Let’s Go Bowling

It is college football bowl season. There are many reasons to find college football despicable, ridiculous, and ludicrous, and bowl games are one of them. The games are played when the football players either should be with family or studying for finals. Most of the games are unexciting, meaningless affairs between teams that have been mediocre in the already too long regular college football season. Of course, this year the games are being played in mostly empty stadiums, but that is often true in other years, too. The games generate so little enthusiasm that the stadiums were mostly empty in past seasons. Only a handful of the many bowls produce excitement and get crowds.

The games, however, generate money. They are televised and they also draw a sponsor whose name makes it into the title of the bowl making for some strange sounding contests. I was reminded of this early this bowl season when I was flicking through ESPN and saw that the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl was on. (I have no idea who the teams were or what the outcome was, and I am willing to bet none of you do either.) I had never heard of RoofClaim.com before, and I still don’t know what it is, but I assume, but do not know, that it has some connection with Boca Raton, Florida.

My impression is that there are fewer bowl games this season compared to years past, but we still have some intriguing bowl names that raise questions. For example, this year there will be a Cheez-It Bowl and a Duke’s Mayo Bowl. I assume there will be normal football games at these events, but the title makes it seem as if there will be something like mud wrestling where the football will be played in fields covered in a yellow snack or in one of carefully prepared pimiento cheese and other mayonnaise-based delicacies. They might be fun to watch.

We will have a PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and I can’t help wonder if this will be a real head knocking game or a virtual event. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl seems to be working against itself. Should I eat a chicken sandwich or the fruit? Or is the chain marketing a new culinary creation? And what should I make of this year’s R + L Carrier New Orleans Bowl, the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl, the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, and the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

These names may have some appeal, but to me they don’t match the titles from olden days, which in this case means a few years ago—real classics like the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. And of course, that all-time favorite, the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl.

In today’s world, however, we need not just create new names for bowl games, we need to rethink them to make them more interesting. I have a few suggestions.

The Paul Manafort Ukraine Bowl. Instead of a fake-tasting sports drink, delicious borscht is poured over the head of the winning coach as  commentators read a lobbyist-written script, generating a huge bill, that Ukraine, not Russia, was the creator of the beet soup. At halftime, instead of marching bands, ostriches are paraded as well-connected people bid to have the best-looking birds made into jackets. The proceeds go to a “charity,” but no one knows what that means.

The Roger Stone WikiLeaks Bowl where it is mandatory to steal your opponent’s playbook. The game officials wear faux Saville Row clothes, and their every third pronouncement is a lie. The referee said it was a first down, but was it? Or was that a dirty trick?

The Rudy Giuliani Get-Even-Crazier Bowl. The teams get to make up their own rules for every play, but each is still doomed to failure. The field is delineated with hair dye, and the game is played in a warm climate. As the temperature begins to rise, the lines run and form Rorschach tests.

The Smartmatic Hugo Chavez Venezuela Bowl. Even though there is no such game, OAN, Newsmax, and Fox are heavily bidding on it with Fox planning on Maria Bartiromo doing the play by play, which would be her first real journalism in years.

The Dominion Voting Systems Bowl where 47.3% of the spectators believe that every time their team scores the scoreboard adds even more points to the opponent’s total.

The Donald Suck-Up Swamp Bowl. Played in a foul-smelling bog that many spectators pretend not to see or care about, each player drawing a penalty can beseech a man with orange hair sitting behind a tiny table by saying “Pardon me” in hopes of having the offense forgiven.

Snippets . . . Christmas Edition

Die Hard, to my amazement, makes lists of the best Christmas movies because it is set at Christmas time. Lethal Weapon, made a year or two before Die Hard, is also set in Los Angeles during the Christmas season. Is it, too, a Christmas movie? Or is the important takeaway that I should especially eschew LA at the holidays?

For the holidays, the fisherman sent his friends Christmas cods.

“And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” Luke 2: 3-5.

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” George Burns.

During a break in the chess matches, the tournament players gathered in the hotel’s lobby and started bragging about their triumphs in past meetings. They were just chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

One of Santa’s helpers tried to commit suicide. He had low elf-esteem.

The Three Wise Men followed the big star. Were they the first groupies? (Yes, I know that the Bible does not say that there were three wise men.)

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have to worship him.’” Matthew 2:1-2.

As kids, we liked to sing, “We three kings of orient are/Puffing on a royal cigar/One was loaded and exploded/ We two kings of orient are.” (Yes, I know that the Bible does not say that there were three wise men.)

I was surprised to learn that Mary and Joseph did not speak English. Who, then, taught Jesus the language?

I have read that the song “Silver Bells” was originally called “Tinkle Bells” until the composer’s spouse pointed out the problem.

At 6PM on Christmas day, the NBP and I were walking home from a movie when a woman stopped and asked us if she was walking in the right direction for the supermarket. We said, “Yes.” I asked her what she was looking for and she replied, “Oatmeal.” Both the NBP and I pointed across the street to a neighborhood store that was open and said, “They must have oatmeal.” “Not the kind I want,” she said. Even though she knew that the supermarket may have been closed, she headed off for it. It seemed like an unlikely search for a Christmas night, but I wished her success.

I received for Christmas a few years ago a specially made T shirt I had requested. It reads: “TRUMP. HIS MOTHER DID NOT HAVE HIM TESTED.” I am not yet retiring it.

Do we ever refer to a song as a “carol” except for those about Christmas?

“We learn from experience that not everything which is incredible is untrue.” Cardinal de Betz, Memoirs.

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, . . . ‘And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’ . . . And Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, . . . “For with God nothing shall be impossible.’”

See you again next Monday.

Merry Christmas

Stories Lost

It is not one of the tragedies of Covid-19, but it does irritate me that because of the virus I will not learn how some stories are unfolding. For example, M was a bartender at my local biergarten. He was unlike the other bartenders in having been born in New York City, but he was like them in having been raised elsewhere—in M’s case in the Miami area. M, however, was less talkative than others who pulled the beer. He did say that his parents immigrated to the United States from Colombia and that he still had relatives there. He clearly liked his Colombian aunts, uncles, and cousins and looked forward to trips to see them. Most of the other bartenders talked about avocations or hoped-for careers outside of bartending. M did not, even though, according to others in the bar, he and friends did audio work for videos. (My ignorance of much of the technical world barred me from understanding what M actually did.)

  A year after I met M, however, he became livelier, and the cause was clear. He had a girlfriend; he was in love. He was proud of her and excited. L was a Cuban American raised in the Miami, Florida, area. Even though M came from nearby, they had met in Brooklyn and had known each other only a short while. She was working in New York for a Canadian-based nonprofit, and it was not clear to me how they had met. She was attractive and charming. I could see why M had fallen, and she seemed to return the feeling. She would regularly come into the bar when M bartended and hang out with him. Sitting at the bar, my back would be to the door, but I could always tell when she entered because M would light up.

I saw from an observer’s chair (i.e., a barstool) this love affair beginning to unfold, but Covid-19 closed the bar and has prevented me from seeing ensuing chapters. M had met L’s mother who had come to New York for a convention. M was clearly proud that his girlfriend’s mother was, as he put it, “high up in the administration of southeast Florida’s most important hospital organization.” On the other hand, M had never mentioned what any of his relatives did, but I was confident none held such a high-achieving position. M and L talked about going to Colombia to visit M’s relations. I would have been curious about her reactions to them.

L, as with other Cuban Americans I have met, had some strong political views. Some of her forebears had important positions in Cuba that were lost under communism, and to put it mildly, she was not a fan of Castro. On the other hand, she worked for a do-gooder organization trying to improve aspects of this world, and she was not a Trumpista. In contrast, I had never heard M express any political or social opinion. I didn’t see her views changing, but as M and L went on, I wondered whether he would become more politically and socially engaged.

 They were clearly smitten with each other, but there were reasons to wonder if they were well matched. L, for example, said that she came to New York to enroll at Fordham University and that she said that she picked a New York school because she wanted “to expand my horizons beyond Florida.” I realized then that I had never heard M mention college or education of any sort and that I had never heard him express any curiosity about the world except how to make a fortune in bitcoins.

I, however, will probably never know how the story has progressed. The bar still survives but with only a few outside tables and no beer at the bar. I have been told that most of the staff have long gone to other jobs and opportunities. If I ever go to the bar again, I doubt that I will see M. I will not learn how his story, admittedly not the most compelling or interesting I have encountered but which did have some interest for me, has continued. His story will just have disappeared from me, and in this small way, the coronavirus will have made my life just a little less interesting.

Deck the Halls

(Guest post by the spouse)

I am among the least “artsy-craftsy” persons in the world. I never made anything out of macramé, can’t hook a rug, can’t make a damn thing out of popsicle sticks, but…I’m really good at making Christmas decorations!

I’m not sure where this talent – so uncharacteristic of me — came from. Maybe when I was little. When I was the tender age of six or seven, Mother had my sister and me making our own Christmas stockings. Mother cut the template out of green felt, provided scissors, sequins, ribbons, other colors of felt, little angels, needle and thread and had us go at it. Do you know how hard it is for a seven-year-old to sew on a sequin??! No glue was provided (was Elmer’s glue even invented back then?). But I did it and am the better for it. I had that stocking (with my sequined name in white felt) until I left for college!

Mother was good at making Christmas decorations, and I copied some of her other designs. She was a major felt fan and had made beautiful ornaments using styrofoam balls covered in felt, gold braid, sequins (you can attach them to styrofoam with a pin through the middle which is a whole lot easier than sewing!), and other glittery things. When we were first married and living in our first apartment and our first Christmas came around, I was determined to decorate with a little Christmas sparkle. The local Woolworth’s (my go-to place for all home goods) had an eclectic fabric collection in its basement, and they had…FELT! And sequins! And ribbon! And pearl-headed pins! And even little styrofoam balls! I was in business and set about trying to recreate my mother’s masterpieces. P.S. We still hang these little treasures on our Christmas tree.

The next year I found larger styrofoam balls, and wider ribbon and made an arrangement of the (felt-covered) balls on various lengths of ribbon to hang from the mantelpiece. And so…I was on my way to Christmas decoration stardom!

When I finally got a real job and opened a real lab (my own!!!), I discovered that the most fabulous florist supply store in all of the New York area was a mere 2 blocks from my lab. Can you even imagine what treasures they have in a florist supply store? I couldn’t, but soon found myself in a Christmas decorators’ heaven. At Christmastime, they carried at least 100 kinds of Christmas-themed ribbon, pin lights, regular lights in all colors, extravagant collections of greens (fake, yes, but incredibly realistic), sparkly things of indescribable luxuriousness, life-sized white doves, golden stalks of this and that, and real poinsettias for cheap. I had a house by now – a Victorian house – a house crying out for a full, over-the-top Dickens decorating spree. So I bought:

200 feet of garlands;

10 white doves;

Yards and yards (who was counting?) of 2” wire-stiffened ribbons of various design;

8 luscious stalks containing some sort of exotic fruit surrounded by exotic greens and normal fir-tree-type greens (Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Trust me, they were beautiful.);

2 wreaths;

And goodness knows what else.

I didn’t know what to do with the yards and yards of ribbon, BUT…help came in the form of the famous “Bow-Dabra” (I probably found it in Woolworth’s), a kit that showed one how to make fabulous bows – the best $9.99 purchase I ever made!

With the help of an extremely skeptical husband, I decked the halls. The garlands outlined the doors; the wreaths went on the front door panels (they were promptly stolen – just the way the neighborhood was at the time); the white doves fluttered amid the dining room garlands; the exotic fruit perfumed the living room garlands (well, not really, but they added a salutary bit of sophistication).

It was glorious, if I do say so myself.

When our child came along, I made…yes! green felt stockings for the three of us. Sequins (glued, not sewn!) glittered on our names cut out of white felt. It’s now almost 40 years later, and we still stuff those very same stockings with goodies to open on Christmas morning.

As a wee tot, the NBP was frightened by the white doves (thinking, I guess, that they might fly down and peck at you) but got used to them at some point. Also, while I favored a Christmas tree trimmed completely in white/gold lights and golden ornaments (sparkly, you know), the NBP preferred a more colorful model with multicolored lights and “traditional” ornaments. Guess who won? Let’s just say that those multicolored lights are sparkling as I write this. For this multicolored extravaganza, I made a tree skirt. Now. I CAN sew a little, so I went to my favorite fabric store (a step up from Woolworth’s), bought yards of red and green velveteen (NOT felt this time) and at least 20 yards of gold braid. This little project designed to save us money (home-made, after all) set us back a month’s mortgage payment, but it fits the tree perfectly, and it IS elegant, if I do say so myself.

You’d think that would have been enough. Ha! You jest! I have since bought two of those beautifully-crafted carolers (from Byers’ Choice, Ltd.) who sing on the coffee table in their authentic Victorian garb (complete with a real rabbit fur muff for the lady and a leather satchel carried by the man); an elaborate three-foot bearded Santa in a fur-trimmed velvet cape (got him for $10 at a flea market) holding a lighted wreath that’s on a timer (!); and three paunchy “Christmas ladies” whom I fell in love with in Duane Reade (they wear hand-crafted outfits that include real knitted scarves and hats made of…felt). They welcome people to the entrance hall. I didn’t craft any of these personalities (all way beyond my capabilities), but I appreciate their addition to our festivities.

This year, stringing the garlands over the 10-foot doorways has proven a bit too far to go, so the garlands have been “repurposed,” and have been wound around the banisters outside on the stoop and find themselves decorated with red bows (no white doves). After the stolen-wreath caper, we never did much to the outside of the house, so this is a departure – one worth repeating in the future.

About four years ago, I realized that I had more pine cones, sequins, baubles, holly berries, ribbons, toy soldiers, exotic fruits, tiny stuffed angels, etc. than I was ever going to be able to use – no matter how many table centerpieces I made. So I gave a party. I provided wine, glue, wire, wreath forms, and sundry vases and watched my friends create their own Christmas cheer out of my cache of wonderment.

I love Christmas decorations.

Musings on Conservative “Populism”

Trump and the Trumpistas have lost lawsuit after lawsuit, but still they have won. A goal of the conservatives has been to plant distrust of the government with their talk of the Deep State, QAnon conspiracies, stolen elections, and fake news. Of course, like many of Trump’s actions and policies, he is not their sole inventor. Instead, the present trend comes out of traditional Republican rhetoric and politics. Probably the two most famous anti-government statements came from Ronald Reagan, who said: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Generations of such diatribes have had an effect, even on many who consider themselves liberal. Think back a few days ago to when the Supreme Court struck down the ludicrous lawsuit the Texas Attorney General filed to overturn various state elections. What was your reaction to the Court’s action? Was part of it relief? Doesn’t that indicate that you don’t fully trust the government? The conservatives are winning.

The roots of the “Deep State” go back well before Reagan at least to Joe McCarthy. The Senator’s unsupported cry that there were Communists in the State Department controlling our foreign policy is almost the same as today’s rant that there is a Deep State in the State Department and elsewhere controlling the functioning of government.

Anti-government feelings have been part of the American makeup probably forever, but the populist movements of yore also had an anti-corporate component that is absent now. Those on the little guy’s side were fighting not just the government but also the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, and other plutocrats. Part of the reason to fight the government was because it was allied with the rich to further the interests of the powerful often at the expense of everyone else. Today the populists do not perceive the government as captured by the corporations or other powerful institutions. Instead, they feel that the government has been co-opted by a lower strata of society – a strata of people who are challenging them for their own place in our already unequal society. Corporations, then, evade opprobrium while the middle and lower classes fight among themselves. With this shift in populism, the traditional rich and powerful conservatives win again.

Our country has abandoned a longstanding tenet of our governance. As Jane Mayer says in Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right: “From the Republic’s earliest days, the wealthy had always dominated politics, but at least from the Progressive Era the public, through its elected representatives, had devised rules to keep the influence in check. By 2015, however, conservative legal advocates, underwritten by wealthy benefactors and aided by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, had led a successful drive to gut most of those rules. . . . As America grew more economically unequal, those at the top were purchasing the power needed to stay there.”

One of the people Arlie Russell Hochschild talked to for her book Stranger in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right said something that captured the new populism. She lived in a region whose lakes and streams and wetlands and forests had been ravaged by corporate toxic wastes, but she was resigned to the devastation. “With a small, sad shake of her head, Jackie says, ‘Pollution is the sacrifice we pay for capitalism.’” She is conceding defeat, and the traditional rich and powerful conservatives win yet again.

The new populist conservatives do not seek to fight the large corporate food processors who have taken over the local packing plants, pay lower wages and have reduced or have non-existent health benefits. They don’t fight the national trucking companies who pay lower wages than were paid a decade ago. They don’t fight the oil and gas companies who have made landscapes uninhabitable. Instead, these populists rail against internet and social media corporations even though these entities have had little effect on the populists’ economic well-being and even though the Right has used them effectively to strengthen their message.

It is discouraging, nay frightening, for the future of our governing system that over 100 Representatives signed on to the Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit. It is perhaps at least as disheartening that three-quarters of Republican voters believe that the election was stolen. This is so even though the supposed “proof” of widespread fraud has been debunked and rebutted convincingly many times and has been examined by courts repeatedly and rejected by judges around the country. When I watch, listen, or read right-wing media, I understand why the populist conservatives cling to a discredited belief. These media outlets repeat again and again the claims of fraud even after the assertions have been shown to be false. They don’t offer the counter proof; they don’t show why the rebuttals are wrong. These media outlets disregard and fail to mention the countervailing evidence. The consumers of their “information” never get the chance to evaluate the rebutting proof. Distrust is sown and Democracy is the loser.

The Fastball at the Head (concluded)

From my first year of umpiring when I was a teenager, I most remember Wilson, an unusual name for that day. Tall and thin, he was first baseman material, which is where he was stationed. He was a good player. He hit a line drive single to left his first time up — one of the two on his team to have gotten a bat on the ball against the opposing pitcher, Ray, who could really bring it. Ray threw one ball and then a second when Wilson was up again. His third pitch came at Wilson, came at Wilson’s head, came at Wilson’s face between his mouth and cheekbone. Wilson saw it and for the briefest of an instance he froze. He barely moved but enough so that the ball hit him hard in the face, but with a bit of a glancing blow. Wilson went down. I jumped over to him, and instinctively pulled his hands away from his face. (What good this could do, I have no idea.) Blood poured from his nose, a tooth through his lip, a tooth on the ground, more blood from the mouth. But his eye looked ok. There was an adult supervisor at the park for all the games, and I sent kids running off to him, and he came hurrying back. We got Wilson to his feet and to the supervisor’s car. Wilson was not screaming or crying, just emitting a moan barely above a whisper as he was taken off to the hospital.

          I didn’t know what to do, but thinking I was upholding the sanctity of the sport (I guess), I got the boys to finish the game. Two days later when I umpired again, I asked the supervisor about Wilson. The supervisor said the doctor was amazed that nothing was broken. Wilson had only lost some teeth, but “was going to all right.”

          Six weeks later, as the season was winding down and a new school year loomed, I was back behind the plate, and there was Wilson, his first time playing again. He was clearly terrified. He could barely step into the batter’s box much less stay in it as the ball was thrown. He almost dove out of it during the windup. I am not sure why he was there. These games were played on the mornings of workdays, and parents were seldom there. So there was not a crazed father yelling at Wilson not to be a fraidy-cat or to be a man. Perhaps he was concerned that at supper that night he would have to report that he had played again; perhaps his motivation to bat was all self-driven. Whatever the reason, he was trying to hit again, and he simply could not. I had seen him get hit, and I understood his fear, but he had more than fear. He was ashamed—not just embarrassed, but something deeper—that he could not do it. Three pitches, with his left foot well up the third baseline on each one. He waved at each of them. I wanted to go over to him and put my hand on his shoulder—in those days it never would have occurred to me to hug him—and say, “It’s all right.” I felt real sympathy for him, but the teenage manliness code prevented saying that.

          This made me think about major league batters. All of them get hit by a pitched ball in their career. Derek Jeter, for example, was plunked 170 times in his career, partly because he stepped towards the ball when he batted making it hard for him to get out of the way of an inside pitch. A baseball is hard, and no matter where it hits you on the body it hurts. Jeter was injured and missed games a few times from getting hit. Even so, he did not change his hitting style. Surely he had a fear of the ball; it would be unnatural not to. Nevertheless, he was able to overcome it in a way that I knew I wouldn’t be able to. (Jeter is only seventeen on the all-time list of getting hit. In the modern era of baseball, Craig Biggio leads getting hit 285 times.)

          Taking a ball on the forearm or the ribs or the backside is not the same, however, as getting hit in the head as Wilson had been. When I saw Wilson get beaned, I thought back to Joe Adcock, one of the players on my team, the Milwaukee Braves. A few years before I was umpiring, Adcock hit four home runs and a double in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next day at Ebbets Field, he led off with another homer. The next time up, he was hit in the head with a pitch that cracked his helmet at his temple, and he was carried off the field on a stretcher. I wondered how he could continue to be a feared hitter after that, but he was. (He was sensitive about getting hit, however. A few years later he was again hit with a pitch. He thought the pitcher—I think it was Ruben Gomez—was purposely throwing at him. He charged the mound. The pitcher did not wait for him to get there but hightailed it for the dugout. Adcock pursued him through the dugout into the runway at the back of the dugout leading to the clubhouse before Adcock was restrained by the opposition team. Adcock’s behavior seemed entirely understandable.) After seeing Wilson take one on the face, it seemed to me remarkable that a batter could ever still perform after getting beaned.

          Ten years later, long after I was umpiring, the Wilson experience came back to me. I was in law school, and I often broke up classes and studying by playing basketball in a small on-campus gym. The players were almost all in graduate school or college administrators, and it was interesting meeting people from the business and theological schools or who were educational professionals. The university was on a quarter system with the fall term starting late in September and ending before Christmas and the winter term ending in March. This schedule was good for some professional athletes who wanted to attend the university in their off seasons. One played for the then Washington Redskins. He was a backup center. He told me that every team needed a backup center, and he was hoping to get five seasons in because that would qualify him for a pension, but he also was getting two-thirds of a year in business school from January to June each year.

          Another of the pickup basketball players was a professional baseball player. An outfielder with solid statistics, he had worked his way up to the highest of the minor leagues. We were sitting on the floor off the court waiting for a game to end so that we could play. We exchanged the usual pleasantries after not having seen each other since the previous year, and soon I asked how his last baseball season had been. He got quiet and said not as good as he wished. His batting average had dropped quite a bit. I didn’t know what I should say, but soon he told me that he had been beaned. He was quiet again, but then said that he had “trouble” coming back from it. He said a few more things and his unspoken disappointment permeated the conversation. I could sense that he felt his baseball career was over. And it was. He played miserably for a month or two more the next season and then gave up the game. Being hit in the head had done him in.

          I did not mention Hurricane Hazle to my friend, but I thought of him. The Milwaukee Braves were in a tight pennant race with the St. Louis Cardinals when the Braves starting center fielder had a season-ending injury. The Braves called up Bob Hazle, who went on a tear batting .403 in 41 games with many crucial hits. Hall-of-Famer Eddie Matthews credited Hazle, quickly nicknamed “Hurricane,” with winning the pennant for Milwaukee. (Hazle did not have a great world series, but he got two hits in the deciding seventh game that sparked the Braves to the championship.)

          Next year, however, was different. He was beaned early in spring training, and he was beaned again a few weeks later, and it was over for him. The Braves soon sold him to Detroit where in his few plate appearances he batted a disappointing .241. Soon he was back in the minor leagues and then out of baseball. Hazle is one of those oddities—a lifetime .300 hitter (.310) who never hit .300 in a season.

          I think of Hurricane Hazle and realize that sometimes life might throw you a curve ball but sometimes it throws a fastball at your head.

The Fastball at the Head

          I was fourteen and waking up on a midsummer morning. I could hear the rain pelting the house, the driveway, the sidewalk, the road. I was happy, or at least relieved. No baseball.

          If I had been planning on playing the game itself, I would have been unhappy, but I was supposed to umpire that morning. That splendid sogginess meant I would not have to. And not calling balls and strikes that day was a relief.

          My town did not have Little League, youth baseball connected with the national and later international organization, but it had its own version run by the Recreation Department. It had divisions by age—nine and ten, eleven and twelve, up to eighteen. I was scheduled to umpire a game between teams of the youngest at nine that morning.

          I got the job by passing a test but not one that measured your ability to call a baseball game with any accuracy. Instead, it was like a school exam, except this one was on the rules of baseball. I got a booklet of the baseball rules at Joe Hauser’s, the local sporting goods store, and read it a few times. I was good at tests and was confident, especially because I had been tipped off to the trick question that appeared every year. It asked what the proper call was if a line drive hit the pitching rubber and bounced back into foul territory between third and home without touching anyone. Of course, the correct answer is “Foul ball!” Not everyone who took the exam on a spring evening–all boys (I don’t know what would have happened if a girl had come to be an umpire) going into high school next fall–was a diligent student, but I was, and I easily got one of the open umpire slots.

          That summer I was assigned games of the kids nine and ten and eleven and twelve. In every job I have had, I have learned things. With that first job, I may have learned something about discipline and responsibility and so on, but in this job I quickly learned that I hated umpiring nine- and ten- year-olds. This was in the old days. This was not T-ball or a game in which an adult tossed underhanded to a batter. No. There was a pitcher and a batter, and the pitcher invariably could not pitch and the batter invariably could not hit. And if a ball got into play, the fielders could neither catch nor throw. These young ones could not play the game, and this was also the time before the mercy rule where a game ends if one team gets far ahead. The games seemed interminable. Every time I umpired one of these games, I felt like the hourglass sand was spilling onto the dirt never to be replaced. And so on that morning, I blessed the rain because I would not have to umpire an under-ten game. (My feelings about these games are captured by the fact that I did not get paid when a game was rained out. The loss of money was worth it.)

          That summer I also umpired games of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. There was a vast difference in the two age groups. The ten-and-unders not only could not play baseball, they were also unformed in the personality department. The eleven- and twelve-year-olds were on their way to being human beings. Many were quick-witted or wiseasses, filled with jokes to throw at me, curious about the world (mostly that meant trying to find out what high school was like and whether it was true you might get attracted to girls). And now many could play a good game of baseball. This, however, sometimes presented a problem. The spectrum of physical development of twelve-year-old boys is broad. Some of them are close to bodily adulthood. These big guys often were the pitchers. These kids still played on a softball diamond, and the ball hurled from forty-six feet got to the plate with remarkable rapidity. This was not just the batter’s problem. I umpired standing behind home plate. Often the pitcher’s skill far outshone the catcher’s, and I could not be sure that the pitches would not make it to me. If I knew it was going to be one of those days, I got to the park extra early to get on the blowup chest protectors which best absorbed the thump of a thrown ball, but I still could leave with a bruise or two.

          That summer also reinforced what I already knew about playing baseball: A good batter has to overcome fear. It is frightening to have a hard object—a baseball—thrown as fast as possible in your vicinity, an object that could, and sometimes did, hit you. A natural instinct was to pull away when that object was thrown, but that natural instinct had to be overcome to hit the ball.

          Some boys came up to the plate seemingly oblivious of the danger, but with others I could feel, I could smell, the fear as they entered the batter’s box, but their reactions varied. Some did not even attempt to overcome the emotion. They bailed out even before the ball was thrown. It was clear they did not want to be there and projected that this was just a stupid game. Some struggled to contain the fear. They tried to jerk their body back into a hitting position after it had instinctively pulled away, but their conscious mind could not win out over their unconscious instinct. And they seemed miserable. They wanted, sometimes desperately, to be able to do it, but they could not, and every pitch made them a failure again. And then there were those who stood alongside the plate fearful, but never flinched and took their hacks like a baseball player. And I wondered if any of these reactions mattered except for those few moments three or four times a game on a few mornings during a ten-week summer. I wonder now if these different reactions would tell me anything about the subsequent adults these guys became.

Snippets

The article on cocktail mixers said that “he is an expert in tiki bars.” It did not report who his mentor was, where he trained, or whether he had had a fellowship from a famous foundation.

I see Sidney Powell on TV in Georgia and other places claiming that Trump was robbed by a fraudulent election. She, however, is not part of the Trump defense team according to the news. And I wonder who is paying her expenses.

The news article headline said: “Share your harvest photos.” The two accompanying pictures were of boys with dead bucks, their first kills. I wondered if a hunter ever says, “Honey, I am off to the woods to harvest a deer.”

A generational difference: Learning that the proper method is to squeeze and roll the toothpaste tube from the bottom.

“I consider myself an average man except for the fact that I consider myself an average man.” Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.

News sources report that Rudy Giuliani has been seeking a presidential pardon. In the distant past, Giuliani was known as a corruption fighter. I wonder if he remembers what he said then: “And this corruption will be discovered and prosecuted. The political establishment does not understand that law enforcement has changed.”

“Che had what you might argue was the good fortune of being martyred when he was still young.” Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

I snap on the TV in foreign hotel rooms, mostly to see if it carries an English-language news station, but I also like looking for a few minutes at the other shows even when I don’t understand the language. On my last trip, oh so long ago, I was feeling a bit queasy and tired one morning and stayed in. Mostly I slept, but I watched a bit of TV. I could get mostly Moroccan, Arabic, or European channels. On a sports channel, I watched a few minutes of snooker from Northern Ireland. I don’t understand snooker, and I was not helped by the commentary, which was in German. On another channel, I watched women’s international rugby. On another station, for several minutes, I watched a cat playing with a dead mouse. There was no sound. It was amusing, but questions abounded.

On a trip on I-95 with the spouse years ago, we stopped in a barbecue place in North Carolina. We went to get takeout. Everyone else in line was black, and a number of them looked at us quizzically.  Later I learned that this was a remnant of the Jim Crow era when blacks could not eat in the restaurant, but they could go to the kitchen’s back door and get takeout. I also learned that I do not like the vinegar-based bbq of Carolina.

The Criminal Courts and the Basketball Courts

When I was a public defender, I played a lot of schoolyard basketball. There was some similarity between the two activities. Both brought me in contact with “the street” and people and cultures I would not have otherwise encountered. As part of the defense work, I naturally learned something about the lives of those I represented. I met lots of seemingly hopeless people, but I also met lots of people in trouble who were worth helping, and sometimes I helped them. In some sort of weird way that I can’t fully describe, I felt at least some connection with almost every client I met. This was one-way traffic, however. It was a strictly lawyer-client relationship, and my personal life was separate.

Only on two occasions did a client intrude on my private life. A troubled, young man—he was born almost deaf, which was not discovered until he was four and only then did he hear conversation–was charged with armed robberies. After I had been representing him for months, he asked, “Are you Jewish?” I asked why he wanted to know. He replied, “Because Jews make the best lawyers.” I said in a way that I hoped was humorous and would end the inquiries, “No, I’m not Jewish; I already have enough problems.”

I also represented a different young man with a history of mental illness. He admitted purposely driving a car into a street corner crowd because “black people were there.” My home number was listed in the telephone book (remember telephone books?) and he started calling at all hours asking me questions but really wanting to expound his racial theories. I found this personally disturbing on a number of levels. It took me quite a while, but I finally got him to stop although I don’t remember my method.

A similar personal distance took place on the basketball court. About twenty or thirty guys came regularly to play basketball at the schoolyards where I played. I got to recognize them and knew them by first or nickname. Beyond that I knew little about them except for those who lived within a block or so of me. Even then I only knew where they lived, just as they knew where my apartment was. I got to know a handful slightly better and did some favors for them or their parents. I was served a thank-you dinner by one of those families after some favors, but even so, I knew little beyond their basketball games. I might hear something personal—grandparents were in North Carolina, for example—but we did not have what you might call “meaningful conversations.” I did not ask them what they did or about their wives or girlfriends or whether they had come to Brooklyn from elsewhere, and they did not ask me. We were friendly on a limited level that guys playing basketball regularly achieve.

While there were similarities in my public defense and basketball lives, they rarely intersected. Sidney, an infrequent player, somehow found out I was an attorney (one of the few players who discovered that), and wanted to talk about his pending manslaughter case, but those occasions were rare, and he would talk to just about anyone about his plight. I might hear about a neighborhood kid who had been arrested but not because I was a public defender. It was just general neighborhood chatter not specifically directed to me. Only once did basketball enter the courthouse with me. And I embarrassed myself in a way that still bothers me.

It was one of the many times that my work brought me behind the arraignment courtroom where the recently arrested were waiting for their first court appearance. I recognized a kid behind the bars with whom I had played basketball. He was not one of the regulars where I played, but an occasional participant. I did not have much of an impression of Mike except for two particular times that we were on a court together. The first time he was with a friend and shooting baskets accompanied by much laughter and horseplay. I started shooting baskets alongside them. After a few minutes, Rodney, an effeminate teenager, came onto the court and said that he wanted to play. I teamed with Rodney, and it took only a few moments to see that he didn’t know the game at all. Mike and his friend were good-natured, but soon they were mostly laughing about and at Rodney. It was not really mean-spirited, but it irked me, and I played as hard as I could to see if I could get Rodney to score a basket, which never happened.

This episode did not give me a bad impression of Mike and his friend. Their behavior was well within the norms for a Brooklyn basketball court. Indeed, it was better than what could have been expected. “Fag” was an epithet regularly thrown around, usually among friends, but every so often directed at someone with animus. Mike and his friend, however, never used that word in Rodney’s presence and that made me feel better about them.

The second time I remembered was an intense two-on-two game. Mike and I were teamed. The guy guarding me was new to the courts; I didn’t know him. He was manhandling me—pushing, elbowing, and kneeing much more than was considered acceptable on that court or any game I had been in. I usually was the only white guy playing, and it was almost never a problem, but in this game, I felt a racial dynamic at work. If I had not been white, this mugging would not have been occurring. As was my usual practice, I kept quiet about the style of play, but Mike didn’t and said that this was not acceptable basketball. We should either play or quit. The other guy said nothing but only smirked and gave me another forearm in the back when we resumed. Mike left and so did I, each of us going in a separate direction.

And now a few weeks later, here was Mike in the holding cell. I was almost excited by my recognition, and I indicated to the prisoner that I knew him. He looked down and claimed he did not know me. I started to give the location where we had played and what he had done for me, and then I realized that I was doing something I had vowed never to do. In neither the legal courts nor on the basketball court did I ever pretend to be “street.” Although my language was salty, I never used “ghetto” slang or the handshakes and greetings that did not belong to me.

And yet here I was, embarrassing Mike as I pressed him about basketball, something that had nothing to do with his arrest. He had just experienced the trauma of being arrested and was entitled to anonymity, and here I was trying to be cool. I was trying to show that, unlike other lawyers, I knew kids from the street, and the other defendants and lawyers in the room should know I was “different.” I was showing off, and it had nothing to do with helping the kid in trouble. I was embarrassing myself, and it made Mike uncomfortable. This incident stays with me because I would like to think that it was the only time I did something that made a client feel ill at ease simply to make myself feel special. I did not like the feeling back then when I realized what I was doing, and I don’t like it now.

 That experience contrasted with the only other time I ran into one of basketball crowd in the criminal courts. He was one of a group of three or four or sometimes five who drove up to the schoolyard from out of the neighborhood. They were older than many of the teenagers who played, nice guys and good players, and I enjoyed playing with them. I did not know what they did, but I would have guessed that they had solid jobs and careers.  That they were different from many who came to the yard became clear to me when a kid broke a bottle not far from the court. Marshall stopped the game and went over to that kid, saying “This is your park, and it is mine. Why would you want to wreck it? Don’t ever do that again.” Marshall came back to the game, and the kid slunk off. (Marshall was usually the best player, and I was a bit behind him. That meant I was usually paired against him. One time I made a call against Marshall, which I immediately knew was wrong, but the game went on. When it concluded, I sat next to Marshall under the basket and apologized. He smiled at me and said, “It happens.”)

I had known them for a year or more when I bumped into the person I only knew as Knox in a courthouse corridor. I then found out that he was a housing cop. When he learned that I was an attorney, he said without elaboration, sort of to himself, “I always knew you were something.” That made me feel good, and, this time, it came at the expense of no one.

Vaccine, Anyone?

 We have begun discussions about the first distributions of a Covid-19 vaccine. Apparently, the vaccine will be distributed to the states in proportion to their populations. The states will determine how they will administer any vaccine within their borders, but the CDC has issued non-mandatory guidelines about the distribution stating that the first priorities ought to be healthcare workers, those in nursing homes and similar institutions, essential workers, and other at-risk populations such as the elderly.

We are still in the early stages of considering these guidelines, but so far they have evoked little controversy. It’s hard to believe that won’t change. For example, isn’t there always contention about immigrants these days? Someone is going to hit the outrage button and say that some state’s priorities will give the vaccine to an early tranche that includes illegal immigrants and surely that should not happen. Someone is going to say that vaccines should be given to states only in proportion of their legal population.

Sooner or later someone will also question other distribution priorities. Some might say that epidemiologists should establish vaccination priorities for the fastest and widest establishment of herd immunity. A certain sort of economist will say that the vaccinations must be done “rationally.” It seems “rational” to give the vaccine early on to the elderly, a group of which I am a member, since we aged are apparently among the most at-risk for dying from Covid-19. However, someone like me might expect to live ten years more if I don’t get the disease. Giving me the vaccine could be said to save ten life-years discounted by the likelihood that I would get the disease and recover without being vaccinated. Giving the vaccine to a forty-year-old could save 45 life-years discounted by those same factors. After these calculations, it might be more “rational” to inoculate the younger person first. On yet a further hand, another sort of economists might contend that early vaccinations should go to those who contribute most to the economy or who will help re-open the economy or society most quickly, but I am sure that such economists will disagree with each other and how to calculate these matters.

What is beyond dispute, however, is that somebody must make such decisions. We might argue about the criteria and what expertise and level of government should be called upon, but there seems little doubt that government, be it federal or state, will be the decisionmaker. And so far it seems accepted as proper that government is buying doses and is planning for their distribution..

The world was different with the mass inoculations of the polio vaccine sixty-five years ago. President Eisenhower and his Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare contended that the free distribution of polio vaccine was socialized medicine and that even government involvement in the distribution of the medicine was socialism.

“Socialism” has been thrown at all sorts of policies again recently; will the epithet be evoked by the vaccinations? The national rhetoric often proclaims that freedom requires a free market. Where are those now, or are these free marketeers, who when they get together wear caps with Milton Friedman ears on them and vow never to sing We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, just biden’ their time until they say that vaccines should go to whoever can pay the most for them? The free market should control, goddamnit!

Surely they see that this vaccine is setting us on a dangerous path to socialistic hell. I count on them to protect me from it.