GAMBLING

 

We didn’t win the Powerball last week. I suppose I wouldn’t be writing this if we had; I’d be meeting with lawyers and accountants and, possibly, plastic surgeons.   The fact that we even played is unusual. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool realist in such matters and never indulge in the awful odds of a lottery. But my wife, Katie, insisted we participate in the vast national hullabaloo and contributed $20 to the cause. Every cell of my body knew we were wasting money, but I have to admit I spent several seconds considering how wonderful it would be to have her tell me “I told you so” for the rest of our lives.

*****

The trajectory of my gambling career is modest. It reached a peak with my first effort, at about age 18, when I won a then-lordly sum of $50 at roulette in the newly opened Atlantic City. So enthused was I with this windfall that I briefly pondered gambling trips as a regular activity. Over the next several years, however, my one win receded into the mists of memory, never to be repeated. My losing streak now measures fifteen-twenty well-spaced efforts over nearly forty years.28978733

Only once did I approach gambling with a systematic plan to win. When I was in my forties and had some time and cash available, I accompanied Katie on a visit to Atlantic City during the State teacher’s convention, where she marketed an educational book she’d written. Though I spent several hours with her, manning a booth at a book show, I also spent an afternoon at the roulette table. I’d read several articles about the strategy of “doubling up,” and I looked forward to my assured success.

Doubling up involves placing a bet not on a specific number or numbers but on the color black or red. There is nearly a fifty percent chance on each turn of the wheel landing on black or red, except that there are also two green slots on a roulette wheel. The latter afford the casino their near-six percent advantage. For my purposes, however, I viewed my chances on each spin of the wheel as fifty-fifty, and I felt confident that if I lost $20 on the first try, I could move my bet up to $40, then $80, etc. Surely I would win eventually and then start over at $20. After six wins, for instance, I would be ahead by $120. The betting would not be exciting, and would not reward the superstitious selection of family birthdays or “lucky numbers” or any of the other “strategies” that people employ to play roulette. But VICTORY would be mine. Accordingly, when I started, my wallet contained $1,000 in twenty dollar bills.

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Feeling smug as I walked several blocks from the convention center to the casinos, I thought to myself: “How foolish real gamblers are. I might be the only one with enough discipline to make certain I leave with more money than when I arrive.”

Not wanting to loiter long on Atlantic City’s less-than-inviting streets, I entered the closest casino. To me, they are interchangeable, with the same garish décor, noise and smoke. In retrospect, I hope I didn’t patronize one of Trump’s but, at the time, it made no difference to me.

I walked past the clanging slots area, where guests deposit their money as fast as possible into machines aptly named “one-armed bandits.”

 

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I continued past the blackjack tables with players deep in concentration, confident beyond reason, in my opinion, that they will outsmart the dealer and the cards. Past the craps table, I continued, amazed at the hopes fixed on players’ faces, most destined to be disappointed. Finally, I found the roulette wheels, a relatively quiet oasis.

I observed several rounds before I traded my cash for $20 chips. $1,000 makes a satisfying pile of chips. I felt like a real “player,” and yet, I knew that I was more than merely playing. I was there to make money.

Three or four people at the table selected their favorite numbers with looks of concentration completely out of proportion to the likelihood their “choice” would be advantageous. In fact, I knew, there was no way to “beat” a roulette wheel except through my strategy, the impersonal, unemotional, but patient doubling up.

*****

 

Finally, I waded in. I looked forward to watching my pile of chips grow, however slowly. I put $20 on red. Around and around went the wheel. It landed on black. I lost. No problem.

I put $40 on red. I wondered if house management would eventually tell me to leave the table, after they realized my strategy couldn’t lose. The wheel circled. Black again. Okay.

 

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I put $80 on red. I felt pity for the players around me as their hands hovered in indecision over one number or another. I was free from such mental anguish. Geez, it landed on 00, a green space. “What are the chances?” I said to myself, though I knew they were one in nineteen, and shook my head in commiseration with several other players, losers all. After all, no one’s birthday is 00. The dealer, a young Asian man, wiped away my chips again.

I put $160 on red. “This is going to take longer than I’d hoped, but it’ll come around,” I thought to myself. The wheel landed on black again. Now, several of the people around the table were looking at ME with pity.

I counted out $320 in chips and placed them, with a sigh, on red. Even the dealer broke his stone face and established eye contact with me. He spun the wheel. “Did he think me a fool or a wise man?” I wondered, as the wheel circled. It stopped between two numbers, a red and a black, the needle perched for a long moment between them. It settled, agonizingly, on black.

Having now lost $620, in order to continue my strategy, I would have had to bet $640 on the next spin. I couldn’t do it; my nerve had receded along with my pile of chips. I put one lonely $20 chip on red. Against all rationality, I decided I had to break the losing streak, somehow. Yet, my mind was also torn. If I won with a $20 bet, I’d only earn $20 back in winnings. I’d still be $600 behind. I almost hoped to lose. Such cognitive dissonance! I lost.

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*****

 

Feeling both foolish and, now, morose, I continued up the sequence to $40 and $80, losing again and again. I started over again, at $20, and lost three more times. Only $280 remained from my original $1,000 and the wheel had landed on black eleven times in a row. The chance of that happening, I calculated, was one in 2,048.

Now, I realize the chances of each individual red or black spin, like a coin flip, is one in two. But my mind began to fixate on the CERTAINTY that my “luck” was bound to change. The wheel could not, the now resurgent irrational part of my mind insisted, land on black again. I placed my entire $280 collection of chips on red. The dealer spun. I took a deep breath. I lost again.

A one in 4,096 set of circumstances had occurred to cost me an even $1,000. I refused to look at the dealer or the other players as I trudged out of the casino.   I didn’t know if I felt more stupid or more unlucky. Either was bad. Katie was sympathetic. “Well, at least you had fun,” she said.   “Didn’t you?” she added, hopeful.

I shook my head. “There was nothing fun about it,” I said. I admit now, fifteen years or so later, that I only owned up to having lost $500. When she reads this, she will learn for the first time that the loss was $1,000.

*****

Other than a couple of near instant losses of $10 in slot machines, I am fully reformed. Since I want intelligent analysis to dominate my financial decisions, I don’t gamble. My money is invested in SAFE places, RATIONAL places, LEGITIMATE places, such as the stock market. Hmmmmm.

 

 

 


REAR END REVIEW

I’m the envy of several toddlers in the airport waiting area. My canary yellow blow-up floatie features pictures of animals and birds and draws their attention like cotton candy. “Look,” says a little girl, tugging at her mother’s arm. “That man has a ducky.” Indeed, I’m a spectacle as I ease down on the donut-shaped toy and try to relax. I smile at the girl, and wish I could explain the reason for my use of an object so much more appropriate for her.

 

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Merely sitting seems a major accomplishment to me, nearly three weeks after a lovely but routine vacation in Costa Rica became a trip I’ll remember for life. Emergency hemorrhoid surgery has that effect.
*****

Is there a worse location on the human body to undergo surgery than the rectum? It’s possible, but I think this is certainly up there in the top two or three.
“How did this happen?” people ask. “Did you know you had a problem?”
Well, yes, a doctor warned a few years ago, during a colonoscopy (now WAY down the list of unpleasant medical procedures, in my opinion) that I had internal hemorrhoids that “someday” might become “inflamed.” He suggested I raise my fiber intake and prescribed a fiber-rich breakfast cereal that looked like worms used to attract birds. I don’t know what real bird food tastes like, but it couldn’t be worse.
I ate the cereal for a few months and tried to be more attentive to water intake.

 

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But, like the fight against crime, inertia set in. The longer I went without an incident, the harder it became to remain vigilant. For occasional bouts of irritation, such products as Preparation-H provided relief. I figured I was simply experiencing a condition that millions of people deal with regularly. In volcanic terms, I considered myself at risk of a minor lava flow. When I awoke in agony the day after Thanksgiving in Playa de Coco, however, my situation resembled the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s.
*****Unknown

 

San Rafael Hospital in Liberia Costa Rica

I arrived at the emergency room at the private San Rafael Clinic in Liberia, Costa Rica, after riding for fifty bumpy minutes flat on my chest on the passenger side of a Honda Civic. In Costa Rica, health care is available to every citizen in public hospitals. However, for an emergency situation involving a foreigner, the best chance for prompt treatment is at a private clinic. The doctor on staff looked at my “situation” and immediately concluded what my wife, Katie, and I already knew from a quick Internet search; “stage four” external hemorrhoids require surgery. He checked the schedule and told us, in Spanglish, that the surgeon would arrive at 4:00 p.m.
“That’s five hours from now,” said Katie. “This is an emergency.”
The doctor shrugged, at first, but agreed to call the surgeon on his cellphone and explain the situation. Apparently, he must have conveyed he had a “Gringo with a credit card in distress,” because the surgeon agreed to arrive in fifteen minutes. Fifteen became fifty, but the doctor, in jeans and a tee shirt, bustled in. He spoke no English and bore a striking resemblance to El Chapo.
“So this is where he’s hiding,” I whispered to Katie.
I naively thought the doctor would commence treatment immediately, but he pointed out I needed to “prep” for the surgery and that I should go home to do so. He prescribed the same preparation as for a colonoscopy and Katie went to three different pharmacies outside the clinic to obtain the necessary meds, along with eight bottles of Gatorade to mask their terrible taste.

 

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She also satisfied the front desk that our debit card would cover the $5,000 cost of the surgery. Apparently, if you cannot pay up-front, you will not be treated. Never having used the card for more than expenditures measured in the hundreds, we had no idea what our limit was. To our relief, it was sufficient. I rode back to the condo on my tummy and tried NOT to contemplate the meaning of life and death.

 
*****

 

I was deflated by the time we arrived back at the Clinic the next day. I hadn’t eaten food in nearly 36 hours. Sleep had been fitful, the “prep” had literally drained me, and the pain was unrelenting. In kindness, everyone in the waiting room offered me seats, but the one thing I absolutely could not do was sit. After twenty minutes that seemed like five hours, I heard my name and stumbled into the elevator, faint and sweating. An orderly, who I thought might help me, looked more scared than I.        Eventually, he and Katie helped me balance on one knee for the ride up to the surgical ward.
Upon arriving in the operating room, a diffident nurse tried and failed to attach an IV three times, each attempt more painful than the previous one. Flustered, she apparently called a picador from the local bullfighting arena because a large male strode into the room and jabbed a needle into my arm with no difficulty whatsoever, then strode out with a look of “nothing to it.” I lost consciousness immediately.
I awoke hours later, after the surgery, in my hospital room. Katie sat on a sofa across from my bed. I knew I was alive and, of course, that’s supposed to be good. However, the sensations I felt from head-to-toe were less than life affirming.
“How did this happen?” I asked, generally, specifically and miserably.
*****

Nature has provided duplicates for many functions. For instance, we have two arms, two legs, two eyes, etc. If one doesn’t work, we get by, to some extent, with the other. But nature has not provided any back up for the functions performed by the rectum. What goes in eventually comes out and, after hemorrhoid surgery and its attendant stitches and staples and scarring, there is a tremendous disincentive to go to the bathroom. When something does come out, for the first seven-ten days after surgery, the sensation is positively medieval. Think broken glass. If you’re a woman, think childbirth. Of course, each individual event does not approach the magnitude of childbirth, but childbirth is not a several-times-a-day activity.
We assembled a selection of painkillers and creams and wipes, along with applicators and measuring devices. For the first time in many decades I experienced diaper rash; I’d forgotten how unpleasant it could be. I’ll skip the rest of the blood and gore that dominated the first ten days after surgery. Let’s say it’s enough to make a person change his entire diet to avoid ever doing this again. In addition, Katie and I achieved levels of intimacy neither desired nor desirable. To put the best possible spin on it, I learned everything there is to know about certain anatomy I’d always taken for granted.

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*****

On the tenth day, we returned to the clinic for a follow-up. The surgeon grasped the situation, literally, and declared me to be progressing properly. Through the hospital administrator who’d volunteered to translate, he reiterated that full recovery would take three more weeks. He continued the ban on swimming and added specific bans on dairy, meat and, generally, “anything else that might cause constipation.” He prescribed several more creams to salve the pain and good, old Desitin for the diaper rash.
Back at the condo, a virtual convention of Canadian healthcare workers in the pool helpfully offered advice. A pharmacist from Quebec translated the painkillers and regulated my dosages; a nurse from Prince Edward Island formulated a dietary plan; and, a pair of paramedics from Alberta encouraged me to walk, stretch and make initial efforts to sit. Our neighbor from Calgary helped us score the bright yellow blow-up donut from a souvenir shop.

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*****
I resumed walking at a normal pace and even sleeping almost normally. Other functions were still painful but not torturous anymore. By Day 19, we planned to travel home to North Carolina via American Airlines. At the airport, when we tried to check in, the attendant demanded a doctor’s note. Apparently, to fly internationally after surgery one is supposed to present such a note twenty-four hours ahead, and no one had told us. But Katie persisted and, through the magic of cellphones and email, the necessary documents were provided. It only took fifty agonizing minutes. And that takes me up to where this story began, in the lounge, making the three-year-olds jealous.

EPILOGUE

Another week has passed. I sat without my donut for nearly half an hour today. My fiber intake is off the charts. My water intake rivals the Titanic’s. Sleep is pretty good, except for disposing of the water. The rash is nearly gone. I see the end of the tunnel. May this never happen again.


MAKING A RACQUET

tennis-ball-984611__340I  I looked forward to playing tennis at our new condominium in Costa Rica.  The sales literature we relied upon showed two courts nestled amidst tropical landscaping.   The selling realtor, a fabulously successful Californian named Brett, assured us these courts were of the highest quality and had lights for evening play when desired.  Upon our arrival, however, we realized the only thing he failed to a mention is that the courts did not yet exist.  Perhaps, after two or twenty-two or seventy-two more condominium units are sold (everyone has a different story) the two courts in our community will be constructed.

“Pura vida,” said Brett, when asked in person about the courts, using the local fits-all expression to convey ‘no worries.’

“But you told us there are courts,” I said.  “I believed that our place has tennis courts.”

“It’s just a matter of time,” said Brett, unruffled.  “There’s a court at the Coco Bay Club.  You can play there.”

“How far is that?” I asked.

“Five minutes, tops,” said Brett.

Allowing for Brett’s tendencies, I took that to mean ten-fifteen minutes.  Not as optimal as the one minute walk I’d expected, but workable.

“Is there anyone to play with?” I asked.

hotel-swimming-pool-1065275__340“There are a ton of people at Coco Bay, and a pool and a spa and a five star restaurant.  You’ll love it.”

“Five stars?” I asked, my skepticism rising.

“Well, maybe four stars.  Plus, it might not be open this time of year.”

Brett’s nickname could well be “grain of salt.”  As another example, he told me that Magic Jack, a computer attachment for low-cost phoning, is free for three years, even with the advertisement in front of both of us stating “Six months free.”   One tolerates Brett’s “reality” due to his legendary effectiveness.  Someday, if we choose to sell, he’ll convince the next owner that our unit is, somehow, worth more than rational analysis indicates.

“Alan from my office is a member there,” Brett continued.   “I’ll have him call you tonight.  He’s a great tennis player.”
“Wonderful,” I said.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear from Alan that evening.  The next morning, I walked over to the real estate office to see when Alan might be in and ran into him at the entrance.  He was identifiable by his appearance in tennis whites.  In the dusty hubbub of downtown Coco, that stands out.  Fortunately for me, Alan’s opponent had just canceled, and he was pleased to have a replacement.  Alan is a about forty, a Quebecois who headed off to warmer, Spanish-speaking climes decades earlier.

“Were you going to play at Coco Bay?” I asked.

“Yes, my buddy is a member there, and I was going to be his guest,” said Alan.

“Oh,” I said.  “Brett said you were a member.”

“Well, not really,” Alan said.  “But I have an idea.  We’ll drive over there and tell them you are a potential member and I’m your realtor.  I’m sure they’ll let us in.  They’re desperate for new members.”

“Hunh?  Brett said the place is humming with activity,” I said.

“Well…” said Alan.

“Anyway, the realtor idea should work,” I said, thinking that the story plausible and increasingly willing to embrace quasi-reality  .

“I just hope I can give you a good game,” said Alan.  “I’m a beginner.”

“Brett said you were ‘great,’” I said.

“Well…” he halted again, both of us contemplating Brett’s relationship with truth.

Alan drove me back to my place to change into tennis clothes and pick up my racquet.  Though disappointed at Alan’s “beginner” status, I tried to remember that playing “for fun,” not blood, is appropriate on vacation.

I settled into the passenger seat of Alan’s SUV for the drive to Coco Bay.  It involved navigating a local neighborhood.  There were few cars on the road, but tons of pedestrians and bicycles, people on their way to work and school.  Women with assorted bags walked among fruit stalls and small bodegas to complete their daily shopping.

Driving in small-town Costa Rica is a double-edged experience.  There are chaotic traffic patterns due to a lack of shoulders, curbs or painted lines and ever-present potholes.  Also, a single bicycle can be loaded with as many as three adults or four children.  On the positive side, one admires the vibrant hubbub of the community.  Children walk in groups to school, instead of being bused or carpooled as they would be in much of America.  They chatter and laugh as though they had not a care in the world.  And, though they live in homes we would consider hovels, most are dressed and groomed like fashion models.

“Do you mind if I leave off the car for a wash?” asked Alan.  “It’s just a few hundred yards from the club.”

“No problem,” I said.

The car wash consisted of a lean-two where two tattooed guys had a hose, a bucket and rags.  At home, one would no more hand over keys to them than to panhandlers on the street.  Yet, Alan chatted with them in Spanish and bade them good-bye:  “Regresamos en dos horas, mas o menos,” he said.  (“We’ll be back in two hours, more or less.”)

We walked across the main avenue and proceeded down a side street overhung with tropical trees.  The pavement became a pitted dirt road; we exchanged amiable nods and greetings with several people as we passed.  A pack of napping dogs barely raised their heads to note the two Gringos walking with tennis equipment.  Finally, we came to a guardhouse and gate beneath a faded sign:  “Coco Beach Club, Luxury Residences and Lots, Completion Spring 2009.”

“Hola,” said Alan, to arouse a sleepy guard in an ill-fitting uniform, who bore a striking resemblance to Larry of ‘The Three Stooges.’

He seemed surprised by our arrival but waved us in.  Beyond the gate, elaborately designed paving stones conveyed the aspirations of a high-end community, the effect diminished by grass growing up between them.

“This place doesn’t look very successful,” I said.

“They got killed in the downturn,” said Alan.  “But they might revive with the economy.”  He shrugged, to convey: “Who knows?”

“Does anyone live here?” I asked.

“They sold about ten percent of the lots,” Alan replied.  “Fortunately, they completed the roads and clubhouse before everything died, and the tennis court.”

We arrived at a massive stone clubhouse, where the hopes of pre-2008 bust was reduced to humidity-swollen doors, cracked tiles, and a shuttered restaurant.  The “spa,” visible through a condensation-ruined glass wall, consisted of a selection of forlorn exercise machines, many with hand-written signs indicating “no funcionar.”   No one was in the “office” to speak with us.

“We’ll play first,” said Alan.  “The court is just past the pool,” he continued, upbeat.  In spite of his good cheer, I envisioned a tennis court with cracks and grass growing in the middle.  “Stop it,” I scolded myself, fighting to prevent cloudy thoughts from darkening the sunny day.  We walked out the back door of the clubhouse and arrived, at last, at a glistening swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees and flowers.  Several other guests lolled in the water and made the Club seem alive, however iguana-1057830__340tenuously.  Insects buzzed around foliage in a riot of color. A large iguana lounged at poolside like a tourist.

“There’s the court,” said Alan, pointing to a metal gate at the end of a walkway.

I could only see the entrance as we approached, since thick shrubbery surrounded the rest.  When we entered, I was relieved to see a bright green surface and a sturdy net, a perfectly respectable tennis court, with absolute privacy.  Or so I thought.

Tennis is played in a variety of circumstances and in front of a variety of on-lookers.  At Coco Bay, however, I played for the first time before spectators who hooted and hollered after every shot.  In fact, they screamed between points and during water breaks.  The noise began with our first warm-up shot and continued.   We played not before rabid fans in monkey-624797__340Chile or Kazakhstan but rather, a troupe of howler monkeys, who’d taken seats in a massive fig tree adjacent to the court.  They found our game entertaining.  Or, they found it irritating, or amusing, or disgusting.  Hard to say.

Whenever there was a lull in the monkey symphony, we heard roosters from somewhere beyond the fence and, to top it off, cows mooed to provide the bass.  On percussion, a flock of parrots chattered as they darted between surrounding trees.

“Is it always like this?” I asked Alan, astonished.

“Not always this loud,” he said.  “There’s a hawk or something scaring parrot-807303__340the parrots.”  He motioned skyward where a massive bird I thought resembled a pterodactyl circled.

“Let me take this all in,” I said, pausing to look around.  “This is incredible.”

“Hey, there’s a reason they shot ‘Jurassic Park’ in Costa Rica,” said Alan, smiling.

Alan and I hit for an hour.  For a beginner, he wasn’t bad.  After we finished, I paid a piddling sum at the office to become a “visiting member” of the Club and walked back with Alan to retrieve his clean car.

The next morning, I saw Brett.

“Alan said you enjoyed the tennis scene yesterday,” he said.

“That’s a good way to put it,” I said.  “The actual tennis was okay.  But I will definitely remember the setting forever.”

“Listen,” he said, “there’s a few lots in there you might be interested in buying.  They can’t miss!”

“Hasta la vista, Brett,” I said, retreating.  “You’ve already helped enough!”


CLOTHING CONNECTION

Gifted at soccer, trained as an educator and filled with sociable energy, my oldest child has chosen to become a fashion designer. It’s ironic on a number of levels not least of which is that Kelly was not exactly, shall we say, rigorous in her fashion choices as a youngster. During her teenage years, in fact, she wore the same corduroy jacket, jeans and wool cap for weeks on end. By high school, whenever she needed to dress nicely, she relied upon her nine-year-old sister for guidance.

Now just over thirty, with her wife, Laura, Kelly is consumed with the establishment of their firm, “Kirrin Finch,” which will offer clothing to women with tomboyish tastes. Together, they are selecting fabrics, buttons and cuts with meticulous care. No detail is too small for them to debate, in a constructive way, in a heartfelt drive to “get it right.”

What would Lou Sanders have thought about this?

*****

My father didn’t set out to spend a fifty-year career in the clothing business. When he finally arrived in Philadelphia from Kiev, via Cuba, he took the first job that was offered, behind the counter at a delicatessen. Immediately, he found the smell of fish on his hands to be repulsive and, after several months, quit to become a clothing salesman.  Shortly thereafter, in the late 1920’s, he rented a space to house his own shop. By the early 1940’s, he’d bought a neighboring building and moved his business, Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop, into it. There it continued until 1981.

Unlike Kelly, my father didn’t aspire to the creative aspects of the business. He also had no interest in manufacturing. He was a salesman. I’m not even sure it would have mattered to him if his product were clothing or hardware or tires, so long as it wasn’t fish.

*****

Kelly also didn’t come to fashion as a foregone conclusion. As recently as a year ago, she and Laura considered opening a restaurant as their enterprise. Their consideration of businesses so unrelated to their professions raised eyebrows.

“Why not just keep teaching and pharmaceutical marketing?” someone asked Kelly and Laura, respectively.

“We want to do something together,” said Kelly.

“Fair enough,” concluded the Greek chorus. “But what makes you think you can just parachute into a business or career without any preparation?”

“You’ll see,” they said, to the skeptics.

And we have. On their honeymoon, Kelly and Laura clearly spent countless hours churning through the possibilities. They identified the lack of female-proportioned clothing available to tomboys as a need to be addressed; they concluded they were the perfect team to solve the problem. Not content merely to spend money and hire professionals, Kelly and Laura have set themselves on a vigorous course of education to become experts in the field.

Utilizing their existing skills in marketing (Laura) and networking (Kelly) they have created a business plan, social media buzz and gained acceptance to Pratt Institute’s prestigious incubator for new fashion entrepreneurs. a major accomplishment. To our alarm, Kelly even asked to borrow our sewing machine; that might be taking the “do-it-yourself” mentality a step too far.

“How do you turn it on?” she asked.

*****

My father loved his time at the Store. It was where he was most comfortable. But I don’t believe he cared about the product. He wasn’t solving a problem or addressing a need, except for his need to make a living. Not given to reflective communications, he never expressed anything about the subject of men’s clothing, even while devoting half a century to the cause. Sure, he preferred dressy clothing to denim. And he certainly wouldn’t have approved of ripped jeans under any circumstances. But these preferences could just as well have been expressed if he’d become an insurance agent or a lawyer.

He held many beliefs deep within a well of silence. We weren’t always sure about the inner workings of his mind. But the preferences he did feel sharply, such as that his sons marry within their faith, were communicated with an extreme clarity, spoken or not. When he first met my wife, Katie, who is not Jewish, he closed his eyes, leaned back his head against the couch and proceeded not to speak for the rest of the afternoon.

Several months later, when it appeared Katie and I might stay together, to my great relief, he refrained from an angry display. Certainly already chastened by my mother, he broached the subject of his disapproval with subtlety, even graciousness.

“She’s pretty. She’s smart,” he conceded, then continued, with his coup d’ grace: “But she’s a little older.” This from a man who had married a woman fifteen years younger and made known he felt that was a good idea.

He left out the major facts that she was also Unitarian, divorced and the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

“How will he be with Kelly?” Katie and I fretted.

“Will he accept her?” we wondered.

If he rejected her, Kelly would sense it, to say nothing of the resentment Katie would feel.   To say we were concerned with their introduction to each other is a vast understatement. Yet, when the time came, Lou Sanders instantly abandoned all his inhibitions about religion, about divorce, and about step-grandchildren, a relationship he would have scoffed at as tenuous, at best, in any other family.

He loved Kelly like his own grandchild immediately, indistinguishable from his other six. Katie, too, was accepted as a beloved daughter-in-law from the moment it became clear she would not be going away. Did Lou reach this accommodation easily? Probably not. But once he got there, Lou Sanders didn’t look back.

*****

Perhaps that is the closest connection he has to Kelly and Laura’s new enterprise. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. It’s just coincidence Kelly is entering the field of clothing where my father “played” for so long. In the important ways, when push comes to shove, Kelly is going about it the right way, all in. And as a grandfather to Kelly, when he could have fallen so much shorter, Lou went all the way. If Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop existed today, doubtless he’d feature a new line on display the moment it becomes available: Kirrin Finch: menswear apparel for women.


DOES SIZE MATTER?

Darryl Dawkins died last month at age 58. He’d debuted as a professional basketball player with the Philadelphia 76’ers in the late 1970’s. Darryl’s claim to fame concerned his ability to slam-dunk a basketball with sufficient force to explode the backboard. A cheery and smiling personality, his nickname was “Chocolate Thunder.”

My connection to Darryl Dawkins could not have been more tenuous. Yet, the basis for that connection proved hard to forget. During my senior year at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I worked part-time at the sports desk of the local newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, which everyone I knew called “The Senile.” (Cynicism was the norm in college, after all.)

I didn’t socialize much and didn’t mind spending Friday evenings alone in the newsroom, fielding telephone calls with results of local high school contests. On occasion, I attended games and wrote articles. Among the highlights were interviewing the stars of the Boiling Springs Bubblers softball team, Patsy Peach and April Showers. No, I didn’t make those names up.

Back to Darryl Dawkins: The sports photographer was named Tom. He was talented and, a recent Google search disclosed, destined to own his own studio and make a career of photojournalism. When I knew him, however, he was barely older than I and thrilled to have a press pass that allowed access to sporting events. “This is major!” he’d say, as he gathered his equipment and drove off in a rusted Toyota hatchback, as though he were a fireman who’d just heard an alarm.

In reality, the Senile didn’t confer access to “major” events, however enthusiastically Tom characterized them. Like me, he typically covered local high school sports or low-level college games such as the ones I played at Dickinson. But once, during the pre-season, the Philadelphia 76’ers played a “home game” at the Hershey Arena, just 20 minutes from Carlisle, and the local press credential conferred access.

Since our sports editor/reporter (one person filled both roles) didn’t want to cover “an exhibition game,” Tom volunteered not only to photograph the game from courtside, but also to try to conduct a post-game interview in the locker room. There, Tom witnessed Darryl Dawkins nude and reported (verbally, not in his article) that his “schlong” was the longest ever on a human being. Not prepared for such a sighting, and also not willing to risk being drowned in a whirlpool bath, Tom didn’t attempt to snap a picture.   But he obsessed for the rest of the year with obtaining a locker room pass to a regular-season game in Philadelphia in order to secretly capture this phenomenon.

To my knowledge (and I am NOT going to check with the Guinness people) the longest schlong is not an authenticated matter. That didn’t prevent Tom from bringing up the subject obsessively. His observation clouded every mention of Darryl Dawkins for me forevermore.

Though Tom did drive two hours to several 76’ers games with a credential that allowed courtside access, he never again gained access to the 76’ers’ locker room.  The NBA season ended in the spring of 1978 at the same time as I graduated and ended my career at the paper. The lesson I derived from this slice of life is, as follows: Some assertions can simply be trusted. Others warrant the phrase “Trust, but verify.” And some, like Tom’s contention about Darryl Dawkins, may best be forgotten, if possible.


WEATHER

Mark Twain observed: “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.” Well, I did something. I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, thus sparing myself what I found to be the disheartening, life-sucking, soul-crushing tedium of a relatively northern climate.

Now, I don’t experience the gloominess that afflicted me in late October, each year, when I began to count down the days until spring. Rather, I embrace the short, two month “winter” that provides my new home with 1-2 inches of snow, three or four days below freezing, and the glorious opportunity to see daffodils begin to flower in early February.

Yet, things are not perfect here. Yesterday marked the twelfth consecutive day of measurable rainfall, a record not seen here since record keeping began, in 1867. My solar panels recorded their twelfth consecutive day of near-zero production. And my lawn is no longer sod; it is sodden.

*****

I don’t remember complaining much about cold weather when I was a child. There were several glorious “snow days,” when sleds transplanted school. And I recall rooting for enough cold weather to freeze the skating pond across the street.

In our house the clanking of the radiators comforted me, along with their hissing. It made the house seem a living, breathing thing, though it probably only indicated a deficiency or over-abundance of air or water in the system. I recall my father fiddling with the furnace. He added water or subtracted water; I could never figure out which. I recall him making sounds like “Ecch” and “Unnh” and “Sehrgehadit” while he tramped around in the fetid furnace room.

I looked forward to the spring primarily so that I could play baseball outside and scan the major league box scores in the newspaper. But the cold didn’t prevent me from throwing a ball against the wall all winter in an effort to perfect my accuracy. Now that I think about it, most of my friends refused to join me for baseball activities in freezing weather. But more than a few times, I shoveled snow and ice off the driveway so I could more easily play by myself. No problem.

*****

My father detested snow. He disliked it for the usual adult reasons, like the difficulty of driving or the necessity of shoveling. But I wonder now if he’d had some awful childhood experience pertaining to snow. He saw no joy in it, no beauty, no redeeming characteristics at all. He didn’t ski, sled or build snowmen. For his men’s clothing store, a snowstorm meant dead, unprofitable days.

Cold weather, without precipitation, was different; it served a purpose for my father. It meant people needed gloves and sweaters as gift items and for themselves. It meant outdoor workers needed long underwear and sweatshirts. It meant frugal people who had hoped to get through winter with a light, short jacket, needed overcoats.

I vividly recall standing in front of Lou Sanders Men’s Shop one December 24 when the temperature soared to sixty-five. People walked around in tee shirts and shorts; the radio reported people strolling on the beach in Atlantic City. Once they accepted the impossibility of a White Christmas, the public mood was exultant. My father was crestfallen. He shook his head like a man regarding a disaster site, as he gazed at piles of winter inventory and lamented the ruin of his year.

*****

Once I reached adulthood, I found myself increasingly sharing my father’s viewpoint, though not to the same fervent degree. Like my father, I saw the problem with snow as an economic one. It made me shovel the walkways and required me to pay to have my driveway plowed, by the inch, no less! Imagine, a three-inch storm cost about $75, a seven-inch storm about $150. Snow prevented people from shopping for houses and, therefore, cost me some clients in my real estate law practice.

Unlike my father, I expressed appreciation for the majesty of a beautiful snowfall. Though skeptical, when I denied the accuracy of forecasted accumulations, it was with the hope that they were exaggerated. When my father heard “five to seven inches are likely,” and he declared: “It’s going to miss us completely,” his tone suggested he believed he could actually affect the outcome.

Now that I live in a warm climate, inclement weather, whether warm or cold, is viewed primarily as a temporary limit on outdoor activities. No longer one who throws balls against a wall, I rely upon tennis or walking to stay active. I accept that bad weather cannot be wished away. By moving south, something I don’t believe my father would have considered, I’ve vastly improved my chances to avoid weather-related misery. My entire outlook is better. If the forecast threatens a few days in the forties this winter in Chapel Hill, I’ll say, with bravado: “Bring it on!”


WHACK-A-MOLE

We attended a season-opening “Newcomers Alumni” event last week. The group’s name requires some explanation. Chapel Hill has a “Newcomers Club” that helps recent arrivals meet each other through a broad array of activities. After three years in Newcomers, however, members are gently evicted to make room for new arrivals. Those who wish to continue join the “Alumni” club. Its schedule is less extensive, but occasional get-togethers allow members to stay in touch with a broad array of friends and acquaintances.

Walking amidst groups of people at these events I reliably hear details of illnesses, surgeries and recoveries. The concept of TMI (Too Much Information) rarely makes an appearance. Sometimes, at a dinner or cocktail hour, I pay attention to how long it takes the guests to broach such subjects. Rarely is it longer than fifteen minutes. Knees, backs, eyes, joints, hands, you name it, and folks at these social events can discuss them ad infinitum.

Though the Club is not limited by age, most of its members are self-described experts on the inner-workings of Medicare. For a few more years, I’ll continue to be at the younger end of the spectrum. Accordingly, I don’t share many of the maladies that afflict members as a mere consequence of age. However, primarily due to playing tennis, if I choose, I can participate in the litany of complaints with the most infirm of them.

*****

I haven’t had a surgery for nearly a decade (left knee) and I haven’t had a BIG surgery for twenty years (herniated disk) but I do deal with a seemingly never-ending skein of minor irritants. As soon as one disappears and I experience a week or two of pain-free tennis play, it seems something else pops up (or out). For instance, in the last two years, I’ve successively had a sore right wrist, plantar fasciitis to the left foot, a tender right ankle, a quirky left knee, and a tweak to the right hamstring. For the sake of continuity, perhaps, throughout most of the last thirty years, the tendon in my right elbow has been sore to the touch – the dreaded condition known as “tennis elbow.”

Not all of the news is bleak. Following surgery to my wife, Katie’s rotator cuff last year, she undertook physical therapy. Among her exercises was an arm and shoulder stretch conducted with a thick rubber band. “Why not?” I said to myself, and I started to do the stretch every day. Not only does my shoulder now feel stronger than ever, my elbow is finally pain-free, and so is hers!

I considered what other activities I might do to forestall injuries. For instance, I now work with a hand-strengthening ball; I continue to stretch my back; I walk daily. But there is not time enough in the day to anticipate and correct for every possible twinge and tweak.

Sometimes I wonder, or am asked: “Why continue to play tennis if it is so difficult on the body?” My response is that tennis keeps me relatively thin and fit and keeps my competitive juices flowing. It also affords me social contacts across a wide spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Most importantly, I enjoy the physical challenge of hitting balls back over the net. I enjoy the mental challenge of adjusting to speeds and spins and competing with a like-minded opponent.

Still, I’m aware there appears to be a price for that enjoyment and my best days of gazelle-like running and lion-like leaping are behind me. Accordingly, my next home, wherever and whenever that is, will have to be close to a facility with a ping pong program, just in case….

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