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.