Tuesday, April 28, 2020

New Paragraph



NOTE TO SELF: When we return to the main subject after having gone on a tangent, we begin a new paragraph.

So did I tell you about the cruise? It was great! We had amazing food and the weather the entire time was great. Every night we watched a band play and one night we saw this absolutely fantastic film about a guy who is totally in love with his wife and are just starting a new chapter in their lives when all of a sudden he gets murdered on the way home from the theater. He becomes a spirit of sorts who sticks around the earth to protect his wife from the danger she now finds herself in. Oh, did I cry at the end of that movie. 
Anyway, the cruise... Really, it was absolutely lovely. Honestly, I’m not sure if I have ever met such nice people in my life. And you would think that people would be pushy, try to be the first ones to get to the food and so forth. No, it wasn’t like that on this cruise. People waited there turn when it came to dinner and were just generally polite.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Collateral Damage

CARO WALKED INTO the lobby of Jonathan’s apartment building and looked for his name on the intercom’s directory. The names of the building's residents were in alphabetical order and Jon’s name was at the top. She pushed a button on the intercom and was buzzed into the building.

Upstairs Jon had already opened the door and was waiting for her.

“Hi, I’m Jonathan.”

“Caro,” Caro said softly. They shook hands.

“Did you find the place OK?” Jon allowed Caro into the apartment.

“Yeah, it wasn’t that bad. I just followed your directions.”

“Good, glad to hear.”

“But this street . . . what exactly--?”

“It didn't show up on Google?”

“No.”

“It’s because it’s a small road . . . a driveway, really. It’s not on Google’s radar, which I've always thought is pretty cool.”

“Ah,” Caro said.

“How long have you been in New York?”

“Three days.”

“Your first time here?”

“Yeah, it’s really, really interesting.”

“You never went to New York with Chad?”

“No, we didn’t make it.”

“Got ya. You want something to drink?”

“No, I’m OK.”

“Are you sure?”

“OK, I’ll have . . . do you have orange juice?”

“Yup, sure do. No ice or anything, right?

“No.”

Jon went into the kitchen. The apartment faced west and sunlight was pouring through a big window next to a door that led out onto a balcony. An onyx Buddha figure was on the windowsill and there were plants hanging from little hooks above the window. Caro sat down on the pullout leather chair that was next to the sofa.

“Here you go. . .” Jon gave Caro the glass of orange juice. Caro smiled a little smile but didn’t say thank you.

“So,” Jon said, “how did you guys meet?” He had taken a bottle of sparkling water for himself and, after he had taken a seat at the couch, began to pour the water into a glass.

“We met at a sports club. We were both doing aerobics. Chad was the only guy in the class. It was funny.”

“Oh, what, did come up to you after the class or something?”

“No, we actually ran into each other a few months after we first saw each other in that class.”

“Ah, OK, cool.”

Caro took a sip of her orange juice and nodded her head.

“So,” Jonathan said, “why did you want to speak with me exactly?”

Caro looked out the window and then back to Jonathan, then down. “I guess I just wanted to know something,” she said.

“Shoot...”

“Well, why did you leave him?”

“Why did I leave him?” Jonathan smiled and leaned forward on the couch. “I didn’t leave him. I just had a fight with the family, his family, and I guess he was collateral damage.

Caro looked confused.

“Oh, that’s right. You’re from Germany. Your English is good, so I thought . . . 'Collateral damage' means--wow that’s hard, actually. OK, imagine there's a war and one army accidentally kills some civilians while attacking the enemy. The dead civilians are, what the army that launched the attack might call, 'collateral damage.' The villagers weren’t the main target, but they unfortunately still paid the price."

Caro was nodding. “OK, I think I sort of get it.”

“How is he?” Jonathan asked.

“Chad? I don’t know. But I think good. From what I heard, good.”

Jonathan nodded. “I’m glad.”

The two just sat there for a few moments, not looking at each other. Outside there was the sound of bike wheels crunching over the gravel driveway leading to Jon's building. The sound of birds chirping could also be heard.

“Why’d you leave him?” Jonathan said.

Caro didn't say anything, then: "Don't know."

Jonathan laughed. “What? No . . . Come on, tell me; it's only fair.”

“Yeah . . . I guess . . . I had my reasons. You know how it goes.”

“I sure do. Do you want another drink? Some more orange juice or coffee or something?”

“No, I’m fine,” Caro said. “Do you have a train schedule? My phone just died.”

“Oh, you want to leave?”

“Yeah, I want to get going. I had some things planned.”

When Jon came back with the train schedule, Caro thanked him. She thanked him by smiling at him. “Can I take the schedule with me?” Caro asked.

“Absolutely,  be my guest.”

OUTSIDE THE TEMPERATURE had dropped. Standing on the platform of the train station, Caro took out a scarf and wrapped it twice around her neck. She then zipped up her windbreaker and took her phone out. The screen was black. She put the phone away. She looked out at the water and the new apartment buildings built along it. She then turned her attention to a bench and a metal beam that was next to it. She looked to see if there was a socket affixed to the beam, but there wasn't. She would not be able to charge her phone.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coronavirus Blues, or Between a Rock and a Hard Place

***Chad on line in the grocery story. Person on line in front of Chad wearing a surgical mask and surgical gloves. Many customers wearing surgical masks and gloves. Line moving slowly. A man comes up to Chad, not wearing a surgical mask, not wearing gloves.***

"Is this where the line starts?" the man asks.

"Yes, here," Chad says.

"Thanks," the man says, and gets on line behind Chad.

A few moments go by.

"You know..." the man says, "they say that the masks aren't safe, that they might even be worse for you, because you're constantly breathing in the same air."

"Ah, OK, right, I see," Chad says.

"Crazy times..." the man says.

"Yeah," Chad says.

"But it's times like these we could all use a little comedy," the man says.  "You wanna hear a joke?

Chad thinks: You have to be fucking kidding me. The other day on the way to the airport, the cab driver who took Chad would not stop telling jokes -- the entire damn ride, just would not stop telling jokes. Though that guy and his jokes did offer a bit of comic relief, not a-fucking-gen, Chad thinks. Not one of these "comedians" again. 

Still, Chad says yes.

"OK," the man says, a man who Chad notices is about Chad's height, which means that if spittle from this man goes flying, there's a good chance it will land on Chad's mouth.

The man begins his joke: "So my daughter, she was saying that she likes Cinderella and she wants a Cinderella birthday party."

"OK..." Chad says, solely to show that he's paying attention.

"I told her she can have a Cinderella party if she likes; in fact, I told her to invite all her friends. And you know what I did when all her friend got there?"

"No, what?"

"I said, 'OK, sweetie, now we're all going to go out and you can stay home and clean!'"

Chad laughs, because the joke is funny; however, at the same time, Chad notices that the woman in front of him in the surgical mask is eyeing him down. Chad thinks that she must be thinking, "Why the fuck are these two men, both of whom aren't wearing protective masks, laughing?'" The woman does not look friendly. You can hardly see her face because one half of it is mask, the other, bifocals.

The lines moves forward a little bit. Chad is happy about that, very happy. You see, everything else notwithstanding, joke-man has this little idiosyncrasy. When he tells his jokes, he unconsciously moves toward Chad and Chad, remember, really does not want the man's spittle on him.

The line moves a little more.

"Hey," the man says, "since we have a minute or two, can I tell you another joke?" The man sounds so nice when he asks. His tone is almost like one might imagine Oliver Twist's to have been when he uttered that "s' more" line. How could you say no?

Chad doesn't. Stupid Chad, but he doesn't.

"Well, OK, one more," Chad says. But Chad now has his back nearly completely to the man, hoping the man will take a hint and not move too close.

The man begins to tell the joke, and again he begins to get closer and closer to Chad. But this time, as Chad tries to move away, surgical mask woman looks at Chad and then makes a gesture with her hand, one that is universally understood to mean "halt."

"Six feet..." surgical mask woman says.

Chad can't believe it. How fucking rude, he thinks. Dude behind Chad is still telling the joke, something about a Victoria Secret model and lingerie, but all Chad can think about now is how he's got this woman and this man to worry about, and what the fuck is he going to do?

The lines moves. The man continues to tell the joke and Chad laughs, thinking that the man has arrived at the punchline, but Chad just laughed at something that wasn't even the punchline. The man doesn't even care, though. He just keeps telling the joke with the same gusto.

"Cash or credit?" the supermarket guy asks, interrupting Chad out of his now mild state of panic.

Chad says cash. The supermarket guy immediately routes Chad over to Checkout 1. Yes, yes, Checkout 1, Chad thinks, away from this fucking man and away from this fucking woman...Thank God. 

As Chad leaves the store, he think's of a figure of speech, "to be between a rock and a hard place."

Wow, Chad thinks, that really was like being between a rock and a hard place.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Still Finding a Way!


Yesterday, Martina and I went to a local park to play basketball. However, when we got there, we were super disappointed. The local government had hung up a sign at the park's entrance saying that the park's basketball courts were closed due to the coronavirus. If this sign wasn't warning enough, there was yellow caution tape blocking off the courts.

What a bummer, Martina and I thought. Basketball had been a refuge from all the craziness, and to have it taken away, too, was very frustrating.

However, today, around 10:30 a.m., Martina said that she wanted to go for a walk. It was still kind of early for me, so I teased her: "Oh," I said, "you want to get some exercise, do you? Sure, we can do that. We can actually go running!"

Martina wasn't too keen on the idea -- she really just wanted to walk -- so I thought we could split the difference. I figured we could take a basketball with us and walk one town over, to New Hyde Park. I thought that this was a good idea because we would get to walk and perhaps play basketball, so long as the courts in this town were still open.

Well, about three-fourths of the way to New Hyde Park, Martina and I were passing my old middle school. As we were walking, I noticed that the fence around the school was open. After seeing this, I looked to the tennis courts and the basketball courts. I noticed that the wire-mesh door leading to the tennis courts was open and, from the tennis courts, the door leading to the basketball courts was open, too.

"Holy shit, Martina," I said. "Do you see that? The basketball courts are open! Do you see that? Look past the tennis courts."

"Holy shit hey," Martina said.

We then entered the school grounds and walked onto four pristine basketball courts -- courts that I used to play on in middle school but had since been refurbished. Martina and I couldn't believe it. We spent about an hour and a half playing on these beautiful courts.

Friggin' score!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Renew

Sometimes when I play chess, I go on losing streaks, and when I do, I hate the game. It just seems so frustrating. After all, I have been playing chess for nearly two decades now, shouldn't I be winning-- and winning a lot?

Suffice to say, losing streaks suck. But every now and then I play a game so good I forget all about the losing streaks . . .  I play a game so good, it renews my love for chess and reminds me why it is I play. The following is such a game. I have the white pieces. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Lights Out

Your love is bright as ever... 

When I was growing up, we would learn about JFK, and I remember seeing that famous black-and-white photo of Jacky O. after the assassination, the one in which she’s standing beside Linden Johnson as he’s being sworn in.

Even in the shadows... 

I remember how that picture of her, grief stricken, mouth turned down, stood in such contrast with other pictures I had seen of her.

Baby, kiss me... 

In the other pictures, she had been happy, full of life, smiling—smiling with her family and the man she loved.

Before they turn the lights out... 

I was reminded of Jacky O. and just how different we, as people, can actually look depending on the circumstances, while watching the memorial service for Kobe Bryant yesterday. 

Your heart is glowing... 

There Vanessa was, dark hair partially shielding her face, a little like how Jacky’s hair was shielding her face as she stood next to Lyndon Johnson.

And I'm crashing into you...  

How could I not be reminded of seeing the smiling face of Vanessa, of seeing her in happy moments on the floor of the Staples Center, during one of Kobe’s many triumphs?

Baby, kiss me... 

Vanessa, with that pearly white smile, too . . .  a smile that, as she even said during the memorial, took up her whole face.

Before they turn the lights out... 

But yesterday was different. Yesterday, her mouth was turned down and her face was heavy with grief.

Before they turn the lights out... 

And seeing Vanessa like that and comparing what I was seeing with how I had seen her in the past, I couldn’t help but think to myself: this is what it must have been like, in one way or another, when JFK died.

Baby, love me lights out... 

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Chess Win

Here's just a nice win using some of the things I recently learned about the King's Indian Defense. I have the black pieces. My favorite move is 13...e4. Enjoy.
 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Chess Game

I finally got to play that tricky sacrifice on d5 as White in the Sicilian Defense. I had had this sacrifice done  to me several times in the past and had always wondered about it. This time I was the one doing the slaying. The move I'm referring to is 16. Nd5. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

No Man Is an Island

So the famous English poet John Donne has this poem about how one man's death is never really just one death. Instead, Donne believes, one death is a death for all mankind. The logic is that we on this earth are all humans, are all brothers of sorts, so when one person dies, we should lament the death, not take it for granted, as the loss represents a diminishing of humankind, something of which we are all a part.

The poem, "For Whom The Bell Tolls," goes like this:
No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend's were.

Each man's death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.
Yeah, the poem is old, but it’s powerful, and even if you don’t know all the words, I think you catch the author’s drift.

I mention this poem because in the wake of Kobe Bryant's death, I can relate to it more than ever. Somehow I feel as though some part of me died that day, too. Perhaps all that died was my ability to live a little bit vicariously through Kobe; perhaps what died was my ability to see all the creative and interesting things Kobe had in store . . . I don’t know. All I can say is that in these times, I can relate to the John Donne poem very well.

I’ll close with another another set of words, but these ones from someone more contemporary—LeBron James.

At Kobe’s memorial at the Staples Center on January 31st, LeBron was asked to give a speech. LeBron and Kobe had been friends for many years and, LeBron, to be fair, was Kobe's successor to the title "the best player in the NBA."

I thought that what Lebron said at the memorial was exceptionally moving. My favorite part of the speech, though, is at the end, at the part that starts, "So in the words of Kobe Bryant . . ."

Here is what LeBron said:
Before I get started with this speech that I have, I want to acknowledge all the lives that were lost Sunday morning. Alyssa Altobelli. John Altobelli. Keri Altobelli. Payton Chester. Sarah Chester. Christina Mauser. Ara Zobayan. Gianna Bryant and Kobe Bryant.
Now, I’ve got something written down. They asked me to stay on course or whatever the case may be, but Laker nation, I would be selling y’all short if I read off this shit. I’m going to go straight from the heart.
The first thing that came to mind, man, is all about family. As I look around this arena, we’re all grieving. We’re all hurt. We’re all heartbroken. But when we’re going through things like this, the best thing you can do is lean on the shoulders of your family. And from Sunday morning all the way to this point — and I’ve heard about Laker Nation before I got here last year, about how much of a family it is — and that’s absolutely what I’ve seen this whole week. Not only from the players, not only from the coaching staff, not only from the organization, but from everybody. Everybody that’s here, this is really, truly, truly a family. And I know Kobe, Gianna, Vanessa and everybody thank you guys from the bottom of their hearts as Kobe said.
Now I know at some point, we will have a memorial for Kobe. But I look at this, I look at this as a celebration tonight. This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body, the getting up, the sitting down, the everything. The countless hours, the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight, we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age, retired at 38 and became probably the best dad we’ve seen over the past three years, man.
Tonight is a celebration.
Before we get to play (yelling). Love ya’ll, man. Kobe’s a brother to me. From the time I was in high school, watching him from afar to getting in this league at 18, watching him up close. All the battles we had throughout my career. The one thing that we always shared was that determination to just always want to win and just want to be great. The fact that I’m here now means so much to me. I want to continue along with my teammates, to continue his legacy, not only for this year, but for as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want.
So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out.’ But in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Be Careful What You Wish for...

How would you punctuate this sentence? 

(A) Be careful what you wish for—you just might get it. 

(B) Be careful what you wish for . . . you just might get it. 

(C) Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. 

(D) Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it

Practice, Practice, Practice...


Yesterday, I showed up a little early to basketball practice. It usually starts at one particular time, but at that time yesterday, no one had shown up. I thought maybe because our team had had a game on Sunday, practice was canceled. But it wasn't. At about five minutes past the hour, my teammates started showing up. I'm glad that I stuck around and waited because I learned a lot yesterday at practice. Here are the things I learned:


  • When you're doing a overhead pass, the receiver should receive the pass slightly over his head; if it's a bounce pass, put some forward spin on the ball, so it arrives quicker. 
  • You want to step into the shot. When you're stepping into the shot, use your inside foot to do the turning. Have that inside foot facing the basket by the time the pass arrives. 
  • When you're attacking right, you move with your left foot first; when you're attacking left, your right foot moves first. 
  • Try to put the ball on the ground quicker when attacking. That way, you are less likely to get called for traveling. 
  • When you receive a pass near the top of the key, plant your feet. If you decide to drive, don't shuffle your feet before making a go for it; you'll get called for traveling. 
  • There are three things to do when someone is setting a screen on you: you can go over the screen; you can go behind the screen; or you can switch. If you go over the screen, make sure to wrap your leg around the screener's leg as you follow the man with the ball. Usually, it's easier to go around the screen if the screen hasn't been set properly. Reason being, you'll have more space, meaning, there'll be more space between the man with ball and the screener and you can just put your body in that space. If the screen is set well, meaning that there isn't much space between the man with the ball and the screener--the screen has been set tight--well, then, you'll probably have to go behind the screen. And then there's switch. Switch is switch. There's also something called "hatching," but that's more of an experienced move. 
  • If your man gets the step on you and he's driving left, don't just give up. At least make him shoot with his left hand. You do that by putting your hands up by his right side when he's under the basket and about to shoot. You have to take away his options, even if he's beaten you. 
  • If you get the ball to the low-post player in the low post, you should probably clear out and not run over and set a pick for him. Your low-post player intends, probably, to go one-on-one with his man and if you're right next to him trying to set a pick for him, your man is going to be there too, and the whole area is just going to be clogged. 
  • If you're taking 10 shots, they should be quick, at game speed. It should only take about one minute to put up 10 shots.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Another nice chess win (with the black pieces)

Here is another nice win of mine, this one with the black pieces. I like this game because I was very patient and maneuvered my pieces very well, all the while keeping up the pressure on White. In my mind, White's biggest mistake in this game was his failure to play the crucial f2-f4 thrust sooner. After my rook forked his two bishops on his back rank (move 29), White fell apart. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Chess Win

Here's a win of mine I really like. I like it because it's not the kind of chess I like to play and I still won.  (I'm White.) The moves I played in this game would be considered "modern," when I favor a more "classical" style. My favorite move is (28) Rook to d6. I feel as though that was a key move, one that helped secure me a clear initiative. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Kobe Bryant


Last Sunday I had a basketball game with my team, the BCH Tigers. The game was in a small locality in the south of Hamburg called Hausbruch. Tipoff was supposed to be at 3:30 p.m., but when my team got to the gymnasium, a match between two young girls teams was still in progress on the court. This meant that my teammates and our opponents would have to warm up on an adjacent court. Both courts were separated by a partition that ran from the gymnasium floor to the ceiling, so we couldn’t see the girls game as we warmed up, but, I tell you, we sure could hear it. The game had gone into overtime, and the other guys and I were amazed at how many squeals and shouts kept coming through that partition.

Hearing those outbursts of excitement, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kobe Bryant’s daughter and her basketball team. Over the last few months, I have stayed abreast of Gianna’s progress through comments that Kobe has made in the media as well as his Instagram posts.

Eventually, my team took to the court—and got whipped by our opponents. They were just more skilled and disciplined than we were, and the loss showed us just how much we still have to learn. Still, there were a few bright spots to the game. One was when I was guarding a player who was better than me and I didn’t “lose my feet,” meaning I didn’t jump prematurely. My actions ultimately forced my opponent to pass the ball. Another bright spot was after the game when some of my teammates, a girlfriend of one of them, and my girlfriend, Martina, all played a spontaneous and hilarious round of Knockout.

At around 6:30 p.m., I said goodbye to my teammates and left the gymnasium.  On the drive home, Martina and I sorta got lost. For some reason, the navigation system told us to get off the highway, which wound up being a bad idea because Martina and I then had to spend a good amount of time driving around, like, the badlands of the Hamburg shipyards before finding a route we recognized.

I must say that it is now surreal to think that at some point during this car ride home, Kobe Bryant and Gianna were killed in a horrific helicopter accident in California.

I’m not going to spend much time talking about what the loss of Kobe Bryant means to me. What I will say is that in my little world, in my little universe, I feel a modicum of peace knowing that on the last day of Kobe’s life, I was doing something that he loved.

Yes, Kobe was the basketball star of my generation, but I wasn’t really into basketball when he was playing. The last three years, however, are a different story. Over the last three years, I have gotten heavily into basketball and have come to love Kobe. In addition to what he achieved on the court, his enthusiasm for his new roles in life, after retirement, was infectious, and especially touching, I thought, was his involvement with Gianna and her basketball team. Just the other day, actually, I marveled at one of Kobe’s Instagram posts showing Gianna shooting a fadeaway.

Really, I can’t think of anything else to end this post with but a thank you. Thank you, Kobe, for your contribution to basketball. Thank you for challenging us to be greater than we ever thought we could be, even if we sometimes fail in the process. Thank you for your hunger, your passion, your creativity and your good heart.

Though I never knew you, I will miss you.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Another Chess Win =)

Here's another chess win, and it's dedicated to you, Marty.
 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Chess Win

Here's a nice chess win of mine. My opponent, White, was holding his own until he blundered on move 28, Nxe5. Then he was in trouble.