The miracle of the internet

The true magic of the world wide web isn’t cat videos. OK, maybe that’s part of it.

But the real miracle is its ability to connect us. Across the miles. Or in my case, across nearly half a century. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post on my mom’s birth date, about how I was so young when she passed away that I don’t really remember her. You can read it here:

Absence makes the heart grow… confused?

A couple of weeks ago, on my birthday, someone commented on that post:

(JC = Jersey City, New Jersey. And don’t worry, she later realized she misspelled Damian. )

 

Needless to say, I did connect with Veronica “Ronnie” S. (nee Wain). She said she and her siblings would often wonder about what happened to their old neighbors on Liberty Avenue in Jersey City. She Googled my dad’s name recently and saw his obituary. A few more searches led her to a blog post from 2015… on a blog that only a handful of people even know about… it’s a web miracle!

Ronnie was able to provide several tidbits of info about my mother, helping me fill in the blanks and connect a few dots, and start to “know” a mom I don’t remember. Her email was far and away the most wonderful email I’ve ever received (sorry Nigerian prince who wants to share his millions with me).

I’m sharing her wonderful note here because it made me smile… through the tears, of course:

I have endearing memories of your mom from the 1960s that I’d like to pass to you:
She had a beautiful smile, always, and looked exactly like the photo on ur page (wearing the pretty coat).
Your mom and dad were both devout Catholics. When she was expecting Jeanne she would attend Mass on weekdays.
Our family didn’t have a car and to save us the bus, train, bus trip to North Arlington to visit our brother Joe, she would often drive us, despite having so much to do at home.
When Marie graduated from high school, your mom was kind enough to contact
someone at Thacher Proffit law firm and secure her an interview; she was offered a secretarial job soon afterwards. She subsequently worked for William Simon at
Salomon Bros., before retiring from the Port Authority of NY/NJ in 2000.
Your maternal grandmother would visit you often, and I recall visits by your Aunt (Florence?) as well. She always dressed impeccably……I loved her hats!
My mom enjoyed chatting with your grandmother (she was a lovely, soft spoken person!) and she shared stories of your uncle’s S.J. missionary work in the Philippines. Your grandmother missed him and sometimes worried about him.
Your maternal grandfather would visit and help with small jobs around the house. He amended the soil in the front yard so Olga could have a small garden. He planted tomatoes and flowers there.
We didn’t see him later in the 60s….I don’t know whether he predeceased your mom or, after her death, was too broken-hearted to return.
John was very attached to your mom and would always be in her arms…..until you arrived, Damien (you were the sweetest baby!). Then he took his place by her leg.
There was a back room on the first floor of your house and she asked my mom for advice on turning it into a playroom for you, J, J and V.
I would see your mom from time to time as I passed your house on my way to the Blvd. bus, going to high school. She always showed an interest in what was going on in my life, and offered me advice. She did very thoughtful things……like one summer day, taking me for a ride to your aunt’s (Pat?) house in Verona. I remember hearing them laugh and talk in the kitchen. I think your mom was very close to her.
Your mom and mine talked almost every day…..usually outside when the weather was nice, over the backyard fence or by phone. Olga was an authentic friend in every sense of the word……and the sister my mom never had. My mom never quite got over her death. Our neighbor George Martine (wife, Sabina, who also passed away around that time) missed her terribly as well.
We knew she had become seriously ill yet never expected she would be hospitalized and not return home.
Many neighbors and friends attended her wake and funeral Mass.
(Damien, I think you all were too young to attend her wake….I didn’t see you there.)
After her death, your grandmother came almost daily to help your dad, and close neighbors checked in and did whatever they could.
When he decided to move to Arkansas we were really sad yet knew he did
it with your best interests in mind. NJ was becoming pretty unaffordable even then.
When he returned east to visit family, he would stop by to see my parents, and they would pick up on conversations, like he had never been away. (I believed they continued to exchange Christmas cards and letters about family life….and baseball.)
I happened to be home for one visit (I had since married and move to West Orange) and was really surprised to to see that Jeanne had accompanied him.
She was all grown up and sooooo beautiful!

The most significant lesson I continue to value from life on Liberty Avenue was we didn’t have much materially, and I sensed your mom and dad struggled more, yet we had everything we needed.

Damien, I have no doubt you, Jeanne, John and Virginia are fine, fine people and
ultimately that is the most enduring tribute to your mom and dad.

My mom in Jersey City at the park close to our house.

 

God bless you, Ronnie – you gave me a priceless gift on my birthday. And:

 

All things considered, he had a pretty good run.

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans” is a phrase that comes to mind when I think about Robert Siegel’s recent retirement from NPR. He spent a whopping 41 years at NPR, the last 30 of them hosting All Things Considered. He did it with eloquence, with intelligence, with style, with a twinkle in his voice. And his long and illustrious NPR career was never part of his plan:

“No one is more surprised by my tenure than I am. I came to NPR on what I thought was an unfortunate but necessary detour that — I hoped and figured — would last a couple of years. I’m a native New Yorker and the New York FM radio station where I worked was sold in 1976 and — to put it mildly — I didn’t figure in the new owner’s plans.”

But to merely reprint his words doesn’t do justice to the man who spent decades as trusted voice in the lives of millions, a faithful co-pilot on the daily commute. Listen to his sign-off below.

Ah yes, no one else this side of Corporal Max Klinger on M*A*S*H could work in a reference to the Toledo Mud Hens and have it feel so natural! Thanks a million, Robert Siegel. While you may have started your NPR career with other plans, you wound up exactly where you belonged: in our homes, in our cars, and in our hearts.

  

 

Meet the new boss… same as the old boss

In the Antebellum South, in states such as Alabama, a white plantation owner a would make a fortune based on the back-breaking, involuntary labor of African American slaves, who got nothing.

In 2018, Nick Saban earned $11.13 million for leading the University of Alabama to the national championship in football. His players, the vast majority of whom are African American, did the back-breaking labor, risking injury on every snap, and got nothing.

Some will argue that the players are “paid” via their scholarships. But ‘Bama played 14 games (their opponent, Georgia, played 15) from September through January, and if you throw in off-season conditioning, Spring practice, summer two-a-days and fall practice, it’s virtually a year-round sport.

Under current NCAA rules, during a playing season and while school is in session, athletes are supposed to spend no more than 20 hours a week on required athletic activities… However, NCAA surveys of athletes have shown – and school and conference officials readily acknowledge – that athletes spend much more time than that on their sports. (Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2016/11/02/ncaa-rules-student-athletes-time-academics/93164832/)

So essentially college athletes are holding down a demanding full-time job while also constantly traveling, and they’re still expected to keep up with their classwork. Would you want to trade places with them? Did we mention you’ll get tackled by 320-pound linemen? Oh, and if your grades slip, your “guaranteed” four-year scholarship can be revoked.

Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (#13 on the roster) entered the game at halftime and rallied his team to victory.

 

No doubt the University of Alabama bookstore has been doing a brisk business in #13 jerseys this week.

Who gets that cash… and the cash from the billion dollar TV contracts and ticket sales? The NCAA, the schools, the coaches… everyone except the players. Read more here.

For 2011-12, the most recent year for which audited numbers are available. NCAA revenue was $871.6 million, most of which came from the rights agreement with Turner/CBS Sports. (source: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/finances/revenue

Back in 1982, legendary Marquette basketball coach and TV color commentator Al McGuire spoke at Xavier University. I remember him saying that college athletes should get some sort of stipend, a bit of cash so they could buy a slice of pizza when they were out with their friends. Here we are nearly 40 years later —  or 160 years later if you count from the plantation era— and nothing much has changed.

 

 

9 lives. Make that 8. Maybe 7.

Behold the lovely and talented Coco Bear:

As you can plainly see, her main talent is sleeping… usually about 23.5 hours a day (+/- 30 minutes). On Christmas Day, however, she decided to hit the road – probably due to the 35 house guests we had, although perhaps she just got tired of being chased by our foster puppy. She’s an indoor cat, but she does make occasional forays into the great outdoors, usually in the spring (she’s an avid bird watcher). But on Xmas day, it was colder than a polar bear’s toenails. She didn’t come back that night, or the next, or the next… She was outdoors in single digit temperatures, completely MIA, for nearly two weeks. I kept looking for her, to no avail, and was convinced that she was a goner – no house cat could survive that Arctic blast. This past Friday, my wife saw a dead black cat on the busy street near our house – we feared the worst for Coco Bear. But on Saturday evening, she showed up – looking a bit gaunt but seemingly none the worse for wear.

If cat’s have nine lives, I think Coco is down to seven. Unless she managed to build a kitty shelter in the woods out of twigs and leaves, and capture her own food. If that’s the case, we should change her name to Coco Bear Grylls.

 

Secrets, revealed!

In true “new year, fresh start” fashion, I was cleaning the basement last night. But I didn’t make much progress because I stumbled across this:

I have no idea what Donald Junior was doing in our laundry room, but Robert Mueller, call me. I’ve got the goods.

 

 

Rice, rice baby

Behold the mighty Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™

My wife and I got it eons ago, probably as a wedding gift (no Tiffany & Co. silver spoons for us!), so it’s easily more than 20 years old. We used it for a while back in the day, then it was relegated to the Shelf of Misfit Appliances in the basement, along with those other products that you don’t use often enough to justify granting them precious storage space in the kitchen (looking your way, Cocomotion™ and Jelly Belly Snow Cone Machine – we’re running hot and cold on you).

 

So there the Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™ sat, collecting dust, dryer lint and cat hairballs, until our son Peter went on his health kick. He hits the gym more often than he hits the books, and he eats the same lunch and dinner every day: baked chicken with brown rice, and baked salmon with brown rice, respectively. So we needed to step up our rice production in a major way. The Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™ to the rescue! It went from overlooked to overworked. It never left our kitchen counter, because we could barely keep up with Peter’s 16-year-old-weight-lifter consumption. As soon as we made one batch of brown rice, we needed to start on another. And heaven forbid if we forgot to make the rice, because then Peter would claim we were “stealing his gains” (i.e. messing up his meticulous weightlifting/eating regimen).

We also had to resort to buying brown rice in bulk:

This will last us about two weeks.

I’m sure the B&D® FSHS™ (we’re tight, so I call it by its nickname) was loving all the attention, and reveling in being needed once again after decades of neglect. It was having its Sally Field Oscars moment:

Then Christmas came… and Peter’s grandmother got him this:

A brand-spanking-new 16 cup rice cooker.

So sorry, B&D® FSHS™… hope you enjoyed your moment in the sun, but it’s back to the dark dungeon for you.

 

 

 

 

The Resolution will not be televised

Happy 2018! May it be filled with peace, love and understanding. (HT to Nick Lowe.)

Most folks who make (and break) New Year’s resolutions usually focus on breaking bad habits or some form of self-flagellation.

This year, why not focus on adding more pleasure to your life instead… via the written word. “Read more” is a nice positive resolution, and one you can keep with these great tips from Austin Kleon:

Austin’s Steal Like An Artist book is highly recommended for your reading list. And if you want to double-down on resolutions, another good one would be “subscribe to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter” – there’s always plenty of wonderful food for thought in each issue, so your brain can gorge itself while your body stays on its New Year’s diet.

Other reading recommendations:

Happy reading, and Happy New Year!