It was comforting to read in Thursday’s Times that my colleague, John Kifner, did not remember writing a story that was recreated in a current segment of Mad Men.
Kifner is 70; I am two years older. We’re not losing it, just yet.
Journalists have prodigious memories for names, faces, details, quotes. It’s what we do. I sometimes tell people that I remember exactly what was said, and stand by my version. It’s a professional skill, like picking up the spin of a curveball, or being able to write code. But we are not infallible.
A writer for Mad Men used quotes from an article by Kifner in 1966, which described protestors confronting an ad agency after high-paid jerks threw water balloons down on them.
It’s a great example of art borrowing from real life.
But Kifner,did not recall the story. He covered so many demonstrations, as a young reporter that they tend to blur, or vanish.
It can happen. Let me tell you about covering the 1993 World Series in Toronto, when I got a call in my hotel room from the Obituary desk at the Times.
Norman Vincent Peale had just died, and they were using my obit on the famous preacher and writer.
That’s nice, I said. But I never wrote one.
I had covered religion from 1976 through 1980, and could remember my two conversations with Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in 1979, visits to the Lubavitcher center in Brooklyn, documenting the political rise of the evangelicals. But I insisted I never wrote a Peale obit.
Yes, you did, the editor said. You typed your name on the top of every page and we are in the process of transcribing it into the computer system.
They downloaded the advance obit to me, and I read it, and a few details sounded familiar. I had a vague memory of walking down Fifth Ave. and seeing the church on the west side of the street, and somehow I recalled benign weather. But other than that, the obit does not revive any other memories of my research or writing.
I bet Kifner could recite the names of guides he trusted to get him through some hot spots in wars and riots all over the world. And why the outbursts happened. We go out there and report a zillion details, and decades later we remember many of them. Just not all.
What is cool is that a contemporary script writer sees a John Kifner article from 1966, and recognizes the urgency and the truth in it.
The United States is not going to the London Olympics this summer because of a crushing 3-3 draw with El Salvador in a regional qualifying match Monday night.
This is a huge disappointment for a nation that aspires to be a top-15 contender in the world, based on GNP and population than on expertise.
The junior edition of the national team coughed up a chance to advance toward London in the final seconds Monday night when the defense allowed a hard 20-yard shot and the keeper let it get through him – a disaster all around.
But really the game got away a few minutes earlier when Caleb Porter, the new coach of the Under-23 squad, removed Freddy Adu.
Oh, sure, take out your best player in a must-win match.
Adu was a man among boys in the second half, making two deft assists on clutch goals, and controlling the ball with the feints and dribbling and passes that he demonstrated as a child.
Freddy is still only 22, but he has been around forever, and looked it on Monday. However, the new coach took him off in the third minute of an announced four-minute added time.
To be fair, Porter had valid reasons for the move. One is that a substitution can kill more than the 30 seconds the ref will add to his stopwatch. The other is that Adu had just been shown a yellow card for doing absolutely nothing to a desperate Salvadoran player, and Porter did not want to take a chance of Adu getting another yellow and missing the next game.
But it was a bad move as soon as Adu started to trudge off the field (to kill seconds, as any professional will do.) I second-guessed the coach while it happened. Don't do it. Freddy was the indispensable player on that sparse team.
Now there will not be a next match. Salvador and Canada are moving on to the semifinal round. The U.S. will not be in London.
This is a jolt to a country that seems to be poaching players from the fringe of the German youth system, young men with an American parent. After decades of youth programs, this is where the U.S. is?
The paucity of talent (and smarts, and desire) on the field Monday is a condemnation of the club system in the U.S. – players coming up through local programs, always doing what Coach tells them, without developing a mean streak.
That willingness to do anything – throw sneak elbows, flop dramatically, claw for the ball – two Yanks said they were bitten on Monday – was evident in the Salvador players. They have played street soccer; they have played empty-field soccer. They go for blood. They may also go to London.
The U.S. team showed no experience while flubbing possessions in the final minutes. As a result, keeper Sean Johnson, in the match only because of injury, had to field a hard last-gasp shot that took a nasty bounce and handcuffed him. Anybody watching the match in person or on the tube might have cringed at Johnson's utter failure, and felt sorry for him.
But keep in mind, keepers are only supposed to be the last resort. Many goals are not their fault. In such a low-scoring sport, if the ball is near the goal, other things have gone wrong on defense, first.
Back to the latest development program.
Freddy Adu, once over-hyped as the great Ghanaian-born hope, could have avoided all that horror with one possession, one time-wasting maneuver, one chip into the far end of the field. But Freddy was on the bench. And now, so is the United States.
“What do you think?”
Nice people who remember when I used to emit instant profundity three times a week for the Times have inquired about some of the sports issues of the day.
Since you asked:
1. Tebow. I cannot imagine a Jets fan, a sports fan, or just a voyeur of the human condition, who would not be fascinated by the Jets’ acquisition of Tim Tebow. Seems to me, the Jets and Mark Sanchez deteriorated last season. The charm is off the alleged leadership and ability of Sanchez and, for that matter, Rex Ryan. So what’s to lose?
Tebow, who was scheduled for a press conference in Jet-land Monday at noon, seems to be a secure athlete with a history of success. If he cannot throw well enough to be a standard N.F.L. quarterback, he certainly seems to have the skills of a scrambler, which to my point of view is great fun to watch. He gets to the end zone. Isn’t that the point?
Did he wear out defenses in the thin air of Denver? Maybe. But if he adds a dimension to the Jets, that makes them more dangerous, right?
It’s a shame that great athletes of past decades (that is to say, black quarterbacks) never got to display their gifts starting with the snap from center. That seems to be a battle that the Cunninghams and Vicks have won, and continue to win. Tebow profits from their journey.
Plus, quarterback controversies are usually fun. Coaches will blather that their chosen quarterback is doing great, but in these informed times fans have the facts and the electronic forum to ask, nay demand, a second opinion, another look.
Joe Namath thinks it's a travesty. He's Broadway Joe. He won a Super Bowl. He will always be entitled to his opinion.
From afar, Tebow strikes me as a solid adult who can handle just about anything, including marginality as a backup quarterback with other duties.
Tebow’s religion should not be an issue. He witnesses his Christian faith, and seems to be an energetic, positive member of the gang, like Mariano Rivera, whose word and behavior are gold in the Yankee clubhouse, or R.A. Dickey, who is usually in the center of the Mets’ dugout when he is not pitching.
One final thought from this soccer-centric observer: I love versatility in sports. In most of the world, soccer players are called footballers; they move around, expected to defend, tackle, run, pass, even score. I use that word for the rare American college or pro player who can handle multiple roles – running backs who can throw, receivers who can play a little defensive back, linebackers who can catch a pass as an eligible receiver. Tim Tebow is a footballer. Let the fun begin.
2. The Bounty. The suspensions handed out by N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell constitute his finest hour. He stood up for every fan, every player and every parent who allows a child to play this game with some underlying hope for safety and respect for the rules.
By banning New Orleans coach Sean Payton for a year, Goodell showed an awareness that the Saints violated the core of their sport – they cheated on the paramount issue of safety. What they did, in permitting cash bounties for taking quarterbacks and other key players out of the game, was worse than cheating with performance-enhancing drugs.
The rules against drugs in sports are to insure a level playing field and also to mandate long-range health for players at all levels, including youths who emulate professionals.
The cash bounties were a direct assault on the safety and future of opponents. They amounted to premeditated violence – a huge distinction under the law.
From my angle, Goodell could have banned Payton for life. Payton and his assistants allowed players to maim or possibly even kill somebody for a few thousand bucks. A year away catches everybody’s attention.
It was vital that Goodell act because the N.F.L. is so huge in attendance, television viewership, endorsements and, yes, illegal gambling. Part of Goodell’s constituency fills out forms every week, picking winners and judging the point spreads. He cannot afford to acknowledge this, but it is true. Everybody deserves to know there is not a game within a game – cripple the quarterback, for dollars.
The suspensions were also vital because of the self-important role taken on by college and professional football. Coaches and other officials carry themselves with the smug self-assurance that the great American sport of foo’ball upholds some deep national moral and ethical code. I hope it doesn’t. But if that industry is going to assume this role then it has to be clean. Goodell was handed a grievous violation at the core of his business. And he acted. Bully for him.
3. The Knicks. Even when the Knicks went on a winning streak after the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, some Knicks fans were not charmed because they felt Carmelo Anthony would ultimately hold the team back by his talented obtuseness.
After all, the Knicks had nice teamwork going last season and a 28-26 record before owner Jim Dolan insisted on trading four players to get Anthony. The next version of the Knicks went 14-14 and lost four straight to the Celtics in the playoffs.
This year the Knicks were ragged until Jeremy Lin appeared from nowhere to get everybody playing together. Then Anthony came back from his injury and the teamwork vanished. Lin was not a superstar suddenly discovered but more likely a symptom of what happens when skilled players work together. The New York fans saw team basketball return to the Garden, but Anthony’s self-centeredness cost D’Antoni his job.
Anthony may have just enough individual skill, and Mike Woodson seems to be a professional coach, for the Knicks to slip into the playoffs, however briefly. However, the fun of watching the ball zip around the court during the Jeremy Lin era may not be possible.
Carmelo Anthony is now in the position of wrecking teamwork in a basketball-savvy city two years in a row. Is that some sort of N.B.A. record?
Anyway, that’s what I think. Thanks for asking.
Your comments are valued. GV
Some numbers catch your attention. Last Sunday I read in The New York Times that the vertical gambling den in Connecticut known as Foxwoods is currently $2.3-billion in debt. Who knew?
I took this news personally. Every time my wife and I visit her family’s cemetery near Ledyard, we cannot help but notice the Foxwoods towers looming over the countryside like a gigantic mold spoor.
My wife’s cousin, Faith, who died way too young, is buried in the family plot, and so is her grandmother, who was something of a psychic, and her grandfather, a little old Yankee railroad worker, who was such easy company.
My wife’s ancestors found their way into the hills behind Mystic not long after the Pilgrims landed further up the coast.
You could say that the Pequot were there first, and that is certainly true, but nearly four centuries count for something. Now whatever passes for the dispersed Pequot run the gambling complex in the eastern part of the state. Cars and buses zoom just a few miles from hamlets where my wife’s people led such ordered lives.
My wife, who spent her early childhood swimming in Long Island Sound or skating on frozen coastal ponds, can remember visiting family farms in the hills, picking blueberries. We are not of that inland place. Whenever we pay our respects to cousin Faith, we gun the engine toward Boston or New York.
I will admit that when we make this detour, I have been known to say an inchoate prayer for the de-profanation of the Connecticut hills. I’ve seen gambling up close. Seen what it does. Like Woody Allen turning into a Hasid when he visits Annie Hall’s home in rural Wisconsin, when I spot that blight against the Connecticut sky, for at least the next few minutes I turn into a Puritan.
* * *
The poet Laura Vecsey walks her own shoreline:
Never touch anything in a store.
I still remember an African-American colleague telling me what she warned her two sons, decades ago. When they went to a department store or a toy store in New York, they were under strict orders to keep their hands at their sides, lest somebody get the wrong idea.
Knowing how people love to touch things – and how hands-on is tolerated as a normal part of business – I could only cringe at the double standard my friend had to inculcate in her sons.
The perceptions are still out there, even with an African-American president in the White House. Or maybe because of it.
Take back our country. That sentiment careens around the Internet. What is worse is that versions of it are put forth by elected officials like Eric Cantor, the man with the most sour expression in Congress, who recently said Mitt Romney would “get us back on track.”
Everybody knows the code. It was no accident that Cantor echoed the resentful tone that has been going around since November of 2008. The Trumps and Palins and McConnells of the country have been treating the president as an interloper, an outsider. Wonder why.
I have no way of knowing what was bouncing around in the mind of George Zimmerman, 28, who allegedly followed and killed Trayvon Martin, 17, in Florida three weeks ago. Was this volunteer vigilante hopped up by the rhetoric in Congress and the campaign trails, that things are not quite right at the moment? Or does the traditional racist undertone of the country survive on its own, without blatant help from prominent politicians?
Any of us with friends and relatives of color know the double takes and the stares.
Children, particularly boys, are warned to watch their step when they go out.
The photos of Trayvon Martin will break your heart. The sweet trusting smile. Surely, this young man heard the warnings from loved ones to be careful out in public.
Even then, with the gun laws and the stand-your-ground law in Florida and the inflamed rhetoric going around, any caution Trayvon Martin had learned in his 17 years was not enough, as he ran into a stranger with his own notion of taking something back.
I think I am old enough to recognize a stricken look.
That is what I have seen on the faces of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz in the past two years. They are of my generation – although a tad more wealthy – and I think I can tell the look of two people who felt betrayed by a friend. They have seen ruin and even death up close, to people they know.
Now they have settled their case, and perhaps they and the Mets can move on. Or not. But I come to this stage still unconvinced that Wilpon and Katz “knew” Madoff was cheating.
My belief is not based on their including Sandy Koufax in the Madoff web. That’s just one small piece of it.
I have read documents filed by the trustee, listing all the accounts held by Wilpon and his brother-in-law, Katz. The accounts are in the names of Wilpons and Katzes and other people clearly related to these two partners. The next generations, living mostly in favored suburbs of New York.
Bernie Madoff would, and did, involve his flesh and blood in his evil. The sick creep gave up his wife and children and grand-children.
I have been around Wilpon and Katz over the years, not enough to say I really know them but just enough to believe that family is important enough that they would not involve children and spouses and grandchildren in something they knew to be illegal.
Were they arrogant, foolish, greedy, sloppy, hasty? Sure. Should you like or admire them? Up to you.
People who know much more about law and finances than I do say that Wilpon and Katz “had to know.” That was up to lawyers and the trustee to prove. They did not.
I’ll have more to say about the Mets in the next few days.
I just wanted to make the point about the stricken look I think I saw.
Your comments are more than welcome; they are sought.
I have just squandered an hour or two of my life trying to solve the maze of streets named Peachtree in the northern Atlanta suburbs.
At $4 a gallon, this isn't funny.
My two sisters live in the northern burbs – half an hour apart, a long way from Queens. Between them are a staggering number of streets named Peachtree – Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.
In the dark, on badly-engineered roads with wretched signage, this can be downright frightening.
I have seen estimates that over 70 streets in the Atlanta area have the word Peachtree in them.
This suggests a staggering failure of imagination, if all the planners of the New South cannot do better than slap the name Peachtree on bisecting boulevards.
But I have a proposal. And it involves the great American pastime.
The Atlanta Braves have been in town since 1966, and by now have accumulated enough history to provide heroic names to replace most of those Peachtrees.
What makes it worse is that I just read that the name peachtree just may have stemmed from the type of pine, called a pitch tree, common to the south. How fitting if this regional jumble were based on a mistake.
I learned to like Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics (we lived in the very sweet Inman Park neighborhood near downtown) and later when my son’s family lived in Inman Park and moved out to Roswell. March is a gorgeous time to visit Atlanta. So is October.
This past weekend was a flying visit for a family reunion, but whenever I have time in Atlanta I love to visit friends and old haunts. However, I have a Peachtree rule: If a restaurant or some other business is listed on something called Peachtree, I won’t even try to patronize it. Otherwise, I could be driving up and down the region from Buckhead to Norcross, looking for the right Peachtree.
Here’s my proposal:
Keep one Peachtree St. The main drag on the spine of the hill in downtown Atlanta would seem to be the logical choice.
Then they should name every other Peachtree after a Braves stalwart – and there have been dozens of them.
Henry Aaron? Phil Niekro? Dale Murphy? Greg Maddux? Chipper Jones? Bobby Cox. I could keep going. John Smoltz. Tom Glavine. Rico Carty.
And when they are finished with the stars, I bet there is some humble little Peachtree Circle out in the middle of nowhere, where confused out-of-town drivers sometimes blunder. One modest cul de sac could be named Francisco Cabrera Circle, in honor of the vagabond who delivered the clutch hit that put the Braves into the 1992 World Series.
Who should be in charge of this crucial task to end the anarchy on the Atlanta highways?
This task demands an eminent historian.
I suggest the Georgia favorite who is currently blustering around the country, running for public office.
Pretty soon, Newt Gingrich is going to need a job other than soliciting funds from wealthy sponsors. It’s time to put Newt’s massive intellect to work on something truly challenging -- ending Peachtree anarchy.
I once met somebody who worked for a company that designed airplane parts. She said the most dangerous day of the year was the Monday before the college basketball tournament, because everybody in the firm – for that matter, most Americans with access to a computer – was busy filling out brackets.
It was bad enough that the company computers ran slow, she said – everybody ducking low in their cubicles, looking for upsets.
What made it worse, she said, was that she suspected the intricate calculations were affected by the preoccupation with the madness. Mistakes were being made on slow computers, she feared. And what if they affected the curve of a wing, the snugness of a rivet?
It was like the old automotive truism about not buying a car built on Monday. And for that matter, don’t buy a car built on Friday. Now we had to worry about airplanes planned on the Monday of madness?
I have no way of knowing how right she was. (She was not a sports fan, I got that point pretty clearly.)
However, I was reminded of that conversation on Monday when I filed what I thought was a fairly lucid critique of the HBO film about the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign.
The hits for that posting were 300 percent below my normal cadre of staunch loyalists.
Where was everybody? Picking Syracuse to go all the way before Fab Melo was dropped for academic deficiencies?
Maybe nothing will be normal for the next three weeks. Sunspots? Global warming? No, the N.C.A.A. tournament.
I’m watching Napoli-Chelsea on Wednesday, not filing.
Just hope that woman from the aviation company was exaggerating.
I always figured Mooney Lynn was the luckiest man in the world.
I loved Mooney. When I was helping Loretta Lynn write her book, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Mooney would put his pistol down on the table and never fuss when I asked about his indiscretions. He also held the family and the business together while Loretta was out on the road, and it was easy to see why she loved him so much.
Mooney was stumpy and weather-beaten, but in the movie he got to be portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, a handsome football player from Harvard. For millions of people who have seen the movie, that is their lasting image of Mooney Lynn – a college lineman who could move pretty fast. How cool was that?
I was thinking about Mooney last Saturday night while watching the HBO production, Game Change, about the Hail-Mary pass the McCain campaign heaved in 2008 when it brought in Sarah Palin to run for vice president.
Palin lucked out, just like Mooney. She will never escape the hilarious impersonation by the inimitable Tina Fey, but for the two-hour television movie Palin was played by Julianne Moore, who did wonders for her.
Moore did not try to serve up Palin’s dance-hall-queen strut or smirk, but rather gave her character a minimal gravitas never before detected by my personal seismograph. For the two-hour haul, Moore (and the writers and director) gave Palin a tinge of fear that she might be bombing in public, the slightest bit of awareness that maybe she should know some of those things people were prattling about.
I almost felt sorry for her – well, at least until some television commentator would note that she could be one cardiac event from the presidency. Then it all came back to me.
John McCain did not come off as well. He’s been lurching around in a coma since politely scolding that bigoted woman in the red dress in 2008, but he’s still more appealing than Ed Harris’ bland character in the movie. Woody Harrelson stole the show as campaign maestro Steve Schmidt, who is currently performing community service as commentator on MSNBC, discussing the current lot.
Of course, none of the spinmeisters in 2008 had a chance what with that smart, handsome, confident figure making speeches before huge crowds in Berlin or Washington. Where did the movie-makers find that guy? He’s a natural.
And that made me wonder:
When HBO decides to make a movie about Grumpy, Sleazy, Dopey and Starchy, the last four standing, who will play them?
Clearly Rick Santorum will be played by another simplistic type. (See below.)
Mitt Romney could be portrayed by his own wax statue from Madame Tussaud’s – an upgrade in personality, if you ask me.
Ooops: This just in, from Ry Cooder, one of the artists behind Buena Vista Social Club and Chavez Ravine. It's called The Mutt Romney Blues.
Ron Paul could be fun if Jerry Stiller could tear himself away from all those runway models in his current commercials.
But Newt Gingrich? A few decades ago, Mickey Rooney could have impersonated Newt’s pretentious bluster but I’m guessing somebody more courant could serve up Newt as he cajoles people into donating to his dubious cause.
That inevitable movie has to be more enjoyable than this long and silly season.
Your nominations for the leading roles are welcome.
Who plays Bachmann? Who plays Cain? Who plays Newt?
Nothing against Louisville and Cincinnati, which were due to play in the finals of the Big East Conference on Saturday -- but this is not the same conference and it’s not the same event that emerged from the damp and cold in the early ‘80’s.
This is the first time that at least one original member of the Big East was not in the final. Not that the final game means much – both teams are always going to the N.C.A.A. tournament anyway.
But continuity should count for something. Not that the Big East could continue to be Patrick Ewing against Chris Mullin. Players move on. But a conference needs some critical mass of charter schools to retain its identity. Now it’s over. The need for big-time football members killed a great regional basketball conference.
For sure, nothing against Louisville and Cincinnati. Once upon a time they were the locus of my family life. We lived in Louisville in the early ‘70’s and drove up to Cincinnati for deli from Izzy Kadetz (I’m old enough to remember the real Izzy, scowling from behind the counter) and major-league baseball – and then it was back across the Ohio, and the sweet rolling countryside of northern Kentucky to the pleasant life of our temporary home in Louisville. I remember the excitement when Louisville played Cincinnati in some all-over-the-place conference whose name I forget. But I mean no offense when I say, these two finalists do not fit the heritage of the Big East.
That was a conference based on head colds – people in grungy raincoats with the liners still inside, emerging from the drifts of New England, the lake-effect snows of upstate New York, the Amtrak-Turnpike jumble of the Middle Atlantic states.
If you had the sniffles, you belonged in the Big East. What a wonderful concept.
But Boston College split, and the Big East violated its roots and admitted Miami and Virginia Tech, and they vanished for the allure of King Football.
Pitt and Syracuse and West Virginia are now here in body but not in soul. Temple is joining? Makes sense, but too late. You shoulda been here a decade ago.
Houston and Memphis pop up on a basketball schedule two years from now. I could have sworn I saw T.C.U. mentioned in connection with the Big East. T.C.U?
The members hop around like mock characters on the games on my grandchildren’s electronic devices.
Might as well call it something else.
The Virtual Conference.
The Big East was fun while it lasted.
I don’t know any other sport so beloved by the people who play it, or the people who watch it.
Even we grumps in the press tribune appreciate the possibilities, buy into the mystique of joga bonito, the beautiful sport.
Everybody in the stadium understands that at any given moment something amazing can happen, out of nothing.
I don’t know any other sport like that. I mean, in American football or basketball or baseball, people expect touchdowns or dunks or home runs.
In world football, you just never know. There is always the possibility of being surprised. Turn away and you will be sorry. Arrive late and you will hate yourself.
(This is why I screamed at some idiot chauffeur who stepped in front of reporters during a goal in the 1998 World Cup semifinal in Marseilles; all I could see was the back of his stupid cap.)
When something gorgeous happens, players and fans and even writers like myself shake their heads and say, yes, that is football.
For me, it happened four times in the past week – twice on the television, once on the web, and once on a cold, damp Sunday morning under a bridge in New York.
1. Let’s take the Champions League first. Arsenal needed to erase a four-goal deficit in the home leg against AC Milan on Tuesday. I couldn’t get to the tube until the second half, by which time Arsenal had scored three times. What I saw next was 30 of the most furious minutes of soccer – the best players in the world stretching to keep up with each other, Arsenal at home, frantic, attacking while they still had juice in their legs, forcing Milan to get back, make desperate dives and lunges, and then daring Milan to go on the counter-attack. It was breathtaking to watch these players test each other.
Ultimately, Robin Van Persie missed a gimme in goal mouth, and AC Milan was able to stagger home with a 4-3 aggregate victory. But what an effort. And that is the essence of the sport. We are all drama critics or dance critics, every bloke and blokette in the stands. We have high standards. And both sides earned our respect that day.
2. The next day was Barcelona against Bayer Leverkusen. Lionel Messi made it totally irrelevant with two goals in the first half – and three more in the second half – for a 7-1 aggregate victory. All right, the little feller is the best player in the world, no point going over that. But with all due respect, Messi is also the hit man for the most beautiful soccer being played on this planet.
Forget about uniforms and faces and numbers; the style of Barcelona is interchangeable with the World Cup champion, Spain. That is not news, since many of them are the same players. Because they play together so often, to watch Barça move the ball is to watch the Bolshoi Ballet, choreography at the highest. They have been playing this way so long in this generation that it no longer requires thinking.
American fans observe Our Lads pausing, deliberating whether their teammate will actually be there if they propel the ball into that open space, but the Barça players know. Human pinball. Thump. Off Pique’s instep. Plock. Off Iniesta’s chest. Ping. Off Xavi’s toes. And there goes Messi, chipping home a goal at full stride.
3. Sometimes the brilliance arrives via the Web, the whole world taking pride in what somebody did on some other continent. On Wednesday, Neymar, the 20-year-old prodigy for Santos of Brazil, took off on a spontaneous run that must have been 70 meters long, a mixture of Olympic sprint and tailback initiative. The difference was that nobody called his play or directed him to the starting blocks. The ball arrived in his vicinity and Neymar took off, just to see if anybody could keep up with him. He shed defenders as he pushed the ball, and then he split two more defenders, muscling them at high speed, before beating the keeper on the run. Joga bonito in its home country.
Two questions: when will Neymar move to Europe? (Three questions, really; might Champions League defenses slow him down?) And might Neymar help win a World Cup at home in 2014 – before Messi ever wins one? That kind of speculation was on everybody’s mind as the whole world watched the video of Neymar’s run.
4. People love the sport on every level. On Sunday morning I went to watch my grand-daughter play for a very good and well-drilled squad from central Pennsylvania, in an early-bird outdoor tournament in New York.
The games were played on multiple fields on Randall's Island under the bridge that, with all due respect to Robert F. Kennedy, I plan to continue to call the Triborough Bridge. (For the same reason, the Jackie Robinson Parkway, re-named for another hero, will always be the Inta-Boro, in New York-ese.)
The other team in the Under-12 competition was from World Class FC. I know nothing about youth soccer, but then again, this was not youth soccer, this was joga bonito. The New York team swung the ball wide, tested the defenses, swung it to the other side, and attacked. Welcome to Fun City.
Sometimes routs can be instructive. World Class was so, well, so world-class that it could probe defenses on the run. At the age of twelve.
They were all good, but No. 10 would deliver the ball to the right to No. 4, who could turn the corner on anybody, on the run. Or somebody would find No. 13 on a fleet diagonal near the goal. It was a treat to watch, although probably not for my grand-daughter who held her own in midfield. (At one point she flat-out got annoyed at the proceedings and physically stripped the ball the way Michelle Akers used to do.) I think the score was 4-0. World Class was so smart, alert and clean. At the end we applauded both sides, in the best fashion of youth soccer, and I felt the need to personally tell the families from World Class that their team is terrific.
That’s the way we feel about world football – from Europe or Latin America or under the Triborough. It’s our sport, and when it is played well, we appreciate it. I don’t know any other sport that inspires this possessiveness, this sense of pride.
Even while I’m typing something else, I can hear the electronic ping of the messages, over the transom.
My friends and family post songs and photos, poems and videos. We all know the blessing of having friends in Brazil and Japan, Canada and Mexico.
It’s so easy these days.
My new email friend, Hassan in Yorkshire, writes about soccer and justice and music. There’s a common thread, I am sure.
The other day he sent me a photo from visiting London in snow. I’ve been to London, what, 50 times and have never seen snow. But there it was, Berkeley Square. My wife and I have walked uphill through that square at night, usually around 10:30, after the National Theatre, and we were tired and happy. But never in snow.
Hassan knows I consider Nina Simone one of the great masters. He found a video of her signature piano -- you always know it’s Simone, before she even sings a note. Somehow, she makes bells peal in a riff from Good King Wenceslas before drifting into Little Girl Blue.
In this amazing new electronic age, a gift from Yorkshire,
He was probably heading toward jail when he cruised the main street of our little town back in the day, honking his horn, or when he crashed his car into a tree with teammate Darren Daulton alongside him back in his Phillies days.
Lenny was a thrill-seeker, surrounded by other thrill-seekers. Now he is a pariah to family and others who trusted him.
Whoo-hoo! Yippie! That was Lenny on a baseball toot. For a quick refresher course, Lenny 101, please check out my favorite favorite:
Lenny provided legal thrills in October of 1986, running the bases after his game-winning home run against the Astros, running out his shot inside the Pesky Pole in Fenway, reviving the Mets in the World Series..
The part that flummoxed me was Lenny’s career as financial guru and publisher. There was Jim Cramer – the man with the weird inflections of a street person talking to himself - taking Lenny seriously in 2007.
Cramer somehow made Lenny out to be a man of his time -- another admirable nervy dude who knew how to convert millions into billions.
Kind of makes you wonder about anything Cramer touts, doesn’t it?
The only place Lenny made sense was in a uniform with the No. 4 on the back. (The Yankees had the aura of Gehrig; the Mets had the aura of Lenny.) For a few fun years, Lenny was a personification of the franchise, hitting the dirt, head-first.
I know somebody who carried his Lenny photograph to the Midwest, to the Northwest, to the New South. He would set up the frame on his desk, just to tick off the locals – Lenny’s bum photographed from behind, his eager little paws swiping at second base. Yippie!
People could even shrug off Lenny’s new muscles, as he displayed unexpected power with the Phillies. He wasn’t the only one. Besides, who had lab printouts on Lenny? (Trick question: there was no lab test.)
Lenny kept circling the bases, until his body failed. For a brief time he was a New Man of the financial surge, the wise advisor who would help athletes hold on to their money.
Once Lenny heard stadiums roar for him. Now he hears another sound.
We were in West Liberty once, visiting a gracious old lady in a double-wide. I recognized downtown on CNN, remembered a left turn into the countryside.
When you live somewhere for a few years, it is always part of you, an alternate universe.
My wife was driving along the Ohio one day, with our three children in the car. She had lived in Texas as a kid, and recognized a funnel cloud when she saw one.
Get into the lowest ditch, the radio said, so she did, but the twister veered away.
It’s coming to get us, she said after that. It’s coming right up Brownsboro Road.
I covered a tornado in Green County that spring. A little boy, sleeping in his farmhouse, had been impaled in a splintered tree. By the time I got there, the sun was out, a beautiful spring day in Kentucky.
Eighteen months after we moved back home, the same system that crushed Xenia, Ohio, blew straight up Brownsboro Road, demolishing the town houses on the corner, ripping the roof off our kids’ old school.
This Friday night we held our breath for Henryville and West Liberty and all the rest from where we used to live.
* * *
Below: The view from the Courier-Journal Building.
Every year on March 3, a few aging fraternity brothers gather among the plain white headstones of Long Island National Cemetery to remember Walter W. Rudolph.
He died instantly on that date in 1969, a first lieutenant rushing to rescue a fallen comrade in Vietnam.
They talk for a while, and then Jerry Lambert, the organizer of the pilgrimage, reads a portion of the Gettysburg Address:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
This is a recent ritual, less than a decade old.
Every fallen member of the military deserves no less – friends who remember, friends who show up, mourning the early death, perhaps even shuddering at the ambiguities of that war. A friend of mine goes home to West Point every Memorial Day, visits the graves of classmates who died in Vietnam. I think he said the total is somewhere in the mid twenties. Showing up is important.
Jerry Lambert remembers his friendly, open brother from the Upsilon Gamma Alpha fraternity at Hofstra University, who sometimes wore the olive R.O.T.C. uniform around campus.
Lambert does not remember much controversy about Vietnam in 1963, although surely some people were beginning to question the war by then.
He recalls that some members of the R.O.T.C. were “gung-ho,” but others, like Walter Rudolph, “saw the military as a way to serve, possibly a career. In those years, they weren’t thinking about going to war in Vietnam.”
So Lambert never had The Conversation with his friend about why the United States was escalating the war in Vietnam. There was no shadow over their two years together on campus. Lambert was older, having left a seminary to enroll in Hofstra, learning he would have to take two years of R.O.T.C., surprised to find he could fire a rifle fairly well.
Walter Rudolph was a psychology major, a member of the track and field team, a blocking back on the UGA touch football team that did well against the jock fraternities.
“The girls liked him,” Lambert said. Rudolph had a visceral sense of humor, one time picking up Lambert’s leprechaun physique and holding him overhead, like modest free weight.
“He came from the North Shore,” Lambert said, referring to Manhasset in Nassau County, whereas Lambert still lives in what he describes as a more modest section of Westbury in the middle of Long Island. His fraternity brother carried himself with a sense of assurance. Officer material.
Lambert recalls his own mandatory trip to Whitehall Street, the recruiting center in lower Manhattan, immortalized in Arlo Guthrie’s Alice's Restaurant. A doctor, new to the military, told him he had a heart murmur and said, “You can go home now.” The enlisted men on guard collared Lambert at the door, and told him, wait a minute buddy, he had to go through the procedure. But within a few hours, he was officially out of the military. He assumes he would have served if cleared.
Sometime in August of 1969, Lambert heard that his fraternity brother had been killed in action in Gia Dinh – then a separate city just outside Saigon, now incorporated into greater Ho Chi Minh City.
“Why Walter?” Lambert remembers thinking. “That awful war got him.”
Rudolph became one of the estimated 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam. Hofstra put up a plaque to honor its dead on the former gym on the main quadrangle, and organized a scholarship honoring Rudolph and Stephen B. Carlin, another fallen Hofstra soldier from that era.
A decade ago, Lambert suffered through a personal depression, but he came through it. One day he and his wife, Judy, were visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- Maya Lin’s Wall in Washington, D.C.
He had heard criticism of the undulating wall, set pretty much below surface level, like entering some other world, and he was prepared to hate it. Instead, he instantly felt it was one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. He found his friend’s name, placed his fingertips on it, and “somehow, Walter’s name started to transform me. I could feel my self-involvement start to go away.”
Lambert, 71, and his wife operate their own company, bicycleposters.com, and frequently travel to cycling events, including charity rides organized by the Lance Armstrong Foundation; a cousin of his died young of cancer. He is something of an organizer. Sometime around 2003 or 2004, he rounded up some other old members of UGA, which has since been folded into TKE, a national fraternity.
“I was embarrassed at not doing this thing sooner,” Lambert said.
The visit to the cemetery usually includes Bob Gary, Frank Pittelli, Paul Koretzki and Tony Galgano, all fraternity brothers from the early 60’s. The white headstones stretch in all directions on the flat earth of central Long Island. Many have crosses; some have the Star of David. Some service members died in action; others died in old age; some spouses are buried alongside them. The cemetery is plain and utilitarian, with few flowers or stones or other decorations, at least in late winter, but the cemetery is inclusive in the best sense. There is no politics, no history, no judgments.
When Lambert escorted me to his buddy’s headstone last week, I kept hearing the mournful voice of Johnny Cash, the American icon, who would have turned 80 on Feb. 26. In his classic Vietnam song, Drive On, Cash wrote:
He said, I think my country got a little off track,
Took 'em twenty-five years to welcome me back.
But, it's better than not coming back at all.
Many a good man
I saw fall. And even now,
every time I dream I hear the men
and the monkeys in the jungle scream.
Americans are getting the hang of welcoming our people back.
I’ve seen Vietnam guys at recent military funerals I covered – not quite regulation uniform, longish hair, letting their freak flag fly, the air of the outsider still with them. Drive on…
Maybe soon New York City welcomes back the men and the women from Iraq, and after that from Afghanistan. Out on Long Island, on the anniversary of Walter Rudolph’s death, Jerry Lambert and his brothers will stand guard.
* * *
Note Below: Cash's version on American Recordings has way more kick to it:
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.