Friday, March 30, 2018

"Not The Same Game"

One of the pleasures of traveling to Arizona is sitting beside a person at a ballgame who really knows what we are looking at’s about.

It’s getting harder, as my friend’s Professional Ballplayers of Tomorrow grandchildren get older and have better things to do than hang out with someone fifty-plus years their senior, bugging them with questions concerning the intricacies of the game.

And throwing in Old Guy-trying-too-hard stupid stuff, as well.  Like, “If I learn how to clap encouragingly could I make it as a First Base coach?  (Because it seems like that’s all they do.)  I didn’t even look after I asked that.  I didn’t need to.  I could sense the ripples of forbearance radiating in my direction.

As usual, I learned many things from my “Baseball Professor.”  I was shown how an uneven “hop” (bounce) of a not particularly hard-hit ground ball had sent the ball scooting between the third baseman’s legs for an embarrassing error. 

I was apprised at the subtle positioning of the players and how one batter had cannily foiled the other team’s defensive strategy by bunting safely for a hit. 

I was instructed to keep an eye on the third base coach, relaying the manager’s codified “signs” to the runner, standing at first.  (So at least they do more than just clap.  I bet the first base coach does too.  Such as asking the runner, “Did you pick up that sign?”  I still think I could do that job.  If they let me sit down when I got tired.)  

My “Professor” was studious, serious and savvy.  (And those are just the “s’s”.)  Though I learned a lot – and always do – one sage – continuing the “s” motif – remark resonated above every other pronouncement I received that sunbaked Arizona afternoon, its implications applying not just to baseball but to everyday existence as well, which – it (virtually) goes without saying – is my favorite kind of resonating pronouncement.

I was asking about Angels superstar Mike Trout, then at the plate, about what made him the, arguably, greatest player in the game.  The terse three-word response was “genetics and practice”, which I accepted, although I sensed there were other “intangibles” triggering Trout’s recognized superiority.  Maybe that’s why they are hard to put your finger on – they are intangible.  The generalizing equivalent of “et cetera.”  Or, maybe it’s just hard to explain.  Or, if you are a beleaguered teenage ballplayer peppered with ludicrous questions, “I don’t knowwwwwww!!!”

About to mention some former icons of the game – searching for a “greatness” common denominator – I was cut off by these words – the aforementioned resonating pronouncement.  I was told,

“It’s not the same game.”

To which my knee-jerk reaction, was

It isn’t?

It’s baseball.  The enduring American Pastime.  The game they played during breaks in the Civil War, although the dueling opponents were unlikely “North vs. South.”  They had enough of that on the battlefield.

Baseball was forever.  Or so I believed.  I mean, what’s changed?  It is still “Three strikes and you’re out.”  It is still ninety feet between the bases.  It is still a distinguishingly “clockless” competition –you play till somebody wins.  Because of its structural eternality, baseball courts intergenerational conversation, elders regaling “the kids” endlessly – or so it feels to the kids – about the unparalleled prowess of Ted Williams and Willie Mays.

And now I am hearing,

“It’s not the same game.”

And the reason?

“It’s way faster.”

Instinctively, if you are old, you want to credit the dismissal of those who have gone before these opinionated youngsters – which, by association, dismisses me – to youthful incognizance.  They never saw those other guys play.  How could they reasonably write them off?

But, thinking it over, it’s true. 

The game is way faster.  (Except for how long it takes to complete one.)

They’re pitching a hundred miles an hour.  The players are stronger, and, yes, faster.  With increasing attention to nutrition and conditioning – including pilates for heightened flexibility – I wonder what Mickey Mantle would have thought about pilates – the current ballplayers are superhero-like specimen, compared to that all-time “Standard of Excellence”, Babe Ruth, who wolfed down fistfuls of hotdogs, and stayed fit chasing the ladies.

You cannot compare eras because baseball has radically changed… was the loud-and-clear message I was receiving.  I was presented with a definitive “Dividing Line” – Ken Griffey Jr. – whose career, I was assured, bridged the legendary slowpokes of Yesteryear and the chiseled cyborgs of today.

This illuminating awareness inevitably got me to thinking,

What about television writing?

And yep, I quickly decided, there, as well,

It is not the same game.

Writing  comedy is generically different.  It’s not just the contemporary references, the antipathy towards traditional “joke” formulations, the necessary ironic dismissiveness.

Their brains’ processing systems – meaning, the writers’ and the audiences’ – are faster.  The connections come quicker.  Comedy is still about surprising the audience.  But now, with their souped-up mental proclivities – and who says “souped-up” anymore? – they are considerably harder to surprise. 

You set up to proceed someplace and their listless reactions reflect,

“We know.” 

I don’t know what line of endeavor you find yourselves in.

But whatever it is,

Dollars to donuts,

With the inexorable advancements – technologically and intellectually –

It is not the same game.

They are not disrespectful “young whippersnappers.”

They’re right.

About that.

Though not necessarily about everything.

"Put me in, Coach..."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"The Idea For Ideas"

A while back, “Commenter Tom” wrote,

“Where do your blog ideas come from?”

What Tom proceeded to say reminded me of a time when I accompanied my daughter Anna to an appointment with our mutual, beloved allergist, and when the nurse walked her out after her examination, she said, “Dr. R wants to know, “What’s your father doing, sitting out in the Waiting Room?’”  To which I overhearingly replied, “He just answered his own question.”

As, equally accurately, did “Commenter Tom.”  

“In my experience a personal experience or a concept on the media triggers a reaction, and from that thought an essay is born.”

“On the money”, “Commenter Tom.”  The thing is – at least for me – there is more.

What I am talking about concerns the “What?” and the “How?” in developing a viable post idea, a distinguishing concept that applies throughout life.  I believe. 

Contrasting Examples:

Example One:  You accidentally bump into someone, you go – especially if are a Canadian – “Sorry.”

Example Two:  You accidentally bump into someone, they shoot you an angry look, and you angrily shoot back – because you did not bump them on purpose – (SARCASTICALLY) “Sor-ry.”

You see the difference?

The same “What?” – the word “Sorry” – but two diametrically different “How’s?”  (One of them possibly instigating a fist fight.  The first one?  Only if you read “Hidden Meaning” into genuine sincerity.) 

What “Commenter Tom” astutely referred to was the “What?” of the operation.  The proverbial “Topic Sentence”, if you will, and if you were in Miss McFadden’s class at the Toronto Hebrew Day School, you had to have one, or or she gave you “the Ruler.” Tough school, “T.H.D.S.”  Even in “Grammar.”

It’s true.  You need that “Inciting Incident”, or you’ve got nothing to write about.  But for me, that’s just “Part One” of the exercise.

“Part Two” – because my stated objective is to deliver a manicured bonsai of a blogatorial experience – is the “How?”

How exactly do you satisfactorily articulate that story?

Which leaves me a haphazard stack of “Whats?” on my desk with no – until one comes to me – imaginable “How?” plan for molding them into eptable shape.

For a while, I thought that’s all I had to say on the matter.  Distinguishing the “What?” and the “How?” in the two-tiered blogatorial operation. 

And then a third element came to mind, involving a lesson I have learned but then forgot and have to relearn and am relearning again at this very moment by which I do not mean while I am writing this sentence but in the course of thinking about where ideas come from which I shall get to as soon as this sentence which I shall admit is not all that fascinating is mercifully over.

Phew!   I made it!

The third element in the process involves the essential but hard-to-retain question:

“What’s a story?”

As in, “What exactly designates ‘Something worth writing about’?”

And the answer is:

Virtually everything.

All stories, large and small.

In the first post I ever wrote, a kind of a Just Thinking “Mission Statement”, I mentioned the range of material I’d be covering, using as an example the story of how I was first sent to summer camp without knowing I was going.

That, I knew, was a story.

But years later, I wrote an equally satisfying narrative about how intimidated I felt by this humungous bar of shower soap that had been purchased, fearing, following its soapatorial propensity, it might easily slip from my hand and seriously damage my foot digits.

Sir and madam, I am here to tell you that, although not life-altering,

That’s also a story.

A “Giant Soap Nightmare” story.

Sometimes, I am just trying too hard.  I have to remember that not all stories are – or must be – going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Which reminds me that the Canadian Falls are demonstrably superior. 

That’s a story.  (About the competitive silliness of ”National Identity.”)

Which reminds me of my sole TV acting role on the cult sitcom Buffalo Bill, where I played “Crazy Eddie” Felsik, “The Human Salmon” – who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

That’s a story.  (One I may have already told.)

Which reminds me of a friend who reported attending an honorary tribute to Dabney Coleman – the star of Buffalo Bill – who recently – my friend, not Dabney Coleman – was married for the fifth time.

That’s a story.  About – because you know I don’t judge – comparing one extended marriage with five abbreviated ones.  Segueing into chronicling how many of my contemporaries are encountering new and fulfilling relationship via the numerous dating services offered over the Internet.

And that’s a story.

Which reminds me of our recent trip to Arizona, where the Internet’s “Route Guidance” system brought us to unknown destinations, including the “Odelay Bagel Co.”, which not only made the best bagels in Arizona – are you chuckling? – but anywhere, including “What A Bagel” in Toronto.

And that’s a story.  (About prejudiced expectations.  “Great bagels in ‘Cactus Country’?  I don’t think so.”  Wrong!)

Which reminds me of…

Well, you get the idea.  And I’m only quitting for “time.”  I have three more “Which reminds me of’s” waiting to roll out.

The fact is, there are stories everywhere you look.  As long as you do not equate “Story” with five-alarm “Breaking News.”

And still – knowing that – I remain wracked with uncertainty over available material.

Not because I have finally emptied the cupboard.

But because I think of “Story” the wrong way.

I thought “Commenter Tom’s” self-answered question wasn’t a post.  And you know what?

I appear to have been mistaken.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Getaway Day"

That’s what they call it in baseball, the day when, after a team plays its last of multiple games at an “away” venue, it takes off for its next “away” venue, or it travels back home. 

That jumpy “Traveling Feeling” is what’s happening today, reflected in this post, appearing on a Wednesday but actually written on a Friday, before a weekend excursion to Arizona. 

Consider this a challenge for your imagination.  Although today’s Wednesday, think:  “Friday.”  According to Seinfeld, “Tuesday” has no “feel”, while “Hump Day” Wednesday and “End-of-the-Week” Friday do.  Getaway Day” Friday augments the usual “Friday Sensation” with a condition described in Yiddish as “Shpilkies.” 

(Note:  It is a known fact that as a Jewish person gets older, traditional “Yiddishisms” seep increasingly into their patois.  The “Talmud” itself cannot explain this phenomenon.  “Secular Science” has not bothered to try.)

“Shpilkies” – more authentically pronounced, “Shpilkis” – is like temporary “ADD”, a feeling of visceral excitement, deftly described by “Tony” in West Side Story when he exuberantly sang,“… something’s coming, something good…”

“And I can’t wai-ai-ai-ait…”


You get it?

It’s not just this trip.  I get “Shpilkies” before every trip – the more momentous the journey, the sooner they materialize.  I sense murmurs of “Shpilkies” for my upcoming trip to London for The Oxford Experience… and that’s not till July!  Still, my brain’s “Playlist” is already cued up to “Eng-a-land swings, like a pendulum do…”

Our “Arizona Experience” is multi-faceted in nature.

We’ll be connecting with my friend Shelly, whom I’ve known since we were six.  Somewhere in this house, there is a large, black-and-white picture, taken at my six-year-old birthday party, where a dozen or so birthday guests, and myself, are posed sitting atop our basement “Recreation Room” bar, our spindly “kiddie legs” dangling restlessly in the air.

One of those kiddies is Shelly.

Shelly and I were also cabin-mates at Camp Ogama, starting at age nine, and again later, and we eventually became close friends.  (It was a "natural."  Nobody else liked either of us.) 

When I was thirteen, I received an electric shaver for my Bar Mitzvah.  Lacking a father, I had no available role model.

Shelly taught me how to use it.

When we were sixteen, we were in the “Hungarian Revolution” pageant together. Shelly, the malevolent prosecutor, got me, the Prime Minister of Hungary, dispatched to the Firing Squad.

Today, Shelly’s a retired sociology professor who’s become an adept “Personal Trainer” in his condominium community. 

My friend Shelly.  A guy who did not know how to swim. 

Once, when I went on a canoe trip and he couldn’t because he was unable to meet the prescribed swimming requirement – which was dumb, because if a canoe ever tipped over, you would just have to “Dog Paddle” back to it and hold on, a distance of, perhaps, six feet of swimming.     

Even Shelly could do that!

Anyway, when we returned three days later, I was so happy to see him, I raced up and bonked him soundly on the back of the head with a souvenir “tomahawk” my counselor had made me.  A caught-off-guard Shelly wheeled around and socked me mightily in the jaw.

To this day, it was the only the time I have ever been punched.

So you see we have “history.”

Shelly’s terrific family includes two male grandchildren, barreling through their teens, both of whom have worked tirelessly to achieve their dream of becoming professional baseball players.  Which brings up the other pleasure of this visit.

It is “Spring Training” in Arizona.  (Arizona gets spring before we do.  It’s like they’re “breaking it in” for us and a month later, they seamlessly pass it on "West."  After that, the local temperatures hells up to a hundred, and more.  “A hundred and more”, they can keep for themselves.)

Part of the trip’s fun is attending “Spring Training” games with my friend, his wonderful wife Vikki, and one or both of the savvy ballplayers, whose brains I endlessly pick for valuable tips and “insider” perspectives.  (Although, now as teenagers, they likely have better things to do than assuage an Old Jewish Man’s unquenchable passion for the game.  I was a teenager myself once and I know what it’s… no I don’t.       

I’ve could go on, but I am going to stop here.

It’s true I’m a professional. 

But nobody can write,

When they’ve got “Shpilkies.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"A Show i Randomly Encountered And Turned Out To Enjoy - the Exciting Conclusion"

Reset from yesterday…

I ran into an HBO comedy called Crashing, which I turned out to enjoy and watched many consecutive episodes of, in my version of non-Internet “streaming.”  (Unless it’s actual “streaming”, just not on the Internet.)

Crashing is about a rookie comedian painfully “learning the ropes”, of both Stand-Up” comedy and life.  (“Learning the ropes.”  Does that have a nautical derivation?  “I be learnin’ the ropes, Matey.  Arrrr!”)


What I particularly liked about Crashing was its unforced way of delivering its comedy and its unique manner of talking about it.  For example, when the lead character “Pete” informs a veteran comedian he has procured a “Day Job” as the “Warm-Up” man for the Rachael Ray Show, the comedian snarkily shoots back,

“You are ‘opening’ for a Panini.”

Are you laughing at that?  I did.

Anyway… again

Me being me, watching comedy, with my buried dreams and background, the thought reflexively occurs to me, “Could I do that?”  Overlooking the “ancillary circumstances” of being a comedian – the late nights performing in places where you are regularly heckled and approaching club-owning gangsters for your money, both of which… forget it – could I be the kind of comedian I admire, mining laugh-getting material from everyday life?

Having watched four episodes back-to-back, I “break” for dinner, which is on me to prepare, because I am alone. 

I go down to the kitchen, my considered “Meal Plan” clearly in mind: 

A turkey burger, brown rice (which I eat, though a nutritional expert’s informed me, “That’s so ‘80’s.’”), vegetable “To Come”, and a beverage.

I prepare the turkey burger on, like, this foot-square iron grate I place over the burner on the stove.  I am not sure I get the concept of that contraption.  The burger ends up with those seared streaks on both sides, like it was grilled.  But in reality, it wasn’t.  You just cooked in over the stove.  Who exactly are we trying to fool with this “subterfuge”?  The meat?

“We’ve been barbecued!

No you haven’t.

Anyway… a third time – it’s like my “mantra” – I agreeably “play along.”  “Barbecuing” my turkey burger.

Next up?   The vegetable. 

I pick the easiest one to prepare – raw – as opposed to “cooked”, so I would not have to do anything –

“Baby carrots.”

Easy-peasy.  You just open the bag, and you pour out the carrots. 

I prefer “Baby Carrots” – a confession I am somewhat embarrassed to reveal – because I am intimidated by big carrots.  I pick one up, and it’s like,

“I’m eating this whole thing?

So I restrict myself to the “pygmies.”  Trying to mathematically compute,

“How many “Baby Carrots” are the equivalent of an ‘Adult’ carrot?”   And I dole them out accordingly…. till I think, “That looks about right.”  It comes down to, I figure, eleven “Baby Carrots.”  Although I could be “off” a carrot or two.  This is not an “Exact Science.” 

“And the Nobel Prize for ‘Precise Carrot Equivalency’ goes to…”

It’s kind of an “eyeballing” operation.  With no serious “down side” if you’re wrong.  It’s not like you’ll wind up in the Emergency Room:  “I ate too many carrots!  You turn orange a little, but it passes.

Okay.  My turkey burger is “grilling.”  And eleven miniature carrots sit there, “garnishing” my plate.  It is now time to prepare the beverage.

It’s just water.  But – because I’m “worth it” – I am going the “Extra Mile.”  Beyond “You turn on the tap and it falls into your glass.” 

Tonight, it will be “Homemade Carbonated Water.”

We have this machine that does that.  It’s not easy.  It involves seven individualized “Steps.”  Proud to say:  I have mastered that arduous technique.  And now.  Our water.  Has bubbles.  
Thank you.

Final item on the menu?

The – maligned in some circles – brown rice.

More specifically…

Minute “Ready to Serve!” Whole Grain Brown Rice. 

“Microwavable” in 60 seconds.

Sounds easy.  And it is.


The instructions on the packaging says,

“Pull or cut film to remove completely from cup.”

Here’s another confession:

Over the years, I have lost considerable “thumb strength.”  As a result, I am unable to pull the protruding “tab” on the plastic film, covering the cup.  My “Plan B” is to jab the covering plastic with a knife, then peel it back off the surface of the cup.

That took about twenty minutes.  And still, hard as I tried, I had not removed the plastic covering “completely.” 

This seriously troubles me.

What if I insert it into the microwave, and, because there are vestigial fragments of film on the top of the cup…

It blows up?

You can forget about “Liability Protection.”

“Did you remove the film completely from the top of the cup?”


“Answer the question, Mr. Pomerantz.”

“I think we have our answer, Your Honor.”

Who says cooking isn’t an adventure?

I assemble my repast – the “grilled” turkey burger, the eleven “Baby Carrots”, the unexploded brown rice, and my bubbly beverage – and I sit down to dinner.

Still wondering if I have what it takes.