Monday, May 30, 2011

For Dana Brand

Greetings Friends,

Since it is Memorial Day today in the U.S., I felt it only fitting to write a tribute to Dana Brand.

Dana was a professor of English at my alma mater, Hofstra University. That was his day job. For many people, Dana was the dean of the New York Mets blogosphere, presiding over a world in which Mets fans gather to celebrate the highs and lows of being Mets fans; to commiserate over the team's foibles and missteps, and to savour its successes. But, it became so much more than that. Dana himself blogged regularly about the Mets, in a way that wove the fabric of baseball into our lives and taught us that it wasn't just about wins, losses and championships. Baseball is life, and life is baseball.

Dana passed away suddenly last Wednesday, at the age of 56, leaving behind a wife and a daughter, and legions of shocked and grieving friends. There have been many tributes written over the past few days by Mets bloggers, celebrating his life as a teacher, a Mets fan, and the author of two wonderful books, Mets Fan, and The Last Days of Shea: Delight and Despair In the Life of a Mets Fan. I consider myself a die-hard Mets fan, but I've existed on the periphery of the Mets' online community, save for avidly following Dana's blog - a link to which has been here at Ink & Paint since its inception. 

Dana was my teacher before he was a Mets fan. I met him during the spring 2000 semester at Hofstra, my second semester back in academia after a long absence. My goal was to finish my Bachelors degree, if for no other reason than to assuage my guilt for entering the workforce in 1987 with only an Associates degree in Broadcast Management and Technology. I didn't get a job in my chosen field, and for 12 years I toiled at jobs that were not at all rewarding. After being unceremoniously canned from the last of those jobs in January, 1999, I decided the only way I would ever feel good about myself again would be to return to school and complete my education. My rationale was to become as educated as possible, in order to avoid emulating the corporate hacks I had come to detest. Many close friends and family members did not approve of my decision to become a professional student. I had my doubts as well, after my first rocky semester. That all changed after I met Dana. 

The first time I met him, I knew he was different from any teacher I'd had during my life. My time spent in the New York City public school system was not what I would call "inspirational", and I left it without any one particular teacher having had an impact on me. Dana, on the other hand, had an impact on his students as soon as he walked into the room. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a full beard and bushy, unkempt hair. He looked like an English teacher, and despite his size, he was not imposing; you immediately sensed that this big teddy bear of a man had many meaningful things to say.

During the first meeting of the first class of his I took (a survey course of American literature from 1900-1950), he handed out his syllabus and outlined what he expected of his students. It was all very straightforward, and I was looking forward to delving into the material. Before he dismissed us, he asked if any of us were baseball fans. A number of us raised our hands, myself included. He asked which teams we were fans of, and most of the class answered either "Mets" or "Yankees". I believe there was a smattering of out-of-town students who may have had other team allegiances, but I could see a dark look form on Dana's face and I couldn't understand why. Then he told us he was a Mets fan. For a moment, I felt certain he was going to ask anyone who was a Yankees fan to drop the class. He didn't of course, but you could tell right off the bat (pun intended) that he was serious about the Mets, and serious about baseball. I made a note to keep that in mind.

That spring semester was another difficult one for me, as well as for Dana. He lost his father during that time, and missed a number of classes. At the end of the semester, I had enjoyed his class so much that I knew I wanted to continue on with my plan to complete my degree. In fact, I was so inspired by Dana as a teacher, I did not leave Hofstra until December, 2007, with a Masters degree in English literature. And it was all because of Dr. Dana Brand.

Over the years, I managed to take seven or eight of Dana's classes. During that period, his love of literature and baseball became evident to me, and the more I got to know him, the more I began to appreciate the role of baseball in his life. I wasn't completely enlightened until I spotted the "Last Word" column he wrote that appeared in Newsday in August, 2005. I found it hanging in the English department mail room one day when I went to drop off a paper. "If You Prick a Mets Fan, He'll Bleed Blue and Orange" was a revelation, because I had similar feelings about the Mets, and often questioned my love and loyalty to them, and to sports in general. 

Of course, "If You Prick a Mets Fan,..." was the genesis of his book, Mets Fan, and the start of his journey to the pinnacle of Mets fandom. I followed that journey every step of the way, and he even thanked me in The Last Days of Shea for the insightful comments I left on many of his blog posts. 

It's impossible to sum up in so few words, a man who had such an impact on so many people. I was hesitant to make my own contribution because of all the eloquent tributes that have already been made. The ones I find particularly touching are by Howard Megdal, which can be read here; by Matt Silverman, titled, "A One of a Kind Brand", here; and by Greg Prince, here. Gentlemen, you knew him best as the reigning monarch of Mets Fandom, and I felt it only fitting to focus my tribute on the teacher who had the most profound impact on me as a student. Our words and memories, be they at Shea Stadium, Citi Field or in the classroom, have shaped who we are, and who we will continue to be on our separate journeys. What joins us together is the common thread of baseball, woven into our hearts by someone we will never forget. The world as we know it is lacking because Dana Brand no longer walks among us. I like to think he has gone to a place where his days will be spent revering and enjoying the things he loved most. 


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Crumbling Metropolitans

Greetings Friends,

The New York sports world was set on its ear earlier today by the online posting of this article, written by Jeffrey Toobin, appearing in the May 30, 2011 issue of The New Yorker. The article brings to light the frustrations of New York Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, with the current state of his team, along with his vast financial woes brought on by that Ponzi master, Bernard Madoff. 

Rather than re-hash the details of Madoff's legendary swindle, I want to talk about what it is that leads men like Fred Wilpon to bite the poison apple of sports team-ownership. There isn't one franchise in creation that could be considered a smooth sailing ship; well, maybe two or three exceptions: the New York Yankees, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Cowboys. OK, I gave you four examples. My knowledge of European football clubs is such that I do not feel qualified to weigh in on Man. U., Real Madrid, or the other biggies.

The more I think about it, the latest incarnation of the New York Mets is nothing more than the culmination of  Fred Wilpon's dream to reincarnate the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that was wrested from him and millions of other devastated fans, only to be relocated to Los Angeles. Dodger fans never got over the betrayal of their team picking up and moving clear across the continent. When Wilpon was approached, in 1979, by one-time New York Islanders owner, John Pickett, to rescue the Mets from the Payson family, I think it was all he could do to stop himself from becoming the saviour of Brooklyn. And he was, for a while, but things went sour a long time ago. Now he is on the brink of having to sell the team as a repercussion of his decades-long relationship with Madoff. In my opinion, he's getting off easy.

There's a certain amount of hubris that goes along with being a sports team owner, especially now when franchises are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In order to pull off the success that eludes so many teams, you have to maintain a focus that can only be described as tunnel vision. In order to keep your eye on the prize (a championship), you have to not give a shit about anyone or anything else but yourself and your team. And, yes, that includes not giving a shit about the fans. For these guys, the fans are a given; they are the whipped masses whom they think will show up to cheer on their teams no matter what - in the face of prohibitively expensive ticket prices, $30 parking, $10 beers, $8 hot dogs and, gasp! seat licensing fees that don't even include the price of admission. Owners of sports teams have done more to piss on their fans than any other group I can think of. And yet, we respond with a heartfelt, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" like we'd be deprived of oxygen if we were incapable of rooting for our teams of choice. 

The thing is, Fred Wilpon is the "Richie Cunningham" of sports owners. On the despicable scale, he doesn't even register. He's behind a long line of screwballs who think they know best, and they will bankrupt themselves trying to get their point across. The number one scoundrel on the list is New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, who, along with a rather large supporting crew, holds the title of Captain Clueless on the Good Ship Nassau County. It would take years to regale those who are not in the know about this convoluted saga, so I am asking for a little trust on this one. Many Mets fans are also Islanders fans, so they surely know what I am talking about. 

As for the rest of you, I feel your pain; believe me, I do. I am not defending Fred Wilpon, nor do I envy the position he finds himself in. I'm sure the incendiary comments he made to Toobin about his team were said in frustration, because every billionaire approaches the prospect of sports team ownership with the best of intentions. Why wouldn't they? If they've been so successful in their current field, why wouldn't they be on the field of play? That's where they get themselves into trouble.

There is no easy solution to this dilemma. Being a sports fan is a wondrous blight on any individual who chooses to expose him or herself to the adulation and heartbreak. Of course, there is always much more heartbreak than adulation. Yet, we stick with it. Myself included.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are We Growing?

Greetings Friends,

Anyone who knows me really well knows I love me some good bath and body products, skin care and fragrances. Some of my favourite products come from the Philosophy brand, of which I've been a fan since its inception. For the past 15 years, I've "grown" with the company, purchasing everything from its fragrances, moisturizers, and countless bottles of their shower gels, like the one pictured above. In case you're wondering, "cinnamon buns" really does smell like cinnamon buns. If someone blindfolded you and stuck a bottle of this stuff under your nose, you'd swear the real thing was in front of you. 

About a month ago, I became a Facebook fan of Cristina Carlino, the founder of Philosophy. Almost every day I find new age-y snippets from her in my news feed. Today's snippet was, "everyday we grow. have you grown in the past year?" By the way, all the text of Philosophy's product packaging is deliberately written in lowercase letters. I'm not a huge fan of that, but I'm willing to ignore it because I do love what's in the bottles and jars. As a matter of fact, the Divine Miss O (Oprah Winfrey) is also a huge Philosophy fan, and I do my best to ignore that as well. I'd like to think this was one "favorite thing" I discovered before she did.

Back to the snippet: Have you grown? That's a mighty loaded question if you ask me. In my case, the answer is definitely "yes". Unfortunately, I've grown a bit physically since I've been remiss in paying attention to my diet. I've also grown metaphorically, since I started a business, and have made a solemn vow to learn from past mistakes. Those are two very significant examples of growth. 

Unfortunately, growth is often accompanied by death. Certain things must be sacrificed in order for us to grow. Those things can be physical and/or spiritual, depending on the type of growth a person experiences. Maybe you've outgrown certain friendships; maybe you've outgrown your home - be it the actual roof over your head or the city in which you live; maybe the jeans you wore in your 20s no longer fit you; maybe you prefer to drink tea instead of coffee. Growth and change come in many forms, and we need to do our best to recognize them and accept them into our lives. I know - easier said than done.

As much as I'd like to give myself credit for my own personal growth, there is one element that is putting up a mighty struggle. That element is forgiveness. There are certain things I am having great difficulty forgiving, relating to others and myself.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing; there's the saying, "forgive and forget". Forgiveness is the easy part; forgetting is the bitch. You can forgive someone in your mind, but literally forgetting is like trying to scale Everest in stilettos and a bikini. It ain't easy, especially when you feel in your heart that the individual and the actions are about as worthy of your forgiveness as Osama bin Laden. Suffice it to say that it won't happen overnight, if it happens at all.

Growth is about moving on to new and exciting opportunities, and shedding the past. Animals shed their fur twice a year at the turn of the seasons. Humans aren't so lucky. Yes, we do our best to exfoliate, but the metaphorical fur we carry around is not so easy to get rid of. You'd think at some point instinct would take over, but sadly, it does not. Time is the only ally we have. Yet, it is both an ally and a rival. To truly grow, you have to embrace time and let it do its thing. Having a bottle of "cinnamon buns" in the shower doesn't hurt. Last time I checked, shower gel is calorie-free. 


Monday, May 16, 2011

Tree Killers

Greetings Friends,

Statistics have shown that since e-readers hit the market, people have re-embraced reading. I'm not a fan of e-readers; I'd rather nurse my hernia and carry a book. I've never had a problem lugging a hardcover edition of any book with me. My motto has always been, walk softly and carry a big purse. Although, on size 10 feet, I'm not that soft of a walker. Regardless, my big feets allow me to handle a larger load than your average person, so toting a book has never been a big deal. But now that technology has threatened to send books the way of the LP and the CD, I'm growing quite concerned. How zen does life have to be? My records and CDs are in storage, but wherever I go, my books go with me. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it shall remain. 

There have always been reams of crap on the bookshelves, technology notwithstanding; but when people like Levi Johnston and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi are getting book deals, you have to wonder why. I don't have an answer; I'm not a publisher. I actually attempted to ask that question of someone who works for one of the big publishing houses and didn't get an answer. I'm not sure if he just couldn't be bothered, or if he was too embarrassed to acknowledge my query. I won't name names, but the individual works for the publishing house that brought us Snooki's tome. You can find that information very easily on your own.

I've always referred to worthless books as "tree killers". Now, I guess they can be considered gigabyte killers as well. If you're willing to let dreck such as Snooki's ghost-written tell all take up room on your e-reader, well you just won't have room for Madame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice, will you? Not that I believe the individuals who read the classics would bother reading anything having to do with Snooki. 

When I got wind of Levi Johnston's coming tell-all, I pretty well lost my mind. I have to worry about recycling every possible scrap of paper (I even get most of my mail online), and this guy gets to write a book? Hell, I love me some good Sarah Palin dirt, but I'm not willing to pay 30 bucks for it. Who really cares what the idiot who knocked up her daughter has to say? Apparently enough people to warrant a book deal. And it's not like he's gonna be starving...his ex-future mother-in-law has made millions. Yet, for writers, getting a book deal is about as likely as getting struck by lightning; although the way the publishing industry is conducting itself these days, if I was looking for a book deal, I'd be spending a lot more time outside. 

Like many things in life, what gets published and what doesn't has about as much rhyme or reason to it as why anyone would want to ghostwrite for Levi and Snooki. I won't even venture to guess why people want to read these kinds of books, because there has always been an audience for them. They are the latest in the genre of tell-all trash. I've read my share of those over the course of my life, and I will never pick up another one. It kills me that there are so many talented writers out there who have adopted rejection as a lifestyle, and getting a book deal has become an instantaneous rite of passage for anyone still in the middle of their 15 minutes of fame. How many trees have to die in order for this trend to go on surviving?

I'm hoping that books won't go the way of the dinosaurs. I love to surround myself with them. E-readers may very well save the trees, but if the humans who run the publishing world could resist the urge to flood the market with so much crap, we won't become a society that forgets how to turn a page.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another Epidemic and Another List

Greetings Friends,

Just when you think you've identified all degrees of social ineptitude in existence, another one rears its ugly head. 

Selfishness is nothing new, but degrees of it never cease to astound me. I've been ignoring this particular scourge, but I am now ready to throw my hat into the ring. Selfishness has to be the worst personality trait there is; it can be a hard one to recognize and acknowledge. We are all guilty of it at one point or another, and those of us who manage to control our selfish impulses deserve accolades for our feats of strength. Few people manage to pull it off, nor do many of them give a damn if they are perceived as selfish. 

I like the list above, but my selfish nature is telling me to make one of my own. After all, it's my blog dammit, and I can be as selfish as I want:

Nava's Top Unforgivable Acts of Selfishness:

1. Lacking empathy. Let's remember that empathy differs greatly from sympathy. You never know if or when a similar set of unfortunate circumstances could befall you. 

2. Bloviating about yourself and your problems and then asking about the person on whom you are unloading as an afterthought. Enough about me; what do YOU think of me?

3. Treating another person harshly/disrespectfully in order to draw attention to yourself. The "poor me" tack only works if you're about five, have blonde ringlets, blue eyes, and big pouty lips. If that's not you, don't even try it. 

4. Assuming someone will pay for something significant without even an offer of reimbursement. This goes beyond not buying a round or picking up the cheque. If a friend asks you to "pick something up" for him or her, and there is never an offer of repayment, the writing is very clearly on the wall. 

5.  Assuming that everything in everyone else's lives has something to do with you. Attempting to impose yourself on others when you think they need or want your assistance is just plain wrong. If it's a touchy situation like an illness or death, make a polite offer and wait until you are asked. The "Mighty Mouse" approach of "Here I come to save the day" disguises an alarming level of selfishness and self-gratification. 

6. Getting angry at others when they cannot help you. If you find yourself in dire straits and a good friend is for whatever reason, not able to offer assistance, the offer of friendship should be enough. 

7. Attempting to inflict your beliefs/habits/opinions on others. Just because YOU think something is de rigueur doesn't mean the rest of the world has to. Enjoy whatever it is and allow everyone else to form their own opinions. 

8. Refusing to be happy for your friends and loved ones when something good happens. This is absolutely the pinnacle of selfishness. 

Bonus Round:

Pouting when you are not the centre of attention. If you're in a room full of people and you feel that you are not being given the proper amount of attention, go have your pity party someplace else; like in the basement. 

Making unkind or hurtful remarks without realizing you've hurt someone's feelings. If your mother never told you "silence is golden", then you deserve the silence you get when the offended party stops speaking to you.

Being a chronic "wheel spinner". If you can't ever get your shit together, don't hire a professional organizer; find a shrink PDQ.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Push Presents

Greetings Friends,

I thought we'd shift the conversation off of terrorist assassinations and politics for a while, back to pop culture ridiculousness. First let me preface the following by disclaiming that I am not a mother, nor do I plan on becoming one any time soon.

I've long been aware of the "push" present, given to a new mother after successfully delivering a child. Maybe for some mothers, it's a sushi dinner, or a good bottle of wine, but when you're Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe, it'd better look like what's pictured above, which, according to, is exactly what she got.

Earlier this year, dubbed 2011 the "Year of the Baby". Anyone who's anyone in Hollywood is with child, and the legions of camera Nazis are out in force on "bump watch". It's an extended odyssey from the pregnancy announcement, to the wardrobe choices, the actual birth and then the miraculous disappearance of the baby weight. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I wouldn't be worrying so much about whether Neil Armstrong actually walked on the moon, or if Barack Obama was really born in Hawaii, I'd want to know if all the "birthers" in Hollywood are paying armies of surrogates to have their babies for them, while they flash fake bellies at the paparazzi. Hey - stranger things have happened. How many women can actually say they've lost all their baby weight within days of giving birth, all due to breastfeeding? If you believe that, there are a few bridges I'd like to sell you. 

Body image has always been a touchy subject. Pregnancy usually doesn't help. Once a mere mortal woman has a child, getting her pre-pregnancy shape back can be a difficult, frustrating endeavour. Many women fail to get back to the shape they were prior to having a child, and have to live with the consequences for years, if not the rest of their lives. Watching women like Penelope Cruz, Miranda Kerr, Amy Adams, and countless other "celebutards" (I know that's mean, but this is my blog) parade around in couture scant weeks after giving birth is enough to give any woman a permanent case of postpartum depression. And flashing a 10 carat push present doesn't help either. 

Sometimes I think celebrities procreate to feed their over-weaning egos. Someone like Rachel Zoe seems to care more about how many Birkin bags she's got lined up in her closet, rather than how competent of a mother she'd make. I know all too well about the ticking of the clock, but I'm also a firm believer that not every woman is cut out to be a mother. I count myself among those ranks. And I don't think there's anything wrong with admitting that. Kids have never been in the cards for me, and I can honestly say that's a good thing. I love children, as long as they belong to other people. I've never felt the pangs of motherhood, nor will I. And that's fine. If I really want an ostentatious bauble or some other outrageously expensive trinket, having a baby isn't the reason I should get it. 

Parenthood is not an excuse to indulge in over-the-top consumerism. What's Victoria Beckham going to receive once she squeezes out kid #4?  I shudder to think about it. Instead, I think about all the families in North America struggling to put food on the table, and the other monumental day-to-day struggles raising a family entails. For most of us, they certainly do not include nannies, personal trainers, raw food diets and push presents. If that's what raising a family is all about, I suggest getting a dog instead.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Majority Rule

Greetings Friends,

After 7 years of minority merry-go-round, Canada is back to majority rule. Stephen Harper's Conservatives pulled off a stunning victory Monday night by gaining a 166 seat majority in the House of Commons. The Liberals were virtually obliterated, the Bloc Quebecois was literally eliminated, and the NDP finally received its coronation as a legitimate political force. Or were they just the party-of-last-resort for a large group of pissed off, sovereignty-starved Quebeckers? If I live to be 250, I don't think I'll ever understand those people. 

So where do we go from here? As I told all my horrified American friends, it's gonna be interesting as hell. You have to keep in mind, a Canadian Conservative and an American Republican couldn't be more different. But, the interesting thing about this current incarnation of Parliament is that the NDP, now the official opposition, is diametrically opposed to just about everything the Conservatives stand for. The two parties are in post-election insistence mode about how despite their differences, they will be able to work together for the greater good of the Canadian people. The cynical American in me is saying, yeah, right. The Canadian in me is willing to give peace a chance. But, it will be anything but peaceful. 

Historically, Stephen Harper is an obfuscating control freak of epic proportions. He has been called everything from a douche bag to a dictator, and some other not-so-nice names I won't mention here. Now that he's procured his elusive majority, it's anyone's guess as to how this will play out. And we're stuck with him until October, 2015. It would take something beyond catastrophic to pull the plug on majority rule.

Much as I'm looking forward to seeing this all play out, I must admit that I don't feel the same sense of gloom and doom that I did back in 2004. Even with Osama now swimming with the fishies, it's going to take a few more decades for America to recover from the past decade; if it ever does. 

No matter which country you call home, times are nothing if not interesting, and they will continue to be for a very long time. It doesn't matter where you are, or where you attempt to hide, politics will always find you. Resistance is futile. 


Monday, May 2, 2011

Obama Gets Osama

Greetings Friends,

Yeah, I know; it's the catchphrase of the moment, but what better way to describe it? I remember thinking back in 2004 that Senator John Kerry actually had a chance to beat George W. Bush out of a second term, and that "miraculously", W would pull a rabbit named bin Laden out of a hole somewhere in the nasty tribal regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, right before election day, to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. We all know he didn't need to do that. And we all know the havoc two terms of W wrought on the world. Honestly, I didn't think it would matter so much if bin Laden was ever captured, given the rest of the atrocities that occurred during Bush's watch. But, last night proved that the downfall of the most hated individual since Adolf Hitler could galvanize a nation. As if there was any doubt.

I'm sure I don't need to verbalize that I am pleased with the fact that bin Laden got what he deserved. Of course, I sat glued to my television last night and early this morning watching the coverage on CNN; between Wolf Blitzer and John King (especially John King), I think they uttered the phrase "Osama bin Laden is dead" about 5,000 times over the course of two hours. You've gotta admire those two; they can repeat themselves into oblivion. 

It wasn't until after President Obama's brief statement that the tongues began to flap at warp speed. The American press wouldn't be the American press if they didn't attempt to be instantaneously gratified; not so much for the benefit of the American public, but for the benefit of their own egos. Earlier in the day, I watched video from the Correspondents Dinner held in Washington DC Saturday night, and really enjoyed the speeches given by Seth Meyers and President Obama. I enjoyed a few hearty belly laughs at the material directed at Donald Trump, and it was hard not to notice the slight bit of rancor with which Obama spoke, regarding the maelstrom of media attention the release of his birth certificate received. You can't really blame the guy - even if he is the leader of the free world. And who knew he had been plotting to kill bin Laden for the past 9 months?

Which leads me to my point: Now that the initial "ding dong the witch is dead" jubilation is winding down, the press actually seems a bit miffed that the Obama administration was able to keep such a tight lid on this operation. That sentiment really brings into focus the sense of entitlement the 24-hour news cycle has created on the part of the American press. No wonder Robert Gibbs couldn't get through one term as Press Secretary. I wouldn't do that job with a gun to my head. Journalism has gone from a serious craft to a never-ending battle of brinkmanship that literally never stops. Who in their right mind would want to deal with that for a living?

When it comes to covert operations, such as attempting to take down the world's most notorious terrorist, a line must be drawn; this isn't like interviewing the coach before the big game. There are some things that must remain classified at all costs. And if this operation wasn't the big Kahuna of classified, I don't know what would be. The media is just going to have to lick their collective wounds and move on. It's not all about them. Never was; never will be.

One thought I had last night relating to elections, besides the fact that today is election day here in Canada, is that the death of bin Laden is a major coup for Barack Obama. One of the more obvious by-products of a 24-hour news cycle is a never-ending election cycle. I'm thinking this event has sewn up his re-election to a second term. I'm not exactly "Carnac the Magnificent" here, but based on the potential Republican candidates at this stage, and the fact that Obama now has major foreign policy cred, it doesn't seem to be that far of a stretch. Then again, you never know how anything will get spun in the press. 

As I write this, I am still unsure of which party I am voting for in today's federal election. Stay tuned...