Catharsis: Shattered


Photo by ziggy fresh, used under a Creative Commons license

For the past three years, I've played tennis with a bunch of guys older than me – most in their 50s and 60s, some into their 70s and 80s.

There are 21 of us, with 16 playing each week. It's what's called a ladder league; we are spread across four courts by winning percentage, with the top four playing on court one, the next four playing on court two, etc. We start with the top and bottom player on each court paired up against the numbers two and three, play one set, and spin for the next partner.

Most weeks, we get three sets in, so we all get to play with each other. Some weeks, when the sets are close (and therefore, frequently longer), we only get two in [the club gives us 90 minutes; after that, other leagues are on].

With anywhere between 20 and 50 years fewer on my body than the other players, I'm the fastest, and I'm among the strongest. But I'm also the least experienced, and I wind up learning a lot – about strategy, positioning, and, what I find important, the gentlemanly aspects of the game.

Tennis is a sport in which, in organized play, players are penalized points for ball, racket, or verbal abuse. In the pros, they can be fined. Player clothing is generally conservative, although Andre Agassi changed that in the 1980s – but still, most people wear collars, and the Wimbledon Club still requires all white.

There are occasional arguments over calls. We're all male, the testosterone flows, it gets competitive, and you have to take into account what could be going on in people's lives, especially when you're talking people who either are retired or are nearing retirement in a market like this.

But tonight we actually called it a night early, when players on either side of the net got downright nasty. Expletives were flying, someone got hit with a ball intentionally, and the two of us who were getting along had to separate them, twice.

I'm not alone in being one of the people who plays tennis to relax. And I'm lucky in that I get my gym membership on trade; I wouldn't be able to afford to play there otherwise. I can't imagine why you'd drop all that money and be prepared to throw down.

And we're talking guys who are 50ish. They're no longer young and stupid.

We decided it was better for everyone if we went home early.

I got home a bit wound up (it's a four-minute drive, not exactly enough to cool down), and started to put away some of the clean dishes.

I've been moving from place to place with a set of decent glasses, and while I've dropped some of them from low heights, I've never so much as nicked one.

And one of them fell out of the dish drain, and positively shattered.

Some glasses break into a couple of biggish pieces and a few small splinters. Not this one. There was nothing left that was recognizable as having once been a glass.

One piece looked like a small bit of rock candy, but the rest was just decimated. It took almost 20 minutes to clean it up, about long enough to listen to WAER's pre-game show, ahead of the Syracuse-Connecticut basketball game.

And about long enough to wind all the way down.

I'm hoping for a more peaceful night of tennis next Wednesday.

Remembering Kristallnacht: How far have we come?

On the night of November 9 and 10, 1938 – 70 years ago today – a state-sponsored pogrom (riot, incursion) killed 92 German Jews and saw somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews arrested.

Synagogues were burned. Jewish-owned shops were vandalized or destroyed. There was so much glass they called it Kristallnacht (Wikipedia), the night of broken glass.

It brought to a head five years of increasingly restrictive anti-Semitic laws, and offered only a hint of what was to come in the ensuing years.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is doing a special exhibit this year.

If, by the way, you haven't been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, next time you're in DC, give yourself four hours there, and a couple hours of recovery time.

This is the exhibit that does me in.

From the time we're young, Jewish people are taught about the Holocaust. We see movies. We read books. We hear from survivors – though even people who lived long, healthy lives after the Holocaust are dying off now.

We take it personally, even all these years later. Working for a weekly newspaper about six years ago, I was sent to cover a school event that featured children of Holocaust victims and children of Holocaust perpetrators sitting on a panel, talking primarily about forgiveness. I sat in the back of the auditorium and pretty much bawled for an hour and a half.

We are taught to never forget. If you forget, it could happen again.

And so the world puts on its blinders, and makes sure that Jews don't ever have to live through genocide again.

We forget about the six million gypsies, homosexuals and others who died during the Holocaust. In the U.S., we're systematically denying the latter group rights (that's the first step, by the way). We didn't believe anything was happening in Rwanda in 1994. We did so little about Darfur. We're certainly not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now.

I'm not naive enough to believe we can all just get along and that's that. But when we see genocide, why are we sitting still?

Involvement Fair 2

Crocodile Purse
Keep reading to find out why this purse made out of a crocodile was at the Involvement Fair.

I spent about five hours Thursday afternoon and evening at the second incarnation of the Involvement Fair, which is a project of the Civic Engagement Task Force of 40 Below.

If you're familiar with the concept of a job fair, that's pretty close. At a job fair, you have maybe 50 or 100 employers at tables in a large hall, and a bunch of people looking for jobs walking around, handing out resumes, and meeting their potential employers.

The difference here? You have a bunch of service organizations sitting at tables, and a bunch of people looking for volunteer opportunities walking around meeting representatives from the service organizations.

I handed out instruction sheets for using the Helping Out Blog, and also finding both new members and new organizational partners for CNY SPaRC.

There were 40-ish organizations there. Here are a look at some of them.

United Way of Central New York – If you're not familiar with United Way, you should be. In pretty much every decent sized market, UW sponsors a lot of small organizations that otherwise would struggle for funding and visibility. They also do work with larger, mainstream organizations.

Eastwood Neighbor Association – I don't live in Eastwood, but I do live pretty close (about a 15-minute walk). I'm excited to be getting involved in one of their projects: getting a multi-use skate park together. Some kids have been very involved with this project for a long time, and it's a unique idea – it will be a tri-level park in the woods, and it will be able to be used beyond just skateboarding and freestyle bicycling. I'm in the extremely early stages of being involved, so read often, as I'll be mentioning it frequently.

Center for Community Alternatives – Spend a lot of time learning about this organization from their Web site. Two of their programs that struck me were taking people who have done their time and working with them to find housing, employment and peer support; and getting to children as young as middle school whose parents have been "in front of a judge" (as they put it) to mentor them both with their schoolwork, and keeping them on the right path to make sure they don't wind up "in front of a judge."

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Next to the SPaRC table, a woman wearing a name badge identifying her as Ellen set up an elephant molar, a tiger-fur throw, a python skin, a crocodile purse (that's the photo above), and other stuff that you're not supposed to have. It turns out that when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confiscates banned items at entry locations on borders, at ports and in airports, it tags them, then sends them to schools and zoos for educational purposes.

On Point For College – The gentleman behind the table for On Point (one of those organizations the United Way helps out) was living proof the program works. He had dropped out of high school and gone back for a GED, and then On Point helped walk him through the scholarship, financial aid and application processes. He went to the University of Buffalo and Cornell. They work with some fairly hard-luck kids, and do good work.

There were a host of other organizations, including Meals on Wheels, Girl Scouts, and some others you've heard of – and still others you haven't heard of. If you're looking for a little extra fulfillment in your life, there are plenty of ways to donate your time and expertise around here.

Want to get hooked up? Maybe we'll see you at a 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force meeting. We meet the first Monday every month from 5:30 to 6:30 in the 18th floor conference room in the State Tower building. Regardless of the name, we don't require you to be under 40 years of age.

CNY Speaks: Second forum

I wrote yesterday about the first CNY Speaks forum Thursday, and then I went off to the second incarnation Sunday afternoon.

I'm starting to see these forums as interesting, necessary evils.

Don't get me wrong – just like the first one, there were a lot of interesting people with tons of good ideas in the room, but the action plan on this is to have public forums with candidates for mayor, common council and county legislature in the spring, ahead of the 2009 local elections.

That feels like a long way off, and we need some change now.

Sunday's incarnation was smaller, with about 40 people in the crowd.

I sat at a table with a young artist and two retirees, one of whom is actively involved with (or leads, maybe?) the CNY Public Art Forum, which hopes to get a public art space open in downtown Syracuse.

As with Thursday, our two top issues were public perception of downtown and storefront development.

Moving the bus hub also came up, for the second time, as did cutting red tape for potential small business owners.

I still think I'm getting something out of going to these, even if, at least at my seat, we're talking about some of the same issues: it's different people, with different ideas and different desires.

Action items for me include writing letters to Centro, the development committee and the MOST to think about moving the bus hub up to the old trolley ramp behind the museum. I think the MOST will get on board because it gives them more visibility, and since it's already an existing structure, the city won't have to enforce its eminent domain taking of the Red Cross building.

Sean Kirst also showed up to this one; here is his take.

CNY Speaks

The local newspaper, The Post-Standard, several months ago appointed Greg Munno to the position of Civic Engagement editor.

His first task was to launch a blog called CNY Speaks.

His second task was to create a series of public forums to discover what people felt would help improve downtown.

The first of the three forums was Thursday evening. It drew about 90 people. The goal was to get them talking about the results of a survey (PDF) that outlined some of the issues people had with downtown.

We were distributed at registration into tables. I sat with two real estate agents, an employee at an architecture firm, owners of two downtown businesses, a reporter (there as a citizen), someone who has had trouble opening a downtown business, and a retiree who is an advocate for various causes.

Also in the crowd were other reporters-as-citizens, developers, at least one person from Adapt CNY, and a bunch of other people who had bright ideas about what we could do with downtown.

Not in the crowd: Mayor Matt Driscoll, any member of the Syracuse Common Council, or people with overarching negative ideas about downtown.

For me, while the large attendance was a big success, those absences were a big problem.

There's a second go at the forum today (Sunday) at 2 p.m., and a third Tuesday at 6 p.m. I'm going today, and if there's a significantly different crowd with different ideas today than there was Thursday, I'll also go Tuesday.

My concern, though, is that we're in danger of ending up with a lot of good ideas, a great series in the newspaper, and nothing in the way of implementation.

For me, what could vastly improve downtown is a change in public perception. Sure, there are vacant store fronts, and more businesses downtown would certainly bring people. So would affordable housing – I'm sorry, but $1,250-per-month lofts don't fly when you're trying to attract young professionals in a market where they're lucky to make $30,000 a year.

But let's face it. One of the things people are most concerned about is safety, because they read about a lot of crime. They don't read far enough into the story to understand that most of that crime happens when drunk people are wandering the streets between 1 and 4 a.m. I'm not exactly an imposing figure, and I walked from Armory Square to the Hotel Syracuse (10 blocks or so) with a laptop on my shoulder to get to the forum. I never questioned my safety.

Could downtown use more people? Absolutely. Can we do it without public officials and an action plan? Absolutely not.

Who will step up? They might have my vote in 2009 local races.

The view from the white corner

The best thing I ever saw Catherine Orland do was manage to not deck Joel Ackerson when he asked her if we still needed women's music festivals. You know, because women are equal and all that.

Simiarly, white privilege is so dead. Umm, yeah. Sure it is, if you say so. Mitch posted this, and you need to watch it. And I'll definitely be following This Week in Blackness now.

Also, if you want to give Tim Wise a hug, you can find him here.

The price (in dollars) of neighborliness

If you follow me on Twitter, or have me as a friend on Facebook (sorry, reserved only for people I actually know in some capacity), you know I've spent the bulk of the past two days frustrated (primarily in the run-up to the launch of high school football season, but check this out, we've got someone actually doing a live play-by-play).

After planning to have a four-hour break this afternoon before coming in to sit watch for a few hours, we ran into a last-minute bug, and four hours turned into two.

When I got to the house, I heard a shout from across the street. "Hey, sir? Can you help me?"

I looked over and saw the elder across the street sitting on the stairs that lead up to his house (see that photo above). It turns out he had fallen on his way up, and had been sitting there for a half hour.

After some work, I finally got him to his door, and he shooed me away, trying to give me $10 for my trouble. I managed to run away from him while he still held the bill.

I went inside, changed, re-packed my backpack (new book, etc.), and as I went to leave, I decided to go check on him, and lo and behold, he hadn't made it into his house.

I took his keys from him, opened the door, and helped him up the three wooden steps into his living room and onto his couch. I found his light switch, as I was absolutely not leaving him sitting in the dark until his son came home in three hours.

This time, he didn't let me escape without handing me a $20 bill, but I managed to toss it back into his living room as I backed out the door; I'm sure his son will find the bill on his way into the house.

I realized, if he had been paying me by the hour for the "work" I did as a neighbor, he would have dropped something on the order of $200/hr. That's crazy talk.

So, you tell me, is a not-really-physical, not-at-all time consuming act that any decent human being would have performed, neighbor or no, worth $200 an hour?

Blog Day

Dear Blog Day,

I didn't forget you, I promise. I'm just a little late. So, here goes. Five blogs you should be reading.

» Rag & Bone Shop: My former co-editor at the college paper, Wayne Barr (that's the co-editor, not the paper) is now a parent and the author of a collection of essays. He doesn't blog often, but he does Twitter and Facebook in the same voice (just shorter), and much more frequently.

» Photographers Journal: We see newspaper photographers' work every day. Very rarely, though, is the work we see anything we'd call artistic. Sure, occasionally there's a nice sunset, or a shadow, or someone is posed in a way you'd never think of posing them. But such is life as a newspaper photographer: in trade for doing photography for a living, you take pictures of officials at microphones and kids playing little league. But the Photogs Journal is a place for some of The Post-Standard's photographers to show off a bit, and to take pictures they enjoy taking. And they get to write a little bit about why they took them (beyond, "it was pretty").

»Onondaga (County) Citizens League: Readers of my blog know I write a fair bit about Interstate 81, and its raised overpasses. The OCL is undertaking a study looking at the pros and cons, and some of what they're doing is in-depth analyses of other places that have done radical(ish) things with their highways. I've learned a lot on both sides of the issue, and I'll continue to learn from them, I hope.

»aSweetPeace: I mentioned this a little while ago, but I'm working with the author of aSweetPeace on a project related to (his or her) blog (the bio is semi-anonymous, and I'd like to retain that as best I can). The blog is all about recipes, including photos of the finished product. I don't bake well, but I love food (clearly) and I do other stuff in the way of cooking fairly well (if I do say so myself), and I've enjoyed reading this thus far.

» James O'Brien: In case I didn't drive the point home earlier in August when I wrote about James, he's brilliant, his writing's seductive, and he's an inspirational human. Someone you should be reading (and listening to).

Words


Warning: The audio on this video is NOT work-friendly

I have a distinct memory of Mrs., Giles, my elementary school speech therapist, asking my parents to not help me with my lessons.

My parents, you see, grew up outside of Boston, where while Rs are an issue, so are vowels. For example, the O in dog and doll makes sort of an aaahhhh sound in actual English, while it makes an aaawwww sound in the Boston area.

That might have actually been my first parents-vs.-teacher episode as well, but that's not what I've gotten out of it.

One of my — hmm, I don't know if it qualifies as a guilty pleasure so much as a curiosity — is understanding where in the mouth to make sounds. In English, T is made with the tongue very much against the back of both sets of teeth most of the time, while in Spanish, the T is made above the top teeth, though not as far up as an English D. The Spanish D on the other hand, is made somewhat in between the teeth, like an English TH.

Given enough time listening to someone and looking at their mouth, I can imitate if not their full accent, at least the way they say some words.

One of my other curiosities is words that accidentally sound the same. Listen to Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha for a while in the video above.

The line is "Some of those who run forces / are the same who burn crosses" (a reference to racist police officers). I'm not sure if it's intentional or not (I'm guessing not), but sometimes during the song, de la Rocha will match the Os, which makes "forces" sound like "farces."

Interestingly, force and farce have been with us a really long time. Both derive from Latin, and both worked their way through Middle French and Middle English to remain with us.

Is this too much of a nerd moment for 5:30 a.m.? Maybe, I dunno. How about you? Do you have any super-geeky habits I should know about?