The year my late father would have hit 100. We lost him 15 years ago, but most days something about him pops into my head – an image or a favorite phrase or a memory of a moment. My late mom turns up in there, too — she’d be 95 in May. That’s a great thing the way I see it. It means good memories from a strong, loving relationship. I know the latter where parents and kids are concerned is pretty much case by case, so I count myself very fortunate.
40 years now since I took my first real job, as a sports writer in Norfolk. Actually, the first assignment kept me 10 months in Suffolk, covering high school sports, tractor pulls, recreation softball and who-knows-what-all. Rural is as rural does. No doubt it was a great education for a total know-nothing from the Philly burbs. I owe a couple of people big-time for the job. They know who they are. Went on and on at that paper for 31 years. Much of it was flush times, amazing to think about in today’s distressed terrain of “legacy” media. We had money, we did things, I got to do my own column and travel and call most of my own shots for a long while, for a wage liveable enough to raise two kids. A pretty good way to go.
Five years since I lucked into marrying the spectacular Deelyn. We met through a friend, as we were dealing with a bunch of stuff we’ve helped each other through. She said “Yes” in the Eiffel Tower. My, how we’ve grown. My, the things we’ve been blessed to do together – travel, pursue running and life-changing fitness, create a warm home with dogs and cats and laughter and chaos. And to enjoy improved physical and mental health unquestionably through eliminating meat from our diet. Forgive my few seconds here on the soapbox. I know going veg and/or vegan isn’t for everybody – though you don’t know till you try – but for us it has been magic. Happy fifth right around the corner, my dear.
The 32nd year for my oldest, the 29th for my youngest. Which makes their dad, well, we’ll get to that. These kids are the damn best; how’s that for original dad-praise? The girl became a loyal Californian — San Francisco, to be exact — almost a decade ago; the boy a mountains-loving Coloradan not long after. You raise them to fly and they flew; what’s to be sad about that? I like to think an image, a favorite phrase or a memory of a moment with me pops into their heads from time to time. Maybe even daily. That would make heading into my 65th year an even more wonderful thing.
We were so nervous, afraid even. Our dogs, bless them, were not. That made all the difference.
My old yellow lab Ollie, and Dee’s Atticus, a handsome Aussie shepherd-collie mix, had never met until five years ago. She and I were moving toward combined lives, though – three years married this March — so bringing together our loyal paw pals as well was a necessity. One small problem. As a rule, those boys abided few other dogs. It was just their nature. It seemed their meeting, whenever it came, would not be good.
So we prepared. We picked a free Sunday afternoon, a neutral site – no “turf” to defend that way – and hired a trainer to supervise the little meet-and-greet. We parked on different sides of the lot, leashed up our dogs and, like gunslingers to the duel, slowly walked toward each other. Feigning calm and confidence, we met the trainer, still with the boys at a safe remove.
But a strange thing happened. Nothing.
Ollie and Atticus barely looked at each other, each content to just be. The trainer suggested we take a walk. And so we did, gently merging our steps to where first Dee and I were side by side, and then so were our dogs.
And that was that. Peace in the kingdom, friends then and friends always. Until Ollie wore out two years ago and left us with the one sweet, sweet boy who reunited with Ollie a week ago today.
It had been a tough year for Attie, who hit 10 years (or so) at healthy speed before a downhill out of nowhere. First came a serious bout with pancreatitis, followed by chronic bronchitis that gave him a hacking cough. Arthritis flared up, a slow-growing tumor appeared, and his lab work showed significant degrees of kidney and liver distress. Various meds were tried, then others. Energy waned, lethargy grew. Recently Attie’s paw pads began to blister so badly – liver disease can do that – that even simple walks in the backyard were out, let alone our usual twice-daily adventures.
Merciful goodbyes are still wrenching goodbyes.
Our solace is the happy place in the world Atticus came to occupy against ridiculous odds. Neglected and abused in his first home – what is wrong with people? – Atticus was salvaged by Deelyn and her kids, who refused to hear it when the vet incorrectly diagnosed terminal cancer at Attie’s first exam! Aside from an, um, often-uncomfortable instinct to protect his house and people, Atticus matured into a perfect pup, a loyal watchman, the most unflagging of friends.
It is a gnawing emptiness. We listen for the shake of Attie’s collar in the morning, my cue to get moving, let’s go, time to eat. We look for him in Dee’s dressing closet, comfy warm and nap-cozy. No one harrumphs at the nettlesome cats anymore. Attie did that job well. You can tell they don’t know what to do, either.
Time will heal, just not yet.
Atticus and Tom Robinson, protagonists of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” linked again, how great is that? Fittingly, Attie came into the room and put his head in my lap the day we let Ollie go. He just knew. “That little dog,” as Dee always called him, gave me one of the most indelible moments of my life.
It’s often said that humans don’t deserve dogs. We’re forever blessed that Atticus – eyes bright, spirit strong – gave us his grace anyway.
I was sorry to hear about the actor Chadwick Boseman’s death. Especially as all of these incredible tributes to his life and work poured in over the weekend, I was sorry to hear that I’d never really heard of Chadwick Boseman.
I’ll explain. I’d seen Boseman in his first breakout role, as Jackie Robinson in “42” when that movie came out in 2013. He was very compelling as Robinson, a difficult role about a monumental man. So I’m sure I was aware of his name at that time.
But days move on, we have our lives and pursuits, we are of certain generations and we (well, some of us, probably to our loss) pay zero attention to the Marvel movie franchise, which of course is where Boseman made his greatest impact in “Black Panther.”
Now after learning the kind of intense and gentle soul Boseman was, of his talent and humanity, hearing of the incredible warrior within that allowed him to battle colon cancer off the grid for years while still contributing major, impactful work and deeds, well, I feel as though I dully napped through a giant walking in my midst.
Boseman, only 43 at his death, seems more than an African American and movie hero, but a cultural — even societal — rock in a teetering country and world so desperate for stability, consistency, love.
I want to continue to learn about what I missed out on Boseman while he lived. I want to find and watch his movies, appreciate his talent, and read more about why and how he influenced lives.
I want to be more aware as a person, more awake, more grateful for the depth of passion and genius around me.
I’m sorry to hear of Chadwick Boseman’s death. I’m hopeful his footprints — much like his characters Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall — will lead us all to more dignified days.
It’s been fun for me to peruse the Norfolk newspaper – that sadly isn’t located in Norfolk anymore as you might know – this week. Burdened with next-to no live sports to report on, the section for the last little while has turned to its archives for stories to run under a “Our Greatest Hits” banner. A few pieces I did years ago, quite a few years actually, have been pulled from the cobwebs this week, timed with the June 10 major league baseball draft.
I don’t look back a great deal, but reading the stories again was a cool reminder of what a ridiculously fertile baseball breeding ground I was fortunate to write about, particularly in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, where year-round travel ball clubs first took root — to huge effect — in Tidewater.
The stories I’ve linked to below chronicle a staggering blip in time when first-round draft picks seemed to grow on trees on the so-called Southside, and even national reporters showed up to try to figure out what the heck was going on.
In between them, in 2001, another first-rounder cropped up out of Chesapeake’s Hickory High. Fellow named David Wright. (No link – but man, what a great player and charming guy.)
All of the above went on to log long big-league careers – Justin Upton and Zimmerman are still going, assuming baseball gets off its road to implosion — except for Curtice, a pitcher who barely got off the ground in pro ball because of arm trouble. The paper also re-ran his “whatever happened to” story from 2013 here.
Tidewater remains a strong baseball area, but for nearly a decade, a couple of decades ago, it was as hot as any California, Florida or Texas hotbed.
This is a difficult day in the life of local media and in the life of many former colleagues. They have met their fate, as did I five-plus years ago, in the form of a buyout from a once-great newspaper cut and slashed to not even a husk of its recognizable self.
An empty office, on an empty day . . .
I share their ache as they pass bittersweet texts and photos along a digital chain of tears on their day of departure.
For many, probably most, there is pain certainly, especially for those to whom it was suggested leaving was in their best interest. But somewhere buried there — and they slowly show their faces over time — are the best memories of working lives that paid for homes and college educations, careers that nurtured and thrilled, and of relationships formed and solidified, indelible to all forces.
It was the very best of times; in its prime, our mothership had money, abundant and staggering talent, ambition, local, state and national reputation, creativity, empathy and bottomless fortitude.
It has become the worst of times; skeletal resources, thin reserves, ceaselessly spinning exit doors, dreaded goodbyes.
It’s empty, I’m well aware, but I wish my friends fair seas — even as their brains are a clutter of emotion, trepidation, hope, fear, excitement and gratitude. It’s a hell of a combo platter. The business is in their blood. The rush of grinding today and seeing the fruit of their labor anchored in print first thing tomorrow — or ok, immediately online — remains in all of them. It is like few others they have known, and that they will ever know again.
They have served themselves and their families and their community well beyond words. Damn those who seek to sully their life’s work with rabid attacks and false narratives. Damn the tides, and derelict vision of leadership, that have created the roiling sea changes that continue unabated.
This is a difficult day. But know, my friends, that there are great things for you all ahead, because ambition, intelligence, diligence, humanity and grace are perennials. They travel well. They are in short supply.
So count your blessings. Look forward. And be well-pleased with the footprint you’ve left with your collective years, because it is true. It is real. And it is permanent.
This is a fine book about Abraham Lincoln and the political competitors he employed in his cabinet as our 16th president. And Doris Kearns Goodwin is a great historian, a Pulitzer Prize winner for another book about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
But I’ve cracked it open at least twice, put it down, picked it back up, fished around at different ends looking for an interesting bite, and ultimately shut it up and put it back down.
Embarrassed to say it, I can’t get into its 757-page travels, not including a voluminous index.
This bothers me, though. I like to think I am attracted to and can absorb this kind of dive into U.S. history. I like to think I want to know more about Lincoln, the civil war, all the challenges of his life and times. I like to think all that, but when eyeball meets page with this one, it just hasn’t stayed there long.
Which I’ve determined is really nothing against the book and everything about my scattershot and depressing reading habits. Because now that I come to think of it, a biography of Truman bought long ago sits in a box somewhere, barely touched. Same, I think, for the aforementioned Roosevelt book by the same author, No Ordinary Time, although I might have tossed that one in the move, I don’t remember.
Sigh. I chalk it up to too much stimulation, too many options, of course, and too much life in the way — not lack of interest or motivation, oh noooo. Too much to read and rabbit holes to explore on the infernal YouTube. So much within such easy access now, so many newspapers and magazines and web stories — long reads, deep dives, New Yorker profiles that go on and on for days — to scramble a brain and scrap every good intention to, classically, be better well read.
It’s enough for me to just get through a skim of the Wall Street Journal during breakfast many days, maybe follow an interesting Twitter link for a quick sports, entertainment or politics read later on, and if I’m lucky knock out a few pages of whatever actual printed book I might have designs on “finishing,” haha.
I don’t like it, but it seems it’s the current state of Laissez-faire that not even the starburst of a New Year’s resolution is up to reversing. That is to say, honest, earnest, team-inspiring Abe is heading back to the library tomorrow.
In my heart, I believe I’ll catch up with him another time, although the big fella shouldn’t call me. I’ll call him.
It was easy to start recollecting when the news came Wednesday of David Stern’s death following a recent brain hemorrhage. Commissioner of the NBA for 30 years, Stern in 1984 took over a flagging league whose playoff games were broadcast on tape delay, for goodness sake — you can hardly even comprehend that scenario — and turned it into an international obsession.
He was a clearly a great commissioner, and as I heard one commentator say Wednesday, his demeanor and governing philosophy was such that he was probably the most approachable sports commissioner ever.
He was a powerful star, but you could actually talk to him — and don’t fall over, but you could actually joke with him, all casual-like.
I discovered this in my only dealing with him, some 20 or more years ago, when then-Norfolk mayor Paul Fraim was courting an NBA expansion team. As a local sports scribe, I attended a presser where Stern — I believe in New York — was commenting on NBA expansion and other hoops issues.
I wish I had clearer recall of the time and place. What I definitely remember is cornering Stern after the official news conference for a brief chat. That is, Stern made himself available for anyone afterward to answer questions in an informal setting, which seems pretty remarkable today.
So after standing by till he was through with others, I cautiously approached and introduced myself as being from Norfolk. He replied with a smile and a quick joke referencing Norfolk’s aborted ABA experience in the ’70s, which immediately let me know he very much knew Norfolk — and that he very much knew Norfolk had no shot in the world to get an NBA team.
The larger point, though, is we continued to talk a couple more minutes, and he seemed fine with it. That gave me enough comfort and confidence that I eventually leaned in and, oddly emboldened, gently poked the lapel of his jacket with my index finger while asking a question.
What the … ?
Security should have swept in, ear-pieces blazing, wrestled me to the ground and turfed me out, a la the bruising ouster of Jimmy Stewart and Clarence from Nick’s in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Believe me, I would have less-than zero shot at poking current NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the lapel, nor would I think to even attempt it. But Stern showed no consternation over my impromptu nonchalance, made his last comment, and I was on my way.
It’s a cool memory and a true fact regarding Stern’s overall persona. No doubt he was as tough and unyielding as you can get in business, which is why the modern NBA is what it is. But yep, he was poke-the-lapel approachable, which is one other small piece to consider when mulling the historic legacy of David Stern’s life and heady times in the NBA.
I enjoy the hell out of watching Tom Hanks as David S. Pumpkins, his SNL character from three Halloweens ago. Now, if you can tell me why I enjoy this skewed skit so much — other than being a notoriously easy audience, of course — I’d love to know.
I had the amazing good fortune last week to induct my late parents, Theodore and Dorothy — Dorie and Dottie — into the Interboro school district’s hall of fame outside of Philadelphia.
It’s a heck of a thing, and a supremely proud moment for my family to see Mom and Dad immortalized — which is what a hall of fame does, after all — in such a way for their decades of helping to make their town, Prospect Park, a better place.
My nephew, and their first grandchild, Chip, nominated them for the honor, and the committee — which judges nominees’ resumes without names on them — elected to enshrine them this year along with a beloved former Interboro teacher and two former students who have gone on to great things.
Speaking of elections, my brother and sister chose me to speak for my parents and deliver an induction speech during a morning assembly at the high school for the senior class.
It was difficult in one way because the kids didn’t know my parents — Dad died in 2008 and Mom four years later — and you’re not sure how many wanted to even be there in the first place. Although it was an hour out of the classroom . . .
But I’m pleased to say they were an attentive and respectful audience, and that it was a blast for me to be back on a stage where I performed in the senior talent show 43 years (!) ago. That was back when we were the first class out of the “new” high school, and back when Dottie and Dorie still had 30 more good years to serve and build their community.
Anyway, I tried to bring them to life as best I could with my words. Here’s what I had to say:
“Good morning seniors! Good morning Interboro!
I’d like to thank alumni president Claire Reilly, the alumni officers and the board of directors for the work they do with the Interboro Hall of Fame. It’s important and inspirational work. Congratulations to them, and congratulations to today’s and the previous inductees.
I’m thrilled to be here accepting this incredible honor on behalf of my family and my parents, Theodore and Dorothy Robinson. Or as they were known by everybody, Dottie and Dorie.
My dad died in 2008, my mom in 2012. So let me tell you a little bit about why they are being honored today as hall of fame members of the Interboro community.
My dad lived in Prospect Park his whole life; he was literally born in a house on what’s now Lincoln Ave. My mom moved here from Maryland as a child. They were graduates of Prospect Park High School. My dad served in the Navy in two wars and delivered mail in Prospect Park for 37 years; he knew who lived at every address in town, and they knew him. He and my mom loved the borough and each other through 60 years of marriage.
But living in one place a long time isn’t why their grandson Chip nominated them for the hall of fame, and it’s not why the hall of fame committee selected them. It’s because they were completely INVESTED in this one place. Because they got INVOLVED in making this one place wonderful for everyone, over and over again.
It’s because they worked to make their community special, without ever making that work seem out of the ordinary. It’s just what they did and who they were. They knew the secret, which isn’t really much of a secret: You live somewhere, you participate, you build relationships that last a lifetime. It’s a simple formula that creates lives of loyalty, friendship and love.
And people truly loved Dottie and Dorie.
The list of my dad’s volunteer service is ridiculously long.
He co-founded the Prospect Park Youth club and actually helped build the clubhouse with his neighbors. Later, he was a baseball coach and even the groundskeeper.
He was commander of his American Legion post.
For years, he was president or parade marshal of the Fourth of July Association, planning the parade, the games and activities and the fireworks. A huge job.
At church, he sang in the choir, was a trustee, cut the grass, took out the trash, shoveled snow, played ping-pong with the minister — and along with my mom was the custodian.
For all this, Prospect Park honored him as its Citizen of the Year in 1999. That was a joy of which he and Mom, and we, were justifiably proud.
My mom was a 4-foot-11 ball of fire, Dorie’s unwavering support and our family’s rock. She never drove a car, so she either rode with my dad or she walked . . . all over town, rapidly, her tiny feet flying, often in trademark pink sneakers.
At Prospect Park Elementary, the kids knew her for more than 30 years as the “playground Miss,” monitoring the playground at recess after lunch. For her, going to school every day was a delight that was contagious, and at 4-11 she truly seemed among her people.
Over her years there, she especially enjoyed meeting the children of people she first knew as children. An injury forced her to retire late in life, or else I’m sure she’d have worked into her 80s.
Very active at church as well, she cleaned the pews, shoveled the snow with Dorie and was a deacon. And when election days rolled around, she could always be found across the street at Witmer Field in the youth club clubhouse, working the polls with her neighbors.
Mom and Dad would be astounded by their new home in the Interboro hall of fame, and they’d probably be a little perplexed as well. They were of a different generation, modest and unassuming. They’d wonder, why the fuss?
It’s because community servants like they were are too few and far between today. And it’s gratifying to know that, thanks to this hall of fame, their example of how to live a full, engaged life will be timeless.
Seniors, I hope this is your main take away from today’s ceremony. If you give in life, you get back in precious and countless ways.
I remember as a kid, learning I shared a birthday with Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball is one of the all-time greats. I thought that was kind of cool.
I have other “famous” shares: Andy Warhol. NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson (no relation, haha). Former First Lady Edith Roosevelt. Is that a typo? No. Edith (not Eleanor) was the second wife of Teddy Roosevelt, but she was First Lady from 1901 to 1909.
August 6 is most famous, though, for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the first use of the weapon, long before I was a gleam in anybody’s eye. (Nagasaki was nuked a few days later.) There’s little doubt that makes August 6 among the most infamous dates in world history. So, as Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler says, I’ve got that going for me.
However it was calculated, and the estimate changed over the years, Hiroshima’s death toll was around 170,000, split roughly among those who died immediately and those who eventually died from the radioactive exposure.
On that pleasant note, here’s some other stuff that happened on this date, both in the olden days and while I was busy aging into the debacle you see before you:
The Constitutional Convention began debating the first draft of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. I am born in the same city less than two centuries later.
Henry Sullivan of Massachusetts in 1923 becomes the first American, and third person overall, to swim the English Channel. He completed his 27 ½ hour journey the night of the 6th in Calais, France.
I guess there was something in the water because, oddly, three years later to the day, Gertrude Ederle, 20, of New York became the first woman to swim the Channel. It took her 14 hours and 34 minutes, swimming from France to England. New York City threw her a ticker-tape parade. I swim a mile in a river or lake to start a triathlon. No parades are forthcoming.
And then . . . ! Marcus Hooper became the youngest person, till that time, to swim the same damn Channel in 1979. He was 12. This Channel fixation with Aug. 6 is weird.
A cool baseball thing here, ‘cause I love cool baseball things: Denton True “Cy” Young made his big-league debut on Aug. 6, 1890. 1890, people! Pitching for the Cleveland Spiders, Young three-hit the Chicago Cubs for the first of his 511 career victories. The Cy Young award has gone annually to the best pitchers in baseball since 1956. Young died in ’55.
The Beatles’ album “Help,” the group’s fifth, was released in the United Kingdom in 1965. It included “Ticket to Ride,” “Hide Your Love Away,” the title track and “Yesterday,” by any and all accounts one of the greatest pop songs of all time. I don’t know, but I’d guess that, with Paul McCartney still touring at 77, “Yesterday” has to be the most performed song in the history of recorded sound. Who’s with me?
Speaking of great music, when Jon Stewart did his last “Daily Show” four years ago today, the final guest was a surprise. Stewart said a poignant thank you and farewell from his desk, then the camera shifted to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, unannounced, ready to crank up to full throttle. They played Stewart off the air with “Born to Run” as the floor in front of the band became a huge dance party for Stewart and his staff.