Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Changing Buying Habits

There is clear evidence that some of my priorities in life are changing. Here is one tell-tale sign. Last weekend, the Glen Rock Public Library held its annual book sale. And I made my annual appearance there, scouring through the offerings and debating which ones I wanted to have or needed to have. This annual debate comes with several different questions for me to ponder: Is there room on my crowded shelves for more books? Is Audrey going to have a critical comment about my adding more books to those shelves? Do I really care if she is right in suggesting that I’m probably never going to read most of the books that I’m adding to my crowded shelves?


The sale and my mental debate go on each year, so what was different this time? In a word—ratio. In the month prior to the book sale, I boxed up and contributed more than 60 books for the Friends of the Library to include in the sale. Some of the books I had fallen out of love with. Some I had read and didn’t plan to read again. Some I thought might attract the interest of buyers other than me and be good business for the sale. And some I couldn’t figure out why I owned in the first place. Then, on the day I made my book-sale appearance, I purchased —count them—only three books, almost a world record low for me. 60 books out, 3 in—the ratio seems all wrong. Which is where I see
evidence of changing priorities.
My three new purchases included a copy of Thomas Hardy's
collected poems. Can you ever have enough Hardy?
During most of my life, my books have been my most prized possessions—and the bulk of what I own. Take my move from college to graduate school in June 1971. Graduation was on a Monday, and my graduate program was set to begin Friday later the same week. My parents and I packed all of my possessions into one of the world’s oldest and most rickety Ford Econo-line vans for the 104-mile trip between New Haven and Providence. The possessions consisted of two boxes of clothes, two boxes of record albums, and ten boxes of books—which would seem to be the right ratio for the me then. The van had only two seats, so my father and I took turns driving or sitting on one of the boxes in the back. My mother, as always, rode shotgun. The box sitter spent a lot of time trying to find his balance as the van rocked on its poor springs and loose axles, and the boxes shifted around in the cargo section. That memorable trip ended with me getting out of the van and helping to push it up the steep hill that leads from downtown Providence to Brown on the east side. Not a pretty picture!

As the years have gone by, I have added to my possessions and have done occasional winnowings. On the book front, however, the balance has been mostly to add rather than to subtract. It is hard for me to discard a book. I once made the excruciating decision to box up several cartons of books and take them to a used-book store that specialized in both collectables (as I saw my offerings) and junk (as Audrey viewed most of them).The owner rejected almost all of my books and suggested that I do my best for society by (shudder) recycling them as old paper. Imagine, a bookseller without a heart! What did I do with the bulk of the books? I recycled a few and gave most of the rest to the library book sale that year. I hope that they found good adopted homes. I filled their spots on my shelves with new purchases.

Then, this year, the changing me gave away 20 times more books than he took in, and I see that as a continuing pattern. What’s the explanation? I’m not sure that the difference is so much a matter of shifting interests as one of age and pragmatism. As I went through the books at this year’s sale, I focused first on title and topic. But I looked just as critically at length and type size. I have reached an age where my eyes and brain just don’t want to work as hard as they once did to get through a long book printed in type meant for younger eyes, those requiring a milder prescription with a lesser astigmatism. Sadly, I’m sure that there will come a time, hopefully far away, when I will be turning my book purchasing to large-type books or upping the font size of books on my Kindle from moderate to REALLY BIG! But I still plan to be at next year’s book sale at the Glen Rock library and at others in neighboring towns. I have my priorities, after all! 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Too Early Spring

For the past three days, my car’s trunk and back seat have been filled with large bags stuffed with wilted grasses, stems, and branches. And the car is starting to smell a little like dried vegetation. I planned on unloading the bags at the town Compost Center when it is customarily open on either Tuesdays or Thursdays and then getting the car aired out and washed. But each time I have driven by the compost area, the gates have been locked. No sign is posted, but I did see a small-print notation on the town calendar stating that the Compost Center is open for only limited hours before April 1. None of those hours were during the past three days, obviously. But, luckily, April 1 is tomorrow. No foolin’!
My car is loaded with compost-ables
Now, ordinarily, April 1 would be plenty early enough to dump my wilted winter waste, but this has not been a normal winter or early spring for that matter. The ground is already warm enough to clean up the mess and begin planting flowers. That’s why I have those bags of vegetation to compost, if only the gates were open. The calendar says March, but the ground says late April, and the town is going strictly by the calendar.

At our vacation place in Vermont, spring conditions hit in late February this year to everyone’s chagrin there. No snow has fallen in southern Vermont since mid-February, making skiing pretty problematic. We did go up the first week in March, hoping to enjoy what ski resorts call “spring skiing”—soft snow, moderate temperatures, and light crowds. What we found were icy trails with occasional brown spots and an ice storm one morning followed by rains and heavy winds the next. We spent a lot of time either in our home there or walking the dog. And she spent a great deal of time sniffing every inch of snow-free soil.
Tess gives the snow-free Vermont soil a sniff test
Growing up in Georgia, I never knew that spring soil has a special smell. When the ground lays under snow for several months and then emerges, it gives forth a rich, loamy aroma. Northerners take this aroma for granted, but Southerners are surprised by it. And my northern dog enjoys taking it all in. In New Jersey, we have had so little snow this year, that the spring smell has never really been in the air.

Politicians may be debating whether there is climate change going on, but not me. When we visited Savannah Beach in late December, the mix of warm air and chilled ground left the beach cloaked in fog and looking like some kind of moonscape. An apple tree in our neighborhood gave up all of its leaves by December 1 but was still bearing apples from its branches on January 1. I’m not sure how to explain all of his. Global warming, perhaps? Definitely, in our small part of the globe.
Moonscape at Tybee
Apples in January
Politicians and meteorologists can do their debating and analyzing. I’m just hoping that the Compost Center gates will be open tomorrow, so I can get my car back.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Basketball Junkie

Going into the last week of this year’s NCAA basketball “March Madness,” I am currently standing in second place in the Glen Rock Jewish Center brackets. That may sound impressive, however I will certainly topple in the standings over the weekend and fall out of the money because my predicted champion has already been eliminated. All of which means that what once was a potential profitable “investment” (up to half of $540) will become merely a small donation to the synagogue. That’s certainly nothing new. I have been making similar donations via March Madness events nearly every year for as long as I can remember. I did come in second one year, but after I made an expected donation to the synagogue from my winnings, my bank account did not experience a big boost. Oh well.

I have a long and checkered career with basketball—as a player, writer, and very small-time gambler. My playing years began in the youth rec leagues in Savannah, where I was a guard on various community center teams. We young Jews took on young Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Protestants. The South is big on churches and church youth groups. I remember playing games in a huge cement block building called the Tiger Gym. The place was poorly heated by a large pot belly stove located somewhere near midcourt on the sidelines. When you crossed midcourt, you sweated through a blast of hot air, while when you headed to either end, you could freeze your balls off! The floor might also get icy and slippery in the chilly regions far from the stove, making play a little tricky. But it was basketball, and I loved it! I developed a special move on the court. I would drive one way and then send a “no-look” pass toward a teammate. Unfortunately, my teammates were seldom looking for my passes, since I wasn’t looking at them while passing, and the passes often went awry anyway because I wasn’t looking either. Is it any wonder that I spent much time on the bench?

I did play one year for Wilder Junior High’s undefeated city champions in Savannah. I didn’t rack up a lot of minutes on the court or points scored, playing behind Tommy Bonds, who would go on to become a high school star, but I vividly remember heading to the foul line in one game while the cheerleaders chanted “Goodman, Goodman, he’s our man. If he can’t do it, no one can.” I also remember making both foul shots that time. Never underestimate the power of cheerleaders.

Wilder's champs. Tommy Bonds and I are next to each other in the front row.
 Only one of us will become a star.
During my high school and college years, I moved from the court to the stands, and dreamed of a time I might be invited to sit in a press box. I covered nearly every one of Savannah High’s basketball games for the Blue and White. One year, I convinced school administrators to grant me a free press pass that saved me from having to pay for admission to games. No one had ever asked for such a thing before. When it came to basketball, I could be assertive.

Once in college, I became the intrepid basketball reporter for the Yale Daily NEWS. This is not as impressive as it sounds. This year, the Yale team made it to the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1962, that’s 54 years without winning an Ivy League title. I covered some pretty terrific players during my college years, but very few of them played for Yale. The New York Times never offered me a job as a stringer because we just weren’t that interesting.
Yale Ivy Champ shirt. A true collector's item.
Then I got a new ambition. During one college game, I tried my best to make the bridge between print and broadcast. My close friend Bob Shapiro, who was heading the broadcast team for the Yale radio station, interviewed me at halftime of a game between Yale and Columbia in New York. We had a lively discussion, and I offered some insightful comments that I was sure would impress both students in New Haven and broadcast scouts around the world. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the microphones must have malfunctioned during the interview. People back in New Haven were treated to dead air instead of my brilliant analysis. So it goes.

After college, I filled my basketball fix with occasional pickup games at Y’s in New Jersey and even when on visits back to Savannah. Sadly, my jump shot, never very impressive (my feet seldom got very far off the floor) began to desert me, and my no-look passes didn’t become any more accurate. So I finally retired from the courts and drifted toward an even more depressing basketball avocation—rooting for the hapless New York Knicks. How sad is that!

And every year, I still get back in the game during March Madness. I fill out a bracket, watch lots of games, and pay special attention the cheerleaders. Deep inside, I imagine they’re cheering for me.