Posts Tagged ‘steroids’

Tom Wolfe, LSD, Orange Hair and Me

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

By Bob Gaydoskool-aid-book

I have been in a funk since Nov. 9. That’s the day I woke up with the realization that millions of Americans had lost their minds, if not their souls, and elected a man who is morally, psychologically, intellectually and spiritually unfit to be their president. The dumbest thing that has happened in my lifetime.

I stopped writing.

Finally, in desperation for inspiration, I turned to sports and that great philosopher, Reggie Miller (older Knicks fans can boo now.) For younger fans of the National Basketball Association, think Steph Curry. Shooters. Scorers. What do great shooters do when they are in a shooting funk, when everything seems to clang off the back rim or fall inches short of the basket? They keep shooting. They don’t pass the ball to someone else. They shoot themselves out of the funk.

Swish!

Now, I am not saying I am in the same class as a writer as Reggie and Steph are as shooters, but I have been writing for a long time and I think I have some skills so I figured the instincts would kick in once I started.

So instead of writing, I started reading. Tom Wolfe. Purely happenstance. I picked up some used books at the library because my son, Max, was looking for reading material. Short stories. He wasn’t interested in Wolfe’s “Hooking Up” and I had never read it, but had really enjoyed his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” So I ventured in. I quickly remembered why I liked him.

Then happenstance melded into serendipity. My partner and I watched “The Right Stuff,” the movie based on Wolfe’s book. Enjoyed it. There’s more. The last essay in “Hooking Up” detailed Wolfe’s assignment, with Jimmy Breslin, as the first writers/reporters for the Herald Tribune’s Sunday magazine, New York.

My favorite newspaper as a teenager and my favorite magazine. I grew up reading Breslin and, as it turns out, Wolfe. After a brief, there’s-no-way-in-the-world-I-want-to-do-this-the-rest-of-my-life flirtation with engineering, I started writing. In more than 50 years, I have only stopped for brief intervals. Going with the universal flow, I went back to the library and picked up a couple more used Wolfe books, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “A Man in Full.”

By the way, this is by way of answering those sympathetic friends who have asked me what I’ve been doing since The Dumb Event. For one thing, I’m trying to do things that make me feel better, things I can control.

… But let me digress.

To all those who pooh-pooh the Russian election connection, who doubt the Kremlin hacked into Democrats’ e-mails and released them in an organized effort to elect You Know Who and who further doubt that Vladimir Putin had anything to do with it, I turn again to sports and the biggest story that got lost in the election — Russia’s decades-long government-sponsored program to cover up the use of performance-enhancing drugs by virtually all its Olympic athletes.

A report recently released by a Canadian lawyer, Richard H. McClaren, who works for the World Anti-Doping Agency, confirmed it all. McClaren and his team made short shrift of Russian denials. Medals were repossessed. Athletes were banned. A Russian official involved in the program said the direction came from the top. In Russia, there is only one top. This is the Russian way, or at least the Putin way. Of course he knew about the steroids. Of course he knew about the hacking. No Russian would dare do either without his approval. Not if he didn’t want to wind up with poison in his vodka.

… So where was I? Right, reading.

I’m learning much more about Ken Kesey and the acid/pot/speed hippie freaks of the ‘60s than I ever intended to. The meaning of life on LSD.  It’s a good read. I found it especially interesting how Kesey came to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nothing like first-hand experience. I just started the book, so there will likely be more on this later.

What else? I started looking for local issues I might be able to help out with since I believe change starts close to home. I’ve also recommitted to my off-and-on interest in photography. Living in an especially scenic area of the Hudson Valley, it works well with my inclination to report on what’s going on around me. On my travels the other day, a farmer walked his cow across the road right in front of me, casual as could be. Nonchalantly, I missed the shot. But I know where he lives. Gotta keep shooting.

… Speaking of nukes, Putin recently said he wanted to beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability. Our soon-to-be Twitter-in-chief knee-jerkedly responded that he planned to do the same with the United States’ nuclear armaments and that no one would be able to keep up with the U.S. in a nuclear arms race. Be still my patriotic, tax-paying heart. Robert Reich, a voice of sanity on social media, reported the above and asked, “What do you think?”

Robert, I think Putin is playing his puppet for the fool he knows him to be. I think all the Republican officials who applaud every time their “king” says something insane are shameless toadies. I think Putin is setting Orange Hair up to act like a big hero at a summit conference in which Russia and the U.S. decide to stop the war of nuclear words and de-escalate, rather than escalate, the nuclear arms race. In exchange, of course, for U.S. concessions. Drop those sanctions for grabbing Crimea. Hold back support for NATO countries that don’t pull their own weight. Let Russia handle things in Syria. Buy some Russian goods (whatever that might be). Don’t retaliate for Russia’s hacking. Stop criticizing Putin’s treatment of dissidents. Give him the respect, he deserves. “Da da, you understand that, my presidential friend, I’m sure.”

I think Putin wants to increase Russian influence over the world, not destroy it. He knows he can do that by pushing buttons and pulling strings.

I also think it would be beneficial to Americans if Ivanka revoked Daddy’s Twitter privileges and read some history to him every day and tested him on it the next day.

And finally, I think maybe I’m feeling a tad better, but the funk is not defunct. Sorry, Reggie, I may have scored a couple of points, but I think I have to keep on shooting.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

  

 

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Why Cheat When You Don’t Have To?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Alex Rodriguez ... why?

Alex Rodriguez … why?

I woke up the other morning with a tantalizing thought: Why do people who don’t have to cheat, cheat? I later posed the question to some friends and much of this column is the result of one such conversation.

It seems I had been dreaming about Alex Rodriguez and all the other steroid/performance-enhancing drug users in major league baseball, but apparently mostly about A-Rod, given the question that greeted my morning. Among other things, this tells me I have had it with the juicers. Especially A-Rod.

I’m a lifetime baseball fan, grew up playing it, loving it. Framed baseball cards of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle share a spot on my bedroom wall. Willie was the best, in my view, Mickey second best, probably because he wrecked his legs early in his career. Mickey was a well-known juicer, but it was booze, not steroids he ingested. No way it improved his performance on the field.

They did not cheat. Alex Rodriguez came to the majors leagues at 19. Many touted him as a can’t miss superstar. He did not disappoint. His numbers — baseball, if anything, is a game that reveres numbers — started good and  steadily improved. If he stayed healthy, baseball people started to say, he would surpass all the batting records of Ruth and Aaron. Just keep doing what he was doing, and stay healthy.

A-Rod hasn’t been healthy the past couple of years with the Yankees. His body seems to be breaking down, a symptom of, among other things, steroid abuse. So I asked myself: Why? He was already the highest paid player in the game, with a guaranteed contract worth close to $300 million. Surely, even in an era of more, more, more, money could not be the goal. He was regarded by many, if not most, as the best in the game. He would assuredly be the game’s all-time homerun hitter if he stayed healthy. Why would he feel the need to cheat?

I can understand why other, lesser, players might have felt they needed to use steroids or other substances to improve their performances. Major league ballplayers are paid extremely well. Overpaid, in truth. Bigger numbers bring bigger paychecks. So a Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire had plenty to gain by cheating. Players of lesser skills could guarantee a career in the majors, well-paid and pampered, so long as they could live with themselves and the knowledge that they were cheating and most of their teammates were not.

Now, understanding why players cheat is not the same as condoning it. Those who used steroids or growth hormones have created an indelible stain on the game. They have left a cloud of doubt over every player who has followed the rules (and who, incidentally, said nothing about the cheaters for many years, thereby enabling the abuse.) The juicers have also made a shambles of the game’s reverence for numbers. Whose numbers count? Whose are juiced? The questions are not so easily answered today.

Back to A-Rod. The questions continued. What was his motivation when, as he has admitted, he took steroids a few years ago when he played for Texas? Did he really not use them in ensuing years? Why should we believe him? Was he using performance-enhancing drugs in recent years with the Yankees — as has been charged — because his body was breaking down from previous steroid use? There’s the Catch-22. Abuse of steroids will break a body down and an athlete expected to perform at the highest level might feel the need to take more steroids to try to “repair” his body.

Did A-Rod do this? I don’t know, but I suspect he did. If so, it’s a self-destructive cycle he created himself. Like drug addicts, perhaps, he (and others) grew to like the way they felt on steroids and didn’t have the confidence any longer to play without using some drug. Without cheating.

The ego is a fragile thing. It can ignore reality. (You’re the best player; just do what you do naturally and you’ll be OK.). It can create intense pressure. (The fans will only love you if you continue to be the best every day.) It can buckle under pressure, as A-Rod did in so many post-season series. (Don’t fail; don’t fail; they’ll know you’re a fraud.) A self-fulfilling prophecy.

I toy with these thoughts because, as I said, I have trouble understanding what Rodriguez had to gain by cheating. He had the talent, the money, the fame and the superstar name. Yes, he obviously has always had an intense interest in maintaining a certain image of himself. In fact, it has seemed throughout his career that it has always been about him and his accomplishments. He’s never been regarded as a great teammate.

So maybe it’s that simple. Alex Rodriguez cheated because he has always been more interested in appearing to be the best, rather just doing his best. He either doubted he could live up to the designation, or just didn’t care what he did to make sure people continued to think of him that way. He was totally wrapped up in himself, yet never totally believed in himself. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, even in superstars. None of it in any way justifies what he has done.

And what he has done is make a sham of a game I used to love. Yes, there are still superstars whose names remain untainted by the steroids users. A-Rod has two such teammates on the Yankees in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. But you know, because of the juicers, there will be some people who doubt that even those two, future hall-of-famers never used something a little extra to improve their play. That’s  they never cheated.

I’m not losing any sleep over this and I still enjoy baseball. I just want A-Rod to go away and for Major League Baseball to finally be serious about ending the juicing. And no, I will not put a framed Alex Rodriguez card on my wall. I don’t even want one.

bob@zestoforange.com