Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Through the Looking Glass

My wife loved her 1989 Saab.

It has been 10 years since this car was pried from her hands. To this day, I am still reminded that I was responsible for her parting with the best automobile she ever drove. Forget that, by the end,  it was literally held together by push pins.The fabric from the interior roof sagged in unintended places, threatening to obscure the driver's vision, and the sun roof had become more of a meteorologist, informing us by clear and very wet reminder when it was raining. By the time we parted company, even our initial attempt to donate this impaired elder stateswoman was rejected.

I was reminded of the Saab last night.

In 2001, a new member of our family entered. An Audi. Over the years it has presented more than its share of challenges. Principally,  its electrical system has often operated outside the comprehension not only of our family but those seemingly enlightened souls entrusted with maintaining its condition. Yet through the flashing lights and warnings we long ago learned to ignore, this car has endured.

Now well into its second decade, it decided some time ago that it would no longer perform the task of heating or air conditioning those inside its confines unless it deemed it appropriate. This has proved an uncomfortable reality on warm summer days, but it is in the winter that the real impact can be felt.

And so it was last night, as my wife and I entered the car for a journey of only several blocks.

Now, it is wholly not our nature to make demands on this car, or any other vehicle, for such short distance. That is what god gave us two feet for. But not when it was windy, about 15 degrees and dropping like a stone.

Recent attempts to use the car during the day had proven a challenge. You see, in the cold weather, its inside had become a kind of refrigeration unit. And so, due to the unfortunate necessity of breathing, each time my wife and I entered the vehicle, the front windshield almost immediately fogged up and froze. The cold weather kept the windows from operating  so to allow some of the air we were exhaling to escape the interior confines. Thus we were forced to use cloth, gloves, anything within reach to try to create enough of a window of opportunity to see the direction in which we were headed.

But last night made that all seem child's play. When we finally were able to pry the doors open to enter its domain, even before our first breath had been taken, we were greeted with what appeared to be a layer of ice on the inside of the front windshield. The cloth proved no match, and thus the scraper, whose purpose was theoretically to handle exterior issues, was soon fully engaged. Little lines of clearing appeared, matched by what now seemed a small snowstorm dumping a nice white coating on the dashboard, the steering wheel and the front seats.

After several minutes of strenuous manual labor we had managed both a small opening through which a sliver of the outside world was available, and a somewhat significant snowfall.

When, one might ask, is it time? When is enough, too much? I know that my wife has no attachment to this machine, any more than she would a dishwasher. This is not her beloved old friend, her Saab. This thing, this almost broken down thing, has not proven a reliable friend of ours, but rather a quirky eccentric even in the best of times.

But the reality is that it may not be the moment to part company. Sure we have to put an extra layer of clothing on whenever we contemplate making use of its services. And yes, it seems impervious to our entreaties. But, remarkably the front heated seats still work wonderfully, and so, as long as we hold our breath for the duration of whatever trip we are taking, we have a reasonable chance to be at least partially warmed and fully intact when we reach our destination. And winters are never really that cold for that long, or summers that steamy.

And so, our 2001 Audi lives another day. I know that my wife firmly believes that if only I were so understanding 10 years ago, her old perfect companion would be transporting her still. Pushpins, puddles and all.

Friday, December 27, 2013




It was a strange sight, these editorial pieces seemingly about nothing of great significance. One man, outside the melee, listening and watching.

His gift was in his capacity to ignore all of the distractions, to comprehend the heartbeat of his existence, to communicate the wonder and grace of a world in which even the smallest part had meaning.

Verlyn Klinkenborg's words had a unique place in the New York Times. Nestled among the difficult and troubling issues that shape the direction of our collective human condition,  each piece invited us into a world that is often virtually impossible for most  to locate.

He was, in these short essays, a teacher and a poet. His message, I believe, was that there is a rural life waiting for each of us, if we allow it to exist.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Downhill (A Tale of Fiction)

Phillip Killy Walters knew even before he hit the ground that he was in serious trouble.

He had been skiing at two years old,  racing at five and had not stopped since. Eighteen years later, his body having been broken and put back together far too often, the sensation in the moment before impact was a familiar one. He later recalled that his mind wandered for the tiniest sliver of time wondering what would be the nature of this latest injury.

Walters grew up in the shadow of his home mountain in Colorado. He had been born for this sport. His parents named their only child after Phil Mahre and Jean Claude Killy, their two favorite World Cup champions. William and Sarah Walters had married and  immediately moved west to follow their passion for skiing. Their life would not be dictated by the accident of their birthplace.

If there was a time before skiing he could not remember it. Virtually each recorded image of a young Phillip involved some aspect of this activity. He knew every inch of every trail he stared at from his bedroom window. Everything else that happened to him was just white noise.  Skiing was not merely a part of his existence, it was his reason for being. It was in every fiber of his body, in every step that he took. The mountain was where he was at peace, where it all made sense. He needed it as much as the oxygen he breathed.
Success had been an almost constant companion. There had been little to suggest  that anyone, anywhere was better. The ribbons, the trophies, the accolades had come as freely as the snow that fell in volumes from the sky. As one season blended into the next, the pretenders came and went. The only constant foe was injury.

Walters had been airlifted off a mountain at age 18. The list of disasters, small and large, grew longer with each passing year. He lost most of two seasons and  a smaller part of  another. To all elite skiers, this was, if not an expected companion, one that was a contemplated asterisk necessary to reach greatness.  He understood pain and the terrible torture and drudgery of rehab. None of that scared him.

It was the lack of agony that frightened him as he lay on the snow. There was no discomfort anywhere, and he understood at once what that meant. He had seen this before, and even worse. But, even in that instant when the one thing he could hear was the sound of his own breathing,  he told himself he was only paralyzed momentarily.

Three years have passed since that day. Three years that filled a lifetime, no ten lifetimes, in his mind. And today,  Phillip Killy Walters was standing at the top of another race course, waiting for the seconds to tick off until he could hurtle his body downhill.

He knew the story of Kevin Pearce, knew the man himself. He understood the unquenchable drive to be able to define oneself in the only way that mattered. Even in Pearce's brain damaged state, Walters believed there was clarity. He read of Jermaine Taylor who had been beaten senseless yet reentered the ring to take punishment that would surely banish him to a future existence of diminished capacity. He listened to the former NFL players who said they would do it all over again even as they were showing the first terrible signs of CTE..
His was the story that was now being debated in every corner of every office. It had taken a court order for the sanctioning body to permit him to compete. The US Team did not welcome him back. There was only one person willing to work with him, to train him for this moment. His father. For this choice, William Walters had been demonized by the press,  the villain in a human play that had all the makings of a tragedy in waiting.

The natural and overwhelming instinct of a parent is to act as protector for those one has brought into this world. Voluntarily to permit harm to exist, and even to welcome its potential into your home, would seem an unthinkable act, a crime of the worst sort. Yet that was what was occurring while the world watched and weighed in..

When asked about the return of a former star to the circuit, fellow competitors of Walters were hesitant to speak. Did they believe he was a deeply troubled individual who could not come to grips with the reality of what he was doing, or would they have done exactly the same in his position? For so many of them, the line between the reality of who they were at the top of the mountain and in the rest of their world had long ago blurred, if not disappeared. It was almost impossible now to recreate that division.

Phillip Killy Walters was one of the last out of the starting gate. The deep grooves in the turns carved by those who came before would not make the task any simpler. The snow that was falling  in swirling torrents would create but another obstacle. Anything and everything was informing him of the mistake that was about to play out in front of all those eyes, many secretly anticipating, even looking for disaster.

In the days after the paralysis three years ago, before the first sensation appeared in his body, before the doctors told him there was a chance he would someday walk again, before there was anything to hope for, he had a long conversation with himself.  He had been resolute that day, and every day since that he would not question the choices that had put him where he lay.  Like his parents a generation before, he had been in control of his fate. This had been a matter of his choosing, and his alone. No one would dictate how and where the journey took him.

The course flashed through his mind as he readied to push off. Each twist and turn raced through his body and he envisioned himself at the bottom of the hill, home where he belonged. He said a silent thank you to his father and prayed he knew how much he loved  him and appreciated that he understood this was the only  life he ever wanted, that ever mattered.. In the next instant Phillip Killy Walters was off, chasing his destiny.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Insuring Disaster

Legend has it that the first insurance claim to be rejected was when Adam had a rib removed. GOD, the top representative of the carrier (it only had one participant) denied the claim as being elective surgery, not part of HIS plan.

Not much has changed since then. It often feels as if we are walking through a labyrinth inside a maze in trying to decipher the signs leading to the holy land of coverage. Exhausting deductibles, reaching maximum out of pockets, meandering from primary care physician and through the Alice in Wonderland of pre-authorization codes, not daring to cross state lines, feeling as much out of touch as out of network, by the time the requested treatment occurs we are often in dire need of medical attention for a pounding headache and a sudden urge to throw ourselves out the window.

Let me be perfectly clear, this in not intended as an indictment of the Affordable Care Act. This morass is a product of a flawed system where private companies are given control and financial incentive to play the push me-pull you game that serves their bottom line very nicely, thank you.

Carriers are switched from year to year as loyalty has no place in this extraordinarily unhealthy health care system. The challenge is always to be sure that at least one doctor whose name you recognize is within the ever shrinking list who have agreed that you and your insurance company are worthy of their time and effort.

For many years (or as my wife would put it, too many years) I have been insured as a group of two, myself and my assistant/officer manager/bedroom partner. Within the past several weeks our lousy existing policy, riddled with ever increasing reasons why the money for any possible treatment would come out of my retirement fund, arrived in the mail. The premium had risen (as surely as the sun does each morning).

The first alternative was to search the internet for signs of hope through the federal website. After waiting for the dust to settle from the roll-out fiasco, I was confronted with the unalterable reality that small business solutions were not going to be easy to find for 2014. But, as the used car salesman says, wait there's more.

Early last week, word filtered down that a husband and wife, as the only two employees, no longer qualified as a small business.

And so, the hunt for a solution intensified. On to the individual exchange and a whole range of choices that went from bad to worse. For us, there would be no federal subsidy to help alleviate the pain. So, before settling for next to nothing while forking out an awful lot, my wife and I decided to make certain that the rumor about the axe for the husband/wife coverage was true.

It turns out that we seemed to know more about this situation than the insurance experts or most of the people in the employ of our state

Finally, in desperation, we went to the one source least likely to give us a straight answer, our present insurance company. And this is how my wife relates the call:

"You know that this was one of those, "this call may be recorded for training purposes" conversations. After I explained our status I was told: "Yes, technically you are not entitled to this policy, but since you have been issued a renewal notice it will be effective unless you get audited. And even then, which shouldn't take place until at least March, you will be able to get a different policy"". WHAT?

If I have it right, my wife was being advised that she would be entering into an agreement with the company to accept coverage we knew was in violation of the law. We should hope they (meaning the representative's company) never caught up to us, but we shouldn't worry if that happened. Unless of course, we were then informed that they had advised us ("we have the tape") that the policy should not have issued. "We will be  denying your claim in its entirety."

Oh, you think that couldn't happen. Just ask Adam, who was certain he had received pre-authorization from HIM.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Putin, Hitler and the Olympic Flame

("Putin, Secure in Power, Says He May Free Jailed Rival")

For a brief moment in the summer of 1936,  Germany attempted to camouflage the atrocities it was perpetrating upon so many of its own people. With the eyes of the world upon it as Olympic host nation, all signs (literal as well as figurative) of the persecution of the Jews disappeared. The hated gypsies were rounded up and hidden from view. And, to the dismay of the Nazis, not only were blacks permitted to compete, but Jesse Owens became the star of the games.

Yet nothing could change the truth behind the lies, and once the Olympic flame was doused, the brutality began anew.

It is most welcome that President Putin has given hope some of the worst of his human rights violations will be reversed in the coming days. From the possible release of Mr. Khodorkovsky to the freeing of two members of Pussy Riot along with thousands of others wrongly confined, one must consider the chance that this is the beginning of a new and better time for Russia.

Yet, there is little to suggest from watching Mr. Putin over many years to viewing the recent crackdown barring "propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations", that what we are witnessing is anything more than a repeat, in different form, of the charade played out on the Olympic stage by Hitler almost 80 years ago.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Better Off Dead

Better off dead.

How does one create a character who has the most outsized life of anyone on the planet and keep it from becoming a Jack Bauer like problem? '24' couldn't sustain the pretense without either repeating scenarios in slightly altered contexts, or alternatively, making their protagonist into a cartoon version of himself. And if Brody had lived another day in 'Homeland', what would he have looked like next season?

First possibility-  Brody is into the second year of writing his autobiography "Better off Dead". He and Kerry are married but fighting all the time. Kerry has given up her career with the CIA as her manic episodes escalated, the pressure of the workplace having broken her down seemingly forever. Brody is depressed and wondering whether his last minute rescue from the hangman's noose was worth the effort.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child. Was it forces at home or abroad at play? What do they want? What more is there to give? Everyone is a suspect in the minds of these two sad, tortured souls. The season unfolds in a series of twists and turns that ends, predictably, with Brody being dragged, Godfather like, into the middle of the maelstrom of intrigue, deceit and death.

Second possibility-  Brody is a man without a home. Rescued by last minute negotiations, Brody is not recognized for his heroism by the CIA director who cannot reconcile the past transgressions with one moment of redemption. He is demonized and denigrated throughout the world. Kerry, faced with the choice of career or Brody, makes a fateful and terrible choice. Both she and Brody live terrible and tortured lives.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child (then go back to version one for the remaining scenes).

Third possibility-  Brody is a hero in the US, recognized for surviving 8 years of torture, and for having faced impossible decisions and unfathomable challenges yet emerging a patriot and the ultimate survivor.  He is now, 4 years later, the President of the United States and Kerry is his wife. With their young daughter, they have somehow overcome all their demons and are, against everything that reality would dictate, happy.

Suddenly, everything changes with the kidnapping of their child. Was it forces at home or abroad at play? Or in an even more bizarre machination, was Brody somehow behind this scenario, and if so, why? The season unfolds in a series of twist and turns that ends with Brody once more with a hangman's noose around his neck. And then the screen goes dark.

Like I said in the beginning, given the options for season four, Brody is better off dead.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


("Discrimination in Sochi")

There are echoes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Rule 50 of the Olympic charter. In 1968, standing on the podium with upraised black gloves, black socks and no sneakers, these men were making a statement of their deep concern for the poor and downtrodden black both in the United States and in other parts of the world, including an apartheid South Africa.

The reaction from Avery Brundage, then President of the International Olympic Committee was to suspend Smith and Carlos from the team and ban them from the Olympic Village.

One hopes that even as Russia continues its abhorrent treatment of the gay community, concern for offending the host nation will not lead to a repeat of the mistakes of the Olympic Committee almost a half century before.

The athletes from around the globe are members of a community of nations. They should be free from threat of  retaliatory action by the ruling body should they express, in words or deeds, compassion for those who are suffering unjustly in and around Sochi. The Olympic charter and human decency demand at least that much.

The NSA and You

("Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records")

It has the feel of a universal stop and frisk. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock of our constitutional protections, is nowhere to be found in the mass collection of phone data. Its rationality cannot be predicated upon the mere assertion that it is not targeted or that it is minimally invasive.

In a different context, legitimate questions abound when the right to vote is taken from many predicated on bogus claims of voter fraud. So too, in this setting the government should be forced to prove a compelling nexus between its theory of protecting against terrorist activities and the results of overwhelming levels of surveillance.

Liberty is not without limits and the realities of this world must be accounted for. Yet the burden should not be upon the citizens of this nation, but the government when the fundamental nature of our relationship is being altered so dramatically.

Friday, December 13, 2013

GOP You're Irritatin'

Come gather round senators
Inside the dome
And admit your mistakes
Surely have grown
But quit bellyaching
And cut out the moans
If the time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start voting
Or no Christmas at home
GOP you're irritatin'

Come right wing critics
Who prophesize doom
And keep your mouths open
From midnight to noon
And speak out of both sides
You sing the wrong tune
For I'm saying its
You we'll be blamin'
For you will lose now
And will never win
GOP you're irritatin'

Republican senators and congressman too
Please answer the call
And don't leave the room
Get out of the doorway
Come in from the gloom
For its you whose going to be hurtin'
If all legislation you continue to stall
GOP you're irritatin'

Come mamas and papas
All over the land
Let's all criticize
Those we just can't stand
Our sons and daughters
Will soon lend a hand
Your bad ways
Leave us ragin'
Please find a new path
And give a new plan
GOP you're irritatin'

The battle line's clear
The dye is now cast
Your slowdown is over
No longer can last
And the best present now
Is to get all bills passed
Our patience is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first out the door
Will never be last
GOP you're irritatin'

Thursday, December 12, 2013


It is the suffocating nature of the poverty, its relentlessness, the damage it causes to everyone in its path, that is so overwhelming. It has to be much more than coincidence that homeless and hopeless share all but one letter.

Dasani's world is startling. The privacy we take for granted in our lives is nowhere evident for this young girl. It is a life of survival where the most that can be said at the end of each day is that she is still there. It is no way for anyone to have to exist.

How can we not, viewing the reality of what our decisions engender, watch with dismay the reductions in the SNAP program and in unemployment assistance, the diminished resources for the educational system, and the understanding that the possibilities for the underclass, if not a better tomorrow, at least a fairer one are almost non-existent?

No one, not Dasani or any of the thousands like her in New York, and the millions throughout this nation, deserve to be treated by society with such disrespect. Her story ends today with a tiny miracle, a new apartment and a momentary reprieve from the worst of the nightmare. But we are left with the undeniable suspicion that her future holds not the promise of a little girl rising above her surroundings through her strength of body and mind, but of despair where her environment eventually wins and Dasani becomes yet one more victim of  impossible circumstances.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great Grey Bridge and the Governor

("The New Jersey Traffic Conspiracy")

It is too early to give it a name like "bridge over troubled water-gate". However, it may be much more than something that Governor Christie can continue to treat in his trademark cavalier and dismissive fashion.

Would ordering the Fort Lee lane closures as retribution seem an act our governor would consider?  If one answers "yes" to that question, does this not go to the heart of the nature of the man and create serious and troubling implications of its own accord?

The early returns on the investigation make clear that there was no traffic study being undertaken at the George Washington Bridge. The trail already leads dangerously close to the governor's office.

The career of the Republican front runner for 2016 may not be de-railed or even tarnished by this incident if and when all the facts are brought to light. But until that occurs, and until the Governor demonstrates that he will give this incident the seriousness and transparency it mandates, suspicions will remain.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

$leeping in $eattle

In his version of "show me the money" Robinson Cano and his suitcase laden with gold head 2800 hundred miles west.

This is a new universe for the Yankees. When was the last time they let their best player leave for greener pasture$? The closest call was the near fiasco of allowing Bernie Williams (then at the peak of his considerable skills) to roam center field for the hated Red Sox.

The specter of  the A-Rod fiasco and the luxury tax were not the only determinants here.

For all his wondrous talents, Robby never seemed the perfect fit in NY. He had his best buddy, Melky, cast aside in part because the C and C boys were apparently too distracted playing together off the field to play their best on it. He made the game appear too easy too often as if the lack of dirt and grass stains on his uniform was an indication that he just didn't care enough. He was never fully appreciated by either team or fans.

And thus the sense of loss is muted. Yankee history was waiting along with $175 million but it could not equal the extra money that the Mariners  served up to Cano like an All-Star game home run derby offering from his father.

For the evil empire, being fiscally prudent is a new part of their lexicon, and if this means exchanging their super-nova for some slightly less glowing stars, then this is the price they (did not) have to pay.

It is a strange sensation for those of us who have lived a lifetime of watching the best players on other teams suddenly call themselves Yankees. From the days of treating Kansas City as a farm team and looting them of the likes of Maris, to the era of free agency and the signing of Catfish and Reggie all the way to A-Rod, the Bronx Bombers were also fitting some other team's best in their finest pinstripes.

Will this mark the beginning of the end? Is the team with the interlocking NY no longer too big to fail? If money can't buy us love, or at least championships, then what is left?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Drone On

("Mommy, The Drone's Here")

Why has the story of the delivery drone created such tremendous interest? I believe it is due to the multiple responses this small piece of 21st century sci-fi equipment elicits.

On foreign shores, the drone has taken on an outsized role in war zones which makes us fully aware of its ability to do harm. The sense of it an an instrument of destruction attaches to any of its potential applications.

Domestically, we live with the reality that we are being thoroughly examined and analyzed every day. This feeling is amplified by the thought of unmanned objects whizzing overhead.

Finally, there is an ample body of evidence demonstrating we are never satisfied with the response to our needs, as overnight has morphed into same day and eventually to the time it takes for instant coffee to be readied. Amazon.com and its fulfillment centers has already conditioned us to the expectations of immediate gratification.

The image that flashed on our screen as Mr. Bezos showed the future to Mr. Rose was not itself so astounding. But, on a range of levels, the package that landed on the front doorstep had meaning that leaves us intrigued. possibly somewhat repulsed and more than a little terrified.

And finally, one last burning concern. Is it necessary to tip a drone?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Problem with Hanukkah

Hanukkah can't catch a break.  It is the undersized sibling, dwarfed each year by the monster that devoured everything in its path. Christmas is the brightest star in the constellation and trying to compete with it is like sending me to play a game of one on one with Kevin Durant.

So, Hanukkah must have considered it a stroke of genius this year when it decided to give Christmas not only its own space, but basically its own month. Sure it would stumble into December on the back end, but for all intents and purposes it would move to November to allow the big guy undisputed top billing.

And who would think that it would then run head first into another obstacle. Thanksgiving, thanks for nothing. You have clearly taken all the air out of the Hanukkah balloon. Where is the Macy's day parade latke? The feathers on the turkey actually look like a menorah in the right light, and the real thing remains stuck in the corner, waiting for sundown to come out of the shadows.

Hanukkah has to think deeply where it belongs, has to find the right time of year when it is not crowded out, pushed aside, left asunder. It has to study the calendar to make sure we are not otherwise involved when it arrives for its annual  celebration. Don't bump into Uncle Sam in July, can't collide with Lincoln and Washington in February.

Hanukkah takes over a week to percolate before it comes to full boil. Yet even there it is overwhelmed by the whole twelve night thing with Christmas.

Maybe America is just the wrong venue. Maybe Hanukkah can never be more than a character actor here. Maybe it will always be a footnote. Maybe it should reconsider this whole US thing.

Maybe it will decide to declare its free agency, to see if Scott Boras is interested in taking it on as a client.  To see if it can find itself a top shelf deal where its luminosity will radiate without interference, where its eight days of light will shine on a welcoming universe.

So today, when Hanukkah is finished eating the sweet potatoes, the stuffing, the turkey and the apple pie, when it has watched all the football games and the parades, when it is finally time to do its thing, don't be surprised if it announces to the assembled that this may well be its farewell song.

And if that happens, when we put on our coats and say our goodbyes to family and friends, we will shed a tear for the possibility that Hanukkah will soon no longer be ours to ignore. And then we will turn for solace to the next entry in the pantheon of days we hold most dear: Black Friday. For us, there is always another tradition to fill the void.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"Hello, my name is Robert and I am neurotic." Or maybe it is "Hello my name is Robert and I am a neurotic." (Isn't it strange that the same word, with the same meaning, can be used as adjective or noun? Or maybe it isn't strange, it is only that it is now 3 AM).

Woody Allen recently wrote of making a trip to the emergency room, concerned with the weird red mark that had suddenly appeared on his neck. He was examined and advised by the doctor that no one dies from a hickey.  I would have sided with Woody on this one.

Some men see things as they are and wonder why, others see things that are not and wonder if they should be writing a codicil to the will.

I had been diagnosed with skin cancer, in its most benign iteration, earlier this year, The offending area was removed, I was cured and was advised to report back in six months for a checkup. When a growth appeared on my stomach about a week ago, seemingly out of thin air, I made the appointment. I had already announced my diagnosis to my wife,and merely went to the doctor for confirmation.

When the doctor took a look at the spot I pointed out to her, I could see her recoil slightly. In that moment I thought, "this is not good."

"That is a tick. How long did you say it has been there?"

 Say WHAT?

You know those terrible movies where the character feels a sudden rumbling in his stomach and in the next instant there is a serpent coming through his belly button and emerging, twenty feet long and weighing at least a thousand pounds? That is what I saw when I looked down at the monster that had taken up residence on and in me.

Why you might ask had I not paid closer attention, or removed the offending bugger when first it appeared on the scene? Don't ask.

The doctor reached for a tweezer I think. She reported to me that she hates bugs and "I always call my husband when one is around, but he's not here today." Is that what you call bedside manner?

"It's moving" she stated in a slightly animated tone. This was not for the purpose of keeping me informed, so much as an indication of disgust. "And its been very happy" she reported.

And then it was over, or at least this part of it. She held up the perpetrator for my review.  "I am giving you a prescription for a lyme titer" (maybe in another context it would have been a "lime tighter" which would be some exotic drink that gets you drunk in mere seconds). I was to wait until next week to get the test done, as lyme's disease evidently takes a while to percolate in your body before it exposes itself. And then, depending on the results (there are, of course, false negatives) I might have to repeat the test several weeks later. Only with the right finding, would I be treated.

In my mind, I could be dead before they come up with a diagnosis. What bug lives in your body for this period of time, sucking your blood like a new born baby on a mother's breast, and does not leave its residue behind? Treat me now, give me your best shot. But it is not to be.

For a neurotic, waiting is the death knell. Woody Allen would not wait. Or at least not without several trips to the emergency room.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Republican Right and Wrongs

While it may appear that senate Republicans have been much more reasonable than their brethren in the House, look closer.

Virtually all of the legislation they have passed (eg immigration reform) was clearly doomed to defeat in John Boehner's House. So the actions in the senate were, if in some measure admirable, nothing more than hypotheticals which all knew were never destined to see the light of day.

And when they did not have the cover of the House, as with judicial approvals, the Republican senators brought this part of the process to a virtual halt.

It has been a tag team match with these two bodies of Republican leaders intending to exact a terrible toll on their opponents, no matter the cost to the American people or to our system of government.

For these people to now cry foul is the ultimate in hypocrisy. They have abused and manipulated, utilizing leverage that was never intended and yet they somehow claim to be the victim.

While the procedural filibuster in one area may have been removed, I have a suggestion for those who feel so aggrieved. Make your best arguments as to why some potential appointee is not qualified to hold the position. Use your power of persuasion, not your practiced shenanigans, to try to reach the result you desire.

Become what you should be and not what you are.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The A-Rod Show

As I watched and listened to Alex Rodriguez's conversation with Mike Francesca, I was struck by the depth of his apparent indignation. His repeated denials of any wrongdoing were accompanied by expressions that conveyed hurt, anger and betrayal by a deeply tarnished system.

Was he being subjected to an updated version of George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield, now in the form of  Bud Selig and A-Rod? Had Major League baseball paid lots of money to set up the demise of someone it wanted desperately to discard? Was Anthony Bosch nothing more than Howie Spira redux?

But that version of the tale seems patently absurd. In a parallel universe, how long did we hear and read of Lance Armstrong accusing his accusers? How often did he look this nation in the face and proclaim his absolute innocence?

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and countless others spent years trying to paint themselves as victims, but in the end we all knew it was but charade. And so too, there was the distinct feeling that A-Rod's theatrics yesterday were just that, a player on a stage, acting out a role.

A-Rod's performance, before a live audience of one, who was armed with neither the evidence against him or the will to challenge him, proved little. Except maybe that A-Rod has a promising future as a thespian.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Health Care "Plan"?

Whether practiced deception or mere political oversimplification,  the health care misstatements of the President have proven a colossal blunder. While his intention was noble, to insure protection for many millions who had been neglected and abandoned by our society, his execution has been abysmal.

What this 11th hour fix will accomplish is anyone's guess, but it appears it will neither appease the detractors nor improve the plan. Rube Goldberg couldn't have conjured up a more convoluted mess.

And what has been laid to waste is the core strength of this President: his integrity. The result is the Obama image is in jeopardy of suffering irreparable damage and his central achievement of being decimated. It has all the indicia of becoming a monumental catastrophe.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ruby and Oswald

I was 11 in November of 1963, much more concerned about Mantle than Mao. The realities of the world barely intruded, the Cuban missile crisis merely a footnote. The somewhat annoying ritual of hiding under one's desk at school to ward off evil was but an inconvenience in my life.

But those days beginning on November 22, a half century ago, left an indelible mark. In a time when television coverage was still in its relative infancy and the notion of capturing events in real time was not a given, the live image of Lee Harvey Oswald meeting his demise while doing his version of a perp walk, was overwhelming.

Even now, 50 years removed, it is that moment, more than any other in the swirl of the hysteria surrounding the killing of our President, that remains most vivid. The rest, the image of Walter Cronkite half choking on his words of the passing of the President, of John-John giving a military salute while saying a goodbye that he little understood, and all else that came in the days after Oswald fired from that book depository, I don't know if these are seared memories from that time or teachings memorized over the succeeding decades.

I think it must be hard for today's youth to understand the distance between event and image back then. Now we have cameras on our phones and our ski helmets, and little or no separation between what is and what is broadcast. We are intimately, immediately aware of war and death, of famine and flood, of triumph and tragedy, and of almost everything big and small.

But then, the immediacy of the intersection of Ruby, Oswald and the rest of the world was unique. And for me, it was a wake up call. The television screen brought me face to face with the ugliness, the depravity, the worst that dwells within us.

And while Mantle still remained my central focus, there was after watching the events in that police precinct unfold, a difference in what I saw when I looked out at the world.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Doug Glanville and Me

We were separated at birth.

We were born in the same hospital, grew up in the same town and felt what I can only imagine was the same burning passion for baseball.

The grass must have felt the same under his feet, the dirt must have stained each of our uniforms the same color. The arms and legs carried us both to victories, and the defeats had the same bitter taste. We breathed the same air, walked the same streets.

And now that both of our baseball careers are finished, my last game of note being 50 years ago in the  Little League playoffs and his slightly less than a decade removed after a decidedly more illustrious run, we again find ourselves aligned.

Doug Glanville is a contributing writer to the New York Times and so am I. He has seen his opinion on steroid abuse in baseball in print in this most hallowed of newspapers just like me.

Yet literary fame and fortune have run parallel to our impact with ball and bat. While I search in vain for the glory, he has found it. While my published letters to the editor bring recognition in my mind and a handful of others, Doug Glanville's words have achieved a place of prominence and distinction.

I easily envision myself as having lived much as Glanville. I did not abandon baseball at the age of 12, but remained its passionate lover. I was rewarded with the feel of Yankee Stadium grass under my feet, wandering the same sacred ground as my hero, Mickey Mantle. I tasted the champagne after the last out was recorded.

And when the day was done, and my career had become mere statistic, my writing was heralded. The New York Times did not grant me but 150 words or less, my thoughts were not truncated but allowed to flourish. I was, and continue to be, as successful in this endeavor as my last.

But it turns out that though we did arrive on this earth in the same place, maybe the same room, and though we did grow up in the same town and travel the same paths, we did not have the same spring in our legs or strength in our arms.  And though our desire to put our thoughts before the public for review may have been the same, our writing skills were as wildly different as our ability to steal a base or throw out a runner from deep center field.

Doug Glanville and I have never met, and never will. But he should know that there is a more than middle aged man out there from whom he was separated at birth.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The New York City Marathon


("At Marathon, Security Wins")

This was my first time attending the NYC Marathon and I expected the kind of police presence that your article suggests. What I found was totally different.

Arriving at 106th Street and Fifth Avenue more than 2 hours and 30 minutes after the last of the runners began their journey, I witnessed an endless wave of people coming my way. I walked up to 117th Street and then reversed my route, cheering the runners on all the way to 150 yards from the finish line in Central Park.

The path that my wife, son and I took often had us within inches of those who were straining to finish their task. We traveled with a backpack and walking poles, items that might have caused concern. Yet, apart from the security line that we had to go through within the last quarter mile of the finish, we were left to enjoy the day without interference.

There was unfettered intimacy in this experience. I am certainly not blind to 21st century realities, but I was very happily surprised at how much this felt like what I imagined the marathon route was in the days before the awful occurrence in Boston.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mr. Incognito

If sports is a breeding ground for the obsession to toughen up, football, especially pro-football is at its epicenter. As massive bodies fly with incredible speed directly, intentionally, towards one another, the idea of retreat is considered abhorrent.

And so, in this universe where anything and everything is an acceptable means to a desired end, it is particularly striking when a line is crossed.

Human decency should not be required to stand outside the locker room. If we, as fans,  continue to turn a blind eye, and care not about the process but the results, what does that say about us?

Mr. Incognito has been turned loose, without boundary or remorse. We must look not merely at him but at a system which we have tolerated and even fostered.

Mr. Incognito is a product not merely of his own making, but of ours.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Governor Christie


("With NJ Re-election, Christie Vaults to Front Ranks of G.O.P. for 2016")

It is amazing that in NJ this often bombastic, teacher baiting, anti-minimum wage raising, gay marriage opposing, rail tunnel killing Republican in Democratic waters can be viewed so favorably. It probably speaks to several things:

1. New Jersey is comfortable with a Republican governor (see Christie Todd Whitman from 1994 to 2001 and Tom Kean from 1982 to 1990)

2. The Democratic leadership self destructed, leaving an open path for Christie (see Jim McGreevey, 2002 to 2004 and Jon Corzine, 2006 to 2010)

3. In a landscape where even a hint of sanity is cherished, Christie has achieved almost sainthood for actually thanking the President and the federal government for coming to the aid of those desperately in need in NJ in the aftermath of Sandy.

4. Christie has, despite the animosity between the parties, been able to govern with a Democratic controlled legislature. Maybe it is because the legislature, while holding its nose, is doing the best it can with a difficult boss.

For the moment, Mr. Christie's shortcomings seem to be airbrushed out. In the surreal universe of the national Republican party, his has become the voice of reason. However, in the run up to the presidential election, the warts on Mr. Christie will hopefully be exposed.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Curse of Tom Gordon and Stephen King (A Work of Fiction)

In the aftermath of the third World Series triumph in less than a decade by the now bearded boys of Boston, Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, was faced with the harshest of realities: a universe that had been controlled in large measure by the Red Sox from 2004 when the curse of the Great Bambino was lifted.

And he wondered whether a demonic plague had now been firmly planted in the Bronx.

Sure, 2009 was wonderful.  But in retrospect, it felt nothing has been the same since that gut wrenching playoff defeat from the jaws of victory nine years past. What evil entered then into the bowels of the Yankee kingdom and has not been excised? What happened? Or more precisely, who?

Baseball is, at its very heart, superstitious. Ballplayers have rituals they follow, from the clothes they wear during a winning streak, to the habits they exhibit on the field, like hopping over the foul line when walking onto the field or raising a hand to the sky in homage to God, as if there was some divine intervention acting as a tenth man on the field. And Cashman believed in forces that the eye could not see.

In 2008, the new Yankee Stadium was being constructed. Among the construction workers was one whose heart belonged to Boston. David Ortiz wore jersey number 34 for the Red Sox and was perhaps the player most feared in the rivalry between the two teams. When word leaked that, in an attempt to place a hex, the worker had buried an Ortiz jersey in the concrete below the soon to be new home for the Yankees, it caused a panic in the organization.  With a jackhammer and much fanfare, the offending article was removed.  It was later reported that the jersey had been donated to the Jimmy Fund, a cancer charity that the Sox supported, and fetched over $175,000 at auction.

Oh yes, Cashman believed.

In his office shortly after the 2013 World Series had ended, he searched for clues. He combed the rosters of both teams from the year of the turning of the tide. What was he missing? And then, in a "Flash", it came to him. Tom Gordon.

From 1996 to 1999, Flash Gordon was a pitcher for the Red Sox. In the early 90's he had been a starter and flamethrower with Kansas City, before injury changed his career path. Boston resurrected him, converting him into a closer and making him, for a time, an icon. Enter Stephen King.

In 1999, during the final season of his tenure in a Sox uniform, Gordon saved not only games but the life of the central character in King's story, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon". Trisha McFarland, on a hike with her family, gets separated and finds herself hopelessly lost. She turns for solace to her Walkman (ironic in a baseball kind of way) and listens to broadcasts of her beloved Red Sox, and of its savior, Mr. Gordon. Ultimately, he becomes not only the team's protector but hers. Her rescue is a direct result of a seemingly other worldy  intervention of the closer.  No longer merely a cult figure, now a super hero.

While Mr. King's infatuation with Mr. Gordon may have been momentary, his commitment to the team from Boston has been long and deep. "Faithful", his diary of the 2004 season chronicled the team's highs and lows. Glory arrived, and when it did, where one might ask was Mr. Gordon?

That year was the first in which Gordon put on a uniform with pinstripes and the interlocking NY.

The hex on the Sox commenced when the worlds of entertainment and sport collided. Blind to the greater realities, the Beantowners not only lost the services of Babe Ruth but were compelled to perform 86 years of penance. And  Cashman now wondered if Mr. Gordon, when crossing to the New York side of the diamond, had stepped on the foul line. Had he brought with him much more than the Yankees had paid for? Had the ghost of Tricia MacFarland taken a seat next to him on the bench?

Cashman was taking no chances.

Stephen King was a prolific writer, having authored more than 50 books and sold hundreds of millions of copies of his works. His stories were often dark and full of strange and seemingly unexplainable happenings. From his first novel, Carrie to The Shining and well beyond, King's was a world in which powers beyond our understanding were in control. And if there was one person who had both the desire to see the Yankees doomed and the relationship with the devil to make it happen, King was that person.

When the caller on the line stated that his name was Brian Cashman, King let out a small chuckle. What idiot, he thought, could believe I would fall for something so ridiculous. But when Cashman insisted on his identity, and gave King verifiable proof by way of access to certain information hidden within the Yankee hierarchy, King was intrigued. He was ready to listen.

Cashman's job as general manager was to make things happen that were hard to accomplish. Sure it helped that he had, for many years, by far the largest payroll in baseball, but there was a great deal more than that to Cashman (he always thought his name was ironic given his position)  He was a relentless pursuer, an artful negotiator, at times calm and pleasant, at others fierce and intense if the situation so demanded. Sometimes, his efforts failed, but most often he had been successful. On occasion, his seeming victories brought something other than bargained for. Like, he now believed, when he acquired Tom Gordon in 2004.

Cashman knew he had to try to structure a deal as if he were dealing with a free agent. What, he thought would it take for King to lift the curse of Flash Gordon? He realized that money alone was not the answer. After decades of wild success in the literary world, King was not susceptible to bribes. At least not one that involved dollars and cents. And if Cashman was now trying to control expenses within the  organization, as control was defined by the Yankees, spending tens of millions of dollars to rid the team of some other worldly negativity was not a line item in the budget.

But, Cashman reasoned, every man had his price. He just had to find out what King's was. He asked King whether he could fly up to his home to meet with him in person, on some project that he was doing in conjunction with Bud Selig and major league baseball. He was as vague and imprecise as possible. King decided he would allow Cashman an audience with him.

Before embarking on the journey, Cashman met with Hank Steinbrenner. Hank's father, George, was a legendary, incendiary, larger than life figure. He would, it seemed, spit in the devil's face if needed. He offended friend and foe alike, famously hiring and firing Billy Martin five times, and paying a shadowy figure to investigate and sabotage Dave Winfield, a Yankee star and sworn enemy of the Boss.

But Hank was different, more pragmatic, less confrontational. When Cashman laid out his wild theory involving Flash Gordon and Stephen King, Steinbrenner listened. And he, like Cashman, believed in the grand old tradition of unfettered  baseball superstition and a higher power not necessarily his father. And so, when Cashman went two days later to meet with King, he had the blessing of the head of the organization and a plan for just how far he was permitted to go.

Last Thursday morning, the Yankee general manager pulled up to Stephen King's house at 11 AM. King greeted him warmly at the door, amused that the last person in the world he ever thought would be at his doorstep was there. After several minutes of aimless chatter, talk turned to the purpose of Cashman's visit.

The details of the next four hours are unknown. However, when the story broke in the paper on Sunday morning, the first paragraph told it all:

"In the history of this franchise, there has never been a more bizarre announcement. The Yankees meet their most hated rival, the Red Sox, on April 22, 2014. It will be their first encounter of the season, and will be marked by an event unlike any this Stadium, or any that came before it, has seen. Before the first pitch is thrown, Derek Jeter will stand at home plate, wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, and sing Sweet Caroline. After completing the song, Jeter will remove the cap from his head and hand it to none other than Stephen King, long time fanatical Red Sox fan, and author over the past  40 years of many of the most wild creations to enter our universe. Even Mr. King could not easily conjure up this scenario."

Stephen King read the paragraph and smiled.

Derek Jeter, he of the loosening and tightening batting gloves before every pitch, of the half raised right hand to the umpire as he steps back into the box, of the never touched first base line in almost 20 years of heading to his shortstop position, of the four leaf clover that has been carried in its plastic cover through each and every battle, he could only read the words before him and curse the fates.

Tom Gordon, like everyone else not involved in the events that were prelude to this decision, had no idea what on earth had happened.


The details of the next four hours are unknown. However, when the story broke in the paper on Sunday morning, the first paragraph told it all:

"In the history of this most storied franchise, there has rarely been a more bizarre press conference.  Brian Cashman stood next to a  broadly smiling Stephen King, yes that Stephen King, and announced a partnership of sorts. King, known almost as much for his devotion to the Boston Red Sox as his macabre tales, was to be given unfettered access for the upcoming season to the inner sanctum of the Yankees.  From strategy meetings, to private conversations from batboy to ownership, nothing was to be outside the realm of King's reach. Where this leads was not revealed. Cashman only reported that, if matters went as anticipated, the project between the team and the writer, whatever that entailed, would be completed just before the start of the 2014 World Series.  And strangest of all, throughout the conference King proudly wore on the top of his head, a hat emblazoned with the letter "B".

Reading this paragraph, Tom Gordon, like everyone else not involved in the events that were prelude to this decision,  had no idea what on earth had happened.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Mr. Wegman, I am afraid you misspeak. There is no less hatred for Bahston than in the past. It is just that Yankee fans are going through a period of licking our wounds and can't muster up the requisite energy to give you a proper Bronx cheer.

We are, for the moment, Derek and the falling dominoes. One by one the old guard is going, going, gone and only a hobbled Captain remains.

After two decades of greatness, a season of mediocrity has robbed us of our vitality.  However, Mr. Wegman if we regain our footing and find ourselves in mortal combat in the playoffs with the Red Sox next fall, I suggest the world will then look very different to you. If that happens, I recommend you hold onto your hat.

The death of the animus that has long attached to the most fierce rivalry in sports is greatly exaggerated. If you indeed miss the good old days then,as the saying goes, just wait 'til next year.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Death on the GWB- Chapter Two- (A Work of Fiction)

Bob Smith had never been in trouble with the law, never questioned by the police, never the subject of an investigation. He was much like almost everyone who is reading these words and saying that could never happen to me.

Smith had been a high school football player, a fullback, bulking up to 225 pounds. He was known for delivering ferocious blows to defensive players who entered his domain. He was a hitter.

After high school he had gotten out of shape, at one point reaching close to 250 pounds. Now, and for the last two decades, his weight had held steady between 190 and 195. At six foot one inch, he was, for his age, built like a rock. He worked at being fit, not only biking over 100 miles on most weekends, but being a constant visitor to the gym weekday mornings at 6 AM.

Smith wasn't certain how fast he had been going when he struck Mary Dolan. It was somewhat common practice for cyclists, at least cyclists who were serious like he was, to travel across the GWB at relatively high speed. There was an inherent belief in the capacity of the skilled rider to deal with any situation that could arise and an equally strong  implicit understanding that all who walked on that pathway quickly moved once a biker came near. And this time there was also that rush of adrenaline Smith experienced as he led his group out of New Jersey and back home.

Smith stumbled across a troubling story as he combed the internet searching for something to help quiet his mind. The headline of the 2012 article in the San Francisco Chronicle read "Was the Cyclist Who Killed the Pedestrian Reckless?"  It appeared that biker may have been traveling at a speed of over 30 MPH when the fatal collision took place.

As he read, Smith worked at distinguishing those facts from what had happened to him.  Smith had been a lawyer for almost 30 years but he had only dealt with one criminal matter in his entire career. As a young associate at a small firm, he had been handed a file involving a clear case of mistaken identity. The defendant had been hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime at the time it occurred. He had his time card from his employment and the sworn statement of a fellow worker. Smith, even though he was totally incapable of handling that case, or any case involving something other than equitable distribution of assets and establishing a fair level of support, had been able to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges. This time he feared would not be so simple.

A 2011 study in New York City reported there were at least 1000 reported injuries sustained every year by pedestrians struck by bicycles. The report had been a response to questions raised by a group that had been formed in 2009. A widow, whose husband had been struck and killed by a delivery man on a bike on 42nd street, had begun a crusade to investigate the issue of bike safety and what could be done to insure safe passage for pedestrians on the streets of New York.

In April of 2013 New York City issued rules to protect the public from the ever increasing menace of those darting through the streets and sidewalks on the way to their appointed rounds. The new law mandated that delivery riders carry ID cards, wear helmets and reflective upper body clothing. The name of the business and the ID number of the cyclist was to be displayed. Headlights and bells were mandated. Both the Department of Transportation and the police were given the power to cite violators.

Yet the problem only grew worse as a result of what could be considered a mad dash to beat Amazon to the finish line. What had begun years before as the phenomenon of overnight delivery, had been ratcheted up by Amazon's fulfillment centers throughout the country. Products could now be ordered and received the same day. But for those in New York City, and in areas around the country, this was not soon enough. And so, "valets" were now being dispatched, personal shoppers on bicycles. Orders were placed, bikers dispatched, and promises of same hour service were made. At holiday time, the madness only escalated. And the "accidents" multiplied, as pedestrians became collateral damage in this war against the clock.

One more matter increased the possibility of  harm. On May 27, 2013 New York City initiated its CitiBikes program. By mid-September it had been declared a big success. As of September 12, 2013 there had been nearly 3.2 million trips on these bikes, and 288,000 subscribers to the program. Bikes had never been more popular or more prevalent on the streets and sidewalks. Bikes were now news and, in October of 2013, were the subject of an oped piece in the Sunday New York Times.

Bob Smith had been more than in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at the wrong moment in history.

As he picked up his cell phone to call the law office of a man he had never met but had read about throughout the years, a thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, but two persisted: "What will the rest of my life be?" and "I killed her."


Tom Dolan met Mary Walters the year after college. He had earlier been in a serious relationship that had started the first week  he entered the small liberal arts university in New England. Through Tom's four years there, he and his girlfriend had been almost inseparable. When he thought back on those days, he decided  he had made a mistake, depriving himself of far too much of what the experience should have been.

After college, Tom returned to his parent's home in New Jersey. Distance proved the undoing of his college romance, and even though there was no official decision to end it, both he and his soon to be former girlfriend began to create new lives without one another.

Tom discovered Mary that fall. She was a year younger than him, small, only five feet tall and weighing no more than 100 pounds. She was pretty, and best of all, she was athletic. Although Tom was only five feet seven inches (on a good day) and 140 pounds, he considered himself an athlete. He had been a "natural", able to throw a ball earlier than almost anyone else his age. Until his early teens, when others started to mature physically and pass him by, Tom was a star. Even now he had a hard time not thinking of himself in the same terms as he did at 10.

Mary had decided to stay in the area for college. She went to school in the city, often commuting from her parent's home in the suburbs of Bergen County, for a semester or two living in the college dorms.

Her first date with Tom had been memorable for him if not for her. They had dined at a local restaurant after having played an hour of tennis. She had more than held her own and, whether she knew it or not, Tom was very impressed. At dinner, Tom had brought a bottle of wine, but even then he was not much of a drinker. Mary had finished off far more than her date and was slightly drunk by the time they headed back to Mary's home. As Tom dropped her off, he said he was low on gas and would call her when he got home. As the phone rang, she was in her nightgown and almost asleep. Tom thought he had not made much of an impact.

They were engaged within six months and married a year after meeting. Now, almost forty years later, there was no more Mary.

Tom thought that he had never been alone, really alone, his entire life: a college girlfriend as soon as he left home,  then a return to his boyhood bedroom and finally, Mary. She had been taking care of him from the moment she said "I do". His life and hers were even more inseparable than that he experienced during his college years. They had worked in business together for more than 30 years. Out of the office she covered up almost all of his faults with her abilities. While he was known for being inept, she was anything but. Every lightbulb that had to be replaced, every knob that needed fixing, every meal that was cooked, every important piece of Tom's life, every good thing that had happened, everything was because of Mary.

And now he cursed himself for his lack of courage on the GWB.. With the image of  his fallen wife seared into his brain, a thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, but two persisted: "What will the rest of my life be?" and "I killed her."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Apology

For those few of you who have followed me on my writing odyssey, you know that I have written but a handful of fiction pieces among the almost 1000 entries that have now been posted on my blog. Those attempts have been met with almost universal silence.

Yesterday, I took another stab at it. "Death on the GWB" was a fabricated tale of a man whose fear of heights led to tragedy (not surprisingly, I suffer from a fairly pronounced case of acrophobia and have traveled that very walkway on foot a number of times, all with unnecessary trepidation).  My words came with no explanation. I mistakenly believed that all would read this as yet one more failed attempt at literary genius.

Shockingly to me, I received comments on my blog, emails to me personally, and a number of calls all responding to the made up tragedy as though it had actually occurred. I never intended this as an effort to produce a "War of the Worlds" moment, but I had in fact created unanticipated consequences.

I give my sincere apology to any of you who were misled. I meant only to provide you with a few seconds of entertainment. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Death on the GWB (A Work of Fiction)

Water clearance at the mid-span of the George Washington Bridge is 212 feet.

 It was a perfect early fall afternoon. The wind had vanished, not a cloud in a radiant blue sky. The air could be deeply breathed, the colors bursting from nearby trees. And so, a Fort Lee resident, aged 61, Tom Dolan and his wife decided to walk across the great gray bridge they stared at every day from their apartment a few hundred yards away.

They had done this many times notwithstanding the fear that accompanied each step of Mr. Dolan's journey. He always walked as far as he could from the railing intended to act as impenetrable barrier to the Hudson below. He almost seemed to list into the lane of traffic that sped by no more than an arms length away. His gaze never veered towards the water, his neck locked in place, peering straight ahead, or at his own feet.

It was not the two legged occupants of this walkway that troubled him so, but the two wheeled ones. Although he did worry that some unhinged human might suddenly descend upon him and hoist him over the railing and to a watery grave, he reserved almost all of his anxiety for the hordes of bikers who fled the city on weekend mornings for their ride up the Palisades.

They came in packs, a multi-colored flash that took up far too much of the limited terrain. He would flinch internally each time one went by, an imperceptible twitch in his step. He talked with his wife about those who sped past, some giving fair warning and a thank you for moving out of their way, while others offered neither notice or gratitude.

Yet it was not the ones he could see approaching, but those that came from behind, that concerned him the most. He never heard them, never. Whether it was the noise from the traffic close by, or advancing age made no difference. The problem was the riders who thought he knew when he didn't.

The New York/New Jersey Cycle Club was founded in 1927. It now boasted close to 3000 members. It invited people of all ages and abilities to join and offered the opportunity for "fun, friendship, fitness and fantastic views of the metropolitan area."

Among its most popular rides were those that crossed the Hudson River each Saturday and Sunday and headed into Bergen County, through northern New Jersey and then into Rockland County, New York, before returning to where the journey began.

On this day a trip left from the east side of the city, at 72nd Street near the Central Park Loeb's Boathouse. 37 riders met at 6:30 AM to begin a 61 mile journey that promised "colorful foliage" and a stop for lunch with free bagels and water.

When he read the description, Bob Smith immediately signed up. Smith had been a member of the club for five years. He was 53, fit after a full season of being a weekend warrior on the bike. He loved everything about these opportunities. Living within blocks of the Boathouse made it that much easier.

Tom Dolan had an uneasy feeling as he left the apartment. Not that he didn't always have a similar sensation each time he was about to place a shaky foot on the road to Manhattan. But he said nothing, for anything he uttered would only make him look foolish. He and his wife exited their building, telling the doorman about their intended walk and received perfunctory congratulations on their choice and their stamina.

Bob Smith enjoyed a remarkable day. Yet, coming back into Bergen County he felt slightly depressed. As the bridge came ever closer to him, he experienced  a pang of anxiety that quickly passed. He wrote it all off as a reaction to knowing that this experience would soon be behind him.

As Dolan took his first steps onto the short pathway leading to the bridge, Smith was about 300 yards behind, coming down the last incline on Hudson Terrace. He was toward the front of the pack of riders, third in line. He would pass under Route 95, the roadway above him that took motorists through the toll booth and onto the mile long span that connected New York and New Jersey. Shortly after, he would make a sharp left turn, leaving Hudson Terrace and entering the same route that Dolan was now on.

The website for the New York/ New Jersey Cycle Club had a section devoted to the biker's responsibility code. Apart from warning that no devices of distraction like headphones or ear-buds  should ever be used, it stressed that safety for yourself and others was the first rule of the road. Bob Smith took this advice seriously, and considered himself anything but a danger while on his bike.

Entrance onto the walkway leading to the bridge was narrow. The lead bikes in Smith's group bunched up, and he took the opportunity to move to the head of the pack. It was the first time that he had taken on this role for the crossing into Manhattan. He felt strong and there was a small rush of adrenaline that accompanied this decision.

About 250 yards ahead, Dolan and his wife were just entering the bridge expanse. Dolan's gait always changed as soon as this happened, each step with a little wobble caused not by the tremors from the automobiles so close by on his left, but by the acrophobia that he tried to control.

Smith passed several walkers as he moved ever closer towards Dolan and his wife. He gave small shouts of "on your left" as he came upon those in front of him. Each of those he went by received a small nod of thanks. Dolan and his wife were next up, now only about 50 yards from the leader of the pack.

As the distance between him and the two walkers narrowed, Smith gave his note of warning. Dolan heard nothing. A split second later, Smith repeated his statement, this time with more urgency.
Dolan's wife heard the second cry distinctly. She was walking no more than a foot from the barrier that separated her from the waters more than 200 feet below. She reached her arm out to pull her husband away from the bike that was now coming veryclose. She yelled for him to "Move, MOVE".

When Smith saw that the man in front of him was not reacting as he should, but seemed to be veering INTO HIS INTENDED PATH, and would leave no room to pass on the left, he panicked. In that instant, he surveyed the options before him. He could try to move left but the railing separating him from the cars on the bridge awaited this decision. He could slam on his brakes and try to minimize the impact on the body now looming almost directly in front. Or, he thought he saw an opening to the right, between the man and his wife. If he could accelerate and slither through...

As the arm of Dolan's wife and part of her left side came into contact with the speeding bicycle there was a distinct snapping sound. The force of the impact had broken her left arm and cracked several ribs. In an instant she was pushed violently into the steel rail on her right. She quivered momentarily from the pain.Then she bounced off and pitched down head first onto the waiting concrete path.

At its worst, there was a three hour backup reported at the toll plaza leading to the George Washington Bridge and passage into New York. The first emergency vehicle arrived at the scene only four minutes after the collision. The transit authority reported that it was the first biker-pedestrian fatality in the history of the roadway.

Tom Dolan was uninjured, not a scratch on him. He stood over the body of his wife and let out small sobs, one after another, after another.

Bob Smith was questioned briefly by the police at the scene and then issued a Miranda warning. He refused to answer further questions.

The prosecutor's office is investigating the incident and said it had no statement to make at this time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tinkers to Evers to Cruz

("Texans Stick With Cruz Despite Defeat in Washington")

Quixote to Custer to Cruz. No, not a legendary double play combination, but a Texas sized vision of heroic struggle against all odds.

It turns out that Don Quixote was but a hallucination of Alonso Quijano, a man who had lost touch with reality. In his altered state, he ended up tilting at windmills, not the fearsome giants that his troubled mind misperceived.

And Custer's last stand may well have been a result of his many tactical blunders. It appears that the general irreparably weakened his forces by dividing them, scattering his men so that they were unable to provide the needed support in battle. Historical analysis reveals that it was most likely mere hubris and miscalculation that led to the demise of those in Custer's control.

On that level, the grouping of Senator Cruz with the others seems perfectly appropriate.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lessons Not Learned

If recent history is an accurate forecaster, the Republican party will not be chastened by the debacle of the past several weeks.

After the 2012 election, there were many who said that immigration reform was assured as the Republicans could no longer afford the political fallout from their abhorrent treatment of such a significant portion of our population.  Where is that reform?

After the Newtown massacre, there were many who said that gun control was assured as the Republicans could no longer afford to be seen as unfettered supporters of these weapons of such mass destruction. Nothing has changed.

And even looking at what now appears as ancient history, when the Republicans first took us to the edge of the debt ceiling precipice and our country was damaged so, there were many who said that this folly would never be repeated if the Republican party intended to survive. And yet we have been witness to a second round of this particular brand of lunacy.

So, even if we hear words from some Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, that make us hope that the worst is behind us, we take little solace. There is scant evidence to suggest that his party has any intention of learning its lessons.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What If They Just Don't Care

("US Fringe Festival")

What if the Republicans don't care who they alienate with their government by extortion philosophy?

What if they see a changing demographic of the country that will, for the foreseeable future, keep them from majority rule in the Senate or control of the White House even if they were to suddenly abandon their present ways?

What if they also see a gerrymandered House where they could eviscerate our economy, and take down most of the rest of the world in the process, and still rule that body?

So, if the political landscape is not to be fundamentally altered no matter their actions, where is the catalyst for them to stop the madness?

What if they feel they would be irrelevant but for the ability to manipulate the process?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Watch Your Language

("Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare")

Maybe it is, thanks to the Republican misbegotten strategy, that we govern from crisis to crisis where everything has the feel of a tsunami.

Maybe it is that hyperbolic metaphor makes statements rise like a serpent's head from the rest of the sea of noise that emanates in our 24 hour cycle of examination and interpretation.

Maybe it is that we have grown increasingly intellectually lazy and the use of proper language to express ideas is a dinosaur facing extinction.

Maybe it is that years from now we will be speaking in metaphorical comparisons to Tea Party nut-jobs, those hostage taking, gun to the head, we love the smell of blood, sharks who try to circle in for the kill of Obamacare.

Whatever the underlying reason, Mr. Bruni is absolutely correct in his plea for us to stop misappropriating terms from distinct events. You just hit a home run, Mr. Bruni, knocked one out of the park. Take a curtain call.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rebels Without A Cause

My mind's on fire, conflagration
I'm filled with ire, consternation
I'm agitated by your games
You should be ashamed

Its hard to think, contemplation
Can't sleep a wink, concentration
I'm aggravated by your obfuscation    
You should be restrained

You're intellectually lazy and despicably cruel
You're myopic, misanthropic, the perpetual fool 
You're puerile, hostile, a perennial tool
This is not a love story      

My belly's aching, its of your making
My heart is hurting from you I'm certain
Tears in my eyes, plaintive cries
Emptiness is all I see. 

Food without taste, steps without pace
You have stolen the joy and taken the meaning
Days without reason,  moments of treason
You have plundered, and pilfered and purloined

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A History Lesson

Its not so much that it was the product of well over a year of discussion and compromise, that it survived a trip to the Supreme Court and a surprising swing vote by Justice Roberts, or that it was the centerpiece for the 2012 campaign which resulted in an overwhelming victory for President Obama. It is that the Affordable Care Act is at its very core a decidedly Republican idea.

It grew out of the mind of a right wing think tank and was put into place in Massachusetts, with apparent great success, by the Republican standard bearer this past November,  Mr. Romney, whose name was the first attached to this method of distribution of health care services.

The reflexive determination to oppose has led to great victories for a party that garnered millions of fewer votes, both on the Presidential and Congressional level in the last election, and is holding the reins to but one of the three government branches. Immigration reform was dead on arrival, gun control has been an overwhelming debacle and bank regulation is nowhere in sight. Drill baby drill is a very dirty secret and minimal environmental inroads are only a result of executive action.

By its threats and obstructionism it has forced the President to enter into the not so grand bargain for sequestration and to abandon even the pretense of fighting for any tax increases on the wealthy. Stimulating the economy has been a job that has fallen to Ben Bernanke.

Why under those circumstances would they feel they are making a mistake in their present stance?

So, forget that they are screaming for the death of their own idea on health care reform. While rational beings shake their heads and wonder what could be driving such apparent idiocy, the answer is history.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Marx Brothers on Republican Strategy

("Those Banana Republicans")

The Marx brothers said it best (from "A Night at the Opera')

Groucho Marx: "That's the usual clause, that's in every contract. That just says, it says that if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, this contract is automatically nullified".

Chico Marx: "Well, I don't know."

Groucho Marx: Its alright. That's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.

Chico Marx: (Laughing) "You can't fool me. There ain't no sanity clause".

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is Baseball D.O.A.?

We don't write letters anymore, we tweet. We don't wait for things to boil or cook, we want instant. We don't take the time to stop and smell the roses, we have too much to do.

We are a society bombarded with sights and sounds at ever rising decibels. The art of reflection is disappearing. And so is the romance of a game that in this day and age can be agonizingly slow.

It arrives in late spring and doesn't leave until the winter coats have been pulled from the closet. It has too much time from one staccato piece of action that may take a second to complete to the next, too many pitching changes, too much standing around. It is most often now a late night exercise, no longer allowing the warm sun of a summer afternoon to radiate upon one's face. It doesn't scream, it talks.  It is not frantic but calm. It doesn't demand our attention. It is not very much 21st century.

Football and basketball have time clocks. There is frenetic movement of large bodies of people. Music often assaults the senses from loudspeakers that won't permit contemplation and rest. These are endeavors that lend themselves to video games with their immediacy and their intensity.

I may be one of a dying breed of lovers of the game of baseball. Yes, I am often distracted and may be even occasionally disinterested while in attendance. So what is the allure?

Maybe it is just me trying to hold onto the smell of a new leather glove, of putting a rubber band tight around it to bend it into shape. Maybe it is just me clinging to the memory of my father, standing in the third base coaching box as I hold the bat firmly in hand and await the opportunity to show him what I am capable of accomplishing.

Maybe it is just that I like the chance this game permits me to have my now grown children in a place where we can focus on one another and not all the distractions of the universe. Maybe this is an oasis where there is nowhere I have to go, nothing calling my name, no next, only this moment and these people, at our speed and our pleasure.

Whether intended or not, there is clear double meaning in the title of this piece. "Is the game over?" reflects an impatience on our part that is perhaps an inevitability in today's increasingly fast paced world. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

3 Days

Three days with only your own thoughts. 72 hours. 4320 minutes.25920 seconds.

As we prepare to drop our son's friend at a 3 day retreat filled only with meditation, contemplation and silence, I reflect on how I might handle this. It is not a pretty sight.

I have developed a nervous tic, an involuntary response to the Android phone that never rests more than a nano-second away from my hand. Like a gunfighter practicing  his trade, I reach for my connection to the 21st century constantly. The mere passing thought of trying to take that away from me for more than an entire weekend and I am beginning to twitch.

I don't find myself particularly interesting even in the best of circumstances. I don't remember  many jokes. How many times can I ask myself  "How do you make a tissue dance"? I am not very creative so I don't think I could envision the sticks and stones before me as weekend playmates. My attention span is woefully short on oxygen.

Left to my own devices, would I be compelled to turn my focus to political issues to entertain me? No, that would be far too depressing. How about my beloved Yankees or the painfully woeful football Giants? Not this year. Could I break down my golf swing and reinvent it? That would just be putting nasty on top of ugly. Certainly, there is enough going on in my work days to fill the void. I would rather amputate my small toe than spend these moments revisiting those moments.

Do I look to universal issues of human kindness, compassion and grace and examine where I have been, and where I intend to go? Too much for my feebled self to deal with. Can I strike up a conversation with a God whom I have not been on speaking terms with for a very long time? Not likely.

Where would I find myself on such a journey?  I fear that after 15 minutes I would start talking in tongues and within an hour be baying at the moon.

Maybe I could try to retrieve some of those verses of Shakespeare that I learned so many years in my past. Oh yes, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day." No, the Bard of Avon provides no solace.

I am sadly, a very poor candidate for consideration. Too antsy, too unfocused, too much of too many things and clearly not enough of others.

No, these coming days for me will not be spent in self-reflection but self absorption. Not enlightenment but entertainment. Not considering higher purposes but higher prices.

Three days, 72 hours, 4320 minutes, 25920 seconds. For some, a path to a higher being. For me, just a very long weekend.