One Holiday, Two Americas: Memorial Day Thoughts

Some of our fathers and brothers, even our sisters and aunts, served in wartime. Some serve now. Perhaps you too.

Today is the day we honor the fallen in all the many conflicts of this, our country.

Can two Americas fit into a holiday designed for one?

Thus do the two Americas array themselves: those for whom service is a calling and those for whom it is an economic necessity; those powerful and those without prospects; those respected and those afraid; those with fat wallets and those with empty purses; the few who are part of our volunteer army and the majority who choose not to be.

When my father did his duty in World War II, walking the Champs-Élysées on the first Bastille Day after the liberation of Paris, there was such a thing as military conscription: able bodied young men were required to participate. In post-war Germany, as part of the occupying Allied forces, he related the following in an October 19, 1945 letter to my mother:

We have two colored boys in our convoy who were carrying our postal equipment. When we went to supper … the Sargent who ran the mess hall made them eat in a separate room. The colored boys were fighting mad for which I can blame them little. I complained about this treatment to the mess Sargent, who said that the First Sargent made the rule. I went to the latter and told him off plenty (my dad was a Staff Sargent). His answer was that I didn’t have to eat in the mess hall either if I didn’t like the rules.

So this is for what we fight. I finally talked to the colored boys and pacified them somewhat.

Some of us thought we were beyond the racial animus of a time 70 years past. Not just the discrimination, but the idea of discrimination. Still, no matter our domestic troubles, we must honor the fallen. My father, who served but did not die in service, would be troubled at our regression; yet he would honor the fallen, as we all should, amid the burgers and bratwurst and beer we inhale today. In this, at least, we can still be one country, even if the ritual unites us only for a few hours.

I wrote some of this seven years ago. Other parts are new:

If you are unhappy about the polarization of our society, think about the differences institutionalized by the volunteer army’s creation. However much good was achieved by the elimination of conscription, surely the absence of shared sacrifice contributes to the ease with which we oppose our fellow-citizens.

No longer does the USA pull together in the way possible during World War II, “the Good War.” In part, “the Good War” was good because enough people believed in the values for which the USA fought, knowing their children, husbands, and brothers would defend those same values with their lives; and it was good because those at home (regardless of class) shared in the rationing of goods, the terror of having loved ones in harm’s way, the heartache of their absence, and a preoccupation with the daily progress of the conflict.

The soldiers shared something more, and more widely than the smaller fighting force of today. Men of different religions, regional accents, political opinions, and ethnicities depended on each other for their survival and discovered the “other” could be depended on, laughed at the same jokes, and partook of the common fear and dedication all brought to the war effort. Even though military segregation deprived brave blacks and Japanese Americans of the opportunity for such camaraderie except with men of the same color, the nation benefited from the portion permitted. The soldiers benefited by the love and mutual reliance of those in the same foxhole. Our fathers and grandfathers were woven together in a way we are not today.

These thoughts occurred to me as I listened (on CD) to the book Final Salute by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jim Sheeler. The volume is about the officers who inform families they have lost a loved one; and of the families who suffer the unspeakable pain of the death of a son, a husband, a wife, a brother, or a sister; a dad or a mom.

Several survivors become your acquaintances in this narrative, as well as the warriors — the Marines — who died serving our country. And you will get to know Major Steve Beck, a Marine who delivers a message nearly as shattering as the projectile that killed their loved one.

Major Beck and the Marines live by the creed of leaving no comrade behind. Consistent with this value, Major Beck leaves no family behind, providing comfort and support long after the knock on the door that changes everything, creating a “before and after” without end.

I wish I had the words to convey what is in this book. I don’t. I only will say it is plainly written, eloquent in its simplicity, aching in its beauty, profound in its impact. It does not make melodrama of what is already poignant enough. Rest assured you will contemplate war, any war, differently after reading Final Salute; unless, of course, you are a member of the “other America,” the one fighting the wars and sending its loved ones into conflict. If you belong to the bereft group within this group, then there is nothing here you do not already know at a level too deep for words.

To those who have lost just such a one as the young men portrayed in Final Salute, I can only give my condolences to you and your kin.

We — those of us in the non-fighting America, those of us for whom the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are abstractions — perhaps remain too comfortable, detached from something of desperate importance: the duty done far from home in our stead by the children of other people. And removed and distant from how the “best and brightest” of their families risk and sometimes give up everything they hold dear.

For such families, the human cost never fully goes away, for there is no inoculation against the plague of war, nor any cure.

They are out there, these inhabitants of “the other America.”

We walk past them unaware …

Once a year we give their departed a day of remembrance, if that’s what you call taking an extra day off from work, singing the National Anthem, looking at the maimed soldiers standing at attention, and then forgetting why we sang before our bottoms touch the seats. The words “play ball,” don’t quite capture a sentiment of honor or atonement, do they?

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All the images above are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. 1. “Vice Admiral Scott Swift, Director of Navy Staff holds Savannah Wriglesworth of Bowie, Maryland during a group photo with families of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) before taking a tour at the Pentagon May 23, 2014. The children of fallen U.S. service members toured the Pentagon seeing different exhibitions from the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force including Klinger the horse. Klinger has served at more than 5,000 military funerals and has a book published about him called “Klinger: A Story of Honor and Hope” and is often a warm and comforting face for the children to see when making their final good-byes.” (Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo). 2. and 3. The work of Allstrak. 4. “Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt looks on during the singing of the National Anthem before his squad’s Memorial Day Major League Baseball matchup against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field in Phoenix, May 26, 2014. U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Kidd, right, was on hand to represent the United States Marine Corps during pre-game dedications.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken).

“Do They Still Play the Blues in Chicago?” Cue Up the Post-World Series Blues

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I am about to rain on the victory parade, but with a smile. I offer a few thoughts on the psychology of experiencing the first Chicago Cubs World Championship since 1908. Plus a word of condolence to the Cleveland Indians and their fans.

  1. Enjoy this now, Cubs Nation. Unless you are all immortal witch doctors, you will not be present at the first rainfall after another 108-year drought. The rain delay in Cleveland was a reminder.
  2. The faithful who gathered near Wrigley Field while the game was played elsewhere are a dedicated bunch. They paid attention to the score, drank, worried, talked, stood, cheered, and chafed their hands from overuse in prayer. They thought about the dead relatives who wore out their bottoms waiting in the station for the victory train that never came. They wept when the contest ended. To paraphrase what someone on Facebook wrote, “I guess now we have to start dating again.”
  3. My last post suggested rabid fans get to attach to something bigger by saying “we’re number #1” and holding up giant foam-rubber hands with the index finger extended. Well, who am I to take their joy away? I do realize, however, much as I’m pleased the Cubs won, “we” watchers didn’t achieve the victory: “they” (the players) did. Don’t believe me? Ask the boss for a 15-million-dollar annual salary, guaranteed for the next seven years, because of your contribution to the championship season.
  4. What is possible after the impossible? Red Smith, famous baseball writer, wrote about a different game in 1951: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
  5. If the Cubs are more than a pastime for you, if you were resurrected from a miserable existence by the 2016 team, your life might just have peaked. Yes, the glow will only fade slowly, perhaps not disappearing until Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or maybe it will vanish on November 8, Election Day, and the inescapable reality of US political problems.
  6. Even if the Cubs win more championships, the experience of last evening was like lots of other “firsts:” first kiss, first child, first wedding. Magic isn’t easily duplicated.
  7. Rooting for the Chicago National League Ball Club, LLC guaranteed you a like-minded group of people who all shared the belief that no matter how fresh the carton appeared in the refrigerator, the milk would curdle as soon as you tried to pour a glass. To the good, however, you had millions of other humans for commiseration. You will now need either different things to lament or a personal surrender to optimism and a change in your philosophy of life. Yes, being positive is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
  8. You thought tickets to Cubs Park were expensive before?
  9. Listen to the old Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is? Cubs fans are now like the dog which chased the fire truck its whole life and finally caught the big red machine, looked around, and thought “now what?”
  10. Hell just froze over, but was bumped from the front page by the Cubs victory.
  11. Everything happens for a reason. I thought I’d throw in this quotidian thought, since no matter the life event you are describing you can always utter the phrase. You could also say everything happens for a raisin, the wrinkly kind. If God didn’t have something better to do than decide it was finally time for the Cubs to become winners, he wasn’t paying attention. Can you receive an ADHD diagnosis and still be the deity? A rhetorical question.
  12. Here is another consideration on the subject of gods and reasons: atheist Cubs fans now own one less of the latter to justify their belief an all-powerful and all-good being can’t possibly be in charge. Cleveland Indian rooters who were religiously faithful until today will be seen fleeing the house of worship of their choice. Or going back in to pray harder. They now claim 68-years without a baseball crown.
  13. Don’t take any of the above too seriously. Except the part about enjoying the moment. Cheers, in every sense.

The photo of the 2016 Cubs World Series celebration is the work of Arturo Pardavila III as sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Fidelity and Infidelity in Love and Sports: Is Being a Fan Like Being in Love?

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I’ve known serially unfaithful men who were also among the most loyal and devoted people on the planet. A contradiction? They were untrue to their spouses but lifetime cheerleaders for a different “one and only”: a sports team. Please follow along as I consider this paradox. Perhaps we can learn both a bit about romance and about being a dedicated male fan in the process. I’ll use baseball as my example, but you are free to substitute the competitive team physical activity of your choice.

Most of us fall in love for the first time with a ball team. One of our parents, usually the dad, leads the way. We bond with him, try to please him, want to become him. He takes us out to the home field and we are dazzled by the immensity of the stadium/stage for the physical theater about to unfold. Our innocent devotion to the parent leaches into an attachment to the team he also loves. Virtually every die-hard fan can remember the first time he went to the ball yard and with whom. The experience, like meeting a first-love romantic partner, is unforgettable.

Before long we join our playmates in some version of the same game, all the more to identify with our fathers, older brothers, and the players on TV. We bond to friends through shared love for the sport and being on the same team, pulling together, praying to the same baseball god. Sports is like a civic religion, as many have written: something bigger than yourself, outside yourself.

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The crowd’s roar is intoxicating. Goose bumps. When we play the game, the full-bodied effort of running, stretching, leaping, diving, sliding, and swinging is as “in the moment” as life gets, as love gets. The day is warm, the wind is cool. The physicality of the in-person experience, whether on the field or in the stands, is not sex, but consumes the body and enlivens us, as sex does. They both involve a sweaty intensity.

Fandom and romantic love put us in jeopardy, as well. We give our heart to someone or something else. In a sense, we have no control, certainly none in the case of our team’s performance. Well, at least if you are in love with a person you can sometimes influence the destiny of your affair or marriage. Ecstasy and agony are part of the standard rations of fans and lovers.

Remember those early dates with your heart-throb — the anticipation and the preparation, the clock-watching as the time came closer? Not so different from a fan’s mental state before a big game. The urgency of seeing the hero, being next to the young gods, hoping to get an autograph or a photo proves the preoccupation.

Unlike love, however, the worshiped participants on the playing field are forever young. Even when fan favorites age and retire we transfer our loyalty to a replacement, but still a member of the same squad. Our spouses, however, are not ageless. Nor are we, of course, yet we delude ourselves into thinking so. Listen to the out-of-shape, middle-aged fan saying, “Oh, I could have made that play!” somewhat indignantly.

You take your children to the park and bond with them, as you did with your father. We display pride in carrying the multi-generational torch, either to repeated visits to the Promised Land of World Championship or, for the long-suffering fans of forever losing teams, toward a first time experience of becoming vicarious champions.

Material objects take the place of a genuine fiery beacon. I once had a baseball caught by my grandfather in the Wrigley Field stands, just as I own a scorecard dad got signed by the legendary Rogers Hornsby. There is more shared energy and positive emotion and identification among the united Chicago Cubs Nation than the fraught relations within the United States or the United Nations.

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How interesting that we never betray the multi-generational pact we have with our relatives, friends, and fans by quitting the “team,” but some do cheat on a spouse. Where else in the world can you be #1 except by identifying with a team of élite magic-makers? Not at home, where our foibles are on display and beg forgiveness. The world of a sports fan, by contrast, means never having to say you are sorry.

Perhaps part of the reason some flee the spouse is that we can do all the complaining we want about the men on the field, quite unlike an actual mate. Criticizing a beloved human is more costly. The partner tends to push back, the players don’t. You can berate the young men, they don’t berate you. The only cost is the price of a ticket.

Where else can you tell someone he isn’t trying hard enough? Maybe at home with your kids, but you will easily alienate and injure them. Rarely is the boss or the spouse fair game unless you want to corrode the relationship, lose your job, or sleep elsewhere.

Another difference: baseball, whether playing or watching, is recreation: the “Great American Pastime.” Marriage is not. Marriage takes work if there is to be ongoing reward.

A relationship, of course, offers many benefits not provided by fandom. Requited love, sex, offspring, consolation, trust, understanding, and shared intimacy. A sports team will not reject you (unless it moves to another city), but it provides no meaningful looks, tender embraces, quiet confidences and shoulders on which to cry. Most fans would not give up on the idea of ever having a partner, despite the complications. A sports team, by comparison, is like making love to a blow-up, plastic woman. Put differently, sports — in this fan’s opinion — should be taken for what they are, not the dearest thing on earth: a good and loving woman.

There is no escape from heartbreak as a fan or a spouse, however. Indeed, athletics, particularly if you are on a Little League losing team or simply the youthful fan of the Major League variety, is a preparation for life. Yet we seem to mate for eternity with a uniformed bunch of men, not necessarily with a spouse. An able-bodied squad, significantly, is a sometimes thing, an observed entity, not a person you live with in-season and out. Ballplayers go home for the winter. Fans, in a sense, do too. Partners don’t.

I met only one faithless sports fan, ever. Or, perhaps I should say, he was the wisest man on the planet. Many of you know that the Cubs have reached the World Series for the first time since 1945, when they lost in seven games. Lost, I might add, the World Championship that has eluded them since 1908. My friend was rooting for the Cubbies and was more than disappointed at the result. Soon after he made a major decision: he would never cheer for the Cubs again, never ever.

As a consequence, the gentleman in question enjoyed the ensuing 70-years far more than the rest of the Wrigley loyalists.

Talk about good timing and superb judgment!

He was eight-years-old in 1945.

The top photo displays Maurie and Flaurie (named after the original owners, husband and wife) of Superdawg, a Chicago drive-in and landmark. The W Flag is similar to the one that hangs from the Wrigley Field scoreboard after a Cubs victory. It is a practice going back many years, before the time we could consult our phones to discover the outcome of the game. Two different elevated train lines passed within visual distance of the flag, thus alerting fans of the day’s happy or sad tidings. The third image was taken by Arturo Pardavila III on October 22, 2016 before the sixth game of the National League Championship Series. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The second photo requires no explanation.

Death Notice: The Great American Pastime

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The Great American Pastime has passed away. I am here to announce it. You won’t find it on the obituary pages, but it is true all the same.

Yes, I know they still play baseball in Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco. But, if the pastime lives anywhere, it is away from the great stadiums and the big cities. Indeed, perhaps only in more modest venues might an old-time baseball experience now exist.

But, you say, what am I talking about? The rules haven’t changed. It still takes three strikes for an out and three outs to end each team’s turn at bat. The bases are still 90 feet apart.

You are right, but I’m not talking about the game as it is played on the field. Rather, I mean the game as it is experienced by a fan in the stands.

In the baseball of my youth, the Great American “Pastime” was a leisurely way to “pass the time” on a summer afternoon. The lyrical pulse of the match drew your eyes to the field, except when the beer-man approached or your neighbor asked you a question. A day at the ball park was usually easeful.  Moments of tension fueled by the drama of the contest were framed by many others that allowed you to relax; kind of like the rhythm of the tide, rushing in and then receding, rising and falling.

For much of the game, when nothing remarkable was happening on the field, one heard the low-frequency hum of the fans talking. As the play became animated — only then did the cheers and boos crowd out conversation. Other than that, the auditor heard barking vendors, with an occasional public address announcement about who was at bat; and perhaps the sound of the stadium organ from time to time. It was all relatively peaceful except when something exciting happened on the baseball diamond.

No more.

The fan is no longer safe. He is targeted for an electronic bombardment from the moment he enters the stadium, just as surely as Dresden was targeted for real (and equally unnecessary) bombs during World War II. The acoustic experience is one of non-stop, high volume noise. If it is not the loudspeaker’s musical blast that has replaced a simple stadium organ, it is the repeated announcements:

Jim Jones Jeep Dealership’s sales team is here along with Jim in Section 5. Let’s give them a hand. Now turn your attention to the scoreboard for a quiz on Cubs history. But before you do, check under your seat to see if you have won a Cadillac from Cathy’s Cadillac of Crown Point, Indiana.

Even so, the announcements are clearly insufficient for the fan who requires hyper-stimulation. He needs to keep his eye out for the dance moves of the paid customers that are being broadcast on the scoreboard screen, just in case he wants to exhibit a few of his own. He needs to keep a sharp eye for T-shirts of his favorite team being shot into the seats by stadium employees on the field between innings.

Most importantly, when the “kiss-cam” moment occurs, he must be sure to kiss whomever he is with, so that thousands of others attending the game can vicariously experience the thrill of his five seconds of relative fame as they watch that image on the Jumbotron. Then, when it is over, the “sausage race” begins, and several alleged adults dressed as a hot dog, a bratwurst, a Polish sausage, a chorizo, and an Italian sausage run around from foul-pole to foul-pole to the cheers of the Pavlov-trained fans who root them on. Surely, this is a comment on the extent to which baseball believes you can be easily entertained, and how desperate the “sausages” must be to make a living.

Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx. The photo was probably taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx. The photo was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Before the Great American Pastime died, it was a game without a clock. You took your time and so did the game. Now watching a major league contest is fueled by the impatience of the audience for stimulation at every moment, useless information at every other moment, and blasting sonics without end. If you do try to bond with your little girl — the cutie you’ve brought to her first game — you just might find yourself hoarse before the end of the day. The most used phrase at your average big-league contest today has changed from “Hey, beer-man” to “What did you say?”

The only good thing about any of this is that you can probably use attendance at a Major League baseball game as a diagnostic tool to find out whether you are ADHD. If you love the multi-pronged assault on your senses, you should immediately call your doctor and get a prescription for Ritalin.

What has happened? I’ll tell you what I think. First, watch all the people in the grandstand whose heads are turning from side to side, from a blinking light to a dancing bear — from one call for their attention to another. But then look at those who tire even of this. And what are many of them doing? They are checking their iPhones, texting, tweeting, reading email, or surfing the web. The baseball moguls have decided that the game is not enough. Clearly, they believe that they must use every opportunity to gain advertising income from people like Jim Jones Jeep and Cathy’s Cadillac of Crown Point while, at the same time, drawing your eyeballs away from your cell phone.

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If you were at a baseball game in my youth (aka the 1950s and ’60s) there was one thing you did in addition to watching the contest and talking to your neighbor: you kept a sharp eye on the pretty girls walking by. Nothing captures the grotesque deformation of the current experience of attending a ballgame better than the knowledge that healthy young men in their seats now spend more time looking at their hands (and the cell phone in them) than any anatomical feature of the highly attractive members of the opposite sex who are dressed to be seen.

If you are young enough, you probably think I’m foolish — old and foolish at that. And, if you are closer to my age, you might have hardly noticed the change in the game because it crept up on you and me gradually. But think back and you will not fail to agree with me. My buddies Ron and Jim and Rock and Tom and Jeff and Steve and Cliff will vouch for me.

Once upon a time there was nothing that I found more prospectively enjoyable than the idea of going to a ballgame, no matter how bad the home team was (which, as a Cubs fan, was normally quite bad, indeed).  Now, unfortunately, my emotions are much more mixed. I’ve seen Major League Baseball played in 15 different arenas over a period of almost 60 years. The change has spread everywhere.

Something has been lost here, my friends. And I don’t think we are getting it back.

A fan returning home after a recent baseball game, aka "The Scream" by Edvard Munch.

A fan returning home after a recent baseball game, aka “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

The top image is of a Typical Baseball Game played in 2005 in San Francisco. It was taken by Imageman and sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The third photo was taken by Agne 27 and uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by User Kelly. It is the Beginning of a Sausage Race at Milwaukee’s Miller Park on April 30, 2007.

What Mindset Should You Have For a Challenge?

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The great athletes and musicians have something to teach us about preparation. But, probably not what you think.

Yes, they work hard and practice, practice, practice. They have a “day of performance” routine to get enough rest and usually are careful not to eat too much before the event. But as the clock ticks down to the big moment, mindset can be key. Whether competing in a race or playing in a symphony orchestra, “attitude” counts.

For the solo trumpet player who begins Mahler’s Symphony #5, mental outlook is crucial. He plays alone for over 20 seconds and dominates the sound when joined by the orchestra for the next 20. If it goes badly, even the musically uneducated know it. The 70 minute performance has been set on the wrong road and sometimes never recovers. How did the greatest orchestral trumpet player of the 20th century get into the proper frame of mind for this? Adolph “Bud” Herseth, the Chicago Symphony’s principal trumpet from 1948 to 2001, did something very simple.

Adolph "Bud" Herseth

Adolph “Bud” Herseth

According to longtime Chicago Symphony violinist Arnold Brostoff, it amounted to writing a bit on his sheet music. Brostoff happened to be looking at Herseth’s music stand during a break in a Chicago Symphony rehearsal of that piece just as his colleague stepped away for a few moments. What he saw at the head of the solo trumpet passage were two letters, “TP,” in Herseth’s handwriting. There is no musical notation matching those letters, so Brostoff was puzzled.

Herseth returned shortly thereafter and Brostoff asked him what it meant.

The answer? “Think positive.”

If you’d like to see and hear Herseth facing this musical challenge, click on the link:  Mahler Symphony #5.

The first photo is the Red Bull FIM Motocross of Nations 2008, Donington Park, England by Mark. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

About Grieving, About Friendship… About My Friend Bob Calsyn

When you lose someone you care about, for a while you walk around in a daze. Of course, there is the sadness. But less often mentioned are the sense of disorientation and the random memories; the moments your eyes fill with tears and the fatigue you can’t seem to shake. For a while you are scattered and off-balance until, finally, the jumble of things settles down and life returns to “normal.”

I am writing this in the midst of the jumble. My friend Bob Calsyn died on Friday, September 21st. His wife Maria called from St. Louis with the news. I let a couple of my old friends know. They are Bob’s old friends too, from our days in grad school at Northwestern. And I heard independently from Dave Kenny, another NU alum. If Dave isn’t — I should say wasn’t — Bob’s best friend, then surely he was tied with the other contenders for first place.

I told Dave I was thinking of writing something about Bob and asked if he might offer some of his own thoughts. His remarks below are adapted from those he read at the memorial he attended in St. Louis on September 25th. (In each case that I quote him, his comments are set off from the rest of the text and begin with his name in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS).

What I’d like to do here is to tell you why Bob mattered to all of us. But the truth is, I need to tell you. I need to get this out to honor Bob — to honor the loss suffered by Maria and Bob’s children and siblings and all those who were closest to Bob. And, not least, to help myself with the jumble I mentioned at the start.

What follows is a series of recollections of a wonderful man and great friend, much of it in Dave Kenny’s voice; along with some of my own memories, a little of my own philosophizing about the nature of friendship and loss, and some things just about me. Someday, you too will be in the midst of the jumble. Maybe it will help.

DAVE KENNY:

I knew Bob for 44 years. When we met at Northwestern we had a lot in common: both oldest child of a large family, both lapsed Catholics, both of us had mothers who wanted us to be priests, and both of us had a strong commitment to social justice. We very quickly became friends. What Bob accomplished in four years at Northwestern was truly remarkable: earning his Ph.D., serving two years as a Conscientious Objector to the Vietnam War, doing a one year clinical psychology internship, and becoming a father, much of the time commuting 14 miles from Hyde Park to Evanston. The later incredible academic success of his sons Dylan and Chris was foreshadowed by Bob’s.

Bob, unlike me, continued in his commitment to social justice throughout his entire lifetime. He was passionate about ending homelessness and he worked diligently in this effort. I never told Bob how grateful I was that he let me play a small role in his work.

For the record, Robert Joseph Calsyn was a product of Rock Island, Illinois and Alleman High School; the child of working class parents. He graduated from Loyola University in Chicago before attending grad school. Bob served as the Chairman of the Psychology Department at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, as well as being Director of its Gerontology Program.

There is something about schoolmates. At Northwestern, our group of graduate students was more than usually close. The Psychology Department was small, so we had lots of classes together, the way you do when you are 10 years old. We ate together, socialized together, went on double-dates; some of us roomed together. We passed through the same moment in history and the same stage in our lives in the same place. It was hard not to bond.

The men in the group played lots of softball and football and basketball against other Northwestern departmental conscripts. Bob usually played second base for our softball enterprise, which we called the Psyclones — a play on words since we were all studying to be psychologists. He played hard, but that particular game was tough for Bob, especially making accurate throws to first base. Still, Bob was an essential part of a pretty good team. Even if we’d have been slightly more perfect without him, we wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun or had the benefit of his “heart.”

In sports like touch-football Bob was fierce, taking particular pride in the devastating, bone-rattling blocks he delivered to opponents who couldn’t imagine them coming from a man who was no more than 5’8″ (173 cm) on a good day. Bob was no plaster saint. He knew the full range of four letter words and used them when necessary, as they tend to be in sports, especially in games played with the sweaty tenacity that Bob brought to them.

DAVE KENNY:

Our friendship endured and we saw each other in eight different states. Many of those visits were near water which Bob loved: the coast of Maine, Cape Cod, Long Island Sound, and of course, his beloved Anna Maria Island (where Bob and Maria had a vacation home). Bob was strange about water. He loved to watch and hear it, but he was not a fan of being in it. However, don’t forget that Bob grew up and spent most of his adult life near the Mississippi River. Maybe not going in the water made good sense.

I didn’t see Bob a lot after grad school. We’d visit occasionally, at first when I was teaching in New Jersey and he came to nearby New York City, later in Chicago, and a few times in St. Louis. Our relationship took the form of letters, then email and occasional phone calls. I got to read and critique some of his short stories; he helped with career issues for one of my children.

And yet, for me at least, a person like Bob lives inside of you in a continuous way even when there is no continuity in actual contact. He was always on an imaginary list of people who I thought of as my friends. Bob was someone who you were sure would be dependable, helpful, and unfailingly honest. He told you what he thought, not what he believed he “should” say or what he thought you wanted to hear.

We “knew” each other, could talk about anything. We knew where each of us was coming from — came from — in both a literal and figurative sense. He didn’t keep score. Bob was always there when you needed him, someone who was compassionate, gave sound advice, and was incredibly funny.

DAVE KENNY:

Bob had his own view of nutrition. He introduced me to Dairy Queen Blizzards. I remember him cooking donuts and beignets in his kitchen. We always had a 3PM cookie break when working together. For breakfast he would ignore his wife Maria — his Argentine bombshell — and sneak off to eat at Waffle House or Denny’s, not the healthy breakfast she suggested.

Bob and Maria (ca. 1994)

My friend retired from his faculty position in 2009. Not long after he was diagnosed with cancer. This made our contacts more frequent. Somehow Bob remained optimistic in spite of multiple tumor sites that never fully disappeared.

Bob continued to play tennis, the game he loved best, even though the treatment compromised his breathing. Singles were now out, so he played doubles. I didn’t see the down moments and I’m sure that there were more than a few. But his resilience, his ability to live life and to keep really “living it” and enjoying himself was astonishing. And he could still be there for me, as when I had a long conversation with him about retirement: whether to do it, when to do it, what it was like for him, and what it might be like for me. We had plans to see each other on the first weekend in October in St. Louis.

People find it difficult to talk with someone who is battling “Death,” a bigger than “Life” opponent with an undefeated record. It is, indeed, hard to know what to say. Mostly you listen, even if most of us think we must have some sort of magic words to deliver when, in fact, no such words exist. Bob made it as easy as possible.

The day after Bob died I heard John Adams’s musical composition, On the Transmigration of Souls, presented by the Milwaukee Symphony and Chorus. Bob liked classical music, so it seemed a nice coincidence; more than that, the composition is a commemoration of those lives lost in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. An interview with the composer on the New York Philharmonic website includes the following:

… I’d probably call the piece a ‘memory space.’ It’s a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical place — in this case 9/11 — is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes well beyond this particular event.

‘Transmigration’ means ‘the movement from one place to another’ or ‘the transition from one state of being to another.’ … And I don’t just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from an experience transformed.

I guess you hear what you want to, what you need to, what you can’t escape. Of course, I couldn’t help but think about Bob during the performance…

Bob managed to write a novel, all the while dealing with his illness. It is called Primal Man and you can buy it on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed. The story is a murder mystery that takes place in a university setting. This comes from a brief interview of Bob in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 4, 2011:

Q: Had you written fiction before?

Bob: No. but I’ve always read mysteries.

Q: This primal man is apparently an exhibitionist?

Bob: Primal man exposes himself to female students and throws them an index card that says, ‘Men are hunters, women are gatherers. Gather yourself home.’

Q: How does psychology figure in?

Bob: It helps you explore character. I was an administrator for many years. I thought writing a mystery was a more socially acceptable outlet than strangling my colleagues.

Bob was a confident man, but not arrogant. For all the scholarly articles he produced and all his advocacy for homeless, mentally ill people, he told me one day at the St. Louis Zoo that he thought of himself as a “journeyman.” Indeed, he considered each one of us who got Northwestern psychology doctorates in 1972 in the same light, with one exception. Dave Kenny was and is that exception, an internationally known academic who has changed the way people think about social psychology research, its design, and its analysis. But, I don’t believe Bob meant to disparage any of us, and certainly not himself. He simply knew that there was a pretty big difference between being Bob Calsyn or Gerry Stein and being Beethoven.

Bob didn’t care about or aim to be a great man. He was too busy living his life, loving his wife, doing his work. He was too busy delighting in his kids and grandchildren, playing tennis, and having a beer (but not at the same time)! The irony, of course, is that the way that Bob lived was a kind of un-self-conscious, rough-hewn work of art, something to be admired and emulated. As Marc Anthony said over the body of Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare play, “When comes such another?”

DAVE KENNY:

In thinking over my friendship with Bob, it occurred to me that Bob and I never argued and Bob never got mad at me. We disagreed all the time, but our disagreements did not result in arguments. Bob regularly told me that I was wrong, but he never did so in a way that said, “I’m better than you” or “You are a bad person.” He sincerely wished, as I did, that I was a better person. Bob did have lots of reasons to be angry at me: missing deadlines, drinking too much, not staying in contact… Bob would get angry at Republicans, at demagogues, and perhaps even his colleagues. But he channeled his anger against his colleagues by writing short stories and killing them off there.

Bob always was one step ahead of me. He left a high-powered college to go to a more low-key institution. He got married and had children, ended his difficult marriage, and remarried; he had grandchildren and retired — all before me. Now Bob, you have done it again and you have died before me.

Upon reflection, Bob was more of an older brother to me than a friend. He was doing things before me and giving me advice on how to do them. My big brother Bob helped me cope with all of the major transitions in my life, especially my divorce. We know that Bob faced a terminal disease and death courageously and remarkably. Again I will be following Bob, and I hope I can muster 10% of his courage, but I hope that mustering does not happen too soon.

Dave Kenny

We cannot know what others are feeling except by analogy to our own emotions. Those of us who have lost a friend may think we are hurting and we are, but surely the intensity and nature of the feelings experienced by those closest to Bob can’t be known, at least not by me. Everyone’s grief is different, formed by the tapestry of experiences they had with the departed — all the memories and struggles, the laughter, the kindness, and the human imperfections that are inevitable on both sides of any relationship.

For those closest, their lives will now be marked with the idea of “before and after;” before and after Bob died and how much that difference made. To all those who were closest to Dr. Calsyn, and to those (like me) who were a step or two back, my condolences.

That said, from the outside and some distance, it looks to me like Bob had a wonderful life. Too short, for sure, but wonderful. Not without pain or disappointment or hard times, but full of compensating joy, success, and love. He gave life and the people in his life everything he had. He traveled, competed, and he knew when to rest and take a walk on the beach. Bob didn’t “phone it in.” He lived more in 66 years than most of us would do in twice that time. Like the ballplayer who tries to stretch a triple into a home run and is thrown out at the plate, he was a thing to behold.

On the subject of baseball, I’m reminded of an old story about Babe Ruth, the most famous baseball player ever. Actually, it is about the Babe’s funeral, which happened on a particularly hot day in New York City. It seems that two of his old teammates, Joe Dugan and Waite Hoyt, couldn’t help but comment on the weather, especially since they’d served as their friend’s pallbearers and the heat hadn’t made that easier:

Joe Dugan: I’d give a hundred dollars for a beer.

Waite Hoyt: So would the Babe.

Here’s to you, Bob. How lucky I was to know you.

——–

The top image is the Calsyn Family (ca. 2001). From left to right: Bob’s son Dylan and Dylan’s wife Beth and their daughter Zoe; Maria, Bob, Soledad Van Emden (Maria’s daughter and Bob’s stepdaughter), Bob’s son Chris, Margaret van Emden; and John van Emden, Soledad’s husband. Since this picture was taken, three more grandchildren have arrived: Abigail, Ella, and Max.

The photos are courtesy of Dave Kenny. My very special thanks to Dave for his contribution to this essay, especially given the enormous difficulty he had returning home to Connecticut from Bob’s memorial in St. Louis. Thanks, also, to Judy Goodman, Steve Hanan, Angela Shancer, and Diane Tyrell for their helpful and speedy comments about an earlier draft; and for their friendship.

 

The Law of the Jungle on Ice

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One man knocks down another. It happens every day, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not; sometimes with malice, sometimes not. What do we, the bystanders, do about it? That is the question for today.

The query is prompted by the behavior of Mr. Raffi Torres, a hockey player for the Phoenix Coyotes, who made his body into a weapon against Mr. Marian Hossa, a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. It happened in the third game of the quarter-finals for the National Hockey League’s 2012 Stanley Cup: the championship trophy awarded to the best team in professional ice hockey. The issue here, however, is not about sports, but rather, what we owe to each other if we are to be a civilized people.

First, let’s get on to the particulars so that we can get past them. Torres was rushing across the ice on his skates. A moment before the collision, Hossa had passed the puck. He did not see Torres coming for him. Torres left his feet, vaulting his 223 pounds to the flashpoint of connection between his left shoulder and Hossa’s head. Hossa crumbled to the ice and was carried-off minutes later on a stretcher. None of the four officials (umpires) saw Torres’s act of needless aggression. Instead, they penalized a Blackhawk teammate who retaliated against Torres after Hossa had been attacked. When the Head Coach of the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville, stated that “the refereeing tonight was a disgrace,” he was fined $10,000 by the NHL. Too much truth, as they say.

Torres is a repeat offender. In last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs he was suspended for four games for a hit to the head of Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers, and later did the same to Brent Seabrook of the Blackhawks.

The rules are clear: “A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and (is) the principal point of contact is not permitted.” They also state that a “minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.”

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Not surprisingly, much has been made of Torres’s behavior in the Chicago press. The usual thing is being said: that the referees and the league higher-ups have not penalized such actions sufficiently to discourage them. If that is true, why not?

Perhaps because hockey is one of those sports (unlike baseball) that taps the alpha male desire for violence — the violence of the Roman Colosseum without the lions or the dead bodies. To take that away from the game, some think, would make it less exciting. Of course, if fewer fans were drawn to it, there would be less money to be made. But, others argue, no one forces these young men to come into harm’s way and they are well-compensated for doing so.

The National Hockey League is careful to paper-over the vicious element of the game. You won’t find a video replay of Hossa getting clobbered on an NHL team website. His brain-rattling experience is called “an upper-body injury.” Decapitation falls into the same category for the truth-averse National Hockey League administrators.

All of this is to be expected. As of Saturday, April 21, the NHL has suspended Mr. Torres for 25 games. Perhaps that will persuade him to behave differently, perhaps not. But, I have seen no one raise the issue of the responsibility of Torres’s teammates and coaches. Like “the three wise monkeys” of Japanese lore, they see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil of their own teammate. Even more importantly, they reported no evil to the officials on the ice when the mugging happened, which would have effectively been to turn their companion in to the hockey police.

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There is historical usefulness in this type of ethical blindness. If one is to create communities of people for mutual defense and survival, it undoubtedly has served the tribe well to be able to count on your neighbor without qualification. If you had to fear betrayal by a member of your family or your co-religionists, your friends or companions, how would you be able to work together for the communal good, fight the enemy, prepare for the flood?

Are there any exceptions to the rule of lock-step loyalty? Should there be? Should we ever turn in our teammates, our friends, or the members of our own political party? How about our countrymen, our boss, our children? Should we always cover for them? I understand the conflict in loyalties. I know that there would be anguish, not to mention retribution in blowing the whistle. But must we always condone and support “our own” just because they are “our own?”

What Raffi Torres did is wrong because he violated the rules. It is wrong because he intended to do harm. It is wrong because he didn’t turn himself in. It is wrong that his teammates and coaches didn’t turn him in. And it is wrong that no one expected him or them to do that.

The first image is a photo of the Fernie Swastikas (Female) Hockey Team, 1922, before that symbol became widely associated with the Nazi Party. The next picture is Jacques Plante’s Goalie Mask in the NHL Hall of Fame, courtesy of Michael Pick. Finally, The Three Wise Monkeys by Huckfinne. All of these are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.