THE SUPER BOWL OF GROCERY SHOPPING – Garry Armstrong

Men can shop. I shop. Moreover, I am a highly competitive shopper. This is Guy Shopping, in three scenarios.

Scenario #1

I’m one of those guys who, if shopping “solo,” can zip through the aisles, getting everything on the shopping list. Sometimes I time myself. It’s like a “Wide, Wide World of Sports” event for me.

As I exit the supermarket, my cart full of groceries, I look at my watch. A big smug — almost “45-ish” smile on my face. I quietly proclaim in a “Howard Cosell-Marv Albert” style, “Yesssss!!

Scenario#2

I’m on my game as I begin shopping. First stop, produce.

As I check over the tomatoes, a cougar lady in stilettos, low-cut tank top, and stretch jeans — strike up a conversation about how nice it is to see a man knows how to handle tomatoes. I switch into my TV guy mode, wrap the chat, and move on. Next aisle, it’s the “groupies.” Folks who grew up watching me on TV. They’re blocking access to the pasta sauce and other canned goods. I do two or three minutes of my greatest hits and move on.

The deli section is always difficult. There are inevitably two or three people buying a quarter pound of everything. They must taste a piece of each item to make sure it’s quality stuff. Oy!!

Now, I’m trying to make up ground. Taking short cuts through various aisles and BAM — elderly people, crying kids, and a Mr. Know- It-All, blocking access. I silently curse their birthrights and smile my TV guy smile.

Finally, finally, I’m at the checkout counter.

Groceries bags are lined up in front of my stuff on the counter. The “hot and cold” bags are clearly open to be used for frozen food, meat, and so on. I slowly and clearly explain how the bags should be used. You know — perishables into the “hot and cold” bags. Please pack evenly.

I always bring extra shopping bags so I don’t have to lug overloaded bags up two flights of stairs.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

What was I thinking? It’s like I was speaking Klingon. Outside, I repack stuff at the car, loudly cursing the gods. The drive home is slow. Very slow.

The slow drivers who are always waiting for me are blocking the lane. Probably the same folks who blocked the supermarket aisles.

Scenario#3

I enter the supermarket and eyeball the “self check out” section. Do I have what it takes? I promise myself to try. Someday.

I can do it.

Fast forward. I approach the checkout counters, eyeball the “self check out” counter. No! I don’t have it. No true grit. Maybe next time.


Note: I omitted the folks who still ask why I don’t have “my people” shop for me. They are of the opinion that we are too rich to shop for ourselves. Yeah!

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME – Marilyn Armstrong

I enjoy baseball. I used to enjoy it because Garry is such a fan of the sport, I was either going to learn to like it or spend half the year having no one to talk to because there was a game on TV.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Gradually, I got to really like the game for its own sake. Its complexity. The slow, careful way it unfolds. The subtleties of how the ball is thrown, how the pitcher finds the seams and throws so the ball dips or rises. How it is caught and by whom. The way the field is set up, depending on who is hitting. All those decisions about running and stealing.

Errors.

Was it a mental or physical error? What other sport takes the time to figure out whether the subject thought wrongly or just did the wrong thing? Imagine a football announcer discussing whether that was a mental or physical error? No one talks “mental” in football, despite the enormous complexity of the game. Baseball is relatively simple compared to football.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist, sharing old Dodger baseball memories

Stop and think about all the things that must go through the mind of the quarterback and his team to make a play. It is mind-boggling.

The point is, I like baseball and I sort of like football, though I’m less familiar with its finer points than baseball. Football makes me say “OUCH! That really had to hurt!” while watching. I’m amazed anyone has a brain after it gets whacked during the game.

Gate D – Fenway Park

People who don’t like sports don’t get it. They don’t see the point. Why bother? It’s just a bunch of guys running around a square before when a ball gets whacked by a batter.

Can you whack that ball? If you can do it regularly, you can get paid as much as $250 million for — I’m not sure — maybe 10 years? Does whatever you do pay that well? So, however dumb you may think it is, if they would pay you that much money, you think you might run around the bases? Yeah, I think so too.

Baseball season!

So now we get do why is it dumber to play baseball than do something else? Is working in a bank smarter? For that matter, is writing manuals for software inherently more intelligent? Or is it just something I do well enough to get paid?

I can’t play baseball for money because I can’t play. If someone offered me millions of dollars? I’d run around that field with joy in my heart and probably, so would you. Even if you don’t know what the game is about, if the pay is high enough, you’ll play.

Mostly, what we do for a living depends on what we do well. It’s nice when it’s something meaningful, something in which you can make a difference. Whatever that means these days. Most of us do the best we can with whatever talents we have.

So I ask you: why is running around during a ball game sillier than sitting in front of a computer writing code for computer games? Or any other software? What is the difference except that ballplayers earn a lot more money?

It is a whole lot easier to find a coder than any kind of pitcher or a guy who can hit home runs. If it was harder to find a coder than a pitcher, I’m pretty sure the coder would earn better money. People who play sports brilliantly are rare … and that’s why they earn the big bucks.

So much of what we do in life is dumb. We don’t work because it’s smart. We do it or did it because we needed a paycheck. If we also enjoyed it, we got lucky.

If you are one of the annoying people who despises sports because they are stupid, ask yourself what you do which is so much smarter? And how well do you get paid to do it? And if they offered you millions to run around bases and whack a ball with a bat, would you do it?

You bet you would. I know I would.

NO SPORTS, POLITICS, OR RELIGION – Rich Paschall

Some Old World Wisdom, by Rich Paschall

When thinking of blog topics, there is no shortage of subject matter. Some general areas offer a lot of topics.  With a bit of extra thought, there’s an endless supply. Consider well how many areas you can pursue if you are willing to delve into sports, politics, or religion. Each is bound to set some readers ablaze.  They would surely bring lots of comments. You do want lively discussion, don’t you?

How lively do you want it?

conversation1

Venture into a sports bar well into the evening and you are likely to find plenty of spirited discussions regarding sports.  These ideas should help you out:  Will the Cubs win another pennant?  Will the White Sox ever get the love the Cubs get?  Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?  Will the Bears get back to the Super Bowl?  Will the Bulls beat the hated ____________ (fill in New York team here)?  There is little reason get into crosstown rivalries. Dissing out-of-town teams works, but only locally.

DeflatedBallsThumb2

We could always take off after the Bronx Bombers, the Patriots and _______ (name your alleged scandal here), or Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. But why alienate readers in New York, Boston or Dallas? Perhaps we should just write about the ridiculous BCS Bowl series or the commissioner of _________ (name your least favorite here).

A good informational, yet rather neutral article might find favor. Others might conclude that you are trying to make a point, like promoting someone’s stats for the hall of fame.

A discussion of gays in sports or an Olympic diver coming out of the closet might get you into politics so we may have to think carefully about those.  Yes, we will leave the political area of sports alone.

politics-1800s

Speaking of your politics (or mine), perhaps we can find common ground. I could write short stories with a political theme, or write about a run for office that brings victory, but no win for the candidate. Too improbable?

How about the death of democracy through campaign spending?

Imagine buying an election. Maybe this hits too close to home … or do you think it merely fiction or satire?

Political satire is sure to get people discussing or fighting, especially if you throw in climate change as the kicker. Then again, maybe no one will bother to read this stuff. Maybe not such a great idea after all?

How about hitting the topics head-on in a nice well-researched article? We can talk about Democrats, Republicans, capitalists, or socialists. On second thought, that could split the audience from the get-go. Better to look at the subjects of the debates and write a well-reasoned essay.

women's suffrage-2

Where to begin?

Abortion? Immigration? Gay Rights? Civil Rights? Gun Control? Campaign reform? Welfare Reform?  Any reform?

National defense?

Can we all consider any of that without alienating people? There’s always alienating the aliens. Can’t go wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe not.

If politics is too risky, how about the world’s great religions? They’re all rooted in love, are they not? We could discuss the philosophies that ignite the passions behind our beliefs and thus find common ground. Peace and harmony at last.

Except that so many people believe their god is the only one. Some believe their god is telling them to kill others — which sets religion against religion. Alas, there’s nothing new about that. Belief is supposed to bring hope and joy, not war. Yet religion has been the cause of many wars. They are all about religion or land. Check it out.

God is on every side of every war, or so they say. Who goes into battle without the blessing of their particular deity? How can I expect to have a civil discussion in such an emotionally-charged arena?  I have innocently had to extract my foot from my mouth before. Maybe I should let the Dalai Lama write on this topic.

Soon, there won’t be a Dalai Lama because the Chinese won’t allow one. Oops.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.
The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain, and Neal Brown.

Years ago, when one of my favorite innkeepers was alive, we used to drop by his establishment.  It was a great place for lively discussions. If anyone got a little over-heated, the owner walked over with a wink to say, “No sports, no politics, no religion!”

Seemingly a strange thing to say when a sports channel was almost always playing nearby, but he meant “No arguments, no heated discussions.” If arguments got out of hand, he’d say “No sports, no politics, no religion — or you’re out of here!”

That seemed a good approach to barroom politics because these were the areas of discussion that often ended with unpleasantness. Especially when dialogue was fueled by alcohol. Maybe his attitude probably short-circuited a few lively discussions, but he definitely cut off some brawls, too.

Let’s avoid them in the blog-o-sphere and cyberspace too. If Facebook is any indicator, that sounds like a plan!

STICKBALL SEASON IS COMING – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.

It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallThis got me thinking about stickball.

These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?

We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.

The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.

The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.

The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

MY AMAZING CAREER: THE UNNATURAL – Garry Armstrong

I’ve written numerous pieces about my love of baseball. I’ve shared memories of the teams I’ve followed as a diehard fan.

From the Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s to Casey’s inept, Amazin’ Mets in the early ’60s.

1969 The Amazing Mets!

To the sons of Teddy Ballgame who, in 2004, broke generations of hearts before smashing the curse of the Bambino and 87 years of futility. I’ve told you about meeting many baseball legends including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams.

Our kitchen wall includes tributes to my personal baseball hero, Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. I met “The Duke” back when he played briefly with the Mets. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.

2004 Red Sox Series Win

Like many New York youngsters of a certain era, I was in the middle of the argument about who was the best center fielder — Willie, Mickey, or The Duke.  We were blessed by having three major league teams in Gotham back in those days. On any given day or night you could listen to Hall of Fame voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, or Russ Hodges describing the fortunes of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.

On the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – and, later, Long Island, ragtag teams of boys — identified by their block — played softball, stickball and, if lucky, baseball.  The games began after school and continued, in my case, until the familiar chorus of “Garry, your mother is callin’ you. You gotta go home —now!”

Duke Snider

Sulking, I’d drop the bat, pick up my glove and slowly, slowly walk home. I never heard the guys laughing as I left. In retrospect, I guess they were always laughing as I left the games.

Why?

I was “that kid.”

The last one picked to play on the street team. The kid they played in deep right field and prayed no ball was hit to him. I mimicked Duke Snider’s sweet left-handed batting stance. I set up in the batter’s box just like Duke so I could rip the ball to right field.

I never ripped or hit — and rarely made any contact — with the ball. I looked good. I had style.

In the field, I couldn’t catch routine fly balls or cleanly field hits and hold the runner to one base. I still had Duke Snider’s style, though. I jogged, swinging my arms up and down — in Duke’s regal manner. I was sure I had class even if I couldn’t hit or field.

My misfortune continued as a teenager when I played with the church baseball team. The Luther League.

The coaches probably felt compelled to play me because we were one of only three families of color at our church. Not to play me probably would’ve caused unrest as the predominantly German Church was trying to be progressive in the mid-1950s. No one ever said this, but, deep down, I knew

I was something of an albatross.

The Black kid with no athletic ability. I wanted to be good but I wasn’t. I was sure I’d find my niche as I grew older. I also labored under the illusion that I would gain five or six inches of height, miraculously, one night in my teenage dreams of glory.  My Dad stood six feet plus, My two younger brothers already were taller than me. I always really believed I’d gain those inches when I turned 20. It had to happen. I believed.

By the early ’70s, I was a rising TV news reporter in Boston. My celebrity may have been rising but not my height.  My USMC ID card read 5 feet 5 and a half inches. I’d been the shortest kid as a Marine recruit at the Parris Island Training base back in 1959. (That’s another story.)

In the early 1970’s Boston, only a handful of minority TV News Reporters existed. I was “it” on Channel 7.

When it came to the celebrity/media softball games, I could only hope to shed my athletic ineptitude. I think it was assumed — oblivious to my past — that I would be an asset to Channel 7’s team. I looked fast, had that classic Duke Snider swing and had an elegant gait. It didn’t take long for the truth to emerge.

The color of my skin didn’t guarantee athletic prowess.  Still, there was some hype to my appearance on the baseball field on Boston Common. Adding to my dilemma, the minority reporters on the other teams were good players. They had achieved their bonafides. I was the new “phenom.”

It was awful. The first game I played seemed to last an eternity. I was the leadoff hitter. Big mistake.

I did manage a weak single in 3 or 4 at bats. I botched most of the balls hit to me in right field. I blamed it on the glare from the lights.  They believed me and gave me “attaboys”.  The rest of my Boston baseball/softball career was, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, “terr’ble.”  I remember some of my Channel 7 colleagues shaking their heads when I showed up for games. One of them, a legendary cameraman, used to giggle and laugh “Oh, Geerey … no … no.”

One of my early show-cased appearances on Channel 7 featured me in a Walter Mitty-like series. One of the Mittyish assignments had me working out, in full uniform, with the Boston Red Sox. I believe a young Pudge Fisk was catching as I dug in with my Duke Snider stance. The Towering figure on the mound supposedly tossing easy “BP” stuff to me was former fireballing right-hander, Bob Veale.

Veale was now a Sox pitching coach. I figured he’d take it easy on me. As I leveled my Duke Snider stance, I glanced out to the mound. Big Bob Veale seemed 8 feet tall. He had an evil grin on his face.

Baseball season!

The first pitch was by me and in Fisk’s glove before I could begin my swing. Pudge giggled louder. Veale’s grin grew bigger. Remember, cameras were rolling on me for this ballyhooed TV feature.

I think I ticked the second pitch which only incensed Mr. Bob Veale. He reared back and fired what Dennis Eckersley now calls “Hot, high cheese”  to me. I swung, probably 5 seconds after the ball was caught by Pudge Fisk who was now laughing.

At Fenway

Most of the Sox players were smiling or laughing quietly except for Johnny Pesky who offered me solace. Pesky and I would be friends until he passed away. For some reason, he took a liking to me even though I clearly had no athletic skills.  Class act — Johnny Pesky.

It remained for Teddy Ballgame to put everything in perspective. We were chatting about stuff. I’d hit it off with Ted Williams who rarely bonded with the media. I suspect Mr. Pesky was my liaison.

Johnny Pesky

Williams asked me to show him my swing. I did. He tossed a few pitches to me. I missed all of them. Teddy Ballgame tapped me on the shoulder, smiling, “Garry. You need to see the ball before you hit it or try to hit it.  Forget it, Pal”.

I still have fantasies about being a 70-something “Roy Hobbs.”

SHOW ME THE MONEY! – Garry Armstrong

I’m just back from running an errand. I had the car radio on the local sports radio station, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox radio network. The regular season starts next week and I’m excited as you would expect of a guy who’s grown up with baseball as a passion.

From my youth in the ’40s and ’50s, following the fortunes of Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer to the early ’60s, tracking the daily misfortunes of Casey’s Amazin’ Mets to the present, hyperventilating over the sons of Teddy Ballgame playing at Fenway Park, the so-called cathedral of baseball.

This is the time of year when we scour pre-season predictions of all the major league teams. We look at stats and projections for all the players.

Politics and other breaking news is set aside to focus on how OUR team will fare. During ancient times, preceding 24/7 online coverage, we studied the magazines that featured baseball experts, looking through their crystal balls, telling us who would be good and who would be lousy. I spent more time on these magazines than on my homework.

Hell, baseball was more important than history, science, geography, math, and science combined.

Cuba Gooding: “Show me the money!”

Ironically, decades later, I’d use my weak math skills to understand crucial baseball stuff, namely contracts. Contracts garner today’s headlines because of the money shelled out to today’s biggest baseball stars.

As I write, Mike Trout is at the top of the world, Ma, agreeing to a multi-year 400-million-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Angels. I wonder if Gene Autry, the original Angels owner, is scratching his head at the big Melody Ranch In The Sky.

Trout’s record-shattering contract tops last week’s record-shattering deal by Bryce Harper with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper’s “It’s not about the money — I love baseball” proclamation covers the multi-year 300 million dollar bonanza for the former Washington Nats star.

Sports media yakkers and writers have been foaming at their collective mouths over Red Sox star and last year’s A.L MVP, Mookie Betts who stands to be new man atop the world when he hits Free Agency in 2 years. Mookie is staying mum, saying “he just wants to play baseball.” Right.

So, I’m listening to talk radio, expecting a little yak about the dough, then moving onto assessing the upcoming season.

Red Sox Nation wonders about last year’s astounding 119 wins –including regular and postseason momentum, including the World Series championship. That was a once-in-a-generation season. Hard to top. I and many other fans are already worried.

We don’t have a decent bullpen, let alone a postseason-caliber roster of relievers. We bid adieu to ace closer Craig Kimbrel who wanted BIG money as one of baseball’s top closers.  We also bid “vaya con dios” to Joe Kelly, the master curve ball artist who presumably could’ve replaced Kimbrel. Kelly went west for big money with the Dodgers.

I’m listening to the radio gas baggers, waiting for some chat about the Red Sox plans for the bullpen, not to mention how the rest of the team looks. They’ve looked pretty bad in Spring Training even though we know Grapefruit League games don’t matter. They are exercises intended to get the team ready for the regular season. Still, you’d like to see the pitchers evolve from rusty to sharp. You’d like them to at least look ready for the real games coming up in just a few weeks, wouldn’t you?

Bosox pitchers have looked like hamburger helpers in the Grapefruit League. The rest of the team looks very iffy, save a few hitters who’ve been slugging like they’re hitting grapefruit instead of horsehide.

The pennant at Fenway

The Talkers also slide over to politics and whether the Sox should pay the traditional championship visit to the White House this year. A number of players have made it clear Donzo is not their kind of guy and have sent regrets to the Oval Office.

I timed half an hour of money talk — and Donzo’s affability — by the yakkers, and callers who seemed to be off their meds.

This isn’t “Field of Dreams” stuff. It’s an offshoot of Cuba Gooding’s famous line in “Jerry McGuire.” We laughed long and loud when Gooding’s baseball player screamed at Tom Cruise’s agent, “Show me the money!”

We’re not laughing now.

ECLECTICISM IN A DIVIDED WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Eclectic

Garry suggested it’s because we’ve become almost accustomed to their winning — or nearly winning — and thus we’ve become “ho-hum” about it. I don’t think so. I’m pleased the Patriots won. I’m glad they are champions again and I feel sorry for the little ones who have grown up with the Pats and the Sox winning more often than not and discovering that we aren’t going to win all the time forever.

But I could get excited. It was a nice thing for New England. I was pleased to be on the winning side — just not jumping up and down with enthusiasm.

Neither of us was and we both noticed our lack of energy. It was a bit odd. I also know parade day (tomorrow) will be good weather, but nothing really rang that “thrilling” bell.

Like other people, I’m a bit disappointed that our messy politics has gotten mixed with sports, but team owners (all teams, all sports) have held views which are different from my own. Politics has a way of seeping into everything, including sports and art.

At the risk of giving a civics lesson, this IS a pluralistic country. We are not a melting pot where we require everyone to dissolve and become the same as everyone else.

Like it or not, someone we otherwise respect is likely to favor the other side. Do we lock them out because they are not us? Is that where we are going?

Our differences are currently extreme, but I believe they won’t stay that way forever. Our current state of ill-grace doesn’t mean all other humans are unworthy and we should never listen to them. That’s a bad way to run a country and a terrible way to run America.

Robert Kraft is a decent guy. I’ve met him. Garry got to know him pretty well when he was working. That’s the thing about Garry: he had to work with both parties over the years. He liked some better than others, but his job wasn’t to pick and choose the ones he approved of and only work for them. He loathes Donald Trump and his sycophants, but he doesn’t necessarily hate all Republicans because they are on the red team.

Kraft is a Republican. This used to be normal. It was not a reason to hate someone. Robert Kraft raised personal objections to Trump’s attitudes towards sports and other actions of the president — and note that the Patriots did NOT go to the White House. Actually, none of the teams except the one that got mountains of el cheapo hamburgers went. They are probably still suffering from massive acid reflux. Yuck.

Did the prez not think they could afford their own hamburgers? Or did he fail to understand there exist other, better restaurants that could have delivered a nice dinner for the team? And even though MacDonald’s burgers are his favorite food, they might not be everyone else’s favorites?


The point is, we have a pluralistic nation which I fondly hope is going to remain so.

If we lock every door to anyone who disagrees with us politically, we will never find a way to be one nation. I’m no fancier of the GOP, but I understand pluralism is the nature of this land. If we lose that, we have lost ourselves.

So I’m trying with all my might to keep the windows and doors open. If a fresh idea blows in the wind, I might want to waft with it. I hope my brain is able to accept the possibility that something I haven’t yet thought of might turn out to be a good idea.

Let’s not hate so much that we forget other people also think and sometimes, they think a good thought. It’s the only hope we’ve got as a country. It’s the only hope the world has to not become a preview of the next world war.

We cannot afford to lose pluralism as our center.