Comedy of Errors


Recently my wife, Lisa, and I were greeted with a slew of back-to-back mistakes by people that we had paid for their services.  The itinerary of errors began when I contacted a moving company to transport a car from Connecticut to a younger brother’s home located North of Daytona Beach.  The salesperson I spoke to indicated that the charge would be $1029 of which the driver would receive $850 with the remainder of $179 going to the company.  I arranged for the driver to pick up the car that Thursday.  When I asked when he thought the car would arrive in Florida, the company rep told me probably 3 to 4 days after the pick-up date.  I alerted my brother to expect the car Monday or Tuesday as I had been informed most drivers prefer not working on Sundays.  That Friday morning, I received a voicemail from the driver, Vince, saying he would be arriving that evening inasmuch as he wanted to make it home to Miami that same evening.  Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with my brother to let him know he needed to be home that evening and to pay the driver $850 upon arrival of the driver.

The early pick up went well but the story does not end here.  A few days later I saw on my credit card a charge of $239 rather than the quoted $179 from this same firm.  A call to the company indicated that I had been quoted the wrong amount and, the truck driver was only supposed to receive $850 and not $800.  The agent’s supervisor told me that they had sent the correct amounts in an attachment but when I looked at the original email, in which I had signed my name accepting the deal, there was no attachment.  When I asked him to check the email he sent me, he explained that once I had opened the attachment, it was no longer available on his end.  Although I am not a computer maven, this sounded like pure balderdash. Before filing a dispute with the credit company, I contacted my brother who told me the truck driver only had asked for $800.  Because my older brother and I had agreed to pay the shipping expenses, no money was lost as the total of $1029 remained the same.  Consequently, I did not dispute the charge.  My miscue was not insisting that they send a contract that apparently never had been attached to the email I received.

The next string of errors occurred when my wife and I were confirming plans with a hotel before starting our trip that was to begin right after the negotiations with the moving company.  Our trip to Washington State included visiting a friend who lived in Everett, Washington and then proceeding to Port Ludlow where we had gone every summer for 20 years prior to the pandemic.  When I called to confirm our stay, I was utterly surprised in discovering the hotel in which I had booked the reservation had no record of it.  Insofar as it was a Hilton Hotel that we were to stay at, I thought it would facilitate matters by doing it through Hilton Honors.  Luckily, we were able to keep our reservation because we had the email confirming it sent to us by Hilton Honors.  Initially, one of the staff was going to charge us $250 more than the original reservation I had made for the same two days.  But upon sending the confirmation of the reservation, the staff member connected us with the manager who acknowledged our reservation! We had made these reservations before inflation had imploded throughout the economy.  

But, once more, it doesn’t end here.  I had made a reservation with Hilton Honors that I had canceled before making the reservation in the lodging preferred by both my wife and I. But a few days before leaving we got an email from that hotel confirming our stay.  Hilton Honors clearly were not acting honorably inasmuch as they had never canceled this reservation after stating they would.  I immediately contacted the hotel and, fortunately, they did not charge me for canceling the reservation.   A word of caution to all would be travelers:  Beware.

Next, we arrived in Seattle and went to pick up the car I had contracted to rent for our 2 ½ week stay in Washington.  All set to go, luggage in the car, I turned on the ignition and to my surprise (at this point, nothing should surprise me) there was barely one quarter of a tank of gasoline.  When I reported this to the attendant, he said he would mark it down and all I needed do was return the car with a quarter full of gas.  However, I explained to him that I had prepaid the company for a tank of gas rendering his offer worthless.  The attendant scratched his head, said I was right (agreement at last) and told us to wait, 5 no more than 10 minutes, and he would fill the tank for me. No future contact for reservations in the immediate future, I took a deep breath, we got in the car ready to begin our vacation.

Par for the course these days appears the plethora of errors one faces as a customer.  I suspect part of this has to do with the fast pace of society brought on by the internet.  The lack of physical contact distances the customer from the server creating an impersonal sense of connection.  The one personal touch I felt was when the attendant at the car rental willingly went to fill the car with gas.  Rather than just being an internet contact, I actually had met him.  The other errors committed were made by people with whom I had little or no contact with beside the phone.  The frequent poor performance of people I have interacted with on the phone has reduced the level of trust I have had in their following through with the results promised.

Such experiences make it easier for me to identify with how and why many people have lost trust in our institutions as well as the business world.  So, in actuality, this is less a comedy or errors than what seems to be a sad commentary on the state of customer service in today’s fast paced world.


Tribute to a Baseball Hero

When we think about baseball greats names such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, among many others, come to mind.  The late Vin Scully never played in the big leagues but he added as much, if not more color to the game than all of the many great baseball players.  I only wish the American League, because as many of you know, I am a diehard Red Sox fan, would have an announcer whose skills were equal to those of Scully.

Mr. Scully impressed me the few times I heard him broadcast.  He drew an unforgettable picture of Roberto Clemente, the amazing outfielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he once described his throwing arm: “Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”  But an even more memorable statement from Mr. Scully came when the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta on April 4th, 1974. Hank Aaron, the modest but great star of the Braves, had 714 career home runs and was tied with Babe Ruth for the most home runs ever hit by any player.  At the time, many fans viewed Ruth’s record as sacrosanct, and he who dared break this unbeatable record would be committing an act of heresy.  Aaron received many death threats.  Sad, but unfortunately quite true.  When Hank Aaron hit the 715th home run against the Dodgers, Mr. Scully was broadcasting.  His reaction to this momentous occasion was the following:

“What a marvelous moment for baseball.  What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the State of Georgia.  What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.  A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all time baseball idol.”

Living in Southern California I am surrounded by Dodger fans.  Needless to say, I have heard and read much of Mr. Scully since he died a few days ago.  The many good deeds he did for others have been echoed by friends I know.  Growing up on the East Coast, I was a Red Sox fan with my second favorite team being the New York Giants.  However, once the latter team relocated from New York to San Francisco I lost my allegiance to them.  Nevertheless, my two favorite players of all time remain Ted Williams of the Red Sox and Willie Mays of the Giants.  Much to the woe of Dodger fans, Mr. Scully proclaimed Willie Mays to be the best player he’d ever seen, and it was Willie Mays who joined Mr. Scully, in the broadcasting booth for the latter’s final game on October 2, 2016.

Thank you, Mr. Scully, for making the great game of baseball that much greater.  And thank you, Mr. Scully for making baseball so understandable and exciting to those who listened to you over 67 years.

Roe versus Wade Revisited

Previously, I wrote a blog entitled:  Let Women Decide What to Do with Their Bodies, where I explained the rationale for my being on the pro-Choice side of this highly contentious issue.  Little over a year ago I told my wife, Lisa, that the Supreme Court would never do away with the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions throughout the country.  I had believed the right to an abortion had become embedded in the American mind such that it was a law here to stay.  However, I was mistaken insofar as the recent vote of 6 to 3 by the Supreme Court overturned the earlier decision in 1973 made by the Supreme Court that legalized abortion. 

As Bret Stephens, columnist for the New York Times, pointed out:  The   original decision came from the Supreme Court, the least democratic branch of government rather than the more appropriate law-making Congress or state legislatures.  Furthermore, the Court has become more of a political instrument rather than a body where decisions would be made free of any political leanings or bias.  When Robert Bork, a legal scholar, in 1987 was rejected by the Senate because of the expression of his views (that later became known as “being Borked” when one did not get approved for a promotion etc.), subsequent Presidential appointees have learned how to negotiate the Hearing Process by skirting major issues and reciting bromides.

During the Confirmation Hearing of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, he was asked by the democrats whether or not he would be in favor of overturning the decision made in Roe v. Wade.  His response was that he would not be inclined to change what had become precedent and had been reconfirmed with the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in which the court upheld the right to have an abortion. Accordingly, he appeared to support stare decisis, the doctrine that courts will adhere to precedent in making their decisions.  During his Hearing, Judge Kavanaugh remarked that the Casey ruling hadmade a precedent on a precedent.  However, in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, he was one of the six Supreme Court Judges to overrule both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey by stating that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion.  Since Bork was “Borked,” Senate Confirmation Hearings reveal little to us about how potential judges think and how they might rule on certain issues.  

Many conservatives. who applauded the court’s decision of Dobbs, have commented that the notion of stare decisis is not written in stone. That is to say, all court decisions do not have to necessarily follow stare decisis.  Here, I am in agreement with them.  An example where precedent was not followed is the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson rendered by the Supreme Court in 1896.  This decision upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.  As we know, a more accurate reading of that decision would have been:  separate but unequal.  The doctrine supported what was to become Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations.

In 1954, the Supreme Court went against stare decisis in the Brown v. Board of Education, where it ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal had no place in public education calling segregated schools “inherently unequal.”  Furthermore, the plaintiffs in the Brown case were found to have been “deprived of the equal protection of the law provided by the 14th Amendment.”  

In the case of Roe v. Wade, however, I would argue that stare decisis is relevant when one considers what the polls reflect regarding the national sentiment of that court decision.  Thus, polls have repeatedly shown that over 60 % of Americans favor the legalization of abortion with only 19% saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.  Moreover, conservatives who favor minimal government interference are now claiming the right for government to interfere with a woman’s body.  Dobbs will not end abortion but will more likely result in the unintended consequences of forcing women, many of whom with limited financial means, to travel long distances to states that still allow legal abortion.  This will add unnecessary stress on the lives of these women.  I’m afraid to say, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the solution has become the problem. 

Social Media Clones

Upon attending a concert given by Olivia Rodrigo, I recalled an episode on the Twilight Zone, They All Look Like #12, that I had seen back in 1964. In his introduction, Rod Serling says let’s imagine the year is 2000.  We are now 22 years past that year projected by Mr. Serling but, I regret to say, ever closer to what was portrayed in the Twilight Zone in that episode.

The episode tells of how a young girl, Marilyn, aged 18, is being told by her mother that it is time for her to go through the transformation process in which she can look exactly like a model exemplified by the number 12 figure.  She is urged by her mother, Laura, and her friend, Valerie, to go through this transformation as they tell her: “What girl would not want to be beautiful.”  But Marilyn remembering the strong feeling she had for her father, who we later discover has committed suicide to avoid the decree of transformation, replies: “Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.” Toward the end of the episode, Marilyn says her father cared about her as a person and not what she looked like.  We see her futile attempt to escape with her being apprehended, placed on a bed, and the doctor telling her mother the procedure is done.  She gets up and sees that she looks beautiful but a clone of her friend Valerie, #12, at which point the viewer hears Rod Serling’s voice in the background: “Portrait of a young lady in love with herself….In an age of plastic surgery and body building and an infinity of cosmetics those and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future which after all is the twilight zone.”

There is little doubt in my mind that Olivia Rodrigo’s album, Sour, shows a unique brilliance with great potential for such a young woman.  However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog, her songs are all laced with a sadness (as reflected in the album title, Sour) where social relationships with young males have gone awry.  I believe much of the troubled feelings expressed by Rodrigo is reinforced by social media.  Thus, from the period between 2019-2021 suicidal attempts by female adolescents increased by 50% resulting in a much higher rate of hospitalizations for them than adolescent boys.  The pandemic may have contributed to this alarming statistic by causing the need to isolate that allowed a greater amount of time to be spent alone on social media.  Use of such platforms such as Instagram where teens, not only take photographs of themselves, but can dress up their features through a filtering process has only escalated this issue.  The intense rivalry for who has the most beautiful picture, through real or fake means, can be deleterious to young females who are often severely impacted by such comparisons at the tender age of teens.

Beauty, as an ideal that Serling spoke about in the Twilight Zone, necessitated a surgical procedure but in 2022 adolescent females have found a way to create their own beauty through social media.  Unfortunately, the arm of social media is almost infinite in length allowing friends and strangers to see posts and make either favorable or unfavorable comments, in real time, on these posts.  Jonathan Haidt, professor in psychology at New York University, has argued that 13-year-old adolescents are too young to have access to such social media and has suggested raising the minimum age to 16.  But even if the minimum age to allow teens access is 16, there still needs to be a way of enforcing this rule.  Such a procedure does not currently exist.

The need to fit in with its concomitant peer pressure always has been of supreme importance during adolescence.   This need has been intensified with the constant monitoring and comparing fostered by social media.  When the standard becomes how beautiful one appears to countless others, those that don’t meet it can suffer immeasurable harm.  This, I would maintain, is what has caused a precipitous increase in the incidence of suicidal attempts of female teens.

The Wrong Message

The other night, during dinner with a friend, David Alpern, we discussed my last blog:  Scorn in America, when he made an interesting observation. There had been a march in downtown Long Beach, California, where we both reside, with the goal of prompting the end of gun violence.  A woman at the march held up a sign saying the following:   How could any one (sic) be proud to live in a country that protects its guns over its citizens?

In a follow up letter to the editor to a local newspaper, David pointed out that this type of message will further alienate those that don’t think like us rather than attempting to bring these people to our way of reckoning things.  Granted it, this message was held by only one of the marchers in the rally, but I think it reflects the partisan climate that we all find ourselves in today.  The message implies that if you don’t agree with me on a much-debated subject, the right to own firearms, you can’t feel proud of what America represents.  This brings to mind the statement Hillary Clinton made in 2016 during her campaign against Donald Trump when she referred to the “deplorables” that don’t think like us.  What Mrs. Clinton appeared to have forgotten was that the deplorables she spoke of consisted of approximately half of the country.

If our goal is to change the present status of gun laws, then as Alpern mentions, our messages need to recruit not repel those that hold opposing views.  I have suggested to couples having difficulty seeing their partner’s differing perspectives on an issue that they employ the disarming technique.  When one of the partners is criticizing the other, rather than become defensive and go in the attack mode, I ask them to find some truth in the criticism.  This often has the effect of disarming or neutralizing the one doing the criticizing.  Underlying this method of communication is the fact that the person finding fault with you needs to be listened to rather than counter attacked.  It very often leads to more sane and rational communication between the two partners.

So, when discussing a point, and this especially holds true with our leaders in Washington D.C., we might look for either the strength or weakness in our position and go from there.  Now if it’s a question of something you absolutely think is wrong like the elections being rigged, as Trump and some of his followers do, then this technique probably will not be useful.  But most situations are not black and white where one person is perfectly right and the other is perfectly wrong.  That is to say the “truth” for one person may not be a factual truth but rather a strongly held viewpoint.

The pandemic and social media have rendered any kind of civil discourse difficult.  The anonymity intrinsic in much of social media allows people to hide and not face those whose opinions differ from them.  The pandemic has kept us isolated from others and has perhaps increased the amount of time people spent on the internet. This has resulted in an inordinate amount of confirmation bias, that is, reading only what reinforces one’s opinion.  Hopefully, if the worst of the pandemic is over, people will have the chance to interact with others in a more humane way than previously.  More face-to-face meetings with coworkers and others that think differently may at least transform the hostility we feel toward each other, stemming from labeling the other “bad,” into a less combative more useful conversation.  The aim in mind will be to expand our perspectives on controversial subjects rather than limit them.

Scorn In America

I recently read an op ed article in the New York Times titled:  American Has a Scorn Problem.  When I saw who wrote it, Tish Harrison Warner, a priest of the Anglican Church, and read the opening sentence taken from a parable in the Bible’s Book of Luke, I had a knee-jerk reaction.  My automatic thinking process was telling me that the essay I was about to read could be an effort to proselytize me due to the many street vendors and mailers I have received in the past that have this goal in mind.  But to my pleasant surprise the article made much sense to me.  It spoke of how Americans have adopted a polarizing and moralistic way of thinking that paints those who have contrary beliefs as inhumane and monstrous.  This view of the “other,” as not only wrong, but bad, eliminates the possibility of useful dialogue among those that disagree with one another.

The above essay reminded me of an interaction I had with a member of a movie group of which my wife and I belong.  When it was his turn to select a film, this person chose:  Blue Ruin.  He and I have had a history of disagreeing with one another.  For the sake of brevity, let me simply say that his views are quite a bit further toward the left than mine.

The plot line of the film, Blue Ruin, was one of revenge in which a man in his twenties has planned to avenge the murder of his parents by another family, whose leader, was being released from prison after spending some 10 years incarcerated.  This man goes on a ruthless murder spree killing several family members, responsible for the death of his parents, before he himself dies.  When I first reacted to the film, I felt little empathy with the protagonist. Furthermore, in general, I do not enjoy movies that glorify violence.  The individual, who had selected the film, knowing that I am a psychologist expressed his surprise that I did not empathize with the main character. I did not reply to his comment at the time he made it.

Later that evening, however, I pondered over why I did not share his empathy for a man whose parents had been slain when he was a teen-ager.  I realized more fully that though I may have felt empathy for the killer when his parents had been murdered, I could not feel this emotion toward a man ravaged with hatred.  Moreover, the film had portrayed his sister as having gotten over the family tragedy, having married and had a child.  I could not feel empathy, that is put myself in the shoes of a person who had become obsessed with revenge, at the expense of improving his life circumstances, resulting in a killing spree.  I carefully took the time to write a letter to this very same person more clearly elucidating my point described above.  I thought he may agree with me, but even if he did not, I was pretty sure I would get some response back indicating he had read my letter and respected my point of view.  To my surprise, I never received a reply from him.  When I next saw him to discuss another film with the others, I approached him telling him I was disappointed that he had never answered the letter I had taken the time to compose.  He said something to the effect that he hadn’t responded because it was clear we disagreed implying he didn’t want to be bothered with people that don’t hold the same opinion as he does on issues of debate.

Polarization occurs when each side refuses to even listen to or have a conversation with the other.  I began this essay by pointing out my gut reaction to an op ed article written by a priest.  But I wisely decided to read the article against an instinctive reaction that would have denied me of the opportunity of seeing an important point, expressed in a unique way.  Here I allowed myself to see a perspective on the polarization occurring in America from a minister’s eyes.  Insofar as my colleague in the movie group refused to dialogue with me, any conversation and relationship I might have had with him was never allowed to begin.  Of course, the example of the two of us moviegoers not being able to start a meaningful dialogue is a microcosm of what is going on in much of America.  If we are only willing to accommodate those that think like us, we will be limiting our perspective and may be locked into a groupthink.  To avoid the groupthink mentality, we need allow ourselves to hear what others have to say and avoid the knee-jerk reaction of he/she is wrong and bad.  This more positive attitude will hopefully lead to a more meaningful dialogue where people can listen, with respect, to another’s viewpoint without necessarily agreeing with it.

An Evening with the Teeny Boppers

Last week, during our visit to Santa Barbara to celebrate our respective birthdays, my wife, Lisa, and I learned that Olivia Rodrigo, a young pop music star, would be performing at the Santa Barbara Bowl.  About a year earlier, I had read a complimentary piece in the New York Times discussing the song album, Sour, that Ms. Rodrigo had recently released.  The article had piqued my interest.  Needless to say, however, my attempts to buy tickets online or by phone were futile.  Because it was not too far from where we were staying, we went to the box office at the Santa Barbara Bowl and were told there were no tickets available for the concert.

Given what I had told Lisa about Olivia and our curiosity at going to an event at the Santa Barbara Bowl, we decided to go before the show began last Saturday evening.  We found ourselves at the back of the line that was growing in size waiting to see if there were extra tickets available at the last moment.  We were surrounded by teeny boppers, practically entirely female.  Inasmuch as the likelihood of gaining admission to the show did not look good, we agreed that I would roam around and see if anyone might have extra tickets to sell.  

As it was evident, that no one approaching the Bowl had extra tickets, I asked one of the parking attendants, if anyone had spoken of having a few spare tickets.  Sure enough, he led me to a woman who had two tickets she needed to sell.  She told me that she had bought them months ago for her granddaughter who could not go because she was studying for her final exams.  She wanted $500 for the two tickets.  To me that seemed high for, at most, an hour of entertainment as the opening act was already in progress.  She refused to come down in price saying that she had paid $1000 online for them months ago and wanted to only lose half of her purchase price.  My wife confirmed my uneasiness at paying so much for a concert whereupon I declined the woman’s offer.

As the evening progressed, we were in the middle of the line with still quite a number of people (i.e. teenage girls) in front of us.  We had arrived at about 7 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 and Olivia Rodrigo to come on at 8:40. By now it was about 8:15, and with no hope in sight, I suggested to Lisa, we call it quits and go for a drink. Not one to give up when she had a goal to reach, in this case what looked like the impossible, she remained on line with the teeny boppers.  Suddenly, out of the blue appeared two men, one somewhere in his fifties, the other about 20 years younger.  The older gentleman walked up to the line of us waiting and said he had 19 extra tickets mentioning a price of $150.  When one of the younger girls said that was too much he said fine I’ll take a $100 per ticket.  I heard murmurs of “he must be scamming us.”  But at this point knowing we had nothing to lose Lisa and I followed them with a few other girls and then, spontaneously, many other girls broke from the line and went with us.

We reached the turnstile where one of the attendants asked Lisa and I for proof of vaccination and upon showing it to him let us through.  Although we had been admitted, neither of us actually had the tickets in hand so we waited for all to go through the turnstile.  Then, our sugar daddies, introduced themselves as James, the older of the two, and Michael.  Because we only had a few minutes to get to our seats, they gave us their phone numbers; James told us we were on the honor’s system and we could pay them the next day.  James made sure we would not be sitting on the ground when he gave the two of us the tickets.  A trolley was parked waiting to take us up the ramp toward our seats in the nick of time.  Lisa and I, amidst a packed crowd of young teenagers, the majority by far being girls.  We located our seats about three or four minutes before Rodrigo came on.

It had been years since I had attended anything remotely similar to this type of event. I made two quick discoveries: 1) The teeny boppers that were there knew all the words and were singing with Ms. Rodrigo and 2) Practically everyone at the Bowl was standing the entire one hour of her performance.  Fortunately, the two girls in front of me stood far enough apart, as they sang, allowing me to see Olivia from a sitting position.  Although I had difficulty at first understanding the lyrics, I was able to adjust to the surrounding noise and tune in to the words sung by Ms. Rodrigo.  The contents of these songs followed the theme of young love, turned sour, Sour, being the title of her album.

The songs capture the pain of her being left for someone else. But it also points to her wanting so badly to be accepted that she does what she believes her partner wants. In the song, Enough for You, Olivia writes:

I wore makeup when we dated

‘Cause I thought you’d like me more

if I looked like the other prom queens

But later in the same song, she declares:

I don’t want your sympathy

I just want myself back

These lines express quite accurately the conflict that adolescents have in trying to impress others without forgetting who they really are.  Perhaps before taking on identities to please others, it is best to look ourselves in the mirror and ask the very complicated question of:  Who We Are?  Complicated because adolescence represents a stage of development where each new experience offers a different meaning, a different way of seeing those in our world.  It is a period that has been referred to from the German:  Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress).  Rodrigo’s songs speak to the vicissitudes of the emotions that ring true for so many adolescents today.  Moreover, the peaks and valleys of adolescence are further magnified by the ubiquitous nature of social media, so much a part of teen-age culture.  Regardless, to the fans that resonate with Rodrigo’s songs, she is more than a prom queen.

Let me conclude this blog on a positive note.  The next day I called up Mark and paid him the money I owed.  Expecting to be one of the few that paid on the “honors system,” he surprised me by telling me of the 19 people only two had yet to pay.  He also told me that both James and he had received texts thanking them so much and comparing them to Santa Claus.

The Muhammad Ali Syndrome


Years ago, my major advisor from graduate school, Arnold Lazarus, published an essay about retirement.  In the article, he was comparing the plight of the renowned Albert Ellis, who at the time was in his ‘90’s, to Muhammad Ali.  Although he had his wits, Ellis was almost deaf, and what he had been known for in his early days, his use of four-letter words to shock his clients into changing, had become excessive, and no longer funny nor charming. 

The case of Muhammad Ali, a figure familiar to the world, is a perfect illustration of an individual who refused to retire from the brutal sport of boxing.  Recently, I saw the Ken Burns series that neatly captured the life of Muhammad Ali.  Although Ali was perhaps one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, the highlights from some of his fights showed the many punches he absorbed in winning his matches.  Many of his family and friends wanted him to retire but he wouldn’t listen to them.  If he had a glass jaw and was easy to knock out, he probably would not have wound up with the brain damage that he suffered from in the boxing ring.  After Ali knocked out the young, favorite George Foreman in the 8th round in Zaire, most observers thought Ali should have left the fighting game.  But he refused to quit. 

Ali went on to fight Joe Frazier a third time, in what he called the Thrilla in Manila, and he won by technical knock out after the 14th round.  It was a savage battle in which both fighters threw some heavy-duty punches.  Though, Ali continued to fight after that bout with Frazier, friends noticed that his mental processes had slowed.  Ironically, when the world had come to regard Ali with admiration, he lost the ability to talk aloud. After finally leaving the boxing arena, Ali admitted that Father Time had caught up with him.

In 2004, Lisa and I went on a Red Sox—Oriole Cruise where we had the pleasure of meeting Earl Weaver, the former manager of the Baltimore Orioles.  I asked Mr. Weaver what was the most difficult aspect of managing a major league baseball team.  He told me the hardest part of managing was benching a former star who no longer possessed the skills he had had earlier.  He named Brooks Robinson, the famed Oriole third baseman, as an example.

Because they don’t have to play their position but only have to bat, the designated hitter has allowed older sluggers, that may have retired earlier, to play more years.  An exception to the tendency for athletes to stay in the game too long, David Ortiz (aka Big Papi) could still hit the ball without showing the concomitant signs of aging.  The Red Sox would have signed him in 2017 but he did not want to return even though he had put up good numbers the previous year.  The constant physical conditioning had taken its toll on him as he stated to reporters: “I was done man. I ran out of gas.” He knew the Red Sox wanted him back and would pay him a hefty salary but it was no longer worth it to him.  Good for you, Big Papi!

I plan on working until my 80th birthday.  People ask why I am still working.  First, I am only working two days a week to avoid burn-out.  But also, because I very much like seeing people, and as a psychologist, enjoy helping them problem solve issues related to the difficulties brought on by life circumstances. Moreover, at this point in my career, I have the luxury of selecting clients I can work with and believe I can help.  When I first started out in my profession, I did not have that luxury.

I recently read an article in the New York Times about some of the problems Diane Feinstein, the Democratic Senator from California, is having with recent memory.  She is currently 88 years old.  The newspaper account indicated she is firmly holding on to her position because she is of the belief that she still has the capacity to serve in the fullest.  Though some of her democratic colleagues have defended her, many others question her ability to function in the manner she has in the past.

Without a doubt, quitting can be especially hard for those with prominent careers and the desire to continue to contribute in their fields of interest.  Long ago, my father, who never retired, and did have his “marbles” to the end of his life, told me: “When you leave, you are out of the game and no one cares about you.”  For some of us, leaving the game might be too hard to bear. Others might not know what to do after they retire. I have seen a number of clients that have this problem.  I have assisted some of these clients in finding alternative ways of spending their time such as volunteering or mentoring younger people in sharing whatever set of skills they may offer.  I have a colleague who has maintained regular support and guidance with his grandchildren, an exercise that has provided him with much satisfaction.  Lisa, my wife, has just transferred her enthusiasm and organizational skills in her career to volunteering with an advocacy organization. The key point to recognize is that retirement need not be the end of one’s road but the beginning of another journey where purpose and meaning still can be found. 

    Those Were the Joys

The last word, Rosebud, uttered by Citizen Kane, in the wonderful movie of the same name, before he dies, very much reminds me of my earlier years growing up (Spoiler Alert).  Reporters investigate the meaning of that last word that remains a mystery until the famous last scene when a sled, used by Kane as a child is tossed into the fire with the word Rosebud seen with the flames enclosing it.

I remember it well:  We all wanted it to snow with the hope that those l in charge of the city would close the schools.  I grew up in a blue-collar factory city, home of Singers Sewing Machines, in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Because the leaders that made such decisions were hesitant to shut down the factories, light snows were not enough to close the schools inasmuch as children then might not have a parent to take care of them.   You needed a snow storm that would paralyze the city, temporarily, rendering driving virtually impossible. One reason I relocated to Southern California was my distaste and discomfort for cold weather.  But if it snowed, I, like most kids, was impervious to the cold.  To us kids, snow was like manna from heaven.  Lots of snow meant a day off from school but it also meant you could do all sorts of things that were out of the ordinary such as make snowmen, have snowball fights and go sleigh riding.

In Elizabeth, there were two streets that would be closed off to the traffic that offered both a good slope and pitch for us kids to go down:  Keats Avenue and Wyoming Avenue.  I had the good fortune to live near enough to both of those streets to be able to tote my sled on foot to either one.  Of the two, I preferred Keats Avenue.  Although it was a shorter ride down than Wyoming, Keats had a hill much steeper allowing one to gain a much faster speed than what was afforded by the less steep gradient of Wyoming.  Thus, my sleigh ride stomping grounds was pretty much Keats, and if I wanted a change of pace, I would walk over to Wyoming.

 At the top of Keats Avenue, Esther Stavis, the mother of George, a classmate of mine, would offer all of us a hot chocolate.  It was a warm and welcoming respite fortifying us from the cold.  I don’t remember any bullying or rough housing or the need to compete on how fast one could go down the hill.  Insofar as there were so few snow days off from school, there simply was no room for that sort of behavior.  We all were out to have a good time and celebrate the fact that there was no school that day. 

 Amazingly, I only have one negative memory about a School Free Snow Day.  I  remember, on one occasion, how distraught I felt in losing three dollars when I had gotten to the base of the hill after a great ride down.  This seems like a small amount of cash nowadays, but given inflation, over a long period of time, that three dollars had a current value of about $33. I had just earned that money from shoveling, and had stashed it away in one of my deepest pockets. But now it was gone.  When I walked up to the top of Keats, saddened by my recent lost, two kids, with big grins on their faces, one of whom I knew fairly well, told me they had recovered three dollars in the snow. When I told them that I had just lost the same amount, they appeared crestfallen and did not want to believe me.  Because I did not have the reputation of being a liar, they reluctantly returned my money.  I thanked them copiously letting out a sigh of relief.  So even this situation that started off being negative had a positive ending!

There were no virtual realities to distract us from the touch and feel of the snow. Our parents knew where we were going and, if anything, encouraged us to go. We didn’t have cell phones to check in with mom or dad or fiddle with in the snow. We were in an age before the helicopter parents. Contacting friends with a cell phone or texting messages would have killed the spontaneity of play that a heavy snowfall would bring. We might be required to shovel the yard and the front before any snow plowing had come our way.  We were motivated, and so, we did it as fast as we could without much regard to its appearance. Once we were done with the requested shoveling, we were on our way.

Yes, it gives me much joy in recollecting those days. Those were pristine days where we were free of the complications and vagaries of life that we would have to face later in our lives.  They lasted for a brief span of time when we were in elementary school.  If I recall correctly, by the time we entered junior high school, there were other more interesting and challenging ways we would spend our time.  But sleigh riding was a joy of childhood that we lucky kids that owned sleds could experience even in the freezing cold.  It was a time of innocence that remains, to this day for me, unforgettable.  It was that innocence, that Citizen Kane remembered and cherished, evidenced by his last word:  Rosebud.


Baseball Tickets

After all the bad news that we have been inundated with in the last few weeks, let me offer to you all a positive moment that I recently experienced.  My brother, Andrew, and I had just arrived at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the Boston Red Sox.  We arrived, or so we thought, in the nick of time to make it to the first pitch.  Most of my readers know that I am a diehard Red Sox fan so I was excited to be able to once more see a game live and not on TV or streamed. 

Upon reaching the ball park, however, I was in for a surprise.  I was intercepted by one of the ball park attendants, who told me I needed to scan a bar code on my phone.  Before I could react, he pointed to a bar code on what appeared to be a poster. There I saw another guy who appeared as confused as I with his grandson, who was about 10 years old, who immediately offered me help in scanning the bar code onto my phone.  Because I was with my brother, who is even more of a luddite than I am, I kidded the boy’s grandfather telling him he was cheating in bringing along his grandson.

Once I had scanned the bar code into my phone with my camera, I had no idea what to do.  As it became evident that the attendant could not help me any further, a woman that identified herself as Karen Jones,  told me she could assist me. When the fellow with his grandson gave a gesture of thanks to her, I assumed she was in the know as I continued in my quest to conquer this increasingly complicated act of purchasing tickets to gain entrance to the stadium.

Ms. Jones quickly located the MLB account on my phone.  I gave her the passcode I had set some years ago but it did not accept it.  I then watched her attempt to gain entry into the website at which point I blurted out “that they really don’t want to take our money.”  She assured me that that was not the case.  As she continued to fiddle with my phone, I asked what would happen if you didn’t have a phone.  She said you would not be able to gain admission to the game.  At which point, I sighed in disgust not being able to contain my utter frustration with this seemingly endless process.  Seeing my bemused expression, she glanced at me for a moment and said: “You know Bernard I like you.  I’m going to give you and your brother two tickets to the game on me.”  Awed by her sudden friendliness and recognition of my helpless situation, I told her I did not want them if she had to pay for them.  She assured me that she did not as she was the Manager of Ticket Operations.  When she asked me where I wanted to sit, I wasn’t shy in telling her as close to home plate as she could get us with an aisle seat preferred.

Although the ticket agent at the window could not find aisle seats, she finally located two very good seats.  Moreover, Ms. Jones set a new password to my MLB App that I now would be able to navigate on my own.  I heartily thanked her and waved to my brother. As we hustled to our seats, I was surprised, not only to find I was seated a few rows behind home plate, but also that one of the seats was on the aisle.

I later discovered that there had been many scammers when people presented printed tickets bought online causing the MLB to stop accepting tickets in that format.  When I called MLB’s 800 line, the woman who took my call did not know why Tropicana Field only accepted tickets bought from one’s phone.  However, she did say Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, near where I lived, allowed ticket purchases at the stadium ticket window of any tickets not sold online.  Though I was armed with my new password on MLB, I signed in relief that there remained option B, to buy tickets at a stadium nearby where I resided.