Sunday, October 10, 2010

Primary Election - Post Mortem

I put a lot of effort (physical, intellectual and emotional) into supporting my friend Joe Fox in his bid to unseat the incumbent, Andrew Hevesi, in the recent Democratic primary for the 28th Assembly District here in New York.


We were fighting long odds, considering that New York has the highest percentage of incumbency re-election in the country. We were fighting an incumbent with a known name. A tainted name to be sure, but known nevertheless. The turnout was low, about 12%. This was not unexpected. It meant that in a district of approx 36,000 eligible Democratic voters, it would take about 3000 votes to win.


Fighting an incumbent in a primary presents some entrenched problems. An experienced local politician pointed out to me that in a local primary, the incumbent starts out with a 1000-0 lead. This is because ALL the people who work at the polls....those elderly women who sit at the tables, ALL vote for the incumbent because they perceive that their paid poll worker jobs come from the incumbent. Between those poll workers, and supervisors, and staff, and people who are active in local politics, you have 1000 people, and the one thing they ALL do is vote.


So, Joe Fox got 40% of the vote and was defeated by Andrew Hevesi. Andrew will be on the ballot in November, against an unknown Republican candidate and an unknown independent candidate. He will probably win, despite the fact that his father, former New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi, just plead guilty to ANOTHER felony involving corruption while in office, and despite the fact that Andrew is implicated in it and Alan obviously plead guilty to protect him. http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/hevesi-is-set-to-plead-guilty-to-felony/


I could say a lot about the Hevesi's, and the reasons Joe Fox would have made a great representative (while Andrew will continue to be a disgraceful embarrassment), but I'll save that for a future post.


I want to make some observations about the experience of participating in the Joe Fox campaign:


1. I decided to get involved because I was disgusted with Andrew Hevesi and the local political scene, and respected that Joe wanted to actually DO something about it. I admit it, I secretly wanted to run for the seat from the moment I learned that the local politicos had rigged a special election to install Andrew back in 2005. I couldn't and didn't do it, but Joe had a burning desire to make this run. I knew that I knew enough people, and had enough political savvy, to at least help him in a meaningful way. I appreciated having input in a lot of the behind the scenes decisions in the campaign. There was a stretch of time when I had some fear that if Joe lost, my involvement would "come back to haunt me"......politically, in court, or in some way. That fear left me over time, and now I'll say it for any of the local politicos to see......I helped Joe Fox, I'm proud of it, and I'd do it again.


2. Hindsight is 20-20, and analyzing the campaign, there may have been a few things we could have done to change the results and pull off a major upset. I will not list them here, because if Joe runs again, surely he will use what was learned. I will say this though.....if Andrew is reelected, ends up running again in two years, and remains as ineffectual as he has been, he can and will be beaten.


3. Felicia and I were official "poll watchers" at PS 139. I was present at 6 AM when the doors opened, so I got to witness the poll workers dealing with the new voting machines for the first time. There was some confusion at first, but the system was up and functioning by 7 AM. I thought the system worked well for the most part. People are often resistant to change, but I did not encounter anyone who could not figure out how to vote. The only thing I did not like was a lack of privacy for the voters. I observed situations where people were being "helped" to vote, and this was all out in the open.

4. I spent most of my day on the corner of 63rd Drive and Wetherole Street, attempting to talk to "voters" on their way to and from work. I say attempting because the vast majority of people would not talk to me. There seemed to be a few main reasons......
- Many did not speak a word of English. Living in Rego Park, this was not a big surprise.
- Many were non-citizens, and proud of it. Also not a big surprise.
- Many were entranced in I-Pod isolation. Probably listening to last years American Idol winners, or "rap" (as if it were music).
- Some proudly told me they never vote.
- A few told me they were voting for Hevesi, because his father had been railroaded and "all he did was use State money to take his wife to the doctor".
- A few offered memorable excuses, such as "I already voted" (this was at 7 AM). Another said "I am going to vote....tomorrow."


5. During primary day, I split my time between campaigning out on the street, and poll watching inside the school. This was permitted, as long as I did not campaign inside the school or wear anything that would indicate I was campaigning. This simply meant when I went inside, I had to take off my Joe Fox name tag. I got involved in some poll watching excitement when I noticed Andrew Hevesi campaigning right in front of the school, in the area where you are clearly not supposed to do that. I was outside at the time, and walked right past him on my way inside to report him. I said hello to him, and he said hi back, since he did not know who I was (which REALLY pissed me off). I then did what a poll watcher is supposed to do....I told the policeman on duty and the local election supervisor that Andrew Hevesi was electioneering in the restricted area. I then watched them confront him, watched him argue back, and then leave the area in disgust. Andrew, in case you are wondering how that happened....it was ME.


6. When the polls closed, as poll watcher I got to see the results come off the machines, and was responsible for calling the results in to headquarters. It took awhile for the officials to figure out how to get the results off the machines and post them. After working from 6 AM to 9 PM I was anxious to see the results. Now I know that when they say on election night that "x% of precincts are reporting", they are talking about poll-watchers like me. I was pretty disappointed, though not shocked, when I saw that Joe got about 40% at PS 139. I called it in to headquarters and asked whether this was consistent with results from other polling places. They said it was, and I knew right there we had lost. I was angry for about 10 minutes. My rant was along these lines....."how could people be so stupid? how could people be so apathetic? People get what they deserve....etc" Then, I was concerned about how Joe would take it. When I drove over to headquarters and saw that Joe accepted things like the uber-mensch he is, I began to feel great pride at what we had done.


7. Prior to the campaign, I knew Joe for about 30 years, but I'd say we were casual friends at most, and I knew his family enough to say hello, but that was about it. I now consider Joe and his family my good friends. So, in addition to the actual campaign experience, the personal aspect was enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.

So, the primaries are over and the election season is on.

I foresee some changes and shifts coming, across the State and nationally, and personally I think it is needed.

But here in the 28th A.D., it will be "same old, same old". What a shame.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Joe Fox for NYS Assembly

Dear Friends -

Next Tuesday, September 14th, there is a primary. In many ways, it’s not an exciting Democratic primary, as the Governor’s nomination is uncontested and the Attorney General race has a non-descript field of five. However, for those of us in the 28th Assembly District, this may be the most important Democratic primary in many years. That is because my good friend Joe Fox has taken a courageous action by challenging the incumbent, Andrew Hevesi. I have never been involved in a local political campaign before, but I am strongly supporting Joe Fox in this primary. For the reasons stated below, I am asking you to support Joe as well.

Approximately five years ago, our Assemblyman Michael Cohen abruptly resigned, under mysterious circumstances. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that 31 year old Andrew Hevesi would be nominated for the seat, and would be on the ballot in a “special election”. This was an orchestrated political maneuver, which essentially gave our Assembly seat to an inexperienced paralegal, whose only “qualifications” for the job were being the son of criminally convicted political figure Alan Hevesi.

Andrew Hevesi has never had to actually RUN for his seat. He was re-elected in exactly the same way he initially came to his office, being put on the ballot without challenge. Up until this year, nobody has had the courage or the support or the qualifications to contest the “powers that be” for this seat.Had Andrew Hevesi taken this seat and actually done something useful with it, I would support him, notwithstanding the undemocratic way he obtained the seat. But the fact is, he has done NOTHING with this opportunity, other than continue to be part of the problem in Albany. We have a disgraceful State legislature, which perpetuates every bad aspect of cronyism and corrupt politics. Our Assemblyman has not taken a leadership position on ANY meaningful issue or legislation during his five years in office. He speaks through “spokespeople”, and takes his lead from the “higher ups” on every important issue.

If my interest were strictly “anti-incumbent, I would not be writing. I want to place this primary in a positive light, by telling you about Joe Fox…………..I know Joe personally for over 30 years. He is a successful attorney in private practice, concentrating primarily in real estate, business transactions and bankruptcy law. He knows what it means to start and grow a business, and he knows what it means to help businesses and individuals who have REAL problems. He is down to earth, approachable, and effective in everything he does…………He is a homeowner in Forest Hills, and with his wife Helaine has raised two great children who are in their early twenties. He knows about the issues facing our schools, about the costs of higher education and its impact on families, and about employment issues facing our community………….He has been active in MANY local community issues, and it was never with an eye on politics, it was always because he wanted to use his skills to HELP…………He is not a political neophyte, as he was involved in economic development during the Koch administration. He left the political arena at that time, to pursue private law practice.

To say that he is NOT a professional politician is actually high praise, and at the same time, he is not some kid who is going to take marching orders from others. He will look out for US, first and foremost. He has decided that NOW is the time for him to give back, and to return to the political arena, precisely because he has something worthwhile to offer. HE IS WELL QUALIFIED and HE WANTS TO SERVE.This is the criteria which should be used to evaluate a candidate. Our Assembly seat should not be “given” to someone who is not qualified and doesn’t seem to want to serve.In a local primary race, the turnout is likely to be small. I live and work in this district, and my sense is this election will be very close. EVERY vote will count!!! If you have any questions about this letter, or about Joe Fox’s candidacy, please call me at the number above, or on my cell phone 718-216-5663. Please vote in this important election.

Sincerely,

Barry Seidel

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Concert Review - Crosby, Stills & Nash at Jones Beach

After my recent deja vu experience, it seemed obvious we were supposed to see Crosby, Stills & Nash at Jones Beach. I was pleasantly surprised to find $20 tickets online. I asked the kids if they wanted to go, and they did (we have cool kids!), so I got four tickets.

On a nice summer night, there is no better venue than the Jones Beach theatre. We had one of those nights, about 75 and breezy, with a clear sky and a bright moon.

My daughter Rebecca (17) was somewhat familiar with Crosby, Stills & Nash, but of course I had to go on and on about how they are "cultural icons of the 60's".........part of a "dying breed of social commentators"......"they were at Woodstock".......and "they did the song OHIO, which is about Kent State, and it changed my world view". She accepts my commentary, but I heard myself sounding like a big "blah blah blah", so I decided to can it. She did ask me if I thought they would play "Deja Vu", and I said I hoped so.

Here are three guys in their late 60's, who still play and sing at the highest level and with tremendous feeling. The only noticeable concession is that Stephen Stills can't sing as well as he used to. However, they adjust their song selection to accommodate this, and he still plays a mean guitar. He was attacking his guitar solos, almost in defiance of his lowered place in the singing.

David Crosby and Graham Nash can still sing and harmonize like nobody else. David Crosby did most of the intros and talking, and after a few songs said "We always do one Neil Young song, and we always have a big discussion deciding which one to do, so here's tonight's Neil Young song." They then did "Long May You Run". It's a great song, though it is such a Neil Youngish song that I kept thinking "This song is missing something.....Neil Young". You can't replace this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nszR0tfp4Es , but it was still nice.

I was also surprised that they played many covers, including Norwegian Wood, Ruby Tuesday, Midnight Rider, Behind Blue Eyes and Girl From the North Country (a Bob Dylan song). These were well chosen and very enjoyable.

About halfway through the show, David Crosby said, "You know you can't come to one of our concerts without us playing Wooden Ships, but before we do, we want to get weird on you." Then they played Deja Vu. As we used to say at Stony Brook......"Pretty heavy". Here's a youtube of them performing the song 20 years ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiDOMuhpqUo It will give you the flavor, but I like the way they do it now even better.

The best song of the night was one that I had not considered a favorite, but I now change my mind. It was Guinevere. It was haunting and beautiful, and it also received the ultimate compliment when halfway through I noticed Felicia had a tear in her eye. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsmC1zrpwfQ&feature=related (Not our show, just a representative sample).

They did not do every song in their catalogue, and while everyone expected them to do "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" in the encore, they did not. When I looked at youtube clips of this song, it struck me that it's a Stephen Stills song that he probably can't sing to a satisfactory level. No big deal. Here is an interesting Wikipedia entry about the song, with some history and facts and I never knew http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suite:_Judy_Blue_Eyes

After the concert Rebecca wondered what these guys looked like when they were young. I had a great time looking at youtube clips and showing them to her. Here are a few.....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=az9Az6S1nus (Teach Your Children)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1WGF5sA-3c (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes...at Woodstock)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QsSc95pPPY&feature=fvst (this one is "Down By the River", performed on the David Steinberg show)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XWmwvT8bCw ("Almost Cut My Hair", in 2009, and a good sample of what they look like now)

Comments on this blog are always welcome.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Strange but True, Deja Vu

On Saturday we decided to drive down to Princeton to take a tour of the school. Princeton is a long-shot for anyone, but Rebecca warrants an application, so it was worth spending a day.

I have been to the campus many times, since my Mom lived the last 10 years of her life in Plainsboro, New Jersey, the next town from Princeton. I had not been around there since 1998, the last time being when Brian and I finished cleaning out Mom's apartment. I did not have any particular trepidation about going back there, I just haven't had a reason.

Our GPS suggested getting off at Jersey Turnpike Exit 9, and then taking Route 1 for 18 miles to Princeton. This seemed like a stupid way to go (too much Route 1 with lights), so I decided to ignore the GPS and go to Exit 8A (9 miles to that Exit) and go through Plainsboro to Princeton. Naturally, as soon as I passed Exit 9 we encountered heavy traffic all the way to Exit 8A, but in hindsight, I think we were supposed to get stuck in traffic.

When we got off at Exit 8A, we started driving on the very familiar Route 130. I had driven this route MANY times, and felt a warm feeling when we came upon the first cornfields. We were listening to a local Princeton radio station. Just as we approached the first cornfield, the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Deja Vu started playing.

I had to pull over for a moment. Deja Vu during my deja vu was a lot to handle. After I composed myself, I turned it up and kept driving. The cornfields were beautiful. Here's a youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiDOMuhpqUo If you are not familiar, check it out.

Lyrics:
If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do.
Don't you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you.
And I feel
Like I've been here before
Feel Like I've been here before And you know It makes me wonder
What's going on under the ground
Do you know?
Don't you wonder?What's going on down under you.

We have all been here before
We have all been here before
We have all been here before
We have all been here before

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Softball Playoff Update

The game lived up to its hype. The championship round matches up the two rival Lake Success teams. I'm a ringer on my team, an "outsider", but the other teams never care because I catch and bat 11th. Of course, if they realized I am our teams secret weapon and closet manager, they'd be seeking to bar me. I don't know if the teams have names or anything.....in my mind there's only "our team" and the "other" team. I love my team, but I don't feel the rivalry the way my teammates do. However, if my team is psyched, I'm psyched. If the rival is talking trash about our team (I heard one of them say we were 8-1 underdogs in the series), I'm mad and I'm playing hard.

The first game drew a big crowd, with wine drinking wives and extended family and friends. Lots of yelling and cheering. I admit it, the biggest crowd I've played in front of in a long time. It had both teams playing intensely and at a high level.

Softball wise, everybody knows what this series comes down to. The teams are evenly matched (personally I think we have significantly better players), but the other team has a great pitcher. OK, maybe "great" is too strong. He's a "B" league pitcher, pitching in a "C" league. He is MUCH better than any other pitcher in our league. He throws hard, and he never gives in and throws an easy one. He never "lays the first one in" to try and get ahead. His control is good enough to throw hard on any count. I actually like hitting against him, because he seems nice, and it's a challenge.

The other team also plays a smart defense, suited to their pitcher. They play their outfield very shallow, especially against weaker hitters, and they play their right fielder practically on the right field line. I will also say something nice about the other team.....they batted all the players who showed up. This makes it harder to score runs, as the better hitters bat less often, and some weaker hitters are using up outs. After all, in a seven inning game there are only 21 outs, and they all count. End of nice comments. I'd love to teach the opponents a lesson, the lesson being "it ain't much to brag about when you boost your mediocre team with a ringer pitcher". I do realize that regardless of the outcome of the series, lessons like this are lost on some people.

The game turned out to be a pitchers duel. We expected to have some trouble scoring runs. Not only is their pitcher good, but we went with a long lineup too. What was most impressive was that our pitching and defense made it a battle.

Both teams played tight defense and were making all the plays, with few errors. Going into the top of the 7th, we were down 2-1. In the top of the 7th we scratched out a run to tie the game at 2-2, and had a man on second with two outs. Had we managed one more hit to take the lead, I think we'd have clamped down and won. However, we didn't get it, and went to the bottom of the 7th, in the field with a tie score.

It's never comfortable for the visitors when the home team is batting in a tie game. There is no margin for error. With a man on first and one out, one of their batters hit a long drive to right center. I knew it was trouble right away, and I saw that as our shortstop went out for the relay, the runner was going to score easily, all the way from first. When the throw came in I didn't even bother to catch it, because the winning run had already crossed the plate and the other team was celebrating.

Except.....our third baseman (Jeff) was screaming at me "GET THE BALL!!!". I yelled back "WHY?!?!?" He said "APPEAL AT THIRD". So I got the ball, and noticed the umpire was still on the field, a good sign. I threw the ball to Jeff at third and looked at the umpire. He mumbled "You have to say something". I said "Appeal, he missed third base." And then....
the umpire made a fist with his right hand and and said "OUT".

Of course, the other team went nuts. Lots of screaming, calling the play "bush league" and the like. I had a good vantage point to hear all this nonsense, and at one point I turned to one of the apoplectic opponents and said "How hard would it have been to touch third base?" As an aside, I was told later by their third base coach that the runner had "missed it by a mile".

So it was back to baseball. Now we had a man on second and two out. We decided to walk the number six hitter and pitch to the next batter. I guess there was some poetic justice in what happened next.....the batter hit a single to left, and the winning run scored.

So, the 8-1 underdogs lost a nail-biter, 3-2.

Nothing to be ashamed of. Next game is Tuesday.

We can beat these guys!!! Let's get it on!!!!!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Softball Playoffs

Our team made the playoffs. Our opening playoff game was a single elimination against a team called "The Rookies". In the regular season we had split with them, winning the first game and then having them kill us in the second game. However, we played a flawless game and advanced to the next round.

Now we were in a "two out of three" series against "Sterling". Average age 35; strong and fast and aggressive. Their pitcher was pretty good too; very competitive and threw hard when he was ahead in the count.

In the first game we had a solid defensive effort, got some timely hitting, and some sloppy defense from the other side, and won 12-8.

In the second game we had a rude awakening, when we realized Sterling had been missing a few players the first game. Suddenly we saw guys hitting the ball to places we had never seen balls hit, and a shortstop who was catching EVERYTHING, both on the ground and in the air. We also got treated to the opponent taking extra bases and daring us to stop them. In short, they were treating us like "old guys", which we are. We lost this one 13-7, but it was really not a close game.

Going into the deciding game, the sentiment on our side was "What can we possibly do to beat these guys?" A few things were obvious:

- We had to play solid defense, and keep the extra bases to a minimum.
- We had to run the bases well, and be selectively aggressive. (We did notice they had a few weak outfield arms and could be pressured into throwing the ball around).
- We needed to hit well enough to make them make the plays. In other words, stay away from pop-ups and fly balls......so when in doubt.....DOWN AND HARD.
- We needed a good pitching strategy.....because in the prior game they killed us with long balls.

As catcher I was directly involved in pitching strategy. Our pitcher, Rick, has great control. It's a great feature, but when he becomes predictable, it is a downfall against strong hitters. He can throw harder when ahead in the count, but he is not overpowering. He does have an effective change-up, but again, when it becomes predictable it yields tremendous home runs.

One thing I noticed about the long hits in the second game, they were all to center field. They were also all on outside pitches. In the second game our left fielder didn't have a single fly ball hit his way. Very unusual, especially since Rick is not overpowering and throws change-ups. I suggested to Rick that we throw more pitches inside, even change-ups. I know as a hitter I hate inside pitches. They tie you up and take away your power. Outside pitches are much easier to hit hard because you can extend your arms and hit the ball on the best part of the bat. Throwing inside is easier said than done, but Rick agreed with this strategy and said he would try it. He also suggested that when he threw his change-up he would throw it with a higher arc, and even have some float in high, to try to tempt the aggressive Sterling hitters. I agreed with this idea. I also suggested that every so often he let loose a wild and hard pitch, maybe even over the batters head, just to keep them unsettled. He agreed to try it.

Our change in approach was VERY effective. Adding the inside pitches worked. There were quite a few fly outs to left and left center, and some infield pop-ups (which happens when big hitters try to hit inside pitches up the middle). Some of the pop-ups were on high change-ups. Rick threw a few high and inside too, and I sensed behind the plate that the hitters were not nearly as comfortable as they were in the prior game.

We had some timely hitting throughout the game, and the fact is, in the later innings Sterling made some errors on what should have been easy plays. However, this is not "luck" on our end, we applied pressure by forcing them to make plays and by hustling.

In the 6th inning I was involved in a big play in the field. The opposing pitcher also turned out to be one of their best hitters. In the 3 game series he had 10 hits in 11 at bats (no lie). Almost every hit was a line shot up the middle, and he also ran hard out of the box and went for a double every time. He was able to make it because our outfielders had to play so deep. When he came up in the 6th inning, we were ahead 7-6 and they had a man on second. He lined a single up the middle which scored the runner and tied the game 7-7. However, this time we held him at first. The next batter hit a single to right center, and I had a feeling the runner on first would try to score. Sure enough, he rounded third and never stopped, BUT, our shortstop (Mike) went out and got the relay from right, and realized the runner on first was probably coming. He threw me a strike, which I received in enough time to trap the overly aggressive runner between home and third. What ensued was an extended run down play, which ended with me tagging the runner out at home. The run down went on so long that the runner seemed exhausted. Run down plays SHOULD result in an out, but at our level they are by no means routine. It felt great to end their rally this way.

In the top of the seventh we scored two to make in 9-7. This did not feel comfortable, and it wasn't. They strung together a few hits and tied the game at 9-9. They also had the winning run on second with two outs. Time for some strategy. I went to the mound and suggested to Rick that we intentionally walk the hitter. Rick wanted to "pitch around him", but I really did not like that idea. There were a few reasons: I like setting up a force at third. I also thought that the next batter (the opposing catcher) was not as good a hitter as the batter. In addition, the next batter was a dead pull hitter, who had hit a triple down the left field line earlier in the game, and I thought he might change his swing with a force at third. We called in the infielders and collectively agreed to intentionally walk the batter. With first and second, the next batter hit a ground ball back to Rick, for the third out, and the game went into extra innings. Personally, I think he hit the comebacker because he altered his swing due to the intentional walk, but hey, I don't need to take credit.....walking that guy was the right move any way you look at it.

In the top of the 8th, we scored three times to make it 12-9. I had a small role in this. With a man on first and no outs, I hit a ground ball to third. My thought as I ran to first was "Oh shit, I just hit into a double play....run hard!!". I ran hard, figuring I would be trying to beat a relay throw on a double play. Instead, as I reached first I heard a lot of yelling, which turned out to be our fans cheering when the third baseman's throw to second pulled the second baseman off the bag. Another example of "down and hard" being better than balls in the air. Our next batter hit a single, which scored a run and sent me to third. I then scored on a sac fly.

So we went to the bottom of the 8th with a three run lead. Before the inning started Rick said to me "These guys are so aggressive they will probably still be swinging for the fences, even though they need baserunners. I'm gonna let 'em do that. What do you think?" I said "Go for it." We had our outfielders playing VERY deep, enabling them to catch very long drives for very big outs. Had Sterling just hit some line drives, they would have been doubles, that's how deep we were playing. But I have no problem letting opponents beat themselves. They went down one-two-three on two fly balls and a grounder to short.

I've played in a lot of games over the years, but this one was the most exciting and most gratifying.

Now we advance to the finals, against our arch-rivals. They lost only once during the regular season, they have a very strong pitcher, and they beat us twice. Can we come up with a winning strategy?

We'll sure try.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Still Playin' Softball

I play on a softball team. Our games are on Tuesday at 6:30, but this week we played Monday and Tuesday to make up for a rained out game. This is fast pitch with balls and strikes (not arc pitch, not windmill). I love this style of play because the strategy and flow of the game is much like "real baseball". That is because all three aspects of the game (pitching, fielding and hitting) are important. Our league is evenly matched, with most of the games being close. We have some slugfests of the 15-14 variety, but some nights we'll have a 4-3 game too.

I'd say the average age on our team is late 40's. One or two guys are relatively in their prime, but the rest of us are at various levels of decline. Some guys were surely excellent players when they were younger, while some were average, and the declines are in proportion to where we used to be.

I've been playing catcher the past few seasons. In softball this is usually the position to play when you aren't too good in the field. This is probably true for me, but what I try to do is play catcher really well. I observe the other team's hitters, try to figure out the best strategy to pitch them, and discuss it with our pitcher. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeiYnVScg7w&feature=related However, we don't have many big meetings at the mound. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lptsSTTWLVQ&feature=related I check out our fielding alignment and suggest adjustments when needed. I keep the fielders alert as to number of outs, and situations. About once a game there is a foul pop-up to go after (they are harder to catch than it looks, lots of spin). Fairly regularly there are plays at the plate. These are also harder than they look, and obviously, when there's a play at the plate its always important to the outcome of the game.

I always had a good eye at the plate and could hit pretty well. You'd never know it now, but I used to hit with some pop. Now I try to hit line drives, and sometimes will look for an outside pitch I can hit to right field. In fast pitch you have to be aware of the count, and if you are behind in the count, some pitchers will throw pretty hard, or try to get you to swing at tempting pitches out of the zone. Sometimes if I think a good pitcher is trying to get ahead of me, and if I think the first pitch is the best one I'll get, I'll jump on it. Sometimes I'll take a strike, just to look the pitcher over. I try to think about what I'm doing, but sometimes you can think too much, and it's better to just try to hit the ball "down and hard".

I have a few observations about softball, for what they are worth.....

There is a big difference between being 35 and 55.

If you hit the ball on the ground you have a much better chance to get on base than if you hit it in the air. The same could be said to Jose Reyes.

You can't win without good pitching.

If you throw to the wrong bases, run the bases poorly, or play sloppily, you won't win.

With first and second, on a ground ball to shortstop, the best play is usually a force at third.

With a man on second, and a single to the outfield, the best play is almost always to concede the run and hold the batter at first base.

If you are playing with 10 in the field (very common in softball), you have to decide whether to play four outfielders, or three plus a "short fielder". We usually play four, but in last nights game the other team killed us with a short fielder.

When the players on your team are nice, and the league is generally nice, it is much more fun. I played a few years for a Knights of Pythias Lodge team, where the people were not so nice, and I stopped playing because it just wasn't fun.

When I played for the Lodge team I was in my early 30's. I played shortstop and batted lead-off, in a pretty good league. Not only would the guys on my present team not believe this, I sometimes think I must have imagined it!

It would be nice to capture some magic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj2pXikeDRg

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Random Thoughts

I have watched some of the World Cup Soccer matches. The skill and athleticism is impressive. But what is the story with that humming sound throughout all the games? I heard the announcers say something about some noisemakers the South African fans are using. It is REALLY annoying. The networks must be furious about this........OK......I googled the question, and here's the story....its the "vuvuzela"
http://www.soccer.fanhouse.com/2010/06/13/vuvuzela-ban-could-come-to-world-cup/

Another thing about the World Cup. I kind of like the smug and well spoken British announcers. They announce the games like a golf match.

Last thing about the World Cup, and soccer in general. As a spectator sport, and a sport to talk about during a game, and for strategy.....gimme BASEBALL. Not even close.

Next topic - gulf oil spill. Man, there's a lot of oil down there! I don't understand the geology of how so much is shooting out of there for so long. Is this a typical well? An amazing well? How long would it have taken to "harvest" all the oil that's shooting out of there, had it not blown up? When I was in law school in Texas, a popular elective was "O&G" (oil & gas). I didn't take that class because I didn't see much use for it in Queens, but now I wish I knew the answers to my questions. All I really know about O&G is what I learned from the Beverly Hillbillies
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkOGM6gHvao

While I was "researching" the Beverly Hillbillies, I came across the theme from another cool show. All I can say is...they don't make em like this any more
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbk81X6WHA4&feature=related

I'm always interested in what historical or cultural things people of different ages are aware of. The other day I mentioned "Joan Baez" in my office. Three people under age 35 "never heard of her". Is it just me, or is this evidence that we are in serious trouble?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFvkhzkS4bw&feature=related When I was a kid, my mom took guitar lessons. She wanted to play and sing like Joan Baez, and to my recollection, she did a good job of it.
Bonus clip: I love this song, Diamonds and Rust....it's about Bob Dylan...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGMHSbcd_qI&feature=related

I am usually a big fan of "cover" versions of songs, but I don't know about the Judas Priest version of Diamonds and Rust http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIC7KQPDuDc&feature=related

Last topic for today. The Mets are fun this year. They fight hard and they have some nice players. It should be a great summer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Who Should Really Make a Will?

The answer to this question starts with a question.....

"Who would inherit from you if you did not make a Will?"

When I interview someone who wants to make a Will, the first group of questions I ask is THAT. There is a good reason I start with this. It usually lets me know who the "players" are. Not only that, later on, the people on my little family tree are the people who must be notified when I try to probate the will.

People are sometimes taken aback when I start off questioning them about their closest family members, and sometimes they even say "But I don't want those people in my Will". This is fine with me, but I still have to know who they are. This is because anyone who would inherit if there were no will, is someone I have to notify when the Will is being probated. Legally, we call these people "adversely affected" by the Will. They are the only people who have standing to contest a Will. Even if they are not going to be in the Will, I need to know who they are. If it's a close relation, say a child or a sibling, I will usually ask WHY they are being left out, and I make a written note of it in my file.

When somebody is left out and squawks after the person dies, having a note about it in the drafting attorneys file is VERY important. When I represent someone in a potential will contest, one thing I hate to see is a note in the drafting attorneys file explaining WHY the person is being left out. If I see this it is usually enough reason for me not to take on the will contest.

I am amazed at how often people do not consider the question "Who would inherit from me if I did not make a Will?" The place I usually see this is Estates where there is no Will, and distant relatives are inheriting. I see this often, sometimes with a lot of money involved, and I always think "Did the person never think of what the result of not making a Will would be?" "Could they have intended THIS?" Did they not have a friend or a charity that was more deserving than the cousin once removed (who never met the decedent)?

Think this never happens?

I GET THESE ALL THE TIME!!!

I frequently represent distant relatives in this position, and this is often a major score for them. I like these cases too, but at some point in the case it always occurs to me (and it sometimes occurs to people who actually knew the decedent) "they should have made a Will".

I have also had many cases where people told me "the decedent talked about making a Will", or "he told me he was going to make a Will", but for some reason they never did. I think there are several reasons for this....

Procrastination - an intent to do it in the future, and just not dealing with it.
Superstition - a fear that doing it will cause illness or death.
Cheapness - not wanting to pay for a Will.
Delusions of immortality - more people have this than one might think.
Monumental inconsiderateness - totally not caring what happens to others after you go.

Strangely, Wills are most often made by people in a tight nuclear family....say a married couple with two children. There are good reasons for such people to make Wills too, but the fact is, the results if they don't are not so different then if they do.

People who don't or can't ask the question "Who would inherit from me you if I did not make a Will?" are often some combo of cheap, procrastinating, superstitious, monumentally inconsiderate, and/or delusional (vis a vis their mortality) individuals. I don't mind this all that much, these end up being my largest fee cases, but.....it sure is puzzling.

Maybe they "just can't deal with it", and on many levels I understand and respect this. I also know that if you are the person someone SHOULD be putting in their Will, it is a difficult subject to bring up. I've had people ask me what to do in this situation. Not only is there is no easy answer, but every situation is unique.

I will say this.....if the person has talked about it, and you think they WANT to do it, help them get it done. But, as we say in poker, don't overplay your hand.

Yeah, this gets complicated. But not nearly as complicated as when procrastination wins out, and the person who should have made a will doesn't.

Next post - something not death related!!

Monday, May 31, 2010

So and So Died, and....

Every case has a story, a set of facts that answer the question "What is this about?"

That is always the first question. The first question I ask a new client. It's the first question I address when telling an associate or paralegal or secretary about a new matter, and the first question judges ask whenever you appear in court.

In the last few years I've been doing a lot of probate and estate administration cases. I always had a few of these in general practice, and was surprised how much I liked them. Sometimes when I tell people I do "probate and estate administration" they say "Oh, estate planning?" Well....no, the cases I work on are usually cases where they did not do any fancy estate planning, and then....they died. This turns out to be most cases where people die, and since none of us is getting out of here alive (something I have said to clients many times, only to have them look at me like I had said something either incredibly stupid, or quite profound), it seemed like it might be a law practice growth field.

It is also sufficiently complicated that every lawyer is not trying to get into it (I like to think it's because of the complexity, but perhaps other lawyers find it distasteful). I find it challenging and not distasteful. I even find there is something satisfying in bringing a successful completion to someone's affairs. So, I now focus most of my attention on these cases, and have set up a probate website www.queensprobate.com. Now I have an office full of cases where the answer to the question "What is this about?" is always the same....

"So-and-so died, and......"

Thus begins a probate and estate administration case. In New York, probate means there is a will, estate administration means there isn't. Either way the dead person's assets are going SOMEWHERE. Ah, but where, and how, and who is involved, and what's going to happen?

Although the stories all start out the same (somebody died and...), after that it is never the same. Sometimes all falls into place, everybody is lovey-dovey, and it's just a matter of knowing what papers to file. Sometimes these cases are dysfunctional family feuds, with acrimony and bitterness that would humble the worst matrimonial case. If there are anger, jealousy, and other toxic emotions involved in a contested matrimonial, contested estate matters have that and more. It is not uncommon to find that not only is there anger, jealousy and other toxic emotions existing among numerous family members(generally the children of an older person), but that none of it has been talked about, often for 30 years or more. Then, the dreaded unspoken about thing happens (so and so dies), and now all the things that have not been talked about MUST be talked about. It would be easy to say that these cases all come down to money, and many of them do, but it is also money infused with deep-seated emotional and psychological issues.

I stopped doing matrimonial cases many years ago, precisely because I did not like being involved in such bitterness. One of the things I hated about matrimonial cases was, they never ended. The parties were always coming back for more. Estates are not like that. Even when they are crazy and bitter, at some point they end, the dead remain dead, and the living move on. And no matter what they did during the case, as they fought over their relatives money, none of them are getting out of here alive either.

Perhaps I love the ultimate justice of this area of practice.

Tomorrow - surprising answers to the question "Who should really make a Will?"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Eulogy for Manny Seidel

About 4 years ago Joan made an 80th birthday party for Manny, in Florida. It was a nice party, with a lot of people who knew Manny, but who probably didn’t know much about him, since he was not one to talk much about himself. So, I took the opportunity to make a little speech, telling a few stories and saying some complimentary things about him. Afterwards, he came over to me and said, “That was really nice…..I hope you saved something for the eulogy”.

Dad – Here’s the stuff I saved for the eulogy…..

Manny was born in the Bronx in 1926, the youngest of 7 children. His father was a carpenter by trade, but Dad never knew him because he died when Manny was only a year old. His two older brothers, Philip and Arthur, were much older than him, and were married and out of the house during his childhood. Three of his sisters, Rose, Betty and Anna, were closer to him in age, and I think it is accurate to say he was raised by his mother (who did not speak English, just Yiddish) and his three sisters. Having known Aunt Rose, Aunt Betty and Aunt Anna, I know there was no shortage of talking going on in the house. I guess Manny HAD to be a good listener, and he was, but he also learned how to carry on a great conversation. He has always been someone you could talk to about anything and everything.

Manny is the last of his brothers and sisters to pass. I did a little math – the descendants of the 7 Seidel children total approximately 90 (I could be a little off because I don’t speak to cousin Naomi as often as I’d like) More than one of my cousins has noted that Manny was the “Last of the Mohicans”. I think his passing brings forth memories of all our parents, and all the times, good and bad, that we shared. Now our generation is at the top of the ladder. We accept this, knowing we were shown the proper way by outstanding people.

Although Manny was not a bad student, he dropped out of high school to go to work. As a teenager, in addition to working, he helped care for his mother, who had a chronic bleeding condition. One of the things he attended to on a regular basis was paying his mother’s debt to the blood bank, by going down to the Bowery and paying bums $5 for blood donations. When he would tell me about this, in vivid detail, it sounded like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. The last time he told me about it, I thought about a few things……one, from the details of the story, it was surely true; two, I always thought of it being a “story”, but when I realized it was not just a story but a part of his teenaged life (that he was still talking about 70 years later) it struck me how difficult his childhood and teenaged years really were.

Having grown up without a father……..being a good father was VERY important to him. He had no role model, so he always did what he thought a good father should do……teach your children how to do things, and show them proper values. A lot of people know that Manny was a very active coach for Brian and I, in Little League and other organized sports. What people may not know, is that when he was a coach, he wasn’t there just to coach US, he wanted to be the coach and father figure to ALL the boys on the team. He especially gravitated to boys who either didn’t have a father at home, or whose father was not coming to the games. If anyone ever thought that Manny played favorites with Brian and I when he was a coach, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, and he would often say this, he went out of his way to coach ALL the boys,

I am convinced that he stayed at a certain crummy, low-paying job because it had one nice perk…..a light blue van that he was allowed to take home on weekends. This was of course used to take entire teams to our baseball games. Manny was in his glory when we took that van and picked up 5 or 6 boys on the way to Kissena Park or Park Drive East or wherever we played.

I wanted to say something appropriate about my Mom, and Dad’s married life with her. When you look back at something, how you process your thoughts and memories becomes the truth. Something my parents had in common (which I am glad I learned) was the ability to focus on the positive. So, while one could simply recall that my parents had problems they could not resolve, and that they were divorced after 20 years, neither of them would say it that way, and neither would I. I remember our house being happy and full of love. I know Manny remembered it that way, and after he and I talked about it a few times, I knew I wasn’t engaging in wistful recollection, it was true.

Dad placed a high value on what he called “brothers acting like brothers”. There were few things he preached about, but this was something Brian and I always knew was important to him….the idea that brothers should stick together and help each other. It would be inconceivable to either one of us not to abide by this.

I know how proud Manny was of all Brian’s accomplishments . We have a little private family joke that in Florida, I’m known as “the other son”. When I made this observation the first time, Dad got a little flustered and said, “You know I’m proud of you too, right?” Trust me Dad, I knew it.

We experienced some of the greatest times and memories together……I remember driving to Pocono Downs for Brian’s first win as a trainer, it was a rainy night and the horse (Master Vilas) won by a large margin. In the picture of the horses coming down the stretch, you can see Manny and I running through the stands like two lunatics.

Some of our horse adventures weren’t so much fun when they happened, especially the time Manny and I were driving to Delaware to watch the immortal horse “El-Pace-O-Widow” race at Dover Downs. While driving on 95 South in Jersey, the hood on one of Manny’s old bomb cars flew open in our faces, forcing us to drive while looking out the sides around it. We got to Dover Downs after 5 hours, the horse broke at the start, and we turned around and drove back. I wouldn’t trade a day like that for anything

Manny was never a person who was defined by his career, and in some ways I think he was disappointed in himself. During his life he was an assistant to the owner of a high-end furniture company, a warehouse manager, a shipping clerk in the garment center, and then in Florida he was a security guard (the two high points of this job were that the golfer Bernhard Langer lived in the development and knew Manny’s name, and that he once rescued a dog from a ditch). In Florida he also worked at an eye hospital, driving people home after surgery, and he worked for an auto mechanic, driving customers to work and helping out in the shop. He once told me it bothered him that he was not “successful”. I had an easy answer to that one, which was it depends how you define “success”, and I proceeded to describe a long list of his successes. We had this conversation more than once, and I do think he came to know it was true. If I helped him to see this, I am eternally thankful.

Manny was very proud of his role in Joan’s family. Jeff and Debbie were adults when he became part of their family, and I know (because he told me) that he knew he would never replace someone’s father, nor would he want to. He only wanted to be there in any way that he could. However, he had no hesitation being the grandpa to Brian, Rachel and Elisa, and a great-grandpa to their children. He loved being with them, talking about them, and doing things with them. And just like when I was a kid, I never minded sharing him.

Brian and I have tremendous gratitude to Joan, for making Manny happy for so many years, and for giving him the type of life he would never have otherwise had. He loved living (and working) in Florida, having friends, playing tennis, playing golf, going to movies and shows, rooting for the Marlins (I learned to accept this) going on cruises and trips, and being a part of someone else’s life and having her be a part of his.

Many of you know that in December, Manny, Brian and I took a trip to Las Vegas together. Besides the laughs, and the gambling, and the shows, and the meals, there are a few things about it that I did not realize would be so meaningful. The itinerary was for Brian to spend a few days with Dad in Florida, then they’d fly together to Vegas, where I would meet them. Manny and Brian had a great time together in Florida. While we were in Vegas, Brian’s daughter Robin drove in from LA, and we shared a nice dinner and breakfast the next day. After the trip, Manny stayed with us in New York for a few days, and it was nice and relaxing. The entire trip was conceived as one of those “I don’t want to some day say I shoulda” situations, and the feeling now, having done it, is beyond words. All I can say is, if you are ever in that situation, and you think you SHOULD do it….DO IT

When Manny stayed with us the last time, I noticed what a real bond he had with Felicia, and Emilie, and Rebecca. He thought the world of Felicia, and was in awe of everything Emilie and Rebecca were doing. Girls…..Pop-Pop will always be a part of who you are. It made me so happy to see that my girls really GOT what Manny is all about. I am proud that they know, and value, the things that really count.


OK……..so……..I want to be a “real” writer, and do something real writers do, a reading of my work to an audience. I haven’t done that ……. YET, ……..but yet is now……so thank you Dad, for not only giving me inspiration, and giving me great material, thank you for giving me a captive audience for my reading……

This is called "Going to Aqueduct with Dad"

Every May, I watch (and bet on) The Kentucky Derby. It's my favorite sporting event of the year. Better than the Super Bowl, better than the Final Four. I don’t watch the two hour pre-race build-up, I read a few stories in The Post, call up Dad to see who he likes, then bet my selections, and watch the race. I've hit a few nice longshots over the years, most notably Charismatic and Monarchos.


My love of horseracing started with....


GOING TO AQUEDUCT WITH DAD

Sometimes on a Saturday, my Dad would suggest that he and I "head over to The Big A". Since I was only 7 years old, he wasn't saying this to me, he was saying it to my Mom. I wonder if taking me along made this activity more palatable to her. The first few times he said it, I worried that she would say no, but she never did. After a few times, I knew that when he suggested it, we were going.

The Big A is "Aqueduct", a race track in Ozone Park, Queens. It's where the thoroughbreds race in New York when they are not at Belmont or Saratoga. A workingman's racetrack.


















We never parked in the parking lot, always in the street about a mile away. "Why should we pay to park?", my Dad said. So we walked through Ozone Park, past little houses and Italian grocery stores. When we got inside, Dad bought a program and a Daily Racing Form. The program was small but impressive, it gave you the basic information about each race: the horse names and post positions, the trainers, the owners, the jockeys (including their weights and "colors"). Dad told me that when we picked a horse to bet on, to remember the jockeys colors, especially his cap, so we could see him in the backstretch. There were 9 races a day, with about 24 minutes between races. We used that time to "study our selections". The program was just for looking, while the Daily Racing Form was for studying. It had tons more info than the program, including the charts of each horses prior races. I learned how to read it pretty well. You had to look at the distances, times, surfaces, class, weights, jockey changes, trainer changes, and many other factors. Both the program and the racing form had a little "map" showing you where the starting and finish line were for the particular distance. I always liked a 7 furlong race at Aqueduct, because the horses started "in the chute", and the chart showed that.










We always went and looked at the horses and jockeys in the walking ring, before they went on the track. There was a ritual to this. The horses would be walked around, while the jockeys would stand talking to the trainers. The jockeys would wear different colors for each race, with different colors for different parts of their attire, the program would tell you...."red cap, yellow sleeves, red sashes, polka dot hoops". I would always check that they had it right. Dad told me about some of the jockeys. Our favorite was Braulio Baeza. He was from Panama, and although I did not know it then, he was one of the greatest jockeys of all time. I only knew what Dad told me, "Look at Braulio Baeza, he sits on a horse straight and tall and proud. No other jockey sits like him." It was true.














I always looked at Braulio Baeza first, to make sure he was sitting straight and tall. The other jockey I liked was Manuel Ycaza. There were three reasons I liked him. People called him "Manny", his last name started with a "Y", and he rode aggressively. Several times I read in the racing form that he was suspended for "rough riding". I always hoped to see a race where he did that. According to my Dad, some jockeys were "good on the turf", some were better with sprinters than closers, and some jockeys rode well for certain trainers. Who knew if any of this were true? Who cared? When the horses were ready to go on the track, the jockeys would walk over to their horses, and a booming voice would call out "Put your riders up, please." At that moment all the trainers would give their jockeys "a leg up" and hoist them up on the horse. Then they would walk once around the walking ring and head to the track.....to the sound of the bugle.














We would follow, Dad would "make his wager", and then we would watch the race from our special vantage point. We had a stairway bannister leading to the upper grandstand. It was right on the finish line, and we would stand on the bannister and look over with a perfect view. I stood near the top, with Dad to my left, a little further down the bannister. We would wait for the magical voice of the track announcer, Fred Caposella, to say "It is now post time". And then we would watch the race and hopefully root our horse in.

In horse racing, you can't win every time. In fact, it's difficult if not impossible to win in the long run. We took our defeats in stride, and felt pride in our winners.

The experiences of going to Aqueduct with Dad have stayed with me....... Whenever I visited Dad in Florida, we always went to the track....there's a shocker. When I pick horses now, I focus on the jockeys, though I have never liked any as much as I liked Braulio Baeza and Manny Ycaza.When I take Rebecca to Met games, we park on the street in Corona, and walk a mile to the stadium, past little houses and bodegas. I'm not paying $18 to park, and for some strange reason, this feels like the right thing to do.

When it's the first Saturday in May, I watch the Kentucky Derby. And I always will…..and root my horses in with Dad.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Felicia's Eulogy for Manny Seidel

The night before Dad's funeral, while I was working on my eulogy, Felicia told me she was thinking of doing one too. I was surprised, pleased, and very proud that she wanted to do this. We kicked around a few ideas and themes, so we would not be repetitive, and agreed not to edit each other, but to hear them for the first time as they were read. This is what she said....

FELICIA'S EULOGY FOR MANNY SEIDEL

I just wanted to say a few things and then I will let my eloquent husband deliver the eulogy for Manny. As most of you know I have known Barry for a very long time, and over the years I have been so fortunate to witness a very special relationship between the boys, Barry, Brian and Manny. The love and respect and fun and laughs they had with each other was amazing. You don't see relationships like that very often.

In December the three of them got together for a trip to Las Vegas. Manny and Brian had never been to Vegas and they had a terrific time together, seeing shows, eating, and of course gambling. They had been planning to plan this trip for quite a while - it was great that they finally stopped planning and actually took this very special trip. Barry wrote all about the trip on his blog, and let me note that Manny has been one of Barry's favorite blog topics. He has written about him 11 times.

After Vegas Manny stayed in our house for a few days before going back to Florida. He spent time with me and Emilie and Rebecca. We enjoyed cake and coffee (he loved cake), and we talked about all kinds of things. We are so grateful for that time - we had no idea it would be the last time we would see him.

I would like to share something.......About 4 or 5 years ago, close to Barry's birthday, Manny and Barry were having one of their long telephone conversations. Manny said something like "You know if I don't send birthday cards that doesn't mean I don't love you - You understand that I just have never sent cards." Barry proceeded to tell Manny about his most recent blog piece, called "The Power of Yet", which talks about the most powerful three letter word in the English language - Y-E-T. The main idea is that if you have negative or limiting thoughts, like "I don't exercise" or "I don't know how to use a computer" - if you add YET to that sentence it opens a world of possibilities. Barry suggested to Manny that maybe he just didn't send cards YET. Then they continued to talk about other things. A few days later, on Barry's birthday, he received a handpicked card from Manny, with baseball pictures on the front, and inside Manny wrote "Dear Barry - YET IS NOW".























Every subsequent year Barry has received cards on his birthday and as you can see he has saved them.

















I was thinking of something philosophical to say to close, but I’m going to read from the inside of one of Manny's cards because I think this will sum up nicely......
"Dear Barry - From a Little League coach to coach for a goal in life - Yet is Now is good, but 3 keys to reaching your goal:
1. You must want to.
2. You must be consistent.
3. Set short term as well as long term goals.
Stolen directly from a diet.
Love - Pop Pop - The Old Dad - or Carmine -Take your choice."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Terminal Self-Importance

Part of being an effective lawyer, and an effective client advocate, is understanding the forum where your case will be heard. The Court system is not just "the Judge" or "the jury", it is also law clerks, court attorneys, and other court personnel who are the gatekeepers for all the cases trying to be heard. If you can't get past the gatekeepers, you will not be heard.

To be an effective lawyer, and an effective client advocate, I have to ask my new clients lots of questions. I have to find out all the pertinent facts, and I have to figure out what is motivating the bad people to do the things they are doing. Yes, sometimes they are just bad and greedy, but even the bad and greedy have reasons (or at least, reasons they think they can get away with it), and I want to figure this out.

Sometimes I take a big risk and play "devils-advocate" with my new clients, and speculate on the opponents arguments (Warning to young lawyers - while this may make perfect sense from your perspective, it can be a very dangerous technique). When I speculate on the opponents arguments, I always use a big disclaimer, something like "THIS DOESN'T MEAN I AM AGAINST YOU". Most clients understand this, but some will respond with "Hey, whose side are you on?" These discussions ARE helpful in understanding your own clients, and how well they grasp the realities of the legal world.

Sometimes it seems that clients think what I do is.....I listen to their side of their claim......I become inspired by the righteousness of it.......I run over to the courthouse and tell "the Judge" about it......and the Judge stops all other business so he can extract the money being withheld from my clients by the wrong-doers........and for this little bit of "work" I want to be paid exorbitant fees.........(oh - and I do this every day, to insure my extravagant lifestyle).


I call this type of thought process "terminal self-importance". In the course of interviewing a client on a new matter, and in deciding whether I want to get involved in it, (note: if you don't realize that during the interview I am deciding whether I want to get involved, and it isn't only about fees....you probably have some TSI going on) I try to assess whether the client has a realistic understanding of what actually happens in Court. Things like:

- There are so many cases in most courts, that the Judge CANNOT recall the details of each case when it is before the Court. Usually, if I have a pre-trial conference, attended by my adversaries and the Judge, the first thing the Judge will say is "What's this about?"

- When a motion is made regarding some aspect of a case, there are generally MANY other motions being heard that day. The motion is usually conferenced with the Judge's Clerk, who puts a lot of pressure on the attorneys to resolve the issues without the Court having to do it. This doesn't mean the Judge or the clerks are lazy or indifferent (though some are), the reality is there are many cases with serious issues, and one (yours) may not particularly stand out.

- You usually cannot proceed in Court without all the interested parties being notified, and without the interested parties being heard. Most Courts and Judges go out of their way to adhere to this one, often to the frustration of the terminally self-important, who need to win NOW.

- As outrageous as the issues in your case may be, they are surely not the most outrageous thing the Court has heard......that week. As an attorney I know this, because they are also generally not the most outrageous thing I have heard (that week) either. This does not mean I don't care, or that I will not give my all towards solving the problem. By having perspective, and knowing the Court's perspective, I will know how to have the case heard (and resolved) in the best way possible.


Terminal self-importance can, and should, be addressed early in the attorney-client relationship. My advice to fellow attorneys is: If you see it and can't at least discuss it, BEWARE. And....make a clear fee agreement and stick to it, clients with TSI will make you earn it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trip to Vegas......Part 4

A few more highlights of the trip were:

- My niece Robin and her boyfriend Steve drove in from L.A., and we went out with them for dinner, and then breakfast the following morning.

- I used the GPS in my Blackberry with great success throughout the trip, except once when I put in an address for a breakfast place as "530 South Decatur" when it should have been "530 North Decatur", and we ended up in front of a shack in the desert.

- The weather was in the 40's and raining the whole time, but it did not matter.

- At one point I realized that Brian was really good at helping Manny get dressed, groomed and out the door because basically, this is what he has been doing with his horses for the last 30 years.

- I didn't play poker during the trip because it would have been too isolating. Watching basketball games and betting on horse racing with the boys was much more fun.

- One night at dinner, just after we had all played craps, Manny stated that he did not like the way one of the women threw the dice, because "when someone throws the dice too hard, high numbers come out". I pointed out that this was mathematically impossible, but he insisted it was so. I decided not to press the issue, remembering that earlier in the day I had told Brian "Don't hit the chips when you roll, whenever you do you'll roll a 7."

- One night we ate at an excellent seafood buffet. Brian and I loaded up our plates with all kinds of seafood, and a few minutes later Manny sat down with a piece of prime rib. I saw him cutting and cutting and nothing was happening. As Brian and I were about to get up for more food, Manny hadn't eaten bite one. He looked at us and said "I ordered the wrong thing." Brian and I said together "It's a fuckin' buffet!!!", and without a word we went up and loaded several plates of seafood, which we all then shared.

- In hindsight, I should have taken more pictures, but here are a couple:



Brian and Manny getting ready.













It's safe to say that gambling had either just happened, or was about to....or both.




At the end of the trip we all flew back to New York, and Manny stayed with me for a few days before flying back to Florida. The day after we got home he said to me, "You made us a great trip. I was thinking that if we had done this trip when I was 20 or 30 years younger, it would have been different, maybe wild and crazy. But I loved the trip the way it was, being with my boys."

I loved it too Dad.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Trip to Vegas.....Part 3

One of the unexpected highlights of our trip was a visit to Fremont Street. This is the downtown "Old Vegas" area, away from the strip. I had heard it was nice, so I looked up a restaurant in the area, and figured we'd eat and then check things out. What I did not know was that Fremont Street is like a domed stadium, with casinos and stores all along the walking area, and a roof where they have spectacular light shows. After a finger lickin' dinner of Tony Roma ribs, we saw the "American Pie" light show. Here is a youtube clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDacQmFv4zc&feature=related What was especially enjoyable, was that the streets were crowded with enthusiastic people, all singing and dancing to American Pie.

Since we were there in early December, there was a big Christmas tree and a nice band.








Here we are.....Barry, Manny and Brian on Fremont Street.










Another sightseeing thing we did was check out "The Venetian" hotel. Like many of the Vegas hotels on the strip, it has a gimmick.....it simulates Venice. As you walk around, there are canals, and gondoliers, and shops, and a "fake sky" over head. It's not Venice, it's not romantic, it's not "European", but its VERY cool.


At one point we passed what appeared to be a statue, but was actually a human being. I guess it's "art" or something. I went up and had my picture taken with her, and although she stayed in character, I asked her to flirt with my Dad, and she winked at me. When we all went up for a picture, she stayed frozen, but tickled Manny's palm.




While walking around the Venetian, Manny said "my feet hurt because my shoes are no good". These are the white shoes shown in the picture. I said, "What kind of shoes do you want?" He said, "Brown Rockports, with velcro instead of laces. I heard Rockports were comfortable." It surprised me that he actually had an opinion about this. About 5 minutes later, we turned a corner and there was a Rockport store. I ran in and said, "Do you have brown Rockports, with Velcro?" Pretty stupid question, I admit, and the guy replied "Yeah, it's a Rockport store." So, we three men shopped for shoes for Manny, with the whole transaction taking 5 minutes, including trying on and walking around. We were all proud of our accomplishment, and even more so when Manny's walking dramatically improved with his new shoes.

Next.....Trip to Vegas, part 4.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trip to Vegas....Part 2

Prior to the trip I got tickets to two shows. On Friday night we saw Frank Caliendo, who was appearing at our hotel. Very convenient to walk from the crap table right into the theatre. If you are not familiar with Frank Caliendo, he is an excellent impersonator/comedian. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLM0esS0Z0g&feature=related

On Saturday night we saw Andrew Dice Clay at The Riviera. This is an old-style, seedy, run-down hotel on the strip. Kind of like The Shangri-La in the movie "The Cooler" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHIH8zkVfg4 Andrew Dice Clay was playing in a little nightclub style room, deep in the recesses of the shabby Riviera. While we were waiting to be seated, the hostess came over to Brian and I and asked if the man we were with was our Dad. When we said yeah, she said "It may be a wait until we start seating people, I'm gonna give you guys seats up front and seat you right away". This was very good, considering it took 45 minutes to seat everyone else.

So, we saw the politically incorrect Andrew Dice Clay. If you are not familiar with Dice, here's a short clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlnfOsBf6T8&feature=related The thing is, while his current act is as raunchy as ever, he has plenty of new material, and he IS a pro (which in comedy means he has great interactions with the audience). No lie, we were in stitches for over an hour. After the show, Manny did point out that "This guy didn't invent this kind of comedy, Redd Foxx used to do stuff like this".

For Sunday, we knew in advance it would be all about betting on pro football. I saw an ad for "1500 seat theatre for NFL games, 6 big screens, no smoking" at the Hilton. We agreed this was for us. The NFL games start at 10 AM in Vegas, so we decided to go for a breakfast buffet at the Hilton, and then go to the theatre for the games. The Hilton had a GREAT breakfast buffet, which was right next to an impressive sports book.


We didn't stay at the sportsbook, but it's a nice one. The big screen in the middle of the picture has the odds on all the games and all kinds of proposition bets. Besides football, they had basketball, horseracing, "future bets" for baseball, and betting on Nascar.

We walked over to the theatre, where there was no charge, but a small line to get in. Right outside the door were several betting windows, strictly for football. This is the way life is supposed to be!! While we were waiting to get in, one of the hostesses came over to Brian and said "Are you guys here with your Dad?" When he said yeah, she said "I'm watching you guys take care of him, and I take care of my Dad too, I'm gonna give you guys VIP seating, and wristbands for free food and drinks all day". Not too shabby, and we told Manny that we both agree he is very "useful".
In hindsight, I made some good picks, but bet poorly at football. I loved the Jets against Tampa Bay, but I only bet a little on them. I used the Jets in a lot of parlays, which means I needed the Jets AND other teams to win the bet. The Jets killed Tampa Bay, but most of my other teams were busts, and it cost me. Such is sports betting.

Next.....Part 3

Monday, January 11, 2010

Trip to Vegas....Part 1

When I started to actually plan the long discussed "Trip to Vegas With Manny and Brian", I thought that one fringe benefit would be writing about it. It had potential for great material, especially considering how much I enjoyed writing about my previous Florida visits with Manny. It is now a month since the trip (we were in Vegas 12/10 - 12/14), and I haven't blogged on it yet.


Here goes......it was a weekend of booze and broads, hot streaks at the tables, and some nights I can't even remember. Oh wait, that's the imaginary trip I took when I was single, Manny was magically the same age as me, and Brian attracted babes just by walking in the room.

I must report: that was NOT our trip.

OUR trip started with Brian and Manny flying into Vegas from Florida, and me flying in from New York. We landed at the same time (I know this because Brian called me on the cell phone at the precise moment and I actually saw their plane on the ground right next to mine). I went and got the rental car and came back to pick them up. This was a theme throughout the trip....we constantly coordinated all our movements to adjust to Manny's minor limitations. Brian and I made up systems for everything, so everything we did fit with what Manny was able to do.

We stayed at the Monte Carlo, a big hotel on the strip.

















I like it because it is not "over the top" on glitz, it has a nice casino, plenty of restaurants, and is centrally located to many of the other hotels. We ate at a few of the restaurants there, and the buffet, and they were all fine.

I knew in advance that Brian enjoys sports betting, especially football, so I was glad to see the Monte Carlo had a small, comfortable sports book. It had betting on college and pro basketball, college and pro football, and of course, horse racing from all over the country. We played them all, in comfort and without regard for anything going on anywhere else in the world. A few times we bet on games that we knew were on TV, then went up to our room and watched them. I got a kick out of yelling and screaming for Kansas to cover a 22 point spread against some crappy small school.....and they did cover it!

The first thing some people asked me when we got back was...."how did you do with the gambling?" The casino at the Monte Carlo only had three craps tables, which were pretty busy, usually $5 minimums with triple odds, exactly how I like it. I played a lot of craps, and taught Brian to play. I even caught him playing without me once!!! I was probably up a bit at craps for the trip. I had a few sessions where I did well, and cashed out ahead. I had some sessions where I lost, but never a session where I got really hammered (which can happen at craps, but during the whole trip it never happened to me).

I did not do as well at sports betting or Caribbean Stud poker, which caused me to have a net gambling loss for the trip. However, considering the amount of play, and considering that the amount I lost was a fraction of what I was prepared to put in play, I rated my gambling for the trip as successful. I know that some of my readers gamble, while some don't, but I feel compelled to say something about gambling as an entertainment activity. In the long run, one cannot win at casino gambling. The math is against you, and the longer you play, the more the math must catch up and beat you. That being said, over the short term, players tend to have times when things go right and there are times when you win. It never happens that one loses every bet. That would be as unlikely as winning every bet, it just doesn't happen. I like to play craps with the intention of playing for a certain amount of time, say 45 minutes. If I catch a nice roll, and am ahead a few hundred bucks, I cash out and do something else. If I start out at a table and its cold, and I am down a few, I also cash out and walk.

Sometimes, you may bet at a certain level, catch a little streak and get ahead, and take a shot at playing at a higher level. If you catch another streak while doing this, you have some real excitement. This DOES actually happen sometimes, and it IS enticing. What you can't do, is try to force it, or chase it, or figure that the odds are its going to happen soon so you keep playing. I don't do that, Brian doesn't do that, and Manny doesn't do that (any more).

Next.....Trip to Vegas, Part 2......

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back From Hell (10 Worst Things About a Dental Abscess)

I haven't blogged in over a month. I could attribute this to the Holiday Season, or to the long awaited "trip to Vegas with Manny and Brian", or being burnt-out, but the truth is I haven't felt like doing much of anything since my trip to HELL with a dental abscess.

The timing could hardly have been worse.....my bottom right, back molar started hurting a few days before I was supposed to leave for Vegas. I begged my dentist to "do whatever is necessary to not ruin my trip", so I ended up going to Vegas on antibiotics, a commenced root canal, severe pain, a swollen jaw and some major league trismus (essentially.....lockjaw). I never appreciated being able to open my mouth until a month of not being able. I could open my mouth enough to slide in a teaspoon with something flattened onto it.

In an effort to experience all the major illness groups and report to my readership, let me tell you......dental abscess pain stands front and center with the best of them, and I am so far acquainted with heart attack, throat cancer and melanoma surgery. This pain laughed at high levels of Advil and Tylenol, and scoffed at Vicodin. If I had saved a morphine patch from my throat radiation days, I'd have slapped that baby right on.

I would be remiss if I did not recount the miracle of my hellular redemption. When I got back from Vegas, my dentist referred me to an oral surgeon, who was reluctant to extract the bad tooth in my "condition", and suggested it be done at the hospital under general anesthesia. I'd have followed this advice, but the surgeon at the hospital could not see me for two days more. The next morning I had some new clients at my office, and when I apologized to them for talking slow and slurred due to a dental problem, the man asked what the problem was. Bottom line.....he was an oral surgeon who was on vacation, his credentials were incredible, he saw my condition was serious, and offered to extract the tooth at his friends office immediately. We went straight there and he did the job.....starting me on the road back to blogging.

What were the chances of that?!?!

As a blogger I'm sometimes not so keen on my own privacy, but I will respect my savior's privacy and not mention his name. However, if anyone in my blogging world ever needs help in this area, e-mail me.

Here's a top 10 list (worst things about a dental abscess) to start the year:

10. If you research any medical topic on the internet, you become certain death is at hand.

9. Not only could I not sleep, when I drugged myself to sleep I kept dreaming that gremlins were planting exploding teeth in my gums.

8. If you take an antibiotic which can cause diarrhea, and then start on Vicodin which makes you constipated, you become certain that you will eventually become an exploding sack of s**t.

7. Eating in tiny bites makes every meal go really slowly. I need another 30 years or so until I can accept that.

6. When the bad tooth was finally going to be extracted, I could hardly wait for the Novocaine shot....just to make the pain stop.

5. When I was in Vegas, the only time I was not having dental pain was while playing craps.

4. I have given a lot of thought to how a dental abscess would have been handled in the 1800's. I have concluded it is too painful to think about.

3. One night I was up at 5 AM, and watched the movie "A Picture of Dorian Gray". It was pretty cool, so now I am reading the book. OK, so SOME good came of this.

2. I know there are worse things that can happen, and I don't usually express things like this, but.....I hope I never find out.

1. When something bad finally ends, it causes a wave appreciation for health and freedom from pain. I pray for the strength to always remember this.

I wish a happy and healthy 2010 to ALL.