Death and Regret

4 Sep

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We’re all full of shit. Or maybe that’s the wrong phrase. I was going to say inherently selfish but I’m not sure that’s the right one either. Perhaps self-centered is what I’m trying to say.

We all like to pretend we’re super important, that we have SO. MANY. BIG. IMPORTANT. THINGS. ALWAYS. GOING. ON. No time for anything. Or for other people.

And then, sometimes, we’re just downright lazy. Or insensitive. And maybe I should stop saying “we.” I’m talking about myself. These are things that I know I do and, quite frankly, to often.

Yesterday, Tuesday, at around 3 in the afternoon, I got an e-mail from my brother. It was a forwarded message, one that he had receive from Nicole, the daughter of our childhood babysitter. Her mother, it said, was “gone.” Her name was Mary Odell. She was 66 (you can read more about her background here).

Mary joined our family when I was about eight years old. Maybe even earlier. It’s hard to remember exactly when. What I do know is that she was with us for many, many years, formative and important ones, about ten of them I think. She watched me—and my younger brother, my only other sibling—grow up. Played a role in that process. A large one. There were the countless trips to swim lessons at the JCC and to various youth sports practices and games. Dinners cooked, talks had, moments shared.

Mary is the person who taught me how to drive and then, when my dump-of-a-car broke down, deal with mechanics. She’s the one who was there for me at home every day when, as a seventh grader, I fractured my femur skiing and was forced to miss six weeks of school. She’s the one who introduced me to Oldies, which were always coming out of the speakers in the car. She loved Elvis.

My mom has always worked crazy hours—walking through the front door at 10 p.m. is an early night for her—and while no one could ever replace her in my life, it was Mary who helped fill some of the void that those endless office hours left. It feels a bit weird to label someone as a second mother, but that’s what Mary was in our family.

I use the word was on purpose, and it’s here where I let Mary down. That’s not even a strong enough phrase. I failed as a human being. And in doing so I’m afraid that I might have helped allow a woman who once cared for me as if I was her own child live out her finals days, and then, this week, die, alone.

We never “retired” Mary from our family. Even when my brother and I were in high school my family kept her on. We knew she needed the money (she had been a widow for years and, while she had four kids, her relationship with each of them was, well, interesting, Also, none of them were in a position where they could financially support her.). More importantly, Mary was family. Our household wasn’t complete without her.

Then there was the stroke. It occurred while she was driving my brother somewhere. I was about 17 at the time. Mary never was a healthy woman; she smoked like Don Draper and had a soft spot for fried foods and chocolate. The stroke left her unable to speak clearly and she could no longer walk. That was about eight years ago. She never fully recovered. And we—or I—never treated her as part of the family, or with the respect and care that family should be treated with, again.

She got an apartment in downtown New Rochelle and lived there with an aid. I think I saw the place maybe five times. Maybe.

I was always busy, always had something that I needed do. Never mind that I went to college in New York and could have easily paid a monthly visit, or that I’m back in New Rochelle about twice a month. For some reason, though, I never made the effort, never even picked up the phone. I made a choice—that sleeping late was more important, and that working out was more important, and that watching a football game was more important. Yeah, I can try to rationalize, say things like, She never answered the phone few times I did try calling and stuff like that, but deep down, well, I know that’s a load of bull.

I got to see Mary one last time before she died. Earlier in the week we had been told she wasn’t doing too well and so we ran over to the facility that she was in. As we walked into her dark room, plastered with ugly beige wallpaper and devoid of fresh air, we were greeted with one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen.

That’s the smile I could have been bringing to Mary’s face for years. If only I put in a little more effort, if only I had had a wakeup call other than her death. I’m not sure why that’s how it seems too often go—that we remember people and share our true feelings about them only after they died. What I am sure about is that it’s not right. We can do better, we should do better.

I should do better. Mary deserved to hear how much she meant to my family before died. I’m not sure she ever did. I’d like to think she knew, but you just don’t know.

*  *  *

The picture above is of me (in the Jordan jersey), my brother and Mary. I think I’m eight-years-old there. Every year Mary would bring us to her house and take picture of us in front of her Christmas tree. Like I said, we were family to her.

Robin Williams Is Dead and It Makes Me Sad

12 Aug

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My relationship with Robin Williams is a bit different. I’m 26-years-old. I didn’t grow up watching him make the great Johnny Carson laugh uncontrollably on late night TV or  prance around in ridiculous outfits while making ridiculous voices on Mork and Mindy. 

The first time Robin Williams made me laugh I didn’t realize that it was Robin Williams who was making me laugh. It was just that big blue genie, who seemed to spit out a thousand words a minute, each one in a different pitch with a different accent. I didn’t understand half of it. It didn’t matter.

But there were lots of people and characters—some real, some fake—who made me laugh as a child. And and all of them hold a special place in my heart. I’m not old by any means. But, as I get a bit older, I do find myself appreciating more the people made me laugh when I was a kid.

The difference with Robin Williams, and what made him special, is that he was still able to make me laugh now, too. This—to be able to make both children and adults laugh at the same bits, and for different reasons—is a skill that very few comedians have. Mel Brooks is one who can. Right now I can’t think of others. Perhaps Bill Murray or Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy. Perhaps.

To this day, if I see Aladin pop up on the TV guide I’ll stop and watch. Every now and then I’ll put on “Prince Ali” if I want a good laugh. Mrs. Doubtfire falls into the same category. I loved it as a child and I can’t stop watching it now. This is a rare trait.

And of course there are all the other wonderful movies and characters he gave us. Good Will Hunting, which might be my favorite movie and where the therapist he played might be my favorite fictional movie character. Hook, which, as a child, was just captivating to watch. Good Morning Vietnam, which I only saw for the first time a few years ago and which quickly was added to my all-time list. Even  Jumanji, a film which, I just learned—I had never looked it up—was not critically acclaimed, but try telling that to 10-year-old me, who must have watched that movie a dozen times. It was one of the video tapes my family we owned.

And that’s just a few titles. There are so, so many more. So many more lines and voices and images to recall, to discuss, to share, to laugh at. Unfortunately, it appears that Robin Williams was only able to serve us—me—so much because he so unable to serve himself. Comedy, we’re often told, comes from the darkest or places. This seems to be another example.

I don’t really have a catchy ending, and don’t really care to put one in here. I’ll just leave off with this tweet that I saw yesterday, one which, to me, just seemed so perfect.

In Defense of Dan Le Batard and Fun

11 Aug

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So, I should start off by saying that I’m a huge fan of Dan Le Batard’s. I find him smart and interesting and funny and I find myself jealous of his writing ability. Perhaps all that makes me biased here. I don’t know.

Anyway, one thing I’ve kind of picked up from him*—and it’s funny that in today’s #HotTakes** world this is now something you sometimes need to reacquire—is that sports are supposed to be fun. So simple, right? Duh! Sports are fun. Everyone knows that. Except we don’t. Just pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV or radio. Sometimes the sports talk is more serious than the political talk, which has for a reason made a decision to emulate sports talk, and now we have serious debates about whether Rex Ryan is a distraction and vaudeville ones about presidential candidates. The world is loopy.

*It also should be noted that irony of lamenting the rise of #HotTakes in a post like this is not lost on me. So it goes.

**I’ve realized that as a young writer/journalist, you, or I, end up picking up morsels from all the different people you admire. The trick, I guess, is to try to learn and absorb as much as you can while figuring out a way to, simultaneously, develop your own voice. I’m probably not as good at that second part as I would like, but that’s neither here nor there. 

Sure, every now and then events surrounding the games and the people that play them are important. There’s no denying that. And I certainly don’t subscribe to the theory (which was so eloquently once put forward to me by a Rabbi of mine who wanted to know how I could care so much about something that’s means so little) that the happenings in the sports world don’t matter, either. Just ask Cleveland whether the economics of sports matter or gay people whether Michael Sam matters—and those are just two recent examples picked out of a (metaphorical) hat.

Here’s where sports talk and how we consume sports flies off the rails, though—when we begin to think that the winners and losers and legacies are important. When debates about fan bases turn violent. Perhaps matter is the wrong word. I think what I’m trying to say is when we take these things too seriously.

I love sports, and am, obviously, all for caring about them. And I think the emotional connections and reactions that sports can create are fantastic and should be cherished. But I also find 99 percent of sports radio shows unbearable. The reason: everything is so SERIOUS! I’m not saying don’t discuss the games and have fun debates; I, like most sports fan, love talking about the greatest NBA teams of all time and where the Mets’ young pitching staff might stack up next year. But if someone disagrees with me I’m not going to go curse them, their mother, their children, their sister and their pet dog.

This is all kind of a roundabout—and probably not so clear—way of getting to Dan Le Batard and his decision to pay for the billboard you see in the picture above. That went up in Akron last week. You can read more about the story here. That this whole thing has become a controversy to give #HotTakes about is completely asinine. This was a radio host spending his own money to get his show some publicity. And to make the city that he’s made clear he loves—and the one who he, for all intents and purposes works for—feel like someone on the national stage has its back. This was all harmless. And, in my opinion, pretty funny.

Notice, there’s nothing critical in that billboard. No shots were taken. It’s a joke, and a good natured one.

It also got him and his show suspended.

Is it so hard to find games fun?

Hope, Finally

29 Jul


It’s been a while since I’ve felt this, and even longer since I said this out loud. Because of that, I’m kind of scared to. I feel like if I say it then it won’t be so. It’s been so long, though, more than five years, and it feels like even more, and so what the hell. Even if I do jinx things, they really can’t get much worse.

You see, yesterday I spent about twenty minutes on the phone with my brother talking about the Mets. That was during my lunch break. At night I spoke to my dad about the Mets for another ten minutes.

Both conversations were optimistic ones.

I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

It kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly, I can go position-by-position and see glimmers of hope, or at least competence at each one. This time last year I couldn’t even name the Mets’ starting lineup. But now…

Now they’ve got Travis d’Arnaud, who apparently has learned how to hit Major League pitching in his grizzled old age.

There’s Lucas Duda at first, who always had a great batting eye, and always showed signs of power, but now, since being give the opportunity to play every day, is putting it all together and seems like he could be one of the better hitting first baseman in the National League (as my dad said yesterday, Ralph Kiner always liked him so maybe we—the Duda doubters, a group that I was a part of—should have all known better).

Daniel Murphy might not be an all-star, even though he was an All Star, but he’s a professional major league hitter and a competent second baseman.

David Wright is David Wright, even if his numbers have fallen a bit.

Juan Lagares is one of the best fielding center fielders in baseball, and the hitting seems to be coming along, albeit slowly.

Curtis Granderson may be overpaid, but he’s still a starting outfielder, which is something the Mets haven’t had many of over the past few years.

And then there’s the pitching, which may cause me to go blind if I keep talking about it. Say Harvey comes back next year and at full strength, which, yes, is a big IF, but nowadays not something that shouldn’t be expected, either. So you’ve got Harvey at the 1; Zack Wheeler (24 year old with a FIP of 3.47 this year and striking out a batter per inning) at the 2; Niese at the 3; and Jacob deGrom (the Mets lead the league in lower-case “d”s at the front of last names)— a 25-year-old who, in his first 87 innings in the major leagues has struck out 83 batters and has an ERA under 3—Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and some other cheap veteran who they can sign in the offseason rounding out the rotation.

And not to mention you’ve got 21-year-old Noah Syndergaard dominating hitters despite pitching in the AAA version of Coors Field. Add in a bullpen, which is finally full of hard throwing  young ex-starters—such as Jenria Mejia, Jeurys Familia—instead of pricey vets, and which will also consist of Vic Black, maybe a healthy Bobby Parnell (who Sandy Alderson should have traded last year, but that’s for another time), maybe Rafael Montero, another talented pitching prospect the Mets have who, because of the guys in front of him, is probably headed to the bullpen, or another team (more on that in a bit) sometime soon, and what you have is possibly the best pitching staff in baseball.

Yep, I think I just went blind.

That’s a team that’s ready to compete next year (and yes, I know this year isn’t over but for the post-Madoff Mets it’s always about next year). It’s really only missing two players/parts: an everyday shortstop, and a corner outfielder who can mash. Add in those, and get a healthy Matt Harvey back, and suddenly, somehow, the Mets become legitimate World Series contenders.

I’ve made fun of Sandy Alderson a good amount over the past few years, and I still am baffled by how he handled the whole Jose Reyes thing (imagine if he traded him for a top hitting prospect; if he did, the Mets could be competing for a playoff spot this year), but when a man deserves praise you gotta give it to him.

Unfortunately, all this optimism is directed at next year. This year, well I’m afraid this year is lost. But as long as they keep trying, and Bartolo Colon keeps being really fat and pitching, then I’ll keep watching.

It makes the waiting more exciting.

As for Tulo and CarGo, well, I’m not sure yet.

Some Thoughts on LeBron

15 Jul

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On a plane to LA right now and had the urge to write so I decided to jot down some semi-coherent thoughts/rambles on LeBron. Also, I’m on a plane right now and can still use the Internet! I find this crazy, and felt like it was something that shouldn’t go to waste, even though this ride has been bumpier than (insert joke here).

I should preface all this by saying that I’m a huge LeBron James fan. I love watching him play, and I love how he plays. I love the way he embraces his place in the world, speaking up against Donald Sterling and in support of Trayvon Martin, in a way that Michael Jordan, he of the belief that “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” never did or would. I love how LeBron is becoming the Voice of NBA Players, and seems to be on a mission to do all he possibly can to help his constituency reclaim some of the agency that it lost in the latest Collective Bagraining Agreement.

So yeah, to say I’m a fan of LeBron’s would be fair. So when I say that I think he’s skating a bit right now, I want to be clear that I’m doing so from a room nowhere near where Skip Bayless sleeps.

Here’s my problem. Actually, there are a few things I’d like to take issue with, perhaps foremost being that by going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed Dan Gilbert to win, which pretty much goes contrary to all those praise-worthy actions I mentioned few paragraphs above.

NBA Owner Dan Gilbert is—how should we put this?—a petulant incompetent nincompoop—I love that word!—who, if not for the too-racist-to-call-racist Donald Sterling, might still hold the title of Owner Players Hate the Most. It starts with that letter, you know, the one where he pretty much called LeBron uppity. But it also goes deeper than that. Not only did Dan Gilbert cry after LeBron left for Miami the way a spoiled two-year old does when his toy is taken away, but he also made it his mission to take as many rights away from NBA players as possible.

It was Dan Gilbert who, during the NBA’s latest labor negotiations, was most vocal from the owners’ side about how the league needed to make a hard cap and take away the players’ ability to play with their friends. He got his way, which is the reason the Heat couldn’t built a better roster around LeBron in recent years and hey look what just dropped in Gilbert’s lap because of that.

It was Dan Gilbert who was most vocal about the need to reverse the Lakers trade for Chris Paul. To continue with the poor analogy from above, Dan Gilbert was the two-year-old who thinks that because he had his toy taken away from him, no other two-year-old should be allowed to play with toys either. And make no mistake—Dan Gilbert views the Cavaliers, and their players, as toys.

By going back to Cleveland, LeBron allowed this man to win. He allowed an owner who has gone through more GMs and coaches in the past four years than most teams do in a decade, to now find himself on top of the basketball world, about to see his team compete for championships and his pockets overflow with cash.

This is what LeBron left Miami for. More so, it might be the first time since his initial Decision that LeBron took the easy path. Which is funny, because when he did that last time the public crucified him; this time around there’s only praise.

Are we really sure that the ”I’m coming home” narrative is truly what’s at play here? Maybe I’m just cynical, but it kind of seems like he and his friends decided, for a number of reasons—which you can read about in other places—to head back to Cleveland, and then figured out how to best package the decision so that this time around there would be no vitriol.

LeBron just chose a younger team, and, covertly, lowered the expectation bar about three rungs. In Miami it was championship or bust every year for him; in his essay for SI LeBron went out of his way to say that he’s not thinking about championships yet with his new team. And no one seems to have a problem with this. I’m not saying he did anything wrong, but I also don’t see how you can argue that it’s not a man taking the easier route.

Again, I love LeBron. I still think he has a shot to be the greatest player ever, and I don’t know if there will ever be a player I enjoy watching more. And while I’m kind of disappointed in his decision to go back to the Cavs, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to make me route against him or turn into Skip Bayless. I just think it’s another example of how we’re all three-dimensional, and the reasoning behind our decisions—whether going home to help the hometown, or joining up with some superstar friends to chase rings—are never as simple as we pretend they are.

One last thought: I think there’s a fascinating study or piece somewhere in here on how absolutely crazy, and, one could say, simple-minded, sports fans are. All it took to come back to LeBron’s side was a well-crafted message. Nuance and looking at a story from all different angles is not the sports fans’ strength.

That Time I Blew off Timothy Geithner

2 Jul


Monday night and I was on my way home from work. I decided to take the scenic route to the Subway and walk a few extra blocks. I normally get on the Subway at 28th street but on this night I would walk north and get the 4 or 5 train at Grand Central instead. Sitting at a computer and in an office all day can make your body crave movement.

As I waited for the 4 or 5 train to arrive, a man approached me with a question. I was reading Jonah Keri’s latest on Grantland, which I pre-loaded on my phone so that I could read it while on the Wifi-less subway. The man wanted to know what stop the 4 train goes to after 59th street. He was thin and wore a tailored suit. There was a blond woman with him. He had a face that looked familiar, too, though I barely looked up from my Android phone to answer him.

“I’m not really sure exactly where,” I said, and this wasn’t a lie. I knew I had to get to east 86th street, and I knew this train would get me somewhere close to there. Whichever stop wound up being the closest would be the one I used. Of course, I didn’t say any of this to him. I think I mostly just grunted my answer and barely raised my eyes

The man asked the person standing to my right, another man who looked to be in his late 20s. He had a full brown beard and was a bit stocky. He was also wearing a baseball cap and shorts, and was also much more helpful, and polite than I.

“To 86th street,” he said, and that, apparently, was not the answer the man wanted to hear. He, and the woman, walked to the opposite end of the platform and waited for the local 6 train to arrive. A few moments later they were gone.

“Didn’t that guy look a lot like Timothy Geithner?” said the 20-something with the full beard.

That’s when it hit me—yes, it certainly did look like Timothy Geithner, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury, or, for those not up all the happenings of the economics world, the dude played by Billy Crudup in HBO’s Too Big to Fail.

“Yeah, it actually did,” I answered. “Funny call. I thought he looked familiar, too.”

I started to replay what had just happened. Had I just blown off the former Secretary of the United States Treasury because I was too busy reading something breaking down the first half of the Dodgers’ season? Eh, whatever, I thought, partly consoling myself. It probably wasn’t him anyway. No way I wouldn’t recognize that guy and that face and that forehead, and no way he’d be the kind of man who asks for subway directions.

“Was that just Timothy Geithner?” a dark skinned girl who had dashed across the platform said to me and the bearded man to my right. No one, in the history of the world, has ever dashed across a subway platform for a more boring reason. “I’m 99 percent sure that was him.”

Yeah, so apparently I pretty was rude to Timothy Geither on Monday. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud.

Awkward Moment

18 Jun

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I get my groceries, usually, at the Associated Supermarkets on Amsterdam Avenue a few blocks northeast of my apartment. It’s not the best supermarket, but the prices are decent, the selection is solid and, most importantly, they deliver.

In Manhattan, where you’re walking and not driving to grocery stores, this is, obviously, extremely helpful. It’s really the main reason I go to Associated. It’s pretty much a cheaper version of Fresh Direct and one that allows me to pick out my groceries in person.

But here’s the thing: I never really gave any thought as to how the groceries actually got delivered. I go to the supermarket, put them in my cart, pay for them, leave the bags there, go back to my apartment, buzz the delivery guy up Seinfeld style about an hour later, take the bags from him, give him a tip, and process complete. I always kind of looked at it like a hot dog—a wonderful thing but one with a curtain you don’t want to see behind.

Yesterday I saw behind that curtain. I think I’m going to be carrying my groceries home for a while now.

I paid the bill yesterday as I normally do, informed the cashier that I’d like to do delivery. She packed up the bags, told her supervisor and he sent over the delivery guy. He read my address and said something to the cashier in spanish.

“Is anyone home in your apartment now?” she asked.

I told her no but that I was heading there now.

“K, so he’s going to go back with you,” she said.

Um, this was not part of the plan. Never have five blocks felt so long. 90-degree heat, me walking with empty hands, on my right an older dark skinned man pushing my $100 worth of food in a shopping cart and following my directions home. I tried to fall back a bit, make it seem like I wasn’t guiding a servant carrying my stuff. I called my brother and my mother in a desperate attempt to visually distance myself from the image I thought I might be portraying, but neither of them had time to talk. I tried talking to him but his English was not very good. So I just walked.

Now, it should be said: I am, by no means, attempting to disparage this man’s work. A job is a job, after all. So maybe I shouldn’t feel bad. Maybe this is how this man makes a living for a family and me feeling guilty and subsequently changing my habit of getting my groceries delivered would actually do more harm than good. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Eventually we arrived at my apartment and I decided to give him a really nice tip. In hindsight, I think this might actually be something that portrays the exact image I was trying not to. Or maybe the fact that I’m worrying more about the image it portrays is also an example of me falling into one of those traps.

These are all deeper questions for a different time. All I know now is that I’ve seen how the hot dogs are made.


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