First Sentences

“There was a time when the world’s largest airport sat in the middle of western Pacific, around 1,500 miles from the coast of Japan, on one of a cluster of small tropical islands known as the Marianas.” Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia.

“In those days, I was the one who came down from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the River Jordan.” Norman Mailer, The Gospel According to the Son.

“In the U.S. elections of 1834, the balance of power in Congress was up for grabs, and the tide was turning against President Andrew Jackson.” Mark Clague, O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner.

“Have you ever seen a town fall?” Fredrik Backman, Us Against You.

“To understand a civilization, consider its heroes.” David Gelles, The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America—and How to Undo His Legacy.

“Otto Burke, the Wizard of Schmoose, raised his game another level.” Harlan Coben, Deal Breaker.

“Of the many times John C.Frémont visited St. Louis, the most auspicious came in 1845.” Steve Inskeep, Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War.

“Money, Mississippi, looks exactly like it sounds.” Percival Everett, The Trees.

“Throughout the spring morning of April 14, 1876, a huge crowd, largely African American began to assemble in the vicinity of Seventh and K Streets in Washington, D.C.” David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

“Mike always teased me about my memory, about how I could go back years and years to what people were wearing on a given occasion, right down to their jewelry or shoes.” Ann Packer, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier.

“In the winter of 1921, Knud Rasmussen invited about one hundred of Copenhagen’s eminent citizens—politicians, artists, journalists and business leaders—to join him at the city’s prestigious Palace hotel for a special dinner.” Stephen R. Brown, White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen’s Fearless Journey into the Heart of Arctic.

“Like a beast, the net came steaming up the ramp and into the sodium lamps of the trawl deck.” Martin Cruz Smith, Polar Star.

“The first thing I need to do is convince you something has changed.” Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized.

“That winter was the warmest in a hundred years.” Robert Stone, Outerbridge Reach.

“Legend tells us that the gerrymander originated in early nineteenth-century Massachusetts.” Nick Seabrook, One Person, One Vote: A Surprising History of Gerrymandering in America.


A federal judge has ordered the appointment of a special master to see if any of the federal records recovered from Mar-a-Lago are protected by “executive privilege.” Dobbs, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, held in essence that because a right to privacy is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, a right to abortion could not be inferred from the charter’s text. Like abortion, executive privilege is not in the Constitution’s text. That privilege is inferred from the Constitution’s structure which supposedly mandates a Separation of Powers. Many constitutional rights are not stated in the Constitution but inferred from its structure and text. But not the right to choose for women.

Stories about Mikhail Gorbachev’s death report that he ended the cold war. And right after that, the American defense budget decreased. Oh, wait, it didn’t. Apparently like death and taxes, increased defense spending is inevitable.

 For tennis and some other televised sports, the graphics indicate the home country of a competitor with a flag. This is of little use to me since I don’t know the difference between Spain’s flag and Portugal’s, Chile’s and Argentina’s, Bulgaria’s, and Belarus’s. And come on, how many of you know the colors of Liechtenstein’s standard? If only I could find vexillographer Sheldon Cooper’s podcasts of “Fun with Flags.”

Each tennis player had won a point. The umpire intoned the score: “Fifteen all.” Would it be more grammatically correct or more accurate if she had said, “Fifteen both”?

If there is a connection between the singing of the national anthem and patriotism, then sports fans must love this country much more than those who do not know what a pick-off move is. I have heard in person or on broadcasts the national anthem before car races and baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and soccer games. Until this year, I had not heard it before a tennis match, but then I heard the “Star-Spangled Banner” sung on the first night of the U.S. Open this year. But even though I have heard it said that professional golfers are the most conservative of professional athletes and that golfers in general are more conservative than those who indulge in other pursuits, I have not heard the Anthem as part of the too-many golf telecasts I have seen. May I consequently assume that those at a golf event are less patriotic than those at a football or baseball game?  I wonder if our previous Golfer-in-Chief ever sang “The Star-Spangled Banner”—assuming he knows the words—before he plopped down in a golf cart for his frequent eighteen holes. Perhaps if he had sung the National Anthem more, he would have supported the Capitol Police. But then again, would you be surprised that as a result of the new golf organization, that Has Been Guy wants to learn the national anthem of Saudi Arabia?

 Life expectancy has dropped for the last two years. Another way to state that is the decline in life expectancy that started under Donald Trump has continued.

I admire people who follow their principles at a personal cost, but how should I react when I think those principles are silly? I am looking at you, Novak Djokovic.


There is talk about a baby boom because of the shelter-at-home mandates of the last three months—call them Covid-19 babies although I hope that none are ever named “Covid.” But I wonder how many were conceived in the first fortnight and how many in the last few weeks after partners had spent months continually together.

“Ezra watched spellbound, eyes bright and jaw slack; he could never get enough of humanity, so long as it slept in another room.” Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry.

Those of us who are sports fans have heard the National Anthem countless times at stadiums and arenas and on broadcasts, but in the last few months we may have not heard it at all. Without the usual doses of the “Star-Spangled Banner” have we become less patriotic or is that ritualistic singing irrelevant in having a love of America? Perhaps it might be a good thing if, because of the pandemic, we reassessed the connection between sports and patriotism, but we still have the controversy over athletes kneeling during the National Anthem. This action has been labeled by the Golfer-in-Chief as “disrespectful to the flag.” The kneelers, whether they are correct or not in their assessments, seek to make the United States a better country. Wanting a better country implies not disdain, but love for the nation. However, if you believe that it somehow undermines the country to silently kneel during the National Anthem, then you should be happy that with sports cancelled or postponed the country has not been so undermined during this period. Do you feel that the country is stronger as a result? This makes me wonder. I have never attended a professional golf tournament. Does each session begin with the National Anthem? Since the golfers begin their rounds at different times and spectators seek different vantage points around the course, it would not make much sense. If golf does not have the National Anthem for all participants and spectators, may I assume that those at a golf event are less patriotic than those at a football game?  And, does Trump stand and sing the National Anthem—assuming he knows the words—before he plops down in a golf cart for his frequent eighteen holes?

“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.” Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.

“It is what it is.” I want to retire this phrase. The spouse does not. Yet again, the spouse is winning.

What is the name for the cardboard tube inside a roll of toilet paper?

The spouse asked me what time I wanted to leave to be on time for our restaurant reservation. I answered. She immediately said she wanted to go five minutes earlier, and it was clear that we were going at her preferred time. As I started to ask why she asked me what time I wanted to go, I, of course, knew the answer. If by happenstance I had stated the time when she wanted to go—the time when we would go–she could look like she was merely acquiescing to my wishes. Smart or manipulative?

Are you a zen master if, when you order a hot dog, you say, “Make me one with everything?”


I resolve to smile more.

I resolve to be less of a wiseass. (Oops. That conflicts with above.)

I resolve to learn how to use a bidet.

I resolve to learn how to open oysters efficiently and without drawing my blood.

I resolve to learn the words to the second stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

I resolve never to sing the second stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.

I resolve to go to more small-town museums.

I resolve to watch less football.

I resolve to produce less polluting waste.

I resolve not to learn how to play mah jong. (Sorry, spouse.)

I resolve to make fewer typographicul errorrs.

I resolve to at least in some small way make our politics better.

I resolve to have an open mind about religion.

I resolve to have an open mind about vegans.

I resolve to remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli in Sybil or the Two Nations: “To be conscious you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”

I resolve to remember the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh in A Gift from the Sea: “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”

I should resolve to learn how to wrap packages in an acceptable manner, but experience tells me that ain’t going to happen.

I resolve to deepen my sense of wonder.


What does it say about our patriotism or our education that the words of the national anthem now appear on those large scoreboards at sporting events?

In a park or outside an old house, I would come across a hand pump as a kid. Of course, I had to try it. The first couple strokes always seemed hard, but with minimal persistence they became easier. As I pumped, I would wonder if the pump still worked. Was there really water down there? Sometimes the effort produced nothing, but with others, a little water would spurt out. That sight produced a quickened, more forceful stroke. Then larger spurts, and finally, a stream without interruption. These efforts always produced a smile and a sense of accomplishment. Yet again, a satisfaction that most in a younger generation will never have.

“He is a prince.” Doesn’t sound derogatory; it is, in fact, a compliment. But compare: “She is a princess.”

There was such a difference between a woman’s magazine and a girlie magazine.

It was a typical Brooklyn supermarket—narrow aisles with small shopping carts and a limited selection. I was surprised to see ping pong balls. Brooklyn homes don’t have basement rec rooms or other places for table tennis. When I mentioned this to the nonbinary progeny, the NBP gave me an interesting look and said only a bit condescendingly, “The balls aren’t for ping pong. They are for beer pong.” Yet another time for me to feel my ignorance. And my age.

The man with the clipboard and distinctive vest approached me and said, “Do you like puppies?” Already late for an appointment and not wanting to be trapped by another fundraiser, I shook my head, kept moving and then, to my surprise, said, “I hate ‘em.” As I went by the clipboard man, he said, “You would be perfect for this.” I kept walking out of the subway.

Should I worry about my mental health? After the colonoscopy, I was told that everything was normal, and my first reaction was, “I went through all of that for nothing!”

The pessimist. Whenever I see a man walking with a flower bouquet, I wonder what he is apologizing for.

Questions I did not expect to be asked on the subway.  The young, purple-haired woman wearing a frayed, but clearly “vintage” jacket said, “Excuse me. Do you know geometry?” I looked over and she pointed to a sketch book on her lap.  An octagon was carefully drawn.  (During the ride I learned that it was going to be a frame for a mirror, and she was on her way to buy some reclaimed wood.)  She said, “If the diameter is sixteen inches, can you calculate the circumference?” I couldn’t.

What is your reaction when you are bored and turn on a sports channel just looking for anything competitive to pass the time and you find that a dog show is on?