My Birthday Present

My birthday present this year was being able to leave the office early to see granddaughter Kayla help lead her basketball team to victory, then trek out to Queens to bring a little cheer to her great grandfather. Dad’s mind still churns on more cylinders at 95 than most have at 35, though he does get confused if he’s fatigued.

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Last night was a good night, although Dad fessed up that he was starting to let select days go by recently without taking his medication. His pills are starting to overrun his pill box, and he’s been skipping some days either because he feels better without the side effects, or because he’s “had enough”. Frankly at 95, and with his cognitive functions well-enough intact, he’s entitled to make those decisions without any sermons on our part.

For whatever reasons, last night dad was free-associating with some old tunes and themes popping into his head. He mentioned gray hair, and that triggered “Yossel, Yossel”.

Through the convenience of the Internet on my iPhone I pulled up the partial Sammy Cahn lyrics and we said/sang them together which brought a smile to his face:

Oh Joseph, Joseph, won’t you make your mind up
It’s time I knew just how I stand with you
My heart’s no clock that I can stop and wind up
Each time we make up after being through
So listen Joseph, Joseph time is fleeting
And here and there my hair is turning grey
My mother has a fear, wedding bells I’ll never hear
Joseph, Joseph, won’t you name the day

Then Dad slipped a hint of his state of mind, which he normally isn’t comfortable discussing directly, by ruminating on Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics from Ol’ Man River, a tune from Showboat which was popular in his youth. This version is sung by Paul Robeson, a Rutgers athlete and Columbia Law School graduate.

As I looked up the lyrics, here’s the hint Dad was dropping:

I gets weary and so sick of tryin’
I’m tired of livin’, but I’m feared of dyin’

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Telefunken

Telefunken

Here it is, the Telefunken radio, circa 1952, which reminds me to thank you all for the many Happy Birthday wishes I received today.  I so pleasurably recall this marvel as a little boy lying on the living room floor in Logan, tuning in any of the many wavelengths on the Telenfunken when my father wasn’t using it to pipe in music to his little office.  Ah, those were the days ….

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The Anomalies of Correspondence

An anomaly is something unexpected, and writing – in order to be interesting – invariably contains elements of the unexpected.  We speak of composing letters, and of composition as the art of writing, but if you refer to someone as a composer it is a musician who comes to mind rather than a writer.  That is no coincidence.  As Oliver Sacks has proven time and again, there is something lyrical and even magical in the writing and exchanging of letters:

“Correspondence is also a major part of life.  On the whole, I enjoy writing and receiving letters – it is an intercourse with other people, particular others – and I often find myself able to write letters when I cannot “write”, whatever Writing (with a capital W) means.”  This passage comes from the next to last page of On the Move: A Life, the new autobiography from Oliver Sacks which I just breathlessly finished.  The last sentence of the book reads as follows: “Over a lifetime, I have written millions of words, but the act of writing seems as fresh, and as much fun, as when I started nearly seventy years ago.”

Sacks On The Move

It isn’t entirely clear whether Sacks penned the last sentence before receiving news of his death sentence, about which he wrote so poignantly in his February 2015 Op-Ed essay.  But the sentiment is that writing itself continues to breath life into whatever time the good Dr. Sacks has remaining.  This is a very personal book, and one that I took my time savoring throughout the past week, finding myself underlining, highlighting, and making margin notes so often that I might have passed for “Inky” – one of Oliver’s many early nicknames.  It’s a wild ride, exposing readers to sides of Oliver about which he has been intentionally cryptic for years.   For fans of the good doctor, the cover photo of Sacks melding with his cycle has now officially displaced the iconic Brando motorcycle image.

Brando Cycle

The coming out of On the Move was celebrated in a relatively private way last week, as reported by The Observer.  It was from that reportage that I learned of this insightful piece in June’s Vanity Fair by Lawrence Weschler about Sacks, insights gleaned from a 40 year relationship that began with the exchange of letters.

Sacks has endured his share of criticism, as David Strumfels recently noted, yet I doubt that he has any harsher critic than himself.  Oliver has been quoted in the past as saying that “I don’t feel proud of anything” yet one gets the feeling after finishing his autobiography that perhaps now, with death at his doorstep, he rightfully shares pride in what he has accomplished.  Joyce Haase has a wonderful Pinterest page that celebrates Dr. Sacks’s lifelong love of learning, and his sharing of knowledge with an artistic flair.

Sacks Pinterest

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Starting To Keep An Eye On Ian Happ

Thanks to Aunt Pam, I’m starting to keep an eye on Ian Happ.  I like what I see on film.

Watch carefully and you’ll notice that just before he goes into his stride at the plate, Ian extends his front foot a little bit as a timing mechanism, and does so symmetrically when hitting from either side of the plate, which is why scouts refer to him as a mirror image switch hitter.

Make no mistake about it – Ian is not yet drawing comparisons to this famous mirror image switch hitter of the ’50s and ’60s.  Hmm … maybe just a little?

Mickey Mantle W/Joplin Hat Swinging Bat

While any comparison of Happ to Mantle would be presumptuous and premature, he is projected to be a high draft pick out of college based on his bat.  Although I’m perfectly content to wait a couple of years to see Ian in the Arizona Fall League, Aunt Pam clued me in to Ian’s progression through the Cape Cod Summer League.

I’ve described the Fall League as the first time that minor league players are playing against opposition each of whom has also been considered the best player on his team, in his neighborhood, etc.  But it starts even earlier than the Fall League and, as the video says, as the Cape Cod League really represents the last bastion of boyhood dreams and love for the game before it becomes big business.

Cape

As shown in this documentary the Cape Cod League is a special experience, with players adopted by local families and occupying their summers with experiences that Norman Rockwell would have a field day in painting.  It is a collegiate baseball rite of passage.  Aside from the level of competition being the best these young men have played amongst at that stage of their young careers, it’s the first time they’ve competed with wooden bats instead of their collegiate aluminum bats.  Aside from scouts aplenty aiming their radar guns at the mound, they’re intently eyeing how wooden bats make contact.

Though I’ve never been to “The Cape” for baseball or otherwise, this clip of the Phillies #1 draft pick last year, LSU pitcher Aaron Nola, will give you a feel for its backwood Americana.  Nola, by the way, a 2012 alumnus of The Cape, was the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft and fast-tracked his way straight to A ball in Clearwater bypassing the low A Lakewood Blue Claws.

The Philadelphia Phillies have the 10th pick of the first round in the 2015  amateur draft that begins on June 8.  FanGraphs currently projects Ian as the 9th pick, but slots him anywhere between #5 and #20.  I’ve never really paid much attention to the draft, as there are too many intervening variables before a player advances through the minor leagues.   But if the Phillies do draft Happ, I’ll be paying closer attention on several levels.  It would be great fun to see Ian in the Fall League within a couple of years, cheering him along with Aunt Pam – whether or not he’s drafted by the Phils.  Good luck, Ian!

Happ on the Farm

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Hey Isn’t For Horses?

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Blame or give credit, depending on how you look at it, to Jerry Seinfeld for this generation of straight hey students.  That’s right, Seinfeld is the origin of the current “hey” colloquialism becoming part of the vernacular. It started in the days of “So hey” … and then the salutation of “Hey Kramer …”

And now, apparently, hey is here to stay.  But I still can’t bring myself to use it, anymore than I’d expect Stallone’s “Yo” to be used in salutation, as in “Yo Adrian”.  Any bets on how long it will take before press conferences begin with “Hey, Governor …”  And if that’s appropriate, why not just go right for “Yo Governor” to gain his or her attention?  Language just ain’t what it used to be.  (Or is it yoos to be?)

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A Philly Icon Has Passed

It was during the last game of the season on December 15, 1968, at Franklin Field that the Philadelphia Fans on hand to boo the Eagles infamously turned their wrath on an innocent bystander.  There was no escape Claus for Frank Olivo that day, as told in this ESPN feature on the day that Philly Fans pelted Santa with snowballs.

Rest in Peace, Frank.

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Wind Whips Up Las Vegas

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Beautiful pool at the Bellagio, but for a time this morning it was vacant.  A sign in the lobby announced that the pool was closed due to “inclement weather”.  It did strike us as odd, being conditioned by the types of storms that we’ve endured on the East Coast, to see this sign on the patios surrounding the pools here.  As they say, it’s all relative …

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The dust storm did make us wonder why the visibility was so poor this afternoon – almost like LA smog – and we knew it was serious when the Bellgio decided not to run in its fountains because the water would have sprayed all over the place  Local TV stations carried stories about the desert storm of a unique variety.

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