Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An Only Child

I have come to the conclusion that both my sister and I are only children. Forget the evidence to the contrary, that we share a love and concern for the woman who claims to be our mother. It is but an illusion. No, there is virtually incontrovertible proof that she and I are not related.

Over the past several years I have written of various experiences of my childhood. My latest recollection involved my failed career as a young pugilist. As has happened with amazing frequency, the person who claims to be my sister advised me that she had no idea that anything I reported had ever occurred. If she were my actual sibling, how could these memories not have been seared into her brain?

There are two distinct possibilities that emerge. The first, which I believe is wholly accurate, is that this person masquerading as my sibling is but a fiction. Whoever she may be, she resided in a different land than I, and somehow emerged after her youth convinced that we were products of the union of the same two people.

The alternative theory, much less rational, is that with advancing age either she is most forgetful or I am simply making things up. It is clear that neither this being or I possess the kind of recall of our life that some of my friends appear, or at least claim, to be blessed with. One can remember with seemingly unerring accuracy what she was wearing on nearly every occasion from her time as a tiny tot right up to the present moment. I, on the other hand, can still not commit to memory which drawer the light bulbs are in even though I am sure I have requested instructions on this very topic literally dozens of times over the past several years.

The thought that I may be creating an imagined past lends itself to some interesting possibilities. If I can construct moments that did not exist in this universe, then I am unlimited in those non-events which I may recall with absolute precision. If my friend believes herself blessed to have the capacity of perfect sartorial recall, I am given the great power to create a world where my younger self accomplishments are without end. I may soon determine that I was not on the losing end of those childhood fisticuffs, but emerged unscathed physically and emotionally, And not only did I win those battles, but I actually decided to enter the ring for real and was a golden gloves contender until I realized that punishing other people into submission was not a noble endeavor.

If it be that my alleged sister is the one at fault, and the incidents I report did occur, then either her grasp on the events of  more than a half century past are not as sharp as she hopes or the moments deemed so significant in my universe barely registered a blip on the radar screen in the rest of the civilized world. I reject the latter possibility for, if this person were truly related to me, she would undoubtedly have shared in the emotional attachment to each of my childhood moments of enduring note.

I would imagine that if she were asked, she would pretend to remember my obsessive compulsive demand that the kitchen fan be on during all my meals, that this love of white noise compelled my parents to use the attic fan anytime there was not snow on the ground, and that I required one of those sound machines to be going constantly for me to study for the bar exam. And she would feign unerring recollection of my crush on one of her girlfriends, whose name now escapes me but who was very tall with very long legs. Oh, this person is so clever  she would undoubtedly advise me with a laugh that yes there are parts of our days together of which she has vivid and minute recall.

Wherever the truth may lie, I actually am very fond of the individual who is so attentive to my mother and so invested in the welfare of myself and my family. She has many very redeeming qualities and I have decided that while she is probably not related to me, if I were ever to have a sister I would hope for one just like her.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Self Help

("Does Affirmative Action Do What It Should?")

First Sheryl Sandberg advises women that they should look inward, that their most compelling limiting factor in the workplace is themselves. Now, Dan Slater suggests that inherent academic shortcomings in minority applicants seeking admission into our most esteemed institutions of higher learning is reason to question whether affirmative action is in reality a negative. Is this what we are coming to as a country?

Are we really sending the message that the fault lies not in those in position of dominance but in the oppressed themselves? That they can do better without our assistance if they would only speak up louder or self educate better?

Discrimination is no uglier than when its reality is discounted, when all the wrongs are deemed not the product of the system but are the self imposed destiny of those who don't do enough to help themselves.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


The last Sunday of the last weekend of the winter dawns clear and cold. The snow is now all but a memory due to the recent warm and wet spell.  Its only remnants are small mounds,  pockmarking the ends of driveways and local parking lots. These once giant edifices, pure and gleaming white, have turned darker and grown tinier with each passing day. 

The wind, a constant companion these past months, blows gently, tree limbs swaying ever so slightly. There is little other evidence of life. The lawns are without color and energy, not yet awake from their long slumber.  The flowers not yet reborn, still fearful to poke their heads out, still unsure what they may find.

I wonder if the streets I will walk in the coming months have missed me, or even noticed I was gone.  Will they have grown older and more pock-marked since last we were together? Will any of them have received a facelift, and appear as new and fresh as a day old baby? Will we once more be friends, or will I look to find a road less traveled and soon search out other avenues to offer my allegiance?

The excited sounds at the local pond hang in the air, as if they never disappeared. I can see the young children running into the roped off area to swim, the anxious young parents with fixed gaze or firm grip,  The water welcoming its visitors, at first appearing cold and harsh, but with full embrace, radiating warmth. The kayaks and canoes moving freely about, colors gliding from end to end and back again.

My bike is asking when we will begin our adventures. When will we wander off and get lost, uncertain of where we are of in which direction we turn, but knowing that all roads eventually lead home? When will it feel me strain, when will it hear my breathing change from steady to staccato? When will the hill be too steep for us to stay joined as one? When will we hear the cows moo, the chickens cluck? When will we stop and just look into the distance to see how far we can see?

And the hiking trails, those are the ones I am most anxious to spend time with. I want them to  know that my family and  I understand that this is a journey worth taking, that the obstacles will be many, that the ascent will be hard, but that the rewards will be great. I want them to know that I am deeply indebted to them for what they are doing, how much it means to me to have my son and his walking sticks there beside me, how much I have missed them over the past months, and how I long to stand at their peak to join them in understanding what magnificence truly looks like.

Winter is loosening its grip.  I am ready to renew acquaintances that have been in hibernation.  Spring is almost upon us, and rebirth, in its many forms, awaits.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

For $5, A Priceless Experience

Think of an event in New York City that one can attend for a cost equal to that of a Subway Footlong sandwich. A Broadway show? Not likely. A seat at a political fundraiser? Not in this lifetime. If purchasing a ticket to a New Yankee game did not immediately come to mind, you could be excused.

The Yankee 2013 payroll for its collection of aging and injured superstars is approximately $214 million dollars. The estimate for the average price of a ticket to attend a 2012 game at the new House that Ruth didn't Build was nearly $52. To sit next to Rudy Guiliani in spitting distance to the dugout, costs thousands. It is safe to say that bargains and Yankee Stadium are not usually part of the same sentence.

But for just $5 a ticket (plus a handful of creative fees), I recently purchased a total of 12 seats to 3 games in April and May (desginated "MasterCard $5 Games"), and got change back from a hundred. In fact, those attending the game with me will place their fannies in seats that are normally listed for sale at about 10 times the amount it set me back.

How one might ask, was I able to decide whether to spend my money on either a turkey sub with lettuce, tomato, pickles and a little pepper or watch Jeter perform one more feat of magic? The answer, as Carnac the Magnificent would say, is " the time of year, the day of the week and my son."

Baseball heats up as the weather turns warmer and the schools empty out for the summer. April and May can be the cruelest months on the calendar for teams trying to fill their stadium. I have been to many opening day games in early April dressed in thermal underwear, with ski jacket, wool hat, gloves and even hand-warmers. On one particularly memorable occasion, I watched the players try desperately to stay warm as the snow fell heavily all around. I have been forced to abandon one early season Yankee- Red Sox encounter in the third inning as a combination of the biting wind and cold made comfort an impossibility. Sitting through an April shower does not bring thoughts of May flowers but of something far less serene.

Mid-week encounters can be particularly unattractive and if there is not a natural rivalry or other reason for a fan to leave the comfort of the living room, then there must be some other incentive involved. The BARGAIN.

My son is a master at spotting and pursuing a good deal. Whether it be a 32 inch television that is on a one day only sale, an airline ticket that can be fashioned and finessed to fit into budget and waking hours, or an early season Tuesday or Thursday Yankee game, if there is a way then he has the will. He is both relentless and resourceful and is worth his weight, if not in gold, at least in affordable purchases.

That is not to say that these experiences don't come with economic monsters waiting to attack. If I choose to drive to the game rather than take public transportation, there is the oh so convenient parking lot that is more than happy to take $35 from me (as of 2012)  in exchange for leasing me a small space of real estate for a few hours. And if I don't first eat at home, or dine at the local fast food restaurant across from the stadium, the food concession stands are poised to accept my credit card and my application for a second mortgage on my home in exchange for a hamburger, fries and a soda.

I have been attending Yankee games for more than half a century, and have had the unbelievable good fortune to see many classic moments. My children and I have a place where we have shared laughs, memories and Yankee victories and occasional defeats for the past 25 years or so.

In many ways, as MasterCard's tagline goes, what I have experienced is priceless. But everything, even the priceless, has a price tag attached. It is nice to know that even for the briefest of moments in the biggest city, small and affordable are still possible.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ted Cruz and the Constitutional Right to be Stupid

("Partisan Politics and Gun Violence")

He has a wonderful pedigree: Princeton undergraduate, Harvard law, clerkship for a Supreme Court justice, youngest solicitor general in his state and US Senator. It only demonstrates that looks, at least as to Ted Cruz, can be deceiving.

In his sneering attack on Diane Feinstein, Mr. Cruz revealed his lack of understanding of the limits of constitutional protections.  No Mr. Cruz, the First Amendment does not demand that all words be protected. We have civil penalties for libel and slander. Further, as was pointed out to Mr. Cruz, there are criminal sanctions for uttering terroristic threats like shouting fire in a theater, even as he would seemingly find it reasonable to permit loaded weapons into that theater.

 It is the duty and responsibility of those who govern to fashion laws assuring that abuses of the rights afforded to us will not be tolerated.  Later this year will mark a half century since our President was gunned down and since then no one, whether civil rights leader or the youngest of our children, has been immune from violent attack. Still, many like Mr. Cruz find Second Amendment protections virtually unassailable and limitless.

For a seemingly bright young man, Mr. Cruz has in his short time in the Senate proven on more than one occasion that he can say some pretty stupid things.  And yes, Mr. Cruz you have an absolute First Amendment right to be stupid.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of Battles Lost and Mayor Bloomberg

Today's headline story in the New York Times focused on the overturning by a state Supreme Court judge of Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to ban super-sized sodas from being sold in certain establishments. But for me, the ruling of Judge Milton Tingling had far more significant meaning. It reminded me, once more, of my brief, and wildly unsuccessful fighting career.

I am by nature a pacifist, and am, not so coincidentally, inordinately weak. I never lifted weights, I could never make a muscle that was noticeable by sight, nor barely one recognizable by touch. While a natural athlete, I was pretty much the equivalent of the 98 pound weakling who was pictured in those old Charles Atlas ads having sand kicked in his face at the beach. Fisticuffs was not my trademark.

Growing up in a distinctly upper middle class neighborhood did not lend itself to many instances where I was forced to defend my manhood. My hands were used for far more gentlemanly pursuits, like holding a golf club or writing a thank you note for the lovely birthday present from my aunt.

My best friend in those years, and still to this day, was of far more fiery temperament, a natural born battler.  He played football, I played soccer. He wrestled, I ran up and down a basketball court. He told stories of being enraged by some slight, perceived or real, and of battles where he took on older and bigger enemies. Bushes were damaged, knuckles were bruised, faces were bloodied and police were called. I wondered what all the fuss could possibly be about.

He called me last evening to advise me of the breaking story involving the Mayor and Judge Tingling. But his purpose was not to discuss the ramifications for the city or for the legacy of its leader. No, he wanted to remind me of my crushing defeat at the hands of Milton Tingling's younger brother.

My unofficial record in taking on another person in battle is no wins and two losses. I would say both would be by TKO, as I never lost consciousness in either instance. However, I still have yet to land my first blow.

I grew up in a corner house about a block from my local elementary school. Kids on the way to and from their appointed rounds would cut across our lawn so to shorten the distance from A to B. Normally, that practice went unnoticed. But one day, when I was in fourth grade, there was a snowstorm that dumped several inches of whiteness everywhere. I was in the middle of an after school play-date with Gerry Feldman when I spotted Robert Epstein destroying this pristine scene, sauntering on the angle across our property and decimating its beauty and serenity. I bolted out the front door, enraged, confronting the taller and beefier fifth grader, berating him for his insensitivity. With one well placed right hand to my belly from Mr. Epstein, I was doubled over in pain.

Several years would pass before my second physical and psychological beating. I was in my next to last year in a school where the grades ranged from seventh to twelfth. Among those in attendance was Milton Tingling, who was one year my junior. And his younger brother, who was then 5 years behind me in intellectual and physical prowess.

I was a member of the golf team, and one spring day was waiting for the coach to take us to our match. I recall wearing a gray blazer, as I believe we were taking team photos that afternoon. I stood in the parking lot near the gym door when Milton Tingling's younger sibling emerged.  The next few minutes are a bit of a blur, almost 50 years removed. My best recollection is that some uncomplimentary remark was made about my attire, and maybe my intended activity. Suddenly I was on the ground, my face reddened and in pain, my ego even redder and in mortal distress. This child, no more than 12 or so, had the audacity and the hands to take down the captain of the golf team. And then to walk away unscathed while I lay damaged in ways I feel well into the 21st century.

If I were to give one piece of advise to the Mayor of New York City, it would be that he should be wary in picking a fight with one of the Tingling brothers. While the Mayor is known for his combativeness, victory is not assured.  He should take it from a renowned fellow pugilist like me 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Scarborough Fair?


("Singing the Sequester Soap Opera")

There is almost a palpable sense of smugness and self-satisfaction in the words of Mr. Scarborough, as he ridicules the administration and its alleged hyperbole.

It is his blatant disregard for the real impact on real lives that is so appalling. President Obama has attempted to give a face to an abstraction, speaking of the young children not in the Head Start program, to the federal worker with unwanted and unpaid furlough, to the long term unemployed who will see benefits slashed. Mr.Scarborough sees only numbers on a page.

This is not armageddon, not the apocalypse, not Pearl Harbor. But I wonder how Mr. Scarborough would have reacted had these monies come from the revenue side of the equation by removing irrational and unnecessary tax benefits to hedge fund managers and subsidies to oil industry giants. When those who can most afford are the targets, would he have been so cavalier in his words? Would he have pointed out that those people's lives, these businesses, would remain effectively unchanged and that our economy and our people would suffer so much less of an impact than by choosing the road now taken?

What Mr. Scarborough sees as de minimis feels to me like an extension of Mr. Romney and his comments of the 47%, dripping with contempt and disregard for the welfare of so many. This country is far more than a mathematical equation.