A Fish Out of Water

We humans are endowed with genes that interact with our environment to form our personality.  But if environment and heredity combine to make us who we are, I never could understand the source of Lawrence Good’s mind.  I met him in my first week in the graduate program of psychology at Purdue University in a class called Theories of Personality.  When Lawrence commented about how Ayn Rand would have viewed a particular theorist’s opinion of human nature, I, having developed an interest in Ms. Rand’s philosophy as an undergraduate, decided to approach him after class.  Subsequently, he told me he was in his last year at Purdue and was taking a few courses while in the midst of completing his dissertation.

Before we separated, he told me that he was living in the grad house where I also was staying, and he cordially invited me to stop by when I chose.   Thus, began a most memorable relationship.  Because he was a dorm counselor, the room he had was much larger than other rooms in the grad house that allowed me to feel at ease when we conversed.   His breadth of knowledge of psychology, especially in matters dealing with research, amazed me.  I remember the conversations we had were intense with him being the teacher, and me the eager student, trying to assimilate the many ideas he had.  Some weeks into the semester I had the definite sense that Lawrence–as he addressed himself to acquaintances, but when I asked, told me it was fine to call him Larry–knew more about psychology than my professors. 

Our meetings were limited to academic matters.  I did learn that he was from Berea, Ohio, had been raised on a farm, and he had attended a small college there before coming to Purdue.  He had a younger brother with whom he had tried to motivate to read more but his brother appeared content with going no further in his life than staying on his parent’s farm.  I believe he mentioned that there was some history of mental illness in his family but he never went into any details regarding it. The only other thing I remember outside of academic conversation was his opinion of Richard Nixon, the President, at the time we met. Nixon, he told me, had “little social conscience.”  There are few today that would disagree with this assessment of our ex-President.

Lawrence gave me two very good suggestions to help me navigate my way through graduate school.  He rejected my interest in the professor of The Theories of Personality being a thesis advisor and, I later discovered that this same professor kept adding more work, without his ever being satisfied, to a classmate’s thesis proposal.   In the midst of his work on his dissertation, my classmate dropped this instructor, outright abandoned his project, and found himself a more reasonable advisor.

Larry’s other suggestion was to design an experiment for my master’s thesis in which I could quickly collect the data.  Like many graduate students, I was naïve when I first formulated the content and method of my master’s thesis study, as I had hoped that it would have an impact on society.  A noble idea but hardly a realistic one.  Lawrence pointed out to me the many “all but dissertation” students (ABD’s) had become perennial students, in part, because they aspired to goals that could not easily be achieved.

I heeded Lawrence’s warning and constructed a tight study that enabled me to collect all my data within two days.  I received little help from my committee members but the fact that Larry reviewed what I was doing and approved of it gave me the confidence to carry out the project on my own.  In fact, when I defended my thesis, the faculty members on my committee complimented me on the experimental design, and they suggested I consider pursuing research as a career aim.

At the end of the year, Lawrence had completed his doctoral dissertation and had an offer to join the faculty at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Around that time two things happened to him in quick succession:  1) He had a mental collapse and was in the hospital for a few days, and 2) He asked an attractive woman, who was completing her degree in the Ed Psych Department, to marry him.  When I saw Larry after his hospitalization, he looked like he had fully recovered.   But when he revealed his marital plans, he surprised me insofar as I had never spotted him with a woman, besides us rarely, if ever, spoke of women in our discussions.

At some point in our relationship, I had told Larry about my efforts to write poetry.  In 1971, he sent me a booklet of poems he had published called Observations along with Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl.  Perhaps this is an unfair stereotype but I can’t imagine too many people from Berea, Ohio reading Howl.  Larry meant a lot to me so I saved this booklet of poems.  Here is one of his poems:

Allusion

I contemplated the allusion

And found there much elusion

Caused by the suffusion

Of morbid confusion

Over a delusion.

About 35 years later, I was celebrating a birthday in which I wanted to invite people from all the different phases of my life.  Upon searching for Larry, I found he was still on the faculty at MTSU so I phoned the psychology department and left a message.  Some hours later I received a shocking and eerie message from his wife, Elaine, who said that Lawrence had been dead for many years having hurled himself into a river near the campus.

When I later contacted Elaine, she told me that Lawrence had published several articles in various psychological journals but had failed to procure tenure from the University on account of his mental condition.  He had been suffering from delusions believing that the walls in the psychology department were going to collapse.  She said that the physicians he had seen had insisted he was schizophrenic and had treated him accordingly.  She firmly believed that he had been misdiagnosed and that he really had suffered from a bipolar condition. 

I believe Elaine may very well have been right.  The American medical profession, historically, had an overdiagnosis bias for schizophrenia at the expense of overlooking a bipolar condition.  In addition, psychiatric diagnosis has had a history of unreliability due, in part, to the overlap of symptoms from each diagnostic category. The appropriate medication is vitally important in treating individuals with serious mental disorders.  The sad irony was that Lawrence was part of the psychological faculty at the University where one would think he would have received the state-of-the-art treatment.

Let me end this blog on a positive note.  Out of curiosity, I looked up Larry’s ex-wife, Elaine and discovered her obituary indicating that she had died about 5 years ago.  The obituary stated that Elaine was Professor Emeritus Psychology Department at MTSU and that in lieu of flowers, she had requested “memorials may be to American Cancer Society of Lawrence R. Good Scholarship.”  I was so happy to see that Larry had made a contribution to the betterment of society.

Shifting Cognitions from System 1 to System 2


Although my realm of expertise in psychology is in cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), I am always looking to both sharpen and broaden my skills in that area.  I recently participated in a webinar on CBT taught by Bruce S. Liese, Ph.D., where he integrated the knowledge I already possessed, in a unique way that I, previously, had not seen.  When I clearly saw what he was saying, I had an Aha experience

In helping patients change their disturbed or distorted cognitions (i.e. beliefs or thoughts) to more healthy ones, he referred to the distinction Daniel Kahneman had made in his landmark work, Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Because I had read Kahneman’s book, I easily followed the illustration provided by Dr. Liese.  Briefly, Kahneman talks about two types of thinking that humans have:  System 1 and System 2. 

System 1 is the dominant thinking process that is automatic, such as starting and driving a car, eating or brushing our teeth.  Once we have learned these behaviors we do not have to think or contemplate what to do next inasmuch as they have become part of our behavioral repertoire.  Insofar as most of the behaviors we need to perform on a daily basis are automatic, we function in System 1 the majority of the time.  System 2 requires much more deliberate thinking in the understanding of more complex tasks that may confront us.  As Dr. Liese pointed out, the problem arises when System 1 processes that are so instilled in our thinking result in the negative feelings of depression, anxiety and more concretely, the words we tell ourselves to make it difficult to complete a goal.

When it is appropriate, I have applied this new insight in treating some of my own clients.  An example of this is my current work with a client who suffers from obsessional thinking that can be most anxiety provoking.  I have explained to him that when he spirals or cycles into his obsessional pattern of thinking he is stuck in System 1 thinking.  This reframing of his problem has given him another perspective at what is driving his very unpleasant manner of thinking and, in so doing, has given him a better handle on it.  Most importantly, he also had the sensation of the light bulb going off in his mind like I had experienced in the webinar.

Those that commit self-destructive acts so common in eating disorders, alcohol or drug related behaviors may be stuck in System 1 thinking that underly the addictive behaviors.  The cognitions that may underly these behaviors can be as automatic as the addictive habits that accompany them.   Shifting from the automatic mind set of System 1 to the more deliberate, but for these individuals more difficult System 2 way of viewing their issues, can provide them with a light at the end of the tunnel. 

My major professor, the late Arnold Lazarus, created the term technical eclectism, that is the tailoring of one’s therapeutic procedures to the specific needs of the client.  The knowledge I gained from Dr. Liese’s webinar has added to my therapeutic armamentarium such that I already have begun to apply it in my clinical practice.  The more techniques a therapist has developed, with the concomitant recognition of when and with whom to apply them, the greater likelihood that therapist  will achieve the desired outcome with a more diverse clinical population.

The Queen’s Gambit


My wife Lisa and I recently enjoyed seeing the Netflix episodes of The Queen’s Gambit.  The response to the series has been surprisingly positive given the lack of enthusiasm most Americans have for the game.  I developed an early interest in the game after my younger brother, Andrew, became quite proficient at it.  Call it what you may, perhaps sibling rivalry, but my chess acumen improved to the point where I started beating my brother on a fairly regular basis.

To improve my game, I started to follow the moves of all the leading chess players and, especially, became intrigued with the different openings and their origins.  Fortunately, for my parents, I had other interests, such as sports.  Consequently, chess never dominated my mind so I never put in the time that is really a sine qua non if one wants to compete with the best players.  My crowning achievement occurred when I played a math professor, while attending graduate school, who claimed to have had, at an earlier time in his life, an 1800 rating that is considered a Class A, category 1 player.  This rating is designated for those that are called very strong club players.  Although he beat me, he did tell me that I gave him a good game, and he pointed out that I had a very strong opening.

As demonstrated in the Queen’s Gambit, Beth quickly learned that once she touched a chess piece, she had to move it.  Adept players have a way of keeping track of the board insofar as they can visualize future combinations of moves and where the pieces would be subsequent to their mental calculations.   These players retain a map of the chessboard with all its pieces implanted in their minds.  Chess matches are mentally grueling affairs.  For example, Bobby Fischer, past chess world champion, would prepare for a chess tournament by playing tennis, months in advance, to strengthen both his mind and body so he could endure the rigors of a chess match. 

The last craze over chess occurred in 1972 when Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland.  The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) decided to take a chance on an unknown chess nerd, Shelby Lyman, who had no TV experience, to host the program live.  The station devised a way in which each move made by Spassky and Fischer would be relayed by phone, live, to Shelby who would then post it on a huge chessboard that was displayed to the viewer.  Next to that board, Mr. Lyman would have another board where he would analyze the ongoing progress of the game with other experts in the studio.

After waiting, sometimes as long as 30 minutes before Shelby would post a move, I remember sitting in front of my chessboard absolutely mesmerized by the process.  Needless to say, so were many others as the broadcast gained instant overwhelming popularity.  The event became even more fascinating when Shelby and the group of experts would confer on what the next best move would be by Fischer.  Invariably, they would overlook the move that Fischer actually chose, realizing afterwards, by post hoc analysis, that they had missed the beauty of what Fischer had done.  This confirmed the difference in ability between a great player, such as Fischer, and expert players that were nowhere near the level of either him or Spassky.

Although Fischer won the contest, three years later he failed to defend his title, and he never again was to compete at the level he had.  Soon after, the chess mania disappeared in the U.S.A.  Perhaps the combination of the current pandemic, in conjunction with the showing of the Queen’s Gambit, have both contributed to the revival of the earlier chess enthusiasm witnessed in the Fischer Spassky match.

Chess is not a difficult game to learn.  The game has an instant allure to it given the different pieces and the unique way in which they are moved.  Like golf or tennis, there are many levels at which it can be played.  Some people probably possess innate abilities allowing them to engage in it at a higher level.  Nevertheless, to become a great player, like Bobby Fischer or Beth, as portrayed in the Queen’s Gambit, requires an intense study of all aspects of the game that takes an enormous amount of time.  Much of this study, such as reading chess books from all over the world, is isolative.  Although Beth, like Bobby Fischer, is admired by all, in choosing to devote so much of her time to chess, she sacrifices many opportunities to have any kind of social life.  The image Beth projects as so obsessed with the game fits well with how Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky responded when asked to describe what chess meant to them.  Whereas Spassky said: “Chess is like life,” Fischer said: “Chess is life.”   

My wife Lisa and I recently enjoyed seeing the Netflix episodes of The Queen’s Gambit.  The response to the series has been surprisingly positive given the lack of enthusiasm most Americans have for the game.  I developed an early interest in the game after my younger brother, Andrew, became quite proficient at it.  Call it what you may, perhaps sibling rivalry, but my chess acumen improved to the point where I started beating my brother on a fairly regular basis.

To improve my game, I started to follow the moves of all the leading chess players and, especially, became intrigued with the different openings and their origins.  Fortunately, for my parents, I had other interests, such as sports.  Consequently, chess never dominated my mind so I never put in the time that is really a sine qua non if one wants to compete with the best players.  My crowning achievement occurred when I played a math professor, while attending graduate school, who claimed to have had, at an earlier time in his life, an 1800 rating that is considered a Class A, category 1 player.  This rating is designated for those that are called very strong club players.  Although he beat me, he did tell me that I gave him a good game, and he pointed out that I had a very strong opening.

As demonstrated in the Queen’s Gambit, Beth quickly learned that once she touched a chess piece, she had to move it.  Adept players have a way of keeping track of the board insofar as they can visualize future combinations of moves and where the pieces would be subsequent to their mental calculations.   These players retain a map of the chessboard with all its pieces implanted in their minds.  Chess matches are mentally grueling affairs.  For example, Bobby Fischer, past chess world champion, would prepare for a chess tournament by playing tennis, months in advance, to strengthen both his mind and body so he could endure the rigors of a chess match. 

The last craze over chess occurred in 1972 when Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland.  The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) decided to take a chance on an unknown chess nerd, Shelby Lyman, who had no TV experience, to host the program live.  The station devised a way in which each move made by Spassky and Fischer would be relayed by phone, live, to Shelby who would then post it on a huge chessboard that was displayed to the viewer.  Next to that board, Mr. Lyman would have another board where he would analyze the ongoing progress of the game with other experts in the studio.

After waiting, sometimes as long as 30 minutes before Shelby would post a move, I remember sitting in front of my chessboard absolutely mesmerized by the process.  Needless to say, so were many others as the broadcast gained instant overwhelming popularity.  The event became even more fascinating when Shelby and the group of experts would confer on what the next best move would be by Fischer.  Invariably, they would overlook the move that Fischer actually chose, realizing afterwards, by post hoc analysis, that they had missed the beauty of what Fischer had done.  This confirmed the difference in ability between a great player, such as Fischer, and expert players that were nowhere near the level of either him or Spassky.

Although Fischer won the contest, three years later he failed to defend his title, and he never again was to compete at the level he had.  Soon after, the chess mania disappeared in the U.S.A.  Perhaps the combination of the current pandemic, in conjunction with the showing of the Queen’s Gambit, have both contributed to the revival of the earlier chess enthusiasm witnessed in the Fischer Spassky match.

Chess is not a difficult game to learn.  The game has an instant allure to it given the different pieces and the unique way in which they that are moved.  Like golf or tennis, there are many levels at which it can be played.  Some people probably possess innate abilities allowing them to engage in it at a higher level.  Nevertheless, to become a great player, like Bobby Fischer or Beth, as portrayed in the Queen’s Gambit, requires an intense study of all aspects of the game that takes an enormous amount of time.  Much of this study, such as reading chess books from all over the world, is isolative.  Although Beth, like Bobby Fischer, is admired by all, in choosing to devote so much of her time to chess, she sacrifices many opportunities to have any kind of social life.  The image Beth projects as so obsessed with the game fits well with how Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky responded when asked to describe what chess meant to them.  Whereas Spassky said: “Chess is like life,” Fischer said: “Chess is life.”   

Alex Trebek Had Sprezzatura

As we mourn Alex Trebek, I think of the great ease he appeared to have as the game show host of Jeopardy these past 38 years.  We miss his good manners and cordiality to the guests that he would always treat fairly and equally.  His civility and good humor are lost virtues in today’s political nastiness that has divided our country.  He had what the Italians have called sprezzatura.

Although the word did not appear in William Butler Yeat’s poem, Adam’s Curse, he spoke about it when he wrote:

A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Yeats is saying it may take hours to compose just one line of poetry but to the reader it must have a spontaneous, almost effortless, flow to it.  Sprezzatura is the apparent nonchalance that conceals the effort of a great artist.   In the cinema, the late Sean Connery, played the role of James Bond, with great ease and aplomb, in tossing movie villains to their inevitable deaths.  Magicians of any great worth by definition must have sprezzatura as a means of captivating their audience.  No doubt they spend hours on end refining their technique to assure us that no detail is left out of their act.

Alex Trebek, as host on Jeopardy, performed his own magic without us noticing by inviting his guests on the show, in the audience, and at home to feel completely comfortable for 30 minutes a day.   He had the verbal skills of an acrobat, in not condescending to his guests when conversing and correcting them, with the ability to always maintain his own genuine warmth.  Game show hosts that overdo it look corny and, sometimes, even obsequious.  This was not Alex.  When he suffered from his cancer in the midst of taping an episode of Jeopardy, he was quoted as saying: “The level of pain went from 3 to 11.”  Of course, this is when 10 signifies the worst pain one can feel.  Yet the show went on without any of us having the slightest idea of what Mr. Trebek was experiencing.  In this current very turbulent time, Alex brought us the tranquility we all craved.  We will miss him dearly.

Categories
Politics

It’s a New Day

                                          

The election results are in and Mr. Biden has finally been declared a winner.  Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept defeat and concede the Presidency to Mr. Biden reminds me of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem that begins with:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Mr. Trump appears to see his presidential defeat as tantamount to   losing the power that has kept him alive, perhaps causing him to experience an emotional death.  Because losing can often build character, it is a shame that he puts so much stock in winning.  The former Vice-President, and now President Elect, certainly can understand what it means to lose, but to his credit, he has persevered.

This election year will be a time that few of us will forget. I would maintain that if President Trump had managed the COVID in both a more professional and realistic manner, he very well might have won the election.  If the test of a leader is how she/he deals with a crisis, I cannot give the President a passing grade.

Rather than shirking from their responsibility, the important issues of the day, in conjunction with the different platforms of each candidate, brought the greatest voter turnout of the American people, percentage wise, since 1900.  Prior to the day of the election, the polls had opened allowing people to cast their votes early.  And despite the coronavirus, cast their votes, indeed, they did.  Like him or hate him, Mr. Trump affected the American people in such a way that they were going to be sure to vote.  Neither waiting on line, often for more than an hour, nor the COVID, would deter them from voting.  The television programs continually showed Americans of all colors, socially distanced, waiting to cast their ballot.  In the past, the only time I would see such long lines would be for people waiting to receive social security checks or waiting for an appointment, here in California, with the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

I view this as an extremely important step forward.  If nothing else, Mr. Trump’s boisterous presence catapulted his admirers and detractors to the ballot box. Those people that used to say, “it doesn’t matter who wins because they are all the same,” this time exercised their right to vote.  For quite a while, I have seen in America an erosion of its social and political institutions.  My hope is that the inspiration for people of all races and income levels to both get out and participate in the vote this election year will have a ripple effect stimulating newcomers to be more involved in the political process that constitutes our democracy.  It is today’s youth that will someday be the country’s leaders. The high turnout of the younger generation, I believe, may in fact support this wish for both a more active and knowledgeable electorate.

Categories
Politics

Noah and the Flood

Each week a different section or parsha of the Torah, that is Hebrew Bible or five books of the Torah, is read.  This week is the Noah parsha.  There have been innumerable interpretations of the Bible, and it is, in particular, this feature that makes this text such a wonderful piece of writing to study.  Let me offer my take on this segment of the Bible.

As we all know, Noah and his immediate family are forewarned by God to build an ark that will save them from the flood.  Subsequently, God creates a rainbow in the clouds as a reminder for him to deal better with His own anger and to never again destroy the entire human race.  God’s anger cast upon the world serves as a wake-up call for humans to recognize the danger of uncontrollable anger.  As a cognitively trained therapist, I do not believe in the cathartic release of anger as a healthy coping mechanism.  Anger can be avoided in most situations, if people do not suppress the daily stressors of life, but rather deal with them as they arise.  It is far better to discuss disagreements with one’s partner, openly, rather than to keep them inside oneself only later to explode.

Generations after the flood waters recede, the people erect the Tower of Babel with the goal of reaching up to the Heavens.  It is a time epitomized by human hubris when human life is less important than the clay and brick materials used to erect the Tower.  God does not destroy those that are blasphemous like he chose to do with the more extreme evil that existed before the Flood.  Rather, he will disperse all of humanity throughout the earth causing them to speak different languages.  Perhaps the lesson here is that one opinion, exemplifying uniformity, held by the creators of the Tower is not the best way of adapting to the daily challenges of life.  Diversity brings an increase in the ways that people can approach common barriers or problems.

America was founded on the principle:  E Pluribus Unum.  This Latin phrase means out of many one.  It was the guiding foundation that brought the colonists of the original 13 states together to declare their independence from Great Britain.  No doubt those from the North and the South had very different temperaments and dispositions, but they understood the importance of uniting as One, if they were to free themselves from British rule.

We are currently facing a conflict between the political Right and the Left where neither side wishes to engage in meaningful talk with one other.   Social media is inflammatory inasmuch as it packages the news in a way that confirms preexisting biases resulting in exacerbating our differences.  This makes bridging our polarities that much more difficult to do.  The late Rodney King asked: “Can we all get along?”  I am not ruling out that possibility but, as George Orwell put it, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”  My hope is that the election will bring America a leadership that will allow for greater transparency and honesty than what we are presently experiencing.  If this occurs, an act of revolution will not be necessary to change the structure of our government that was founded on democratic principles.

Categories
Baseball

A Great Game

                                          

Let me pause for a moment from the current political chaos that confronts our country, and turn to a still existing passion of mine: baseball.  I have always maintained that the results of sporting events, unlike reality television, are unpredictable.  So it was, with the last game of a best out of five series between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays.  Although going into the series of 2020, the Rays had the better record than the Yankees, the latter had suffered the loss of several of their key players during the shortened Covid season due to injuries.  However, in the playoffs to determine who would win the pennant and go on to play in the World Series, New York was at full strength.

This year the Yankee annual payroll was the highest in the major leagues at $113.9 million, with the Dodgers second at $105.5 million.  Tampa Bay’s payroll was the 27th of all 30 teams at $28.6 million.  As the series began, with the exception of perhaps two batters, all of the Yankees were potential home run hitters. They had the look of sluggers emulating their famed past as the Bronx Bombers.  Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton all brought their own package of peril to any opposing pitcher.  When one looked at the smaller size of the Rays’ players, compared to that of the Yankees, one may have concluded this to be a battle between David and Goliath.

Although Tampa Bay did not compare to the Yankee bats, their pitching came close to equaling that of the New York squad.  But all of the Yankee arms were available, such as starter Gerrit Cole and star reliever, Aroldis Chapman, the man whose fastball had been clocked at 100 miles per hour.   Gerrit Cole had signed a 9-year contract with the Yankees that paid him $36 million per year, the highest salary of all players in baseball.

With Gerrit Cole pitching in the opener of the series, the Yanks dominated the Rays, winning 9 to 3.  But after that, Tampa Bay came back to win the next two contests. The Yankees won the fourth game of the series 5 to 1 with Aroldis Chapman, appearing unhittable, swiftly getting the final four outs of the game.  In that meeting, it was 4 to 1 when Chapman entered in the top of the 8th inning.  The New Yorkers added a run to their lead in the bottom of the 8th inning, at which point I wondered whether Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, would send Chapman out to record the final three outs.  Because New York had to win, Boone probably did not want to take any chances so he let Chapman finish the game.

Boone chose Gerrit Cole to pitch the 5th and final game on 4 days of rest, rather than his normal 5-day respite.  From start to finish, this was the most exciting contest of all.  Cole was quite effective inasmuch as he held the Rays to one run, with the score 1 to 1, going into the top of the 6th.  With one out, by far the best hitter for Tampa in the series, Randy Arozarenac came to the plate and walloped Cole’s first pitch that sent left fielder Brett Gardner back to the wall, and with a perfectly timed leap, he speared the ball in the web of his glove for a great catch.   After that play, Cole appeared dazed and disoriented, as if he was asking:  What just happened?  Wisely, Boone immediately took Cole out thanking him for his efforts.

The score remained 1 to 1 when Chapman started the bottom of the 8th  inning.  Arozarenac, the first batter of the inning, fouled off a couple of pitches before grounding out sharply to the shortstop.  I saw this as a good sign for the Rays because the day before the Rays could not touch Chapman.  I wondered if Chapman’s arm would hold out, given the fact that he had thrown about 20 pitches the previous day.  Now Mike Brousseau came up to hit.  Chapman kept hurling fastballs, but Brosseau refused to go down swinging, fouling off a number of pitches, making it a full count.  When a batter fouls off several pitches after he has two strikes on him, the pitcher may become frustrated and exhausted in trying to get the third strike or an out.  In my opinion, the more pitches a batter sees, the more he adjusts to the rhythm of that hurler.  Furthermore, a full count means the pitcher has to throw a strike or a pitch close to the strike zone to avoid walking the batter.  On the 10th pitch Chapman dealt to him, Brousseau solidly connected with a home run.  Perhaps he was tired or frustrated when, subsequently, Chapman declared he gave too much of the plate to Brousseau making it too easy for him to hit. When Diego Castillo held the Yankees in check in the top of the 9th inning, Tampa Bay won the game.

Chapman could not match his stellar performance from the day before.  It was another day and, in baseball, one cannot predict the outcome of a game based on an earlier result.  With all their money, the Yankees once more came up short, losing to a team whose management did not come close to matching their hefty payroll.

Categories
Life Lessons

The Fall

                                        

Because I was over 70 years old, when I last renewed my driver’s license, I was required to take the written test.   California’s Division of Motor Vehicles issues a manual that reviews the rules and regulations considered essential in safe driving.  Although many of the points made are intuitive, I did learn something new by reading the booklet:  There is really no such thing as an accident.   Even if a collision is unexpected and unintended, when an accident occurs, it is invariably the case that one or both drivers disobeyed some rule of safe driving. That motorist may have violated the speed limit, may have went through a red light or may have tried to stop, but could not, due to faulty brakes.

When two cars crash, as would be likely in any of the above situations, because neither of the drivers meant it to happen, we refer to it as an accident.  But the occurrence of the accident is the result of one or both of the motorists proceeding in a dangerous or unsafe manner that could have been avoided.  I recently had an “accident” of a different nature that I could have avoided if I had taken a simple safety step prior to it happening.

As the years have gone by, I have had increasing difficulty in staying asleep, without waking up with the urge to urinate.  I find many of my friends, in the same age cohort, to have similar problems.  The separate bathrooms my wife and I have provide us with sufficient space to not bump heads, especially, when we are getting ready to go somewhere.  My bathroom is adjacent to our bedroom that makes it necessary for me to walk a few steps out of the bedroom. 

Three nights ago, I took a sleeping pill that I do not use regularly, fell asleep fairly quickly and woke up around 3 a.m.  In the past, I had never had any difficulty in reaching my bathroom as it is quite close to our bedroom.  When I arose from my bed and headed to the toilet in the pitch dark, half-asleep, I felt disoriented and off balance.   I was more confused than dizzy, and in my awkward attempt to walk straight without careening, I tripped and keeled over making a loud thud upon hitting the floor.  I immediately could feel a streak of pain shoot through two areas of my body:  my rear end and the left side of my lower back.  When I tried to right myself and stand, I could not, at which point I called my wife who heard me fall, and she assisted in getting me back on my feet and returning to our bed.

 In my drowsy state, I had gone a few steps past the bathroom that caused me to trip over one of the two steps leading into the living room.  You know when you break a bone and, fortunately, I had not done that.  Besides which, I was lucky that I had not banged my head against either of the two surrounding walls where I fell.  Three days later I am still experiencing the pain in my back but it is not incapacitating and, I’m quite sure, will go away, hopefully, sooner than later.  Since the “accident,” I have put a night light in the bathroom that neither of us can see from where we sleep.  It is a very small change but it will certainly eliminate the risk of this same mishap in the future.  My misadventure reminds me of the saying we can all heed: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Where Hath Civility Gone?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s many accomplishments during her life cannot be argued.  There is a reason that women from all over the country are paying tribute to her during this week as the first woman ever to lie in state at the Capitol.  Given present day behavior, what I found most unique about her was not her professional acumen but rather her independent character.  Not giving into her friends of the same political persuasion, she befriended her conservative colleague, the late Antonin Scalia, on the Supreme Court.  They both had a passion for opera and would be seen together often at opera performances. They were the odd couple in a country whose citizenry has been stricken with the deep wound of anger and hate.

It is unfortunate that our President, during the past 4 years, has modeled the type of behavior that we are currently seeing on both the political left and right.  Rather than trying to bridge the gap between the divisiveness we now suffer from, he has twittered, with no small amount of hostility, against his opponents.  Never to be forgotten is that famous line from Republican Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” Both cable news and social media have fueled the polarities by their extremist statements vilifying the other side.  We are quickly becoming a country of two separate bodies who are so ironclad in each of their belief systems that they have no desire to break bread with those of different opinion. 

The reinforcement for discord is built into the system when attention is given to the dramatic and sensational but not necessarily to what is factually accurate.  The algorithms created by technology have added gasoline to the already flaring tempers of so many of us.  When the hits on a site reward the advertising agencies that subsidize megalithic corporations such as Facebook, the foundation for rational discourse withers away.  Let us hope that the future brings meaningful interventions that set boundaries on the sources of fake news.  How to contain the false news behind so much of the rage felt by so many of us, without the loss of our individual freedoms, indeed, will take a most skilled leadership.  This will obviously take a different type of leadership than we are currently experiencing. 

A Most Strange Wrestling Match

                                               

It was the beginning of summer and my older brother, Benj, who was 15 ½ years old (remember when that extra ½ year meant so much), and I, who had recently turned 12, challenged me to a game of stickball.  Although he was older, he respected my athletic prowess and understood that his age would probably not be the determining factor.

After playing a few innings, we heard the familiar sound of the Good Humor Truck that frequented the playground area where we were playing.  Benj quickly straddled the fence, calling to the truck to stop, with me in hot pursuit.  Although he was not much of an athlete, I  respected his skill in straddling the fence sideways inasmuch as I never quite mastered that feat with ease. 

Refreshed from the sodas, we returned to the stickball court to discover that there were two guys standing in our court.  My brother, in an irritated tone, told them that the stick and ball were ours and that we had not finished our game.  Although both of them were taller and bulkier than we were, I estimated their age to be somewhere between Benj’s and mine.  The bigger of the two of them made a threatening gesture saying something to the effect: “I’m not leaving so you’ll have to make me.”  Knowing that neither of us had much experience in fighting, I readied myself to depart and allow the two of them to take over the court.  To my amazement, my brother stubbornly refused to leave, saying: “Fair is fair and we were here first.”

Not to my surprise, the two of them got louder and challenged us to a fight.  My brother did not back down, but said the fight had to be in front of the school where there was grass, the only place, as he put it, a “real fight” could happen.  They agreed.  While the two of them boldly strode ahead of us, I looked up toward the heavens, in hope of a miracle, wondering what Benj might be thinking.  Signaling to me not to utter a sound, he walked behind them with a cocky gait and I, the younger brother, timidly followed all of them.

When we reached the lawn in front of the school, my brother assertively told the other two that this spot would be fine.  The two of them huddled for a moment, with the bigger one saying that he would fight my brother, who he mockingly called “big mouth.”  My brother, assuming an audacious tone of voice, explained to them that this was going to be a wrestling match with each of them adhering to high school rules, and that he had wrestled on the high school team.  When I heard that, I gasped in shock, but held my tongue.  During the wrestling season, Benj had made the sports headlines of our local newspaper for having been the fastest pin of the year in 11 seconds: To clarify, he was the one who had been pinned.

Meanwhile Benj, went on in pedagogical fashion, demonstrating to his opponent, who I will call the Hulk, how to get into the referee’s position where both squat on fours.  The Hulk looked at him confused and mumbled “is this it?”  “No, no,” Benj replied, and he made a gesture pointing to the Hulk’s position.  When the latter switched his stance, Benj again told him, “no” saying that he would be disqualified or would have to forfeit the match if he continued in the same manner.  They went back and forth with Benj doing the instructing, and the Hulk attempting to follow my brother’s guidance.  Suddenly, he threw his hands up in disgust and stormed off with his friend but not wanting to lose face, and like a bully, he tried to browbeat us with words of intimidation. 

When they were out of hearing, Benj told me you can talk your way out of any fight if you need to.  I remember that we returned home triumphantly having no interest in continuing the stickball game.  Whether the two of them went back to play stickball, I had my doubts.  But because big brother Benj had made his point, it no longer mattered to us.