Thursday, October 30, 2014

Giants

According to family lore my father, at about age ten, was in a park when a fellow approached him and asked who he rooted for in baseball.  At the time my dad did not follow major league baseball, but a team he had heard about was the New York Giants.  So, in response to the question he said he was a Giants fan.

And that is how my clan became Giant fans. We lived in Brooklyn surrounded by Dodger fans, but we were clearly Giant fans.  My first game was at the Polo Grounds and my first arguments were with Gregory who lived on the first floor and, of course, rooted for the Dodgers.  My father and Gregory's father, Eddie, would go to the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field to watch the Giant Dodger tilts and root for their different teams.

My father (and mother--who was hardly a sports fan) told me--when I was barely old enough to comprehend words--about the 1951 pennant race.  In that race (I could have told you this when I was 8 because of the repeated review of the events in my home) the Giants were 13 games behind the Dodgers in the middle of August, but tied the Dodgers on the last game of the season.  In a thrilling playoff series, the Giants defeated the Dodgers when Bobby Thomson hit a three run home run in the bottom of the ninth.  On his 80th birthday, my brother presented my dad with a signed baseball from Bobby Thomson which the three of us--dad, my brother and me--stared at as a child might look at a picture of something out of this world.

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958 the whole neighborhood was crushed because the Dodgers that same year moved to Los Angeles.  We still rooted for the Giants. A guy named Les Keiter would "recreate" the Giant games from the west coast. It is tough to imagine in 2014, but in the late fifties and early sixties, it was possible for a follower not to know the score of a game that was played and completed four hours previously on the west coast. So Keiter would literally recreate what had taken place to east coasters still famished for news of the Giants, and we would listen to the games rapt as if the contests had not already taken place. Many a night at 11:15 I put a transistor radio under my pillow and listened like a sneak, since this was way past my bedtime, to Les Keiter telling me how the likes of Jim Davenport, Jose Pagan, and the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays, were faring in California.

In 1962 the Giants were again in a playoff with the Dodgers. And again the Dodgers were ahead going into the ninth. And again the Giants came back with a rally to defeat the Dodgers.  I was watching the game with my dad and brother. In the ninth, Dad got into a routine where he would hit the ping pong table, tap the bar, and dance back to a chair because this dance seemed to be bringing luck to the Giants. I am smiling now as I recount that moment.  It is clear that I come by my fondness for sports honestly.

In 1971, again, the Giants and Dodgers were engaged in a tight pennant race. This time it was the Giants who were in the process of blowing a substantial lead as the Dodgers kept winning. On the last game of the season the Giants had to win in order to avoid a playoff with the Dodgers. Juan Marichal, nicknamed the Dominican Dandy, pitched a brilliant game for the Giants to avoid the playoff.  I had met a woman a month before who watched with amusement my attention to that playoff race. On the day of Marichal's clinching victory when I was nearly maniacal, her gaze at me ceased to be one of amusement and became more like someone who began to wonder what kind of crazy person she had decided to spend some time with. I can still see her face on the day after the Giants clinched, looking at me like she might be dating a lunatic.

In his later years, Dad became disengaged from the Giants.  He would say that he did not know who the players were anymore. When my Uncle Max came east for a visit after a Giant championship run, he was stunned when he heard my father say that he was indifferent to the Giant successes. "Incredible" he muttered.  And he went on for some time about how my dad was a true fan of the Giants when he and my Dad had been dating the sisters who became their wives.

As for me, I also have lost my enthusiasm for the Giants.  Last night and throughout the week I found myself rooting for the Royals.  I have become a rabid Red Sox fan and now follow the American League almost exclusively. On the rare occasions when I watch a National League game it takes a spell for me to get adjusted to the pitchers batting.  So I was pulling for the American League Royals last night right up until the last out.

I think my dad would have enjoyed the series and enjoyed following the Giants during the playoffs--even though he had become just a general fan in his last years.  This series may have brought him joy and might have spurred recollections of his enthusiasm for the Giants.  By the seventh game I believe he would have been rooting hard and I wish he could have had the joy of watching the team celebrate exuberantly.

I remember one time towards the end. He was in the hospital and we were engaged in a long discussion about the current state of his health and his distress.  At one point he paused and then asked me how the Miami Heat were doing.

Can't tell you about the Heat, Dad.  Basketball season is too young. But the Giants won the World Series last night.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

50 years later

I meet a fellow for coffee last week with whom I had gone to camp in the 60s.

He and I are contemporaries and were teammates in the Poconos on softball and basketball teams. We played sets of tennis together, had roles in camp plays, and splashed after shave on our pre peach fuzz faces in preparation for "socials" where we might meet 12 year old dolled up girlfriends.

It was remarkable to see him again.  Within a few moments, fifty years evaporated.  He has been extraordinarily successful by any measuring stick, yet was so genuinely humble and modest.

We shared reminiscences and asked about those with whom we had kept in touch.  It had poured while I was walking to meet with him.  And it was cloudy when we said our goodbyes.  But when we left I felt as I typically do when I meet those from past.  The present for me is often clearer and illuminated by the past.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Leveled

This is happening with greater frequency.

I am again listening to Kate Wolf's searing rendition of Who Knows Where the Time Goes. I write again because in a blog last week I mentioned I was listening to the song.  I liked it so much that I went and bought one of Kate Wolf's cds.

So, now I listen to her again.

Across the purple skies, 
All the birds are leaving. 
But how can they know. 
That it is time for them to go.  
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming, 
I have no thought of time. 

Who knows where the time goes. 
Who knows where the time goes.

Today, as I am sitting in my office I see two people walk quickly by my door. I continue working on something that seems important.  A course someone has proposed.  This is one of the things I do.  Identify curriculum that will be good for the students who pay handsomely for their education.  When I was in front of the class teaching I felt an obligation to deliver, both for my self respect and also because that is what they sent me checks for.  Now, my job is broader. One dimension involves checking to make sure that well meaning course proposals will mean something to students.

So, I am sitting at my desk drafting a memo to some colleagues about concerns I have about a proposal. It seems important to me.  Earlier I was looking to make sure scholarship money was well spent. And then there was some work related to a grant proposal.

And let's not forget my thoughts about the New England Patriots and how they pummeled the Bears yesterday.  How good Tom Brady looked. Interested readers might want to read my blog earlier this month that I entitled "Piling On."  I wrote then, presciently for once, that the reports of the Patriots demise were premature.  Indeed the home town team looked like world beaters on Sunday. So, I spent some time today thinking about that important bit of news.

And then I was leveled when my two associate dean colleagues walked into my office somberly, and shut the door.  I had never seen one of them look so shaken. The other did not look like he was ready for a party either.  They tell me the news that one of the chairmen with whom I have worked for four years, died over the weekend. It was his son and ex wife who had walked down the corridor earlier to tell the dean the news.

I saw the dean later and his eyes were red.  How could they not be.  We work with the chairs daily here.  We meet and battle with each other, constructively for the most part.  This guy had been the unit head since 2002.  Nice guy. Hard worker.  Fought for his department and his students.  Was on sabbatical this term at Harvard working on a book.

I had no idea.  Spoke with him recently and he looked terrific.

I remember a conversation we had last year.  He opened up, a bit uncharacteristically, and told me that he was having lunch the next day with his ex wife.  He was hopeful and ingenuous. He said he was lonely and was hoping that the lunch would be a step towards a reconciliation. The next morning before his lunch, I wrote him a note wishing him well. And he wrote back thanking me.

My guess is that there was no reconciliation, but all year he seemed so up and there were no signs of illness.

The word is that he had had a form of cancer that was in remission and suddenly came back with a vengeance. So odd.   He never looked pale or weak. And like that, he is gone.

And for a while I felt leveled.  As if my head was filled with this sad news and there was no room for anything else in there.

A month does not go by now when I do not hear of someone I knew or someone who is kin to a contemporary, who has left us.

Tonight I go out with two other October birthday folks.  We have annually gone out in October to celebrate our arrivals.  I will enjoy the wine and company.

Won't count the time, but am aware of how precious these moments are. The chorus in my head singing Who Knows Where the Time Goes, has turned up the volume.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Birthday--Good news and bad news.

As this well worn announcement attests, today is the anniversary of my birth.

The good news is that I am healthy and on this side of the curtain.  There is much more in the way of good news that is specific, but essentially the good news is that I am here.

Here is the bad news.  My computer opens to Google.  I went on line as I do multiple times each day.  I saw the Google screen.  Above the Google bar there occasionally is some graphic indicating the nature of the day. A turkey on Thanksgiving.  A flag on Memorial Day.  A picture of Mount Rushmore on President's day.

Today there was a picture above the google box on my screen. It was a picture of several birthday cakes and candles.

How did Google know today was my birthday? I like Google. Find it useful. And while it is nice to be greeted with happy birthday messages, it is disconcerting to know that Mr. and Mrs. Google are aware of when I arrived on the scene.

What is next?  Will I be congratulated on a healthy report from the medicine man?  A dancing patient pointing to a low blood pressure reading.

Will I open up Google and see a picture of a new car that I have purchased, or a basketball court if I plan to attend a game that night.

Will I see a picture of a gas tank when my car is low on fuel?

If I am vacillating about going out to dinner or working out will I see a picture of a justice scale with a steak sitting on one side and an elliptical machine on the other?

I appreciate the birthday greeting Mr. and Mrs. Google, but let's keep some stuff between us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

odd time

I am now listening to Pandora and a particularly plaintive rendition of "Who Knows Where the Time Goes."  The crooner is Kate Wolf and she is killing me.

Usually I have to hear a song a dozen times before I get it. The first time I heard "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" it was as background in the movie, "The Subject Was Roses." Then, I was only 23, and it nearly ripped my belly out.  Didn't have to hear it a dozen times to get the message.

Last night I was on a flight back from Newark.  It was a beautifully clear day and for nearly the entire flight I was able to see the land below.  We flew over Manhattan and I could make out Central Park so well that I could count the baseball diamonds near the south end of the park where I once sat blissfully on a sweet summer day.  The plane continued north and I saw the rest of the park and city.

I must have turned my head away for a spell because the next time I looked down I saw a bridge that I could not quite recognize.  It was not the George Washington because right next to it was yet another bridge.  Eventually I got it, but not before something unnerving occurred.

When I could not figure out what bridge it was, I tried to get a sense of the flight path.  We were flying over a body of water of course (the bridge was there for a reason). I knew that Boston is on the ocean and the flight up to Boston must go up the coast.  But as I looked from the coast across the water--that was now too wide to be the Hudson--I saw a body of land that, ironically, I could not identify.  It looked, from way up, to be desolate--as if uninhabited. As we continued in a direction that I knew had to be north, the land continued and it became even more desolate looking.

Where in the world in 2014 near New York City could there be a land mass so close to the coast on which there was not much but trees?

I kept staring out the window and then probably audibly gasped when I saw the land fork in a v shape.  Then I knew where I was.

I knew where I was because that fork represents the end of Long Island and I grew up on this long island in the 60s. So it was ironic and a bit embarrassing to admit that I did not recognize that the body of water beneath me was the Long Island Sound, duh, and the long land mass was where I journeyed through adolescence. (The Bridge I saw had been the Throgs Neck which is adjacent to the Whitestone bridge)

But my ignorance was not the most astonishing thing.  What was/is, is that I did not see any homes on the island. It looked uninhabited. When I was a kid the eastern part of the island was desolate, but not this way.  And in 2014 there are suburban communities that go to the tip of Orient Point at one fork and Montauk on the other point.  Sure I was way up in the air, but it was a clear night and I saw nothing.

The moment reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode where a plane breaks the time barrier and the travelers look over Queens in 1958 and instead of seeing LaGuardia airport they see the 1939 worlds fair grounds. Then to try to get to 1958 they break the barrier again and now there are no fair grounds, but dinosaurs instead.I saw no dinosaurs, and I know Rod Serling was not in the pilot's seat, but it was an odd moment and momentarily unsettling.

Coincidentally, I will very soon be concluding my annual lap around the track, and beginning a new journey.  It is always an interesting and unusual time to be reminded of one's emergence on the scene and, as we get older, realize the inevitably finite nature of our stint on this side of the curtain.

The plane trip view and the odd sense of another time fueled my musing about the time I have spent inhaling and exhaling, and what I have/have not accomplished. Who knows where the time has gone.

I knew that time had gone and that it was 2014 when I landed. I had to pay 58 smackers for parking at Logan for a grand total of one day and a few hours.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Genius

Today all are marveling at the genius of Jeff Fisher, the coach of  the St. Louis Rams.  Yesterday on fourth down from his own 15 yard line, with only two minutes left to go in the game, Fisher called a fake punt.

The Rams were up by two points at the time. Fisher figured that to punt the ball to the skilled, smart, and crafty Russell Wilson of the Seahawks would have amounted to a guaranteed three points for Seattle.  Those three points would have resulted in victory for the Seahawks and a loss for the Rams.

So Fisher took a gamble and faked the punt, threw a pass, and earned a first down.  The play sealed the upset for the Rams. And today, Fisher is being regaled as a hero.

And he should be; it was a gutsy call. But what makes him a genius is that it was a successful play. Had the punter  botched the pass or the receiver dropped the ball, you can be assured that Fisher would be skewered by those loaded with retrospective wisdom.

Several years ago, this precise series of events took place.  The New England Patriots were playing the Indianapolis Colts.  There was a fourth down deep in New England territory.  Bill Belichick figured that by punting the ball to the Colts he would be all but guaranteeing a defeat, with the skilled, crafty, and smart Peyton Manning at the helm for the Colts.

So, he went for it.  Not a fake, he just went for it on fourth down.   Officially, Kevin Faulk who received a pass did not make the yard to gain for a first down.  Indianapolis got the ball deep in New England territory and ultimately came out of the game with a victory.

Was Belichick regaled as a genius for a gutsy move? No he was reviled as an arrogant fool.

The difference between deferential treatment as a wizard and excoriating criticism for a fool is the result of a play.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Piling On

I am writing this about an hour before the Bengals-Patriots kickoff.  Last Monday night the Patriots were shellacked by the Kansas City Chiefs who, just moments ago, lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

For those of us who have cheered for the Patriots and enjoyed their successes, the game last week was the anomaly of anomalies.  The home town team could not stop anyone or move the ball anywhere. Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play, looked less than pedestrian. He threw one interception that was just horrible and another that was returned for a touchdown.  What made this stinker of a performance more pungent was that  it was such an aberration.

Since 2001 the Patriots have been just great. Only twice since then has the team NOT made the playoffs. They have gone to 5 superbowls, winning three.  In addition, they have gone to at least two other championship games.  This means they have been the best team three times, the second best team twice, and one of the top four teams two other times.

So, it was shake your head stuff to listen and read the media pounding the Patriots took and are taking.


  • Belichick is a stiff.
  • Brady is over the hill.
  • The team has no talent: 
    • Nobody can catch the ball
    • Nobody can tackle
    • There is no running back worth a damn
    • Revis is overrated.  


Today we hear that Brady is so upset that he wants out of Boston to finish his career.

One columnist during the week wrote that the Patriots have not had a meaningful win in January since 2005.   That is an interesting statement since the Patriots went to two super bowl games since 2005; two other championship games; and the only year they did not make the playoffs was when Brady was injured in the first game of the season. (And that year the team was eliminated on the last game of the season).

I think the Patriots will win tonight against the currently undefeated Bengals. (A) I don't think the Bengals are so extra (B) the Patriots are not as bad as they played last week and (C) the Pats will want, I assume, to shut a few people up.

Even if they get shellacked tonight like they did last week, this week's piling on by the pundits has shown little class. Everyone feels crummy when they get their ass kicked.  Last week, the Patriots got their ass kicked.

However, the team has been regularly successful since W was in his first year in the White House. Go ask Jacksonville, Detroit, Cleveland, Jet, Bengal, Houston, Oakland, Redskin, Viking, Buffalo, Atlanta, Carolina, and/or Miami fans if they think the Patriots have had any meaningful wins in January since 2005.  Those teams have a parade when they finish above 500.

The press has been immature this past week.  The Boston folks are just spoiled so when the team loses it is time to announce that the apocalypse is on the horizon.   Last January in the championship game,  the Patriots lost to the Broncos in Denver in a game during which Peyton Manning played like the Almighty.  I think the final score differential was eight points.

We will see what takes place in an hour. But even if it is another pummeling, the critics might be wise to check out a mirror and ask themselves if they themselves have ever had a streak of successes like the Patriots have had.