Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

I am about 8 years old. It is a hot weekend day and I'm on my way to Sherrie's candy store to get an Italian Ice. Sherrie's is on the corner of Avenue W and Knapp right near P.S. 194. My biggest concern in the world is whether it will be Cherry or Lemon today.

Just as I approach Sherrie's a truck drives by along Avenue W. As it reaches Knapp a bundle of newspapers roll out from the truck.

I figure the men in the truck lost their newspapers. There is a wire bundling the papers together and I try to yank the stack up. I shout out at the truck, "You dropped your newspapers?" There is a fellow riding shotgun in the truck who looks out the window at me strangely. The truck drives on.

Now what? The poor men have lost their newspapers. The stack sits at my feet. What to do?

I have an idea. What I will do is become a paper boy. I knew some big kids in the projects were paperboys. There were six floors in our apartment building, and maybe fifteen buildings between Avenues W and V alone. I wouldn't even have to cross the street to sell the papers. This way, I would never have to ask mom for money for italian ices again.

I forget about the Italian Ices, lug the newspapers two blocks back to the monkey bars near Avenue V that often served as a gathering spot for my cronies. Ronald wants to know what I'm carrying. I tell him what I have and that now I am a paper boy. Lenny wants to know where I got the newspapers. I tell him.

Gregory snorts. "They did not fall off the truck. The drivers threw them off. They were delivering the papers to Sherrie's."

"Don't tell me. I was there. They fell off the truck." I say this, but I am feeling a bit uneasy.

"Uh uh." says Gregory. "They delivered them. You stole Sherrie's newspapers."

It hits me that I am in big trouble.

Gregory has an idea. Lenny and Ronald agree that it is a terrific plan. I'm not convinced.

The plan is to put the papers in the basket of Lenny's tricycle. We would then ride to the vacant lot across Bragg Street that sits right in the middle of Bragg between Avenue V and W. Then when we get there we'd dump the papers into the vacant lot and scram.

I don't know if I want to compound the heavy duty problem I have by going to the vacant lot. The vacant lot is a place all we 8 year olds have been told never to go to. It is an overgrown weedy depressed area surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire at the top. According to the collective parents' lore, it is a spot where juvenile delinquents hang out. Besides we would have to jay walk to get there, another prohibition.

"I don't know if I want to go to the vacant lot."

"C'mon. Don't be a fool. Nobody will ever know."

They don't need to twist my arm. We toss the newspapers into Lenny's tricycle and start a career of crime. We jaywalk along with Lenny as he crosses Bragg and get to the vacant lot.

The four of us together can't weigh much more than 200 pounds so it takes all of our collective strength to bench press the newspapers high enough so that we can toss them over the barbed wire fence. After a number of comical tries where the stack nearly knocks us over as we drop it, we get the papers over the barbed wired and see them disappear into the weeds of the vacant lot.

We race away as if we just robbed a bank, running helter skelter in different directions. We are not cool crooks. I walk the last fifty yards to our apartment building dreading a confrontation. I take the elevator up to 5D. It's a weekend day, probably a Saturday, so both Dad and Mom are home. Dad wants to know where I've been. It's taken a lot longer than it usually does to get an Italian Ice.

"Where's the Italian Ice?"

"I ate it."

I probably am not particularly convincing. A few minutes later after a mild interrogation I know I am cooked. I spill. Everything.

I stole the papers.
I went to the vacant lot.
My pals and I dumped the papers into the vacant lot.

My mother and father huddle up and I sense that there will be major punishment. But not so. My father leaves the huddle and says that when I took the papers I made "an honest mistake".

If this is all the heat I'm going to take I feel terrific. I nod my head like a madman and repeat what is, I figure, the key exonerating phrase. "Yes, I made an honest mistake." That, apparently, is the ticket.

Dad continues. "Taking the newspapers was an honest mistake. But throwing them in the vacant lot, that was wrong."

Ok fine. I'll cop that plea. Yes. throwing them in the vacant lot was very wrong. I shake my head soberly.

"Okay pal" says dad "let's go to the vacant lot and get the papers."

The man has to be kidding me. Imagine going to the vacant lot with my father? And people thinking my father hung out there, smoked cigarettes, and was a juvenile delinquent.

I plead my case.

"Dad we can't go to the vacant lot. We'll never find the papers. It's where juvenile delinquents go."

"Let's go Al", he says.

We get to the vacant lot and in a move that is truly athletic he climbs the fence, vaults over the barbed wire, and disappears into the weeds. Then he reappears with the bundle of papers. Again, he impresses me despite my fear as he easily tosses the papers back over the barbed wire. Then he vaults back.

"Alright" he says "Let's go and return the papers to Sherrie's".

No! This day has been horrible. Just to think I had been on my way for an Italian Ice just a couple of hours ago. I take a stand. "No. I am not going to Sherrie's. They will never miss the papers. Today is a holiday." Please God make it be some minor holiday. "Not going."

"Let's go pal." He has to drag me to the corner of Knapp and Avenue W. I walk into the candy store behind him. He finds the owner, a sourpuss as always, hands over the papers and explains what happened. He makes sure to say that I made an honest mistake. Then he tells me to apologize.

Eight year old me walks around my dad and tells Mr. Sherrie or whatever his name was, that I am sorry. The proprietor is not magnanimous. He mutters something about the neighborhood going south. Dad repeats it's an honest mistake.

We leave Sherrie's and I am furious.

"I can't believe you made me do that. He never ever would have known."

"Look Alan" said Dad. "Sometimes people make mistakes, honest mistakes like this one. But sometimes people leave the mistake alone hoping it will go away and it hurts them, or they try to do something to get rid of the mistake that is worse than the mistake itself. Your friends thought they were helping you. But you can't just do what is easy or what people tell you to do. You have to do what is right, regardless of what is easy."

What is the man talking about? After this horrible day I have to listen to a speech?

I repeat my position furiously "I can't believe you made me do that."

"Come on, Alan, don't you feel better that you returned the newspapers."

"No!" I scream with unequivocal certainty. I stomp ahead in irrational child rage.

"You will" he called after me.

Thank you, Dad. I love you.

Happy Father's Day


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Truth

The nickname for Celtic star Paul Pierce is "the truth."

Today many people at work are far more concerned with "The Truth" than their own jobs. The Celtics play the Lakers tonight in a single game that will determine the NBA championship. The truth will be a key.

I am almost finished reading "A Bright Shining Lie"--a 790 page tome about the war in Vietnam. It is a troubling read. While I thought I had the gist of what had transpired, my understanding had been superficial. A Great Shining Lie does not present the opinion of War Protestors. Quite the contrary. It is presented from the perspective of military personnel who realized that fabrications were presented as truths. Nobody now--even those who allowed for the distortions--denies this. The boys--who in the name of patriotism went to be slaughtered--were lied to as were their parents and all of the citizens of the country. The book's title is excerpted from comments made by the main character--someone who had nothing but antipathy for war protestors. He was a dedicated military man who personified the courage of the boys and men we sent to this war and was frustrated by the counterproductive misrepresentations. "We had also, to all the visitors who came over there, been one of the bright shining lies."

The appeal of sport is that there are no bright shining lies. Tonight the NBA champion will be the team that scores more points than the opponent. Nobody will come out tomorrow and say that despite the score "our intelligence indicates" that another team has won and will continue to win. A player who commits a 6th personal foul will be disqualified and will not be able to appeal because of special circumstances. A ball shot within the arc will count for two points. A player will not be able to get three for the goal because he knows somebody important.

We were lied to in Vietnam. By Democrats and Republicans. Our contemporaries were sold a lie and were slaughtered. There was no reason. Even McNamara acknowledges this now. (The South Vietnamese were as dictatorial and corrupt as the North were alleged to be). There was no intelligent plan.

The championship game tonight has its allure, in large part, because we can count on the truth and truths that are foundational to it.

P.S. I am wearing my Celtic shirt. If The Truth scores more than 25 the Celtics will win. Watch out for Derek Fisher. Fisher, a Laker, is one of the more clutch players ever to play the game.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seventh Game

The Celtics did not come to play last night and the Lakers did. Now there will be a 7th game for the NBA championship.

When I was a kid the Celtics and Lakers had some terrific series and 7th games with Bill Russell pitted against Wilt Chamberlain. I recall one in particular when the opener for the game was a head shot of Chamberlain saying how he was determined to win, and then a head shot of Russell who gave a rambling--I got this game on my mind--talk saying the same thing as Chamberlain did, but more convincingly. Russell's Celtics won and I think it was because they, as a team, worked harder at it.

I wonder if we all should treat every day of our lives like a seventh game, not recklessly, but intensely. The players will be quoted, no doubt, in the next 24 hours as saying that they intend to "leave everything out there" during the 7th game.

And they will. If we all left everything out there each day of our lives, I think there likely would be more joy--assuming that our energy was expended in an intelligent pursuit.

Prediction. Lakers can not play better than they did last night defensively, but Kobe can score more. I hope I am wrong, but I think the Lakers win by at least 7. Of course, I thought Jimmy Carter would beat Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I understand that last night's game between the Celtics and Lakers was exciting. I did not see it, just read the score this morning.

I've been on the road for a while first driving through Albany and Buffalo on my way to Toronto for a conference. Driving alone except for the luggaged I've lugged--far too much for the week--in the car. Even for someone who enjoys independence and autonomy as I do, the road can deplete one's energy, at least mine.

On the way back through Buffalo I stopped at my friends Carol and Tom Rywick, who entertained me, fed me, and indulged my quirky desire to visit some nostalgiac spots around the city where I'd done my graduate work. They could not really understand why I not only had to visit the Buffalo and Erie County Public library but locate and parade around in certain spots that had sharp memories. I left Buffalo and stopped in Newark, New York, where I visited a friend from my freshmen year in college who looked, remarkably, preserved. Then off from Newark to Binghamton, New York where my dear friends Fran and Helen Battisti whom I've known since 1969 welcomed me as we discussed our past and futures.

Tom and Carol made lunch for me and took me to dinner. Fran and Helen broiled steaks on their grill and we ate on their magnificent deck overlooking their wooded yard.
But the nourishment from all--as corny as it may read--came from their love.

I sit now in the Honesdale Public Library posting this blog. In minutes I will drive about 20 minutes from here to a reunion with camp folks with whom I matured (or at least grew up) in my early years.

The vitamins there, I think, ought to be special as well.

I love sports, but last night as Fran and Helen and I discussed where we've been and where we are going, my interest in the Celtic and Laker series was minimal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The Community Action Corp (CAC) was a student organization at the University of Buffalo in the early 1970s. It had evolved because the university had been the center of student activism in 1970 which had created a clear rift between the school and the community. Most schools after the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings had become sites of student protests, but UB (as it was called for short) had been especially strident.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, several altruistic students created the CAC. I remember the student newspaper referring to the head of the CAC as someone who was too altruistic to be believed. He seemed genuine enough to me, but I only knew him superficially. I got involved in the CAC as a basketball coach for 10-12 year old kids in the community. Someone I knew from a camp where I'd been employed recruited me for the job and it was a delight.

Every Sunday morning from October until April, I coached my squad at either 8 a.m. or 930 depending on the schedule. In early October there was a "draft". Fliers had gone out to Buffalonians and to the elementary schools announcing that the CAC basketball league was about to begin. One Sunday morning in October, hundreds of kids came to the big university gym (big to them, the place was actually tiny by college gym standards) had a number tagged to their tee shirt and bounced basketballs in something akin to drills as we coaches decided who we would take. Then there was a draft where the coaches picked the players. Every kid got on a team. And every kid that showed up had to play every week in an intricate system of 8 time periods per game.

The kids loved it. The coaches loved it. The parents sat in the bleachers and thanked us, the "coaches" for giving up our Sunday morning for their kids. We had, the CAC, helped bring the community closer to the students. We weren't all, apparently, snooty privileged anti establishment miscreants.

Were those of us who participated in CAC altruists?

Altruism is a word that is often contrasted with selfishness. I often wondered though if the words were not different at all. Isn't an altruist someone who enjoys doing something for someone else, and if so, isn't the enjoyment the self derives from that activity the reason for the behavior, and consequently then isn't it just a more attractive form of selfishness.

I liked coaching those kids on Sunday mornings. My roommates and occasional Saturday night sleeping partners would often shake their heads when I bolted up at 7 on a Sunday morning to get to the gym. But I liked it.

By the way, my team, The Braves, won the championship in one of the three years I was coaching. We won in a sudden death overtime game--a peculiar rule implemented because the woman's volleyball team was about to come in and take over the gym. I'd brought a cigar to the game and ala Auerbach who used to light up a stogie when a game was won, I lit up after we won the game. I can still see two of the parents pointing at me and laughing.

One guy whose son was the star came up to me at the end of that championship run and thanked me for giving up the time for his kid. Fact is, I loved it.That's why we do things. For love.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Once my dad, brother and I were visiting my uncle who, himself, was visiting a friend of his. The five of us were in the man's living room trying to get the fellow's brand new television set to work. This was well before the days of cable. Yet this was a snazzy tv model. Problem was that no matter how we turned the rabbit ears this way or that, the picture kept coming in fuzzy. My uncle's friend then issued a remark that has become something of a family joke ever since.

"I have a prediction to make about this set" he said, "It's gonna be a helluva set."

I still snort when I am reminded of this. I have no idea if the set ever became "a helluva set" but I get a laugh when I think of this guy whose knowledge about televisions began and ended with the on-off switch.

My knowledge of basketball and ability to predict outcomes may be a little less rudimentary, but I am often incorrect when I try to predict the future. That said, "I am going to make a prediction about the Celtic--Laker series. It's gonna be a helluva series."

The Lakers will win on Sunday and in the course of going up 2-0 will get Rasheed Wallace to commit not one, but two technical fouls, and Kendrick Perkins will commit one. This will disqualify both for game three under the NBA rule. The Celtics will lose game three and go down 3-0. However, they will win the next three and tie the series 3-3. I'm not sure yet who will win game 7.

It's going to be a helluva series.