21 June 2016

Part Two of Our Trip to New York, New York the City So Nice they Named it Twice

View from Ellis Island.
Someday in the future I’ll be traversing the Sahara Desert and will encounter a former student who has just finished at MIT. Last Thursday I was walking through Manhattan and I came across Sofia who was a middle school student of mine eight years ago. She just graduated from Harvard. In 2009 while strolling through a park in Paris I was hailed by Maura, a student from a few years prior who had matriculated at some place called Yale. It actually is a small world. Ask any astronomer.

Prior to the surprise encounter, the missus, oldest daughter and I had journeyed to Ellis Island where millions of immigrants were processed for admission to the US or were detained for further examination or sent back home between 1892 and 1954. There are scenes in Godfather Part 2 of Vito Corleone as a boy going through Ellis Island in the early 20th century. I always thought they were some of the best moments in cinema, in part because they are so realistic. Now having been to the island I’m even more impressed with their believability.

Also on the island with us were assorted school groups, most of them of the middle school variety. I taught the little buggers for 20 years so I know what they’re like and know that they were bored to tears when their well intentioned teachers sat them down and lectured about the island’s history. The road to boredom is paved with good intentions. I watched for awhile as a couple dozen students were being talked at, maybe seven or eight of the adolescents were paying any attention. (An adult chaperone couldn't stop yawning.) What I learned about field trips from years in the biz is that you do all your yakking in advance and once at the place to be visited you turn your charges loose with assignments to do. Shepherding young people around and trying to cram facts into their brains is a losing proposition.

The most striking part of the trip -- besides the spectacular views toward the city -- was the great hall which saw so many hopeful immigrants, doubtless feeling mixtures of excitement, fear and homesickness.

Wisely we had arrived at the island early so the hordes were just pouring in as we left. I can’t  — or don’t want to — imagine the place on a weekday afternoon in July. Talk about teeming huddled masses. The US is the most schizophrenic country in the world when it comes to immigration. Please come, please go back. Welcome. Get out. Thanks for helping. You bums!

Our boat swung by the Statue of Liberty, so of course I snapped a stream of photos. It’s a little odd to see something so iconic up close for the first time. There’s that combination of "wow there it actually is" and "so is that all there is to it?" Lady Liberty was not the kind of thing that fills me with awe. Things of great beauty do that like Lake Tahoe and my wife and certain works of art.

Brooklyn Bridge
After strolling around Manhattan and looking for more people from my previous life, the missus and I parted company with oldest daughter and went to Little Italy. (I will refrain from any Mafia jokes or references.) While this section of New York has an abundance of tourist trappings, it also has its charms and, as we discovered first hand, good restaurants. I had a filet of sole with pasta that was so succulent my mouth waters just writing about it.

I continued to marvel at New York’s subways. Everyone who ever lived can be seen on a subway car. If you ride long enough you’ll see a neanderthal a cro-magnon and their lower form, the republican congressman. We saw the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the weird, the really weird and the oh-my-god-you've-got-to-be-kidding. There are also one helluva lot of nondescript people minding their own beeswax. Some poor souls go from car to car asking for money and a few even seem to have pretty compelling stories. It’s a sad state of affairs that this country has so many homeless and so many guns and so many idiots. Don’t get me started.

Friday we went to the Brooklyn side of the eponymous bridge. What a sight! Here was something that was actually more beautiful than I imagined. Both the bridge and the view. There was also a photo shoot going on with a model whose beauty further enhanced the scene. Prior to the bridge we ate at one of New York’s many renowned pizzerias. This one is celebrated for its unique oven, a kind no longer allowed. Yes, it was delicious. If you don't eat well in New York it can only be because you don't want to.

Later we went to Grand Central Station so that oldest daughter could record me saying: “it’s like Grand Central Station in here” and “what is this Grand Central Station?” Two things I’ve been saying all my life. Hundreds of commuters stopped and roared with laughter at my cleverness. I was suitably impressed by the station which I noted is grand and centrally located. Hence the name. From there we took a gander at the Empire State Building which I like because, like me, its old and beautiful. Well old.

Our last full day was spent largely in and around Central Park, a place I would frequent if a resident of New York. We thus also saw a lot of the swanky apartments that house the fabulously wealthy or those lucky enough to have bought places when they were reasonably priced in the 70s. The 1870s. The Guggenheim was nearby so we took in another great museum, this one featuring mostly modern art and I always surprise everyone, myself included, by liking modern art. Hey, I’m a classy guy. One more delicious dinner awaited, this one at a French restaurant spitting distance from our apartment. More fish for me the faithful pescatarian.

It was hot in New York but not sizzling, also New York knows how to air condition, something that the Bay Area fails at miserably, principally because -- until global warming screwed with the weather -- we rarely saw high temperatures.

It was a lovely trip highlighted by seeing youngest daughter so happy and successful in her new home. I could live in New York and am not sure why I never did. There’s still time. In many ways its like San Francisco only more so. There’s anything, everything and then some. I don’t think I’d care for the hotter more humid months even with the blessed  air conditioning, so who knows. If anyone has an apartment to give away near Central Park, contact me through this blog. Appreciate it.

15 June 2016

I Keep Waking Up in a City That Doesn't Sleep -- My New York Vacation

During intermission at the theater the other night I bought a bottle of water and "sharing size" of M&Ms. The price was $10. You can't make this stuff up.

The missus, older daughter and I arrived in New York Saturday. We came by airplane as the overland coach takes months and traverses hostile Indian territory. We're here to visit younger daughter who moved to these parts last Fall and is gainfully employed as a social worker. Whilst here we are also taking in the sights.

Among the sights here are people. In great numbers. All variety of human life wading through Times Square, packing on to Subway trains, gawking at statues, queuing for food, lounging in parks. The ceaseless parade of people is a spectacle in and of itself of the highest order. And the variety of bipeds is truly striking. You have, of course the ordinary, but you have a lot of the beautiful a lot of the grotesque and a lot of the weird and a lot of all ages, nationalities, sizes and shapes. People, people everywhere, many of them going hither, others going yon. Some standing quite still. Yet I have not for a second felt crowded. Being here with no business other than enjoyment is freeing and I feel as footloose and fancy free as I have strolling alone in the woods.

Also, I love the place. 

Paris remains my favorite city but New York is too much to be classified as merely a city. It is a nation, an empire and a planet all its own. Here you see everyone and anyone and can get everything and anything and do anything and everything. At anytime. It is past modern, it is up to the second. Yet it is rich with tradition and history. At one time or another it has all happened here, most of it many times. 

New York is sexy and vibrant and teeming with life and you feel enveloped in humanity and the spirit of living. You don't walk in New York, you glide. It is a liberating place this New York because you are one of so damn many. No one knows or cares if your zipper is down or your hair mussed or if you're toupee is slipping or your belly sticks out or your leg is deformed, it's nobody's business. Come as you are. No judgments, just don't mess with anyone. Watch the eye contact too.

I'm sure there are dangers here but it feels so safe to be among so many and so much. It is safe indeed to be among so many people. You a tourist? Well, who isn't? You need help finding something? Not a problem, someone can help.

We're staying in an Airnbnb in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is hip AND smart. It is self assured and comfortable in its own concrete. The people are nice without being cloying; they must be proud to live here and happy you like it. The first night we had pizza at a small restaurant that we picked without picking and it was the closest to the pizza you get in Italy I've had outside of Italy. Sumptuous. The next night it was a carefully picked restaurant for seafood and it was even better. New York is a gourmand's paradise. By making the slightest effort you can get a good meal and you can get all manner of food.

I have been to Strand's, one of the three or four best bookstores I've ever set foot in. I wandered and wandered in this store that boasts of how many books it has and well it should. It is a book lover's paradise and should be proud. It was no small feat to find a couple of purchases.

Kerouac and Dylan Thomas Drank here.
I have seen where Jack Kerouac lived, where Thomas Wolfe lived, where Allen Ginsberg lived and a bar that Kerouac frequented and Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. I have seen the neighborhoods these literary giants roamed. Consecrated ground. What a great place for a writer to practice his or her craft. The isolation is easy to find in your rooms and the inspiration so easy to access outside of them.

I saw The Crucible starring Saorise Ronan, Sophie Okonedo, Ciaran Hinds and Ben Whishaw all of whom I've previously seen on the big screen. The play was magnificent. Our seats were near perfect without even being among the costlier ones. I was feeling a bit down before the play the darkness had crept in and cast its evil spell, but once I walked into the theater -- a theater on broadway, mind you -- my spirits magically lifted and soared the rest of the evening. So a cure for depression, bottle the theater.

I have seen the Ed Sullivan Theater where The Beatles performed, where David Letterman hosted the Late Show for two decades and where Stephen Colbert currently hosts. A mecca for me. Much smaller than I'd imagined it. Just another building among many. It is the people who have appeared inside it that make it titanic. 

I have gone through Times Square and been disgusted it being the least interesting and most inauthentic part of New York. It played like a bad version of Blade Runner and uninteresting one with no plot or meaning. 

I've been in Washington Square and watched drug dealing in Union Square Park.

I've been to the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Natural History and been dazzled by both in wholly different ways. Modern art and ancient realities, what a perfect metaphor for New York. What perfect places to visit.

I've seen where John Lennon was shot and it made me sad and I've seen the beauty of Central Park and it has made me happy. Nothing quite captures the beauty of Central Park except for being in it. It is, of course, all the lovelier for the skyscrapers looming in the distance. 

I've been to the Columbia University which boasts a gorgeous campus. My mother earned her MA there and the earlier mentioned Kerouac and Ginsberg met there.

I've seen why youngest daughter loves this city and why my father did too. My dad's first stop and first homes in the US were in New York and it was here that he met my mother. Good thing for my future that they found one another.

I've more days here to come and will have more to see and more to feel and smell and taste and hear and think, I just hope never to spend ten bucks on M&Ms and a bottle of water again. 

08 June 2016

"We're Dixie and Dean!" Vague Memory of one Night's Debauchery


This is all pretty vague I mean its a story about a time in which I was pretty drunk but I’ve got the main outlines right for sure.

I’m not even sure exactly when it was but I had to have been between 20 and 22. It was one of my visits — maybe more like pilgrimages — to see my cousin Steven. I say cousin but that’s kind of a stretch. We were like fifth cousins a couple of times removed. He was four years older than me and a hero and role model. He was also the first openly gay person I ever knew. Steven was brilliant, funny, imaginative and a raging alcoholic. He had more personality than ten normal people combined and rock star good looks. When Steven entered a room it lit up. This isn’t just my opinion either. Everyone who knew him felt the same. From when I first met him at age 15 and he got me drunk for the first time in my life, I was over the moon that such a cool guy liked me.

Whenever I was in the Bay Area and had a chance I would head over to Marin County to visit Steven. (He was never once, to my knowledge, ever called Steve.)  Of course this meant a night or two of pure debauchery and unbridled fun and continuous laughter. Sometimes I brought whatever woman I was dating at the time and they were always impressed with Steven but their presence inhibited the extended bacchanalia. On this occasion I came alone so the sky was not the limit but the starting point.

Steven had two friends named Dick and Dan who I’d once met at a party. They were a couple and one or both was quite wealthy. The first time I saw Steven after briefly meeting them I asked about the two but as I was already under the influence and botched the job. “How are Dixie and Dean?” I asked (there was a legendary British footballer named Dixie Dean). My malapropism elicited gales of laughter from Steven it also led to a running gag in which one of us would say: “I’m Dixie!” and the other “I’m Dean!” and then we’d both exclaim “We’re Dixie and Dean!” followed, of course, by more yuks.

On this occasion Steven and I started by “fueling up” at his abode and then went to a favorite watering hole that was a large bar nestled in a very heavily wooded area. We mixed silly antics with serious discussions of philosophy, politics and culture all of which was augmented by large quantities of booze. Eventually this rustic setting wouldn’t suffice for us and we decided to take our revelry on the road. This we did. Our last stop was at the majestic home of the aforementioned Dick and Dan, aka Dixie and Dean. Here my memories are especially hazy so much so that I can only unequivocally say that Steven ended up going upstairs and slumbering (and whatever else) with our two hosts while I snoozed on a sofa in a den.

It should be of no surprise at all that I awoke with an epic hangover. Mini jack hammers were being operated inside my brain and sand had somehow been poured into my bloodstream. The only thing mitigating my suffering was that I remained a little bit high. As I became more and more conscious I realized what a dandy spread the two D’s had. It was damn near a mansion. I took in the high ceilings and classy artwork and  modern furniture with great wonder. But I also increasingly felt the effects of the eve’s drunken spree. Lo and behold a quick glance outside the glass sliding doors revealed that there was a swimming pool in their massive backyard (along with a spectacular rose garden). I had never tried leaping into a pool to ease the pain of a hangover before but this was just the occasion for it. Absent a bathing suit I stripped bare and ran towards the pool. Without the slightest hesitation I dove into the water. The effect was bracing. I had the twin sensations of feeling wonderful and horrible at the same time. The decision to go into the pool was a wise one for my hangover’s sake but this was too painful a morning after for a simple swim to cure.

I splashed around for a bit until I noticed someone at the side of the pool watching me frolic. It was either Dan or Dick or Dixie or Dean I couldn’t possibly say at the time, let alone now lo these many decades later. He may well have been enjoying the sight of a cute naked young man in his pool and I was somewhat aware of that but really didn’t care. Mainly because he was holding something that I had not thought of needing. A towel. “You’ll probably need this,” he trilled in a saccharine voice. I thanked him and got out and followed him into the kitchen which also looked out onto the yard. The blessed man then proceeded to make both an omelet and bloody marys. I was delighted by both.

That’s where my memory about that particular visit ends. I could fictionalize a longer version, but I rather like this one. 

07 June 2016

Incident in Downtown Berkeley


I had just emerged from the subway station and was downtown heading home. A teenage couple parted company the young man asking the girl if she could make it home. She walked behind me for a few steps then I happened to look back and saw that she was staggering. Then she fell to the ground. I turned toward her but she got up and staggered some more. I could see that she was in a highly agitated state. She grasped onto the door of an ice cream shop then took a few more steps before grabbing the door of a Starbucks. She went in and started appealing for help. I followed her. Now I felt a sort of responsibility to the young woman. She looked no more than 17, more likely 16. She extended her arms toward people and repeatedly said, “help me.” The Starbucks employees gaped. I told them to call 9-1-1. One of them went in the back room and got the manger. He gaped. I told him to call 9-1-1. By the time he did a customer said he’d already done so. The troubled teen said she wanted to go home and that she wanted her mother. She careened from one person to the next. No one did anything. Finally a middle aged woman helped the girl to a stool and tried to comfort her. She assured the girl that she would be all right and was safe and everything was okay. The woman also asked exactly what the problem was. It was pretty clear to me that the girl was very high and in the parlance of my youth, freaking out. The young man who’d she’d been with came in. He asked her a few times if she was all right. Well no, clearly not. He also repeatedly said, “ I asked her if she could get home and she said yes.” He was not a lot of help. Finally he split.

I stood a few feet away from the girl at all times. I wasn’t much help myself but I was determined to see that someone was and was not going to leave until she was properly being taken care of. Finally a lone police officer strolled in. He had the calm swagger cops use in non emergencies. The officer asked the girl questions such as her name and what the matter was. He used a very distant tone as if this was, after all, just business. The girl struggled to say anything meaningful and started to dry heave. Eventually some thick white substance came out of her mouth. Some got on her sleeve and I was overwhelmed with the desire to wipe it off. Soon several other cops came in. One was a sergeant both according to his badge and demeanor. He looked exactly like one would imagine a police sergeant should look. Tall, lean, short salt and pepper hair. Muscular and conservative looking with an air of authority but like someone who still remembered his days riding patrol. There wasn’t much to take command of but he did just the same.

The cops were getting nowhere with the girl. She cried for home and wretched and complained of pain and seemed to not be sure where she was or what was going on. She was too young to be going through such trouble, especially in so public a setting. I noted that most people only watched from the corner of their eyes. Only the one woman had helped and only I had stayed on the scene and really I was superfluous, just in attendance to satisfy my own desire to see her safe. I guess I was following my instincts borne of having been a middle school teacher and still being a father. I doubt that I would have shown the same concern for an older person.

I don’t blame the passivity of the customers or even the employees. There’s only so much to do anyway and once help comes it’s probably better to stay out of the way. It’s hard to get involved when someone’s troubles seem more mental than physical. It’s frightening to see someone whose mind is out of order, maybe especially if its a temporary condition.

The paramedics arrived and were attentive but cool. There was no attempt at familiarity, just a desire to determine what the problem was and what was needed. They got the girl on a stretcher and quickly outside to a waiting ambulance. I followed a respectable distance behind and once she was in the ambulance continued on my way home. I called the missus to recount the incident and was surprised to find myself a little shaken.

It would be terribly trite but also true to say that I hope she’s all right. I imagine she is. Such an incident can be a wake up call to a young person. She could very well walk the straight and narrow from this day forward or at least for several years. Then again she could be an addict and will find herself only more careful in the future. I’ll never know.

Anyway, I stayed to the end.

03 June 2016

RIP The Greatest

He was my greatest hero. Honored to have once shook his hand.

30 May 2016

Oh My! The Topic Today is S-E-X But it's all Pretty PG-13

My birthday was three months ago which means this is the anniversary of my conception. I don’t remember it, of course, I mean that was a long time ago. I don’t even remember my birth so I can hardly be expected to recall the night — or day — that my parents made love and created me. I was never grossed out by the idea of my parents “doing it” as most young people are. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I actually saw them “doing it “once. I think I was about ten years old. It was a Saturday morning and I was looking for more sugar to put on my cereal (can you imagine? I mean it was certainly some sort of artificially sweetened cereal to begin with). I was sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons as was my wont on Saturday mornings.  The sugar bowl was nowhere to be found so I figured that my folks had it with them in their bedroom as they enjoyed breakfast in bed with coffee. My dad always put a spoonful of sugar in his coffee. So I innocently strolled into their room only to find my father atop my mother. I had a vague sense of what was going on but, of course didn’t want to think about it too clearly. It’s no big thing as a kid to ignore what’s right before your eyes.  My parents noticed my presence. I’ll never forget their contrasting reactions. Dad greeted me with a huge smile and asked, “what can I do for you, sonny boy?” My mother kind of growled, “what!?” with a frown. I indicated the sugar, took it and got outta Dodge.

This was not long before my mother’s insanity totally overcame her and she couldn’t maintain a facade of normality in front of anyone. She moved out of the master bedroom and I’m pretty sure there was no more nookie for my father. It was the most understandable thing in the world when a few years later he had a few affairs and eventually divorced mom and took up with a much younger woman who, as he told me, “did everything” in the sack.

My father was always very frank with me about sex. He dispensed advice including that in order not to climax too soon I should think about pushing a wheelbarrow as was his practice (I’ve gone with thinking about baseball, if you must now). He also told me that he and mom had enjoyed a healthy sex life until she went round the bend. Of course it’s unfathomable that he would have spoken so candidly about sex with a daughter — if he had had one.

It’s remarkable how much time people spend talking and thinking about sex. From my understanding this is mostly a male phenomenon. It’s not just fun, it’s so central to how we feel about other people. Men and women are different about sex and I’m sure this is something you’re aware of. Sex gets wrapped up into a lot of things. Primarily, of course love and relationships. Both those that have been time tested and those just beginning. Of course sex is often used in very bad ways like for power and revenge. It can also be used for comfort. Some people are addicted and I’ve met a few. Like any addiction its not healthy. It perverts a beautiful experience by making it a compulsion.

(I was a regular attendee at a 12 step meeting which, for a short time, was frequented by a gorgeous young woman. It was impossible not to glance in her direction every now and again and I wasn’t the only man doing so. We were all discreet and respectful about it. But one time she spoke and mentioned that in addition to alcohol, she was a sex and love addict. Wow. My jaw dangled a bit — I’m human — and I noticed several other men with their mouths agape. I suppose it was kind of funny. However years later I became good friends with a gent who was in recovery for both drugs and alcohol and sex and love. I told him the story I’ve just here related. He said that what she did was a no-no in the sex and love recovery community. You’re never supposed to tell anyone outside the group and she knew exactly what she was doing. She was messing with us. He said he’d done the same at various times. Live and learn.)

One of the interesting things to me about sex is that it can simultaneously not live up to expectations and be a wonderful, fantastic, amazing experience. I don't get that, but it's true.

Some people have sex with people who are of the same gender. Good for them. Whatever makes you happy. The odd thing is how objectionable some people find this. Imagine. The activity two consenting adults engage in behind closed doors being a matter of concern to a person because of their warped interpretation of a religion. I just don’t get that. The people who get bothered by other peoples’ sexual habits are often themselves people who do not believe in premarital sex. Talk about stupid. One of the biggest problems with sex is how so many people — usually for religious reasons — try to stifle the natural desires people have for it. Some people even get uptight about masturbation. Seriously. Talk about victimless. There’s no chance anyone is being coerced during masturbation (is there? I don’t think you can force yourself or pressure yourself or get yourself drunk to do it.).

Then there’s prostitution. Boy has that gotten a bad name. Logically it makes no sense whatsoever that its not legal. In fact it would make more sense for it to be legal. Legality would make it safer from pimps and STDs and think of what the government could rake in on taxes.

Thanks to the internet you can watch sex anytime you want. This is called porn which is short for pornography. Here's the first definition of pornography as provided by my good friends at Merriam-Webster: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement. Doesn't sound so bad when you put it that way. Most of what you can see is staged but its still sex. A lot of is kinky and appeals to specific fetishes and unfortunately a lot of it debases women It’s a shame it’s there and that so many men enjoy seeing women depicted as sluts and bitches. I don’t really know what should be done about it or if its even worth thinking about. Perhaps the best thing society can do is create a culture in which women are not called ugly names, not hit, not demeaned and not objectified. The last one is a tough one because its quite natural for a man to want to look at pretty women. It just is. But then looking is one thing, acting on it is another.

I love women. I married one and had two as children. I like hanging out with the women at work because they are nicer, warmer and more nurturing then men. There might still be wars if all the world’s leaders were men but I’m guessing there’d be less. A lot. I do hope that women keep us men around. We are functional creatures. We come in handy for certain tasks, can make good sex partners and we’re pretty good at sports.

Anyway, its time for me to celebrate my conception. Can't believe no one sent a card.

26 May 2016

Smiley Faces, Depression, A Commute Story and a Baseball Game


Some people write smiley faces on notes. I don’t understand why. But it really doesn’t bother me. Not at all. I don’t do it but other people do. So that’s okay. People are different from one another.  I’ll bet you noticed that.

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Sometimes I feel like a darkness has descended in me. It doesn’t obstruct my vision but it does keep me from being happy. It’s a physical force that settles in and gets comfortable. If I’m busy at work I don’t notice it so much. But when I stop work or when I pause in my writing -- like I just did -- then I feel it.

The worst thing about it may be that it sometimes feel like its supposed to be there and that any reprieve is temporary. It’ll be back. Like I’m supposed to live with it. Get used to it. Accept it. I don’t want it around, though. I want to enjoy every day. Well, as much as possible. It’s hard to enjoy your day if your bus is 20 minutes late. But for the most part there are good things in my life that I enjoy. But if the blackness takes over there’s no enjoying anything. There’s just the sadness. Anything I think about, no matter how wonderful, feels awful. Isn’t that terrible? You have something exciting to look forward to but you only feel empty and sad when you think about it.

Once the pain was so awful that I got an insight into why people commit suicide. If that’s all there is in your life and its compounded by other events like ill health or the loss of a loved one or poverty, then I can see how being riddled with unhappy thoughts could make life unbearable. Right now everything is jake with me so I’m not a candidate and I understand your asking.

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I was on the bus. An elderly Chinese man sat down next to me. I’ve seen him several times before and in each instance he was eating an apple. This occasion was no exception. I do not know why he likes to eat an apple on the bus. I do know that he is a very noisy apple eater. He's meticulous and take small bites but they are noisy ones. I’ve tolerated it before but this time I decided to move. I found an unoccupied seat. Well, not one occupied by a person. A teenage girl was sitting next to the seat and had her bag on it. This is okay if you are on a three quarters empty bus and more people are getting off than on. But this was a crowded bus going through a crowded area. So it was not okay, unless, of course, she immediately picked up her bag the instant someone showed an interest in the seat. She did not. I tried to get her attention but she would not look up from her iPhone and maybe could not hear me as she had her ear buds in. I made several efforts to awake the girl from this her stupor. No luck. I waved my hand in front of her face. She didn’t flinch. A gentleman sitting in front of her indicated that he was of the opinion that she was perhaps crazy. Finally someone offered me a seat and I took it. I was now sitting next to a someone who was man spreading. He was a man. His legs were spread and he looked comfy. I was forced to edge of the seat. Not comfy. I decided to just stand. I’d been standing for but a few seconds when a seat opened up. I took it. Remember I mentioned the guy in front of the teenage girl who had suggested she was maybe a bit off? Well his stop came and somehow the door closed before he could exit. He screamed “open the fucking door!” twice and to emphasize his point kicked the door repeatedly. The door opened. He left. So in terms of his suggestion about the girl being whacko, I guess it takes one to know one. The rest of the ride — what was left of it  — was blissfully uneventful.

The subway ride that followed was okay. I could have done without the driver barking into the intercom at each stop for people to “board on up.” I’ve heard other drivers say “board up.” What the hell is the “up” for? This driver was a real chatterbox who repeated information in great detail. The problem some people have when they speak in front of or to a group is that they try to sound smart and thus sound dumb. They use an excess of words and often pick the wrong ones. Here’s a tip: stick to what you know. The language you know. Don’t feel that you have to employ some fancy pants words. Sounding official often is to sound dumb. Also try not to be repetitive. I repeat, try not to be repetitive or repeat yourself or say the same thing over again maybe using different words as you cover the same ground employing alternate verbiage. See what I mean?

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Monday night I went to a baseball game. This is something I used to do a lot of but now not so much. One reason is the price of tickets. While movie tickets have about doubled in the past 20 years, tickets to sports events have increased by 500% (I don’t have exact figures, I’m just spitballing here but I know I’m not far off. Maybe sometime soon I’ll research this.) In days of yore I could go to a ball game without even thinking about what it would do to my bankroll and buy one of the higher price seats. Now I’ve got to think long and hard about investing in a ducat. The game experience has also been negatively affected for me by all the extracurriculars that go on. When I was a kid we went to a game to see the game and to chow down ballpark food. Sometimes there was a bit of organ music between innings. You could actually sit and chat. Now you’re constantly bombarded by music, videos, contests, sing-a-longs and worse of all the kiss cam. Isn’t everybody sick of the kiss cam yet?

We’re raising a generation that expects all kinds of bells and whistles. Plus the younger set spends large portions at the ball yard staring at their damn phones (which makes the ballpark no different than anyplace else on the planet). I like to watch the game and talk about the game and talk about games of old and players of old and even non baseball topics. That’s entertainment enough for me. I guess this is a sign of my advancing years. It’s like the way that when I run I just run and don’t listen to music. There’s too much multi-tasking these days. People aren’t satisfied with doing just one thing.

I guess I'm something of a curmudgeon. 

22 May 2016

Laughing At Someone, Being a Good Citizen, Cowboy Hats and a Shopping for Clothes -- In Other Words You Get a Lot of Bang For Your Buck With this Post



This first bit was written on Thursday.

I laughed at a stranger. Didn’t mean it. Middle aged average looking man in front of me at Starbucks got his coffee. Instead of saying, “thank you,” he went with, “right on, man.” A chortle just shot out of me. It seemed so incongruous. A doofus hipster or an aging hippie can successful go with, “right on, man,” but not a normal looking bloke. I tried to play it off like I was coughing but the gentlemen in question shot me two separate looks over his shoulder. They were both of the “what’s your problem?” variety. Hey, whattaya gonna do in a situation like that. Am I right? That guffaw is out there and if you can’t cover it with a cough you’re stuck with it. I don’t know what I’d have said if he’d asked me what the deal was.

Mind you, I don’t make a habit of committing social faux pas in public — who does? I’m a fairly respectable citizen (provided I continue my policy of not verbalizing some of the bizarre things I think — trust me, you don’t wanna know). I keep to myself. Maybe when frustrated I’ll let a sigh escape that’s a little too loud and people may catch me in an occasional eye roll but I’ve yet to bark at a stranger who didn’t snap at me first or nearly plow into me with his (I use the masculine pronoun because it’s always a male) bike. (What is it, by the way, with the entitled behavior of so damn many bicyclists? I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here because the vast majority of people on bikes are minding their Ps and Qs, but there are way too many who feel traffic lights and stop signs are for cars only and people in crosswalks are there at their own peril and that a crowded sidewalk is a perfectly acceptable place for their wheeled conveyance and that slowly pedaling in front of cars is good and proper. Thanks for lessening your carbon footprints bicyclists but you are neither above the law nor granted carte blanche to do as you please. End of tirade.) As I was saying I’m probably as civil and polite and respectful of rules and regulations and anyone (a far cry from when I was hitting the sauce, lemme tell ya). In other words I’m good at being one of the faceless masses even though I feel special. Who don’t?

Speaking of laughing at people - cowboy hats. One thing I appreciate about living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area is that you don’t see people walking around (or for that matter sitting around) wearing cowboy hats. Some of you (I flatter myself that there are any people actually reading this drivel) may be wondering: what the heck is wrong with wearing a cowboy hat? To that I would answer: nothing. However I don’t think the cowboy hat suggests that the person underneath possesses a great intellect, or indeed any intellect at all. I do admit that there exists a photograph of yours truly -- at about age 8 -- in a cowboy hat. My father, brother and uncle are all in the pic and all of our domes are similarly covered. I remember this phase that we collectively went through and it lasted somewhere in the area of one month. Tops. We all have our skeletons in the closet.

This second bit was written today, Sunday.

There was a sign outside the gym that announced a Psychic Fair. My question is this: why do they need to advertise? Doesn’t everyone just know? I once went to a Psychic Fair but it was an accident, I thought it was a Psychotic Fair. (We need more of those.)

I went clothes shopping with the missus yesterday. I dare not go on my own lest I suffer ridicule from wife and daughters at the hideous clothes that I would end up with. Going with my better half ensures that I continue to be sartorially resplendent. I like getting new clothes but I hate the shopping aspect of it. The main problem I have is with the whole trying things on deal that the wife forces me to do. Evidently it is important that clothes fit and that they look good on me. I would always rather take it on faith that if I  buy them everything will be fine. In many ways I’m something of an idiot.

We went to this huge shopping center in downtown San Francisco. There are several levels, rotunda style. We went to Nordstrom’s first and when the first shirt that I looked at was a whopping $145 I fell into a dead faint. Revived at last I found that the kind of pants I’d bought a few years ago for $70 now were in triple figures. They’re just shirts and pants for crying out loud. How good can they be? And ties! My god ties are not composed of a lot of material so how the hell can they charge over a hundred bucks for em? We got out of Nordstrom’s and visited stores for the 99%.

Many of the people who work in San Francisco clothing stores are gay men. This is an actual fact and I have no compunction in mentioning it. Most of them are both serious about their work and are thus good people to have waiting on you and are perfectly charming. I have had gay co-workers, gay bosses, gay neighbors and very good friends of said orientation. It’s come to the point that I don’t think twice about anyone’s sexual preferences. I don’t know why other people do. In my experience straight men are more likely to be jerks than gay men. All that said (to cover my ass — so to speak) there are the occasional gay clothing store employees who are snooty, officious and even rude. They make me feel like I’m imposing on their times and that I am hopelessly out of touch with fashion. They don’t treat my wife any better. I got one of these clowns at one store. He made me feel variously like I didn’t exist and that I had just belched during a wedding ceremony. What can you do?

I tried on shirts and I tried on pants and I showed my wife this and she showed me that and the eight miles I’d run the day before seemed like a stroll in the park compared to the pitched battle of clothes shopping. We had lunch. It was good. The missus proposed we go up to Macy’s as we’d exhausted all reasonable possibilities at the shopping center. On the way we stopped at the Gap to look at their clothes which — it turns out — are largely made for 16 year olds. It was there that I surrendered and in my best impersonation of sleepy six year old boy, insisted we go home.

I had two new shirts and one pair of pants that are being altered. I guess it was worth it?

Today I ran another eight miles and we went to a movie and grocery shopping and now I’m home with Monday morning looming ominously. Who am I to complain?

17 May 2016

Baseball and Me: A Childhood Love Story that Never Ends

I loved the feel of my baseball glove over my left hand. I liked slamming a ball repeatedly into my glove. Even better was tossing the ball back and forth with someone. I liked the way it would thwack! into the webbing of the glove. I liked the motion of the throw. I’d feel naked tossing the ball without a cap on. The snug feel of a cap on my head was a must for playing ball. I would occasionally tug at the bill of the cap.

Fielding ground balls was fun. A ball bouncing rapidly toward me could look nearly impossible to glove cleanly but I never had any trouble. I could even back hand balls and handle bad hops. Of course I fumbled some, everybody does. I also liked catching pop ups and fly balls. I’d camp under the ball and watch it into my glove. Sometimes there’d be a point in the ball’s descent in which I’d be sure I was going to drop it. But at the last second my confidence would restore itself and the ball would nestle into my mitt. That was always a good feeling.

Hitting balls was fun too. Sometimes I’d catch one on the sweet spot and be amazed at how hard and far I hit the ball. This would be accompanied by a rush of excitement and a sense of physical power as the ball took flight. Of course not all swings were successful. Sometimes the ball would pop meekly into the air, other times it would glance off the end of the bat and go foul, it could also bounce directly to a fielder and worst of all I might not make any contact at all. These results would cause momentary disappointment but I always knew there’d be another chance, another swing, another turn at bat. Baseball seemed to forever be providing second chances.

Running the bases was a lot of fun. There was the feeling of security at being on the base. In baseball lexicon you are safe and that word is apropos because you feel safe and secure there, untouchable, a tag means nothing when you're on base. You have survived and may continue your journey.  Then there is also the risk of running from one base to the next. Often you have no choice but to go and get the sinking feeling when you can see you wont make it before the throw. Sometimes you get a reprieve in such instances. Perhaps the ball has been dropped or thrown wildly and you are safe after all. Beating a throw on a close play is exhilarating. Of course the best feeling was crossing home plate. A run scored! Mission accomplished.

I never felt I’d played if I hadn't gotten dusty or hadn’t accumulated a grass stain. Bruises and scrapes were de riguer. I never sought them but played with an abandon that made them inevitable. I was forever diving for balls that seemed just out of reach. To snare one was to be a hero to miss was to have made a valiant effort. Of course slides on the bases were fun and I often slid when I didn't need to.

If I wasn’t playing in an actual game I might be playing one in my head and going through as many motions as possible in my backyard. Of course in those games I wasn’t a kid at the playground. No indeed I was a major leaguer performing great heroics in leading my team to victory. Other times I wasn’t involved at all I was taking the place of my favorite team — the San Francisco Giants — as they won again. Victories were either by resounding scores or eked out by a late inning home run. I was forever robbing opponents of home runs with incredible catches or turning acrobatic double plays.

Baseball cards were a must. They gave faces to names. My favorite players were the ones who looked good on their cards. A head shot on a card meant that player was persona non grata but a good pose with a bat or a throwing motion might qualify a player to be a member of my imaginary team. I was absolute ruler of my team, setting the batting order, the pitching rotation and selecting the reserves. I would study my cards carefully, imagining the exploits described on the back ("Bob led the Texas League in doubles for the Tulsa Oilers in 1964." Wow!). The cards brought the statistics to life (Imagine: Lou hit 3.24 with 22 homers in 1967!).  I coupled my beloved cards with the daily box scores. It was no feat at all to memorize each club’s starting line up and batting order and I was even familiar with their starting pitchers. Box scores may look like just a bunch of names with numbers next to them but to me they were (and still are) easily decipherable codes that tell the story of games. Who failed who succeeded who was average are all there. Still there was much to the imagination. If a player was two for four I could picture what those two hits looked like. One was line drive into the gap between center and left field that produced a double and the other was a ground ball deep into the hole that the runner legged out for a single. Home runs were re-created in my mind. The majestic flight of the ball deep into the bleachers or high line drive that nicked the fence and fell into the seats.

Nothing substituted for actually going to a major league game. Best of all was going with my father, of course. Somehow the hot dogs tasted better at the ballpark and the sodas were more refreshing. Peanuts were so much associated with baseball games that I wouldn’t think of eating them anyplace else. (In the same vein pop corn was reserved for trips to the movies.) It was easy to be enamored of baseball when your favorite team featured the legendary Willie Mays in center field — surely he was the best in the game — along with sluggers like Willie McCovey. There was also the high kicking Dominican Dandy, Juan Marichal as the ace of the pitching staff. Of course my favorite players tended to be the likes of back up catcher Ed Bailey, third basemen Jimmy Davenport and my favorite of all time, reserve outfielder Cap Peterson. It was easy enough to opt for a superstar like Mays as your favorite player but I needed to be different and adopt one of the baseball foundlings like Cappy. I was crushed when he was traded one sad off season. My next favorite player was Ray Sadecki who came over in a controversial trade for All Star Orlando Cepeda, another feared Giant power hitter. Sadecki proceeded to stink up the joint as a Giant, regularly earning choruses of boos. But I was nothing if not loyal and stuck with Sadecki. Even when I saw him pitch in person and lose a game to the then lowly Mets, 13-2. After all, the Giants two runs came on a Sadecki homer!

Eventually I stopped playing baseball when I discovered a talent for another sport — soccer. But my love for the game never abated. A baseball game can have long periods of listlessness that are interrupted by anything from mild action to dramatic thrills. No two games are alike. Plus baseball has and always will be a part of the American ethos. It is rich with colorful players, teams and nicknames and with historic and bizarre and shocking and exciting moments. Baseball is an integral part of American culture and history. And for many of us, baseball evokes memories of youth's innocence. My wonder at the exploits of great players and my imaginings of further deeds are rich parts of my youth.

It was just great to be a kid with a mitt and a ball and cap.