“Wool Suits With No Underwear”

As I mentioned in my August 18th post, Jah Energy (my community coed softball team) was about to play the Number One team in the league, Ron’s Auto, who had won the past three championships. They are a team chock full of young firemen (who have yet to succumb to firehouse chili), mechanics, and powerfully athletic women.  Jah consists of graphic artists, writers, teachers, clerks, the unemployed, and oldsters.

Still, we had fought hard to win our “one or done” play-in game to face Ron’s in the semi-finals.  And we didn’t plan on quitting before the series started, even though our team knew we only had our best pitcher for the opening game.  He and his family were going on vacation.

The season runs from April to September, so it’s hard to begrudge anyone taking time off.  It’s part of every team’s yearly expectations.

And pitch that opener he did.  Jim’s a southpaw and he chucked a beauty.  It’s not easy to make an arc ball do tricks but he had that softball curving in both directions and floating over the plate.  When Ron’s did manage to get their bat on the ball, it usually flew high into the outfield where our team made dramatic catch after catch.  Our infield played tight and solid on every ball that came their way.  Add to that our first baseman’s picks, and Jah held the schtarkers (“bruisers” in Yiddish) to six runs while we eked out eight with the lower end of our lineup tablesetting for our best hitters.

First game to Jah, 8-5.  An incredibly low scoring game in our league.  It was a happy day in Mudville.

But then there was the next game.  Either we came out flat or they came out lusting for revenge, or both.  The game was over by the third inning. (We play seven.)  Our outfield is surrounded by trees—except in right—and it seemed like every ball went over or in them.  One of our women pitched the first half and did a decent job, but it didn’t matter.  They clocked anything and everything they could reach and they seemed to reach ’em all.  We had no choice but to bring our best player in to pitch the second half, though that left our outfield even more vulnerable than it had been.  It seemed like they spent that entire game running up the slope to get balls hit behind the trees. Ron’s players wheeled around the bases like a merry-go-round on speed.

Second game to Ron’s, 28-8.  Well, we were consistent in our run scoring, but there were some seriously long faces in the bar that night.

We had a day between the second and third game and it helped.

Both teams came to play in that third game, but Ron’s were the home team and jumped out to a quick five run lead by the bottom of the first.  We fought back and tied it up, but only momentarily, since they thumped right back with three more.  And that was the rhythm of the entire game.  We never led, tho we never for a moment quit and made run after run–but still lost.

Third game and series to Ron’s Auto 15-11.

The first game of the championship series (which was the only one I was/am able to attend) ended with Ron’s crushing The Wanderers 28-1.

So I look back at my first season of co-managing with mixed feelings.  The team played hard; interpersonal issues were effectively dealt with; playing time gripes were minimal; and, people enjoyed playing with each other.  Still, we ended up in fourth place–a bummer.  At the bar after losing the series, Sara (co-manager) and I had a long talk about whether we wanted to stay on for next season.  I guess we’re gluttons for punishment or believe in glory,  but we both made a two season commitment to manage the team.  And despite our fourth place finish, I think everyone will be pleased.

A few words on another subject:  This Thursday I’ll be flying out to the Midwest for another trial that begins September 6th.  Once again I will try to report in on the “hey kids, it’s not really like Law and Order” process as the trial moves along and buttress my typically ‘only Monday’ posts whenever I have time to write.  As usual, I’ll send out individual notices to those on my mailing list (if you want to be added, just send your email address to zacharykleinonline@gmail.com) and place my usual notices on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google Plus.

So keep an eye out for dispatches from the hinterland.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss
of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Photo Shoot

I first heard about photo shoots in college from a friend whose father photographed food products for print ads.  Came as a surprise to learn he regularly emptied his product down the drain and carefully poured the rival brand of cooking oil into the now empty bottle.  “Their’s looks better than ours.”  Also surprised—though in retrospect not sure why—when I heard that he carefully opened a cream-filled cookie and loaded it with more cream from others in the box.  “Makes for a better looking cookie.”   I kept eating those cookies, but it reinforced my belief not always to trust what your eyes tell you.

And that was the first thing that jumped to mind when I learned that Sue and I were going to stay at an underwater hotel off the Florida Keys for one of her assignments. (In those days she was a feature magazine writer and if the assignment was interesting enough I’d roll along for the ride.)  Staying in an underwater hotel was interesting enough.

There were only two catches—we had to pass a diving resort course—no problem once they loaded enough weight onto Sue to get her frightened inflated lungs underwater (no need for that with me, I had plenty of my own weight) and she would have to do a photo shoot in the hotel to illustrate the article.

Now that was an eye opener.  Photographers swarmed inside and out looking for shots and angles.  Setting up the lights inside and especially outside underwater was amazing and time consuming.  Especially since the water surrounding the hotel’s porthole was so silty that a guest had to shoot wads of American cheese food (provided by management) out a pneumatic tube to lure anything aquatic to a porthole.

Me, I curled up out of the way and spent part of my time watching the photographers and the rest eyeballing the rivets that held the hotel together.  Even with all the action going on, Das Boot was never far from mind.

Years later Sue had another assignment, this time with a food stylist.  She described seeing the same type of illusion making my friend’s father did—only advantaged by technology and technique.

Ever see a mouthwatering heap of steaming spaghetti?  That “smoke” is often a product of soaking a tampon in water, nuking it in a microwave and burying it in the middle of the bowl.  Real spaghetti heat doesn’t hang around long enough for photographers to get their shot.  I guess the moral of the story is: Don’t eat a picture of pasta.  Or at least be careful where you bite.

Last Sunday was my turn.  As many of you know, I’m in the process of turning my books digital.  Although I now own the rights to my words again, the original covers were already someone else’s.  My friend and artist and art designer, Michael Paul Smith generously agreed to create new ones.  One glance at his work (check my links page) will explain why I am delighted.  And for those who would like to have his art at home, he recently published a hardcover book called Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town. (http://www.amazon.com/Elgin-Park-Ideal-American-Town/dp/3791345486) or at http://harvardbookstore.com/

After he re-read my Matt Jacob novels, it was time to shoot the cover for the first, Still Among the Living.  He wanted to shoot on our kitchen’s enamel top table.  He asked me to put on my Matt Jacob head and gather some of the things he’d have hanging around.  But Michael also give me a long list including a greasy pizza bought the night before (for the perfect congealed look), a .38 with its bullets. First I scoured the Internet for a prop gun.  Seems they only come looking like cheap plastic or a very expensive facsimile.  Quandary time.  Then I remembered my neighbor, Nick, was a hunter and asked him whether he had a .38 and bullets.  He didn’t, he had a friend who did, and he could borrow and transport it given his gun license.  His friend, responsibly, wanted him to be with the gun at all times, so we were gonna have a prop wrangler at the shoot. (Pun intended.)

The day before, I gathered a bunch of Bakelite, bought cigarettes, dug out some old time menu paper from my father’s bar along with mechanical pencils embossed with “Klein’s Tavern,” rolled a few joints (oregano, of course), dirtied up some ashtrays, found my copy of Mark Harris’s book The Southpaw and felt good to go.

Until 1 AM when I realized I had forgotten the damn pizza.  I grabbed my phone hoping to find some place that delivered or was at least still open.  Even on Saturday nights Boston closes early.  I scored—though the man kept asking me what I meant by extra grease.  I explained it was for a photo shoot the next day and I needed the box to have blotchy grease stains.  He reluctantly agreed as long as I didn’t show the store’s name on top of the box.  Delivered and leaching oil, I went to sleep.

Sunday morning Michael arrived with his tiny electronic camera and painter’s lamp (he never uses any fancy equipment, which makes his art all the more astounding).

Michael surveyed all the stuff I’d collected for him to choose from.  He immediately began to arrange the objects that, when assembled, would represent Matt Jacob inside and out.  He took more than a half hour to pick and position on the enamel top table.  He also had his photo shoot tricks, like lightly dipping cigarette butts into coffee so they looked like the nicotine had drawn through (all of us had been smokers so were afraid to light up).

Then I called Nick who came right over.  He took the gun out of a soft case and started to hand it to Michael who pulled away as Sue also cringed.  Nick assured everyone it wasn’t loaded and showed us the bullets in his hand.  Michael took the gun, sprinkled the bullets in and outside the pizza box and proceeded to shoot (pictures).  Finally finished, Nick took the gun home and the three of us sat down and ate cold pizza.

Michael has sent some first takes on the cover—amazing.  In the upcoming week, we’ll work on hammering out the fine details.  But now Sue and I are just back from New York City, where we visited our son Matthew, his girlfriend Alyssa and the Museum of Art and Design with an exhibit, Otherworldly, which is running through September 18th and is featuring some of Michael’s work.  http://collections.madmuseum.org/code/emuseum.asp?emu_action=advsearch&rawsearch=exhibitionid/%2C/is/%2C/530/%2C/true/%2C/false&profile=exhibitions    (You gotta scroll down to find his work—the artists are named in alphabetical order.)

It’s going to be even more fun when we’re ready to shoot the cover of TWO WAY TOLL.

Mind Bumps

I recently met (live) Sherri Frank Mazzotta, with whom I’ve been chatting about writing via the Internet.  As yet unpublished, she is incredibly accomplished and passionate about of all kinds of books and different styles of writing.  As much as I enjoy the Internet, email, and all the people I meet in cyberspace, I guess I’m the age where “there’s nothing like the real thing.”  We spent hours comfortably talking, not only about books, but our lives and how we got to where we are.  A cool do.

One question Sherri asked me is what it’s like to come up with an idea for every week’s post.  My response: nerve-wracking.  From the moment Monday passes, there’s a part of me anxious about whether a new subject will pop.  And the game has to come to me.  If I sit down to conjure up an idea it’s like telling someone to “be funny.”  Just doesn’t work.

This week it’s multiple “nexts” since no single thing jumped out front.  But over this week, like all others, I do stuff, ideas flit in (and most often out), some news report or column or cartoon catches my eye.

Let’s forget the straw poll in Iowa.  Crazies only interested me when I worked as a therapist.  So one of the most important things that occurred this week was my softball team (Jah Energy) won its one-or-done playoff game against the Loan Sharks.  It was a wet one; took place in a steady shower.  The game had been rained out twice before and there were no more permit dates for a makeup.  Maybe not on dry land, but ironically we were better than the Sharks in the water.

Now we play the first place team for two out of three beginning tomorrow evening—weather permitting.  Not gonna be easy.  Ron’s Auto consists of farbissina players, both men and women.  People who Lenny Bruce would describe as the type who wear wool suits with no underwear.  Needless to say, we are major underdogs.  I guess it will make winning that much sweeter–if we win.  I’ll let you know.

Also, something that caught my eye this week was a letter to the New York Times by Stephen Sondheim (http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/stephen-sondheim-takes-issue-with-plan-for-revamped-porgy-and-bess/) that tore Diane Paulus and Pulitzer Prize winner and McArthur Genius award recipient, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks new assholes for their re-interpretation of Porgy and Bess.  Paulus is the Artistic Director for American Repertory Theater, a prestigious theater company connected to Harvard University.  My ticket isn’t until the end of September, but what I find interesting is:

Diane Paulus.  Who receives an enormous amount of shit for her productions while, at the same time, filling seats with a large number of people who rarely, if ever, attend theater of any kind.  I understand why critics often have trouble with her work.  When you take Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, turn it into a disco, replete with roller blades and semi-nude actors dancing up a storm with the audience and call it The Donkey Show, it’s easy to understand why traditionalists have a difficult time seeing it as theater despite having its run extended for months.

Or when she invited the British Theater Company Punchdrunk to use an abandoned local school and turn Macbeth into Sleep No More, a production where all ticket holders wore masks to become anonymous as they wandered through the building from room to room where different scenes were played out.  Paulus caught it for that one too—Which also sold out and went on to be a must-have ticket in New York.

It’s odd that I find myself defending over-the-top theater since my favorite playwrights are Eugene O’Neill, Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller and similar writers—as well as traditionally performed Shakespeare.  But there’s something to be said for introducing theater to a brand new audience and introducing it in a way we can all relax and have fun with.  Hats off to Diane Paulus for fucking with A.R.T.’s traditions and succeeding—despite the avalanche of criticism.  Me, I’m looking forward to Porgy And Bess.

This week I also found out we are definitely going to trial on September 8th in that same unnamed Midwestern state for the second of our two malpractice cases.  The defendant refuses to negotiate or mediate and I expect them to stay their course.  It’s a complicated case in a very conservative county where the defendant’s employer has their hands in damn near everything.

So it’s yet another David versus Goliath; this time Goliath has all the weapons except truth.  It will be interesting to see whether truth can win.  It often doesn’t in our civil court system where clout has a way of determining judicial decisions throughout a trial.  We can only hope a jury is able to separate the wheat from the chaff.  They’ve had practice since a good many of them will probably be farmers.  Again I’ll try to do frequent posts on the day-to-day once the trial begins.

And finally, my friend and artist, Michael Smith (check him out by clicking his links on my website’s ‘links’ page) came by Sunday morning to do a photo shoot of the cover for my digitalized version of Still Among The Living.  Spent a fair amount of time Saturday hunting for my old Bakelite radios and deco objects and art.  And finding someone with a gun permit and gun to bring to the “shoot.”

Well, that was my week.  How was yours?

“Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” John Maxwell

Frigging Politics

“Just when I try to get out, they pull me back in.”

I didn’t want to write about politics or Obama again.  At least, not right now.  Jah Energy (not an oil company, but my community softball team named after the Jamaican god), has a one-or-done playoff game tonight.  I’ve been trying like a dog to edit my second Matt Jacob book (Two Way Toll) so it can be formatted for multi-digital platforms, and am gathering materials for a photo shoot of the digital cover for Still Among The Living.

I really didn’t want to write about politics.  But after the last couple of weeks watching congressional bozos on both sides of the aisle make jackasses out of themselves, and seeing our country slide into a sinkhole so deep it may be impossible to climb out, I just can’t help it.  Sorry.

I feel like Peter Finch in the movie Network when he stuck his head out the window and screamed, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

My rage primarily has to do with the debt ceiling deal that President Obama blessed, albeit with some verbal regret over the absolute refusal to implement a truly fair progressive income tax that might help people who are just barely getting by. Problem is, verbal regret doesn’t cut it for those already bent over a chair and are now gonna be bending even lower.  Nine percent unemployment, my ass.  Those are only the people they count.  If it ain’t double that number, feel free to shoot me.  It doesn’t take a weatherman to know what programs and which people are going to get fucked by the newly agreed upon debt reductions.

We are already living in an era when the differential in wealth between Whites and people of color is the greatest it has been since the Civil War.  We’re eyeballing folks who have saved for a lifetime only to lose their houses due to mortgage manipulation (aka fraud) by banks.  Banks our president was more than willing to rescue and are now making more money than ever before.  We’re back to robber baron times.

And I haven’t yet mentioned two wars that nobody wants other than the congressional jackasses.   And the President.

I know the excuses since I’ve used them myself: The Republicans burned down the house then gave the key to the Black guy. Obama never really had a real majority because of the Blue Dog Democratic Senators.  President Obama believes in bi-partisan politics as the best way for a country to be run. The Republicans have never totally refused to work with a sitting Democratic president before, and are doing it now because he is Black.

I know the hopes: During his fifth year, he’ll be able to be himself and do what he’d hoped to do during the first four.  Roosevelt’s first term was less than stellar as well.  If President Obama is somehow able to forge an “adult” dialogue with and between members of Congress, it will be a huge achievement.

I know the accomplishments:  His support of gays in the military.  He forced health insurance companies to accept people with pre-existing conditions.  He jammed through coverage for millions and millions of people who had no health insurance whatsoever.  After eight years of neglect, the Justice Department and EEOC are again enforcing employment discrimination laws.  The administration continues to deescalate marijuana interdiction and raids, eliminate mandatory sentencing for first-time drug abusers and simple possession, and dramatically increase the amount of cocaine possessed that leads to a jail sentence.

And there have been more accomplishments:  (See http://www.jackandjillpolitics.com/2010/10/president-obamas-244-accomplishments-part-4/)  But these accomplishments have mostly come through Executive Orders and not “adult” discussions with, or bills passed, by Congress.  How many times do you need to be hit in the head with a baseball bat before you change your tactics.  Even if it’s just to give the other guy a noogie.

The bottom line is this:  President Obama is certainly better than the Republican nominee who will stuff the Supreme Court with lunks only too happy to off a woman’s right to choose and add to the already ugly list of draconian decisions.  So I will hold my nose and vote for him again.  But it’s gonna hurt.

Fact is: Progressives, and our organizers, have to make some serious decisions for the long term.  Actually, we have to make some decisions, period. First we need to form a coalition between all the liberal groups out there.  And if petition signing is any indication, there are quite a few.  Then, that coalition has to decide whether to spend its time, money, and effort to try to take over the Democratic Party.

And I don’t mean doing what the Tea Party is doing–getting enough votes to hold the rest of the party hostage. (Though that might be a good start.)  I mean turning the Democratic Party into a full-bore progressive party that doesn’t give a shit about moderates who are really Republicans in Democratic colors.  This has been the cry from Democratic Socialists for generations, and for generations it just hasn’t succeeded.  But it is one of the options.

The other is to throw the full weight of the progressive coalition behind a third party, something that has been tried in past and usually, if successful at all, created a nudge for change and then disappeared.  Neither strategy has kicked ass, but the past need not define the future.

In either case, or perhaps the third option, is that we actually mobilize our constituency.  We may talk politics more than many, but usually it’s shaking our heads over a beer.  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” means DOING SOMETHING.  Actions, instead of whining. Message to self, maybe something more than just signing petitions (see my 3/21/11 post LOVE ME, I’M A LIBERAL).

We also ought to redefine our constituency.  We typically try to politicize the voting public.  I believe our real goal has to be engaging the forty plus percent of the population who doesn’t vote, maybe has never voted.  Unless we appeal to these folks, they never will vote and we’ll never have a real progressive government.

“Don’t make me repeat myself.” ~ History

(Might want to laugh or cry at:

Failing Yoga

According to every yoga teacher I’ve ever had, failure and yoga have nothing to do with each other.  Listen to your body, let it guide you on your own individual path.  Well, If, I listened to my body, it would be lying down.  On the couch, not on a mat.

Failure not an option?  Yeah, sure.  Have you ever seen a yoga teacher who wasn’t lanky and fit?  I’m here to tell you that if you’re old, overweight, and out of shape–failure is not only an option but a damn near certainty.

Yoga first caught my attention when I read that Robert Parish, the center of the Celtics great 1980s basketball dynasty, and a person who most definitely has duende, mentioned it as his way to stay limber.  In fact, he said it was also allowing him to extend his career.  Interesting, but I’m way too short to dunk.

Then my partner, Susan, began going to a class on in the mid 90s.  Ten years of cajoling later, I was convinced to join her and a couple of our friends.  So for about five years now, I’ve been trying to twist my body into extremely weird positions.

Yes, I can bend over and touch the floor.  I can inhale and exhale using my abdomen with the best of ’em.  I can get into Warrior and Goddess and even lie on my back and twist my body one way while my knees go another without pain.

And that’s when success comes to a screeching halt.  The rest seems like torture–of one kind or another.  Every time I’m told to move into Plank Pose, I do it.  But the first thought that jumps to mind is “drop down and give me twenty.”  And I was never in the army. Hell, I couldn’t do more than three pushups at any point in my life.

Then plank morphs into Downward Dog.

Twenty might have been better.  At first, “assuming the position” with my butt stuck up in the air made me think of bending over for soap in jail.  It took about a month, but eventually the image disappeared and was replaced by pain in my shoulders.   My instructor tried to be helpful: Rotate the inside of your elbows forward to lessen the shoulder strain.  It did, which allowed me two or three sun salutations (extra dogs) before the pain again kicked in.

Then there’s the balance issue.  Actually it’s a nonissue; I have none.  First, I can never find a spot to stare at without seeing someone else moving since I insist on being in the back row.  I prefer making an ass out of myself without other people watching.  In theory, anyway.  I never get away scot-free–a good part of the hour, the people in front of me are bent over with their head between their legs looking at my feeble attempt to stick my own head under my crotch.

But back to balance.  We start slow by placing one foot on a yoga block and simply swinging the other leg back and forth to loosen the hip.  I’m fine for two swings, three on a good day.  Then it’s off the block and onto one leg with the other placed on the inside of the planted thigh.  I have a few problems with this.  I have a bum knee, which makes standing on that leg and lifting the other impossible.  And when we switch to the leg without my bum knee it ain’t any better.  Like I said, no balance.  At this point in the hour I start to wonder what the fuck I’m doing there, but I force myself to focus on breathing since that I’m able to do.

Only my doubts come screaming back when we’re told to turn our feet outward with our heels touching and slowly lower ourselves (spine straight!) into a squat.  Which I can also do (I often play catcher on my softball team) but I know what’s coming next.

The fucking Crow–a crouched pose where you’re supposed to flatten your hands on the floor, bend your elbows, and lift your knees onto them.  The first time I tried, my body simply refused to move out of the crouch. My teacher noticed my look of dire immobilization, came over, and lifted me up from the rear.  At that moment I understood the freeze.  My nose was inches away from the hardwood floor that was just waiting for a splattering face plant.  I’ve already broken my nose three times; I ain’t gonna do it again.  I guess Geraldo felt my entire body begin to tremble and he gently brought me back down.  Sweet of him and even sweeter is his willingness to let me roll into relaxation mode when the Crow is coming.

Especially since it’s sorta fun to lie in my back and watch some other people glide smoothly from the Crow to a headstand.  Pretty amazing sight.  Which is all it will ever be.

So, in all honesty, I am a yoga failure.  Nevertheless, I’ll keep going each Monday with the forlorn hope that, someday, I’ll be able to stand on one leg longer than 5 seconds.  And with the anticipation of our every Monday night after-yoga do.  Eating a hot (not down) dog and drinking a couple of beers.

Toxins out, Toxins in.  My yogic symmetry.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin