Sunday, July 5, 2015

On the Fourth, Smart Phones, Collins, the Pirates, St. Vincent College, and Go USA!!

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box.....

Happy Fourth of July, everyone (one day late).  Hope you all had a safe and happy day with family and friends.  Our day ran late yesterday, so we were sorry to have missed out on seeing a Holiday Tradition - watching A Capitol Fourth from Washington DC on PBS.  I saw today that the featured performer was Barry Manilow.  Didn't feel quite so bad then.  Actually, I wouldn't have minded listening to Manilow perform.  He's just hard to watch these days after all that bad plastic surgery.

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There was another Fourth Tradition that we did not miss - the Hot Dog Eating Contest from Coney Island.  In case you missed it, eight time defending champion Joey Chestnut was upset by young Matthew Stonie, 62 dogs to 60.  The King is dead; long live the King.

I saw in the paper that both Chestnut and Stonie are from San Jose, CA.  What, if anything, to made of that?

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After years of resistance, Marilyn and I finally succumbed to inevitable progress and purchased smart phones last month.  I swore up and down that I would never become one of "those" people, but since getting the gadget, I confess to having done the following:
  • Taken selfies on the golf course
  • Taken a picture of a pizza I was eating for lunch and posting it on Facebook
  • Having my cute ringtone ("My Girl" by the Temptations) go off during a meeting I was having with some executives at Highmark
  • "Checked In" while eating at a restaurant
  • Texting.  Lots of texting. Including pictures.
  • Probably several other things that I said I would never do, but can't think of at the moment.
I will admit, however, that while I could live without it, it is a nice thing to have.


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I have often written about one of my favorite authors, Max Allan Collins.  The last time I did, I gave a less than favorable review of the last book of his that had read.  Well, in checking out Collins' website (www.maxallancollins.com) a few weeks ago, he mentioned and hyperlinked my Grandstander post of the review.  I was stunned!  I responded to him on his site, and we had an interesting and thoughtful exchange.  He mentioned that he pays close attention to less than favorable reviews (unless they are just all out, hate filled hatchet jobs).  It was a very interesting experience.

The lesson here is that authors, DO pay attention to what is written.  Also, they very much value reviews that readers post on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  Goodreads, and other such sites.

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As I am typing this, the Pirates are playing their 81st game (the literal halfway point of the season), and are leading the Indians 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Should the score hold, they will have a record of 47-34, and be either 5 or 6 games behind the first place Cardinals.  Seven games will remain before the All-Star Break, including a four game series with the Cardinals next weekend.

There is not  a lot to complain about (although plenty of people ARE finding such things).  The team has the second best record in the NL and the fourth best in all of MLB.  Unfortunately, the team with the best record, the Cardinals, are in the same division.  All the more reason that series next weekend looms large.

The pitching has been outstanding.  The hitting could be better, and it will be interesting to see what Neal Huntington will do as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.  In the past, it has often been pitching that the team has sought, but it seems to me that the acquisition of a hitter, or "a bat' as the current lingo goes, would be the priority.

I will probably reflect more on the first half performance over the Break.

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Marilyn and I did something a little different this past Wednesday night.  We drove to Latrobe, specifically St. Vincent College, to take in a play at their Summer Theater program. The play was "Tuesdays with Morrie", Mitch Albom's one act play based upon his best selling book of the same title.  If you are not familiar with the book, it is about the weekly visits that Albom made to Morrie Schwartz, his college sociology professor who was dying form ALS.  Like the book, the play was a very profound and moving experience.


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This was my first visit to St. Vincent College since, I am going to say, 1980 or -81, when I visited a Steelers training camp.  The campus has changed A LOT in those thirty-plus years, and it is one of the most beautiful ones that you will find anywhere.  

A visit to Steelers Training Camp used to be a regular summer trip for my Dad and I, but since those days, it has become a real extravaganza, and I have really never had the desire to fight the crowds and do it again.  I did, however, pay proper homage to the Hallowed Ground before entering the St. Vincent Theater:



Memory can be selective, but I can definitely say these practice fields were NOT this nice back in the early 1980's.

Those photos, by the way, were taken with my new smart phone.

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I am looking forward to watching the Championship Game tonight of the Women's World Cup.

Go USA!!!!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: "The Kind Worth Killing"

Here you go, folks.  The latest terrific thriller for you all to read, "The Kind Worth Killing" by Peter Swanson.

This is much like "Gone Girl" and current #1 best seller, "The Girl on the Train" in that it tells the same story from the viewpoints of four different characters.  Each chapter alternates to the point of view to a different character, and it is told in the first person.  This means you will often see the same scene in the story, but told from a different point of view.  

The book starts when Ted and Lily meet in a bar in London's Heathrow  Airport while waiting out a delay in their flight to Boston.  They get to talking, Ted reveals that he thinks, no, he knows, that his wife, Miranda, is cheating on him.  He is so upset about it that he says that he'd like to kill her.  Could be all those martinis Ted had in the bar and on the flight talking, but then Lily says "Maybe I can help..."

So begins the story, which also includes flashback scenes in Lily's life that shows just how uniquely qualified she may be to help Ted out....and just exactly why she is so motivated to do so.  Kind of like Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."

This is terrific book and perfect read for relaxing during vacation, or reading on a summer Sunday afternoon, when you just don't feel like watching the ball game on that particular day.  The mix of ingredient that include a rich-beyond-belief cuckolded husband, his beautiful, but scheming wife, Miranda, a ruggedly handsome building contractor, a determined Columbo-like police detective, and at the center of it all, the mysterious and captivating Lily makes for one whale of a story.

If you read this blog, you know that I love these kinds of novels.  There are a few twists and turns, one of which I kind of suspected, and another that took me by surprise. It is a very tightly written story that moves very quickly, and it's one you just...oh, man, I really wanted to avoid this cliche, but what the hell....it's one you "just can't put down" once you start.

Many thanks to my wife's book club, "The Gone Girls", for selecting this book for an upcoming session, and to Marilyn who told me, "I think that you would like this one."  Oh, yeah.

Oh, and note to Loyal Reader and Facebook Friend Kaye Peltier:  The story of "The Kind Worth Killing" is set in the greater Boston area and the state of Maine, so this has got to be a must read for you.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Balloons

This past Thursday evening, the forty-first Introductory Group Session at the Warrendale location of the Highmark Caring Place came to an end.  Marilyn and I had the honor of volunteering with this group, and over the course of the ten week session, we came to know some extraordinary children, teens, and adults.

As has become a tradition, on this final night each family member - child, teen, and adult - as well as each volunteer, completed a message to the Loved One that they had lost, attached that message to a balloon, and we all then gathered in the parking lot to release the balloons.

If I may, I would like to share that moment with you.






After ten weeks of getting to know each other, of sharing such personal thoughts and experiences, it really is a remarkable feeling that is shared among the children, teens, and adults - and the volunteers! -  whenever this release takes place.  No words of mine can describe it.

Remember, Children's Grief Awareness Day will be observed on Thursday, November 18.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Old Movie Review - "The Last of Sheila" (1973)


Earlier this week, Turner Classic Movies showed the 1973 all-star cast whodunit, "The Last of Sheila".  I remember seeing this back when Marilyn and I were dating and remember enjoying it a lot then.  I do not believe that I have ever seen it since, so I was wondering how  it would hold up after all these years, and I have to say that it holds up very well.  About the only thing that didn't hold up was that bad '70's mustache sported by Richard Benjamin.  Still a good mystery story with an attractive cast, and wonderfully filmed and directed by Herbert Ross.  A fun movie, although very early in the movie, one of the characters does something that will deeply incriminate him/her at a point later in the movie, and, for better or worse, I remembered it as soon as I saw it happen when watching last night.   Oh, well, that may have spoiled the surprise, but it didn't spoil the movie for me last night.

Before and after the movie, TCM host Robert Osborne and Guest Programmer  (by the way, I would love to have that gig sometime), film maker Edgar Wright, discussed a lot of inside stuff about the movie, such as....


  • The screenplay was by composer Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins.  It was the only screenplay that either of them would ever write.
  • There was a lot of "inside Hollywood" stuff included in the script.  For example, the James Mason character was really Orson Welles, the Richard Benjamin character was really Anthony Perkins, the Dyan Cannon Character was  really Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers, and the Raquel Welch character was really, well, Raquel Welch!
My own observations are as follows....

Man, what a set of teeth God gave James Coburn.


Raquel Welch was undeniably gorgeous, 

 
but Dyan Cannon looked pretty damn good in a bikini back in '73 as well.


Also, it was hinted that one of the characters had a history of child molestation. This was brushed off as bit of a harmless peccadillo, something that would never be done in a movie made in 2015.

Both Osborne and Wright hinted that this movie has acquired a bit of a cult status, and that was news to me, since, as I said, I can never remember having the opportunity to see it since it was released forty-two years ago, and this showing marked its TCM debut.
Very entertaining movie, and well worth seeing whenever you have the opportunity.

Oh, and here's a shot of Richard Benjamin in the movie.  See what I mean about that mustache?


Monday, June 22, 2015

Catching Up - Spieth, Pirates, and Warriors


The finish of the US Open at Chambers Bay yesterday certainly was one for the ages.  A four way tie to begin the fourth round, Dustin Johnson (my predicted winner) holds the lead for most of front nine, Rory McIlroy makes a charge and folds, Louis Oosthuizen makes six birdies on the back nine and is tied for the lead in the club house, Jordan Spieth takes a three shot lead with a spectacular birdie putt on sixteen, gives the lead away with a double on seventeen, makes another great birdie on eighteen, only to see Johnson birdie seventeen and have a putt for an eagle to win on eighteen, and a for-sure two putt birdie to force a playoff.  Amazingly, heartbreakingly, Johnson misses a two footer for birdie, and Spieth wins.

What is the fallout from this Open?
  • Spieth now holds the first two legs of golf's Grand Slam.  This hasn't happened since 2002.  The hype leading to the British Open next month at St. Andrews for Spieth and his Grand Slam chances will be incredible.
  • No doubt about it, Jordan Spieth is now THE pre-eminent golfer in America, if not the world, and he doesn't turn 22 until after the British Open.
  • He is the youngest winner of the US Open since 1923, when an amateur of some note named Bob Jones won it.
  • For Johnson, it was a heartbreaking defeat.  As much as I like Spieth, as Johnson stood over that birdie putt, I said to Marilyn, "I hope he makes it because no one should have to live with what will happen if he misses."  He has had close calls in Majors before, but this one is going to be a hard one to overcome mentally.  I hope that he does and gets his Major sooner rather than later.
I am going to forgo commenting on the Chambers Bay golf course and the TV coverage by Fox Sports.  Enough has been said about those two things already.

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The disastrous weekend in Washington DC for the Pirates takes away a bit of the luster from what has been a pretty special streak for the Pirates.  Prior to that Nats series, the Bucs had won eight in a row and, I believe, twenty-one of their prior twenty-six games, and had been doing it with pitching that was nothing short of spectacular.  While you hated seeing them get swept, perhaps what happened this week was inevitable.  As well as the Pirates had been playing, that's how poorly the Nats, a good team, had been doing, so some "market corrections" were due.  Next on the docket are three games with the division rival Reds, a team that the Pirates have had trouble beating.  Win two of three against them, and spirits will be lifted, no doubt.

By the way, I am stunned, although maybe I shouldn't be, at the over the top coverage of the Jose Tabata's HBP that broke up Max Scherzer's perfect game on Saturday with two outs in the ninth.  You'd have thought Tabata was responsible for snatching the Lindbergh Baby.  That is the ESPN-24 Hour Media culture in which we live, I suppose, but really...



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A final comment on the NBA Playoffs that concluded last week with the Golden State Warriors defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.  (I believe that I had that, although I did say it would go the full seven.)  The Warriors are deserving champions, and Steph Curry and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala were phenomenal in the Series, so Congratulations and Hail to the Champion Warriors.



Congratulations also to LeBron James who, essentially, dragged the injury riddled Cavs through six games in this series.  When he was doing TV announcing back in the '70s, I once remember the great Bill Russell saying that "Injuries are a much a part of this game as free throws."  He was right, of course, and the Cavs chances were severely hurt when Kevin Love went down early in the Playoffs, and whatever chances they had left were pretty much submarined when Kyrie Irving went down and out after the first game of the Finals.  What was left was a team consisting of LeBron James and four guys named Joe.  Minus James, that Cleveland team that took the court against the Warriors after Irving's injury was one that would have trouble winning 35 games in an NBA season.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Book Review - "The Wright Brothers"

I just finished this newest book by noted historian David McCullough.  It is a thoroughly researched story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, who, as we all know, invented and flew the first heavier-than-air, motorized aircraft at Kitty Hawk, NC back in 1903.

By all accounts, the Wrights were wonderful fellows, honest, hard-working, smart, the true embodiment of the "can do" spirit of which all Americans pride themselves.  McCullough makes no secret of his admiration of them.  

I have to be honest when I tell you that I found a portion of this book hard going.  Especially the early parts when McCullough dwells on the scientific and mechanical parts of the story when the Wrights were actually coming up with the design elements of their flying machine.  I suspect that true airplane buffs - yeah, I am talking to you, Tim Baker - and those of an engineering bent will eat this stuff up, but it wasn't for me.

To me, the book really picked up after Wilbur and Orville got their machine off the ground, and then had to go out and sell it to the public.  Oh, the general public loved it, but the US Government was skeptical at first, and the Wrights actually had to go to Europe, France in particular, to actually sell the idea of the practical applications of their Wright Flyer.  That is when the story really got good for me.

What I learned, and what I should have known, was how much the Wrights actually flew their planes.  I knew that, yeah, they invented it, but I never realized that they flew the things all the time in their efforts to sell the idea to the world.  Makes sense when you think of it because, really, who else was there to fly it?

It's a great story and a good book about two authentic geniuses who really did change history.

U.S. Open Forecast



It was my intention to write a Grandstander post Wednesday evening or Thursday morning that would offer my prediction for the US Open that is currently being contested at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.  However, I never got around to it, so, better late than never, here goes, and, yes, these were the names I would have written had I done this post on Wednesday night.  Honest.

Rather than make a flat out prediction, I was instead going to offer a short list of names and state that the winner would come from among those golfers.  The names were:

Jordan Spieth
Dustin Johnson
Rory McIlroy
Patrick Reed
Jason Duffner
Rickie Fowler

As I type this, they are about midway through the second round with half the golfers not yet out, and here is how it's looking for my boys.

Spieth and Johnson are part of a four way tie for first at -5.  Reed is one back at -4, Duffner is at -2, McIlroy is +2, and Fowler is at +13.

Of interest is 45 year old Phil Mickelson who is searching for the only Major title that has eluded him.  He sits at -1 after one round.  It would be a great story, and I would be pulling for him, but I am doubtful that Lefty will be able to hang on. He hasn't teed off yet for today, and we'll know more about his chances tonight after he signs his card.

The good new for Tiger Woods is that he is keeping right up, shot-for-shot, with one of the bright lights and Young Guns on the Tour today.  The bad news is that this particular Young Gun is Rickie Fowler.  Yep, Tiger is +13 through fifteen holes today.

I have been calling for Dustin Johnson to win a major for just about every one of these over the last three or four years now, so that's who I am picking for this one come Sunday.




As always, watch, but don't bet.