Wednesday walkabout – October 16, 2019

I went for a hike a day early, so I will write with tired legs. I shouldn’t be too tired as I ran into an old friend hiking this weekend on a local trail. He said he was walking after minor surgery, so he could start training for a 50 mile race. Yikes! It put my three mile walk to shame.

I used to run road races, but would never be confused with a fast runner. Once, as I neared the finish line of an 8K race, a girl nudged her father at one of the turns and said “Dad, look at him!” Unfortunately, she was pointing at me. The longest road race I ever ran was a 15K. To my surprise, they put out a list of how we finished. I came in second….from last. I did notice one person who cheated cutting off part of the course, so I actually finished third from last.

I was one of the boys who grew up fast. I was 6’0″ tall in the 8th grade. But, my foot speed was slower than when I was a quick football player in the 6th grade. I did eventually get faster, but would not ever be considered fast.

To my chagrin, my high school basketball coach also coached the cross country team. So, we had to run cross country to train. The coach liked to make us run gassers at the end of a long run. Gassers are finishing off with two 880s, four 440s, and eight 220s. At night, I would sometimes wake up to leg cramps, which was not fun.

This will sound strange, but I would rather run an 880 over a 440 anyday. On the latter, you feel like it is a sprint, so you run out of gas at the end.

So, I think I will leave the running to my friend. Hiking is much more sustainable.

 

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Have you ever noticed?

Have you ever noticed…

– the person at the park laboring while he or she walks or runs seems to leave you in the dust?

– the volume of an arguer’s voice increases in opposite proportion to the veracity of his or her argument?

– the same opposite proportion holds true with the amount of name-calling and labeling?

– the best bread has the hardest crust and is served with the biggest knife?

– the one you should respect the most is the quiet one going about his or her business?

– there is a reason for the term false bravado, as an important corollary to the above?

– if there is a lot of lying going on to cover one’s hind end, there is a reason it is bare?

– the higher a monkey climbs in a tree, the more you can see its hind end?

– people who read seem to be more adept at writing?

– you can never have enough cups of coffee with people?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Impromptu conversations

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with an 80 year-ish old couple in a doctor’s waiting room. Doing what I often do, I observed
a conversation starter and took the chance to inquire.

The man was wearing a white t-shirt that had the cursive “Dodgers” in blue on the front. Rather than speak across the room, I walked over, got a cup of bad coffee, stopped at their seats and dove in.

“Is that for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Los Angeles Dodgers?” I asked indicating where the baseball team moved in the late 1950s. He smiled and said the answer I hoped to hear, “Brooklyn.”

In response to my question if they are from Brooklyn, he said “No, Cuba.” Rather than segue into a different subject regarding why they left Cuba, I stayed with baseball. I asked if he was a Jackie Robinson fan and he became animated. He said he actually got to see Robinson play.

We discussed what a treat that was and our collective knowledge of Dodger history. I can remember old baseball history much better than recent history. We meandered down the path of Robinson, beating the dreaded Yankees in 1955, the book “The Boys of Summer,” the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres that swept those same Yankees in 1963 and the current team’s prowess.

His wife relished in his enjoyment of the conversation. She had a big smiile, Before I could move onto her, his name was called by the nurse.

It was a delightful conversation. I have shared before how much I like to uncover conversation starters, be it a name like Olivia or Aimee likely after a star or song or some version of double names like Mary Ellen or Betty Sue. Or, I love it when resort areas have someone’s home town on his or her nametag.

My wife said I made that man’s day, but he helped make mine better. I encourage everyone to have impromptu conversations. It brings us closer. Just look for those cues.

Defend the absent

Dr. Wayne Dyer was a prolific author and speaker introducing many to his life coaching skills. He had a common sense, not-preachy way of offering his counsel. One of my favorite lessons of his is to “defend the absent.”

What does that mean? When his children would speak ill of a classmate, he would take up for that person. When his children would complain, he would say, since he or she is absent from this conversation, I thought I would defend him or her.

His point was two-fold. First and foremost, no one is perfect. No one. Second, talking about someone without knowing all of the circumstances, does not permit the target of the criticism to defend him or herself. Not that they did not do wrong, but they are not there to defend themselves.

I mention this today as there seems to be open game on anyone with a public history. We seem to judge past actions based on current norms that oversimplifies the issues and context of the day. I am not defending or condemning any decision, I am saying context is important.

As an example, LBJ was a good public servant, but coarse man. There was no better leader to navigate major legislation on Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Often, he offended people who wanted him to move faster or not move at all. Yet, he horse-traded his way through and these bills were signed into law. He appealed to people’s better angels, knowing he would likely drive some folks from his party.

Former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden is a good person and public servant. He may or may not be the best candidate for President, but his long history will reveal the good, the bad and the ugly of governing. He is known to be a collaborator and, in spite of the opinions of strident party members on both sides, we are in need of collaboration to get things done. Collaboration is not a dirty word.

So, as Democrats consider candidates, please do so through the lens of context and defense of the absent. Why did someone vote a certain way? Why did they compromise with someone who would make your blood boil? What favor was traded to get a key bill passed?

Defend the absent. There are no perfect people. Even Mother Theresa had faults and doubts, and she was one of the finest people to walk the earth.

Summer of ’69 – a few things to remember

While 1968 was a year of significant occurrences, we are now reflecting on the events of fifity years ago in 1969. Bryan Adams sang of this year from a personal standpoint in “Summer of ’69,” so it is a great way to kick off:

“I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
It was the summer of ’69
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far
Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life”

This song was penned by Adams and James Douglas Vallance and reveals how the band was so important to the life of the singer. Yet, I find of interest how he interjects how life rears its head and alters the dreams. I do not know how autobiographical the song is, but I am glad Adams stuck with it, as he has crafted and performed many memorable songs.

Fifty years ago, we saw the final straw that caused action to occur on environmental protection. Following the reaction to Rachel Carson’s push with ‘Silent Spring,” the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire as it was so polluted by chemical dumping. Seeing this in retrospect, it amazes me that companies would dump or drain chemical run-off into a river and be surprised by the result. Within six months, President Nixon inked the law to create the Environmental Protection Agency, one of his two greatest accomplishments (opening dialogue with China was the other).

Later this summer, we will reflect on Neil Armstrong taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he is the first human to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin would soon join him for a lunar walkabout. These actions opened up science as a possible career for many young people and it also showed us that we are mere occupants on our planet. So, it is crucial we take care of where we live for our children and grandchildren. Maybe this helped provide additional context for enacting the EPA.

In August, will be the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock where 300,000 or so people ventured to a farm in upstate New York for a three day concert. This event still amazes me and I am intrigued by a friend’s recounting of what happened as he was there as a young college student. From his view, he remembers there were so many people, things like food, water and restrooms were dear. He recalls making food runs for people. The music and atmosphere were wonderful, but the challenges are overlooked in memory.

Finally, people who do not follow baseball or football will yawn, but this was the year of two huge upsets, which in actuality, should not have been as surprising. In January, Broadway Joe Namath led the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Namath had bragged that they would win the game the preceding week, but what many failed to realize, Namath had a terrific set of receivers and two of the best running backs in the game. This win led to the merger of two rival football leagues.

In October, the New York Mets easily won the baseball World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles (it was a tough year for Baltimore fans). For the first part of the decade, the new Mets were the worst team in baseball. What was underestimated by the Orioles is the Mets had two future Hall of Fame pitchers – Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and another excellent one in Jerry Koosman. Good pitching will beat good hitting almost every time. I mention these two events as when you look under the hood, the outcomes are less surprising, even though they were at the time.

The decade ended with two eventful years. Unfortunately, the US remained in Vietnam fighting a war which, we learned later, we knew we could not win. Many Americans and Vietnamese died, as a result fighting a war that would last several more years. We should remember people die in wars, before we go out and fight another one. As a Vietnamese soldier said in Ken Burns’ documentary on the war, people who feel they can win a war, have never fought in one.

 

 

Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

The catcher was a spy

I caught a movie on Showtime whose title intrigued me, “The catcher was a spy.” The movie is based on tne true story of a major league catcher named Moe Berg who played for the Boston Red Sox before World War II. While an average pro, he became an exceptional spy for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

His path to being a spy is not so strange, as Berg was also a professor of history who spoke seven languages, four of them fluently. Since three of those languages were German, Italian and French, he became a rather useful spy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for confirming the Nazis were not as close to developing a nuclear bomb as the US was. It is still debated whether the lead physicist Werner Heisenberg was purposefully moving slowly or it was a resource issue.

Berg is played believably by Paul Rudd. Mark Strong does justice to Heisenberg. The movie has other high caliber actiors: Jeff Daniels. Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Guy Pearce, Giancarlo Giannini, Hitoyuki Sanada and Connie Nielson.

If you get a chance to see this excellent movie, please take it. For those who don’t like baseball, don’t worry as it is very light on that part of his career. It is also seasoned by the relationship between Berg and his girl friend Estella Huni, played by Miller. Berg is a close-to-the-vest person, so he is not sufficiently effusive for a relationshlp, yet he does have a depth of feeling.

What is amazing is how Berg’s story is not better known. Yes, he was a spy, but a major league catcher and honored spy? To make him even more mysterious, he did not accept the medal.

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Note, the movie is directed by Ben Lewin and is based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff. Robert Rodat wrote the screenplay. I enjoyed the movies better than the critics. I think it is do to the movie focusing on the complex person Berg was, rather than overplaying his heroics,