Saturday, February 27, 2010

Holding My Breath

In a previous incarnation I remember how we could smell Igor coming from six caves away. Caesar didn't have a lot of friends till he got his toga out of the dry cleaners. And I must tell you that Ivan the Terrible earned that name a month before his annual bath.

Ah, but now we live in a virtually deodorized society except for the new car smell and "medical" marijuana. It's as if we have opened the windows and all the warm and fuzzy fumes went with the wind along with the stenches and stinks.

Fortunately room sprays can’t erase what has been imprinted within. To the extent we are walking computers many gigabytes of memory must be lodged in our nose. One deep breath and I'm ten years old back in Gishkin's candy store, the air thick with his cigar smoke and bubble gum.

Think of Staples, Big Five and the magazine section of Borders compressed into a large closet of a place jammed with baseball mitts, football needles, roller skates and skate keys, colored chalk, hockey pucks and model airplane kits along with that hallucinogenic glue. There was a section of school supplies including three-hole notebooks and such relics as reinforcements and ink eradicator.

Did these objects emit some strange odor? I say, Yes, just as the comic books and newspapers thrown from the truck left a vapor trail which found roomn a previous incarnation I remember how we could smell Igor coming from six caves away. Caesar didn't  for pipe tobacco and the ever-present egg-cream famous for containing neither egg nor cream.

My second inhalation brings me to my father's drug store with its mingling of three incongruous scents and an overhead fan to triturate the mix like a mortar and pestle. First was the twelve-seat soda fountain with accompanying sandwich board. So we had tuna fish and egg salad wafting over to the Evening In Paris perfume. Into this add the breath of crude drugs such as Cocilana syrup, wild cherry extract, smelling salts and acacia from the glue bottle.

Tincture of benzoin and oil of eucalyptus last whiffed in the vaporizer, spirit of camphor and Cheracol are now gone or fallen into disrepute. Several of these may be unknown today but were staples back then. Some were pungent, some near rancid or sulfurous; they all cling to my nostrils.

This is the arcane fragrance I associate with my father. He brought it home with himself every night. Arpege and Aqua Velva are still with us and even marshmallow frappes but many of the botanicals have vanished and that special confluence of drug store air has been gone for over half a century.

I doubt we will ever smell it again. Those of us over sixty have it warehoused in our olfactory where it never grows stale. It's safe there and easily retrieved. But how can we pass this on to our children? It’s part of the trade-off called progress.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Long And Short Of It

I went on a diet last summer and lost height; part of the shrinking and shriveling we do on our way to dust. It’s fine with me. I was tired of being 6ft. 1. Compression gets me to about 5 ft. 11, still above the national average.

Mickey Rooney was once asked how, at 5ft. 2, he got all those statuesque woman (eight wives). He said that he lied about his height.

Movies are illusion and actors part of that lying camera. Al Pacino at 5ft. 6 looms larger as does Sylvester Stallone at 5ft. 7 Bogart at 5ft. 7 never looked shorter than Lauren Bacall at 5ft. 9 or Ingrid Bergman an inch taller than that. Did they put Bogey on a platform or his leading ladies in a hole?

Why are you telling me all this??

Tall trumps short in our national consciousness whether we know it or not. Since 1900 the only shorter candidate elected president over his taller opponent was Richard Nixon and his nose was considerably longer than Pinocchio’s. If you bet on the tall guy you’d have won every other race. I doubt if Danny De Vito will ever occupy the oval office.

Very few people know that our Founding Fathers played basketball with Jefferson at center (6ft.3), Washington (6ft. 2) & Monroe at forward and Madison and Adams in the backcourt. One might say that T.J. was a tad more equal than anyone else but I would never say that. Nor would I say that he had leaps of faith or G.W. was a great rebounder from his early defeats. Jimmy Madison was a mere slip of a lad but constitutionally sound and Johnhy Adams, the first Boston Celtic.

So what are you dribbling on about? Make your point. I’m getting bored with all this.

Hush, I’ll think of something by the bottom of the page.

Speaking of that starting five, it has been said that the four Virginia planters were not only bred and fed well but more importantly were wed and bedded well. Think of Martha, Sally and Dolley not to mention Elizabeth Monroe who rescued Lafayette’s wife from the Bastille. And then there was Abigail.

But I’m losing my thread…if I ever had one.

Maybe the point is if you are Napoleon you may well have a Napoleonic complex. And if you are Karem Abdul Jabaar you can’t buy your clothes at Ross Dress For Less but there are other slam dunks awaiting you. Every height has its compensations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hold Some Of My Calls

I’m under the gun. I’ve put away my bathroom book, my bedside book and four magazines. It’s Sunday and only 72 more hours to memorize the Motor Vehicle Manual. Wednesday 11:30 is judgment hour. I won’t peek at the newspaper or check my email. I even refuse to read my cereal box. .

I’m stuffing my cranial space with such essentials as the distance it takes a big rig to jack-knife on the 405 under black ice conditions. Or a six axle truck to brake traveling in the fog on a snowy four-lane divided highway with an iPod stuck in the driver’s ear. Or how to make a U-turn with a U-Haul from a one-way street when your horn gets stuck in a hospital zone.

The numbers are free floating in my brain; was it 30 seconds and four hundred feet to report the sale of a car or…..? How does anyone pass this test?
Monday afternoon and I'm beginning to panic. I'm traveling back 57 years to a big exam in college when cheating was almost expected.

150 in the class and all but a handful of us in fraternities. We formed our own quasi-frat. The tests were numbered and the Greek clubs had the answers. After the exam a fellow came up to me and said, "You are Wolitsky, aren't you?" When I told him NO, I'm Levine, he said, Damn it, I just copied the whole test off you." I told him not to worry, I copied from Wolitsky.

But I digress! I have no expectation of running into Wolitsky at the DMV. So now I am purging my head of all extraneous matter to make room for this new data. There goes my old phone numbers, words to a few Gilbert & Sullivan standards and everyone in my elementary school class, I'm tossing away some Latin names from the pharmacopeia of 1950, long since fallen into disrepute. And there goes the roster for the pennant winning St. Louis Browns of 1944.

Tuesday evening with uncluttered head I'm checking old driving tests found on the internet. Aside from a couple of puzzlers the questions are all common sense. There's hope for me yet. Maybe I won’t stop at every corner and get out to look for trains. All I have to worry about now is the eye test.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Those Teed Off Tea Baggers

Certainly not my cuppa. In what waters are they steeping? What are they thinking, presuming they are thinking at all?

Angry?, to be sure. Palinoids?, with no triple digit I.Qs, no question. Libertarians? who want to pay no taxes except for traffic lights, prisons, libraries, parks, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and anything else they might , in their lifetime, find useful. Racist; they do appear to be monochromatic? Corporate-funded, they do have that whiff about them? Come with me to their family tree.

Of our last dozen presidents, seven had no male heirs. Only a bit unusual but if any were like Henry the 8th, some heads would be rolling. We’ve come a long way. Now one wonders whether Chelsea or Malia Obama might one day take their father’s place.

Among our first five presidents only one (Adams) had a male heir and he became our 6th president. In those days it was a major concern that our country not create a dynasty. The monarchial system was devoutly to be avoided. From our inception we have defined ourselves as a nation suspicious of tyranny.

After our successful revolution, we remained a confederation of sovereign states with conflicting interests and laws. It took five years after our victory to band these former colonies together as an indivisible nation with a single constitution. Such was the resistence to a central government.

Ideological battles were waged between Hamilton and Adams, the Federalists, and Jefferson & Madison, the anti-Federalists. It came down to Al versus Tommy with Georgie steering a path above it all and Johnny and Jimmy finding some middle ground.

Gradually the names disappeared but not the fault lines. Jefferson put aside his anti-government bias and muscled his way along with the acquisition of the Louisiana territory which doubled the size of our country and expanded the executive power beyond anything specified in the constitution.

In the same way, John Marshall, as chief justice of the Supreme Court exceeded the authority of that branch of government. In 1803 his decision established the right of the court to strike down a state law as unconstitutional.

I would argue that the anti-government rhetoric, particularly from the Virginia planters, was disingenuous from the start. Such oratory was designed to fever the minds of the disenfranchised rural poor who never met a scapegoat they didn’t love to hate. It also ensured the continuation of slavery and later the poll tax.

Indeed, certain elements in the New England states also threatened secession when their interests weren’t being served. Opposition to a strong central government has long been a self-serving voice disguised as populism in the hands of demagogues. It's always easier to inspire hatred of something far away.

In fact a case could be made that Washington is the privileged few's best friend. The federal government supported our railway system with huge giveaways. It is Washington that subsidizes agri-business today as well as enormous defense contracts. War itself is an extension of foreign policy intended to extend and/or defend American business interests.

The Libertarian / Tea Baggers have swallowed the old slogans of these interest groups misdirecting their rage. Their antecedents are not the patriots in Boston harbor so much as the trampled-upon poor, both urban and rural, who have suffered by the inequities built into our system.

The power of repetitive lies has transformed the role of government to something demonic; as if the word itself cannot be uttered without, big in front of it and bureaucracy exists only in public institutions. The corporate world has won the battle of words. To transform their greed into a battle cry of the under-served is their greatest accomplishment.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Olympics

The opening ceremonies were so spectacular I sometimes wish they’d cut directly to the closing ceremonies with an exhibition or two in between. Instead, after expressions of camaraderie, we get fierce competition provoking nationalism, grudges and divisive rivalries.

In spite of a general disinterest in most events I watch along with an expected global audience of two hundred million. I become an avid fan fixed on these athletes who soar and swoop and leap and loop in sports I’ve barely heard of. I even cultivate a sudden and short-lived enthusiasm for such alien pastimes as curling, biathlon and downhill mogul. If I learn the difference between a double axle and triple lutz I’m sure I’ll forget it before the next Olympics.

I’m caught up in ice dancing and snowboard competition but can’t work up much enthusiasm for the luge except relief when it’s over and no one else has met his maker at ninety mph.

Is anyone else bothered by the perfection we ask of these young men and women? The winners all have perfect teeth and the losers lay soft-boiled eggs, They all look great to me. But a bobble here and a wobble there and they’re dead meat. Is it right that teenagers should live in slavish servitude to their event and then return home humiliated because they didn’t nail the landing?

Bad enough that Sparta reigns over Athens for a few weeks. In the rush for gold the ice is littered with broken dreams but it’s the judges who frighten me most. They have those jaundiced eyes that see only faults and give me the heebie-jeebies. Dare I eat a peach?

When I cut the morning melon I can feel the eyes of the Bulgarian scorer all over me taking off points for my grip. Have I divided the sphere into four precise quadrants? Let’s get an instant reply and take out our protractors.

The next time I negotiate my shopping cart through Costco I must remember how those giant slaloms did it. But I’d better not try the speed bumps on the side streets at Olympian pace when the limit is 15 mph.

When the gun goes off for the speed skating sprint did I detect an ever so slight lunge? Tell me, what is the first bud in an early spring other than a lurch in response to the starter’s gun?

If I were a judge I’d give messy humanity it’s due. A misstep here, a blemish there. Satchmo’s rasp, the riff not on the page. Blessed are the slips and flops, the accidents that have gotten us this far as we stumble our way along. Hopi potters knew to make an imperfection in their bowls so not to offend the gods.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Riverside Mission Inn

If your idea of a romantic getaway is a Motel-6 and dinner at Dennys don't go to the Riverside Mission Inn.

The town itself must have been named as some developer's hallucination. There's no river within fifty miles as far I know. The Inn is an extension of that hallucination. It started out as a couple of adobes built around 1870. By the end of the 19th century it covered an entire block with over 300,000 sq. ft. of enclosed space. It now has 239 rooms.

The Riverside Mission Inn became a destination for presidents since Benjamin Harrison in 1890. McKinley, Roosevelt and Hoover followed. When they built a special chair for Wm. Howard Taft's visit he was insulted. That extra-wide piece of furniture remains in the lobby.

The architecture might be described as early Mish-Mash. It combines California Mission with Moorish, a touch of Italianate, a drizzle of Spanish and even a pinch of Japanese. It's an assemblage of styles. It's a hoot. It's magical. The flying buttresses, bell tower, archways, mosaics, domes and a sky bridge transport one back to a time and place that probably never was.

Our room was a hexagonal, palatial chamber with arches up to a fifty foot ceiling. The balcony looked down on a tiled rotunda. Were we in the Alhambra or Florence, Barcelona or Istambul? All of the above.

We were bedded in a place where past luminaries had slept. To name a few; Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Redford, Newman, W.C. Fields, Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Rin Tin Tin.

Two giant macaws greet the guests by the garden entrance with a screeching HELLO. You pass them again as you leave. I don't think GOODBYE is in their vocabulary. And that's alright because once there you can never quite leave the place.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Dead And The More Dead

Some of our past presidents are less dead than others. Lincoln, for example, is still a growth industry. There have been 16,000 books about him; which averages better than two a week since his demise.

We have some about Lincoln’s love of Shakespeare, about Lincoln and Darwin (same birthday), how he built the log cabin he was born in.(that’s a joke, son) Books have popped up about Abe and the photographers who posed him, interviews with attendees that fateful night at the Ford Theater and an account of his Gettysburg Address from a young boy seated in the front row.

It could be said that Lincoln’s genius is he arrived at a time when he could become fully himself. Consider some of the lesser occupants of the White House who didn’t get the ink of a Lincoln possibly because they served at the wrong time; some who presided over a Depression or banking crisis. Here are a few names which will never be short-listed for Mt. Rushmore.

There was Benjamin Harrison, notable for being our last bearded president and the man who interrupted Grover Cleveland’s two terms. He was actually not a bad sort. Under his administration the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was enacted even though Teddy Roosevelt gets the credit. Harrison also pushed unsuccessfully for Civil Rights legislation. Electricity was installed in the White House for the Harrisons but they were so afraid of electrocution they often slept with the lights on.

Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry, held the office for a wink. He paid a heavy price for delivering a two hour inaugural speech in the rain to demonstrate that he wasn’t as old as he looked. Alas, he was and died a month later. His campaign motto, Tippicanoe and Tyler Too, claims a sentence in our history books but it was he who tipped over and Tyler took his seat.

When Martin van Buren was out of office in 1842 he traveled into the wilds of Illinois. One night the ex-president was welcomed at a farmhouse and for entertainment the hosts thought to summon a local man who could entertain their guest spinning more than a few yarns. The man was Abraham Lincoln and the two of them stayed up all night exchanging their tall tales. Someone might write yet another book about Lincoln as a stand-up comic.

James Garfield held office for about two hundred days, eighty of them near death. Shortly after assuming the presidency he drove his coach with a small party, including Lincoln’s son, Robert, to the railroad station which is now the National Gallery. They were on their way to his alma mater in Baltimore. He had no security team to protect him when he met his assassin. The highpoint of Garfield’s tenure was not anything he did but rather what was done to him.

Two dozen doctors were summoned to his bedside that summer of 1881 and they each reached inside his wound looking for the bullet. He lost 140 of his 250 pounds. When he died it could be said that half the prominent doctors in the old guard had a hand in it. Such was the state of establishment medicine in spite of the fact that Lister had already delivered his paper on antisepsis.

Martin Van Buren’s legacy is much more than the word OK., signifying Old Kinderhook, his hometown in the Hudson Valley. That word is used about two billion times a day around the world. Though I suspect, No Problem, is catching up.

For Van Buren, English was a second language. His family spoke Dutch; in fact for two hundred years they inter-married with the other five extended families in that Dutch town. He was instrumental in founding both the Democratic Party and, two decades later, the Republican Party. Most notably, he ushered us away froma rural society into an urban one.But the panic of 1837 denied him a second term and virtually erased his name from the chronicle.

We are an amnesiac nation. Each of the un-remembered is part of our lineage. Their place in the passing parade gives us clues into some of the fundamental issues still unresolved. We dismiss them at our risk with a hole in the tapestry as a consequence.

Friday, February 12, 2010


A simple thing as sleep. According to arithmetical wisdom, I’ve had about 25 years of it, give or take some nightmares and naps. Enough practice to get it right. But I did better early on.

The records will show I had no trouble as a baby. I sucked and wet and whimpered like any normal over-protected cry baby. I have no memory of worrying in the crib about the hard times. I slept through dust storms and breadlines.

Even as a good-for-nothing kid I didn’t stay up all night twisting and turning over Friday’s tests. Nor did I lose sleep wondering how I would ever get by in this world pimply, bashful and klutzy as I was. I could always count on the mattress to carry me away.

In the twilight of my pharmacy days I had some fitful nights re-filling every Rx from the day before, in my head. Not a prescription for easeful sleep and when I nod off it is straight into my recurrent dream in which I'm alone behind the counter during an epidemic, like Chaplin on the assembly line, never quite catching up. Phones ringing, babies crying, computer jammed. Did I just give Bert Martinson’s cough syrup to Marty Bertleson? or dispense Vytorin instead of Vicodin ? With sleep like this I’d rather wake up.

Why does it come unbidden in dark theaters? If that’s a melatonin rush, where have you gone, melatonin, when I need you? Where is my inner Chopin and his nocturne? I can carpe my diem but night cannot be seized.

Now in retirement I have forgotten how to do it. First close your eyes, then empty your mind. But my mind is already vacant. Ten minutes ago I was practically falling asleep on the couch. Somewhere between the living room and bedroom I lost my tiredness. I must remember not to brush my teeth or maybe brush three hours earlier. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. My itches are amplified. I’m losing some blanket. Why is that helicopter hovering? There goes a radio from across the street, a car alarm half mile away, a controversy of crows reclaiming whose woods these were.

I turn the pillow to the cool side. Try a Gummy Bear. Think about something soothing but boring, like a wheat field blowing in a summer breeze or petals falling from a cherry blossom tree. Or I might revert to my warehouse of sports trivia usually reserved for an MRI, like naming the Brooklyn Dodger team from 1941.

Come to think of it, maybe I have been asleep. It’s now 1:57 and two minutes ago it was 1:15. I must be awake and asleep at the same time. Now I can feel myself adrift but I have to pee. At least it feels like I do but I know it’s just my enlarged prostate. So get and go you fool. No, don’t go, you’re finally nodding off. Go! Stay! How can I sleep with all this interior noise?

Near-sleep has got to be worth something. I call it severe rest and have assigned it a value of 30%. If I sleep five hours and stay in this semi-state for three I claim six hours of sleep. But who’s counting?

Could this be the famous lunar pull getting its revenge on me for not honoring its sabbatical in retrograde? Or perhaps I’ve just used up my sleep quotient and I’m doomed to stand sentinel for the slumbering planet.

I have my own essential dreams yet to be dreamt. Sleep, you genius of montage, take me. I’ll get my gossamer wings from the closet. Launch me weightless to nightly lunacy where all my shards can be re-assembled in a coded collage, too important to be left to waking hours.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Eros Day

To the jaundiced eye (not mine) pizza and beer are to the Super Bowl as flowers and chocolate are to Valentine’s Day. These people (certainly not I) see the two holidays as inventions of commerce. But they confuse cause with effect.

As holidays go I rank Valentine’s Day the most important. Above dead presidents, pseudo-religious observances which are really tied to seasonal changes and all those other occasions which are nothing more than three-day weekends.

Why not set aside a day for Eros? Too bad we need a nudge to remind us but the wake-up call can’t hurt. If Hallmark cards are a beneficiary, so be it. It is a paradox that two of my favorite words, poetry and love, have so few correlatives to express their many varieties and nuances. Was there ever a more over-used, exhausted, yet essential, word than love?

Consider love as desire, as intimacy and life force. Or agape (unconditional, sacrificial). Or filial love, or I love pumpkin ice cream or I love it when Kobe hits that jumper, or my country, love it or get outta here.

Now I want to take issue with Tolstoy who famously said, in the first lines of Anna Karenina that, “All happy families are alike, each family is unhappy in its own way.” I would argue that happiness has as many varieties each with its own story. And furthermore that it is much more challenging to write about love and happiness than about depression, despondency, despair or demented behavior. This is a paucity of our language and perhaps a consequence of Puritan inhibitions.

Love is the answer. It’s in the air. It’s here to stay.

Speak low, darling, speak low
Love is a spark, lost in the dark, too soon.
We’re late, darling, we’re late
The curtain descends, everything ends, too soon.

Eros was born of Aphrodite. He was called Cupid and shot his arrows randomly, spreading the good news, mating first with Psyche and then with Chaos with whom he created birds. Not a bad run for the chubby archer.

For Peggy and me Valentine’s Day is an exchange of poems, of reminisces where we’ve been, how we met and continue to meet each day. It is the opportunity to let flow that torrent of affection, to enter into a safe unknown; not to trespass but hold the mystery of each other.

Here we are on the couch, nose in books, feet at each other’s face. I can feel when her eyes lift from the page to read me, our silence on every line. So much passes between us, a thirst quenched from some enormous gourd we have scooped out together.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Such A Mechanism

Never again do I buy furniture to be assembled. When I look at directions I break out in a rash. I know I’m in trouble when they are written in French and Japanese and even the English is not one I’m fluent in.

I empty the pre-cut wood on the carpet and then open the plastic bag of screws, nuts, dowels, nails, pins and handles. Step one says to tap the hinge pins in the top panel. An hour later I think I’ve figured out which of eleven pieces of wood is the top panel. What would hurt if they labeled it as such? And by the way what’s a hinge pin?

Already I’m thinking of inviting friend, Dave, over for spaghetti dinner, and while you’re here, Dave could you give me a hand with this simple cabinet.

No, this time I’m going to fight my way through, even though my father gave me no coping skills to deal with it all. In fact he passed along whatever it is about my heritage that fumbles and bumbles with all things mechanical. Ever since we built the pyramids we had nothing more to prove.

The word is inept but I don't want to over-sell it. I have had flashes of ept. I've mastered light bulbs and can change the paper toweling. I’m able to set our clock back in the fall but only indoors. Forget about the car.

Later the next day I’m finished. Don’t ask what those left over screws are doing on the floor. It’s not good but it’s good enough. Then I try moving it and one of the doors breaks off in my hands.

Never again. It’s not worth regressing back to seventh grade shop class where, if there were any justice in this world, I would still be; left back for the sixty-fifth consecutive year. I can almost see myself shaving yet another piece of wood to get it straight, square and smooth.

If I didn’t level those bumps and groves maybe its because I love the deckled edge. I let them rise and fall and damn the perpendicular. Sputters and stumbles were all I had and I wouldn’t give them up then or now, anymore than the moon could give up its craters.

Much as I enjoy the irregular life I do envy the guy with the DNA who peers unblinkingly into the dark, undaunted by hot wires or hard drives and fiddles knowingly past the bolt that fastens the levers upon which the universe pivots. These are the menders and makers. If the world went up in a poof they could do it all over again from a handful of dust.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Words, Words, Words

Without them we’d be babbling incoherently or bursting with ideas in silence. Words are oxygen, sun and rain. Too little and words become weeds. Add a squiggly “s” in front and we have sword. Insert an “l” in the middle and it’s a world. They are my world. I hope I never fall to earth in Czechoslovakia or even Chaucer’s England. Imagine our founding fathers puzzling over the jargon in Meet The Press.

I love the weight of words, their overtones, the baggage they carry and how weary they become or fresh when recombined. Words like any living organism thrive and then die. Think of all those which have been born or revived during our lifetime…rap, outcomes, drones, hard & soft ware, hip-hop, bop, bail out, gay, no-brainer, slam-dunk etc…

Most new words enter through technology or pop culture. Others are coined by journalists or just appear undocumented. You have to admire the folksy ones like flustrated (flustered & frustrated) or bodacious (bold & audacious).

Peggy and I like to mint new ones creating our own private language. Granulations for cereal, glumper for the small dish that holds a used teabag, and middle upness for a fitful sleep. Our favorite is linner which is to dinner as brunch is to lunch.

The OED is as fat as ever. The organism has no shortness of breadth. The 1989 Oxford English Dictionary contains 22,000 pages in 20 volumes with 2.2 million quotations. The word, set, lists 430 ways it is used.

I’m sure most of us have had the experience of looking up a word and forgetting it in twenty minutes. I think I’ve checked the meaning of fungible a dozen times but it won’t stick. Risible, is another one. Dare I use it incorrectly in a sentence and embarrass myself? More likely I’ll try it out on the page where I can’t feel the reader’s snicker.

Serendipity is one of those words that come to us by a circuitous route. It’s the Persian word for Sri Lanka and was first used by a British parliamentarian in mid 18th century referring to a fairy tale, The Three Princes Of Serendip.” It means finding agreeable things not sought for. Other serendipitous discoveries are Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Silly Putty, Slinky and inkjet printers. The phenomena would have been lost without the word to describe it.

Now that you’ve wasted your quality time reading this page you should leave with at least one new word to add to your lexicon or else you will live out your days not only impoverished but also complicit in the death of a perfectly good signifier. The word is, opsimathy. It is probably unrecognizable to Spellcheck having already been consigned to an un-marked grave. It means having come late in life to education. Let that be the last word.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Super Brawl

Baseball, Basketball and Football all occupy a place in my reptilian brain. Baseball has a claim as our pastoral game and Basketball, the urban sport but nothing bumps up the testosterone level as Football.

I’m glad we’ve devised ways to sublimate aggression and set aside next Sunday to ritualize our collective animus. This gives me time to get in touch with my schoolyard bully, my latent brute and killer-instinct. What about my lethal shoe which ended many lives in mid-crawl? There are still those among us who put stones in snowballs, obedient to a distant command, as if it meant tomorrow’s meat.

Some of us change into our jerseys, don the helmet and shoulder pads, sit on the couch talking trash while wolfing down pizza and beer as we grunt and curse the big screen. We have all afternoon to grow fur and fangs and slam the pillow. Un-cage the beast; let him snarl and breathe fire. Great catharsis, it’s bred in the bone.

This is what I tell my wife: Relax, its just family time together. 130 million folks in a shared experience. Look at the sportsmanshp. These are college kids having some fun.




Football is a game of strategy, play books and assignments. It’s a brainy game. All about camaraderie and finesse. If a 300 pound line-backer happens to pile on, it must have been inadvertent.

It’s just theatre, really, with padded men re-enacting that battle of the first rock assault on the first cave. Look at the winner with his end-zone swagger just like a caveman pounding his chest.

If we are hard-wired as such, war as theatre trumps war as war. Before the Super Bowl, Christians were fed to lions or we slashed each other jostling to feed our beast. Of course, now, we would never resort to such violence; we just invade countries or bomb them with pilot-less planes from air conditioned, underground, un-disclosed air bases on far-away continents.

But I don’t suppose that gives the same release as men get, fighting for real estate on a gridiron, a yard here, an inch there with the clock running. It’s about territory, don’t you see. Even while super-powers make much over their publicized summit-huddles it’s really about going for the bomb and scoring with a Hail Mary. As the late coach Vince Lombardi, who could have been a general, famously said Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing particularly if we have money on it, as we do on our civilized way of life.

There may never be an armistice for that war we've declarded upon ourselves.