Friday, May 28, 2010

The Pump

At about 11 pm on the Sunday night of Patriots Day weekend--a holiday only in Massachusetts that primarily, at this point in history, celebrates the Boston Marathon--our cat Pumpkin was acting peculiarly. Usually frisky, rambunctious, but pretty easy to hang with, the Pump was getting in and out of his litter box with a frequency that was abnormal. I went to pick him up and he gave out a yelp that I had not heard before. Since, of course, it was the Sunday of a three day weekend, we phoned the local vet hospital (Ka Ching) as opposed to our regular vet who has been terrific for us. The hospital told us, much to our dismay, that these symptoms could be a matter of life and death. Zoom, into the car and to the hospital.

Quite a scene in the emergency room to a vet hospital especially if you are a newcomer to pets as I am. Seven years ago had you told me that I would rush to a vet hospital with a sick cat, I would have laughed at the suggestion. Yet here I was at about 1 a.m. pacing in the waiting room like a worried parent. I was not alone. I was there with a family waiting for a dog named Ollie and a woman concerned about her Great Dane that had done the tango with some barbed wire.

Seems as if Pump had a urinary blockage that had we not acted on it would have resulted in no Pump. However, after a few days--and a big dent on my credit card-- the man was back to his usual tricks and was delightfully annoying--a juxtaposition that is not an oxymoron if you are a pet owner.

Of course today begins another three day weekend. And last night at just about the time the Lakers miraculously beat the Suns on what has to be called a lucky play at the buzzer after which the Sun Set for all intents and purposes, the Pump started doing the in again out again finnegan dance with the litter box. He was not particulary whiny, so we waited until the morning. We were able to see our regular terrific vet this a.m. who unblocked the poor guy.

But the Pump is staying the night on the disabled list at the hospital. Maybe we will bring him some very tiny helium balloons tomorrow.

Very grateful to Dr. Susan Rosenblatt who not only did the job, but showed me how it was done today. Fascinating, truly.

Root for Pumpkin, and the Celtics. My prediction is that they both will prevail and move on to the next match tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The name of the fellow who sold pretzels by bike in my Brooklyn neighborhood was Meshugeneh. At least that is what I thought. I was 8 or 9 and we lived in a 6 floor apartment building in an area between Avenue V and Avenue X in Sheepshead Bay where there had to be close to thirty of these six story buildings.

As soon as it was warm enough to ride a bike, Meshugeneh would come along in his bicycle that had a large basket in the front. He'd ring a bell on the handlebars and stick, barrel, punch, and assorted other ball games would cease. The Italian, Jewish, Irish, Black, Hispanic, and Polish kids that made up this mini village went to Meshugeneh for pretzels.

"Where's Your Money Sonny? Where's Your Money?" That was the peddler's refrain. Most of the time we were penniless, so we'd go back to our buildings and say, "Ma, can I have a nickel for Meshugeneh." I remember once a mother of one of my buddies telling her son to go "get three pretzels from Meshugeneh. Two with mustard."

One day my Dad heard me asking for money for Meshugeneh. His comment was something along the lines of "Say What?"

"Can I have a nickel for Meshugeneh?" I said.
"Who are you calling Meshugeneh?" he asked.
"Meshugeneh." Who the hell else did he think I would be calling Meshugeneh? "Meshugeneh, the pretzel man--on the bike."

"You don't call people Meshugeneh." said Dad.

This, apparently, was another one of life's perplexing lessons. I don't know when exactly I found out that Meshugeneh meant "crazy person" but it was not right then.

Dad came downstairs from our 5th floor apartment to see who we were calling Meshugeneh. In a real example of "small world" my father knew the fellow. He had been in the army with the guy and at that time, the pretzel man was called simply "Brooklyn." They discuss army times a bit, and I can tell just from this bit of conversation with only my 9 year old head that the fellow is kind of daffy. He is all over the place with his comments interspersing a booming "Pretzels. Pretzels. Where's Your Money Sonny" every half a minute so as not to lose business while chatting with my father.

When they are through Dad asks me not to call him Meshugeneh. I don't get it. Even the grown-ups call this guy Meshugeneh. Eventually he waves a hand as if to say he can't fight all the battles. His pal Brooklyn does not seem terribly perturbed when someone hustling thirty feet away yells, "Hey Meshugeneh, Wait up" just about when the peddler's ready to take off to another cluster of buildings.

If I play back this vendor's mannerisms and conversation, he sure does seem daffy by what passes for normal. But every so often I come to the conclusion that everybody's meshugeneh. Everyone, just some people have nicer duds. The pretzel guy rambled and was sometimes incoherent and gee, he had to be close to 35 riding around in what amounted to be a tricyle selling pretzels with mustard. But, I wonder if I am not just as looney as he is, except I don't sell pretzels and have learned to behave myself sort of.

I finished Innocent today. A real page turner. Don't start it unless it's a weekend otherwise you might wind up using one of your personal days to finish it. The overriding question in the book Innocent is essentially this: Who is? I think a variation of that question could apply for Meshugeneh. Who isn't?

However, you would be meshugeneh if you think the Suns will beat the Lakers in the current series despite last night's game.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the worst/best day of my life so far

Two weeks ago on a Friday, I noticed all sorts of items packed up in boxes. There was a community garage sale of sorts sponsored by a local organization. We were, apparently, donating items for the sale. In one box I spotted a paperback that looked interesting that I'd not read. The title was The Worst Day of My Life So Far. A blurb from a review on the cover read, "Readers..will find themselves laughing out loud and moved to tears." I thought I could use a book with a bunch of laughs in it. Besides, what was to be the next book on my list was a 750 page tome about the war in Vietnam. It came highly recommended and it will probably be interesting, but the page numbers were daunting. So, about a week ago I started reading, The Worst Day of My Life So Far.

I finished it yesterday. Not a funny book. A very good book and I am glad I yanked it out of the garage sale intended box, but not a funny book at all. It is about a woman of my vintage and her relationship with her mother. A large part of the book is about how the main character goes home to care for her Alzheimer afflicted mother after her father dies. Excellently written, very powerful, very very few laughs.

Sometime last week, Wednesday I think it was, I came across a passage that resonated. The main character is thinking back on her childhood and the relationship she had with her parents. She writes,

"That's what I thought I had absorbed from my childhood around [my parents]. Love was the supreme emotion. The ultimate noun. I did not yet know that love is really a verb."

In my home I knew love was a verb. It is a noun also and I think one has to feel it as a noun before it can become a verb, but ultimately requited love--whether filial or romantic--requires the noun and the verb. Without the latter, the former is an insidious illusion. And the worst days of our lives will be those when we will ourselves to acknowledge this.

Good books, even depressing ones, make me want to read more. So because it was a good, if sad, read--I started another book last night. Again, I eschewed the 750 page book about the lie that was Vietnam. This time I picked up a thriller, Innocent, the sequel to the never-to-be-equalled- courtroom drama Presumed Innocent. (The best book ever of this genre and an example of why one should rarely see a movie instead of a book).

So I pick up Innocent in part to wash away the lingering depression over The Worst Day of My life so Far. And about fifty pages in, I read another line that stops me flat. [if you read Presumed Innocent and you are someone who does not like to know anything about sequels, then stop here, though I am not giving away much]. A significant character in the book is pondering a decision about love, "How, my heart shrieks, can I be doing this again?...the answer is always the same: Because what has lain between then and now--because that time is not fully deserving of being called living."

It is no accident that many books are about love. The best days of our lives are those, I think, when we respect the love we feel, and have the courage to love as a verb.

A non sequitor for sure, but I like Orlando tonight and think the series goes 6. The Lakers will win in 5. Celtics beat the Lakers in 5 or 6.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


The fellow who owned the house before we moved in knew what he was doing in the backyard. Not because of any green genes I possess, the yard is filled with trees, and, in addition, the property borders on public park land. I am perched right now on a chair in the living room where I often sit in the morning drinking coffee. From this vantage point I can look out through glass sliding doors and see my predecessor's beautiful work.

Here is the problem. Adjacent to the gorgeous Japanese maple (that I did not know was a Japanese maple until a gardener oohed and ahed at it one day) my predecessor built a shed. A very practical thing a shed. In it we store the lawnmower, assorted baseball bats in the event I lose forty years and am summoned by the Red Sox to be a designated hitter, a symbolically deflated basketball, lumber--as if I would have a clue about what to do with lumber--, various garden tools that might as well be in a museum for all they are used by either of us, and boxes of items that if I unpacked them would provide hours of wondering regarding why I had kept this and that.

The shed is visible when the wind blows a certain way and when the sun shines a certain way. Otherwise the maple sort of obscures it. The shed is an eyesore, but right smack in my line of vision, so often when I gaze out into this otherwise inspiring back yard, I see the shed.

I wonder, now and then, if it's important to see the shed. Is it important to see the blemishes to remind yourself that all is not as it could be?I mean I could shift my position or where I place the chair so that I look the other way and pretend that the shed is not there. The thing is the shed is there and I would be kidding myself not to acknowledge it.

I did buy a new chair. There was a sale at Macys and I went downtown a week ago last Thursday to buy the new chair which, if as advertised, swivels so I can look elsewhere. When I got to Macys they said that they no longer have furniture at the downtown location, but I should go to a suburban mall Macys. So, last Saturday I drove to the mall--a place I like frequenting as much as I enjoy doing my taxes. When I got to that Macy's I was told that that particular suburban mall Macy's also discontinued selling furniture. There was another suburban mall that had it. But I had had it with malls and Macys at that point. So I stood in the middle of the mall and called the Macys' 800 number, amidst the little kids eating ice cream and their parents shouting for them to stop beating up on their siblings, and I ordered the chair that I had been seeking.

It is supposed to come on Wednesday. I'm pretty sure I will still see the shed, though, no matter how much I swivel. My idionsyncrasy perhaps, but I think it is a quirk that in the long run does me some good. You kid yourself to think there is no shed, and your heart and head and growth is misdirected and you start on the road not to be travelled.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Particle Board

About a dozen years ago my friend Nancy and I decided to have lunch once a month. We work together at the University, have similar perspectives, and we figured this way we could solve the problems of the world each month, allowing them to accrue in the intervals so that we may address them at our following rendezvous.

As it turns out, our monthly lunches occur about three times a year. I have several such periodic appointments with colleagues. Don Margotta--the best person I know at Northeastern--and I last had our at-least-once-a-semester coffee during the first term of the Bush administration. At least it was W; not his dad.

After we remedy lingering university problems that require our attention and action, Nancy and I typically turn to movies and books, registering our critical opinion and making recommendations. Last month Nancy suggested I read, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, subtitled "What I learned while editing my life"

Typically, we have very similar interests. Something recommended is nine times out of ten a guarantee that the other will find it worth a viewing/reading. But I did not like this book. I read it, but found the author to be a bit of a belly-acher. He was kind of stuck in life, trying to get out of his rut, hobbled by this and that, and having trouble finding a route. I can commiserate with that, but there seemed to be too much time spent dwelling on wrong turns or bad luck.

At one point the author describes the loss of love. He is in a hotel room, and fears that the pain of the loss will surface. He writes "They don't have an emergency room for the kind of pain that is about to happen to me....then another thought came that said I would be living the rest of my life alone because I was unlovable."

I thought that was melodramatic. All but the blessed have been hurt at one time or another by the loss of love. Maybe it was just that this section came on the heels of similar descriptions of pain, but I had trouble empathizing with him.

Then about a week ago I was at the Shopper's Cafe--the place I typically visit to do my research about sports fanatics--and was watching the Celtics with a crowd of zealots. As is typical of me and maybe most of us, thoughts were coursing through my head, zigging and zagging without any discernible direction. Thinking of one thing, then zooming in another direction when another rocketing notion enters the highway. Yesterday I was thinking that if we humans--or at least speaking for myself, I--had a GPS system in my head that was intended to provide direction for the colliding thoughts that pell-mell enter my consciousness, the typically passive voice of the GPS computer would eventually wheeze in exasperation. "Look buster. I give up. I have no idea where you're going." (You could not find a computer in the world to do such navigation at 3 in the morning).

It was during one of these helter skelter cognitive rush hours in the Shopper's Cafe--amidst the groaning about the Celtics demise--when several thoughts collided. Multi-thought collision at the intersection of rejection and fear and failure.

In short time it went away. And it had nothing to do with Pierce finally hitting a couple of jump shots. The gridlock at that confluence of notions was cleared away and I was fine. But for that moment I returned to that author's depiction of pain and felt that irrational(if ephemeral) sense of loss and despair and I knew how fragile can be the particle board of our foundation. There is no emergency room for the kind of pain when those floorboards give way.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4, 1970

Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming
We're Finally On Our Own
This Summer I Heard the Drumming
Four Dead in Ohio.

If you are over 58, you likely remember where you were when four students, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, and William Schroeder were killed by National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus. Another student, Dean Kahler, was shot and has been paralyzed since unable to walk for life. Eight others were hit and wounded by the Guardsmen's bullets.

The book, The Killings at Kent State by I.F.Stone is subtitled, How Murder Went Unpunished. This, sadly, is a very accurate subtitle despite the fact that the Scranton Commission concluded that the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."

It's a beautiful day in Boston--sunny, bright about 70 degrees. The boil water order was lifted last night so we can now drink the water after two and a half days. Even our sports teams have provided a reason for celebration. The Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics all won last night. A great day awaits.

The seniors in our Communication Studies department at Northeastern have their graduation reception this afternoon.

Forty years ago on this day, the seniors in 1970 were diving for the ground as soldiers shot thirteen students, killing four and paralyzing one for life at Kent State University in Ohio.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Last night I was sitting at Shopper's Cafe with a host of other Celtic fans watching the local team show their age. After leading comfortably in the first half, the trio of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen looked spent in the second as the younguns from Cleveland beat them to the spot. Some of Garnett's passes looked like exhausted lobs from someone who wanted to will his body to be 25 again, but took a look at the remarkable energy of LeBron James and considered retirement.

I found it amusing that in the back room the Saturday night band was deliberately blasting an oft repeated Boston song about the Charles River that runs through the city. The refrain: "For I love that dirty water, Boston you're my home" was particularly appropriate last night,

Not only were the Celtics leaning over their stomachs with fatigue, but earlier in the day we all were notified--by e-mail, signs on the Mass Turnpike, and something akin to Paul Revere advance representatives--not to drink the water. Somehow a pipe had burst only a mile or so from where I live rendering all water in Boston and a dozen nearby communities undrinkable lest we desire to spend significant portions of the next few days like some Celtics last night, bending over and holding our bellies.

The barflies adjacent to me got a charge out of the Dirty Water song sung by the band, but my hunch is that if this takes more than a couple of days to fix, there will be some sour looking hombres along the Charles in the very near future.

My father used to call square and folk dances as one of his several moonlighting jobs when he was a teacher and principal. (Those who squawk about outrageous teacher salaries might consider that at one time my dad called square dances, sold encyclopedias, taught Sunday School, ran after school recreation programs, recruited kids and was the head counselor for a summer camp, and lectured at NYU in order to supplement his "outrageous" salary). On Friday nights at the summer camp dad would employ his folk dancing skills to call and teach Israeli folk dances. One of the dances that was popular was called Mayim, a dance designed to complement pleas to whomever for water. I tend to think that the crew at the Shopper's Cafe are unfamiliar with the song Mayim though I did consider watching some eyeballs roll by going over and asking them if they did. Nevertheless, I was humming it at the bar as I watched the Cavaliers bury the Celtics.