Monday, March 31, 2014

Six-Syllable Shootout in South Bend Tonight


Ned Martin used to use that word – on multiple occasions and always seamlessly – typically to compliment a bit of particularly brainy ball-playing. Ned Martin, you see, was not only the radio voice of the Boston Red Sox during my youth and young adulthood, but he was also a constant vocabulary lesson. I owe many a successfully-solved crossword puzzle to his inspiration if not his “curriculum.”

Anticipatory, an adjective, is defined as “characterized by anticipation.” Don’t you just hate it when the definition of an unfamiliar word uses a form of the word which has moved you to open the dictionary in the first place? Well, at least you now know two different forms for a word whose meaning is still eluding you.

Just like the Latin language from which our verbal peculiarity emanates (anyone else still occasionally haunted by the Ablative Absolute), English is comprised of clusters of words which are distinguished from one another by alterations to the suffixes.

This particular family of words derives from the verb anticipare, to take before. There’s almost a sense of clairvoyance that attaches itself to the meaning – like Mr. Martin’s heady middle-infielder, who knew what his opponent was going to do before he even did it.

Our verb “anticipate” carries the meaning “to look forward to, often with eagerness.”

Eagerness is what has had yours truly “anticipatory” for the past 48 hours, eagerness for one of those match-ups made in heaven to which we sports fans are periodically treated by the gods of sport.

In about an hour, the best athlete in women’s college basketball will square off with the most skilled player. The “athlete” is a 5’10” guard who is thrown lob passes frequently. (No, she doesn’t dunk, but she does finish – regularly.) The “player” is a 5’8” guard who will soon wrap up an extraordinary career among the three top scorers – ever.

Muffet McGraw’s undefeated Green Colleens of Notre Dame, featuring that athletic sophomore, will square off with the wonderful young talent with which Baylor Lady Bear coach Kim Mulkey proceeded from the Britney Griner era.

At stake, a trip to Nashville and a spot in the Final Four, with the home-standing (yes, in a Regional Final) Golden Domers heavy favorites.

But what’s conjuring Ned Martin sound-bytes in my mind is the match-up of Irish sophomore Jewell Loyd and this summer’s “talk of the WNBA” Odyssey Sims.

Expect some special moments, my friends, moments worthy of six-syllable descriptors.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hip-Hop, Java and a Bellevue Cadillac

Did Herbie Hancock really invent hip-hop?

That’s what Snoop Dogg said at the end of his performance at the most recent Kennedy Awards presentation.

Now, I’d never associated Herbie Hancock with rap or hip-hop; to my thinking, he’s a jazzman from the Count Basie tree, like Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, Miles Davis and so many others. My mind’s ear hears “Rock-it” or “Watermelon Man,” that bane of junior high school bands everywhere.

And besides, if hip-hop or rap (as a musical “genre”) is essentially a spoken-word art form, then (no offense, but) its origins substantially predate Herbie’s birth, much less his impact.

Nearly 100 years ago, a vocal group named The Ink Spots was cranking out popular tunes by following a simple but tried-and-true blueprint. The high tenor voice of Bill Kenny sang the primary lyric of a number, but a spoken-word interlude was provided by the bass singer.

Louis Jordan, one of the innovators of jump-blues back in the 1940’s and a pretty fair song-writer, performed a song called “Brother, Beware!” which is entirely spoken-word (somewhat like a church sermon). “If her sister calls you ‘brother,’ you better get fu’ther” is a typical piece of the lyric.

Wasn’t the Sugar Hill Gang reaching back rather than breaking new ground?

Just askin’.

Speaking of The Ink Spots…

One of the group’s most successful records was “The Java Jive” – you know, “I love coffee, I love tea.”
Well, I’ve been addicted to coffee for decades, and a cup of hot tea is very nice every so often. (My mom was a tea drinker, and the “tag” lines on Salada tea bags helped spur my interest in thought-provoking expressions.) Either way, it was generally a pretty simple process, cream and sugar being the only cause for pause.

Then, somebody decided to sprinkle a little cinnamon on the coffee grounds, and the next thing you know – Starbuck’s.

That’s when all the “jive” started.

But, finally, for those of us who merely crave a simple “Cuppa Joe,” we have Professor Doug Bell and his Bellevue Cadillac.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Numerical Incongruity, NBA-Style!

Greetings and salutations, World.

My name is Horatio N. Proportion, and I am Abacus’ second cousin and alter-ego. While he is prone to wax poetic on language and esoterica, my inclinational is to examine the mathematics upon which observation and analysis is based. ‘Twas I, in fact, who penned yesterday’s entry on championship age.

Without further ado, let’s put a critical eye to the concept of the Offensive Rebound.

While a second chance to score during a possession is certainly a good thing, one should note that an offensive rebound requires an errant shot, i.e. a failure in offensive execution. But considering that exactly one out of 30 NBA teams is making half its field goal attempts in the 2013-14 season, effective offensive rebounding certainly should be considered an asset.

Or is it?

Consider this data, which reflects play through St. Patty’s Day:

Team “A” has played 66 games and been credited with 601 retrievals off the offensive glass, while Team “B” thus far has snatched 473 offensive rebounds in its 64 contests.

At first glance, it would appear Team “A” is more accomplished in the art of offensive boarding, but they actually had over 600 more chances to “get them some.” So, who’s better?

Then there’s Team “C.” Even though this squad is universally acknowledged (both anecdotally and numerically) as one of the very best rebounding teams in the league (offensively, defensively and overall), their opponents have amassed 65 more offensive rebounds in 67 games. Huh??

As in the prior example, it’s a matter of opportunities. Since Team “C” ranks in the Top Five in both field-goal shooting and field goal defense, their opposition has missed 497 more shots this season.

Aha…so Team “C” must be the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, right?

Alas, that would be an inappropriate conclusion to draw. In point of fact, the Heat are Team “B” and by percentage are the second-worst offensive rebounding team in the Association – second-worst (by the narrowest of margins, five “decimal places”) to the disaster currently known as the Los Angeles Lakers, who incidentally are Team “A.”

And who, pray tell, are these powerhouse Team “C”-ers? None other than Kevin McHale’s Houston Rockets.

Numbers, you see, do occasionally misrepresent.

The Truth lies in Horatio N. Proportion.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Just How Old Should a Good NBA Team Be?

Age, to some, may well be a state of mind. But when it comes to competitive sports, age is a fact of life. Bodies age and break down; surreptitious savvy and favorable whistles can only compensate so much. The no-longer-so-young Kobe Bryant is only the most recent to reprise this role. It will be a challenge, given the nature of the injuries from which he’s returning.

A variety of heady veterans have played vital roles on NBA championship squads—Shane Battier, Robert Horry, Ron Harper, Clyde Drexler, all the way back to the days of Bob McAdoo, Paul Silas and Wayne Embry. Alas, far more have sought in vain the right fit for one of those elusive rings.

Constructing a contending team requires the proper mixture. Like Goldilocks taught us as kids, not all bowls of porridge are “just right.” A successful unit needs the guy with that singular athletic talent for those occasions when nothing else will suffice. More importantly, it needs guys who can and will make the “right” play. The proper balance of youthful exuberance and high-pressure urgency. Too young and you don’t know what to do, too old and you can’t get the job done any more.

Just what, then, is the optimal age for an NBA team with championship aspirations?        
Two seasons ago, the multi-ringed San Antonio Spurs were on the roll of all rolls. They’d closed the season with ten consecutive victories (21 of their last 23), their third double-digit winning streak in that condensed season—then began the playoffs with ten more wins.

Of course, we all remember what happened next. The Thunder give them a 20-point spanking in Oklahoma City, triggering the Spurs’ first four-game losing stretch in over a year and an abrupt end to their title dreams. Conventional wisdom held that a grizzled old team had been usurped by the athletic young up-and-comers. Sure enough, the average age of the Spurs did indeed exceed that of the Thundering herd by a couple of years. Coach Pop’s micro-management of minutes that season was ultimately foiled by the wear and tear of a brutal schedule on an older team.

OKC retained their momentum through one game of the Finals before reminding us why only 12 teams so young have ever won an NBA championship, only five in the last half century. The last such title team featured a 20-year-old rookie named Magic.

Those San Antonio senior citizens, incidentally, were the same age as 20 of the 67 teams that have won the championship of this league, including seven of Coach Red Auerbach’s nine titlists as well as the 2012 Miami Heat that knocked off those Thunder.

Before going any further, let’s define “age” as we’re applying it here to a team. Coaches are notorious for shortening their playing rotation as games become more meaningful, and should not a team’s “age” represent the guys who actually play? Therefore, team “age” is the average age of the eight players who logged the most minutes during the playoffs. (Data was taken from

By this standard, only one 40-year-old has ever “played” for a NBA champion. (His identity should be obvious; it happened 25 years ago for those who may need a cranial nudge.)

But make no mistake about it—professional basketball is a young man’s game. Always has been. During the inaugural season of the league (then known as the Basketball Association of America), only 14 of the 161 players were 30+, five of them playing for the Pittsburgh Ironmen in their only season of existence. Seven of the league’s first ten champions were as young or younger than the Oklahoma City babies we’ve been discussing. The average age of that Thunder squad was 26.

Since the merger with the ABA back in the 1970’s, only two teams that young have reached the mountaintop, Magic’s aforementioned 1980 Lakers and Bill Walton’s amazing Portland Trail Blazers three years prior. With the exception of the teams from that first decade and the surprising 1975 Golden State Warriors, each of these extra-young winners have featured an iconic player—the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers (Wilt Chamberlain).

On the other end of the spectrum, 14 teams aged 30 or more have prevailed in the NBA’s final playoff round, including two of the last three. While the Boston Celtics represent four of those outfits, let the record show that the very first Boston Celtic unit to reach the big 3-0 fell to Chamberlain’s Sixers, snapping a run of eight consecutive championships.

Speaking of the Celtics, in an extraordinary piece of personnel management, Red Auerbach had kept the age of his dynastic squad at 28 for seven straight years (1960-66). By the way, that’s how old those decrepit Spurs were two years ago whilst being drubbed by those Okie up-starts.

In another age oddity involving another NBA dynasty, the three-peat Los Angeles Lakers of 2000-02 actually grew younger each year, going from 30 to 28. The 2000 Laker champs were the fifth consecutive group of 30-somethings to do so. That group includes the oldest-ever NBA kings, Michael Jordan’s 32-year-old 1998 Chicago Bulls.

Currently, the oldest teams in the league are the Heat, Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies; the youngest, the 76ers, Charlotte Bobcats, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz.

The formidable Indiana Pacers, through the additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, have “aged” from 26 to 28 since last season. And the shocking Trail Blazers increased their age from 23 to 27 over one off-season; astronomical improvement can’t be that easy, can it? This collection of basketball middle-agers also includes the Lakers, Clippers, Bulls, Warriors, Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks.

GM Sam Presti and Coach Scott Brooks have OKC back to the age of 26, along with the likes of the eye-brow raising Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards and Boston.

 And the Detroit Pistons have certainly shown significant growth this season (impressively giving Indiana its first home loss of the season). Yet and still, they (along with the Cavaliers, Bucks, Magic and Raptors) illustrate quite well why the NBA has not had a 25-year old champion since 1977.

Then again, maybe the youngsters should stay optimistic. After all, the league’s first dynasty, winners of five of the first nine championships, the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers, won their final championship at the ripe old age of 27.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Tale of Two Toons, A Tune of Two Tails, Atonal Symmetry?

For the briefest of moments I’m going to jail.  “I’ll kill him!”  I’d just noticed him back riding his trike in the cul-de-sac.  “Third birthday or not, I’ll kill him!”  The hand of God had kept the maple syrup all on the table, though not on his now devoid of pancake plate.  I stride to and through the garage, fully prepared to go the first and middle name route while ordering my grandson into the house.

But by the time I reach the curb, Little Man wants to throw Popi the tennis ball that has somehow found its way into his hands.  Well, it’s not quite noon, it is his birthday, the maple syrup didn’t drip on the floor.  Discipline, I guess, can wait, and maybe a spanking, rather than capital punishment, will suffice.  After a game of catch that meanders to the corner of our short quiet street, avoids the sewers, and is joined by Duke and Blackjack, our canine contingent, and following a brief visit with a neighbor, his two little ones and their garage-stored treasures, the four of us are back in our own garage.

Stepping inside, I pick up the Birthday Boy (he’s pretty oblivious to the significance of the day, despite the pancake treat for breakfast) and say I have something to show him.  A smile begins to form on his little face until I point out that Popi is angry and that he may even have to get a spanking.  I stand him in his chair, right in front of the maple syrup mess.  When I ask who did this, he very softly answers, “I did.”

Barring further transgression, he’s dodged the whippin’ at this point, but the belt, conveniently sitting on the table, still has a role to play.  I show him the uneaten pancakes upon which the wasted syrup could have been more usefully spread and reinforce the “We don’t waste food, we don’t play with our food” rules, cussing VERY infrequently (no mean feat for Popi).  I pick up the belt but tell him I’m not going to use it because he told Popi the truth, and then again ask who did this and he again admits his misdeed.  Only then do I lay down the belt.

After a bit more good boy – bad boy distinction and the pronouncement that he must be punished, I pick him up and carry him over to one of the couches in the adjoining den.  I sentence him to 30 minutes of “Time-Out,” to which he issues no appeal – and knowing full well he’ll be napping long before then.  Sure enough the first time I look up from my cussing and cleaning, he’s knocked out.

Sleep well, Oh Grandson-o-mine!

Narrator (ideally voiced by William “Cannon” Conrad):
Can Little Man avoid further transgression?  Will the pancakes spoil? Did the tennis ball keep avoiding the sewer?  Join us for our next exciting episode:
Don’t Mess with My Naps, or Samson, I Warned You!

A week or so later while doing the retirement thing (i.e. enjoying a midday snooze), the need-to-know “itch” began to intrude on a brain that was still somewhere ‘twixt awake and asleep.  That voice… damn, I know that voice, but…

For some reason, I don’t immediately open my eyes, probably because some part of my being was still inclined toward slumber.  But I kept hearing that voice – and not like a song that gets stuck in your head that only you can hear.  Not only was it coming from the TV in front of which I had dozed, it seemed like a TV voice and even felt right emanating from that particular TV in my office / Man Room (though I’m not even sure if I knew where I was).

Curiosity was steadily forging ahead of the retirement thing in the battle for my attention.  In what dusty corner of my TV viewing recollections does that voice reside?  WHO IS THAT?

Somehow – subliminal stream of consciousness, perhaps – fables and cartoons began to merge in my mind, and the realization came to me more as a slow “Oh, yeah!” than a sudden “Aha!”  It was Aesop, from the old Aesop and Son cartoons.  (Think Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Tennessee Tuxedo.)  Fuzzy nostalgia had dredged up “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “as told by Edward Everett Horton” by the time I realized that the other voice (Oh no, not another Who Dat!) didn’t sound like Aesop’s son.  It didn’t take as long – maybe because I finally had sense enough to open my eyes – to recognize Jay North portraying Dennis the Menace.  Aesop, I mean Mr. Horton (so that’s how he looked) was playing Mr. Wilson’s relative – and Dennis’s foil, of course.  Wally Cleaver’s best gal Mary Ellen Rogers was also featured in this episode, for all the “Leave It To Beaver” fans.

In subsequent episodes, Lucille Ball’s long-time straight man Gale Gordon’s been portraying Mrs. Wilson’s brother-in-law.  Should we be concerned for Good Ol’ Mr. Wilson?  Oh, the perils of this retirement thing – fretting over whether a sit-com actor from half a century ago is ailing, or just holding out.  You know, in this Information Age, it shouldn’t be too hard to get to the bottom of this, even if this conundrum has not been deemed worthy by ETV, Unsolved Mysteries, or even Peabody’s Improbable History.  I think I’d better investigate – right after I finish doing the retirement thing.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sports + Media = TV Time-Out

What’s more valuable to a basketball coach in a play-or-go-home game: one possession five minutes into the game, or a time-out?

This rather unusual thought crossed my mind while watching the Texas Lady Longhorns play Penn in their first round NCAA Tournament game today.

As the game reached the four-minute mark, UT held an 8-7 advantage although the smaller Ivy Leaguers had already hustled their way to three offensive rebounds in a mere six possessions.

An official/media time-out was scheduled for the next whistle in what had been a very smooth flow of play. A common foul had been charged to each team and the ball had found its way out of bounds a time or two, but those were the only interruptions.

Five Lady Quaker points on back-to-back field goals got Texas coach Karen Aston up off the bench. Basketball 101 strongly mandates that a coach interrupt the course of play at this point and get her team re-focused.

As Sydney Stipanovich’s short jumper settled into the net giving Penn a 12-8 edge, exactly three and a half minutes had elapsed since last an official had tooted. Simple probability suggests that a misplay of some sort was over-due – a deflected pass, a reach-in foul, an open wound, something!

Coach Aston paused long enough for her team to inbound the ball, then made her request. (Many coaches at both the pro and college level wait until the ball has been advanced to the frontcourt before calling such a TO.)

The governance of time-outs in the age of televised sports can get a little complicated. NCAA contractual obligations require four commercial breaks per half, so a coffee break is imposed at the first natural pause in the game every four minutes, i.e. the first whistle under the 16:00, 12:00, 8:00 and 4:00 marks. Additionally, each team is afforded five discretionary time-outs to be used for strategic purposes (although only four may be carried over into the second half of the game).

All coaches seem predisposed to hoard their time-outs for use in end-of-game situations; thus the college game has come to be played in four-minute segments. When this routine is disrupted, intervention is often required – as was the case with the young Lady Horns.

But was burning a precious time-out the only immediate option at this point?

Consider this scenario: Instead of asking the official for a time-out, Coach Aston hollers “Throw me the ball!” to her point guard. The poor kid is either discombobulated into an error or is induced to comply.

Sure you’re forfeiting a possession, but the psychological impact of such a tactic, properly handled, can be worth much more.

Screwy idea, I know, but…

Speaking of Time-Outs

I got spoiled while watching Olympic basketball a couple of summers ago…not the quality of the play so much (which was actually quite good), but rather the pace of play – particularly the infrequency of time-outs
Not only were there no pre-scheduled stoppages in play, but only the head coach was allowed to request a time-out. And an official was allowed to grant such a request only when the ball was dead (i.e. when play had stopped).

Alas, such a set-up wouldn’t correspond to the business model of modern day sports, huh?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dogs, New Orleans, and the Talkin’ Blues

“Here comes that new dog.
He don’t know nothin’ but those same old dog tricks.
Roll over and play dead
Won’t fetch you nothin’ but that chewed-up, nasty old stick.”

A song named “New Dog Blues” begins with that clever bit of phrasing – “fetch” fits so perfectly there, wouldn’t you agree?

The wordplay and vivid imagery is an ideal set-up for the rest of the tune, which is rife with double-entendres about bone-burying, leg-funniness and such.

The writing credit for this little ditty goes to Rachelle Garniez, renowned as a prolific writer and somewhat off-beat performer. The accordion, it seems, is her instrument.

I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Garniez had the voice of Ingrid Lucia in her “mind’s ear” while creating her lyrical poetry. But the Flying Neutrino’s 1999 CD I’d Rather be in New Orleans, which includes this track, lends credence to the notion.

It’s likely you’ve heard Ingrid Lucia’s voice at some time or other. The Neutrino’s swing tune “Mr. Zoot Suit” shoulders its way into some of the little nooks and crannies of pop culture from time to time. ("When you see him drive by with that big cheroot, Don't forget to shout, 'Hey, Mr. Zoot Suit!'")

Like wordsmith Garniez, Lucia and her bandmates have had their share of oddity, operating for a while as The Floating Neutrinos.

“New Dog Blues” was written and rendered in a style that conjures images of blues women like Ruth Brown or Ella Mae Morse. I can only imagine the kind of fun another Ella and her trumpet-playing pal Louis could have had with it.

Maybe The Manhattan Transfer should take a crack at it.

Speaking of dogs and New Orleans…

The inimitable Dr. John broached the issue of canine habits in 1992 when he recorded “How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come ‘Round)” for his Goin’ Back to New Orleans CD (or could it still have been an album or cassette tape in ’92?).

As you might deduce from the title, it’s a tune about infidelity and revenge. The speaker of these “talkin’ blues” ultimately exacts his revenge with the most elaborately-described switch-blade in the history of human discourse. He caps it off by saying:

“And if you don’t believe* that, just shake yo’ head;
It’ll be singing ‘I Ain’t Got No Body.’”

(* I’m not really sure I can reproduce in mere letters the way Dr. John pronounces this word.)

I’ve always been a “mark” for punnery – the more groan-inducing, the better.

Here's a version of the tune by an old Louisiana bluesman. (There are a couple of pretty good Dr. John versions on YouTube, but I think it's easier to focus on the neat lyric without the crowd noise and instrumental interludes.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

NBA Tanking Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Credit a recent piece by Zack Lowe of Grantland for this little gem:

“The wheel turns the NBA into a planning exercise that rewards smart organizations for being smart,” [Mark] Cuban says. “I just don’t know if that dovetails with the business we are in.”

The “wheel” refers to what is essentially a proposed equal-distribution system for the NBA’s draft intended to replace the lottery system and to cleanse the league of the scourge of tanking.

You might want to turn that quote over again in your mind before forging ahead.

Ready to go?

Assuming that the verb “dovetails” implies a correspondence or connection of some sort, just what is the Dallas Maverick’s owner saying here?

If intelligent decision-making, both long-term and short-term, is not the means to a successful result (i.e. reward), then just what should be separating the winners from the losers? Market size? The bounce of a ping-pong ball? Punxsutawney Phil?

At the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this month, former Toronto Raptors GM Brian Colangelo acknowledged constructing the 2011-2012 squad to perform poorly, even quipping that coach Duane Casey’s motivational skills proved “too good.”

New Commish Adam Silver bristles at the term “tanking” and prefers to think of a team’s dismantling (e.g. the current Sixers) as a “legitimate strategy” in the rebuilding process. Yet, Silver acknowledges a concern about the perception of such strategizing and an obligation to address that perception.

I think you solve the whole problem by throwing all the non-playoff teams into a single-elimination tournament, first prize the No. 1 pick in the up-coming draft. Here’s a more thorough explanation of the idea.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Duke Meets JJ

After a couple of hundred miles of freeway riding, the slower pace and angled maneuvering let Duke know something was up, even if the neighborhood was unfamiliar.

He’d only been here once, and only for a day or two a couple of months or so before.

A leaner version of his “Mama” from their last encounter met her now four-year-old puppy, that unclipped tail of his whipping in love and glee nearly as rapidly as we’d been driving for several hours.

I’ve been hit by that tail a time or three, occasionally right after having been awakened late on a Friday night by a cold nose and wet tongue arriving for a weekend visit. It stings. He normally is aware of this.

After a brief romp, a little sniffing, and a couple of tinkles, Duke accompanied everybody inside. He was curious about the bundle of blankets that Grandma didn’t seem to want to let go of, but no more so than about other nooks and crannies in this only vaguely familiar house.

In time, the bundle of joy was gently settled in his bassinette next to a couch and viewable from the nearby kitchen table.

The object of Duke’s curiosity became more focused. He looked and sniffed around the bassinette, too tall for him to actually see its contents.

Ever so gently, his nearly 50 pounds nimbly hopped upon the couch, put his forepaws on its arm, leaned his head forward, and peered in. For what seemed a very long time, he just stood there and looked…other than twitching nose and unclipped ears, he didn’t move a muscle.

When he did reposition himself, this territorial “beast” camped out on the other side of the bassinette from which he’d peeped. This pretty much became Duke’s “turf” for the remainder of this visit.

A four- or five-week old Duke had first trod our turf shortly after his Mama returned home with a college degree—sort of a graduation gift to self. As a bonus, her folks got a small taste of grand-parenthood.

That genuine grandson turns six this very day and is now a kindergartener.

Duke took another of those long rides (in the other direction) three or four weeks after that first meeting, and has lived with Grandma and Grandpa ever since.

New parent and baby returned to the area several months later, toddler and pet quickly becoming fast friends.

A year or so later, and then again last summer, four additional puppy legs arrived and stayed.

Duke has certainly communicated to the newbies, “Hey, I was here first, I know more than you, and I do have privileges,” But he shows a similar kind of protective instinct towards them—he’s even chased down the older of the two when Blackjack got himself a case of wanderlust.

He’s also tried to let them know they get fed and treated darn well hereabouts, so they’d best not mess it up by getting somebody mad. He used a paws-on approach with Blackjack in the course of their play, even as his young companion became noticeably taller and stouter.

Perhaps in deference to doggy late middle-age, Duke has delegated to Blackjack the rough-house-play duties with the latest arrival. Maybe he just instinctively knew how big and how fast Roxie would grow…she’s already taller than the two boys.

Roxie, a gift from kindly neighbors, is the German Shepherd I’ve been craving since my Dad’s third and final Hans had to be put down at age three back in my college days.

Blackjack was one of a litter of four-month-old under-nourished Huskie pups abandoned on the doorstep of the colleague of a relative…in South Texas. No wonder my big baby has one very, very light blue eye and one brown eye. No wonder, and no kidding. He was and still is beautiful—but I digress.

At the time, the proximity (in some ways) in breed gave a good rub, though not an all-out scratch, to that itch from the past.

But—thirty-some-year craving be damned—Duke will always be my favorite. It all goes back to that first meeting with JJ. I’d love to have a snapshot of that pose by the bassinette. Actually I do, but it exists only in my mind…hope this little essay has captured a little of it.

Incidentally our Duke, except for his ears and tail, looks very much like the animal that adorns the cover of the Dec. 29, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Obviously, It’s Time to Shut Up!

The first word of the title might be a Noun in Direct Address – I can’t make up my mind.

In my English class, I dubbed a Noun in Direct Address a “Hey, you” noun. The sole purpose for this syntactical convention is to identify or to get the attention of the person to whom one is speaking. It contributes nothing to the message being conveyed; it may be utilized at any point in a sentence; and the rules of grammar and usage require that it always be set off by commas.

My friends, I have had just about enough.
I have had just about enough, my friends.
I have, my friends, had just about enough.

I have had just about enough, too – at least of that doggone word “Obviously.”

Somewhere your middle-school English teacher is smiling if you’ve already thought, “But, Abacus, ‘obviously’ ends in –ly so it’s an adverb. A noun’s a person, place or thing.”

(Be careful, though…Sally ends in –ly but names a person.)

Adverbs and adjectives, by definition, are modifiers (describing words), distinguished by what they happen to be describing in a particular instance. For example, an easy concept is easily understood. The adjective easy tells us “what kind of concept” while the adverb easily tells us “how the understanding occurs.”

Simple, huh – or is it simply?

“Obviously,” while indeed an adverb, has become a public nuisance devoid of any substance, particularly in the realm of Sports Talk. All dialogue, questions and answers alike, are littered with the word. On ESPN this morning, TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith’s very first response began with the word. (He lost me at that point; I recall nothing else from the interview.) I expect insight from an expert, not that which is “easily seen and understood.” Maybe Mr. “Jet” was just trying to stifle any disagreement, implying that the fault lies with you if you should happen not to agree with that which is self-evident to a thinking person.

Andy Katz and a couple of currently unemployed college hoop coaches occupied ESPNU for five full hours yesterday previewing March Madness. This special episode of Katz Korner was essentially a string of interviews with coaches. The most amusing (and perhaps most truly obvious) comment of the day came when Dino Gaudio pointed out that the young Memphis coach will “kill you with kindness” on the heels of a typical Josh Pastner performance.

I’d be curious, though, to know how many times the word was used during that program. I’d set the over-or-under at about 150. (At least three will be found in the 71st minute alone.)

Heck, even Phil Jackson fell victim to the word one time (that I noticed) during his introductory news conference with the Knicks earlier today – though perhaps the Zen-master should be given a pass since he was discussing the convoluted and contentious mess that Madison Square Garden management has been for some time now.

Maybe I’m simply not understanding the syntax in which this word is being utilized. Maybe it’s not the content of the question or answer that is being described by this adverb, but rather the manner in which the information is being presented. Straightforwardly, without pretense, what I know you can know.

Then why not say “To be totally honest with you”? (Uh-oh, there’s another common but troubling component of the current vernacular…better not go there right now!)

Needless to say (hey, isn't that just another way of saying “obviously”?), this word has become nothing more than a four-syllable synonym for “ummm.”

Good thing Latin is dead or it might take offense.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Old School 101: Henny Youngman vs. Ross Perot?

“The doctor gave a man six months to live.  He couldn’t pay his bill so he gave him another six months.”  Henny Youngman, stolen from God-knows-who.

Hey, if that’s all it takes to gain immortality, I’ll happily be a living deadbeat.  There must be a catch or some fine print.

When you think about it, though, we do place a good bit of implicit trust in our health-care providers.  (Relax, you’re the Prozac Generation, so Relax, Relax.)  Suppose your doctor stood you up next to a tape measure and then deduced that you had a fever; you’d be skeptical.  But the latest innovation in thermometric gadgetry inspires sufficient credence for you to allow the same deduction.  Why?  Blind trust, either simply in our generation’s miraculous gadgetry or in the doctor’s competence and professionalism.  And the level of this trust and confidence expands exponentially in cases of more serious illness or injury.

I think this very phenomenon of blind trust (mass hysteria?) is frighteningly common.  Consider the Crisis in Education, kindly brought to our attention by Mr. Perot some years ago.  In response to the billionaire, witness the convoluted and overlapping system of standards and measurements that we now call schooling.  Acronyms aplenty, high stakes testing galore, and the flavor of the month comes with value-added projection.  In other words, more cutting-edge gadgetry, though not of the thermometric variety.  This gadgetry and its proponents purport to measure the intellectual and scholastic status, mostly of adolescents, a subset of our species genetically programmed for rebelliousness and other forms of stubborn illogic.  Methinks these Pedagogical Physicians are using a yardstick to monitor this fever of crisis.  This approach seems counter-intuitive, if not downright dangerous – even painful.

If we’re indeed wedded to this gadgetry and the theories behind it, perhaps  Mr. Youngman again provides us a way out … Take My Wife, Please!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Apple Didn't Fall Far From the Tree

My very favorite mental home movie from my childhood would be Dad’s arrival home for dinner, usually a little late (after 6 o’clock), from working a day shift at the firehouse.  He’d sit in his regular spot, roll up his sleeves, and dig in while Mom inquired about his day.  Often the answer would be a story about somebody pulling in and asking how to get somewhere – to Harvard? Study, Study, Study! To Symphony Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!  On cue, Mom would sigh and say, “Wrong audience, John” (Oh, how wrong she was – I was lovin’ it!), to which his patterned response, complete with shoulder shrug, sly smile and mouthful of dinner, would always be, “They keep feedin’ me straight lines.”

What a great philosophy – get a laugh or two out of life when the opportunity presents itself.