Wednesday, February 27, 2013

En Garde

Four Introductory Fencing Classes
Bergen Fencing Club
Sold by LivingSocial-  (February 27, 2013)

Lunge, parry, thrust. Lunge, parry, thrust.

The staircase led to the basement of my childhood home. Having descended,  I was greeted by cinder block walls and linoleum tiles.  Against one of the walls sat a chest, where old toys, gloves and other items, too old to be of interest but  too valuable to discard found a residence. A ping pong table was given central billing, paddles and balls in various state of disrepair located all around. The space in the rear was the province of the washing machine and dryer, the clothesline and some shelving for the rarely needed. Nothing about this area was remarkable. Except for the items hanging on one wall.

The two masks and swords rested precariously, sitting on protruding nails and wires. From 1936 through 1938, the NYU fencing team won the NCAA "3 Weapons" Championship.There was no evidence, no proclamation that the equipment in this basement belonged to one of the epee team members. Someone who, so family lore has it, was an All-American.

Sometimes I wandered down those steps with my dad. Mostly it was to play ping pong. I moved past the fencing relics taking no notice. Often, I would  in short order trudge back up those steps pouting, maybe even crying, not because my dad had just defeated me once again, but due to the imagined ankle sprain or pulled stomach muscle that I had somehow sustained. Meanwhile, the swords, the masks and the memories of their glory gathered dust.

On rare occasions, my dad and I would get the fencing gear down, prepare ourselves for battle and take our stances. My right arm, bent at the elbow with the fingers facing skyward. Feet at right angle to one another. Then the dance would begin. For a  few minutes, this became a home for intricate steps, for attacks and retreats, for unspoken bonds. No longer a place of cinder block and tile, no longer relegated to the trivial or the forgotten, but the center of this universe. And then the moment faded, the gear once more unceremoniously hanging, no hint of its pedigree or its significance. A room like any other.

I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through my dad's mind when we danced in that wonderful harmony. The years he had worked so hard, learning and memorizing the details of what greatness demanded and what greatness felt like.The love of sport, the competition, the championships. And more than anything, staring at a child peering at you through that over-sized mask.. There, beside the ping pong table and the old toy chest.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Power Outage

For anyone not interested in baseball, or in its statistics, avert your eyes.

My universe over the past 60 years has been filled with Yankee glory. From the first days of the Mick until the most recent times with Derek, success has been almost a given. During the period from1950 through 1964 the team won 95 games in all but 2 regular seasons (until 1961 the season was only 154 games in duration) finished first in the American league all but twice and won 8 World Series. The past 17 seasons have also been remarkable for the consistent excellence, as for all but one year the team has qualified for post-season play.

There have been periods of aberration. After the 1964 season, in which the Yankees garnered 99 wins, the total plummeted to 77 wins the next year, 70 in 1966 and 72 the year thereafter. The fabled Bronx Bombers would finish at least 20 games from the top spot for 5 consecutive seasons.

Another drought  from 1989 through 1991 saw the team no better than 5th in what was then a 7 team division.

Was there one common theme that separated the good from the bad and the really ugly? Is there something in the make-up of the 2013 team that would suggest which path this year's squad will follow?

In 1950 the team scored 913 runs. From that point through 1964 no Yankee squad amassed less than 700 runs in a year, except for 1959, the year the Yankees finished 3rd. Once the decline came in 1965, the totals for the next 5 desultory seasons were 611, 611, 522, 536 and 562. It was not until the next era of excellence began, in 1976 that the team  once again scored over 700 runs.

Since the Jeter era commenced in 1996 there has been one season when the Yankees have not posted a total of at least 800 runs, 2008, not so coincidentally the only post -season void.

Last year, the team tallied 804 runs, the second lowest total of the last 17.  Hitting 245 homers a franchise record,  there was an inordinate dependence on the long ball as almost 50% of the runs crossed the plate as a direct result of the four bagger.

During the off-season, Martin, Swisher, Ibanez, Chavez and Jones all vanished. An ever diminishing A-Rod, and for part of the season, Granderson, will be unable to perform. 7 of the top 9 home run hitters will play no role in the squad that begins the season, and A-Rod may have played his last game in pinstripes for a very long time to come.

What has appeared to fill these gaps? Suzuki and his 5 home runs last year, Cervelli and Stewart who amassed less than 10 together, Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz,  Travis Hafner who hit 12 round trippers in 2012?  

The talk is now of manufacturing runs. That has never been the Yankee's trademark, at least not during the long stretches of glory. These have always been teams that pounded the opposition into submission, who were always one massive home run from victory, who relied neither on finesse nor pitching dominance.

Unless matters change in ways presently unknown, it seems clear that the 800 run barrier will not be broken in 2013. And, if history is any gauge of the future, this year may well bring about the end of the latest era of Yankee greatness. I fear that mediocrity will rear its ugly head in the Bronx and the post season will belong to others. Has anyone seen Jason Giambi lately?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Sequester and Smugness

("Dire Consequences and Denial")

What makes the actions of the Republican leaders so egregious is that they are not the result of being ill informed but rather of being ill intended. The negative impact on the lives of so many and on an economy that remains on the doorstep of disaster is indisputable but of no moment.

A resounding defeat in the recent election has not crushed the resolve of many on the right, but only reenforced their determination to bring down a presidency and, oh by the way, a country struggling to find its footing. At a time when there is a continuing need for a strong flow of capital into the system, they all too easily turn the spigot off.

The most alarming aspect is the smugness with which this destruction proceeds. There is a palpable sense that Mr. Boehner and others in control of the Republican message are enjoying this moment, and incredulously seem not the least bit ashamed to insist that this debacle is not their doing.

As the hours pass and the sequester edges ever nearer, Congress remains in recess. This is a Republican party at its nadir, ugly and petty, focused on personal slights and political payback, not on proper care for those whom they have undertaken a sworn duty to protect. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Flickering Light

For those who have followed the journey, you know that the trajectory of my mom's condition, both physical and mental, has known only one direction over the past half dozen years. Expectations have been lowered to the point of extinction and an uncompromising reality has descended.

I enter my mom's apartment with my son, anticipating a repeat of the scene that has already played out in my head. My mom will be in her wheelchair, either in the kitchen or near the window in the dining room. I will make conversation, but that is really the wrong term, for there will be little or no discourse, just my monologue. 

My recent phone calls to my mom  have taken on a different quality. Some dormant spark has been ignited and she is almost chatty. What she has to say has made little sense, but just to hear her voice, to sense its intonations, and to be the recipient of words rather than the giver, is in itself a gift.

I begin chatting with my mom, stroking her head and her arms as I speak, telling her of the recent details of my life. Then, suddenly, she takes over. During the next 5 minutes or so, she weaves an intricate tale involving a plateful of interesting characters.To the best of my understanding, the primary focus is on a baby carriage, possibly a tiny child in a classroom and the lineage of this little person  (my mom is told that she is something like the cousin of an uncle of what appears to be a student). My son and I are almost giddy with delight as we try to piece together this story in our heads.

At one point, my mom gives an almost Seinfeldian "ya da, ya da, ya da", and my laughter is audible even to her ears that seem to take in almost nothing. "What is so funny?" she asks, and I am startled that she has connected my sounds to her proclamations. "Nothing, mom, you are just so cute."

She jumps back in to her storytelling, people wandering in and out on a moment's notice. Finally, she comes to a conclusion. She now seems to be in front of a large group, thanking everyone for having come to listen, and inviting every one back in the future for the next chapter in this saga. I applaud as the last phrases come tumbling out.

There is an unadulterated joy in knowing that, at least for a brief moment, my mom's downward spiral has been stopped. The vibrancy and vitality in her presentation show life where I had long ago given up reasonable hope of ever finding anything but ashes. To see the light flicker on, to hear even faint sounds of my mother coming forth, seems almost a miracle.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Absence of One Letter

What separates H from J?

Who cares? Me, myself and far too many others.

A blog post stands as a symbol of all that should be deemed unholy about a totally unneeded and self absorbed focus on one of many letters.

So, as you read through these words please see what may be most unusual here.

For once, and clearly for only a short moment, what separates H from J can be located nowhere at all.

As a matter of fact, who knows when an essay was concocted solely to keep what most see as fundamental,  excluded.

When the moment fades and we return to our everyday world where all letters are seen, but none more so than the one that separates H from J, there should be a touch of sadness,.

Thoughts are often random, none more so than these. But wonder no more how the world would appear when one day, one hour, one moment, there appeared no space between H and J.

Conjure no further of a place where ego found no home, where who you were no longer mattered.  Construct a planet that needed no space between H and J. Here and nowhere else can such a place be located.

Would there be war, would there be poverty, would there be a need to harm each other as we move up the ladder and over each other?

Know that you have entered an alternate world, one that unfortunately does not and cannot ever be. For we are made of such stuff that does not allow for the absence of that one letter, that one force that seems to move us more than any others. One could abandon A, ban B, cast off C, denounce D, erase E, forget F, get away from G,  hack at H, junk J, kangaroo K, leap over L, murder M, never need N, obfuscate O, pack away P, have a Q quandary, renounce R, snuff out S,  tuck away T, unwelcome U, vacate V, wash out W, eXonerate X, yell at Y, and zero Z, but one can never get a true moment of peace unless the letter that separates H and J can vamoose, go bye-bye, wander off, head to places unknown, and leave us alone.

For now,  we say so long and go back to the real world where H and J do not touch, and where our days our words and our fate are too often controlled by the letter that separates not only H from J but too many of us from each other,


Friday, February 15, 2013



("Pistorius Appears in Court to Face Murder Charges")

The awful sound you hear is of hearts breaking all over the world. After watching the debacle of Lance Armstrong, there is an increased desire for a fairy tale to come true. Our planet is overflowing with so much harsh ugly reality, where darkness seems to swallow up so much of the light.

Oscar Pistorius fought incredible battles with his own physical imperfections, and also with a system that at first informed him he was ineligible to compete with "able bodied" athletes. He was compelled to prove that having no legs below the knees had not somehow provided him an unfair athletic advantage. His story was more than extraordinary, it bordered on mythic.

And now this. He is but the latest to demonstrate that life's difficulties can intrude on each of us, that there is no safe haven, no place where demons may not reside.

Hero worship, at least on the athletic field, has never seemed more irrelevant. While the details are still unfolding,  I grieve for what appears yet another victim of senseless gun violence, and another fable that has been taken from us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Being A Parent

They come naked into this world and we clothe them
They come crying into this world and we dry their tears.
They come with questions into this world and we answer them.
They come with challenges into this world that we help them meet.

They take their first breath and we breathe easier.
They take their first step and we are beside them.
They say their first word and we hear the music.
They give their first kiss and we swoon.

They smell a flower and we breathe in its aroma.
They see the sun setting and we notice its beauty
They catch a cold and we sneeze
They fall down and we ache.

They have a first friend, a best friend, a new friend
They spell some of their letters backward
They don't want to go to school that day
They don't know why it can be so hard sometimes

They need you all the time and then they don't
They care deeply and passionately and then not so much
They are stubborn and unbending until they are not
They are infuriating until we melt in their embrace

They walk their own path and we follow close behind
They make their own way and we watch unnoticed
They seek their own light and we stand in the shadows
They do what they must and we do what we can

They find a first love, a true love, and then a lasting love
They become who they are and who they were meant to be
They make their own mistakes and find their own answers
They paint their own picture and we view each vibrant color

But we are forever who we were that very first day
We are never the same as we had been before
Once they arrive, forever after our own lives mean so much less
Once they are with us, forever after our lives mean so much more

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Crime of Passion

I am quite certain that I committed a crime on Saturday. 

Friday's massive storm on the East coast was but the latest in global extremes. We no longer have little events and minor consequences. The worst has been replaced by something much more frightening. And so, as Massachusetts braced for mountains of snow,  the mountains were told no one would be arriving. The entire state was now in a state of emergency lock down. As of 4 PM Friday, travel was verboten.

You have to understand that we skiers of the East, especially those of us who traverse the small hills in southern New England  do not wait to ski until there are powder days. If we did, our skis would be in pristine condition and we could count our days on the slopes on the digits of 3 Finger Mordecai Brown's damaged hand, with a digit or 2 to spare most winters.

As the storm descended, there were reports that up to 24 inches might fall on the little trails that I call home. While the winds howled and the snow fell in Boston, for much of the day on Friday there was scarce hint of the blizzard in the western part of the state. When I went to bed on Friday night I felt like we were in skier's hell. Little accumulation and a mandate from the governor that we lock the doors and hide under the bed. The combination was almost unbearable.

The first light of Saturday brought proof that we had not been the forgotten child.  A foot or more of soft whiteness had enveloped us. The morning seemed, if not calm, at least a very far cry from what I imagined much of the state had suffered through. The roads were clear and my destination but a few minutes away. Everything now was perfect. Well, almost everything.

For while our mountain, and others in the area, gleefully advised that they were open for business, it appeared that the governor had not gotten that message. Try as I might to find the section on the Department of Transportation website that opened travel of the roads to those who really had to go skiing on a powder day,  that elusive clause escaped my view.  The television reports, the phone calls to the State, nothing seemed to correct this clear omission. All I kept hearing and seeing was that travel at your own peril now had a much more sinister meaning.

I am not a risk taker by nature. I have not lived my life anywhere near the edge for fear I might fall over. Jaywalking is about as far as I will peer into the abyss. But this was different. Unlike the postman (or at least the postman until this latest $16 billion hole) rain and sleet could keep me from my appointed rounds at the quad, but not snow. Not this much snow. No edict, mandate, warning, threat, no governor and hopefully no policeman would stand between me and the top of the hill, peering down on my destiny.

My car was readied, the equipment packed. The roads were literally empty. Not a creature was stirring, or if they were, not here, not now. No policeman in sight. I traveled the few miles to the waiting ski nirvana anxious that I might be turned back to the world of the damned. But, all was quiet and my journey was quick and painless. As I entered the resort, I expected to see many others who had braved the elements and maybe evaded the law, hoping to create a new page in their ski reality. Instead, the parking lot was almost empty.  The meaning of the moment now dawned upon me. Fresh snow and no crowds, as the commercial advises, priceless.

The mountain looked glorious, dressed up in her finest white from head to toe. I wanted to be her first suitor, but there were a few others who found themselves at her doorstep before me. Once on the hill, all did not go as  smoothly as  envisioned. At least at first. But, after an inglorious fall within the first few turns, I settled down and listened to the somewhat unique sounds of nothing under my feet throughout the day. Skiing in silence, while a given in the western regions of this country, is a seldom unheard luxury here. While my form may not have been elegant or pretty, that mattered not. Snow sprayed around me, and while none reached my face like in those iconic images from all those ski videos, at least in my mind I was ripping it up. At least a little.

For brief moments, my skis disappeared from sight,covered in a blanket of white. And it was then, when there was no noise and it seemed I was being carried down the hill by will rather than 166 centimeters underneath each foot, that I floated above the reality of the laws of physics.

There were small clouds in this silver lining. The winds did increase in intensity through the day and one of the lifts was shut down by late morning due to the dangers this created. And some of the snow that had fallen swirled from its resting place on the trails, carried into the trees or distant plains. And yes it was cold, sometimes even a little more than cold. And oh by the way, it appeared that I might have violated several statutes of the Commonwealth.

But still, it was a glorious day. When it was over I knew this was not a scene that would repeat itself soon, if ever. When tomorrow arrived, so did the hordes, those thousands who unlike me had not had the good fortune to be able to enjoy the wonders of a powder day in Massachusetts. The pristine sanctity had been replaced by a sea of colors and noises, lift lines and very different karma.

So, while I now may be but one of many who have broken the laws of this state, I am one of a precious few who has ever enjoyed a day like this on these slopes. For my crime,  I plead guilty to having a ski day I will not soon forget.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Immigration is treated like a bad disease in this country. We talk of border security, deportation,  even Mr. Romney's concept of self-deportation but the "curse" of our country is that it is indeed a beacon whose light has always shined on those less fortunate.

Our morality is in full view as we go through these conversations about what to do with the millions who have reached our shores and crossed our borders in the darkness of night seeking shelter from the storm. It makes us seem smaller that we can be so hard on those who want only what we deem as our God given right. For so many of us, we possess this right not because we earned it but merely by circumstance of birth.

If people could envision themselves on the other side of the conversation, on the outside looking in, then I would hope that their words and thoughts would soften towards those asking for our compassion and our protection. The greatness of this country is in the size of our heart, not our wallet.