It’s hard to imagine how he did it, but in order to avoid burdening his family with difficult end of life decisions that would have ensued from his prolonged illness, my good friend Dan Scharfman died last night. As his undergraduate room mate and friend of 35 years put it, “A gentleman to the end.” Without higher order cognitive functions, Dan was still more thoughtful that anyone I've ever met or am likely to meet. It would have been hard for his family to determine when to take Dan off life support. So he spared them the trouble. He left us peacefully last night, January 20th, 2013.
At 55 years of age.
A good man. Gone too soon.
Sometimes it seems that the stars align and I get just the information I need just when I need it.
Stated another way, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I've been having some trouble with my heroes lately. It turns out that one of the people whom I greatly admired is not just a cheater and a liar, but also a bully. And if intimidating his fellow athletes wasn't enough, it turns out that rather than fessing up to his misdeeds, he "doubled down" each time the authorities were on his tail and coerced his team mates to be silent as well.
I loved this guy, trusted him and believed in him. Before I found out what a psycho he is. Admittedly, I was naive, but I just could not accept the evidence before it was conclusive. Besides, he looked us in the eye and told us that he was clean.
Much is made of Malcolm Gladwell's "Ten thousand hours," the thoughtful insight that to achieve proficiency, the equivalent of five years of full time work is a necessary condition--if not a sufficient one. The Beatles played clubs in Hambourg for ten thousand hours before appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show; Steve Jobs futzed around with computers for ten thousand hours before moving on to enforce his prodigious ability worldwide.
What isn't mentioned is how many people put in the requisite ten thousand hours and achieve competence but not success. My buddy, Kevin, played guitar for ten thousand hours and didn't make it to a German Coffee House never mind CBS. There is something to be said, certainly, for how beautifully he plays. Here's another question: What else could he have done with his time?
One of my running buddies, Ron, is snarky, curmudgeonly, sarcastic, and grumpy. On a good day. Ron has a bitter view of the world and agrees with Snoopy, Charles Schultz's philosopher beagle, who said, "I love humanity; it's the people I can't stand." Ron looks for the darker motivations of a person's actions and can always be counted on to explain a seemingly altruistic act as one of selfishness or self deception.
But these qualities aren't the only reasons we're so fond of him.
Because Ron also has a wonderfully analytical brain and "gets it," sometimes after only a decade or two of intense thinking about an issue. For example, after our five-mile plod down to Matheson Hammock yesterday, I asked Ron what he had learned from our morning run.
"What do you mean 'learned'?" he asked guardedly.
"Well, you've run 16 marathons..." I began.
"Actually, 17," Ron corrected.
Forty year-old, Juan is a two-pack a day smoker, with a sedentary life style and a tire around his tummy that makes the Michelin man look svelte by comparison. Juan can, and frequently does, suck down a six pack of Bud on a Sunday afternoon while watching his beloved Marlins. "Exercise" consists of walking from the couch to the frig to get another cold one. "Camping" is defined as a hotel room where the tiles in the bathroom don't go all the way to the ceiling.
My regular gentle readers will know how committed--"obsessed" is such an ugly word--I am to running. I love my running buddies; I love the fact that my risk of dropping dead of heart disease is reduced as a result of our early morning workouts; I love the fact that every now and again someone says something so precious that the words resonate and are worthy of this very column.
Although the fact is that we get a true gem only every several thousand miles or so.* More on this ratio later.
Asking in advance for your patience and forgiveness--sign here; initial here; and here--and in the spirit of "you had to be there," here are two of my favorite running stories:
1) My buddy Daniel--a professor, but otherwise a pleasant enough guy--was saying hello to pretty much everyone whom we trotted past on the track one early morning. "Pedro, how's the family?" "Nice to see you, Tim." "Vilma, you look strong."
I want to take this opportunity to talk about a player with whom I shared a season in the sun on an intramural softball team a scant three and a half decades ago. I may have forgotten every theorem from my Non-Euclidean Geometry and Convexity course from about the same epoch, but I remember vividly our human vacuum cleaner of a short stop. He was a black hole on the infield, through which no ball could penetrate. He could move to his right, he seemed to hover parallel to the ground absorbing hard hit balls. He could leap half his body length into the air stealing base hits. Watching him from my position in left field was a joy.
He was so good, so extraordinarily good. He was such a natural athlete...
... that he never even got a tryout for a division three college team.
Never mind a shot at a professional minor league team.
An erudite reader responded to my column last week about bad parenting: "One question: Do people respond to requests for stories? It seems your call to action should be a bit higher up in the post and set apart rather than at the end and as part of another paragraph. Thoughts?"
"Do people respond?" The question got me thinking. "Do people respond?" is a subset of "Why do I write these blogs?" OK, so why do I write these?
I have an unexplainable situation here. I was hoping you could help me try to make some sense out of this. My 28 year-old, recently married, secretary wrote me the following note: "Dear Mr. Altshuler," it reads. "My head hurts and I have been throwing up. I am going to the doctor. What do you think it could be?"
There is no debate over which year was the Greatest Year in the hundred year history of baseball.*
You might think that there would be discussion among barflies, tailgaters, and fans from different cities across the country. You might expect a spirited conversation with reasoned arguments, endless statistics and salty language. You might imagine that the following years might be up for consideration for The Greatest Year in the History of Baseball. What about...