Monday, June 28, 2010

Wake up Joe Torre

What was Joe Torre thinking? As I watched the ninth inning meltdown by the L.A. Dodger closer last night, I wondered why he was allowed to self- combust, costing his team a game and hurting his psyche if not his arm.

In an era where everything is tied to pitch counts, how do you let your pitcher throw 48 pitches in ONE INNING, especially the night after throwing 19 pitches. As they say in baseball, he "had nothing left in the tank". And yet Torre remained planted firmly to his seat in the dugout as the disaster unfolded.

We all spent over a decade watching Torre protect the arm of maybe the greatest closer in baseball history. We all managed along side him every day. When had he ever let Mariano twist in the wind like this? I can't recall a time where he mistreated Rivera the way he mishandled his player and the situation yesterday.

Maybe it is being in L.A. that has dulled Torre's managerial senses. Who knows. I just want to thank him, as a long time die hard Yankee fan, for his failure to grasp the obvious. Could you imagine if this happened when he was in New York, in the days when George Steinbrenner ruled over his team with an iron hand? It is almost too painful to contemplate.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Would J.I. Do?

It was about 50 minutes into what was an intense, grueling bike ride. Well, at least that's how I viewed it. For Joanne and our friend Margaret, both of whom happen to be in excellent shape, it was almost the conclusion of a flat as a pancake trip of about 10 miles in total. While they chatted and rolled forward effortlessly throughout our journey, I was trying to 'draft' behind them, to lessen the almost Herculean effort that was taking place, at least in my mind. I spoke little and pretended that I was as able as they.

The only hill we would confront, would come at the 50 minute point. To me, it looked like the monster they refer to as Heartbreak Hill, at the 20 mile mark of the Boston Marathon. In reality, if Lance Armstrong cycles up mountains that are rated 10 out of 10 in difficulty, this would have registered no more than a 2. To call this a hill was really an insult to all true hills.

The 'climb' was maybe a quarter of mile or so. There was actually a way to flatten this out by taking a road that branched off from the main street, meandered back and forth, and eventually led, in a circuitous manner, to the top. Jo chose this route, thus turning our 2 into maybe 1 1/2.

Jo and Margaret moved through and up, quickly and without thought. I began my ascent by putting my gear at the easiest setting. With each turn of the pedal, I became a little more fatigued. My companions had already completed the route and here I was, imperceptably moving forward, the goal still in the distance.

Then it hit me. "What would J.I do" I thought to myself. "What would J.I. do?"

John Isner had just finished playing in the most incredible match in the history of tennis, and maybe the most incredible test of human endurance and fortitude since sports was invented. He had played about 5000 games of tennis, or so it seemed, in one match. As the history books will recall it, he ate, drank and slept while playing tennis for 3 days. This was the ultimate in willing oneself up to the top of the mountain.

Now, it was as if J.I. was pushing me forward. "Don't get off that bike" he yelled in my ear. "Don't you dare get off that bike".

In what must have been a record for the slowest time ever recorded in getting to the top of this little street on a bike, I triumphed. At the apex, I nonchalantly sipped from my water bottle, and then mostly coasted the last few hundred yards to the apartment complex. Jo and Margaret had already put their bikes away as I came to a halt in front of our garage.

"Good ride" I told them. As Margaret hurried off, to get ready for her next activity, a lengthy 'power walk', I stumbled up the steps to the apartment. With J.I. now on my side, who knows where this may lead. I am ready for anything. Except maybe biking straight up that hill.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Raise your hand if you think you can properly interpret your health insurance policy. I didn't say Simon Says. Put your hand down. You're out.

As I wander helplessly through the bureaucratic maze of explanation of insurance benefits, or more precisely, lack thereof, I feel like I am in the middle of an Abbott and Costello who's on first routine. Let me walk with you as I take you on a journey through the who, what, why and I don't knows.

It all began innocently enough. As a result of back surgery last June, I was in need of some physical therapy. Having done nothing over my lifetime to 'strengthen my core' I would now go through several months of sessions, 2 or 3 times a week, to at least try to build a one or two pack. The goal was to give me the best chance of keeping me upright and out of pain. Logic would dictate that this would help me and ultimately benefit my insurance carrier, who would not be faced with paying for any additional surgery.

My insurance plan permitted me 30 visits per year with a physical therapist. My cost, were I to find an in-network back strengthener person, was $20 per session. The carrier would then absorb the remaining balance, at a rate agreed upon between them and the service provider. Simple enough. And simple enough it was, as I located someone who was willing to accept what seemed like a wholly insufficient payment from my carrier (I think the total compensation was $59 per hour). I got to be pushed, pulled and prodded, and in the end, was without a one pack, but thankfully in little discomfort.

Come early December, my back had decided it was not through causing me pain. A trip to the doctor resulted in a prescription for 12 more sessions with a therapist of my choosing, as long as that person was in network and agreed to accept the payments established by my carrier. But, since I had exhausted my 30 permitted visits for 2009 and would now be paying fully out of my own pocket, at least for the balance of the calendar year, I would wait until the ball dropped before I began dropping and lifting the ball in the therapist's office. I was smart enough to understand my policy terms. I would be patient until I could become a virtually non-paying patient.

And wait I did. In early January, armed with a brand new bag of 30 allowable visits, I searched out a new therapist,as I was concerned that my earlier course of treatment had actually been a little too easy on me. It seems my carrier was known for being particularly stingy, so my chore was not as easy as one would imagine. But, eventually, I found a practice that advised that I, and my carrier, were welcome. I was told I could start with them as soon as they were in contact with my carrier, and had gotten the approval to take care of me.

As it turned out, take care of me they did, but not as I had imagined.

I was informed in the middle of January that all was set and I was now their patient. At the first of my sessions, I checked in at the reception desk, announced myself and my intentions. I was led shortly thereafter into the back room, which looked much like the room where my 2009 treatments had occurred. Things to pull, things to push, things to run on, things to lie down on, alarm clocks, timers, and other people in various states of disrepair.

I was 'assigned' to my leader who gently walked me through my paces, seeing where I was, and where I would eventually go. At the end of our 50 minutes (the shortened version of an hour) I went back to the front desk and advised that I had a $20 co-pay that I would now fork over. I was then told that I would be separately billed and thus I should put my $ back in my pocket. I did.

I ended up going back to this facility on 10 additional occasions. I liked the treatments, well at least I thought they were helpful. Each time in I passed the reception desk. At the conclusion of each session, I went back to that desk and got a token, which permitted me to leave the parking lot without cost to me. It was a seemingly efficient system and it was as pain free as these things can be. Never once was I asked for any money, and never again had I offered. I was waiting for my bill, which by my calculation (not too difficult to do) was to be $20 times 11, or $220.

So, you can imagine my surprise (that it the "g" rated version) when a month or 2 later I opened up my insurance carrier's explanation of benefits to discover that I was being told that MY cost for these 11 sessions was somewhere north of $2700. The first question I had to ask myself was how the carrier decided that my therapy, when they were paying it, was worth less than $60 per hour, but when I was reaching into my pocket, the retail value had escalated to over $300 for each 60 minutes (including the portion that they pay). Bad enough. What was unfathomable was the next leap into the world of the illogical.

The therapy practice had 2 offices, one located somewhere out in the general community. The second, where I found myself due to its proximity to my office, was housed in a wing of a local medical center. This, I was now being advised, made me a patient at a hospital. It apparently mattered not that I walked into each session from the street, and 50 minutes later walked out through the same door I had earlier entered. My 30 treatments, with my $20 co-pay, no longer applied. Now, my $2500 deductible for hospital visits controlled.

My son is both very bright and very much engaged in the practice of dealing with insurance carriers and hospitals. He has had the misfortune of being the go to guy to address our family's insurance questions, whether pertaining to himself, to his sister, his parents, his grandparents, and on occasions, various other members of society. I turned to him, sure this would be a slam dunk. Not so fast.

He started using words like interpretation and phrases like 'exploiting a loophole'. He spoke of working its way through the system. How could this be?

We have since had conversations with the carrier and the therapy center. We have written and explained. We have received assurance from the therapist that they had spoken with the carrier on the day of the first treatment and confirmed the $20 copay. We are still being billed for the full amount by the therapist. We are still being told by the carrier that this is all my responsibility. We are nowhere close to resolution. I do not know whether this will ever lead to a rational conclusion.

I don't want to pay this bill. I am not obligated to pay this bill. I pay an exorbitant amount of money every month for insurance protection. I have insurance but little or no protection. I don't want to be dunned. I don't want my credit impaired. I don't know why what seems to be so clear is not. I want to get out of this Abbott and Costello routine but I am afraid I can't find the exit. All I know for sure is that I don't know much about my health insurance. Except that it went up 34% this year.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Filling out my foursome

As I struggle mightily to find even a whisper of a golf game, I was buoyed slightly by yesterday's events. If the saying is true that misery loves company, then I was able to find plenty of that merely by turning on my television set and watching the implosions at Pebble Beach.

Who were those guys masquerading as the best golfers in the world? Whatever happened to all those 63's and 64's? How did a hole less than a 100 yards long become a challenge? And what in the world was a table top doing where the green should have been on the 14th hole?

There were more grimaces, head shakes and question marks then I had ever seen from the cream of the crop. Dustin Johnson went from the leader of the entire world to a guy who you felt sorry for, in about as long as it took you to read this sentence.

As those who we have long seen with the widest of smiles and trophies held aloft slinked and sulked, the last man standing wobbled home. We watched as he fell from 4 under to 3, then 2, next 1, and finally to even par. Even that descent did not seriously impact his lead. 3 foot putts were no longer 'gimmes' for anyone, short shots sailed into the rough and the sand traps, and longer strokes headed to parts unknown.

For those of us who live in a golf world filled with disappointment, in which greatness never appears, and good rarely does, this was like watching my Saturday morning foursome on the screen. Here was a course that brought even the strongest to their knees. This was a technical knockout, as we watched the victim struck over and over, meandering aimlessly without a clue of where he was or how to defend himself.

So, as I get set to play my next round, I thank Pebble Beach for making Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els look nothing if not mortal. Hey guys, I have time at Centennial this weekend. If you 3 are not doing anything else, why don't you join me? We can play even-up, with 2 off the first tee and a floating mulligan. It's Pebble or me. See you at 9:32.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Memories I Never Had

If my Dad had not died almost 32 years ago, but was still alive today, he most certainly would have:

1. Given my Mom a good morning kiss over 11,000 times more.
2. Given my Mom a good night kiss over 11,000 times more.
3. Held 3 more grandchildren in his arms.
4. Changed dirty diapers, read bedtime stories and been there in every moment that mattered in all our lives.
5. Marveled at the athletic prowess of his grandchildren and never connected the dots back to himself.
6. Marveled at the academic achievements of his grandchildren and never connected the dots back to himself.
7. Continued to provide the best legal services any client could hope for, while always being concerned that he wasn't doing enough.
8. Retired on his terms, at the time of his choosing, and turned over a lifetime of goodwill and good work to his son, to carry on.
9. Been amazed at how well his daughter had managed life, with warmth, grace, dignity and class, and never connected the dots back to himself.
10. Broken 80 at least a few more times, and maybe gotten that first hole in one.
11. Searched for berries in the woods and always come out with a smile and a reward for his efforts
12. Moved to Florida in the winters to be with friends, but never to be more than a plane ride or a phone call away from family.
13. Body surfed in the waves with his children and grandchildren.
14. Read voraciously.
15. Mastered the web.
16. Become a great bridge player, or a great writer, or been great in anything and everything he devoted his attention to.
17. Guided all of us with his words and with his deeds.
18. Never considered himself exceptional.
19. Never been anything less than exceptional.
20. Gotten sick, but then gotten better.
21. Watched in sadness as many of his friends passed away
22. Worried about my Mom.
23. Walked my Mom through the maze from which she now finds no way out
24. Been here.
25. But he's not. And for that, our lives will always be diminished.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. We all miss you in more ways than we can count.


One Sunday in June

Marc and I headed to the first tee. Like every other day out here in California, it was picture perfect. Like every other year over the past 15, a trip across the country to golf with this very old friend was a given. It was a Sunday in June.

The starter asked us if we would mind playing with 2 gentlemen, both around our age. The course was crowded, so it would make the play seem less slow if we were a foursome. We both mumbled our assent.

We saw the cart coming towards us from the distance. While we couldn't make out faces, it was clear that the occupants were enjoying each other's company. You could hear the laughter, and see the men gesticulating in an animated fashion. Best buddies, that much was certain.

The cart, and it's occupants, drew nearer to the first tee. I was too distracted by my previous day's bad play, and the thought of another disaster, to pay them much attention. Marc was practicing his swing, trying to duplicate the rhythm from the day before.

I walked over to the tee and waited for the rest of the group. Marc wandered over moments later. The 2 gentlemen were getting out of the cart, with their backs turned towards us.

Almost in unison, they turned around and headed to meet us to begin the day's play.

My dad looked just as I remembered him before the disease took control of his body and took his life, over 3 decades before, at age 61. He had the same lines in his forehead. The toupee sat perfectly on his head. He was still lean, for a man in his late 50's, and he walked with a purpose.

Marc's dad, Mickey, had been overtaken by illness and died almost 20 years ago, at 71. Now he appeared tall and handsome. He was maybe 54 or 55, and he could turn heads.

"No questions of why or how. Let's play," my dad said. His slightly crooked smile was directed at me.

I had been waiting for this match for more than half of my lifetime.

And so it began. Marc and I memorized everything.

Every fairway, each blade of grass. Every good shot. Every bad one. Every touch of the hand. Every thought. Every second. Everything had a purpose. Everything had a place. Everything mattered.

We spoke of things big and small. Of dreams realized and some that were not. Of times past and those to come. Of how it was and how it should have been. Of memories we had and those we were never allowed. Of the pain and of the joy. Of who we had become and who we hoped to be. Of what we missed along the way and what we found. Of how we still saw them in our minds. Of the questions we still asked them. Of the moments where they still came to our rescue. Of how they still shaped our lives. Of the ache we still carried in our hearts. And most of all, of the love we still felt.

It all cascaded out. All the words, all the emotions. With each passing hole there was a wish to stop time, but a fevered desire to continue this journey. We were in its grasp and in its spell.

I only now realize that Marc and I were the ones doing all the talking. Our dads absorbed. They took to their cart between shots, and spoke quietly and happily to each other. They just gave us their presence. It was everything.

For 18 holes, we all breathed the same air, filled with the sounds and smells of life. As we headed down the last fairway, and saw the clubhouse beckoning, a sadness overwhelmed Marc and me.

When the last putt fell into the cup, we all embraced as one. My dad whispered to me, "Say hello to your mother and tell her she still looks beautiful. I miss her every day." I watched that slightly crooked smile for one last time. Then he and Mickey were gone.

The starter came over to Marc and me. He said "I'm sorry that other twosome never showed up to join you." He asked whether the round was enjoyable anyway. Marc and I just turned to one another and smiled.

Happy Father's Day, Dad and Mickey. Same time, same place next year. We'll be waiting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

No Escape

We were held hostage. Joanne and I had no chance to escape, at least no rational chance. There was the fleeting thought of trying to jump out of a moving car, but the possibility of survival was small at the speed we were traveling. At least we knew it would all be over soon. With any luck, in less than an hour, our ordeal would be ended.

We were exhausted from taking a red-eye home from the West coast. Sleep had not come easily on the flight. We knew that a full day's work lay ahead. We would get into the cab that was awaiting our arrival, rest on the short trip, throw our bags down in our apartment and get into the office.

Our local cab company had proved a reliable companion to ferry us to and from our journeys over the past years. The drivers' stories of life, and their perceptions of humanity, were many times the centerpiece of our rides. We often heard colorful, sometimes unique perspectives on existence. This one would prove the most unique of all.

No sooner had we gotten into our seats then it began. It did not come slowly or gently. Within seconds, we were being told about the depraved condition of man and how the end of the world was upon us. We were carried back to Noah and his warnings to those around him, of the impending great flood. Dire projections were ignored and Noah was ridiculed. Those who did not share in the vision were signing their own death certificates. Next, we were informed of Abraham and the lessons to be learned from him.

All attempts to deflect, or ignore, were cast aside like bugs on a windshield. This was a force of nature in the front seat. Discussions about the traffic on the Van Wyck, the weather or anything other than the chosen sermon proved wholly inadequate against the tidal wave that was descending upon us. Jo and I glanced at one another briefly, but with no resolution in our eyes.

From the Van Wyck to the Grand Central and from there to the East Side Drive. Finally to the George Washington bridge and then into New Jersey. It never ended.

In retrospect, our mentor was not angry or cruel in his words. It was not his fault that he was preaching, but mine. I had allowed this to happen, even fostered it. By my politeness towards him, I had created an environment where he felt a freedom to espouse. I hold no ill will towards our captor. (Is this what they refer to as the Stockholm Syndrome?)

As we were finally released from custody at our destination, we thanked our transporter and wished him well. His parting words to me were to give me the website where I could go to be further indoctrinated, I mean informed, as to the core beliefs of his religion.

I thank the cab company for providing us with much more than just a ride to and from our destination. Next time, however, can you please make sure the driver is an atheist?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Landon Boys

This is about much more than just an attitude toward girls ("Their Dangerous Swagger"). Everything, for these children is a commodity, to be used and abused at their (in)discretion.

The Landon boys are an outlandish cartoon of the attitudes of the privileged. It is how we view their adult counterparts on Wall Street who have exhibited the same lack of care in their abuses of us and our system. Anything, and anyone in their way, is in danger. We can picture the Landon boys of today being the Wall Street leaders of tomorrow.

Our society, like these unsuspecting girls, deserves better, much better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Too Early to Call

When Cassius Marcellus Clay arrived on the scene, he was a wonder to behold. Full of power of word and spirit, he could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He could outtalk you, outrun you, outhit you and outthink you. He was pretty and he was untouchable.

When Muhammad Ali confronted a country asking him to fight in a war he did not believe in and could not defend, the system began to attack him. It sapped him of some of his bravado, took away not only his livelihood but threatened to take away his liberty. The war in a foreign land changed him in ways no opponent in the ring could.

When an older Ali returned to the ring, some of the speed had disappeared and some of the skill had faded. While he still had the gift of gab, he could not summon up the energy of his youth. After a series of bouts with Joe Frazier, Ali emerged victorious but battered. He survived a brutal near death battle, wounded in ways that he could not understand.

Barack Obama arrived as the young Clay of this generation. He possessed a gifted intellect and exuded a spirit of drive and determination.He too could capture with the poetry of his voice and his heart . But the enormous weight of forces combined to create a presidency of unimaginable complications, slowing down our leader Like an Ali who had to face foes at every turn, Obama has been beset by both domestic and foreign enemies, bent on opposing him and everything he stands for.

We wonder why he is not the same person we first saw. We wonder why he does not have the same energy or ability to draw us in. Much like the Ali who could no longer win his battles with the strength of his personality or the punch in his arms, he has been forced to do the hard work. He can no longer enter and exit the ring with untouched face, beauty intact. For each punch he throws, he now takes one, and sometimes more in return.

The Presidency, for Obama, has been an exercise in learning to take punishment. He has thrown his haymaker, in health care reform, but it took much out of him. Like the older Ali, Obama is no longer up on his toes between rounds, dancing and waiting for the next bell. He must gather himself and take the time to regain strength and focus.

Governing, like boxing, is not for the faint of heart. Obama, much like Ali, shows evidence of an extraordinary resolve. Don't judge him as failing because he is no longer standing over his fallen foe, with arms extended, grinning broadly. Let's stop dealing in fantasy. Cassius Clay is gone forever, but Muhammad Ali, with all that time did to diminish him, emerged in the end as one of the greatest champions ever. Give Obama a chance to become like the Ali we respected as much for being able to adapt to changing circumstances, as for the innate abilities he brought to the stage in his youth.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kill The Ump - On Second Thought, Don't Kill the Ump

Harvey Haddix Jr. Somewhere, the family of Harvey Haddix Jr. may be secretly unhappy this morning. There is a new king in town. His name is Armando Galarraga and he may now have thrown the most famous non-perfect, perfect game in baseball history.

When the asterisk was invented, it could well have been intended for no better purpose than Haddix and Galarraga's achievements. Haddix hurled 12 perfect innings, before losing not only his chance at the ultimate in perfection, but the game itself, in the 13th inning. Galarraga has now, without dispute, thrown the first 28 out perfect game the sport has ever seen.

Quick, for all of you who profess to be baseball lovers, name as many pitchers as you can who have thrown perfect games since Abner Doubleday invented steroids. There are 20 to be precise, and if you can remember the names of more than the Yankee pitchers (Larsen, Cone and Wells), the 2 from this year (the fabulous Doc Halladay and that kid from Oakland who is in a feud with A-Rod over the "don't step on my rubbers", or something like that) and 1 or 2 more, you qualify to go on some 3 AM sports trivia show.

But now, the name of Galarraga will become part of one of the most famous non-moments in baseball lore. He will be forever attached to Jim Joyce, the bearer of the bad news at the first base bag, like white on rice. Couples bound together by circumstance, much as Ralph Branca and Bobby Thompson who have had a 60 year 2nd career as the good and the bad of "the Giants win the pennant" home run, Galarraga/Joyce will live on for many tomorrows. Like Yin and Yang, I see a long time pairing of this odd couple.

So, hold your head up high Mr. Joyce. Do not fret your error in judgment. In the long run, you may have done more for Mr. Galarraga then if you had made the right call. If your vision had been clear, and your call correct, this perfect game would have merely been 1 of 3 to have occurred in the last few weeks. Not now. We salute you Mr. Joyce on a job badly done.


While the NY Times continues its obstinate refusal to publish my pithy comments, I have managed to inflict some collateral damage on this venerable paper. My notice to them earlier this week of an egregious math error in one of their editorials (see below) resulted in the following correction notice (see below below) in this morning's edition of the Times.

MY COMMENT: 'The Great Unknowns' (5/31/10) contains a math error of significance. Mr. Poole writes of the Civil War having an astounding number of more than 2 in 5 who went to their graves without being identified. The accompanying Rumors chart shows 622,000 deaths of which more than 150,000 were unknown soldiers, and lists this as 'approximately 41%' of the total amount.

Either the chart is wrong, or the math is inaccurate. If the unidentified was about 250,000 (not 150,000) then the calculations would be closer to matching. If the Rumors figure is right, then this is more like 1 in 4, (or 25%) not 2 in 5. Please let us know where the truth lies, as these numbers are the central focus of this piece. This calculation should not be your Great Unknown.

THE CORRECTION: 'An Op-Chart on Monday, about the number of service members who died in American wars and whose bodies were unidentified, referred imprecisely to the number of unknown soldiers in the Civil War. The number of Union unknowns is 150,000 or 41 percent of the Union dead and 25 percent of the total dead: the figure does not include Confederate unknowns, whose number is a matter of dispute'.

MY COMMENT TO THE CORRECTION- "Imprecisely". Even this correction needs a correction. Is "imprecisely" double-talk for "we made a mistake"? The editorial was inaccurate and the attempt to admit it was not much better. If I cannot be a contributing writer, I can at least serve as an unofficial public editor. I am watching.