize his face). In fairness, I have heard Tom Coughlin has done wonderful charitable work; I cannot imagine his counterpart doing the same.

The players: for every Tim Tebow, there are many more of the type represented by Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor or Ben Roethlisberger. You say Roger Staubach, I will respond with a Plaxico Burriss or Dexter Manley. In short, the NFL is not known for great citizenship among its members. Role models? I think not.

On language: not only did we not need the term "red zone", I'm pretty certain we don't need the corresponding graphics on the tube either. I have also noticed two other tendencies among announcers: the need to say both first and last names for every player mentioned, plus an annoying habit of saying "as we said at the top of the broadcast...yadda yadda yadda." I guess we mere rubes were not astute enough to catch it the first time, so we are reminded, ad nauseum.

Finally, there is the time element involved. During my woolly days, I recall sitting, stopwatch in hand, clocking the actual time they spent playing this game on Sundays. The totals ran anywhere from 9 to 12 minutes. They then squeeze all this action into a 3+ hour commercial for beer and pickup trucks. If you don't believe this sport is slow-moving, think about the last time you actually attended a pro football game. The bulk of the time in that 3+ hour window was spent watching very large men grunting and groaning, jawing at each other and the officials, getting in and out of piles and waiting for the end of the tv-time outs. With the increase in the number of passes each game, I imagine the actual playing time has decreased.

I think I'll skip the big event this weekend, perhaps to watch a Woody Allen movie, or, god forbid, a film by Pedro Almodovar, who seems to tell stories about women quite well. Or, I could read a book or clean my home. As for those ads, those multi-million dollar promotional spots, well, I can watch them online, saving myself hours of ennui in the process. Then, Monday morning, someone will tell me who won the big game. I do not think life will be any less rewarding as a result.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First Shot


Several years ago, someone gave me a coffee mug with the words "Everyone's entitled to my opinion" emblazoned upon it. I fear that was an accurate description. My daughters tell me that I should share some of these little gems with an unwitting world. So, here goes:

I have opinions about so many subjects - gum chewing, use of the word iconic, why people feel the need to stop in the middle of store aisles (mostly at Wal-Mart), why people don't put shopping carts in corrals and the overall incivility of our society.
Oh wait, the few phrases prior to that last one added to it. Let's wind up a different tack: the beauty of random acts of kindness, a sacrifice bunt perfectly executed, the wonder of those early signs of cognitive skills in an infant, the sound of my children's laughter, which remains a thrill after all these years.
So, I'll come up with things to say, as often as I can. I look forward to hearing what you think!