Sports Opera Radio

It is archives weekend, people. Flotsam from the past is posted here that might be worth a dusting off.

The Yankees are in Beantown this weekend ( I’m going–Thank you, sweet Timmy, who is eight tomorrow!) and craziness is easily heard on WEEI, sports talk radio in Boston. I am posting an essay I wrote about sports radio around the time that Larry Bird retired from the Celtics in 1993. The names may have changed, but the callers are exactly the same.

It’s a bit long, but I think you may enjoy it.

SPORTS OPERA RADIO

The bookstore has whole sections on men and women with titles that are decidedly biased as to which sex has the communication problems: “How To Love A Difficult Man,” “Maybe He’s Just A Jerk”, “Get Rid of Him” to “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

There are 20 sections of books on women’s studies and only 4 on men’s studies, and one of those four sections is all one author: Iron-Man Robert Bly. Communication is a problem, they all say. Men aren’t at ease with their feelings like women are; they are emotionally cool rather than hot. Their playground is not words, but ACTION–they’d rather DO something rather than TALK about it. Psychologists call it “alexithymia”, an inability to name or describe one’s feelings.

These authors and psychologists need to spend an afternoon listening to 24 hour-Sports Opera Talk Radio: WEEI-5.90 AM in Boston. Who’s calling? Men. Lots of men. Tom from Quincy, Dick from Wrentham, Joe from Weymouth, Ronnie from Pawtucket, Rhode Island and hundreds more. What are they talking about? Feelings. Soap Opera feelings of passion, betrayal, duplicity, greed, and jealousy. Sports Radio is the true Southfork of men’s emotions. Iron Bob doesn’t need to beat his drum on WEEI. The Wild Man within the Common Man has been reborn, at least, in the privacy of the airwaves.

When Larry Bird retired from the Celtics: Caller #1: “He’s gone. I can’t believe it. He said to us: “Boston, I dedicated my life to you”–and he did–and now he’s gone! I should’ve given him my all, Glenn–I should have clapped harder at the Garden. I should have stayed up late to listen to the west coast games. I should’ve given him more–and, now he’s gone. I can’t believe it. Gone!”

The Wild Men are talking relationships. Nuances. Subtleties.

Caller #2: “Did Larry socialize with Kevin off the court? Caller #3: “Did Kevin feel badly when Larry yelled at him on the court?”

The Iron Men are talking analytical relationships: Caller #4: “My autograph from Larry last year was my one moment to look greatness in the eye. Me–common Joe–meets greatness.”

Primitive Men are giving praise, affirmation:

Caller #5: “His work ethic is what sets him apart, Glenn. No one worked as hard as Larry. NO ONE. There will never be another one like him. NEVER.”

Emotions are volcanic. The word-lava keeps on flowing, spewing into the airwaves: spumes of superlatives, rivulets of verbal excess and microscopic gaseous detail of one man’s passion to play hoops. The word-lava is so thick and glowing that the first time listener sits with mouth gaping while stopped at a traffic light, transforming pedestrians walking on the street into number 33’s stealing an in-bound pass or making a 23-foot jumper.

The emotional value system is, at first, simple and unfettered by ambiguity or gray areas; no Supreme Court Justices seem to be needed here. Play through pain is the mantra. Sacrificing yourself in order to win is a basic requirement; athletic skills are secondary. To win is everything. Drive yourself until it hurts and then suck it up and do not speak of it. Simply fall on your cheekbone, blur your vision, concussion yourself back to the crowd to sink a three-pointer from downtown. Wait for the deafening applause.

But, not so fast. One caller wants to tell the Talk Show Host that Dave Dravecky deserves more accolades for going through 8 months of chemotherapy and coming back to play than Mario LeMieux, who had his last short-term radiation treatment in the afternoon and played hockey the same night. Caller and host spar respectfully about who deserves the Golden Play-Thru-Pain Award. Competitiveness about an athlete’s ability to handle chemotherapy or radiation? Yes. You mean, who did it best? Yes. Well, who did it longer? Yes–but who played on the same day as his treatment? Maybe sports opera justice needs a Supreme Court after all. Statistics can measure, box scores quantify, but who will make the competitive call about white blood cells?

“Pain,” Larry Bird said to Boston on the night of his retirement, “Pain so bad that on some days I thought I couldn’t get out bed…But, don’t feel sorry,” he said. “I did it for you and I had a blast.” Tears from an SRO Boston Garden and more deafening applause.

The term “sport” in biology is used to describe something that varies markedly from normal type, a mutant organism. Sports Talk Radio is another lesson in mutancy: Men talk-it’s not that they can’t, don’t, or won’t-they do, and it’s as emotionally excessive and outrageous as “Oprah” and “Geraldo”, “Days of Our Lives”, “General Hospital”.

The daily drama of winning and losing, the paralyzing excreta of details that absorb the professional observer apparently elicits deep emotion as well as language–no word finding problems here. The common man becomes the Jungian analyst of dreams and recollections, forever wistful about what might have been. Years, literally, after Len Bias, a #1 Draft choice, died: Caller #6: “What if Len Bias hadn’t died in 1986, Glenn? What if the Celtics had his services for the past 7 years? Where might they be today, Glenn? Where?” Caller #7: “Eddie, what if Willie McCovey, a left-handed pull hitter, had played in Yankee Stadium? What would his home run stats have been then, huh, Eddie? Yankee stadium with the shorter right field and a low wall–instead of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park’s 370 foot right field with wind blowing in?

What if, Eddie? What if, Glenn?” “What if?” indeed. Masters of Understatement no more. They can interpret every gesture of an athlete like a teenage girl in love; they can clarify every pause and nuance with trance like dedication. The very innards of man are under the verbal microscope and a sub-atomic analysis of the majesty of victory and the humiliation of failure is underway 24 hours a day. It is all that emotions could ever hope to be: exuberant, petty, excessive, impulsive, warm, affectionate, sad, angry, mundane and, occasionally, lyrical. But, women beware. Though men can talk, they apparently still don’t want to talk to you.

Talk Show Host: “My wife warned me this morning that if I wanted her cooperation in anything I might want in the future, I had to be polite and not intimidate the female callers today. I agreed. But, that doesn’t apply if a woman calls up and wants to talk about the Bruins, does it?….I don’t think women bond with sports like men do. Don’t get me wrong, women have lots of good points, let’s see…they bring cleanliness and health to situations.”

Caller #8: “The Indians had it right, Eddie. Their squaws had to walk 10 paces behind…..With the exception of the headache, Eddie, can you name me anything a woman has invented?”

Eddie says that his predictions about “Ladies Call-in Hour” are correct: “not too many women have called in because women around the New England area grew up in strict Italian, Irish, or Jewish families.”

There are other reasons why a woman may not listen-in, never mind, call-in to Sports Opera Radio, but my need for cleanliness may prevent me from going into more detail. Sports Opera Talk Radio is, however, a bonafide lesson in sexual politics: Men talk, just not to you, ladies; and, if you tune in for an afternoon, consider it a cautionary tale: Be careful, your wishes could come true: Mr. Right could start talking, molting, and emoting a sports aria on demand.

Let the headaches begin.

Dear Bread People

Dear Bread People,

What is wrong with you? Making bread is what you do.

What do I do? I eat bread. And, up until recently I ate your bread, in particular, your rosemary onion focaccia bread.

But, yesterday, I was told that you don’t make rosemary onion focaccia anymore. The counter girl told me this, and I do mean “girl”—do you hire children who should be in elementary school instead of at your cash register? Anyway, this fourth grader told me you have a “new” focaccia that is “healthier” for me.

What business is it of yours whether I’m healthy or not?? If that were a priority, I wouldn’t be coming to a bread store in the first place. Look around, bread people! Obesity is all the rage. Your customers are not size two. If we could be healthy, we would be. We’ve all collectively given up our seat on that miserable train, including your manager by the way—I ran into him at Bob’s Big Boy shop.

Your new “healthier” focaccia tastes like cardboard. I could toast the next box from UPS for the same texture and flavor. Come to think of it—there’s a delivery scheduled for tomorrow.

This is what is wrong with America. Wagging fingers everywhere. I fear a galactic smackdown is coming to nations of finger-waggers. It’s simple: righteousness doesn’t taste good nor contribute to world peace, OK?

May I suggest you get into “greening” your company instead of messing with my Portobello & Mozzarella sandwich bread? If you absolutely want a corporate clean conscience, couldn’t you hire an environmental consultant instead of that dreary dietician? I’m sure baking bread contributes to those nasty green house gases one way or another. You wouldn’t be angering loyal customers and losing our money if you were lessening your carbon footprint by managing electrical energy more efficiently or exploring alternative refrigerants. Did Al Gore take the low-fat highway to the Nobel Prize? Case closed.

In conclusion, let me make one last suggestion: If you don’t want to go “green” with your corporate kitchens, couldn’t Bread People at least think a little more like Big Tobacco people? Their product has warning labels on each pack: “according to the Surgeon General of the United States of America, tobacco causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy”—and, still, world-wide demand for it is growing! Think about it. You could actually increase profits and demand for your product by labeling it: “WARNING! PRODUCES FAT PEOPLE.”

Fire all finger-waggers pronto and hire people who smoke. They’ll know how to market health risks and increase market share.

Very sincerely,

Pat Coakley

Single for a Reason

My girlfriend’s husband is on a mission.  Armed with paper towels and windex, he announces he is going upstairs to clean the vanity in their newly renovated bathroom.  She had left a couple of buttons on the surface and her hand cream.

I suggest he calm down.

At least he could see his vanity.  There are many reasons why I’ve been accused of being “choosy” in my romantic life, but some of my choices have had stone cold good reasons to pull up stakes and move on as well.

I think Virginia Woolf  really meant “A Bathroom of Your Own”.

The older I get, the more single for a reason habits I adopt.  First, on the list would be vanity real estate.  When I started out in my twenties, there might be toothpaste and some lipsticks.

In my sixties, there is not a smooth surface that I don’t feel is there to be filled up.   I apparently don’t like to bend down to open a cabinet.  I’ve tried the side drawers but to no avail.  Unless a vanity has a drawer like the kitchen trash container, they are useless to me.   I spend 10 minutes taking everything out in order to find the small manicure scissors that are covered up by lipsticks and mascaras from 1995.

I’ve read that a popular self help book says that if you want to find a mate, you have to clear off your bed and make room for him to arrive.  I presume this would cover vanity real estate as well.

Let me review my choices:

1. Clean vanity and share with a mate.
2. Clean off my bed first because currently there is hardly room for me to sleep in it and let the vanity go until the second date.
3. Remain indifferent, solo, cluttered and sleep with laptop and books, and work on world peace.

Hmmm…let me see…

Miss South Carolina and I choose world peace.

Eileen Blossoms

Lesson #2 from my flying friend, Eileen.  (She told me her age, but privately, so all I’ll say is this: she was visiting her daughter who was retired.)

Ok.  So, along with courage, which was lesson number one, there was a lesson that a writer of a blog, titled, “Single for a Reason”, a blog for choosy people, could not ignore.  The lesson is this: You are never too old to be choosy.

Her current male friend is wonderful but she doesn’t think she wants to marry anyone again.  She thinks, in fact, the reason that this relationship works so well is because they each have their separate domiciles.  But, it’s even more than that.

She’s long noted a double standard for men and women.  When she was just a young girl growing up in a small town in the South, she realized one day that the girl who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock was totally shunned in the community but the “father” paid few, if any, social consequences.

In modern parlance, I can just hear little teenage Eileen saying: “What’s up with that, people?”

But, she said she never could talk about her misgivings.  Nor, could she ever bring up such subjects with her late husband either.  He’d just get agitated.  So, she kept them to herself throughout a full life.

But, today, she confides that the man in her life is just about perfect, although a bit overprotective.  He calls her multiple times a day and if she is late coming home from a doctor’s appointment, for example, he panics.

But, then, she questions the surface of this overprotectiveness, just as she once questioned social and moral inequities when she was a teenager.  Maybe it really wasn’t a need to protect her that was driving him, she went on to say, as much as a reflection of needs all his own.   Maybe a need to control her in a way, she said softly.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve said that out loud before,” she said to me with astonishment.

Speak on, bloom on, sweet Eileen.  I am going to look on the bright side this morning and think about your gentleman caller in this way: he simply feels like I do about you–a precious voice, long silent, is a beautiful sound to hear.

I Am The Fog

Foggy bus ride

“I am the fog,” this woman with hair the color of fog told me after showing her this picture taken on an early morning bus ride.

I had said how beautiful I thought her hair and the fog appeared together.

I heard Pulitzer Prize winning speakers, expert professional speakers–all over the past several days and this spontaneous comment–this is what I remember most.

“I am the fog,” she said ruefully, smiling.

Why do I remember it?

Perhaps, it is the underlying truth of a writer’s conference in 2008 and, perhaps, the truth of all industry conferences taking place world wide.

How do writers/columnists get paid if their employer (newspapers) are laying off and budget cutting, and well, dying a slow death. On the way to attend this conference, I read an article from “The New Yorker”, where Bill Keller, the Editor of the New York Times, was quoted, “At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?,’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce.”

At this writer’s conference, many of the attendees are or had been employed by newspapers, and though the mood was occasionally touched by the funereal, it did not deal directly with the issue that is on everyone’s mind and affecting every one’s income.

There was simply a very large elephant in the room. From the podium, and, even, in small groups, the game face was on; the laughter raucous.

But, wait. Did I hear a band playing on the First Class deck?

In the case of many writers I met this past weekend, their once weekly newspaper column had been cut down to twice a month, then to once a month, and in some cases, dropped entirely. Their old employers, newspapers, are in free-fall, as recently cited in “The New Yorker”by Eric Alterman.

Many, far younger than this woman pictured here, said they were afraid of technology beyond using email. They waved their hands away with “Oh, I can’t do it.”

How do very talented and creative people make the adjustments through a radically changing world? Just the same way as assembly buggy whip makers did when the first Model T was made in Detroit. We have to learn something new.

This woman pictured here was riding with me, sleep still in her eyes, at a very early hour to a workshop on internet marketing and how to use the “new media” to a writer’s advantage.

Buggy whip makers, freelance writers–we all need to reinvent ourselves along the way and fear is not a good guide through the fog of change, no matter what century we are in.

Hail Thee, Eileen!

They couldn’t roll Eileen’s wheel chair, which she needs for sight as well as mobility issues, to the door of the plane for two reasons. First, they forgot to have the wheelchair she’d ordered available, and second, after she arrived at the gate, (How? I was afraid to ask) she had to board the old fashioned way, circa 1950, up a mobile set of steep narrow stairs. (I didn’t ask that, either)

I met her on this small jet at 7 AM leaving from Dayton, Ohio headed to Cincinnati, Ohio. This was a regional jet that could not be accessed by a jet way. Eileen was going back home to Hot Springs, Arkansas after visiting one of her daughters and son-in-law who are now retired in Dayton. Eileen told me she’d probably arrive back home after several connecting flights around 10 PM. By that time, I would have been asleep several hours back in my bed in a suburb outside of Boston.

I didn’t see her board because I was the last person to enter the cabin, having left the boarding line to wander off to get this photo. Word to wise: if you ever have a glorious sight that beckons you, alert authorities before you wander around the tarmac in search of the perfect framing. My behavior, circa 1950’s as well, nearly caused an airport terror alert.

At any rate, I sat down next to this petite woman wearing glasses and a sweet hat. She barely took up the seat and these days that means she is indeed a little bit of a thing. She talked about her gentleman friend back in Hot Springs who sang and recorded country songs and sometimes they both sang together and recorded a CD. In the course of the 20 minute flight, I got an education not because she had any inclination to teach me, but because I needed to learn.

Eileen’s Lesson #1 for me (I have several but I’m going to blog others on future posts) is this: Traveling alone when you are older with some health issues takes courage and the terror alert is the least of it.

The first thing you worry about is whether they’ll remember to have the wheelchair you ordered waiting for you. If they don’t, then you have to walk to the gate on your own. And, considering that gates can be a good 15 minute walk ( if you are robust) away from the “Departures” sidewalk, (sometimes longer, because it requires a shuttle bus to get to the different concourse), to say nothing of navigating the security lines–well, it’s as if you have climbed K2 without sherpas, before you even begin your 12 hour journey.

If you have mobility problems due to poor eyesight, as Eileen does, or frailty as many of today’s travelers do, you are utterly dependent upon airlines and the kindness of strangers to help you arrive at journey’s end. As another frail woman told me with her game face on, who I met subsequently in Cincinnati, “It’s not been a good day so far.”

Add to this that you are a member of “The Invisibles”, (not a voluntary membership by the way)–the term I use to describe my sweet growing group of folks (myself, included) in the Waving or Drowning™ Podcasts, who can’t get the world at large to see them even if they are right in front of them. (E.G.: Women over 50, both sexes over 80, American consumers of all ages and gender.)

The next time you travel, look around, they are all around you. Look not just for stunning sunrises like I did, but for a fellow traveler, someone whose frailty embarrasses them, but doesn’t keep them from traveling; someone whose courage may need your kindness to get them from Point A to Point B.

Tick. Tock. (It’s a cliche, but I’m saying it anyway) It won’t be too long before we’ll be the one waiting alone at the bottom of the mountain by ourselves watching everyone rush by us with fading eyesight or making frail legs begin the long journey ahead of us. We, too, shall need a hand or two from a stranger to help us arrive home.

Eileen and her male friend sing Dolly Parton and George Strait songs but she thinks the two of them sing the spiritual, “I’ll Fly Away” best.

I don’t know about her singing voice, people, but if you fly, you’ll feel blessed to have her sitting next to you on a beautiful Sunday morning.