PAIGEWA

When my daughter’s middle son was learning to write, he was at our house scribbling on cardboard and tried to write Grandma. He did it all correctly, except for one thing. He put the M upside down and made it GRANDWA. The children still call Carol by that name most of the time. It was so funny to Paige, my daughter’s youngest child, that we began to call her PAIGEWA. It has stuck to this day.

Paige is a very unusual kid, not in a bad way, but in an . . . . unusual way. She is intensely creative and is able to have other kids go along with her plans and her inventions. In recent years, she created a series of songs related to coconuts and got 14 other kids in her class to sing the songs with her. Of course, when grandpa and grandwa came to visit, we were serenaded by all of the many songs. Grandwa was asked to created coconut items to go along with the songs.

Paige’s clarity of vision extends to parallel universes. In her own mind, she has created as vision of a universe where the sky is always red and the people are purple. I know that she knows that there is no such place, but she makes her explanations very believable.
At age ten, she has become a vegetarian. Once, when there was a discussion of getting a bone from the butcher for the family dog, Paige was shocked to learn that meat on the table did not come from cows that had died of natural causes. She had never realized that there was a butchering of cows and other animals, so that people could eat. My daughter has now been cooking and purchasing items that go along with a vegetarian diet. Her middle child has had an aversion to vegetables. He now is eating broccoli pancakes.

PAIGEWA’S other great love is pickles. She can eat them by the handful and is constantly looking for new pickle products like pickle jelly,pickle gum, a pickle purse and pickle boots. At her school there was a stricture about wearing traditional Hallowe’en costumes. Her teacher said that if you wanted to wear a costume, you had to dress up like a character in a book.PAIGEWA wanted to wear a pickle costume, so she created her own book about making pickles and dressed up as a pickle girl.

She has an uproarious sense of humor. She has a fondness for Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. She sometimes jumps out at you from closets or from behind things and yells, “Peek A Boo,” in and ersatz French accent.

Her Aunt DiDi is her best friend for life (BFL) and she talks with Diane for hours on the phone. Diane is 43 years old and is a major influence in her life. They go shopping together and get manicures and pedicures together.

She sleeps with her 10 year old baby blanket, her great uncle Bernie’s yellow knit vest and her kitty. She takes these items on the road when she travels.

PAIGEWA is very smart and she has no idea that she is. She is self-effacing when she writes lengthy stories or plays the piano. This year she has set herself a goal of giving everyone in her family a birthday present. She is the best advertisement for her mother’s earrings and her grandmother’s special knitted things.

You never know what is going on in her mind. Sometimes out of the blue she will exclaim, “ I can’t stop thinking about bowls of rice.” Yes, there is no explanation of her thoughts. She is one special girl.

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VERY VERY VERY OLD SCHOOL

I still love to watch professional basketball. I have stayed up late at night to see the conclusion of Laker-Nuggets games and still thrill to the final few minutes when all is decided. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember holding a basketball. I have a picture of myself over a water fountain, at age five, clutching a baskeball. The only times that I every played hookey was when I stopped at Hester Park at lunch and never went back to school.

I played schoolyard ball and freshman basketball at Queens College. I was never good enough to be a starter anywhere, but I was a good coach. I coached at the junior high level and in the Army.

When I go to the gym these days, I cannot really take a decent jump shot. When I come down on my feet, I have this awful feeling that I have just disrupted every vertebrae in my back. I can however, still dribble with both hands and take a 2011 version of the set shot. I sometimes even get one in. When I tire, I go to the foul line and still have the ability to put in a few in a row.

The NBA and its forerunners- the NBL and the BAA have been a part of my life since 1949. I was in the hospital during my polio experience and would listen to some of the games on the radio. I had no idea who any of the players were, but the announcers made the games so exciting.

There was nothing like going to a game at Madison Square Garden. We got these G.O. (General Organization) cards from our school and could get in to the Garden for 50 cents. We would, of course sit in the nose bleed section, but could see all of the action and scream our fool heads off.

1949 was a seminal year in the pros. The BAA and the NBL merged to become the NBA. They elected Maurice Podoloff as the Commissioner ( although I don’t remember if that was his original title). A number of the teams in the two leagues folded, usually because of a lack of funds. The NBL had been around since 1937 and has some established cities, while the BAA was a three year old newcomer.

The name of the teams were emblazoned on this eleven year old. I can remember them to this day-the Chicago Stags, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, Washington Capitols, Baltimore Bullets, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Indianapolis Jets, Rochester Royals and later, the Syracuse Nationals, Anderson Duffy Packers, Sheboygan Redskinis, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, Waterloo Hawksand the Minneapolis Lakers.

There are other teams that did not make it with some great names- the Pittsburgh Ironmen, Oshkosh All Stars, Detroit Vagabond Kinds, and the Toronto Huskies. These were teams in small cities and towns across the Eastern part of the U.S. The far West had not been discovered, not until the Lakers moved to L.A., but there was a team in Denver called the Nuggets.

Since I was a Knick fan, I hated the Syracuse Nats, the Minneapolis Lakers and the Rochester Royals. The Lakers had this huge fellow, George Mikan who was 6 ft. 10”. He was a moose with thick glasses and sharp elbows. When the Knicks played the Lakers, a 6 ft. 4” Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton would guard him with no success.

The Knicks had a coterie of decent players. Max Zaslofsky acquired from the Chicago Stages, Vince Boryla ( he of the great set shot), Harry Gallatin ( reputedly had the hardest ass in basketball) was the rebounder, Ernie Vandewegh ( who later was a dentist) and Connie Simmons ( from my Forest Hills High School). These were the names that I heard on the radio.

The Boston Celtics had not yet reached their nadir. However, Bob Cousy was a magician. It is said that when he played for Andrew Jackson H.S. in Queens, he once scored 100 points in one game against Forest Hills H.S. I have never been able to verify that.

Most of us knew that there were a bunch of black guys who could play in the NBA. It was obvious when the Harlem Globetrotters came to town to play some of the NBA teams and beat them that they should get a shot. When Chuck Cooper began to play with the Celtics, there was no hoopla at all. I don’t remember any remarks by any of the announcers. Cooper was followed quickly by Nat Clifon and then a host of other ballplayers. It culminated with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and finally the Big O, Oscar Robertson.

We might have seen one of the greatest of all time for just a little while, Maurice Stokes of St. Francis. He was struck down as a young man and remained in a wheelchair till his death. He played with Cincinatti and teamed with Jack Twyman.

The Syracuse Nationals played in Onondaga County War Memorial Stadium. It was a small place that fit the needs of guys like Dolph Shayes, Al Cervi, Ephaim “Red Rocha” and Earl Lloyd ( later on). The place was not fit for any visiting team to contend. At certain moments when Vince Boyla of the Knicks would be waiting for a foul shot, the fans would shake the backboard. It was close enough for the fans to touch the wires that held it and make it almost impossible to sink.

Somewhat later, the Phildelphia Warriors and Wilt moved to San Francisco and lo and behold, the Syracuse Nationals became th Philadelphia 76rs. By that time, I had moved to the Philadelphia area and had become estranged from the Knicks and am still a 76er fan today.

The early years of the NBA with no 24 second clock and a 6 ft. lane under the basket made for a slow and methodical game. Players would dribble the ball incessantly or hold it toward the end of the game. I believe that there was a game in which the Ft. Wayne Pistons won by 17-15, or something like that.

The invention of the 24 second clock (invented by Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nats) and the creation of the 12 ft. lane, made the game faster, higher scoring and somewhat less dominant by a big man. There would be no more George Mikans, but there would be Wilt, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, Kareem and many more to take their place.

It is a fond memory that I still relive when I watch pro games today. Sure, they are taller faster and more accurate ( look it up). However, they play the game with the same gusto and organization. Good players, good coaching and a plan is what makes the NBA of interest to me.

TAKING OFF THE GLOVES

I have had a running gun battle with my older sister for a number of years. Like all of us in old age ( not the golden years), she wonders why things are not the same as they were when she was growing up, or when she was raising her children, or anytime in the past when things were so much rosier.

It is hard to get through to an 80 year old , who is living comfortable and can pretty much do as she pleases, because of past earnings. She is amazed that all people, who began with nothing ( as in her and her husband’s case) have not flourished like her family. Why did they not work as hard and rise to a loftier perch? All of these musings lead her to believe that the current crop of humans don’t work hard, live on the government’s largesse, or are just plain dumb.

She has no truck with anyone who disagrees with her. Her beliefs are so grounded in her view of the world that discussions with her on this subject inevitably lead to an argument. My wife hears my voice rise on the phone and gently nudges me into a more somnambulant state. She despairs of these loud clashes and wishes that I would only discuss family matters with my sister. After about 20 minutes, that is exactly what I do.

When you get down to the basest argument about the way things are and have data to back you up, you understand why things are different. A perfect example of what I mean is the GenXers, who have no compunction about looking for a job the day after they get one. They have an inherent understanding that job shifting, outsourcing and cutbacks are only a phone call or text message away. They plan to be let go and therefore try and anticipate that action.

Blue or no collar workers are in the same boat. They may even be union members who have to take unpaid vacations of 6-8 weeks during the year, so that others can work. With skilled workers, their lives are predicated on someone else’s whim. Let’s close the glass plant in Clarion and move it to Mexico. The plant has been here only 70 years, we should have seen what was going to happen.

Unskilled workers are in a terrible fix. They have their physical skills to feed their families and those jobs are neither union nor consistent. Even those who have some sort of government job, are not secure in their work. The first to be let go will be the custodial workers, the maintenance people and then the professionals. Let’s fire the bus drivers and give the running of the buses over to a private company.

These are things that my sister is not conversant with. She sees spending on education as exorbitant. Look at all of those billions of dollars that fly out of the taxpayer’s pocket to fund a failing system. O.K. let’s talk about how much it really costs. If you do the division, including all expenditures and all the kids and divided by the number of days and hours that a school is operating, nationally, it came to $7.42 ( the latest numbers were 2006-07). Given that New York City is much more expensive ( and that is where my sister lives), the cost in 08-09 was about $12.50 per hour.

Why is it then that we have such monstrous debts in both the state and federal governments. Maybe we should look more carefully at the budgets, how each category of expenditure has risen with relation to the the cost of living. We should also look at the revenue side ( that is my area of interest). What has happened to each of those categories? When did the reduction of revenues begin to take place? Why is it that the burden of taxation falls more on certain categories of people more than others ( as a percentage of revenues). Over the past twenty years, where have we gone wrong?

What about our schools? Are we really in trouble? Yes, we are in trouble in the cities. With N.J. as an example, those city schools like Camden and Trenton and Newark have abominable test scores, graduation rates, and absentee rates. What is happening in those cities that makes education so poorly constructed. Have we really helped these places? Why is the city problems with education so consistent across the United States? Has anyone even asked that question?

Well over 80% of the 13,000 school districts are either doing well or super. We don’t need a shotgun, we need a scalpel to fix the cities.

Why is it that the high school that my sister went to in 1949 is so different today than it was then? Does my sister have a point when she says that we don’t work as hard? Not sure there is a ready answer to that. I read Robert Reich’s and Paul Krugman’s, Arne Duncan’s, Michelle Rhee’s, Governor Christie’s, Governor Walkers’s and Governor Corbett’s and Diane Ravitch ‘s view and I still am confused. Maybe there is someone out there with the real answer.

THE FEAR OF FOREIGN DOMINATION

Having lived all of my life in the United States, and traveled to a number of countries, I have a pretty nationalistic view of us. In my lifetime, there have been 4 major threats to our very existence- the Axis Powers of World War II, the Cold War Russians and Chinese, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and the current Jihadist terrorists in the shape of Al Quaida.

In each of these times there were fears that we would be destroyed in a few moments after the enemy reached into our country and collapsed our infrastructure, our will to survive and our resources. In World War II, we had fears of imminent landings of U boats in the East and Japanese air and sea power in the West. Hadn’t the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we could do nothing about it?

During the Cold War, the Russians threw up Sputnik and we were aghast that they had already outdistanced us in science and that we would become a second rate country. What could the satellites do? Could they reign terror upon us. We should all bend down with our heads between our legs and hide under our desks, or stand out in the hallways so no glass shard could kill us.

When the Red Chinese took over all of China and helped the North Koreans to hold us to a stalemate, there was concern that these multitudes of people would overrun all of Asia and like Ghengis Kahn sweep over Europe and destroy Western Civilization.

In our current mode, we had the specter of the World Trade Center. It was a horrible sight as the two planes crashed into the buildings and killed many people. Was it the harbinger of things to come? Would there be more suicide bombings in our country, so that we could not defend ourselves. Would an extreme suicide bomber carry a dirty bomb in a suitcase and destroy one of our cities?

These questions have been on our minds for my entire lifetime? There are few answers, but only the history to instruct us. When we think of the monolithic nature of our enemies, we should also be aware that they are mostly not what we think they are. A perfect example is the current spate of revolutions and contretemps in many of the Muslim countries in the Middle East. Could one hacve predicted these happenings? Do the revolutions signal a change in the perception of the monolith?

Could we have predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. Growing up, they were the monoliths. They could not be defeated. They were all powerful and were defeating us in the very things in which we were champions. We started to lose to them at the Olympics and in other arena. Now we know how they did it- drugs, HGH, steroids among other things. Their science was not of our caliber and their economy was a Potemkin Village.

Let us try and be somewhat more realistic. Yes, there are threats and sometimes they are quite real. Let us view them from a more historical perspective. Let us not panic and take instant actions that do not take the long view into account.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WEIRD KIND

I have had many encounters with weird people in my life. Each of these events has had a salutary effect on me. It is easy to deal with people of the rational kind, but not so with certain people who have the capacity to be, not only irrational , but other worldly. If you saw the original Men in Black, you saw a t.v. screen with lots of people you knew just had to be aliens, including Will Smith’s third grade teacher.

How is it that these kind of people exist and actually thrive in what we call “normal society?” Take a long look at your own backgrounds and marvel at those who have successfully navigated life while not following any orderly process. They seem to do pretty much the opposite of what you and I do, but seem to get away with it.

Some of these people are precipice walkers. They get on a wall, or a tightrope and navigate through life, sometimes falling, but always seeming to come out o.k. in the end. Yes, some do not and they make the news. We talk about their failures and wonder how they got this far in life.

I had one working for me a number of years ago. His view of his job and life was of a game of his creating situations that could destroy him and then navigate through them in some way. I can recall one day, he came racing into the office because someone was chasing him. He has passed this gentleman in a car. The speed limit was 45 and it was a well traveled two lane highway. He passed this car going about 60 and cut him off to boot. The man followed him into our parking lot. Fortunately, others were successful in calming the man down.This gentleman also broke his neck twice- once diving into the ocean, when the tide was low and another time in a automobile accident.

This is not say that we should always play it safe. Sure, you take chances in life and await their outcomes. But these people look for the banana peel on the ground to see if they really will trip.

The people whom I describe are in all walks of life. How about the woman who is married, has two children and a nice husband. She is dissatisfied with her life ( as some people are) and decides to make some extra cash selling her body at the local gin mill. She goes out each evening, sometimes leaving her children ( when her husband is off on a business trip) and comes home drunk each night. I would not argue that she does not have the right to change her life, but this is one way of saying, I am going to walk out of the ledge to see if I fall off.

How about the bureaucrat who makes some illegal investments with public funds. He is caught by his auditors and declares that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing. His lawyer disagrees and tries to persuade him that he will do some jail time if he does not clean up the mess. Rather than slinking away or fixing things, he writes to all of his political friends and tells them what a wrong is being done to him. His final actions led him to be fired and many others to be assessed over $350,000.

In each of these instances, there does not seem to be any rationale for the person’s actions. Life is made precarious because of this overwhelming need to take unnecessary chances. The chances taken, unlike those taken by others, never have a chance of leading to a positive outcome or an advancement in their lives.

In his young life, many things happened to this young man, of a negative nature. In his teens, he received a scholarship to a private boarding school. He seemed to thrive there and enjoyed the time that he spent there. After he graduated, he went to college and began to make choices that he knew were not good for him. He wound up not using his skills, both physical and mental, to be successful.

He began a career in boxing and was told that he had the skills to be a heavyweight champion. He decided, after a number of months of training, that he did not want to do that. He wound up sitting in a field in North Carolina calling us for some money. He tried a number of other occupations, mostly in sales and never lasted more than a few months.

We have not heard from him for a number of years. He is said to be the father of a child and is with a woman living somewhere in New York City. Each step that he has made in his own mind, is the correct one. He is the quintessential precipice walker.

WAITING FOR GODOT (THE MAIL)

You know that you have been incarcerated to long when one of the highlights of the day is going to the mailbox to see what treasures the postman might have brought. Whether rain or snow or dead of night, the intrepid mail box opener comes out of his cave and trudges and I do mean trudges to the mail box with the key extended.

The mailbox beckons and the allure is almost overwhelming. There is an excitement about finding out what has been sent to you via the postal service. I open the mailbox door and cannot quite see in to the back. The greatest event is when there are keys to the large package door in the mailbox. This portends great huzzahing when a package is removed. It could be a get well present or something that I bought on ebaythat does not fit into the mailbox.

More normally, I reach as far back as I can and scoop up whatever papers are glued to my hand. I occasionally drop a card of an advertisement on the ground. By picking up the paper or letter, I count this activity as exercise, and it is in my debilitated state.

I clutch the mail to my chest and saunter ( as much as my legs will allow) to my front door, take off my coat and deposit my finds on the kitchen counter. I am sometimes impressed by the array of ads spread out in front of me- Chico’s, Lands End, the Clipper magazine ( coupons for the worst restaurants in town and pool builders), Oriental, the local Guide, Everything Jewish, Newsweek, magazines that Carol has purchased from our grandson’s school, and copious items relating to health and good eating.

I scan through his items and look for anything of substance. I come across a bill from Verizon that seems abominably too high, a bill from the electric company, the gas company and assorted other liabilities. Once in a great while there are checks made out to us- some from our work and other’s from the federal government to do with Social Security and those from our clients.

There is always some closed envelope that defies definition. It is a mystery because it usually has either no address or one with no name attached. It is sometimes labeled important or time sensitive. Although I know that it is trash, I still hope that I have won something that I will not have to give back.

There are also get well cards from friends and relatives. Those are always interesting to see what was picked out.There are these new talking cards with high squeaky Alvin voices imploring you to get well soon. There are the maudlin cards feeling sorry for your condition and hoping against hope that you will do better. There are the Shoebox cards with usually feature old pictures of old people in mild forms of activity. They are always wearing that era’s version of polyester.

Then there are the funny cards and I mean the real funny cards that you cannot purchase at your local pharmacy or super market. So many of them are quite clever and kind of take my mind off my physical condition

As I approach the trash can with so much of the mail, I thank my lucky stars that there is, at least one time of the day, that my mind wanders off into the ionosphere. Mail brings with it promises of new clothes, new cars, new foods, the money to pay for them and the bills that they represent. All hail to my bearded and bedraggled postman who has no idea what he has done for his customers.

IN LIGHT OF HIGH SALARIES

I remember when Mickey Mantle broke the $100,000 barrier. I believe that I was making $5,000 teaching in Cheltenham township. We all were awed by that number and could even fathom what kind of life you could lead earning that amount of dough. Of course Mickey’s actual years of earnings lasted for another few years at the same amount.

The distances between the super money makers and the average person ( I believe that is what I was in those years) was phenomenal. However, I could buy a new Chevy for $2,000. Does any of this mean that things are so much different today? For one thing, the distances between the working person and the high salary makers is beyond comprehension. If Albert Pujols gets his 30 mil a year and the average salary today is $50,000, that would be 600 times more money than the measly 20 times when Mickey was around.

It isn’t only baseball players. It’s about the entire country. The distances between the average person and those who earn $10,000,000 in bonuses at some of the banks and Wall Street firms is incomprehensible. Does all of this lead to some of unrest in our country? Sure it does. Have we identified it yet? No we have not.

Our politicos have a fear of even broaching this subject. The consequences would be disastrous for either of our political parties. How does one explain that the complete system of our economy has fallen apart. Some tout unemployment, the GDP, the lack of savings, the tax system, the national debt and the unbalanced federal and state budgets. However, those pale in comparison to the chasm we have created between our people.

This is not really a political issue. It is a social issue, and issue of fairness to the people of the United States. There is no shame in making bunches of money. Some in my own family and Carol’s have achieved those heights. I applaud them for their industriousness and their brains. It is now no longer true that hard work will be rewarded. That was a truism for past generations, but not now. That myth was pointed out clearly in the massive layoffs of 2008 and 2009. It was not only the laborer, the blue collar and no collar workers, but the white collar workers in many industries, who I assume worked just as hard to get where they were as a previous generation.

The current economy takes little notice of hard work when jobs are shipped overseas to countries whose salaries are low and whose sweatshops are booming. We have no control over those others. We also don’t want to raise the specter of high tariffs to keep their goods out. The only result of that action would be for those countries to close their own borders to our goods.

There are 500 school districts in Pennsylvania. If you are thinking that’s too many then you will be happy to know that there used to be 2,500. In 1979, of the five hundred school districts, 300 had average incomes that were above the state mean. In 2008, that number was 124 above the mean. That indicates that wealth has migrated to a small number of places in the state. The differences in income are quite unbelievable. That is what started me thinking about this problem. It just didn’t start yesterday. It has been a long time developing.

We need to pay more attention to these kinds of things. The way to fix it is not to bark at groups of people. Those others, probably had little to do with causing this problem. Let’s try and face it and get some the brains in the country to start working on solutions. No, that does not mean “soak the rich.” It means that we have to start elevating the others.