Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Kenyans are Drinking your Beer

I saw a link on the internet to the top forty signs that were held up during the marathon to urge on the runners. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I could not get close enough to the runners on Patriots Day to see any such signs actually held up.  I saw plenty of signs lugged around by despondent spectators who had not gotten close to the line.  The most startling one I saw was in the form of a tee shirt worn by a woman apparently intending her message for a crony of hers who was running.  The shirt read simply, "Run, Bitch, Run."  I sure hope it was for a buddy of hers.

The signs I saw when I clicked on the net link were very clever.  My favorite was one intended, it seems, to any and all runners who were passing this particular spot on the course.  It read:

"Hurry, the Kenyans are Drinking Your Beer."

If you have run in any sort of road race or attended in support of a family member or chum, you know that at the end of the race, there are goodies for the participants.  Beer is a staple.   The last road race I ran, the beer was such a popular part of the goodies table, that they ran out in a hurry. I think the problem there was that the vendors did not discriminate between runners and those who just figured this was high time to get a couple of free cold ones.  Usually only the runners get the goodies.

Of course, you don't get to drink the beer until you cross the finish line.   The Boston marathon has been dominated by Kenyan winners for so long, that the sign struck me at least, to be pretty funny.

On my way to work today, a delightful ride owing to the great American tradition of Spring break for public schools, (resulting in relatively congestion free, freeways) I was thinking of the sign and, as is my tendency, started to wonder about the message metaphorically.

If we poke along on the highway, not focused, or believe that there is no such thing as mortality, will there be beer left for us when we reach our finish line? The analogy is not perfect. In life, as opposed to road races, there is an infinite amount of "beer"/rewards.  In this country at least, the opportunities to pursue happiness are there for the taking and happiness is not an entity that can be devoured and depleted by others.

I do think, though, that if we don't "hurry" or seize our days we can miss the opportunity to indulge in what can be enjoyed.  We have just so much time to write a book, nourish a family, achieve professionally, develop loving friendships, love our parents, exercise our talents, frolic with our avocational interests, and romance our wildest dreams.  There is beer out there to quaff, and if we don't hurry we will not feel the sweet high of realizing our dreams.

When I was in college, the motto of my university was "let each become all he is capable of being."  My age is reflected in the use of the generic male pronoun. They changed the motto after I graduated, but the old one with a slight edit is a good one. "let us become all we are capable of being."  Hurry, the Kenyans are drinking our beer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stimulation vs. Catharsis theory

In media studies, or what used to be called Mass Communication studies, two dichotomous theories are often used to explain the effects of consuming mediated communication. One theory is called Stimulation theory; the other Catharsis theory.

Used often to examine the effects of watching violence on television and film, catharsis theory argues that watching violence does not beget violence.  Rather watching violent acts cause the viewer to purge any latent violent tendencies one has.  So, you watch a film like Goodfellas, where people get pummeled and killed and you do not feel like fighting, because the viewing has taken that violent energy and defused it. Stimulation theorists argue the opposite.  By watching violent activity one is likely to go out and be violent as it stimulates viewers to go do what they've seen done.

Which one is it? Are we more inclined to not do what we watch, or does that energize our desire.

The booming pornography business would suggest that Stimulation theory is on target.  People who watch porn don't go read a book when the film is over.

Some people argue that what happens when people watch sports illustrates the merits of catharsis theory.  Watching sports allows spectators an opportunity, for example, to purge their aggressive tendencies. If you watch a football game or a physical hockey or basketball game, you don't feel stimulated subsequently to tackle your neighbor or cross check your spouse into a wall.

I think these antithetical theories are interesting to contemplate in the context of sport.

Does viewing sport encourage or discourage participation?  There are a lot of pot bellied men watching sports in bars. When I go to Fenway I don't see too many in the stands who look like they can catch anything other than a beer.  On the tv show the Honeymooners, a kid once asked the rotund Ralph if he might substitute on a stickball team because a kid player had the measles.  "What do you say, Mr. Kramden, can you cover second base."  Before Ralph could spew characteristic boasts about his prowess, his sidekick Ed Norton told the kid, "You are looking at a man who can cover the infield, the outfield, and four sections of the bleachers."  And there is no shortage of such men who follow sports teams.  Few seem to have missed the buffet line. It doesn't seem like they have been stimulated to run wind sprints after watching basketball or hockey games.

We might imagine ourselves as a hero after watching sporting events, and after a game we might have wanted to pick up a basketball--when we were kids--but as it relates to sports and adults, I think catharsis theory is more likely the better way to conceptualize the effects of spectating on behavior.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Are the Heat Doing

When Dad was in the hospital, he was not eating properly, lips were cracked, and he was having trouble sitting up by himself.  This, he continued to say to us, was "not him."  He had told us for years, that when he could not take care of himself he would be better off not being here.

Yet, he fought some.  When they put a pace maker in him, he was willing to give that a shot.  When they put him in rehab, he occasionally refused the aide who would wheel him to the meals, preferring to walk himself.

He was depressed  no matter what we did. He missed his wife, our mother, and there were few hours that went by when he did not refer to some episode in their life together that enhanced the quality of their collective self.

One day after being condescended to by patronizing nurses, and doctors, and food service reps, and blood pressure and pulse takers-- he and I were talking.  He looked terrible and sounded terrible.  We talked about the prospects for improvement. He did not want to entertain this as he thought, presciently it turned out, that improvement was not on the horizon.  Then I mentioned something about a game on the tv and he said with interest:

"How are the Heat doing?'

Close to dying, not able to eat or drink anything worth eating or drinking, confined to a bed and dealing with pontificating pretentious and calloused health care professionals, Dad wanted to know if the Heat would make a run in the playoffs.

It was an example of the lure and attraction of sports and how it can be a shining light in someone's life.  Dad loved the NBA playoffs and I felt his absence yesterday when I watched Kevin Durant play like a magician and the exciting way the Thunder almost defeated the Grizzlies--and then the way the Grizzlies held tough and won the game in overtime. When he was healthy I or Bobby would call Dad after one of these games and ask, if he had seen "that". And regularly he had. And we would talk about the nuances of the game.

I felt bad for Dad last night that he was missing the playoffs.  He would have enjoyed the games to date.  And his pleasure in sports was one of the few uplifting aspects of his last few months of life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

no victories for cowards

I am not a police officer, or the mayor of Boston, or the governor, or a fireman.  I was not injured in last year's bombing.  Nor do I know anyone personally who was injured.

Maybe what I will write in the following paragraphs would be different if I was a cop, or the mayor... But maybe not.

Today I took the train into Boston to watch the marathon.  I nearly always go in to see the event, but today I especially wanted to be there.  I wanted to be among those standing up to the miserable bastards who gutlessly killed and crippled spectators in the name of nothing a year ago.

The train was jammed.  It was twenty minutes late because typically fewer people get on this commuter line at noon on a Monday and it took more time to get all on board.

 At least 25 % of the riders were kids less than 12, traveling with their parents going down to the finish line to stand strong and cheer on the runners and the event.  Some had signs or wore shirts celebrating the anticipated accomplishments of friends and family.

I got off at the stop and walked to a spot where my buddy Kenny and I have stood for years during the marathon.  I noticed many more officers than usual as I walked to the vantage point. As I got within 250 feet I saw that there was a crowd.  And two police officers.  The access to Boylston Street at that vantage point was blocked.

The marathon ends at Boylston street.  Runners turn a corner onto Boylston having run on Commonwealth for what must seem to them to be forever. They turn onto Boylston and the crowd cheering swells. 

Not today. 

 I could not get close to the sidewalk by the usual spot.  I walked to another location which I figured might be open.  No way. More police officers and barricades. And crowds of sad spectators who had come on my train and many others hoping to root for their friends or just celebrate the day.

I had another idea. There is a back way I know to the area near the finish line.  I tried it.  No go.  Cops there too. And a crowd of others who were being turned away. Maybe in other spots, the viewing was possible, but many could not get anywhere near the runners.  Marathon day today was not the kind of fun it has always been. The festive atmosphere was subdued and not because of the memory of last year, but because you could not get near what was festive.  

I understand the need for caution, but the gutless pukes who bombed the marathon last year cannot enjoy any degree of victory.  If the marathon becomes less than what it was, they will have.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Sport fans in Boston must feel as if they hit the jackpot this weekend.  Today, the NHL and NBA playoffs have begun and a game will be on the air until we all meet the sandman tonight.  In addition, tonight the Red Sox will vie for the fans' attention as they play the Orioles on national television.

Tomorrow from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to the finish line by the Boston Public Library, the sidewalks will be jammed with fans shouting way-to-goes to the runners who will be racing along the 26.2 mile course.  And at the same time, 37,000 plus will be at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox play a morning game.

Is it time to sing the 59th Street Bridge Song or what?

My dad would often opine that those who do not get sports are missing out on so much of life. This was, while unintentional, a bit of a barb toward my mother who did not get sports.  And while I believe dad is right, there are other avocations that can fill one up, if sports is not your passion.

Yet for so many, sports is a passion and a thrill.  In Boston alone tomorrow there will be over 100,000 in downtown.  As I wrote a few days ago, some of the attendance will be a thumb in the face of the terrorists. A "take this", "idiots", we are still here.  You cannot stop us.  But some of the fans are just zealots.

The other night I went to a sports tavern to see a couple of innings of the Red Sox game. There must be forty sets in the joint. Only one was on the Red Sox. The rest were tuned into the Bruins-Red Wings playoff game.  Man the joint was jumping.  Wearing Bruins gear. Shouting for their favorite players. The Bruins game starts at 3 today. I wonder if you can get into the joint today.   There probably will be some guy dressed up as the Easter Bunny slugging down a beer and screaming for the home town team.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

That was the year that was.

Those of my vintage remember a tv show in the 60s called, That Was the Week that Was.  David Frost was one of the regulars. It was a humorous review of the news of the week. When WINS in New York-- a radio station that had been rock and roll--went to an all news format, the television program spoofed the transition.  They suggested that a report on new tax policy at the IRS might be introduced on WINS as "I Want to Withhold Your Hand." Stuff like that.

For me and my immediate kinfolk, this has been the year that was.  I was very fortunate to have had my folks for nearly ninety years.  They were ethical people who loved me and defaulted to doing the right thing modeling that behavior for my brother and me.

A year ago today, right about now in the evening, my mother shouted something to my dad while he was in the bedroom. He came to find my mother slumped in the kitchen. She had had a stroke.  I'd spoken to her just four days earlier and had had a good conversation.  That would be the last normal conversation we would have. After the stroke, she occasionally would recognize me, but the words came slowly. And occasionally I would ask her who I was and she would shrug an apologetic, "I don't know."

She died six weeks after the stroke and my father never recovered. During the time my mom was in rehab, dad neglected his own health and once she died, he was not the same guy emotionally or physically.  He'd become irascible during his visits to the doctor and no news, no matter how uplifting, could bring him out of the depression of losing his sweetheart.   He passed nine months after she, and anyone who had spent time around him during the time after she had passed, knew that it was inevitable that he would soon be joining her.

So a year ago today I went to sleep with two parents who both had all their marbles, mobility, and sense of humor.  Then around 6 a.m. dad called to tell me the news of the stroke.  (Characteristically for him, waiting until 6 so as not to disturb me during the night).  In less than 11 months, I've buried them both.

I have my moments of sadness--I lost two very loving people--but as I mentioned I was fortunate to have had them for a lot longer than most of my contemporaries.  The take-away for me is simply that things change.  And if you don't take advantage of the time you have, you are foolish.

 Andrew Marvel's great poem, To His Coy Mistress, is a poem of seduction, but one line can be extracted from it, that is--metaphorically at least--very apt.  The line: "The grave's a fine and private place. But none I think do there embrace."

Time to embrace good food, good company, nature, the Red Sox, those you love.


It was a year ago today when the city of Boston and several surrounding suburbs were in what was called "lock down."  We could not leave our homes because the miserable deranged savages who bombed innocent spectators in the name of an irrational political agenda were, allegedly, on the loose. As it turned out one of the killers was dead and the other was wounded lying in a boat in someone's backyard.

But at the time nobody knew for sure what was the case. So we all sat in our houses at the request if not order of the governor waiting for resolution.  In the evening they ended the lock down and shortly thereafter found the remaining killer.

Patriots Day is something to see if you have never been to Boston on that day.  It is a big city party. There is a baseball game at 11 a.m. and the Red Sox fans spill out of Fenway at the game's conclusion to complement the throngs of spectators lining Commonwealth and Boylston streets to cheer on the runners.

The city is hopping, kids are there with balloons, seniors sit on the sidewalk in folding chairs, friends cheer their running buddies along, runners make sure that there are supporters by writing their names on t shirts.  A Karen will write Karen on her shirt, and the crowds yell Go Karen Go when Karen whisks by.

I suspect that the energy in the air will be augmented this Patriots Day on Monday.  It will be more than the runners and the baseball game and the kids with their balloons.

There will be an undercurrent of "Go to Hell you miserable bastards" that will energize the crowd.

You tried to stop this.

Take a look.

We're here.

We're back.