Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Thousand Sunsets

I'm sure everyone on Facebook has posted a similar picture of their vacation.  I thought about not posting it here, but then I realized that every sunset is unique and has special meaning for those who took it or saw it. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bike Trail Tales

I live in Northampton and work in Easthampton and I like to ride my bike, so last summer and fall I watched with keen interest the progress on the construction of the bridge over Route 10 that would mark the installation of the final link in the trail between the two towns.  (I'm still mad at myself for not going to the official opening).

With the bridge now in place, I can now enjoy a peaceful ride without having to constantly worry about traffic.  As I discovered yesterday, though, there are perils on the bike path as well, as with this downed tree I had to deal with.

And don't let the cuteness fool you here: I'm sure this was a killer deer I barely escaped from (I didn't dare get any closer to take a better picture):

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Whether You Like It Or Not

It's an interesting twist on the 30-minutes-or-less idea: deliveries when THEY want. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Come On, Groupon

I “belong” to Groupon, is that’s the right term.  By that I mean that at some point I signed up to receive their daily emails touting deals on all kinds of things, from clothing to restaurants to acupuncture.  I’ve even bought a deal or two.  But I have to admit that I’ve never really paid much attention to the content of the emails; I check out what it’s for and if it doesn’t interest me, I quickly delete it. This morning’s email caught my eye for some reason, and I actually read all of the copy related to an offer of discount golf: 

Like painting a portrait or fixing a computer, completing a round of golf is always more impressive when it’s done in the pouring rain. Enjoy equally impressive fair-weathered fores with today's Groupon

I’ve played golf in the rain before, but do people really paint in the rain?  Or fix computers?  And what does fixing computers have to do with golf, really?  I was confused. 

Then I dug in my trash folder for a couple of other offers: 

Though rubber-banding a photograph to a roly-poly super ball increases its utility, its picture quality plummets after playing just a few rounds of fetch. Put a photo in a durable place with today's Groupon:

The needle is a tool shared by quilters and tattoo artists, which is why most quilting conventions include a handmade tattoo in every goody bag. Celebrate the unifying power of the needle with today's Groupon

Like a carefully arranged leaf pile, the right outfit can make its creator appear put-together or hide an entire family. Stand out with today's Groupon

Then I got it: the copy is meant to be ironic, in a 21st century hipster kind of way. 

I tried to think of a humorous way to wrap up this entry, but I found that reading through the Groupon dreck drained me of any humor I may have had.   Just give me the damned offer and spare me your drivel.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

School's Out

At 12:20 this afternoon, summer vacation officially begins for students in the Northampton Public Schools.  It’s a little later this year, when compared to previous years, because of the snowy (read: sucky) winter we had, and it’s more than a little strange that the last day is a half day on a Monday when graduation was on Friday.  But those are mostly adult concerns.  For the kids, the focus is, of course, on vacation and promotion.  As my younger said said to me this morning, “At 12:21 today, I will be a third grader.” 

I’ve also been amused by the way he’s been singing “School’s out for summer” over the past few days.  He took care to explain to me that he knows that the song is really only for those who are done with college, because that’s when school is really out forever, but he’s willing to sing a few bars to celebrate having the summer off. 

My older son graduated from Jackson Street School on Friday.  Since I’d been to other graduation-type events before involving my children—Safety Village, pre-school, CCD—I thought this one would be no problem.  I was wrong—I got caught up in the emotion of the event and found it to be completely bittersweet.  And when after the celebratory cake had been cut up and served and my son came up to me and asked if he could go to a friend’s house, I felt the significance of this momentous day.  For the past six years, Jackson Street School has been the center of our educational universe.  Next year, for the first time, our two sons will be going to different schools, with different schedules, teachers, and expectations.  We’ll adjust, of course, and everything will be fine, but that transition to middle school won’t happen until after this long stretch of summer is over, so the only thing I have to keep my company are all the fond memories I have of Jackson Street, and the reminders of what we’ve lost. 

So yes, school’s out for summer. But it’s never really out forever.  Instead, it visits us over and over again, in our memories, through our children, and in our forgot-the-locker-combination dreams.  And don’t forget Facebook, too, where friends from school bombard us with friend requests that completely ignore the reasons why we’re not really friends with them in the first place. 

But I digress.  And as I said, the last day of school is about looking forward, not backward. 

Bring on the summer!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Rodney Dangerfield's class movie "Back to School" has become one of those cable staples that I can't help but watch whenever I notice that it's on.  I always chuckle to myself, in an admittedly obnoxious, I-am-so-much-cleverer-than-you kind of way at the scene where Rodney goes to his English class for the first time.  Sally Kellerman is his professor, and she begins the class by reading Molly Bloom's soliloquoy from James Joyce's Ulysses.

But wait: the fact that I know the passage she reads come from Ulysses is not the obnoxious part.  No, the obnoxious part is knowing--and then talking about it, I suppose--that the list of books she writes on the chalkboard that the class is supposed to read is completely absurd, as it includes Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses.  I can tell you that there are perhaps 12 people in the world who will tell you that they've read Finnegan's Wake and understand it, and most of them are lying. The ration of people who've read Ulysses, and who claim to have enjoyed it and understood it, is slightly better, but it's still a book that's more famous for being famous than it is for being read and discussed.  

Which brings us to Bloomsday, which is today, June 16.  It's the day in 1904 that Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce's Ulysses made his was around Dublin.  It's celebrated every year by devotees of Joyce, and by a lot of people who've never read the book. 

I'm of two minds about Bloomsday.  I have a Ph.D. in literature (American, not British) and read Ulysses in graduate school.  I also had the pleasure of teaching it to a bunch of mostly disinterested undergraduates.  So I appreciate the book on a couple of levels, and I appreciate a day devoted to literature.  But I can't help but think that somehow all of this celebrating of a book that most people haven't read is a bit silly.  And I can't help but think that Joyce would see it that way, and appreciate the irony.  Like the irony of a graduate student teaching a seminar on Ulysses and using the Cliff Notes as his bible. 

And don't get me wrong, I'll be hoisting a Guinness to James this evening. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Pull of the Blog

I cringed when I saw the date of my last post in this blog, because I shouldn't let that much time pass between insightful, entertaining posts.  But it is a vicious cycle, I'll be the first to admit. You see, I have these arguments with myself--well, discussions might be the better word--where on the one hand I tell myself that I shouldn't be wasting my time with my blog, because no one reads it.  Then, on the other hand, I tell myself that more people would read it if I wrote more.  These are not earth-shattering revelations here, but the ultimate point, I think, is that I need to decide what to do with this blog; it's a fish-or-cut-bait scenario.

But then it seems that every time I think about putting this blog out of its misery, something happens that forces me to once again sharpen my metaphorical crayon, like the kerfuffle over the Northampton Planning Board's requirement that the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish have a connection to the City's bike path in order to build its parish center.  Now the Gazette is publishing letters from supporters on both sides of the issue.  I've read these letters with great interest, particularly because I never thought that there could be people who would be against having a connection to the bike path. The Church maintains that its religious freedom is being infringed upon by the Planning Board.  I find that argument a bit ironic, because one of the things I've always loved about riding a bike is the feeling of freedom that comes with it.  Apparently there is some fear that older parishoners in particular will be subjected to hordes of cyclists riding through the parking lot of the church on Sundays when people are trying to find a parking space and get to mass. I never looked at it that way, and now that I have, I can honestly say that I still don't understand why it's a big deal to have a connection to the bike path.  But if I figure out a good reason, I'll post it right here, because I'm back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The Daily Hampshire Gazette yesterday published my piece about the lessons I learned watching a 3rd and 4th grade boys' basketball team's championship season. 

The link to the piece is here.

You can read the original piece right here.

Something Special Happened on the Way to the Championship

As a basketball fan and a father, I came as close as I think I ever will to having all of my basketball hopes realized while watching the performance of this year’s Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton 3rd and 4th grade boys CYO basketball team. 

With a 3rd and 4th grade girls’ team as well, this season marks the first foray into CYO basketball for Northampton’s newly formed Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. As I write this, the boys’ team is preparing to play for their division championship.  I suppose I could have waited for the results of the championship game to write this reflection, but the truth is, a championship couldn’t make me feel any better about this season.

None of these players will probably ever be able to dunk, and they probably won’t end up starting in high school, let alone college or the pros.  But they executed more than one perfect fast break during the season and often they played perfect defense.  Most importantly, they learned and developed their skills over the course of the season.  At times, they simply played basketball beautifully as they worked together as a team.  And as a result, they won a lot of games.

Now, whenever you roll a ball out there, divide the players into teams and keep score, there’s the potential for hard feelings.  The chances increase dramatically when family members watch. But over the course of the season, I didn’t see any inappropriate behavior, and that’s a big reason why I really enjoyed watching the SEAS team play, because there wasn’t been any of the ugliness that has become so common in all levels of sport.  In their last game, however, Northampton had a fast break and their opponents had no real way to stop it.  Just before the layup, one fan of the opposing team, who was sitting behind me, shouted out, “Hit him, Mack,” in effect urging this nine-or-ten-year-old kid to hurt another player.  That’s when it hit me that it was time for the season to end.

Soon, there will be a picture of this team hanging on one of the parish walls, and maybe there will be a trophy to go along with it.  And hopefully, the program will continue to thrive and a few years down the road, there will be more pictures and trophies.  But while I hope the team wins this weekend, what I hope for more is that each of these eight boys remembers just what a great season it’s been, regardless of wins and losses.

I hope they appreciate the kind pats on the back they got from their coaches when they were taken out of the game for a rest.  I hope that they realize the value of lining up after the game, shaking your opponent’s hand, and saying, win or lose, “good game.” 

I hope they remember how the coaches who yelled the loudest because their teams weren’t paying attention didn’t seem to understand that the more you yell, the less likely people are to listen. 

I hope they appreciate the effort their parents put in to make sure that they got to every game and every practice, on time for the most part.

I hope they remember the pats on the back they gave each other when they did something good, or even not-so-good.

Finally, I hope when they get older and they begin hearing the bad things that crowds are capable of, they will remember that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Andrew Shelffo
200 Prospect St.
Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 582-0712


Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Silly Season

Outrage is easy, because it doesn't require any deep thinking or foresight on the part of the outraged. It's a pretty simple game plan: get upset about something--it doesn't matter what, exactly, but it's more helpful if it's something that will allow you to claim that you've been victimized and wronged--shout about it, the more noise and exaggeration the better, and then demand that the wrong is righted immediately.  And then repeat.  If you do this enough, you never have to be productive; all you have to do is point out how everything your opponent does is motivated by either petty vindictiveness or elaborate conspiracies.

Over the past few days in Northampton, we've seen former City Council President Michael Bardsley stand up at City Council meeting and declare that the actions of the City Council regarding a recent land purchase were one of the "Top Five" blunders in the history of the council.  Northampton was founded 357 years ago, so that has to be one big blunder.  Then, we read about how Bardsley and three sitting Councilors were defamed in a private email City Council President Narkewicz sent to the Ward 3 Association president.  What I don't know is who let the word out about the email.  Ultimately, it's probably not important, but I wouldn't put it past someone to use it as a launching pad for outrage somewhere down the line.

And then we learn that Mayor Higgins will not be seeking re-election for Mayor.  I'm sure that Mayor Higgins' legacy will be reviewed for a little while, and then debated and dissected as battle lines are drawn for elections that won't happen for 8 months.  Michael Bardsley has already thrown his hat into the ring.  No opponent has officially announced his/her candidacy, though the rumors are flying.

But I think it's important to remember, which means that probably no one will remember it, that the volume of outrage does not correspond directly to the rightness of one's position.  In fact, those who are the loudest often use volume to cover up the shortcomings of their arguments.  And claiming that you speak for those who are reluctant to speak, or who can't speak for themselves for some reason, is a poor cousin to outrage.

Now let's fasten our seat belts and get ready for what will be a bumpy ride. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Match Play

I got a call the other day from the National Marrow Donation Program that I might be a potential match for a patient with lymphoma.

I don't remember exactly when I signed up for the registry.  Most likely, I did it back when I was in graduate school and thus more susceptible to the pull of good causes.

While I don't remember signing up, I do remember thinking that I would never in a million years be asked to donate; the odds were just too long, I figured.  And besides, most people who needed bone marrow would just get it from a family member anyway. 

Since I got the phone call about being a possible match, I did a little research.  The National Bone Marrow Program has almost 7 million people registered.  That's a pretty impressive number, until you consider that according to the latest census, there are approximately 308 million people in the United States.  That means that just over 2% of the population is on the registry.  Factor in that 70% of patients who need bone marrow don't find a match withing their family, and the number seems even smaller.

I'm in a wait-and-see mode right now, as they do more tests on my blood to see if I am, indeed, a match.  And I'm not going to lie, I have reservations about donating should I be a match.  But I don't see how I could possible say no.  How can you take away someone's hope like that? 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Accurate Signs

Yep, turns out that's right.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nerdy Winter Maintenance

Before I started running a lot, I used to wonder what people thought about when they ran long distances. I mentioned this to a friend of mine whose parents were marathoners, and he looked at like I was stupid and said dismissively, "What don't you think about?"

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was engaging in what passes for marathons these days, shoveling ice and snow from my driveway, when I became aware of exactly what I think about when I'm doing this chore.  At the risk of forever identifying me as a nerd, here's what it is: I think about Moby Dick, specifically chapter 67, "Cutting In," where Melville describes the process of butchering a whale.  Something about chopping the ice with that ice chopping tool.

"Now as the blubber envelopes the whale precisely as the rind does an orange, so is it stripped off from the body precisely as an orange is sometimes stripped by spiralizing it. For the strain constantly kept up by the windlass continually keeps the whale rolling over and over in the water, and as the blubber in one strip uniformly peels off along the line called the 'scarf,' simultaneously cut by the spades of Starbuck and Stubb, the mates; and just as fast as it is thus peeled off, and indeed by that very act itself, it is all the time being hoisted higher and higher aloft till its upper end grazes the main-top; the men at the windlass then cease heaving..."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fitness Room TV Rage

It's winter.  There's a lot of snow on the ground, and there's more to come.  I can't run outside because I don't want to risk hitting an icy spot.  Plus, my younger son is playing in the Hampshire Regional Y's basketball league this year, which means practice during the week and games on Saturday. As a result of all of this winter horror, I find myself spending a lot more time working out at the Y these days.   

I'm not complaining.  I've got to do something to stave off cabin fever, and the Y is just as good a place as any, I guess.   But it recently occurred to me that when you exchange the freedom of exercising outside for the warm confines of the Y, you're also giving up a tiny part of yourself to an institution.  The Y may be family friendly and all, but it's an institution nonetheless, with its own quirky rules, both written and unwritten.  And my God, have you seen some of those classes?  The way the instructor gets everyone doing the same thing at the same time? 

So take a hard winter and an institutional, soul-crushing mindset and you've got a recipe for trouble.  The discontent bubbles to the surface most notably in the cardio room, where members sweat as they manipulate various machines in front of a bank of flat screen televisions.  Everything will look hunky-dory until Channel Changing Time comes.  The staff working the cardio room are slaves to these blue binders that apparently outline in minute detail what channels should be showing what shows, when.  The idea, I suppose, is to remove the personal preference for a set of rules.  (If that's not institutional, I don't know what is.)

Of course, the problem with these institutional rules is that they don't take into account the human element.  If the rules say change the channel from X to Y at Z time, the rules don't take consider either what might be on, or what people might want to watch.  This is why lately I've found myself being entertained by infomercials for weight loss programs and The 700 Club.

I like to think that the anger from watching these shows makes me workout harder.

But I don't know how much longer I can keep it up.

That damn groundhog better not see his shadow tomorrow.   

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Supporting the Armor

Last night, in the middle of the latest winter storm, I braved the icy, snow-covered streets to head to the MassMutual Center to watch the Springfield Armor of the NBA's D-League take on the Erie Bayhawks.  the Armor won a pretty spirited game. 

We watched from some pretty sweet courtside seats, complete with waiter service.  I have to say, though, the whole experience was a bit strange because there couldn't have been more than 100 fans in the whole place.  Check out this picture from Masslive's coverage of the game and note the empty seats in the background:

Here's a picture I took from our seats just before tip off:

Overall, it was a lot of fun.  We even got on television when local ABC40 sports anchor Scott Cohen interviewed us as part of a "braving the storm to support the Armor" story, most of which ended up on the cutting room floor.  It turns out he was there mainly because the Armor game was literally the only game in town last night, since everything else was canceled due to weather. 

One final note: I checked the box score in today's paper.  It listed last night's attendance as 1,910.  I can only assume that a lot of those people were disguised as empty seats. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Late But Still Nice

Every year I appreciate the kind elves who every year decorate this spindly but hardy evergreen on the bike path for Christmas.