Sunday, February 22, 2015

Wintertime blues

"What do you mean, you're cold? You're a Yankee, you should be used to this."

OK, OK. Let's get this straight right from the top. Yes, I am a native-born Pennsylvanian. I also lived for a time in New Hampshire, and for another spell in Connecticut. So, yes, I have an idea of what it's like to be snowbound, windblown and ice-sculpted.

But the last time I saw a real Yankee snow was in 1976. That was the year I moved — permanently, as it turned out — to Lexington. One of the reasons I made that move, besides running away from a broken heart, was the weather. North Carolina offered substantially fewer snow days than Yankeeland. So who in their right mind would not make that move?

It worked well for a couple years. Sure, there was some snow in Tarheelia — I distinctly remember driving to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro one March day in a snowstorm, but that was merely a distraction.

About 20 years ago, however, it seemed as though something changed. Instead of snow on a regular basis, we started getting ice. And/or sleet. It looked like snow when it fell, lulling us into a sense of Christmas all season long, but it landed on the ground as a crunchy sheen. Maybe we can blame that phenomenon on global warming, or global cooling or global something.

The icing on our frosting, at least to my mind, implies colder temperatures for this effect to happen

I've been in North Carolina for nearly 40 years now. For the most part, it's been an incredible experience and moving here is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

So let me tell you right now, it doesn't matter from what part of the country you come, cold is cold. And you never get used to it.




Sunday, February 15, 2015

Performance review

The controversy surrounding NBC anchorman Brian Williams — whether or not he told falsehoods in his news reports, whether or not he embellished tales relating to his own reporting experiences — kind of comes home to me.

Was he really in a helicopter hit by an RPG? Did he really see a body floating through the two-inch flooded French Quarter during his Peabody Award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina?

Which brings up the question, Who did Williams' performance review?

I've spent nearly 40 years in journalism and I think I know what it means to be removed from a story, and what it means to be as accurate as you can be.

So to this day, even though I am now nearly 10 years retired and serve as a contract writer for The Dispatch — a "stringer" who gets paid by the story — I still try to keep my professional, ethical and personal standards as high as I can.

That's why I never told anybody about the 46-yard field goal I kicked with no time on the clock to help my college, Kutztown State, beat West Chester State College 24-23 back in 1972. I was wearing my dad's paratrooper boots because it had a reinforced toe and I was only 5-foot-7. But the boot gave me incredible distance and the field goal set a school record that lasted for eight years. There was no TV coverage of the game, so nobody protested my footwear.

After college, I briefly became a minor league baseball player, a pitcher with a nasty knuckleball in the pitching-rich Mets' organization. I once struck out Mike Schmidt in a Cape Cod summer-league game, but unsuccessful Tommy John surgery forever after kept me out of the game. To this day, I have to write left handed.

Which is why I became a sports writer. I was honored to have won the Associated Press Media Editors (APME) Excellence Award for my coverage of a local high school basketball coaching controversy in Pennsylvania in 1976, involving two Amish men who resorted to fisticuffs to settle a score-keeping dispute. That was before I came to North Carolina, where I've spend the rest of my life in blissful anonymity.

Maybe blissful anonymity is the best we can hope for Brian Williams, too.





Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Do-Little

Do-Little actually saved our lives.

Twice.

The first time came almost 14 years ago. We were getting over the emotional trauma of losing our 17-year-old cat, Schmidt, to old age. We actually waited a few months after Schmidt's passing, but the house was so eerily empty and incomplete that we had to do something.

Did we ever.

Kim always wanted a Ragdoll cat. We read that Ragdolls are called that because when you pick them up, they literally go limp in your arms. Plus, they are exceptionally sweet natured and, well, quite large. And blue-eyed. So we found a Ragdoll breeder in Spencer, where Lora Tesh presented us with Do-Little, who was born on Valentine's Day.

We named her that because another feature of Ragdolls is an ability to sleep 18 hours in a 24-hour day. Do-Little.

So we brought her home, and our spirits soared. We laughed. We played. We could hardly wait to get home from work to be with our kitten. Clearly, Do-Little had saved our emotional lives. It was so much fun that we decided to get another cat, making us this close to being crazy cat people. We didn't care.

Mosey (left) with her friend, Do-Little, back in the good ol' days.

I had always wanted a Norwegian Forest Cat, so we found a Wegie breeder in Raleigh, where Margaret Rothman presented us with Mosey.

Remarkably, Mosey and Do-Little, although never litter mates, became best of friends. They ate together, played together, napped together. It was, for us, a remarkable thing to see.

Then about three years ago, Mosey went into irrevocable renal failure and we had her put down. She was 11 years old and her passing nearly defeated and deflated us. Except for Do-Little. She, of course, missed Mosey too, sometimes roaming through the house looking for her. But somehow, she managed to stitch the hole in our hearts and kept us breathing when it was hard to breathe. I think we did the same for her.

So she had saved us again. How can a cat do that? How is it a totally different species from ourselves seemingly knows something about unqualified and reciprocal affection? How do they know when we hurt? How do they know when it's just the right time to nuzzle, or extend a paw?

A few months ago, Kim noticed Do-Little was losing weight. The vet found a mass on her colon, and later tests suggested lymphoma. A cat that had been healthy for almost 14 years was now suddenly deathly ill. Over the weekend, she came down with a respiratory ailment; a dose of an antibiotic was only minimally effective. And nothing was going to cure the lymphoma, which affected her appetite to where she had stopped eating.

So today we took her to the vet one more time and said our good-byes. In a moment, she was gone.

Sadly, there was nothing I could do to save the cat who had twice saved us.










Sunday, February 8, 2015

I'm now a Beatles song

My birthday is coming around this week. Usually, I try to hide when birthdays happen. Birthdays are just marking time — the passage of time, actually — and I really don't need reminders like that. It's not about vanity. It's about weariness. And maybe a sigh.

And this particular birthday isn't even a milestone.

But, then again, it is.

It's my 64th birthday. When I'm 64. For many people of my generation, this really is a milestone. I'm a Beatles song.



Back in 1967, when I first heard that catchy little tune that sounded more vaudevillian than pop rock and maybe — or maybe not — misplaced on the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper album, I was 16. Sixty-four seemed so far away, in somebody else's lifetime. Hells bells, my parents weren't even 64 back then. We all had a ways to go.

Then I blinked.

Now here I am.

"When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now"

Uh-oh. I did get bald...

"Would you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine"

Thursday is my birthday, Valentine's is Saturday, and Kim and I will probably sip a toast...

"If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four"


I can't tell you how much I depend on Kim...

"You'll be older too, "

Kim's birthday is Wednesday. Sheesh.

Anyway, back in 1967, it never occurred to me that I would get here one day. Who'd of thought?

It all kind of makes me yearn for another Beatles tune:

Yesterday....









Sunday, February 1, 2015

What A-Treat it was

A few years ago, Kim was at the computer and I was in another room when suddenly, out of the evening shadows, came wailing an "Oh, no!"

"What? What?" I asked, not knowing what.

"They've torn down Yoken's," she croaked.

Yoken's was a landmark restaurant in Portsmouth, NH, a town where our family happened to live when I was in the third grade. And Yoken's was a family-owned restaurant that survived more than 50 years as a favorite meeting place in the same way that Yarborough's serves Lexington now.

Yoken's still survives in my childhood memories, surfacing every now and then as comfortable nostalgia. Kim and I ate there on our honeymoon, as well as on several other repeated vacation visits to New England, so the place became a memory for her, too.

I was sad when I learned that Yoken's had been demolished and I felt like something had been removed from my personal being, not to mention from the very core of my existence. I do not exaggerate.

I hoped never to feel that pain again. No such luck.

The other day when I came home from work, Kim greeted me with tears in her eyes.

"I have something to tell you," she said.

(No, it's not that. Don't even think about going there).

So what could it be? What upset my wife?

"A-Treat has closed. They've gone out of business," said Kim, dabbing her eyes.

Well, here it was again.

A-Treat was a family-run beverage business — sodas, actually — that dated back to the early 1900s, or about 100 years ago. I was born in Allentown, PA, and so was A-Treat. I think the "A" actually stood for Allentown, but the name obviously lended itself to the refreshment being "a treat."

Anyway, as far as I know, the company never sought to expand outside the Lehigh Valley, which partly explains why the beverage was a highly regarded local favorite.

I grew up on A-Treats and Tastykakes. (Tastykakes, located in Philadelphia, almost went out of business a few years ago, but was purchased by Flowers Foods and has now gone national. But something was lost along the way and they don't taste anything like my childhood. Only the name kindles fond memories now.)

But being a local favorite isn't a guarantee for continued success. According to the story in the Allentown Morning Call, Walmart demanded that A-Treat resupply its shelves every day, something the soda company, with just 40 employees, apparently couldn't do. Times change. (Read here.)

Whenever Kim and I headed north, back to my origins, we'd get Philadelphia hoagies, A-Treats and Tastykakes. Those were signature moments of my youth and I wanted to share them with her. And they suited her well. She acquired a taste for them, just as I acquired a taste for grits when I moved south.

As I get older, it hits home more and more that nothing lasts forever, even the good stuff.

The good stuff, as it turns out, are really the memories that you keep.








Sunday, January 25, 2015

GateGate

The other night I sat down in front of the television to watch Brian Williams give me the news. The U.S. embassy in Yeman possibly was in danger because of an attempted coup, a couple of Japanese hostages were being threatened by Isis, and the President of the United States (POTUS, for short) was about to give the State of the Union address.

Imagine my disbelief when the lead story turned out to be how many pounds per square inch of air was or was not in a football.

DeflateGate was the lead story. Holy smokes.

DeflateGate, of course, is the scandal that keeps on giving when it was discovered that 11 of the 12 footballs that the New England Patriots brought to last Sunday's 2015 AFC Championship game were allegedly underinflated. The implication is that an underinflated football is easier to throw and catch in inclement weather.

New England clobbered Indianapolis 47-7 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half —after the balls were reinflated to league standards at halftime.

(The following Saturday Night Live skit about the so-called controversy is hilarious, in my view perhaps one of the best skits the show has done in years):


 To me, the issue is a non-issue. I am not a Patriots fan by any means, but I really don't care how much air is in a football at game time.

What does bother me, especially as a retired journalist with more than 30 years in the business, is the media use of the suffix "-gate" to describe yet another scandal. Ergo, DeflateGate. Sheesh.

Journalists are supposed to be original types, occasionally equipped with the necessary brain cells to cut through the crap and get to the truth. Yet, since the original Watergate scandal that brought down an American president in 1972-74, almost every scandal since then — about 40 years' worth — has some kind of "-gate" attached to it (see a list of "-gates" here). It doesn't even make sense.

OK, smart guy, what would I call the Patriots' latest faux pas? "Airball" quickly comes to mind. So does "Pfftball." These headlines took all of three seconds to come up with (well, maybe it shows), but at least I managed to avoid the offending suffix.

It's time to close the gate on those gates.









Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vive la France!

I love the French.

I love French fries. I love pie ala mode. I love French bread. I love, pardon moi, a French kiss. I love a good Bordeaux. I love the Statue of Liberty.

I especially love the French under assault, or more specifically, their response to it. I am referring, of course, to the recent horror in Paris and the subsequent show of defiance a day or two later by four million Frenchmen to the deaths, by terrorism, of their fellow citizens. It was an inspiring moment.

The French haven't always fared well in the face of adversity. World Wars I and II weren't particularly shining moments for the French. The Maginot Line, as it turned out, wasn't all that good an idea and ultimately resulted in that offensive newsreel of Adolf Hitler gloating under the Eiffel Tower.

But World War II did spawn a highly effective Resistance movement, and these days, Interpol is headquartered in Lyons, for whatever that means or might imply.

For the moment, at least, it appears that France is running point in the war on terrorism. For a country whose motto is "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", I'll take it. Sure, it might be because of necessity that the French are seemingly out in front on this, but their remarkable response has given me a sense of confidence in this global malaise.

I'm not sure what purpose terrorism serves, other than to terrorize "soft" targets like you and me. It's a political tool that almost never works to effect the desired change, but rather, in the long run, it seems to embolden, inspire and fortify the intended target. To my mind, if you look closely enough, terrorism as a form of persuasion is ultimately counterproductive. You'd think that would be obvious to the terrorists. Do they really think they're making any headway with murder?

Terrorism conducted by fanatics brainwashed into believing in their own martyrdom makes the issue problematical, of course. This phenomenon crops up every once in a while in human history, as the U.S. Navy learned in World War II with Japanese kamikaze attacks.

I don't know what the solution is.

But I'm glad the French are in on it. Maybe, when this mess is all over and resolved perhaps in a 100 years from now, we can give the French a statue of their own.