Saturday, August 22, 2015

My Golf Problem

There are few things more intimidating to me than a golf course - my blood pressure shoots up about 50 points just driving past them.

The manicured, emerald fairways, the parking lot of Lexuses and BMWs, the expensive clubs, the expensive shoes.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the actual skill required to play.

I will admit: I don’t put a great deal of effort into getting better. I play once, maybe twice, a year. I might hit the driving range, like I did last week with my son, another time. (Note: He’s way better than me, and he’s 10.) My clubs are hand-me-downs from a brother-in-law. They were probably made in the 1970s and built for someone six inches shorter than me.

The best thing about my game is my bag, and it’s getting moldy from being kept in the garage.

But, despite my lack of practice, I remain confounded by the fact that it is so difficult to hit a golf ball straight. Perhaps this is because I assume that my ability to play other sports is reasonably good, and I believe, somehow, that this will translate into being a halfway decent golfer. This is a foolish theory. But I guess there is still some part of me that believes that, one of these years when I go out and play, it will all suddenly fall into place, or, at least, I will no longer lose one ball per hole in the woods.

Typically, I play nine holes. Eighteen, I feel, is just prolonging the pain. Usually, I hold my own on Par Three holes, but long drives destroy my score. Once I take out my driver, it’s Slice City. If you have picked up one of the many golf balls that I have lost in the weeds, or out of bounds somewhere behind a tree, you’re welcome.

Would lessons help? Probably. But the stubborn side of me thinks I can self-correct. This line of thought likely originates from the same area in my brain as my unwillingness to ask for directions when I’m lost on vacation, or solicit help when I’m in the hardware store, which my kids are always telling me to do. “Just ask someone, Dad,” they say. But I CAN DO THIS is generally my mental state.

Only, with golf, I can’t.

Besides being basically impossible, golf comes with etiquette issues, which are annoying. In addition to the collared shirt and golf spikes, you can’t do certain things, such as talk when other people are swinging, or even warming up to swing, or sometimes while driving the golf cart to the next hole. You can barely breathe audibly. It’s a lot of energy wasted, censoring yourself like this. I once got yelled at – okay, “reminded” – to not walk on the green in the line of someone else’s ball even though they were not shooting. I was confused… were we on a municipal golf course or the PGA Tour?

Somehow, I think I might fare better if there were very large speakers blaring music toward the tee box. People could throw small objects at me. This would distract me just enough from having to remember all of the things I usually forget to do – keeping my head down while I swing, following through properly, standing with my feet the right distance apart, etc.

Then, there’s the financial aspect. Golf requires a significant investment to get better, whereas playing most other sports don’t require $40 or more to merely play each time. I have a fundamental problem paying money to do something I’m bad at.

I would just as soon take the $40 and go directly to the clubhouse, where I can enjoy lunch while watching professionals play, on TV.

It is a little comforting to know that there are many other people who play golf who are as bad as me. Some of them even appear to enjoy it. I asked one guy what his secret was, and he said, “Don’t keep score.”

Now there’s a tip that doesn’t require lessons.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Meteorologist In Us All

Everyone's a meteorologist.

I know this because trained, professional meteorologists predicted recently that a substantial winter storm was coming to Connecticut, with a "plowable" amount of snow.

Since when, by the way, did we start calling snow “plowable?”


The more interesting thing was that, in addition to this television broadcast, I heard four different forecasts from people I know who are not trained, professional meteorologists.

One said that we were supposed to get over a foot.

Another said we were getting 8 to 12 inches.

Another said the weather system was blowing out to sea.

Another, citing the European model, was not ready to make a commitment, but heard of the impending storm, and was prepared to go on the record with something official after the next update in six hours.

The most amusing part of all this confusion was that the non-professional people – otherwise known as “ordinary citizens” - started making predictions approximately a week in advance of the alleged weather event. A week! There is no scientific way that even trained, professional meteorologists can make accurate predictions a week from the expected impact. (Let's debunk the Farmer’s Almanac right now.) But, all it takes is one quick, casual "looks like a storm MAY be headed our way next weekend" type of comment and suddenly we are bracing for record snowfall, record cold, a sleet pellet, a gust of wind, lower than normal barometric pressure, an icicle may form, etc.

So, yes, it's important to place some of the blame here on the media. How can you not, when the top story on TV news is weather-related 99.4 percent of the time. This has been known to happen on warm, pleasant days.

Sample anchor to meteorologist conversation:

"Look, Gerry, a third day that we've come within two degrees of the all-time, historic average."

"The average? But doesn't that mean everything's normal?"

"Yes! But we have had consistently average readings now for THREE STRAIGHT DAYS!"

 "Wow, that is remarkable... Now onto a developing story out of Enfield, where there is confirmed evidence that Martians have landed on I-91, stopping four lanes of traffic. Our Weather Watcher Bob has taken some grainy pictures that rival the 1969 Northern California camera footage of Bigfoot."

If you watch the weather a lot, you know that this is basically true.

Seriously, though, keeping an eye on the weather is a primary source of entertainment for those who, come winter, do not or cannot escape the Northeast for warmer climates. Media outlets of course know this, and in their quest for higher ratings, they are constantly renaming their radar technology. What was once just plain Doppler radar has become 3-D First Alert Exact Track Live Pinpoint Doppler, and - actually I find this to be pretty cool - it can show if a funnel cloud is currently swallowing your house. You don't even have to look out the window.

Last week, I noticed that one local station now has an SUV that actually looks like it is equipped to chase tornados. It has various antennas, little satellites, and huge lightning bolts on the doors. Actually, I'm not sure about the lightning bolts, but I believe there were two huge speakers mounted on the vehicle’s roof featuring a looped recording that the end of the world is drawing near, so you better fill up on yummy stuff like bread and milk while you can.

So, you can see how this endless cycle, which grows more intense each year, turns everyone into a meteorologist. We all want to know when the world is going to end. Or at least we want to know when the first snowflake, which will undoubtedly lead to the end of the world, will fall.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Magic of Harry Potter

First, a few facts upfront.

I am a teacher.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out the year I started teaching, in 1998.

I have never really been a fan of fantasy fiction.

The most involvement I'd had with Harry Potter was reading aloud chapter one of the first book and, back when you could do this, bring students to see the movie on a field trip.

OK, fast forward 15 years. I have a son, who is 9. In November, it was time for a new book to read aloud. I offered Harry Potter - not, obviously, because I liked it, but to kind of see if he would even be interested -  and he agreed.

It took about a month, but we recently finished it. And now he's onto the second book. On his own.

I now see what the big deal was all about - especially for children. Rowling touches on all the things that make for great children's literature. Likable characters, good and evil, a fantastic setting, children at the heart of a story, and a challenging plot. It is interesting to note that the reading level is 6.7, while kids who read it are often much younger.  Nonetheless, my son, who mostly likes nonfiction (he has dozens of books containing sports facts published by Sports Illustrated) and fiction stories like Babe and Me, in which the plot line is about sports, to my surprise, is enthralled.

Perhaps we would have found another great classic - of which I am now convinced Harry Potter is. A Wrinkle in Time? A Narnia book? Maybe another book would have clicked that switch for my son, the one that encouraged him to move from a solid reader of certain topics in his interest area to a passionate reader. He is 145 pages into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and talking about part three.

All of this is very cool. It is what you hope for when you help your children - or students - read. Find a series, author, or theme that interests them, and let them go, let them loose, to become independent readers.

So thanks, JK Rowling, for creating your stories at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I'm glad I've finally gotten around to reading them.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Good Luck Charlie"

Children can make you do lots of things you wouldn't do normally. Crawling on the floor regularly. Eating chicken nuggets for dinner. Becoming way too familiar with picture books. Purchasing Neosporin every time you go grocery shopping.

Most of these things are done with some resistance, perhaps some groveling, maybe some embarrassment. As a 40-year-old adult, you sometimes sit there wondering, what the heck am I doing, like that line from the Talking Heads' song to 'Once in a Lifetime': "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" or "My God, What Have I Done?"

But kids also introduce experiences to the parent that they would never do, and it's not a bad thing. Watching your kid play in a youth basketball or baseball game. Teaching a child to ride a bike. Building a tree fort. Sharing a plate of macaroni and cheese. It is true: having children brings out the inner child in a parent. Which can actually be fun.

This brings me to 'Good Luck Charlie.' For a few years now, my kids, ages 6 and 8, have watched this show. We do not place big restrictions on TV viewing, though we're mindful of what our kids watch and how long they watch. We use our judgment to know when to turn if off, like when one of our kids does not respond to anything we say. (Then we issue loud, stern directives: "No TV for two days!")

"Good Luck Charlie" is a show we let our kids watch without concern. I probably started watching this alongside my children during a sick day. Disney doesn't have many good shows, but 'Good Luck Charlie' is certainly one. It chronicles a family of seven - which can only happen happily in fiction - living in suburban Denver and their day to day, mostly humorous, experiences, misunderstandings, and challenges. I wouldn't call them problems, because they don't qualify. The show, which ends each episode with the oldest daughter Teddy videotaping a tidbit of advice to her youngest sister Charlie, and where the show gets it name, is light, well casted, and surprisingly well acted.

And now it is apparently over.

I noticed this while flipping through the Channel Guide and saw the phrase "Series Finale" and the episode name "Good Bye Charlie."

This came up on me out of nowhere; I assumed the show would run for at least two or three more seasons. The eldest son is in college, Teddy is about to go to college, and then there's a middle school/high school kid named Gabe, Charlie who is about 3, and a baby whose name escapes me and I don't feel like Googling it.

My son has DVR'd the finale, and I will watch it, though I am kind of hesitant. I don't want it to be over, and by not watching it I am putting off the inevitable. It's a good thing that "Good Luck Charlie" is on all the time, and though the show lasted only four seasons, it seems like it's always current. It is true that we've seen a lot of milestones and changes in the characters, but for the most part they don't look too different than they did that first season.

"Good Luck Charlie" was one of the only shows that my entire family could watch and enjoy. (My son is still wondering what "Breaking Bad" is about.) Back when I was a kid in the 80s, it seemed that many shows were both kid and adult-appropriate. "Family Ties", "The Cosby Show", "Growing Pains" all come to mind. But there were also shows outside the "family" genre that my parents and I watched, including "Mork and Mindy", "ChiPs", "Knight Rider", and "The Greatest American Hero." While most of these shows were not Emmy-award worthy, they were examples of "safe" family programming, with a decent narrative story. Today, most network primetime shows are either too edgy or reality garbage.

"Good Luck Charlie" was neither of these. It was just soft enough to be a Disney show, but it had many of the right qualities for network TV: good characters, good writing, and credible storylines.

I don't know why the show ended its run. I would guess that some of the actors wanted more money than Disney wanted to pay. I would also guess that some of the actors wanted to branch off into more sophisticated work, especially the younger actors. It is probably easy to get pigeonholed as a 'Disney actor' and never do anything else.

But we -- hold on, I -- will miss the show. I will miss the experience of watching it with my kids, and laughing together. This is not to be minimized. There is something to be said for having a show that can appeal across generations, and it doesn't happen a lot.

"Good Luck Charlie" will live on in reruns - my kids have already discovered it on Netflix. And we will probably watch them again. It's a good lesson for kids to learn, that all good things come to an end, including TV shows.

Now I just have to find the strength the watch the last one.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Return of the Sunday Times

It is true that reading news on the web is convenient - and efficient.

These days, most news organizations have staffs that update breaking news, financial stories, and of course Internet readers' favorite: the news of the weird. For some reason, maybe because people associate the Internet with a lack of seriousness, a lot of web sites include features about people doing stupid things.

But the web (in my opinion) is not the best medium for serious, thought-provoking journalism, nor is it a place where people read for long periods of time. Web readers - mostly - want nuggets of news, in digest form, the headlines and maybe a little more, maybe two paragraphs.

Which is one of the reasons why I recently resubscribed to the Sunday New York Times.

I had subscribed to nytimes online for years but I've never held my ipad in my hand for two hours to flip through the sections of the website. Maybe others can, but reading on a screen is not that pleasurable.

I want paper.

So now my Sundays consist of coffee, food of some kind, and reading 10 or 12 articles, columns, essays,and features. The Times has arguably the smartest writers on its staff, and, even if you don't agree with them, they arouse thought.

Our local Sunday paper, the Hartford Courant, just isn't cutting it. While the potential is there to report on interesting Connecticut stories, there is no edge to the paper's writing, and the story selection is boring. The writing is tired, except for a few reporters. This is probably the case at many mid-size daily and Sunday papers.

The Sunday Times reports on science and psychology, has great, thoughtful sports features, insightful columnists, and - you can tell - editors and writers who spend a lot of time thinking about angles to stories, and each sentence they will write.

This is what I want in a paper. In a 'paper' paper, not the online version.

Since I don't have the time to read it every day, the Sunday paper will suffice. It usually takes a few days to get through it anyway.

For 4 dollars a week, not a bad deal to have this delivered to your driveway.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jacoby Ellsbury becomes a Yankee

Red Sox fans, it's happened again. Another beloved player is headed to play in the Bronx.

Jacoby Ellsbury reportedly has agreed to a 7-year, $153 million deal to be a Yankee.

Ellsbury's leaving is not unexpected. He is an amazing, though injury-prone, player, whose contract was ending, and his speed and batting average are marketable. He is one of the game's best leadoff hitters. If he had gone to many of the other teams that were courting him, it wouldn't stir the anger that many Sox fans feel.

But Ellsbury's signing for the Yankees makes me feel like all those years rooting for him have been wasted.

His poster is hanging on the wall of my son's room. We will have to do something about that.

Once upon a time, there was widespread loyalty among Sox players. But this time has long passed. Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon - all of them former Sox stars who later proudly wore pinstripes.

Ellsbury, fresh off winning a World Series, is next. Surely, he was probably not pleased with the Sox initial offer. And the Yankees need to put together a winning team. Money is a handsome motivator.

 has long passed.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Jazz Singer - one star?

It must have been a retro weeknight feature for the movie network Encore recently, when I tuned in and happened to catch The Jazz Singer - Neil Diamond's 1980 version - and then noticed that Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie, followed.

It was late so I DVR'd The Jazz Singer, which I watched in installments over the last three nights. I wrapped it up tonight, saving the last half hour, when Neil Diamond's character, a New York City Jewish cantor turned pop-rock star, returned to California to reunite with the mother of his child and meet his son for the first time.

The Jazz Singer made its debut when I was 7, and it must have been a staple on HBO shortly after that. I remember watching it repeatedly while my mother hummed the songs, some of Neil Diamond's classics: 'Hello Again', 'Love On The Rocks,' and 'America', to name a few. The movie always had a positive association in my mind, which may have been the reason why, after all these years, I decided to reserve parts of three weeknights, to savor the film.

Which I did. Even though I hadn't seen the movie in its entirety in probably 30 years or so, I remembered it well, from Diamond's character Jess Robinovich leaving his wife and cantor father in NYC, to his efforts at disguising himself by painting his skin to play at a black nightclub.

There are more classic moments, such as when Diamond's father, played by Lawrence Olivier, comes out to California, and breaks down because he realizes his son is not returning to New York, and then Diamond taking off and playing country bars on the road in an effort to find himself.

I don't know - maybe my standards are just not that high. Or maybe too much of my opinion of the film is influenced by the nostalgia from when I first saw it. But I have always  liked the movie. It was not a complex film, and Diamond was not a trained actor, but I was a bit surprised to read of the widely negative reviews of the movie.

Top critics of that time were scathing. Roger Ebert, who rated it one star, said, "The Jazz Singer" has so many things wrong with it that a review threatens to become a list

Janet Maslin of The New York Times said, ' Mr. Diamond, looking glum, and seldom making eye contact with anyone, Isn't enough of a focus for this outdated story." She also complained that the film's score, now legendary, was 'nondescript.'

I thought that Diamond's glum affect fit the movie perfectly. And the soundtrack was, in my opinion, pretty damn good.

But everyone is entitled to his opinion. On the movie review site, despite the 15% percent Tomatometer rating, based on professional reviews, 75 % of more than 4800 raters liked it.

I would happen to agree. Maybe some of those people are locked in a mindset of another time. Maybe they have poor taste in movies. Or maybe they saw something emotionally riveting in the story, the music, and acting. Whatever the case, there are many fans of the movie.

I was happy to have taken a trip down memory lane recently to watch it again. While it didn't win an Oscar, its story still resonates with fans, and its music, more than 30 years later, is almost timeless.