Why can’t I commit? This is my dilemma, doctor, as a recovering sportswriter. Essentially, I root for four teams – the New York Mets, the two US national soccer teams, and also Italy’s soccer team, a passion going back to 1982, when Italy won.
(in 1998 in Aix-en-Province, I twitched my head so badly when Roberto Baggio hit the cross-bar against the French team, on a day off for me during the World Cup. “They’ll kill you,” my wife said, of the French patrons of the pub.)
I know sports fans who need to have a team in every game they watch. Does it make the event more exciting? I don’t know.
I do know that I could not crank up a favorite in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool on Saturday.
I had reasons to root for Liverpool. Me mum was born there, but throughout her long and educated life she had no interest – no knowledge, I suspect—of the Liverpool team. (“We were really from Southampton,” she would say. Her father was posted in Liverpool for a short time by the White Star Line, before moving to the States.)
If I were going to root for Liverpool, it would be because of the informed passion of our oldest grandchild, named George, who has been storing up soccer details since he was 2 or 3 and he could beat me in the FIFA electronic game.
A decade or so ago, George committed to Liverpool, and then he switched into an even higher gear when they acquired Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian will-of-the-wisp, one of the sweetest (is that even a soccer word?) athletes I have ever watched, almost a holy man.
I tried to commit to Liverpool for the final, but I also have the strong memory of my college pal, Ward Wallace, who moved to Spain for a PR job in the mid-60s, As a business person in Madrid, he became a loyal fan of Real Madrid, the New York Yankees of Spanish football.
Ward had season tickets to Bernabéu Stadium and eventually moved to a smaller flat right near the stadium. In 1991, he and I had an Italian lunch al fresco across the street from Bernabéu.
Ward passed a few years ago, but his passion for Real has made it impossible for me to root for Barca or Atletico, etc.
On Saturday, during the final, I daydreamed of all the Champions League finals I have seen, although never in person: the majority in L’Angolo, the wonderful and vanished bar on Houston St., run by Pino-from-Sicily.
The games and years blur but I can see stirring rallies by Manchester United and AC Milan, in L’Angolo, in the company of soccer pals like Massimo and Ricardo and Logan and Denise. I’ve watched a final at the flat of Paul Gardner, who has taught me so much, along with our friend and colleague, Lawrie: I believe I’ve watched a final or three in the company of Lawrie and hubby Duncan-from-actual-Arsenal, and Roger-the-Chelsea fanatic.
Most finals blur, but the best I ever saw was by Didier Drogba, who carried Chelsea on his broad back, playing the full field, offense and defense.
In the time of Covid, I settled into the TV cave in our basement on Saturday, with grandson George texting me regularly, praising the new Liverpool weapon Luis Diaz.
Meantime, I was caught up in my impressions of three decades of covering soccer:
*-Carlo Ancelotti, now a venerated coach of Real, but in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he was a heady midfielder for Italy with a constant smile, despite injuries.
*-Thibaut Courtois, the Belgian keeper for Real Madrid, who always seemed a bit wooden to me when he played in England, but on Saturday he was stoically repelling shots by Liverpool – the Man of the Match, George and I agreed, even before the final whistle.
*- Conversely, Mo Salah seemed to be trudging in mud, after a brutal schedule of national and club matches, a nearly criminal demand on these great players. “He needs the summer to recover,” my grandson texted.
*- My neutrality remained steady, but a grand memory took over when the TV crew caught a glimpse of Zinedine Zidane, the French artiste who, in 1998, performed the best individual final I’ve ever seen – in this very stadium, Stade de France -- controlling the ball with his feet or gliding into the air for two, count ‘em, two header goals.
My wife was there that day, because kind friends had a spare ticket, in the lower stands, with a great view of Zidane, as he floated.
On Saturday, on the TV, there was Zidane, now a former Real Madrid coach. unable to hide his narrow marksman eyes inside a white hoodie, and accompanied by his striking wife, Véronique, a dancer and model. The camera did not linger long, but the sight of Zidane et femme seemed to call up the memories of 1998 – a grand omen for Real Madrid.
-- Real Madrid did win, 1-0, as Vinicius Jr., flitted past Trent Alexander-Arnold, the wandering right back. “We go again next year,” my grandson texted.
I was neither elated nor sad, because I did not have a team in this match, but I had watched some of the best players in the world. Was I missing something by not having a team? I really do not know.
Ever since Roger Angell passed last week, friends have been e-mailing about how great he was, and asking how well I knew him.
Let me say, he was grand company in a pressbox watching a game. I always thought he seemed liberated by his mid-life discovery, his strange hobby, writing about baseball.
It began as his left-brain, right-brain activity, when he wasn’t editing temperamental fiction writers or conducting in-house business at the New Yorker or dealing with the vicissitudes of life. He enjoyed the hell out of this other world, and it showed.
He also loved paddling his kayak or sailing along the Maine coast when he wasn’t writing about Pete Rose or Reggie Jackson or the baseball denizens of the Pink Poodle, his hangout in Arizona during spring training, or editing what any sportswriter would respectfully call “real writers.”
Now and then, he would pop into Yankee Stadium or the Mets’ ballpark, without the weary pack-mule trudge of the beat writer or old-fashioned sports columnist (been there, done that) lugging a laptop, expected to produce profundity on deadline, halfway through the season, 81 up, 81 to go, plus the endless autumn trek.
As we all said in our alibis for why we were not Roger Angell: we had deadlines.
While we were pecking away, he could hang back and chat up a ball player who grasped that this older guy knew the game and was not looking for a few quick quotes. I admired the working friendship he developed with, let’s say, Dan Quisenberry, a submarine-style relief pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, who was cool enough to explain his technique.
Roger also took seriously the first female writers in the press box and – gasp – the locker room, who were professionals, just like men, if you can imagine.
So, how well did I know him? I got off to a dumb-ass start. It must have been 1968 when I sat next to a guy near 50 and we introduced ourselves and he said something about “New York” and I thought he meant the new weekly magazine so I wished him luck with the new publication. To his credit, he did not correct me, nor did he back away from this dolt.
Later I deduced that he wrote for the New Yorker and began subscribing, not just for his occasional baseball pieces but for the great eclectic literacy of the magazine. I still subscribe to the New Yorker in the age of Editor David Remnick – a great guy who started as a daily sportswriter, for goodness’ sakes. The arrival of the New Yorker—the print version – is a highlight of this pensioner’s life.
Did I learn anything from Roger Angell? The best part was the way he thought independently and observed the sub-marginal things and had the time and space and license to elaborate. Plus, he had talent -- could play with themes and details, knowing exactly what he was doing.
He was a model, but then again, in our collective world, no journalist should lack for models. My parents were journalists and I came along in the pioneer Newsday sports department in the 60s, with crusty old editors and the new breed of chattering younger types, known as Chipmunks.
And then there were books that made me want to write longer and better. In the early 60s, I sought out “Bull Fever” by Kenneth Tynan, a London drama critic who roamed to the corridas of Spain, or “Cars at Speed,” by Robert Daley (son of the noted Times columnist, Arthur Daley), who had bolted to Europe to write about the Grand Prix – and life in the old world – and ignited my wanderlust.
In the same period, I read “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” by Harry Caudill, a lawyer from an old Kentucky family, whose lament for the defaced mountains made me want to go to Appalachia and see what was left.
So many great writers, out and about, dealing with current issues, from their heart, from their eyes, from their brains, writing at entertaining length.
Over the decades, I was always happy to spot Roger Angell in the press box. I cannot remember what we talked about, but it was fun.
When I retired at the end of 2011, I kept up by phone when I particularly loved something he had written, and I called when he had a death in the family.
When my wife and I started visiting her elderly uncle in coastal Maine, I called to tell Roger how much we loved his other world. My wife says I should have told him that some Angells popped up in her sprawling family tree from New England in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Finally, a confession: Every year, readers would look for Roger’s annual Christmas poem, hailing and pairing people with exotic and yet topical names.
For decades, every December, I scanned the poem for my name, but it never appeared. I never told him how sad I was.
Other than that, Roger Angell was, just as you imagined, great company as well as great reading.
* * *
In case you missed:
Obit by Dwight Garner:
Tyler Kepner’s appreciation:
And a labor-of-love sampling of Roger’s work, from Lonnie Shalton, lawyer in Kansas City and a true lover of baseball:
I. The iPod. I read the news the other day, oh, boy. Apple is discontinuing the legendary iPod – probably because the company created such a useful, durable machine that it is no longer profitable.
The iPod made it possible to store up 1,000 individual songs in a “pocket-size rectangle with a white face and polished steel frame weighed 6.5 ounces,” as the NYT wrote – with the operator able to file them in categories or playlists -- every person a DJ.
I will never forget when my kids gave me one, more than 20 years ago, and gave me some lessons until I got the knack of downloading from an Apple computer -- entire CDs.
I still remember New York’s valuable and eclectic John Schaefer on FM radio, playing an entire CD, “Casa,” songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, played by pianist and arranger Ryuichi Sakamoto, cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and singer Paula Morelenbaum, three talents uniting in Portuguese and English. I had it downloaded within days.
My “collection” ranges from Yo-Yo Ma’s vibrant “Silk Road Journey” to the gentle classical trio of “Butterworth, Parry, Bridge,” from the signature opener music from “The Sopranos” to Nina Simone singing “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”
I have not added to the collection in a decade for two reasons – (a) I am totally out of current music, to (b) I don’t have much access to the Apple laptop that could catalogue an entire CD in a few minutes.
Best discovery: I was never a fan of the “Bee Gees” until I discovered that my go-to album for a brisk two-mile walk on the soft track at the high school is the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever” – an old guy thinking he’s John Travolta strutting under the El in Brooklyn or in the Saturday night disco.
The article in the NYT about the end of the iPod did not mention repairs/upgrades. I don’t trust companies so I will have to be gentle with the iPod…and all those songs.
II. Vinyl Lives! The other day WQXR played the classic version of “Peter and the Wolf” with kindly old Uncle Lennie (Bernstein, that is) narrating the Prokofiev score. My wife said, we used to have a “record” of it…50 years ago or so. I riffled around in my closet and found a couple of cardboard boxes filled with old records, including “Peter and the Wolf,” and put it on the Fisher turntable (circa 1975 – with Amazon still supplying a needle every decade or two.
My exploration of the Vinyl hoard led to two records that dated me back to the summer of 1982, the Barcelona regional of the World Cup. My journalist friend Alex Martinez Roig invited me out to dinner in a suburb of Barcelona – and introduced me to the music of Joan Manuel Serrat – a baritone philosopher/critic – and later Alex gave me an album.
That same week, I was alone on my birthday, and there were no games, so I bought a ticket to an open-air concert in a Barcelona park, by Maria del Mar Bonet, a Majorcan folk singer. She and her band gave a great show, and on the way out I asked a couple to recommend their favorite album of hers, and the next day I dropped into El Corte Inglés and bought it and schlepped it home in my luggage.
Since rummaging through my vinyl, I have played these two thoughtful Catalan artists, and through the magic of a Fisher turntable, I feel it is summer in Barcelona, and I am turning 43.
But in fact, it is 2022, and Serrat’s brief against the madness is as current as, well, of course, Russia invading Ukraine. (English translation here:)
III. Memories of Kate and Anna. The Thursday Times informed me that Martha Wainwright has written a memoir. Good grief, is she really 46? But the part that really got me was the NYT’s casual mention that Martha’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, “made 10 albums as part of a duo with her sister Anna before her death in 2010.”
Sacré bleu. That’s like saying the New York Knicks had a pretty decent team back in the early 1970s with people you might have heard of, named Frazier and Reed and Bradley and DeBusschere.
I’m sorry, but Anna and Kate McGarrigle (and sometimes their more homebound sister Jane) were “The McGarrigles,” a haunting sassy mixture of Irish and Quebecoise – who wrote bilingual songs about love and sex and politics and long sisterly walks in the snow.
My point about this talented tribe: beyond the talent of Kate’s former husband, Loudon Wainwright III, their son Rufus Wainwright, and their daughter Martha Wainwright (and never, ever, forget their talented Brooklyn-born band member, and philosophy professor, Chaim Tannenbaum) there were “The McGarrigles,” mostly Anna and Kate.
The Times article by Emily Gould makes Anna and Kate sound like footnotes to the present, but they were wonderful, and many, many thousands of us still miss them, badly.
* * *
I could recommend dozens of their songs, but for these purposes, I go with Kate pounding the piano and singing her dear heart out on “Stella By Artois," (ignore the youtube mis-spelling) about a love affair that lasted just about as long as their band’s trip “from France clear through to Galway.” I dare you not to shed a tear.
Just in time for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day comes the ickiest New York Times series I have ever seen -- not that the Times’ coverage by the great reporter Nicholas Confessore and colleagues is icky but because the subject matter is so icky.
The Times ran a tree-part series about Tucker Carlson, the angry widdle man who apparently is bigger than O’Reilly, bigger than Limbaugh, bigger than Hannity.
And in the very same Sunday issue was a Review article about J.D. Vance, the Yale-Law-School money-man who became famous for criticizing Appalachian people without pointing out the corporate and political causes (I’m talkin’ about you, Commodore Manchin.)
Vance is now, goodness gracious, running for the Senate from Ohio.
And in the Monday Times is a column by Michelle Cotttle pointing out that the hottest campaigner in Ohio – better teeth, slimmer figure, more elephant-part trophies – is Donald Trump, Jr., not the doughy, grumpy-looking J.D. Vance.
What do these three worthies have in common? The answer came to me: dysfunction, broken sons lashing out at the world without a tangible speck of compassion or solution.
The political party that once boasted of family values is now being represented by angry boys left adrift by parents.
According to the Times’s reporting, Carlson was abandoned by his mother, whose dissolute ways led her to Europe, leaving him to claim at an early age that this had nothing to do with him. The evidence is that young Tucker drank and groused his way through his teens and into his 20s, and when he found a persona it was a critic of the left.
According to the Times, Vance’ mother had the same weakness now raging through the strip--mined, job-bereft, opioid-glutted region whose sons and daughters have migrated northward into Ohio. (I spent many years writing from Appalachia and its extensions, and wrote two books about the region, and feel great bonds with the many good parts as well as the bad.)
The Times reports that Vance’s mother has been clean for seven years. God bless her. When does he go to work on his own bravado and anger? If he is running for the Senate, when does he grow a bit of compassion?
The third member of the testy trio is young Trump, who apparently gets more attention than Vance out on the trail. He apparently stumbled around during college, and had several blocks of time in his youth when he did not speak to his father, who was giving the world a critique of his latest hottie, and making a habit of putting his hands on women.
As it happened, I had a few glimpses of the Trump ménage before the frightening White House years. (We grew up half a mile and seven years apart; his late brother Freddie was a nice guy. We have since sampled Donald Trump’s emulation of his crooked-dandy father, his disdain for his homebody mother.)
When I came back to Sports in the early 80s, Trump owned a low-rent football team in New Jersey called the Generals.
He knew nothing about his team – the coach, the players, the rules – which he would prove at occasional press opportunities in his gilded hotel lobbies. His alarming inability to focus on details was pointed out by his blonde wife Ivana sitting next to him, and interjecting, in her lush Czech accent “No, Donald, Walt Michaels is the coach, not the general manager.”
Ivana would patronizingly correct Trump about this and that, and at some point they were divorced. Whatever the three children really felt, if anything, they eventually knew which side to take, which has led them to today.
So now one child of dysfunction campaigns for another child of dysfunction while a third child of dysfunction yammers at immigrants and minorities and liberals. What a trinity, so filled with pain and anger, passed on by an earlier generation.
As Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approach, it is time to give thanks for parents who stuck it out, who were a presence, who tried, who disciplined when they could, who gave, who loved, in their ways. (Mom and Pop, I never thanked you enough. You were always on our sides.)
It is human to feel compassion for these three broken men, whose pain is on such public display. May they process their rage, may they learn to do less damage. May they heal. But more important, may this country heal, somehow.
Omigosh, Mike was there! That was my reaction while electronically poking around online files and saw this angle of Jackie Robinson sliding toward Yogi Berra in the 1955 World Series.
The umpire ruled Robinson had stolen home, but to the end of his days, Yogi would levitate loudly, to dispute that call.
But I’m not writing about baseball today. I’m writing about photographers like my late friend Meyer (Mike) Liebowitz, who passed in 1976 but lives forever in the stock of photos, now being included in a digitizing project by the Times. (That project was described in a two-page spread in Sunday's Metropolitan section. See link below.)
In the dozens of times Mike and I worked together on news – not sports – stories on Long Island, he never once mentioned that he was one of the photographers arrayed around Yankee Stadium that epic day. (John Rooney of the AP caught the slide/tag that, to this day, proves nothing.)
Mike Liebowitz one of dozen photographers I got to know – and admire – on our assignments together. This digital project reminds me that one of the under-described relationships in journalism is somebody with a pad and somebody with a camera, going on assignment, watching each other’s back.
I was in my mid-30s and Mike was surely twice my age when we were paired by the random needs of the Photo Desk, Sometimes I would be in his car because it held his equipment.
Once we were chasing a politician allegedly visiting an estate in Nassau County’s gold coast. Down a long driveway, we knocked on a door and were told to take a hike, so Mike backed out the driveway – and we nearly got T-boned by a speeding car.
Another time we were doing something way out on the North Fork (a project to save the fading potato farms?) on a glorious early October day, and Mike was driving along an untended beach and the tide was high, so I asked Mike if he had 20 minutes to spare, which he did, so I stripped down to my skivvies and dove into the warm, placid waters, and then we proceeded due west.
In that two-page spread in the Times’ Sunday metropolitan section, there are 12 vintage photos about reading in public. What touched me was that I worked with just about all the photographers – Jim Wilson, Keith Meyers, Marilyn K. Yee, Fred R. Conrad, Andrea Mohin, Chester Higgins, Jr., and William E. Sauro, who did a lot of sports.
And that doesn’t include other Times pioneers like Michelle Agins (who one Christmas Eve popped over to my family dinner and took a treasured photo of four generations) and Sarah Krulwich, who has become an institution with her photos of everything Broadway.
Or dapper little Ernest Sisto, who worked on the field back in the day of bulky Graflex cameras, and would get a discreet signal from his compagno Phil Rizzuto when the Scooter was about to drop a bunt.
And then there are my two pals from the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway – Paul Burnett, who took photos of the presumed winner, Nancy Kerrigan, and Barton Silverman, who was snapping Oksana Baiul, who went later.
Barton was – and I am sure still is – a force of nature. He got roughed up covering the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago, and in 1996 he was nearly arrested in Atlanta for trespassing in the new Olympic park in downtown Atlanta. (I tried to warn him.)
I know I am omitting a dozen or two Times photographers, but I want to discuss another facet – free-lance photographers. I don’t know what it is like now, but when I was a news reporter based in Louisville, the Times used great photographers from the Courier-Journal in their spare time (my late friend Ford Reid, for one), and also a free-lancer named Kenneth Murray, a true son of Appalachia from the Tri-Cities area where Virginia and Tennessee meet.
I met Ken at the first funeral after the terrible Hyden coal-mine disaster in Eastern Kentucky, Dec. 30, 1970, and he kept going to funerals for most of the 38 miners. Later he began working with me all over Appalachia.
In March of 1972, we got together when a coal-mine’s lethal lake of waste water broke loose and drowned 125 people along Buffalo Creek, W. Va, one rainy Saturday morning, with no warning from the coal company.
Ken and I decided to look around for more of these “slurry ponds” and got caught in some deep woods, by a few guards flashing pistols. As we tried to explain it was all a big mistake, Ken whispered to keep edging our way down to the state road, to public land, which we did, safely.
Some of my best times were spent out on the road somewhere, with Tom Hardin of Kentucky, Don Hogan Charles of the NYT, Gary Settle of the NYT and Seattle, Chang Lee of the NYT, John McDermott my soccer buddy from San Francisco and now Italy….and more.
And the news about the digital project makes me happy that the Times will preserve the work of its own artist-journalists, in its way, a hall of fame for these people who became legends to me.
George and two buddies from Pennsylvania are visiting an exchange student pal and his family in Turkey, and getting a great tour. This is the rock formation in Cappadocia, with its ancient catacombs and eerie wind-blasted towers, which George pronounced as "Martian -- beautiful and slightly spooky." We told him we had stayed in the hilltop hotel in our epic visit in 2012, On Wednesday he was at Topkapi and Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. We expect a full update when he gets back.
I worked myself into a tantrum last Friday when Max Scherzer was making his first start for the Mets.
I wanted to see the game, plus hear what the Mets’ knowledgeable TV triumvirate of Cohen-Hernandez-Darling had to say about it.
Then I found out that Major League Baseball had farmed out this game to some Apple outlet, with unfamiliar broadcasters.
Yes, the very same Rob Manfred operation that now welcomes gambling commercials. (Coming next year: commercial patches on uniforms. Baseball goes Nascar.)
I knew enough to instantly switch to Good Old Howie Rose, of course – baseball is a great sport for radio, with lifers like Rose -- but people who could not access WCBS-AM radio (upstate New York, for example) were stuck with the gimmick -- noisy strangers hawking silly “probability” statistics but clueless about the daily workings of the Mets.
Baseball clearly has no shame.
* * *
Totally by coincidence, I have been reading a biography of one of the great baseball broadcasters of all time, Red Barber, who introduced my brain, my heart, my ears, to the Brooklyn Dodgers, starting in 1946.
My earliest baseball memories are riding around Queens with my father, with Red Barber on the car radio, and listening to night games in our back yard, via a radio that occasionally emitted shocks from a faulty connection in the garage.
Red Barber’s melodic southern accent calling a Jackie Robinson foray on the third-base line, on a warm summer night, outdoors? The best.
Later I got to know Red in the Yankee Stadium press room, in the 60’s, after he had switched over to the “big ball park in the Bronx” – his alliteration, not Mel Allen’s.
Walter Lanier Barber had respect for the game itself, and for the intelligence of the listener, and for the rules and codes of life.
I did not know, back then, that Barber was also a lay preacher, but what I did know was that he stood up for the right thing, by his standards, and he offered a measured response when things did not go the Dodgers’ way. He was not an overt rooter, did not refer to ”we,” did not make excuses for Dodgers.
On the final day of the 1950, the Dodgers had Cal Abrams thrown out at home, and then lost the pennant on a home run by Dick Sisler. I can remember listening in my family house, as Barber delivered what I took as a sermon of sorts, that life would go on, there would be another season. It helped me get through another Yankee World Series – a piddling issue, to be sure, but he gave hope; there were more important things in life.
Now I know Red Barber better, through a valuable new book, “Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend,” by Judith R. Hiltner and James R., Walker, published by the University of Nebraska Press, which often issues serious sports biographies and histories. Red Barber deserves this adult biography.
The book takes me to Barber’s southern childhood, his hard-working father and idealistic mother, a very segregated world, and even Barber’s youth as an entertainer doing – gasp – minstrel music, mimicking stereotypes of Black music. As the young and very ambitious man, morphed into a broadcaster, he was lucky to be instantly taken with a young nurse named Lylah Scarborough, also very southern, but with a difference: she had played with Black children, and had treated Blacks in her profession.
The book shows how Miss Lylah prepared Barber to adjust to the advent of Jackie Robinson in 1947, and also to enjoy the culture of the city. He never denied it: he was a work in progress, with help from his mother and his wife.
Barber broadcast many sports, eventually on national networks, but his specialty was baseball, first in Cincinnati, then in Brooklyn. He had a code: he could drop folksy sayings (“rhubarb,” “catbird seat”) in his southern cadence, but he had to remain an adult on and off the air. He took his cue from his father, fighting for better contracts; he also learned from Branch Rickey, the innovative, educated and religious boss of the Dodgers.
Barber knew he was speaking to Dodgers’ fans but he did not root – was not a “homer,” in the press-box slight. He also did not go along with certain broadcasting ways: calling the 1947 World Series, he told the national audience that Bill Bevens of the Yankees had not given up a hit with two outs in the ninth. The superstitious blamed Barber after Cookie Lavagetto broke up the no-hitter but Bevens assured Barber, heck, it was Bevens’ own fault for walking so many hitters.
When a new owner named Walter O’Malley took over the Dodgers, Barber continued to tell the truth. Once he informed the radio audience that the opposing infield was playing deep for a double play because Carl Furillo, the Dodgers’ stalwart right fielder, was notoriously slow. Any true fan knew that already – the great Dick Young had labelled Furillo “Skoonj,” a slang Italian reference to snail -- but O’Malley dropped a snide remark on Barber the next day.
Not long afterward, Barber was calling Yankee games, remaining his own man, once noting the sparse crowd (413 paid) for a late-season Yankee game. More broadly, as the book emphasizes, Barber’s austere presence became out of style. Time to move on.
Barber spent his final decades back in Florida, still a national figure, from his Friday morning NPR “Morning Edition” conversations with Bob Edwards, plus writing and speaking and eventually caring for Miss Lylah when she developed Alzheimer’s. He died in 1992 and she in 1997.
Sports broadcasting has continued to evolve. I would submit that the booth of Cohen-Hernandez-Darling bristles from the individual gifts of all three, starting with honest calls from Cohen and his enlightened questioning of his booth mates -- former ballplayers, a genre that Barber disdained.
Hernandez offers the perspective of a fiery on-field leader and Darling offers the perspective of a Yale star who does his homework. My guess is that Red Barber – who was always looking for another protégé like Vin Scully -- could have worked with all three of them.
Baseball fans will enjoy this serious biography of an evolving adult who set a high standard for broadcasters, players and fans.
Red Barber could get excited. Here is his classic call of the game-saving catch by Al Gionfriddo in the 1947 World Series -- watch Joe DiMaggio make a rare show of frustration. Barber's exclamation of "oh....doctor!" was not a stock phrase of his. He just blurted it.
Tommy Davis always remembered where he was from.
Whenever the Mets would play in Los Angeles, the assorted chipmunks and walruses of the large NYNY media corps would tromp over to the Dodger clubhouse to schmooze with the team that used to play in Brooklyn.
As soon as he sighted familiar faces – or heard familiar Noo Yawk accents – Tommy would turn to his teammates and announce: “Hey, these guys are from my hometown.” And he would chat with reporters about one thing or another.
Tommy Davis was always a New Yorker at heart This comes across in the lovely obit in the Times, by Glenn Rifkin, that describes Tommy and Sandy Koufax celebrating with a made-in-Brooklyn victory dance in the clubhouse after a 1-0 victory.
One thing that would always come up – that is, I would bring it up – was the damage Tommy did to one of my best friends from school. It went back to March of 1956, in the PSAL basketball playoffs, then held in the old Garden between 49th and 50th streets.
Tommy was one of the mainstays of the Boys High team (now Boys and Girls High) and he showed an eye fore talent by cajoling his pal Lenny Wilkens, a feathery guard, into playing one semester for Boys, but Wilkens --now a Hall of Fame pro player and coach-- was out of eligiblity by the playoffs.
In a second-round game, Boys was playing Jamaica High, the defending city champion from 1955. One of the Jamaica regulars was my pal since the seventh grade, Stanley Einbender, a very solid forward.
Stanley was waiting for a rebound when, from the upper stratosphere of the Garden, came Herman T. Davis, Jr., of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Davises.
On his way downward Tommy happened to clip Stanley on the forehead, producing blood, and requiring Stanley to leave the game for medical attention. Boys won -- it would have won anyway -- and Stanley became the rock of a great Hofstra team from 1957-60, with a not very noticeable scar on his forehead. Later he became an endodontist and we are friends to this day.
In our 20s, whenever I ran into Tommy – particularly in the Dodger clubhouse, with other Dodgers listening – I would tell the tale about how he clobbered my pal in Madison Square Garden, and that my friend was now a dentist looking for revenge. Tommy loved that story.
Tommy Davis showed great perseverance in playing on, after a gruesome broken ankle while sliding when he was a young star. His gait was affected, but as the obit notes, the designated hitter rule, that began in 1973, kept him in business. Whenever I got too snooty about the DH being a “gimmick,” I thought of Tommy Davis struggling to run the bases, and I toned it down a notch or two.
They never met, but one wintry Sunday a decade ago, Tommy was in Queens, at a memorabilia show, signing his autograph. I greeted him, and ostentatiously took out my cellphone and called Stanley, an hour east on the Long Island Expressway and said, “Here’s your chance.” But Stanley couldn’t make it, for one reason or another.
I would have loved to be there for a second meeting of these two brothers of the backboard.
* * *
AN APPRECIATION OF TOMMY DAVIS (AND BROOKLYN) FROM MY FRIEND JERRY ROSENTHAL
(great shortstop at Hofstra, Madison High and Milwaukee Brave farm system):
George, thanks for remembering Tommy Davis, one of Brooklyn’s greatest athletes!
I played against Tommy in the Parade Grounds League back in the mid-50’s. Tommy played center field on the Brooklyn Bisons, alongside Lenny Wilkins. I played third base on the Brooklyn Avons. My James Madison High School teammate, Teddy Schreiber played shortstop on the Avons.
Those were the halcyon days of amateur baseball in Brooklyn. The Dodgers were going strong and baseball was the only game in town! Life was good!
The Parade Grounds is located adjacent to Prospect Park. In those days, it was made up of of 13 diamonds which were fully occupied on weekends - from 8 AM to 6PM. Diamonds 1 & 13 were the showcase fields usually featuring the best senior division teams ( ages 16-18 ). Sometimes a playoff game would draw up to two thousand fans along with a dozen scouts.
The Bisons were a long established Black team in the Parade Grounds. Make no mistake about it, there were no integrated teams back in the 50’s! However, the Bisons did have a few white ballplayers on their club. How ironic!
After my final high school season in 1956 , I was invited to Ebbets Field to try out for the “Brooklyn Rookies,” a promotional team that traveled around the Metro area playing highly rated amateur teams. Davis had already signed and was playing at Hornell , N.Y. in the New York Penn League.
I didn’t make the Dodger Rookies team which was a major disappointment! However, two weeks later I was invited to attend a tryout at the Polo Grounds. Willard Marshall, the scouting director of the hated New York Giants, asked me if I was interested in signing a class D contract. I was thrilled by the offer, but college was in the offing.
As a minor leaguer in the Braves organization (61-63 ) the only guys I followed in the Sporting News were Tommy Davis, Koufax, Joe Torre, Bobby Aspromonte and Joe Pepitone, all Parade Grounds alumni.
While playing for the Yakima Bears in ‘62 in the Northwest League, I realized that Tommy was having an incredible year with the Dodgers! .He looked like the second coming of Willie Mays! Another great year in 63’ and then the devastating broken ankle injury. What a tragedy!
The lack of recognition and the gross underpayment of Davis was emblematic of the way ball players were treated before the monumental efforts of Marvin Miller and Curt Flood! I wish today’s MLB players were more aware of the history!
The fact that Tommy hung around the major leagues for another 13 years, shuttling from one club to another is testament to the toughness and resiliency he developed back in Brooklyn on the hardscrabble fields of the Parade Grounds.
( US -Algeria, 2010. The Golden Age -- So Far. )
The last time we saw the American men’s soccer team, the players were trying not to lose by six goals or more at Costa Rica.
They lost by only two, which gave them license to celebrate qualifying for the World Cup, the more they thought about it. However, the tepid performance lingers in the mind, particularly during Friday’s draw for the 2022 World Cup in late November in that soccer powerhouse of Qatar.
And just before that, there was the 0-0 non-event at Mexico, in front of many “Fuera Tata,” signs, urging the firing of its manager.
With images of recent American futility, it was hard to get too worked up while watching the World Cup draw on Friday. In the three group matches, the Yanks will play England, Iran and one of three teams emerging from a goofus survivor scrum later this spring – Scotland or Wales or Ukraine.
With help from the Injury Gods or the Karma Gods or the Logic Gods, it is easy to imagine the U.S. youth of tomorrow advancing into the second round.
But….but…..but. I’ve witnessed Eight World Cups, some of them stinkers by the Americans: a sodden loss to Iran in Lyon, France, in 1998, runs replays in my mind.
And then there was the wretched 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in the final qualifier to keep them from qualifying for the main 2018 tournament.
Then again, the U.S. has obviously developed more talent and depth in the past decade, including some with serious soccer pedigrees like Gio Reyna, whose father, Claudio, played the best international games of his life in the Americans’ stirring run to the quarterfinals in 2002.
With Claudio distributing the ball, the Americans scored one of their epic dos-a-cero victories over Mexico in 2002. And then there was the desperate full-field stampede goal from Tim Howard to Landon Donovan to Jozy Altidore to Clint Dempsey, rebound goal by Donovan to beat Algeria in 2010, and the gallant play by keeper Tim Howard in the heart-breaking loss to Belgium in 2014.
So there is some very good history for the Americans in seven consecutive World Cups from 1990 to 2014. But after the U.S. missed the 2018 World Cup, I can work myself into finding flaws with this young squad that, to its credit, survived the regional scrums to qualify:
Goalkeeper. The U.S. qualified for those World Cups behind four superb keepers: Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard, all so good they sometimes provoked controversies over which keeper to play. With all due respect to Zack Steffen, he looked slow, as if his back were still stiff, in the loss to Costa Rica. So I would suggest that position is wide open.
Striker. The best moments in the past generation came when the ball was served forward to Dempsey, Brian McBride or Donovan, who knew how to convert. The U.S. has run a vanload of strikers through the regional long march, but none of them displays the poise and position, the downright self-centeredness and nastiness, of the old lot.
Hard Man. Every squad needs an enforcer, who is willing to put a hurt on opponents even if he accumulates a yellow card now and then. I was a big fan of Jermaine Jones, German-born, with American schoolyard ferocity. Weston McKennie, out of action in the recent matches, has the temperament but he has too much skill to task him with dirty work. I’d make sure Kellyn Acosta is on the flight to Qatar; he has the disruptive “dark skills,” according to Dempsey, now in the chattering class on the TV programs.
I find no fault in Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. coach, a soccer lifer. (An unpenalized handball deflection by a German defender kept Berhalter from being a hero in the 2002 quarterfinals.) He is part of the best age of American soccer – so far. Now he will have time to blend these talented young players to see if they can reach the level of the previous generation.
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.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.