Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Messages

Some people keep things in drawers, others prefer shelves, attics, cellars or even safes. I keep so much stuff, according to certain members of my family, that I use all of those, but, mostly I keep "stuff" in a series of notebooks, begun more than twenty years ago.

Having just returned from a trip to our beloved Bahamian island of "Saint James" (name changed to protect its innocence), I spent this morning making finishing touches on one of the notebooks.

As Easter approaches, I wanted to share two entries with you.

One: Each morning on Saint James, I sit on the front porch watching the bay and the islanders walking to and fro. Some mornings, I get local news updates from Herman, my fisherman friend. I also read and write while rocking in a chair covered in many coats of white enamel.

On my first morning, I began reading "Narrow Road to the Interior" by perhaps the greatest Japanese haiku writer, Basho. The haiku at the end of the first chapter, which I copied into the notebook,  

Even this grass hut
may be transformed
into a doll's house.

The name of our house on Bay Street is ...Doll House.

Two: This morning, as I was pasting some loose items into the notebook and reviewing some older entries, I noticed a curious thing about my 2012 Opening Day Mets ticket, which had been printed on recycled copy paper:

please call me if you have any questions


Happy Easter.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Two Conversations: Coach Jack Curran

Molloy/St. Annes
One afternoon, late last fall, I recognized Coach Jack Curran in The Smoke Shop in Rye as he chatted with Peggy. Later, when I saw him ambling up Purchase Street in his Archbishop Molloy athletic togs, I introduced myself, mentioning that we had met, briefly fifty years earlier, in spring 1962.

He didn’t know who I was, of course, and probably had had a zillion people like me tell him that they’d met him, but, as always, he was very polite, and seemed immediately interested in what I was saying. Curran had lived in Rye for many years, since 1958, I think, but our paths had not crossed during my thirty years there until that afternoon.

When I was thirteen, in eigth grade, I was invited to tryout for him at Molloy’s gym, pretty hallowed ground as far as Queens basketball went. I’d just completed a great run with our CYO team at a tournament at Holy Child in Richmond Hill. Through his extensive grapevine, he’d apparently heard I was worth watching, along with a dozen other boys. Or, maybe he just read the CYO box scores in the Long Island Press or World Telegram & Sun.

As it happened, everything I did that day worked; I played well above my head. Afterwards, he asked if I’d applied to Molloy. When I said I’d been accepted, he encouraged me to attend. Too late, I told him, I was headed to Xavier. Then, he asked for my permission to call my parents about it. He was completely respectful about that, saying he’d make sure I played, if I came to his school, but there was no pressure at all.

But, I knew what the answer was going to be and should have been. I was going to play tennis at Xavier under Pat Rooney (of US Open ball boy fame), and, as my mother told Coach Curran, Molloy had no tennis team.

Fifty years later, we stood chatting about all of that on Purchase Street. “McDermott,” he said, ”Quick hands, right?” That was Jack Curran. He had no idea, but had figured that a short guy like me, who had interested him must have had to be able to do something well.

He reminded me that Molloy later built their tennis team around Vitas Gerulaitis, with whom I’d played a little (amazing, but true). Then, we chatted a little about how he had finally given up teaching English, but was still coaching basketball and baseball to some extent.

When I looked into writing a profile of him, I learned that he had been ill for a while and recently had some trouble. Maybe in the spring, I thought, around Little League opening.

It was not to be.

Coach Curran had two brief conversations with me, among thousands of others in my life, and I do not presume to have known him well. But, I remember both conversations well, not because of what he said, but because he listened in such an attentive, focused, the way a player he had coached might launch a jumper from twenty feet, or make a perfect peg to the cutoff man.

There was only one Jack Curran; we can only hope to have learned a little from him while he was here coaching us.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

iLost & iFound

Author's New Phone Cover
I’ve read that the president plans to put the full weight of the executive branch behind an idea whose time has finally come: a long, in-depth study of the human brain.

We’re not talking about Freud, Jung, or Helen Gurley Brown-type speculative thinking here, we’re talking about really knowing the truth about what makes us tick and, by extension, what we could do to make us start ticking better, or, I guess, worse, which is a hard concept to grasp.

The whole thing has shades of Elsa Lanchester in “Bride of Frankenstein.”

I, for one, am not sure I want to know the truth about my brain. Why start now? I have Google’s search brain, Wikipedia, and Google Maps at my fingertips; I tend to use my own brain for little things like figuring out why college tuition is so expensive and parsing the Affordable (sic) Care Act.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.

I recently attended a funeral, arriving a half-hour before it began since I failed to closely check the information sent to me. So, I decided to use the time to catch up on my texts and emails, while waiting in my Jeep in the New Rochelle parking lot.

But I could not find my iPhone. Must have left it in the office, I thought, but later it was not there either. So, I emailed my wife, known here as the DG*, in a mild panic from my laptop to see if I’d left the phone at home; I had not.

Now, the human brain can conjure up some real and imagined scary things, but leaving home without your phone these days is one of the Big Boogies. Managing in our new mobile global world without a phone makes us feel useless, like a lamp with no bulb.

Somehow (landline, laptop, dictionary, atlas) I made it through the day. That evening, I began an intense search at home: in my upstairs office, downstairs studio, and bedroom, all the while interrogating DG about the places where she had not yet found it.

I had her call my iPhone a few times as I roamed the house listening for a buzz or ring. The result was iSilence.

“It’s probably in the Jeep,” she calmly said. So, I looked there with a flashlight, twice, front and back, under the seats and my SF Giants batting helmet. No iPhone. iPhone gone. Life as I’d known it had ceased. iPhone lost/dead as a doornail. I was paralyzed with fear and commenced looking in all the same spaces again.

The Red Jeep
“It’s in the Jeep,” said DG with total serenity upon my return to HQ, while she pan-seared the tuna and tossed the arugula for supper, while also managing to talk a client out of committing hari-kari over the wrong shade of white on her newly-painted living room wall.

Then, I remembered iCloud, another kind of digital brain, which came with a Find My Phone app. So, I went to my iPad, put in my Apple ID six times without luck. As usual, it worked on the seventh try (don’t iAsk). Sure enough, it showed two small green dots at my home address: the iPad and my iPhone!

Although iCloud had located the phone, there was no brainy Siri-voice to say, “The phone is under the white chair by the fireplace,” or “The phone is on the shelf in the coat closet, where you left it while grabbing your gloves.” It just showed the two green spots.

“One spot looks like it’s in the house, the other looks like it’s nearby, but outside. Like maybe in the Jeep,” my wife said.

By now, any reader who has been married or in a serious relationship for a while will understand that finding my phone had become less important to me than finding it anywhere but in that Jeep. Actually, and here’s a hint about why I’m not so keen on this scientific brain project, losing the phone forever, and having to pay to replace it, was beginning to seem like a more acceptable outcome than finding it in a certain four-wheel drive vehicle, AKA, the Jeep.

But, there I was, slowly walking down the path outside our home to the stairway that led to the garage, dressed in dark clothing and wearing a watch cap with a flashlight in one hand to light the ground before me, and my iPad in the other to keep track of the green dots. I was praying that the neighbors would not see me and ask what I was up to or call the police to report an alien in their garden.

As I approached the stairway, I pressed the Find My Phone button that would cause my lost device to emit a sound. And, miraculously, I thought I could hear a feint beeping. At the bottom of the stairs it was getting a little louder. Slight right turn towards our garage, louder still. Open this red door. Really loud now. Gotchya!

In the red Jeep.

You want to know about the human brain? In the hundred-foot walk back to the house, I began to analyze all the possible ways to explain why I knew the phone had been there all along.

Instead, I just said, “It was in the Jeep.”

“I know,” a voice said, “Have some tuna, it’s delicious.”

Why mess with the brain. Scientists might learn a whole lot more about how things really get done or not done by studying marriage more closely. Marriage is still a killer app in more ways than one.

But, I don’t think I want to know the whole truth about that either.

* Ed Note: Darling Girl