An American in Berlin
23 August, 2016
Having just banged out three (rather long) pieces vis-à-vis my last trip, I suspect it’s probably too soon for another post. On the other hand, it’s early (12:40am) and I’m bored. I mean, I just took care of my weekly Yankee post and edited another of my colleague’s posts as well. More on this in a sec. That leaves me with a couple of choices for this Monday evening. I could get back to work on Hebrew, but I’m too tired. I could read some Homer, but I’m too lazy. I could do some work related stuff, but I’m too lazy for that as well. Or I could watch some Netflix. But I’m not really in the mood to just lay around watching TV. I want to do something. I guess I’ll write.
So the Yankee blog. Earlier this year, in February I think, I was approached about writing a weekly blog on New York’s AL baseball club. The details are tedious, but suffice it to say, I was recommended by a friend.1 There was no talk of money. This was purely a labor of love. But I looked at it as an opportunity to keep writing, and to write on a subject I don’t normally deal with, however much I may care about it.
Well, here we are at the end of August, and I’ve been churning out one piece a week. And it’s been a lot of fun. Somewhere along the line, we joined our fledgling group to an already established site, with an established readership: Page2sports.com. Our original group had mixed feelings about this. Our initial site was our baby, our project. In joining Page2, we’d be giving up our identity, our independence. But not, apparently, our autonomy. We were promised the freedom to continue writing, and that’s exactly what we got. Zero complaints.
But quite recently, and rather abruptly, the guy who got us all together in the first place, left for greener pastures. I think. I don’t actually know the details of why he left. But leave he did, and that put the rest of us in an interesting spot. On the baseball side, there were only four of us. And in truth, I’m delighted with where we’re at.
Somewhere along the line, our Founder established Nate and myself as the baseball editors. He gave us the freedom, not only to write what we wanted to write, but also to mold our two staff writers as we saw fit. Nate and I viewed this as a truly exciting opportunity. After all, we had a shared vision of what our baseball writing was supposed to offer.
The idea was this. You can go any- and everywhere for baseball coverage. In other words, you can get stats and recaps and journalistic2 analysis all over the net. We realized early on that, if our site was to have any merit, it would have to offer something unique. But since none of us are accredited journalists or professional statisticians or experienced baseball scouts, the only thing unique we had to offer was our passion as fans.
With this in mind, we cobbled together a framework wherein we and our writers would publish pieces that came straight from the hearts of real fans. Passion, we told our guys, was the only thing that mattered. Form and style were up to them. And so we have one guy who is just plain funny. I love reading his stuff, even though I disagree with him half the time. Because he makes me laugh. And his passion for the game shines through. You can – and if you’re a baseball fan, should – read his work here.
The other guy is not funny. He doesn’t write comedy. He’s totally different than Matt, linked above. But he writes with stoical passion for the game and with an eye to detail. When he first started, his writing was not particularly polished. But he eagerly absorbed all the constructive criticisms that Nate and I sent his way, and he’s really grown as a writer. It’s been lovely to watch, and I genuinely enjoy reading his work now. You can too, here.
Nate, my co-editor and fellow CUNY Grad Center alumnus, ostensibly writes about the Mets. But as their season has trended downwards, he’s branched out into writing about broader baseball themes. He did a multi-part series asking whether home-field advantage makes a difference in the World Series. He’s now running a multi-part series wherein he picks a “face of the franchise” player for each team. His work shows a marked fondness for clever wordplay and, again, a passion for the game. But perhaps the thing I enjoy most about his work, is that whenever I read one of his pieces, I know I’m reading Nate. People talk about writers having a “voice.” Nate has this. And it’s a good one. You can read him here.
As for me, well, I’m not going to toot my own horn. If you read this blog with any kind of regularity, you know what my writing is like. I take the same approach to Page2. And where our other three writers have branched out into broader baseball themes,3 I’ve continued to write exclusively about the Yankees. It’s been a lot of fun. And I’ve had the freedom to write however I see fit. I’ve done things full of classical references, likening the Yankees to the ancient Romans. I’ve also done mock dialogues, satyr plays (if you will), showing what goes on behind closed doors in the Yankee kingdom. I can’t say that every thing I’ve written there has been the best thing I’ve ever done, but I’m proud of my work. You can read it here.
It’s also been a welcome connection to my life back home, my life as a New Yorker, my life as a baseball fan. Coming to Berlin, for however wonderful it’s been, has necessitated leaving behind certain things. Baseball is one of them. I simply can’t afford the digital package that would allow me to watch games online. But I do subscribe to the package that gives me access to all the radio broadcasts. Which is great. But you have to remember, east coast games start at 1am here. I might put one on as I’m going to bed, falling asleep to the dulcet tones of John Sterling and the familiar whine of Suzyn Waldman. But it’s a rare thing that I catch all nine innings. Writing about the Yankees gives me a way to stay connected.
There are other things I miss from home. To say I miss my family and friends is so obvious as to be redundant. So I’ll just say I miss them, and assume we all have roughly the same human experience, such that this requires no further expoundation.4 But there are two other things which I miss immensely, and which I’ve been wanting to comment on for a while; howsobeit, until now there have always been more pressing things to talk about.
The first is hockey. I’d found myself a regular weekly gig playing goal for a group of older guys in the Spring and Fall the last few years. I’d been playing with them long before that, of course. But always on a “we need a goalie, are you free?” basis. Somewhere along the line, though, this turned into the regular gig. Depending on who showed up, it could be a truly exhilarating game, or rather kind of a bore. But either way, it was a regular game, and it was a good group of guys.
And I fucking love hockey. I love being on the ice. I love the exercise. I love the challenge of playing goal, of testing myself against skilled guys, against impossible situations. And I don’t have that now. I miss it. Dearly. And apart from the game itself, there’s that moment when you first step out onto the freshly cut ice, and you just fly. The bite of the cold air, the ease, the speed. There’s a freedom to that, and I haven’t found it anywhere else.
Funny thing about the group of guys I play with. They all belong to a country club. That’s the group. In the winter, they play outdoors on the ice at their club. And let me tell, you playing hockey outside, at night, under the lights, in the frigid cold of winter, it’s poetry. No wonder Canadians are so nice. If you grew up with this in your soul, you’d be happy all the damned time too.
But the guys, that was the point. I mean, with the exception of one or two of the fellas, I have zero in common with them. They’re wealthy. They work in money-making fields. They’re generally right-leaning in their politics. We don’t live the same lives. But none of that matters when we get on the ice. We have one thing in common, and that’s that we love hockey down to our bones. And while I don’t think any one of them would ever consider having me over for dinner or meeting me out for a drink, I know they respect me as a hockey player. They respect me as a guy who loves the game, as a guy who shows up every week ready to play and ready to leave it all on the ice. And I feel the same way about them. And in a strange way, I miss these guys, who aren’t really my friends, but who aren’t strangers either.
Which is not to say we don’t get along. They are, to a man, gracious to me and welcoming and friendly. And they’ll chat me up in the locker room. They’ll celebrate with me on the ice. And when I make a really nice save, I don’t know who’s going to congratulate me first: the guy I just robbed, or my own teammates. But that’s about as far as it goes, all of what I’ve just said.
In fairness to them, though, many of the walls in these relationships I put up myself. This comes from being a goalie. I’d be blowing smoke up your ass if I said something like, “I don’t like to talk in the locker room because I’m mentally preparing for the game.” I mean, it’s true on some level, but that’s not why I have a hard time interacting.
The truth is, I feel like an outsider. Which I am. So it’s very important to me that I come across as being serious about the game. Let me try to put it another way. They don’t invite me down to play because I’m their friend, they invite me down because they need a goaltender, and they trust that I will deliver. You have to understand, not matter how gratifying it is to score a goal, these guys would rather play a 2-1 game and feel challenged and stymied than play a 15-14 game, hat tricks all around, but feel like their goalies aren’t up to the challenge.
I know this, so I take it seriously. I’m there to do a job. The social fun comes from playing with their country club buddies. The hockey fun comes from having a goalie who is on point. I say all this, because I want you to understand how I feel when I step into the locker room. I don’t ever want to appear lax or easy going or like I’m not taking things seriously. I don’t want to joke around and be one of the guys, because I’m terrified that if I do, I’ll go out there and stink it up. And if I do that, they’ll see me as a guy who doesn’t take the game seriously. That they’ll go find somebody else who does a better job getting in front of the rubber.
So I go in and try to be serious and business-like. I try to send the message, “I appreciate you guys choosing me to play goal for you tonight, and I won’t let you down.” Maybe that’s silly. But it’s the only way I know how to be. And it works, I guess. Because they keep having me back and we enjoy playing together.
And although there are one or two guys with whom I’ll speak freely (always after the game, never before), if there’s a real exception to this rule, it’s the other goaltender, whoever that might be on a given night. With the other goalie, I can talk shop, let loose a little bit. And I always root for the other goalie. I love to see the other guy have a great night. We, at least, are in the same fraternity.
But I’m going on and on. The point of all this is simply to say that, for all that Berlin is amazing, for all that my travels have been full of wonder, there’s a price on it. And that price is I don’t get to play hockey here. And I miss the shit out of it.
The last thing I’ll say on the subject is this. When I played my last game, back in June, the guys were really great to me. And the one thing they kept saying was, “Dave, I hope everything works out in Germany. But I also hope it doesn’t, because we want you back here.” Whatever the dynamic of our relationship, that about it sums it up.
OK, I was going to move on to the second thing I miss. But as I was writing about hockey, it brought to mind an experience I had with this group, and I really want to say something about it. To a man, we have all of us done things in our life, or acted in a way, that we are embarrassed by or ashamed of. This happened to me, several years ago, when I was in grad school. And it happened with these guys.
There’s one guy in the bunch whose job it is to secure the goalie for any given game. For the majority of my time with this group, it was a guy named Andy. First off, he’s a lovely guy. But he’s a gorgeous hockey player too. Not because he’s particularly good. In fact, he’s not. But there’s no quit in him. He never stops moving his legs.5 And while he rarely scores a goal, he also rarely makes a mistake. He’s exceedingly responsible, at both ends of the ice. If he’s on my team, I always feel good when he’s out there. My private nickname for him is, “the waterbug.” Because he just goes about his business, tirelessly, and there’s no stopping him. It’s a cliché to say he plays the game “the right way.” But he really does.6
Anyway, Andy. When I was in the throes of grad school, and living in the city,7 he’d regularly text me, asking if I wanted to play. And I was always torn. On the one hand, I absolutely wanted to play. On the other hand, I was drowning in school work. And playing meant two hours on the train, plus 90 minutes on the ice, plus dressing and undressing, plus waiting for the train itself. It was basically a whole day gone. So I was torn, as I said. But rather than answer honestly, rather than saying, no, I was too busy, I’d put it off. “Aaagh, lemme think about it. I can’t decide now!”
And it got to the point where I simply stopped answering his texts altogether. Which was just plain rude, no two ways about it. Here was a guy offering me free ice time, again and again, and I didn’t even have the decency to reply. And I knew it was wrong, but I was so far up my own ass at that point, I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Well, one day, I finally get down to the club. Somebody else – not Andy – had called me, and for whatever reason, I felt I was free enough to play. And so there I was. And there was Andy. And he wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. He wasn’t rude. He didn’t reprimand me. He didn’t tell me I was an ingrate. All things he fairly could have done. He just didn’t make eye contact with me. And that hurt more than any words.
So I approached him. And I apologized, hat (or helmet) in hand. I told him I was wrong, that it was disrespectful of me, that I should have been grateful for every opportunity he offered me, and that I was sorry for the way I’d acted. That he didn’t deserve that. Not easy to do that. Especially in front of a locker room full of guys you don’t know very well. And he could have told me to go fuck myself. But he didn’t. I remember him saying that it was OK, and that – I remember this – “I just thought you didn’t to play anymore.” And he looked hurt when he said that. I mean, I don’t know if he was. Maybe I’m projecting. But he was so gracious in that moment, because that’s the kind of man he is.
I tell this story because it’s Andy who decided to have me as the regular goalie for their Spring and Fall sessions. It’s Andy who looked past all that, accepted my apology, and gave me a second chance. So when I say that I miss hockey, when I say I miss my regular game, it’s also to say that I’m grateful to Andy for giving me that second chance and for welcoming me back into the group with literally zero hard feelings. I could have seriously jeopardized, indeed forfeited, something that means so much to me. But because of one decent man, I got to keep playing the game that is most dear to my heart. In other words, thank you, Andy.
I said there were two things I miss. The other is my Homeric Reading Group. As many of you should already know, I spent five years reading Homer with a retired professor in his living room on the Upper West Side. Every Saturday, 10-12, with summer breaks. It was a fixture in my life. Which isn’t to say it was easy. I mean, what late-20’s/early 30’s dude wants to get up at 830, every Saturday, to go read Greek with old people? Well, I did. It was one of the joys of my life. Then I took a break to take a French class. Then Daitz died. And it was over.
But then, this spring, Nat emailed me. Nat, I should say, was the other mainstay of the group. An elder gentleman, he teaches Latin and Greek at a private school just north of the city; though he lives on the UWS. Anyway, Nat emailed me saying he had two or three other interested people and would I like to restart the HRG? Of course I would! More than anything. And this with me living on the Island. In other words, three hours of travel for 2-3 hours of Greek. Didn’t matter. I was in.
So we started up again, with Iliad 24, the last chapter of the epic. Nat, bless him, is just a fountain of knowledge. There’s hardly a word that goes by that he doesn’t have some kind of insight on. One of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever known. But more than that, it was just great to read with him again. I’d have to write a whole separate post on what this means to me and what reading with him is like. But here, I’ll just say it’s a joy.
And I have an odd relationship with Nat. When we’re together – whether it be in the old Daitz group, or the newly formed version – we get on great and genuinely enjoy each other’s company; to say nothing of the mutual respect that flows in both directions, though I’m always a bit embarrassed that he lowers himself to considering me on his level. And I think that had we been the same age, had we been in school together, we would have been very close. I get the sense that our alcohol habits are/were similar, to say nothing of our love of, and opinions on, Greek.
But he’s always been hard to get to know outside of the group. He doesn’t really respond to emails, or does so but sparingly. And he’s never shown any interest in spending time together outside the group. Which is fine. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to jive – at least to me – with our in-group dynamic. But that’s Nat, and I accept it and love the shit out of him unconditionally.
Anyway, he makes this move to restart the HRG and I am all hands on deck.8 And within five minutes of our first meeting, I knew. I knew I needed this. It was missing from my life. Homer had been missing from my life since Daitz died. But so had Nat. So had the discussions, the arguments, the opportunity to show off arcane knowledge that didn’t mean anything in the real world but was more valuable than gold here, with these people. There couldn’t be anything more inconvenient than trekking out from Long Island to the UWS on a Saturday morning, and yet, there was no way I was not going to be there.
There was another guy in our group, David. He’s a Judaics Studies professor at Brooklyn College. His Greek is more than alright, but his background is biblical, not classical. It didn’t matter. He came to Homer with a passion. It was just his passion, not ours. And this was great, because he was bringing entirely new points of view – on language, on poetry, on history, on all sorts of things. And he’d give these mini-lectures on Hebrew and Jewish history and regional history and whatever else. And we’d just sit there with rapt attention.
And this was an added bonus for me, as I was – and continue to be – in the process of studying Hebrew. And Nat too had, years ago, studied some Hebrew. So we were attentive students. And then, when Nat and I would talk about Greek, he was the attentive student. It was a new dynamic. This group was taking on its own life, its own shape and form. And I was loving every minute of it.
In fact, David had me back to his place twice after our HRG to read some Torah. At first I was worried that I wasn’t far enough along in my studies to make it worth his effort, but he said I’d be fine. And I was. When I didn’t know something, he’d walk me through it. And next thing I knew, we were reading Genesis, trading off verses. And I felt like I belonged. It was wonderful. And then it was over. Because that’s when I left for Berlin.
So not only do I miss reading Homer with Nat now, but I miss this inchoative reading of Hebrew. I would have loved for that to continue. I learned so much in those two sessions, and gained so much confidence. And David is so knowledgeable. It was like auditing a class, with the attention of a private lesson. I regret losing that, before I ever really even had it.
But the big loss, the thing I really miss – which was supposed to be the point of all this rambling – is reading Homer. Particularly with Nat. It felt like home. That was my intellectual safe-house, my nerdy security blanket. And there was a bitter-sweet melancholy to it too. Because at least a couple of times per session, Nat and I would look at each other – after reading a bit of Greek – and one of us would say to the other, “Now, Daitz would say X about this…” And that was a connection that’s hard to explain. Orphans? Exiles? Evangelists? I don’t know what the word is. Were we saying it to each other, to remind ourselves of the Words of the Master? Were we saying to the new guys, as stewards of a proud tradition? I don’t know. Maybe both.
But it was very intimate, in a way. Because, we could look at a bit of Greek, right? And one of us could say, “Well, here, Daitz would say…”, and the other person could finish the thought. We’d spent so many years reading at the foot of the master, we both knew his teachings inside and out. And when that would happen, there’d be this moment, where we’d miss the man, and miss those times. And then we’d realize that those days were gone. That this was our group now. And so we’d turn to the group and explain that which to us needed no explanation. And that’s how it goes, I guess. The disciples – that’s the word I was looking for – need to keep the teachings alive.
So Daitz was dead. But this new version of the Homeric Reading Group was my way – and Nat’s way, I think I’m allowed to say – of keeping him alive. I’ll be forever grateful for all he taught me, for all the time and patience he gave me. But if I’m to honor that, I need to pay it forward. The new version of the HRG allowed me to do that.
But that’s “noble” philosophical bullshit. The truth is, I simply loved reading Homer. And I loved reading him with Nat. And I soon loved reading him with David. And now that is gone from me too. It’s the other thing I truly miss, while I’m here in Europe, living some other kind of dream.
And now for some housekeeping. Charlotte pointed out to me some errors that I’d made in my France/Spain Saga posts. And while I could have simply published them as comments to the relevant blogs, they would have then been rather a bit ex post facto, and I doubt anyone would have seen them anyway. So I’ll address them here.
- The interlude ruins everything. (This was her comment vis-à-vis my paratactic discourse on wrestling).
- Well, that wasn’t for you, dear. So kindly fuck off. I love you.
- Paragraph 3 after the “interlude”: that’s funny you mention how much you loved that chocolate sorbet. It was raspberries. And why was it so? Because you fucking love raspberries, OK! Banane!
- Yeah, she’s totally right. It was raspberry sorbet. And it was glorious. And I do love the shit out of raspberries. Remember the fresh ones I bought in the market at Prades? The chocolate sorbet actually happened at the refuge, up in the mountains. Also glorious. Btw, if you’re wondering, banane (the French word for banana) is apparently a mild insult in French.
- I wish these posts were public
- I’m publishing them here. Jeez, get off my back, femme maudite!
- Paragraph 12 after the “interlude”: I know you visited both France and Spain during this trip. Therefore, I’m not sure where you stand regarding the ownership of Cataluña. Judging by how you spelt the guy’s name, I have my idea… but guess what? The genius who built that fort was FRENCH and was called VAUBAN [vobɑ̃], not VUABAN [vwaban]. No matter how Spanish you’re trying to make it sound!
- This was a typo on my part. I guess I spelled it Vuaban, instead of Vauban. I told her this, but I guess I missed the point. Seems she knew it was a typo and was just “being clever.” I mean, not what I’d call clever. But what can you do?
- Still paragraph 12 after the “interlude”, and following quote (paragraph 14) : MILLE is invariable. ;p
- This is a bit of French grammar, with respect to the “thousand steps” or “mille marches.”9 The idea is this. Some words you don’t pluralize. “Information” in English, would be an example. You don’t say, “I have a lot of informations for you.” That’s nonsense. Same with mille (which means 1,000). It’s always just mille. No plural “s.” But maybe you begin to see why, in her capacity as French teacher, I call her Madame casse-couilles.10
- And finally – though this didn’t come by way of blogue comments – I erroneously stated that the village where G&J were borrowing the apartment, where we slept on Sunday night, was Los Masos. It was not. The name of the village was, in fact, Vernet-Les-Bains. So there’s that, too.
So much for that. The next 2-3 weeks should prove interesting. It’s in this time that I’ll be able to determine whether I’m staying in Germany past the end of September or not. I don’t want to get into details, because I’m fearful of jinxing things, but I am, at least, hopeful. With any luck, I’ll have more to report soon. There’s also the question of where I’m going to lay my head next month. And that too suddenly became more interesting. But for the same reasons, I shall refrain from speaking further until I know more. Until then.
- My buddy – and kindred spirit – Nate, from Grad School. [↩]
- Or journal-esqe [↩]
- As opposed to the individual teams they were originally assigned to cover. [↩]
- Which is probably not a word, except, why not? [↩]
- This, I think, is the greatest compliment you can ever give to a hockey player. [↩]
- By contrast, there’s another guy (whose name I won’t mention), whom I feel plays the game “the wrong way.” He’s got a crazy skill set, but I always feel like he’s lazy, selfish, and doesn’t respect his opponents or the game. And when he’s on my team, I never feel good when he’s on the ice. [↩]
- All our games are on Long Island. [↩]
- Can I say that? Does “all hands on deck” not imply a crew of people, rather than just one person? I guess, metaphorically, I was “all hands on deck” with respect to myself. Maybe “body and soul” would better. But I like this. Maybe because I keep reading Jules Verne, with his Nautilus and Albatross and Africa-crossing-balloon and whatever else. [↩]
- Or, as I apparently spelled it, milles marches. [↩]
- Which translates as, Madame ball-breaker. [↩]