Double Fault

August 15, 2017

Once you reach a certain age, you begin to wonder how you’ll be looked back upon.  If I haven’t reached that age, I’m certainly getting closer.  So whenever there’s a funeral, memorial service or other recognition of a life passed, I pay attention.

I came across the sign shown above this past weekend in Gardiner, the small town where my house upstate is located.  It was posted outside a building that houses the town’s volunteer fire department. My son, Essej, and my daughter-in-law, Fets who were staying with me had also noticed the sign. They both thought that it may have simply been an acknowledgment of Mr. Becker’s retirement. While I may not be wiser than they are, I’m older and more experienced. To me, it seemed pretty obvious that the notice was a public obituary. For Al and his family’s sake, I hope I’m wrong. .. but I don’t think so.

Unlike Mr. Becker, I don’t belong to any volunteer service organizations. In fact, the only organization I do belong to is my tennis club—The Knickerbocker Field Club.  Apart from a great place to play tennis, I see the club as playing a very important part in any public recognition of my having existed. (This is euphemistic to a fault; and for good reason–my kids read this and I don’t want them to be alarmed. Or to prematurely start the fight over the estate, for that matter.)

At the “Knick”, I have some very good friends, some almost-very good friends, some just friends and a host of acquaintances. And hardly any enemies. So I think I can count on a reasonable representation from the club at a way-in-the-future appropriate time.

But what’s missing  at the “Knick” is a way to make public, important events and happenings. True, we have an e-newsletter.  But it’s only published weekly and often goes into spam folders. What’s needed, I think, is a large sign board a la the Gardiner volunteer fire department which would alert members of significant announcements.

I know that one way or another, at some point I will no longer be playing at the club. When that happens, I’d like some recognition of my connection and time there. I think a large sign announcing my departure would be the perfect way to highlight that event. And, I have a few suggestions of how I’d like the display to read.

“Long time member, Neil Stein, has hit his final winner at the “Knick”.

“……….  has served his final ace…..”

“……..  has given his final bad call….”

or

“Long time member, Neil Stein, has double faulted for the final time.”

I really, really like that last one a lot.  And as long as I’m fantasizing, why not see if there’s someone who wants to do a documentary about my time at the club. Maybe Martin Scorsese, for example.  Call it, The Last Faults. Or even more poetically, The Last Faltz.

 

 

The Italian Job

August 3, 2017

Over the last six months or so, I’ve become an expert on national politics. This is, in no small measure, the result of a very unhealthy obsession with the disturbing activities of you-know-who.  So if I didn’t know how “a bill becomes a law” before, I certainly do now.

Interestingly (to me), as much as I know about the political landscape in Washington, I know next to nothing about New York State politics.  Sure I know that Andrew Cuomo is the governor . . .but truthfully, I don’t think I know who the Lieutenant Governor is.  My guess is that it probably doesn’t matter.  As for Mr. Cuomo, the only things I really know about him is that he screams a lot when he’s just talking; he’s not nearly as smart as his father nor as good-looking as his brother, and he hates Bill de Blasio.  Oh yes, and he has a girlfriend whose name is somehow related to a frozen cake brand.  I think I have that right.

As far as the rest of my knowledge of State politics I’m aware that there is a State Senate and a State Assembly.  But now that Sheldon Silver is gone, I don’t think I could name even two of those politicians.  Of course, I could easily find out who most of those Senators and Assembly(wo)men are—just by doing a Google search of white-collar indictments in New York State.

Here’s some more information to use at your next cocktail party:  the State legislature is only in session six months a year (January-June). During that time there are about 17 days that our representatives are actually physically present.  This sounds like it would have been the perfect job for me before my  reti…retire…retirement.  (Now, there’s not even one day that I have to be present!)  Although, as I think about it, being in Albany during January and February is no great shakes.  Who knows . . . maybe there could have been a part-time, part-time job for me.  But that’s all water under the bridge.

Speaking of bridges, this brings me to what this blog is about. According to an article in The Times a few weeks ago, as this year’s State legislative session was wrapping up, there was some unfinished business regarding a proposal to name the new Tappan-Zee Bridge after the Governor’s father, Mario.  This effort failed.  But an item that really interested me was proposed legislation to add a second “z” to the Verrazano Bridge. The bridge which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, is named for the Italian explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano, but it has only a single “z” and it seems that the single “z” has long been taken as a slight by Italian-Americans.

Which I already knew.  I have a fair number of Italian friends and I have to tell you, whenever I see them, after a few pleasantries about the weather and the family, it’s not uncommon for them to launch into a tirade about feeling dissed about the missing “z”. Which I totally get. Because, although I try to not let it bother me, I feel exactly the same way whenever I think about how they screwed around with the spelling of the Bronx- Whitestein bridge.

 

The Designated Driver

July 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I read an article in The Times about the sale of a parking space in Hong Kong for $664,000.  Now, that’s pretty astounding but even here in sleepy Park Slope parking spaces are selling for near $300K.  The reasons for this extravagant price include the closing of parking garages because of their greater value as condominium sites and the confiscation of countless street parking spaces by the Citi Bike program which operates like the anti-Kris Kringle and overnight, stealthily removes parking spots replacing them with bike depots. But the greatest cause of the skyrocketing prices for parking is the influx of money into the neighborhood formerly known as Park Slope. After all, if you’re paying $5 million for your house, what’s another couple hundred thou for a little home for your car.  What we have here is the purest form of the economics of supply and demand.

Now, you may think that you’re detecting a trace of my signature holier-than-thou attitude in this reporting.  Or maybe, even a little envy (the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins for which I don’t have a monthly subscription). But for once, you’d be wrong; ’cause you see, I own a parking space; right here six floors below my apartment. But before you start to figure that I’ll pay for dinner, you should understand that my flushness is not what it seems.  But more on that later because what this essay is really about is the burden it is to always have a place waiting to park my car.

You see, I have a group of friends and almost-friends that I play tennis with.  Sometimes singles, sometimes doubles. But since I alone among us don’t have to worry about finding a place to park afterwards, I do the driving to the courts. That is, I do the picking up and the dropping off. Which means that when I’m playing doubles, my route includes three pickups and three drop offs. The logistics of this is very challenging and forces me to use some brain cells that have been hanging around doing nothing. Walking on cobblestones and crossword puzzles are now redundancies. For this, I’m grateful.  (If I haven’t said it you directly, “Thanks fellas”.)

Before I continue with the benefits of being a chauffeur, let me return to why there’s no way you should be asking me to pick up the tab when we go out.  Even though I have a truly beautiful parking space, it’s not worth much.  You see, because of a quirk in my co-op’s by-laws, if I wanted to sell my parking space, I could only sell it to someone who lives in my building.  Meaning that American capitalism stops at my garage door. About one half of the people in my building already own a spot and about 80% of the remaining occupants don’t have a car.  This means that there are only two or three people who would have any interest in buying my parking spot. Because of this tiny universe of potential buyers, if I wanted to sell my space, I probably could get $9.00, maybe $9.75 for it; if there was a bidding war, possibly $12.00 – $13.00.  (Under the rubric of “Just because it’s good for me doesn’t mean it’s bad for you”, I recently brought up the idea to the co-op of opening up the sale of parking spaces to the world at large—the Board’s reaction was just short of coming after me with torches and pitchforks.) So for now, you’ll have to pay for your own drink.

I think I’m pretty good-natured about doing the driving.  Apparently so much so, that (half) kiddingly, even when my tennis buddies are playing without me, they ask if I’ll drive them to the courts. There’s something very sweet about that, no? But in case you start to think I’ve had a lobotomy, I do have one resentment.  And not a small one (big surprise!). Because of the non-Uber service I provide,  I’m always the first to leave and the last to arrive home. My friends have gotten to sleep in before I come by to pick them up and when we return, they’ve showered, gone grocery shopping and started a stew, all before I’ve even made it to my front door. I try not to think about it but when I do finally get around to cooking dinner—-oh wait, that’s someone else’s life I’ve just entered. Forget it.

There’s one thing about this situation that is completely baffling to me. When I go out with friends, and I’ve done (more than) my share of drinking and it’s time to call it a night, I’m still the “designated driver”.  I can’t put my finger on it but I know that’s something that just doesn’t make any sense.

 

The Seventh Inning Kvetch

June 28, 2017

This past Fathers Day, my son, Essej, took me along with his two boys–my grandsons— to a Mets game at Citifield.  This was Julian’s and Levi’s (minors do not qualify for the witless protection program) first time at a professional ballgame and surprisingly, they seemed to be underwhelmed.  But at least they each got some cotton candy–that’s right, not peanuts or crackerjacks but freakin’ cotton candy! At a baseball game! Come on!  Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio!?

But that’s not what this is about. Prior to the start of the game, as is traditional, the crowd was asked to stand while someone sang the Star Spangled Banner. That was expected.  But later on, in the middle of the seventh inning, the seventh inning stretch, the public address announcer asked everyone to stand again and remove their caps while we listened to a rendition of God Bless America.  (This, I understand, has been the custom of many ball clubs since 9/11.)   I ordinarily don’t wear a hat but on that day I was; and for a moment I considered not taking it off.  You see, although, of course the 9/11 tragedy has meaning for me, I’ve never been a big fan of wholesale patriotism. I think it can be dangerous and is often used as a bludgeon. And sometimes it’s monumentally hypocritical. (You probably think I’m referring to draft-dodging Donald Trump’s mawkish embrace of “my Vets”. I’m not.)  A case in point: God Bless America was written by Irving Berlin, a Jew, in 1918.  There were many country clubs, hotels, and other institutions that were off-limits to that Jew for nearly the next 30 years. That’s almost ironic, no?  But the truth is that, it’s much more likely that I was reluctant to remove my hat because I’m neurotically oppositional. Sometimes the simplest explanations are the most correct.

This paean to patriotism was followed by the customary, Take Me Out To The Ballgame.  Now that’s a song I can really get behind and I and the rest of crowd really got into belting it out.  Americana at its best.

My experience at the game got me thinking about a story a friend of mine recently told me.  He had just bought a condominium in Florida and went to his first condo association meeting .  Apparently, this association starts all of its meetings by asking everyone to stand and recite the Pledge Of Allegiance. Not to the condo . . . but to “the United States of America.”  I was gobsmacked when I heard that. There’s something going on in the country that eludes me. I don’t think I’ve had to recite the Pledge since the sixth grade and I’ve replaced it with other things that I struggle to remember. But what’s really disturbing about this story is that this took place on the east (Jewish/liberal) coast of Florida. I can only imagine what it’s like on the other coast, say in Naples.  I bet they’re not only “pledging” but, almost certainly, they have a dress code too. Now, that’s where I’d really have to draw the line!

 

 

Does A Bear Sit In The ‘Hood?

June 15, 2017

One of the reasons I enjoy going to my house in the country is the peacefulness I feel when I’m there.  Actually, it’s practically the only reason I go there.  Truth is, there’s not much to do so I usually spend a lot of time doing the Sunday crossword, listening to music and reading. Unfortunately, the people who already live there, my neighbors, have a different outlook. They have chores to do. So even though I have a fair amount of land and none of my neighbors is particularly nearby, my weekend reverie is occasionally interrupted by one of them mowing his lawn. Usually, Sunday mornings when I’m just settling in to seriously do nothing.

Ordinarily, I’m lying on a chaise on a screen-in porch in the back of my house when the mowing begins and my heart rate spikes to its city norm. Even though I know it’s completely unreasonable–after all, these people work during the week and the lawn needs to be mowed—-I find it almost unforgivable that my needs are not being considered. (For those of you who know me, I realize it’s entirely unnecessary to include that last phrase.) So I usually tough it out knowing that there’s only so much lawn that can be mowed and peace and quiet will be mine again.

Two weekends ago, when the mowing began, instead of stewing in my self-righteousness, I made an effort to be a bit more proactive. I decided to plant myself with the crossword puzzle on the front porch on the other side of the house away from the cacophony of noise. That porch is not nearly as gracious as the rear one, so this was a real test of my maturity. And for a little while, things went okay; not great but acceptable.

Ursa Major?

And then out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving.  I turned and saw a bear—a large one— walking (or whatever bears do) very near to the porch.  I don’t do that well with mice, so you can only imagine how freaked out I was when I saw Smokey wandering around. I then snuck back into the house and snapped a photo from my kitchen window as documentary evidence.

In some respects one might view this a an interesting addition to the naturalness and uncitiness of my Eden. It’s not. Since the bear sighting I’m in a heightened stage of vigilance which is really interfering with my doing nothing. My porch time (both front and back) has been considerably reduced. My hammock, set idyllicly under a black walnut tree, goes unused. (Lying in it, with the possibility of nodding off, I view as nothing less than a suicide attempt.)

So it looks like I’ll have to get off my ass and start doing stuff.  I hear that tennis can be a pretty fun game. I may have to give it a try.

Speechless in Secaucus

June 7, 2017

The Prince And The (emotional) Pauper

As much as I would like to, I can’t seem to find anything to write about that doesn’t touch on politics.  In the good old days, I would be writing about all sorts of things that I may have read that I found curious. Maybe no one is writing about other stuff anymore and the blog has just become a reflection of the times.  As someone very famous has said . . . or rather, tweeted—sad!

What has captured my attention lately is the Princeling in the White House (PIWH), New Jersey native, Jared Kushner. I don’t like him. Which you might say is unfair, since there’s nothing to judge him on; no one has ever heard him speak.  I mean no one.  But I feel perfectly fine about having a bad opinion of him based on nothing.  Well . . . maybe not exactly nothing.

After all, he does have a lot to answer for.  Apart from meeting with the Russians and lying about it, there’s that business of encouraging the Dick in the White House (DIWH) to fire Jim Comey.  And being part of the Administration; and squiring that profiteer Ivanka everywhere; and being a slum lord; and . . . and . . . and maybe the worst thing, that SHIT-EATING GRIN.

His silence had reminded me of another notable figure who remained mute for his entire time on the public stage—Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd. I’ve been writing this blog for so long that Mr. Palin has found his way into it more than once. (Newt’s Mutes and an all-time favorite, Thrilla from Wasila). But Todd was relatively benign and more on the periphery of venality.  Jared is a whole other kettle of (non-shell) fish. (Bear in mind, he’s an orthodox Jew).

However, he does have a few saving graces; after all, he’s going to be the one to negotiate peace in the Middle East.  In fact, the DIWH has said that if “anyone can do it, it’s Jared”.  That’s all well and good but that’s like my father (who thought I was a better athlete than I am) saying that I could win Wimbledon.  I can just hear Sam saying, “if anyone can do it, Neil can.”  I wouldn’t bet all my shekels on either one.

But maybe the PIWH’s greatest single attribute is that he doesn’t have one of those beards that it seems everyone and his brother (not mine, though) are sporting.  I don’t know if they’re called Van Dykes or Van Goghs or Van Wycke Expressways but jeez, they’re everywhere. I just don’t get it.  My guess is that in twenty years the owners of these things will look back on them as I do when I see photos of myself wearing bell bottom pants and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking!?”

From everything I’ve read and from conversations I’ve had about the PIWH’s muteness, several schools of thought have emerged: some people think that his reluctance to speak is because, like those silent movie stars who couldn’t make the transition to “talkies”, he has some weird high-pitched voice. I don’t buy that. I think it’s much more likely that, when we do hear him speak, we’ll discern just the slightest trace of a Russian accent. Wouldn’t that be something, Nyet?

 

 

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Life Imitates Art

May 5, 2017

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog that mentioned my thrall with having a night-light in a bathroom.  Apparently, the geniuses behind the internet pick up everything one shows an interest in and obviously, they have a lavatory algorithm that they pass on to advertisers.  Why else would I get an email trying to sell me a device that would enable me to Transform Your Toilet Into a Gentle Night Light!  

The only thing missing is harp music

At first glance, I thought there was some merit to this gizmo.  Seemingly, it’s battery operated—so no outlet need be nearby.That’s good.  And it’s activated by a motion detector. You just show up near the toilet bowl and voila!, there’s a halo around the bowl. Very spiritual, I thought.

I was close to ordering one of these because I thought, at worst, it would be a great conversation piece. But I quickly nixed that as a possible ancillary benefit. After all, to show it off would mean inviting someone into my bathroom. Which is kind of weird. And the truth is, that before I would even get to that hard call, I’d actually have someone come visit me. So really, the only conversation I’d be having about my “piece” would be with myself. Which is also weird.

The motion detector aspect of the night-light was, at first glance, very appealing. I wondered how sensitive it was to activity; how close to the toilet bowl would I have to get for the damn thing to turn on.  ‘Cause if I’m busy stubbing my toe finding my way, that’s a real down side.  And then, of course, there’s the possibility that it’s overly sensitive . . . that it goes on each time you walk near the bathroom. I wouldn’t want that either.  I have a motion detector on my barn upstate near my driveway. When I arrive at night, floodlights come on and I can easily make my way to my house. But the light also goes on whenever a deer goes by; or a cat; or maybe even a mouse. Having those lights go on suddenly every so often is very jarring and I’m sure accounts for the tic that I’ve developed.

Realistically, there’s very little chance of either a deer or a cat setting that light off in my apartment. But if it did get activated because of the motion of something other than me, that would be very worrisome. So much so that I have a feeling that tic would be the least of my problems.

Breaking News!

April 6, 2017

I don’t get it.  What’s the big deal about Devin Nunes’ secret sauce?  The guy seems to have made a major career move in maintaining that it’s of paramount importance to protect that sauce.  Sure, sure . . . I’m no cook, but still there seems to be too much intrigue around it.  And even Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has been spending a lot of time on TV wondering about that sauce. All while the Trump administration continues to obscure the recipe in which the sauce was used.

These are strange times we are living in where there seems to be some new revelation almost every day pointing to some corruption involving the Trump campaign.  But some days, there’s nothing new or particularly earth shattering and yet the networks that I watch continue describing everything as “Breaking News!”  I half-expect CNN to have the ‘breaking news’ caption followed by a crawl noting that the sun came up this morning.  A little nuance would be useful.

This is all to say I’ve been watching too much television news.  So much so, that I’m starting to get inured to the shenanigans and outrages that are being reported.  In fact, it’s been almost a week since I threw something at my TV.

My absorption has coincided with my continuing recovery from surgery. My viewing has, in the worst way, become a mainstay. I don’t say this proudly; more of an admission of a rapidly diminishing intellect.  Oh . . . you wouldn’t quite know that when talking with me because most of the conversations I have with friends and acquaintances are about politics. I’d say nearly 75% of the time at lunch with friends is spent haranguing about the Trump disaster. Who am I kidding–it’s more like 95%. This makes it look like I’m someone who has a life and has something to say. Thank you DJT.

But fortunately, I am beginning to see a shift, a lifting of a veil.  Not so much a change in the political realm; more a slight movement in my interests. You see, baseball season has begun. And if you want (another) mindless activity to occupy you while your bones heal, what better way than watching a three hour spectacle where nothing happens for most of the time.  With little or no aggravation. And never any breaking news.

Let’s Go Mets!

 

Close Encounter Of The Worst Kind

March 2, 2017

imgresFrom out of the blue, I had a near brush with death last week.  Okay, okay . . . maybe not a “brush”, more like a scare.  And truthfully, not really about death; closer to a bit of a deep concern about a bad disease.  I’ll explain:

I had my first follow-up visit with the surgeon who performed my hip replacement surgery.  I was sitting in the smallish waiting area waiting (what else?) to be called into one of those little examining rooms where I could do some more waiting. Another man was in the waiting area with me.  At some point, he left to go to the bathroom, I presume.  It was at this point when events took a turn from which I’m only just now recovering.

My surgeon, Dr. M, came out of one of the examining rooms on his way to another when he saw me.  He came over, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry but your blood tests indicated that you have blankety-blankosis.”  I looked at him both stunned and quizzically (I’m able to do this) and said, “What!”  At this, he leaned in towards me and in the most comforting way (something that was sorely missing during surgery) assured me, “Don’t worry–with the right medications, we should be able get this blankety-blankosis under control.  It’s not quite life-threatening.”

Since I’m really quick on my feet, this time I said to Dr. M, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  He looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you Mr. Wilton?”  Well, let me tell you, I’ve never been happier not to be Mr. Wilton than I was at that moment. I’m sure there  are times when it’s just great to be Mr. Wilton but this certainly wasn’t one of them.  As this conversation was unfolding, poor Mr. W reappeared, and overhearing what was going on, confessed that he, in fact, was Mr. Wilton. Dr. M made some vague apologies to me while simultaneously going over the good news/bad news with Mr. Wilton.  From that conversation I pieced together that Mr. Wilton’s pre-op blood tests had revealed this problem which is why he had come in to see Dr. M. (And collaterally, take some number of months or years off of my life. Hopefully, it’ll be the ones at the end, when I expect I won’t know what’s going on anyway.)

After this awkward and unsettling episode I ultimately wound up being seen by Dr. M who again apologized.  I made a joke that since he had gotten me confused with Mr. Wilton, how could I be sure that he had operated on the correct hip. It turns out, Dr. M doesn’t have much of a sense of humor . . . at least, not about that kind of stuff.  In any event, my exam went well and I don’t have to see him for an entire year.

Which means that I have now concluded my hip-trilogy. Don’t get too excited ’cause  you’re not quite out of the woods yet.  There remains the issues with my knee.  But that’s for another time.

“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times”

February 16, 2017

I’ve always had an affinity for adages, axioms, maxims, sayings or whatever you want to call those expressions which are able to synthesize complex concepts into a simple statement.  My attraction may have sprung from hearing so many of them from my father when I was growing up.  As a kid, I thought these truisms were something he had made up.  It was only as an adult I came to know that sayings like, “All that glitters is not gold” or “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” had origins that predated Sam. But sprinkled among his aphorisms were some that I’m almost certain were coined by him:  “Rich or poor . . . it’s better to have money.” How succinct! How Sam!

For a number of years, you could hardly have had a conversation with me where I didn’t drag out the chestnut, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I have a feeling that my love of that phrase was the result of years of therapy. Had I been spoon fed that concept early on, with the money I saved, I probably could now own a small island in the Caribbean. But what’s past is past. (“There’s no use crying over spilt milk.”)  In any event it doesn’t come up in my conversations much anymore (a healthy sign) although I do occasionally try to slip in a variation: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a Neil”. (This, along with my explanation of a toss-up situation as, “nine of one, three-quarters of a dozen of another” have yet to make it into our lexicon.)

"A Lost Ball in the Tall Weeds"

“A Lost Ball in the High Weeds”

I have to confess, I feel a bit shallow and uncomfortable writing about anything that doesn’t reference what’s going on in our country and the monstrosity that is the Trump administration. Which, as I’ve mentioned before, has been the impetus for my watching an unhealthy amount of MSNBC and CNN.  But if there’s a silver lining (I mean a very pale silver) it’s that I’ve been exposed to a couple of terrific new adages that I’ve added to the folder I have on my desktop.

One that I heard recently came from Mike Lupica, a sportswriter turned sometime political pundit, talking about the chances of Mr. Trump changing in any significant way from the vulgar, amoral, mean-spirited and empty person he has shown himself to be into someone else. Mr. Lupica thought that it wasn’t possible and put a fine point on it by quoting his grandfather’s saying, “If you’re born round, you don’t die square.”  Says it all, I think.

As maddening as the main character in this psycho-drama of our politics is, my largest frustration is with Congress, particularly Republican members of the House of Representatives who have proven that a worm has considerably more spine than they do. For most of these men and women, their job in the House is the best gig they’re ever going to have. Their self-interest is paramount and patriotism doesn’t count a whit. They are blind to anything or any information that might interfere with their holding on to their jobs. As my father put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”  Or maybe that was Upton Sinclair.  Whatever . . .I know it was one of them.