Friday, October 30, 2015

October 30, 2015--Woman Enough

I managed to keep myself awake for the entire Republican debate. I even ignored the struggling New York Mets.

Though the CNBC moderators were as inept as has been widely reported (Carl Quintanilla, for example, mocked Carly Fiorina's three-page tax reform proposal, saying skeptically that it must be in "very small type"), they did a better job than in the first two debates of giving air time to the marginal likes of John Kasich and Rand Paul.

The reporters, though, missed opportunities to follow up forcefully. When super-slick Marco Rubio deflected Jeb Bush's well-rehearsed attack--"If you don't show up for your three-day French work week in the Senate, you should resign"--with an equally well-rehearsed response--"John McCain, Barack Obama, and John Kerry did the same thing"--an easy followup would have been to ask him if "three wrongs make a right."

Talk about situational ethics of the sort conservatives selectively hate; but in this perverse political climate, Rubio was enthusiastically applauded by the media-hating audience.

The morning after the debate I checked the cable talk shows to see what people were saying.

The consensus was pretty much that Rubio or Ted Cruz won (largely by attacking the "mainstream" press--Fox of course excluded), that Bush made things even worse for himself, and that languishing Chris Christie (who was the establishment's favorite and seemed invincible four years ago) helped himself. Maybe by next week at this time he'll be the first choice of  six or seven percent of GOP voters.

Fiorina and TRUMP appeared to at least hold their own, though The Donald didn't dominate or hold center stage as he did previously. But John Kasich was probably destroyed by TRUMP's put down--blaming him (falsely) for the downfall of Lehman Brothers, where he was employed, and the subsequent economic meltdown. Kasich could only mumble incoherently in response.

He will soon go away, joining Lindsay Graham and Bobby Jindal at the children's debate table in George Pataki Land. Yes, Jindal, in a manner of speaking, is still in the race.

Most interesting, perhaps, is the continuing popularity of Ben Carson, who, in effect, by saying very little and saying whatever he said so softly that he needed closed captioning, Carson managed to make it appear that he wasn't there or, minimally, was looming as the new frontrunner above the grungy fray.

This was strategically brilliant since he has very little of substance to say about policy issues. When challenged that his 10 percent flat tax proposal would blow the deficit even higher, he said, "OK then, let's make it 15 percent."

So his appeal is in not in the policy arena but rather in the affective or emotional realm.

On MSNBC, the reporter covering the Carson campaign interviewed a few of his supporters to discern why he appeals to them.

One said it's because he's "calm." Another that it's because he has been so "blessed by God," and the third that "America is sick and we need a doctor to heal us."

I was struck by how these views are so feminized. Calmness, godliness, comfort, and healing.

At a time when the two women running for the presidency--Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton--because they are striving to convince us that they are ballsy enough to be commander-in-chief and would not have a problem bombing the whatsis out of ISIS, Carson has chosen to put on display his softer, feminine side.

If Fiorina and Clinton  are "man enough," Carson is "woman enough."

It could work. At the moment it is.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 29 2015--Marco, Jeb, and The Donald

We know poor Marco Rubio hates his Senate job and, though he can't stand being there, wants another Washington job. If he gets it, maybe he'll hate that one too. This is not a good way to talk about one's resumé and employment history.

So much for the rest of us though he claims wanting to be president is not about him but about us.

Poor Jeb Bush was expecting to be inaugurated even before being nominated or elected. The presidency is the family business, after all, and in these kinds of royal successions are more anointments than elections.

He's already talking about how he is likely to hate the job because of all the partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington.

So, he told us the other day, that if this is the way things are, he "has other cool things to do" and might just take a petulant hike.

Now we're hearing from poor Donald TRUMP, as the polls in Iowa show him slipping into second place behind Ben Carson (Ben Carson!), that he needs the voters' help.

Specifically, he pled with Iowans to "help [him] out." He whimpered, "Let me win." And promised that if they do he'll do so many "wonderful things" for them that will make them "very happy."

If they keep this up, the two whining Floridians will doom their chances. And good chances they have because if Carson and TRUMP fizzle (and they likely will) Rubio or Bush might become the front runner and nominee. And whomever that is would have a pretty good chance of being elected.

TRUMP in second place in Iowa has to do more than pop in for a few big rallies and entertaining speeches that are more standup comedy shtick than political barnburners. Folks in the Hawkeye State expect their candidates to show up in their living rooms and stay overnight in Motel 6.

This is not The Donald. He doesn't do living rooms and motels.

And he will quickly lose his appeal if he appears, as he just did, to be either wounded or reduced in stature.

Half of what he has going for him is his superhero image, descending from the sky like, forgive me, a god, and offering to take care of everyone and everything--the Chinese, Putin, immigrants, jobs, the failing infrastructure.

He has to be the opposite of needing to be taken care of. He's about enabling people to believe he will fix things, make everything work, and bring about universal happiness.

That has been his appeal. To be self-deprecating and vulnerable goes against this image and will make him appear to be more like Ben Carson than Superman.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28, 2015--Fahrenheit 120

"Did you see the piece in the New York Times about a study that concludes that by the year 2100, only eighty-five years from now, areas of the Persian Gulf will be so hot and humid that being outdoors for just a few hours for most people would be deadly?"

Jeff, who mentioned this, is a sober citizen, not prone to being an alarmist. He not a Prepper waiting for a natural apocalypse with a basement full of dried beans, bottled water, and gold coins.

"The study is by a couple of real experts, one from MIT, the other from Loyola Marymount in LA."

"I'm far from an authority on the subject," I said, "But the last I heard we wouldn't get to that dangerous point for another 200 years. Not that that's comforting, though thankfully I'll be long gone. Even Rona as well."

"Please leave me out of this doom and gloom talk," she said, "I'm just trying to get through the days."

"They claim that the deadly weather is largely caused by climate change and that humans are making it worse by the way we live and consume energy."

"If I'm right about recalling the 200 year timetable, why are they now saying we have only 85 years?"

"Though temperatures will routinely hit, 120, it will be life threatening primarily because of the accelerating rise in humidity around the Gulf. That's a new perception. Everyone has been focusing on temperature. The elevated humidity won't allow perspiration to evaporate and thus our bodies will not be able to cool themselves. This will put a deadly strain on the heart and . . ."

"Spare me, please," Rona said, cutting us off, "If you don't mind, pass me the Portland paper. They have a decent gossip column. Not Page Six, but still pretty good."

"I think we're focusing on the wrong thing," Jeff pushed ahead.


"That the Earth's problem is only secondarily about our use of fossil fuels. The real problem is population growth."

"Go on. I think I agree with you."

"Is the Earth really bountiful enough for the current seven billion people? Not only do we have a carbon problem but because of the size of the population we also have a water problem, a protein problem, a habitation problem, an ecological problem, an assets problem, a crime and terrorism problem. I could go on. But my point remains--we're focused on the wrong thing. Our use of energy is a big problem, don't get me wrong, but it pales in comparison to the population problem."

Rona remained buried in the paper.

"If you think political people here are unwilling to confront the science that proves human contributions to climate change, imagine the kind of discussion, non-discussions, we'd have about population control--contraception, abortion, family planning, limiting the number of children permitted. All very hot-button social issues."

"As you know, it's not my inclination to be pessimistic," Jeff raced on, "but it's hard to remain optimistic when faced with all these global issues."

"A year or so ago," I said, "I wrote a piece about population, trying to make a version of the same point. Anecdotally, I mentioned how during my lifetime the population of the United States nearly tripled, up from about 125 million to about 330 million now."

"That's because you're 200 years old," Rona muttered without looking up.

"That's a powerful point," Jeff said, "What would happen if our population tripled again during the next 50-60  years? To about a billion? Forget for the moment the rest of the world. Do you think we could handle a billion people? My guess is we would have some of the same problems as much of Africa, India--totally polluted--and China--even worse."

"And then you're saying there's the Persian Gulf."

Rona looked up at us, "Let me read you this thing about the Kardashians. They're unbelievable."

Before I could say anything, Jeff said, " Please do. I need a little escape."

"Well, it says here that Khloe . . ."

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 27, 2015--Poor Marco

Poor Marco Rubio.

Like so many Americans, he hates his job.

He literally told that to a friend.

That he hates his day job as senator.

On Sunday he said that he's seen enough and thus won't run for reelection. He failed to note he would not be able to run concurrently for the Senate and the White House--it's against Florida law.

But he apparently doesn't hate it enough to quit. He must like pulling down that $174K a year Senate salary.

And it's unlikely he'll get fired even though for at least the past two years he pretty much stopped showing up for work. Apparently senators get paid by the taxpayers even if the are AWOL. No one clocks them in or out. No one supervises them as they would be if they had a real job.

It not that he hates being in DC. Quite the contrary.

He hasn't been seen in the Senate because the job he wants, also in Washington, is the presidency and he has spent all his waking and dreaming hours campaigning for it. Not at his own expense, mind you, but supported by campaign contributions and as a result of the largesse of his principal backer, Norman Braman, a south Florida car dealer and billionaire.

Norman's been slipping cash to Marco and his wife for years and in return, as he had said publicly, when he telephones his protégée, he gets his calls returned pronto.

You bet.

When pressed last week by Matt Lauer about his no-show job on Capital Hill, Rubio, with moral indignation and a straight face, said, "I'm not missing votes because I'm on vacation. I'm running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again."

Clever boy.

Still with a straight face, he went on to say, "My ambitions are for the country and Florida. [If I'm elected] we can begin to fix some of these issues that I've been so frustrated we've been unable to address during my time in the Senate."

He isn't frustrated enough about life in the Senate to motivate him to say--

"Enough. I've been in Washington now for four and a half years years and from the inside I know how things work. I am so disgusted [are you listening Tea Partiers?], and so I quit.  You might wonder," he could add, "why I am running for the presidency, the most Washington-establishment job there is. Good question. I am doing it to shake up and change everything. To scale back the government we all hate."

And, he might add, he's not doing it just for the money. Though the president gets paid $400K a year, pockets another $175 more for expenses, and has that wonderful big jet to fly around in.

This is a lot more than Rubio's been getting from Godfather Braman.

But that would require more integrity than he has thus far displayed.

In the meantime, he's planning to keep depositing his Senate salary checks and not showing up very often.

Norman Braman and His "Boy" Marco Rubio 

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Monday, October 26, 2015

October 26, 2015--Take Them A Meal

The daughter of a friend required emergency surgery. For a time it was looking as if she might not make it. But she is young and strong and optimistic and is now home and recovering.

She is a nurse and it was clear that she would not be able to come to work for more days than would be covered by her accumulated sick leave and she would thus lose income in addition to having to deal with the aftermath of major surgery.

So her colleagues at the hospital contributed some of their own sick and personal days so that her absence from work would not cause her or her family undue financial hardship.

"That's about the nicest story I've ever heard," I said to her father. "Typical, though, of how people here seem to take care of one another."

"Yes," he said, "That's what we do. If a carpenter has a serious accident, friends will organize a benefit dinner or auction to help out him and his family."

"And I know from a few years ago," Rona said, "when someone we know was seriously burned on the job friends and neighbors, since winter was approaching, raised money to help them pay for heating oil."

A few days later, Ellie's father said, "Remember how the other day we were talking about how people here help each other out?" We did remember. "Take a look at this."

He slid a printout from a website across the breakfast table."

"What is it?" I said.

Rona who was looking at it, said, "I don't believe this. It's amazing."

"What is it?" I said again, feeling a little left out of the conversation.

"Give me a minute. Ellie's friends organized this?" Her father didn't say anything. He sat there smiling across the table at Rona.

"It looks like they're preparing food for Ellie and her family and bringing it over to them."

"That's right," he said. "See how it's organized? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the person who signed up for that day fixes a dinner for the four of them and brings it over to their house."

Rona was reading down the list for next week. "On Monday one of her friends is making American chop suey and apple pie. Wednesday someone else is making a homemade pizza with bacon. And . . ."

"Please, let me see that," I said, reaching across the table.

Rona passed it to me. "This really is amazing. Actually, wonderful." I looked at the list and saw that on Friday a friend is planning to make meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and squash. "Probably squash from your garden!" I said, looking at Ellie's father.

"Could be," he said, again smiling.

"I think I'll invite myself over for dinner on November 2nd when the meal of the day will be lasagna, garlic bread, and a veggie."

"Is this something Ellie's friends organized on their own?"

"I'm not sure about that. One friend I know is taking the lead. This came off the computer so when you get home you can look up how it works."

We did and found that Take Them A Meal is a nationally organized effort. They say they prepare 1.2 million meals a year. People can simply use their website to organize things. There is no charge and there do not seem to be any ads on the website.

"They even offer recipes for dinners they say transport well and reheat easily. Things like crock pot honey sesame chicken and blackened chicken and cilantro-lime quinoa."

"What day are they bringing the sesame chicken to the house?" I asked, "That sounds delicious."

"Rather than inviting yourself," Rona said, why don't you instead sign up to make the blackened chicken.'

"I was just kidding," I said, "But maybe I will."

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Friday, October 23, 2015

October 23, 2105--Midcoast: Food Chain

It all began with Jill's garlic.

The seasonal people depart late September through October. The when depends on obligations "back home" and who has enough insulation to stay on into early November.

In our case we have little insulation. But if there is afternoon sun, the solarization heats the house so much that I've taken to wearing sleeveless shirts on sunny afternoons. And with our propane and electric heaters, our bed and bathrooms are always cozy, even if, as it does on some nights, the temperature dips into the 20s.

Leaving in stages eases the emotional transition that we feel as friend by friend people depart. Making it worse is knowing we are unlikely to see any of our Maine friends again until early May or June when the seasonal people regather.

As noted, the departure ritual starts with Jill's garlic.

Her family has been in seasonal residence in this part of Maine for decades, and through the years Jill, who is a master gardener, has had by far the best vegetable garden in all of Pemaguid. It is so varied and bountiful that she keeps her nearby neighbor (fortunately, we qualify) supplied with the freshest, tastiest, healthiest vegetables, from lettuces by the end of the spring, tomatoes mid summer, and carrots and beets a bit later.

Later still comes her memorable garlic. These are ready for harvesting in late summer and span the days just before she reluctantly leaves right throughout the time when we are forced out by the threat of freezing pipes. As so, we are well supplied with garlic during our final weeks. And thus we think a lot about recipes that feature garlic even though simply roasting it is a treat.

Memories of Jill and others linger with us as we take in the hoses, store the outdoor furniture, and need to pack up since added to Jill's garlic are hand-me-down foodstuffs from others who departed during the past three or four weeks.

All of us during our remaining time attempt to prepare meals that take into consideration the perishables that still stock our fridges and freezers. No one of us is so organized that by the time we leave there is nothing left that can't remain over winter.

And so, those who leave right after Labor Day pass along to those who plan to stay through September all sorts of good things. And then those late September/early November folks pass along what accumulated with them as well as that which remains from their own larders. There is this form of multiplier effect as the very last to leave inevitably have to figure out what to do with what ultimately will reside with them. It is good to have some year-round friends who are inventive cooks.

We inherited a freezer bag full of ham hocks from one friend who left two weeks ago as well as from her a half dozen frozen turkey cutlets (which Rona used to make turkey chili) as well as a frozen ham steak (still waiting for inspiration), a pound or so of frozen red cabbage (for which we quickly bought as an accompaniment a half dozen weisswurst), three dozen frozen soft-shell clams which promptly became spaghetti with white clam sauce, and lots of frozen egg whites and chicken stock. The stock is currently defrosting and will by tomorrow be an essential ingredient in butternut squash soup which we plan to prepare from the two squash bequeathed to us from a friend in Walpole.

As we didn't have a good idea about what to do with the ham hocks, in anticipation of our looming need to depart, we passed these along already to a nearby friend who plans to be here through Thanksgiving. She promptly used them to make two gallons of split pea soup, some of which flowed back to us. If only our dear friend who passed the hocks along to us was still in residence, some of Karin's soup would be back in her refrigerator awaiting a chilly evening for which it would be perfect.

That chilly evening I can guarantee.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22, 2015--Anniversary

I'm taking the day off to celebrate our anniversary. It's getting to be a real number!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015--Teakettle Game

In Mrs. Peterson's 6th garde class at my elementary school, PS 244, to get us interested in vocabulary and spelling (not an easy matter), every few days she let us play the Teakettle Game. More technically, the Homonym Game.

When it was your turn you would try to challenge and frustrate your classmates (more the latter) by posing the following kind of question--

He teakettled down the canal rather than driving on the teakettle.

The other kids, from the context, were supposed to come up with the two words for which the teakettles stood. If they couldn't, you'd give them another sentence--

She parked the car on the teakettle and then teakettled in the lake.

That was usually enough for the smartest girl in the class, waving her raised hand frantically, to shout out and spell--"road" and "rowed."

It would then be her turn to come up with a stumper.

I later learned that some homonyms were of a different sort--they were pronounced the same, as road and rowed, but unlike these that are spelled differently, others are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Technically, they are homographic homonyms.

For example, lead (as in the metal) and lead (when it means being at the head of a line) are homographic homonyms.

Got it?

To see if you do, here are a couple of more Teakettle posers, homonyms of different sorts--

I will teakettle a letter with my teakettle hand.

In my hotel teakettle I bought a teakettle from the minibar and then listened to a Bach cello teakettle on the stereo.

Three or more in a sentence makes it easier to solve but is fun to construct.

There are so many of these various kinds of teakettles, sorry, homonyms, that for some time there has been a movement to simplify the spelling of some English words to limit confusion and make it easier for both native born and second-language people to learn and perfect English.

(Perfect itself, of course being a homographic homonym.)

In fact, playwright and over-all curmudgeon, George Bernard Shaw called for the development of an alternative to our 26-letter alphabet, contending that a phonetic one of at least 40 letters and orthographic symbols would make it easier to spell tens of thousands of English words. In the 1930s he sponsored a contest to attract interest in this project.

There are as a result quite a few examples of Shavian Alphabets but none caught on any more than attempts to get Britain and the United States to switch to the much more rational metric system.

Wouldn't tawt work better than taught? But then tawt would be a homonym for . . .

Here it is in one last teakettle example using tawt--

He was teakettleed to be certain the sheets were teakettle when making the bed.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October 20, 2015--Globalization

I'm a creature of deep habit so when I need new underwear I order them on line from Jockey.

I like them because they shun printed labels and come in long sizes. Unless I have long undershirts, they ride up and out pops my plumber's crack.

Part of my obsessiveness has me doing this twice a year--early fall and early spring. Each time 12 pairs of briefs and 12 v-neck tees.

My recent order just arrived and I was pleased to see stitched-on labels in the shorts but, alas, printed ones in the tees. I should have ordered a few more dozen and stashed them away because the trend in labels is clear.

I did notice on them that all the underwear was made in Cambodia.

Cambodia? Not China? Not the Philippines? Not Sri Lanka? Cambodia? Isn't Cambodia Pol Pot's country? The evil butcher of uncounted millions of his own countrymen? The head of the Khmer Rouge? The communist monster?  Now they're making Jockey shorts?

I know he was overthrown in about 1995 and I suppose it's good news that Cambodians are making underwear for Americans, though I suspect workers are probably fortunate if they are making more than $5.00 a day.

Also, for years I have been using Bic razors for shaving. Metal ones. In fact, my favorites are called just that--"Metal." They haven't been for sale in drug stores for at least a decade so I've bought them mainly on line through eBay. They come in packs of five and so, when I can, I order as many as possible. The last time, a few years ago, I bought a dozen packages and have been using them very carefully, knowing the time will soon come when they will no longer be available from anyone, anywhere.

But I keep searching the Web.

About a month ago a treasure trove of Bic Metals was offered for sale--20 packages of five! One-hundred individual razors. All for about $48 dollars, including shipping.

By my calculation, since one razor lasts me three months, using four a year, I would have a 25-year supply.

For me, virtually a lifetime's amount because I'm assuming if I'm still alive in 25 years I'll probably have a beard down to my waist and no longer have need for a Bic or any other kind of razor.

I'm assuming that Rona will give me a trim with a scissor when she visits me in the nursing home.

But then there was my mother who lived to three days past her 107th birthday. If I have her genes . . . who knows. But for razors, one way or another, I'll be all set. As to underwear, that's another story.

It took forever for the razors to arrive. After about a month, they were waiting at the post office. Rona went in to retrieve them. Usually when there's a package (mainly books from dozens of different booksellers and of course Amazon), it takes her about five minutes to gather what's waiting for us (mainly me) at the postmistress's window. This time Rona was inside for at least 15 minutes.

She was shaking her head when she finally emerged, clutching to her chest the package of what I assumed were the razors.

"You won't believe what they put me through."

"Put you through?"

"Yes. I had to show them two forms of ID and . . . "

"ID? They known you for years. But still they carded you?"

"Yes. And I had to fill out and sign three forms. Homeland Security forms." She collapsed in the passenger seat.

"Homeland Security? Those are the razors, right?" She nodded. "I can understand not being allowed to take them on a plane but these are just razors for shaving. Bic Metals."

"I know what they are and how you're obsessed with them but . . . "

"But what?"

"They came from the Ukraine."

"From where?"

"Ukraine. I think you say it without the The."

Skeptical, I said, "Can I see the package?"

And sure enough it did come from The Ukraine. I mean Ukraine, where the Ukrainians and Russians are fighting. It had Ukrainian and U.S. customs stamps all over it and was wrapped and double wrapped in brown paper and transparent tape. So totally taped up that I knew it would take me half an hour to unpack it.

"I'll bet it not the razors. It must be something else. Do we know anyone who lives in The . . . ?"

"Not as far as I know," Rona said. "Let's get home and open it to see what's in it."

After unloading the car I asked Rona to unwrap the package since I'm not good with those that are all taped up, especially one that was likely to contain something delicate.

But, it turned out, it contained my razors. As advertised, one-hundred of them.

"You mean you didn't realize the razors were coming from Ukraine?"

"Obviously. All I cared about was getting a big hoard to last me forever. It didn't matter where they were coming from."

"The ladies at the post office are dying to hear what's in the package. They're very professional and discrete and never would ask. I assume they know, if they're interested, that they're mainly books. About this one though . . ."

"What a world," I said. "And of course it's OK to tell them about the razors. Even my underwear if you or they would like."

Rona siad, "If you behave like this I won't be coming to the old age home to cut your beard."

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Monday, October 19, 2015

October 19, 2015--Donuts

It was still dark at 6:15 but Rona was stirring.

So in a whisper I said, "Are you awake?"

"Sort of," she mumbled.

"Interested in Frosty's?"

"For donuts?" Without waiting for an answer, she threw back the covers and stumbled quickly toward the bathroom.

We hadn't been there for about a month and for the past were feeling a donut rush. And we knew, to get the widest selection--especially Boston Creams--we would be pushing our luck if we showed up after 8:00. It's about a 50 minute drive and knew if we didn't hit the road by 7:00, traffic being unpredictable, we might make all that effort and wind up disappointed.

And Frosty's is the last place in the world where you want to be disappointed. If you can't rouse yourself, better not even to go.

"Look at that pink sky," Rona said, almost impossible to understand with the electric toothbrush whirring away.

"That's sunrise. You're rarely up early enough to see it." I was attempting to represent my insomnia as evidence of my moral superiority. "Right now, actually in about 15 minutes, it should be rising above the horizon just north of Monhegan Island."

"If I hurry, do you think there's enough time to drive to the Pemaquid Loop so we can see it?"

I checked my watch and said, "It depends on what you mean by hurry."

"I know, I know, this is about donuts."

Well, Rona did hurray sufficiently and we did get to the Loop just in time to see the fireball of the sun leap above the horizon at the edge of the Gulf of Maine."

"I have to try this more often" Rona sighed. "I'm missing too many things of this kind. But let's get a move on I need one of those Boston Creams."

"I think we'll be OK, but to be sure why don't you call them to reserve one?"

"Reserve one? You can reserve a dozen. But just one?"

"It never hurts to ask."

Which Rona did and when we got there--almost too late at five to eight--there it was in a small white paper bag propped up on the counter with "Rona" written on it.

You get a better price if you order a half dozen so we asked for a Glazed Raised, a Butternut Crunch, one Maple Glazed, and two Chocolate Coconuts to accompany the Boston Cream. That made a half dozen.

"If we need more," I told the woman serving us, we can always come back for them."

"If there are any left," she alerted us knowingly. "If you want, I can put a few more aside for you."

Not wanting to appear as out of control as we were, I shrugged and said, "I think six will be fine for us."

Rona kicked me.

"OK," I corrected myself, "How about a Glazed Twist and another Butternut Crunch. We really love those."

The server smiled, having heard it all.

After filling up on Frosty's--we did manage to eat all eight--heading home I spotted a sign for Orr's and Bailey Islands.

"We've never been there so why don't we see what there is to see."

After only four miles we entered another universe of glacier-gouged coves, fishing villages from another era, and a landscape dotted with lobstermen's cottages and cabins.

Rona said, "This feels like a perfect place to get away from things and readjust one's inner balances. That Log Cabin Inn looks to be where one could book a room to take all of this in and get reoriented."

"It looks just right for that. Maybe next season we should check in for a few days."

"How about next week?" Rona said only half kidding. "They are clearly still open."

"Maybe we should," I said, "Thursday's our anniversary."

"And Frosty's only a short drive from here. And . . . "

On the way home we talked about the popularity of donuts. "At least as popular as pizza," Rona said.

"Or bagels," I said.

"I wonder about the origins of donuts," Rona mused.

"I don't know why I'm saying this but my guess is that they're of German origin. I mean, pretzels are and I think bagels."

"Donuts are not really like either pretzels or bagels. Except maybe they have similar shapes. But neither are fried. In fact, quite the opposite."

"If we had a smart phone we could look it up."

"I'd rather look at Casco Bay," Rona said, staring out her window at the foliage, now close to their magnificent peak.

So I stopped rattling on about donuts and paid attention to the narrow, twisting road.

Back home, after checking emails, In Wikipedia I looked up donuts. For certain they are not of German origin. In fact, who first made them is not definitively known. Probably the Dutch who in the early 19th century made what they called donut-like oliekoeks, or "oil cakes." The term donut itself is an American invention. First appearing in Washington Irving's History of New York. He called them doughnuts, and they were really more what Dunkin Donuts calls Munchkins, or donut holes.

Later that afternoon, agreeing it had been one of our best times ever, I said, "I know you won't believe this after what we ate for our so-called breakfast, But I'm feeling a little hungry."

"Me too," Rona sheepishly admitted. "Since we're not having a healthy eating day, why don't we heat up that can of Chef Boyardee ravioli we impulsively bought a couple of months ago. You said, it was 'for old times sake.'"

"Another guilty pleasure. But what a wonderful idea," I said, reaching for a small sauce pan. Rona already had the mini ravioli can opened.

With enough parmesan cheese, they were in fact delicious, tasting to each of us just as they had the last time we had any. Decades ago. "I don't think they had the mini version back then," I said.

"Maybe for next time we should get the classic version."

"The next time? You mean you want these again? Soon?"

"Why not? I read the label and the ingredients are all pretty much OK. With an arugula salad and some crusty bread they could make a pretty good dinner."

"We'd probably need more than one can. For lunch, one is plenty; but for dinner, I think a can each."

"We could make a mix of both kinds--the classic and the mini."

"Listen to us," Is said. "It's come to this. The next thing we know we'll be checking out recipes for Spam."

"While you're looking things up," Rona said. "Check out Chef Boyardee. To see if he is or was a real person."

In less than a minute I knew.

"Yes, he was an actual person, an Italian immigrant named Ettore "Hector" Boiardi, who made and served ravioli in his restaurant in Cleveland. They were so popular that his customers urged him to produce and sell them, which he did beginning in 1928. They appear to be made in the same factory."

"What a country," Rona said. Frosty's in the early morning, Chef Boyardee in the afternoon. What shall we have for dinner?"

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Friday, October 16, 2015

October 16, 2015--Hillary

Unless there is something that the FBI will uncover in Hillary Clinton's emails that is indictable, after Tuesday's Democratic debate, not only will she waltz to the nomination but a year from November she will be elected president.

Bernie Sanders might have been an old fashioned gentleman when he said "enough about these damn emails," but politically, for all intents and purposes, that ended this line of questioning.

He is not privy to what the FBI is rooting about in, and there is more than a small chance that they will uncover a smoking gun. That would change everything. But as things stand, I stick by my prediction.

Clinton was so impressive that Joe Biden now will decide to stay out of the race. Maybe he even feels relieved. He had little chance of upsetting her. And he knows now that she is capable of roughing him up as she did to Sanders in regard to his record about guns and his naivety with world affairs ("With all due respect, senator, the United States is not Denmark"). Does Joe need to go through any of this in a losing cause?

He'd go from being the potential savior to spoiler. As of now there is nothing to save.

But above all here is why I am feeling so certain that the nomination and president is hers to lose--


Pretty much all the women I know have been planning to vote for Hillary. I mean even before the debate. To some it was a hold-you-nose thing. Yes, she's flawed. Deeply. But she is no worse than any of the others and . . . she's a woman.

Being female was the decider.

After Tuesday, checking in with a number of politically active women, I found they are now enthusiastic supporters. They are feeling that she excelled (admittedly the other four candidates were quite weak--I am trying to be kind) but she stood more than a little above them.

It was easy to imagine her back in the White House. This time as the president she always wanted to be.

So, they will not only vote for her, they now plan to contribute money and become active supporters. They will do  everything they can to encourage others to vote for her as well as become volunteers in her campaign.

And if this morning's rumors are true that she will select Julian Castro to be her running mate, it's all over. He is the former mayor of San Antonio and currently secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And, of course, is Mexican-American.

He they are together--

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

October 15, 2015--Leaf Peeping

Been leaf peeping all day along Appleton Ridge so no time for typing. Not quite peak but still magnificent. Back here on Friday.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015--Talk Radio

I'm a notoriously poor sleeper.

I manage to fall asleep without trouble, but it's the staying asleep that's the problem.

I have found that one thing that interrupts my early morning obsessing and allows me to resume sleeping is listening to overnight talk radio. The shows tend to be so repetitive and inane that they literally bore me to unconsciousness.

Sports talk of the sort found on WFAN, where callers and hosts obsessively fret about the Jets, Giants, and Knicks gets me slumbering in less than half an hour.

And then there are the political shows. All right wing and full of hate (mostly directed toward Barack Obama) and paranoia (most fears and conspiracies attributed to Obama) and so predictable and repetitive that they too soon lull me back to dreamland.

Then there is Coast to Coast, a nationally syndicated show that is devoted to the paranormal. Guests and callers share stories about flying saucers and how they were abducted and poked in all their bodily cavities by Martians before being returned to Earth. The good news--no one on these shows seem much interested in the president. Though occasionally he is thought to be an alien.

Usually, if I manage to acquire a strong C to C signal, I'm snoring again in less than 15 minutes. There are just so many trips to Venus I can handle even when staring fretfully at the 3:00 a.m. ceiling.

It is interesting that with two exceptions, political talk radio is all so stridently conservative. The two exceptions are the Alan Colmes and Al Sharpton shows. The former has 1.75 million listeners while the Reverend typically attracts 1.0 million.

Compare this with the king of talk, Russ Limbaugh, who has 13.25 million followers; the prince of paranoia, Sean Hannity with 12.5 million; delusional Glenn Beck and Mark Levin with 7.0 million each; and the Michael Savage show that pitches to 5.25 mad-as-hell insomniacs.

All the latter specialize in savaging (pun intended) liberals and especially Obama, who, frequently, is thought to be the Antichrist or at the very least a Kenyan Muslim. Nothing he is doing or did in the past is without fault. The goal is to overturn everything he accomplished, especially Obamacare, and even to delegitimatize him. Yes, he was elected two times with majorities, but if he can be proven to be foreign born or the literal Devil, they can make him go away. It would be as if he never existed.

To give their assault on Obama and other liberals the patina of credibility, these hosts and their callers frequently make things up.

Since they cannot marshall facts to support most of their allegations and grievances, they create them, disproving Daniel Patrick Moynahan's oft-quoted assertion that we are entitled to our opinions but not our own facts.

One small example--On the well-named Red Eye Radio program the other night--a widely syndicated show pitched to truck drivers--they were ranting about Obama's intention to ignore the Second Amendment and to begin to confiscate everyone's guns. Even hunting rifles. That he was using the most recent campus slaughter in southern Utah as a "political opportunity" to justify his fascistic agenda.

"If he's in favor of more gun control," one of the hosts shouted, "why doesn't he come forward with detailed proposals? He talks in generalities but offers no specifics."

His cohost and a procession of folks called in agree.

In fact, three years ago, after the murders at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama proposed a full program of legislation to limit the size of ammunition magazines for automatic weapons, increased requirements for those who sell semi-automatic assault rifles at gun shows, and the like.

I thought, why aren't any people calling in to present these facts? Where are the liberals who care about these issues? Why are they, we, so passive when faced with the phenomenon of right-wing talk radio?

If we can't sustain shows that present a progressive perspective (including on television--MSNBC failed while Fox News is thriving) why not at least organize a campaign to flood the airwaves with callers who will take on the lies and vitriol of the Glenn Becks, Michael Savages, and Mark Levins?

Liberals recognize the influence and power of these shows on political life and their ability to articulate a vision for the extreme right. A segment of the activist population that is more and more influencing and even shaping the Republican agenda.

Why have we ceded this on-air ground to the untra-conservatives? Even if these shows' producers began to screen out liberal callers, that in itself would make quite a story when publicly exposed.

It is curious that progressives spend passive time tuning in to the Jon Stewarts, Steven Colberts, and Bill Mahers, but are not motivated enough to get up off the couch to take on the calumnies of Limbaugh and Hannity.

Sorry, but if we don't get mobilized, we will get what we deserve.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015--"M Train"

I was going to write about the Republicans struggle to come up with a new Speaker, about how they are trying to woo Congressman Paul Ryan to allow them to elect them.

He is playing hard to get, but since he really wants to be President he doesn't want to seem too eager for this lesser job, two heartbeats from the presidency.

Here's his plan--

Be coy about the Speakership and then do it for the sake of the party and, of course, of America.

Then next year, after the GOP presidential candidates wind up in a scrum without a candidate with either a majority or mandate, blushing politician that he is, allow them to nominate him. Come to him, as now, plead with him. Promise him anything if just he would only save them from themselves.

Recall, he's the one who makes his staff read Ayn Rand. That alone should disqualify him but, for the faithful in his dysfunctional party, that's what they most love about him. That he's a man of ideas. Even if crackpot ones.

Hillary, as of this week with a 20 point lead over Bernie in the polls (forget Joe Biden), must be sitting back, smiling, and lighting up a victory cigar.

But, rather than writing about any of this titillating stuff, if you haven't yet picked up a copy of Patti Smith's on-going memoir, M Train, I recommend it. It's not quite Just Kids level, but still special.

Here's a brief taste--
We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother's voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to things I know. Don't go. Don't grow.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12, 2015--John's Turtle Story

"Our grandkids can't get enough stories."

"Those you tell them or read to them?"

"Both," John said, "But more the ones we read since after a few readings they can follow along as if they're reading."

"I've seen that with little ones," Rona said, "They memorize the text and seem to be following along as you read."

"They even know when to turn the page," John said.

"Amazing," I said. "What do you think is the story?"

"You mean their favorite stories?"

"Not so much that. The story as to why stories seem so important, even essential to kids. From my experience they can never seem to get enough."

"Maybe it coincides with their learning to talk," Rona said. "It's a great way to build vocabulary and help with syntax."

"I think it's more than that," John said, among the three of us the only one with children and now grandchildren. "One really interesting thing is that when I finish reading one, they say, 'Again, grandpa, again. Over and over again. That suggests there's something very important going on."

"I'm suddenly remembering that I couldn't get enough of The Little Engine that Could. I had my mother read it as often as she was willing."

"You're dating yourself," John and Rona said simultaneously, as if they had rehearsed.

"I know. I'm old and . . ."

"Not that old," Rona said. "And for the most part you still have your memory."

Ignoring that, I said, "Isn't it the one about the little locomotive that is able to pull a very long train of cars over a steep mountain after bigger engines refused to even try?"

"That's the one," John said, generously joining me in revealing that he too is old enough to remember it. "While struggling with the train, the little engine, which speaks as if it's human, says, 'I think I can. I think I can.' That's the line we all remember."

"And succeeds," I said. "So, like many children's stories it has a not-so-hidden message. In this case, perseverance, optimism, and the value of hard work."

"And an eager willingness to take on hard tasks. Seemingly daunting challenges. Good solid American values. At least they were back then."

"Why do you guys always seem to want to find subliminal messages in things like this? Isn't it enough to just say it's a good story, well written, with language and rhythmics that appeal to young children?"

Again ignoring that, I said, "In my day, this story was pitched to boys, I'm not sure it was all that popular among girls. I even wonder if mothers read it to their daughters?"

"There a lot of sexism there," Rona said, "I  think my mother did. But there I go also being over analytical."

We all laughed.

"While we're being over analytical," John said, winking, "there seems to be an adult need as well for stories. Look how popular novels are and so many TV shows from Masterpiece Theater to Homeland to Mad Men. You name it, there are lots of adult stories available in different forms--in movies of course --that there must be a story gene in our DNA."

We looked at him skeptically. "Give me one example of a society, a klan, a tribe, ancient or modern, that doesn't value stories. In some cases cherishing them. So much that even before there were written languages, people passed them along orally from generation to generation."

"I can't think of any," I said. "Among other things, for seemingly all the time there have been humans, us very much included, everyone has had their own creation myths. Or, if you prefer, stories."

"True," Rona said, "Especially about how their tribe or society or civilization came into being. Including how humans came into being."

"From Romulus and Remus," John said "Who were pre-Romans raised by wolves. Do I have that right? From them the ultimate Roman Empire emerged?"

"Yes. And how so many in the West pass along their, our creation story through the Old Testament."

"Getting everyone on board about their particular origin myth is a way to connect people to each other in very deep and profound ways. It's so frequent that it must be essential to their survival as a tribe or society or nation."

"Native Americans have really fascinating ones," John said. "The Navajo  creation story, for example, is about how at first there were four spiritual worlds and only insects existed. But it was from the fourth world, after trying the other three and being thwarted, through a hollow reed, that the first humans emerged, males and females, who came from insects and were sustained by ears of white and yellow corn."

"I've heard versions of that one," I said.

"Isn't there another one about a turtle?" John said. "How a prehistoric turtle emerged from a muddy pond with the first tribal member on its back and . . ."

"I think you're making that one up," I said.

"Could be," John said, winking again.

"Go on," Rona said, "I want to hear the rest. How things worked out for the turtle people."

"But he's making that one up," I said.

"I don't care," Rona said. "I want to hear the rest of it. It sounds like a great story."

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Friday, October 09, 2015

October 9, 2015--Origin Stories

I am working on a piece about origin stories. It's not quite finished but will appear here on Monday.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

October 8, 2015--Day Off

Busy with social events and reading. I will return tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

October 7, 2015--Rules of Writing

Somehow I never got around to reading anything by Elmore Leonard.

I enjoy Raymond Chandler so I can't quite say I dislike detective novels, though they are not among my favorites.

But Leonard has escaped me except for a few movies such as Get Shorty that are based on his novels. And I haven't been that impressed by them.

But when less than a month ago The New York Review of Books published a major piece about him--"The Elmore Leonard Story"--I ordered and read Out of Sight. Not bad, but still not for me Raymond Chandler.

Though I liked what Joan Acocella in the NYR had to say--
Elmore Leonard, who died two summers ago, aged eighty-seven, became famous as a crime novelist, but didn't like being grouped with most of the big names in that genre, people such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett or, indeed, any of the noir writers. He disapproved of their melodrama, their pessimism, their psychos and nymphs and fancy writing. He saw in crime no glamor or sexiness but, on the contrary, long hours and sore feet. His criminals didn't become what they were out of any fondness for vice. They just needed the work, and that's what was available.
I confess, the things Leonard dislikes about Chandler are among the very reasons I like him!

There is, though, one brilliant scene in Out of Sight.

When Jack Foley, who has just broken out of prison encounters a beautiful deputy U.S. marshall, Karen Sisco, who, by chance is parking outside the gates when the breakout occurs, though there for other business, Foley takes her captive, puts her in the getaway car's trunk, and joins her there, not for hanky-panky but, for among other things, to talk about movies. Especially ones in which Faye Dunaway stars!

That alone is worth the price of the book.

In his lifetime Leonard wrote more than 30 novels and because of the sparseness of his prose and vivid dialogue became a sort of writers-writer. So much so, and obviously relishing it, he took to issuing rules of writing, including these ten--

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000  words.

6. Never use the word "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

7. Use regional dialect, patois sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don't go into detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

He added, "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10."

And, my favorite, "If it sounds like rewriting, rewrite it."

As much as I like most of these, and would add, "Show, don't tell," I need dispensation to use more exclamation points. In this piece alone I've used up more than my lifetime supply!

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

October 6, 2015--Fingers

I don't know how we got around to talking about fingers.

Perhaps because Rona thinks she broke the pinkie on her left hand. Or maybe, she thinks, since the knuckle is a little swollen and painful, it's an early case of arthritis.

"Pinkie?" Al said, "Did you ever think why we call our smallest finger the pinkie?" He was trying to steer us away from medical talk.

"Or, for that matter," Ken, happily redirected, said, "why we call it the baby finger? Though I guess that one is pretty obvious."

"I have no idea," I said, "Or why the thumb is named the thumb."

Sufficiently distracted, Rona mused, "What about the ring finger? Not every one has a ring there but still that's what we call it. I mean we do call it that but I wonder if in Chinese it's also called the ring finger. Do they wear wedding rings there? I don't know. Or wedding rings at all on another finger? The name ring finger feels cultural to me."

"To complete the picture," John chimed in, "there is the index or pointer finger and then the most famous of all--the middle finger. That one as far as I know doesn't have a more descriptive name, but as we know plenty of people put it to good use." He winked.

"I know you like to look things up," Al said to me, "So fingers are your assignment for today."

Which I happily took on when back at the house I did some googling about the names of fingers.

The thumb first since in Latin finger notation it is considered the first of the five fingers though it works quite differently than the rest. It's "opposable," which means it sits opposite the other four and flexes toward them when in use. The others, curl or flex toward the palm. It is claimed that our and other primates' opposable thumbs are what give us many great advantages over other animals that have finger-like claws that are good only for simple forms of grasping. Bears, for example, are thus not much good at gripping.

The etymology of thumb doesn't take this feature into account since from Old English it simply means "swollen part." Swollen by nature, not by arthritis as with Rona's pinkie.

About that pinkie. It appears not to have a very interesting derivation. It comes from the Dutch word pink meaning "little finger." Nothing enlightening about that obvious perception. Though I wonder what the Dutch word is for the color pink.

The index finger or pointer or forefinger is a bit more interesting. Etymologically to means to "make known," presumable by pointing to something that one wants to make known.

Most interesting to me is the fourth or ring finger. Before the flowering of medical science, people believed that a vein ran directly from it to the heart. In Latin that blood vessel was called the vena amoris. Nice. And obviously why in some cultures we place wedding rings there.

The Chinese, to complete this, traditionally do not wear wedding rings but use them during the marriage ceremony itself. On the ring finger. They too must have notions about that phantom vega amoris.

I couldn't resist 

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Monday, October 05, 2015

October 5, 2015--Four Month's Work

Kenneth Griffin, 46, CEO of the investment firm Citadel, is worth a neat $7.0 billion.

His divorcing wife claims that last year he earned an average of $100 million a month, or $68.5 million for the year after taxes. Mr. Griffin is not denying that. And so, after just 11 years of marriage, it is going to be an expensive divorce.

Nonetheless, he has been on a real estate shopping spree.

Here's what four months of work, or $400 million in income, bought him--

According to the New York Times, in Chicago, where Citadel is based, he bought two whole floors of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He bought the 37th floor for $13.0 million and paid $16 million for the 46th floor.

In New York this year, Griffin is purchasing three floors, totally 18,000 square, at 220 Central Park West. Still under construction, he shelled out $200 million for the triplex, a record for Manhattan. (He could have had our place on 9th Street for a lot less.)

Then in Miami Beach, he closed a deal recently for the 12,500 square-foot penthouse of Faena House (faena--"a series of final passes leading to the kill by the matador in a bullfight") for a Miami record $60 million. The condo has a media room, "great room," a 70-foot-long "infinity pool," and I assume a host  of bed and bathrooms.

Actually, the three purchases total "only" $390 million, which means he had to work even less than four months to earn enough to buy all of them for cash.

I almost forgot--Griffin also owns houses in Aspen and Hawaii.

Kenneth and Anne Dias Griffin In Happier Times 

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Friday, October 02, 2015

October 2, 2015--Boy In the Pickle Boat: Part 2

Pickle Boat--Part 2

Perhaps it was psychosomatic, the result of knowing how Coach Boone and my father were conspiring, but at the end of the next day’s practice I needed to be lifted from the shell by my crewmates and carried up to the trainer’s room in the boathouse because I found that I couldn’t get out of the shell on my own—my body seemed rigidly locked in rowing position.
The trainer, Ray Fullerton, who was a Columbia fixture (campus wits claimed he had been with the college since it was named King’s College, after King George II), was waiting for me and was very reassuring, telling me that my condition was so common that he had seen dozens of crew members over the years bent just as I was, like a right angle bracket, and that he had a liniment he himself concocted many years ago that would fix me right up, 
“You’ll see,” he said with a slap on my back that sent a flame of pain down my left leg, “You’ll be back in the boat tomorrow afternoon.”   This was indeed reassuring since I had been worrying that it would take until at least the end of the year before I would be able to lie flat. 
After two of my crewmates dropped me onto the training table, Ray Fullerton rolled me onto my side and managed to pull down my sweatpants and rowing shorts to get to my throbbing hip even though he was afflicted by shakes so severe that the liquid he had compounded was splashing out of the bottle and onto the table.  I realized how potent it was since the leather where it dripped was already becoming bleached.  
And from that, I assumed it would burn right through me when he applied it to my left hip.  I knew, however, that if I could endure it, as did so many athletes before me, it would straighten me out and get me back into that boat.  And so I was relieved that it felt cool rather than hot when he rubbed it in with those knurled hands of his that had kneaded the muscles and joints of so many illustrious alums--some who had been on the Columbia football team that achieved the greatest upset in sports history back in 1934 by beating Stanford 7-0 in the Rose Bowl; others who had gone on to pro careers with the New York Knicks; and maybe even he had ministered to the great Lou Gehrig, who had played first base for Columbia in 1921 before becoming the Yankees’ Iron Horse.  I was indeed in good hands—Lionel Trilling for modern literature and Ray Fullerton for crippled backs. 
He told me that he would be applying a stick-on patch to cover the affected area and that later that night I might feel some heat beneath it.  I would know from that that it was working its magic.  He cut a huge circle about the size of a basketball from what looked like a rubber sheet and peeled off one layer to expose the gummed surface, which he then plastered to my hip joint. 
I already was experiencing some relief and thus feeling optimistic, as I was able to hobble to the bus without any assistance, still bent over to be sure, but ambulatory.  I did, though, need help getting into bed and once settled there immediately fell asleep on my side, still pretty much twisted in the shape of a right triangle.
*    *    *
At 3:00 a.m., emerging from a dream inexplicably set in a restaurant, I thought I smelled steak sizzling on a grill.  Just as I was marveling at the vividness of my dream, I realized, in panic, that the meat I smelled was me.  The flesh below the patch was broiling.  I was on fire. 
I tore at the patch and ripped it off, horrified to see a circle of skin adhering to it.  My skin.  And saw as well that my hip was now a enflamed mass of raw flesh.  My screams roused my room- and crewmate, Arty Gottlieb, who after groping for his bottle-thick eyeglasses was able to see the carnage.  He remained calm--he was after all a pre-med—and dragged me from my cot to the Emergency Room at St. Luke’s where, because I was triaged to the front of the line ahead of a teenager from Harlem who had been shot on the leg, I realized that my condition was either serious or that Columbia students were given automatic priority over anyone who lived down the slope and east of Morningside Park.
Sad to say, it turned out to be the latter because though my situation was nasty it was not as life threatening as a gunshot wound.  They patched me up and sent me back to the dorm, wrapped in gauze, telling me I needed to get x-rayed the next day to see what was really wrong with my hip.  It was suspected that what they would find would be beyond the experience of even a trainer who in the 1930s had treated the great quarterback Cliff (“Monty”) Montgomery.  I needed a doctor, not a trainer, and, I felt, a Jewish one at that.
*    *    *
It turned out that I needed more than a doctor— I needed a specialist, an orthopedist, and one that my family would consider the “biggest.”   In this case, he was a Doctor Phillips, decidedly not Jewish, who after a raft of x-rays determined that my hip muscle, the body’s largest and most powerful he informed me, that the gluteus maximus, from the strain of rowing and, he hinted, because of my faulty technique—one of the diplomas on the wall of his office was from Andover Academy, another from Princeton—that most powerful of muscles, even powerful in someone as weak as me, was in the process of pulling apart two of the fused pelvic bones that were supposed to remain fused, he said, if one was to avoid becoming a cripple for life.
He told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to refrain from crew practice for a few months and not do anything more strenuous than walk in a straight line.  “But what if I have to turn the corner from 116th Street onto Broadway?” I asked.  “I have my lab there.”

“Be sure to make a big circle,” he responded, sweeping his arms in a wide arc and then demonstrated by pacing off such a grand left turn in his huge waiting room that he had to ask someone to get up out of her chair and move it so he could complete the circuit and his instructions.  To drive them home, as he opened the door for me, indicating that that too might put too much strain on my pelvis, he said, “If you do what I say, when you come back to see me in a week maybe, just maybe you’ll still be able to walk.  Otherwise, it will be a wheelchair you’ll be needing.” 
I had not told my father about having to see a doctor much less a specialist.  When I initially injured myself I did tell him about it and he dismissively said, matter-of-factly, “All it needs is some Bengay.  Rub some in and you’ll be fine.”  Since I had been careful not to tell him about what the trainer had done, I certainly wasn’t going to bring up x-rays much less orthopedists.  So I did not mention my new technique for turning right and left or the specter of the wheelchair.
When a week later I returned to Dr, Phillip’s office on Park Avenue, Columbia had an arrangement with him to treat their athletes as part of the student health plan, I waited for another patient to arrive who was better able than I to open the door so I could slip in behind him.  When it was my turn to see the doctor, I reported that during the previous week I had been so diligent in following his instructions that I made only six left and four right turns.
This did not seem to impress him nor did the fact that I arrived without the assistance of a wheelchair.  He sat at his desk, half turned away from me, swiveling from side to side, not looking up but with his eyes riveted to the x-rays in my file.  After a few minutes of awkward silence, I managed to ask, “So, what’s next?”  He didn’t look up, “I am feeling much better.”
Still without looking at me, and in a voice quite different than the commanding one of the first visit, he spoke now in a subdued monotone, “I talked with Coach Boone yesterday and told him you could go back to practice next week.”  Stunned equally by his change in demeanor and the news, I felt myself stiffening.  “That is, as long as you go to St. Luke’s every afternoon before practice to get a Diathermy treatment.  That is a deep heat treatment.”
“But,” I interrupted, “I thought you told me last week that it would be at least a month before I could maybe resume practice.  You said, that is, if I hadn’t already turned into a cripple.”  In confusion and desperation, I peered at him.
Then almost in a whisper, he said, “I also spoke with your father . . . “

Who?” I exploded, not able to contain myself.
“. . . who told me,” he continued, looking down, “how important it was for you to get back to practice.  That the coach was getting the crew ready for the Olympics and it would soon be rowing season.  That without you . . ."
*    *    *
And so I found myself the following Monday in the Physical Therapy unit of St. Luke’s, where for a half hour I lay under the beam of the Diathermy machine, induced by it into a form of delirium that was perfect preparation for the trek to the boathouse and our practice, which I sensed the coach shortened that afternoon in deference to my condition.
This routine went on for two weeks.  As if I had been transformed into an automaton, before getting on the bus, I would go up to the fourth floor of the hospital where I would lay on an electrical plate inserted beneath my hip, what the technician called an “indifferent electrode,” which would serve as the “receptor” for the electrical current they shot through my body to produce the desired inner heat.  Though the contraption within which I was placed looked like a cross between Rube Goldberg and Dr. Frankenstein machines, it seemed to work because I was feeling better and was able to participate in the workouts that were gathering in intensity as the coach sensed I was strengthening.  And because the rowing season was just two months away and he needed to get us ready for the first race, which was against dreaded Yale and terrifying Harvard.
*    *    *
It was freezing on the river that February, so much so that when the ice pack began to break up in the Hudson River, some of it flowed through the Spuyten Duyvil and down into the Harlem where we practiced.  There were so many miniature icebergs in the river that our coxman was hard pressed to keep our fragile shell clear of them.
Just as I was about to be fully restored, and began thinking that maybe I could taper off the treatments so I could get back to the chemistry lab I had been cutting, very late one Thursday afternoon at the end of the month, as we were sliding up to the dock, shivering against the stiffening wind, Coach Boone pulled his launch right up alongside our shell.
Leaning toward us, without needing his megaphone he was so close, he spoke in a weary voice, one we had never before heard, “Boys,” he said, “Remember that night in the Lion’s Den when I told you that I knew you better than you knew yourselves?”  We nodded our heads in such unison that the shell did not rock, “And how I said to you that if you did everything I told you to do you could have a life about which you were only just imagining and were even afraid to acknowledge?”  More nodding, still no rocking, but now with our eyes, as then, averted.  “Well, I am worried about you now.  I am concerned that that dream will elude you.  As mine did.  Remember I told you about that too?”
We sensed he was now talking even more to himself than to us.   “You may think my life was very different than yours.  Well, you’re wrong.  You know nothing about me.  My real name isn’t even ‘Boone.’  My father changed it when I was two years old.  He wanted a different life for me than his own.  And look what I did with it.  I threw it away.”  Though he then turned away from us, we still could hear him, “So as a result here I am, what, coaching a Pickle Boat.”
He then wheeled back toward us, his face suddenly aflame with rage, “Goldberg,” he spat, pointing at him with such ferocity that to Goldberg and the rest of us it felt as if his finger was piercing our chests, “You of all people, I have learned that you were smoking.  I told you that was absolutely forbidden.  You’re pissing away all the hard work.”  He had never used that kind of language before, “You, with that spine of yours.  You don’t even belong in this pathetic boat.” 
With a look of disgust, he turned to the rest of us, “And what’s the matter with you—GoldfarbGoodmanGutterman?”  His string of G’s stung like bullets.  “And you, you, Zaslow, with your Diathermy treatments?  You knew what he was up to and what did you do?  Nothing.  That’s what you did.  Nothing.  You and your father.”  He couldn’t even look at me.
He was using the megaphone again even though he was just a few feet from us.  I felt as if my head would shatter.
“And for that, so all of you will follow my orders, today we’re doing extra practice.  We’re going back down the river as far as Yankee Stadium.  That will help you remember.”  And with that he jolted his launch to starboard and roared off while we wearily turned in the Duyvil toward the rush of the Harlem River. 
But just as we managed to come about and get ourselves oriented to the south, as full darkness settled over us and the water, before we could even respond to the coxman’s, “Ready all, row,” we slammed into a huge chunk of ice that likely had formed a month earlier ninety miles north up the Hudson near Albany.
And with that the shell began to fill with icy river water.  The razor sharp ice had cut through the vulnerable shell as if it were a huge scalpel.  In what felt like seconds, the entire boat was full and it and we slowly sank into the river.  To the depth of our equally vulnerable chests.  Where we came to rest. 
Somehow Coach Boone had sensed disaster and looped back to us; and through his megaphone, his voice now calm, instructed us to remain in the shell and to keep our oars extended.  If we did that we would not sink any further and he could then come alongside and transfer us one by one, alternating starboard and port, to keep us on even keel, until all of us were in the launch with him and he would get us back safely to the dock. 
He promised that, and we believed him as we had, in truth, believed him about everything else.
*    *    *
The next day, the college paper, the Spectator, had all the details and proclaimed them in lurid headlines that compared the Pickle Boat to the Titanic—the smoking incident; the extra practice; the sinking; the rescue; the fact that all of us were kept overnight in St. Luke’s “for observation”; that we were OK by the next day; that since the freshmen crew now had only two shells, the Pickle Boat would be disbanded (they happily did not refer to it as we knew it); and that the coach, Coach “Bloom” they misnamed him, had been “granted leave for the rest of the year.” 
But as with so many newspapers, they got the facts right but missed the real story—that though it appeared that he was attempting to motivate us by continually talking about the Rome Olympics, he was up to something very different; they failed to report that he knew what we really wanted to attain was equally foreign yet sensed in us the capacity to get there if we made the right kind of effort; that he knew what that effort entailed and that it was about techniques and endurance and powers that were not learned nor played out on rivers or in shells; the Spectator as well did not write that he also knew that this could never be discussed, that it needed to be kept within our covert circle; and that “crew” was a metaphoric world in which the symbols of these aspirations could emerge; they did not report that 
Coach Boone understood that he had sought those very same assimilist dreams and, though he had failed, he had chosen to devote his life to boys such as us who he knew could learn more of what we really needed from his example than from anyone else on campus. 
Also not reported was what we knew--about this, too, he was right.
*    *    *
Two years later, on an April Saturday, having borrowed my father’s battered car, I drove down to Princeton, to watch the crew races between the Yale, Harvard, and Princeton crews (being sure to park it well out of sight), historic races that was held annually on Carnegie Lake, a man-made marvel devoted just to racing. 
It was a day so glorious that it appeared it too had been created by God and man to accommodate these ancient rivals.
Sitting on the grass embankment, which also had been shaped into a perfect perch from which to see the entire two thousand meters of the course, I was reminded of what my father was thinking when he dropped me off for my first day at college with the admonition to go out for the crew—his sense that crew served as a form of social alchemy, a hermetic process through which the base-metal boys from places such as Brooklyn were transmuted into gilded men such as those one finds in late April on Carnegie Lake.
But by then I knew that alchemy was a failed science of dreaming and that even the great man for whom this lake was named and paid for, Carnegie, had never gone to college.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

October 1, 2105--Boy In the Pickle Boat

I finally got around to reading The Boys In the Boat. It's only been a NY Times bestseller for two years. One would have thought, considering I rowed for Columbia, that I would have turned to it sooner. 
In any case, regarding my experiences at Columbia (mostly complicated), I thought to post in two parts a fictionalized piece I wrote about that time. The first part is below. The second will appear Friday.
Pickle Boat--Part 1
I was the Number Seven oar in the freshman Pickle Boat.  Though none of the eight of us had ever rowed before, except perhaps with a girl we were trying to impress in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Lake, crew coach Al Boone, a frog-voiced decorated ex-Marine, declared, “Four years from now, men, we’re going to the Olympics in Rome.  I can see you in your shell on the Tiber River.  That’s in Italy, in case you forgot your geography.  So practice your rowing technique, work hard, eat the right food, and above all, men, no smoking or fornicating.  And then we’ll be off to sunny Italy.”  
He always ended this speech with a flourish,  “Arrivadecci Roma!
His Italian was better than his coaching--his arrivadecci turned out indeed to be goodbye, but his dreams of glory sank one day on the Harlem River, 4,300 miles from the Tiber. 
To begin, you may require some background since crew as a sport hasn’t as yet attracted many followers.  Just fanatics, of which I at the time was one.  You also probably need some background about how a Jewish pre-med-English major with a tweed jacket, pipe, and beret wound up each afternoon at crew practice dressed in Columbia blue shorts, sweatshirt, and rubber rowing booties, rather than brooding over a beer at the West End Bar on Broadway, the Beat poets’ favorite hangout, or in chem lab learning the techniques of titration.
Crew is the quintessential prep-school sport since, among other things, to participate one requires—a very expensive boat or shell that seats eight plus a coxswain, equally costly twelve-foot-long oars (eight of those), a fieldstone boathouse in which to store the shell, and above all access to a river or lake that isn’t totally polluted. 
Before I proceed, think about how a high school in my native Brooklyn would have attempted to participate in crew.  Even assuming that a public school could have gotten its hands on a shell, oars, and a place to keep them, where would the rowing take place?  The lake in Prospect Park is no more than a few hundred yards in length or breadth and crews need at least two thousand meters (not the way things were measured in non-metric Brooklyn) for practice and races.  
If a crew somehow managed to drag itself and its gear from my Brooklyn Technical High School to the Gowanus Canal or the East River by the Navy Yard, in less than half an hour, the toxic chemicals in these waters would eat their way through the quarter-inch thickness of laminated wood of which shells are constructed and then immediately move on to attack and infect the oarsmen.
Then you would have to have someone to compete against.  It is totally unimaginable that Tech could have found competition in a league consisting of proletarian Tilden, Madison, Lincoln, Erasmus, and Aviation Trades High Schools.  Thus one finds crews at bucolic riverside schools such as Exeter, Andover, Lawrenceville, and St. Paul’s.  What are also found there are six-foot four-inch gentiles—as essential to a winning crew as the sleek shell itself.
Columbia, my college, without a quota, thus at the time the “safe” Ivy League college for over-achieving Jewish Brooklyn public school graduates, had a crew, which was an Ivy requirement.  But without any prep school freshmen, no one who tried out for the Columbia crew knew their starboard from their port much less that as a crew member you had responsibility for just one oar, on the left (port) or right (starboard) side (forget any rowboat experience), or that you were probably guaranteed to finish last, considering the prep-school-prepared nature of the competition.
Therefore it is a good and legitimate question why anyone at Columbia would try to join the crew.   
What could possibly be behind this case of mass masochism? 
In my case, which I subsequently learned was representative, I was told to do so by my father.  As he dropped me off for freshman orientation on a hot day right after Labor Day, when I asked him for any last minute advice he might offer as I was about to embark on a college education, we had not spoken one word to each other except about the Dodgers on the long drive from East Flatbush to Morningside Heights, an intercontinental trip in cultural terms, he said, “Make sure to go out for the crew.”
Though I had almost no sense of what that meant much less what a crew did, after I learned about the inner world of crew, especially who participated, I was reminded again that my father was a master of the occult pathways to assimilation.  If I was to make it in the second half of the 20th century, he knew, I had better learn their ways and if necessary how to “pass.”
So not only did I find my way to the Baker Field boathouse at the very northernmost tip of Manhattan Island, I also took the precaution to cover other bets by outfitting myself in proper collegiate attire, which featured that tweed jacket, pipe, and beret because, if all else failed, if I couldn’t get into medical school, I could always become a poet.
*    *    *
All twenty-four of us who tried out made the crew.  We were equally inexperienced and without anything resembling muscle tone.  There was room for all of us since there were three separate and very distinct freshmen crews, each group of eight assigned to its own boat—the Varsity, Junior Varsity, and the Pickle Boat.  Though I was relegated to that latter boat, it wasn’t until many years later that I realized that by naming it after a pickle, Marine-tempered Coach Boone might have been expressing latent feelings about our ethnicity.
How, you might wonder, did he make his distinctions since we were in crew-terms indistinguishable to the untutored eye?  Though it would have been quite different and easy to divide us between pre-laws, pre-meds, and math geniuses.   Retrospectively, I have to assume, it was by the subtle differences he wasCrew is about technique, coordination, power, and endurance.  The power derives from legs and backs.  But all of our legs were bandied and grossly underdeveloped and our backs displayed the poor posture that was characteristic of young scholars from the ghettos of Brooklyn.  Therefore, neither our legs nor our backs were of any use in either the shell or as a help to Coach Boone who needed to find a metric that he could employ to place us in one boat or another. 
Endurance, on the other hand, could be measured in a clearly physiognomic way—by a comparison of our chests, which by their sizes and configurations would reveal our lung capacities and thus our ability to endure the stress of rowing thousands of meters.  Coach Boone, who also appeared to be an expert eugenicist, by just a glance at our shirtless, shivering bodies, was able to assign us to our proper shell and separate us into port and starboard oarsmen merely by comparatively measuring our chests. 
Our chests revealed all he needed to know—those not distorted by allergies or covered with pimples were candidates for the Varsity boat; those who caught frequent croups or had post-nasal drips found themselves in the Junior Varsity boat; while the Pickle Boat was reserved for those of us who suffered from chronic strep throat or bronchitis.
Try as he did, poor Dr. Holsager, the extended family’s devoted pediatrician, who was still my doctor even though I was a college freshman, could not seem to protect me from a continuous onslaught of diseases of the eyes, ears, nose, throat, or lungs.  At least once a month since I was three I would be plagued with fits of wheezing, blowing, dripping, coughing, chocking, and spitting.  All of which, by the time I was seventeen, assured that I would have what my father called a “sunken chest,” just the sort of upper body that would doom me to the Pickle Boats of the world.  Or make certain that I would lead a sedentary life.  Thus the Plan B poetic beret that I purchased at the Stag Shop on Broadway on the first day of orientation.
True, I had played basketball because I was prematurely tall, and this gave my father hope that I also had the potential to become what he thought of as a man.  But my greatest basketball skill was standing flatfooted under the basket, towering over everyone else on the court, waiting for rebounds to come my way.  The coach, Mr. Ludwig, taught me just where to stand and to be sure to always keep my arms extended above my head, easily well above everyone else’s.  This was hardly preparation for the very different, much more athletic and arduous requirements of crew.  Nonetheless, I was determined to persevere since I knew what was at stake for me—everything.
*    *    *
The coach arranged for his own version of orientation—just for the men of the Pickle Boat.  He told us to meet at 10:00 p.m. the night before the first practice in the Lion’s Den, the college’s version of a rathskeller, set in the dingy basement of John Jay Hall.  There, with all light supplied by candle stubs, with the walls sheathed with smoke-stained Teutonic stucco, the eight of us seated at a heavily carved beer hall table, with Coach Boone at the head, we received his charge: 

“Men, and I call you that in spite of the way you may have up to now been thinking about yourselves.”   
He then muttered, chuckling to himself, “After all, look at you.”  And none of us, even without sneaking looks to our left and right, could not have disagreed with him. “But you are the sort of recruits I will mold into men.  You know about the Marines, don’t you?  Well, I was a Marine after leaving college.  I didn’t graduate, though I was on the varsity crew.  I wasn’t ready for college.  I was still a boy.  No need here to go into why I left college with a year to go.  Let’s just say it was because, thanks to crew, I was turned into a man and it was as a man that I was asked to leave college.”  More chuckling for reasons it was also easy for us to imagine. 

“It was hell there.  In Korea. We were up by the Yalu River one winter.  It was so cold, the proverbial Witch’s Tit, that I lost three of my toes to frost bite.  Couldn’t have rowed after that.”  He grunted.  “One guy in my company, he, well, I’ll tell you about him another time.  Forget his name to tell you the truth.”  

We sat there careful to keep our eyes averted.  “Where was I?  Ah, yeah, right.  About the Marines.  Like I was saying, in the Marines I learned one thing—it’s not enough to be just a man.  It’s what you do as a man.  You will learn that from crew.  You will not need to join the Marines for that.”  Now his amusement was no longer suppressed—he burst into overt laughter, even pounding the table.  It was obvious to all of us that the prospect of any of us even thinking about becoming a Marine was to him an appropriately hilarious idea. 

“I know you have to go to class and do your studying.  After all, what would we do if you people, you men I mean, didn’t become our doctors and lawyers,” he winked at us.  “I’m sure you get my meaning here.”  Another wink.  “But I bet you’re wondering why I arranged this meeting for just the members of the Pickle Boat.”  Indeed, we had been wondering about that. “Well, let me relieve you of that one.  I know where you come from and I know as a result that none of you are natural athletes.”  And he added as another aside, “Not that the other two crews are much better.”  
He had a huge stein of beer and, as if contemplating his sorry situation, assigned by fate to be the coach of such a hopeless bunch, he took a moment to empty it.  “But I am just the man to turn you into a winning crew because I know who you really are and what you really think about yourselves and how desperate you are to leave your old ways behind and make something different of yourselves and therefore how hard you will work at this and will do everything I tell you to do without asking questions.  Because you know who I am and how you really want to be like me and not like the members of your families, who tomorrow morning will drag themselves back to their desks and spend the whole day squinting through their glasses at their ledger books.” 
He looked around the table at each of us slumped and squirming in our tooled-leather chairs, pausing at each of us until we with trepidation looked up to return his gaze and nod in silent compact.
“And so men, tomorrow will be the beginning of this new life.  Through the exercise routine I will teach you and our workouts on the river and the food I will tell you to eat (forget about the stuff your mothers made you eat at home).  If you do all of that, within six months, when you look in the mirror, you will no longer recognize yourselves.” 
If he had taken a vote, all of us would have agreed to give up even our mothers’ beloved noodle kuggel and brisket of beef if after six months, or for that matter six years, we would be unrecognizable to ourselves.
“And finally men, I forgot one thing—medications.  We’ve got to get you breathing.  So our trainer will get everyone all the antihistamines you need.” 
And with that, as a man, we leapt from our seats and spontaneously began to sing Columbia’s fight song, Roar, Lion, Roar.
*    *    *
Every afternoon at 3:30 a bus would pick us up outside our dorms, on Amsterdam Avenue, right by Saint Luke’s Hospital.  That you will see was fortuitous—to be picked up and dropped off right there at the entrance to the Emergency Room, which over time, considering the condition of my chest, lungs, and other fragile body parts was to become an important destination for me.
We would pile onto the Campus Coach bus, schlepping math and chemistry books along with us so we could cram in some homework on the long ride up the granite spine of Manhattan.  Every one of us was leading at least a dual life—crew member and academic grind.
At that legendary 1926 Boathouse, after changing, each crew would lift its shell from its rack in the shed and carry it, supported on our shoulders, down the steep and slippery hill to the launching dock where we would, in a single coordinated movement, drop it to our waists and then lean over to place it in the murky waters of the Spuyten Duyvil.  The fact that it took us a full two months to master this technique while building the muscle and long capacity so as to not pass out from the effort, and the fact that we also hadn’t mastered the coordination required to put the shell in the water in such a way as not to half fill it with river water, this should have alerted us to the fact that we weren’t to the crew born and we would never attain the even subtler forms of coordination required to become an effective crew.
And we should have looked up the meaning of the Dutch spuyten duyvil.   That would have alerted to another fact--that the 17th century Dykman family who owned the nearby and and named the waterway were prescient—for a spitting devil it indeed was to be.
Coach Boone rode in a power launch, positioning himself in the midst of his three crews, shouting instructions to us through a megaphone—
“Goldberg,” he roared, “You need to feather your oar.  You’re dragging it in the water and slowing the boat.”  (Goldberg was bent like a pretzel over his oar since his spine was rigid from some rare childhood disease of the spine.) 
“Gottlieb,” the coach boomed so powerfully through the megaphone that he could be heard all the way to Riverdale, “How many times have I told you to keep your eyes straight ahead?  By moving your head from side to side you’re rocking the boat.”  (Gottlieb wore glasses with lenses so thick that if held up to the sun could be used to start fires and were thus so hot that on the water they were always completely misted and he couldn’t see anything unless he looked out of the corners of his eyes by swiveling his head from side to side.) 
“Goodman,” in a voice filled with so much frustration we thought he was addressing all of us, “Use your legs, that’s where you get your power.”  (Goodman, even if he used his legs, which he didn’t since they were always a mass of cramps, would never be able to supply much power from his Number Five position, which was supposed to be the shell’s “engine room,” since his feet were so flat that he was required to wear steel arches even in his rowing booties, and as a result his feet kept slipping out of the boot stretchers that were secured to the bottom of the shell in order to anchor our feet in place.)
“Goldfarb,” the coach barked, “How many times do I have to tell you to breathe in when reaching forward and out when you pull on your oar?” (Goldfarb, the coach should have known, was so afflicted by fall allergies that he was lucky to be able to breathe either in or out when reaching with or pulling on his oar, even when supplied with a double-dose of the trainer’s antihistamines.)
“And Gutterman,” Sergeant Boone bellowed, almost snapping us to attention though we were slouched over our oars, “If you keep catching crabs whenever you try to lift your oar from the water, there will be no Olympics, no Roma for any of us.”  
(The coach did not know that Gutterman was the only member of any of the three crews who ate strictly Kosher food; and so to keep picking on him for catching crabs, though it was an appropriate technical crew term for not extracting one’s oar smoothly from the water, to Gutterman it was still treyf, forbidden, unkosher, and got him so agitated that it assured he would catch enough crabs during every practice to keep even the busiest restaurant in Chinatown fully supplied.)
I did not escape.  As the coach seemed to do things alphabetically, after all the Gs, he finally got to the Z: “You, Number Seven, Zaslow,” he hurled at me in what sounded like mockery, “I was talking on the phone with your father last night and he told me that you skipped your workout last weekend.  No wonder you’re rowing like a girl.” 
My who?  On the phone with . . . ?  Rowing like what?  Though we were nearly done for the day, having already turned toward the boathouse, and everyone was so exhausted that our collective panting was more coordinated than our rowing, all those crunched behind me still managed to gather enough oxygen to be able to choke out sputtered bursts of laughter at either the fact that the coach was talking about my father or that he said I was rowing like a girl.  Even I knew that both were equally humiliating and perversely hilarious.

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