Strictly by coincidence, the Times has a feature on the Op-Ed Page Saturday about the vanishing storefronts of New York, victims of rising rents.
I was already planning my ode to the vanishing landmark of Queens, the house of upsets, the cramped, smoky pit known as the Grandstand.
Once upon a time it was the second court at the United States Open, an afterthought grafted onto the main arena, Louis Armstrong Stadium, itself a tennis improv. But now in the name of modernity, the Grandstand has been phased out. It is serving as Practice Court 6 for this year’s Open but then will be bulldozed, gone, like ancient temples destroyed by vandals.
The Open is one of the two best sporting events in my home-town, along with the one-day phenomenon of the Marathon in the fall. I can look past the money and the privilege and see the Open, with its roots at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, as still very much a Queens event, right off the No. 7 elevated train.
This year the Open has a new retractable roof over Ashe Stadium to keep the show moving when the monsoon hits. The Armstrong will be replaced by a new second stadium. The Open also has a new generic bowl, called the Grandstand with 8,200 seats. I am sure it has more amenities than the old Grandstand but it does not exactly have the feel of an Elizabethan bear-baiting den.
For many years, the players had to inhale the meaty fumes from a restaurant suspended above the west stands. Something was always out to get the favorite at the Grandstand:
In 1985, Kevin Curren, the fifth-seeded player from South Africa, was bumped off in the first round by upcoming young Guy Forget of France. Curren promptly emitted a Hope Solo solo, blaming the site for his troubles.
“I hate the city, the environment and Flushing Meadow,” Curren said. “There is noise, the people in the grandstand are never seated and it takes an hour and a half in traffic to get here. It’s sickening that with all the money they get from TV, the USTA doesn’t build a better facility. The USTA should be shot. And they should drop an A-bomb on the place.”
Curren was not the only player to get bushwhacked in the Grandstand. On Friday I ran into a former player who had benefited from the blood lust of the fans.
In 1981, Andrea Leand, all of 17, met second-seeded Andrea Jaeger in the second round – in the Grandstand.
“Andrea was up a set and 5-2,” Leand recalled. “I could hear a broadcaster saying, ‘That’s it, she’s done.’”
Then again, you could hear everything in the Grandstand. “I heard a man asking his son, ‘Do you want a hot dog?’”
The mob began howling for a new victim to be sacrificed to the Grandstand deities. “The sound went right through you,” Leand recalled with a beatific smile. She beat Jaeger, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. It could happen to anybody, and often did.
The litany of Grandstand upsets is long – best left to an expert like Randy Walker, who last year wrote a farewell to the Grandstand, well worth reading:
The great thing about the ramshackle center of the 80’s was that reporters could watch Grandstand matches from the back of the press box in the main stadium. One match turned into a heavyweight fight -- Roscoe Tanner, one of the hardest hitters on the tour, and Chip Hooper, a big fellow, trying to drill each other, up close and apparently quite personal.
This being the yappy borough of Queens -- Trump! McEnroe! Archie Bunker! -- the fans egged them on.
Competition was also nasty in the lines as fans tried to get into a match that had suddenly turned epic. I visited the old den the other day – a few fans watching John Isner and a hitting partner whacking the ball around, but no yelps from fans seeking a new victim.
The Grandstand could have served forever as an anarchic, irregular heirloom – a tribute to history. But Open executives can still revive the gritty aura of the old place: pipe fumes from the grille directly onto the court. Kevin Curren would feel right at home.
American boorishness is not confined to domestic usage. We export a good bit of it, too.
I am thinking here of the disgraceful behavior of Ryan Lochte and Hope Solo in the past two weeks.
Lochte apparently has spent so much of his life in chlorine that it has pickled his brain. He did not realize Brazil just might have security cameras that would detect an Olympic celebrity with dyed light blue hair after he and three pals claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint. (It appears they broke into a restroom. Geniuses.)
Solo indulged in unsportsmanlike whining after the American soccer team was defeated by Sweden, calling her opponents “cowardly” for their conservative tactics.
Solo was detracting from Sweden’s coach, Pia Sundhage, who used to coach the Americans. The Swedes lulled the quicker, more potent Americans into forays, and then struck on the counter-attack.
But let’s pass over the two loutish athletes and concentrate on the women’s final Friday as Germany outlasted Sweden, 2-1, to win the Olympic gold medal.
Women’s soccer has only been in the Olympics since 1996, and this was the first time two female coaches had reached the finals – Silvia Neid of Germany and Sundhage of Sweden, both of whose athletic sideline prowling and grayish manes allow me to use the word “leonine.”
Sundhage is one of the really cool coaches I have ever met. Sometimes to loosen up her players she will emit a folk song. When the U.S. beat Brazil, 1-0, in the finals of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the press prodded her to sing Bob Dylan. She obliged with a quickie from “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
I have a personal short list of coaches I would like to have played for, if I were an athlete, that is -- Gil Hodges in baseball, Al Arbour in hockey, Dean Smith in basketball and Herman Edwards in football. (Edwards is a guru who earnestly tried to teach doltish reporters to trust our own faculties. He had a mantra: “The eye/Don’t lie.”)
A decade ago, I expanded my list to include Sundhage, the wandering Swede, who was coaching the Americans, quite successfully.
It annoyed me when Solo made a spectacle of herself by asking for replacement keeper gloves when Sweden had a chance to clinch with the next penalty kick.
The Swedish kicker converted, anyway, and soon Solo ripped Pia’s hunkering tactics, which have merely won championships. I saw Italy’s men win the 1982 World Cup by using an updated version of the catenaccio (the bolt, or chain, in Italian) defense – tight back line, and counter-attack when an opening presents itself.
"Let's inspire, let's be badass, let's be fierce, let's be competitive,” Megan Rapinoe, the artful American winger, told NBC the other day. “But we're gracious and we're humble, and we play the game a certain way, whether we win or lose."
Rapinoe added, “And we've been on the winning side quite a bit, and when we find ourselves on the other side, we need to handle that graciously, and unfortunately that wasn't the case."
Sweden lost as Germany, looking fresher and faster, scored once, pressured an own goal, and then hung on defensively (would Solo say “cowardly?)
Now the question is, what does the footloose Sundhage do next?
Recently, Henrik Rydström, a member of the Swedish national men’s squad, suggested that Sundhage would make a fine coach for his team.
A reporter asked Sundhage whether a woman could really coach a national men’s team. Her response, in Swedish, as translated by Business Insider:
“Well, then, let me ask you a question. Does it work with a female chancellor in Germany?”
Pia then spelled it out for reporters:
“Angela Merkel” (is running) an entire “f------ country. Clearly it works.”
Clearly, female coaches work for female players. And let me throw this out: there is another country that seems 88 percent likely to elect a female President in November.
One of these years, Juergen Klinsmann will move on. Pia Sundhage should be on the short list.
Plus, she already knows our folk songs.
You already know who the ridiculous is. So let’s start with the sublime.
I was in the library the other day at the “New/Non-Fiction/14 Days Only” section.
On a lower shelf, I spotted a book of essays by Annie Dillard, “The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New.” Somehow, I had gotten to be this old without ever reading anything by Dillard, so I picked up the book, and opened it in the middle, to a chapter entitled “The Weasel”
“The weasel is wild. Who knows what he thinks? He sleeps in his underground den, his tail draped over his nose. Sometimes he lives in his den for two days without leaving.”
Needless to say, I checked it out.
The weasel essay, six pages long, includes a 60-second encounter in the woods when Dillard and a weasel locked eyes. The essay also includes the tale of an eagle that tried to carry off a weasel, and got more than it expected.
The essay become an exhortation to grab life – whatever life is – with your jaws, and not let go.
That is pretty much what Dillard does in her writing, and in her life, by her own testimony. In one section, "An American Childhood,” previously published, she races through her family and her church and her boyfriends and her life.
Required reading for teen-agers.
I was knocked out by the two final essays.
One was about sand, and geology, and the Jesuit priest-paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, and love.
The final chapter by Dillard, a convert to Catholicism, was alternating segments about what she called the modern "hootenany" Mass and doomed polar explorers who went off unprepared. It ends with a fantasy of the two themes overlapping.
I am now a fan of Annie Dillard, maybe even a groupie.
* * *
The second book continues the furry, feral theme, considering the muskrat Donald Trump carries around on his head and in his head.
The book is “The Making of Donald Trump,” by Pulitzer-Prize-winning David Cay Johnston, seen often on the Web and the tube, warning us, “The Trumpites are coming! The Trumpites are coming!” The book hit No. 15 on the Times best-seller list last week.
Johnston is an investigative reporter, one of the best, and has been on the scent of Trump and the muskrat for decades.
He has put together verifiable details of the way Trump does business – the Polish immigrants who tore down a landmark building at nights, without safety precautions or attention to artwork; the vendors who got stiffed by Trump, the garish casinos in Trump’s name without his having any knowledge of how gambling works, the threats, the suits, the welching, and the lies about women he never dated.
Johnston’s book should be read – but won’t be -- by the fact-averse minority that considers Trump the great white hope.
Weasels sí, muskrat head no.
(The Silva family lives in the Copacabana section of Rio. He is a writer....and a Yankee fan....and my friend. I asked Altenir to write something he was sensing about these Olympic Games, taking place all around them.)
"Yes, We Have Problems”
By Altenir Silva
Rio de Janeiro is a divided city in its complexities. There are two sides in Rio de Janeiro and we can put these terms in a musical context: the sadness of Bossa Nova and the happiness of the Samba.
The Rio of "Bossa Nova” is a movement musical that shows the soul of existence of the middle class on the ways of sadness. There's a poem by Vinicius de Moraes with a melody by Tom Jobim, "Tristeza Não Tem Fim; Felicidade Sim” (Sadness Doesn’t End, Happiness Does) that shows the broken heart of Bossa Nova, formed by composers who lived in the South Zone of Rio, a rich region.
And there's a Rio of Samba, our African musical heritage, where the music is sung with joy about the heartaches and the cultural characteristics of the place.
Samba has its origin in the North Zone and the favelas, which are poor regions, but with a great vocation to be happy. There’s a samba that is very meaningful by songwriter Zé Keti, “A Voz do Morro” (A Voice of the Hill) that says on its verses "I’m samba; I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro; I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts”. Even in different contexts, the Bossa Nova is a softer way of singing and playing Samba.
The Olympic Games in Rio are happening on this musical equator: for one side is the image of a city that is all right, but is sad because we know that this city is temporary - it finishes after the Olympics Games. This city is Bossa Nova.
There's a Rio of Samba, where the people know that this feast isn't made to them, but they are being happy because they believe that the glee is the matter of the soul. The life is difficult and the smile makes it bearable. The paradox is our essence: the Brazilian smiles to not cry.
All the world knows that there’s a breakdown of the State of Rio de Janeiro and the City Hall as well. This real city is out of our media, but has been shown relatively in the international media.
Anyway, we have to take advantage of this unique moment in our city and sing the song of Braguinha & Alberto Ribeiro that was sung by Almirante: “Yes, We Have Bananas.” Now the song is: “Yes, We Have Olympics Games," also.
Roger Cohen, who has lived and worked in Brazil, finds the positive side of Rio's hosting the Games:
Works by Altenir Silva:
Links to the music Silva references:
A Felicidade - Tom & Vinícius:
Yes, Nós Temos Bananas - Braguinha & Alberto Ribeiro:
A Voz do Morro - Ze Keti:
Michael Powell's excellent column on the favelas:
The two Korean athletes’ selfie in the Olympic Village – now flashed around the world -- reminds me of another Korean gesture for common humanity.
It happened at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul -- the first nearly complete set of Games after the American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the inevitable Soviet payback at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
After the futile boycotts – making athletes pay for the failures of nations -- the two behemoths were back in the Olympic business in 1988. Just before the games began, I was at a reception at the media center. Koreans are more than generous in plying visitors with food, drink, gifts – and fellowship.
(“They remind me of my relatives in Brooklyn,” a news-reporter friend of mine said. “They get up close to you, and they laugh and cry.” He loved them for it.)
At this reception, a South Korean host mingled among the visiting journalists and spotted an American (me) and a Russian, both alone, both within arm’s length.
He hooked one arm around me and his other arm around the Russian.
"We should all be friends,” he urged us. “Come on, shake hands.”
The Russian was as bemused as I was. I had no issue with Russians – had been in Moscow in 1986 for the Goodwill Games, midsummer, warm hearts, leaving me with a permanent affection for the people.
But, geez, two journalists at a reception? Two strangers? A handshake? Really?
The guy looked at me, and I looked at him, and he gave a very Russian shrug, and I did my best to imitate, as if to say, “что вы говорите” – whatever you say.
We shook hands, I think the Korean took a photo, and we retreated to separate corners of the hospitality tent. Enough freaking brotherhood for one evening.
Now I wish I had the photo, but that was before the age of digital.
Nowadays, a North Korean and South Korean athlete meet in the village and take a selfie. Somebody else takes a photo of them. It goes around the world. We all take heart in this.
Now we learn the North Korean athlete’s story is a bit more complicated. The latest article includes the phrase “coal mine.”
But bless the people who care. Two of the most touching columns I have read about these Games were written by Roger Cohen and Frank Bruni in the Times.
Cohen described the spiritual journey of an Egyptian volleyball player who wore a hijab in competition. (I don’t know anybody who writes better about Islam in the modern world than Cohen.)
Bruni wrote about the high points of competition that made him cry. (I’m going to sound like a jerk, but my memories of Michael Phelps and swimming events at previous Olympics bring back a strong whiff of chlorine, not much else.)
I do remember grand moments, many outside the arena -- like a warm-hearted Korean urging me to put down my little dish of kimchi and shake hands with a Russian.
Our son was moonlighting as an assistant clubhouse man one summer in Peoria, Ill., where he went to college and worked for the Journal-Star. (He’s got lots of good stories about shagging flies when Jim Thome was visiting his home town, and chatting with Jimmy Piersall, the roving scout.)
One day the Appleton team bus arrived after a long haul from Wisconsin, and Dave was impressed that the young bonus baby sprang for pizza for the entire team. It was not hard to be impressed with Alex Rodriguez.
The Appleton hitting coach collected opposing ball caps, so Dave said he would trade one for an A-Rod ball. They walked into the visitors' clubhouse and the coach had A-Rod sign.
Dave still has it, on an official Midwest League ball – clearly from A-Rod’s first pro season. I emailed Dave the other day and said, the ball’s value has gone up.
* * *
Our older daughter, Laura Vecsey, became a sports columnist in Seattle as A-Rod arrived later in 1994, a slender kid with power. Nobody predicted 696 homers – but maybe 500? He couldn’t miss.
They got along, in a quirky kind of way, with A-Rod treating her like an older sister. He had mood swings, sometimes chatty, sometimes silent. When his contract was up, he insisted that his next move would not be predicated on money, but rather on comfort level, on loyalty, both ways.
When he signed with the Texas Rangers, Laura reflected the attitude of that lovely city that had fallen so hard for A-Rod. She gave him a new nickname - Pay-Rod. He did not much like that.
* * *
He could have led Seattle to the World Series but Texas was the wrong place for him. He jumped to the Yankees after three years, sticking a conversational shiv between the shoulders of his erstwhile pal, Derek Jeter. By this time, Laura and he were talking again.
“Dad,” she said, “he’s always asking what it was like to have a father in the same business. He doesn’t have a father. You ought to talk to him.”
She was talking about possible access to A-Rod – all journalists think like this – but she was also talking about a human being who, she felt, was trying to learn, to grow.
That spring in Yankee camp, I introduced myself to A-Rod, and we chatted for a while. Nobody is fooled about this dance, but I was always looking to write about the human side of players. When adults like Bob Watson and Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira came to the Yankees, I enjoyed learning about them.
In the early days of the first season, I was walking in the narrow corridors of the old Yankee Stadium, long before a game. A-Rod was walking toward me, nobody else around. I smiled, said hello. He never made eye contact. Just kept walking. Oh-kay. It was a small thing, but it told me he was in his world, I was in mine, and adult politeness was not part of the equation.
I never did see him open up in New York. Sometimes he pretended to open up, but he had too many secrets. His teammates seemed happy for him when he finally helped win a World Series in 2009, but I could not help noticing the disdain Derek Jeter let slip in spring training of 2009, when reporters came around to ask about A-Rod’s latest apology for drug usage.
“One thing that irritates me is that this was the steroid era,” Jeter said. “I don’t know how many people tested positive, but everybody wasn’t doing it.”
Jeter casually said he had been counseled by his parents as he was growing up.
“You’re educated,” he said, adding, “If you do some things, eventually the truth will come out.”
Jeter is not the type to let his feelings show. This time they did.
My feelings about Alex Rodriguez as he retires from the Yankees? I hope he will be all right.
Bobby Valentine will honor Shannon Forde, the senior director of media relations for the Mets, who died at 44 from breast cancer last March.
On Monday evening from 7 to 9 PM, the former Mets manager will be at Foley’s Pub at 18 W. 33 St. to sign autographs, schmooze in English and, who knows, maybe even Japanese, given his time spent managing over there.
The proceeds will go to the Forde Children’s Fund. She left behind her husband, John, and Nicholas, 8, and Kendall, 5, and hundreds of close friends including Shaun Clancy, the baseball-centric proprietor of Foley’s.
In a mad world, Shannon was a capable and friendly presence with the Mets. Stars like Keith Hernandez and John Franco and Mets staffers with a heart have helped raise money, and now Bobby V is helping.
He is home in Connecticut these days, working as a TV analyst and athletic director of Sacred Heart University.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own memorabilia – each autograph is $40, and signed balls are $20 and photos are $10.
Valentine will participate in a Q&A, with Pete Caldera, singer and sportswriter, serving as master of ceremonies at Foley’s the Irish pub devoted to baseball – with thousands of signed balls and photographs and memorabilia covering every square inch.
George Butterworth did not see himself as a composer. Rather, he was a well-rounded musician, who, like so many other privileged English men, enlisted in the military early in what they called The Great War.
(I wrote the first draft of this a week before the Donald Trump Heel Spur controversy; of course, I did not serve in the military, either, having had two children young. George Butterworth did volunteer for the Great War, at the age of 29.)
I never knew much about George Butterworth except as the first of three composers on a lovely Nimbus CD, “Butterworth, Parry & Bridge” -- three British composers, brought together in a 1986 recording by William Boughton and the English Symphony Orchestra.
In my iPod, that arrangement blends into one long summer afternoon in the British countryside, idyllic, gentle, peaceful. It takes me back to afternoons when we used to visit a friend in mid-Wales.
I paid more attention to the name Butterworth when it popped up in my wife’s ongoing genealogy study. One of her ancestors married a man named Butterworth in the 19th Century somewhere in Lancashire.
It does not appear to be the same family, inasmuch as George Sainton Kaye Butterworth was born in London. His father was an executive on a railroad, who sent his son to the best schools—Eton and Trinity College, Oxford.
After university, Butterworth traveled around England, sometimes as a professional morris dancer (there was such a thing in those days) and collector of folk songs. Sometimes he went around with Ralph Vaughn Williams, whom he prodded to expand a short piece into what would become his “London Symphony.”
Butterworth expanded on the folk song, “The Banks of Green Willow,” and wrote music to accompany the poems of A.E. Housman in “A Shropshire Lad.” But "composer" was a label he resisted.
In August of 1914, Butterworth joined up and was sent to the front, where armies were hunkering down in the fields of Belgium and France.
He was made a lieutenant, put in charge of coal miners from Durham, with whom he had great rapport. He was shot once in the Battle of the Somme but recovered and went back to the trenches.
On Aug. 5, 1916, George Butterworth was shot by a sniper. His body was not recovered but friends back home made sure his music was written down and survived the war.
Ursula Vaughn Williams, the widow of the composer, kept Butterworth’s music in circulation. (I wish I had known that while watching that force of nature, Frances de la Tour, portray her in the recent movie,“The Lady in the Van.” )
“The Banks of Green Willow” has come to represent the people who died in the Great War.
There is a Butterworth B&B in the French countryside, not far from where George Butterworth fell, a century ago, Aug. 5, 1916.
The Rio Olympics start Rio Friday night, with considerable gloom and doom.
Then again, there is always gloom and doom before the Olympics.
I covered seven of them and never once left home without being influenced by the Common Wisdom of the Media Herd that the end was near.
This time, however, the Olympics really may have hit triple witching hour, what with the Zika virus and the polluted Olympic waters and security concerns and feuding between the IOC and WADA and Brazil struggling to finish the project and rampant state-operated drug cheating.
This really might be time. In the decades I covered international sport, I came to realize that the stated idealism of spreading the Olympics and the World Cup of soccer around the globe imposed an unfair burden on emerging nations and cities that could ill afford the “honor.”
Unsupportable expense to build white elephants was the reason I was one of the first journalists to strongly oppose New York’s bid for 2012; I was thrilled my home town did not get it.
Drugs are always there. For me, it was a bore to have to wonder whether every sprinter or weight-lifter was clean. But now we have the Russian government running crooked labs. Does anybody really believe Putin? Beside Trump, of course.
To be sure, I wrote apocalyptic words before the seven Olympics I covered.
In 1984, we all fretted about gridlock but it never happened. I have never been able to zip around LA better than in summer of ’84. (“Everybody went to Hawaii,” a Beverly Hills friend explained.)
In 1988, we trembled after protests and change of government in South Korea the year before, but the Games were a delight – many old people still wearing the colorful robes of the past, young people plunging forward toward the 21st Century.
In 1992, there was caution in Barcelona because of separatism in Spain. I never minded when security rolled a mirror underneath the Timesmobile every time I drove to the media center. Mostly, Barcelona was a shimmering Gaudi dream – magic nights on the Ramblas plus Socialist plans for housing and waterfront, leaving maybe the best Olympic legacy ever.
In 1996, I was obsessed with the crassness of the Atlanta operation – until we were stunned by a home-grown terrorist planting a bomb among innocents at the central park. I came to like Atlanta; the city is better for having upgraded downtown.
In 2000 in Sydney, the fear and trembling was mostly about the Sydney funnel web spider (they hide in your boot! 20 minutes at most to get medical attention!) plus sharks in the surf and sunburn damage from on high and poisonous puffballs in the earth and fruit bats hanging from trees in center city. No worries, Mate.
In 2004, the first Games after 9/11, there was talk about bad guys steaming into the harbor at Piraeus. But the real damage from the Olympics was the rust, the empty stadiums and the debt in Greece today.
In 2008, we all fretted about air pollution in Beijing but the government simply shut down factories and traffic. When you went outside you could almost breathe.
Didn’t make London. Not going to Rio. But I am sure if I were still working, I’d go to Rio. I worry about the younger people who are going. My friend Dr. Gary Wadler, former advisor to WADA, is one of 150 experts who called for the Games to be moved or suspended. He says the Games are not worth the medical risk. And the IOC has not seemed up to inspecting the vile waters of Guanabara Bay or judging the Zika threat.
My image of Brazil will remain the music and the people and movies like “Central Station” and “Black Orpheus” and the beautiful team of 1982 with Sócrates and Falcão that did not win the World Cup – plus my friends Altenir and Celia and Neo in Copacabana. Be safe, my friends.
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.