Sunday, October 28, 2007

Per Diem Skills

As Napoleon Dynamite said, you need "skills". Like Napoleon, I don't have nunchuck skills or bowhunting skills or computer hacking skills. What I do have.....are "per diem skills".

These proved really helpful at high school parent teacher conferences. At the evening conferences we had eight teachers to see. It was a mob scene of nervous, high strung parents, trying to figure out how to get their 3 minutes of face time with their child's teachers. The teachers are spread throughout the building. They are guarded by volunteer students who keep a sign-in sheet and regulate the flow of meetings. The "rules", such as they are, are not posted anywhere. You want to get it done effectively and efficiently and get out of there.

When Felicia and I got to the school and saw the situation, I said "This is exactly like doing Queens per diem appearances. What we need to do is know the rules for each part, see where the Judges are located within the building, try to figure out the verbosity tendencies of each Judge (do they conference everything or take a lot of submissions?). Most important, what happens if you miss 'first call'?"

Her look said "You really are a sick person", but of course she actually said "So what should we do?". We had a list of eight teachers on five different floors. We agreed we wanted to see the teachers together and not split up for the actual meetings.

When I have multiple Queens per diem appearances, I make a game plan. Everyone who does per diem work does this. You try to prioritize, figure out where to go first, how much time you might need, and you also need flexibility for the unexpected.

My parent teacher game plan went like this....

"First of all, we will see the gym teacher last, because its isolated on the first floor while the others are on 3, 4, 5 & 6. Also, if we miss that one it's not so bad. I would check in on 5 & 6, she would check in on 3 & 4. We would then use cell phones to see where we were on each teachers list. I then thought about it and decided not to sign in until we checked with each other, because if we were the same distance away on all the lists, we'd end up missing some and going to the bottom of those lists, a very bad result because it was getting busier as the night went on. We also agreed that from what we had heard about the social studies teacher, he would talk a lot and his conferences would run long. We agreed to factor this into our thinking. Before we split up I said what I like to say to my per diem attorneys as we set out. I said....."Hey, let's be careful out there."

The plan worked pretty well. Not perfect....we got caught with Spanish and Bio getting called at the same time. It caused us to go to the bottom of the list for the Bio teacher, but second call on Bio didn't take too long. We nailed Social Studies, arriving just as our name was called. (In the per diem world we call this "hitting your marks"). Fairly late in the evening, I realized we were allowed to use the elevator, so when we were three away on English, I took the elevator downstairs and checked in on gym. Next semester we will hit our marks better, but overall it the appearances were covered well.

In the per diem world we usually don't talk about the results of the appearances, unless we missed one. This was different of course, it was like covering one of my own cases. When I got home, of course Rebecca wanted to know how it went. So I said "Well, we had a good game plan, and got them all covered pretty well....we did have to go back and get Bio on the rebound...." She was rolling her eyes, so I told her the truth, she is doing very well and has some energetic and interesting teachers.

And I have some useful "skills".

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mets Post-Mortem

The sting of the Mets late season debacle has been softened by the immediate post-season. The Phillies got swept by the Rockies juggernaut, a fate the Amazin's would have endured had they won one more game and shlumped into the playoffs. Then things got even better.....the Yankees went out meekly against Cleveland. Now we are all enduring the big Joe Torre story, a big old "what....ever".

Enduring the the Mets demise was painful. It was a monumental and extended team slump. We still have a nucleus of young, talented and exciting players. So, doctor, what went wrong? What can we learn? What should we do next year?

I didn't think I would be able to talk about it so soon, but the Phillies and Yankees exit, and all the sickening Yankee talk, has me ready to say my piece. Here is my Met post-mortem, and some suggestions:

1. Baseball is not only about statistics, you have to watch the games too. The last six weeks Jose Reyes was worse than his poor statistics. He was physically and mentally exhausted. I thought he looked thin too. Once his swing went a little bad (as happens to all players during the season), he could not get it back. For this team to win, they need him playing well.

Next year: more days off, less stolen bases, strict attention to hitting fundamentals (ie: If he is hitting a lot of fly balls, this MUST be addressed.)

2. As horrendous as the middle relief was, they were only the symptom of the real problem....starters who go 5 innings and stress the pen. The entire pen was shot, and they are not such a bad bunch...OK, some were horrendous, but they won't be back. I think we found a good 7th or 8th inning guy in Jorge Sosa. I thought Schoenweiss was the only reliever who pitched well at the end, and he should get his knee fixed and try again. Wagner may not be the best closer, and he has some "Benitez" days, but he is OUR closer, and we can win with him. My big pen move will be.....get Heilman out of there and make him a starter!!!

3. Speaking of watching the games, when your team is in a deep malaise, and you have Shawn Green in right field and Lastings Milledge on the bench, what game was Willie watching? I think Willie gave Lastings a bum deal most of the season. Granted, he is immature and ticks off the other team sometimes, but this guy can flat out play, and will only get better. I'm sure Shawn Green won't be back, and I'd give the starting rightfield job to Lastings. I saw enough of Carlos Gomez to say he has some ability too, but I'm not convinced he's a major leaguer.

4. I wish we had Moises Alou a few years ago, in lieu of Cliff Floyd. Moises was outstanding this year, and I'd try another year with him, realizing he gets hurt and will call your fourth outfielder into service.

5. I'm fine with Paul LoDuca leaving. I know a lot of people like him, but I find that rah-rah macho stuff annoying. Watching the games, he was worn out and useless by season's end, primarily because his machismo tells him to tell Willie he has to play every day. It should not be that way. Twenty less games from Paulie, played by Castro or DeFelice, and we'd have won it.

6. Bye bye Tom Glavine.....I'd say it was fun, but it wasn't. He always needed the umps to give him those borderline pitches, and when they don't he is awful. When he got slightly off his game due to age, he was not able to get it done. Ron Darling made a great point in the last game...."When you are hitting your spots and making your pitches, and they are still hitting you, that's a problem".

7. I love El Duque, but we can't rely on him. Thank you and good bye.

8. Gotta keep Marlon Anderson though. Would you like to have a few of those early season Julio Franco at-bats back, and have Marlon up there instead?

9. I thought John Maine and Oliver Perez showed a lot this season, and I like them with Pedro as a strong 1-2-3. I'd go Heilman 4, and let all the young pitchers (Pelfry, Humber and anyone else they can try) compete for #5. In hindsight, they should have tried the young guys all those times they went with borderline veterans. I hated when they did that.

10. We should watch Carlos Delgado carefully. If he wasn't hurt, he seems to be declining. There were also times he didn't run balls out. Willie should never tolerate this, and it would have made sense to sit Delgado when this happened. In fact, from the first day of camp, Willie should make this team don't run out a ground ball, or pop-up, or drive to the outfield that you assume is a home run but isn't, YOU ARE OUT OF THE GAME.

It wasn't Willie's fault, and I'm glad they didn't scapegoat him.

Bottom line.....we have a strong nucleus. We can recover and be right in it next season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

New Family Tradition.....USHPIZIN

It's nice to have family traditions. I value the traditional traditions.....Thanksgiving, Passover, July 4th, and Opening Day. I especially like a few family traditions we have adopted:

Day after Thanksgiving leftover feast with friends.

New Years Eve at home with family, in "costumes".

Stony Brook Homecoming.

Watching the movie Groundhog Day on February 2nd, as previously blogged

I made a new rule: If we do something three years in a row, it is now a "Family Tradition". Adding a new family tradition is momentous. It will continue. It is unimaginable to not do it. And so, every year, around Sukkot (for the uninitiated, or the interested we watch the Israeli movie Ushpizin, with family and friends.

If you have never seen this movie, here's the deal....

It's a 2004 Israeli movie, in Hebrew with English subtitles. It was written by a Hasidic actor (Shuli Rand), who also stars. The writer's actual wife was enlisted to play the movie wife (ostensibly because he could not have acted in this role with an "actress"). Michal Bat-Sheva Rand is the compelling force in this inspiring story.

Moshe and Malli live in a small apartment in a Hasidic section of Jerusalem. They are so poor they barely have food, let alone money for a Sukkah for the holiday. They are also childless. You see clearly that they have nothing, yet they have FAITH. Throughout this film, their faith is repeatedly tested, rewarded, pumished and retested. A series of circumstances allows them to obtain a Sukkah, and some money, and even some guests (Ushpizin). Ah, but such guests!! Some weekend furloughed prisoners who have skipped out, people from Moshe's past. What to do with a blessing of such guests? Rude, ungrateful, irreligious, disrespectful users. If you are sent such guests, is it a test?

Besides the characters and the story, I also enjoyed seeing people from a different culture (and trust me on this, Hasidic Jewish culture is a DIFFERENT culture than American, virtually non-practising, ethnic Jewish culture) having the same problems we all have. Financial issues, family crises, pressure on the holidays. This movie is a rare and fascinating look at a Hasidic couple as two people.

Does the movie eventually show the value in prayer and faith? Yes, and is there anything wrong with that? What does Moshe want more than anything else? To know the way. To know what is expected of him. To know that you can succeed, and fail, and be tested......and move forward.

You can probably rent this DVD at your local video store. It is surely a worthwhile Netflix pick. Or, if you want to wait till next Fall, you can watch it with us. It's a family tradition.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I've been in a blogging slump. I could blame that on my associate leaving, and replacing her work with my own, causing me to be too tired to write. Instead, I will blame it on my new addiction......crossword puzzles.

I used to try the Sunday Times and give up. Sometimes I'd work on a weekday puzzle, IF I was stuck in court, and IF I found a paper. A few months ago I worked through a Sunday puzzle in earnest, breezed through a Monday, and found myself unable to stop. I had (have) to do one every day....sometimes more than one.

Here are a few things worth knowing about crossword puzzles:

1. The NY Times is very easy on Monday (trust me on this), and gets progressively harder each day of the week. The Sunday Times is at about a Thursday level. At the moment I am good through Wednesday and sometimes Thursday. I generally can't do much with the Friday or Saturday. However, I have noticed that doing them regularly leads to discernable improvement, which already makes it a better hobby than golf.

2. Since I can't touch the Friday Times puzzle, I do the Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle. They only have that one puzzle per week. It's a good one....quirky, challenging and fun. Like the Times, it usually has a "theme", and sometimes it's offbeat, and very satisfying once you "get it".

3. Puzzles are fun to do with other people. One weekend I was away with a group of friends, and five of us did the Sunday puzzle together. One person had the pen and would call out clues "6 letters for 'does just all right....ends in y", and someone would yell out "gets by" and the others would say "WOW, put that in". It's interesting to see people's strengths and weaknesses in play. I am useful for anything related to baseball, but useless on most contemporary culture.

4. One weekend, I went online to try to find one last answer (hey, there's no law against it!) and I discovered a great website, called "Rex Parker Does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle" He does the puzzle every day and offers hilarious and insightful commentary. I try to check him out after I have gone as far as I can. Rex has really improved my game.

5. I want to also recommend a documentary about crossword puzzles, called "Wordplay". It features NY Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, and many celebrities, including Bill Clinton. It is very well done, worth a netflix or video store visit. I was pleasantly surprised to find the DVD at my local video store.

Happy cruciverbalizing everyone!!

Tomorrow, a movie review.