Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Let's Get Back to Reality!" Great College Towns and Campuses

There is a scene in the great Herb Gardner play and movie A Thousand Clowns when the "mature" character accuses his brother of being a dreamer and demands that he "get back to reality." The dreamer brother, played by Jason Robards, retorts, "I'll only go as a tourist!" One of the great exchanges in American literature.

I think of this because today one of my daughters is visiting Madison, Wisconsin, location of the University of Wisconsin--one of America's great universities and one of the great college towns. People sometimes say that college life is not reality. But it is a version of reality (there are many many realities!), and the best version I know. Imagine a peaceful environment where people are devoted to learning and growth, tolerance and fun. Where all varieties of the arts flourish. Where you don't have to be embarrassed about loving ideas and books and the intellectual life. Where peace and dialogue flourish. Where people strive for a kind of communal life (or community life, if you will).

Who wouldn't want to live in this version of reality! I celebrate all the great college campuses and college towns: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin. And in my own state of Ohio, Athens; Oxford; Oberlin. And so many more!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anniversary of the Assassination of Jack Kennedy

This day in 1963, around 2 PM, I sat in my religion class at St. Joe's High School in Cleveland, Ohio . . . when a voice came over the PA system asking us to pray for President Kennedy--he had been shot. Thirty minutes later, Brother Stanley Matthews, SM, in quavering voice, said, "He's dead, boys. Pray for him, for ourselves, for our Country."

We left school as stunned as if our Dad had died. For us Irish Catholics especially, this was the saddest, most traumatic day of our lives.

I still pray for Jack Kennedy, for ourselves, for our Country.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Desperate Need for Health Insurance, Health Security

Last winter my middle daughter had a serious health crisis, one that was successfully resolved. But it could have been a disaster. She had a terrible throat infection, and delayed going to the doctor because she had very little money. She actually had health insurance, a policy with a huge deductible that prevented her from going to the doctor. I thought about this again yesterday because my daughter has had a very bad cold the past few weeks that developed into a sinus and bronchial infection. She finally went to the doctor when she experienced a sharp pain in her chest (the pain was awful, but, as it turned out, not serious, caused by intense coughing that led to a rib cage injury). This time she had good insurance, and her doctor visit cost something like 30 dollars (as opposed to last winter's problem, which probably ended up costing 600 dollars).

Unfortunately, my daughter's health insurance coverage ends in less than two weeks--because her job is ending. Luckily, one of the provisions of the health care reform passed last year allows her to be covered by my health insurance--at least until next summer when she turns 26. Then, who knows what will happen!

I know many people who do not have health insurance. They're in a precarious position, that's for sure. They have to pray that they don't ever have a serious injury or serious illness. Something as common as a broken leg would be a financial disaster for them. I sure hope that the incoming congress doesn't overturn the new health care law; this law at least begins the process of expanding health care to the uninsured. And the uninsured are our children, our friends, our family members--maybe ourselves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greatest Baseball Players

Here it is, the verge of winter, and I've been thinking about baseball. Last night I watched some of Ken Byrne's documentary on baseball on PBS, and I've been reading an interesting biography of Mickey Mantle called The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, by Jane Leavy. It's a terrific book (but could have stood some better editing!).

I had the good luck to watch Mickey Mantle, both on television and live at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during the 1950's and 1960's. I loved the mix of power and speed, his seemingly easy grace as an athlete. I'll never forget one day watching how he dragged a bunt with two strikes on him--and beat it out for a base hit. As a reader of this biography, I'm amazed at his infantilism and his dissipation (and that of his friends and teammates, especially Billy Martin, Whitey Ford, and Hank Bauer). Their abuse of alcohol, and of women, is truly astonishing. We never had a whisper of this as we watched these boys play baseball so long ago. Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest baseball players in history. I was not much aware of him in his great year of 1956. But I was acutely aware of him in 1961, the year he and Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth's home run record; and 1962, when Mickey Mantle was MVP and Player of the Year.

Clevelanders were supposed to be Yankee haters, but I loved those great athletes: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, Ryne Duren, and their great manager, Casey Stengel.

Oddly, these were not the best players I ever watched. I lived in Cincinnati during the Big Red Machine years of the 1970's and saw Johnny Bench, baseball's greatest catcher, Joe Morgan, the best second baseman, and Pete Rose, the most intense competitor in baseball history. I watched the other great players on that team, including David Concepcion, Ken Griffey (Sr.), George Foster, Tony Perez, Tom Seaver--and their great manager, Sparky Anderson, who just passed away.

In my infancy and childhood in Cleveland, we had one of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball history, with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Herb Score, and Satchel Paige. We had the great Lou Boudreau at shortstop (and as player-manager); we had Bobby Avila, Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso, Rocky Colavito, Vic Power, and so many other great players.

In the 1990's Cleveland had another great era of baseball. When did a team ever have hitters like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, and Eddie Murray? A Murderer's Row to give the 1927 Yankees a run for their money. We had the greatest shortstop of his era, Omar Vizquel. For a while we had Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser on the mound, Jose Mesa as the closer. And we had a level of journeymen ballplayers hard to match. This team won their division many times and went twice to the World Series, losing to the Braves in 1995, and to the Marlins in 1997 (if I remember correctly, coming within an out of the championship that year).

Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, but I will match him up with the 1995 edition of Albert Belle any time. Belle was said to be a nasty person. Maybe true, I don't know. But he was a great great hitter. His fete of 50 homers and 50 doubles in 1995 has never been matched--not even by Barry Bonds. For a while, Albert Belle was the best hitter in baseball. Must have been like Babe Ruth of 1927 or Mickey Mantle of 1956 or 1962.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November Weather in Northeast Ohio

We are experiencing in Northeast Ohio one of the most beautiful Indian summers that I can remember: about a week of clear and sunny skies, with highs in the 50's and low 60's. With the fatalism (and wicked humor) of a born-and-bred Clevelander, I know this is not going to last!

I remember that 35 years ago we had a wicked November Midwest "hurricane" that caused the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. Who can forget the hypnotic rhythm of Gordon Lightfoot's great song--a song that resonated in Cleveland--and still resonates.

Fourteen years ago, from November 10-14, 1996, while my house was being built in Hambden Township, almost 6 feet of lake-effect snow fell.

Around here, we know what's coming!

We know what's coming!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Last Men Standing--World War II Vets

Today is Veterans' Day and my mind turns to my Dad, who spent almost 4 years of his life serving in the Navy during World War II. I also think of my father-in-law, Art Sanders, who also spent that much time in the Navy during the Second World War. Both of them served primarily in the South Pacific, my Dad as a signalman aboard small PC and SC boats (The Sub Chaser was a tiny wooden boat!), and Art working as a machinist, keeping those boats running. Dad has been gone some 13 years now and Art some 14 years.

The only two close relatives still living who were veterans of the Second World War are my Uncle Bill Coughlin, one of the greatest men I've ever known, and my second cousin (and close friend of my Dad), Tom Quinn. Uncle Bill will be 87 years old in three days; Tom Quinn must be around 88.

Many of my uncles served in World War II, including Fran (Connie) Coughlin, Jack Coughlin, Bill Brock, Dick Fitzpatrick, and his twin brother Don Fitzpatrick. Some of these men came back psychologically wounded by that terrible war.

I can't imagine how my Grampa Connie Coughlin and Gramma Cora Coughlin managed with their 4 boys at war over seas. I can't imagine the worry, the anxiety, the endless prayers. All of them came back alive; two of them were psychologically damaged, and took those wounds to their early deaths.

We honor my Dad, my Father-in-law, my uncles, and my cousin Tom Quinn for their service to our country and to world freedom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin--Born 87 Years Ago Today

Today marks the 87th anniversary of my Mother's birth. My Mother was born in Cleveland to Margaret Ann Sullivan and her husband John Francis Fitzpatrick. Margaret Ann grew up in the Euclid Beach area on Cleveland's East Side--first on E. 169th Street and Grovewood; and then on Tarrymore Drive near Neff Road, a stone's throw from Lake Erie. She was the youngest of 6 children, after Al, Julia, Fenton (Skip), and the twins Dick and Don. My brothers Denny, Kevin, and Jim, and my sister Mary Ellen feel as I do: she was the greatest. We thank the Lord every day that she was our mother; and we still mourn her passing in 2003. The best way to honor our Mother is to be truly alive and awake, to carry on her spirit of fun and joyfulness, and to lift a glass in fellowship and love (and my brothers and I won't neglect that duty!).

Happy Birthday, Mom!