Sunday, July 31, 2011

Windsor Tournament, Day Two

The second day of the tournament was one to forget. The first game was against a West Corners team that, had our team played well, would not have beat us. But KK was uncharacteristically wild, and Sabrina has gotten so much in the habit of backhanded and scooping that she apparently has forgotten that how to block balls, and they ran unmercifully around the bases all day long. Our team did not help themselves with several mental errors (we lost not one, not two, not three, but four runners on the bases); we did things I haven't seen 9YOs do very often, like throw to first base from the outfield and play follow-the-baserunners with the ball. Sabrina had a good day at the plate, but it wasn't enough and they lost 16-12. And then they found out that they are now the third seed in their division, and get to play at 9 AM this morning against West Corners again. It's not going to be pretty.
Especially since they got their butts kicked in the second game. Vestal has, going by looks, a lot of 13YOs, but our team never acted like they had a chance , and got crushed 13-2. Sabrina had another lackadaisical effort behind the plate, which led to her getting removed in the last inning for a kid whose regular position is not catcher; I was sitting by the coaches, and it was for lack of hustle and unwillingness to block the ball. She also managed, in her two at-bats, to swing at two pitches at her eyes, something she hasn't done in a year. I read her the riot act after we got home, saying that the too-cool-to-play-hard persona is getting real old, and that had I been coaching, she would have been out of there a lot earlier. She gets up in about 30 minutes, and her attitude is going to determine whether I even stay to watch the games. I didn't sleep well again last night, and my mood is really not good going into this. About the only consolation is that we are unlikely to make the championship game; this nightmare will be over by 11 AM. One small ray of hope is that the two kids who weren't there yesterday should be present and playing, and they play smart softball--but they don't pitch and they don't play catcher. The ball cannot get to the backstop at all against these teams--period. If it means she spends the day in the dirt, so be it--as I asked her last night, "What are you saving it for? This is the last weekend."
I admit to huge frustrations with this. I cannot understand why, after four years of instruction, after four years of knowing that even if you hit the pitch at your eyes that it doesn't go anywhere, that you swing at it anyway. I cannot understand after years of coaching and clinics, that you don't block the ball if you're a catcher. I don't care if she's 12 and it was hot out. When you put the uniform on, you give it your best effort, and you play smart. I've never been hung up on results, but I have always told her that mental errors are always going to draw comment, and that a lack of effort is going to draw not only comment but anger from me. I never, ever dogged it when I played sports, and I'll be goddamned if she's going to. Talent is useless if the will to use it is not forthcoming. You can't control results--but you sure as hell can control effort. If you try your best, then it truly does not matter whether you win or lose, because regardless of outcome, you can hold your head up high for having done the best you can do.
That wasn't the case yesterday. And she didn't give me much of an  argument. After years of watching her, I know when the effort is there and when it isn't. And I knew it wasn't there yesterday.
We will see. I honestly am thinking about dropping her off and coming back to pick her up when it's over; I was that disgusted by the effort yesterday. If I hadn't been keeping score, I would have left yesterday's debacle. If they lose, it's one thing--but to lose because they can't be bothered to give it their best shot is not something I am willing to invest my time in. I've got a lot of work I could be doing, and I like to sleep, as well.
Gut check time. She's up, contrite, and at least at this point in time seems determined to play. It's just too bad that a fire has to be lit from the outside.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: GONE

One of the many things that has changed beyond recognition as a recent of the digital revolution has been the publishing industry. Magazines were a huge part of my childhood and early adult years. I used to subscribe to, at various times, Time, The Sporting News, The Hockey News, The Nation, The National Review (always nice to know what the dark side is up to), and several others, reflecting a myriad of interests in the world around me. I never subscribed to The New Yorker, but I did read it from time to time in doctor's offices and the library, and I knew it to be a quality magazine that often printed articles of staggering length on subjects ranging from the tedious to the explosive. I also know that an incredible number of quality American writers had written for it.
Gone is written by one of those writers, Renata Adler, and it is a sad memoir, written some time ago, about the point in time where The New Yorker lost its way, during the last few years when William Shawn (father of Wallace Shawn, a virtual Renaissance man of our time somewhat perversely best known as the voice of Rex the dinosaur in the Toy Story movies) was editor of the magazine. Like all books of this type, there is a certain element of sour grapes, but both the fondness for the magazine and for the people involved in making it what it was is evident in Adler's writing, and there is no doubt that Adler does not have a personal axe to grind with anyone involved. The book depicts the changes wrought when the magazine was sold and direction changed at the top; it was turned into something less unique and more or less a pallid imitation of Vanity Fair and other magazines who don't have a core audience or, Adler rather convincingly argues, a reason for existence.
I suspect that, fifteen years or more past the events depicted in the book, Adler's book, if written now, would be more venomous. The New Yorker is much more overtly political-minded and topical, and honestly isn't terribly distinguishable from any other magazine out there. I have not seen the paper version of it in years; the online version lacks the any measurable footprint. Adler's book was a paean to a lost love, at heart, and the principals involved are have exited stage left. But it remains surprisingly readable, even for someone who has never heard of the magazine. Which, ultimately, is a tribute to Adler's writing skills, and to the old magazine indirectly, for having such a quality writer, and she was one of dozens, on its staff.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Windsor Tournament, Day One

Last week's performance by the Binghamton West Side All-Star team was so impressive that the squad found themselves bumped up to a higher, tougher bracket for the Windsor Tournament that began last night (in, oddly enough, Windsor). West Side won the Purple Division a year ago, but is in the Yellow Division this year, and played the better of Johnson City's two travel teams tonight to kick off their defense.
KK was pitching again, and as befits an ace, really wasn't hit hard all night--I don't recall a ball hit out of the infield. She was not as sharp as she can be, walking a half-dozen, but was never in any danger of letting the game get out of control after the first inning. And I am proud to say that her catcher helped keep the first inning under control. KK walked the first two batters and three of the first four--but Sabrina gunned down the leadoff walk when she tried to steal second, which allowed KK to find the strike zone without giving up any runs. Sabrina also did not drop a strike three and caught another foul tip for an out, and in general played the position well. Sabrina also caught a bit of a bad break when she leaned to catch a pitch and the kid swung very late and knocked her glove off--catcher's interference, but it didn't cost the team anything. She got a little frustrated by the umpire's very wide strike zone-- she took a called third strike in the first inning for the first time since she was 10  on a pitch that was nearly a foot outside, and then took another called third strike in the 4th on pitch that was at least a foot outside. She was also robbed of a hit on a great play by the JC second baseman--although if she had run as soon as she hit it, she would have been safe; she runs like a catcher now, and can't afford any delays in leaving the batters box--and is starting to doubt herself at the plate just a bit. She was stung that she was dropped to fifth in the order tonight, but I told her that she needs to be getting more hits for her to stay hitting cleanup. We'll see what happens Saturday.
There was only one other inning that looked a little hairy, and the other team helped us out by bunting with two on and no one out while down five runs. It was defensible, I suppose--the batter was left-handed, and Alexis at second base had just entered the game. But it should have been clear that our team is fundamentally sound, that everyone on the team can play the field well. and Alexis covered the base and caught the throw flawlessly. And while there is a place for bunting in the game, giving away an out when you only have six left in the game and you are down by five runs is simply beyond my comprehension. For all the bunting we practice, we've actually done very little of it,  in subtle ways that work to our advantage. For example, KK bunted for hits the first two times she came up, and as a result their outfield was completely flat-footed when she walloped a shot into left field her third trip up in the 4th. Two-run homer, five-run lead restored, good night Gracie.
The game didn't end until late--we didn't get back to the house until 11. I was asked to score the game, and I think I got a little more adrenaline than I usually do, because I was not able to sleep all night long. I'm sure I will sleep well after a full day today, but the team doesn't play again until at least 3 PM Saturday--there is rain in the forecast for today, so who knows what havoc that will wreak on the scheduling. But it was nice to be involved in the game on a bit, and be able to watch a masterpiece from fifteen feet away. The only down side is that they have a hell of a concession stand at Windsor, and I wasn't able to patronize it tonight.
There is a rumor floating around that Emily, one of our stars from last year who has played travel team all year, might be pitching for the team we play first on Saturday. Emily is very fast but often wild as well, and in any event, we're only going to need three runs every time KK pitches in order to win, it seems. KK and Sabrina have developed a good chemistry as a battery; KK seems aware that not every pitch has to be perfect, because it's going to get caught anyway, and that helps a pitcher who throws hard. Sabrina was the secondary catcher a year ago, but she did catch Emily when she did play, and she did a good job keeping Emily's wilder efforts from going to the backstop. I'm not sure, especially if Emily hasn't been pitching for this team before now, that the West Corners catcher will be able to do that regularly.
But it was a fine start to the tournament. The team is now 6-0 in 2011. Can't beat that with a stick.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: CRY HAVOC

Cry Havoc is British scholar Joseph Maiolo's in-depth study of the rearming of the world during the 1930's, and how it almost made the Second World War necessary. World War I had been the first true "total" war, in the sense that the war efforts had involved the entire national economy for a long period of time, and the lesson that military planners drew in each of the major countries was that their countries had to make sure that there were enough resources available to fight such a conflict again. The apparent success of the Soviet Union's planned economy in modernizing and rearming that country during Stalin's first two Five Year Plans also had a profound effect on thinking, as "managed capitalism" became the preferred method of rearmament. It also becomes clear, even though the author doesn't explicitly say so anywhere, that the major factor in the world making a bit of a recovery from the Depression was the arms race, and that full recovery did not take place for any of the countries until the total war actually arrived.
All this sounds a little dry, but the book is extremely readable and highlights aspects of leaders--Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain, and Roosevelt--that histories usually neglect--their economic policies as they related to the military. One is especially chilled reading of the commitments of Germany and Japan to rearming even as the nations' committed to paths that were to lead to national immolation; Americans who have lived through the last decade will find much of this recounting distressingly familiar.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Me and the Sport of Kings

A couple of days ago, Sabrina and I made what is becoming a near-daily pilgrimage to Redbox, and she decided that she wanted to see "Secretariat," the recent movie about the superhorse of the early 1970's. I was interested in watching it, as well, but also was somewhat wary of it, because many times, movies based on actual events and actual people take liberties with reality to make a supposedly-better movie/story. And unlike most of the people who watched this movie, I know what the "real" story was.
I've never hunted or fired a gun in my life, and went fishing once, for about twenty minutes when I was six. My father was born and raised in, and in his heart never really left, Brooklyn, and the father/son activities that shape the eventual man all revolved around decidedly urban activities, one of which was horse racing and racetracks. My father was not an avid horseplayer, but he always had a deep level of interest, far more than he did in most major sports, and I can remember that we had box seats at Monticello Raceway up until I was about eleven years old. As I got older, I never got into harness racing much, but I caught the thoroughbred bug early, and it was a big part of my life for two decades, eventually coming to dominate it in the 1980's.
Well, let's take this chronologically... Like many of my generation, I was absolutely captivated by Canonero II and his improbable attempt to win the Triple Crown in 1971. I had just turned 8, and even though I had no idea of the nuances of the sport, I remember clearly that 1) he was a Cinderella story, 2) that no horse had won a Triple Crown in a long time--23 years, and 3) how bitterly disappointed everybody seemed to be when he lost the Belmont that year, fading late in the race. My dad took me to both Aqueduct and Belmont sometime that year, too--we were making at least one trip a month back to New York City at that point, because all my father's family were still alive and his construction company was still all wrapped up in my uncle Angelo's nefarious web--and the seed was nurtured. I remember watching the Derby and Preakness the following year and my father's disgust when Bee Bee Bee won the latter, which meant there would be no Triple Crown winner that year, either.
And the next year, the whole world was talking about Secretariat, and I vividly remember watching all three races of the Triple Crown on TV. I had no idea, at 10, of just what a monstrously improbable historic tour de force his Belmont victory was -- by 31 lengths in a time of 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles. As the movie accurately pointed out, the winning margin has never been approached--I saw the next closest of the 38 years since, Bet Twice's 1987 romp by 14 lengths, at the rail of the stretch at Belmont, and even though that was impressive, I knew it wasn't Secretariat-esque-- and the time is still a Belmont and track record. What the movie didn't say is that it is still, 38 years later, the record by over 2 1/2 seconds. It's as if some human freak somewhere in the distant past ran a hundred meters in 8 seconds. The movie ended with the Belmont, but Secretariat's career didn't. My first visit to Saratoga took place the day he lost the Whitney Stakes to Onion; and he won the inaugural Marlboro Cup, which used to be one of the more prestigious events in racing before the Breeders Cup, against what was possibly the strongest field of the early 1970's by setting another track record, almost as impressive as the Belmont in its way, at 1 1/8 miles of 1:45 2/5. He retired to a stud career after 1973, and actually was a good sire, even if he was viewed as a disappointment because he didn't regularly sire any real superhorses like himself. More on that in a bit.
Before I move off Big Red, a little comment about the movie. The biggest beef I had with it was the license they took with the rivalry with Sham, the horse who finished second in the Derby and Preakness and who ran with Secretariat for a mile in the Belmont, catalyzing the fantastic performance, before fading. Sham's connections in the movie are blowhard villains, which they most certainly were not in real life, and much of the trash talk/public denigration of Big Red simply did not happen. As people pointed out at the time and did as recently as an excellent book published last year, Sham, too, based strictly on the times of the races he ran, was one of the best horses of all time. The horse that ran the second fastest Kentucky Derby ever run--and there have been nearly 150 runnings of the race by tens of  thousands of horses--did not win the race; it was Sham. It was his incredible misfortune to catch likely the best horse of all time in his year. To make him and his trainers and owners blowhards and braggarts for the sake of a movie audience really offended me; I thought it was unnecessary and mean-spirited. The story was compelling enough without grafting a contrived morality play onto it.
Through my school years, I remained very interested in the sport. I remember telling my father after the 1974 Derby that the best horse in the race didn't win, that Little Current had been blocked in the stretch, and his growing amazement at my judgment as Little Current easily won the last two legs of the Crown. I cried with the rest of the America when Ruffian broke her leg and had to be put down on the track in the match race against Foolish Pleasure in 1975, an event that had subtle but far-reaching effects on American social history; it was the end of the mid-1970's feminist militancy about the equality of the sexes. In the previous few years, there had been the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match, and all sorts of challenges by female athletes to male dominance; after Ruffian, that just died away. I remember feeling "honest pleasure" that the horse of that name, which I felt was an overrated sniffer, got his head handed to him in the Triple Crown races in 1976 (and it was the beginning of an inexplicable dislike of his trainer Leroy Jolley that lasted decades). I remember watching Seattle Slew in awe as he won the Triple Crown in 1977, and remember watching in disgust as Affirmed beat Alydar by diminishing margins in all three Crown races in 1978.  I never dreamed that 33 years later, we'd still be waiting for another Triple Crown winner.
In fact, one of the most indelible memories I have is the next year's Belmont. Spectacular Bid won the Derby and Preakness, and was a huge favorite to win the Belmont and become the third consecutive Triple Crown winner. On the morning of the Belmont, I remember reading an article in the paper by some columnist that was complaining that the powers that be in horse racing needed to do something to raise the bar of excellence, that winning the Triple Crown was becoming routine and too easy because this was going to be the fourth winner in seven years. But the Bid stepped on a pin and hurt his hoof the morning of the race, got a bad ride on top of the injury, and didn't win, and instead became the first of a line of a dozen horses that have won the first two legs of the Crown and failed in the Belmont since Affirmed's victory.
By the end of high school, I was close friends with Dan Ciotoli, who already was a horse junkie, and when I ended up on the same floor as Dan at Geneseo, I became fully hooked on the sport. We made a few journeys to Finger Lakes Racetrack while at school, and were regular visitors to Belmont and Saratoga during the summers of the 1980's. We attended the first Breeders Cup in the New York area, in 1985 (inexplicably, at Aqueduct; it would be similar to the Super Bowl being played in Dallas this past year at the Cotton Bowl), and every Belmont Stakes from 1981 through 1989. And when I graduated, I didn't enter the work force in any real way. I worked semi-regularly for my father's business and semi-regularly at the Cider Mill Playhouse, Dan's father's business, but both of us spent most of our time at horse racing, and both of us made money--a good deal of it--doing so. The house that Rachel and Jessica live in was bought with horse racing proceeds, and most of the huge amount of money that I smoked away in active addiction was money that originally was won at the racetrack. I don't have the time this morning to recount all the highlights and lowlights, but suffice it to say that there is no more exhilarating feeling in the world then winning a huge amount of money on a horse race, and there is no more confident human being that the person who is a roll at the track. I spent a two-week vacation in 1987, staying at two relative's houses, at Belmont, and ended winning, all told, about $35,000 for the trip. The crowning moment was the Belmont itself. Dan was there that day with a few of the crowd from home that were not regular track guys, and I had been having a good day, on top of a great week, up until that point. I remember in the half-hour before the race hanging around and showing Bruce and John the sights of the track and the anticipatory spectacle surrounding a Triple Crown try--Alysheba was going for the Triple Crown. About five minutes before the race was to start, Bruce said he wanted to watch from the rail. Dan and I knew that the rail was the worst place to see a race in a crowd (you see about three seconds of race) but since he was a novice and he probably would never have the chance again, we agreed. We had just spent ten minutes talking about how amazing it was that Bet Twice, who had finished second to Alysheba in the Derby and Preakness, was 11-1; Alysheba had clearly been better than everyone else in his generation the first two legs, but had to run medication-free, according to the rules of New York racing at the time, and Bet Twice was clearly better than every other horse in the race but Alysheba. And then, on our way to the tunnel that leads to the rail at Belmont, we looked to our right... There were 70,000 people at Belmont that day, and actually getting a bet down was an absolute ordeal all day long--the lines were outrageous. But as we passed the line of windows, we saw that the $50 minimum window had no line, at all. Dan and I looked at each other--and then ran over and bet, heavily, on Bet Twice. I don't remember how much he bet, but I bet $100 to win and a $50 late double wheel--him to win the 8th race with every other horse in the 9th race to complete the late daily double--just as the bell signifying the closing of the windows rang.
He won, as I mentioned earlier, by 14 lengths. and suddenly I had won about eight thousand dollars.That was the end of a four day stretch where I cashed winning tickets after 31 out of 36 races. When I left the track that day, I literally could not fit more money into the four pockets of the shorts I was wearing, and I was tossing my change--and there was a bunch of it, after tickets cashed, parking, concessions, and other assorted expenses-- on the ground, watching kids scramble after it. I got back to my uncle's house, and my father and mother had come down that weekend to see them as well, and for the only time I can ever remember, I impressed my father enough so that he was speechless. He started busting my chops about my needing a loan to get enough gas to get home, and I just silently beckoned him to the guest room where I was sleeping and opened my suitcase.
Which was full of money. And then I emptied my pockets into it, and his eyes got even bigger. For the remainder of his life, he never once even kidded me about my betting or my handicapping ability.
Sabrina asked me if Secretariat was the greatest horse ever. It's a common opinion, but it's not one I'm sure I share. I think it's mostly because an impressionable 10YO saw him lose to a rather ordinary horse at Saratoga, which also dovetails with my natural iconclastic streak, and it is true that Secretariat had three or four subpar races in his career. I will say that at his best, there was no question that Secretariat was the best ever; no horse could ever put up the times he did. But he didn't do that every time he ran. And he didn't run as an older horse, so we don't really know how good he really might have been, because great horses tend to be better at 4 than they are at 3.
Anyway, I gave Sabrina my top five, which admittedly meant nothing to her, as Spectacular Bid, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Native Dancer, and Dr. Fager. I did not see the latter two run, but Dr. Fager only lost to two horses in the all-time top 20 list (Buckpasser and Damascus; 1967 was some year for 3YOs) and set all sorts of track and one world record at 4 in 1968 carrying weights no horse now will ever be assigned, and Harvey Pack, who was sort of the Godfather of the New York racing scene whose life encompassed most of the 20th century (and who every racetrack rat in the state of New York and the New York City metropolitan area absolutely revered, not least because even at 80 years old, and even if he hadn't seen you in months, he remembered your name and some details about you. I was never more surprised in my life than when he greeted me by name at Belmont one day, even though it had to have been eight months since I had attended one of his pre-first race bull sessions in the clubhouse at Belmont), said Native Dancer was the best he ever saw; it's hard to argue with 23 wins in 24 lifetime starts--the reason it's even open to question is that the loss was in the Kentucky Derby, but even then he was clearly fouled twice during the race and still only lost by a head. Seattle Slew, even though he won the Triple Corwn, was suspect in many eyes, (but, proud to say, not mine) until he was four because he essentially was running against donkeys in his own age group, but at four, he ran a few of the most amazing races ever, including the most impressive loss I've ever seen in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1978, running on the lead on the whole way, getting passed by a quality closer--and then, after finally seeing Exceller, the other horse, coming back at him from a length back to just barely lose the head bob. And oh yeah--he did all this after breaking through the starting gate and running down the track about 30 yards and having to be reined in and then reloaded in. Without a doubt, the greatest losing effort in my lifetime.
But the Bid was even more special. Yes, he lost the Belmont and to Affirmed later that year. But at 4, he was the most dominant animal I've ever seen, so much so that in the Woodward Stakes that year, one of the more prestigious events on the calendar, not one horse could be found to run against him. It was the last American walkover. And for an added bonus, unlike in the time of Secretariat, I was following horse racing at the time, so I would (narrowly) vote for the Bid as the best I've ever seen. But if he was feeling good that day, Secretariat would have beaten him or any other horse that has ever lived.
One last thing about Secretariat. His progeny, or at least his good progeny, shared a characteristic of his that is rarely seen anymore. Secretariat used to post these other-worldly workout times. An average horse will work 3 furlongs in 34 seconds and change or four furlongs in 47-48 seconds. A fast workout is something around 33 2/5 or 46 1/5. Secretariat would regularly put up 32 1/5 and 43 4/5 workouts. And I remember his two most accomplished offspring, General Assembly and Risen Star, did the same thing. General Assembly was somewhat disappointing in his career--but he holds the track record at Saratoga for 1 1/4 miles of 2:00, which is way better than any other horse that has ever run the Travers Stakes, almost as impressive as Secretariat's Belmont record, and he had a few of those 32 second 3F workouts. And I remember the 1988 Belmont, when Risen Star was still being regarded with suspicion because he had come from Louisiana, not a hotbed of quality racing--and then he posted 33 2/5 and a 55 4/5 5F workouts the week of the race. He won by about ten lengths.
Horses don't run like that anymore. There are many reasons why, but the biggest one is that they simply don't run as often as horses 35 or 50 years ago did--there's more money to be made in the breeding shed than on the track, so as soon as quality is established, they are retired, and they are sickeningly babied while they are active. But the all-timer horse is a thing of the past, at least on the male side of the sport, because they don't race enough to get really good. Secretariat, Affirmed, the Bid, and Alydar all ran at least ten races in their career before the Derby. They all ran at least ten races during the season they were 3. You don't see that anymore. And that's why the last few years, the really dominant horses have been fillies, and the best fillies now regularly race against--and dust--males.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reprise?

Two summers ago, when I started this blog, quite a few of my early posts focused on my suspicions of what was happening at Sabrina's mother's house, and then on the aftermath when it turned out that those suspicions were justified. I'm starting to get suspicious again. There are not quite as many red flags as there were two years ago, but I am starting to see a number of them.
The Mother of the Year has always had the decision-making ability of a small vegetable. Back when Sabrina was in foster care twelve years ago, the DSS service plan noted that "Shannon needs to work on making better decisions." She still does, and for largely the same reasons:
1) she is unable to separate, to a meaningful degree, fantasy from reality. I don't mean that she believes in the tooth fairy or Batman, but rather that she can distinguish what she wants to be true from what is true only with extraordinary difficulty, and usually after the truth has been demonstrated beyond doubt.
2) I'm not sure if it's chicken or egg, but she very clearly believes that real life occurs according to a script, that real life mirrors television shows and movie plots. I have seen this far too often to believe otherwise; time and again she makes decisions based on concepts easily identifiable from popular entertainment--everyone's motivations are based on sex and money, there are villains behind every instance of her not getting what she wants, and past offenses are either completely forgotten about or grudges are held like hereditary peerages with no middle ground, to take the three manifestations that repeatedly recur. This has the additional corollary, as I mentioned yesterday, of everything that happens in her life being overly dramatized. None of her kids ever have a low-grade fever; it's always 103-plus and the kid is heading for convulsions. An 88 instead of the usual 96 or 100 on one quiz of Sabrina's must mean that there is a boy in the picture that she is losing her mind over and is probably having sex with. An heavy period means that someone has cervical cancer. What cements the TV/movie connection is the fact that the attention span paid to all of these developments is brief; there is never any followup, never any sense that all this drama is ongoing.
3) I have never seen anyone who has a more difficult time learning from experience. She has literally made the same mistakes dozens of times, and seems incapable of realizing that the problem lies in a flawed basic concept, rather than faulty execution or bad luck. Her basic value system and world outlook remains basically the same at 37 as it was at 23, even though most of her bedrock assumptions have proved time and again to not work. To take the most obvious example, this is a woman who has moved in with a man that she has known for less than two months on eight occasions in her life, five times after her extended stay in rehab facilities in 1999. If you ask her, you will hear a litany of complaint about what jerks the men all were, of how they lied to her and mistreated her, and how she was a victim. It never seems to occur to her that maybe it's a good idea to get to know someone substantially well before turning your life upside down.
4) She doesn't do that because she is almost entirely a creature of impulse. Even approaching middle age, even after years of evidence, she still makes decisions based on what feels good to her in the immediate present. She has a truly staggering, awesome in its own way, tendency to tunnel vision, of not only not seeing the forest, but of only seeing the few inches of tree directly in front of her face. She is totally incapable of  a realistic projection of consequences of decisions made, other than how she wants it to play out. She has proven totally incapable of understanding how what she does is perceived by other people, most notably her own children.
5) And one of the most depressing results of these tendencies is that she has to resort to dishonesty to lurch along. I'm not going to get into a long history of her lack of honesty and integrity simply because I could write for pages and not be half-done; suffice it to say that after decades of saying the first thing that pops into her mind to try to escape an uncomfortable consequence of a bad decision or to try to obtain something that she wants that she has not put in the work and effort to achieve, her word means nothing to anybody who knows her even casually. This is why she has few friends of long standing, and why she tends to move from job to job and place to place: because people get tired of her undependability at best and outright dishonesty at worst.
Which brings me to today. I have primary residency with all decision-making power in matters pertaining to Sabrina because of all these characteristics. She fought tooth and nail to retain formal joint custody because it sounds and looks good; the fact that she surrendered, in court, any input in actually helping parent her daughter is an indication that the appearance is more important to her than the reality. I don't need the ego boost of custody; what I want is what's best for Sabrina, and while I'm not perfect, I think the results speak for themselves, that I have been able to raise her to be a good kid, one with a strong character and good direction. Her mother has very little influence with her; if anything, Sabrina tries to influence her mother to make better decisions... When Shannon got into trouble two summers ago with the altering her prescriptions, the visitation agreement changed to my having her 5 1/2 days a week. Shannon has never accepted this (she, as always, refused to even cop to doing it, at least to me, insisting that a doctor did something that a doctor cannot legally do in New York State to explain why she had a postdated scrip for Vicodin), and has complained since the day she agreed to it in court that she really didn't agree to it, that she was forced into accepting it. It's nonsense, but the noise has been fairly constant about wanting to spend more time with Sabrina.
As Sabrina gets older, the need for day care has more or less vanished. I am not going to leave her alone for days at a time, but she is now capable of spending summer days at home while I work. As she gets older, I have tended to get less concerned about the environment at the other house. I still don't like what happens over there regularly, but I know 1) Sabrina's values are already in place, and she will not accept any bullshit. If there is something going on that she knows is wrong, I find out about it immediately, and Sabrina will not allow herself to be exposed to it, 2) that I gave up any real control and influence over what happens there when we broke up eleven years ago, and 3) her mother's history of dishonesty and not keeping promises for as long as Sabrina can remember has been noted and internalized. Sabrina loves her mother, but long ago learned not to depend on her, and much of what comes from her mother's mouth is regarded as, as she often says, "blah blah blah." When school ended, her mother made a proposal that Sabrina stay with her five days a week for the summer because she would pay Sabrina for babysitting her little half-brother. I didn't have to shoot that one down; Sabrina rejected it because, as she said, "I might get paid once."
But as the softball tourneys have gotten started, and the weekends have gotten full, I thought  last week that I would throw MOTY a bone and have Sabrina over there during the week for a few days more than normal. After all, I thought, she is always complaining about not spending time with Sabrina, so maybe this can help alleviate her alleged distress. But once last week, I was asked to take Sabrina back here because of something, and then the dog fiasco happened on the weekend. Sabrina went over there Sunday night after the East Side tournament was finished, and I figured she could be there a few days because the injured dog needs to watched more or less constantly for a few days.
But yesterday at noon, I get a text asking me to pick up Sabrina after I am done with work. Apparently she is "too tired" to be "good company" for her daughter. My antennae instantly pricked up, because it made no sense. The 17YO son of hers allegedly had food poisoning and a hernia over the weekend; the 8YO is, simply, a monster; and one of the dogs is immobile. Logic cries out that you would want another person there in the worst way, not to send them away, and especially not someone who you are always complaining that you don't see enough of. But she insisted, and when I called Sabrina and told her, she accepted it without much of a reaction, and was very glad, as always, to come home. I can read her expressions and demeanor like a book by now, and Sabrina's entire manner indicated that this is an old story to her and one she is used to. She doesn't share as much of her feelings about the way she feels about her mother with me as she used to, but her actions speak loudly, and so do her non-verbal communications.
She loves her mother, but knows not to depend on her, and on some level she is hurt by her mother's endemic self-centeredness, just can't understand it.
I understand it a little better, but I also know that there are other factors at play, too. Yesterday was a rather magenta, if not necessarily red, flag that ties together a few other things I've been noticing. She moved into a house that she can't afford. The alleged "downstairs renter" sure seems to be chummy with her, and he certainly has the appearance of a doper. The broken promises are starting to come fast and furious; she told Sabrina she would go to the Friday game and didn't go, for example. Even before the money to take the dog to the vet, Shannon asked me for a "loan" early last week for something or other (one I didn't give her). Sabrina informs me the cable was shut off in that house.
In other words, there are a number of things that indicate that something is not quite right over there. I'm not sure what, but last time I saw this much of that nature, the mystery was solved when she was arrested for altering scrips for Vicodin. She escaped trouble like she always has--by snitching others out (something else she continues to deny vociferously that I nonetheless know is true. And it isn't even like anyone really cares if she did it regularly during active addiction in the 1990's; it's understood, at least among addicts, that you did what you had to do. But by denying it, it calls into question not your morality then, but rather your honesty and integrity now. Why lie about it at this point? The most obvious answer is that those who would care about it--those still in the game--are not people she is done with).
I'm not concerned for Sabrina's safety. But I am concerned simply because I know that whatever her faults, Shannon is her mother, and it is better for a mother to be a part of a kid's life in some capacity. And if Shannon keeps doing stupid things, she's not going to be able to do so much longer.
I've seen this movie before. And I don't like the ending.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Binghamton East Tournament, Final Day

The day didn't start off auspiciously at the Somma/Anderson residence. I am trying to be more liberal with the visitation with MOTY as the summer progresses, and also trying to do what is best for Sabrina as far as allowing her the rest she needs as these tournaments progress, which is why, when we found out we were playing at 10 AM Sunday, I decided to let her go to her mother's Saturday night; I figured I could pick her up at 8:30 or so, get back to the house and let her dress for the game, and still be to the field by 9:15. But I got a panicked phone call 8 PM Saturday that somehow, one of the dogs at that house had cut its leg and was GOING TO DIE unless I lent her $100 to take her to the vet, and of course she had our daughter make the call; Sabrina was so distraught I couldn't understand what she was saying for a full minute.
I am trying to get away from using this forum to catalogue the shortcomings of the Mother of the Year. But there are times when I can't resist the temptation. There are more issues with this woman than I could possibly recount in a day, but most of them can be summarized in this statement: she thinks she is entitled to a middle-class lifestyle without possessing either a middle-class income or the skills necessary to secure one. As a consequence, what money she does make is inevitably squandered on things she can't afford and doesn't need. The result is that there is absolutely no cushion, no saving of any money for when something out of the ordinary happens and one needs to access money in a hurry. The dogs are one of dozens of things that are symptomatic of this syndrome. I like dogs, too, and I understand that kids do, as well. But when you make minimum wage or a few cents over it, you really ought to consider whether getting a Lab mix and a Rottweiler is a smart idea, because those pipsqueak puppies will rather quickly turn into horse-sized dogs. When I said this to her four years ago, when she got them, I was dismissed rather rudely as "not wanting what's best for your kid." Within a year, she was complaining about  buying 80-pound bags of dog food every week, and looking for a larger apartment because there wasn't enough room in the one she was living in, and has had to make several poor decisions (buying an SUV three years ago as gas prices started to shoot upward because the dogs won't fit in a car, for example) stemming from the original poor one. Combined with the cigarettes, the cable, the super-duper cell phone plans--well, to make a long story short, there isn't $100 to take the dog to the vet if something happens to it. Hence the call.
And of course, whenever something happens, it's always major drama. One of the ways she gives her rather sad and dreary existence meaning is to frame everything that happens in her life like it was an episode of NCIS or something. Every conflict she has with people is because there is this vast conspiracy out there to ensure that a single mother can't make it (never mind that she's single because she is more selfish than a toddler, as a dozen men after me have also concluded). None of her children have ever had a low-grade fever, as a typical example; it's always 103 point something and heading up faster than a rocket ship. And all these crises usually end with a request/demand for money, complete with guilt trip that I am doing irreparable damage to my daughter's emotional development if I don't fork it over... it's nonsense, and it's a large part of why Sabrina has been in my care for years and why she is the visiting parent who normally gets 36 hours a week of time with her. And I usually have no trouble saying no, especially when the verbal abuse when her will is thwarted is recalled--and I have the memory of elephant, believe you me. But I ended up giving her the money, with the proviso Sabrina was coming here; otherwise, she would have had Sabrina traipsing to the vet and being up half the night with whatever was going to turn out to be necessary, in a best case scenario, or dealing with the emotional devastation of losing a pet dog at worst while trying to close out a championship. As it turned out, the dog lived and ended up with some stitches, but Sabrina was emotionally drained when she came back home and was worried about it when she got to the field Sunday, well into the first game, because her mother didn't bother to text me when they were done at the vet Saturday night and couldn't be bothered to contact her daughter Sunday morning to let her know the dog was all right, either, only dragging her ass out of bed about 10:30 after I texted her at 8 AM asking for details.
End of digression. As it turned out, it was a good thing I had not had to go to Endicott to pick Sabrina up, because one of Sabrina's teammates who lives down the street needed a ride to the game; her father works odd hours and her mother is recovering from an auto accident and cannot drive. Then Sabrina couldn't find her slider; she said she put it in the laundry, but since I did laundry Saturday afternoon after we got home and it wasn't there, she apparently put it elsewhere. She has a smaller one that she wore yesterday, but it still bugs me that it disappeared like that.
Then when we got there, there was no one at the field. It hadn't occurred to me that a good part of the world still goes to church on Sunday mornings, and the 10 o'clock game was the first game of the day; they did not start at 8 like they did on Saturday. Which meant the championship game was going to be at 2, if we made it. We played Johnson City again, who lost to Windsor 21-1 in the 2 PM game Saturday. The secondary pitcher was going to pitch and Sabrina was in right field to begin the game; the two kids that finally returned from vacation began the game on the bench. Warming up, I could see that we were going to have a rough start; everyone was dropping throws and making lousy throws, and most of the kids were already thinking about playing East again in the afternoon and what they were going to spray onto Todd's head during the interval between games.
So they made a couple of miscues on the first couple of batters, and the pitcher, a little frustrated, lost the strike zone, and suddenly JC had a 3-0 lead and the bases loaded. Todd didn't fool around, he brought in KK and got out of the inning without further damage. We started a little sluggishly at the plate, as JC put the big kid who can actually pitch a little on the mound to start the game, and it was only tied after the home first. KK shut them down in the second, and then the JC pitcher lost the strike zone and we scored a bunch of runs, and by time the fourth inning rolled around he was able to put CeCe back on the mound and save KK for the second game. The final score ended up being 24-4. Sabrina ended up back behind the plate after the other catcher took a foul ball off the upper arm and left the game.
Binghamton East played Windsor at noon, and held them off 8-4 in a game that could have easily gone the other way, to set up the rubber grudge match. I was shocked, frankly, to see the same pitcher that faced us Saturday warming up, but their primary pitcher worked very hard in the Windsor game and it was, by 2 PM, a very hot day again. We were the home team, and the first batter walked on five pitches. She ran with the next pitch, and Sabrina made a real good throw, right to the base--only to see the shortstop miss it, and the outfielders backing the play have it skip by them, too. By time they flagged it down, it was 1-0. KK got out of the inning without further damage. But we went right to work in the bottom half of the inning; that pitcher didn't have it, and it was 6-1 by time the primary pitcher was brought to the mound to put out the fire.
And that was all the scoring in the game. The game chugged right along, and both pitchers looked like adults, mowing through the order a couple of times. I"m used to seeing KK do this, but the pitcher on the other team was a revelation. Her name is Kayla, and I have seen her in the league for four years and at the winter clinic for two, so she isn't unknown to me. Before yesterday, I had thought of her as decent, but clearly a step below the KK/Emily (the star pitcher from last year who's been playing exclusively travel team this year) level. But yesterday, watching her work was like watching Greg Maddux in his prime. She doesn't overpower hitters, but she puts the ball in places where it is hard to hit the ball well. Sabrina, as an example, hit a pop up to shortstop, a fly ball to left field, and took strike three looking in her three trips to the plate against her. As the game progressed, I was rather glad Kayla had not started and we had the five-run cushion, because we could have played for three hours and not gotten more than a couple of runs off her. It was the best I've seen her pitch in three years.
Sabrina had a fabulous game behind the plate, the first inning notwithstanding. She kept the few runners they got on base under control, she caught all but a few pitches, and got a big out when she hung onto a foul tip strike three (which occasioned some chirping from that subspecies of human I became very familiar with last summer, the Bozo Binghamton East Parent/Relative. I actually responded to him, saying she caught the foul and it counts as an out, because he clearly didn't know the rule, and he started running his mouth and tried to start an altercation. I checked him out--skinny, mouthy black guy that spent a good portion of Saturday bitching about what an asshole Judge Palella was because, essentially, he did what judges do and sentenced some relative of his found guilty of a serious crime to jail--and I thought that, old and heavy as I am, I could still bust this guy up if it came to it, but it wasn't worth it. I have a good job, kids that depend on me, and in general have a decent life. This guy is between jail terms. Why get into it with someone who has nothing to lose? And then Kiara's mother told him to shut up, and deflected his attention, and it eventually blew over). East showed signs of life in the last inning, loading the bases with two outs, but CeCe, at first base after the mid-game substitutions, caught a soft liner to end the game.
The trophy presentation was very nice afterwards, and Sabrina told me on the way home that she viewed winning this tournament as unfinished business from last year--they lost in the semi-finals last summer to a team they had beaten in the first round. It's now on to the Windsor tournament this weekend, starting Friday again. The next practice is tomorrow, and I brought Sabrina to her mother's last night so that she can help tend to the dog, which clearly still was on her mind even though she knew he was all right most of the day. All told, the tournament was a pleasant experience, winning it aside. It would be great if the West Side could get one together like that, too; I guess the reason it does not happen is that the equipment building isn't able to serve as a concession stand, and there are no lights at the field, either. But the East tournament is always well-run and a pleasure to attend, and the two people most responsible for it are the husband/wife team that coach East (and Sanico, in the City League). I don't know their first names, but their daughter is the primary pitcher for East, and it is clear that they love youth softball and bringing off this tournament. Kudos to them for a job well done, and I'm sorry that this was Sabrina's last year. I wouldn't mind being a part of this every summer.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Binghamton East Tournament, Day Two

Yesterday dawned a little overcast and hazy, and I thought that, aside from several of our kids clearly not being fully awake at 8 AM, we would catch a bit of a break playing the early game, as far as dealing with heat issues. The sun came out fully in mid-game, but it never got horribly uncomfortable for the players, and there was enough shade in the stands that none of the parents watching broiled, either. The game was against Windsor's travel team, which is largely the same team I watched play last year several times in the Windsor tournament  between our games (they were in the other division). They aren't a bad team--they stuck with East for several innings on Friday-- and didn't play awful yesterday, either, but not for the first time, I reflected that on balance, the All-Star approach Binghamton uses leads to better teams than the travel team, play-thirty-games-together approach. Even though this team has only practiced together about a half-dozen times, talent wins out; the least-polished player on our team would be one of the key cogs on a travel team, because we are essentially picking the cream of a 70-player pool of talent, on the West Side team (and the best of almost a hundred on the East team, given that they choose from seven teams as opposed to five for West). We've played the tournament with eleven players so far; one kid broke her thumb and is out for the balance, and the two kids on vacation never made it back yesterday. But we pitched our secondary battery, with resultant changes around the infield, and it didn't really hurt us; we ended up winning 16-5. Sabrina played the entire game in left field, had a couple of hits, and did all she was supposed to do as far as backing up plays (no balls were hit out there).
The team had a two-hour break, during which it got considerably hotter and muggier. The kids were hanging around the field for the most part, and I also noticed, not for the first time, how well everyone seems to get along. A couple of the kids are younger and still in elementary school, but they are accepted and fit right in with the kids who know each other from the middle school, and there are no egos that need to be tended to, no queen bees floating around, which is not the case with every team. Windsor, for example, had one kid that was clearly the best player on the team, and she pretty much ran unchecked--commenting as players batted, challenging umpires, expressing disgust at other players' efforts, all with no attempt to control it coming from adults. That will never happen on a Todd/Anna team. The three best players we've had available so far are KK, CeCe, and Sabrina, and all are very coachable and pleasant, and none are prima donnas or kids who get a charge out of being mean to other kids. Even though the tryouts for this team were only a few weeks ago, they are a team in the best sense of the word already--a group of kids committed to each other as much as they are to the pursuit of success. And being a bunch of middle-schoolers and younger, there's an element of silliness and fun that you don't see with boys teams or even older girls teams. This year, several kids have bought bright red hair extensions to create red stripes in the their hair to match their uniforms. Yesterday, CeCe brought a can of red temporary hair spray, and several kids sprayed their hair--and then they convinced Todd to let them paint a red stripe down the middle of his crewcut. It was kind of amusing watching him coach the second game looking like some sort of Andy Warhol psychedelic skunk.
The second game was against the archrivals, Binghamton East. And surprisingly, it wasn't really close; we picked up a run or three in every inning and cruised 11-2, as KK was very sharp and we continued to play nearly flawless ball in the field. Sabrina caught the second game, and is doing a very good job catching the pitches. KK isn't wild, to be sure, but I also don't think Sabrina has had ten balls get by her in the two games she's caught thus far, and has only dropped one strike three, none yesterday. The throwing is coming back a bit; yesterday she didn't throw anyone out, but the ball was going to the bag. I am curious to see what happens today if and when Maggie is back. Sabrina's been throwing down to second base to Maggie since both were nine years old; Sabrina completely trusts her to get the base and tag, and doesn't take the split second to aim like she has been doing the last couple of games. Kendra and Alexis are wonderful players for 10YOs, but they don't get to the base as quickly as Maggie and Rory do, and Sabrina has been hesitating just a few milliseconds to allow them to get to the bag (she claims she isn't, but I know her better than she knows herself, and I can see it). But she hasn't airmailed any into the outfield yet or bounced any on two hops, which is something that sets us apart from the other teams already.
East was playing their second game in a row, and it showed a little bit. Their primary pitcher was completely out of gas by the end of the 10AM game, and didn't even play in the game against us, and neither did the primary catcher, so the 11-2 score probably is not representative of the true difference between the teams. But the West team, unlike the squad in this tournament last year, believes fully in itself, and is going to have to be beaten by a team hitting on all cylinders; we will not beat ourselves. And we're playing with an edge; Sabrina stole a run by baiting the catcher first into walking down the third base line, trying to chase her back, and then drawing a throw--and then she broke for home and beat both the catcher and the pitcher to the plate, as the third baseman bobbled the throw for good measure.
The result of the day was that we are seeded first in the championship bracket, and will play whoever lost the 2 PM game between Windsor and Johnson City (I would assume Johnson City, but you never know) at 10 AM, which means we will be the ones playing back to back games tomorrow. But if East has to play Windsor, there's a chance they may not win; Windsor played them even except for one bad inning on Friday, and they could beat them if things broke right. And in any event, we likely will be getting their primary pitcher pitching her second game of the day, and fourth of the tournament. They saw KK yesterday, but she will be fresh, and she's good enough that she's not going to get belted around no matter how many times they've seen her. And on the small chance it is Windsor--well, they're not good enough to hit KK hardly at all, especially seeing her for the first time.
And as a last note, I've been hearing and seeing some interesting things. One is something I noticed about Todd last year. He is an unrelentingly positive man, both as a coach and a person--but one thing he absolutely does not like is being lied to or misled. It seems that different things were told to different people about this situation with the kids that are on vacation, and he is somewhat less than happy about it, because his very strong sense of fair play for the kids involved has been provoked. We were talking a bit yesterday between the games, and he said if he had known what the true deal was going to be, he would have picked two other players, and when they do come back, they are going to sit on the bench for three innings in both games today because everyone else has made all the practices and games. That surprised me, and confirms that while he would like to win games, that his sense of ethics and justice comes first. There are a lot fewer coaches at any level in any sport than you would think that that is true about.
The other has been confirmation that my perception of the some of the less palatable aspects of the softball scene in Binghamton are not simply my issues. I've gotten friendly with a few of the other parents, and we've spent a lot of time talking. One of the younger kids on the team tried out with her older sister during the tryouts, and I was very surprised that the older sister was not taken; she's one of those kids who does everything well, if nothing spectacularly, and had a good attitude besides. He told me that the kid was devastated when she was not picked, and that he couldn't help, as anyone would in that situation, wonder why certain kids were kept while others were not, finding it difficult to escape the conclusion that other considerations than the skills and abilities of the player factor into decisions. I told him he isn't the first parent that has pondered that issue, and won't be the last. I have also heard a huge amount of venom regarding Sabrina's former coach, both regarding his involvement in softball circles and his deficiencies in his day job as a city court judge. I'm not going to get into all that, other than to say it's always gratifying when you find out that it isn't just you that sees the things that make you angry.
Sabrina ended up here last night due to another MOTY fiasco that I will get into another time; we are approaching the 7:15 wake-up call for her. Hopefully, by the end of the day, she will have another championship trophy to put on her shelf.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Binghamton East Tournament, Day One

Of all the things that I figured might happen on the first day of the tournament, a rout of historic proportions was not one of them. I don't think I've ever seen a game that ended 30-1--after three innings, no less; the 1:45 time limit for the game was reached in three innings--before. The kids on our team obviously did well, but I felt really bad for the kids on the Johnson City team, because it could not have been to have played in on that side.
And yet, the game turned completely differently in the first inning. Their first pitcher is fast, comparable to our best pitcher. And she struck out two of the first three hitters we sent up there. But at this level, you have to catch the third strike; if you don't, you have to tag the batter or throw her out at first. The catcher threw wild to first on both the strikeouts, and after the second one, the pitcher got completely flustered and lost the ability to throw a strike completely. We had nine runs across the plate before anyone on our team had a hit, and it just got worse from there. But if the first inning goes two outs and a runner on third, who knows what happens and how the rest of the evening goes?
Our catcher had a good game. Sabrina caught nearly everything, dropping only one third strike, and she certainly hasn't lost any arm strength. All her throws to second base ended up high and strong, but part of that is that our two youngest players were playing the middle infield last night, because of the two kids on vacation until sometime today, and they are still learning how to get to the base in time. But she has a hell of an arm, by far the strongest arm on a catcher in the tournament, and as she gets used to playing back there again--she had not been behind the plate since the game against Gaetani, six weeks ago--the accuracy will return. At the plate, she did well--she walked three times on twelve pitches the first three times up, got an infield single and then a sharp single the last two times up, looking pretty locked in. She's hitting cleanup, which is a considerable boost for her ego. I didn't find out until this week how much playing half the game rankled her during last year's tournaments; she is determined not to sit down for any part of any game in the next two weeks.
We have to be back at the field in a little while. The game at 8 is against Windsor, who has essentially the same team they did a year ago, with the same strengths and weaknesses. The game at noon is the rivalry game, against Binghamton East, and East has a pretty good squad this year. It will be an interesting game, as the kids all know each other from playing in City League for years together. Sabrina already had her shot of disappointment; as is always the case, it seems, MOTY found a reason not to come to the game last night. But we have a cooler full of Gatorade still, and I'm going to make some food for the intermission between games...Maybe it's just the old jock in me, but I love these tournaments and this sort of thing. One of the justifications for the time and effort put into sports is that you not only learn the value of being a part of a team, but it is a bonding experience as well, and that is frankly as true for the parents as it is for the kids. I have become friendly with all the returning stars' parents and those of the new players who come to the games. One kid's father, it turns out, was at Binghamton North the same time I was at U-E, and we both played in that famous 33-30 game that was the last North-UE game. It was interesting to hear how that game was perceived from the other side, even more so because as far as I was concerned, the good guys won... And the teacher I work the closest with at Johnson City has a granddaughter who is on the team, so she was at the game last night as well.
Temperature is supposed to be a little more bearable today. The catching in the heat didn't turn out to be so bad last night, because Sabrina literally wasn't on the field for ten minutes in equipment. The plan before the tourney was to have the secondary battery work the first game and save Sabrina and KK for East. If that happens, I don't know if Sabrina's going to be in the outfield, in the infield, or in the dugout. We'll know in a couple of hours.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: OUTRAGEOUS!

No, Outrageous! is not the inside story of this year's absurd yet entirely-too-real political drama about the Republican House leadership's determination to destroy what is left of the American middle class. It is the first autobiography of Charles Barkley. Imaginations in the publishing industry being what they are, and given that sequels have undermined all aspects of the entertainment business in the last couple of decades ("Hey, it made money once, let's see how much more milk we can get out of this cow), it is becoming increasingly common for famous sports figures to have more than one of these books on the shelf. I read a book by Barkley written a few years ago a couple of months ago, and when I went back to the library's sports section, I saw this tome, which had been written in the middle of his career, while he was still on the 76ers and hadn't even played on the Dream Team yet.
Because it's Barkley and not some dummy or bland corporate hack, it is still a pretty interesting read. But I have to say that I like "Charles at 40" much, much better than the younger version. Barkley's candor is refreshing now, but much of his candid commentary in his youth seemed only to highlight how immature he was at the time. I had also forgotten about some of the less savory incidents in his career, including the inadvertent spitting upon a young girl in the stands at a game. Hearing Barkley rip teammates and team ownership constantly throughout the book is also rather jarring; while he may have been more right than wrong, one has to wonder if public flogging was and is the ideal method to address the issue--and in fact, Barkley never did manage to win a championship, although not for lack of effort on his part.
Twelve years before the other book, and twenty years in the past from the guy we see on TV, the words coming through on the page are unmistakeably Barkley, and all quibbles aside, the information imparted is valuable and honest. Barkley doesn't tiptoe around how major college athletics really work, and his insight on how the NBA used to be goes a long way toward explaining the impasse that we are now seeing--management has addressed many of the things he complains about in this book (four games in five nights no longer happens, every team has their own plane now, there are three refs instead of two), and the owners' insistence on harder salary caps makes a bit more sense, considering how much more money they are laying out than they used to on non-salary expenses. On the other hand, they're very rich people, and the game is very different. Hardly an arena mentioned in this book is still being used, to take an obvious example, and none of the changes have negatively affected cash flow.
Which has little to do with this book. It was worth reading, because it's Barkley in his own words, and whatever he may or may not be, he certainly is not dull. But Barkley is my age, and I have to say that like me, Charles is much easier to take now than he was twenty years ago.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ungodly Heat

Had a glimpse of the future yesterday, and can't say it's a comforting thought. I have central air conditioning, which, all kidding aside, is perhaps the greatest invention of my lifetime. I have the thermostat settings pretty high during the day, because I am not here during until 3:30 or later. At 3:30, the setting moves down from 79 to 76 degrees--not instant icebox, but enough to make it a bit more comfortable in here. And it remains 76 until around 10 PM, when the setting is 75, where it stays all night. With the temperature outside normally going down to several degrees less than 75 at evening, the air doesn't usually run past midnight.
The first little surprise was that it took an hour for the temperature to get to 76 in here yesterday afternoon--I don't think I've ever heard the unit run that long before. The second was at ten o'clock, when the unit clicked on and the light in the bedroom visibly winked before the unit ran. The former development is a harbinger of the future. Summers are going to have more of these hot spells in the future, and they are going to last longer. This is the reality of climate change and, yes, global warming; summers are going to get progressively more hellish in the near and far future. I think the summer of 2009 is going to be viewed as the last one where we did not have a hell-hot week or three weeks for years to come.
As an aside, that Big Fat Idiot Rush Limbaugh apparently said on his radio show that the high heat indexes being seen across the country are a media liberal conspiracy, that it actually isn't all that hot. Even for him, this is breathtaking, and it is finally the tipping point that has convinced me that he cannot actually believe the shit that comes out of his mouth. He may be one of the world's biggest assholes, and he may be legitimately convinced of many of his right-wing views--but a statement like that is too over the top to be representative of anyone's true belief, I would hope. If it is, than he is certifiably insane and should be in one of those places where the doors only open inward. I think it is more likely that he is at least partially playing to the boob audience he appeals to, pushing the envelope for his own amusement to see what kind of outrageous nonsense they will accept.
The second moment, though, last night is the one that worries me. Our electrical system both is absolutely, beyond-a-doubt necessary for the way of life we enjoy today and also seriously overloaded and in need of a structural overhaul. There is going to come a day, soon, when the needs on the system--and in mid-summer, the need is the greatest, even more so during heat waves-- are going to crash it. And when that happens, we are in a lot of trouble. There doesn't seem to be any willingness to understand that it needs an investment equal to the money we are pissing away overseas every year to upgrade the grid to handle the capacity that it now needs. And when the disaster comes, we are going to see reprises of 2005 New Orleans and 1977 New York. Only it will be much more widespread and ugly... I kept my old couch and put it in the basement, and cleaned out the junk down there to make a little more room, because of that possibility. The basement, while a little crowded, is at least bearable when it's a hundred degrees outside without air conditioning, and I have a feeling that someday that's going to be important. .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July Is For Tournaments

There was no real question whether Sabrina was going to make the all-star team this year, given she was on it last season and she made five outs in eleven games during this season, as well as being the best catcher in the league when she played that position. She will be the number one catcher for the team during the two tournaments they are going to be playing in, the Binghamton East tourney beginning Friday and the Windsor tournament next weekend, which they will go into as the defending champions.
I've attended the all-star tryouts and every practice, and this year's team has some good talent, even if it is still a work in progress. One thing that is different this year is that unlike 2010, City League did not not allow 13YOs to play this season; last year's all-star team had several 13YOs on it, but this year, we only have one, a kid who was a mainstay on last year's team (one of Sabrina's ex-teammates also played in the older league this year, because she's that good--she started on the Binghamton JV team this spring--but still is only 12). They've been working steadily in practices the last two weeks and a team identity is emerging. Are they likely to be as successful as last year's team? At the moment, I wouldn't say so--but I also remember thinking as the East tournament started last year that the team might not win a game, and they made it into the championship round.
What is different from last year in this household is the role Sabrina is expected to play. Last year she was the second catcher, and spent most of the two tournaments playing in the outfield and being one of the four kids who normally spent half the game in the dugout. This year, she is going to do most of the catching, and while there are 14 players instead of 12 on the team this year, I still seriously doubt that she is going to spend much time on the bench, even in the games she will not be behind the plate. The first couple of practices, she showed a little rust hitting after not playing for a few weeks, but the last few practices, with timely reminders about maintaining her proper mechanics, she has been tattooing the ball, and will likely be hitting in the power slots. Her catching skills were even more rusty, since the last four games of the regular season, she pitched and played infield, but they are coming around again as well; she actually looked like herself Sunday behind the plate (last night was too hot for equipment). She is looking forward to the challenge of being one of the team leaders, and all her life she has responded very well to challenges. I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
There are two cautionary notes about this tournament. One is that for at least the first two games, Friday at 8PM and then 12 hours later at 8 AM on Saturday, the team will only have 12 players again; the former and current teammates of Sabrina, sisters, are on vacation with their family this week and won't get back until sometime Saturday morning. Both are pretty fair hitters--the younger one in particular must have started eating her Wheaties or something in June, because she was a holy terror at the plate the last half of the season--but even more importantly, they are the two best infielders the team has. I have no idea of who is going to be playing shortstop when the tourney opens; the other kid who can undeniably play shortstop will be pitching. The entire defense is going to be suspect until they return.
The second cautionary note is going to be the weather. Last year, the East tournament had very hot and humid weather, and ended up getting interrupted by thunderstorms and rain every day, finishing on Tuesday instead of Sunday--which helped the pitchers and catchers a great deal. This year it will be even hotter, and there is no rain forecast. Catchers take the worst of the heat when it's hot out, and the coaches and the catchers are already planning around it. Sabrina is unlikely to catch the morning game on Saturday, which will be better than not taking a break at all, but with lows not expected to go below 71 Friday night, even the game under the lights is going to be brutal on her. I'm not normally a big believer in drinking Gatorade, but I think I am going to buy a case tomorrow, and also am likely to borrow a cooler for the weekend, too. It's going to be very hard out there for all of them, but especially for Sabrina and Shynetta, the team's other catcher.
There actually is a third factor, which might be a help and might be a hindrance. The players that were on the team a year ago--Sabrina, Rory, Maggie, KK, CeCe, and Kiara-- have that history of success behind them, but that history also can't help but breed a certain level of expectation, too, both on themselves and on their teammates. How those six strike a balance between those poles may well be the determining factor in how the team does in the next two weeks, and the team is going to ride on their leadership and abilities.
It should be fun. I"m looking forward to watching  it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: CARROTS LOVE TOMATOES

Yes, for a little breathing spell after the lost week of slogging through the war book. Carrots Love Tomatoes was on display at the library, and since I have tried various ideas to improve my gardening, I checked it out. I was surprised to see that Louise Riotte wrote it in 1975, which does account for some of the book's slightly quirky tone, and it also means that the sections on growing seasons, pests, and bird migration patterns is probably no longer valid (but of course, climate change and global warming is a crock of shit). But the basic information--what plants do well in the presence of others, and which don't--remains information that a serious gardener should know. Even as I was pondering why my broccoli, for the second year in a row, are not heading up terribly large, I discovered a possible answer, to take one example (they do not like proximity to tomatoes, and broccoli did best here in the year of the great tomato blight). Some basic principles I had already been following--planting legumes such as peas and beans, and letting clover run rampant--but there were a few helpful ideas to follow about next year's garden, especially since I hope the garden will be considerably larger due to the hedges being, by next spring, nearly totally out. Even if the book was published 36 years ago, it's full of useful information, and even secondhand would cost a lot less than those glossy overpriced manuals available at Home Depot or Lowe's.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: THREE ARMIES ON THE SOMME

I am a big World War I buff, and when I saw William Philpott's Three Armies on the Somme at the library, I was fairly excited. The jacket said that the traditional view of the battle--that it was the ultimate trench warfare meat grinder, that it was based on outdated tactics and condemned hundreds of thousands of soldiers to needless deaths because of the stubborn refusal of their commanders to take modern weapons and defensive strategies into account-- was going to be reexamined and reevaluated by the author, who especially claimed to re-evaluate the performance of the British main general, Douglas Haig.
What the book was instead was a highly technical and rather dull regiment-by-regiment account of the three armies' (British, French, German) thoughts, words, and deeds during the 1916 Somme campaign. And the promised "new evidence" of Haig can be summarized as nothing more than "well, his decisions actually were that stupid and bullheaded, but there's evidence that he thought about doing things differently, so he wasn't a complete moron." Not exactly earth-shaking stuff. This book was a profound disappointment, one I frankly could not even bear to slog through to the end after a week of reading.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

30 Year Reunion

Last night was the Union-Endicott Class of 1981 30-year reunion. I've felt kind of bad for ten years about missing the 20-year reunion, but at that time I was lot less secure about my ability to resist temptation and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Last night I had no such qualms, and I was surprised to see that I was not the only one drinking soda; one of the concepts many of us seem to take more seriously now than we did in high school is the designated driver. And it was just a fun time. One of the good things about the passage of time is that the shared culture of all of us far, far outweighs any differences between any individuals or groups of individuals. I was thinking as I was floating around last night that with a couple of exceptions, almost everyone there was not someone that was part of my particular high school group--and it mattered not one bit. It was nice to find out what we've all been up to--I wasn't the only person who went through difficulties, but it was also refreshing to see that there were a number of high school couples still married and doing well and who have managed to hang onto the life track that I think all of us raised in Endicott in the 1970's took for granted as "normal."
There was also an interesting mix of those who fanned out across the country and those who stayed here. Some didn't go far--Beth is in Ithaca, Mary in Rochester, Alex in Harpursville, Joy in Glens Falls. Some ended up far away for a time--a couple were even living out of the country at times. And some of us have more or less been here the whole time--some of whom I have seen here and there, and some of whom I had not. But what really was amazing to me was that nearly a hundred people came together after such a long period of time, and for a few amazing hours it was a window back in time, like we were young again but with the maturity and sangfroid of a life lived well. Having the job I do, and having lived the life I lead, I have extremely sensitive bullshit antennae--and there wasn't any there last night. People were genuinely glad to see one another.
There were a couple of really special highlights for me, too. I did not know Paul Van Vestrout was still in the area; we go back to Little League together, and it was really nice to get caught up with him. I especially was glad to see Dave Voorhees, the other outside linebacker on our football team our senior year--Dave was a Johnson City cop for a long time, and his last few sightings of me were during the awful last month of active addiction when he responded to a few disturbances at the apartment I was staying in; for some reason, it was important for me to know that the lost soul he cut a couple of breaks actually did get it together and made it all the way back. There were a number of guys I was friendly with in school that it was good to get caught up with--Dave Maione, Paul Fettucia, Alex McLaughlin, Dave Nedbalski. It was good to see some Facebook friends in the flesh--Jim Watson, Beth Petrolle Marsh, the former Taladay twins (Jeanie is getting remarried this week--great for her; she's gone through some tough things the last few years, and she deserves to have good things happen for her). And a few people I did hang with in high school--Jimmie Herceg and his wife Sally, Jim Roma, Carl Norris) were there, and it was nice to get caught up, especially with Jimmie, who just came back to the area.
Time was kinder to some of us physically than others. I was really flattered when Sally said I still looked very much like me--"still have your hair, same hair color, same basic body shape." And that was not the case for many men there; not for the first time, I noticed that women tend to age better than men--or maybe they take more care about their appearance then men do. But I was thinking when I sat down to eat that at our end of the table, from the looks of us--Jimmie and Sally, Dave Maione and his wife, Jan (Taladay) Orlando, and I--, other than Jimmie's grey hair and the silver temples of Paul and I, none of us looked too much different than we did at graduation.
I don't want to get too mawkishly sentimental, but as I was going home last night, I thought how appropriate our school mascot is. Tigers are rare animals, but one of the most arresting and beautiful animals that nature has to offer, full of power and grace. For whatever reasons, this is not the first time I have had opportunities to reflect that, even self-centered memories aside, what we had in Endicott in the early 1980's was different and special. There were groups and cliques, to be sure, but what was missing, even back in the day, was true rancor and mean-spiritedness. This was the class that made Gooberfest. I was just as comfortable talking iwth Dave Nedbalski, Gayle Olonowich, and Kelly Hosay-- whom I had nodding acquaintances with while in school--as talking with Jimmie and Mary Carnavale and Beth and Carl--people I hung around in high school. I'm not sure whether the Hollywood cliche movie of high school reunions being these conflict-ridden vehicles of revenge and settling of scores is total bullshit, or if our little bunch was exceptional. But either way, I was very happy to return to my roots last night, and revel in the shared culture that helped shape the person I have become. And clearly, everyone else there did, as well. Most of us have kids, and we all compared notes and were happy for each other--and it was genuine.
But the other thing about tigers is that they are inexorably sliding toward extinction. And the type of bond on display last night is also rapidly disappearing in the world. I was talking to Alex' wife for a bit; she works in the Harpursville school district, and I have done presentations with the district superintendent there at BU. I remember her telling me that the hardest part of her job is dealing with parents of troubled kids who are harboring massive resentments against the school district because they had horrible experiences while they themselves were in school. Maybe there are a few that feel that way about the culture we grew up in--but honestly, I haven't seen much evidence of that from our generation. I do see it in my job in other districts and areas, and it has sadly become the norm. The genuine inclusiveness of the UE culture, the greater community, is dying out just as surely as the tiger is--which makes me even more appreciative of it as I age. I don't want to lose touch with it; it is a source of strength and of pleasure.
Obviously, this is not the kind of thing that can happen too regularly. But it was great while it was happening, and if nothing else, I was very glad to learn that Jimmie and Paul are still local. I've enjoyed their company all my life, and I would like to make more of an effort to have them be a bigger part of it now, too.
But even more, it was just a fun, great time last night. Thank you everyone for being a part of it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Best Early Recovery Song

I've rediscovered some CDs that I made years ago, and have been listening to some songs that used to be very significant to me. Music and songs have been very important to me most of my life. As I was listening to one CD in particular, it brought back a flood of memories about a particular period in my life, a period when my life changed direction and I needed affirmation and help from any quarter I could get it. The time was the end of the last millennium, and what was going on in my life was early recovery.
I have an unshakable belief that God speaks to us through other people, and sometimes He uses whatever is at hand to reach us. In early recovery especially, when the whole world was changing and everything I thought I knew was suddenly open for evaluation and examination, when values were evolving and layers of denial and misinformation were being stripped off like scabs over wounds on an almost daily basis, I needed like I never needed previously to hear and feel the presence of God in my life--especially since at that point, I didn't have much faith or even a belief in Him. But starting near the end of active addiction, there were two dozen instances if there was one where some song that I heard on the radio or that someone else was playing pierced the fog and provided me with a hope shot or an indication of where God's will for me lay and what direction I should go in.
Some of them were dramatic, one-point-in-time moments. About twenty minutes before the arrest that ended active addiction for me, I was putting $1.39 in gas in Shannon's car (that was the sum of all the change laying on the floor and in the cupholders, and it was all the money we had) at the gas station after we had had our altercation at the HoJo that we were getting thrown out of, fully intending to drive somewhere--anywhere-- to escape the police that I knew had been called--only to hear "That Smell" as I turned the car on, which was a major factor in my turning back. I remember the afternoon I came closest to relapsing, when "Walking on the Sun" and "Rockin' In the Free World" came on in quick succession and their references to crack smoking drove home the point that what I was thinking about doing wasn't going to be helpful. I don't know how many times that "Rockabye" and "Closing Time" helped me when I was despairing of making progress during the time I was away at the halfway house and in the months after my return; I absolutely needed to hear that "everything is going to be all right" because it sure didn't seem like it. "One Headlight" was popular in the summer of 1999, and one line perfectly expressed how I was feeling at that time--"I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same."
And there was one song, a few years old at the time, that I heard three or four different times during that first year that was and is a perfect expression of the dilemma that all people in early recovery feel. I had heard the song before getting clean, but never really identified with it, because it was supposedly about runaway kids, which it may well have been for the writer--but every line in the song was something that I could powerfully identify with as I struggled to leave addiction behind, as I desperately tried to find a new path and felt like I was floundering in a choppy ocean. In many ways, early recovery is worse than addiction: you are in no way thinking clearly, yet the feelings and fears that fuelled the drug use are not being medicated by the drugs anymore. There are few things more daunting than looking around and seeing the magnitude of the debris field around you, and most of the time the people in your life that are not in recovery have all sorts of expectations on you and also have their own resentments and pain over what you did in addiction that bubble to the surface (or maybe we're just paying better attention) and poison those relationships. It's frankly a very depressing time, after the initial pink cloud of "hey, I'm off the merry-go-round of get-high-and-get-more" passes, and without both the support of other recovering people and the beginning of a process in finding faith in a loving and caring God, many people end up going back to what they did to deal with the mess before--get high. If the commitment to not getting high remains in place, there are still a lot of ugly feelings to go through-- self-loathing, remorse, frustration, anger, and most of all fear. People in early recovery are a total emotional mess, and most of us felt varying but significant degrees of despair at times--like we were never going to get this, like the consequences would never cease, like we were never going to get a break.
There was one day in particular that I remember well. It was winter, so I was over a year in recovery already, but trying to get Sabrina out of foster care, adjusting to trying to live with Shannon, dealing with the fractured relationships with family, trying to get regular visitation with Rachel and Jessica, and a thousand other annoyances and issues surrounding NA--then as now a hotbed of drama-- were taking a toll. My home group was the now-defunct Saturday Night Beginners meeting, and driving there, I heard Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" on the radio--and was so powerfully affected that I pulled over and started crying. Every emotion expressed in the song, every little circumstance, rang true like I had just written the song. I shared about it at the meeting, and a couple of other people said that they identified with the emotions expressed in the song, too. Over eleven years later, when I played this CD for the first time in years, the same emotions came flooding back again, and all of a sudden I was 36 years old and wondering what the hell came next again, feeling out of control and not knowing what direction I was going in.
Call you up in the middle of the night
Like a firefly following light
Every addict that picks up a white keytag or says they are new to a meeting or an area gets a phone list with phone numbers on it. Few use those lists, but for some, they end up being a lifeline that saves us from getting pulled back out into the world of active addiction. I've never been one for the big dramatic "I call my sponsor every day" and the "We got a posse and went over so-and-so's house and kept him from using that night" stories. But there were times when I called Brian (my sponsor at the time) out of my mind over something that was going on, desperately seeking some guidance because I sure as hell wasn't figuring out anything on my own. I don't remember calling him in the "middle of the night" but I do remember a few at 11PM or midnight, and I very much was seeking some sort of illumination. And if I never said "thank you," Brian, I am now.
You were there like a blow torch burning
I was a key that could use a little turning
He answered, and gave it his best shot. And I did feel better. The "key" bit is that emotional state where you know that a better existence is possible--but it seems limited to other people, because all this serenity and freedom that everyone else, it seems, is talking about ain't happening for you. I felt some anger over that, but what I really remember is feeling hurt--how come this wasn't happening for me? I now see that I wanted someone else to do it for me, that I didn't want to do all that I needed to do for myself--but that was a very hard concept to come to grips with at the time.
So tired that I couldn't even sleep
I remember those nights very well--exhausted, but the mind kept churning so badly that settling down and sleeping couldn't happen.
So many secrets I couldn't keep
They're pretty much all out now--but there were a lot of things in early 2000 that I had done in the last five years that I wasn't keen on letting people know, and yet I knew that they were going to have to come out. Some, concerning my family, already had, and were extracting their cost. More, especially concerning my ex-wife, were to come. I think a turning point with her came when I eventually told her to assume that everything I had told her from about 1996  forward to my clean date was a lie--but that conversation was years in the future.
Promised myself I wouldn't weep
One more promise I couldn't keep
This was the line that really hit me hard. One of the things that is most disturbing for people in early recovery is the full realization of just how dishonest we really have been in active addiction--that we have lied, cheated, and manipulated so much that no one believes much of anything we say anymore. The pain comes when we realize that they are right, that we have been that dishonest, and there is a period where you are painfully aware of everything that comes out of your mouth and how it is going to be perceived by those you are talking with. For those who really want to change, trying to keep your word becomes an all-consuming quest--and it is like stabbing yourself with an icepick when you fall short. The trouble is, you fall short a lot, even with great intentions, because the self-centeredness of the addict is still the lens we view the world through, and we see what we want to see, and we view as true what we want to be true. It doesn't make it true, of course, and when reality eventually intrudes, the resulting awareness of deception, and self-deception, is very depressing and humbling. There were a lot of "promises" made in early recovery with the best of intentions that I did not keep.
It seems no one can help me now
I'm in too deep, there's no way out
This time I have really led myself astray
People in early recovery are some of the most pessimistic people on earth, and this perfectly captures both the negative worldview and the self-pity that accompanies it. But even though  it is largely self-pity and self-centered, the feeling and emotion is nonetheless very real, and this point is the most dangerous place in early recovery. If someone loses hope, loses the idea that there is a way out, then they will get high again, because there is no reason not to. Fortunately, if someone is voicing the thought, then they are basically asking for help, for someone to give them validation, to give them a reason to stay--asking for a hope shot. This is why people in early recovery absolutely need to be around other people in recovery as much as they possibly can--because that shot will come from some quarter. People not in recovery don't really give a shit whether the person stays clean or not, or, in the case of family members, are too wrapped up in their issues to be helpful. We in the fellowship do care, and we can keep the embers of hope alive--because we've been in that dark place ourselves. There is a "way out."
Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one-way track
Active addiction was out of control--even if most of us will not admit to it willingly for a long period of time, and even if we minimize it once the drug is down. But this was also something that hit me hard that day; the realization that, even with the drugs down, I didn't feel any more real control over my life. This was truly frightening, terrifying even--just feeling like I was in the middle of this horrible catastrophe and there wasn't a damn thing I could do. As it turns out, the feeling is exaggerated; it is nothing more or less than not wanting to face longer-term consequences of drug use. But the heart frames the issue apocalyptically, trying to get the feeling squashed by getting high. The mind has to get a grip on the situation, because the heart will send you back out every time otherwise.
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I'm neither here nor there
Another expression of "I ain't changed but I know I ain't the same." The expectation of every addict that gets a few days behind them is that life will magically improve once the drug is down. When all does not come up all rosy all the time, there is an intense feeling of disappointment, of letdown, and the latent feeling of failure, never far below the surface, comes bubbling up once more. And the feeling of not fitting into the world anyplace is very real, too. I knew I didn't fit in or belong in the drug world anywhere, and I sure as hell didn't feel comfortable in the "real" world, either--"neither here nor there."
Can you help me remember how to smile
Make it somehow all seem worthwhile
Feeling adrift and lost is perhaps the most disheartening sensation there is. Even feeling trapped in a world of ugliness and pain is preferable in many ways; at least you know what you're dealing with. The uneasiness and disorientation of early recovery does cause feelings of "why am I doing this?" Being off drugs was supposed to make you feel better about your life. Dealing with a range of emotions and with consequences is not easy and it does not feel good, and you don't find yourself smiling very often.
How on earth did I get so jaded
Life's mystery seems so faded
One unforeseen effect, for me, of early recovery was the birth of a pervading cynicism. The tendency of addicts in early recovery is to put people in the rooms with a lot of clean time on a pedestal--after all, they have what we want, distance from active addiction. When eventually they prove their basic humanity and fallibility beyond doubt, it is another jolt of disillusionment. And that does not even compare to the toxicity that dealing with non-addicts brings--it seems as though all anyone outside the fellowship wants from you is some pound of flesh for things you did while you were using. To the addict, used to time seen through eyes attuned to instant gratification, the fact that he or she has been able to stay clean for months is hugely significant, even mind-blowingly heroic. It is crushing to discover that non-addicts aren't really impressed, that the damage we did to them is usually measured in years and even decades, and their view is that you're finally doing what you should have been doing all along--and the idea of giving you credit for doing so is ludicrous to them. In some ways, earth people find the early recovering addict to be more of a mystery than the using addict--they literally have no idea what the big deal is, and they want the amends they feel they are owed to begin being addressed right now.
I can go where no else can go
I know what no one else knows
For the first couple of years clean, I felt, when around earth people, like an ambassador from another planet. Hearing people who were not addicts casually dispense opinions on addiction and the people who were addicted is infuriating much of the time, and I have to say that particular aspect of life often doesn't improve with time. Assumptions about people who use drugs are almost always wrong, seriously wrong--and it is very tense for the recovering person who is trying to reintegrate into that larger society, because the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) corollary is that they view you that way, too. I thought I was the only one who got into huge disputes with people when I took issue with the assumptions and judgments, but I found out it is nearly a universal phenomenon for people in recovery, both early and mature. More to the point, it was painful to realize that earth people do not want those faulty conceptions corrected. It is more comforting for them to believe that prostitution results from innate sluttiness, not as a ways and means to get more drugs; that addiction is a moral deficiency, not the result of a spiritual malady; that drug addiction is primarily something that blacks and Hispanics are involved in. Earth people don't want to know what you know, and aren't interested in going where you can go.
Here I am just drowning in the pain
With a ticket for a runaway train
"Drowning in the pain" is perhaps the best way to describe the whirlwind that is early recovery. Active addiction, by time the end comes, has few if any positive connotations, and the reason people even contemplate getting clean is that the consequences of using have gotten so vast and damaging that stopping is viewed as necessary. Unfortunately, the underlying factors that led to the addict seeing getting high as a solution have not vanished after getting clean, with the added misery of not being able to narcotize the pain any longer. You feel like you are in the midst of very high seas, getting hit from all angles, and not really doing all that well. Using is an option that has a good deal of appeal, and the seductive part of it is that you know you can always return to it, especially in early recovery when the experience is still fresh.
Everything is cut and dry
Day and night, earth and sky
Somehow I just don't believe it
To listen to addicts with a lot of time share in meetings when one is early recovery is almost like listening to someone talking in another language. The simple slogans and suggestions seem so stark, so easy, so devoid of complication--so "cut and dried." And yet they don't seem to be working very well, if at all. It's tough to believe for the person with a thousand problems that what we are being told is in fact the way out. Faith is very hard to step out on at this point in our lives, and belief comes hard and usually at a point where the choice is simply believe-or get high again. And far more people choose option two than option one.
Bought a ticket for a runaway train
Like a madman laughing at the rain
A little out of touch, a little insane
It's just easier than dealing with the pain
This is the choice that everyone comes to at some point. You throw up your hands and laugh "like a madman." It seems insane to get back on the train, and it seems crazy to stay where you are and "deal with the pain." What choice you make is the choice that determines, no drama intended, the quality of the rest of your life, whether you take a chance that everyone you've been listening to for weeks and months isn't lying to you and that the pain will eventually ease, or whether you get back on board the train and crash.
Runaway train, never coming back
Runaway train tearing up the track
Runaway train burning in my veins
Runaway train but it always seems the same
To me, this meant the guy who wrote the song relapsed--and it was the same as it always been. Using does not help.
I sat on the edge of the road that day and recommitted to staying the course. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever was happening, smoking crack again was not going to make the situation better. And it is a decision I have never regretted. But every time I hear this song, I remember sitting in that car, on the side of the road by the funeral home near Danny's Diner, contemplating whether to turn left on Crandall or Edwards Streets a block or two ahead, and the hot mess I was at that time. It sometimes seems unreal that I have come so far from that point in time, and that all those promises of the old-timers at the time did in fact happen for me in the fullness of time.
But that only happened because the ticket stayed in my pocket.