Saturday, May 30, 2015

Money, Love, and Fans.

When you have season tickets for a hockey team you purchase all games for an entire season.  So, in an 82 game season you are responsible for buying 41 tickets for the home contests ahead of time.  Given today's prices--and assuming you are not going alone--we are talking about at least an $8000.00 after taxes cost.

If your team is successful to the extent that it makes the playoffs, then a season ticket owner has the option of purchasing the playoff tickets. These are sold at a higher rate.    In this year's Stanley Cup championship playoffs, a team like the New York Rangers could play an additional 16 games at home.   So the season ticket holder lays out another 3200. If the Rangers are eliminated at any point before the final series, the fan gets a refund for the games not played. If the Rangers are successful and win the Stanley Cup you are out the 3200 you laid out. These costs, of course, do not include the transportation expenses of getting to the games or the occasional hot dog or malt beverage that you might purchase while attending.  A hot dog and a cold one at Madison Square Garden can set a patron back close to twenty bucks.

I was not at Madison Square Garden last night, but I was there for game 5 on Sunday night the 24th. At that time, The Rangers were in the penultimate round of the playoffs, playing the Tampa Bay Lightning. The teams were tied 2-2 in the best of seven game series. The winner of the series would advance to the Stanley Cup finals. The loser would be eliminated.

The Ranger faithful were exuberant prior to the game. The area around Madison Square Garden was jumping with fans adorned in Ranger uniforms who were, regardless of where they were huddled---a restaurant, in a queue, lurking around the arena---occasionally breaking out into chants of Let's Go Rangers.

The atmosphere post game was not the same. The Rangers played lethargically and lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning falling behind 3-2 in the best of 7 series.  The Rangers did come back in game 6 in Tampa defeating the Lightning easily.  This brought up the 7th game last night.  The atmosphere was electric before the contest.  High energy ready to explode once the Rangers scored.

No energy exploded. For the second time in two home games at MSG, the Rangers lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.  There were only two power plays in the game and the Rangers had both of them, yet they never came close to scoring while the Lightning--had it not been for the brilliant goalkeeping of Henrik Lundquist--might have scored 6 goals. Lightning advances. Rangers go home.

I was told that at the end of the game the Garden was silent. Fans marched down the aisle as if in mourning. It is tough to understand if you are not a sports enthusiast--but if you are a fan--you know.

The thing is that every one of those sad squared season ticket holding New York Ranger fans dragging their bodies down the ramps at the Garden--every one--had saved at least between 500 and-1000  dollars.  Do you know many situations when people hang their heads despondently when they are given a thousand dollars?  Go try it at work. Tell the people who work for you that you are sorry but you just have to give them a thousand dollars.  See how blue they become.

The 1000.00 savings may have been something that some individuals in the glum crowd fetched to try to comfort the bruising of the loss.  As they lumbered down the ramps--"well at least, I saved a thousand dollars."  Whatever effect such a thought may have had did not last long.  The Rangers lost. They would not compete for the Stanley Cup.  The train or car ride back to home was a long sad one for the Ranger faithful.  The money did not matter much.

When it comes to sports and fandom, money is often trumped by love for the team to which you have allegiance.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


When I was in high school my dad recommended that I read the novel, The Assistant, by Bernard Malamud.  Then in college I took a course called Modern American Novel, and in it The Assistant was a required reading. So I read it again.  Then in graduate school I enrolled in Jewish American Novel and it, once again, was on the reading list.  When I taught high school and had free rein to select books for the students, I put it on the list.

The Assistant is one of my favorite novels and not just because I had to read it several times.   I've read some of Malamud's other novels as well: A New Life; Dubin's Lives; The Tenants; The Fixer (made into a powerful movie with Alan Bates), and The Natural (also made into a good movie with Robert Redford).  But The Assistant is my favorite, probably because it contains the single line that has stuck with me for fifty years.

The story is about a grocer, Morris Bober, his wife Ida, and their daughter. Helen.  The tiny grocery hardly makes an income but despite this Morris hires an assistant, Frank Alpine, to help him in the store.

I don't know what got me to thinking about Malamud recently, but I was--and looked him up on line. I saw that his daughter, Janna Malamud Smith, had written a biography of her dad.  It is called, My Father is a Book.  I located the book in a town library and just completed it. The subtitle of the book is: "A Memoir of Bernard Malamud."  The book is less a memoir of Bernard Malamud and more a memoir of Janna Malamud Smith and her relationship with her father.   Still the book is illuminating.

I think of Malamud's writing as so unpretentious, yet his letters to his daughter include quite a bit of name dropping and read more high falutin than the correspondence needed to be.  I discovered that Malamud's own dad owned a grocery like the main character in The Assistant, that Malamud had an affair like the main character in Dubin's Lives, and that Malamud's first college teaching job had similarities to the protagonist's in A New Life.   It was also surprising to learn that for someone who wrote about Jewish life and issues so centrally, Malamud had no real religious connection to Judaism in his day to day life.  He married a gentile, did not observe Jewish holidays and, nominally at least, observed Christmas.

When I was in graduate school, the professor for the Jewish American novel course was away one day while we were reading The Assistant.  A graduate student, who sat in the class daily, took over for him for that one session.  It was a large class and the graduate student was unprepared for the experience of lecturing to a big group. He was nervous and fidgety and despite being extraordinarily knowledgeable about Malamud (once claimed to me that the he knew more about Malamud than anyone "on the planet")  could not deal with the students losing interest and rudely conversing while he was attempting to make a point. He had a copy of the paperback in his hand and was rolling it in his palm so that it took the shape of a cylinder, like a baton in a relay race. He was losing the group and just losing it period, so toward the end of the class while people were talking and paying no attention to the guy, he turned and like a discuss thrower hurled the baton/paperback into the assembled. Then he stomped up the aisle of the lecture room, grabbed the book, and darted out.

I didn't know him well enough to follow him out and try to placate him.  Had I, I would have offered some platitude like, "don't take it so personally". This, however, would have violated a tenet that ran through all of Malamud's writing:  Emotion runs the show.  You can't let things that relate to the heart NOT bother you. You are human because emotion does affect you. Otherwise you would be a chair.

The line from the book I will never forget relates to this.

 While working in the store, Frank Alpine falls in love with Morris's daughter, Helen, who lives with her family above the grocery.  The two become sweethearts until Helen decides that she must end the relationship. Despite this Frank buys Helen a beautiful scarf and some books that she has mentioned she loves to read.  Frank leaves the gifts outside her door.

The next day while emptying out the trash from the grocery, Frank notices that Helen has taken the gifts and thrown them out with the garbage.  He is stunned. He picks up the items, staggers up the stairs, and knocks on her door. Helen opens up and sees Frank standing there holding out the gifts looking at her incredulously.

She says, "Frank, don't feel hurt."

And then he says the line I will never forget,

"When I don't feel hurt, I hope they bury me."

And it is this sentence that I think of whenever I think of Bernard Malamud.  And, interestingly, it came to mind when I thought just recently of the graduate student who hurled the book into the unappreciative student audience. We feel.  Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes we become elated. When we cannot feel, there is no life.

Nothing in his daughter's memoir undermines the point.  At the end, the reader--or at least I--still thinks of Malamud as a good conscientious human--maybe a little needier than I had previously thought, but--regardless someone--who knew that love was the key to being human.

If you are a fan of Malamud, I would recommend the book. If you never heard of him, and like to read, I recommend reading The Assistant.  It is not as in your gut powerful as The Fixer, but it is a book that has stuck around in my head for a lifetime.

Not everything is related to sport, but I think Malamud's point about the power of emotion is what makes sport what it is.  Tonight the Rangers play the Lightning to survive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with nothing on the line except their love for their team will be elated if the Rangers win and deflated if they are to lose. Might as well bury you if you can't feel that sensation about something.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Being Lonesome is Its Own Fast

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a novel written by Tom Franklin about two boys who grow up in Southeastern Mississippi in the 70s and 80s.   Southerners, according to the author, are schooled to spell Mississippi by repeating,  M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter...

There is probably a metaphor in the title about how we are all crooked letters, hunched over because of the experiences we endure--even those of us who evolve relatively free of hardship.

The two main characters in this book do not grow up relatively free of hardship. Larry is the son of a distant and critical father who drinks too much and is angry at the world. Silas lives in a one room spartan cabin with a single mother holding onto a secret.  Larry is ostracized early on because he is not cool, later because of an assumption that he is responsible for the disappearance of a young girl, and currently because of the disappearance of yet another young woman.  Silas, now a constable and previously a star athlete, had been friends with Larry--one of--if not the only--friend Larry had.  He, Silas, is hauling around a secret of his own which he discovers is even more complex than he originally assumed it to be.

The book is well written and engaging.  There are some sections that resonated particularly with me. At one point when Larry considers his own history he muses that

time packs new years over the old ones but ...those old years are still in there like the earliest tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see. (page 251)

Earlier in the book, Larry remembers the times he would fast for three days to support his mother who was not eating for a church related reason. Larry thinks of this after a real ne'er do well (Wallace), becomes something of a friend.  Wallace's visits remind him of the process of fasting.

[Larry] found the first skipped meals the hardest, the hunger a hollow ache. The longer he went without eating, though, the second day, the third, the pain would subside from ache to the memory of an ache and finally to only the memory of a memory. Until you ate you did not know how hungry you were, how empty you'd become. Wallace's visit had shown him that being lonesome was its own fast, that after going unnourished for so long, even the foulest bite could remind our body how much it needed to eat. (182)

Some things about the book seem strange.  It is tough to imagine Larry so relatively undamaged despite his experiences.  Silas is depicted as a kind ethical man.  It is difficult to believe that he would not have revealed what he knew even before he knew all of what he eventually discovered.

I read the author's comments after finishing and apparently some of the book is taken from episodes in his own life.  Nothing wrong with this, but occasionally the novel reads like a pastiche of events, and the plot itself unlikely to have unfolded like it did.

Still, I liked this book and recommend it. It is a whodunnit of sorts with sweet portrayals of Silas and Larry and the nature of their relationships.  Like us all, two crooked letters trying to address the injuries to their postures.


When I arrived in Florida on Wednesday night I discovered that the wifi we have maintained in the house specifically so we could access the internet when we are visiting, is out.  Go figure.

I called the cable company and after going through the exasperating, despite my experience with it, menu of options I got to speak with someone from another planet.  She was very patient and went through the entire troubleshooting options in a mellifluous but difficult to discern lilt.  Eventually, she told me that I needed a new modem. Strange, I thought, since the last time I was here, the wifi was working at orbit velocity using what she was calling an ancient device.

So yesterday I drove to the local cable outlet where a friendly attendant attended to me. He gave me a new modem and I--less than mechanically inclined--attempted to unhook my dad's old computer and wiring, and reinstall the new modem.  Predictably I was unsuccessful.  I had made a just in case appointment with a technician to visit and we will be receiving a visitor at 3.  Just fifteen minutes ago we both tried to get on and, for reasons I cannot explain, were able to.

The point is that last night after a day without connection I felt as if I was out of drugs.  There was nothing essential that I needed to get on the net, but I felt like I had to check. My phone had limited access to sites, so I was without connection.  I was to pick up my brother at midnight and, more to address my addiction and get my fix than to assure that I was prompt, I arrived at the airport an hour ahead of time and used the free airport wifi while waiting for his landing.

This morning when we went to the condominium cafe for breakfast I noticed that several octogenarians had ipads with them. While they dined they were poking their tablets in the wifi equipped breakfast spot.  We are talking a senior citizen complex here where I, alas, qualify but would be one of the younger denizens by at least a decade.  And here World War II veterans are checking their e-mail and going to their favorite sites.

It struck me just how hooked we, or at least I, am.  When I connected at the airport last night, I felt the kind of relief I feel when I have a glass of water when I am very thirsty.  Relieved.

Like Linus, we in the 21st century, need our blanket whether we really need it or not.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Brady, vu den?

I have read the executive summary of the Wells report two times now.  After the first time I felt as though it was damning. That is, I thought Brady was culpable.

I thought about it last night and then another thought came to me. What if one reads the summary with this assumption in mind: Assume that Brady did not tell the ball boys to under-inflate the  balls. Assume that Brady said--as a tyrannical manager might---"Make damn sure those balls come in at 12.5, or else."

For those who have not followed the nuances of this case, the balls can be anywhere from 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure.  So let's say Brady likes the balls at 12.5.  When the attendant  brought the balls to the officials before the championship game he testified to the Wells commission, that he told the officials that Brady likes the ball at 12.5.  So this was no secret.

Now let's say that throughout the year Brady was breaking the stones of the attendants when he felt the balls were above 12.5. And he said, "Make real sure, real sure those balls are at 12.5."

If you read the report with this assumption, then there is nothing about the testimony that suggests that Brady was culpable in breaking the rules. What he wanted--fully within the rules--is to make sure the balls were at the lowest permissible level.

It would make sense then that the attendants were upset with Brady for the same reason we get upset with bosses who are tyrannical and don't care about how things get done, just that they get done. It would make sense they would quip that way and one may even call himself, "the deflator."

The one line in the testimony that still sticks out is the one where an attendant says to the other, "I'm not going to espn....yet."  That suggests illegal activity. Unless continuous harassment about the balls, in itself, was an offense worthy of scrutiny by the sports network.

"Tom Brady, it appears, harasses his ball boys making life miserable for them."  

That could be a story.  I do have some doubts about this being a reasonable explanation.

However, I have no doubt that if you think of the context as I have described it, there is not sufficient evidence in the report to suggest that Brady tried to break the rules.

I think the NFL will have hell to pay if Brady can support a claim that he never asked for anyone to break the rules, just that he insisted that the balls be at the minimum psi.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


I have written before that of the three major sports--hockey, basketball, baseball, and football--hockey is my least favorite.

However, there is nothing more exciting in all of sports than Stanley Cup hockey in overtime when your team is facing sudden death. And that was the case last night.

I root for all Boston sports teams, except in hockey. There my allegiance is to the New York Rangers. It was to a New York Ranger hockey game that my parents first took me to an indoor professional sporting event.  I had been to see the New York Giants in the Polo Grounds earlier. But it was not too long after that when, for a holiday celebration of some sort, that my folks took us to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers defeat the Black Hawks 3-2.  A few years later, again around holiday time, we went to see the Rangers defeat the Bruins 9-3 a contest that is etched into my mind. It is so etched because the goalie for the Bruins got hit in his maskless face by a puck, was cut, and required stitches. The goalie left for the sutures while the maintenance folk scraped the ice of his blood and we waited--in the days when there was only one goaltender on a team--for his stitched up return and the game to resume.

Another reason for my hockey allegiance is that my brother is a true fan of the Rangers. I have over the last thirty years or so joined him in his season ticket seats to watch games. As readers of the epilogue of the Madness of March know, it was in these seats where I watched the most exciting sporting event of all my spectating time, when the Rangers in a 7th game defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in double overtime.  That victory allowed the Rangers to advance to the finals when they won their first Stanley Cup since 1918 and last since 1994.

All that as background, last night the Rangers had their backs to the wall in the series against the Washington Capitols.  The Caps led the series 3-1, and were ahead in the game 1-0 with less than two minutes to play.  I had left my gym between the second and third periods of the game when the score was still 0-0. I was driving toward home when the game had resumed so I pulled the aging Element into a local tavern.

The Red Sox have started lamely this season and the Bruins did not even make the playoffs, so when I entered this sports bar there was not much enthusiasm for anything. Place was dead, and on only a couple of screens were the Rangers playing and I think I was the only one paying attention. The Capitols took their lead on a breakaway and nobody in the place said boo.

When it looked as if the Rangers would lose I imagined my brother in his season tickets feeling despondent sitting there last night with his son, my nephew Matt.  Then with a minute plus to go the Rangers scored.  And I, a sedate college professor by day, made a sound that startled the drinking clusters discussing their romantic activities and embellishing the prurient ones.

The third period ended and I hopped back into my car driving toward home.  About ten minutes later I found another tavern that typically airs sporting events. In I went, and the place was loud with an Irish band playing all sorts of ditties including the Boxer to which a thirty something kid nearby sang along as if he was around when the 1970 song first came out.  Again, not many were engaged in the sporting events.  By this point the Red Sox had lost, a basketball game held no particular interest for the gathered, and I was right in front of one of the two screens that had the hockey game.

They dropped the puck for the start of the overtime and I was riveted.  Again, nothing is more exciting than a game that is so fast paced and could end a season in an instant.  Back and forth with every rush potentially ending the Ranger season. Hold your breath in, let your breath out.

With about ten minutes to go in overtime, the Rangers scored and I jumped up from my leaning position against a pole in the joint.  The Irish Singer thought I was giving him a shout out as the goal coincided with the end of one of his songs. The loopy couple leaning into each other got a jolt from my shout, but I think--given how they were entwined--they were likely able to get back into the mood.

I don't even like hockey that much, but I was thrilled. I am not a crazy person, I just enjoy sport. And despite the lethargic groups in Boston because of the current failures of its teams, I can assure you that the crowd in Madison Square Garden erupted last night for no other reasons than those that reflect the power and attraction of sport.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


I've watched a good deal of basketball since the beginning of the year. Since the Ray Rice incident in the fall there have been many public service announcements aired during basketball games that have urged all viewers not to ignore or make excuses for domestic violence.

Nevertheless the hoopla surrounding the Mayweather fight has been unassailed by the same sorts that, ostensibly, are offended by domestic violence.  Mayweather is a repeat offender.  Despite all the announcements and assertions that we must not look the other way, athletes and sportscasters apparently did just that when it came to Mayweather's history of beating up women.

But let us pillory Tom Brady because a commission believes that while they have no hard evidence it is more likely than not that he condoned the deflating of footballs.  In a game that his team won by 30 points.