Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pleasures and passings...

Sunday was full of surprise.

Two came, as usual, in the Sunday New York Times, which is always full of surprises. The other a few minutes ago from the Associated Press.

All were about great pleasures and passings.

The first surprise, which I actually learned from a former student on Friday, was the end of a staple in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The "On Language" column, written for decades by William Safire, whom I had the pleasure to meet several times during my tenure with the company, announced that today was the last entry for the column that began in 1979 with expectations of lasting "a year, maybe." The predictor, then-Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, who was not often wrong, certainly missed it by a few years.

The column explored the vagaries of the English language. It was pithy, often humorous, always instructive.

I must admit I hadn't paid as close attention to it since Bill Safire gave it up on his death in September 2009.

In recent years, my attention, immediately upon hitting a temporary hurdle in the Sunday crossword, went to "The Ethicist"' by Randy Cohen, who'd been waxing on ethical issues for all of the column's 12 years.

I enjoyed the interesting spots that people found (or put) themselves in. Even more, I enjoyed Mr. Cohen's attempts to put all issues, big and small, in proper ethical perspectives. I, as many of his readers, did not always agree with his proclamations. But that's what made the column so enticing: It got you to think! About ethics. About the ethical paths we set for ourselves.

(And, by the way, that it's OK to sneak food and drink into a movie theater.)

Then, shortly before I sat down to write this, I checked the AP wire and discovered that one of my childhood heroes had passed: Duke Snider, who roamed center field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, my team during my formative years.

I had the pleasure of meeting my childhood hero once. As a young reporter for the Melbourne (Fla.) Times in 1966, I went to Dodgertown in Vero Beach to do a story. Directly behind me in the stands, which were mostly empty that day, sat the Duke chatting with Joe Garagiola, another former player who became far better at broadcasting than he ever was at baseball.

I eavesdropped on their chatter, then turned and said, "Hi." We had a pleasant exchange, for a few minutes, I recall. I recall nothing of what was said. No matter, it was the moment that counted.

Passings are always a bit sad, but they offer important lessons.

Whether columns in a newspaper magazine or, to a young lad, a pillar of sport, enjoy the moments.

"On Language" lasted 32 years, "The Ethicist" 12, and the Duke 84. Long or short, the moments I've spent with them throughout my life will be missed.

I enjoyed them all, though I appreciate them more now.

And I am thankful that those moments are now part of my memories.

* * *

Update: To my surprise, today's Sunday Magazine (March 6) included the Ethicist column, just not by Randy Cohen, who said farewell last Sunday to begin a similar "gig" with public radio and gave the impression that the column, not just him, had been discontinued. The new "Ethicist" is Ariel Kaminer, the "City Critic" for The New York Times. Her first column read well, though lacked the humorous touches (even on serious issues that often masked chagrin) displayed by Cohen. Happy that the column survived the magazine's retooling, and I wish her well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The rich get richer...

We were burgled once. It was 1993 in Gainesville, Fla.

In mid-morning, the thief broke in through a bedroom window -- the bedroom of our son, Ian, who still has "issues" about first-floor windows to this day -- and roamed through the house, no doubt after being greeted warmly by our beloved Dalmation, Sparky, the nicest dog ever.

"Woof!" ("Glad you're here!," in dogspeak.)

I discovered the instrusion with good friend John Perry of King Features as we drove up to the house. We spotted an open-mouthed front door and, curiously, two socks in the walkway.

At first, I thought that I'd left the door open and that Sparky had grabbed a couple of Ian's socks to play with.

It wasn't Sparky.

Police told us the thief, once in the house, used the socks so that no fingerprints would be left as evidence. (Though the intruder had left them all over the window he had broken for entry. Hmmm, says something about the logic of petit thieves.)

The police came, expressed their regrets in monotones and assessed the loss (some jewelry, of which we didn't have much, though the thief was expert because only "meltable" metal objects of worth were taken).

We were happy in the thought that not that much was missing, except that bit of jewelry. (My antique Nikon and equipment, which was far more valuable than the thief's booty, sat highly visable, though undetected, on the living room floor.)

The police were candid, saying that, most likely, no one would ever be caught (and that, honestly, they wouldn't spend much, if any, time on the case. "The stuff will be melted down in an hour." "Happens all the time in a college town.")

Just after their departure, suddenly, a stark realization hit: The eff-ing thief had taken my bicycle, which had been, as is the case for most grad students, which I was at the time, parked at the ready in front of the fireplace in the living room.

"Holy crap," I yelled (literally). "He took my friggin' bike. Now, I'm pissed."

Well, for a relatively short time, which brings us to the purpose of this piece.

We value experiences. We value memories.

They can't be stolen except by, at times, the ravages of old age and, ultimately, death.

I had a friend, once, surprise me with tickets to Carnegie Hall. There's the 70-mile round trip to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on foot. Those few beers with Nelson Mandela in a back yard in Johannesburg. A road trip to Montana with a good friend to see more good friends, and Bloody Marys most mornings. An angst-free childhood because of two nurturing parents. A beautiful wife and an ever-growing love more than 40 years after that first kiss on a New Year's Eve. Two kids who continue to inspire and amaze. A grandson who can bring a smile with a wink or a nod. A life overflowing with memories old, new and anticipated.

In our case, the rich get richer, and no one can make us poor.

Especially folks who break windows.

* * *

P.S.: Photo is one of our priceless memories -- Malcolm, Valerie Rollison, Joyce, Jerry Rollison, and dear friend Ann Brill at "breezy" Beartooth Pass in Montana this summer.