Sunday, November 29, 2009

A New Low

I have circled this Wednesday on my calendar. On that day there is an event of potential historical significance that I hope to witness. However, it is not the best part of me that draws me in. The New Jersey Nets are in the process of beginning their season with the most consecutive losses in league history. Wednesday the record for futility is set to be established. It is being present at a train wreck that is my driving force.

Actually, if I appear at the arena that evening, it will be my second trip there in a few weeks. On a recent Tuesday, the radio spot advised that there were tickets available for that evening's game, both near and far from the court, for $10. This was too good to pass up. That night, as Richie and I approached the ticket booth, I asked hesitantly if there were actually tickets downstairs for the giveaway price advertised. Soon, I was holding 2 beauties in my hand. As Rich and I descended the steps, we moved ever and ever closer to the court, until we settled in the best of the $175 seats. The place was still virtually empty. It would not get much fuller for the balance of the night.

Even when this franchise presented a good product in times past, people stayed away. Now, with a hodge podge of ill fitting players, and a stated intention to relocate the team to Brooklyn as soon as the litigation ends and the construction moves forward, there is virtually no one interested. The possibility is substantial that this team could not seat a full house if they gave away all of the tickets.

There is an upside. The truth is that after spending a season attending Yankee games, it is refreshing to be able to leave your seat, get an ice cream, paid for with a $5 bill, get change, and be back watching before the time out is over. You feel like the people serving you need to strike up a conversation to combat the boredom and the loneliness.

Maybe there is another reason to become part of a cult group following this futile, lonely little team. The Knicks are a high priced disaster, so there are no better options in sight. Maybe on Wednesday I will actually root for this team. But not too hard, as I definitely am most interested in being able to say I was there at the coronation of the worst ever. While I may be far from perfect, this team may soon redefine just how far away from perfection is possible.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The new reality

As the bizarre world of reality TV introduces us to an ever expanding group of those who want us to watch them do whatever it is that they do, I want to throw these ideas out for consideration. (I looked no farther than today's newspaper for my inspiration):

1) Catch me if you can - Following the life of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan as he decides whether to give up the cause for a 9 to 5 job.

2) Taking stock - The daily trials and tribulations of trading on the floor of the stock exchange

3) At war, 24/7 - A soldier's view in Iraq and Afghanistan

4) Shop til you drop - A store manager at one of the big malls reveals the secrets of the trade

5) I'm so excited, I'm uninvited - The life and times of serial gate crashers

6) Run - Following the secret lives of those trying to elude the FBI

7) Settling in - A construction worker on the West Bank wonders whether he should be looking for a new job

8) Off course - Airline pilots and their 'distractions' in and out of the air

9) First Amendment - How the choices of what is fit to print are determined

10) $ - A look at the dollar and what it really buys in the world of politics

11) Terror - The District Attorney, preparing for the trial to bring a terrorist to justice in New York

12) Don'tbai - A real estate salesman in Dubai thinks about a new career

13) Running on empty - An economist struggles to find a way to revive a failing economy

14) Temping - Once highly sought after, these individuals now find themselves willing to do what was once 'unthinkable' just to keep going.

15) In the Woods - Tiger, tiger and a world in which he must always burn bright.

16) Blogging for a living - We all have dreams, even me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Outsider

As millions of us gathered for family reunions at Thanksgiving, a common sight repeated itself in many households. In the middle of conversation, there would be a sudden disruption. In our quest for ever expanding technological advances, we have introduced a new guest to our party. In recent times, with endless text messages, email notices, access to files, and the ready availability of a world of information, an outsider has intruded. As cell phone applications grow, our attention to the moment shrinks.

I would suggest a rule, at least for this one day, that all phones are to be checked at the front door. There should be a suspension of search and seizure laws, as all guests get patted down before entry. Anyone seen violating this mandate during the Thanksgiving feast should be sent home without a second helping of stuffing. A non-sport fan will be required to sit through a full afternoon watching football, next to the uncle who has never witnessed a touchdown or interception he couldn't dissect.

I was speaking with one of my favorite, unnamed, relatives at yesterday's feast. Suddenly her eyes darted down and her fingers moved in furious motion. When she looked back up, I gently chastised her. I took a look at the phone she was holding. Her message read "What? Why?". Somehow, I had the feeling that this disruption was not of monumental significance.

I am not criticizing anyone who has moved into the 21st Century. I am stuck early in the last decade and am rapidly losing contact with most of the rest of the world. But, my lack of comprehension should not be confused with a lack of ability to understand the implications of what is transpiring.

It no longer warrants an "excuse me," or any other indication when you break away from the moment. As thoughts hang in mid-air, there is suddenly a superseding event. There seems to be no safe haven. I have been on walks with friends, in the car, at a dinner in a restaurant or even waiting for a movie to begin, when this interruption plays itself out in full view. Can't one even pretend that this action is caused by some emergency?

I understand that many, if not most, will think that this is just a needless rant and that I am the one who must amend my thought process to be accepting of a new reality. I assume that someday I will become a convert and will wonder how I could have been so wrong in my thinking. Until that day comes, I would ask that, at least in our conversations, you only have eyes for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


David Brooks poses "The Values Question" to us today. On the day before Thanksgiving, when so many have so little to be thankful for, how can he call a decision on whether to provide care for those in the greatest of need a "brutal choice"? Can we possibly sit around our tables, surrounded by loved ones, with bellies full, and think that "eas(ing) the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth" is a debate we should be engaging in? We have a moral obligation, on this day in particular, to do what is right.

Mr. Brooks asks who we want to be. I don't want to be that person who decides there is a basis to deny coverage to the millions who suffer. We know that failure to pass health care legislation will mean certain death to some of those who go without. We are a society that should pride ourselves, above all else, on protecting the health and well being of our citizens. Mr. Brooks talks of a "sweet spot" where there would be no trade off of money for essential services. Maybe the health care bills proposed do that, maybe they don't. The debate, on the floor of the Senate is certain to carry on that conversation until Christmas. On that holiest of days, if the question of Mr. Brooks were to be raised before the 100 assembled, could even one find voice to deny a warm blanket of security to those most in need?

We are a society that has lost its way if we seriously consider the continuation of "poor people living in misery" an acceptable trade off for more turkey on our plates or another present under the Christmas tree.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The "uh-0's"

As we close in on the end of a decade, we search for the catchphrase that will capture the essence of the first ten years of the new millenium. I think I have it : " The 0 no's".

From the fall of the Twin Towers to the fall of the stock market, from the ongoing disasters in Iraq to Afghanistan, from the voices of those Republicans in opposition to this administration, one phrase has been constant, "oh no".

On that day in 2001, when the towers disappeared, what was once there for all of us, not only physically but psychologically, was turned to nothing.

When the greed overcame us, and in 2008 our economic complacency was suddenly gone, we had less than when we started the decade and less certainty in our own futures. Much ventured but nothing gained, and we had lost our economic underpinning.

Under the command of a President who did not back off from a fight, no matter how stupid or ill conceived, we found ourselves wandering through the Middle East, invading a country that we later discovered had not in fact taken part in the attack on our nation, and did not possess the weapons to hurt us. After years of disastrous decisions, we now remove ourselves from one battlefield and head towards another. Most of us see that nothing good emerged and fear a never -ending dance with no positive ending.

From January 20, 2009 to the last tick of the clock in this decade, if there is one thing we can be certain of, it is the Republican opposition to anything and everything suggested by this present administration. Vote after vote, and discussion after discussion, is marked by a single Republican theme: Nothing, but nothing, will get done on your watch. No matter the issue, no matter the need, "no" was all that mattered to them.

We watch in horror, in disgust and in bewilderment. The "O's" have been marked by one event after another that have made us less comfortable, less affluent, less meaningful in the eyes of those who judge us, and less willing to do what we must to make it better.

We are ending a decade where we have not stepped up, but have seemed to step backwards. The "zeroes" have not been good to us. In its grasp, and when we look back, we will find this to be a time where "oh, no" dominated. It has been 10 years of zero in so many more ways than just the calendar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

7 Days

"My dad's in trouble". Hearing those words, I jumped from my chair and ran into the room where Jo was talking. "They are taking him to the hospital". We said nothing further and prepared to leave the office. Then the phone rang again. Mike was gone.

A week has passed since those terrible calls. As I reflect on what has transpired in that time, I am overwhelmed by the grace and dignity exhibited by my wife and her mother. From the first, there was an acceptance and an understanding. Mike had long suffered, and was more than ready to let go. Jo and Harryette did not choose to see this as something other than what it really was.

It is hard for some not to find fault in this type of a response to the death of someone so dear. They would say that you have to be mourning, you have to be hurting, you have to be inconsolable in your private moments. But, it is, to my mind, a show of great strength to be able to be true to your own feelings.

There was no real sadness attached to the events of the past 7 days. Certainly there were moments, but these were few and isolated. In fact, there was much more laughter than tears. There was a bonding with our family and that of Jo's brother Steve, as we told of events old and new, some stranger than others, all meant to bring a smile. Mike would have loved to see all of us sitting around the dinner table enjoying each other's company. Some stories sounded more like fiction than fact. That made them all the more interesting.

We are all settling back into our routine again. Enough time has passed that it is socially acceptable to be ready to participate in the events of the world. But Mike would not have wanted us to do anything but go right back to living. He wouldn't have found it necessary, or even appropriate, for us to have mourned. He had wrung everything he could out of his days. Harryette understood that and did great honor to Mike in her response to his death.

I have always found my mother in law to be full of class. After watching her the past week, she has only been elevated in my estimation. I thank her for making those horrifying minutes after we received the call, slightly more bearable. As a family, she, Jo and Steve, made the last week one that I will long recall, not in sadness, but with a certain warmth and fondness I could never have anticipated.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Yankee Doodle Dandy

This World Series had the feeling of the last act in George Steinbrenner's very long running play. Filled with emotion and drama, it was interpreted as a fitting tribute to the man. When the triumph was complete, he was treated like a present day George Gipp. "Win one for the old man" had become the rallying cry for his troops. In truth, he was more like an early version of Donald Trump. Yet, Steinbrenner, in his declining years, had become venerable.

He was the face of the group of investors who purchased the team in 1973 for less than what he paid his designated hitter this year. He was a born-on-the-4th-of-July patriot, and he was full of bluster.

He attacked his foes, and often his allies, with relentless fervor. In one memorable beer commercial, he argued with his on again-off again manager Billy Martin about the reason the beer they were drinking was so well liked. In a self-parody, the spat ended with a pre-Trumpian "you're fired" of Martin.

In 1974, he pled guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign, and was suspended from baseball for 2 years (subsequently reduced to 15 months) by then Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In 1989, President Reagan (who coincidentally had portrayed George Gipp in the movies) pardoned him for this transgression. By 1990, Steinbrenner was banned from baseball for life for having paid a small time loser $40,000 to dig up dirt on a star player (Dave Winfield) who had the audacity to sue him for failing to make a promised contribution to a charitable foundation the player had set up. In 1993, the ban was lifted.

He angered his star players, Reggie Jackson and Winfield, most notable among them. He treated his managers with little respect. He benched Don Mattingly for failing to cut his hair, during a time when Steinbrenner was himself suspended from the game for the Winfield incident. He claimed to have injured his hand in a fight with 2 Dodger fans during the 1981 World Series.

Yet, with the passage of time, the gruffness of the "Boss" seemed somewhat less menacing, a little less maniacal. The commercials with Martin, and later the bumbling fool lampooning of him in "Seinfeld" softened his image.

Ultimately, as the effects of old age took away most of the bravado and diminished his capacity to rule with an iron fist, all that remained was an open pocketbook, a passion to succeed, and a somewhat vacant stare of an old man about to lose his way.

What is now left is our own Yankee Doodle Dandy. While the first King George (Herman Ruth) built his home here in 1923, our King George now had his own shiny new house and a championship trophy to proudly display inside. For a man who had invested in theater productions early in his career, this is a culmination of a 36 year running hit in New York. He certainly has put on a great show.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Survival of the Richest

They got our money. Now they want to cut the line to get our vaccines. I don't think so.

In a public relations no-no, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are among those companies to whom New York City health officials recently distributed doses of the swine flu vaccine. While we wait to protect those of us in high priority groups who may be most vulnerable, and hope there is enough vaccine available soon, some of the big boys don't have that problem.

We are told by Goldman that "like other responsible employers" they will "supply it (the vaccine) only to those employees who qualify". I don't know, but I have some nagging suspicion that not everything those at Goldman say is absolutely accurate. Beyond that, even if it is a true statement, don't you think that maybe these companies don't deserve a priority dose of anything else from us?

Why don't we do this in reverse order of size and power? Why don't we say that everyone who is homeless, who is on welfare, who is living in a shelter, who has felt nothing except the distress of being forgotten and ignored, steps to the front? Why aren't their children, or their elderly parents, or those who have been the most vulnerable and the most overwhelmed, for once deemed to be the most worthy of our attention? These people who have not had access to medical care, who are most at risk of not getting the needed attention, should be the ones who are now permitted to step forward.

We have all suffered what we see as a continuous wrong in catering and giving a helping hand to those at the top of the food chain. We have felt that they have stepped on those below them in their climb to the top and are willing to ignore the pain and suffering below. To make them or their loved ones appear to be important and more worthy of our care is not the message that we should be sending. Let them call their doctors and wait, like the rest of us, for their shot. That would be a dose of reality.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

27 and one

As I began the walk over the 155th Street bridge, a strange sensation suddenly captured my attention. While I should have been filled only with excitement, I was struck with a feeling of melancholy. I was headed to my second home, Yankee Stadium, and Game 6 of the World Series.

I had received the call earlier that afternoon. It was my nephew advising that his wife might be able to obtain an extra ticket for what would prove to be a very big party. It was very touching and very unexpected. Everyone who has been in my company over the last half century has been subjected to my Yankee mania. I had never, in all the hundreds of times that I had been a spectator, been witness to the ultimate conquest. This was, at last, a chance to be there when the promised land was reached.

Yet, during that stroll towards a culmination of a lifetime of watching and waiting for this day, I felt very alone. While I was meeting up with my nephew and would eventually spend 4 innings sitting with him, my seat and his were not together. I would ultimately be sitting by myself, among 50,000 strangers. This was not the perfect setting for the perfect ending.

I have spent each and every moment of each and every Yankee game I have ever attended in the company of those I care for, both friends and family. The Yankees, it turns out, provide a backdrop for my pleasure. What I love more than the team, is the time with my Dad, with my friends, and for the last 20 years or so, with my children.

We recently had the very good fortune to have been in possession of two World Series tickets to Game 2. We had a very big battle among my daughter, my son and myself to see which two of us would go. But, the fight was not what you would think. We all fought NOT to go. It was a case of each of us wanting the others to be the fortunate ones. It was surreal and it was beautiful.

My daughter was out of the country yesterday when I got the call from my nephew. My son was not up to attending. Thus, I could not hand off the prize to either of them. But in my walk towards the Stadium last night, I was reaching for their presence.

I know I must seem the fool. I am as grateful as can possibly be, to my niece and nephew. I thoroughly enjoy my nephew's company and we had wonderful moments together last night, rooting our guys on. But throughout the night, and especially in those innings where I was seated among others who were sharing their thoughts and emotions with people special to them, I felt very much isolated. Intellectually, I knew this was idiotic. Emotionally, I missed my children intensely.

I received calls from both of them throughout the game. My daughter, from her remote locale to which she had flown earlier in the day, my son from the home he shares with Joanne and me. I could sense their feelings for me.

By the last two innings, I had found my way back to my nephew. With the last out, I gave him a big hug, and a heartfelt thanks. I had been a spectator to history, to an event so important in the world I inhabit.

I made my way out of the Stadium after the game to the streets where thousands were holding the largest street celebration you could imagine. I walked alone back across the 155th Street bridge and waited for Joanne and Richie to pick me up. Crossing from the Bronx back to Manhattan, I turned around to give one last look towards the season that was. I said my silent thank you to the Yankees and to my nephew and niece. It was an evening I will never forget, but not just for what happened on the field. It was a unique evening in my life in ways I could hardly have imagined.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reading the Tea Leaves

Election results came in from New York, New Jersey and Virginia. The party preaching change, proved to be a winner. Who could have imagined that, at least in some locations, it would be the Republicans, a year after their repudiation by the voters, who would raise their voices and hold up their heads and their hands as the party vowing to lead us out of the morass?

Yet, it is hard to get too excited, or too depressed, depending on your party affiliation, by what occurred yesterday. Virginia has historically been a Republican state, has a long track record of bouncing the party in charge from office in mid-term elections, and had the winner beat the loser again, four years after an earlier defeat in a race between the same opponents for a different post. In New York's 23rd, it was in fact a Democrat who garnered that seat after the Republican effort to oust its own candidate and endorse a third party conservative, failed. A stranglehold on this district by the Republicans disappeared. In the New York City mayoral race, despite the enormous amount of money the popular Republican two termer poured out of his own pockets, he was nearly beaten by a much lower profile Democrat. Finally, in New Jersey, a Democratic governor who was supposed to right the ship based on his Wall Street background, sank like a rock. What does it all mean?

Principally, as the exit polls reveal, the rising number of independent voters were voicing their dissatisfaction for the party in power. Times are tough and the reaction of those dismayed, distressed, disturbed and discouraged was to throw out the old and bring in the new. It mattered little what was being said by either candidate. It was a referendum on tough times hanging on way too long. The 23rd had belonged to the Republicans. The ownership of the governor's mansion in New Jersey and Virginia changed party affiliation. Only Michael Bloomberg, in a city he owns, both figuratively and literally, was able to hold off the rushing tide and hold on by an astonishing close margin. No, it was not Democrat alone who faced expulsion. It was anyone unlucky enough to be in power during the bad days.

We are a country that is becoming increasingly frustrated and disenchanted. Even those of us who want to see this administration succeed in dealing with the enormous challenges laid at its feet, are getting tired of waiting. The consistent voice of the people yesterday was that whoever is in charge, Republican or Democrat, is in trouble as long as we feel that we remain troubled. If, by next year at this time, significant improvement is neither seen nor felt, those whose seats are at stake are in very serious jeopardy of walking out with heads bowed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Let me put in an official complaint. Stop with all the political robo calls.

I have been bombarded in the days leading up to the election. I have received personal greetings from elevated politicians like President Obama and Governor Corzine to locals running for town council. I have been faux contacted by anyone and everyone who has seemingly anything to do with the political landscape. Do I really have to be subjected to all this noise?

I have an idea. Give me the home number of all the politicians who wish to address me. I will record my thoughts and robo call them (only during dinner of course) to give them chapter and verse on the issues that are of concern to me.

We don't want you to chase us into our homes. I don't need to be repeatedly reminded to vote. I don't appreciate the continuing interruption and quite honestly, no one else does.

So, next election, if you want my vote, don't harass me. Your campaign slogan should be ' Vote for me and I will leave you alone at dinner'. You can buy me with your silence.