Winter 2004, on the New Jersey transit bus into Manhattan, in conversation with a seatmate, I am discussing how I’ve accepted a job in Boston and my wife and I are moving to Massachusetts. Some guy overhears, sneers, and says, with great contempt, “I hate the Red Sox!”
As known among the baseball cognoscenti, the line dividing Yankees and Red Sox territories is approximated by Interstate 91 through Connecticut, passing through Hartford and New Haven. But the key verb here is approximate. There is no real boundary; there are no real distinctions. In fact there are some of us, like me, who are known to wear caps for both teams on different occasions. I should mention that I also wear the cap of the team that I actually root for, which is the Minnesota Twins.
The current time is a few ticks after midnight, and I’m winding up a day of work by listening to the greatest hits of the 80s on YouTube while writing this letter. You want the personal news? OK, here is the personal news:
–Druh and I are the proud parents of a now 9-month baby boy, not to mention the original boy of age almost 13 years.
–Said almost-13-year-old will be having his Bar Mitzvah in a mere 7 weeks.
–We are moving to a new house (well, new to us) located about half an hour west of our current location. Bigger, roomier, better carpeting, a lot safer for the baby.
–We give two of the cats a brand of stinky canned cat food, and they really smell bad because of it. One of them is asleep on my left arm and chest right now. Dang cat.
If someone asked me back in—oh, let’s just grab a year at random and say 1986—what I’d be doing with my life in the year 2018, I doubt I would come up with the list you just read (assuming you’re reading this missive in the order in which it is intended.) Nevertheless, life happens as it happens, and I’ll take the blessings however they arrive and in whatever form. Cuz it all speeds along too fast, right? Yeah, that’s right, you betcha’.
I really should be paying attention to the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Adviser to the ersatz President of the United States. Various sober-minded observers, liberal and conservative alike, are calling this appointment a grave mistake, a man who will spur the nation into war, who will destabilize the troubled countries of the world, etc. etc. I should be outraged, but the problem is I reached my maximum capacity for outrage a long time ago with the current state of the government. I haven’t reached my capacity for action, however—far from it—and I need to take more action. We all do. Really. Now!
At the moment, the house is full of boxes. I’ve never liked moving, and I hate the inherent disruption and clutter and disorder, but I do like collecting various cardboard boxes, especially when they are emblazoned with interesting logos. I’ve been claiming cardboard boxes—for free, which is the best part!—from various establishments along the commute route, most noticeably Starbucks (the coffee boxes are sturdy and of ideal size and shape), Market Basket (where they pile the empty food boxes conveniently by the cashiers, and my wife especially likes the boxes that the eggs come in because they have handle holes on the sides), and this huge stash at a medical supply business in our town (the boxes are ordinary, but they come with lots of bubble paper.)
The most difficult—necessary, but difficult—part of moving is going through all the old items that have been kept all these years, packed and boxed and stored from one move to the next. These items include my extensive collections of baseball cards, airline timetables, and related memorabilia, as well as old letters and postcards dating from my time in college and medical school. Yes, I saved all those old letters. They can be emotionally difficult to read, for various reasons. But I am not throwing them away, at least not yet. Please don’t ask me why. I’m not really sure.
I began collecting airline timetables at age 7, and I kept going up until the point when the airlines stopped publishing them, which was about 10 to 15 years ago. They were free for the taking (just like cardboard boxes!) and they offered both a real and imaginary gateway to travel and adventure across the wide, wide world—to places like Paris, France (from New York’s JFK on Pan Am, TWA, or Air France), and Des Moines, Iowa (nonstop from Minneapolis on Braniff or Ozark), and Pensacola, Florida (Eastern to Atlanta, and then a connecting flight.)
I liked how the timetables emphasize certain flights, using all-caps for words like NONSTOP and JET SERVICE, as well as little icons for meals and movies. I also liked how each airline promoted its most impressive aircraft. For the largest carriers this aircraft was the massive 747, which was like a flying apartment building. In contrast, North Central Airlines let you know how proudly it flew the DC-9, a mere matchstick in comparison to the big jumbos, but nevertheless it carried you in speed and comfort on your 1-hour flight from Milwaukee to Cincinnati.
One of my life lessons came from studying the route maps, which, as I came to realize, never precisely showed the true routes of the airline. Generally, the map exaggerated the system to make it appear more robust. The Braniff route map, for example, showed separate lines connecting Hawaii with cities like Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and Austin—when in fact it flew none of those routes. Braniff flew one flight daily each way between Honolulu and Dallas, and you could connect in Dallas to or from other cities.
So I collected airline timetables, which meant running around from counter to counter whenever we visited the local airport (not often enough to my liking) or traveled somewhere (ditto!) I also bugged family and friends to pick up the darned things, which they often did. I remember my grandmother Isabel presenting me with exotic timetables from foreign countries; she and Reuben were frequent international travelers. In high school, my friend Ruth D once sent me a large manilla envelope stuffed with timetables from wherever she was visiting. (Thank you again, Ruth!)
I don’t know if it was in imitation of me or simply because he liked trains, but my younger brother Danny collected train timetables. He started right around the time when private railroads were abandoning passenger service and just before the business was consolidated into one national outfit, Amtrak. So his hobby was dying while mine was becoming quite robust, and as I type this sentence I feel very bad about that.
I now have about 3 thousand airline timetables (seriously—they number about 3 thousand, although most of them are the one-city only editions, which are slight and thin.) What will I ultimately do with them, along with the 30 thousand baseball cards? They’re all worth money on eBay or some other platform—but not THAT much money. Meaning, they’re too valuable to throw away, but not valuable enough to actually sell. What a conundrum. For now, I’m re-packing them in boxes (again) and not worrying about them (again.)
In popular renderings of the history of the United States, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 is linked to an event that occurred about 6 months later, which was the arrival of the Beatles in New York City and the Ed Sullivan Show. The logic is that the violent death of the young president sent the nation reeling in shock and sadness and outrage and misery, and the emotions festered through the winter. Then, finally, America was ready to burst out of mourning, to feel alive again. The Beatles sparked that renewal with their wild hair and guitars and songs with lyrics like “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Mania and rapture.
I’m not sure I buy the linkage; the Beatles appealed more to teenagers than the whole nation. Nevertheless…..well, about two decades later, something like that happened to me. My brother Danny, who had long since abandoned train timetables and chess games and other childhood interests, killed himself on a cold day in December, 1985, just before Christmas. The event remains dark and awful and terrible in memory. All funerals point to that funeral; all mourning points to that mourning. Yet about 6 or 7 months later, came….well, the renewal. I felt alive again. And you know, although that story is very complex, I remain very grateful for it. You know, I should be glad.
That’s all I have today. Which in fact has turned into tomorrow. See you online or in person, or feel free to send an email, give a phone call….or write a postcard.