Friday, April 13, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Gram

My Gram passed away yesterday. She was 93. She was my roommate.

She spent the last 14 years without my Pop. He died in 1998 after a year of living with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. That’s what brought me to their house in the Midwood section of Brooklyn in 1997 as a sort of valet for them as he battled, and that’s how she and I ended up as roommates after he passed away.

It wasn’t quite the Brooklyn-hipster lifestyle. She lived pretty far out in the borough. No cable. No dishwasher. No dryer. She didn’t drive. She didn’t eat red meat. We ate simply; the highlight was Friday night Shabbat dinners, usually featuring a potato kugel from the “good” kugel store on Avenue M and, hopefully, a black and white cookie.

Usually, we would break out the mini-TV and put it on the kitchen table as we ate, watching the local NBC news broadcast at 5, then the PBS NewsHour at 6. She liked politics. As the wife of a 40-year New York Timesman, she was a devoted reader of the paper.

(Even after she left New York and moved into the assisted-living facility in Maryland, she kept the subscription -- in her room yesterday, I found a copy of my piece from the Sunday Times a few weeks ago on a table. I have the voicemail she left me on the day it came out; it’s nice to know that at age 39, I can still make my Gram as proud of me as she was on that call.)

I tried to be as helpful as possible, but -- after all -- we were roommates. Given that I was 25 and she was 79, there would be squabbles, of course. But we got along pretty well. Gram knew I had her back, and I knew she had mine. She only called me “Daniel,” a holdover from when I was a little boy. When I was feeling particularly cheeky (or exasperated), I’d call her by her first name, “Lil.”

The months after my Pop died were hard for her, but we didn’t talk about it very much. I know she appreciated my help but I also know she needed to figure out how to live by herself. We finally decided I should move out -- she needed to find her footing on her own, without her husband of 50-plus years; it was time for me to find a non-octogenarian lifestyle in New York.

Besides, I would still be in New York to ferry her around if she needed it -- to doctor’s appointments and family events that she would never miss. She had a lot of friends and stayed active (that was something the folks at the assisted-living facility kept telling us -- Gram was always participating in whatever they had scheduled for the residents).

A few years later, I was in between years of business school and back in New York for the summer -- I think it was a foregone conclusion for me that I would be living with her. I think it messed with her system to have me around again, but I think she liked having me rattle around the house again. And at least this time she knew there was an end-point.

My favorite moment with Gram was that summer. You can imagine living in Midwood with an 82-year-old wasn’t exactly conducive to dating, although that was a lot more about me suggesting 5:30 dinner reservations than anything Gram did. I had gone out on a date -- my first in a long time -- and I had stayed out all night, which was not anticipated.

I called Gram the next day from Manhattan -- sort of a “Talk of Shame.” I let her know I was OK... and that, uh...well...actually, I would be staying in Manhattan for the rest of the day and another night with this girl from the date. (Obviously, it was a pretty good first date, although not exactly the kind you would want to talk about with your grandma-roommate.)

I could hear Gram chuckle through the phone. She had a lot of strong opinions, but she could be very “live and let live.” She knew I was happy. A few weeks later, as I was getting ready to move out of her house, presumably for the last time, I confided in her that I already knew this girl was going to be it. Gram and my wife had an amazing relationship over the past 10 years.

Gram was no-nonsense and wasn’t big on sentimentality. I know she missed my grandfather dearly, but she did not burden the rest of us with that grief. But she loved her two daughters and her five grandkids and she was particularly proud of her nine great-grandkids. I am so glad she got to meet her ninth great-grandkid, Lucy, who was born 6 weeks ago. I am so glad that, by moving to DC, we spent the last 8 months being a 10-minute ride from where she lived. (Obligatory plea that always seem to happen in moments like this: “You don’t call your grandparents enough, if you’re lucky enough to still have any. Call them to say hi and tell them a story about what you’re up to.”)

There is a special feeling I have for my Gram, unlike anything I felt for my other grandparents or my own parents and siblings or even my wife and kids.

Think about your favorite roommate ever -- the kind of loyalty and familiarity you develop. It’s not about the signature moments (although those stand out) as much as the pleasant hum of the every day. Gram and I had a unique and odd set-up, one that I don’t think either of us asked for or saw coming 20 years ago when it was your standard “proud grandma” / “loving grandson” dynamic -- senior and kid.

But for the last day, it has made things so much happier for me, to remember that “sit-com”-ish premise of our living situation -- hopefully, I made her life easier (maybe even happy). Living with her certainly made my life happier. But so much sadder right now.

-- D.S.

4/13 (Page 2) Quickie

When Page 2 launched in the fall of 2000, I immediately emailed my former colleague on the ESPNet.SportsZone edit desk, Kevin Jackson -- now in charge of the project with a universally esteemed magazine lifer named Jay Lovinger -- and asked how I could be a part.

It started with a gimmicky "What's Hot, What's Not" list on New Year's Day of 2001, then continued over the next 18 months or so with regular contributions, including a weekly "What's Hot/What's Not" column. It was a lot of fun, and it was a nice change of pace from my work in business school.

In the spring and summer of 2002, as I was finishing up my MBA, I was thinking about how online news consumption was changing and came up with an idea I thought would work as a daily conceit -- not to mention a way for me to claim my dream job as a daily national sports columnist.

I pitched the idea for what would become the Daily Quickie to Jackson and Lovinger over the summer. They helped me hone the concept (I just found some of the early emails, and they are awesome) and the column launched in January of 2003.

Gratifyingly, people liked it and I got to keep doing it every day, batting lead-off for a lineup that included heavy hitters like Wiley, Simmons, HST and Halberstam. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I never took for granted.

When I left Page 2, I wished them nothing but the best -- I maintain the sentimentalism of an alum -- and I have been thrilled to see Jackson ascend to become a key leader within, to see Schoenfield become one of the most essential baseball writers in the country, to see Lovinger spearhead the incredible E-Ticket initiative and to see the rest of my Page 2 colleagues find great success, both on and off

With no disrespect to the folks who managed Page 2 over the past five years, those first five years -- pre-sportsblogs, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter -- were something very unique and special, with the kind of willingness to experiment and innovate that was rare in mainstream sports media and, hopefully, inspiring (or at least entertaining) to folks who saw it.

Page 2 ends today. There will be new ideas starting next week, and hopefully they will let their imagination go -- the landscape couldn't be more different (or competitive) than it was 12 years ago. The legacy of Page 2, at least for me, is that it's OK to try -- that's a kernel worth keeping.

It was a good run -- a fun run -- and I'm proud to know I played a small part.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

04/11 (Petrino) Quickie

Let's not give Arkansas AD Jeff Long too much credit: Bobby Petrino HAD to be fired. This wasn't a moral issue; it was an employment-law issue. It's not that Petrino isn't bigger than the Arkansas football program -- it's that he isn't bigger than the legal bill the school would have racked up had they kept him around after he hired his mistress. That said: Long gets credit for letting his outrage show on TV last night, which -- in a climate of "college sports are so corrupt!" -- gets points for being refreshing. But let's make it clear: This wasn't "Profiles in Courage" as much as "CYA."

Now, did Ozzie Guillen HAVE to be suspended by the Marlins? Yes, and as Joe Sheehan and some others have pointed out, it was entirely about the money -- the damage done to the Marlins' business by Guillen popping off about Castro in a way that seemed even remotely sympathetic, in a town where Castro is Public Enemy No. 1. The team had to worry about its relationship with fans in the area, both in the short- and long-term. I'm all for folks in sports saying whatever they want about politics or society, but that doesn't mean they don't need to be careful about what they say and consider the audience. As has been pointed out elsewhere, if Guillen said the same thing about Castro while managing the White Sox in Chicago, it's much less of a big deal. But in Miami? Ozzie should be suspended for the lack of judgment alone.


*I don't hate the Celtics in twilight nearly as much as I did when they were title contenders -- I will certainly root against them, but I hope last night's Boston win over the Heat is an indicator that they are ready to make their share of the playoffs interesting. If they can push the Bulls to 6 or 7 games in the Eastern Conference semis, that's as much as you can ask of them. (They would be much better off if they were matched up with the Heat in the semis than the Bulls, who are less likely to fold if bullied.)

*Where will the top two prep hoops prospects -- Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad -- say they are going to spend next year in college, when they announce tonight? I'm holding out a smidgen of hope that Noel picks Georgetown, but I think both will pick Kentucky -- as they should. (If Noel does spurn UK, it'll be for Syracuse, not G'town.)

*Bill Parcells isn't going to coach the Saints: That's too bad, because that would have been a lot of fun.

More later -- pop by Quickish all day for great takes on the big stories.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

04/10 (Instagram) Quickie

I'm a big fan of Instagram, a big fan of entrepreneurship, a big fan of great user-experience -- I'm very happy for the founders of Instagram on their billion-dollar sale to Facebook.

I think Instagram has a big place with sports fans -- you've seen it here and there -- and there is a lot more to do with it. More than that, it is a triumph of the mash-up of the social and the visual, both of which are core to the sports-fan experience. If you are a fan of this stuff, it is worth your time to read some of the backstories to Instagram's start and growth that are floating around -- not to mention the analysis of why this was a smart move for Facebook.

FWIW: Want some everyday relevance of Instagram in sports? How about this photo posted on Instagram by Shabazz Muhammad, the top-ranked high school hoops player (and guaranteed Top 3 pick of the '13 NBA Draft), who will make his college choice today.


*Ozzie Guillen: Needs to apologize, even if he doesn't believe it. Gotta know your audience.

*OK, so Yu Darvish struggled in his debut, but the Rangers' barrage of run support was a good reminder of why he was lucky to end up with Texas.

*The Mets are 4-0. Amazing.

*Derrick Rose ankle: Needless to say, if he's not full strength, the Bulls are still good enough to get to the Eastern conference finals, but not good enough to topple the Heat.

*Baylor vs. NCAA: Were the coaches given bad advice by the school's NCAA compliance officer? Better hope so, because if not, that's some serious phone-call violatin'.

Pop by Quickish all day for the best takes on the biggest stories.

-- D.S.

Monday, April 09, 2012

04/09 (Bubba) Quickie

I'm torn by Bubba Watson's Masters win.

On the one hand, it's a victory for non-conformity -- as Bubba's mythology goes, he has never taken a proper lesson. That unconventional shot on the second playoff hole -- one of the most memorable in Masters history -- was a perfect symbol of "Bubba golf."

On the other hand, we like to talk about "process over outcome" -- we like to think that if we get professional help, our performance will improve. Maybe that's a myth, but more likely, it'll get you to a 90% or 95% outcome but potentially not let you be an outlier, with an accompanying outlier result. (On the other other hand, maybe he debunks the notion of gurus, which isn't a bad thing.)

In other words, Bubba isn't a model -- he's an exception. And we should appreciate and enjoy that exception for all the same reasons we appreciate and enjoy lots of exceptions out there. I just wouldn't look at it as a model.

(Check that: I wouldn't look at it as a model of how to win a Masters -- I would absolutely look at it as an example of someone who seems to have his priorities in order: He is open with his emotions, he is a devoted new father and husband, he spends his money on pop-culture kitsch, he seems hyper-competitive but not to the point of losing his humanity.... we could all learn something from that kind of "Bubba" lifestyle.)

-- D.S.