Pardon My Dribble

On Saturday afternoons, I am finding out, there are often scheduled basketball tourneys for middle school players in the field house section of the recreation center. If I am unwise enough to choose one of those afternoons as the time for my exercise session, I need to wade through a great number of newly formed adolescents to get to the places I need to be.

Sometimes I take a moment to watch and I am pleasantly surprised by the ball-handling skills these younger players already have developed. Dribbling behind the back, through the legs, blind passes … these were rarities when I went to high school, and none of the players on the Sibley Warriors (my HS team) did any of that stuff. In fact, among the eight teams in our conference there was really only one player who did.

His name was Dale and he played guard for South Saint Paul High School. His dribbling and passing were way beyond anything the rest of the players could aspire to. In fact his passes were so sharp and quick that often a teammate found himself quite unexpectedly in possession of the ball as if by magic, and then had to decide what to do with the gift he’d received.

Now Dale might have been one heck of a basketball player, but he was not an honor student. He was also not an honor citizen. Dale was twenty years old and this was his senior year. Rumors had it that he used (gasp) more than one variety of what we now call recreational chemicals, that he’d crossed a few lines when it came to private property ownership, and that a major reason for his advanced age in high school were the months spent in juvenile correctional facilities.

But rumors aside, when he came down the court he did so with a cool nonchalance that said it all – that he knew this was only a game and about as unimportant as anything could be in the scheme of things and that nothing in his future depended on what happened tonight but By Damn he loved basketball and he was the best man on the court and we were all invited to watch and see how the game could be played.

Dale did not suit up every time that South St. Paul came to play us. His particular personality brought him into fairly frequent conflict with coaches and school authorities. Suspensions and expulsions were all a part of everyday life for him. But I loved to watch him when I could, even though in the zero-sum game that was high-school sports – when everything went well for Dale it meant that my Warriors lost.

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From The New Yorker

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In the wintertime … especially at night … when those big snowflakes are falling … if I wanted to fantasize it would be that I am this guy. Dr. Yuri Zhivago.

And the fantasy would always be the same – face wreathed in a cloud of one’s own breath, gloves cut off so that fingertips are exposed, wolves howling outside the completely frosted-over windows … sitting in an icy room and scribbling away about Lara or Tonya or the war … so many topics to fire the imagination of a freezing poet.

Ahhh, that’s the life my alter ego, the doomed romantic artist, might live. Holed up in an abandoned and ice-festooned dacha, burning the furniture in vain attempts to stay warm, hiding from the many warring parties in the Russian Revolution, scrabbling for what was left of last year’s harvest (tonight we’re having carrots and potatoes, and for variety tomorrow’s supper will be potatoes and carrots). Trying to figure out why it is that although I have a lover in each of two adjoining villages, I can’t seem to make either one of them happy.

We own a copy of the movie Dr. Zhivago, and every few years will sit down and watch it over again. It’s a thing of beauty. A great cast, grand cinematography, beautiful musical soundtrack, and a story told against the background of one of modern civilization’s truly convulsive heaves. What’s not to like?

Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago

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From The New Yorker

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The year that Robin and I moved to Paradise there was a local scandal that erupted (I hasten to add that it had nothing to do with us). One of the two funeral parlors in Montrose had been indulging in some hanky-panky involving sale of body parts and careless handling of the clients’ remains. To the point where if you received an urnful of ashes from their crematorium, they might very well be a strangers’ remains. In fact, they might not be human ashes at all, but plaster dust.

For whatever reason, this situation has still not been resolved in the courts. Every few months there will be yet another piece in our local paper showing some dejected-looking citizen holding an urn whose contents are being disputed. Families all across the Western Slope are still looking for that unicorn of emotional health … closure.

Now there are some spoilsports and ne’er-do-wells who point to this seeming impasse as a perfect example of why we should really give up the notion of looking to the justice system for justice. If it can take more than seven years to decide whether a crime has been committed and who did it in the case of Where Are Grandpa’s Ashes, Anyway, what hope is there for the rest of the mess?

Prosecutors often don’t even pursue the death penalty against the rich — think O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, Phil Spector, and John du Pont (of the chemical du Ponts). You needn’t hire a Johnnie Cochran or a Clarence Darrow to get the treatment. An analysis of Georgia cases showed that prosecutors were almost twice as likely to ask for the death penalty when the defendant couldn’t afford a lawyer. Nationwide an estimated 90-plus percent of those arrested for capital crimes are too poor to retain experienced private counsel. In Kentucky, a quarter of death row inmates were defended by lawyers who were later disbarred (or resigned to avoid disbarment); other states are similar. A few states have offices dedicated to providing a proper defense for capital defendants, but a Texas jurist summed up the attitude elsewhere: “The Constitution does not say that the lawyer has to be awake.” 

Cecil Adams, The June 30, 2006.

When the doors of a courthouse clang together behind you after you’ve entered, you find that you are a hapless player in a game where all of the rules are made up by the attorneys themselves in a system so obtuse and convoluted that only they can find their way in it. This has led to a rich trove of jokes and puns describing the relationships of ordinary humans to members of the legal profession. I will reproduce three of them here. The first one fits our problem of the funeral home awfully well. The other two are … well … delicious.

What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer might let a case drag on for several years. A good lawyer knows how to make it last even longer.

An attorney was working late one night in his office when, suddenly, Satan appeared before him. The Devil made him an offer. “I will make it so you win every case that you try for the rest of your life. Your clients will worship you, your colleagues will be in awe, and you will make enormous amounts of money. But, in return, you must give me your soul, your wife’s soul, the souls of your children, your parents, grandparents, and those of all of your friends.” The lawyer thought about it for a moment, then asked, “But what’s the catch?”

What does a lawyer get when you give him Viagra? Taller.

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The music of Warren Zevon popped into my head as my earworm this morning, music which is always welcome no matter what the circumstances.

His live album Stand In The Fire (which still absolutely slams) was in constant rotation back when I was saving up tuition money for my admission to AA University. Zevon was a smart songwriter in a sometimes crude industry and one of his biggest fans was another smart man, David Letterman.

When he was near the end of his life, a victim of mesothelioma, he made his last appearance on Letterman’s show.

On October 30, 2002, Zevon was featured on the Late Show with David Letterman as the only guest for the entire hour. The band played “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” as his introduction. Zevon performed several songs and spoke at length about his illness.

Warren had been a frequent guest and occasional substitute bandleader on Letterman’s television shows since  Late Night was first broadcast in 1982. He noted, “I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years.” It was during this broadcast that, when asked by Letterman if he knew something more about life and death now, he first offered his oft-quoted insight on dying: “Enjoy every sandwich.”He also thanked Letterman for his years of support, calling him “the best friend my music’s ever had”.

For his final song of the evening, and his final public performance, Zevon performed “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” at Letterman’s request. In the green room after the show, Zevon presented Letterman with the guitar that he always used on the show, with a single request: “Here, I want you to have this, take good care of it.”

The day after Zevon’s death, Letterman paid tribute to him by replaying his performance of “Mutineer” from his last appearance. The Late Show band played Zevon’s songs throughout the night.

Warren Zevon, Wikipedia

So in deference to today’s ear worm, I will share with you two of my personal favorites. Lawyers, Guns, and Money is from the live album I mentioned a moment ago, and Keep Me In Your Heart is from his last album, The Wind. It’s a lovely goodbye.

Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Keep Me In Your Heart

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Several years back I put together a stream of photos with a soundtrack. Many of you have seen it. But over time and after posting back and forth with the old YouTube algorithms, the quality had deteriorated badly. So here is a new version of the same video, with a few added slides. If you think you recognize anyone in the video, it’s your imagination. These are all paid actors.

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