Breakfast With Marvin

Mother Dear just moved into a very nice apartment building for seasoned citizens in Tampa, FL. My Betrothed and I are ensconced in a guest apartment on the third of five floors.

Mother Dear isn’t answering her door and the Gal Pal is on a walk. So I’m recovering from my “hot as Hades” morning run by watching the Olympics in the internet cafe. Next, I head to breakfast with the Tampa Tribune sports page. Dallas Clark, the Bucs new tight end, is healthier than expected.

I eventually glance up, and when I do, there’s a grey haired man staring blankly at me. I set the paper on the floor and chat up Marvin, a former technical writer from New York City. He’s happy to answer my questions, but doesn’t ask any. Come on Marv, work with me.

On one level, Marvin is living large. There’s about four or five women for every man in this joint and he’s more mobile than most. But on the other side of the ledger, his memory is failing him. That, in combination with being surrounded by elderly people, makes me think about getting older.

I ask Marvin how old he is and the wheel in his head spins wildly just like when I asked about his apartment number and what his daughter teaches. He was embarrassed he couldn’t remember either one. He also couldn’t recall his age, but he knew he was born in 1933. I told him he was 79 and that brought a smile of recognition. In hindsight, given all the eligible women he’s constantly surrounded by, I should have written his apartment number down for him.

The end of life isn’t really funny. The body breaks down. And the mind. The past, a source of strength for most people, inevitably blurs. Friends die. Loneliness looms. And there’s no promise of watching future Olympics or seeing grandchildren marry.

But with the support of family and friends, it doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly sad either. My sister has pressed pause on her own life and taken my mom under her wing for the last month. Spending day after day wading through her too many possessions, the move would have been impossible without her. My sister’s daughter, my niece, decided to attend the University of Tampa in part to provide Mother Dear moral and practical support. She’s partnering with my sister to smooth the move.

Sitting here, post-waffle, back in the internet cafe once again watching NBC commercials interspersed with athletic competition, I can’t help but think about my own future. How long will I live? How about my Betrothed? Will I lose my ability to walk unassisted? To drive? To live independently? Will I lose my memory? The answer to the last four questions is most likely yes. The passing of time is the great equalizer.

I don’t want to be a burden, but when the time comes that I can’t remember my age, will my daughters press pause on their lives long enough to help me pass into the final chapter of my life as peacefully as possible? More importantly, will I live this next week, month, and year to the fullest given the limits of time? Will I take risks, teach well, love deeply, live purposely?

A sunny, early August Tampa morning filled with many more questions than answers.

Serena Williams, Teachers’ Strikes, Personal Experience

Midway during her US Open Final match against Sam Stosur, Serena yelled “Come on!” while hitting a blistering forehand winner. Points are supposed to be replayed following accidental yelps, but since this one was clearly intentional, the line judge followed the rules and awarded the point to Stosur. Stosur went on to upset Williams who unraveled and yelled “You’re out of control,” and “Really, don’t even look at me,” and my personal favorite, “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” Williams was fined $2k on Monday which I’m sure will inspire her to take a long hard look at her insides (sarcasm).

On Monday on ESPN2 two analysts debated the line judge’s decision—Jemelle Hill, a youngish, always thoughtful African-American female sportwriter, and Skip Bayless, a pasty white*, cocksure, middle aged male who is almost always the debate aggressor. The exchange was interesting viewing because Hill focused exclusively on William’s gender, never referencing her ethnicity. In essence, she argued that since MacEnroe’s epic outbursts (hilarious picturing Mac wrapping up one of those with “and you’re just unattractive inside”) men have gotten away with far, far worse on court behavior. She added that Andy Roddick’s US Open outbursts were at least as bad as Williams. Bayless wasn’t buying it insisting it was a pattern with Williams and that she got what she deserved and should be banned from next year’s Open. What? Hill kept coming back to the obvious double standard, and surprisingly, to Bayless’s credit, he conceded the point at the end of the segment.

Hill was far more insightful and persuasive than Bayless, because, I’m assuming, she has direct, first-hand experience with gender and race-based double standards in her professional life. She knows it as soon as she sees it. I wish the moderator had asked Jemelle if she thought Serena’s race also impacted the public’s (and Bayless’s) stronger negative reaction to her outburst. But I digress.

Tacoma, Washington teachers are on strike. Among the issues, the district wants greater flexibility in moving teachers from program to program and school to school to better meet the needs of struggling students. Teachers want continuity and are fearful of one superintendent or one principal arbitrarily moving them from year to year. I hope I’m wrong, but given the stagnant economy, high unemployment rate, and growing antipathy for public unions, I predict the teachers will struggle to win the community’s support.

Also, only a very small percentage of the public has direct, first-hand experience with the challenges of public school teaching. Just as Bayless struggled to see a gender double standard in professional tennis, the public can’t see things from the teachers’ vantage point. I empathize with the teachers. Few people, even if they freely chose to enter the profession, would passively and indefinitely accept their modest (and reduced) pay, their increasing class sizes, and their district and schools’ top-down management.

I hope the public union vitriol is tempered, the conflicts can be resolved, and the strike is short for the students and families it will definitely inconvenience.

* Just as African-Americans are able to use the “N” word, I can use the “PW” phrase because I am PW.