I called her Pretty Girl whenever she sat by my side.
She must have known I was smitten, because she let me pet her
and talk to her even if her immediate family members were right there.
She was a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd, a highly desirable breed, tooled to chase sheep up a steep incline, sorting out dawdlers.
She could muster her speed and power when let loose in safe terrain but she was gentle and domesticated in Dave and Joelle’s house, near us.
She had beautiful color and soft hair and a sleek face. She could have been a model.
She was named Blue, for her right eye, alongside her darker left eye. Exactly -- just like Max Scherzer, the traveling pitching star, currently with the Mets. When I see Scherzer blowing hitters away, I think of Blue.
(The web says 5 per cent of Blue Merle Australian Shepherds have one blue eye, a genetic variant.)
(The web also says a small percentage of humans has one blue eye, from a common ancestor 6-10,000 years ago.)
I never saw Blue show a temper, even when Isabel’s cat or Greta’s cat sauntered by. Blue tolerated the felines, shared food space and floor space. She was beautiful; she had nothing to prove.
I am not a dog person (and my wife has major dog allergies), but I did love our highly neurotic and foul-smelling cocker spaniel named Ebony, adopted while I was out of town, and good sport that I am, I walked her and washed her, and in turn she cuddled at my feet when I was reading or napping.
I always referred to her as “my last dog,” but I still get sad when I think about her (and think I smell her, two decades later) whenever I lie down on my couch for a nap.
Most of my family loves dogs. My mother adored Taffy, whom she walked for exercise while gallantly fighting back Multiple Sclerosis, and my sister Janet and brother Peter both have dogs these days.
Laura and Diane had Griffey, a springer spaniel who could haul driftwood out of heavy surf north of Seattle. When Laura was a sports columnist out there, she knew and liked Ken Jr., who asked why she named her dog Griffey. “Annoying….and cute,” she said, and Ken seemed okay with that.
More recently, they had a little Lhasa Maltese mix, whom I nicknamed The Yapper, in homage to Donnie Iris and the Jaggerz and their hit song, “The Rapper:”
The Yapper used to snap and snarl at me, even when I was feeding her or taking her for a walk. But as she got older and wiser, she sat at my feet and let me pet her.
Peter and Corinna had Ginger, an English bred Yellow Lab whom Corinna took for long pre-dawn walks in the neighborhood, and when Ginger was fading, she was replaced by Finnbar Octavian, whom they also love.
David and Joelle adopted Blue 10 years ago from the great North Shore Animal League, near us in Port Washington. She was said to be six months old, but maybe she was older, because she was so mature.
In her first years, Blue had the energy of a teen-ager. We’d go in the back yard and I would boot a soft soccer ball into a far corner. and she’d bolt to get it, as if it were a wayward sheep.
A couple of years ago, I sent a ball into a corner and she gave me a baleful look, one blue eye and one dark eye, as if to say, “Uh, I don’t do that stuff anymore.”
Either way, she was still beautiful.
A month or two ago, she stopped eating much, and began losing weight and her coat became splotchy and she mostly sat and watched. Her family sought good veterinary care, and the verdict was stomach cancer.
While Blue could still get around, David took her to Bar Beach, where she loved to romp at low tide, and Dave posted it on Twitter.
I came by to hug her one more time, and on Friday family members received a photo from Dave, of an empty collar with the name "Blue" on it.
"She’s running up the mountain, free again. ❤ to her, on her way."
Speaking of hills to climb again, may I offer this song, by Alice Gerrard, sung by Kathy Mattea.
For Blue: "Agate Hill."
The terrible stuff is all over the news but baseball, as always, is a welcome diversion.
It was on television and good old the radio this weekend. Pick your team; mine is the Mets.
I make no apologies for the hours I spent following Good Old Howie Rose on the radio for two days and the Three Amigos on the tube on Sunday.
The Mets presented their first exhibition Saturday, with Rose back in the booth after shutting down last season because of illness. He sounded himself in his haimish Queens tones (so familiar to my central Queens ear.)
Rose and his radio sidekick, Wayne Randazzo, noted that spring training was delayed to mid-March as the hard heads of Major League Baseball nearly throttled their thing, but now MLB is going after all that good, clean gambling money, while clubs are playing catchup – opening days in less than three weeks.
As the Mets played the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach, Rose and Randazzo discussed the big change in rules this year – the National League has gone the way of the designated hitter after 49 years of the gimmick solely in the American League.
(The New York Times has an interview with Ron Blomberg, the first DH for the Yankees back in 1973. Blomberg likes it, and why not? It is his claim to fame.)
Somewhat to my surprise, Rose, 69, said it was time for “traditionalists” to accept the DH. Most pitchers can’t hit, anyway, and even those who can are in danger of being injured by putting their hands and wrists and elbows in the way of a wayward pitch. The deGrom Argument.
Jacob deGrom has been my best reason for keeping the tradition, based on the good hitting pitchers over the decades – Don Newcombe of my Brooklyn Dodgers, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Tom Glavine, Madison Bumgarner. (Shohei Otani, the slugging pitcher, is not just from Japan; he is from some other planet entirely.)
However, deGrom is also the best argument for getting elite pitchers out of harm’s way. He was an infielder in college and is a lithe fielder on the mound, and he can also bunt and swing for power. He kept getting hurt last year, ending his season way too early, possibly because of the stresses of hitting a fastball with a wooden bat.
Who wants to see Jacob deGrom’s career end early? Howie Rose was spot-on, in the opening innings of the first radio exhibition of the spring. This traditionalist gives up.
I picked up the Mets’ Sunday game on television, from their camp in Port St. Lucie – Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, warming up for their 17th season together – so savvy, so entertaining. Their show showed a clip of Lindsey Nelson doing an intro for the Mets’ historic first camp in 1962, and praised the earlier Three Amigos, Nelson and Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner.
The current Amigos let us know winter was truly over by discussing the free agents who have moved around for salaries that seem unbelievable to me. They also discussed the legacy-killing act of Robinson Cano, who is back from a second drug suspension, the knucklehead.
The Amigos also talked about how clubs have to prepare fast. Hernandez, that great first baseman, noted that Francisco Lindor has a bad habit of underarming his throws on slowly-hit grounders. They speculated whether Michael Conforto could still be signed for this season --- a really good point, since he seemed a victim of the Mets' organizational anarchy last year. And Cohen, who flew to San Diego to fulfill his winter gig with Seton Hall basketball, raved about the stunning double victory by fellow jersey school, St. Peter’s.
True confession: just like the ball players, I am not ready to go nine, so I dozed in mid-game and caught the last segment on the radio with Good Old Howie Rose.
He was talking about the deterioration of most of the Mets’ hitters last year, as the old-time batting coach, Chili Davis, got fired, replaced by two minor-league coaches, who, according to Rose, were undercut by analytics types going where they don't belong – buzzing in the ears of major-league hitters. That won’t happen again, Rose said, and I hope he’s right.
In the final innings, Rose noted that the new manager, Buck Showalter, re-arranged the batting order of the anonymous late-inning subs, and imitated Bob Murphy, who used to explain the machinations of Casey Stengel or Bobby Valentine by enunciating, “I’m….sure…he…has…his... reasons.”
“Come on, April 7,” Rose urged, referring to Opening Day, when the March of the Subs will no longer happen.
He observed the fans, making their getaways into the choke point on the dreaded Peacock Blvd. Randazzo said he knows a short cut, albeit illegal, through a nearby gas station – the late-inning preoccupations of spring training.
All seems normal. Welcome back, baseball.
* -- Homage to the Terry Cashman standard.
And for all radio baseball fans:
How strange, to be reading a book about the Holocaust while another slaughter takes place.
For no good reason, I missed reading Art Spiegelman’s classic book, “Maus,” a graphic novel about his parents’ survival, of sorts, from Auschwitz. I always meant to read it since the first part was published in 1986, but just did not until now.
However, when school boards and mayors and other American worthies began to ban this Pulitzer-Prize winning book as too controversial for young people, I realized I had to join the millions who had read it.
I tried to take it out from the wonderful Nassau County library system only to discover I was 31st in the electronic waiting line – but fortunately there was a Spanish-language copy available from a few towns away. With my moderate Spanish and a handy dictionary – and the graphic panels displaying cruelty and hope – I read it.
Meanwhile, a latter-day Hitler has decided to take over a neighboring people, even if he has to kill thousands, maybe millions, of them – “Man’s inhumanity to man,” to quote the Robert Burns poem, all over again, "a boot stamping on a human face – forever," in the words of George Orwell.
Art Spiegelman was documenting it decades ago, as his aging father began to tell how the world fell apart in the late 30s in Poland, when the Nazis were flexing their muscles and most locals were none too hesitant to cooperate.
Chapter by chapter, Spiegelman portrays himself, already an adult cartoonist with a political bent,
getting his widower father to tell the story of his courtship and marriage and the inexorable plodding toward Auschwitz, followed by a reunion of the parents and the path to Rego Park, Queens, and the Catskills in the summer – heaven on earth, sort of, for people who have lived in Nazi hell.
The artist portrays Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, the British as fish, the French as frogs, and the Swedish as deer. What would the Russians be, if and when we get to a similar re-telling of this horror? Perhaps, lumbering, dim-witted bear cubs, with an old and rabid bear sending them off to mutual slaughter, up against a Ukrainian people with a (Jewish!) hero/president, trying to rally the world.
As the father talks to his son, he tells how he and his wife went underground, surviving with the help of the occasional kindly Pole, and then how they survived in adjacent camps, he by being fluent in English and German as well as Polish – and learning skills that make him valuable to the warden, who feeds him, protects him.
The father tells of death, step by step, of men around him. It’s a horror show, but also a testimony to the will to live – now being seen by Ukrainians who fight bravely for what is theirs, while many elderly and children are sent to relative safety.
Spiegelman’s masterpiece is worth finding – buying -- and assimilating. In “Maus,” people are flawed, one way or the other, but the urge to survive against the wicked is strong. For the people of Ukraine, my heart goes out.
With the Putin pandemic raging and the Covid pandemic lessening, two public figures caught my attention in the past 24 hours.
As a journalist, I watched with awe and admiration Thursday evening as Shepard Smith, on live television, reported the ominous news about the nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.
For whatever reason Smith and CNBC were ahead of other TV outlets on my tube. Lately, we have been switching to Smith at 7 PM because it seems more like an old-fashioned hour of evening news.
Shepard is a pro, and he was welcome on Thursday as his station recognized the seriousness of the breaking news about undisciplined and amoral Russian soldiers bombarding the nuclear plant. This has been a worst-case scenario for those of us who can recall the end of World War Two and then word that the Soviet Union also had atomic bombs.
So there was Smith, showing a frozen video of tracer bullets lighting up the night sky, seven time zones away, and flares dropping and smoke rising. Hell on Earth. However, Smith kept his wits and cautioned that this video was already minutes old and much could have changed.
Smith never panicked (that we could tell) and his clearly capable staff backed him up, finding experts who gave best-case and worst-case scenarios. Smith, with his soft southern drawl and experience of working abroad, was clearly reading whatever came across his laptop. and trying to make sense of it.
I have covered coal-mine disasters and city armed standoffs and know how helpless one can feel without solid facts. Yet Smith collated bits and pieces of news and expertise, keeping his wits. I cannot imagine anybody doing better. The network wisely kept him on for a second hour, until they could ascertain that, whatever the Russian thuggery and stupidity – undisciplined boys with heavy weapons – the plant was apparently unharmed. That was good enough, for the moment.
I really don’t know much about Shepard Smith, except that he used to be on Fox, but jumped ship nearly two years ago. His politics? Whatever. They do not get in the way of his news smarts.
Smith reported his way through a fresh crisis. We could breathe, momentarily. I want to send word to an admirable journalist, for excellence in live time. Thanks, man.
* * *
The other person I want to praise is Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City. I have liked and admired him from afar – his Brooklyn roots, his career with the NYPD, and the way he fought off diabetes and obesity with a professed vegetarian diet. Does he slip in some fish protein once in a while? Who cares?
There are questions about his politics and who supports him, and with how much, but that could be said about most, or all, politicians. As a city kid, I just like him.
On Friday,Adams stood in Times Square and announced that the Covid mandates were mostly gone, given the sharp drop in new cases and deaths in the city. Some of us are not ready to leap into a crowded theater or restaurant, but we don’t have to.
Mayor Adams gave warm praise to Dr. David Chokshi, who stayed on as NY health commissioner in the first months of 2022, to get the city to this point of documented hope. Dr. Chokshi has been a welcome presence on public-service announcements, with his knowledge and gentle smile.
The mayor also praised somebody else – Bill DeBlasio, the previous mayor. Speaking with fervor, the mayor noted that “Bill” had taken a lot of pot-shots from critics, but had made decisions and presided over a terrible time. To paraphrase the new mayor: “It’s not easy. Try it some time. He gave us eight years, and we’re still standing.”
Not every politician, in my home town or anywhere, has the grace to praise a predecessor. I have no way of knowing how the Adams regime will go, but the new mayor showed a heady mix of street smarts and grace. Thank you, sir.
The only time I was in Moscow, we were given a great hotel room facing the Kremlin and Red Square.
This was during the Goodwill Games, that strange sports jamboree put together by Ted Turner of Atlanta and “my Commie pinko buddies,” as he called them.
It was 1986, and the Goodwill Games -- Игры доброй воли, which I can pronounce from memory: Igry dobroy voli.
There was plenty of goodwill in the time of “glasnost” – open-ness – of the Gorbachev era.
The times they were a-changing, temporarily, and just about everybody was nice, particularly the babushka ladies, except when crossed.
The babushka ladies were of considerable age and experience – they had seen war up close, many of them were widows of soldiers since the early ‘40s. They survived on modest pensions with the hardiness of survivors. They would go around Moscow trying to find food they could afford. They wore loose, mostly black, clothes, and they carried umbrellas and were nicknamed after the ubiquitous scarves most wore tied under their chins.
The babushka ladies -- бабушки, pronounced babushki in plural -- were great to my wife, who was roaming the warm and festive city, seeking out art museums and parks where she could buy fresh blintzes and visit shops to see how people lived.
One day she decided to take in a circus in the outskirts of the huge city and was told which bus to take from near the hotel. She presented a circular about the circus to the bus driver, asking him to let her off at the closest stop, but then the babushka ladies took over.
They perused the map to determine how far, bade her sit with them, tried to chat across language barriers, and when the bus reached the proper stop, they propelled her out into the sunny Moscow evening with smiles and waves. The babushka ladies.
Later, she reported that the circus was wonderful, when we reconnoitered around midnight at the hotel room with the amazing view.
A few days later, she spotted the babushka ladies in action. She was roaming near Red Square and it was drizzling and crowd control was up. Apparently, a dignitary – Mme. Mitterand, wife of the French president—was taking a tour of the Kremlin, which involved blocking all traffic, including pedestrian, from at least a square mile.
The babushka ladies did not take kindly to the blockade.
They faced the police officers and soldiers and tried to reason with them – good luck with that – and then they began wielding their umbrellas, swatting the police on the arms and backs.
The police were polite to the babushka ladies, who were widely respected for their age and survival instincts during terrible times. Many officers turned sideways and did not try to stop the babushki.
(It was also true that for the Goodwill Games, the Soviet officials had imported officers from countries under the thumb. I was told by somebody that many of the officers did not even speak Russian but perhaps Kazakh or some other language of their dear captive friends.)
My wife knew that visceral protest so close to Lenin’s Tomb and the Kremlin was unusual; even babushki don’t normally protest like this. Something was changing. These well-respected old ladies were questioning authority in some new, tangible way.
We remembered the babushki after we got home; we thought of them during all the changes, including charges of government. As a matter of fact, a Russian translator we had met visited us for a few days in 1991 and sat tensely in front of the television as a crowd charged city hall. Her son was a student journalist, she said. He would surely be in that crowd.
Those tense times seemed to bring new days for Russia, but now, in the wake of tsars and Stalin and Khrushchev, there is Vladimir Putin.
We see grandchildren of the babushki are swarming around Moscow and St. Petersburg and other Russian cities to protest the cruel and highly dangerous invasion in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are showing their courage, and in the big cities, Russian people are standing up for them.
Is this a signal for powerful people in Russia, whose foreign condos and business investments and even their passports are being sanctioned.
Putin – no doubt enabled by the blatant man-crush of the feckless Trump – is endangering a new generation of Russians to kill neighbors and also die for his mad cause.
I only know that babushki have given husbands, sons and now grandchildren for the whim of the current tsar.
May the courage of the babushki send signals, through the wielding of an umbrella.
Now the generations are speaking.
I think I can speak for baseball fans, given that I am about the average age of people who still care about the “sport.”
People my age talk about the day Mel Stottlemyre legged out an inside-the-park grand slam (past Yaz!) or the day Rod Kanehl joyfully earned $50 from Casey Stengel for getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Seems like yesterday.
I bet more kids of a certain age recognize Kylian Mbappé or Mohamed Salah than most baseball all-stars. They are better fans than soccer deserves, given the clueless lusting to hold the World Cup every two years instead of every four. Somebody please pass the news to FIFA President Gianni Infantino that the four-year format is precisely the reason the World Cup is the best sports event in the world.
Now Commissioner Rob (Roll Those Bones) Manfred is gambling that he can put the squeeze on baseball players, even if he loses a month or three of the season?
Doesn’t Manfred know that the baseball season actually begins when the Super Bowl (I didn’t watch) or the Olympics (ditto) are over?
It’s in the body clock of the established baseball fan to anticipate photographs of ball players loosening up their arms in a warm climate. (Just the names Vero Beach and St. Petersburg and Arizona used to get me through the viciousness of late February.)
But now Manfred is toying with the business he helps run. He’s gambling – there’s that word again -- that he can put the squeeze on the players even if he loses spring training….and April….and May. After all, there’s always expanded playoffs. (I just read Tyler Kepner’s informed column in the Saturday NYT that says MLB’s bottom line is 14 playoff teams into November.)
Plus, this lockout is costing television commercial revenue from sport’s New Best Friend -- gambling dens online –every gambler a king, if he hits it right. (Got a gambling problem? Oh, yeah.)
Sports leagues have done an ethical 180 about gambling. The money will roll in when the ads start playing, and fans – even in the high-roller seats behind home plate – are dialing in bets on the next at-bat.
I can picture Aaron Judge coming up to bat in a crowded Yankee Stadium and striking out with the bases loaded – followed by cameras showing a couple of schmoes behind home plate, sporting Yankee caps and maybe even Judge jerseys, whooping it up because…they had a hunch the big guy would whiff. WTF???
However, that scenario depends on a settlement. Right now, we are in the great frigid gap before warm-weather sports.
I ducked the Super Bowl, even on an icy day when there was no way I was even going outdoors. I’m retired and I don’t get paid to spend four hours watching that stuff.
I also ducked the Olympics because I realized a decade ago that the best part of the Olympics, for me, was going somewhere interesting and seeing how Seoul or Barcelona handled a major event. I have memories of dozens of great Olympic experiences like watching Sarah Hughes perform a joyous free skate for a gold medal in 2002. (Look what Laura Vecsey wrote in the Seattle P-I that night.) I wouldn’t trade those superb Olympic events for anything.
But the Olympics have morphed – no matter how much TV still pumps up the product -- into a costly spectacle, that only dictatorships can justify anymore. The best thing that ever happened to my hometown of New York was not getting the 2012 Summer Games (I will always be proud of my blatantly minority stand against New York’s bid.)
The true face of today’s Olympics is the cruel molestation of a young Russian figure skater who had tested positive for drugs coursing around in her system, perhaps to keep her 15-year-old body from developing, so she could perform a quad. And when the Russian and Olympic complicity and dawdling broke the poor kid down, her coach berated her at rinkside and could not even extend a consoling embrace.
The Russian apparatus seemed untouched by setting up a young girl for this.
Then again, there are far more ominous things going on in the world.
Given that, it is stupid of me to wish there were traces of normalcy for that aging cadre of fans who still talk about Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente -- guys warming their arms in what passes for southern heat in late February, a sign that something, anything, is all right.
North Americans have come a long way with Brazil and music. When I was a kid, we had the movie,“The Road to Rio” with Crosby and Hope -- don’t bother – but in the early 1960s I first heard “Song of the Jet,” (Samba do Avião) a Tom Jobim song, sung by Tony Bennett, about a jet landing in Rio. Now we were getting somewhere.
In the same magnificent decade for music, we heard a version of “The Girl From Ipanema,” music by Antônio Carlos Jobim, in a collaboration by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, and In the same decade, we got the bossa nova – Brazil ’66 – Sergio Mendes. About the same time, a skinny kid from Bahia captivated listeners and ticked off the authorities and lived to smirk about it.
I’ve been listening to Veloso for over a decade, partially because of my friends Altenir and Celia, but also for the music that flows so copiously, a veritable Amazon of Veloso -- love songs, political songs, tributes to indigenous people, their cultures disrupted by invaders from Europe.
On one of his CDs, there is a song called “Manhata,” in his reedy but purposeful voice, about “uma canoa,” as he describes a Lenape maiden piloting her canoe on one of the streams criss-crossing a certain island in North America. (The streams still exist in the basements of high-rise Manhattan. Surprise!)
About three minutes in, the peaceful gliding turns into a cacophonous stroll through modern “Manhata” – Blare of horns! Rattle of drums! That would make sense, since Veloso has often performed in the city and seems to find a higher level of ego and motivation in Bigtown.
In 2008, Veloso was the subject of a DVD, “Coração Vagabundo" (Wandering Heart) during his tour of Sao Paulo, Japan and Manhata – preening when pretty girls smiled on the street and cabbies honked their horns in recognition. His kind of town. (Blitzer informs us that Veloso keeps a flat in the East Village.)
As a writer and a fan, I am envious of the access Blitzer had with Veloso in Rio, and also with musicians I admire like David Byrne and Jacques Morelenbaum. Also, Blitzer’s article quivers with the presence of Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil.
The article also takes us from the dictatorship that spared Veloso in the ‘60s to the current regime of Jair Bolsonaro, who considers it a good day when bulldozers take down dozens of acres of the rain forest.
But enough from me. Jonathan Blitzer writes the story so well. Perhaps you subscribe to the New Yorker, as I do, or perhaps you can call up a freebie from the website. Here is the link, and good luck:
Did I mention that Veloso also sings Cole Porter....and Michael Jackson (above) with a touch of Lennon/McCartney at the end ?
Also, for a great swath of contemporary Brazilian music, my friend Andrea Dunn plays two hours every Monday, from 1-3 PM, Eastern Time, on KDHX (88.1 FM) St. Louis https://kdhx.org/
(This is one of those pieces I hate to write, but am compelled to do.)
It was March in 1953 and I bumped into John Vinocur in the GG subway, the local that ran underneath Queens Blvd.
John was a year behind me in Junior High 157 but we had gotten to know each other on the daily ride to Rego Park.
The headlines in the papers – everybody read a paper in those days – The Daily News! The Times! The Trib! The Mirror! – and these were just the AM papers -- were about the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5.
The question was, would the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S. be lessened or heightened by whoever came next, a fun discussion in any decade. John was a news junkie and so was I and we chatted animatedly, and no doubt loudly and ostentatiously, until the GG local had arrived at our stop.
I thought of that subway ride when I read that John passed Sunday in Amsterdam, yet another great city he knew from his time as reporter and editor at the Associated Press, International Herald Tribune, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
He lived the dream that was perhaps in our brash Queens minds on that March morning of 1953.
The obituaries tell of his accomplishments and hint at his bluster. I know somebody who worked in the Paris office of the IHT for a year in the early 80s – “dashing and vibrant” were the words she used.
That was when the IHT was an eccentric wing of the Times, its office never far from the Champs Elysées, its product a must-read for ex-pat or vacationing Americans, long before the Internet. News from home! Sports scores! It was the offshoot of the paper being hawked by Jean Seberg – “New York Herald Tribune!" – in Paris, as Jean-Paul Belmondo sharks her, in the 1960 movie “Breathless.”
That was the same world sought out by John Vinocur, who had played a little basketball at Forest Hills High, went to Oberlin, and then off to France, where he played semi-pro basketball. The hoops were part of his rep, and he often mentioned it to me, knowing I would be properly impressed.
At some point, John went to work for the Associated Press in Paris, earning good assignments like the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Here is eager young John Vinocur, covering the massacre of Israeli athletes, described by another deceased pal of mine, Hubert Mizell, late of the St. Petersburg Times.
"A native New Yorker, he… matriculated to backwater France, learning the language from natives and picking up money playing semi-pro hoops.”
Hubert then describes how John “ignored police warnings and scaled a fence to get close to Building 31.”
That would be John from Queens, scaling a fence.
I can find no reference in his obit to how John got his job at the Times, but as I recall it, John was working for the AP in Paris when the movie “Last Tango in Paris” came out, portraying the club world of Paris in all its seediness, and John went to one of the raunchier clubs and wrote about it, and somebody at the NYT noticed. That’s how it worked: somebody likes your clips.
John worked in the home office of the NYT for a while but my guess is he was used to being The American in Paris, so he went back. We ran into each other over the years, and would share opinions of New York sports, our Queens voices the loudest in any brasserie or café, still bonded from the GG local subway.
If you can leap the paywall, you can find Sam Roberts’ obituary of John Vinocur here:
And just to get a feel of the dream, Paris in the 60s, here is the clip from “Breathless:”
I can still hear fists smashing against lockers in the back room of a precinct station, after the murder of a colleague.
The wail of a bagpipe. People crying.
New York had another police funeral on Wednesday, for the second officer shot down by a man emerging from a bedroom in a narrow hallway. A family disturbance. You never know.
The cold-blooded shooting of two young New York officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, touches me because I once entered an apartment right behind two officers, answering a similar call about a disturbance.
This was in November of 1976, when I was on the Metro staff at the Times. My bosses suggested I do a feature on NYPD officers who commute from the suburbs to patrol the city streets and stores and homes – the same issue kicking around today.
I was no stranger to police stories in the city. In 1973, I had covered the terrible standoff in Bushwick, Brooklyn, when four young men killed an officer and took over a sporting goods store under the el. Some police officers wanted to storm the store and shoot the men but the standoff was defused by negotiating tactics advocated by a top officer, Benjamin Ward, who later became the first Black police commissioner.
I was in the station house when enraged cops expressed their anger by punching their lockers. Later, I covered the funeral at a sad church in Brooklyn. It feels like yesterday.
For my article in 1976, I don’t remember how I was introduced to a detective and officer who worked as a team in Jamaica, Queens, where I grew up. Now I was living in Nassau County, just like a lot of cops,
The two officers – experienced and verbal – were willing to escort a reporter on a shift on a cold, dark evening in late November. They soon were busy:
A fellow officer had cornered several young men suspected of shoplifting in a five-and-dime store near Jamaica Ave. I was neither armed nor wearing any kind of protection, as I followed the two officers.
I can still see the lone cop, standing guard on two or three young man in a corner. I cannot envision a gun, but he must have had one out because the young men were standing against a wall, restive but taking no chances, yet.
I can still see the huge drops of sweat pouring down the single cop. He was quite heavy, and I was concerned he would keel over at any moment. (The officer and suspects were Black, and the two officers who escorted me were white.) The suspects were loaded into a police car, and “we” went on our way.
Another major call was about a disturbance in an apartment – a man and a woman, anger in the air, but no violence in progress. The two officers took a low-key approach, asking a few questions, softly, casually, non-judgmentally, urging the woman to stop insulting the man, telling the man to “be cool.” One of them “suggested” the man pack up and leave, which he did. But when you enter an apartment, you never know.
At some point, the two officers and I stopped for Romanian skirt steaks along Hillside Ave., and I learned more about the two – the detective from Queens, the officer originally from England. Neither displayed a harsh edge, like military occupying a foreign land, nor did they act like social workers, trying to right all the wrongs. They were, how can I say it, professional.
Things got more tense later in their shift – a radio call about a fight in progress near Merrick Ave. The two officers were the first on the scene, learning that a stabbing had just happened during a card game on the hood of a car. One officer tried to apply a tourniquet on one wounded man, the other apprehended a suspect bleeding from the face.
The gathering crowd did not threaten the officers but nobody helped attend to the two bleeding men, either. There was an allegation of cheating on a 50-cent bet. Backup arrived, and the wounded man was taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital, (where I had been born) and the two officers followed.
In the hospital, I stood behind the two officers as they tried to talk to one man being treated in the emergency room. He kept saying he wanted to go home, but somebody whispered to me that the man had been knifed in the heart and was not going to live.
I still remember a nurse (Black, like the two wounded men) saying: “Full moon. Friday night.”
The detectives gathered information and they left.
The man died overnight.
I caught up with the two officers over the weekend, in Nassau, and they told me about their lives, and the reasons (economic, social) for not living in the city. I wrote an article, and I do not believe I ever met either man again, but I remember their level-headed professionalism – neither racists nor missionaries, but rather peace-keepers.
These days, I know there are bad cops, like the four who allowed George Floyd to be slowly and intentionally murdered in the street in Minneapolis in 2020. But I also watched TV on Jan. 6, 2021, as a Capital officer Eugene Goodman brilliantly enticed a pack of terrorists up the wrong stairway, away from their target, the Vice President. Black Capital officers endured cruel violence and racist taunts from insurrectionists dispatched by Donald Trump, sociopathic rich boy from a tony corner of Queens.
As a city kid at heart, who loves walking all over town, fearlessly, I feel I know the young officers. They became cops with eyes wide open, knowing the dangers, but wanting to make life better in the city .
They died when they entered an apartment, to keep the peace.
I once walked behind two officers doing the same thing; now I mourn Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora.
For a glimpse into the heart of a police family, please read the beautiful column by Maureen Dowd:
Isabel Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize when she worked for The New York Times.
Later, she wrote a best-selling book about the great northward migration of Black Americans.
In the process, Wilkerson earned a ton of airline miles, allowing her to fly first class much of the time.
In addition to the few extra inches of space, Wilkerson was able to do research for her new book -- on the caste system in the United States.
Even when she presented her boarding pass for Seat 3A, she was still treated as a stranger, a lower caste, as a female and as an African-American.
Confused flight attendants stared at her and suggested she just keep walking to the back of the bus.
Wilkerson also had to endure jostling for overhead-rack space from white male passengers.
Anybody who is Black, or has friends and relatives of color, knows the drill.
A few days after the 2016 election, Wilkerson settled into her first-class seat and noticed “two middle-aged white men with receding hairlines and reading glasses” who quickly bonded, with one stranger telling the other: “Last eight years! Worst thing that ever happened! I’m so glad it’s over!”
The two instant buddies then celebrated from Atlanta to Chicago, assuming that the new President would be "good for businss." I am 100 percent positive that Trump's appeal to money guys helped advance the racism loose in the country. .
Wilkerson’s book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” came out in mid-2020, before the little lovefest of assorted cut-throats and sociopaths and bigots and other Trumpites at the Capitol.
I just caught up with “Caste” and found it compelling, as Wilkerson compares America’s enduring racial prejudice with the age-old caste system in India as well as the caste system that killed at least 6 million Jews and others regarded as untermenschen in Nazi Germany.
Wilkerson points out how Hitler studied how whites in America marginalized and terrorized Blacks long after the so-called Civil War. Wilkerson also points out that contemporary Germany does not display statues and markers of the Hitler days, whereas the U.S. is only now coming to grips with Black youngsters having to attend schools named after Robert E. Lee, that old secessionist-slavemaster.
It never went away.
Wilkerson also presents dozens of examples of lynching and mutilation of Blacks, under slavery and long into the 20th Century, and still going strong in spirit.
Trying to understand the American system in terms of the Indian caste system, Wilkerson flew overnight from the U.S. to London to attend an academic conference on caste, attended mostly by people of Indian ancestry, whether English or Indian or other nationalities.
She immediately realized that the elite castes – even among academics -- were identifiable by lighter (Aryan) skin as well as a deep aura of entitlement, whereas members of the Dalit (Untouchable) caste – even with doctorates and other professional titles - - were of darker skin and reserved demeanor.
She became friendly with a highly educated Dalit at the conference who described how his sister had cried about her dark skin when it was time to seek a husband. From her new friend, Wilkerson learned about Bhimrao Ambedkar, who renounced his Hindu standing and became a leader of the Dalits in the time of Gandhi. Her education about India will surely be the reader's education.
As I read Wilkerson’s book, I thought about the new demographics in the U.S., as it heads toward a “minority” majority in the next decade or two.
The white terrorists who stormed the Capitol in January are quite likely feeling marginalized by the talented and poised people of color who have become more evident in recent years.
Some kind of change was gonna come -- or so some of us thought. It's been in the public consciousness for decades -- with the great Sidney Poitier embodying a possible new era in the 1967 movie ”In the Heat of the Night."
For other examples, Wilkerson mentions the intelligent and handsome and poised couple that lived in the White House from 2009 to 2017, plus examples of changing America all over public life.
As the pandemic endures, I gain information on the evening news from professionals like Dr. Kavita Patel of Washington, D.C., Dr. Vin Gupta of Seattle, Dr. Lipi Roy of New York and Dr. Nahid Bhadalia, with their kind and patient faces, with their knowledge and passion.
The international look of today’s medical experts reminds me of that very good movie, “Gran Torino,” when Clint Eastwood, an auto worker with dark secrets from his military service in Korea, meets his new physician. (I'll never forgive Eastwood for his ugly televised rejection of Barack Obama, but his movie shows the growth of an aging bigot in a changing Detroit.)
Last week, on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell presented the viral immunologist who helped develop the Moderna vaccine -- -- Kizzmekia Shanta Corbett, Ph. D., who turns 36 on Jan. 26. Dr. Corbett saw the code for this new virus as it popped in from China, early in 2020, and linked it, in her mind, with anti-virus codes available here -- “over a weekend,” apparently.
The rapport was clear between Dr. Corbett and O’Donnell, who is proud of being of Irish descent in Boston, and is one of the most open champions of African-Americans in public life.
However, at the same time, a huge swath of white Americans is acting out in public, scorning vaccinations and masks, storming the Capitol a year ago, yelling racial insults at police while trying to brain them with heavy weapons.
Many white Americans grew up thinking they had an edge over anybody with darker skin. Isabel Wilkerson’s powerful book points out the growing strains on the old American caste system.
* * *
Dwight Garner, one of my favorite writers at the NYT, reviewed “Caste" in July of 2020:
Lawrence O'Donnell's interview with Dr. Corbett -- real life, not a movie:
(Mike From NW Queens is a regular reader of this little therapy website, and an occasional commentator. He's been saving it up. The other night, Mike took a health walk and snapped a photo of the moon, and got to thinking, and later he wrote a poem, except he didn't think it was a poem, just the musings of a guy taking a walk. Here it is, unchanged, but arranged in stanzas. Maybe you noticed, this is a New Jersey moon, not a NW Queens moon. They have a different moon in New Jersey. Thanks, Mike. GV.)
Yes, It Is Still There
I took a walk early tonight
Cold? A bit, so what?
As I finished the loop, I noticed
the crystal clear moon in the sky.
Yes, still there.
Still beautiful, our natural satellite
(thank you, Wikipedia)
A site for sore eyes tonight, too.
Sometimes the doldrums set in.
Covid, this or that,
May be more mental than anything.
I know where they are,
but they are dormant, for now.
You heard it, for now.
But the moon caught my eye
and made me grateful,
pushed the cold weather aside,
put the other noise aside for a bit.
Someday, normalcy will be
what normal was.
What’s my point?
Enjoy the moment,
enjoy what is in front of you.
Who you are with.
Your job, a warm house,
a turkey burger on an english muffin!
The little things.......
Not all gifts come wrapped....
being able to choose to take a walk,
headphones, and tonight,
listening to the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits,
tomorrow, free to choose something else.
I am rambling.
Thanks for being my friend.
One day at a time.
--- Mike From NW Queens
One of my main regrets from my long association with the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that I have never met Wendell Berry.
He was already a name in the papers – the poet who wrote with a pen or pencil, the agrarian who warned against forgetting the old ways of farming. He is still at it, age 87, somehow surviving without a computer or television, on his land in Port Royal, and still publishing whenever he feels like it.
Finally, finally, with fires raging and tornados rampaging and strip-mine detritus floating past his farm on the Kentucky River, I picked up one of Berry’s most recent books, “The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry,” Selected and with an Introduction by Paul Kingsnorth, published by Counterpoint Press in 2017.
Well, never too late – at least to read and honor Wendell Berry, if not to act on his warnings.
Those issues were already out there from 1970-72, when my family moved to Kentucky for the Times, for me to cover Appalachia, and, as my wife puts it, “George lived in Harlan and I lived in Louisville.”
Certainly, I covered what Wendell Berry preached – the damage from gouging coal from the fragile surface of the Cumberland Mountains; the need to farm intelligently and personally, not by corporation; the sellout by politicians who scorned the land for their own profit. (See: Manchin, Joe, a/k/a Blind Trust Joe, Commodore Manchin, and Worse.)
But why didn’t I try to flash my NYT credentials and try to arrange an interview with Wendell Berry and his wife-partner-fellow-agrarian Tanya Berry?
Goodness knows, I got around Kentucky. I met Harry Caudill, whose book “Night Comes to the Cumberland” made me want to go to Appalachia, to write about it. I got an epic private tour of Gethsemani Abbey outside Bardstown, and met the monk-colleagues of Thomas Merton, a few years after he died in 1968. I visited Pauline Tabor, the famed madam of Bowling Green, Ky., at her tasteful home with her majolica collection. I went campaigning with Happy Chandler on his nostalgia-trip final campaign. I got to know the McLain Family Band out of Berea. I also met Jean Ritchie, originally from Viper, Ky., the personification of Kentucky folk music, who also lived in our home town on Long Island. In Louisville, we lived next door to Rabbi Martin Perley, brave civil rights advocate, and his wife, Maie Perley, a writer. And I depended on the superb journalism of the weekly paper, The Mountain Eagle ("It Screams!") in Whitesburg, bravely issued by Tom and Pat Gish. And I interviewed Sen. John Sherman Cooper when he announced his retirement (in an era when Kentucky Republican senators were not necressarily vile.)
Oh, yes, and I interviewed Loretta Webb Lynn of Butcher Holler, Ky., on the morning after she won country music’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971, and we stayed in touch.
So you tell me: why didn’t I try to meet Wendell Berry?
His words and messages are very much out there.
My Appalachian “correspondent,” Randolph Fiery, originally from West Virginia, often cites Berry as a spiritual and ecological inspiration, so I took out the book from the great Nassau County library system.
Berry had me in the first pages of the first selection, “A Native Hill,” written in 1968 – in which he describes his odyssey in his 20s from academic and writer in the great cities to return to the land, owned by his family for six or seven generations. He follows the trickle of water toward the larger streams below:
“As the hollow deepens into the hill, before it has yet entered the woods the grassy crease becomes a raw gully, and along the steepening slopes on either side. I can see the old scars of erosion, places where the earth is gone, clear to the rock. My people’s errors have become the features of my country.”
Berry’s words touch off memories of the first house we bought, out east of Louisville, in an old place called Prospect. Builders had carved a freaking golf course into the plateau and our new house sat on the western edge, facing undulating plains – including a family cemetery. (The realtor promised us there would be no further development.)
A trail led downhill, following the trickles, toward Harrod’s Creek. I loved walking alone in the woods – well, until a few months later a chunk of rock landed on our back lawn, nearly missing our youngest child -- from dynamite by a crew expanding the sub-division. Turned out the real-estate agent had lied, so we moved much closer to town, but my love of the woods remained.
Now I recognize the very same flow of land in Berry’s descriptions of his family farm – from utilitarian Indian paths to dirt roads widened by soldiers and now, not far from his home, “its modern descendant known as I-71, and I have no wish to disturb the question of whether or not this road was needed.”
I think of how many times I – or my family of five – barreled back and forth along I-71 toward home (New York) or the nearest city with baseball and other urban pleasures, that is, Cincinnati.
Turns out, Wendell Berry’s farm – where he still farms and writes – is an hour to the East End of Louisville. But I never tried to interview Berry about ecology or strip mining or the diminution of family farms.
Berry’s beliefs resonate in his articles over the decade. In the chapter “Family Work,” Berry laments the long hours modern children spend cooped up in school: (“why should anyone be surprised if, under these circumstances, children should become ‘disruptive’ or even ‘ineducable’”)
And in “Economy and Pleasure,” he describes the joy of taking his 5-year-old grand-daughter out to work the two-horse team in plowing some family land, and how she took to the reins. (I will not divulge her charming comment at the end of this utilitarian joy ride; she addresses her grandfather as “Wendell.” Cool.)
For me, the last chapter was the best – “The Rise,” from 1969, as Berry describes a six-mile canoe sojourn down the Kentucky River – in mid-December – when the water was high, bringing him closer to modern life on the shores. The chapter reminds me of times I went out
on Harrod’s Creek.with my friend, Dr. Sid Winchell.
In "The Rise," Berry takes the reader to the time of the Shawnee and the arrival of Gen. George Rogers Clark to the still peaceful flow of the Kentucky River, even with all the debris floating alongside the canoe.
Berry’s long life of farming and writing and loving the land awaken my sensibilities. I already mourn the new “settlers” in our wooded corner of the suburbs, who cannot wait to hack down trees, despite the first aid trees furnish a grievously wounded planet.
Wendell Berry has been preaching to us for more than half a century. Long may he write. By pen or pencil, of course.
(Mea culpa: written on a ThinkPad, using a Word program, issued by the Weebly site, via the Internet.)
Nice article by Silas House in 2020:
Maybe it’s the pandemic, but people seem to be forgetting the dangers of alcohol and gambling.
I base this on the recent approval of gambling outlets in New York State plus the avalanche of gambling advertisements on baseball broadcasts in the reign of Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Um, does the name Pete Rose strike a familiar chord? Last I looked, that sick puppy is still banned for doing what the alluring TV ads urge people to do – bet the rent or the grocery budget on the wayward bounce of a baseball with Rob Manfred's signature on it.,
And the dangers of alcoholism seem to be minimized by a new movie directed (not produced, as I originally wrote) by, of all people, George Clooney, for whom I have high respect.
Clooney has sent forward a movie, “The Tender Bar,” adapted from a fine book by J.R. Moehringer about his exposure to alcohol as a very young man, admiring his bartender uncle and missing his absentee father, leading to his eventual admission of powerlessness toward alcohol as an endangered adult.
“The Tender Bar” movie is being hawked every couple of paragraphs on my incoming Web glut. I get the point. Little kid, hanging out in a pub, gets pulled into the life. I was tempted to push the button to watch the movie on my laptop, but then I read two rather different reviews of the movie in The New York Times.
Critic A.O. Scott suggested the movie is lightweight, skipping from episode to episode: “Ít’s a generous pour and a mellow buzz.” But free-lance critic Chris Vognar takes a more critical look at the dangerous slide of a young man, made clear in the original book. Vognar writes: “…for a film with the word ‘bar’ in its title, it contains remarkably little insight about alcohol, where it’s consumed, and what it does.”
The two critics talked me out of watching.
Why, you ask, do I take gambling and drinking so seriously?
I’ve seen gambling up close and have great respect for people who seek out Gamblers Anonymous and reinforce themselves, regularly.
I have also seen alcoholism up close, having helped Bob Welch write his book, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” about how he was having blackouts in his early 20s, jeopardizing his pitching career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, to say nothing of his life.
By the time I signed on for his book, Bob was already sober from a hard month at a rehab center, and he was an advocate of daily reminders to stay sober.
I later spent a family week at the center, and took a great deal from the process, from seeing endangered lives be turned around. Bob knew the dangers, and he verbalized them – part of the process. “I choose to be sober today.”
As far as I know, he stayed sober for the rest of his life, which ended tragically young, 57, from an accident.
Now I have a close friend who reminds himself daily how he, and Alcoholics Anonymous, saved his life.
Why do these reviews of “The Tender Bar” strike close to home? As it happens, I live close to Moehringer’s home town, and have spent too many long minutes waiting for a red light to change, staring into the silhouettes in Moehringer’s pub. Plus, I have known several relatives of Moehringer, and have been apprised that he was not exaggerating his childhood.
His book was great; I’ll skip the movie.
Now, back to gambling. We all know how much money is gambled on sports, every day, everywhere. (The first college game I ever saw in the old Madison Square Garden was a dump, Kentucky stunningly losing to Loyola of Chicago.) I consider “Eight Men Out,” about the Chicago White Sox players who dumped the 1919 World Series, to be the best sports movie I know.
Gambling did not go away when Pete Rose got busted for betting on baseball, including games in which he participated as manager (and, I am sure, as player.)
I remember how the late baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti, adamantly criticized all gambling --- including government-run lotteries. For Major League Baseball to permit gambling ads is dangerous; for New York State to permit gambling sites is also dangerous.
(For that matter, I see that The New York Times, that great newspaper, is spending a ton of money to acquire a website, “The Athletic,” that is heavy into gambling odds. How does that impact the parent company when gamblers make or lose money via odds listed in that outlet?)
We have a social brain fog that accepts drinking as a mellow haze that can be controlled, that encourages people to bet on capricious games.
Then again, we see dopes like Novak Djokovic and Kyrie Irving and Aaron Rodgers misleading and blustering about vaccinations.
Plus, an entire political party is going along with thugs invading the Capitol.
Can we blame the pandemic for all this?
Slightly less than two years ago, my wife and I were at one of our favorite restaurants near our home, and she was talking about a virus, emerging overseas.
She was sensitive to infections, having had a dangerous bout with something she picked up years earlier, probably in South Asia.
This is bad, she said. We’re not going out for a while.
Safely ensconced in our TV room a year ago, we watched another virulent invader swarm all over the capitol of the United States.
We were stunned to watch thousands of apparitions materialize with weapons and costumes and banners that proclaimed a war – dare I say a Crusade – against the established order of voting and succession. Democracy.
It was not hard to figure out these creatures meant harm, as they hurled objects at police and smashed doors and windows, and twisted peacekeepers’ faces at close order.
We saw familiar lawmakers huddle below their seats, and scurry to possible sanctuaries below.
We saw the Vice President being rushed downstairs, to avoid a crowd lusting to hang him, or so they proclaimed.
And those of us in front of televisions saw ghouls and zombies like Mark Meadows and Donald Trump, Jr., yucking it up at a rally closer to the White House, and we saw President Bone Spur urge his personal Brown Shirts to take the Capital, to “fight like hell.” He said he'd be right with them, just another lie.
That memory does not go away. My wife is struck by the good teeth of the invaders – paid by corporate America or government (even the military) to prepare these louts for closeups. The costumes and banners and even the shaggy hair styles suggest they are starring in the video of their own life, offspring of the social-media age. Look, I’m a star. They’ve made it onto TV, like the fool with the suit and the office who posed as a business savant for the reality show.
Today, we are still hiding out from the variants at home, watching what is left of the government we knew poke around in the copious evidence of evil.
There is tangible proof that people with access to Trump were beseeching him to call off the beasts, but he would not listen. Whose fault is that? (Somebody we know has pored over the list of businesses that accepted stimulants, well into six figures, and, look here, two are people we know, with theoretically good educations, who are staunch Trumpites – “he’s good for business” -- but not too proud to take a Biden handout for the needy.)
The investigation has uncovered plenty of evidence that shows which Fuhrer the shaggy Brown Shirts were obeying last Jan. 6. Now, the pace and tenor of the government “investigation” reminds me, alas, of vile attorney general William Barr eviscerating poor old Robert Mueller.
The Republicans are killing time with smirks on their faces, empowered by a frightening swath of the country that knows exactly what is going on.
We will watch these sad shenanigans while we are cowering at home, hiding from the latest variation. We know of sons who refused vaccination and endangered their loved ones. We know people who journeyed forth into crowds and proclaimed themselves “safe.” We know people who were extremely careful but somehow tested positive anyway.
We have survived. My wife’s alert has kept us safe, thank God. Our heads are busy, we read and we listen to music and watch good stuff (mostly on PBS) and my wife makes great meals, and we keep in touch with many, many loved ones. We are blessed with security as we try to ride out the double pandemic.
Now we will watch the one-year anniversary of that evil day, when the thugs and the monsters got a pat on the back from their hero, and lumbered forward, to try to take down a democracy, a crusade still very much in process.
Henry Aaron. Tommy Lasorda. Jim (Mudcat) Grant.
Poring over the magnificent two-page spread in the Times, honoring prominent people who passed in 2021, I realized I could write reams about stars I knew from the locker rooms.
I could also recall famous people I met here and there – Colin Powell, streetwise New Yorker ---- Vartan Gregorian, kind Armenian wise man -- and Larry Flynt, seedy champion of pornography, who happened to be a hilarious and incisive interview.
But my heart, at year’s end, is remembering relatives and friends I got to know up close, who have left a personal gap. As Arthur Miller wrote: Attention must be paid.
Aunt Lila. She was my wife’s aunt – helped raise her -- but she also became my aunt, jolly and chubby with a beautiful smile and a generous hug, over the decades, sidling up to me and asking about our children, our work (she had an admirable curiosity), and whether I knew the Lord. Her children and grandchildren cared for her in old age, shuttling her from northeast Connecticut to suburban Long Island, keeping her going, medically and socially. At a reunion last summer at a daughter’s home, Aunt Lila was wan, low on energy, and Marianne sat by her all afternoon, sensing this might be the last time, which it turned out to be. But Aunt Lila’s smiles and hugs and kind acceptance linger on.
Captain Curt. Once a point guard on very good basketball teams at Hofstra, Curt Block became a publicist at NBC and had other memorable gigs. (As a young reporter, he interviewed young Cassius Clay, and had the presence of mind to keep the rudimentary tape, re-discovering it in old age.) When aging baseball and basketball players (and one scribe, me) began to meet periodically at Shaun Clancy’s great place, Foley’s, Curt took the slow train up from Philadelphia and became the greeter, the treasurer, the captain, sitting in the middle, enjoying everybody else’s stories, moving the ball around, as he had against Hofstra’s opponents, back in the day. He quietly alluded to impending heart surgery, and last summer he went to sleep and did not get up. Because of the pandemic, the old boys have not been able to meet since, to uniformly mourn our quiet leader.
Neighbor and Nurse. Ann Schroeder was a nurse in the Bath-Brunswick area of Maine. She got to know my wife’s Uncle Harold (older brother of Aunt Lila) and she became a volunteer guide to his old-age miseries. We got to know her through her detailed emails, explaining Harold’s health problems, what was being done, so we could assure his relatives that he was surrounded by skilled, loving friends in that wonderful area that has become our own sentimental home. After Harold passed, we stayed in touch – via health newsletters Ann sent. She casually alluded to her own breathing issues, and last summer she noted that she was now on hospice, and then the e-mails stopped. In keeping with this understated woman, her service was private.
Mentor to Surly Luddites. Howard Angione was a reporter who somehow wandered into the emerging technology age at The New York Times, in the mid-1970s. With the reserved air of a theologian, he had to introduce temperamental reporters to the bulky Harris terminals now placed around the City Room. Sometimes these terminals would swallow articles whole, provoking profane tantrums from cranky news reporters like, well, like me. Howard’s motto was: “If I can teach Vecsey, I can teach anybody.” Which he could. After his missionary work in the City Room, Howard went to law school and specialized in elder law, until he became an elder himself. The NYT did not note the passing of the tutor who helped modernize the paper, but the Portland (Maine) Press-Herald did.
Zone-Buster Poet. Stephen Dunn was a rather shy jump shooter who could beat down a zone defense. On one road trip, he heard two older Hofstra teammates discussing a novel, and he realized jocks could also be scholars – and later he began to write poetry, ultimately gaining a Pulitzer Prize. His later years were spent fighting Parkinson’s disease, which got so bad that he could not recite his own work. Our friend, once known as “Radar,” was deservedly included in the NYT’s gallery of notables in Friday’s year-end necrology.
My Cousin Artie. From my earliest memories, I admired Art Spencer, my oldest cousin. He was so cool – riding a two-wheeler, driving a car one summer in rural Pennsylvania, with friends who had musty, mysterious barns amid lush corn fields, going to college, going into the military, marrying, starting a family. At family gatherings – some joyous, some sad – I had to practically pry out of him that he and Shirley had a flourishing crafts business, designing house signs – staples at weekend crafts exhibits near Ocala, Fla. The women in his family cared for him lovingly in his final months, and then staged – sign of the times – a Zoom service to honor an understated and artistic life.
Agent and Friend. Philip Spitzer was my agent who negotiated a durable contract with a publisher and the manager of Loretta Lynn – a project in 1974 that turned out to be the book and the movie, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” I can still see Philip -- suave, part French, athletic, sitting on Berney Geis’s rooftop patio in Manhattan, holding his own, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, with two legalistic sharpshooters. We became family friends, his three children, my three children, good memories, even if the guy would never, ever, let me win a tennis set or a basketball game. Even after we did not work together, we stayed in touch, and as his health deteriorated, he passed the Loretta project to his capable oldest child, Anne-Lise Spitzer.
This magnificent seven stands in for all the people in my life who passed in 2021. As far as I know, Covid did not figure in any of their passing – just the inevitable erosion of time, long and good lives, now ended.
Our best wishes to all who read this tribute.
As one often hears in corners of New York: Be Well.
Best wishes to all the nice people who read My Little Therapy Website, and those who add their comments, making this a community of sorts.
We give thanks for our blessings in the middle of all this. We know some people who are not well right now, and we wish for health.
I am planning a little holiday pause, no words, no pictures, no opinions, just wishes for peace and health for all.
(Painting by Marianne Vecsey; card crafted by David Vecsey.)
You could do worse.
Instead of watching buffoons and insurrectionists on the tube, hook into the Web for vintage episodes of “Sesame Street.”
We’re in for the long haul, anyway. Get prepared.
I was reminded of “Sesame Street” recently when Sen. Ted Cruz, that vicious sack of goo, declared “Sesame Street” a public enemy for talking up vaccinations against Covid.
Imagine trying to indoctrinate the kiddies (and their adult caretakers) about needles carrying life-protecting medication.
I hadn’t thought of “Sesame Street” in a while, what with our grown grandchildren no longer needing our care.
But the Cruz diatribe against Big Bird revived our love of early “Sesame Street,” when our children were young.
Classic episodes came flooding back -- as real in my mind as scenes from “M*A*S*H” or “All in the Family” or "The Carol Burnett Show."
One daughter – known as “Zingara” (Gypsy) to our Italian-American baby-sitter – would come back from kindergarten at mid-day (my wife was at work, teaching) and I would fix a plate of cheese and salami and we would watch “Sesame Street” together.
I will never forget the spoof of a game show, in which floppy-haired host Guy Smiley offered a choice of prizes to the winners, Ralph and Trudy Monster – either a paid trip to Hawaii, with a new house, a new car, and ten thousand dollars in cash, or the second prize, a cookie.
That sent Ralph Monster into an early-radio Jack Benny-esque cheapskate holdup dilemma. (“Your money – or your life?” “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”)
In the version I remember, Trudy Monster stood by her man.
“I know you like cookies,” she said. What a wife. So he joyfully chose the cookie
I will bet that episode was as graphic a view into the capricious heart of humankind as anything from Shakespeare or Toni Morrison.
Wasn't that a time: Vintage “Sesame Street,” when Jim Henson and his furry friends were inventing a genre and public television.
At some point in the early days, there appeared a Rubenesque blonde who appeared to be another jovial member of the gang but in her actions and her statements she soon revealed herself as always, always, out for Number One. Miss Piggy.
Another classic I remember involves one member of the cast blowing into a banana and producing a jazz trumpet sound.
At that point, Gordon, the Black male presence on those early shows, turned toward the camera and, sotto voce, proclaimed, “a regular Miles Davis.” Something for the older folks.
As the decades went by, “Sesame Street” produced an electronic trove of masterpieces, many of them on Youtube. Look at the one I found, with young Wynton Marsalis having a trumpet duel with a pure-soul feathery artist named Hoots the Owl.
Playing for an audience of adorable kiddies, Marsalis is having a great time emitting his versatility. However, Hoots the Owl has one trick that even Wynton Marsalis cannot emulate.
Dude can fly.
Classic public television.
I’m sure Ted Cruz, dead-soul schlub, hates it.
A month ago, during reports of turbulent weather on Long Island, I looked out the west side of our house and saw leaves being twirled in a cone shape, by a brute force.
Not long after, three distinct tornados hit ground east of us—a calling card from the future.
We are receiving predictions of global warming, but we don’t do enough. Wouldn’t want to upset the federal budget, would we?
The weather is getting worse everywhere. One tornado tore through Middle America on Friday, killing hundreds, tearing up Mayfield, in western Kentucky.
The destruction touched home with me, coming at this time of year, when darkness falls early, and people try to light up the night with holiday decorations. A December tragedy reminds me of 1970, when a mine blew up in eastern Kentucky, killing 38 miners one day before New Year’s Eve, and as a regional news reporter for the NYT, I happened to be in the area, and rushed to the scene of the disaster.
Whenever something like this happens nowadays, I think I have a journalist’s version of PTSD, viscerally recalling the gloom of long nights, people gathering, at the mine, at the funeral parlor, at the little country churches.
My family got to know Tornado Alley from 1970 to 1972, when we lived in Louisville, getting acclimated to another part of the world, including its weather.
My wife knew about tornados. She had lived just west of Dallas as a kid and remembered what people did when they saw funnel clouds. If the car radio brought tornado watches, and the sky looked ominous, she would pull off the road and look for the lowest dip in the ground.
One day, I had to rush to a town about an hour southeast of us, where a tornado had struck without warning, killing a little boy who been sleeping upstairs – blowing him into the branches of a tree just outside his window. By the time I got there, it was a lovely morning.
Tornados are lethal. My wife kept saying one was going to come blasting up the Ohio River, to the sweet little suburb where we lived. On April 3, 1974, about 18 months after we chose to move back home to Long Island, a tornado came right up Brownsboro Rd., blowing down the garden apartments at the corner, taking off the roof of the school our two girls had attended.
That same tornado soon decimated Xenia, in Ohio, to the north, killing 38 and dislodging thousands.
My wife had called the 1974 tornado, just as she heard about a virus on the loose early in 2020, and predicted the pandemic that will not abate, given the arrogant people who will not get vaccinated.
Now we have Mayfield, essentially leveled to the ground, and parts of six states grievously broken.
What can we do? Our so-called leaders, political and commercial, hear the science of global warming, but they cannot move as fast as a tornado, roaring across the countryside.
The best we can do right now is give some money, to care for the current victims.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, wisely led by Gov. Andy Beshear (whose grandparents’ house is in stricken Mayfield) has a disaster fund:
And, thank goodness, there is always the Red Cross, on the site, in minutes. (I remember the Red Cross quickly at the scene in 1970, passing out sandwiches and blankets and first aid outside the Hyden mine.)
I started calling him “The Prophet” in 2008 during a tense Congressional hearing about the drug epidemic in Major League Baseball.
With Biblical emphasis, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings scolded the stewards of baseball for tolerating the widespread usage of performance-enhancing drugs during the home-run frolics in the recent generation.
His powerful figure and righteous stance was befitting the prophet who is honored by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
“This scandal happened under your watch,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said in “Field of Dreams” gravity to Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr of the players union during the Congressional hearing last Tuesday. “I want that to sink in. It did.”
That’s what I wrote back then, and I followed him from afar as he dominated Congressional hearings during the disgraceful time of Donald J. Trump, trying to motivate see-no-evil Republican representatives with a Biblical exhortation: “We’re better than this.” Amen.
I was horrified to see how weary he appeared during those hearings early in 2019, and I was not surprised when he passed months later. He gave it all he had.
Now Elijah Cummings is returning to Congress, in the form of a portrait by a young Black artist from Baltimore, Jerrell Gibbs. The story of the artist and the work is in the Sunday New York Times and, I am sure, elsewhere.
But are “we” better than this? And who is “we?”
I ask this as Elijah Cummings’ nation seems to be degrading itself, day by day. Just a few examples:
--- A thick swath of adults are refusing to take Covid vaccinations that would protect themselves and their loved ones and other human beings – virus droplets as lethal as, well, bullets.
-- Politicians in many states are conniving to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote.
-- And people are scooping up all forms of rapid-fire guns to prepare for, well, for what?
“I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Bob Dylan, 1963. (Talk about prophecy.)
Let us swerve to 2021 – in the wake of the Rittenhouse decision in Wisconsin -- when parents in Michigan bought a very lethal pistol for their 15-year-old son.
The boy (“in the hands of young children”) gives off appeals for help, and is ignored by his parents.
His obsession with the weapon is noticed by school officials who, at the very least, notify the mother, whose reaction is to send her son a snarky (sign-of-the-times) text message:
“LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”
The next day, her son killed four classmates and wounded many others in the high school.
Then she and her husband went on the lam and were flushed out in downtown Detroit.
Now it appears that Mrs. Crumbley wrote a letter to none other than President-elect Trump in 2016, praising his stance on freedom to carry a gun.
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” she wrote, according to The Daily Beast. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
In her own way, Jennifer Crumbley was prophetic. When I read her screed, I began to think of others - young guns, so to speak -- who scorn the country they allegedly serve.
The sneer on the young man’s face reminds me of members of Congress named Gaetz, Hawley, Cawthorn, and the unleashed aggression in the mother’s “LOL” text reminds me of sneering warrior-representatives Greene and Boebert.
Are “we” better than this?
Soon the august presence of Rep. Elijah Cummings will take its place in the Halls of Congress.
I hope his ideals will grace those who walk past.
I was trying to figure how to express thankfulness, and fortunately others have done it for me.
On Wednesday’s editorial page of the New York Times is a lovely essay by Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest. (“This Year, Exercise Your Thankfulness Muscles”) Her fifth and last suggestion was “Take a gratitude walk,” about her young daughter who “invented something called the Beautiful Game,” finding sights that touch the heart. My responses to her essay:
SIGHT 1: Fall Colors: I lifted my eyes off the printed page and saw the northern sky outside our home, with autumnal trees. Even though some people are figuring out that trees are vital in the struggle to save the planet, trees nevertheless are under attack in traditionally leafy suburbs like ours. The Town of North Hempstead, which pretty much allows leaf blowers and tree choppers to spew gas fumes and dust, making our suburb feel like an airport runway, is fretting over trees getting lopped off. These privacy-giving autumnal colors above are on our property, and we are grateful.
SIGHT 2: A Young Nurse: The other day I had a common procedure as an outpatient at Glen Cove (Northwell) Hospital. The young nurse who prepped me was getting married – three days later. When they shooed me out a few hours later, I could still remember, over her mask, the glow of her eyes. I was thankful for skill, and youth, and hope.
SIGHT 3: A Crowded Restaurant: The other evening, I took a walk around our town and slowed down outside Gino’s on Main Street. Since my wife sussed out the pandemic early in 2020, in our caution, we have not eaten out – not a terrible loss because she is such a good cook – but there are familiar places we miss in our town: Diwan on Shore Rd. and DiMaggio’s on Port Blvd. and Gino’s. I peeped in a side window at Gino’s and saw every table and every booth filled, the staff moving fast, and I hallucinated about a Gaby’s salad and a daily special and those hot chewy rolls and the cheesecake a la nonna for dessert. We’ll be back soon, I keep saying, but in the meantime I am thankful for the bustle at Gino’s.
SIGHT 4: Books About Thanksgiving. I am currently reading “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” by David Hackett Fischer, about very different strains of English immigration in the New World. I never fully understood what it meant for settlers to call their new home New England – but as I watch a very divided country display major stress faults, I am more thankful than ever for the “New England” emphasis on education, producing a high level of literacy and study. May it prevail.
As the U.S. Thanksgiving loomed, I took another book off our shelves, “Mayflower,” by Nathan Philbrick, who tries to re-create the fall of 1621:
We do not know the exact date of the celebration we now call the First Thanksgiving, but it was probably in late September or early October, soon after their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested. It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, and Bradford ordered four men to go out “fowling.” It took only a few hours for Plymouth’s hunters to kill enough ducks and geese to feed the settlement for a week. Now that they had “gathered the fruit of our labors,” Bradford declared it time to “rejoice together…after a more special manner.” The term Thanksgiving, first applied in the nineteenth century, was not used by the Pilgrims themselves. For the Pilgrims a thanksgiving was a time of spiritual devotion. Since just about everything the Pilgrims did had religious overtones, there was certainly much about the gathering in the fall of 1621 that would have made it a proper Puritan thanksgiving. But as Winslow’s description makes clear, there was also much about the gathering that was similar to a traditional English harvest festival—a secular celebration that dated back to the Middle Ages in which villagers ate, drank, and played games. Countless Victorian-era engravings notwithstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other’s hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on. Instead of an English affair, the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebration when Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets (more than twice the entire English population of Plymouth) arrived at the settlement and soon provided five freshly killed deer. Even if all the Pilgrims’ furniture was brought out into the sunshine, most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages—stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown—simmered invitingly. In addition to ducks and deer, there was, according to Bradford, a “good store of wild turkeys” in the fall of 1621… The Pilgrims may have also added fish to their meal of birds and deer. In fall, striped bass, bluefish, and cod were abundant. Perhaps most important to the Pilgrims was that with a recently harvested barley crop, it was now possible to brew beer. Alas, the Pilgrims were without pumpkin pies or cranberry sauce. There were also no forks, which did not appear at Plymouth until the last decades of the seventeenth century. The Pilgrims ate with their fingers and their knives (117-118).
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I am also thankful for readers of My Little Therapy Site, who contribute so much.
Coming soon after Diwali, and with Chanukkah and its celebration of life following so closely, can you share any thoughts about thankfulness?
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(With thanks to the website Reformation 21, Lancaster, Pa., for the excerpt from the Philbrick book:
With thanks for the essay by Tish Harrison Warren:
He did the crime and now he has done the time. The crime was exaggerating – embellishing – even inventing – a few moments in an otherwise admirable career. In telling and re-telling, he put himself in more dangerous positions covering war than he had actually been – not a good thing for an anchor, a correspondent, a star.
Brian Williams’ punishment was a work-release program. Instead of appearing on the main network of NBC, for the past five years he toiled at 11 PM on MSNBC, the cable version of the network, where he provided gravitas, experience, even grace.
Now Williams has announced he is leaving the network,. He has been a pro, listening to his guests, reacting to what they were saying, or what they were not saying. He presided over a recap of the day’s news and also the latest “breaking news” that never seems to stop. And when their segment was over, he thanked his guests, often with a turn of a phrase. (Wish I could come up with a few right now, but they were unfailingly witty and gracious.)
Some Friday nights, Williams’ handsome face has seemed drawn, his hair more gray, at 61, from dog years on the air. I feel the same way from watching MSNBC -- the same commercials for old-people ailments, plus a parade of hosts, some of whom have lost their charm, who natter on, before finally prodding the guests, who can’t always deduce the question, much less the answer.
And for four years, the whole process was polluted by a president who did not know truth or reality, only what he could stuff in his gunnysack.
It’s not all bad, of course. Andrea Mitchell, the noon anchor, has been there, done that, for decades.
Nicolle Wallace and Lawrence O’Donnell have worked inside government; Steve Kornacki can name every county seat in this huge county. Chris Hayes is best in front of an audience. And the younger correspondents out in the field – too many of them to list -- are darn good reporters,
I remember when Rachel Maddow would go out in the field to report and editorialize about states polluting their own rivers, states doing their darndest to make Black college students dare to vote in some obscure outback. She was wonderful, and urgent. Now she talks. A lot.
Brian Williams, doing his time, pulled the whole day together in the final 60 minutes.
I don’t know whether Williams is looking to rest and spend time with his family (the standard departure goal for politicians, or come up with a fresh gig in a better time in front of much larger network audiences. That’s up to him. I only know that Brian Williams has been a ray of experience and poise. Thanks, man.
As soon as the final out settled in Freddie Freeman’s glove, I felt a surge – not quite the relief I felt when the Covid vaccine arrived in my arm but rather the excitement of a great swath of free time, suddenly arriving.
I wasn’t reading hard-covered books during the warm months, but I kept taking notes about books I wanted to read. Now, no more long evenings obsessively watching the hapless Mets organization fall apart, in the person of Jacob deGrom’s pitching arm.
Now, World Series over, free at last.
The first book has been “The Taking of Jemima Boone,” by Matthew Pearl, about the kidnapping of Daniel Boone’s most spirited child, on July 14, 1776.
I was drawn to the subject because Daniel Boone was all over Kentucky when I lived in Louisville for two years, as the Appalachian news correspondent for the NYT, wandering the region.
Boone's statue and name were all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky, as I drove on twisting roads that had been paths for him to explore, to hunt, to escape. But somehow I never wrote about him in all the time I roamed around Kentucky.
Now Matthew Pearl, a novelist by trade, has written a taut drama, with a thick index in the back, assuring me that he was using source material and not only his novelist’s imagination.
It’s a tricky time to be catching up on an American icon, most known for barging into Native American territory, often fighting for land, as well as for his life. The U.S. is re-evaluating its memorials to slave-owning Confederate generals, as well as explorers like Columbus. What to do about Daniel Boone?
The reason Jemima Boone and two other girls in their early teens became prisoners is that Daniel Boone could not, would not, stay in coastal towns but pushed west through the Cumberland Gap and on, losing a son, driven by a tropism for space and land and “freedom.”
This American icon was taking other people’s land -- at gunpoint – but his relationship to the people of the land was more complicated than that. He became part “Indian” in style and spirit. He was captured by a complex chief, Blackfish, who adopted Boone as a son, and recognized him as a kindred soul, with skills and courage. Boone, of course, was planning his escape.
The actual “taking of Jemima Boone” occupies the taut first 75 pages of this book – how she tried to fight off the men who surrounded their canoe, how she left signals for the man she knew would come looking for her, and how she bonded, in a way, with the son of Blackfish, who treated her with respect, by all versions. Pearl, the novelist, resists going too far in suggesting a romance between captor and captive.
In fact, one of the things I have learned from recent reading about New England settlement is that Indian males almost never raped, although some did “marry” their captives. It never came to that in this Kentucky encounter, but the details seem to have survived (with revisions, with exaggerations, surely) into the 19th Century, and then the 20th, and now the 21st. Matthew Pearl makes it real.
Daniel Boone kept going, all the way to Missouri, where he and his wife Rebecca and Jemima Boone all died – of old age. He has two graves, one in Missouri, one in Frankfort, the Kentucky capitol.
I recommend “The Taking of Jemima Boone” as a well-written and well-researched visit to a distant time, leaving complexities in a nation now re-examining (at long last) its myths and heroes.
I rarely read fiction these days; so much to learn from non-fiction. In spurts of reading, I have belatedly learned about Neanderthals and evolution and DNA, as well as the earliest “settlers” of New England. This has been spurred by my wife’s vast personal research in the genealogy of her family, from England and Scotland.
Next in my reading list: “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” by David Hackett Fischer
I was drawn to the book by a review by Joe Klein in The New York Times, with this overview:
“Albion’s Seed” makes the brazen case that the tangled roots of America’s restless and contentious spirit can be found in the interplay of the distinctive societies and value systems brought by the British emigrations — the Puritans from East Anglia to New England; the Cavaliers (and their indentured servants) from Sussex and Wessex to Virginia; the Quakers from north-central England to the Delaware River valley; and the Scots-Irish from the borderlands to the Southern hill country.
I consulted the index and found this one reference: “When backcountrymen moved west in search of that condition of natural freedom which Daniel Boone called ‘elbow room…’”
Do these four separate waves of emigration explain why the United States, perhaps more than ever, seems to be several different countries, with rival impulses and outlooks? Does it explain Red and Blue states or regions? I look forward to learning what Fischer has to say.
Is this the World Series that is going to take baseball down?
I ask this as a certified Old Guy who has been following the World Series since 1946 (I was quite young) when Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, a wiry lefty, pitched 20 innings and won three games for the Cardinals.
Pitchers were epic back then and remained so until the past decade when almost all of them became spear carriers in an opera that drones on, too long, every night.
(And it’s not totally the fault of Joe Buck and Fox, either.)
In the formerly showcase season-ending event that once saw Deacon Phillippe of Pittsburgh pitch 44 innings and win three games in 1903….and Bob Gibson of St. Louis pitch 27 innings and win three games in 1967 ….and, as recently as 2014, Madison Bumgarner of San Francisco pitched 21 innings and won two games.
Seven years later, pitchers are interchangeable, and mostly forgettable, used by managers and coaches who burn to win, and know their game and their players, but are under the un-calloused thumb of mysterious analytics wizards, chained in the laboratory, coming up with numbers that general managers (and club owners) pay for and force upon their managers.
The result is two pitching staffs of spare parts, not a commanding figure among them.
To be fair, I love some players on both teams -- the miniature second basemen, Altuve and Albies, the Old Reliables, Brantley and Freeman. As good as it gets. But gone is the epic figure on the mound , the center of the action.
After five games – the shuttle resumes Tuesday night in Houston, with the Braves up, three games to two – the pitching staffs are mutually anonymous.
The most innings by a Braves pitcher is 5.1 by Kyle Wright who pitched most of the season for the Gwinnett farm team in the Atlanta region.
The most innings by an Astros pitcher has been tossed by Jose (Hombre de Acero) Urquidy – a massive total of 6. Urquidy also has 2 victories – but may not be remembered along with Bob Gibson, who on the final weekend of the 1964 season pitched eight innings (and lost to the Mets) and then gutted his way through 4 innings on Sunday to help the Cardinals nail down their first pennant since 1946.
I remember. I was there. I can still see Gibson on the stairs to the players-only loft. “Hoot, how’s your arm?” a reporter asked. “Horseshit!” Gibson bellowed. After that game, kindly Manager Keane was asked why he went so often with a fatigued pitcher. “I had a commitment to his heart,” Keane said softly – one of the most touching answers I have heard in decades of sports interviews.
Gibson then started the second game of the Series and pitched 8 innings and lost, and won the fifth game in 10 innings) and then won the seventh game in 9 innings to ice the World Series. He had pitched 56 innings in 22 days
Is this sort of super-human out of stock these days? Have the hitters become so bulked-up, so fearsome, that statisticians dictate pitching changes, while a rank smell of fear permeates the ball parks?
Is this the reason baseball has the feel of an ancient ritual, that appeals mostly to geezers with memories, like me?
Part of the problem is the glut of commercials and other baseball promos between every inning.
And the television production is numbing, with statistics for “post-season” accomplishments being flung at the viewers with no context and no compelling narrative. Joe Buck is plastic and John Smoltz, while he surely knows the game, is humorless.
I’m an early person anyway, and I dozed here and there, but for the fifth game I switched to radio,with the TV on blessed mute.
The ESPN crew of Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Eduardo Pérez was vastly better – more interplay and humor and even disagreement, plus expertise (Mendoza was an Olympic softball star, Pérez played over a decade in the majors.
Vastly better. ESPN is 98.7 on the FM radio in the New York area.
Nevertheless, the World Series lacks star pitchers who command attention. No Christy Mathewson, no Smoky Joe Wood, no Mickey Lolich, no Randy Johnson.
You want a plot? You want drama? Go watch baseball, in the international spotlight, throttle itself.
Let’s get this straight. Think of the Houston-Atlanta matchup as the World Series – an event unto itself -- not the end of a long and grueling tournament.
Think of the World Series when it stood alone as a treat, a dessert right after the regular season, in sunshine – bright or hazy – rather than a late-night marathon with people on the East Coast dozing off. (Me! It’s all about me!)
The recent games, as good as some of them were, have been bloated with post-season statistics, most of them irrelevant. For the next four to seven games, everything that happens should be compared to derring-do performed by players like Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Frankie Frisch, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle.
While we’re talking about wretched trends, have you noticed the commercials for gambling dens, gambling sites? I mean, how could you not?
At least, the commercials for Caesars gambling world are interesting, with a cool latter-day Caesar giving the people a spectacle.
The gambling commercials play into the weaknesses of thousands, millions, of people who come to life only when their money, their lives, are tied into the action – pitch by pitch, by dancing roulette balls or actual pitches thrown by Major League Baseball.
The commercials do not show the after-effects of people betting the rent money, the food money, school tuition money, and skulking around, unable to admit they have a gambling jones.
The last time I looked, Pete Rose is still banned from baseball for gambling on games (including ones in which he may have managed or played.) Rose, the dope, also stonewalled Commissioner Bart Giamatti, who seethed with anger and died of a heart attack a few days later.
Under Rob Manfred’s “leadership,” baseball is sanctimonious about gambling because it needs the TV commercial money because baseball is falling behind other sports.
(When I am watching Liverpool-Man City on the tube, I can tell my wife it will be over in two hours.)
Baseball is also falling behind other sports because it has become bloated with pitching changes and rituals like adjusting wristbands (and private parts), plus the ball is in play less and less. The new analytics dictate “strategy” involving shuttling pitchers in and out of games, batters swinging for “exit velocity.” However, a good sign is that the better teams – the ones we are seeing in October – seem to remember old-timey tactics –the occasional hit-and-run, the professional sacrifice fly, the stolen base.
My friend Jerry Rosenthal is enamored with the Atlanta Braves, for good reason. Jerry played two years in the old Milwaukee Braves farm system, with mentors like Dixie Walker, Andy Pafko and Jim Fanning, and he played against Bobby Cox in the minors, and decades later he chatted with Cox at the Mets’ ballpark. He says the Braves and Manager Brian Snitker have never stopped inculcating players with traditional skills and tactics.
“Snitker is a clone of Bobby!” Jerry wrote in an email. “He has the fine human qualities that a great manager must have! I think the whole process comes naturally to this ‘old salt’ who learned his trade by managing in the minor leagues for many years, just the way it was when I played!”
Jerry added: “If this series with the Dodgers doesn’t teach these new-age numbers savants that the game is played on the field, nothing will! The consistency of the Braves defense is remarkable! Everyone does their jobs in a workman-like fashion. No outsized egos in sight!
“The concept of ‘picking-up’ the guy who didn’t get it done is evident in the Braves’ approach! Put the ball in play, move that runner to third base, steal a base, etc.! I love it!”
The Astros have stayed mostly intact as fans haunted them with reminders of the sign-stealing scandal four years ago. I can’t help enjoying that team that was so much fun a few years ago, although I miss George Springer.
To get to the point, how does a neutral fan, like me, choose between the Braves or the Astros?
When I was working, I rooted for the cities of San Francisco and Oakland mainly for the ambience of the Bay Area, or Boston, for the October walks. But now, my standards are different.
The Dodgers have been gone from Brooklyn since after the 1957 season so during this year’s wild-card playoff I immediately rooted for the Giants because of one player, Wilmer Flores, known affectionately as Weeping Wilmer for the way his emotions flowed the night he heard rumors the Mets had traded him. (It was subsequently called off.)
This year, Wilmer was at the plate with two outs in the ninth, and Ron Darling (who made the TBS broadcasts so good) told the audience that Wilmer was a clutch hitter with the Mets. Just then, Wilmer was called out on strikes while trying to check his swing. After seeing the replays, I think Wilmer and the Giants were screwed, but we have moved on, haven't we.
I had no problem with Mookie Betts and the Dodgers, or the team representing the great city of Boston, and as a Mets fan I liked the Braves of Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox, and I like this team, with Freddie Freeman schmoozing with everybody who reaches first base, plus unglamorous old school manager Snitker.
But now we’re in the World Series; remember, it’s a separate entity, no matter how many "post-season" stats Fox shovels at us.
I find myself gravitating to Houston – that very contemporary American multi-cultural city -- because of the manager, Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
Dusty was mentored by Henry Aaron and later was like a big brother to my late friend Bob Welch, a star pitcher with the Dodgers in the early 80s. Now he has been a good manager with five different clubs.
Baker was profiled by Tyler Kepner, the Mister October baseball columnist of the NYT, who pointed out that Baker now holds the record for most games (1987) won by a manager without winning a World Series. Baker, true to himself, acknowledges that he was aware of that “distinction” during the league series, and he will surely be asked about it during the World Series. He can handle it.
I’ve been around Dusty during part of his managing odyssey with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and the Astros, and I also heard about him through my pal John McDermott, master photographer, now living in Italy, who knew him in the Bay Area.
“Dusty has a great family,” McDermott reports. “His son Darren plays on the baseball team at UC Berkeley” – a reference to the son-of-manager junior batboy who wandered too close to home plate during the 2002 World Series. “He has a wine company, Baker Family Wines: and an energy company, and is good company.”
John knows Dusty via a fellow Bay Area photographer, Terry Heffernan, a fishing buddy of the manager.
"Dusty is many things: smart, wise, emphatic, loyal, fierce, a giver, consistent, quick to smile, a lover of life… a true friend, the real deal!" Terry emailed me. He added:
"Its easy to talk about Johnnie B Baker Jr. If we all rolled like he does, our world would look very different!
"GO ASTROS… and hopefully Mr Baker will break the managerial Hall of Fame color barrier!"
I’m retired. I don’t have to profess neutrality. All due respect to Atlanta, I’m rooting for Houston, mainly because of Johnnie B. Baker, Jr.
(Laura Vecsey is a terrific news reporter; she proved it in two capitals of major states. She once almost bought a bit of land in a scenic portion of northern West Virginia that George Washington had surveyed. The other day Laura offered some friendly advice to her father, who was thinking about writing about the baseball post-season: “You know West Virginia; write about that.” So here goes.)
Joe Manchin was not in the spotlight when I was covering Appalachia in the early 70s.
The governor of West Virginia back then was Arch A. Moore, who later did 32 months for campaign corruption.
Manchin later became governor and is now a senator. Nominally a Democrat, he is doing his best to blow up bills that would protect the ecology and the people. He says his stance has nothing to do with the energy stock he divested. “It’s in a blind trust,” he often says.
The governor now is Jim Justice, allegedly the richest man in the state. Some governors might be concerned about the water supply or the bleak future of the coal industry, but Jim Justice spends much of his psychic energy coaching the girls’ basketball team in East Greenbrier, W.Va., far from the capital of Charleston. He also wants to coach the boys’ team in East Greenbrier, but school officials are thwarting that little whim of his. Stay tuned.
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West Virginia is not all grim coal camps and refuse from hilltop strip mining; the coal seams run out below the northernmost sector. One of my best friends recently spent a long weekend with three of her long-time girl friends in a remote cabin in the woods – had a great time, even though the fall colors had not yet arrived. She talks with great affection of her first couple of years in a West Virginia college.
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The reason I love old-timey country music is from a few summers as a kid, spent in upstate New York, where you could tune in Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, the Carter family – clear as a bell, through the mountains, straight from WWVA in Wheeling.
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One of my first trips to coal country was to report on Dr. Donald L. Rasmussen, who carried around slides of dead miners’ lungs – ravaged from years of work underground, inhaling coal dust. Some coal-company doctors used to tell miners that coal dust would cure the common cold, but. Dr Rasmussen displayed the grisly slides at public hearings or outside the headquarters of coal companies.
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I also got to meet a member of the House of Representatives who cared – Ken Hechler, a World War Two vet, a New Yorker, and a writer, who settled in West Virginia and became an advocate of the miners, the poor, and ran for office – living to be 102.
Hechler had a protégé, Arnold Ray Miller, a working miner who had absorbed the inequities of the business. In 1972, Miller – backed up by volunteers, those dreaded out-of-state college students, ran for president of the corrupt United Mine Workers. I traveled around with Miller’s cadre during the campaign; after the 1970 murder of the Yablonski family in western Pennsylvania, the campaign was under close protection – insurgent watchmen outside hotel rooms, everybody armed.
Miller won the election in 1972, but nothing much improved.
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In March of 1972, I rushed from Kentucky to West Virginia to cover the flooding of a valley, when a coal-mine refuse pond gave way in heavy rain, killing 125 people alongside Buffalo Creek, early on a Saturday morning. I interviewed next-of-kin and neighbors and learned that the company had sent a worker named Steve to bulldoze more earth onto the failing dam, high in the hills. That is to say, the company knew the danger but did not bother to warn the families downstream. My reporting helped inform a successful class-action suit, that did not bring back the dead.
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The coal-mine carnage and the current conflict of interest by public servants would have been no surprise to one of the greatest figures in West Virginia history-- Mother Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland (home of strong women, I believe) Mary Jones left the potato famine for Toronto, lost her husband and four children, and became an advocate of organized labor in the U.S. – particularly West Virginia. (She often praised the valor of Black laborers.) To know more about her:
The people of West Virginia deserve better. In 2016, they voted, 68 to 26 per cent for Donald Trump, who soon abolished as many pro-ecology bills as he could. Many miners understand theirs is a dying industry. But guess who bellied up to Trump in the swarm after one of Trump’s first speeches? None other than Blind-Trust Manchin.
Where is Mother Jones when West Virginia needs her?
(Why We Still Hunker)
“….this is really an old person’s disease now. That was true at the beginning of the outbreak, but it’s becoming even more true now. It’s quite possible that we’ll see increasing relative vulnerability among the old, which is to say people who are in middle age are going to feel pretty safe living a totally normal life. But people of their parents’ generation may not ever. That’s because they have a much harder time building up immunity, which means they lose the benefits of the vaccines and previous exposure much more quickly.
---Jonathan Wolfe, The New York Times, daily Coronavirus Briefing, Aug. 3, 2022
Should Donald Trump Be Prosecuted?
Rep. Liz Cheney, on ABC TV:
“Ultimately, the Justice Department will decide that. I think we may well as a committee have a view on that and if you just think about it from the perspective of what kind of man knows that a mob is armed and sends the mob to attack the Capitol and further incites that mob when his own vice president is under threat, when the Congress is under threat. It's just -- it’s very chilling and I think certainly we will, you know, continue to present to the American people what we found.”