Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Somewhere along the line, despite coming up with asinine things like radio commercials, FOX News, most Yankees fans, cellphone ringtones and reality TV, we evolved. I mean we really really evolved!



Obviously we pale in comparison to God who formed his little hovel called the universe in six days, a fact corroborated by Breibart News and President Trump himself, but still, in the past century alone, we constructed the Eiffel Tower, built cruise ships large enough to sleep the entire population of Honduras, mass produced I-phones which access more information than the New York Public Library and generates more manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder  than even the latest DSM -5 edition knows how to identify.

And to top it off, a few precocious, sleep deprived Harvard students had the gumption to create a cellphone accessible social network which guarantees women will never fall asleep at a professional sporting event other than baseball.

But based on my decade long research into the topic, there is one area in which we have devolved – communication. Yes I know there is a much more of it and more people are sharing more in more platforms, but it’s definitely not better communication. As a semi-competent communicator, I could wax poetic about this paradox, but for the sake of simplifying, I will just focus on one aspect – how 99.9  percent of conversations start.

In fact, the typical conversation starter is really a conversation stopper. Let me explain.

I will give examples in both English and Spanish.

Let’s say you are in the grocery store and run into someone you recognize. After spending at least four minutes trying to identify who exactly the person is (He is the guy whose newspaper you steal at least three times a week because he has been your next door neighbor for a decade), you launch into what can be best described as the universally agreed upon small-talk.

Neighbor – “Hey Marco, whats going on with you?”

You’re tempted to launch into a big spiel.

Me – “Not much, and you?”

Neighbor – “Same old, same old” (or some variation thereof).

Me – “Good luck on the deli line”

Neighbor – “Thanks. Oh and thanks for stealing my newspapers. The headlines are too depressing anyway.”

Spanish version:

(Phone rings)

“Hola Maria, Como estan?”

“Bien, y tu?”

“Bien gracias.”


Mind you Maria is calling because she can’t come today to take care of your three kids today because she just got into a major fender bender. Plus her oldest child has been detained in Venezuela indefinitely for booking a one way flight to the U.S.


Please note, I am not trying to channel curmudgeons I admire like Larry David or Bill Maher, but of the literally millions of phrases in the English language, can’t we come up with a starter that smacks of a little more originality. Besides, why does everyone want to know how I am. Isn’t that for a shrink to discover?

larry david

So I say lets take back the human potential to have a non-automated, non-reflex based conversation and strain our craniums a bit. For one, I don’t even see “How are you?” as a completed question. Lets finish it as in: “How are you enjoying this nice day?” or “How do you find your comfort level in a world where climate change in a “hoax” but it’s 93 degrees in mid February and two hours of rain forces you to wear a wetsuit just to walk to your car?”

Or “how are you managing to keep your morale high when you are approaching middle age and still work a series (albeit it productive ones) of part time jobs?” (The latter question is entirely theoretical).

Frankly the possibility of such an exchange is kind of exciting.

For now, I say lets bag the existential question of how I am or others like me. First, I think about the answer for far too long. Second, the answers are rarely accurate. If everyone was good as they suggest they are, then there wouldn’t be such a large mass of country music fans, high rate of depression, road rage, cheetos munching or Trump voters.

depression satire

But also because I, as I’m sure others do,  also get handcuffed by the question. Do they really want to know or are they just speaking without thinking? Am I the only one Sally has asked this question to today? However, if you really want to get existential on me, you could start a conversation with “Hey Mark, good morning. Who are you?” Now that’s a question with a little forethought not to mention, some great conversation potential.

For context, there’s a popular sports call-in program on Miami when the host hangs up on anyone who starts the conversation with the phrase that shall not be repeated. His goal, I assume, is to get past the generic pleasantry and cut to the chase. But here’s the irony. The other day he was doing a phone interview with a local baseball manager whose name rhymes with Fattingly and the first question out of his mouth was “Hey Coach, how are you?” The man whose name rhymes with Ron did not, of course, hang up.

But lets say it takes people a little time to adjust to what I propose as the new conversation ice breaker. Lets say the grocery store clerk lets her favorite line slip. Here’s how I plan to respond,

Sheila –    “Hi, how are you?”

Mark – “Hmm, never quite been asked that question before at least with not such zeal for inquiry. But now that you ask, let me think about it. Well I am somewhat in existential limbo. You know contentment is really a matter of perspective but also a matter of the convenience at which I can work my way through the deli line. And there was a little bit too much kibbitzing behind the counter. Not to mention, I just realized that an unexpected chunk of my discretionary income was spent on tipping and sales taxes last month, not to mention the outrageous spike in summer electricity costs. Speaking of which, one of the reasons why I think your establishment overcharges for oranges is that you crank up the AC way too high. But overall, I can’t complain. After all, it’s two in the afternoon and I wearing tennis shorts and a t-shirt……………….. And how about you Sheila. Sorry, I mean how are you adjusting to life in the ever unpredictable Trump administration? Do you think he is going to do anything about subsidizing the cost of tropical fruit?  Or if that was a bit of a curveball,  I mean “Who are you?”

Sheila – “Glad you asked. You’re the first person who has asked me that all day. And that’s a very fair question about adjusting to Trump. It sure is quite the brain bender, isn’t it?”

Now that’s the kind of lady who understands the art of conversation.




I have always liked learning and the newspaper has been my preferred source of information. From my earliest days, my morning venture to get the newspaper
marked the beginning of a curious. sometimes useful fact finding day, particularly if baseball stats are considered useful. A good forty years of almost daily paper reading has passed and objectively speaking, it’s hard to say how much it has enhanced my life. Yes I do have a fairly decent sized database of  eopardy worthy information, not to mention troves of unfinished crossword puzzles. And yes I can make small talk with quite a few people from various walks of intellectual and professional life.
But recently I’ve sadly wondered if the newspaper still matters. Most people don’t read it and perhaps they are the wiser subgroup. In my case, since I don’t really follow sports that closely any more, does it really make a difference whether I read the paper?

Let’s take todays paper. A quick look at today’s headline articles of interest
include in the spirit of going back to school an increased variety of school offerings (a worthy story), the updated story about the police shooting aftermath in Ferguson, Mo. (a story that has become way overblown) and a few completely shocking, note the tongue in cheek reference, tales of corruption in state politics. Somewhere further into the news section I’m sure there are some good articles to read but my attention span inhibits my desire to scan..

I find all of these articles interesting. But I can’t help but question what is the enduriing value of being in the know. At the end of the day, if I am not going to affect the outcome, what is the point of following the stories? Am I reading just to pass the time? Is it simply food for thought? A habit that is hard to break? Aren’t I better off just immersing myself in my fields of interest instead of trying to cover so many bases?

My sense is that those who are out of the loop tend to carry a little less mental weight. No one is quizzing them on the completion date of the Port of Miami tunnel or how much we should intervene with the ISIS terrorists in Iraq.

I suppose in getting to the paper each morning, there is still the excitement of discovering the unknown.. That’s the fun part. But the bigger issue of what I do with the information lingers and I don’t really have a good retort


Perhaps it is to just keep convincing myself that it matters and maybe get lucky in one day qualifying for Jeopardy. And thank God there are still cartoons, the  perfect fit for my dwindling reading level


Deja vu – Decision Time

LeBron leaving Miami? Say it isn’t so.

benedict-arnold-traitor-jpg   the thinker

I wrote some if this yesterday and the rest earlier in the week.  It will be pretty clear what is the  before and after commentary.

What’s done is done but it’s nice to get the thoughts out of my head.

The only constant in life is change, an axiom I understand very well but struggle to practice.

Now that the dust has settled, a few things are clear. Lebron James never
reallly made Miami his home. It was a vacation spot. Or to use another analogy,
he never divorced his first wife. Miami was simply his mistress and he called
off the affair after 4 years.

Only Lebron can play God like this. There is no player in the NBA and perhaps in any sport who has so much leverage. I would add chutzpah and at times, insensitivity to the description.


Before:  (This is how I felt on Tuesday)

People are fickle. So are sports. Despite the lack of longevity Lebron has had
in Miami, his leaving now would be like Bill Gates leaving Microsoft, or better,
our thumbs being removed from our hands. The future would seem grim at best.
Yes history does repeat itself. But sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Of course we can never know what drives a person or what their next goal is but
the man seemed to be at the peak of his career and in the penultimate situation in Miami. He went from quasi-purgatory to paradise. He went from the most talented player in the NBA to the best player and a two time NBA champion with many more to come.

I’m not sure how I feel about the situation but regardless of the decision he
makes I now empathize with what the city of Cleveland experienced. First he’s
turncoat to them and now if he doesn’t go back he’s a tease

No one likes to see a beloved king exchange one throne for another. But that’s
the King’s right.

And how quickly we create and get attached to an icon.  In this case it doesn’t seem
irrational. He was a superhero in a city of celebrities and superstars. If anything, Lebron has exceeded the Hurculean, him against the world expectations and provided the ultimate tonic for a city in flux and distraction against the mundane nature of our everyday lives.

In the end, as trite as it sounds, he just has to make a decision and live it. Keeping two cities and franchises who have deified him hanging in the balance does tarnish his legacy.

For some reason, I think the consequences of the decision will be far easier for him to live with than the legions of fans he has in both cities.

Just another day

ImageOnce upon a time to me, even in the not so distant past, today used to be the most important day of the year. For good or for bad, my birthday might actually be included in that statement.

No this is not a reference to April Fools, though that has fun manifestations, nor some type of self-help proclamation which rightly affirms the power of the present.

This is a baseball reference. Today, (at least I have been told so) is Opening Day and when one grows up in New England and/or is a die hard baseball fan, the beginning of baseball season presents a feeling of optimism and excitement that is hard to match.

One of the beauties of baseball is that we really don’t know what is coming next. Take today for example. Try to predict the scores for any games or who will hit the first home run for our favorite team. No matter how clairvoyant we think ourselves to be, it’s probably far easier to predict the price of Apple stock or the number of times we will have to dodge distracted drivers using their cars for anything but driving. If there is any sure thing about baseball, it is that nothing is sure. Who could have predicted that the San Francisco Giants would have won the World Series last year or that the Yankees despite their steroid induced payroll, would win so few World Series over the last decade? We know how exciting it is to wake up and discover our team won a game we expected them to lose.

Yet for multiple reasons, I’m sure a lot to do with aging, today is not the most exciting day in my annual calendar. At least not for anything related to baseball. Last year in particular really doused the flames of hope. My two favorite teams, the Marlins and the Red Sox, both finished in last place. In and of itself, that is no big deal. Any realistic sports fan knows that teams experience highs and lows, both within and for complete seasons.

I am trying not to sound too cynical here or lose whatever shred of adolescent enthusiasm still remains, but last year did make clear several disappointing realities of the baseball world. In Miami, the Marlins are not as much of a baseball franchise as they are a corporate construction. The fans don’t really have much say in what the baseball team does, including what stadium they play in. It’s a bit like going to a casino. There is a gigantic welcome mat and plenty of enticements once inside, but if one does go, don’t blame the house if it lightens your wallet and leaves you questioning your better judgment.

As for the Red Sox, even the world’s foremost psychologist could not properly cure the many maladies of the team and its rabid fans.

 I am sure there will come a point where I get caught up in baseball fervor again (this certainly has to do with my bandwagon tendencies) and the nature of the city in which I live. But my guess is that we as sports fans experience the ebbs and flows of enthusiasm, in much the same way that the teams we root for experience the ebbs and flows of success. Nothing is fixed in this world. Not our love for a sport or the more symbolic aspects that sport represents. Living in a tropical climate does limit some of the seasonal connotations of Easter, but if you live in New England or the Midwest, it’s hard to ignore that just as Easter represents a rebirth, so too does the onset of baseball season.

I suppose in a strange way, it’s exciting to experience a baseball season with tempered enthusiasm and relatively no expectations. For one, I can’t really be disappointed though I run the risk of not having anything or anyone to scapegoat.

Only time will tell. I hope that’s a risk worth taking.