The writing game

sneakers3After six years of writing the Game to 100 blog, I’ve decided to hang it up and note on my permanent record card that I produced 771 posts. I have found satisfaction in the writing process and appreciated the civil commentary and helpful editing notes from readers.

The stats show 1,584 published comments and 259,804 unpublished spam comments. Occasionally, some spammers were clever enough to slip their pitches through my automated spam-rejection tool by using generic flattery.  These trolls in disguise would refer to my “awesome post” or “wonderful article” and hope for a fatal click.

I will sign off with a line from T.S. Eliot about the writing game:

… One has only learnt to get the better of words for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it.



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Ties of a lifetime tell many stories

The ties in the discard pile.

The ties in the discard pile.

My tie for editing business copy.

My tie for editing business copy.

After some internal debate, I decided to keep the tie with the Wall Street bull and bear on it. It was a reminder of my final copy-editing niche at the Sacramento Bee, when I specialized in handling business stories.

Another 40 or so ties went into the thrift-store pile as I thinned out the color-coded collection that had sustained me through decades of work and many years in the singles scene. The two worlds were not separate entities to my way of thinking. I was fortunate to enter the news business when the doors were opening to women. It expanded the social opportunities for swing-shift workers. I recall intense discussions that appeared to be related to grammatical fine points and the merits of pun headlines.

Although a lot of newspaper guys had no clothes sense, upwardly mobile male editors set themselves apart by wearing pressed shirts, ties, dress slacks and reasonably polished shoes. Some came in with sports jackets they would wear to the daily news conference presided over by the managing editor.

It took me a couple of years to get into the swing of things at the Bee. Having come of age in the radical ’60s, corporate success and three-piece suits weren’t in my closet when I was hired in late 1977. I knew only the most basic things about wardrobe selection and had critical voices in my head about “putting on the dog,” a phrase my father had used with some disdain. As a high school teacher, he wore the standard uniform of a suit, white shirt and basic tie to work. I don’t think he owned a blue shirt.

I remember summoning up my courage and going to Irwin’s men’s store at the then-fashionable Downtown Mall in Sacramento. A patient, knowledgeable salesman taught me what color slacks would go with which sports jackets and the proper length for cuffs and sleeves. He showed me how to coordinate a tie with a shirt’s color and pattern. I developed an appreciation for good shoes.

But ties were the thing that really tapped into my sense of myself. They gave me a way to feel artistic in my choice of color and patterns. I could match them to my moods. I could project bold statements that seem at odds with my quiet demeanor. They opened the door to conversation.

“That tie doesn’t seem like you,” an observant female reporter said one day.

Oh, really? And why is that?”

“The colors are so bright and cheery.”

“Maybe we should talk about this over coffee,” I said.

After I got married at the mature age of 55 and T-shirts became acceptable work attire in some industries, I continued to wear a tie to work. I viewed it as a touch of professionalism that reflected the serious business of journalism.

I don’t know whether I’ll hang on to the dozens of ties still in my closet. I need a few for the increasing number of funerals I attend. Beyond that, they are just the ties that bind me to the past.


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Reflections before going to sleep

sleep justiceA sleep researcher gave this advice at a recent lecture: Think positive thoughts as you drift off for the night. Put aside the stress of the day. Try relaxation and meditation techniques.

How about watching reruns of “Law and Order”? I’ve found that cop show soothing before bedtime. The plot twists are creative, and the bad folks get put away. The rightful order of society is restored. The scales of justice are balanced. All is right with the world.

Images of good triumphing over evil often flow through my mind in the late-night hours. These aren’t abstractions. They come from the grudge vault in my head. Decades ago, when I was in my upwardly-mobile phase in the newspaper world, an ambitious co-worker blundered, then ran to the boss and blamed his mistake on me. This fellow had ingratiated himself with the boss, and his duplicity was soon rewarded with a promotion. As far as I know, this scoundrel never got his comeuppance — except in the fantasies of cruel and unusual punishment that help put me to sleep.

I was talking to a woman at my athletic club a few weeks ago and told her about the low-life who banged into my black 2014 Mustang in a parking lot and took off. She nodded her head and assured me that what goes around comes around.

“It’s pretty to think that,” I said.

She gave me a quizzical look as though I didn’t understand the basics of karma. What I understand is that I got stuck paying the $500 deductible on my auto insurance.

If I still subscribed to the Catholicism of my youth, I could simply conjure up the Day of Judgment and enjoy the stunned grimaces coming from all those people who thought they would get away with their sins and wickedness. My fifth-grade nun at Our Lady of Lourdes grammar school painted especially vivid pictures of the torments of hell. My pals and I went to confession weekly.

After falling away from the faith, I was left to ponder the classic issues of good and evil and the basis for righteous living. Why do bad thing things happen to good people? Do villains live happily ever after in their penthouses?

The sleep expert’s emphasis on positive thinking has made me wonder whether dark thoughts take some toll in my waking life. I’ve decided to try accentuating the positive at bedtime. I will reflect on good things that happened during the day.  I hope my dreams will be pleasant.

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Keeping track of the score in pickup basketball can drive you crazy

sneakers3Keeping track of the score in pickup basketball games has been an irritation all my life. The combination of faulty memories and habitual cheating has ignited far too many frustrating, game-delaying arguments.

Such disputes come at a cost at my athletic club in Sacramento. The basketball czar has decreed that the time clock can’t be stopped during games except for injuries. Time spent arguing is time lost from action in our games, which average about 15 minutes.

This rule is one of many designed to accommodate the large number of players who descend on the club at peak hours. The czar wants to make sure the full-court games keep moving along. Morning sessions are played under power-ball rules, meaning winners stay on the court for up to three games. The noon and afternoon sessions give players two straight games, win or lose. If you want more action, you have to sign up for another rotation.

In my younger days, I preferred the competitiveness of power ball and didn’t stiffen up too much when I had a long wait between games. Now, at 71, I prefer the two-game system because I can warm up properly and get a decent workout – at least when there aren’t time-wasting arguments over the score.

I get rather impatient when I see the seconds go down the drain. Some of my fellow players are heavily invested in determining who is ahead.  At the one-minute mark, I’m likely to shout “Play ball, guys! Who the f … cares about the score?”

In fact, I know the arguers care because one is probably a compulsive score tracker, another is a certifiable liar, and a couple of others overrate their memory as much as their three-point shooting ability.

Among the 40-and-over crowd, I suspect several proud but out-of-shape players routinely demand score checks as a way of catching their breath. Evidently, walking the ball up the court doesn’t do the job.

At my age, I suppose I should be cultivating patience and tolerance, but something about the basketball court keeps me in a state of arrested development. I resent self-appointed “coaches” giving me instructions. I despise whiners who cry foul when they can’t get the baseline. And I don’t take kindly to ageism masquerading as indifference.

Recently, I found myself matched up against a solid player half my age. He was also taller and quicker. I made a short jumper and then gave him a nice head fake to get free for a second basket. After that, he adopted a too-cool-for-school attitude and didn’t bother to guard me at all. I ran up a string of baskets, and he did nothing. He wasn’t going to pretend I should be taken seriously.

I’ve always taken pride in my defense and hated to have anyone, regardless of age, score off me. In my teenage days, I’d go out to the top of the key to try to stop old guys – 40 in that era was ancient – with their two-hand set shots. At the club, I do my best against speedy high school kids brought to the Saturday games by proud fathers. Ability displayed on the court should be respected.

When you play basketball for a long time, you carry a lot of baggage. It reduces the satisfaction level. I find a long soak in the hot tub helps.

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UC Berkeley officials need to stand up for free speech

Last year, University of California officials were pushing a dangerous idea that would have severely restricted discussion of a key historical movement of the modern era.

Think about that for a minute: A prestigious university system dedicated to the education of young people was proposing to clamp down on how this development was explained and understood by various parties.

In Orwellian fashion, this curtailment of free speech and intellectual inquiry was labeled “Final Report of the Regents Working Group on Principles Against Intolerance.” The key point of the report was to conflate criticism of Zionism – the movement to establish the state of Israel — with anti-Semitism and to subject such critics to disciplinary procedures under UC policies against intolerance.

The Los Angeles Times said in an editorial that the proposal “goes dangerously astray on anti-Semitism” and is tantamount to bigotry against faculty members and students who express disagreement with the state of Israel.

Thankfully, the Board of Regents had the good sense to reject this blanket censure of Zionism critics. In doing so, the regents reaffirmed the idea that UC was not established to be a safe haven from contentious issues that should and must be debated.

Now, UC Berkeley officials are undermining the principle of free speech by interfering with a planned talk by conservative commentator and provocateur Ann Coulter. The university had initially said it could not allow campus Republican groups to host her talk April 27 because of security concerns. After the predictable cries of outrage, officials proposed that she speak May 2, when classes would not be in session. Coulter plans to make the most of the controversy and show up on campus this Thursday.

I hope she does. UC officials need to be reminded free speech means nothing if it’s sacrificed on the altar of “security” or, more likely, political correctness. It’s time for easily offended students to realize that a good education is one that prepares them to confront prejudice, ignorance, intolerance and fake news. If they seek social justice, they must be willing to face their opponents and fight with the weapons of a democratic society. If they believe in inclusivity, they should open themselves to contrary viewpoints.

As I mentioned in a blog a year ago, I parted company with my left-wing pals in the late 1960s when they were eager to disrupt a UC Berkeley talk by William Shockley. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist was pushing a theory that blacks were mentally inferior to whites and that limiting black population growth through sterilization was essential for the well-being of the country.

The idea of silencing a controversial speaker on the campus that had given birth to the Free Speech Movement in 1964 struck me as both ironic and contemptible. I still feel that way.

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