What Happened to the Mouse?

What Happened to the Mouse?

Look, I recognize that I am at the front of the Baby Booming Bulge and that my notion of contemporary culture may have stalled somewhere in the mid-seventies, but I grew up with the assurance that Disney’s groundbreaking mouse was the most recognized figure in the world.  Clearly, that is no longer the case.  In fact, from what I can see, Mickey is running a poor third or fourth in the Disney pantheon of Disney favorites and limping along in terms of endorsement and merchandising.

Maybe not even fourth or fifth.

You’ve probably wondered just how many Disney characters are walking around Disney World during the course of a day.  How about one hundred and fifty mostly loveable members of the Disney cast, sweating their way as Grumpy or Goofy?   Visitors to the Magic Kingdom vote with their feet, and according to someone, the most sought out characters on the lot are Chip and Dale, Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear, Elsa, and Anna.  There are several version of Mickey on hand, the most popular of which is Mickey the Magician, but compared to some of the most heavily merchandised, even magic is a slow sell.

The next batch are almost entirely the catalogue of heroines generally known as the Disney Princesses.  Some are of royal blood – Elsa, Anna, Jasmine, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White  – and some soon may be.  I’m not sure what rank Beast held before becoming beastly, but Belle will certainly move up several notches as the lady of his house.  Rapunzel is all set, and Mulan is probably somewhere in the upper echelon of imperial advisors.

A younger crowd is fine with Mickey and Minnie, much more popular when they appear together, but is considerably more excited in meeting Winnie the Pooh  Eeyore, Tigger, and the rest of the denizens of the 100 Acre Wood, Tinkerbell, Simba, and Nala.

There are some oddities among the most popular; Gaston, for example packs ’em in as do Lady Tremaine, Drizella, and Anastasia. Ariel’s nemesis, Ursula and her companions, Flotsam and Jetsam, not so much.

In terms of merchandising, Disney’s richest haul has come in absorbing the Marvel and Star Wars franchises.  No contest.  But in the standard Disney line, the Disney Princesses as a team pulled in 1.6 billion bucks last year followed by the Winnie the Pooh line of stuffed animals and clothes at 1.09 billion.  Next, not just in the Disney stable but across all demographics, Cars I and II (1.05 billion ).  The Hello Kitty line intrudes on the Disney sweep, but a group identified as Mickey And His Friends (Donald, Goofy, Pluto, etc) pull in 750 million.

And his friends.  Et al.  Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  Ludwig von Drake.

I’m not worried about Mickey; I’m sure he’s been putting something aside since his days as a roguish scamp and the trendsetting rodent in the Disney menagerie.  The various iterations of Mickey Mouse have kept pace with the times, even as the jollity of cartoon life was eventually replaced with the heavy lifting expected of a corporate magnate. He’s still the face of Disney, a sop to those of us who remember Disney as a cartoon factory, relatively benign and cheerful.  From the 1940’s on, perhaps we think of fairy tales and nature films.  Then, with the widespread ownership of televisions, at first a Mouseketeer clubhouse, then A Wonderful World of Color.  Mickey has survived the corporatization of the Disney brand and still gets a lot of facetime at all of the Disney outlets and the various kingdoms; the mouse, his ears, still respected merchandising icons.

Who took Mickey’s place as the most recognized, most iconic figure in the world?

That would be Michael Jordan, who despite having retired from the NBA thirteen years ago, pulls in something like 100 million a year from endorsements and who generates about 1.7 billion a year in sales.

OK, even the most rabid of Michael Jordan fans have to agree that in terms of cartoon viability, almost any of the mouseworks holds up better than ProStars, the Saturday Morning Cartoon featuring Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky as crime fighters, and yet, there’s Jordan on billboards around the world.

What to make of this shift in popular culture?  Sign of the times?  Sign of the Apocalypse?  Maybe an indication that we’ve lost a little innocence, some small measure of faith in tiny ambassadors of goodwill and buoyant, spunky little guys who beat the odds?

On the other hand, Hello Kitty?





Apparently, Money Might Be Able To Buy A Little Happiness

Apparently, Money Might Be Able To Buy A Little Happiness

I’m squarely mired in the late 20th Century, barely able to operate my phone and texting at the speed of tar.  I’ve got a few favorite sources of news and information and subscribe to both the print and digital versions, assuming, I guess, that I might miss something were I to settle into one mode over the other, but still more comfortable in reading hard copy.

All of which is to say that Time Magazine sends me daily teasers which I generally ignore.  Yesterday, however, the tag line was, “Money Really Can Buy Happiness”.  P.T. Barnum was probably gentle in making the observation that a sucker is born every minute as my inner sucker is reborn time and again when the improbable seems too delicious to ignore.

So, I opened the article, primarily wondering who measures happiness in any meaningful way, what kind of money,  and why hadn’t they called me?  The heartening and completely unsurprising result of the incompletely described research is that the folks who were given money to spend in any way they wish were happier when they spent on others than when they spent on themselves.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered that observation – “It is better to give” … and so on, but I’m pleased to know that scientific inquiry supports what might be called generosity.  Happiness is ephemeral, fleeting, and not all that easy to pin down, despite the plethora of posters and buttons that offer pithy resolutions to be followed on the road to Happytown.

“There is no road to happiness; happiness is the path”

“When it rains, look for rainbows; when it’s dark, look for stars.”

“Life only comes around once, so do whatever makes you happy, and be with whoever makes you smile.”

Whomever, but let it go.

“… be with those who make you smile” would work, but … no, leave it alone.

The point is that every one of those statements is excellent advice, but similar to the advice given to one who would become an accomplished artist:

“Become a perfect person then paint naturally.”

OK, and yet.  Still fleeting, ephemeral, and not easily summoned.

Let’s agree for a moment that we’ll consider all these suggestions without irony.  If, say, happiness is the path, it seems there’s an obligation to take steps along the way, and, the enlightened seem to be arguing, it is the steps themselves that make the difference.  Since we can’t buy our way to happiness or, based on my experience, think our way to happiness, there’s nothing left but to try this generosity ploy, this selfless consideration of others gambit.

Let’s pare this down to the essential action step.

Act as if the well-being of others mattered.  Take the actions that one would take if, say, the well-being of others mattered.  There’s no need to wear a hair shirt or make yourself a doormat, even if, maybe especially if, the doormat role has been the go-to mode of being for a while.  The key, from what I can gather, is moving beyond intention into action – making the phone call, writing the letter, stopping by.

Apparently, it’s also good to give something if you can.

Time Magazine did not offer research into the salutary effect of petting kittens or puppies, but it’s worth remembering that’s always a reasonable last-ditch option should all else fail.  Giving puppies to others?  Not always appreciated.

Leaving puppies and Time Magazine behind, I turned to a short and giddy work, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Michael Norton, a professor of marketing at Harvard.

Leaving aside the observation that having money to spend in the first place may be a happier state of being than not having money to spend in any fashion, the authors suggest five significant was to spend happily, suggestions fortified by the same sort of research our pals at Time carried out.

The first of these is to spend on experiences rather than stuff.

I’m not a hoarder (I know,  if I have to make that case, I’m probably a hoarder), but I am surrounded by stuff, even after having touched every  object as the tidiness experts have instructed, waiting for the “spark of joy” that separates the articles that I must keep from those that need to be packed up and left at the curb with the “Free to Good Home” sign taped to the box(es).  I face the unlikely truth that experiences may have more “happy clout” (not a scientific term) than yet another pair of shoes or Roy Rogers lunchbox.

Next, it appears that we actually do better in giving ourselves a treat from time to time, especially in celebrating the treat, openly, dare we say, happily.  No, we can’t spend every night out on the town, but hitting a great restaurant or a special concert as a treat seems to be the sorts of experiences that linger in the memory.

Overwhelmed?  About to snap?  These scientists argue that one of the happiest investments we can make with whatever money we have to spend may be in buying time.  Time off.  Time away.  Time with.  Time without.  Time to think.  Time to play.  Time to remember.  Time to connect.

Pay now, consume later.  This is the trickiest of the strategies, well conceived, but tough to work out in practical terms.  Let’s say we intend to treat ourselves, have an experience, spend some money in the hope of enjoying the memory of the event as much as the event.  So far, so good.  But, if the last thing we remember is paying for the meal, some of the jolly encounter can be mitigated by remembering the cost of the appetizers or the desert.  Perhaps we just went ahead and ordered willy-nilly, without considering cost.  “Yikes”, we say, or something along those lines; “That cost a lot more than I thought it would.”  Experience soured.

Pay in advance.  A week in advance.  A month in  advance.  Buy a gift card or a coupon or a ticket.  Remember the experience and not the cost.

Finally, our scientific duo arrive at the very lesson we learned at the start of this conversation.

Invest in others.

I remember being asked as what I wanted to be and answering, “I’d like to be a patron.”  That hasn’t turned out to be the vocation I’ve pursued for most of my life, but there have been moments in which I have been able to help someone in a small way by buying a painting or buying a ticket to a concert or performance, occasionally several tickets, and, in more than one holiday season, feeling blue for all the reasons that folks feel blue during holiday seasons, I’ve written checks for not-very-much-money and sent them to institutions and agencies that help people.

Do I have scientific proof that spending money in that way made me happy?  No.  But I remember it as making me feel ok, actually feel ok in remembering it now.  Not so bad as spending goes, and where would I put another lunchbox anyway?


So, What Do You Do With A Broken Heart?

So, What Do You Do With A Broken Heart?

I haven’t written anything of substance for weeks.

I was able to keep going when the prospect of a Trump presidency depressed and frightened me, even when the reality of the Trump presidency turned out to be more chaotic and unsettling than I had imagined.  I can function in opposition to an administration, as I have for most of my life, even recognizing that the stakes are higher than they have ever been; I don’t believe the Democratic Party has the starch to restore checks and balance to American polity, but I can imagine various coalitions that might.

The Trump candidacy brought hate groups out of the shadows; there were more than a thousand hate crimes in the first month following his inauguration.  Even so, I thought the rule of law and the mechanisms of justice would hold.  The response to the assault on what I had taken to be ordinary decency in Charlottesville shook me.  Once again, I heard rhetoric and saw violence that has become, incredibly, almost commonplace in the last year.

Many of the 917 hate groups in the United States identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (Please donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center … they’re on the front line of hate crimes) were represented in Charlottesville, claiming to Unite the Right in order to “take back America”.  They are found in red states and blue, in the North and in the South.  The President’s reluctance to condemn race warriors was more than disheartening, emboldening nativist white supremacists as much of candidate Trump’s rhetoric had and contributed to the perception that for all but White Christian heterosexual Americans there would be “no safe space”.

It breaks my heart to see we are still a nation divided by racial hatred.  I’ll do what I can, but I do despair.

On September 11th, 2001, I was hiking and camping with a group of 10th graders in the Upper Yosemite, on a trail from Glen Aulin to May Lake.  I ran into another hiker on September 12th who told me that New York City had been attacked.  I said nothing to my students; I did not know if the account was credible.  We came out of the woods on Friday of that week, and I saw the news for the first time.

I was shaken then as I am now, almost frozen with despair.  I could not read or write for months, and I had to stop watching and listening to journalists.  I closed down in many ways, gathering my family close and paying attention to my job.

The only safe distraction came in watching sports.  I would have watched strongest man competitions, lumber sports, dock diving dogs, but, thankfully, the baseball season came back to life, and I found particular comfort in watching college football.

All of which is to explain why, after amusing myself by writing whimsically on a daily basis, I am unable to summon much whimsy.  I’ve posted an earlier essay hoping that the center can hold, the rule of law survive, and safe places can be maintained, but, for a bit, I’m writing about sports, and about college football in particular.

I  write about football for Fansided, a blog site operated by the Time Magazine octopus.  The agreement under which I write (for free) insists that I not post on any other site, so the Cogitator may publish infrequently until I am encouraged enough by the nation’s ability to restore itself to post again.  I’ll post the football stuff on Facebook, but expect that all but a few diehard fans of Michigan football will follow me to the rabid fan site.

Thanks to those who have followed me here.




Desperate Times, Moderate Measures

Desperate Times, Moderate Measures

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”  The Second Coming.  William Butler Yeats

In brief: Partisan politics threaten the operation of every governing body; centrifugal ideological forces pull citizens farther and farther apart; the security of individuals and  institutions is in peril.  Those who have longed for the apocalypse  may be cheered by the fragmentation of democratic institutions; those who hoped to simply shake things up may be less sanguine.  Many of us simply fear that we have lost our way, lost our common identity, lost the ability to find common ground.

On the day after the election, we awoke to find signs proclaiming that there was “No Safe Place”, not a warning but a promise, and, as promised, we’re hard pressed to find much that has remained secure.  Two thirds of voting Americans feel that neither political party has shown the ability to govern in the interest of ordinary people.

Stalemate.  Gridlock.  We’re stuck.  And yet, effective government remains the best hope of securing a democratic nation.  What’s a pragmatist to do?  How can deeply held and contending principles be set aside in order to secure the institutions that protect us all?

I’m a progressive with strongly held convictions; I would have been pleased to see a nation as imagined by Bernie Sanders.  And yet, perilous times have forced me to identify primary principles that cannot be abandoned, even as we agree to disagree issue by issue and crisis by crisis.

The rule of law must remain secure, and the rights of individuals as identified in the Constitution have to be protected.

I am now willing to join forces with people who do not share my conviction that the global environment is at risk, that the disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor is disgraceful, that the best government promotes the capacities of every individual.  I would rather travel and speak with those who share my beliefs, but we are in rough water and need to find a boat buoyant enough to protect us all, a “Safe Place” for us all.

Black Lives do matter, holding an armed paramilitary police force accountable is still necessary, the health care system has to be reformed, religious freedom must be maintained, banks do need to be regulated, the rights of transgender people have to be protected, financial equality for women in the workforce has to be secured, hungry children have to be fed.  But none of that happens in a nation in which bullies are allowed to celebrate hatred and violence, in which race war is the stuff of nightly news.

I’ll stick close to my progressive friends and continue to press for reform, but I no longer believe the Democratic Party has the capacity to offer leadership at this point in our history.  Our best hope at this point is to reclaim decency, and that means finding the ability to identify with people whose experience of the world is different from my own.

With regret, but with hope, I’ll move to the center.

The Centerist Project gained momentum as interest in the “NeverTrump” movement intensified , presenting  Utah’s Evan McMullen’s candidacy as an independent who might gain enough traction  the electoral college to disrupt Trump’s bid for the presidency.  That strategy did not succeed, but the identification of an agency by which candidates running independently might seek political office is interesting.  I do not share McMullen’s version of fiscal responsibility, but I can endorse the principles held by Centerists:

Social Tolerance, Functioning Government, Economic Opportunity, Solving Problems, Environmental Responsibility.

I would rather endorse inclusion than settle for tolerance, but for a while, let’s just make sure we protect tolerance, the rule of law, and justice.  In the interest of endorsing independent candidates eager to make government work, I’ll huddle under a tent that looks big enough for now.

I don’t know if the center can hold; old partisan habits die hard.  It isn’t easy to think of moderation as revolutionary, but perhaps desperate times call for a measured response.




A Misspent Youth

A Misspent Youth

Let’s get this straight:  While I feel not one jot of guilt for the many ways in which the best years of my young life were squandered, I am very much aware of the many opportunities lost as I mastered skills that would serve no useful purpose in my later life and certainly provided no benefit to society.  What in particular was left unattended?

Well, math, polite conversation, woodburning, knot tying, automobile maintenance, maintenance of any sort really, French, practicing the piano, laundry, letter writing, weeding, emptying the litter box, art, thank you notes, sensible eating, flags of the world, patience, and sundry other worthwhile attainments.  Any of which might have profited me handsomely, or at least might have prevented some of the notable failures that haunted me into late adolescence.

There were a few scattered, half-hearted undertakings, but I lacked ambition and grit, and thus rarely stuck with truly challenging enterprises. The Cub Scouts, for example, expected quite a bit from its Bobcats, Tiger Cubs, Wolves, Bears, Webelos, and Arrows of Light.  I can state that with confidence without having actually navigated my way up the food chain.  This partially successful Bobcat (newcomer rank) sailed through the first level of scouting which involved buying the shirt, patch, and cap.  I suppose I should give a parent some credit for the purchase as my weekly allowance would hardly cover the cost of Cub duds, and, as previously outlined, saving up for something I wanted  would have belonged in the general category of postponing gratification, a skill set I chose not to develop.  The next hurdle involved mastery of the Scout Sign, two fingers held aloft, essentially rabbit ears, a physical challenge I managed easily, and the ability to explain the meaning of the sign (“to help other people” and “to obey”), neither of which seemed very interesting but were at least relatively uncomplicated.  The next step was to memorize the Law of the Pack and the Cub Scout Motto.  I never got to the motto, primarily because the Law of the Pack, which begins with the phrase, “The Cub Scout follows Akela…”,  was so puzzling that I quietly shed my blue beanie and left the pack to its own devices.  My subscription to Boy’s Life, the magazine of scouting, followed me into my freshman year at college, but I never earned a single merit badge, no backpacking badge, no dentistry badge, no leather work badge.

So, how did I spend those formative years?  I read quite a bit, evading the school’s assigned reading almost from the start, lolling happily with Frank and Joe Hardy and their chums, Chet Morton (i.e. “me”, chunky and dim) and Biff Hooper (i.e. “my inner jock” – six feet tall, blonde, and athletic).  Disorganized in every other venture, I began with The Tower Treasure and read the books in order until the start of the eleventh grade, when I found The Viking Symbol Mystery less engaging than I had hoped.  I read books about baseball and football, books about space and time travel, books about lost civilizations, and books about knights and dragons.

In what may have been the most curious impulse but perhaps the most profitable, I read the dictionary and the World Book Encyclopedia.  Had I made the final cut for Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, I might have been able to monetize the hours spent poring over accounts historical, scientific, and technical.  On the other hand, I only had access to the edition of the World Book published in 1917, so some articles probably called for updating.  On the third hand, the descriptions were delicious and far more evocative than those appearing in the 1950’s and ’60s, as was this description of the Basque.

“Basque – a brave, proud, and independent people whom no invaders have ever crushed or expelled from their native province in Northern Spain and the southwestern corner of France, near the Pyrenees.”

Upon consideration, perhaps these were not the most curious of occupations.  I’ve written elsewhere of my fascination with professional wrestling and dissection; as Stan Lee might put it – ‘Nuff Said.  So, yes, I read comics by the truckload as well.  And then …

It pains me to admit that I spent a great deal of time perfecting sound effects of all sorts, many of which punctuated instruction in the classroom, most notably the long whistle of a bomb falling from great height, exploding on impact with at least four separate sorts of concussion.  Impressive but not appreciated.  With regard to impressions, I did a fair Bela Lugosi and Donald Duck, but the sole effect I employ even now, a hair-raising and spot-on evocation of a cat in terminal battle mode, continues to go unappreciated no matter how often I trot it out.

There was no merit badge for the mastery of the “rat tail”, a towel moistened at the tip, curled and snapped in one fluid motion, but it was an entirely necessary protective measure as ten or fifteen boys, a considerable number of whom were hormonally challenged and eager to express their sublimated vitality with aggressive manoeuvres of various degrees of intensity, were herded naked into a shower room each afternoon following required team sport.  I was among the smallest and certainly among the two or three chunkiest, an obvious target, easy to corner, clumsy enough to fall against the bank of radiators.  During the subsequent summer, a well-meaning but likely insane relative thought I would find a visit to a tannery jolly fun.  I did not, and the stench of flayed animals remains with me to this day.  I knew something like that smell, of course, as my wet buttocks and flanks had been frequently pushed into the steaming radiators, leaving vertical burns of varying sizes.  I was reluctant to show these burns to the school nurse, but they were increasingly angry as they went untreated.  I finally swallowed my pride and bared my backside, but I determined not to put myself in danger again.

Thus the rat tail.  Yes, I had to enter the shower room, but carrying a towel, I had a weapon at hand.  I pictured myself Zorro or Lash LaRue, an artist with a whip.  I was and am able to twirl a towel and snap it with precision in a single motion.  As I am rarely assaulted in showers these days, I have to content myself with idly snapping a magazine from a shelf or a toothbrush from the side of the sink.  A dry towel snaps, but a moistened towel delivers a stinging slap, as my toothbrush can attest.

In recent years, I have found that I can kick-start any conversation by asking if my companion has a hidden or secret talent.  It is my experience that everyone does, from the ability to belch the alphabet to the wiggling of ears.  I’ll offer the yowling cat, but I long for the day when a stranger asks if anyone in the room can snap a rat tail with a pop so loud that it sounds like fireworks.  I may have to wait for some time.  Disappointng.

My brother posts frequently on Facebook and YouTube.  Perhaps the time has come for me to offer my own instructional videos.  I have this heavy yellow towel with exactly the right heft;  check local listings.









Here’s Why I Watched Twenty-Eight Hours Of Tennis Last Week

Here’s Why I Watched Twenty-Eight Hours Of Tennis Last Week

First of all, it’s July.

No college football for seven weeks, watching summer league basketball is like watching warm-up drills, college baseball is done, college softball is done, the National Spelling Bee is done, major league baseball was on hiatus for the All Star Game, the Little League World Series hadn’t started yet, and Battle of the Network Stars … well, let’s just remember that last week’s highlight consisted of Corbin Bernsen thumping  Cornelius Smith, Jr. in basketball.

Or, I could watch round-after-round of tennis from Wimbledon.

I confess an unhealthy regard for pomp and circumstance, the trappings of tradition, and the genteel reminder of what sport once looked like in an age of determined, and, yes, blissful, ignorance of a world beyond the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, home to the oldest tennis championship in the world.  The Championships, Wimbledon (usually referred to as Wimbledon) are played on grass courts, the only one of the Grand Slam or major championships to be played on grass.  The which would be more than enough to make Wimbledon refreshingly outdated and charming, even if dangerously close to the merely precious .  By the end f the second week, it is true, the courts show some wear, but at the start, just after they have been trimmed by what is a virtual grass Zamboni, they are magnificent.

Place, then, remarkably fit young men and women, dressed with uniform modesty in white on the courts of green, and the spectacle is unlike most other athletic contests with the obvious exception of the other pastimes played only by mad dogs and Englishmen, games such as croquet, cricket, and lawn bowls, games in which wearing white was eminently sensible at noonday in the far reaches of the now almost forgotten empire.  “Tennis whites” were the standard of dress for decades, deflecting the heat and pronouncing the player wealthy enough to have easily stained clothing dry cleaned, or, one presumes, cast off, given to urchins begging at the gates or to housekeepers puzzled by the prospect of donning a tennis dress.  In addition, tennis sounds different from other sports, at least from the sports I watch.  I have to assume that crowd noise builds in lawn bowls, but just as the tree falling in an empty woods creates an enduring koan, the tumult of the bowls crowd has to remain hypothetical.  Now that golf’s formerly hushed and properly reverential followers have given way to raucous “In The Hole” yahooing, it is only tennis in which decorum remains as essential as Wimbledon’s signature strawberries and cream, decorum so carefully guarded that players wearing black (or blue) underwear are escorted off the courts and advised to make sure that every layer of tennis wear togs as white as the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow .

The sharp contrast of white against a green background is pleasing indeed, but the greater pleasures are best described in contrast to other sports.  Want action?  There are no huddles in tennis, no trips to the mound; coaches are sequestered in seats at a remove from the courts. Yes, there is the opportunity for an instant replay; each player is granted three challenges to the umpires’ calls, But, and this is part of the on-the-ground strategy that sets tennis apart, a challenge used ill-advisedly is a challenge not available in a situation that may determine the outcome of the match.

Want power?  A powerful serve hitting the opponent’s court at up to one hundred and forty miles per hour is comparable in many way to the home run, but that serve is likely to be returned with close to equal force, initiating a true battle, shot-by-shot, game after game.  Some might argue that although tennis is nothing but action, an evenly matched pair of players can play at the height of their powers for hours until one finally outmatches the other.  True, but every minute of that long set or match is filled with constant and often spectacular action.  While a baseball game does occasionally sparkle as a great throw from centerfield catches the runner at the plate, or a third baseman spread eagles on the line to grab a rocket shot to the hot corner, we’re lucky to get one or two web gems per game.  Great tennis shots?  In an exchange on any length, we’ll see at least two or three per point.

Points?  How about this?  There are no ties in tennis; there are no matches that end up nil-to-nil.  One tennis player will score every time the ball is served, and should the game score remain even, a tie-breaking game finishes things off with a flourish.  The outcome of a hockey or soccer game can come down to a shoot-off.  Please.  Tennis does not lower itself to an unseemly trading of powerful serves to end a game.

It should also be noted that tennis is the only major sport I know in which the quality of women’s play and men’s play are recognized and appreciated with equal enthusiasm.   There are cycles, eras in which the men’s game is rich with great rivalry, but there are equally compelling eras in which remarkable women players seem to emerge at the same time. When we speak of tennis legends, we are as likely to think of Martina Navratilova as we are to think of Pete Sampras.  I’m not sure that there is another sport which could produce a female athlete such as Serena Williams who is considered the most dominant athlete of a decade, comparable to Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady.

Every sport has its share of odd characters, and here I’m assuming again that there are croquet cut-ups and bawdy cricketers, and tennis has its share of bad boys and girls, but not as vile as those in, say, the NFL and NBA.   Would I choose to ride in a closed car with any of the NFL’s unreformed wife-beaters?  Uh, no.  Could I survive the same trip with John McEnroe or Ilie Nastase?  Sure.

I have my favorites, to be sure, and Britain’s Andy Murray is not among them.  He went off again, berating an umpire at Wimbledon when a ballboy inadvertently put a women’s ball into play during a match that Murray lost.  Ok, I’m not going to go into the difference at Wimbledon between the ball used by men and that used by women; it has to do with fuzz, and that is outside the scope of this article.  In any case, yes, Murray was foul-mouthed and surly in the heat of battle, but … it was Murray who responded to the off-handed sexism of a reporter who declared that Sam Querrey, who had defeated Murray, would be the first American player to reach a final match at Wimbledon since 2009.  “Male player”, Murray interrupted.  That correction came quickly and in the midst of an interview conducted within minutes of what must have been a devastating loss for Murray.  And, it is Murray who has considered boycotting the Australian Open, another Grand Slam event, as the venue includes a court named after a noted homophobe, Margaret Court.

So I spent some part of two weeks watching the brilliant play and unexpected upsets that Wimbledon brought us this year.  Do I intend to settle in to watch play in the somewhat less rarefied mess that is the US Open, played on hard courts in New York?  Am I preparing for another half-month at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, Queens?









How Can I Live In The Free World And Not Find Game Of Thrones Spoilers Everywhere I Turn?

How Can I Live In The Free World And Not Find Game Of Thrones Spoilers Everywhere I Turn?

It’s not an addiction. I can stop whenever I want to. It’s just a show; I can live without it. Money’s a little tight; no room for HBO at the moment, and like the grown up that I am, I did not hit savings to buy the Direct TV package. Didn’t even call to see how much it would be to catch the entire new run.

That might not be true.

OK, I did call, but that’s as far as it went, and I made it through the first week without weakening, even though I can’t step out of the house without hearing someone somewhere chattering about the first episode, which I probably wouldn’t watch until the end of the run anyway because I like to wallow in the entire season, living on Epic Chicken Sesame Bars and Cheetos. Which is not to say that I would walk out of a friend’s house if he happened to be screening that episode, figuring I could watch it again when the rest of the series was in the can, although watching with a friend absolutely reduces the probability of Cheetos. Some people get all fidgety when I rub my orange fingers on my socks, but I’m pretty sure that gets off most of the orange.

Yeah. That might not be true either.

In any case, until I’ve saved up enough to feed my unfortunate habit, I’m determined to avoid the entire season without stumbling over the crucial plot developments, which, to be honest, are really character deaths and dismemberment. The actual plot is pretty well clear, unless HBO decides to send George Martin into dragon withdrawal (not a spoiler). I do pretty well at guessing who is next to feel the cold embrace of the White Walkers or the tang of an embolism inducing potion. I admit, I did choke on Cheetos during the Red Wedding. Should have seen that coming.

But, in order to protect myself, I’ll have to avoid popular magazines, which will mean not shopping at my local grocery store as they not only line the checkout aisle with screaming headlines but also have the most provocative right in front of the cashier, so I’d have to pay with my eyes averted, which is obviously not a good look at any time but especially when pushing my card into the reader.

TV is ok, I think, as long as I stay away from anything produced live. I have been watching reruns of Bewitched anyway and have eight years of 24 in the slot for the moment when Dick Sargent replaces Dick York as Darrin. Don’t get me started on the Darrin Syndrome; we’re not stupid, Television.

But, and here’s the rub, I also can’t go on line without an internet buddy to screen the sites I reach, and even then I’ll have to figure out how to go into a coma when pop ups pop up. I do that already in most cases, and, since flaying is no longer as likely as it was in the Ramsay Bolton era, I can probably swerve away before being sucked into a G.O.T. update.

I have tried busking, crowdfunding, selling essential oils — all for naught. Unless an unexpected expense intrudes (buying gas, eating, electricity), I should be able to cough up enough for HBO Now in three months, just about time to put together the seven episodes in what is somewhat misleadingly called Season Seven.

Maybe four months if I splurge on the Epic Chicken Sesame Bars and Cheetos.