I can still feel the pain.
Over 15 years ago I jumped the gun and began training for the Senior Olympics.
I always had a plan. I had made my commitment, early in life, when I was in second grade. I committed the first moment that mandatory exercise was imposed at school.
I dutifully avoided strenuous exercise in order to have absolutely no injuries when I turn 90.
I always played goalie to avoid running laps. Hockey and soccer practice always ended with the coach talking shots on the goalie while the rest of the team ran endless laps… but not me.
No, I was strategically planning and waiting in order to let the great athletes of my generation destroy their bodies and knock themselves out of competing with me.
I decided at the age of 90 I would announce invulnerability with a big press release and maybe a huge parade.
There would be no Senior Olympic marathoners my age because by then they would all be broken down or dead and as the only competitor I could win all three medals in one race and even better, I could walk.
This was a perfect plan except I did not count on the mental error of premature delusions of grandeur.
Yeah. I made one big mistake. I started training too early.
The Marathon Man
In a world of educated guesses
About one’s loves, integrity and health
It is my custom to keep promises,
Even if they are only to myself.
Still being a tenth of a ton and all,
With sacred dictates of my religion
Requiring too much food and alcohol,
What made me train to run a marathon?
I trained on a treadmill, March to July.
Got my first “runners high” at fifty-five.
Depleted my life’s endorphin supply,
And blew out both knees and begged to die.
Ah yes, but to Hell with all of this fun;
Next year, for sure, I’ll be ready to run.
We have had three successive blue sky sunny days and slightly elevated temperatures in Maryland as the COVID nightmare begins to wane and the joy of life returns.
All of a sudden with the early creativity of spring there is mischief in the air and the planet reminds me of how fortunate we all are to be here together.
As a result, I have charged back into the things I love.
Mind the Art Entertainment is producing a radio play version of The Grace of God & the Man Machine, prior to the planned stage performance at The Riant Theatre when the theaters open again in New York.
In addition, I have returned to my work on a book of 52 sonnets to be published and available on Amazon by Christmas this year. In celebration of this newfound ribald mischief, I publish here one of these poems:
The Facts of Life
I swam, back then, with some father’s daughters,
Back stroking only slightly out of touch,
Out to the raft in the starry waters
And never thought of their fathers all that much.
My child, don’t judge me till you’re fifty-five
But there were midnight visits to “Ice House Pond,”
In my misspent youth, when I was still alive,
Where couples would strip, and swim and then bond.
And my child, this I know for sure is true:
At seventeen we all are born to be free
But ’cause I’m your father and I love you
Please consider this seasoned advice from me:
As you lust for life avoid the crudity
But don’t miss occasional sponti-nudity.
Today is the most degrading day of the year if you are a groundhog.
Once again, humans are holding you responsible for predicting the environment.
At my house, we have a dirt basement with a trapdoor, where we keep an extensive collection of junk like old grills, a sun lamp, summer sports equipment including golf clubs, Wiffle balls, bats, and even the scuba equipment I use to sit on the bottom of the pool during impeachment trials or when I generally can’t stand people anymore.
I try to live in harmony with the universe.
Last summer, a groundhog moved in under our house. We lived in harmony. It would watch us play Wiffle ball as it ate our garden-fresh vegetables.
But just imagine what it must be like to be a groundhog this year, after a human pandemic and knowing half of all humans don’t believe in climate change?
I wouldn’t come out either.
But this year I need spring more than ever. So, this morning, before I even made breakfast for myself, I made a salad from fresh vegetables with nice cherry tomatoes and delivered it just outside of the hole under my house.
But then the empathy set in. It is a dirt basement after all. The groundhog is probably set up down there with its little gas mask on, only taking it off when it has to exchange the scuba tanks.
He is probably down there with the sun lamp on, sitting in my lawn chair with a wife and two kids waiting for the Super Bowl.
What if he has given up on global warming, too?
He probably doesn’t want to be an animal anymore. My guess is you could bring in Noah’s ark and the groundhog would probably blow it off.
What if over the entire earth not a single groundhog comes out this year? Not to spread conspiracy theories, but that would raise concerns that they may be talking to each other. They may be smarter than we think.
I can handle this! Genetics taught me about the end of the road. I know about stuff like this. I’m related to Jim Bowie. He died in the Alamo.
I am going to get a bottle of my best wine, three wine glasses, a couple of juice glasses for the little ones, and knock on the trap door.
A child’s memory of Christmas viewed through a grandfather’s eyes
Like a massive multicolored parachute
His boxers have collapsed upon the floor
Slightly south of a wrinkled Santa Suit
That was left just outside the bathroom door.
A bunch of imagined elves in repose,
Smoke’n cigarettes, feet on the table,
Hang’n out and laugh’n ’bout Rudolf ‘s nose
Are love’n life as only elves are able.
Another Christmas, is at long last, past
As the fat man shampoos in the shower
And thinks of golf and summer thoughts at last.
Who’s this metaphor for redemptive power?
An old fat guy driving a sled with gifts?
A father at midnight is what it is.
What is the matter with me? Is this pandemic changing my DNA?
What could be worse is that I am afraid that my house has become a COVID Cocoon but I sure as hell don’t feel like a butterfly in the making.
The only thing that might be worse is when you can’t get a song out of your head or… you start your own song and it rhymes and you can’t stop thinking you are… becoming a bug.
“So what did I do to get rid of this?
I went to the bookshelf but what did I see?
The first thing I saw was Kafka’s Metamorphosis
And I knew this was getting much bigger than me.”
It is true. The only thing worse than when you can’t get a song out of your head is when you know you’re becoming an insect.
My entire life, up to this point, all I knew was slap, squash, or use the fly swatter. I had never really paid attention to bugs. I just killed them.
Bugs clearly have individual intelligence and different IQs. Ants are organized, bees, and hornets are organized and mean, houseflies are existential daredevils, moths get suicidal, and stink bugs are just plain stupid.
Have you ever seen an ant make a decision? They are clearly deliberative and change their minds. I recently observed a particular ant for 15 minutes or so as it stopped, changed direction, exercised preferences, and hunted and gathered in my kitchen. It was just like me at the grocery store when I don’t have a shopping cart.
I clearly had to get out of the cocoon fast and go grocery shopping.
I got in the car, but imagined that there would be a sign on the grocery store door that said “No Bugs Allowed.”
I became frightened.
What scared me was the logic in that. The store obviously did not want bugs inside, but what about me? Don’t I have feelings too?
Once inside everyone was wearing masks and picking through the vegetables. They all look like unique little bugs with different IQs and shopping carts.
What does it mean that during winter they don’t sell fly swatters?
Then things got messy:
Maybe it’s all reverse reincarnation and the bugs were just waiting because they don’t want to become humans in a pandemic? Of course, that meant we had a lot in common, the bugs and I. Maybe Darwin was right. Maybe I’m not a caterpillar yet because I hate salads?
Maybe we — I mean all of us — wonder if we are being insensitive as we share the same universe?
Or maybe it might be nice if, one bright morning next spring, if I left my damn house after this whole thing is over… as a butterfly?
For almost 45 years, I have lived in Baltimore. As a family, we always went to Orioles games together. However, I grew up in Boston and every once in a while, my son looks at me and says, “You’d better not be a closet Red Sox fan!”
I said nothing under the heavy weight of the unspoken politically correct vote to make Baltimore great again: There would be no Red Sox swag or such propaganda allowed in our house!
What is this propaganda, this loyalty that shuts down discussions of the merits of the Red Sox, my former home team, and why can’t I have this debate in my house?
A long time ago, a law professor asked me, “What is the difference between a catcher who receives the pitch and moves it over the plate to convince the umpire it was a strike and a football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock?” The catcher was an advocate, because the umpire always could see the pitch. But the football player was a propagandist — a marketer of misinformation and a liar — not an advocate.
Has propaganda fed the polarization for the last 30-plus years at the expense of the love of the game?
The victorious Democratic Party had better start celebrating the game, not the team, because the game is at stake. It will be very hard to do, because the Democratic Party has done nothing to understand the 70 million people who voted for Trump. The party has furthered polarization by caricaturing and mocking the Trump Republicans. Maybe they are not all racists, sexists, hayseeds, or billionaires?
In 2014, I ran for office as a Democrat in a gerrymandered Republican district and was summarily defeated. I knocked on well over 5,000 doors, and almost everyone I met was open and friendly until I disclosed I was a Democrat. Then they slammed the door in my face.
In 2016, my neighborhood was flooded with Trump signs. This election, there were far fewer Trump signs, but often in their place were signs for a Republican candidate running for Elijah Cummings’ vacant Congressional seat. The Republican candidate was African-American and a woman. Was the Republican Party more important to my neighbors than her race or sex?
In a democracy, there is little or no protection against propaganda. Because we value free political speech, we cannot legislate against it. One person’s advocacy is another person’s lies. The only defense we have to protect the game is to talk to each other, discover the propaganda on both sides, and reject it together.
When my son was seven or eight years old, I took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Orioles. He insisted that he deck himself out in full Orioles regalia, orange hat and shirt. He was loaded for bear, as were the Red Sox fans all around us. For about three innings they heckled each other, which ultimately turned into a mix of respect and laughter. As we were walking out, he turned to me and pronounced, “Dad, their fans aren’t that bad. And Ted Williams? They may be right about him… maybe.”
Baseball is America’s pastime and maybe that’s why there are so many innings. Maybe it’s a long game because everyone around you must talk to you, if only just a little, no matter who they are or what their political party may be. It’s part of the game.
If we let them, they will argue about everything: balls, strikes, the wisdom of that pitch or this player — but there is no propaganda. Everyone has a seat at the game. You argue for what you actually see. If you buy obstructed vision, you pay less.
I want to get back to the American pastime. To start talking to strangers again when we meet and we are reseated at a game where we have come to cheer on our team, yes, but are also celebrating the game itself and its longevity and history. After all, we are Americans who have historically thrived on disagreement and compromise. It is what has made us who we are.
Maybe it’s time to throw out the first pitch, ask the first question, and then listen and learn.