Thank You

Thank You

“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough” – Meister Eckhart (1260-1328).

I’ve written about the central place of gratitude in a life well lived, but haven’t carried the discussion to the expression of thanks.  Unspoken gratitude is an important part of self-reflection and necessary to living relatively free of resentment, but the act of expressing thanks has significance and reveals generosity of spirit in honoring those who have helped us.

So, two stories about thanks that mattered, both of which come about as the result of my wife’s initiative.

My wife is an exceptionally competent person and apparently has been from birth.  These days her expertise is primarily made manifest in her work with dogs and with the people who own them, but she remains as well an inveterate educator, a gifted teacher, intuitive and creative.  Generations of math impaired students have  recovered from math paralysis as she took the time to observe their work thoughtfully in order to find their particular difficulty with the subject.  In earlier careers she was an EMT and an athletic trainer, all of which is to say that she is particularly able to offer varieties of help in exceedingly diverse moments of crisis.

About twenty years ago, she returned home from an early morning dog training session in Santa Paula with a terrible story to tell.  She and our daughter had been driving into the rising sun, aware of the effect glare and intense flickering sunlight could have on drivers when they saw the car they were following begin to weave, then swerve, careening from one set of guard rails to the other, then spinning, rolling and crashing.  As the car began its erratic swerving, she called 911 and reported an accident in the making.  She slowed and put on her flashing emergency lights, alerting the cars behind her and pulled up behind the crash.  When paramedics arrived, she delivered a concise account of the events surrounding the accident and a detailed report on the man’s condition.  Based on her assessment of injury, she thought the driver was unlikely to survive.

I’d seen her leap into action as a trainer and EMT, of course and had been driving on a country road in Ohio years earlier when an accident took place in front of us.  I had still been gaping when she jumped from our car and quickly got to work.  I wasn’t surprised, then, when she told me of her early morning’s challenges.  There was a bit of adrenalin charge left for her even after the long drive home, but for the most part, ho-hum, just another day on the road.

The story I want to tell is about her, obviously, but more particularly about a phone call that came on Christmas Eve.  An unfamiliar voice asked if she had witnessed an accident on the lonely road to Santa Paula.  The driver introduced himself and described the critical care he had received following the accident; he had been placed in an induced coma for more than a month before much of the surgical repair could take place.  He had been driving home from a twelve-hour shift and had fallen asleep, coming to weeks after the accident had occurred; he had no idea of what had happened.  All he knew was that my wife had moved quickly enough to allow him to recover and enjoy another holiday with his family.

He had called to wish her a Merry Christmas and to thank her for helping him.  Not a big deal in the largest scale of things, but hugely important for him, for her, for his family and for ours.

Constant and kind readers will also remember that all of our dogs have been therapy dogs, trained to adapt to virtually any situation in order to be able to visit patients needing critical care in any sort of facility.  Step on their tails?  Not a problem.  Have a juicy hamburger on your tray?  Won’t touch it.  Hooked up with wires and tubes?  They find a way in for a snuggle without dislodging anything important.  These dogs have pretty much seen it all and loved it all.

They have other jobs as well as they are working dogs and often travel some distance to compete in dog agility trials or to act as ambassadors of goodwill from the canine kingdom.  It happened that my wife had packed them up and taken them to Long Beach, a considerable distance from our home.  They were to meet and greet anyone wandering by the border collie booth in the hope that those considering adopting a border collie would have had the chance to meet a couple up close and personal.  My wife was chatting with a passerby when two women approached, each teary and hardly able to choke out a greeting.  They had seen the dogs and came to give thanks.

Some years earlier, these very dogs had visited a hospital and spent a joyful half hour with an elderly woman who was particularly fond of beasts such as outs.  It was a good visit, similar to the thousands of visits they had made.  The women who had approached my wife in Long Beach told her that she recognized the dogs and vividly remembered their visit with their mother.  It had been hard for them to see their mother in pain as she neared the end of her life. She died no more than twenty minutes after the dogs had wandered to the next room, but they had seen their mother smile for the first time in months, soften, relax as the dogs competed for a place near a petting hand.  It meant the world to them that their mother’s last hour had included peace and joy.

They hadn’t known how to contact my wife or how to thank her, but thanks arrived, and those thanks matter as it happened that those great dogs died too young and too soon.  Now we remember them, and we remember the gratitude that they earned.

A few months ago I belabored the notion that it’s never too late to do better; let’s assume it’s never too late to give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

My Brain Is On The Clock

My Brain Is On The Clock

The NFL Draft captures the attention of 45 MILLION viewers, draws more than 70,000 people who attend in person, lasts for three days, and occupies the hearts and minds of the nation’s most erudite students of sports from the moment the Eagles hoisted the Lombardi Trophy to the moment Roger Goodell chuffs into the microphone to kick off the festivities.

Let’s think about this for a moment … starting with the 45 MILLION, many of whom  admittedly start out watching the draft but fall away somewhere around hour five.  Still, that’s an extraordinary number of people watching what is essentially football bingo.  Just to provide some perspective, slightly more than 18 million tuned in to see the Astros defeat the Dodgers in the last game of the World Series, the Cavs and Warriors averaged about 20 million last season, fewer fans than watched the year before, when the Cavs took the championship, almost 8 million follow professional bowling, and a mere 2.4 million ponied up $100.00 apiece to watch Floyd Mayweather fight Manny Pacquiao.

There are some interesting questions in any draft season, as there are this year.  Premium quarterbacks establish the success of a franchise and there is some doubt that this year’s crop has the goods.  The top four or five this season are decidedly less promising than some in other years, but, hey, someone has to take them, and at least two will go in the first round if not in the first five picks. Case in point -Josh Rosen. Jim Mora, controversial  former coach at UCLA, tossed Rosen, one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft and his former QB, under a bus by suggesting that as a privileged intellectual millennial, his passion for the game has to be questioned.  Rosen may not be a tough-town quarterback like Johnny Unitas or Brett Favre, but the NFL has welcomed a host of qbs from snappy backgrounds, all of whom could be modeling for Ralph Lauren in the off-season.  If the charge is that Rosen is too smart to stay interested in football, which is what Mora seems to have charged, the best quarterbacks on the field right now would be Chris Leak, now in the CFL,  or Terrelle Pryor, both of whom had single digit scores on the Wonderlic test.

So that’s interesting.

Then there’s Saquon Barkley.  Barkley, Penn State’s running back extraordinaire, is a true freak of nature and the most exciting football phenom since Barry Sanders.  Picking up almost 4000 yards and 43 touchdowns is noteworthy, but anyone who saw Barkley play knows that this guy can bust into daylight with or without an opening.  Rumor has it that Penn State really only had two running plays, which, if you have a Saquon Barkley, is really all you need.  This year’s hot question is whether an NFL franchise will use a top pick on Barkley, knowing the half-life of running backs is about two years and remembering that in the last two seasons top running backs came from the middle of the draft.  Several teams could conceivably pass on the most talented athlete in the draft.

So that’s interesting.

In red-hot franchise news, The Cleveland Browns,perennial doormats of the league, have a bunch of nifty picks and could conceivably jump-start a franchise that has been mired in misery.  The NY Football Giants face the inevitable replacement of Eli Manning and may chose to use their highest pick to land one of those three quarterbacks of questionable value.  Do the Giants take a last shot at a playoff with Manning or shoot the moon for the next franchise qb?  How many quarterbacks do the Broncos need this year?  The Jets … ’nuff said.  The Cards have a plan to keep Sam Bradford on the field for 16 games next season; it involves adamantium and homeopathic treatments in which his knees and ankles will be routinely hit with soft mallets.  Oh, so they could need to draft as well.

That’s pretty much it, so one wonders what will draw the millions to the event once again.  It’s been a while since the end of the football season, but colleges will be playing their spring games at about the same time, the NBA and NHL are starting to shape up the playoff slots, and baseball is in full swing (as it were).  Any excuse for a party?  Makes sense, at least on the sports bar and giant tv screen level.

This may be mere cynicism, or more likely the annual squealing of a fan whose franchise will be drafting nothing but interior linemen, but I suggest that the draft allows us, the uninitiated and unpaid fans, the luxury of second-guessing the analytics guys, the scouts, the coaches, the trainers, and team doctors.  I’ve already mentioned the Browns once; their draft history is so appalling that any of us could certainly have done a better job.  Will they self-destruct again this year?  45 Million people will be tuning in to watch it happen.  Want to make a football junkie drool in anticipation of juicy controversy?  Just trot out the list of top draft quarterback flops; it’s a catnip canape for fans of all ages.

Ryan Leaf (2nd overall),  Jamarcus Russell (1st overall), Akili Smith (3rd overall), David Klinger (6th overall), Tim Couch (1st overall), Joey Harrington (3rd overall), David Carr (1st overall), Vince Young (3rd overall), Jeff George (1st overall),

There are more serious issues to be considered in these parlous times; perhaps brains could be employed in service to other more pressing humanitarian efforts, but, no. Apparently we will once again clamor to see young men, only recently mud spattered and bloody, striding to the stage in thousand dollar suits to shake Commissar Goodell’s hand, jam on the ill-fitting team cap so that ears are flattened and spread, and flap a Cleveland Browns jersey with feigned glee.

If only there were some mechanism that allowed us to check the results with a quick scan of a screen, say, or even on the phone we carry in our pockets.  It’s essential, of course, to have the results in real-time as there are only three months between the draft and the first exhibition games.  I suppose we’ll all just have to settle in for the three-day marathon.marathon starting on April 26th.

My Baby, She Wrote Me A Letter

My Baby, She Wrote Me A Letter

Actually not my baby , or likely anyone else’s, a fiercely independent and highly intelligent friend from my boyhood/adolescence sent on a packet of letters I had written her more than fifty years ago.  She was my best friend’s girl, but one of the few people I trusted with my secrets, and so, I wrote her, more frequently than I had remembered;.

What I find in reading the letters, almost all of which were written when I was a junior in boarding school, is that I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to a friend willing to endure an endless stream of self-absorbed flotsam, and that in retrospect, I was a person I don’t like very much.

I would describe that person as jejune-superficial, naive, clueless, with an appalling insensitivity to those about him.  It seems I was also thoroughly deluded in my conviction that my letters bubbled with wit and wisdom.  The letters are abominably smarmy and self-congratulatory, and, worst of all, fatuous.  I fancied myself something of a writer but writhe now as I read my clumsy attempts to imitate the writers I admired.

Bouts of writhing arrive fairly frequently as I catch myself being myself, particularly as I  veer into grandiosity, but fortunately I experience the full-body writhe only intermittently.  I often think of a little known film, Defending Your Life, which presented Albert Brooks as a fussy, fearful advertising man killed in a car crash, stuck in Judgment City until his life has been evaluated by looking at video footage of his behavior on earth.  Now that is writhe-worthy.  Happily, footage of my life is unavailable for distribution and I am spared much evidence of my foibles and failures.

When such evidence does arrive, as it did with those letters, after the writhing has subsided, I have a chance to see myself, perhaps not exactly as others see me, but with some approximation of accuracy.  It’s not always pretty, hardly ever without some regret, but in that moment I’m given an opportunity to re-size myself, change my perspective, and fish around in the slag heap of my rarely used attributes to find a sense of humor about my inflated sense of self-importance.

OK, Humor.  Check.  This is the necessary step in moving beyond fascination with my own past to the better and more transformative appreciation of kindnesses done me by a host of folks who had lives of their own to patch together.  I am not sure where gratitude goes when it slips away, but I know that my operating system starts to run rough without it.  In my experience, there is an interesting and unexpected inversion in the gratitude self-pity formula.  Whereas it is commonly believed that we can easily absorb a thousand compliments but dissolve when encountering a single criticism, I find that the grumbleverse has little hold on me if I can muster even shards of gratitude.

My son’s middle school had a motto worth repeating.  “When in doubt, go with gratitude.”

So, I look at that pack of letters, consider the care and effort it took to read them, respond to them, save them for a half-century, and return them to me with a kind note reminding me of our friendship, and I am nudged, once again, into grateful appreciation of the people who have been so generous in their kindness to me.  Unlike self-pity, which goes nowhere, gratitude not only provides perspective but also jump-starts my resolution to pay it forward.  While I still have a reasonable idea of my place in the universe, it makes sense for me to lend a hand when I can.

It will seem I digress, but I do have a point yet to express as I remember a documentary recently aired as part of a public television fund-raising marathon.  It’s You I Like is a tribute to Fred Rogers, an authentically kind and decent man with a rare capacity for honesty and courage and an appreciation of children as children that we will likely not see again.  Any of his observations are best heard in his own voice, of course, but I’ll pass one along as the coda of this piece:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I’m grateful to the helpers.  Even in scary times, they are all about us.  I’m feeling grateful today.  Maybe I’ll have a chance to be a helper.

 

It is never too late to do better

It is never too late to do better

I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say, “I just want to live without any regrets”, which is a pretty tall order, given that most of us inevitably chunk up from time to time, missing a chance to be kind, taking a shortcut that injures someone else, maybe even doing things we had vowed we would never do.  Memory of those things done which we ought not to have done and those undone we ought to have done can weigh heavily upon us at times, and regret usually creeps in, often unacknowledged and always unwelcome.

Regret does not feel great, particularly if it’s the sort of regret that is tinged with shame.  It’s one thing to wish I had invested in Microsoft and another to remember acting selfishly or dishonestly.  Leaving my wallet in the men’s room makes me feel stupid ; not visiting a dying friend makes me feel worthless.  There could be a thousand reasons for having made the wrong choice, and I am inclined to find any one of them which allows me to tuck that regret away, out of sight and seemingly out of mind.  Apparently, however, my mind is a stickier place than I might wish.

It’s troubling; not only does justification and self-deception take a lot of energy from virtually every interaction we have with the world in the present, it doesn’t attend to that feeling of worthlessness or shame that kicked off the whole process in the first place.  I’m going to skip a couple of steps here in the interest of getting somewhere.  Moving beyond regret requires moving into regret just long enough to see things for what they were, acknowledge our part with as much honesty as we can bear, and then do something that does have worth.

It’s easy to say that all we need to do is to get honest and act as honest people do; I guess if it were easy, we’d all do it all the time.  Getting to honesty is necessary in order to move on, and although that’s an important issue in its own right, I’m moving on to regret.

The best advice I ever got came from my wife on a night when I had chunked up most spectacularly.  Her advice to me was succinct:  “Just don’t make it worse.”  It was necessary advice because shame feels really crummy and my first impulse is to do SOMETHING, anything,  to obscure the reality of the situation.  When we have made a mess, it is necessary to take action, but first we have to stop making a mess.  We don’t have to find a different mess; we have to look at the mess we’ve made and change our behavior.

And then?  The past being past, there’s a great deal we can’t undo.  We said what we said; we did what we did.  The suggestion that it’s not too late to do better is essentially a way of paying backward by paying forward.  We work to find a second chance, a do-over.  Not absolution or a free pass.  No, I’m suggesting circling back and taking a second swipe, trying a better, kinder behavior than the one we’ve come to regret, taking the time to attend to a task we had chosen to avoid. We can’t change yesterday, but there is the outside possibility that we can do something about today.

Rather than dropping into a litany of things I deeply regret, I’ll use a relatively benign regret as an example: For years I considered an annual retreat and dinner with colleagues one of the great afflictions pressed upon me by an uncaring universe.  I worked with these people every day; I knew their foibles all too well and had heard their disjointed and indefensible opinions for years.  The event promised nothing but pain, and, being an equal opportunity curmudgeon, I growled to my wife in advance of dinner, pouted and isolated myself during dinner, and then subjected my wife to higher grade growling when we got home.  Grrrr.  Life is rotten, etc.

Year after year, I dreaded the evening, and I had also come to not like myself very much as the glum growling guy in the corner.  I didn’t want to be resentful and cranky; I had to do something.  Jumping to the unlikely insight that I might have something to do with the quality of my experience of other people and regret my small-minded and unnecessarily alienating behavior, I decided I had better act like a grown-up, if only to see if it made a difference.  Against all odds, I determined to change my behavior and my attitude.  My attitude, unfortunately, lags behind my behavior.  I pretty much have to act as if I am a better person in order to start thinking like a better person.  Yeah, attitude lags behind a bit.

Good thing I had the opportunity to grab a do-over.  Annual retreat and dinner arrived again, that being the way of annual things.

Instead of trying to sit as far from conversation as I could, I plunked down between two colleagues to whom I had not shown much respect.  I was determined to make the evening as pleasant as possible for them.  I took the obvious (to a grown-up)  path; I asked them about themselves.  I listened to what they said and asked follow-up questions that allowed them to speak in greater detail about the fabric of their lives.  I asked and asked and asked until I found myself authentically engaged in the stories they told.  We have not become best friends, but I identified with many of the challenges and triumphs in their lives and saw them as people rather than tedious annoyances.

Oh, and I had a great time and came home happy, eager to tell my wife how much I had learned in the few hours I’d had with folks we’d know for a long time.  I hadn’t made things worse, I hadn’t stacked up a new pile of grievances, I’d practiced being a better person than I had been.

Not only did I feel much better, I learned that it is a gift to try to see a person and to hear the story they have lived.  Huh.  People can be interesting if you give yourself a chance to see them; what a concept!   As do-overs go, it was a very manageable task.  My experience is probably not much of a guide as opportunities to find do-overs pop up at alarming rate for me, a function of all those things left undone, I guess.  But still, I can summon patience in the check-out line at Target if I can imagine that the person in front of me probably also has a life to get to , I can summon kindness when giving up a parking space if I can assume that I’m not only one in a hurry, and I can even summon appreciation when unearned gifts come my way if I can imagine that someone has taken the time to think of me.

Grown up?  Not yet, but coming closer, one do-over at a time.

 

UConn

UConn

I’m writing today about women’s basketball, and you know that because “UConn”,  the title of the piece, now brings to mind women’s basketball, but the remarkable accomplishment of a team from a relatively small and absolutely unheralded Northeastern university speaks to more than the Huskies’ dominance in the sport.  Most recent conversation about UConn has been about the danger of a single team’s prominence and its stranglehold on the national championship, even though a feisty Mississippi State team knocked UConn out in the Final Four last season, an anomaly that did not silence the debate.

“Is UConn bad for women’s basketball”?  Back and forth like a series of turnovers at midcourt.

Here’s the thing:  If you have to ask the question, the answer is there wouldn’t be a conversation about women’s basketball without UConn’s transcendent legacy.

Have women’s collegiate sports come of age, particularly since the implementation of Title IX?  Absolutely?  Are women’s sporting events as well attended as men’s?  Not usually, or almost never with a few significant exceptions.  US National Women’s Soccer game tickets may be hard to come by, and final matches at the US Tennis Open are up by more than 30% as more than 690,000 attended in person, in part because American women in addition to the Williams sisters have moved up the ranks.  The highest attendance of any US women’s professional team belongs to the Portland Thorns FC of the NWSL who have averaged about 13,000 per game and a high of 17,653 last season.  In the WNBA, the highest numbers showed up for the 2000 All Star game in Phoenix (17,717) and for the final game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Atlanta Dream(15,258).

At the collegiate level, the University of Utah Gymnastic team leads the pack with an average attendance of 15,000, although as many as 15,600 packed into an arena with a capacity of 15,000 to see the Red Rocks take on the Bruins of UCLA.  The next contender is also a gymnastic program, at the University of Alabama, averaging more than 13,000 per game.  Where’s UConn’s women’s basketball program?  Behind South Carolina, Tennessee, and Iowa State.

So, bad for women’s basketball?  Apparently not, and here’s the argument that carries the most weight.  Although there may not be parity in women’s basketball, and although UConn blows out teams like St, Francis in the first round of the tournament by a score of 140 – 52, leading the St. Francis Red Flash by 94 – 31 in the first half, every televised slamma-jamma-fast break- three point-outlet pass victory brings more viewers to the sport, more attention to the game, and more intensity to the coaching and training of female high school and collegiate basketball players.

Tennessee held the crown for decades.  Coached by Pat Summitt, one of the toughest and most revered coaches in any collegiate sport, the Lady Vols have appeared in all 36 tournaments, 34 Sweet Sixteens, and 18 Final Fours.  In 1988-99, a year in which they won a National Championship, the Lady Vols went 35-2.  Other programs, Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Stanford, Notre Dame have risen to join Tennessee as contending programs in any year, and any of them could conceivably beat UConn as Mississippi State did last year.

But UConn’s women hold the top two longest winning streaks in collegiate basketball, winning 111 consecutive games from 2014 to 2017 (buzzer beater loss to Mississippi State) and a streak of 90 games from 2008 to 2010.

111 consecutive games.  What talented young woman would not want to be a part of that dynasty?

Coach Gino Auriemma arrived in Storrs, Connecticut in 1985.  I grew up in Connecticut, and I can find Storrs on a map, but I would bet that most of my readers would need some help to pinpoint the Mecca of women’s collegiate basketball.  Storrs is a sleepy town in the agricultural northeast of the state with a population of about 15,000, and UConn was one of the New England state universities that enjoyed brief flashes of celebrity as one of the men’s basketball teams bounced out of the American Conference and into the limelight.  Julius Erving took the University of Massachusetts to prominence at the end of the 1960’s, and John Calipari and Marcus Canby resuscitated the program in the early 1990’s.  It was UConn’s men who first brought attention to the university winning the NCAA championship in 1999, but by 1995, the women had climbed to the top as well, defeating a Pat Summitt coached Tennessee team with the help of Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Jennifer Rizzotti, Nykesha Sales, and Jamelle Elliott.  The strength of both programs allowed UConn to become the only college to sweep the tournament with both men’s and women’s teams, in 2004 and 2014.  The men rank sixth all-time in NCAA tournament success, but few of us mark the calendar to watch them play.  Even fewer tune in the hope of seeing them lose.

And that’s where I think the UConn women’s team has had a salubrious effect on the quality of the game as a whole.  They face some strong competition during the season of course, but for every other team, the UConn game is THE game of the season.  Not only does UConn make regular season basketball compelling (and few teams do), they push every opponent to the highest level of their game.  The game is elevated, the stakes are high, and the sport becomes a topic of conversation as is true of no other women’s sport.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, UConn plays superb team basketball.  They shoot threes with the best of the best, but also speed in transition, steal a lot of balls, find the open player, grab rebounds, play killer defense, and never stop scrapping.  They play an elegant, furious version of basketball that reminds me why I love the sport.

Last season’s team had lost outstanding players, played younger, and had to scrap a bit harder.  The loss to Mississippi State ended the streak, but pushed both Mississippi State and South Carolina into greater public attention and brought heightened drama to the current season.  In regular play, the Huskies were 16-0 in conference this year and 19-0 against teams outside the conference.  Maybe not all that much drama.

They face South Carolina tomorrow and, should they move along, either Mississippi State or UCLA in the final game.  I watch golf when Tiger plays and I watch basketball when UConn plays.  I’m hoping they keep this streak alive, race to the finish and play basketball as basketball was meant to be played.

Go, Huskies!

Waiting … Waiting

Waiting … Waiting

To set the scene – this is the waiting room in our local hospital’s imaging center, the place where women undergo Sonography, 3D Digital Mammography, Computer Aided Detection, and Stereotactic Breast Biopsies.  It is a clean, well lighted place; the chairs are reasonably comfortable, and the decor is unremarkable.  Women of an age come and go, checking in, sitting for a few moments, rising quickly when called.  Most are alone.  My wife was scheduled for a host of tests, some of which could indicate a need for more invasive testing, so I wanted to be on hand, just in case.  The very good news is that at the end of the morning, my wife emerged with a great report card, off the watch list for another year, and ready to celebrate with a pancake breakfast.  Good news, much relief, and an entirely successful four hours very well spent.

The only glitch was that I had forgotten to bring my computer or my Kindle, so for those  few moderately anxious hours I worked my way through the center’s magazines, moving from stack to stack as seats emptied and the next pile became available.

About an hour into the magazine maelstrom, it occurred to me that someone deep in the bowels of the administrative wing of the huge medical center of which this office is but a tiny adjunct must had invested a fair amount of time in selecting these subscriptions. These were freshly published magazines, not cast-offs. not rumpled, coffee stained shards of magazines from which recipes has been torn; these were current, obviously curated and kept up-to-date.  And there were a lot of them.

Sure, some were the celebrity stalking, quasi fashion magazines I regularly see in the check-out line.  I have learned to be grateful for the chance to scan covers, moving from the hard-to-reach  at the top of the racks (People, Oprah) to the in-my-face middle ranks  (US, In Style, and my favorite, OK).  Thanks to OK I know that “Meghan’s Baby Is On The Way … Already!”, and I find out that Leah escaped from Scientology.  I have to admit that I’m not on a first name basis with celebrities, but I’m happy for Leah. Thanks to People, I can join mainstream conversations about the Bachelor Betrayal – “I made  huge mistake … I had to take a risk”.   The lines are long, the wait interminable, nothing’s moving, and I can take the time to check in on cultural trends about which I would know nothing. It could be so much worse as the nation’s most widely circulated magazines do not show up next to the impulse buying candy rack and would not so generously broaden my cultural horizons.  The top three, AARP The Magazine, AARP Bulletin, and Costco Connection may one day perch above the Paydays and Peanut Butter Cups, but even an aging America may not be ready yet.

It’s not surprising to find some of these in a medical waiting room: People, Good Housekeeping, Home and Garden, US, Family Circle, Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated.  Not surprising, but perhaps foolhardy as doctors’ offices lose something like sixty million dollars in stolen (ok, “borrowed”) magazines a year, particularly those that are gossip, fashion, or sports related.  Apparently Forbes, the Economist, and Smithsonian live to see another week or month on the table.

The office in which I wait, however, has certainly anticipated light-fingered chicanery in the waiting room.  Here are the magazines I had before me after looking at an old Sports Illustrated, the two most recent copies of US and InStyle, Golf Digest, a National Geographic, and WebMD:

TV Guide, Sunset, Vanity Fair, Birds and Blooms, This Old House, Food and Wine, Architectural Digest, Private Islands, Breathe Magazine, Scootering – A Way of Life Since 1985, Yoga Magazine, Yachting, Men’s Journal, Motor Home Magazine, Classic Car, and Ranger Rick.

Ranger Rick is a racoon and a heck of a park ranger as any loyal reader knows from following “Ranger Rick’s Adventures”, an ongoing account of Rick’s attempts to teach a clueless world to face contemporary environmental issues.  Since one of my kids dressed as Ranger Rick on his sixth Halloween, Rick is an old friend, and it was good to catch up with him.  It did not take me long, however, to cover most of the ground in recycling Christmas trees, so on to the next available journal, in my case, TV Guide.  There are articles in TV Guide (“Does Jason Bateman listen to Sandy Duncan?  Of course not!”), but the bulk of the publication is the daily schedule of television shows available that week, information more useful in almost any other setting.  Reading a dated TV Guide is like reading last year’s calendar.   Moving on.

I glumly leafed through the magazines obviously meant for the one percent not idly waiting anywhere for four hours at a stretch, Vanity Fair, Private Islands, Architectural Digest, and Yachting, fairly certain that I was not in the market for an island or a yacht, although it was clear that the Okean 50 truly was a Brazilian beauty and nine stunning islands are still for sale in Canada – Go Figure.   Vanity Fair used to fascinate me, in a face pressed up against a window outside the Knickerbocker Club in New York kind of way, but the current iteration is a high fashion version of the celebrity fan mag crossed with some biting cultural controversy.  The cover of December’s edition featured J-Lo and A-Rod in evening wear (their secret is their willingness to share vulnerability), but articles by Michael Lewis on the U.S.D.A and an interview with a mourning Joe Biden convinced me to take a look at past issues when I had a chance.  Architectural Digest  trotted out a Mid-Century inspired design, a country cottage, and a house in the Hamptons as usual, any one of which installed faucets that cost more than I made in my best year.

By the time my wife emerged, I was overwhelmed by the range and scope of the magazines in this space, a generous array, but a tiny segment of a publishing industry that I had assumed devastated by social media, smart phones, and digital gossip.  There are more than seven thousand magazines published each year in the US, most of which I had never seen much less read.  Have I raced out to pick up the latest copy of Soft Dolls and Animals?  I have not.  On the other hand, I have now checked out Supermarket News to see just how much I don’t know about how magazines play a part in the complex world of supermarket management. Overwhelming!

Next time I’m bringing my Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Two Hundred Are the Hardest

The First Two Hundred Are the Hardest

Needing discipline and a sense of purpose, I determined that I would write a thousand words a day in this eerily comfy phase of retirement.  The Cogitator was born of that resolution when the several thousands of words I had written and sent out to newspapers and magazines were returned to me with varying degrees of encouragement.  By encouragement I mean not told to cease and desist.

Anyway.

Here I am almost two years later having posted two hundred articles, all of which continue to amuse me, demonstrating a confirmed absence of critical discrimination.  In an attempt to acknowledge the sheer volume of inefficacious cogitation, and admitting that a little quality control might be a good thing, I present representative passages,  reasonably random, excerpted from the first four months.  All two hundred articles are listed by month below the list of recently published articles should you wish to see what happened next.

September 22, 2016 – Not Ready to Say Goodnight

… As a pup and as a young dog, Jinx was, well, needy.  She came by it honestly; her mother was a relentless love hound.  Whereas our lumpy blue merle simply lays his wide head on my knee and looks up imploringly, Jinx is a nudger.  She’ll butt my hand until I relent, no matter what I happen to be doing or carrying.

She does that a little less these days, though she does love to have her snout rubbed gently.

She sleeps hard.  At night she’s up on the bed, although she needs help in getting on board; it’s hard on her when she has to get down in the middle of the night and can’t pull herself back up.  During the day, she finds a patch of sun, often on the porch outside the den.  The door to the kitchen is around the corner, and the other dogs find their way there quickly when called.  Jinx doesn’t hear us, or she’s too deeply asleep.  She rouses when we step outside, yell around the corner, and clap loudly.

I’m happier when I can see Jinx.  On the few occasions when she has wandered off into the pasture or the orchard without the rest of the gang, I’ve had to go looking when the yelling and clapping has failed.  I don’t realize I’ve been holding my breath until I find her lying near the pear trees.

I’m not ready; it all comes down to that.  I still grieve the dogs we’ve lost, each one with a particular pain.  Some of them slowed, weakened, lingered, and gave out.  One died in my daughter’s arm; one died in mine.  Two died too soon.

I know that my thread is as likely to fray as Jinx’s, and we each have whatever days we have.  I find as many ways as I can to honor her each day and try to slow myself down as I rub the velvet fur above her eyebrows.  She closes her eyes and takes a long slow breath.  So do I. I say goodnight and stroke her head slowly as I leave her.

Please, not tonight.

September 23, 2016 – Pears

… The last of the really good pears dropped last night.

Over the last few weeks I have gone into the orchard early each morning with the dogs; the idea was that they could romp, fetch, and do canine stuff, while I gathered the morning’s shakedown.  My mistake was in thinking pears would be of little interest to large healthy border collies.  They have discovered , however, that these pears are more than satisfactory as a morning snack.

I’m a quick study; I worked out a set of distractions to keep them at bay while I scoop up the best, leaving the bruised ones on the ground for enterprising hounds.  I head out with my collecting bag in one hand and their favorite toy in the other.  The two youngest have lots of competitive energy and race away when I toss the thing as far as I can.  The oldest dog lumbers behind, unlikely to win the chase unless the two bouncier dog knock the thing sideways, into her paws.  Our most ambitious eater gives me a grudging step or two then turns to snuffling up the fattest pear under the tree.

I’ve been able to cram as many as twenty pears into the bag before all four dogs assemble back at the tree.  The greenest of the large pears will go in the fridge; I’ll split a few of the overly ripe ones with the eager quartet and take the rest to town where I’ll meet with a group of friends.  I can’t give away zucchini or squash, but the pears are welcomed.  One wag likes to say I’ve come pre-peared or re-peared; brevity may be the soul of wit, but even brevity doesn’t offer much comfort after a week or so of that.

Our pears are Williams pears, also known as Bartlett pears.  I won’t go into the details of the story by which Enoch Bartlett named the variety after himself, even though he had harvested pears brought from England, known there as Williams Good Christian pears. The description of the Williams pear on the USA Pears website will suffice in allowing the reader to recognize the variety in any display:

“The pear exhibits a pyriform “pear shape,” with a rounded bell on the bottom half of the fruit, and then a definite shoulder with a smaller neck or stem end.  Williams are aromatic pears, and have what many consider the definitive “pear flavor”.”

Well and good, but what cannot be completely described is the difference between the pears found on a shelf, or, to be completely frank, in a cardboard box, and the pears I swipe from the dogs in the morning.  OK, they aren’t as symmetrically perfect as the commercial versions, and they are often a bit scarred from falling on the packed mulch.  Some are smaller, and some are huge; most are yellow, but a few fall green.

I haven’t taken any from the fridge yet; we have had a steady supply of new pears throughout the week.  I have four yellow pears on the window sill.  Actually three, as I am eating one now in order to bring the experience more clearly to mind.  I start with the neck, near the stem, often the most crisp area of the pear.  The perfect pear delivers a crunch in the first bite, then increasing sweetness and juice as the consumer gets close to the core.  Whereas I am not fond of the skin of the Royal Riviera, I much prefer eating our pears by hand, rarely slicing the skin away.  There is no rough or particulate aspect to the skin; it fuses with the flesh without bringing attention to itself.

Today is the first day of autumn, and most of the Riviera and Anjou pears have been harvested in the commercial orchards that surround us; the Bosc are still on the trees for a few more days.  We know the harvest is near when large crates are stacked at the edge of the orchards and twelve-foot ladders lean against the trees.

On the other hand, once you have pulled yellow Williams from the tree, the world never looks quite the same.  That is certainly true for our youngest dog, also the tallest.  I found him on his hind legs, yanking a beauty from the tree all by himself.  His taste is excellent; I had been waiting a week for that pear to ripen.

October 9, 2016 – Boom

… I am one of the seventy-six million babies born in the United States between 1946 and 1964, a Baby Boomer, the generation once called the pig in the python, the bulge in the snake, not the first generation to be tagged as a generation, as the “Lost Generation” and the “Silent Generation” preceded us, but perhaps the first generation to be aware of ourselves as a generation.  It was relatively late in our generational journey that our parents’ generation, the “Greatest Generation” received their due, when Tom Brokaw wrote of them as the generation that fought, not for fame or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.  I’m fairly certain that my parents did not consider themselves part of a great generation, the greatest generation.  From what I could gather, both the Depression and the war were hellish, and they did what they did because there were no alternatives to hanging on, making do, and living in a constant state of flux.  They shared the circumstances of their time, but in truth they were as poorly described by generational characteristics as were to be.

One Great Generation, one Lost, one Silent, and one … what?  A boom?  A bulge?

To be candid, we are also the “Me Generation”, privileged as other generations had not been, raised in post-war affluence with a sense of our generational superiority to the sleepy repressed stiffs littering the world and workplace, keenly aware of ourselves as the new generation.  Thus, the “generation gap” emerging at the end of the 1960’s as we believed ourselves the champions of social awareness and humanitarian progress battling the useless vestiges of antiquated, social conventions and convictions.

We watched Howdy Doody,  wore coonskin hats, listened to The Witch Doctor, watched The Mickey Mouse Club. bought hula hoops, watched Leave It To Beaver, ate sugary cereal, watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, ate TV dinners,, listened to Chubby Checker, watched The Flintstones, went to high school, waited to see if the Cuban Missile Crisis meant nuclear war, fooled around, watched American Bandstand, saw JFK die in Dallas, ate pop tarts, stole copies of Playboy, watched The Man From Uncle, listened to the Beatles, experimented with drugs, registered for the draft, marched and protested, watched Laugh-In, went to Canada, went to Viet Nam,   saw King and Kennedy die, went to Woodstock, saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon, watched The Mod Squad, wore bell bottoms, listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, put flowers in our hair, listened to the Doors, became hippies or yuppies or Republicans or Democrats, got jobs, watched MASH, got married, had kids, got promoted, watched Charlie’s Angels, went to roller disco, lost jobs, watched Magnum P.I., got divorced,  watched the Cosby Show, got fat, lost hair, got old.

Looking back, we had a moment, somewhere between Watts and Detroit and Newark and Nixon’s resignation, when we might have made a difference.  For all of our pride in our highly evolved sensibilities and sensitivities, we became a lost generation ourselves,  a hedonistic, self-serving bulge, taking up space, distracted by pleasure.

We became the generation that did not recognize itself.  What happened, we wonder?  Weren’t we the generation that would change the world?

Look around.  I’m afraid we did.

We believed in progress, that every subsequent age would continue to flourish as ours had done, but we did not hold the opportunities given to us in trust for those who came next.  We liked the idea of an increasingly comfortable world so much that we wallowed in it without securing the future.  We knew the environment was fragile.  We knew natural resources were limited.  We knew that cities built in the desert would need water.  We knew garbage had to end up somewhere.  We knew people lived in poverty and violence.  We knew the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  We knew we were distracting ourselves with mindless pleasures.  We knew that schools had become warehouses.  We knew that children went to bed hungry.

We made a lot of noise in the 1960’s, but what remains?  John Steinbeck wrote of the dignity shown by hard-working people of good will; the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the silence of the Silent Generation with words that took us to the mountain.  Where is our voice now?  We once heard Dylan, but now, perhaps hear Stephen King spinning dark tales of fun house world and stalking killer clowns.

We are perched now on a thin branch at the top of a tall tree.  The eldest of us are now seniors, seventy years old, retired, hoping that in these “golden” days, seventy-five is the new fifty.

I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but life isn’t over yet for many of us.  Maybe there’s time enough to circle back and put a few things right, plant a few trees to provide shade for children we will never know.  We’re outnumbered now, finally; Millennial are the current bulge, and our python is looking flatter with every passing year.

I’d sure like to see us go out as the next generation that did what we could, even at the end, because it was the right thing to do.

 

September 29, 2016 – Blackberries – Caught in a Bad Romance

… Oregon summers are hot, so I wore shorts to a picnic last week, thinking nothing of the marred flesh I exposed.  My host pointed to a leg asking what I had done to myself, fearing, I think, that self-mutilation had accompanied me into retirement.  Not understanding his concern, I shrugged uncertainly.  He pointed and said, “Looks like you got trapped with a bobcat in a phone booth.”

Close enough.

Blackberry vines grow overnight, while we sleep, curling and coiling, shooting green runners from otherwise innocent trees and shrubs, pushing their way into spaces I had thought unassailable.  Left unwatched, they join other tendrils, forming walls of thorn.  I had thought the forest of thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauty was simply fairy tale exaggeration; not so.  If Beauty (that can’t be her name, can it?) stretched out anywhere on this property, she would be thorned in by sunset.

Yeah.  It’s impressive.

Ah, but it’s also testimony to the fact that we DO raise a crop here on this farm.  Yep, I manage acres of blackberry incursion on a daily basis.  Not farm enough for you?  Listen, Cows are milked twice a day.  Twice a day?  Hah!  I’m out there hours at a time, cutting back pulsing waves of blackberry vines. Why don’t I just plant them where I want them, you ask.  They plant themselves, and their roots descend to the what the agronomists at Oregon State (Go, Beavers!) call the layer below the rigid lithosphere, a zone of asphalt-like consistency called the Asthenosphere.

Asphalt like, and they sink in their botanical fangs so deep that mortal efforts cannot uproot them.

But, and this is the essential point, the blackberries themselves are delicious, decidedly more delicious than berries ordinary folks find at even the most rigorously fresh of fresh fruit stands.  We don’t have them for long; when we water the cultivated bushes in a warm summer such as the last few, we can expect the first really tasty berries to emerge in the final weeks of July.  By the end of August, we’re making do with berries that are less full and less sweet.

August 7, 2016 – Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt, Colin Firth, and the Revival of British Literature

… Moving from cool, almost caddish disdain to absolute devotion, Firth’s Darcy reached the pinnacle of fan frenzy in episode IV, in a scene not in the novel.  Darcy has literally jumped into a lake on his estate in order to cool his turbulent emotions with regard to Elizabeth Bennet, climbing out of the water only to find Elizabeth walking the estate’s grounds and approaching the lake.  Darcy is shaken and embarrassed, in a state of undress, charmingly awkward.  Many viewers, however, were impressed with Firth’s manly form in what a survey of British critics called, “the most memorable moment in British television history.” I will venture to say that there was considerably more buzz about “the shirt” than about Austen’s use of irony in Pride and Prejudice.

The final episode of the BBC series claimed 40% of the viewing public, and the first run of the double-video set sold out within the first two hours of its release.  The shirt was later placed on display in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. as part of an exhibition entitled, “Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity”.

I’m going to go out on a limb here; I credit Colin Firth with reanimating interest in Pride and Prejudice, the Austen novels, and English literature as a whole.

Too much?  I think not.

September 24, 2016 – Can’t Every Day be Halloween?

… Just because I have an inflatable vampire stored in the garage, just because the vampire is an Inflatable Tigger with fangs and a cape, just because it’s awesome, no need to drag it out this year.  We’re well off the beaten path; anyone who shows up in a mask on Halloween will end up doing ten-to-life in Folsom.  Passing cars can’t even see the house, much less the inflated Tiger.

Yeah.  So.  Tigger in a box.  Just sitting there, month after month.

It’s not just that he’s Tigger; he’s got a goofy not-very-menacing grin and a roguishly insouciant tousled cape.  And fangs. He’s inflated, but not heavy, so he wobbles in the best of circumstances and tips sideways when the wind blows, which actually makes him slightly disturbing, as he appears to be skulking, as much as anything large black and orange can skulk.

My wife is a breathtakingly levelheaded girl, to borrow a phrase from Salinger, possessing the quality I both admire and see as a necessary corrective to my own decidedly non-level decision-making.  She’s not wrong, (my daughter reminds me that’s not the same as saying she’s right) in thinking a tiger on the porch is unseemly in this country setting.  She’s also a breathtakingly compassionate girl, recognizing that I don’t handle the empty nest all that well around holidays, pretty much closing her eyes and ignoring the bobbing inflatable unless it bobs into her path, at which point she swats it aside without rancor.

Compromise is good, and I’m able to contain myself until the middle of October; that’s thoroughly reasonable.  On October 15, however, sunrise will reveal a tiger, once bitten, holding down the porch until all contending spirits have been laid to rest.

 

August 2019 Sangfroid, Schadenfreude, and Double Entendre

… As a reader of mannered British mysteries, many of which involve bright young men just down from Oxford, most of whom could not dress themselves without the assistant of a valet, I encountered a phrase that seemed to indicate an unwillingness to engage, or an inability to enter into a fray, or something.  Inexplicable but happily, the phrase turned up in a novel by Lawrence Block, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling.

“With the alarm hors de combat, I turned my attention to the thick oak door, an hors of a different color.”

So, terrible pun aside, hors de combat is not simply broken or unavailable, but “out of the fight” with a suggestion that there is no question of cowardice or unwillingness on the part of the non-combatant. Unfortunately it also brings to mind – “Do you like Kipling?”  “I don’t know.  I’ve never Kippled.”

July 2, 2016 – Zen and the Art of Shaving

As a lad, I was taken with Burma Shave’s  tortured rhymes placed on billboards across the nation.  Actually, the doggerel verses were placed on small boards separated by some distance, so that the auto approaching them read the first line, then the second, then the third, and had to wait a bit for the fourth.

Shaving brushes

You’ll soon see ’em

On the shelf

In some Museum

Had to admire the wit and waggery, so used Burma Shave until I became environmentally awake, then scraped away with whatever soapy substance I could find at the local pharmacy…

I stumbled across the line of shaving creams produced by Taylor of Old Bond Street.  Jeremiah Taylor founded the company in 1854, during the reign of Queen Victoria, determined to reflect British understated style and  elegance. I took the plunge, ordering the Eton College Collection Gentleman’s Shaving Cream Bowl, first produced when Taylor of Bond Street became the official barber of Eton College.  The description of the substance was simply irresistible.

“A beautiful masculine fragrance with dominant citrus lemon notes combined with fruity citrus notes of orange and mandarin. All this is blended with gentle floral notes that rest on a base of warm patchouli. Contains Lemon oil and Patchouli oil.”

All true and the smoothest shave I had ever experienced, but was I satisfied?  No, not by a whisker!  A shaving cream this delicious demanded a far better brush than the hand-me-down I had found at the bottom of a bureau drawer.  Over the years, I found I preferred the Infinity Silvertex Shaving Brush by Kent.  Badgers breathe more easily as this is a synthetic bristle brush, which dries more handsomely than the badger brush, but I have learned that every face and every shaver is different.

Brush in place, Eton College cream almost done, I took a leap of faith and tried the rest of the Taylor line.  Again, each cream has a personality and each sends the shaver into the day with a different sort of embrace.  Eton College Cream is the heart of my shaving routine; I order it as the first in my rotation of three, substituting a few other favorites in turn.

July 23, 2016 – I’m In Here Somewhere … I think

… The who in question is the person lying awake, quaking in the hour of the wolf, remembering the shock that arrived when first gazing up at the stars, lazily mind-swimming in the view until, uninvited, the thought nudges the rim of consciousness –

These stars aren’t actually where I see them but off somewhere else, dancing in some other formation that someone else will see after I’m long gone.  This big picture makes my brain hurt. These stars will outlive me, but someday they’ll burn out and fizzle like fireworks in a fish pond.

Or something roughly like that.  And that set of brutal truths then bumps up against whatever psyche melting speculation has most recently playing at the Hometown Cinema 12, The Matrix, Vanilla Sky, Abre los Ojos, any of the films or shows that seem to suggest that all we know exists only in our individual brain pan, and the entire structure of all that is (or isn’t) may be a subjective fiction.  I don’t know why the thought that I am dreaming myself, that my life is a lucid/fog-bound dream should be more terrifying than realizing that Russia, China, Pakistan, and North Korea all have nuclear weapons, or that the polar cap is now covered with tiki bars.

Well, it may pack a punch because it throws this whole “self” thing into question, shutting down just about the only set of certainties we thought we could count on.  How do we make our way through the day if we are uncertain that the day actually exists?

Let’s just put that inconvenient doubt aside for a bit because we still have to contend with how, and again, I’m less concerned with the how of Jupiter’s birth and more concerned with the how of sentience. How does it happen that we are aware of our own subjective experience?  I’m not asking why us (me) or why does sentience operate as part of our human experience; I’m asking how the complex electrochemical neurological spasms and spurts have anything to do with mentation.  I’m ok with all the mapping and prodding (talk about probes!) brain research has done in the last twenty years, the genetic signals and the trace minerals, but we’re still left not knowing what a thought is, where it originates, or why we know it as our own.  We can track down the flawed systems of sensation, processing, and expression when they break (phantom limbs, etc), but, like life itself, mentation is currently only indirectly observable.  Flashes of light and color indicate brain activity, pathways glow, lobes glow, proteins glow, but we can’t identify the how of any specific thought.

So, why?  Why has the universe bumping along on whatever spiral it has ahead included awareness of self?   Problem solving makes sense.  Kinesthetic awareness makes sense.  goose-flesh and body hair make sense.  Not sure what evolutionary advantage resides in intimations of mortality or (perhaps) intimations of reality.  It’s pretty clear that a bunch of life forms can learn to distinguish between the left turn and food and the right turn and a blast from the experimenter’s taser.  At that level, probably not even mentation.  I’m pretty sure planeria don ‘t think, even though they can be conditioned.  Biologists call their behavior “directional bias”, and I’m likely to keep that tag at the ready whenever my choices about anything are questioned.  Why do I prefer Michigan football to Alabama football?  Directional bias.

I’m perfectly comfortable lounging in the hypothetical, but real thinkers want more rigorous standards, so I’ll ask the question:  If the only purpose of sentience is primal (You exist as a person separate from all other life forms.  Tigers are a life force that would eat you as an appetizer.  Good idea to avoid tigers.), I can’t imagine (mentation  201) why we would spend the amount of time that we do in  our heads, as it were.  To take the issue one step farther, what’s the point of brain activity that often provokes those locked in self-awareness to do everything in their power to shut down the transmitter?  Drink, drug, exercise, gamble, shop until somehow the noise inside the head quiets; otherwise unchained humans experience incessant thought about self as being trapped in a kind of cacophonous pinball machine.

How did I get from the trip to Jupiter to unrelenting brain static?  I guess I wondered why a trip of more than 500 million miles is an easier trip than an idle visit to a fairly obvious human question.  Who, How, Why am I?

I’m inclined to exercise my directional bias toward mystery.  It may turn out that it is better not to know how we know, you know?

July 26, 2017 – Icharo

… I explained to my son that Ichiro was out of position, that he’d have no chance for balls hit just beyond the infield and would have a tough time trying to get off a satisfactory throw to any base but second.  As I spoke,  the leadoff batter for the Angels cracked a line drive over second base.  Ichiro somehow got to the ball on the first hop and rifled a throw to first in time to nail the runner.  I had seen Roberto Clemente’s arm on television, but I had never seen a throw such as that in person.  A frozen rope.

A few words about Ichiro as a hitter.  Everything about his stance and batting ritual is distinctive.  Most fans are aware of his stretching and squatting before he steps into the box; he takes sweeping practice swings as he steps in and then out of the batter’s box.  As he assumes his stance in the box, he twirls the bat in a giant arc, stopping the bat at the top of its second circle, tugging at his sleeve as his bat is effectively pointing at the pitcher. … And yet, what sets Ichiro apart in my mind is the ethos with which he approaches the game.  It’s hard to remember just how spectacular Ichiro was in that first season; 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, batting average of .350, Gold Glove, and the best arm in the game.  He was given the number 51 by the Mariners, and on learning that the number had belonged to Randy Johnson, a player Ichiro respected greatly, the rookie wrote a note to Johnson promising not to “bring shame” to the uniform.  Ichiro’s fielding was so effective that his corner of Safeco Field was called “Area 51”.  No shame in that.

Before facing the Red Sox’ s Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ichiro famously announced, “I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul.  I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.”  I think I knew he was an uncommon ballplayer when he refused to give the press the name of his pet dog, explaining that he didn’t have the dog’s permission to make the name public.