Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Week The Music Died

I turned 60 on the 12th of October this year. That makes me, of course, a baby-boomer. Over the years, many people have accused us baby-boomers of being narcissistic and self-obsessed. They're absolutely right: we are. It was 35 years ago this very night that former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in New York by a deranged fan. I was a young newspaper reporter at the time, working at my first job. I'm proud to be able to claim that, even as the tragedy unfolded, I resisted the urge to write anything about it in the paper. That wasn't my job; I covered local government. But that didn't stop my fellow twentysomething journalists from inundating every publication in sight with their various versions of "What John Lennon Meant To Me." Memories of growing up with the Beatles, that sort of thing. I could easily have contributed to all of this teary nostalgia, but I didn't. It wasn't that I didn't like the Beatles; I liked their music as much as anyone. I just decided to keep my mouth shut. Everyone else was shooting off theirs; who needed my contribution?

Having said that...I can't believe it's already been ten years since I was asked to write a 25th-anniversary Lennon piece. 2005. I was freelancing for a local publication at that time, South Bay Review, whose publisher was Michael Inzunza, the brother of former National City mayor Nick Inzunza. Michael and I used to meet at a coffee shop in Terranova center here in Chula Vista once a month to have a conference about what articles I would be writing for that month's issue. On this particular day, over our coffee, Michael had an interesting twist on the John Lennon 25th anniversary.

Anybody remember the 1961 song Angel Baby by Rosie and the Originals?  Lennon was fond of that song, and covered it on one of his albums. "Rosie," who wrote the song, was living in New Mexico at the time. Michael got her phone number, and my assignment was to interview her and write an article about how the song came to be written, recorded, and how John dedicated his cover to Rosie herself. I called her up. She was a very nice lady, and we had a long and fascinating chat. (Angel Baby was originally recorded in an airport hangar in north county--it was the only place they could find recording equipment. Rosie and her band made an acetate, then forgot about it. Imagine their surprise when, one day at the beach in Coronado, they heard themselves on the radio.)

One of my more enjoyable, and informative interviews. Ranked right up there, in terms of interest, with the time I interviewed Major Charles Sweeney, the man who piloted Bockscar, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in 1945.

But I digress.

It's much too late (and my generation is getting old) for an essay on What The Beatles Mean To Me. They mean a lot to a lot of people. No, what I'm going to tell you now is about my memories of that week, one of which was rather strange (not that learning of John Lennon's murder wasn't strange in itself.)

On the night of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon walked out of his apartment in the Dakota building in Manhattan and, approached by a fan, innocently thought he was going to be asked for an autograph and got a bullet instead, I was living in El Centro, California. As mentioned above, I was a reporter on the local newspaper. It was a Monday night, and many people remember getting the news of this shocking event from Howard Cosell as they watched ABC Monday Night Football. I wasn't a football fan; I was watching Little House On The Prairie. But then my telephone rang. It was my mom, who did like to watch football, and she had obviously been drinking. But anyway...I learned about the death of John Lennon from my mother, who had heard it from Howard Cosell.

It was terrible news. Not only because of how important the Beatles had been to my generation, but also because, just days earlier, I had listened to a radio interview with Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, and it really sounded like the guy was about to grow up and stop acting like the spoiled child he had been playing for years, moping around taking drugs, sulking and trying to change the world. Now he sounded energized, mature, and most importantly, ready to start new musical projects. He wished everyone a Happy Christmas, as they say in England, and sounded like he was off to the studio to get back to work. It was a heartening interview. Then this.

I had a friend in El Centro named Albert Tapia. Albert was, by anyone's definition, a "character." I could write a whole separate essay about Albert, but of that another time. For now, I'll simply mention that he loved being a gadfly. He was frequently seen at city council meetings, yelling about whatever had him stirred up that week. Perpetually at odds with the local Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), Albert loved doing anything that would piss them off. That fall he decided to piss them off by inviting former Ku Klux Klansman Tom Metzger, who was running for Congress (as a Democrat, by the way), over to his house for coffee. I was there: me, Albert, Metzger, and Metzger's two bodyguards.

MAPA threw a fit, which is exactly what Albert wanted them to do.

But again, of that another time.

A couple of days later (maybe it was Friday) Albert invited me and my then-girlfriend Jamie over to his house for dinner. Albert's wife Dolores was an excellent Mexican cook (she never bought tortillas from the store--she always made her own), and I said, "Yeah. Great. What time should we be there?"

Everything would have been fine; I'm sure it would have been a very enjoyable dinner. Except for one thing: Albert had a job working security at the Imperial County Fairgrounds, and at the very moment Jamie and I were driving over to his house, he got called in to work an unexpected shift. He greeted us at the door, invited us to sit down at the table and enjoy our meal....and off he went.

Swell. Dolores didn't speak English. She was a lovely lady, but she didn't speak English. And now Albert, who did speak English, was gone.

There was only one person left in the house who did speak English: Albert and Dolores' teenage son. And here's where John Lennon gets back into the picture. Albert's son, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was reacting to Lennon's death as teenagers would in those days: he was in deep mourning. Deep, theatrical mourning. He was closed up in his bedroom, playing one Beatle album after another, having his own private memorial service for John. Well, I understood how he felt, but Jamie and I needed help. We were sitting at the dinner table with his mom, who spoke no English. Jamie knew a few simple phrases in Spanish. I didn't know shit.

Well, the boy came out of his room just to be polite and say hello, then he said "Enjoy your dinner" and withdrew back to his room to continue playing Beatle albums to himself.

As I say, I understand how he felt, but he certainly left us adults in an awkward position: our hostess spoke no English, we spoke little or no Spanish, and the three of us were left to enjoy our dinner in embarrassed silence.

And that's my prevalent memory of The Week The Music Died. 35 years already. John, rest in peace. Albert, why did you have to go to work that night? I think maybe I should go work on my Spanish. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Goodbye, Cynthia

My cousin Cynthia Noel Winrow Summers, 61, died October 26, 2015 at a hospital in Oceanside after a long battle with cancer.
Cynthia Noel Winrow Summers, 1954-2015
Born Dec. 20, 1954 to my aunt and uncle Bert and Mary Winrow, Cynthia, a very brave and optimistic soul, survived not only a long struggle with cancer which eventually cost her an arm, but also distinguished herself by becoming an extraordinarily long survivor of two liver transplants. A first liver transplant, caused by a rare disease in the early 1990s failed, and she had to endure a second one. The average life expectancy for liver transplant patients is said to be about five years; Cynthia survived more than 20 years after hers, and right up until the end she kept a smiling face. She was an inspiration to us all.

I knew Cynthia all my life. She was about a year older than me. We didn’t see each other very often, but always had a few laughs when we did.

Cynthia graduated from La Jolla High School in 1973, and was a student at the University of California at San Diego, where she studied Oceanography and Psychology before deciding to leave the university just short of her graduation. An avid surfer, soon after leaving UCSD she relocated to Hawaii, where she spent a number of years living and surfing, and made many new friends.
Noted for her physical resilience, just days after her liver transplant, she was out rollerblading, according to her family. But surfing was her main passion, both in California and in Hawaii. According to her husband, Steve Summers, she continued surfing right up until losing her left arm to cancer.

A devout Christian, she was a member of the Calvary Chapel in Oceanside, where a memorial service was held on Oct. 31st.  Her pastor, Gary Currie, cited Summers’ favorite Bible verse as Proverbs 3, 5:6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not. In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your path.” 

An avid artist, Cynthia worked in many media, from painting to jewelry-making. She was also a musician, playing both piano and flute.

My cousin is survived by her husband Steven, her mother Mary, her brothers Skip and Steve, her niece Brooke and her nephews Bryce and Cameron. We are planning our annual “cousins reunion” next spring at her brother Skip’s place in Escondido. It will not be the same without Cynthia there.
RIP, my dear cousin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Death of the Obituary

My dear cousin Cynthia Noel Winrow Summers died last month. As the only member of the family with any journalism experience, I've been recruited to write her obituary. It's only appropriate, I guess. I wrote my own father's obit ten years ago.

Which means brings me to a subject. Obituaries just ain't what they used to be.

Oh, sometimes they still are. If someone important dies, that is, someone famous, the newspapers will still do their duty and turn out something professional-looking.

But once upon a time, obituaries were news, and the newspapers routinely wrote them themselves. Didn't matter who you were. If you were anyone noteworthy in the community, the local paper would assign a reporter to tap out an obit for you.

But with the newspapers getting into increasing financial trouble in recent years, what with the Internet and all, they have come increasingly to see obituaries not as news, but as a source of advertising revenue. Hence, the classic obituary has become the "death notice." When a member of your family dies, you have to pay the newspaper so much per column inch...and write the obit yourself.

Since most people can't write their way out of a paper bag, and have no training to do so, this has resulted, in my eyes, in some of the most embarrassing claptrap I've ever seen. I used to open the obituary page to see interesting things about people and their lives. Now I see bereaved families writing stuff like "Our dear Aunt Gertrude went home to be with the Lord last Sunday," etc. That's okay, but it's advertising, not obituary, And they make you pay for it.

So I have resolved to write a more-or-less professional obit for my cousin, as I have been trained to do. I did the same thing for my father a decade ago.

Cynthia's obit, as did my father's, will contain a precis of her life and achievements, plus a list of her survivors. No sentimental claptrap. Oh, yes, Cynthia was a person of deep religious faith, and I'll mention that, but her obit will be a short narrative of her time and noteworthy activities on earth, not a bathos-ridden advertisement about how missed she'll be. Of course she'll be missed. She already is. But that's not what obituaries are supposed to be about. They are news, as I see it, not advertisements. I will write Cynthia's obit as news.

We need to to get back to this, and newspapers need to begin shouldering their responsibilities and treating obits as news, not as a source of cheap revenue.

And that's my rant for today. On to breakfast. I have an obituary to write. And I promise to do a professional job.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I lost a friend and a cousin, but the cousin meant more

October 27                  Tuesday

Two noteworthy events yesterday, in chronological order: my 44-year friendship with Charles Francis Berigan officially ended, and my cousin Cynthia died … 

I went to the library to return some books. Saw Berigan there. We had a protracted discussion among the stacks, centering around his laundry list of childish grievances against me, all stemming from that silly little “writer’s group” of his that I never wanted to get mixed up with in the first place. He brushed aside my apologies and offers of reconciliation and just wanted to go on rehashing his “you did this on August 16th, you said that on June 24th”  bullshit, so I finally just said “Go and nurture your mad,” and walked away. 

I honestly think he has a late-life crush on that Susan bitch, and when a woman comes between two guys, it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to figure out which way the tree is going to fall. Sometimes he is such a child. I felt like I was listening to a younger brother telling me, “I ain’t talkin'  to you ‘cause you told Mom that I was sneaking jellos.” If he wants to act like a nine year-old, that’s his problem. By the way, Berigan happens to be a fine pianist, but in my opinion he's a lousy excuse for a writer. His stuff is both derivative and shallow. ... Then later came the news that they’d decided to take our cousin Cynthia off life support. She died last night about 9:45. She was obviously suffering so much, I’m glad they let her go. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Have Measured Out My Life With Jailbirds

It's that time of life: the time when everything seems to remind you of how quickly time is getting away. Happens to all of us who are fortunate enough not to die young, I suppose. You live long enough, you get to be old. And that brings with it a whole smorgasbord of "extras," the least of which is qualifying for the senior menu at Denny's.

One of my personal favorites among the "extras" is being able to say insulting things about the younger generation which they can't possibly understand. This is getting to be too easy, I might add, because the miserable state of public education in America has created an under-30 crowd so abysmally ignorant that they think Abe Lincoln was president during WWII, that Washington, D.C. is located somewhere in Oregon, and that Albania is the capital of New York.

"At twenty I hoped to vex my elders; past sixty it's the young I hope to bother," said the poet W.H. Auden. Hee hee hee.

And of course there are the babies. I can now play with my great-niece and recently-arrived great-nephew, my sister's grandchildren...and when I'm through playing with them I can hand them back to their parents and go watch the ball game.

Well, that's all good, clean fun, but of course there are the "negative" extras as well, some of them so obvious that they don't merit mention. You know the ones I mean: the aches and pains. Earlier to bed not because you want to, but because it's a biological necessity. No more pizza after nine p.m.

The sudden discovery that The Lawrence Welk Show, at which you hooted with derision when your parents and grandparents watched it, actually has a sort of weird fascination when you catch reruns of it on public television. The show has become one of my guilty pleasures in recent years: watching all of those "Stepford People" with their unrelieved gaiety and painted-on smiles sing and dance their way through corny old routines and "champagne music" on a show that was once sponsored by Geritol has become, as I approach sixty, something like WWF Wrestling was when I was approaching thirty. I enjoy it because it's awful.

But for me, as for many of us who are in training camp for old fogey-land, one of the "negative" extras is those ever-increasing reminders of how much time has elapsed since we could claim to be young...and worse than that, how quickly that time has gone by. A wise man once wrote, "That cliches are cliches because they contain grains of truth is as much a truth as it is a cliche."*

Tempus fugit. "Time flies." Now, there's a cliche for you.

There, as well, is a terrifying truth.

This point was driven home for me rather forcefully not once, but twice just in the past week, and in each case the catalyst was something I saw in the news. And both of those news stories had to do with criminals who were facing parole after long prison sentences.

Hey, I saw these guys go to jail. Don't tell me they're getting out already.

Already? In one case we're talking almost 40 years, in another, at least 30.

The fastest 40-and-30 years I can remember.

Chowchilla kidnapping victims after their ordeal,
July, 1976
Summer, 1976. The cenozoic era to those I know who were born later than 1968 or so.  But I was preparing to start my senior year at San Diego State University that fall. I had a part-time job that summer, shelving books at the Chula Vista Public Library. I still had hair.

Then a big story broke in the news. On July 15, 1976, twenty-six schoolchildren on a field trip, and their bus driver, were kidnapped in the small community of Chowchilla, CA. Their kidnappers stashed the bus, drove their prisoners to Livermore, over ten hours away, and buried them all in a moving van which had been equipped with some mattresses and a small amount of food and water.

About sixteen hours later the bus driver and the children managed to escape. No one was harmed.

Frederick Newhall Woods and two brothers, Richard and James Schoenfeld, pleaded guilty to the crime the following year and received life sentences.

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. (I was out of the country and missed that.)  James Schoenfeld was paroled late last spring. Last weekend it was in the news that Gov. Jerry Brown, who could have sent Schoenfeld's case back to the parole board, had decided to take no action. Woods may get a parole hearing this fall.

But I had not seen the names of these criminals in the news, any of them, since they pleaded guilty in 1977. Imagine the double-take I did when I opened the San Diego U-T last Saturday and saw this announcement regarding the parole of one of the Chowchilla kidnappers.

As the old alumni say at high school reunions, has it really been 38 years?  There was an old song called Time, in which an old geezer laments that he is now seeing buildings torn down that he watched them build. I'm seeing life sentences end which I can remember when they began. Eek.

And that was only Part I.

Fast-forward to 1985, and from thence to last week. They're (once again) considering parole for Jonathan Pollard. "Who's Jonathan Pollard?" I can hear my nephew Ricky ask. (Ricky was born in 1987.)

Jonathan Pollard was the name on the lips of everyone in the intelligence community and the news media when he was arrested on Nov. 21, 1985 and charged with spying for the Israelis. The shock value in this story at the time it broke lay as much in who Pollard was working for as the fact that he had sold classified information.  Israel is an ally of the United States--do friends spy on friends? Well, the short answer is yes, and today it surprises no one. But thirty years ago it surprised a lot of people, most of them American newspaper readers.
Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard at the
time of his arrest. I me he
looks more like someone who might
make a guest appearance on "The
Big Bang Theory."

This story had a special significance to me at the time, because on the very day of Pollard's arrest in Washington, D.C. I was in town. In fact I had just arrived the day before. I was scheduled to be sworn in at the U.S. State Department the next morning for a telecommunications-related job, one which was going to involve...handling classified information.

You can bet that this story was on the lips of just about everyone in Foggy Bottom, including myself and the dozen other members of my communications training class. It was the talk of the town that weekend. Pollard, as spies usually are, was sentenced to life in prison. It was a major diplomatic crisis for U.S.-Israeli relations. (1985 was a particularly bad year for this kind of shenanigans--when Pollard was nabbed by the FBI, everyone was still talking about the arrest of  former Navy warrant officer and communications specialist Jonathan Walker, who had been spying for the Soviet Union since 1968.)

And now, thirty very swift years later, I see that Pollard is facing a possible parole hearing.

Again, I cry, "Has it already been thirty years?" Really?

"Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset"...In Fiddler On The Roof, the occasion of the song is a wedding. (Irony intentional.) Okay, fair enough. A lot of us get a little misty at weddings, especially of young people.

But I want to see some enterprising songwriter out there get busy and write me a real bathos-ridden, tear-jerking song about parole hearings. Bastards these guys may be, but...well, to return to Fiddler,
"I don't remember getting older; when did they?"


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

He and She

Political Correctness is one of society's "stealth diseases." Almost everyone admits that it exists, but no one wants to admit that they think it's a good thing. Or if they do think it's a good thing, they stick their fingers in their ears and start humming if you begin complaining about it.

Personally, I hate PC as much as I hate cockroaches. To insist that a pile of shit must be called strawberry ice cream because to say otherwise might hurt somebody's feelings is positively Orwellian. And yet, in another Orwellian touch, we now have self-appointed "PC police" who are constantly on the lookout for something that might possibly offend someone. I don't remember the Constitution guaranteeing that the world be turned into your own private Sesame Street.

I was early out of the gate seeing this stuff. I first encountered the term "politically correct" in a San Francisco Examiner article circa 1984. (Appropriate year, I would say, eh, George?) It said, "A politically-correct beauty pageant is one in which at least half the contestants are drag queens." At the time I thought it was funny.

But it pretty quickly got out of hand. In 1992 I issued a proclamation to everyone within earshot: "Political Correctness is the new Socialist Realism." In other words, if it doesn't fit the agenda, saying it won't be permitted.

But the issue isn't just forbidding words, it's replacing them, you know, like Stalin having his political enemies airbrushed out of photographs, or having a photo altered so it looks like he's standing next to Lenin, when in reality he was 1,000 miles away having someone murdered.

Which brings me to the subject of today's rant: pronouns.

In the bad old days of reflexive sexism, an era whose waning days were my childhood, hypothetical people were always "he." "When an author finishes his book, he has it fact-checked." "When the owner of a new business sees that sales aren't picking up, he does this-and-such," and so on.

Well, okay, this wasn't entirely fair. It cut women out of the picture. Women write books, women open businesses, etc. Surely the pronoun situation deserved to be made more equitable.

But in these situations, a "revenge mentality" too often prevails. There are some who actually think that two wrongs make a right. The left, for example. They're the movers and shakers behind PC, and everyone who isn't on the left knows it. The left just denies that PC exists and goes right on enforcing it. The opening shot in this conflict was "reverse racism." Racism is bad and needs to be combatted of course, but many got the idea that switching things around so that whites were the subject of discrimination, rather than nonwhites, was a good thing.

I never bought into that. The idea is supposed to be getting rid of discrimination against anyone, not just engaging in some sort of societal tit-for-tat.

Hence, I've noticed that in a lot of publications, particularly those published by university presses, "he" is being replaced by "she." Where the hypothetical person in the anecdote or illustration used to be reflexively a "he," now the lords of PC have dictated that it MUST be a "she" instead. "When an author finishes her book, she has it fact-checked." "When someone opens a new business and sees that sales aren't picking up, she does this-and such," and so on.

Tit for tat.

The world isn't supposed to be about tit-for-tat. It's supposed to be about mutual understanding and compromise. "When an author finishes a book, he or she has it fact-checked." "When someone opens a new business and sales aren't picking up, he or she does this-and-such." This is what I do in my writings.

What in the hell is wrong with saying "he or she?" Or "She or he," for that matter? The same people who push the PC agenda are always raving about how important it is to be "inclusive." Well, being inclusive doesn't mean cutting one group out so the other can feel good about itself. We're all people, after all, occupying the same planet, breathing the same air and often pursuing the same pursuits. Making men invisible so women can feel good about themselves isn't fair to either men or women.

And so to breakfast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To The Red Sox Borne

When I was studying the history of ancient Greece at San Diego State University in the 1970s, we learned about people the citizens of ancient Athens called "perioikoi." That meant "dwellers round about." These were Greeks who did not live within the Athenian polis, or city, were not Athenian citizens, but nevertheless enjoyed certain rights and protections because they lived nearby.

When it comes to the Boston Red Sox, I am something of a perioikos. I have spent only about a day and a half in Boston in my entire adult life. For that matter, I have spent only about two days in Massachusetts in my entire adult life. But I'm a Red Sox fan.

Now, my father was a Massachusetts native, and late in life when we discussed this, he recalled, "When I was growing up, to be a baseball fan meant the Red Sox. That was all there was to it." One of my uncles on my father's side, "Amy," was actually scouted by the Red Sox in the 1930s. He wasn't recruited, but still...even to be scouted by the Red Sox? A hell of an honor for a member of the Dupuis family.

But I don't really have any birthright to the Sox. I was born in New England, yes, but that was something of an accident. My father just happened to be stationed in Vermont as a Border Patrolman when I happened along. I'm New England born, but California raised. California is my home.

Still, I'm a Red Sox fan. I have been for years. Why? Well, aside from my Uncle Amy's having been scouted by them (and something else you'll read about below) there's the most obvious reason: I hate the New York Yankees. With. A. Passion. All right-thinking people do. For decades the Yankees won more championships than anyone else because for decades the Yankees had more money than anyone else. That's not "championship." That's "flaunting it when you got it." And I will remind any loudmouth Yankees fan -- and all Yankee fans are loudmouths -- that for 18 years, between 1978 and 1996, the Yankees got to the World Series exactly once....and lost. (In 1981, to the Dodgers. Go Dodgers.) I say let's bring back that lovely period. 1978-1996. No World Series rings for the damned Yankees.

Neither is it any coincidence that all major media outlets have their headquarters in New York. All my life and before it, America has been constantly told that New York is the only city that matters and the Yankees are the only baseball team that matters. (Except for the 1980s, when the Yankees were perpetually in the toilet. Hence, during that decade we were constantly told that the Mets were the only team that mattered.)

Money, money, money. Under the old reserve clause system, which kept baseball players in serfdom until it was chucked out and replaced with free agency in the 1970s, the Yankees could buy all the best players and then hold them to service for life. And slaves seldom get raises. When the great Joe DiMaggio tried to get a raise in 1941, not only did he not get his raise, but he got publicly humiliated for wanting one. Those truly were the bad old days. Ballplayers were paid peanuts and the Yankees usually won because they spent money on buying ballplayers, not paying them. Two very bad things. It was bad for ballplayers to be underpaid, and it's always bad for the Yankees to win.

And of course I hate the Yankees and their hot-air fans for their nauseating sense of entitlement. They think they should win the World Series because of who they are. Yogi Berra made the famous remark that rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for General Motors. There's one big difference: in its heyday General Motors actually made something useful: automobiles. There's nothing useful about noisy arrogance and hubris, the stock-in-trade of all Yankee fans.

Okay, now you know why I hate the Yankees. Why do I love the Red Sox?

Thereby hangs a tale.

There's just a slight possibility that I might owe my very life to a great Red Sox player.

You heard me right.

In the winter of 1959, no doubt in response to my mother's badgering, my father got himself transferred from Burlington, Vermont to San Pedro, California. My mother's home town was Chula Vista, California and she did not like being taken away from there. San Pedro isn't Chula Vista, but it's closer than Burlington, Vermont.  Dad bought a house in nearby Torrance, and the family packed up and returned to the west coast. I was three. My sister Carla was five, and my sister Lynn was less than two.

The family station wagon, a red-and-white 1953 Ford, had to be gotten west, so my father and my half-brother Garry drove across the United States. My mother had the harder task: flying across the U.S. with three small children.

Why do I say that hers was the harder task? Hey, road trips are fun. I've taken my share. But in those days air travel meant propellors, not jets. Crossing the continent on an airplane was a 14-hour ordeal, not the five-hour hop, skip and jump that it can be now.

And Mom had three small children in tow, one of whom was hyperactive, ADD-afflicted, three-year-old me.

Did he save my ass? 
I don't know, but it would 
be cool if he had. 
This should surprise nobody who has ever known me, but during that flight from Boston to Los Angeles in February of '59, I would not sit still. I don't remember much about the flight; I was only three. I vaguely remember finding another kid my own size and marching over to where he was sitting, probably to see if I engage him in  play. The point is, I was all over the plane. My mother had two other small children to worry about, so she couldn't be watching me every second. 

So, they tell me, while my mother's attention was elsewhere engaged, I wandered over and began to fiddle with the safety catch on the airplane's door. 

That is correct. Three year-old dumb-ass me, at an altitude of probably 15,000 feet, was playing with the safety catch on the airplane door.

I wonder if there's any coincidence between this episode from my early childhood and the fact that throughout my life, falling to my death from a great height has been my greatest fear.

In any case, an alert fellow passenger saw me playing with the safety catch on the door. He got out of his seat, scooped me up and carried me back over to my mother. Her told her what had been going on with me and the door. 

My mother, ever polite, thanked the man and asked him his name.

"I'm Frank Malzone," he said. "I play for the Red Sox."

If not a single other Red Sox-related thing had ever happened in my life, I think this alone would have justified my becoming a lifelong Sox fan. Did Frank Malzone, legendary Sox third baseman (1955-1965) prevent me from popping open that airplane door and falling 15,000 feet to my death? I don't know, but it sure is nice to think about. 

OK. So far we have hating the Yankees, an uncle who was scouted and being picked up by Frank Malzone when I was three. There's more to it. I'm one of those suckers who roots for the underdog. And let's face it, for a long time that's exactly what the Red Sox were, particularly in regard to their longtime rivalry with the neighborhood bully down in the Bronx.

This is the year 2014. It was 100 years ago last spring that my father was born: April 15, 1914. It was also 100 years ago last spring that a pudgy kid from Baltimore named George Herman Ruth came up to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Babe Ruth, as he came to be called, was in fact a very fine pitcher. 

Had he stayed in Boston and stayed on the mound, he probably would have set some pitching records. But the world knows the rest of this story. In 1920 he was sold to New York's Evil Empire. 1920 was also the year that the "dead" ball was replaced by the "live" ball, wound tighter and able to carry further. The Yankees promptly discovered that Babe Ruth could hit gigantic home runs with the new "live" ball. They moved him from the pitcher's mound to the outfield, built a stadium for him and watched the cash roll in as New Yorkers packed Yankee Stadium to watch Ruth hit all of those homers.

And so...for 86 years, a period starting in 1918, the last year the Red Sox won a World Series, they were in the desert. And of course the legend of "The Curse of the Bambino" got started. As the story went, the Sox were condemned to limbo for pulling the bonehead move of selling Babe Ruth right after World War I.

I never believed in The Curse. But the Red Sox did embark on a remarkably long streak of bad luck. Decades of it.  And I do tend to root for lovable losers, although nothing would ever tempt me to root for the biggest losers in the history of baseball, the Chicago Cubs. They aren't lovable. What I don't understand about the Cubs is their fans. Here's a team that last appeared in a World Series in 1945, hasn't won a Series since 1908 (that's right--106 years in the desert so far) and their fans are every bit as loud and obnoxious as Yankee fans. Go figure the human species.

While born in New England, I grew up in my mother's home town of Chula Vista, which is part of the greater San Diego area. The greatest Red Sock of them all, Ted Williams, hailed from the same neck of the woods as I did. He grew up in San Diego, attended Hoover High, and played two seasons with the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres (1936-38) before signing with the Red Sox.
This fellow grew up just a few miles from where
I did. 

Amazingly, some people in Boston don't know this. The only time I ever visited Boston as an adult, in the late summer of 2001, I was with a girlfriend who, being Russian, knew nothing about baseball. The Yankees were in town that night, but there was no question of trying to get into Fenway Park. We drove to a Pizzeria Uno in Cambridge, ordered pizza and as we watched some of the game on the big screen, I tried to explain to Tatiana what was going on.

After we had eaten, she wanted to go to a kiosk and buy some magazines. We found one quickly enough, and the two guys inside were classic Boston -- they talked like my late Uncle Louie Dupuis (you know, "pahk the cah?") and of course they had the Red Sox game playing on the radio. I was wearing my San Diego Padres ball cap. One of them noticed it and said, "We don't see many of those around here." I then explained that perhaps they should, because Ted Williams had played for the Padres before he played for the Sox. They were surprised. They hadn't ever heard that.

On September 10, 2004, my younger sister Lynn died. She was 47. We found her dead in her bed that day. The cause of death, as we learned when the toxicology report came back two months later, was an overdose of methadone. My sister did not take heroin, (methadone is often used to help heroin addicts kick) but she was addicted to painkillers. Methadone is sometimes prescribed as a painkiller, and my father had a prescription. She took 15 milligrams of it, went to sleep and never woke up. I was devastated. My little sister, for all of her problems, was my best friend in the world. I plunged into a mourning so deep that I had to seek professional help.

Ultimately the grief counselors did not do much for me.

But the Red Sox did.

October, 2004. My sister had been dead for just a few weeks and I was still in deep mourning. Then one night I missed my "grief counseling" session and came back home. The American League Championship Series was underway, and we had all given up on Boston. The Yankees had won Game #1, Game #2 and Game #3. No one had ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win the pennant before. And no one expected it to happen now. Since 1918, the Red Sox had come THIS CLOSE plenty of times and then blown it. Everyone remembered the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox came THIS CLOSE and then the famous "Bill Buckner" moment in Game #5 (not really Buckner's fault, by the way: he was a fine ballplayer and was having pain in his legs, which affected his play that night) ended it all. Again. The consensus was that the Red Sox were, once again, finished. Even I had written in my journal the day before that perhaps baseball had better pack up and leave Boston for good.

Then the Sox exploded. They came off the ropes like Sylvester Stallone in a "Rocky" movie. You remember those moments. Rocky takes 14 rounds of pounding from his opponent, then comes alive and destroys him.

That's what the Sox did over the next few nights. New York was already crowing over its pennant (New York loves to crow.) But Boston won Game #4, Game #5, Game #6 and Game #7. American League champions: Red Sox. American League crybabies: Yankees. New York was sent home to blubber in its beer.

And I was happy. I was still reeling from my beloved sister's death, but the Sox' comeback miracle, humiliating the Evil Empire, put a bounce back in my step.

It was so incredible. After the joyous destruction of the damned Yankees, the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals that year was an afterthought, almost an anticlimax. I've always rather liked the Cardinals, but was pleased to watch the Red Sox plow them under in four games, revenge for the 1967 World Series, in which it had gone the other way.

That was ten years ago. I still mourn my sister, but the pain of that late summer fades as the years go by. Pain always does. Joy, however, stays fresh in recollection. And the joy of watching the 2004 Red Sox miracle will remain with me always. This season the Sox aren't doing so well. As of July 22nd, the American League East stood at Baltimore in first place, the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays three games out, and the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox tied for last place, both 7.5 games out. But the wonderful thing about baseball is that the season is long: 162 games, not sixteen, as in the NFL. It's only July and there's still hope.

I will always be a Red Sox fan, as long as there is such a thing on this earth as hope.