Thursday, September 21, 2017

Happy New Year.

I am taking the day off today for the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah.

In days of yore, when I was a kid, my old man would drag me to Temple and I would sit there, not understanding the Hebrew and not believing the English.

Later, my wife was the dragger of me to Temple, fulfilling what she regarded as her uxorial obligations. (One of the many reasons I loved studying Latin was the word uxor. In its singular form, it means wife. As a plural, it means a yoke of oxen.)

I was dragged to various Temples for about 45 years of my life, and in all that time I never once felt any connection to the ceremony or the preaching, and further, and worse, never through all those hours of being preached to felt I heard anything wise or insightful.

Once my kids flew the coop, I stopped going to Temple altogether. I don't think I've stepped into one for five years now.

All that being said, I still, try to take the day off and commune with myself and reflect on the year I've had, the future I am working for, and my most important relationships, those with my wife and my kids. I do try to spend some time enriching my brain and thinking about what I can do in my own small way to make my world better.

Beyond the briskets and the apples and the honey and the ancient rites and rituals of the liturgy, that's what the Jewish holidays are for me. 

A few semiotic moments away from a world that is too much with us to think, quietly and constructively about things larger than the next assignment that has to go out the door or the next mortgage payment that must be made.

That's it for now.

Last night's dishes are still in the sink.

And new year or not, they're not going to wash themselves.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Me and my love.

I fell in love some years ago with a woman very much not my age.

I only have to hear her voice, and I am set to tripping down the steps of my memories to a different time, a different New York, a different world. One little laugh, one elocutional filip, one turn of a phrase and I leave today—the here and now—and I am sent spiraling like a football through the crisp autumn winds—back to a time when we used to have crisp and autumn.

It started, the affaire d' cerebellum, when I heard this song:

It's not like, like Beverly Kenney, I hate rock n roll. I actually can, in small doses, tolerate it. But what I found here was a kindred spirit.

From the fuzziness of the recording--which I enjoyed for it's raw authenticity--to the out-of-stepness with our times, I had found the woman for me. 

I was born 30 years too late. And like Wordsworth--who walked an estimated 175,000 miles in his lifetime as he wrote long un-written-down poems in his head (as I do) the world, today's world, is too much with me. I am one, for instance, who believes we have placed lead in our societal pipes and as a culture we are getting dumber and dumber by the microsecond. 

But Beverly Kenney gives me belated hope--funny for someone who killed herself at 28 with an all-you-can-eat platter of alcohol and Seconal.

Despite that gloom, she first brought me joy when Hector  Quesadilla, my manager when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo down in the Mexican Baseball League in 1975 would play this song over and again, especially loving the bit about the bull-fight and the ball game.

Then there's today's abject political dumbness--a veritable dumbageddon where--as Shakespeare's Three Weird Sisters said--'fair is foul and foul is fair.' Dig on the whole thing below--bearing in mind it's better to read/hear while imagining a storm of the ages (currently known as normal "global warming weather.")  That Shakespeare, well, only 'cause I love her, reminds me of this from Kenney.

A desert place.
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First Witch
When shall we three meet again
Second Witch
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
Third Witch
That will be ere the set of sun.
First Witch
Where the place?
Second Witch
Third Witch
There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch
I come, graymalkin!
Second Witch
Paddock calls.
Third Witch

Anyway, that's it for me for now for the end of Jewish year 5777. I say without irony, "Have a Happy."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nobody asked me but....

"Nobody asked me but..." is my periodic tribute to the great New York sportswriter Jimmy Cannon--a legend in his time. When he had nothing to write about, he'd assemble one of these then call it a day.

Nobody asked me but....

...if you want media people to show up, have pizza.

...I still think Trump will be gone by Halloween.

...He will go out with a whimper, not a bang.

...Speaking of bangs and whimpers, we would all do well to read a little Robert Frost now and again.

...Particularly "Death of a Hired Man, or "After Apple Picking."

...They could help your mood.

...I never liked football, but this year, between concussions and Kapernik, you have to be positively retrograde to watch it.

....The Jewish holidays are usually early or late, but this year, they're right on time.

....Just when I need a day away from my desk. And my computer.

....You don't have to be Jewish to devote 24 hours a year to thinking about your sins.

...Personally, my biggest sin is working too much.

...My skin crawls every time I see David Koch's name on the Met fountains or at Lincoln Center.

...If Roger Maris deserves an asterisk beside his name, Koch deserves a dagger.

...This morning as I crossed Central Park West, I thought of the days when you used to see the cobblestones through the worn out asphalt.

...It was a poorer New York in the 70s, but in many ways, I miss it.

....Particularly since David Koch's name wasn't on half the buildings, and Donald Trump's on the other half.

....And you could get a fatty corned beef sandwich steaming warm on soft rye with real caraway seeds.

...I can't drive by Citi Field without calling it Shea Stadium, and I can't drove by Flushing Meadow Park without thinking of the Valley of Ashes in "Gatsby."

...Fitzgerald's description of the Valley: "This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens..."

...I have a big social media footprint for a misanthrope.

...That said, I'm here if you want to talk about it.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Uncle Slappy's Intermittent Bi-Weekly Slap of the Week.*

*This is just a joke. Don't steal.

Long days and longer nights in the Mexican League.

I could think of nothing to write this morning in the time I have allotted to write. So instead, a reprint from cooler times, last February.

Even though we played something like 120 games in about 135 days, when you play baseball for a living, as I did some 42 years ago, you remember less about the games you played—the hits, the catches, the whiffs, the wins and losses—and more about the space between games.

You remember the dripping water pipe that ran just under the ceiling and past your locker, dripping on the bench that ran alongside the row of cubbies. You remember the hours in the clubhouse, slowly getting ready for another game—a game that might not begin for two hours or four. You remember the late nights alone in a strange city, with little to do but get into trouble. You remember the eleven hour bus rides through forgotten towns and rutted roads to a new city and another ballpark where the morass of timefulness—that is, the state of having too much time on your hands—could sink you like a cherry pit being washed down a dirty drain.

In Mexico City, where we played the Diablos Rojos in their giant stadium before their ardent fans who would throw coke bottles at us if we got a hit or stole a base, I found, one afternoon in a tourist hotel, a small library of abandoned books that guests had, across a span of years, left behind. Finding a book in English, a silent companion that would travel with me during those long silent bus rides was like magic.

I had brought with me to Mexico just two paperbacks in English. “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe and “Moby Dick,” by Melville. In my preternatural alone-ness, I finished the two in about a week, and searched everywhere for something written in English.

Those were, of course, pre-internet days, and most every town had a bookstore I could browse in, but Spanish only. And most every hotel, except the really seedy ones, a small cigarette stand they called a gift shop. But finding books in English, well, that was like a desert caravan finding water.

In that hotel library with two rickety bookshelves, I found an English edition of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.” I found a dog-eared copy of “A Clockwork Orange,” with the glossary sliced out with a razor blade, and a heaven-sent copy of a 900+ page compendium called “Three Novels of Old New York” by Edith Wharton that contained “The House of Mirth,” “The Custom of the Country,” and “The Age of Innocence.”

A month’s worth of reading. Twenty bus trips between Mexican cities. And 30-nights alone in a cheap hotel.

Many of the others, I’ll admit, were whoremongers. They would no sooner leave one city, say Aguascalientes, or Torreon, when they would find the red light district of the next town. There they would find a place and draw the curtains and with some girl who never knew their name, would find an hour or two of un-loneliness.

Julio Romeo, a back-up infielder was the worst of a bad bunch. He made little more than I did, maybe $225/month and would spend it all on girls and salve—the salve for after he came down with the clap, and before Hector insisted he see the team doctor who shot him through with miracle drugs and made him promise to be more careful next time, only Julio never was.

Still on those long trips or long hours in the clubhouse, Julio would sing:
My name it is Pancho
I live on the rancho
I make two dollars a day
I go and see Lucy
She give me some pussy
And take my two dollars away
My name it is Pancho
I live on the rancho
I make two dollars a day
I go and see Nelly
I bounce on her belly
She takes my two dollars away
Many nights it seemed all of the boys, even the married ones, would head out whoring. And often they beckoned me to go along. And some nights I did, but only to have a cerveza with Gulliermo Sisto at the cantina in front, and never to go to the back behind the plastic beads or the nylon curtains with a fat girl who would love me very much.

Sisto and I would drink our beers and the boys would pick their girls and then Sisto and I would leave—before the drinking and the fighting, and worst of all, the cops would come to settle things down.

We would walk back through the quiet town to our hotel, Sisto and I, and talk about the game, and our lives and loves, and even our dreams.

Sisto was a good but not great ballplayer who had played for a fame that never came. “My name,” he said by way of self-deprecation, “was never engraved in bronze or on a marble plaque in centerfield. It was engraved instead on a block of ice that sits outside in the August sun. My fame will not last long.”

I told Sisto of a girl at home that I loved but who no longer loved me, the most painful of pains—even at 17.

“Ah, but now you have Karmen,” he reminded.

And yes, I had Karmen, but I also had college and New York and growing up calling and that negated all the cervezas and the chatter and the whoring and the fighting and even negated Edith Wharton and negated Karmen, too.

We found another bar, this one without girls, and we had together yet another silent beer. I watched Sisto empty his, and he watched me empty mine and together we emptied the sadness out of the evening, and returning to our hotel rooms, we found a newsstand and bought a paper and read of that day’s game and checked the standings just to see if we were still in the league.

Sisto went to his room.

“A letter I will to my father write. I have not for a month written,” and we shook hands goodnight—as men did in those days. I walked up two flights to my bed and I read until I slept and another day would once again begin.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The dog-days of September.

Rescue Roy.jpg

My friend, Andrew Payton, is an excellent writer, who, with his partner, Peter Cortez have turned their talents and their humanitarianism to the plight of dogs, hungry and displaced in hurricane-ravaged Houston.

Buy one of their prints. The entire proceeds goes to help our canine friends. You can see their site here.

Stranger in the night.

Last night, once again and as usual, I was held in the icy grip of my long-time nemesis, Dame Insomnia. I went to my study, a small room off the kitchen that contains my leather arm chair, ample light, and three and a half walls of floor to ceiling bookshelves stuffed to the mixed-metaphored gills with books.

It was quiet in the city and quiet in the apartment. My wife, in bed, was silently asleep (she sleeps the moment her head hits the eider) and Whiskey, who peeps when she sleeps was barely stirring. Even the traffic, 22 stories below, had seemed to take the night off and was hardly existent.

I set down to work, turning on the lamp over my chair and firing up my souped-up Mac. I am working on a number of longer writing projects—beyond Ad Aged—and I hoped to use these non-slumbered hours to some effect.

It was then I heard a slight chirping.

Was it a host of crickets emanating from Carl Schurz Park, two blocks away? No, it was not. The sound was coming from the top-most shelf of the shelves near the doorway, in a section that ran from Arendt to Chomsky.

I pulled over a small step stool and pulled down “Origins of Totalitarianism.” No cricket. “Between Past and Future.” “Eichmann in Jerusalem.” “On Revolution.” “The Jew as Pariah.” “Love and Saint Augustine.” No cricket.

I skipped over Martin Buber.

The chirping was coming from Chomsky. “Imperial Ambitions.” No. “Hegemony of Survival.” No. “Manufacturing Consent.” “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” No.

I could find the offending cricket nowhere. And yet, still he chirped.

Would he lead me to madness, like Poe’s Raven?

Was he chirping, in effect, Nevermore?

I tried, and you can guess how this turned out, to ignore the small chirps. But the more I tried, the louder they seemed to get. They annoyed like a dripping faucet in the next sink. All I could hear—over every noise in this world—was chirp chirp chirp.

I removed more books, dusty Mittel-European tomes the likes of which no one reads anymore. Finally, in a corner filled with the dust of flakes of broken off pages, I found my assailant.

Chirp chirp.

I cupped him gently in my hands and placed him in an old glass jelly jar. In the dark of a silent, except for chirping, night we walked together to the park.

Where I freed him to the freedom of urban grass and concrete.

Then back to my quiet.

Then back to sleep.