Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day!!

Today is opening day in Major League Baseball. It’s been nearly 6 months since the end of the world series and every day since there has been something missing from my life, something reassuring, comforting, and familiar. I count myself as part of that vanishing breed of Americans who believe that baseball is still America’s pastime. Sure, I know that it really isn’t anymore. I know that most people prefer the flash and violence of football with all of its brute strength, its unhinged personalities and the cheerleaders gyrating on the sidelines. But starting around age 10 every sticky summer night I fell asleep to the crackle and pop of a blue plastic AM radio propped up in my window picking up Ernie Harwell calling a Tigers game or Joe Buck describing the fortunes of the St. Louis Cardinals. And that was after I finished listening to Frank Soden recreating the away games of my hometown Richmond Braves. From a studio somewhere in Church Hill old Frank would describe the action with the aid of cheesy sound effects and canned applause…

“And now Hal Breedan comes up with the bases loaded. The beefy first baseman has had a rough night as he wears an 0 for 3 collar, but if he can launch a long one into the dark Toledo sky right now all will be forgiven!”

Yes..he actually talked that way, and we loved him for it. My brother and I would put that radio in the windowsill and recreate the action in our back yard. Donnie was great at it because he was a switch hitter and could hit the ball a mile. I would follow Frank’s calls to the letter on the mound…

“ …the Rochester right-hander peers in for the sign, gets the one he wants and comes set. He checks the runner at first and deals!!”

Then I would fire the ball in to Donnie who would have to guess whether to swing or take. He had an uncanny ability to guess right. He would swing just as Soden would scream out…

“cut on!!…that’s a high fly ball deep to right center field, its high enough, its far enough…BYE BYE BABY!!”

More often than not the ball that Donnie hit would clear the maple tree, the roof of the house, the road out front, the parking lot of the church and land in scary old Mrs. Lawrence’s field down by the spring. It would take forever to find the ball because the balls we had were so old they had taken on the color of our gloves so we would both kick around in the leaves with one eye on the ground and the other on the Lawrence house up on the hill hoping that the front door didn’t swing open and that crazy old woman didn’t come out with her shotgun.

I suppose when your earliest memories are tied up with a game you’re stuck with it for life. As a kid my heroes were guys like Shawn Fitzmorris, Hal Breedan, Ralph Garr, Darrell Evans and Dusty Baker..all minor league stars who played for my hometown team. Later on I worshiped Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver. By the time my 5th grade teacher let us watch the Mets and Orioles game on the black and white TV during the 1969 world series, I was irretrievably captured never to return. No matter what baseball does I can’t shake it and it has done a lot. The players go on strike. They pump themselves up with steriods and lay waste to the record books. The owners create the designated hitter rule…and still, here I am giddy with joy and expectation for opening day like a fat kid with a box of doughnuts. Play Ball!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Week of my Birthday!

Today begins the week of my birthday. I will be 53 this coming Sunday. I neither love nor loathe birthdays. They just are. So there will be no existential angst here brought on by a day on the calendar. Besides, being alive and reasonably well on that day surely beats assuming room temperature.

A few observations on the world around me:

Everywhere I look these days there appears to be a riot taking place. In Britian over the weekend a group of anarchists protesting proposed government spending cuts,( how’s that for irony??), ransacked a Ritz hotel and several other shops in Trafalgar Square. A few months ago, similar mayhem accompanied protests in Portugal, Greece, and Ireland. Then of course there was the two week long occupation of the Wisconsin capitol building by an assortment of college kids, their hippie parents and grandparents, and the usual union thugs and teachers cashing in their generous sick pay benefits. There the call to arms was a proposed budget measure that would have required said union thugs/teachers to actually pay some of the cost of said generous benefits, while limiting there ability to collectively bargain with their own benefactors for even more generous benefits. What I am witnessing is the very early stages of withdrawal. Governments around the world great and small are awakening to the harsh reality of empty treasuries. The great social safety nets erected over the last 75 years have all become giant hammocks where ever larger numbers of their citizens have become quite comfortable. As long as there were enough gainfully employed tax-paying citizens propping up this ponzi-scheme it worked rather nicely, especially if you were in the hammock. But now there aren’t enough people pulling the cart and too many people riding in the cart,( if I can mix my metaphors a bit!). As governments around the world and here in the USA begin the long process of correcting this imbalance through austerity measures, those effected will emit a collective primal scream, in much the same way as a heroine-addict would if his fix was denied. In other words for the foreseeable future, we better get used to seeing riots.

Speaking of riots, VCU has made an amazing run in the NCAA basketball tournament, making it all the way to the final four. Having graduated from their cross-town rivals, the University of Richmond, I have watched them with no small amount of jealously even though my school made it to the sweet sixteen themselves. But now that UR is out I have become a temporary Ram Fan and am very proud of what they have done and what it means for our city. So what does this have to do with riots, you may ask. Well..last night as I watched the reaction to their latest win on Facebook, I noticed more than once over-excited fans calling for riots downtown! Now I’m sure some of it was said in jest, but others seemed to sincerely believe that the random destruction of personal property was called for at the moment of VCU’s greatest athletic triumph. The local paper this morning reported only one or two minor injuries and that a group of fans attempted to overturn a van but that, “cooler heads prevailed”. Seriously? I am completely unable to comprehend the mindset of someone who thinks…”Hey my team just made it against all odds to the final four!! I think I’ll go vandalize a total strangers car!!” Even though I know that the vast majority of those celebrating last night were peaceful fun loving revelers and it was just a few knuckleheads doing the damage, I can only imagine how much worse it might be if VCU actually wins the title. If I owned a business downtown I would invest in sheets of plywood and hire some!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kinetic Military hell

Back when George W. Bush was President the word “war” was thrown around a lot. George liked to talk about the “war on terror”. His critics were always deriding him for having a cavalierly cowboy attitude about getting us into wars. The internet buzzed with debates about what was and was not a “just war” or whether or not Iraq was a “war of choice”..etc..

Now that President Obama finally has a war of his own in Libya, we are being introduced to a new vocabulary by the bright lights of his administration. When asked by a reporter aboard Air Force One whether or not we were in fact “at war,”one of the President’s speech writers took a deep breath and unloaded a paragraph of double-speak which ended with the wonderful new phrase…”kinetic military action”.
I’m sure that in time this will catch on and become part of the lexicon in the great halls of power in Washington in much the same way as “differently-abled” has replaced “disabled” and “draconian spending cuts” has replaced “slow the rate of growth for government spending”. Still, I worry that future generations will not fully understand some of our most time honored expressions such as:

“Kinetic military action is hell”

William T. Sherman

“If we do not end kinetic military action, it will end us”

H. G. Wells

“In kinetic military action, truth is the first casualty”


“Only the dead have seen the end of kinetic military action”


“It is a good thing that kinetic military action is so terrible,or we should grow too fond of it”

Robert E. Lee

“KINETIC MILITARY ACTION!! , HHUHHUU, Good God Yaull, What is it good for..absolutely nuthin”

Edwin Starr

Monday, March 21, 2011

A REAL citizenship test

Newsweek is out with a story that 38% of Americans can’t pass a simple citizenship test. Intrigued, I hurried to their site to take the test myself which I naturally passed with ease. However, I am no “ordinary” citizen seeing as how I am clearly much smarter and better looking than the average American, not to mention the fact that I was born with many unfair advantages in life what with my loving two parent stable home life, and my whiteness. So I feel compelled to come to the defense of my less civic-minded neighbors by offering the suggestion that the citizenship test itself is unfair.

Seriously, does it really matter how many years we elect senators to serve? I fail to see the importance of knowing how many justices sit on the Supreme Court, and who cares if 88% of my fellow Americans can’t name a single author of the Federalist Papers? I mean the fact that 74% of us didn’t know that the Speaker of the House is next in line to the Presidency if both the President and the Vice-President pass away isn’t nearly as important as the fact that over half of us actually knew that Joe Biden IS the Vice-President. I say we need to redesign the test to bring it into the 21st century. Isn’t the whole point of these tests to insure that there is an overriding national identity to which we can all lay claim? Isn’t the purpose of citizenship to equip us to all rally around shared knowledge of what it means to be an American? Well then…I submit the following ten questions as a starting point for a new citizenship test which will test more accurately our shared awareness.

1. Name two characters from the hit reality TV show,Jersey Shore.

2. Which Kardashian sister is “the fat one”?

3. What mythical substance does Charlie Sheen have coursing through his veins?

4. Which NFL quarterback is least likely to get a Christmas card from PETA?

5. Barack Obama was born in…A. Hawaii
B. Kenya
C. Washington,DC
D. a manger because there was no room in the inn
6. What menacing world power can Sarah Palin see from her kitchen window?

7. Who of the following is most famous for their appearance in a sex video?

A. Kim Kardashian
B. Paris Hilton
C. Pamela Anderson
D. All of the above

8. What famous NFL quaterback did Jessica Simpson date?

9. Connect the famous person with their famous preferred treatment

Nancy Pelosi tanning bed
John Boehner botox
Donald Trump lipo-suction
Joan Rivers hair-spray

10. What brand of cigarettes does Charlie Sheen chain smoke?

It is my opinion that the average American would pass this test with flying colors and we could forever put to bed this notion that we Americans have no common culture, nothing that unites us. We might not know what the first ten amendments to the constitution are called but on the REAL pressing issues of our time we are fully up to speed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dog Story From Japan

God gives us dogs so we can see how humanity is supposed to behave. Out of Japan this morning is a video of two dogs, one obviously injured and laying flat on the ground shivering in the cold as the snow falls. The other stands guard over his fallen friend shivering even more violently. When a camera crew approaches and tries to lure the dog away from what they assumed was the dead dog so they could feed the living one, the exhausted, hungry, and freezing dog will not budge. He will not abandon his friend, not even for food. Once the crew gets nearer they see that the other dog isn’t dead just injured. Only when they care for the fallen dog does the other dog go with them. Now we are told that both dogs were rescued and are getting care. I would like to believe this though it may be just an artificial happy ending added by journalists desperate for even a sliver of good news. I find it hard to believe that veterinarian care is up and running while 500,000 people are living with no electricity in freezing shelters.

This is nothing new. Dogs have always acted heroically in the worst of circumstances. They seem to have a sense of honor and bravery that sadly most human beings lack. I gave Molly an extra treat before I left the house this morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I woke up this morning in the usual way. I walked downstairs, brewed some coffee, emptied the dishwasher and settled down on the couch to browse the web. I became irritated as the computer seemed to take forever to boot up. Its funny how 25 years ago I didn’t even have internet, 10 years ago I slugged along with dial-up and now I sit impatient that my wireless connection took 3 minutes to engage. Suddenly I’m confronted with the news that while I slept Japan was rocked by an earthquake, an 8.9 Richter scale monster. I watched in horror the video feeds of the epic destruction, cars bobbing up and down in raging rivers of debris like apples in a tub at a family reunion. Fires blazed at refineries, entire buildings and large boats carried along by the wild water, people stumbling around with their eyes turned upward at the swaying buildings around them. The devastation was so complete, so incomprehensible that my mind could not stand to watch any further. Immediately I checked the stock markets around the world. How would this disaster affect the financial world? It occurred to me that insurance company stocks would get hammered. What impact would it have on the company that owns my broker-dealer which happens to be an insurance company?

So far the official death toll is 16 or something but as the magnitude of the event unfolds that number will surely sky-rocket, probably into the thousands. I am unable to come to grips with the violence of the world. I watch from the comfort of my sofa as the groans of the planet consume people. Whether its an act of God like this earthquake and tsunami or it’s Khadafy’s thugs mowing down his own people in Libya, I am finding it more and more difficult to process the madness. My faith warns of this sort of thing through the prophecies of the Bible, but I take little comfort in that knowledge. Earthquakes have been with us since the dawn of time and every generation since the first century has been convinced that the coming of Christ was at hand. As wicked as the bad actors of our time may be most can’t hold a candle to Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Attila the Hun. Maybe we think its worse now because we can see the carnage on our cell phones literally within minutes, unedited. I find nothing reassuring about prophesy. Whether God is in control of events are not doesn’t change the fact that the world seems hell-bent on destruction and real flesh and blood human beings are dropping like flies…while I worry about my portfolio and the babies in Wisconsin rend their garments because the tax-payers have asked them to contribute 5.8% of their pay towards their retirement plans and 12.5% towards their health insurance. While entire ports in Japan are wiped off the map, Harry Reid laments that federal funding for the “Cowboy Poets Festival” might get slashed. Cry me a river.

I am reduced to offering up a prayer for the suffering people 7000 miles away. Somehow I must put it all out of my mind and do my job. I must do the best I can with what I’ve been given to do, which is here in a fine neighborhood in Short Pump,Virginia, far far away from Japan.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Strange Place in Life

My son comes home for spring break this week, the last one of his college career. I’m not quite sure how I should feel about this. Part of me is eternally grateful that the tortured years of relentless tuition bill paying are drawing to a close. Another part of me is feeling a loss of something. Maybe once the last college bill is paid I will no longer have children. I will instead have a grown son and a grown daughter and that feels like a loss.

I am at a strange place in life. I seem suddenly aware of the march of time and its effects on who I am. There is a physical dimension to it, I have more wrinkles, more gray hairs, and I notice almost daily some new rude diminishment of strength or agility. More troubling however are the changes I notice in the world around me, both real and perhaps imagined. I have watched the painful physical and mental decline of my father, a man of legendary strength, energy and good cheer who now shuffles along in silence lost in his thoughts. The thought occurs to me as I watch him that perhaps I am glimpsing my future.

A strange place in life. Ten years ago most of the joy and vigor were supplied by the excitement and fury of raising teenagers. Every week it was something else. Life was a boisterous stream of concerts, baseball games, projects, mission trips, homecoming games, proms and birthday parties. I had no time to ponder new wrinkles. Any spare time I had was devoured by youth group activities, summer camp and golf. Now I find that I have a bumper crop of spare time with nothing to fill it. All of the things I dreamed of spending more time doing when I was younger now simply don’t interest me. Golf is fine, a nice 4 hour walk, but I don’t care about it anymore. Although I still love baseball, it becomes harder and harder each year to find the passion I once had for the game. It doesn’t help that I noticed the other day while watching a spring training game on television that three consecutive commercials aired extolled the virtues of a retirement community in Coral Gables, adult undergarments, and a male sexual aid. What a fascinating demographic!

I’m starting to believe that everything comes with a shelf life, and mostly I’m grateful. My addiction to bubble gum was thankfully brief. My infatuation with side burns came and mercifully went. My devotion to Mad magazine eventually waned. My youthful attraction to socialist politics vaporized the first time my tax return was audited. But some of the things that I’ve lost interest in bother me. Church has become a painful hour, a festival of boredom. My work in the investment business has become so utterly unfulfilling it makes toll collecting look positively erotic by comparison. I’m good at it and my income would be envied by most but even that is nothing more than a trap. Although I hate the business I’m chained to it by the income it produces.

All is not lost. I still love my wife and adore my family. The awkward tediousness of this moment will pass since it too has a shelf life. I need to recreate myself, find some new interest. I must recapture a jest for life and its great possibilities. I’m 52...not 82.