No News Is Good News Except When….

My mother always would remind us that no news is good news. Years ago, I was involved in a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) where an employee at an agency had suddenly died.  Many companies offer CISD’s that have the purpose of allowing the coworkers of the deceased a safe and structured setting to express their thoughts and feelings as a group/and or as individuals.  Upon my arrival at the location where I was to lead the CISD, I found myself locked out, unable to gain access to the building, on a sweltering day.  Not a good omen I thought.

Inside the building at last, I went to meet with the contact person, the manager of the employees, who were coworkers of the deceased.  When I introduced myself and explained why I had come late, she showed little cordiality toward me.  In conducting prior CISD’s, managers had expressed gratitude toward me in assisting them handle a most unpleasant task.  I did not feel any of those vibes by this woman.  Although I was turned off by her abrasive manner, I thought her unfriendly demeanor might have been related to the stress caused by the death of her employee.  After she showed me to the office where I was to meet with her staff, I asked her if there was a concession or cafeteria in the building where I could grab a light bite.  She said there was some extra food remaining from a potluck for the employees, and that I was welcome to have some.  I asked if she were sure, and she confirmed it with a nod. After I had waited a few hours to see her staff members, the manager came in and, in a mocking derisive tone, told me that she no longer needed my services.  I did not choose to inquire about what I had done to arouse her ire, but rather asked her if she was sure, which she said she was, so I, both frustrated and uncomfortable, departed without having seen any employee.

About a week later, I received a phone call from the insurance company that had hired me to do the CISD.  When the caller identified himself, I told him I was sure that he was not contacting me to give me good news.  “No,” he commented, and then proceeded to tell me about that same manager reporting to him that I was unprofessional, having notes on scrap paper and, furthermore, I had eaten food that was meant only for staff.  When he allowed me to explain my view of what had transpired, he appeared satisfied. 

When you are a contractor like I was, and still am, it is extremely rare for someone to call to give you compliments.   I always have said: “bad news travels faster than good news,” especially, for example, if there has been an airplane accident.  But there is an exception to the rule “no news is good news.”  In 1991, I did not have a broker and was wanting to begin my ascent (or descent) into the stock market.  At a workshop I attended, a fellow participant gave me a business card and told me to contact a broker, named Al, at Bear Stearns.  He told me about all the money he had made following Al’s decisions.

So, I contacted Al, who told me that Bear Stearns, his company, was sponsoring a “great deal” as Kohlberg and Kravis were going public with RJR Nabisco, a company they had bought on a leveraged buyout.  For a brief moment, I winced, fearful of the thought of buying a stock that was affiliated with cigarettes.  Of course, I knew very little about the fundamentals but seeing dollar signs flashing in my mind, I listened to what Al had to say: “It’s a great buy and besides everybody eats cookies.”  Because I already believed in him, there was very little that he could have said that would have dissuaded me and, consequently, I bought 500 shares at $11.  A week later Al phoned me and said RJR Nabisco was currently selling at $12 and, hinted that I should buy some more.  I politely declined telling him that I was just a novice and did not need to be a hog.  Soon after he called, the stock took a downward turn, never recovered, and coincided with Al’s sudden disappearance.  Dismayed, I finally decided to sell my 500 shares at almost exactly half the price I paid for them bidding Al a firm adieu.  Since that time, there has been a book and a movie made about Ross Johnson, called “Barbarians at the Gate,” that featured the greed and ruthlessness of CE0’s with Ross the principal honcho. The merger that Mr. Johnson had crafted between RJR, the maker of Camel and Winston cigarettes, and Nabisco Brands, the home of Oreo cookies, was never a good fit.

This experience taught me that when a broker calls, it’s often the opposite of “no news is good news.”  Rather when he/she suddenly vanishes, let the buyer beware!

Crisis Management Leadership

To Mask or Not to Mask

Because I have been only seeing patients online since March due to the coronavirus, I go to my office to retrieve mail every so often.  I went yesterday.  All entrances to the building were clearly marked in bold print reading:  Do Not Enter Without a Mask. 

As I was leaving my office, two young men behind me were walking with their bicycles that had signs indicating they were from security.  In maintaining a safe distance from them, I angrily asked where their masks were.  One promptly put his on, and the other told me he had left it in his car.  Still very much annoyed, I revealed my not so young age and said they, of all people, need to obey the policy clearly stated throughout the building.  Even though they did not apologize, they remained silent when I let them know I was not going to accompany them in the elevator.

Although the above is but one incident, I think it reflects the behavior in America that fuels the virus.  Unfortunately, our leader, President Trump, set a terrible example when he accepted his party’s nomination this past week, in front of about 1500 spectators at the White House.  Beside the fact that it was evident that his legion of fans did not obey the six-foot social distancing rule, you almost could count on one hand the number of them wearing masks.  Indeed, this is a shame.

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, labeled On the Coronavirus, the individualistic streak possessed by Americans make them less likely to follow rules than do Asians. This is why our leaders have to emphasize the importance of the directives that medical experts have formulated to gain control over the spread of the virus.  Obviously, if our leaders do not adhere to the guidelines established by our health personnel, it is not the exception, but rather the rule, when two security guards also ignore what is best for all of us.  Let all the parents and grandparents safely stay away from those that refuse the minor discomfort of covering themselves with a mask.






  Wrestling in Tunics

When I was in the 10th grade in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I was active in the Junior Classical League (J.C.L.) for those of us that were studying Latin.  Our teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Kaiser, helped us in rehearsing and preparing a number of skits that would reenact some of the customs and rites of ancient Roman times.  Because I was on the wrestling team in high school at the time, I volunteered to participate in a wrestling skit.  To appreciate my size, I competed in the lightest weight class:  97 pounds.  My opponent, though not at all athletic, was both taller and much more rotund than I was.

Of course, all of this was to be staged with a bit of comedy to entertain the audience, so I, the smaller of the two, and the less likely to win such a bout, would be the victor.  Before the event, my rival, Melvin, and I practiced a few holds on each other, some of which I had learned from wrestling practice.  The sequence of events basically would begin by having Melvin take me down and be on top of me–with my managing to squirm out from under him–resulting in us both in standing positions.  We would grip each other and make low growling sounds to accentuate the amount of effort we were putting into the match.  Though we would be faking any real strong impact against one another, each of us would behave as if the other’s bodily force had thrown us half off the mats.  The finale would occur when I would “hurl” Melvin down and jump on him with the referee, my friend David, in a crouching position, hitting the mat declaring me the winner.

After rehearsing with the rest of the skits, we both felt comfortable in the humor and theatrics in the situation.  We then performed the play, that is the series of skits, at our school in front of some of our classmates studying Latin.  Although this was not a rehearsal, it was really a practice run before we were to act the play in front of the students currently studying Latin from all the junior high schools in the city.  Probably Ms. Kaiser hoped the show might stimulate interest in Latin, a dead language, as compared to modern languages such as French, Spanish or German that were offered in our school system.

I remember there being a fairly big crowd of people in the auditorium, but when I saw that with the exception of the teachers, they were all younger than us I did not really feel too nervous.  Besides, because Melvin and I were one of the first acts on the program, I did not have much time to ruminate about how I would do.

When it was our turn, Dave called us up to the stage, announced our Roman names, and as the contest got underway, we started growling at one another.  We each made a few passes grabbing and pushing our arms quite intentionally to no avail.  Then, suddenly and most unexpectedly, Melvin thrust his head into my stomach throwing me down on the mat.  It was if a Mack Truck had run into a Volkswagen. Dave, with a perplexed look, asked if I were all right.  More surprised than hurt, I nodded yes, and then asked Melvin whether he was trying to win the match, and he replied, “yes.”  Utter despair ran through my mind, and I said to myself: “How could he be doing this.”  There was a pretty blonde ninth grader that I had noticed sitting in the first row that I had hoped to impress with my “prowess” but now, as I groaned, she was going to see me lose.

Strange things happen under duress.  Inasmuch as it was evident that this event was no longer staged, I being, if nothing else much faster than Melvin, twisted and turned and in one movement yanked myself free.  Now that we were both erect, on automatic pilot, I employed a technique I had learned from my wrestling coach.  I lunged at Melvin as fast as I could, grabbed one of his legs, gave it a lurch causing him to topple over.  As his body smacked into the mat, there was a loud bang that I am sure the audience heard.  Before he could escape, I quickly got on top of him and held his arms in a pinning position.  Dave slapped his hand on the mat indicating the match was over and held my hand up declaring me the victor.

Afterwards, Dave walked over to me and said that our fight looked so real that for awhile he didn’t think that we were faking it.  I agreed.  Melvin had lost two times, previously, and, much to my surprise, I guess he had decided it was his turn to win.  Because I had won the match, I never bothered approaching Melvin about what was going on with him.  Besides, my efforts had been rewarded greatly when I spotted the attractive blonde looking at me with a big smile.

Human Kindness

What I Need Is an Empty Bag

My wife, Lisa, had asked me to buy a few grocery items from Vons, a supermarket within a ¼ mile from our home.  Because it was a rather small list, I decided to walk.  After paying the bill, the clerk asked if I wanted more than one bag.  I told her I did not, while squeezing milk, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, apples and ice cream bars in what I had thought was a sturdy container.

As I walked out of Vons, I realized I had underestimated the weight of my purchases, but I gave it no further reflection and proceeded homeward.  In taking a short cut by cutting through an alley, I sensed that what I was carrying felt fragile, and I contemplated to myself: “Goodness, what a holy mess this would be if the bag suddenly split.”  That thought should have dissuaded me from doing what I did next:  Transfer the bag to my other arm.  Unfortunately, although I was ambidextrous the bag was not:  It split in two flipping some of the strawberries in all directions while leaving the remaining fruit intact.

After recovering the loose items on the ground, I put the groceries neatly in the middle of the torn bag and folded it over them.  The articles of food that did not fit into the open envelope of my makeshift receptacle, namely a pair of elongated cucumbers, I managed to stuff into my pants pockets.  With both arms cradling the perishables as tightly as I could, I trudged on, suddenly feeling the loosening of some of the contents.  Silently cursing my stupidity in not taking the extra bag offered by the clerk, I got down on my knees and rearranged everything as neatly and compactly as possible and hobbled forward.

At that moment, I recalled a Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode I had seen eons ago, in which a little old man, who is a peddler of miscellaneous objects, could look into the future and know exactly what a person needed.  The thought had no relevance to my current plight, but nevertheless, the little man inside of me told me “what you need is an empty bag.”  Upon approaching the end of the alley that was intersected by a major street, I knew I was but two blocks from my house.  With cucumbers hanging out of my pockets, the juggling act I had to perform to keep things together forced me into a waddling gait:   Inching along, ever so slowly.

Suddenly, a black male popped out of his car and asked: “Sir, do you need a bag.”  In almost disbelief, I emphatically said: “Yes.”  He opened the backdoor of his car and pulled out a shopping bag.  When he gave me the bag, I mentioned how happy my wife would be about my getting all the things she wanted.  He wished that we both eat and enjoy the food.  I told him how thankful I was for his taking the time to help, and I wished him a long happy and healthy life.  He smiled.  As I walked across the pedestrian crossing, I waved my hand to him and he honked back.






A Lesson in Assertive Behavior

As I drove out of the dealership with my first brand-new car, a Dodge Aspen, I experienced both a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. When my co-workers saw it, they complimented me on its appearance.    I very much enjoyed driving the car for the first week until it rained, and I discovered a leak in the trunk area. Because I had purchased the car with a 1 year/ 12,000-mile warranty, I returned it to the service department and was told they would take care of the problem.

Everything was fine until the next downpour.  This time I found more water in the same exact spot than I had previously.  Although it clearly was not my fault, I felt embarrassed in having again to bring the vehicle back to the same dealership where I had bought the car.  When I showed the service manager the car, he pointed out to me that the trunk area was bone dry.   Feeling attacked, I mumbled that it was not dry after it had last rained.  “All right,” he replied, “we’ll take a look at it.”

When I left, I was only hoping that they had fixed the problem and that would be that.  Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.  A few days later it drizzled causing the back of the car to be wet in different places.  Because I didn’t want to be viewed as a complainer or a pest, I was reluctant to take the car to the service department a third time.  But insofar as my girlfriend and I had planned a trip to Maine the following week for our vacation, I wanted the car to be in perfect condition.

In a quiet voice, I once more showed the service manager where the car had been wet.  He pretty much said the same thing he had said on my last visit: “We’ll take a look at it.”  When I picked up the car, he assured me that they did what they could, and I politely thanked him.

My girlfriend and I both felt excited driving up the coast in a new automobile.  The car drove like a charm.  When we were about a half hour from our destination, there was thunder and lightning followed by a heavy rainfall.  Upon arrival at our hotel, I parked and went to the trunk to unload our luggage.  To my consternation, the whole back of the car was inundated, but fortunately, there was no damage to any of our possessions.  My girlfriend said she thought that I had had the leak repaired.  With as much bravado as I could muster, I responded angrily: “I thought so too but those jerks that call themselves mechanics obviously didn’t do the job.”

We were both able to laugh it off and have a great time.  But when I returned home, I was both angry and anxious.  I spoke to my younger brother, Dan, who had much less difficulty asserting himself than I.  As parents often note, children, unless they are identical twins, can be as different as night and day.

With a tape recorder, Dan and I role played out the scenario of my entering the dealership, assuming an angry tone, upon asking to see the man in charge.  When I confronted him, I made sure to practice giving Dan, who played the head honcho, direct eye contact.  Because I knew a polite demeanor would be ineffective, I practiced my delivery a number of times until it sounded as if I were truly pissed off.

The next day when I brought my vehicle in, I indicated that I needed to speak to the head of the dealership.  Whoever greeted me asked if he could help, but I told him no, in a firm tone, asking to see the number one man.  When the boss emerged, though trembling inside, I explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that the trunk of the vehicle had been drenched in a rainstorm on my vacation.  I emphasized that I had been in for the same issue a number of times before and it was a huge inconvenience of my valuable time.  I continued that I did not want this to happen again, and that I was holding him, head of the dealership, responsible for the repairs.  I made it clear to him if the car was still leaking, I would know who to see and who was at fault.  I further threatened that I would go over his head if the work was not done properly.  He assured me that he would oversee the job.

When I returned at the end of the day, the boss approached me and showed me several black lines where the car had been caulked.  He said they had hosed the car down and had found a series of leaks all of which they had caulked.  He assured me that the work had been done, and I thanked him for personally overseeing the matter.  Upon departing, because I could actually see that something actually had been done on the car, I believed that the problem, finally, had been resolved.  And it was!














Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Language Psychology

E Primed

The late psychologist, Albert Ellis, who I studied under at Rutgers University, showed his genius when he developed the concept of e primed, an idea that has its roots in the work of the philosopher, Alfred Korzybski.  In his clinical work with patients, Ellis observed that when patients rated themselves on the basis of their actions, they would often become depressed or anxious.  This negative emotional state came from the consequence of these patients not always attaining a satisfactory result in some task they had undergone.

Ellis employed semantics, a philosophic area of study that Korzybski created, in defining e primed.  He labeled e primed all the words in the English language minus the verb to be in all its uses and conjugations.  E primed written as an equation then becomes:  E (all the words in the English language) – e (verb to be) = e’ (e primed).  We are often shaped by the way we use language.  In adapting Ellis’ technique in my private practice, I have helped many of my clients overcome their negative feelings, such as anxiety or depression.

Let me illustrate how this works:  Clients may be suffering from depression when they see me because they have failed an exam in school or one for a job promotion.  Frequently, because they see themselves as failures, the origin of their depression arises from the clients’ view of themselves: Their verbal description of themselves is:  We are failures.  Note, the use of the verb to be, as expressed by “are,” reduces the behavior of their failing the exam to their identity that easily leads to self-judgment.  In revising their use of language from being failures to having failed the exam, I help them eliminate evaluating themselves.  Rather than them saying they are failures, I  have them change the structure of the sentence to they failed the exam.  Here the verb, fail, replaces the noun, failure, and makes failing the exam an action rather than an evaluation of self.  They now can see more clearly that they are not failures because they failed an exam.  I inform them that they are underestimating the complexity of their personality in defining themselves on the basis of one failed exam.  I have helped many clients by employing this technique that relies on semantics or the meaning of certain words in the context of their use.

When I worked at a bilingual clinic, I studied Spanish and became conversant enough to communicate and do therapy in Spanish.  In studying Spanish, I observed a fundamental difference between the English and Spanish languages in how the latter expresses the verb to be.  In Spanish there are two equivalents to the infinitive to be:  Ser and Estar.  Ser is employed when expressing a more permanent condition such as:  The boy is Mexican or he is a boy or she is a girl.  Estar is used to express a more temporary condition and/or location or place such as:  He is depressed or she is at home right now.  So, someone that is depressed would say:  Estoy deprimido(a), rather than soy deprimido(a), the latter of which indicates a permanent state rather than a transitory one.  In English, this would translate to I am depressed that implies a fixed state as it identifies the person with depression.  One can circumvent in English this pitfall by saying “I feel depressed” rather than “I am depressed.”  In Spanish, however, by using estar to describe the depression rather than ser, the speaker recognizes that the depression one is experiencing is of a tentative, rather than enduring nature.

In addition to encouraging clients not to evaluate themselves, Ellis believed that the use of the verb to be resulted in labeling people without their really knowing them.  He maintained this often leads to prejudgments that may be laced with negativity and hatred.  In this latter case, both Spanish and English have the equivalent use of the verb to be.  As in English, when one is called an American, likewise in Spanish, the verb, soy, indicating permanent action is expressed by:  Soy Americana(o).  Given the current political climate in America, Ellis would have claimed, as both less pejorative and less prejudicial, for one to say:  America has racial problems, rather than America (or Americans are) is a racist country.  The former avoids labeling and oversimplifying the several contrasting features implied in the word American.

In summary, the use of e primed in thinking about oneself, decreases the probability of overgeneralizing a situation that could lead to a negative emotion such as depression or anxiety.  Furthermore, the language of e primed reduces the likelihood of detrimental views by others of one’s ethnic group, religion, race or nationality.







Play Ball


Baseball and sports are back, along with the coronavirus, for an abbreviated season, for what most, if not all of us, would never have predicted. The fans in the stands are pop-up imitations of real people to allow the players and viewers to retain the imagined sense of people cheering.  However, the appeal of such figures waned after opening day “ceremonies” as management apparently decided the players could focus on the game without needing an “alternative crowd” to feed their egos.    We are currently experiencing a reality almost tantamount to the Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling 60 years ago.

This moment the Red Sox are playing the Yankees and, as one would guess, are losing.   Many of you already may know that I grew up in New Jersey in the ‘50’s suffering from the angst of rooting for the Red Sox.  Stanford, Connecticut, like the Mason-Dixon line, demarcates Yankee fans from Red Sox fans:  Those living both south, and in Stanford, typically side with New York whereas those north of Stanford side with Boston.  Because I came from New Jersey, I was a geographic anomaly. How did I choose this fate?  In the summers at the height of the baseball season, my parents would take my brothers and me to visit our closest relative, our maternal aunt, who lived in Great Barrington, Massachusetts with her husband.  During one of those summers in my early childhood, I became a Red Sox fan.

Oddly enough, I never went to Fenway Park growing up, but as I pointed out in an earlier blog, I had the misfortune of seeing Boston perennially lose to New York at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  When I first came to California in 1978, the Yankees and the Red Sox had a playoff game to decide the winner of the American League Pennant.  The Red Sox, in true style, had managed to blow a 14 and ½ division league lead to the Yankees that had led to this event.  The Red Sox were leading 2 to 0 going into the 7th inning when the weak hitting Bucky Dent hit a 3-run homer off of Mike Torres.  As Bucky Dent began rounding the bases, an abrupt silence hit Fenway Park. The Yankees wound up winning the game and the Pennant 5 to 4, and then went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, after trailing by 2 games, in the World Series.

Then, in an almost repeat performance, but this time at Yankee Stadium, in the last game of the playoffs in 2003 to determine the pennant winner, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by 5 to 2 going into the 8th inning.  When Pedro Martinez, who had pitched a good game to this point, returned to the mound I could hardly believe my eyes.  At the end of the 7th inning, Pedro had made his familiar hand gesture to the heavens signaling his readiness to leave the game.  Did Grady Little, the Boston manager, know what he was doing?  Well, we now know he didn’t as the Yankees promptly scored 3 runs against Martinez to make it 5 to 5.  In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Yankee current manager, Aaron Boone, hit a home run off of Tim Wakefield ending the game much to the New York fans’ jubilation.

As 2004 rolled around, I gave a friend who was going to Las Vegas, $200 to bet on the Bosox to win the World Series.  He came back with my ticket stub that yielded odds of 2 ½ to 1 meaning my $200 bet would only pay $500 if the Sox won. The lousy odds reflected the fact that at the time I made the bet the Red Sox were actually favorites.  This was because many believed that Boston was in the process of trading Nomar Garciaparra for the star shortstop, Alex Rodriguez. We all know what happened:  The deal never happened allowing the Yankees to acquire Rodriquez, who replaced Aaron Boone at third base, when the latter injured himself playing pick-up basketball.

Talking about trades, Theo Epstein, boy genius and general manager of the Red Sox, initiated one of the most unlikely and unpredictable swaps in modern baseball history by exchanging Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera, shortstop, and Doug Mientkiewicz, first baseman.  In a side trade, Epstein got the aging, but speedy, Dave Roberts (now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers) for a minor leaguer.  Basically, the Red Sox were giving up, Garciaparra, a household name in Boston for unknown players.  But there was method in the madness.  Beyond the fact that Nomar had not been having a particularly good season, and not playing regularly, he was asking for more time off to perhaps go on the disabled list.  Although this incensed the Red Sox management, the owners along with Epstein were rightly concerned about how the fan base would react.  An article in the Boston Globe had headlined the following:   Young Fans Take Trade of Garciparra Hard.  Despite being widely criticized at the time, Epstein’s deal worked magnificently well for the Red Sox throughout both the end of the season and post-season play.

By far, the greatest series I had ever witnessed was the 2004 playoffs between the Sox and the Yanks to determine the winner of the American League Pennant.  The memory of that series forever will remain etched in my mind.  On Saturday, with the Red Sox already having lost the first two games of the series, I decided to keep the ticket my cousin, a USC grad, had given me to see a USC football game, rather than watch the 3rd game of the series.  I made a wise choice inasmuch as the Yankees pulverized the Red Sox in a slugfest 19 to 8.

In the history of baseball, no team had ever come back from a World Series or a Pennant playoff behind 3 to 0.  But, like most fans, I refused to rule out the possibility of a huge upset.   I decided to do a bit of research, and I googled the results of all 3 to 0 World Series that had occurred in the past.  I uncovered some fascinating data:  In most cases, the 4th game was won by the team leading making it a blow out series.  However, when the 4th game was won by the team behind, the 5th game was almost invariably won by the other side rendering the final score 4 to 1 in games.  Proportionally, there were very few teams that survived the 5th game that necessitated a 6th game meeting.  Now the most interesting fact:  There never had been a team, trailing 3 to 0 in a World Series contest, that won the 6th game.

After Kurt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Bronson Arroyo had lost the first three games of the series, Derek Lowe remained the only starting pitcher Boston had left in their lineup.  Because Lowe had never pitched well against the Bronx Bombers, many Red Sox fans had tossed in the towel deciding not to attend the 4th game at Fenway.  But surprisingly, Lowe held the Yankee bats in check.  Perhaps the most important play of the series came in the bottom half of the 9th inning, when with the Sox down 4 to 3, Davey Roberts came in and stole second base off of pitcher Mario Rivera.  David Ortiz, nicknamed Big Papi, won both that game and the next in extra innings with a home run and a single.  Big Papi, suddenly, had become one of the greatest clutch hitters Boston ever had.

When the contest resumed in New York, I was more sanguine that a comeback could happen due to how improbable it was for a club to win two consecutive times after falling behind 3 to 0. The next game added to my excitement and hopes when Kurt Schilling, showing his true grit in throwing with a bloody red sock, outpitched the Yankee starter resulting in a 3rd consecutive Red Sox victory.  My awareness that no team in the history of baseball had ever won three games in a row, after trailing by three in a best of seven series, made me believe that the Karma was at last favoring the Sox.  The 7th game never was close as the Sox took a 6 to 0 at the top of the 2nd without ever relinquishing their lead.

Insofar as the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games, the World Series was anticlimactic.  However, in addition to rewarding me with $500 for betting on them, it marked the first time the Red Sox had won a World Series after 1918 when they had traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees.  By defeating their New York nemesis, the Red Sox had finally reversed the curse of the Babe.

As I conclude this blog, I notice the Yanks have beaten the Red Sox 5 to 1 in the season opener between the two squads.  New York appears to have a top club this year, 2020, the year of the coronavirus.  But because 2004 proved how unpredictable and exciting an outcome in baseball is, I will never lose hope.







A Breath of Fresh Air

I fully agree with the general consensus that we are living in both strange and trying times.  Although we are “social animals,” to quote the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, a virus has invaded our planet making it necessary to isolate from friends and stay away from social events that might attract crowds.  But even in the most trying of times, there is a wonderful attribute that humans possess that can bring the good to the surface .

I have exercised pretty much all my life, and with the help of some personal weights I own, along with some improvisation on my part, I have been able to maintain this habit without going to a fitness center.  I have developed an exercise program that consists of aerobics and weight lifting, every other day, along with jogging on the other days of the week.

All was going quite well until my body decided to behave like that of a 75-year-old man.  Suddenly, I felt a tweak in my back that became more pronounced when I played golf.  Hoping that it would go away, after I completed my weight lifting cycle, upon stretching in the lower back area, a flash of pain shot through my body.  I knew it would be unwise to continue to fight my body, and I immediately ceased my routine stretches.

That evening I slept quite well with only a slight backache.  The next day, in a state of denial, I started my normal jog I had been doing since the onset of the coronavirus.  But when my feet came pounding down on the sidewalk in front of my house, my senses were pierced by the hurt in my lower back.   Determined not to walk, I jogged in slow motion–to reduce the impact of my running shoes on the street–that resulted in much less discomfort throughout my body.  My pace probably did not exceed that of a walker who certainly was not breaking any speed records.

To me, I had a small victory in simply being able to “jog” as opposed to merely walking.   As I proceeded, tortoise like, I reached an intersection and pressed the button lighting up the pedestrian signal.  Unlike New York City where I lived before moving to California, pedestrians have the right of way when going through a crosswalk.  Still on the curb, the young driver of the car, stopped at the intersection, gave me the signal to go before him.  As I hopped off the curb, I chuckled to myself silently thinking: “Poor guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.”  In straining to thrust my body forward, I felt like an overloaded pack-horse trudging through a swamp.  After what seemed like an eternity, when I reached the end of the intersection, the driver yelled: “You looked great.  Just keep doing it.”

I was going to shout back: “It’s my back,” but decided a simple thanks was better than any explanation I could offer.  His words of encouragement facilitated the end of my jog allowing me to finish with a sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes positive recognition by a stranger or friend can alleviate life’s preoccupations.  The pain, though still present, no longer cried out to me as it had when I had first begun my jog.







Can You Be Nice and Assertive at the Same Time?


In thinking about distinguishing between assertive and nice behavior, I recall the famous line by Leo Durocher, the player and manager of several baseball teams,  “Nice guys finish last.”  In an earlier blog, I broke down the concept of assertiveness into four behaviors.  To briefly recapitulate: These behaviors consist of the following:  1) The ability to say No; 2) The ability to make positive or negative comments to anyone; 3) The ability to both initiate and terminate a conversation with a friend, acquaintance or stranger and 4) The ability to ask for a favor or a request of a relative, friend or acquaintance.

Nice is probably one of the most overused words in the English language and, consequently, it is a poor descriptor of human behavior.  I can relate to many of my clients who don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings and/or want to be liked by everyone.  Those that try and accomplish this impossible feat, and here, I confess to having these tendencies, represent the quintessence of what it means to be “nice.”  This high need of approval, craved by many, inhibits the expression of the above assertive behaviors in various situations.  Niceness, in this sense, can result in self-demeaning behavior that may lead to a not so pleasant life experience.  Frequently, I have had to oppose my natural instinct, to let things ride by not putting my foot down to draw the line, when others may be taking advantage of me.  One who regards others as more important than his or herself will have difficulty winning, and will more than likely, finish last in the game of life.

Assertive behavior is a right and not a privilege.  When I just had graduated college back in 1967, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Psychological Association, in Washington D.C.  The session that most vividly stands out in my mind was a film showing and exploring the relics Freud had kept in his office where he practiced before he died.  One of these was his pipe.  This was a time when smoking was not universally prohibited, as it is currently. There was a gentleman in his 50’s, who appeared quite erudite, sitting next to me in the packed theater.  In the front of the auditorium by the stage, one clearly could see a sign in bold red letters that read:  No Smoking.   After the lights were dimmed marking the start of the film, to my misfortune my scholarly friend pulled out a cigar and lit it, completely oblivious to the sign.  His age and his demeanor thwarted me such that I felt it inappropriate to interrupt the pleasure he appeared to be deriving from his cigar.  So, I sat through the movie (fortunately, it was quite short) having to breathe in and endure the obnoxious aroma and air permeated by the cigar’s smoke.

The above example illustrates the point that age and/or status do not preempt another’s right in asserting oneself.   Because no one else asked him not to smoke, it was apparent that I was not alone in having been intimidated by this individual.  Although it was within my right to confront him, I, like the others, remained silent.

About two years ago, I experienced another situation in which I chose not to assert myself.  I had been going to the same fitness club as another fellow, who I will call Jim for the sake of confidentiality.  Physically, he was quite muscular and much bigger than I was.  We often exercised at about the same time and, so over time, we maintained a cordial relationship and became friendly acquaintances.  However, after some months had passed by, I noticed that he had become distant and less friendly than previously.  Subsequently, on one occasion, I felt the butt of his intrusive manner, when he preempted a bench that I was about to use, despite the fact that his partner indicated I had been waiting to go next.  He acted as if I were invisible, saying “it’s no big deal,” and he took the bench without my confronting him.  I felt both surprised and nonplussed by his action and, in thinking there might have been negative repercussions if I had objected, decided not to risk incurring his wrath by asserting myself.

A few months later, while doing curls with a barbell, I was waiting for a female to finish using another bench.  When she got off the bench, Jim approached her and asked her if she was finished using it, and though she nodded yes, she pointed out to him that I had been waiting to get on it.  When he saw me pick up the barbell to complete my last set of curls, in defiance, he said: “You’re not using it now.  You can go use the other bench.”  In the past, whenever a situation like this would arise with someone else, either that person would let me use the bench or might ask how long I would be using it.  Jim did neither.  Nevertheless, feeling intimidated and fearful of an angry confrontation, I allowed Jim to preempt me and take the bench.

Afterwards, I did not feel good about my inability to stand up to Jim.  To reiterate, might and strength are not equal to right, although, I must say, it did not feel that way.  It weighed on my mind to such an extent that I knew, for my own sanity, I needed to approach Jim about it. Given my understanding of this man, I wanted to avoid an angry clash with him, so I decided to take the advice of a psychiatrist friend and employ a technique similar to what is known as disarming.  This strategy involved my inquiring whether or not I had done something wrong to alter what had begun as a rather congenial relationship.

When I saw alone him outside of the fitness room, I went over to him and employed my disarming technique but it had little effect on the interaction.  I made a point of giving him direct eye contact, and not looking away from him, due to feeling threatened or frightened. In essence, he said that I had not done anything to piss him off but “things change over time.”  I assumed he was referring to his own personal situation, and I wanted to stay away from that insofar as it had little bearing on what had happened between the two of us. Although he was semi-apologetic about the bench, there remained a combination of anger and defensiveness in his tone of voice.  Because Jim said he was beginning to feel uncomfortable after I had made my point, I decided not to pursue it any further.

Although I had wished my talk with Jim to have been more conciliatory, I did feel better about expressing myself in an assertive manner.    About a week later, when I entered the locker room, Jim, sitting alone, started to stare at me.  In refusing to allow fear to overwhelm me, I returned his stare, again looking directly in his eyes.  Neither of said a word to the other.  I said to myself: “Fine, if this is what he wants, I will let him have it.”  In asserting my right to be present was no less than his right, I realized that, for now, a cordial relationship between the two of us was not in the picture.  However, what was different for me now than in the past, was I could accept that as a fact of life, with little worry or further thought.  If I had been “nice,” I would have allowed Jim to not respect my space when lifting weights.  Regardless, of how he acts toward me in the future, I made it abundantly clear that my space in the gym is as important as his.



A Few Moments of Pure Pleasure Amidst the Coronavirus


Last night my wife, Lisa, and I ate the “magic” brownie a friend gave us with the strict instructions to only take half of one on an empty stomach an hour before going to sleep and you will sleep like a baby.   To all you veteran pot smokers, my wife had never smoked marijuana so it was a first for her and, in my case, it had been several years since I had indulged in a weed high.  After about an hour, we kidded one another in recognizing no difference in our feeling state causing us to wonder if we had received a dud.  We reconciled the situation by our agreeing that we both, at least, could enjoy the sweet tasting chocolate just before turning in for the night.

When we went from a vertical standing position to lying in bed, we suddenly became aware of some dazzling perceptual changes.  Almost simultaneously we broke into a laughter, and we enjoyed each other’s presence immensely.  Subsequently, upon attempting to fall asleep, floral designs of novel shapes and colors burst out in front of me.  I felt my mind had turned into a kaleidoscopic prism channeling amorphous images that appeared eerily tactile.  Feeling a loss of control, I momentarily became unnerved fearing that I would not be able to stop the chain of images bubbling up from my mind.  But when I silently assured myself I was not losing my mind, I glimpsed these images, with closed eyes, while laughing out loud not trying to explain the inexplicable to my wife.  Rather, we laughed in concert with one another.

The quasi visual hallucinations I experienced differed hugely from an experience I had upon completing some final exams when I was in graduate school.  I had joined some colleagues in celebrating the end of the semester and school year with some heavy-duty drinking.  I had decided that I was on a mission to get more intoxicated than I had ever been in the past with the goal of experiencing the utmost joy of being totally inebriated.  And so, we drank and drank.  When I returned to my dorm room, I started feeling violently sick resulting in my vomiting.  Although that happened quite quickly and abruptly, it now felt as if I was going through utter doom as I started to experience what some have called the “black whirlys.”  I can describe this most unpleasant phenomenon as a dizzying sensation with a black spinning top swirling down sucking all the energy out of one’s body.  Unlike the pleasant hallucinatory experience that the marijuana brownie had brought on, my drunken state had produced an invasive ugly force that seized my body.  None too soon, but fortunately, it went away.

Because it reminded me of the first time I had ever gotten high, I mentioned this most recent experience I had shared with my spouse.  I remember it clearly as I was in my mid-twenties, and I had made a number of futile earlier attempts to achieve this wondrous state.  When I was in high school, the era of smoking pot had not yet reached the white middle class.  A colleague from work introduced me to his friend and, when hearing my plight, told me, confidently, that he would get me high.  My friend from work assured me his friend was both reputable and, on the level, so I agreed to have him meet me at my apartment on the West Side in Manhattan.

When he arrived at my place, he told me not to worry insofar as he had brought a sufficient supply of pot.  He then took out his pipe filled it to the brim with some marijuana and proceeded to demonstrate the method of getting high.  He chimed: “Puff it, breathe in, see the glow of the grass as you take it in, hold it for a as long as you can without coughing it up and exhale.”  As we switched off taking hits, after a few inhalations, I felt I had established a rhythm inasmuch as I could feel the smoke enter my body and see it as I exhaled.  He was the teacher so I simply followed his lead.  After a while, he asked me if I felt anything different going on and I told him not in the least.  This seemed to surprise him and, as he glanced at me, said to try standing up.  I laughed when he said the word “try,” as if it were some unimaginable feat, he was asking me to perform.

Upon rising from my chair, I became overcome by weird angular distortions and experienced a certain amount of difficulty in balancing myself.  When I related to him I was having some weird perceptions, he confirmed the fact that I was indeed high and not to worry.   It felt as if  I was standing up, but swooning at the same time, as my “teacher” held me and said “you’ll be all right, trust me.”  Because what I was experiencing was so unique, I do remember his presence clearly being an asset.

I suggested we go to a neighborhood singles’ bar called the Library located a few blocks away.  We were the only ones in the elevator as we started going down from my floor, the 15th, to the lobby.  With the smile of Mephistopheles, my friend randomly started pushing buttons of different floors with my immediate reaction that the elevator was out of control and was in berserk mode.  “What are you doing,” I asked in a frenetic state.  “Don’t worry,” he laughed, “we’ll get there sooner or later.”  I had an immediate sense of time evaporating in front of me and was pretty pissed.  When we finally reached the lobby after several stops, he showed me the time, told me to relax as I took a breath and realized my sense of time had become completely distorted.  Only a few minutes passed.

As we walked to the bar, I felt a light sensation carrying me through the sights and sounds of the street.  When we arrived at the Library, I knew we were physically there, though there was a sense of disconnection between my mind and body.  But it all felt quite delightful and my guru, if we can call him that, was all smiles as he could sense I was enjoying myself.  I remember only one event occurring at the bar:  A young woman, that I was not particularly attracted to, approached me and asked me what time it was.  As she was asking, it did not occur to me that she was really trying to meet me, so, almost mechanically, I picked up her wrist that had a watch on it and read the time to her.  We looked at one another, and then I walked off noticing that my friend had seen me from the corner of the bar.  When he and I rejoined, he informed me that she had been hitting on me.

Upon returning to my apartment, I passed a kid that must have been around 9 or 10 years old.  When our eyes met, he suddenly transformed into a fierce lion.  But he did not spring at me so I recognized that what I was seeing was coming from within me.  I have no idea what it was about that child that made me see him the way I did.

To conclude, this first experience of getting high, compared to getting drunk, was for the most part, a good one.  Although marijuana is legal in some states and in others is legal for medical use, I do not recommend indiscriminate use of it that could result in psychological dependency.  Many years ago, my father gave me good advice: “Moderation is the key to much of life.  Take things in moderation.”  Any substance that alters one’s state of consciousness such as alcohol, marijuana or any other drug need be indulged in with care.  Given this precaution, I have little doubt that my wife and I will brownie up again in the future.