Sunday, June 24, 2012

Got to Go

My wife has a way of talking that leaves you wondering what she's talking about. It takes a while, but usually with a simple question posed back to her, all becomes clear. My speech therapist daughter calls this 'fractured speech.' It can be a lot like listening to Gracie Allen at the end of the 1950s 'Burns and Allen' television shows, when George played very straight and would ask Gracie something about her family. Out flowed more news than even Einstein's brain could absorb. Planets were orbiting.

Gracie talked in circles. Concentric circles. You had to grab one and hope that tangentially it touched another one, so you could hop off and get to the meaning of what she was saying. Quite honestly, it made for great entertainment.

Such was a part of speech my wife recently made when we pulled up to my daughter's place one Friday evening to attend the first grandchild's Pre-K graduation.

As soon as we got out of the car my wife announced, "got to go." This made no sense to me. I strain to make sense of things, and right now this one didn't click. Go? We just got here. What the hell does she mean?

It didn't take long before my eyes were seeing what she was seeing. A construction crew's portable toilet in front of the house that advertised the convenience of outdoor human waste elimination was being provided by a company called "Got to Go." The long awaited project of revising a side entrance to the house, along with a bathroom and kitchen renovation, had finally started. Construction lumber was stacked up and the place looked a bit of a mess.

In their first year of living in the house I stayed over one night before accompanying them to Saratoga the next day. Despite specific instructions as to which bathroom to use, I used the wrong one and flushed the toilet. This was not supposed to be the bathroom you used if you needed to flush the toilet. Hence, the planned renovations.

Luckily for me, there was no ill effect, although my daughter did believe I was showing early signs of getting old and that her life was now forever going to be changed by a father with an increasingly petrified brain.

Another trip to Saratoga is planned this year and I might be staying over before we head up that way. The renovations will still be going on, and I suspect the outdoor commode will be still be there. Frankly, I can't wait to atone for my mistake of 2010.

If I need to go in the middle of the night, I'll make my way outside and use the 'Got to Go' outdoor potty. I can't possibly be chastised for using the wrong bathroom, unless of course I lock myself out of the house and set off the burglar alarm trying to get back in.

When did life get so complicated?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Daily Double

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has achieved what is perhaps one of the rarest of doubles for a foreign leader. She appears today on the front page of TWO prominent U.S. newspapers, the WSJ and the NYT, above the fold, and didn't have to die to achieve the distinction. Rare air, indeed.
She is seen in each photo cheering Germany's soccer victory over Greece, by a score of 4-2. This was a soccer match, and is not tied to Greece's acceptance in the Euro community.

Apparently, the Greeks will live again to kick some other day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Walk in the Garden

Germany's Chancellor Anegla Merkel is seen with more men than Elizabeth Taylor.  Or even Jennifer Aniston.

Her latest photo-op date has been with President Obama, strolling through the grounds of Camp David, the famous presidential retreat in Maryland. Chancellor Merkel was there of course to discuss the Euro and add President Obama to her photo-with trophy case.

I don't really know what the record is for having your photo taken with a world leader. One suspects, she raises the bar with every click of the lens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There's Nothing Dirty Going On

The caption to the picture to the right in today's NYT says that these are customers at an A.T.M. in Madrid Spain. Spain's borrowing costs rose and a rating agency downgraded the credit ratings of 18 banks.

Perhaps the four young ladies can't believe there's any money in the bank to take out. Perhaps Angela Merkel is there to reassure all who use the machine, surely making a historic off-camera appearance.

Perhaps Brad Pitt is previewing an underwear ad. Justin Bieber?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Damn Yankees: A Review, Part Two

Titans get attention. Living or dead, they remain with us. Years ago on vacation I happened to tune in to the 'Today' show and caught Matt Lauer doing a book review with Tina Sinatra, Frank's daughter, and keeper of the flame. Perhaps the usual TV book review stuff, except for the length. They went to commercial and came back for more. Then Matt announced that Tina would be back the next day to further discuss the book and her famous father. I said to myself, "that's pull." You get two days with Matt Lauer to discuss a book. Frank's not dead, he's just resting.

Well, I'm not Matt Lauer, and 'Damn Yankees' has nothing to do with Frank Sinatra, but the subject is of epic proportions, and deserves more commentary.

One of the essay entries that gets praise is Colum McCann's 'The Long Way Home.' Even the title gives you a sense this isn't going to be solely about the Yankees. It's like that scene is the movie, 'A Bronx Tale' that really isn't about a parking spot.

That the Irish can write should be of no news to anyone. They may have started with Gaelic, but they're doing a pretty good job of using English. I never met Mr. McCann, but first really became aware of him when he appeared at a Barnes and Noble book presentation, promoting a more traditional Sports anthology, 'At the Fights,' a book he wrote the forward to.

There were several other writers on the stage, Pete Hamill, Mike Lupica, George Kimball, and Robert Lipsyte, all of course connected to the book. Each got their turn at saying something.  Once you realized that Lupica is not really any bigger than the chair he was sitting in, even he was entertaining.

Colum professed being a bit out of his element, not being a sports writer. But of course the way he said he was not sports writer made you pay attention. In his case, a light, Irish brogue to his voice, coming from a neck swaddled in a scarf, completed the image of the Irish writer. Anyone who wears a scarf indoors is definitely not a bricklayer.

Since then, I keep bumping into Mr. McCann's name. He's written liner notes on the latest Chieftains album; his name has appeared in connection with the publishing of a photo book on Marilyn Monroe. He of course wrote, 'Let The Great World Spin,' by all accounts a book worth reading. And then of course there's the essay in 'Damn Yankees' that pleases the senses on many fronts, but is certainly the one piece I'd like to hear read out loud. By Mr. McCann.

Tom Verducci contributes 'Captain America,' what the very cynical would call a puff-piece on Derek Jeter, but a subject who truly deserves the good things said about him. Even what's not said about him.

The advantage to a specialized anthology like this one is that it is current. Most entries are not discussions of ancient times going back to the Harding and Hoover administrations.

Depite being a lifelong New Yorker, I didn't remember that Derek Jeter's full name is Derek Sanderson Jeter, named after the Boston Bruins hockey player of the early 70s who gave the Rangers fits, everyone else fits, then who eventually joined the Rangers, then the upstart WHA on the Philadelphia Screaming Eagles, and gave them financial fits. Sanderson was a partyer, and eventually disappeared into rehabs.

To read that Jeter's father was a drug counselor is all the more interesting. The Derek Sanderson name tangent is not mentioned in Mr. Verducci's piece, but makes me wonder if Jeter's father had a touch of 'A Boy Named Sue' in his veins, and "give him that name" so he'd have to stay tough and dry. I can't tell.

Jeter might have slowed down a bit, on and off the field, but anyone with a decent memory can recall the ads that teased Derek about his downtown lifestyle with compliant A-list females and drinking buddies. Certainly General George brought things to Derek's attention, and when Derek started going out with Mariah Carey it was really cause for worry that there would be sleep-deprived nights and tons of dropped balls at second base. Didn't happen.

Captain America seems to have emerged with a healthy, scandal-free lifestyle that only includes an on-again relationship with an actress and a city-state home in Florida. He's still the guy you want to tell your kids about.

Editing. Like umpiring, you're not supposed to notice. Twenty-four pieces placed is who knows what order. The editor knows, but really, do you care? Not really, but I did notice that the last piece has a certain resonance with death, and the continuity of life, that which of course always precedes death. Perfect for where we've been, and where we're going.

It's good to read that Steve Rushin describes the George Steinbrenner memorial in Yankee Stadium's Memorial Park as "sun-blotting...Ozymandian" in size.

I read a piece of tongue-in-cheek financial advice that went, "when they build a monument to themselves, get out." Certainly the AOL Time-Warner towers at New York's Columbus Circle were enough warning.

So, when a story was floated that the Steinbrenner family was thinking of selling the team. it made sense. After all, even the O'Malley family sold the Dodgers. Selling the Yankees still makes sense, even if it is hotly denied by majority ownership that doesn't appear in New York too often.

The monument to George is obscene given the other people he's with. But, New York is where a mayor outlaws super-size soft drinks, but not super-size egos. And really, how could you do that?

An updated wiretap of organized crime's Meyer Lansky talking to Bugsy Siegel would now have to go: "You know Benny, the Yankees are bigger than Microsoft and Apple right now."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Damn Yankees: A Review

This is an absolutely true story.

It was the last day of work in December 2010 when I was on my way to meet a former colleague for dinner at Pete's Tavern on 18th Street in Manhattan. Just before getting there I noticed an array of books, hardcover and softcover, laid out on a ledge of one of the old buildings in the area. There were cookbooks, animal books, novels, and the 2010 edition of 'The Best American Sports Writing,' edited by Peter Gammons.

I said to myself if that book was still there when I finished dinner, than I was meant to have it, and I'd take it. That's exactly what happened, and I occasionally peck away at it still. It contains 26 pieces by 26 different writers about a wide variety of sports figures. All pieces were previously published. 'Damn Yankees' is nothing like that book.

'Damn Yankees' is an anthology by invitation of 24 stories by 24 writers about the New York Yankees; likes and dislikes. It is the brainchild of Rob Fleder, a former executive editor of Sports Illustrated who got in touch with a variety of writers and asked them something simple: deliver some writing about the Yankees; whatever you like. The pieces never appeared anywhere before being published in this book. Not your typical sports anthology.

You can't assemble 24 of anything and include everything. Significant to me is that none of the 24 writers in 'Damn Yankees' have a piece in the 2010 book I helped myself to from the widow ledge. Mission accomplished.

Mr. Fleder, in a talk at the Ossining Library several weeks ago explained that he was after writers, not necessarily sports writers, who would write something about the Yankees. Asked further about this, he explained he sort of avoided the beat New York sports reporter.

The advantages to this approach were not lost on me. Mike Lupica is nowhere to be found, and Dick Young is not there either, basically because death prevents him from getting back to anyone in the usual way. So, you've got good writers who happen to be writing about the Yankees. Some are sports writers, but others not.

There's something for everyone. And like a variety of pitches, some are hit out of the park, and some are wild pitches.  For the most part, anyone who has even been a sports fan of some small degree in New York, regardless of allegiance, will recognize the players and the times. It's fairly current stuff.

I've read several reviews of this book and there is common admiration for Pete Dexter's piece on Chuck Knoblauch, 'The Errors of Our Ways.' Chuck might be a bit of a forgotten second baseman who came to the Yankees in the late 90s. His last name is as bumpy and hard to handle as his throws to first became. He is particularly remembered by the Olbermann family, however.

My own least favorite piece is by Frank Deford, who for a seasoned Sports Illustrated writer only contributes something a little less than three pages as to why, despite being in New York for all these years, he absolutely hates the Yankees.

His piece sounds a bit like a schoolyard taunt by the husky, sweaty, spitting kid who tells you your mother "wears combat boots." This never worked on me. My mother really may have worn combat boots, since she was in the army in WWII, albeit as a nurse. But she had to have basic training, and who knows what they asked them to do or wear. She never said.

In keeping with the hate-Yankees-theme is Daniel Okrent's piece on the Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich trade, something that you'll never find in the Yankee yearbook. I remember this story well, and when the wife swapping details (yes, like the 'Bob, Ted, Carol and Alice' movie) emerged, my friend Andy and I descended on John Sterling at MSG, who then only did a short sports show and New York Raider (WHA hockey) radio play-by-play. We asked John what did he think about that one? He had no answer.

Hating the Yankees, or expressing dislike for them is a bit of a common occurrence in New York, and not just because people might be Met fans. To hate, dislike the Yankees is seen as taking the higher road. There are a few pieces in 'Damn Yankees' that discuss this phenomena: being a better person by not getting sucked into the hype.

My own favorite story along these lines is my own. My mother, who came from an extremely small town in Illinois, who married my father during the war, and who never expressed an interest in any sport result before or after, leans out of the front door in 1955 and mockingly coos to me to tell me that the Brooklyn Dodgers have just beaten the Yankees in the World Series. I was six at the time, and was playing with my friend in a neighbor's driveway. I did have a rooting interest in the Yankees and why I wasn't inside watching the game was probably due to the fact that the TV set was "in the shop" where TVs in the 1950s spent half their existence.

This is a revelatory moment, and shows the extent of anti-Yankee sentiment as none other. A six year-old boy's mother is breaking his balls because the Yankees lost to the Dodgers.

I'll never forget it.

The Irish

I know a little something about the Irish. I've been married to the same Irish-American woman for nearly 37 years. I've spent a lot of happy times with her slightly madcap, colorful family, and have even toured Ireland for two weeks, even if it was a long time ago. I was once telling a good friend of mine the names of bosses I've had over the years: O'Keefe, Cantwell, McGinley, McCall, and Sweeney. And I didn't even work for the phone company. He remarked, "Gee, you can't get away from us." His last name was McGrane.

I also love short poetic descriptions of things. Take Colum McCann's piece, 'The Long Way Home' in the recently released book 'Damn Yankees,' a baseball anthology of essays about the New York Yankees (more in the next post).

Colum, perhaps as only an Irishman would, blends in his memories of Arsenal soccer and his grandfather in Ireland when thinking of baseball. He lovingly describes a boyhood visit with his own father, visiting his father in a nursing home after an Arsenal tie game, bringing a bonus of Players cigarettes and Powers whiskey to a man the young Colum remembers from stories to be a certain character--"a man given to the Irish trinity of drink, song and exile."

Then we have another nugget. Joseph O'Connor reviews a biography of James Joyce by Gordon Bowker in Saturday's WSJ. I will confess to little exposure to James Joyce. During our tour of Ireland so many years ago we spent some quality lunch time in Davy Byrne's Moral pub in Dublin, apparently a stop made by Leopold Bloom made in the Joyce book, 'Ulysses' when he ordered cheese and wine.

Well, we ordered plenty of Guiness, and were very annoyed when 2 PM rolled around and they stopped serving and tried to clear the place till 5 PM. "Ladies and Gentleman please..." How the Irish ever got a reputation for drinking eluded me during that visit. They always seemed to be stopping. Maybe they just waited till they got to America.

Regardless, Mr. O'Connor sneaks a beautiful line in in the midst of his book review:  "The Irish were the only oppressed people in the world who could foment insurrection in iambic pentameter."

No one can describe the Irish better than the Irish themselves. I can only repeat it.