As an extra opportunity for fun and male bonding, best man, Josh, sent an email saying he and Matt had set up a helicopter tour of New York City on the morning of Matt’s wedding.  The six men walking down the aisle, Matt, Josh, Matt’s brother Jake, Richard, [Alyssa’s father], Andrew [Alyssa’s brother], and myself were to fly over the city from Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Washington Bridge and back to see the sights from above.

At first I wasn’t particularly worried.  I still have to wear a post-op sling virtually all the time and figured I’d get the kibosh from my physical therapist.  Who, to my surprise and chagrin, said as long as I’d be strapped in it would be fine.

Fine for her perhaps.  Not so fine for me.

See, my idea of high risk recreation has to do with driving my car without getting plowed by cell phone talking drivers in three-story SUVs.  Or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk because the street has cars, trolleys, buses and trucks.

This lack of lust for HRR (High Risk Recreation) had been confirmed when I was a teenager and my girlfriend and I rode the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Coney Island.  I survived, but just barely made it to the men’s room in time to upchuck.  When she asked whether we could ride it again, I seriously considered breaking up right then and there.  But it was her car and I needed the ride back to Jersey.

This fear of fast was reinforced about thirty years ago when I tried a white water rafting trip in Maine.  I was fine right up to the moment they passed out a loss of life and injury waiver, explaining that we’d better pay attention to the raft leader or we’d be tossed out like popcorn kernels from a hot open kettle.  My stomach knotted, throat tightened, and writing hand began to shake.  Still I signed, grabbed a paddle, and struggled onto the raft (which did have narrow sides upon which to perch) along with Sue and two other friends.

It began seductively well.  Floating down a river on a warm, sunny afternoon, the shoreline lined with beautiful trees, lulled me into a false sense of security.  My breathing normalized, I paddled along with the rest of the passengers, and listened carefully to our guide as he calmly told us what to do.

Which abruptly ended when he suddenly shouted “whitewater ahead!”  At that moment every instruction that had been given flew out of my mind and all I could do was hope I wasn’t gonna be that popped-out kernel.  The raft began to toss up and down and all the while the guide shouted instructions that my fear refused to hear.  I just hung onto my paddle and side until the rocking and rolling was over.

Once the river calmed, the guide looked back at his crew and said with a wide grin, “That was a small one.  Wait ’til we hit something decent.  Hope you’re enjoying this.”

Enjoy?  Hadn’t thought that word existed once we hit the white.  But before I had a chance to beg him to take me to the shore, he shouted again, adding “this is a big one so listen up or we’ll roll over.”

That did it.  No more side sitting for me.  I crawled onto the bottom of the raft and tried my best to grab onto its rubber floor.  Not easy, but I managed to hold something (I think it was my friend’s foot).  I stayed hunkered down there for the entire rest of the trip.

When you cross the finish line, they take pictures you can buy.  Somewhere in our collection is one with the top of my head just over the side and Sue calmly leaning forward on the very front tip of the raft.

At least I hadn’t tossed my cookies.

That experience led me to wonder about people who live for HRR.  Last week I read about four people dying in an aborted attempt to reach Mt. Everest’s summit.  Saturday I read an article that described a record breaking, successful climb of that same mountain by a seventy-three year old woman.  Go figger.  I sure can’t.  I couldn’t even read Into Thin Air.  Hell, I still keep my eyes on my feet when I walk up stairs.  Different strokes.

Even though Mt. Everest is one hell of a spit from a guided helicopter tour, you couldn’t tell it by my inability to speak as we approached the take-off point.  And I really hoped that nobody in our party saw my good hand shake (they let me wear my sling) when they strapped a flotation device around my waist before we boarded.

But once inside I immediately felt my anxiety dissipate.  I had expected five-point restraints with our backs up against the chopper’s sides, but instead found plush leather seats with normal car seatbelts (though we had to wear earphones with a speaker in order to talk to each other).  I had also expected to be buffeted about by the wind but nada.  No whitewater rafting here.  Even when the pilot banked, it was smooth and comfortable.  And the magnificence of the city was overwhelming.  Seeing New York’s skyline from above was stunning–even the new Yankee Stadium looked sweet–and I’m from Boston.

When we touched down, I actually felt sad.  Wished it had lasted much, much longer.  I woulda even been happy to fly over New Jersey.

But our tour was finished and, as we lined up to march between the lines back into the tour building, I was struck by the truth that we really only have one life to live and, where good judgment is necessary, it should never be dictated by fear.

“At the heart of the matter is a battle between wish and fear. Fear generally proves stronger than a wish, but it leaves a taste of disappointment on the tongue.”  George Packer

(A special thanks to Sherri Frank Mazzotta who stepped up last week while I stepped away.  Very much appreciated.)

A “Lifetime” Movie

I want to thank Sherri Frank Mazzotta for pinch hitting this week.  I’ll be back doing my thing next Monday.  Enjoy her post!!!  Zach

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my mother in doctors’ offices and hospitals.  “You’re my only kid that doesn’t tell me anything,” she says, apropos of nothing, as we sit in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room.  “It makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong as a parent.”

For a moment, I feel guilty.   My sisters tell my mother everything.  I have friends who are close to their mothers.  But I’ve never volunteered much about my relationships, jobs, or health.  I’m not sure why.  Here, in the waiting room, all I can do is shrug.  “Guy doesn’t tell you anything either,” I remind her, referring to my brother.  She agrees, and thankfully, moves on to another subject.

There’s no sense in sharing my thoughts now, at 47.  Is there?

It means my mother doesn’t really know me.  And I suppose, I don’t really know her.  But how do you change patterns of communication that have lasted a lifetime?

To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it.  I’ve never been one of those women who needed to write about her angst-filled relationship with her mother.  It isn’t angst-filled.  We have a good relationship, meaning we spend holidays and birthdays together.  We talk on the phone.  But expressing emotions has never come easy to my family.

Maybe it’s due to age, but suddenly my mother is pondering such issues and asking me to ponder them with her.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not prepared.

When she was having heart palpitations, she waited all night before calling.  “I didn’t want to bother you,” she says.

In the emergency room, I help her change into a johnney.  The nurse puts electrodes on her chest, and I watch the numbers on the EKG climb higher and higher.  Mom’s 73 and has mostly been in good health. But as I look at her thin arms and exposed back, I wonder if this is the beginning of tests and pills and appointments with specialists.

After the nurse leaves, my mother makes a face and whispers, “She touched my tits.”

“No she didn’t, she was just putting the disks on your chest.”

She shakes her head.  “She didn’t have to touch me there.”

This is the mother I’m used to.  The one who worries about people staring at her on the bus; people eavesdropping on her conversations; and whether the nurse is a lesbian.  Not the mother who’s worried about me keeping things from her.

After her heart rate comes down, they admit her to the hospital for more tests.  I’m afraid she’ll be nervous having a male nurse do the intake, but when he steps out for a minute, she says, “He’s handsome, isn’t he?”  I’m married, so it’s not me she wants to fix up.

The nurse has a long list of questions.  “Do you follow any special diet?”

“No,” she says, thinking hard.  “But I want to try Nutri-System.  I’ve heard it’s better than Weight Watchers.”

I laugh.  “Mom, that’s not what he’s asking.”  This is also the mother I know:  The one with a quirky sense of humor.

The nurse asks if she feels safe at home, and the question confuses her.  “Safe?  Yes, I live with my daughter.  I couldn’t have done that if my husband was still alive.  Not that I wanted him to die,” she says.  “That didn’t come out right.”

She lives with one of my sisters.  My father died nearly 20 years ago, and I’d always hoped she’d find male companionship again.  From her admiring comments about the nurse and other men over the years, I think she wanted that too.  Yet she never pursued it.

“He was my one and only,” she tells the nurse.

When I was growing up, I watched my mother apply lipstick each night before Dad came home from work.  “I still get excited when I hear his voice on the phone,” she’d say.  She got up early to make us breakfast.  Made sure we lived in a clean house and had clean clothes to wear.  Was waiting for us after school.  But I remember thinking that I didn’t want to be anything like her:  Tending to husband, house, and children.

That thought astounds me now.  Makes me ashamed because it overlooks the generosity, compassion, and selflessness that were imbued in everything she did for our family–qualities that I aspire to.

We spend two days together in the hospital.  During that time, we talk about my father, my husband, aunts, and cousins.  It’s mostly my mother talking and me listening.  Despite my silence, she says, “I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here, Sherri.”   I wish I could offer more in the way of comfort.  Wish I could share more of myself.  But instead, I focus on practicalities like helping her walk to the restroom.  Bringing food when she’s hungry.  Making sure she’s not alone when they wheel her downstairs for the echo test.

For now–because it’s always been this way–that’s all I can give.

Recently she said, “We never say ‘I love you’ in our family, but we know we love each other.  Right?”  Once again, I didn’t know how to respond.  This is a new way of talking.  A new kind of courage.  Maybe someday I’ll have that courage too.  But it won’t be like a Lifetime movie, where one traumatic event suddenly brings us closer together; makes us spill our emotions like a sticky syrup.  It will happen–if it happens at all–gradually.  Clumsily.  One moment at a time.

At the end of that first day in the hospital, after yet another nurse had examined her, my mother looked at me and said, “Everybody’s playing with my tits today, I don’t know what it is.”

“They must be a hell of a pair,” I said, and we both laughed.

It was one moment.  One brief moment out of thousands more to come.



I’ve never stepped on a major league pitching mound.  My name is not Curt Schilling, but my Sox are bleeding anyway.

I’ve written a number of times about my love of baseball.  The beauty I see between the white lines, the sweat and prep and luck it takes to reach the majors, the joy of watching people play.

I also appreciate baseball.  During the 1980s I discovered Bill James, a writer/statistician who significantly changed the traditional paradigms of evaluating an individual player’s talent, and team statistics.  He analyzed baseball from a perspective so different it opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing the game.  And you know he had to be one hell of a writer for me to understand what he was saying since I still count on my fingers.

But there is another side to the love of the game: being a fan and rooting for a particular team.  Truth is, I have many team allegiances, but I’ve lived in Boston longer than anywhere else so I’m first and foremost a Red Sox fan.

Hell, at one point I lived close enough to Fenway Park to hear the voice of announcer Sherm Feller, through my open windows.  Or to walk over before an afternoon game and score a ticket.  In those days, tickets were available and affordable.

Neither are true today–though you can still get tix through re-sellers.  If you don’t mind turning your pockets inside out.

Just one of many downsides when you finally field a championship team.

Before the Sox were winners, they had a different karma–heart breakers.  I remember a World Series game that was one out away from winning the whole enchilada.  It was the middle of the night so I ran around the house waking up Sue, Matt, and even Jake who didn’t know a baseball from a Big Wheel.  I wanted them to see history.  They did; they saw a ground ball dribble through our first baseman’s legs instead of the championship out.

But that was then.  New century, new ownership, new general manager, new attitude.  Theo Epstein, the youthful GM, even hired Bill James as a consultant.  Still, it took a while for the karma to change.  There was one last hammer to the head season when, during the definitive play-off game that would send us to the Series (and a game we were winning), our manager sent pitching great Pedro Martinez back to the mound in the eighth.  Everyone in the stands, watching on television, listening on the radio, knew Pedro was gassed.  Done.  Nothing left.  Need I say more?  We’re talking another heartbreaking season.

2004 changed Red Sox fever.  We felt the decades of heartache and hatred–even the Curse–were in the past.  We could actually hope.  And succeed.  After 86 years and a record-breaking three game comeback during the play-offs against our arch rival Yankees, we actually won the World Series.  How sweet it was.  How sweet it was.

There was a new attitude.  Big-time spending on players by the new owners (Baseball economics creates a huge differential in terms of wealthy and less wealthy teams.  For years the Yankee’s were vilified about “buying pennants” but, though true, a number of teams are now in that club including the Red Sox).  Management hired a fresh manager, Terry Francona, who bought into the relatively new statistical analyses that James and Epstein believed in.  (Read Money Ball by Michael Lewis for a lucid explanation of these new tools.)

Our bright view was rewarded.  Another World Series ‘W’ in 2007.  Fan life was good.  Fan life was good.  Very, very good.

But now it’s 2012 and something is rotten in Red Sox Nation.

After last season’s historic September collapse, Francona was sacked, Theo Epstein left to try to replicate his magic or luck with the hapless Chicago Cubs, our new GM crapped on by ownership when they rejected his managerial choice.

And ownership’s choice for manager is looking like a pitcher who lost his fastball.  For a team that still relies upon statistical analysis, when the manager doesn’t know whether the opponent’s pitcher is left or right handed, you gotta raise your brows.

(To be “fair” around $70,000,000 of talent is injured so you could argue the teams’ dismal end to last season and beginning of this is out of their control.  You could, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.)

Drought has dug in and suddenly the old break your heart fear (come close but no cigar) is sliding into the 60’s mindset of “they stink,” with a litany of reasons and numbers.

But there are other indications that don’t fit into baseball’s stat game.  Snakebites.  And while I’m not a superstitious person, when the fan has hold, then hold the damn phone.  Everything is a sign.

Which all point to the cellar.  Which makes me hope I’m very wrong.  (I’ve said “the season is still young” a ton of times.  True, but not really reflective of my gut.)

Sue, whose best sports moment is Hoosiers, watched and suffered through the Pedro pitching fiasco.  As is our custom, she fell asleep while I worked the clicker.  About an hour later, she burst out of a very deep sleep, lifted up onto her elbow, turned toward me, eyes closed, and said; “If this is what it means to be a sports fan, then I say fuck it.”

I say, good for her, ’cause I can’t.  I’m gonna bleed until my Sox are in the washer.  Or not.

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” Marilyn vos Savant


On May 19th my oldest son is marrying Alyssa Casden, a truly wonderful woman.  The marriage comes at the end of one of Matt’s most painful years when his mother and his mother’s sister died within months of each other.

Dealing with death is always tough, but not only did Matt and Alyssa work through their emotions, they played point on all the arrangements and every detail.

Yes, they had help.  Peg and Marlene’s friends, us, Jake, Alyssa’s family–but the weight fell on them.  Bigtime.

Watching Matt handle the situation with calm sensitivity wasn’t a surprise.  Alyssa at his side didn’t surprise either.  But until Federal Judge, Mark Wolf, who will officiate their ceremony, asked Sue and I to write about them that my lack of surprise made serious sense.

When I think of life together with Matt, lots of thoughts and images pop into my mind.  He began living with me half the week at a point where I was much less stable than now.  But he rolled with it.  Even enjoyed some of the mishigas like being brought to school on a motorcycle (I wrapped a rope around the two of us) or when we hitch-hiked in town when I no longer had the cycle or a car.  Hard for people not to stop when a little, little guy has his thumb out.

He didn’t eat all that well when with me since I can’t cook.  Spagettios were a staple as was baked macaroni, the only meal I knew how to make.  But we did well, despite the lack of nutrition, and having to move into different apartments a couple of times during those early years

But more importantly than us doing well was Matt’s ability to do tremendously well academically and socially no matter what was happening in his home life.  Which, as time moved on, became more stable–as did I.

We moved in with my friend Bill who helped father Matt in more ways than I can count.  Built him his own house out of a giant empty refrigerator box and was always willing to play ‘pong’ which was the video game of those times.  We also ate a whole lot better.  It was Bill who took him to newly created video arcades.  Bill and Matt had a ton of fun together and still do whenever Matt visits.  And it still makes me happy to watch them hang.

But when Matt was seven our lives really settled down once we moved in with Sue.  During those beginning years I worked evenings at home upstairs.  When I’d come down after meeting with a client, many times during the week Matt and Sue were sitting at our kitchen’s enamel topped table having tea together along with an after-school snack.  And often their conversation centered around going to movies and having a ‘candy’ supper.

Despite the sugar, or perhaps because of it, I was always amazed at his intense work ethic.  I knew he was both smart and insightful, but the degree of commitment to flat out work (academic or otherwise) was mind-boggling.  I can’t count the number of times during high-school when, at 1 A.M. and I was ready for bed, I’d go into Matt’s room and find him asleep in his clothes, school book open on his face.  I’d wake him, suggest he go to sleep, and was consistently met with, “Thanks for waking me, Dad. I just want to get in one more hour.”

As someone (me) who always had difficulty with school, there were times when Matt’s success blew me away.  When he graduated from Boston Latin as president of his class, 6th academically, then accepted to Yale with close to a full boat, I felt like an immigrant parent: “My son the American.” 

It was also during his high-school years when his half-brother was born.  When Jake was able to motor around the house, Matt used to lay on the living room floor, wait until Little Guy was in reach, snatch him, and roll around wrestling and tickling until Jake would ‘get away’ and repeat his run waiting for the next grab.

Watching them become even closer now, as they both grow older, has given both Sue and I great pleasure.  And gave Peggy pleasure as well when she was alive.

Another picture also always comes to mind.  Matt’s internal desire to meet, reach out, make friends with people of all colors and nationalities.  A tough do in Boston.  But something he did from before high-school and continues to this day. Something that makes me proud and appreciative about the person he is.

And of course my intense satisfaction in knowing about all the positive work he’s done from his high-school years to now with people less fortunate.  Matt has an unending commitment to helping high risk kids in inner city schools.  It’s pretty clear he won’t rest easy until schools and school related programs provide an education that gives these kids a legitimate shot at a decent life.

Which goes for Alyssa as well.  It’s not accidental that they share those basic beliefs and dedicate their lives to them.

I can’t imagine anything that could bring more joy to a parent (me again) than loving Alyssa, for who she is herself, as well as for the wonderful qualities she elicits from my son.  I simply can’t imagine a better example of people who love and bring out the best in each other.

As mentioned above, Alyssa lived through one of the most difficult times in Matthew’s life.  And stood shoulder to shoulder every inch of the way.  I have absolutely no doubt he would have done the same.  It’s pretty damn nice to see people who love and give to each other.  It’s a mitzvah.

And finally, having spent time with Alyssa’s family, it’s gonna be really great to have them as relatives.

Although I’ll be writing next Monday’s post, Sherri Frank Mazzotta will pinch hit for the 21st.  The following week I’ll be hunting and pecking, the only difference–I’ll have a larger family.  And will love it.

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming “WOW, WHAT A RIDE”