Sunday, February 7, 2016

Propositions

I am in Las Vegas for the super bowl. Las Vegas is its typically wild self with the extra dollop that today's frenzy has an extra scent.  Some people are just the regular stumbling Las Vegas sorts.  Lots of alcohol consumption; men and women letting their wild side be wild.  But others are here for what is dubbed as the "big game."  Apparently the casinos cannot advertise using the term superbowl as that is owned by the nfl.

The prices of everything here have rocketed. Gone are the days when restaurants in casinos were lures for gamblers with very inexpensive fare. Now it is an arm and a leg for everything.  When I arrived I walked into a pizza alcove for a slice. Seven dollars for nothing special.  A cup of black coffee downstairs from a starbucks wannabe was 5.  You can lose 50 bananas here having a snack.

What lured me to Las Vegas at this time was not the general wildness or foodstuffs.  After having spent so many years here during March Madness I wanted to see the fans/bettors on super bowl weekend.  I'll know later today more about behaviors, but so far it has been amusing just to see what people are betting on.

It is only one game so betting on that game would not make the day for the casinos.  All the sports books have printed out stapled sheets with all their proposition bets.  What can you bet on?


  • Who will win the coin toss?
  • Will the Panthers final total score be an even number?
  • Will the opening kickoff be a touchback?
  • Will an interception occur before a touchdown pass?
  • What will be shortest touchdown run?
  • Will there be more than three field goals in the game?
This is just a tiny sampler. There are, literally, over a hundred of these proposition bets on the sheets. You can bet on how many points will be scored in any quarter and by whom. Who will win the mvp? What player will score the last touchdown? Will there ever be a safety?  How many penalties?

It ought to be wild later hearing people screech for no apparent reason except that they have bet on the first team to sack a quarterback.  It is actually a bit overwhelming for me to consider all this, but I think it will be interesting to watch the crowd.

No need for a password.

Why bother with a password?

Last week I wanted to access a bank account on line. For some reason I could not access it. There was a prompt that asked me to put in my cell phone number. I did that—and again—the number was not recognizable.

It was not urgent that I get to the account, but the episode was disconcerting.  In our computer age, when you stop and think about it, do we really have any money in the bank? You make a deposit and then your balance on a screen increases, but the money is not really there. If everyone at your local bank came in one day and asked for their shekels, the bank would run out before ten percent of the customers got to the front of the line.

Every once in a while—when there is a computer snag of some sort and I can’t access my account—I begin to consider the possibility that the shell game is just that.  I don’t really dwell on that since every time, thus far, somehow the glitch is resolved and I return to make believing that there really are some savings stored away in case I need to pay a bill. 

Back to the day last week when my account could not be accessed. After I tried my phone number and that did not work,  I received another prompt. This one read that if I so desired, the computer could generate some questions from public records that would confirm I am who I am.  I hesitated, but gave that a shot figuring that the questions would be about social security numbers last four digits or where I worked.

Within seconds of my clicking ok to the “public records” inquiry,  a series of questions popped up that I had only a couple of minutes to answer.  So, within seconds a computer knew what questions to ask and, of course, what the correct answers were.

The questions were stunning.  What was the color of my car? Where did I live in 1965?  What city was a street address for my parents in the mid 90s?  When did I buy my home?

I answered the questions and was able to get into my account.  But I was a bit dazed by the experience.

What is the purpose of having a password?  This bank knew things about me that I had never disclosed.  My personal questions—which I thought were important-relate to the name of my nephew, paternal grandfather, and cat.  These questions are nothing for big brother.  They want to know who I dated in 66 and if she thought I was a good man.  And they know the answer to both.  How do they know what color my car is.  I never told the bank the color of my car. (They also knew the model).  How do they know where my parents resided in 1995?


It does not seem as if much is a secret anymore so just bypass the password. They knew who you are.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout, the author of My Name is Lucy Barton also wrote Olive Kitteridge--winner of a Pulitzer prize for fiction.  Olive Kitteridge is a masterpiece. My Name is Lucy Barton is not quite as good but still a wonderful read and a book I strongly recommend.

In the last page of Olive Kitteridge, Olive, a widow, thinks of a fledgling relationship she is considering. She likens it to "pressing two pieces of Swiss Cheese together", that each person would bring "holes" with them to any union, holes representing the pieces "that life took out of you."

How we live with the holes in our being that life has "taken out" is in essence what My Name is Lucy Barton is about.

The character Lucy Barton is the narrator of the story.  She has to spend several weeks in a hospital recovering from a complication related to an appendectomy.  While hospitalized she is visited by her mother whom she had not seen in many years. In conversations with her mother and flashbacks we learn about Lucy's family and the holes in her heart.

All of us have been bruised along the way, some of us have had families that were bruise making machines. I have had my share of bumps but as family issues go I think I caught a big break. Lucy did not and many readers will be able to identify with her.  You may not be a small town farm girl, and your mother, father, sister, and brother of a different ilk completely, but you will likely be able to identify with Lucy Barton.

This is an easy book to read.  The writing is engaging, the chapters are short, and some pages are only half pages.  A lot of book in less than 200 pages.

There is only one thing about which I can quibble. We find out that Lucy has become a successful author. Yet the book is deliberately written (told as if it is written by Lucy) amateurishly.  Lucy, before she became famous as a writer, took a class on writing.  This book reads like one someone might have written who was just starting out--perhaps after having taken such a course. But we find out that she is writing this after her successes as an author, so the style does not match the style of an accomplished writer.  But maybe that is a point of the novel; when you are dealing with the holes in your heart you are hobbled whether you know it or not.

Beautiful read and a book that will become even more meaningful to me in the days that follow.  Are we all "hospitalized" because of emotional trauma and need to "meet" with forebears to purge the viruses that course through our bodies?


Monday, January 25, 2016

past, present..and future

The good news is I know my hip is getting much better. The bad news is that I know this because after the first half of yesterday's Patriots--Broncos' game,  I did not sit down once and paced for most of the two plus hours, all to no avail.  The hip passed its test, the Patriots did not-- succumbing to the team that played better yesterday, 20-18.

The postmortem analysts are omnipresent in Boston.  I just left a grocery store where there is an alcove for those who want to sip coffee or eat lunch before they depart.  I was not in my seat for a minute before I heard three construction workers (so identified because of their garb) yakking about the Patriots' inability to move the ball on first down.

One could dissect the game in terms of how well the Broncos defended, the mistakes that Tom Brady made and the ones that Peyton Manning did not, the missed extra point that forced the Patriots to try a two point conversion with twelve seconds left--or many other factors. But I think such analyses would be superficial.  And the point I hope to make in this blog transcends sports; it applies to our own reflections and decisions.

I had to look up this morning a quote I heard which goes something like: "The past is never dead; it's not even the past."  The author is William Faulkner; I know I never read this quote in something Faulkner wrote because aside from a long short story we had to read in high school called "The Bear", I never read anything by Faulkner. This quote, I found out, is from a novel called, Requiem for a Nun.  I don't know anything about Requiem for a Nun.  What I remember from "The Bear" was that it seemed to me interminable and I wished I did not have to read it.  My best guess is that I just wasn't mature enough at 16 to have a shot at understanding "The Bear". Maybe I would not see the significance of "The past is never dead; it's not even the past" had I been 16 when I came across it. But half a century later I get it--in spades.

How does the quote apply to the Patriots-Broncos' game?  The Patriots lost by two points yesterday, true. But they really lost the game on November 29th, and they lost because of arrogance.

November 29th was Thanksgiving weekend's Sunday night. The Patriots were playing the Broncos in Denver and were leading by two touchdowns going into the fourth quarter.  The Broncos were able to trim the lead because of a muffed punt by a Patriot, but New England was still ahead when the Patriots do what they do--they became arrogant.  Instead of running and bleeding the clock, the Pats-"in-your-face-we-are-better-than-you" kept throwing the ball in the fourth quarter with a lead that, had they run the ball, would likely have been insurmountable.  The Broncos went on to win the game.

Both the Broncos and Patriots finished at 12-4 this past season, but Denver won the tie breaker by virtue of having won on 11/29.  Consequently they got to play yesterday's championship game in Denver. The bookies figure home field advantage is worth three points. Home field advantage was absolutely worth two points yesterday. No way the Broncos beat the Patriots in Boston yesterday.

So it's just a game and we fans will be fine. But the significance beyond sport, I think, is not insignificant.

When we decide what to do, today, it is dependent on yesterday because yesterday put us in the position we are in today.  And what we do today, will put us in the position we are in tomorrow.  We are not handcuffed to our past, but our lives are a series of moments that, in some part, evolved because of good or bad fortune--but in larger part because of what we did in our yesterdays.  The Patriots played a well prepared Broncos team yesterday in Denver because the Patriots decided on November 29th for no intelligent reason to throw the ball in the fourth quarter when it could have come close to running out the clock.  I am sitting here now in the Weston Public Library writing this blog because of decisions I made in 1969 in Albany New York--long story that--but that is why I am here now.  You could say I am in Weston at 2 pm this Monday afternoon because of some library books I needed to return--which is in part true. But I am really here because of something that I thought about in 1969.  Too long to go into, but you get the point.   The outcomes of today are grounded in our past. The past is not even the past.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Australian Open

I was just about to go to bed about two and a half hours ago when I heard that Novak Djokovic the number 1 seed in the Australian Open was playing.  I like to root against Djokovic which has provided no small amount of aggravation over the years because the guy is great and seldom loses.  I thought I'd put on the match for a half hour or so and get sleepy.  I was up real early this morning so I figured it would not take more than a set for me to have my date with the sand man.

Now 126 a.m. I am riveted to the screen. The number 14 seed Giles Simon is going toe to toe with Djokovic in what will be a marathon match. Already at the two hour and twenty six minute mark as I write this second paragraph and the players are only midway through the third set with each player splitting the first two.  They are playing each point like warriors as if every stroke could be the last one.  Simon was broken early in the third, broke back, and now is playing yet another interminable game in which he is fighting mightily to hold his serve.

Both of these fellows are as lean as a string bean and you can see why.  In the last 2 1/2 hours they have burned more calories than I have in the last 2 1/2 months, and I am not exaggerating.  How contested are these games? I wrote above that it was 126.  It is now 135, nine minutes later and they just completed the game they were playing when I began this blog.  For comparison, it took Serena Williams 44 minutes to win two sets the other day.  These guys are taking over an hour for each set they are playing.

I do not think this is about money.  Both of these players do well. Djokovic probably needs his own country just to store his shekels.  Simon is doing okay also. I just checked and over his career he has earned 10, 500, 000 bananas.  So these guys are not competing to make the rent.   Djokovic wants to remain the best in the world, and Simon wants to be able to defeat the best player in the world.

I keep saying I should go to bed, but I find myself saying "one more game." The way this is going, I could go to sleep, wake up, and they will still be out there in Melbourne whacking tennis balls over the net at impossible angles retrieving them in ways that would be incredible, except I have to believe it since I am seeing it with my own wide open peepers.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Richard B. Ross Way

I have gotten good at identifying various walking routes from my office to the medical complex where I go for physical therapy.  For someone very efficient at using a map, I do not have a great sense of direction. Give me a road map I can get from nearly anyplace to anyplace else. But tell me to walk to a place in this city of winding roads, I often take a circuitous stroll--excellent for my cardio vascular system and the healing of my hip, but a little tough on the extremities when it is below zero in New England.

I think I know the fastest route now.  I took it this morning for my 8 am appointment for getting beat up in the name of good health.  Just kidding. The people whom I have met at physical therapy have been dedicated professionals, each with a different set of strengthening exercises which I have embraced and, consequently, the various contortions have accelerated my recovery.

When I walked this morning to physical therapy I noticed a shortcut on a street I'd never seen before called, Richard B. Ross Way.  It would have been a shortcut, except that seeing the sign made me stop and consider it.   I knew, very peripherally, a Richard B. Ross and I was pretty sure why the road had been named in his honor.

About twenty five years ago a colleague suggested I meet with a Richard Ross to explore consulting opportunities.  My colleague had worked with the man, found him to be kind and professional, and thought--given my skill set he and I would connect.  I remember meeting him in the Prudential Center where he had an office at the time. He was, as advertised, a kind and professional man.  As it turned out I did not do any consulting work for him but, as I recall, this had less to do with him and more to do with my not getting back to him with some material he suggested I send along. Regardless, it was his soft smile and pleasantness that I remembered more than anything else.

So, I reacted with stunned horror when I read fifteen years ago that Richard B. Ross had been on American flight 11 that September day that nobody will ever forget.  Nearly everyone around here knows someone who was on one of those flights.  I hardly knew Richard B. Ross, but did know fairly well another victim, Nick Humber, who was on the same flight. Nick and I were regular squash partners. I see that Nick was in seat 22A. Next to the window. Left hand side of the plane. Good guy. You can tell a lot about someone on the squash court.  Nick was a mensch. Ross was sitting first class--2J first row on the other side against the window.

As I wrote above, you can't know many people who lived in Boston at the time and did not know at least one of the victims.

When I saw Richard B. Ross Way on my now efficient walk to physical therapy I was taken aback.  I had been feeling so good on my walk.  Feeling good ambling without a limp, early in the morning, whole day ahead of me--and then I saw the sign and there was a reminder of how irresponsible, insensitive, unethical, inhuman, the delusional hijackers were in thinking this asinine act was an act for God. What God? What God takes the life away from people in the name of God.  To hell with them. And they are there: burning in Hades for the duration, leaving a legacy that no person with a soul can respect.

I'm glad the city of Boston named a street after Richard B. Ross.  And I am glad I saw it this morning and will see it every morning I go to physical therapy-- a reminder of how wonderful is this precious life and how indefensible is any act that deprives another of the opportunity to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Gate House

I had previously read one book by Nelson De Mille. Like this one it was long, actually longer.  It was called The Lion and it moved.  Very fast, exciting, and cleverly written.

This book The Gate House was recommended to me by someone who had been convalescing. He'd never read a De Mille book before and therefore had nothing to compare it to. He was given the book as a gift, thought it was a good read, and gave me the title.

My feeling is that The Gate House took a long time (845 pages) to go not very far.  Not poorly written, but sort of a waste of time. The last forty pages were kind of exciting and there were other moments that were engaging, but you could have thrown out 400 pages here easy and not lost a thing.  I found out afterwards that The Gate House was a sequel to The Gold Coast.  My best guess is that The Gold Coast, which received positive reviews, was so well received that the author--or the author's publisher--said "write a sequel." So he got going on this book not really sure where it was going and what came out was this loooong novel that really is not that substantive.

In addition to the bloated plot, the only major character that I found sort of attractive was the narrator. Everyone else, less than meh. For example, I could not be in the same room with the love of his life for an hour without calling a cab. His in-laws are caricatures as wss his own mother. So many people seem so superficial.  I don't mind banging one back now and again, but if these people drink as depicted, they will all be dead before 50 from damaged livers or observing each other's  condescending behavior.  Elizabeth a minor character had some positive stuff going for her, as did one of the detectives, but they were peripheral.  Otherwise, I do not want to hang out with these people.

There is a scene where a couple, having been estranged for ten years, get together and make life decisions that are truly incredible.  Just not to be believed.  This scene changes the direction of the plot, and I just cant believe the event would have taken place as it did given these persons' histories.

There was some suspense--toward the end--and the narrator is clever with his story telling, but I cannot recommend this book. I may read another one of his, because I saw today with the exception of this one, all the rest are very positively received. So maybe this is just a stinker that my buddy did not know was a stinker because he never read the others.  I will not read the prequel though, because I do not want to spend ten pages again with Susan or her parents or any Bellarosa.

In short, if you are a reader, there are better books to read. If you liked The Lion like I did, maybe pick up another of De Mille's novels.