Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can elation of victory surpass thrill of chase?

An intriguing thought dawned on me today, a question asked of myself that I'm not sure I have a definitive answer for. Is the thrill of the chase a superior feeling to the elation experienced by the victory desperately hoped for? I found myself wondering if this was so as I reflected on the fact that I gave up being an active baseball fan a few years after the ultimate moment of fandom triumph when the Mets won the World Series in 1986. Throughout the 1970's, not getting into baseball until after their previous World Series appearance in 1973, I rooted for awful Mets teams year after year. No matter how terrible they played and how little promise they showed, my loyalty was secure. In the mid-80's their farm system began to produce gems such as Strawberry and Gooden, they made moves to obtain top notch talent such as Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, and they became a force to reckon with. In '86 they won it all and you could not find a happier person on the planet than myself. Yet within 5 years after the magical season when Mookie Wilson's seeing eye grounder somehow made it past Bill Buckner's glove, I had pretty much abandoned baseball. A major strike that decimated a season was the back breaking straw, and in the following years I became much more enamored of basketball than had previously been the case.  But still, why did I not return to baseball? By the time the Mets returned to the World Series and got smacked around by the loathed Yankees I was pretty much just a fair weather fan. When the next season began I was back to ignoring the Mets and baseball in general.

Yet I have not abandoned my other two favorite teams. The Knicks have been horrendous over the past several years. Their trade of a past his prime Patrick Ewing set the franchise into a tailspin that they have been unable to recover from no matter how many Hall of Fame coaches and general managers have been in their employ since then. Although they have given me every reason to call it quits on our relationship, I have held fast in my support. They should have beaten the Rockets in the Finals. Had Pat Riley pulled the streaky John Starks or at least urged him to pass up a shot or two, the result surely would have been different. But revisionist history is the stuff of fantasy. They lost and that's that. 1999 was a joy ride as the Knicks played with house money. They weren't supposed to be in the Finals, were not even supposed to have made it out of the first round of the playoffs, so the entire postseason experience was gravy. Still, it was sad to watch (in person no less) when it came to an end and their fantastical hopes were dashed by a far superior (and far more boring) Spurs team. It's been all downhill since that day, but I have stuck with the Knicks through thin and thinner.

As for the New York Jets, I have yet to see them play in a Super Bowl. Twice they made it to within one game of the big show before falling to the Dolphins in the mud and to the Broncos after being up by 10 at halftime. [The Rex Ryan era that came after this blog post got them to within a game of the Super Bow twice more]  For the most part being a Jets fan has meant accepting maddening disappointment time and time again. Each season they're either really bad or else good enough to get your hopes up only to dash them in increasingly crueler fashion. Last season Brett Favre was supposed to be the savior. Next season their QB will probably be a rookie with plenty of growing pains to experience, and that's the best case scenario. I make it to a fair number of games each season so I get to suffer in the cold among the bitter masses yearning for the arrival of Namath II. It is not easy to be a Jets fan, as any of us will testify, yet I have perservered. So I ask myself, why have I stayed true to the Jets and Knicks but not to the Mets?

Could it be because the Mets are the only one among them who delivered for me? I don't remember the Knicks championship seasons of the 70's or the Jets victory in Super Bowl III, but I was a college student who vividly recalls the ecstacy of the Mets magical run in 1986. Once they came through for me, was I basically done with them? Would I have eventually tired of the Jets and the Knicks as well if they had managed to become world champions under my watch? I suppose it's possible, even if highly doubtful.

I pulled for Barack Obama to become president as strongly as I rooted for any of my favorite teams during any season. And he actually won. The President and a favorite sports team are not an apples to apples comparison, but it is nonetheless true that while I was practically obsessed during the campaign, I've given considerably less thought (and words) to politics post election. My guy won. I moved on to other interests, such as promoting a book. The pattern set with the Mets has sort of repeated itself.

Will I tire of writing if awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Patches of Grey or Matters of Convenience? Doesn't appear likely, but it does seem to be my M.O. I'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. Stranger things have been known to happen.

- Roy

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Confessions of a Sports Fanatic

I am addicted to sports, this I proudly confess. There is no way to calculate how much time I have spent over the four + decades of my life absorbed in a contest between world class athletes. Back when there seemed to be only two teams to root for in the NFL (three if you include the Raiders who attracted those with a rebellious streak), I opted to cheer for the blue collar Pittsburgh Steelers over America's Team - the glamorous Dallas Cowboys. I did admire the latter's cheerleading squad though. Eventually I decided to move my allegiance to a hometown football team, going with the beleaguered NY Jets over the more accomplished NY Giants, and I have sat in Gang Green camp ever since. Later on basketball was added to my list of favorite sports and I became a devout follower of the NY Knicks. The start of my Knicks obsession (which they have sorely tested with the ineptitude of their post-Patrick Ewing years) coincided with the career of one of the greatest b'ballers of all time - the injury plagued Bernard King whose tenure I believe would have rivaled that of Michael Jordan's had he managed to stay healthy. When I was a kid the biggest boxing matches were shown on free TV, the heavyweight division ruled as it was supposed to, and a guy named Muhammad Ali was called The Greatest for good reason. He was past his prime by the time I got to watch him. In fact, he wasn't even actively fighting during the peak of his career due to well known political reasons. But I saw enough of his epic battles to become a boxing fan for life, even if the sport has done much to alienate me in recent years by moving most of the top fights to Pay Per View, maintaining far too many championship belts per weight division to keep track of, and handing over the prized heavyweight division to fighters from Eastern Europe. And I must confess that I miss 15-rounders although the reduction to 12-rounds is perfectly understandable for health reasons. The fiery John McEnroe along with the similarly enthusiastic Jimmy Connors first drew my attention to a racquet sport, then it was the contrasting greatness of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, followed by the emergence of dominant African American players (granted they were all in the same family - Williams) that increased my enjoyment of tennis over the course of time. But what made me a die-hard fan rather than simply a follower of a few big names like Venus and Serena was when I started to play tennis and immediately became hooked like Jaws grabbing hold of the explosive device that spelled her doom.

Before football and basketball and boxing and tennis, the sport that grasped my attention and imagination first and foremost was the great American pastime. And as it so happens, baseball is also the first sport I've basically abandoned. Nowadays you will rarely find me following more than an inning or two on TV. I will always appreciate the game that introduced me to sports in general, but now simply find it too slow for my personal taste. If basketball is comparable to high speed internet connection, baseball is dial up service. Nine innings may as well be nine days worth of commitment to a game. As a boy my collection of baseball cards was my most cherished possession. If you traveled back in time to 1986 you'd find me in a fever pitch as I watched nearly every inning of the NY Mets dramatic march to glory. By 1990 after a major strike squashed a season, my interest had considerably waned. I'm not entirely sure how/why I outgrew my first sports love. What I do know is that the baseball of today barely resembles the baseball of yesteryear. The pre-steroids era was marked by what appeared to be actual passion for the game by those who played it. Baseball's most legendary records were not broken every year by whoever was most effectively cheating that season. Pete Rose is currently marked as a villain, but it was the infectious attitude of players like him that made me love the sport. If I was a kid today I'm not sure A-Rod would have the same effect. Give me the arrogance of a Reggie Jackson over the calm highly endorsed coolness of a Derek Jeter any day. Back when I craved baseball I don't remember being bombarded with news of the players' gargantuan contracts, designer drug accusations, grand jury testimonies, baby mama dramas, etc. Perhaps it's the innocence of youthful perception, but I recall it simply being about the game and those who played it, for money certainly, but also for the pure joy of putting on a uniform and getting it dirty.

The cast of characters who played back then could have been featured in multiple reality TV shows. Fortunately we were spared such nonsense and instead got to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, shows with actual actors and professionally scripted plots. But more memorable to me than anyone else in the Major Leagues was a pitcher by the name of Mark Fidrych, nicknamed "The Bird" after our feathered friend from Sesame Street, who in 1976 put on a season for the ages. It was not merely his dominance over batters that I vividly remember, but the entertaining way he went about his business. Watching him talk to the ball, verbally demanding that it be thrown for an out making strike, manicuring the mound with his hands, tossing balls out of play that he believed had hits in them, was a real treat to witness. He did not play for my beloved Mets, but whenever he was on the mound I temporarily became a Detroit Tigers fan. His skill and endearing enthusiasm put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, made him the first athlete ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone, and won him Rookie of the Year honors. But like Bernard King his body betrayed him, and 1976 was to be the only full season of professional baseball he ever played. In it he compiled a 19-9 record and league-leading 2.34 ERA, with 24 complete games thrown out of 29 starts. The amount of games he pitched from first inning to last is perhaps his most impressive feat, particularly when compared to the modern game where starters are typically done after about six innings, give or take a pitch. Star baseball players of today are basically one man corporations. But back in the 1970's they were just ordinary guys with zest and determination and skill at a game that everybody watched and loved, and among the various greats, none was greater or more lovable than The Bird. He was found dead Monday in an apparent accident at his farm at the age of 54. An era, at least as I see it, has now officially ended. R.I.P. Mark Fidrych and thanks for the memories.

- Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Happy reading!

- Roy Pickering

Done with the scant amount of unpacking required, primarily his day to day wardrobe comprised of black t-shirts a few pair of khaki pants and well-worn regular fit dungarees, Marshall surveyed what would be his home for the next ten weeks.  He liked what he saw, not that he was a stranger to the view or to the enveloping hug of Audrey’s couch.  Although not an official resident, his status had been elevated from that of mere visitor.  He would miss Brooklyn.  Manhattan had not been his home address since he lived with roommates for a few years after college.  This was followed by a year in Astoria, Queens in his first solo apartment and then a move to Brooklyn where he’d been ever since.  He wondered if the temporary change in zip code would have an effect on his writing style, infuse it with heightened energy.  Other things were pondered as well, but he tried not to dwell on them as they were the stuff of pointless daydreaming.
He reminded himself that his presence was the result of Audrey needing him to be here, by no means the same thing as wanting him here.   Desire and dependency were not identical twins, though it was not unheard of for one to segue into the other.  Still, he would resist the urge to grow ensconced in a set-up that came with an expiration date.
His cell phone rattled and hummed, indicating receipt of a text message.  Minutes earlier he had left a news breaking voice message for Chase.  Chase sometimes joked that he was working on a book chronicling Marshall’s eternal quest to swing his relationship with Audrey from the platonic end of the spectrum to the end featuring naked exchanges of bodily fluids.  A stellar wisecrack was likely about to be read.  As it turned out the message was far from humorous and the sender was not Chase.
Heard about your new living arrangement.  More proof of what you’d deny to my face if given the chance. Gotta go.  My man’s waiting for me.  Enjoy your ready-made family.  You’ll learn the truth someday.  SHE WILL NEVER LOVE YOU.
He pressed delete, refused to let her words irritate him.  For someone who claimed to have moved on to a more fulfilling relationship, Sarah did an impressive job of keeping tabs on him and expressing disdain for his actions.  Perhaps the man waiting for her was fictitious.  He reflected on the last sentence of her message.  It being spitefully intended did not remove the possibility of its being true. 
Most people surrendered fairy tale hopes in exchange for cookie cutter lives.  If a convincing image of happiness was presented to those looking in from the outside, success was claimed.  But some opted for chaos at the expense of the facade of tranquility.  Perhaps for them the appeal of the race was stronger than that of the finish line, the thrill of the chase more valuable than actually catching up.  Was the notion that Audrey would never love him in the most gut wrenching definition of the four-letter word precisely what made her his perfect woman, the carrot just beyond reach of his bite? 
Another text message arrived before he could answer the question.  He had asked it of himself often without being able to resolve the matter, so this interruption could not be blamed.  On the screen he found an example of Chase’s ability to say much with little.
No need to worry about safe sex so live and love dangerously.
“Marshall, could you get me a glass of water.”
           Audrey had woken from her nap and was summoning him via the intercom system they set up.  It was a baby monitor employed well in advance of baby’s arrival that they used for one way communication.  One way communication was a fitting match for a one directional love affair.  Since he could not respond through the receiver, Audrey would have to trust that her message was delivered and her request would soon be accommodated.  Such trust was well founded.  Where else would he be but there for her, at the ready to quench her thirst while his own lips remained parched from lack of her kisses?

                                               * * * * *

Passages from MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE.  A publication date draws near.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Princess and the "Controversy"

The announcement that Disney would be making its first Princess movie with a royal African American lead was of great interest to me, but what I found truly fascinating was the reader discussion it sparked in the Comments area of the Black Voices web site where I learned of it. The writer purposely worded the final paragraph of his announcement, referencing how much browner the princess is than the prince, to stir up controversy. And based on the reactions elicited, he clearly succeeded. Following is my response to what a variety of people had to say about Disney's daring "casting" choices for The Princess and the Frog.

First off, the Disney movie factory is all about the princesses. The prince is secondary at best. They don't sell Prince Charming dolls (or certainly not too many of them), only Cinderella. Just look at the majority of the movie titles. It's Pocahontas, not Poca & John John. The Little Mermaid, not Lil Mermaid and What's His Face. Beast got top billing alongside Beauty, but look at how much time he had to spend in the makeup chair to earn it. I suspect that not even the carpet riding smooth talker who gave Aladdin its title drummed up many action figure sales. It's all about that temptress, Jasmine. The news here is that Disney finally decided to create an African American princess. When the movie does well, perhaps even better than the typical Disney princess flick due to excess black support (or does all of that go to Tyler Perry for some inexplicable reason?), no doubt there will be others and a black prince will be inevitable. Secondly, Disney is actually taking more of a risk featuring a mixed race couple than if they had made the expected move of combining a black princess with a black prince. No one is shocked or upset by a black couple but plenty of people still have a problem with interracial couples, so kudos to Disney. True they've already covered this territory in Pocahontas, but that movie was loosely (no doubt quite loosely) based on a true story so the races of the characters was not a choice by Disney. This time around it obviously was a conscious choice, and a mildly bold one at that. I say "mildly" because the dude (at least to my eyes) is clearly Hispanic rather than Caucasian, and a black-brown mix is less of a "shocking" statement than black-white. Last but not least, not every decision is a STATEMENT. Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty (and their respective suitors) are white because the writers chose to make them so. In this case the writer(s) decided to make the princess African American and the prince a former member of Menudo. The characters are what they are and little to nothing is being preached to the audience in a friggin' Disney cartoon. I wasn't offended that the guy who woke up Sleeping Beauty wasn't Asian or Pakistani so why should I (or anyone else) be bothered that the prince in The Princess and the Frog isn't black. That said, when Disney does get around to creating a black prince I hope they consider using me as the model. See my portfolio below.

- Roy

p.s. - A reader pointed out to me that the name of the Prince is Naveen, which is an Indian name, so that puts Indian as lead candidate for his ethnicity over Hispanic, Caucasian, Philipino, etc. Is Disney basically doing a remake of Mississippi Masala? :-)


p.p.s. - The artists who animate Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. movies are pretty impressive, but if you really want to be blown away check this out.