A Finger on the Wrist

I did it nearly every summer night, a simple secret bearing out-sized importance to an even simpler mind. Claiming to go to bed, I would merely lay down with an old transistor radio hidden beneath my pillow, 8-year-old-nervous that the steady static of WBAP would sneak under my door and betray my con. But I had to listen. One night, early on in my stealthy solution to Ranger games that ran late on school nights, those voices, sonorous even on AM, dropped their polish and screamed as fans when Bump Wills and Toby Harrah ripped two consecutive pitches for inside-the-park home runs -- back-to-back for the only the second time in the history of baseball. I pulled the radio out from under my pillow, as if somehow watching the sound would make the images more clear. I didn't miss another game for years.


Booting up my pimped out Firefox unfolds an elaborate Skynet of jumbled, poorly organized information that strangely, and perhaps pathologically, reflects how I process the world around me. An ad hoc jumble of media pumps real-time into one or another laptop always close at hand. The sources range from old, weathered institutional rocks to voices with half-lives barely longer than the time it takes to download them. News and friends and work and family are all mashed into a single big ball of brown Play-Doh. And lately, it rocks with a soundtrack of Pandora's tangents and suggestions replacing the pressure of constantly having to choose that right song from a static pile of music that my best guesses built.

Taken all together, there is a pulse to the feed, a collective nervousness or anxiety or hope or wonder, and sometimes it is just feet in the pool on a sunny day. Importance and connections these days seem to come less and less from the pedigree of the source, and more and more from the audience's level of attention. We are a fickle and petty bunch, but now that the audience is author, though, this seems more...ok...than it used to.


Starting in Rochester, with the Red Wings, and continuing with the Rangers after we moved north of Arlington, several times a summer, Dad would cut out of work early so we we could head to the park for a game. There, I would harvest and pack away images to bring life to the crackle of an AM radio. Each game required its own program, and every pitch had to be meticulously documented. I loved how a small collection of simple symbols and lines could come together to represent every subtle shift and twist of this incredibly nuanced game. I could go back to those scorecards and recreate the entire arc of a game, pitch by pitch, swing by swing, so many moments and decisions and heroic efforts strung together among an encyclopedia of rules all synthesized into a single view that could be created by a 8-year-old. I vote that any tin can we send into deep space must have a baseball scorecard on it as a proof of our vast intelligence.


By day, I am an ambiguous piece of corporate overhead, wandering home office hallways while folks in the field that actually sell our stuff and service our customers puzzle over why money is spent conditioning my air. My title is vague, my tasks varied, and on good days I am contributing ideas that fall on others to execute...hell, usually to even make sense of. Being ad hoc is an interesting way to live, but these days I am just a little nervous that I might be seen as a nice-to-have at a company struggling to support all of it's have-to-haves.

The last couple weeks, I have been focused on a single arcane task supporting a broader effort to make sense of our long-term strategies and all the things we are doing to fufill them. Working with a bunch of folks who have actually been schooled in how this business stuff works, I have had the task of gathering together what each group aspires to do over the next five years and lay it out on a single page so we could see where we are, where we are going, and all of the things we planned to do to get there. Now, I am not the person choosing the strategies or discerning the necessary tasks at hand, I've been just sort of running a different game in parallel to the real one, that odd pitcher out in bullpen throwing a side-session at the same time the starting nine are fighting for a win. It's brought some late nights with several (alas, metaphorical) transistors stacked up under my pillow, but these days they seem tuned to some scintillating all-insurance talk stations. My task is to create and fill out some sort of baseball scorecard for a $4B company playing a five-year long game. On one sheet of paper.

I am using really big paper. And really small fonts.


It was an Indian Summer morning a couple hundred yards from the Pacific, a week before our wedding overlooking the Atlantic. Demanding as it was, our world was clear, and it brought lots to do and a long way to go in the next ten days. As the shower steamed up our tiny apartment bathroom, I flicked on the old radio that always balanced badly on the back of the toilet. Hmmm... Sarah & Vinnie, mindless morning banter talking over the latest plastic pop. No will to change it, I let it drone on, hoping only that could provide some white noise to tamp down a head swirling with today's work and the upcoming event.

In the shower, although I couldn't hear the words, I sensed that the tone had changed. The rhythms and pulse had...slowed. When I got out, the self-congratulatory laughing and faux sexual tension between the mannequin hosts was replaced by increasing periods of dead-air that had not been heard on morning radio in decades. Something about a plane. Maybe two. No, one. Wait... It was three. My morning pace slowed as the information accelerated. I don't know why I stayed there, sitting on the edge of my bathtub, witnessing our world shift fourteenth hand, a cheap morning show on cheap radio on a cheap toilet delivering history. By 6:45 am, PDT, it was clear enough that even 3000 miles away, I wasn't going in to work that day. That day, neither sardining into a ferry nor chancing the Golden Gate seemed to be...prudent.

Half an hour later, needing supplies for a day at home, half-dressed, slacks and button down, never-finished tie, my bare feet in flip-flops, I wandered through the grocery store across the street among a couple dozen other refugees from the ferry that would not run for several more days. We zombied through aisles, idly picking off whatever the hell you buy on a morning like that. We looked up at speakers that usually provided only a pillow of pop music, as if seeing the staticky sounds from these unexpected sources of news would some how make their meaning clear, help us synthesize these random bits of information that none of us had ever thought could be combined in quite this way.


My Blackberry has a little light that beats green...green...green as it sits alert awaiting anything new from one of the many sources it continuously scans for even the most subtle shifts in my ever-widening world. Email, gmail, Twitter, Facebook, God only knows how many news alerts, a Bertie Bott's selection of IMs, texting, and, of course, an old school phone for engaging with closer to a human voice. If the quiet green makes me a little anxious, I can turn it to a blue-green alternation by slipping a BlueTooth into my ear, ready for that next call, maybe scanning a Skynet mini-me on the small screen. If it stays green too long to be believed, I might pop out the battery and reboot it. Just to check.

A red shift rarely indicates any sort of world shift. But that is ok. That just means planes are drifting lazy -- and aloft -- against a crystal blue sky. Today's home runs so far are all of the standard, muscular style. (I was there when Ellsbury stole home -- pure -- against the Yankees.)

So far, the pulse of this Memorial Day weekend assures that come Tuesday, the right folks will retain their faith that they should provide gainful employment for an info junky with the attention span of a housefly. And although a pulse of red let me know that an old cheerleader crush forgot cream for her coffee this morning, I can't help but smile that the world is gentle enough today for that to be worth talking about.


Big Words & Slow Days

Today felt...slow.

It's been a hard, two-week run of expectations rapidly outpacing resources, with a pace of input so frantic that my sight never felt clear, my head never felt smart.

This slowing down is welcome. And, frankly, wholly unexpected.


I have not taken care of my lawnmower. Not at all. It returned the favor at the end of last summer with weak, polite coughs as I sat on the damn thing, turning the key over and over hoping for a more throaty, consistent response. I blamed myself for my neglect, set aside a couple grand and Googled options for disposing of a cold, dead lawn tractor. But a couple weeks ago, as my unruly lawn began to tank my neighbors' already squeamish property values, I channeled my varied stresses into raising this thing from the dead. Now, mind you, I am a moron when it comes to engines (plumbing, too, for what it's worth). Vegas was not long on my odds here.

All instructions were followed, all parts carefully removed, cleaned, replaced, returned.


My mechanical neighbor watched this all unfold over the last couple weeks, and finally, he was moved to pity. Today, he came over, looked at my work, and declared it Good. He even complimented me on the shininess of some parts that he did not know could actually be shiny. But the damn thing was as unresponsive to me as my kids during a good Tom & Jerry chase scene. He scratched his head and muttered, "it's almost as if you have bad gas in there."

"What do you mean, 'bad gas'?"

I mean, with all the parts that I could see and reach being so tight and shiny, how could the gas being a few months old matter that much?

Ok, now I know.

So, the beast finally turns over, purrs nicely, and then...dies. We try again several times, same pattern.

"It's almost like your air filter is clogged, choking it off....you did change the air filter, right?" (He clearly had lost faith in my grasp of the obvious.)

"Yes. Of course I changed my air filter. I even cleaned and soaked the little green spongy wrapper thing in engine oil like the book says"

But, as it turns out, while a little bit of oil on the pre-screen is good, a lot is not, well...better. I had soaked it too much, effectively gumming up the air flow.

My neighbor finally realized what he was dealing with. "Look," he explained, "all the parts and widgets on an engine boil down to this...they mix rich air and gas with enough of a spark to drive a well-oiled set of pulleys and levers to do something. Your gas is old, your air is dirty -- and you also need more oil, by the way. Air, gas, spark, and oil. No machine, however, well-maintained, will work if the right stuff isn't flowing through it. Siphon the gas, clean your filter and change your oil. Try it."

My lawn is now nicely mowed.

Air, gas, spark and oil.


In grad school I spun out way too many brain cells on the arcane notion of "supervenience," a big word for saying that the grand and abstract arises from the small and mundane. The notion of supervenience has been bantered about academic circles for a half-century or so in an attempt to debunk the Platonic notion of a distinction between us and the divine, between what we do what do and whether it has been somehow blessed by some external power as Good, Right...Beautiful. The idea is that the Big, Well-Ordered, Capitalized Words arise from the lower case and unpunctuated, as opposed to our days being judged after the fact by some Cosmic Court, and then externally shot up with some hypodermic full of Right and Good, some at-the-table turkey baster injecting righteous flavor and Beauty.

But this is a silly digression into a big word inappropriate for such a slow day...


When my hair was longer and I was much more sure that I was right about most things, I poked around in Buddhist texts, now remembering far too little of what seemed so revelatory then. One story has stuck with me, though...

Hearing of the wisdom of a teacher and his followers, a man journeys to a monastery. Greeted at the door by the teacher himself, he is asked, "why do you join us?" He replies, "I am looking for enlightenment. I want to know what you have discovered, the deepest meaning of life."

The teacher smiles, opens the door, and says, "Good. Come in. First, we eat. It is late, and the day has been long." So, he eats a simple but joyful meal with the monks and the teacher. Afterward, he asks the teacher again about enlightenment and meaning. "Of course. Now, we sleep. Tomorrow is a long day." He does, and after being directed to a morning meal, he again asks, "Teacher, I am here to learn, to gain enlightenment. Tell me, please, what is your secret? What have you learned?" The teacher replies, "I know that our crops need tending or we will soon not have food for our meals. Come, help us." Growing frustrated, nevertheless he does what the teacher asks, and for days each request for insight into the teacher's mind is met with another request to eat, sleep, attend to necessary chores, or occasionally sing and dance when the work is done.

Frustrated, the man finally confronts the teacher. "Teacher, I have shared your table, tended your crops. I have talked among your followers, even danced and sang with you all as I have waited to be shown the secret of your enlightenment. Teacher, with all respect, I have been patient, and I have done all you have asked as I have waited to be learn the secrets of your enlightenment. Please, teacher, help me clear my mind, please show me what it all means."

Looking puzzled, the teacher asks, "Again?"


I love basketball, but can't stand the on-again-off-again effort of the NBA regular season. The playoffs, though, are a different game altogether, a rare stage where the transcendent effort and will of a superstar can carry a team, change momentum, create a legend. Lebron and Kobe are rising to their names this year, with Rajon and a couple others unexpectedly flirting at the doors of greatness. I have always been struck by the clarity and consistency of a thread that weaves through how all the great athletes describe what the game feels like when they are at their best. Whether it is locking in on a 97 mph fastball, reading a shifting 3-4 in the shotgun on a hurry-up inside of two minutes, or taking an in-bounds with 5.6-and-everything left on the clock. They all talk of how, in those moments, the what-if complexities just drop away, leaving only the clear sight and sharp mind of what-is. The game, in those moments, just slows down.


This was was an unexpectedly slow day.