I was walking to the post office this week when the crossing guard showed me her cellphone.
It showed a "Hi, Gram" text message.
"Where does she live?" I asked.
Upstate, she said. She was beaming.
"It makes you feel good," she said, turning her attention to the drivers barely in control of their vehicles and their impulses.
We oldsters often talk about the new breed who start flicking their thumbs in social situations, when families used to sit around and talk.
But the phones have their moments, particularly at holidays.
One of our grand-daughters now lives a mile away; she texts us all the time, sometimes with her latest photograph.
Anjali often sees things nobody else sees -- utility wires, somehow blue, outside her house, on a day of slush.
It was straight out of the movies. We could hear James Earl Jones intoning: If you throw a party, they will come.
The occasion was the retirement of Fern Turkowitz, the administrator of the Sports Department, after a mere 47 years at the Times.
She has been compared to Derek Jeter and Radar in M*A*S*H and others who made it happen, whatever it was.
The Sports Department set up a toast at 5 PM on Friday, Fern’s last day at work. People said they have never seen a crowd like this -- the corn fields opening up, the old players emerging from history.
I won’t try to re-produce the praise for Fern. Maybe it stays in house. Maybe it’s out there in the social media. How would I know?
What touched me were the faces filing through the corn field – starting with current masthead names like Sulzberger and Baquet and Chira and maybe others I did not spot. That was gracious of them, indicating the respect for Fern throughout the building. Dozens and dozens of current Times employees were there, too numerous to mention.
Then there were the old-timers, who keep in touch, but never so many in one place, some visiting the “new building” for the first time since the Times moved from 43rd St. to Eighth Avenue in 2007.
Just off the top of my addled head, what a thrill to see Alex Yannis, who covered World Cups, and Barbara Lloyd, who wrote about sailing, Gerry Eskenazi. Dave Anderson. Lawrie Mifflin, who wrote and was a deputy sports editor. Susan Adams, one of the great copy editors. Ray Corio, ditto. Neil Amdur. Bob Lipsyte. Arthur Pincus. Paul Winfield, another favorite editor. And Paul Belinkie, who could dunk a basketball, he said. I know I’m forgetting some.
Then there were younger people who moved on to other jobs for good reasons but remain part of the team, and always will. Malcolm Moran. Judy Battista. Greg Bishop. Pete Thamel. Howard Beck. Joe Sexton. They just came back. It seemed so natural, so right.
Some came in from Seattle or Indiana or Boston or the East Side, for goodness’ sakes. Waves of all-star teams. All of us in our time had pestered Fern for credentials, or submitted sloppy expense statements, or lost rental cars, or lost ourselves. Fern straightened it out, part Mother Teresa, part Nurse Ratched, but always indispensable to eight sports editors from Jim Roach to Jason Stallman.
The party continued down the street. May still be going on.
These are “interesting times” for print journalism. I came away from this party for our colleague, our friend Fern Turkowitz, feeling the core pride in ourselves, in each other, and mostly in The New York Times. We have lived by the credo: If we print it, "they" will read it.
* * *
Two things I should add:
Terri-Ann Glynn did a great job putting the party together.
And some of the usual suspects in the office gave terrific speeches and put together a 7-page journal about Fern, which Melissa notes in her nice comment below. I think the journal fits into the clubhouse slogan of "what you see here, stays here," but it reflected Fern's impact on all of us. GV
The estimates are that around 4-5-million immigrants will be affected by President Obama’s plan to not pursue deportation for some families.
But the number of people helped will be far greater.
I am thinking of how much we depend on the cashiers and packers at the grocery store and the guys on the work trucks and the busboys in the restaurants. They are part of the structure of our lives, all of us.
I have no idea of the status of the people I encounter every day in my town – don’t want to know -- but the faces and the Spanish language tell me many are from Central America.
They work hard. They are smart. And as President Obama pointed out Thursday night, they are family people. They remind me of my image of America -- the people who came here and stuck together and helped each other.
The young woman who cuts my hair and worries about her young son, at home with a fever. The supervisor in the grocery store who is breaking in the new woman, instructing her how to work a checkout line. The guy who gives me a fist bump and inquires about my family: he used to work on somebody else’s lawn crew; now he has a truck of his own. He points to his initials on the door.
And the next generation moves up. They name their children Jonathan and Jennifer. I see Spanish surnames on the school honor rolls in our local weekly. They work in medical offices, with skills they studied to acquire.
In the past week, in a local restaurant, the waitress had a face that suggested Central America but her accent and gestures were straight Lawn Guyland.
I have this reaction, knowing that borders must be protected, and undesirables sent home. I know that some of the brutal taxes on Long Island go to educate and care for some people without “the right papers.” I know this is a complicated issue from reading both the Wall Street Journal and Paul Krugman’s beautiful testimonial on Friday.
We need to sort this out. But as long as Congress is caught in what I construe as racist bias against a duly-elected President, Obama needs to take common-sense and compassionate action toward families with children with rights to citizenship. They are us, and vice versa. Our neighbors.
Gus Alfieri writes his own stuff. This is no small accomplishment for any athlete, any coach, any public figure, who decides to put out a book.
Alfieri won championships as a player and a coach; now he is being honored with the Lapchick Character Award on Thursday in New York. After writing a biography of his mentor, Joe Lapchick, the coach of the Knicks and St. John’s University, Alfieri helped originate the Lapchick Character Award Foundation to honor coaches who demonstrate the good side of sports.
In a world of award ceremonies, this annual November luncheon is special. It comes up Thursday at 11:30 AM at the Wyndham New Yorker, catty-corner to Madison Square Garden, hours before the 2K Classic, benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project Coaches for Cancer doubleheader.
This is probably the most equitable awards event in any sport. No women are being honored this year but since the first luncheon in 2008 the Lapchick Award has gone to pioneers of women’s basketball -- Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Kay Yow of North Carolina State among others. In 2012 I loved hearing Cathy Rush, who won three national titles with tiny Immaculata in the 1970’s, telling stories about the low budgets, the buses and dicey flight connections, the recruiting.
Bootstrappers have great tales to tell. One of the best was Clarence (Big House) Gaines from Winston-Salem State, who died in 2005. His protégé, Earl Monroe will talk about him on Thursday. Another recipient will be John Kresse, who played for Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s and led the College of Charleston into Division I and the NCAA tournament.
Alfieri will be honored by his associates in the Lapchick Foundation, a no-brainer, considering this award was his idea. He is the epitome of the student-athlete that all sports schools like to envision. He played for Lapchick, helped win the National Invitation Tournament in his senior year – and kept going, right through a Ph. D. and a long run as coach of St. Anthony’s in Huntington Station, N.Y.
Later, Alfieri wrote “Lapchick: The Life of a Legendary Player and Coach in the Glory Days of Basketball,” published in 2006. Like any responsible author, Alfieri included the complex parts but also pointed out how Lapchick came to warn younger players about gambling after being burned by two teammates of Alfieri, and how Lapchick was a pioneer in race relations as a player, hugging his African-American opponent before every barnstorming game.
Alfieri is completing his next book, “Once in a Lifetime: A Basketball Coach’s Memoir of a Championship Team,” about his St. Anthony’s team that dominated New York State in the 1970’s.
For information: http://www.characteraward.com/
On one of her child-care volunteer trips to Asia, my wife sat next to a Vietnam vet, who had business out east.
He told her that a bunch of vets had a network, to send goods to Vietnam. The leader, he said, was John McCain.
As it happened, I had an interview with Sen. McCain during a hearing into some Olympic scandals in 1999. The first thing I asked him, in a long break in his office, was about his involvement with Vietnam after years of captivity.
McCain’s reply was a shrug, more eloquent than words. I think the shrug meant, it was the right thing to do.
I think of those vets who saw horrors out there. One baseball player from Hofstra, John Minutoli, flew one mission too many out of Da Nang. I’ve visited his name on the Wall in DC. Walter Rudolph, a fraternity brother by proxy, died in 1969. I’ve visited his grave at Pinelawn.
Others who came back from combat are still dealing. One good friend of mine is starting to write about being an officer, seeing how things really worked out there in Vietnam. John Fernandez, the West Point lacrosse player, who lost the lower part of both legs on “a bad day at the office” in Iraq, worked many years for Wounded Warriors, still plays on prosthetic feet.
Friends of mine, who were in the worst of it in Vietnam, only allude to the combat but prefer to talk about the politics that prolonged the war.
The older I get, the more I appreciate anybody who served. * * *
(Here are the links for John McDermott's friends, in the Comments below.)
Bill Nighy was the main reason I watched the PBS drama “Turks & Caicos” on Sunday night, about a British spy on the run. Nighy is so cool; I want to be him when I grow up.
But Nighy was not the revelation of this movie. In the second hour, a new character came sashaying right down the middle -- 4 feet, 1 inch, but 8 feet tall in attitude.
Meredith Eaton – I never heard of her – was playing a highly capable character with a purpose. No sense ruining the plot if you catch up with it, and you should. She kept right up with actors like Nighy, Christopher Walken, Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham Carter and, oh yes, Ralph Fiennes.
Because PBS and other stations have the annoying habit of running the credits at warp speed, I did not catch Eaton's name in the blur. How rude to actors. But I looked it up on the web, and Wiki had a full credit list, with links. I should have known from the Lawn Guyland accent: Eaton went to my alma mater, Hofstra University, majored in psych, minored in drama. She recently turned 40, and was the first female dwarf ever to have a major recurring role on an American TV drama (Family Law, 1999.)
Hofstra has sent bombshells into the world before. Lainie Kazan (then Lainie Levine) was a classmate in the late ‘50’s, steaming up the new John Cranford Adams playhouse in “Pajama Game.” And a few years later, it was worth going back on campus to catch Madeline Kahn, long before she played Lili Von Shtupp in “Blazing Saddles.”
In fact, there are Hofstra connections to three of the four people in the photo above. Christopher Walken was a dancer who went to Hofstra for one year before learning how to talk funny. I don’t believe Bill Nighy has any Hofstra connection. And Winona Ryder, so edgy in “Turks & Caicos,” has a Hofstra link in this way: about a decade ago I visited Francis Ford Coppola, another classmate, at his home in Napa. In his studio was a chair with the name Winona printed on it. Sit in it, Coppola motioned. So I did. He had directed her in “Dracula.” I’m counting it as a Hofstra connection.
Now Hofstra has done it again, another actress who lights it up. Meredith Eaton is not in the final part of the trilogy, "Salting the Battlefield," next Sunday on PBS, but she needs to be in something else, and soon.
The world’s most popular sport is still stuck with primitive leadership and bad decisions. A column by Richard Sandomir in the Times on Thursday says the 2022 World Cup – scheduled for Qatar -- might be moved from June-July to November-December, right in the middle of the world’s major soccer leagues and tournaments.
This wretched planning happened under the watch of Sepp Blatter, who is now threatening to run for his fifth term as president of FIFA, the world soccer body, next May.
Blatter is already in trouble, what with a former voting member of FIFA, Chuck Blazer, an American who lived very well on soccer money, reportedly testifying to American authorities about FIFA. I'm just guessing that Blatter will not be touching down on American soil any time soon.
The tainted vote for Qatar, quite likely fueled by payments to larcenous FIFA board members, was the fault of Blatter. Qatar promises to build air-conditioned stadiums in the desert, often over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, presumably with the “help” of migrant laborers, those that survive.
Now that Blatter has discovered the climate of Qatar in the summer – his lack of scientific knowledge could qualify him for the U.S. Congress – he is going to do something.
But as Sandomir points out – what we all have known for years – is that American networks have other sports, other financial obligations, going on in November and December.
Sandomir notes that it will be hard to get out of the contract but he proposes: FIFA “should make a deal to satisfy Fox, Telemundo and other global networks aggrieved by changing the World Cup schedule. And let the networks give any financial compensation to charity.”
What is missing is the economic hammer. What is missing is one aggrieved corporate leader like David D’Alessandro, who was once the head of John Hancock, a major Olympic sponsor. This is what I wrote in 2008:
When the bribery scandal hit a few years before the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the most prophetic voice from the corporate world was that of David D’Alessandro, the chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services. He basically warned the I.O.C. to clean up the mess made by the good burghers of Utah and the dozens of avaricious members whose votes were for hire — or else D’Alessandro would take his corporate sponsorship away from the Olympics faster than you can say, “On your mark, get set, go.”
D’Alessandro was not being moralistic, he said. He was merely protecting his company. He has since moved on from John Hancock. Someday the Olympics might find another visionary leader from corporate America. It’s not impossible.
D’Alessandro forced the International Olympic Committee to find a new leader of the host committee – a Boston guy named Mitt Romney, you may have heard of him, who did a good job. And right through the 2004 Summer Games, as long as he was running John Hancock, D’Alessandro put pressure on the Olympic movement.
What FIFA needs right now is a corporate leader like David D’Alessandro to tell Blatter that he can no longer subsidize an operation as erratic and secretive and dishonest as his. There are still six months left to force Sepp Blatter out.
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.