A Boy Makes a Mix CD; You’ll Never Imagine What Happens Next [Hint - It's a CD Give Away]


I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up, every day. That was four years ago. – Photo Via World and Film

Have you ever seen Blue Valentine?

You ever see Blue Valentine on Valentine’s Day weekend with a significant other?

Well I have. Not my movie choice. It’s the type of experience that leaves you shaken. That movie is dark. And sad. And if you’re anything like me, you want to be left alone, standing in grassy valley with a light breeze and the sun shining on you – for a week after leaving the theater. Not the bitter cold icy-wind tunnels that northeastern US cities double as in February.

Valentine’s Day is the time of year when schlocky films like Serendipity, Notting Hill, and other rom-coms find their way onto cable channels in even greater frequency than normal. Blue Valentine is the pinnacle of counter programming to those lovely films. 

In a similar, though less “so this is what it’s like to be in a dead end relationship in a formerly industrial Pennsylvania small city” way, this year’s Composite Mix CD – Not Your Typical February Mix Tape – is counter programming to all the  love songs one would hear around this time of year. Or any day of the year. 

The inspiration came from a thought that popped into my head in the shower nearly two years.


So that is what I bring you this year. A tale of falling out of love. The stories in the song aren’t as important as the sentiments they convey and how, when pieced together, it provides the arc of a sputtering relationship, the end, and the feelings afterward. Having listened to it incessantly the last few weeks it’s less sad than one would assume. It’s just honest.

Want a CD? E-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com by 11:59 pm on February 14 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.

A few things to keep in mind (like the last two years):

To my European friends who find this blog because they are still searching for photos of the Titanic, your request will be honored.

Limit first 100 requests. We came so close last year!

All you need to do to be part of this fledgling tradition is to e-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com.

Mariano Rivera Wasn’t The All-Star Game’s MVP

Mo_ASG_Daily News

Baseball is a sport that lionizes it’s legends in ways that other sports don’t. This has a lot to do with the professional baseball having existed since the 19th century and people like Ken Burns who get us thinking about it’s history in gauzy sepia tones.

Players like Aaron, Koufax, Ruth, Mays, Gehrig, Clemente and many others across the last century plus are icons who current players are often compared to. One natural comparison is Lou Gehrig and now-retired Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. In the season following a player’s strike that cancelled the World Series for the first time since 1904, Ripken broke Gehrig’s consecutive game played record in 1995.

Six years later, Ripken who spent most of his career at shortstop before moving to third, announced he would retire at the end of these season. He was elected a starter to the 2001 AL All-Star team at third base. The AL’s starting shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, at the top of the first inning switched spots with Ripken in a tribute to the long-time Oriole.

When Ripken came to the plate in the bottom of the third inning, he launched home run off of Chan Ho Park to give the AL a 1-0 lead. Ripken won that game’s MVP award. Those indelible moments are forever part of Ripken’s legacy. Few remember his last put-out or his last hit, but his performance at the 2001 All-Star Game, much like Ted Williams hitting a home run in the final at-bat of his career, is the fan’s coda to his career.

Last night, at Citi Field, a similarly memorable All-Star Game farewell occurred. The great Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, pitched in his final All-Star Game. Having missed most of last season with a torn ACL suffered while shagging fly balls during batting practice in May 2012, Rivera has been outstanding this year in his 19th season. Rightfully so, he was elected to the American League team.

Chris SaleComing into the game in the bottom of the 8th inning to the sounds of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera’s AL teammates stayed in the dugout, allowing him his moment of recognition on the mound as the sell-out crowd gave him a standing ovation. Rivera proceeded to do what he has so often done in his career, set down the side in order. Giving up no runs, no hits or walks.

In a game where the American League scored two of it’s three runs on sacrifices and the most any pitcher threw was two innings, choosing an MVP was going to be tough. The award went to Mariano Rivera. He didn’t deserve it.

I said as much on Facebook last night and a few friends asked me, “If not Mo, then who should have been the MVP?”

It’s a good question. The best way to answer it is through a process of elimination.

NL Team – They not only lost but were shutout. The only player who could have merited the award was Matt Harvey. Starting his first All-Start, he threw two innings, hitting one batter, giving up a hit, and striking out three. Nevertheless, his team lost.

AL Batters – If only Prince Fielder scored after laying out for his triple in the ninth inning, he might have garnered the award. However, with no major offensive power performances, the AL batters, despite nine hits, made no claim on the game’s MVP award.

That leaves just the AL pitchers. Three pitchers (Kansas City’s Greg Holland, and Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar from Toronto) threw one-third of an inning apiece. Gone. Same for Felix Hernandez, whose one inning of work with one hit and no strike-outs, Matt Moore who threw one inning, and Oakland’s Grand Balfour who struck out one but also issued a walk, are the odd men out.

That brings us to our finalists – Detroit’s Max Scherzer, Chicago’s Chris Sale, Mariano Rivera, and Texas’ Joe Nathan.

A look at the box score shows that the MVP of the game was Chris Sale. He pitched two perfect innings, struck out two, and earned the win. An argument could be made for Nathan since he picked up the save, but he also gave up a hit. And Scherzer, the game’s starter, only threw one inning.

Basked in the glow of his memorable entrance, Rivera pitched well – one inning and no hits. But it didn’t compare to Sale’s performance. Last night’s MVP decision was the baseball equivalent of giving Martin Scorsese the Oscar for The Aviator since Mo had never been an All-Star Game MVP.

Hey Harold Reynolds, Justin Sellers Isn’t a Hot Prospect

Let's just hug it out, Harold - Via Sports Management Worldwide

Let’s just hug it out, Harold – Via Sports Management Worldwide

I’ve always liked Harold Reynolds. I enjoyed him on ESPN’s baseball games and shows. Even when I disagree with his comments on MLB TV, I don’t loathe his presence on the screen, like I do with Mitch Williams or Billy Ripken, even though the three come from the same anti-sabrmetric school of thought.

But last night, Reynolds said something  so horribly inaccurate that went unchallenged. It’s one of those instances that puts MLB TV, typically head and shoulders over ESPN’s stable of John Kruk and crew, on the same level as the World Wide Leader.

Reynolds was arguing that the Dodgers, they of the $221 million team salary,  last place in the NL West, six games back and a negative run differential of 39, could be in contention by the All-Star Break. This position reminded me of my junior year high school english teacher, Ms. Laval, who would shoot down ideas about what Nathaniel Hawthorne was trying to get at by saying, “possible, but not probable.” Same is true for the Dodgers being in contention come mid-July.

Adding insult to injury was Reynolds’ second claim that the Dodgers’ farm system is stacked and that would either help the team down the stretch or make it easier for them to pull off a trade. In fairness to both his argument and Dodger minor leaguers, LA does have some good players coming up the pipeline. Yasiel Puig is already in LA and the team has players like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Zach Lee who could make an impact in a few years.

Did Reynolds mention any of those guys? Nope.

He referred to Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon. The former is 27 and the latter is 25. Sellers had 77 plate appearances this year while Gordon has gone to the plate 73 times before being demoted – for good reason. Both of their batting averages sit not-so-comfortably under .200. Sellers has played parts of two other seasons with the Dodgers and his batting average has just been a hair north of .200 those years. Gordon, after a high batting average/low on-base percentage 48-game audition in 2011, played half a season in LA before being sent down in 2012

Reynolds’ point was that the Sellers/Gordon duo is tearing it up in AAA. And on that point, Reynolds is right…..but, it means little in terms of their value or skill set. This is Gordon’s third time through AAA and Sellers’ fourth stint. If these guys weren’t tearing it up, they would be wasting valuable time and on-field experience for others on the bench or players toiling in Double-A.

Not Prospect Justin Sellers - Via Zimbio.com

Not Prospect Justin Sellers – Via Zimbio.com

From the jump, Gordon’s game was about speed. Rail thin and incredibly fast, his wheels were going to be key to his defense, his ability to get infield hits, and be one of those guys who can turn a walk into a triple thanks to his speed. Sellers doesn’t have Gordon’s MLB pedigree – Dee is the son of the inimitable Flash Gordon. He was once a prospect, now he is a project. He needs to prove he can hit major league pitching. Until 2011, Sellers was one of those guys every major league team has stashed in their farm system who plays well enough to warrant a roster spot on teams that play in cities like Savannah or Buffalo, but not good enough to make a major league roster. Except Sellers parlayed a few good years in Triple A with the fact that the McCourt-era Dodgers were broke and had a thin farm system.

Sellers and Gordon are not prospects. They are definitively not trade bait. If Reynolds believes so, he is less informed than the inane people posting comments on MLBTradeRumors who think the Yankees could get Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for Kevin Youkilis, Jorge Posada’s old locker, and the rights to a really promising t-ball player in White Plains.

If only there was some set of statistical analysis that gave folks the ability to figure out how good players are and what their potential might be in the majors. If only.

Wheeler or Beltran: A Giants Conundrum

Zach Wheeler in Spring Training - March 2013

Zach Wheeler in Spring Training – March 2013

In six innings tonight, Zach Wheeler threw 102 pitches, struck out seven and walked five while holding the Braves scoreless on just four hits.

At the same time, a few hundred miles away, Carlos Beltran is wearing a Cardinals jersey, batting second, and hitting .306 through more than two months of the season. Two years ago at this time, Beltran was playing through the last year of his contract with the Mets as the team limped through another disappointing season. On July 27 of that year, Beltran was traded to the World Series champion Giants. The player the Mets got in return was minor league pitcher Zach Wheeler.

The most infamous trade in baseball history is Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas comes close. As does the Lou Brock trade. But in the last 30 years, there are two  one-for-one deals that serve as warnings to general managers about flipping prospects for short term players who may help in the push for the playoffs, but will be free agents at the end of the season.

In 1987, the atrocious Atlanta Braves traded 36 year-old pitcher Doyle Alexander to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for pitching prospect John Smoltz. Alexander pitched brilliantly in the second half, but was out of baseball after two more years in Detroit. Smoltz, beside becoming a key cog in the Braves dominant 90′s pitching rotation, is the only pitcher to win more than 200 games and save more than 150.

The other trade occurred in 1990 when the Boston Red Sox flipped first base prospect Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for relief pitcher Larry Andersen. Andersen threw 22 innings for the Red Sox before leaving as a free agent at the end of the season. Bagwell was a force in the middle of the Astros lineup for more than a decade.

In spite of his impressive debut stats, Wheeler’s off-speed pitchers weren’t sharp. It’s clear that Wheeler is and will be a work in progress for the Mets, but along with Matt Harvey, the Mets have one guy who is a must watch pitcher and another guy who could become that very soon.

Carlos Beltran's First Moments as a Giant in 2011.

Carlos Beltran’s First Moments as a Giant in 2011.

For the Giants, the question is, how much do you value a highly touted prospect. Two years after being taken with the sixth overall pick, Giants G.M. Brian Sabean parted with Wheeler for two months of Beltran. And if Beltran’s agent is to believed the Giants never made an offer to Beltran.

A pitching prospect – for the Giants in 2011 – may have seemed a luxury given the strength of their rotation with Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong, but two years is a long time. Cain is struggling, Lincecum has lost his Cy Young touch, Vogelsong’s improbable comeback has sputtered, and Barry Zito is still underwhelming every five days. Only Bumgarner remains on point.

Entering Wednesday’s game, the Giants had fallen into fourth place after an extra-inning loss to the Padres the night before. With question marks up and down their rotation, would Giants Manager Bruce Bochy rather run a Wheeler or Zito out every fifth day as the team’s starter in the back end of the rotation?

That’s just 2013′s rotation. In the years to come, Zito’s contract will come off the books. Lincecum is a free agent at the end of this season. Vogelsong doesn’t look like an answer. Will the Giants be forced to target a free agent or dig deeper into their farm system to trade for starting pitching? The big problem with the second option is that to trade for a top-flight starting pitcher, you need to give up a prospect on par with Wil Myers like the Royals did to get James Shields.

The Rays will probably trade David Price at some point, but if the Giants were to trade him, they would need to part with some of their top prospects for the type of pitcher – a front-line starter – that Wheeler could very become in short order.

Maybe the Giants and their fans won’t care. After all, in 2012, they won the World Series for the second time in three years. But, in a few years, if Harvey and Wheeler are the one-two combo that Mets fans are hoping they’ll be, fans by the Bay will be wishing Wheeler was wearing white, orange, and black, instead of white, orange, and blue.

Bourn to Lose

Michael Bourn as a New York Met?

Michael Bourn as a New York Met?

What were once whispers that the Mets might be interested in free agent center fielder Michael Bourn have developed into a loud drum beat. There are two hang ups that seem to be keeping the Mets from locking up Bourn. The first is that they are unwilling to pay him $15 million a year and second, since Bourn is a Type A Free Agent who was offered a qualifying offer by the Braves, the Mets would lose their draft pick, 11th overall, for signing him.

Letting people think they are seriously going after Bourn is a good idea for the Mets. It helps them win the war of the sports covers in a winter where the Yankees were doling out one year contracts to guys who were All-Stars when I was in high school and were outbid by the Pirates for Russell Martin’s services. It’s also tells fans that ownership and the front office are interested in fielding a better team.

Actually inking Bourn to a three-year or, worse yet, a four-year deal, would be a disaster for the Mets. It sets back any effort to gauge what their outfield prospects can do, puts into stark relief the way the team handled the R.A. Dickey contract negotiation and subsequent trade to the Blue Jays and hampers the Mets ability to spend money if they become competitive in the next few years.

The problem is that the Mets weren’t very good last year and outside of David Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and a possibly more consistent Lucas Duda, this doesn’t look like a very good team on offense for 2013. The Mets won 74 games last year, 77 in 2011, and 79 in 2010. Last year, their run differential was -59.

Without Bourn, the Mets would open the season with Ruben Tejada leading off and a platoon of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill in centerfield. With Bourn, Tejada would slide to second in the lineup and the platoon would be relegated to the bench. There is no doubt that in the short term, this would be an improvement for the team’s offense.

But, by blocking Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill, two guys who have yet to play a full season in the majors and are 25 and 26 respectively, for a guy on the wrong side of 30 who gets most of his value from his speed, the Mets could be doing some long term damage. In three minor league seasons, Nieuwenhuis put up consistently solid numbers. In 282 at-bats with the Mets last year, he had a slash line of .252/.315/.376. Cowgill has put up less impressive numbers but has always shown pop and speed. When Bourn was 25 and with the Astros in 2008, his full season slash line .229/.288/.300. This isn’t to say Nieuwenhuis will become a Bourn type player, but if Houston had gone out and got a new center fielder, they would have missed out on his 2009 season where he went .285/.354/.384.

Bourn is 30 years old. Any multi-year deal will be paying him mostly for what he has already done. Not what he will do in a New York uniform. In 2011, Bourn led the league in steals with 60 and in caught stealing with 14. In 2012, his steals dropped to 42 but he still led the league in caught stealing with 13. On top of that, he strikes out in bunches with 140 in 2009 and 2011 and 155 in 2012. As his legs get older, his batting average will continue to drop as his loss in speed negatively impacts his batting average on balls in play.

Photo via CBC

Photo via CBC

At the last home game of the 2012 season, R.A. Dickey won his 20th game of the year. Just two months later, Dickey was traded away to the Blue Jays for a package of players headlined by catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud. The Mets traded away Dickey weeks after he won the Cy Young Award because they were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension that would have covered the 2014 and 2015 seasons, seasons where Dickey will be 39 and 40. It wasn’t that the Mets were unwilling to extend Dickey, it was just that the sides were $5 million dollars apart. Over two years.

While they may not go as high up as $15 million a year for Bourn, they will have to go north of $10 million a year to make him a Met. Bourn isn’t a necessity for a team that isn’t going to be competitive for a few years. But Dickey, even if he didn’t replicate his 2012 form and in a winter where a pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie was signed to a three-year, $25 million deal, is a necessity. A team like the San Francisco Giants won with great pitching in the starting rotation and bullpen and an offense that didn’t overpower you outside of a few guys.

Before the trade, the Mets would have entered 2013 with a starting rotation of Dickey, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana and the possibility of uber-prospect Zach Wheeler at some point. Without Dickey, that rotation looks a lot less imposing as the Mets will need to lean even more so on Santana who faded post no-hitter and Dillon Gee who is working his way back from a serious season-ending injury last year.

The Mets let Jose Reyes walk, ostensibly because of their financial limitations, given their connection to the Madoff scandal and diminishing attendance. They haven’t been good in several years, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With young pitching prospects and d’Arnaud and others, the Mets could have a competitive team in an NL East that looks stacked with the Nationals and Braves leading the charge, thanks to the second wild card playoff spot. In two or three years, a Mets team that is in the hunt for the playoffs will have Bourn’s sizable contract on the books. They will be paying a high price for diminishing returns if Bourn’s contract hampers their ability to improve the team with an in-season deal or off-season acquisition.

Michael Bourn is a good player. The Mets aren’t a good team. But Bourn will age and get worse. And the Mets will mature and become a better team that could get into the playoffs. Signing Bourn won’t help in that effort.

The Composite CD Give Away: A Tradition Like No Other

Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all, you 're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel.

Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you ‘re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.

I was sitting at a bar last fall on a date and we ended up talking about music. The conversation eventually landed on the fact that I had been making a bunch of mix CDs for the five hour drives I had been making to Vermont in the summer.

It was at this point that my date was shocked that people still made mix CDs. Now, I have had friends give me grief for calling them mix tapes instead of mix CDs, but this was the first time anyone thought they lived in a world where mix CDs were a thing of the past like moderate Republicans in Congress and the Montreal Expos.

Coming just a few months after I’d been asked to resend a mix CD in mp3 form because the girl owned a computer that lacked a disc drive, it got me thinking what comes next. Your typical 80s kid made mix tapes by recording songs off the radio. In college, I burned mp3s off my Windows Media Player!! But what about in 10 years or 20? Will mix CDs be relegated to the sonic dustbin that is home to eight-tracks and the walkmen.

But until that day, I’ll be buying blank CDs and burning music onto them for a whole range of reasons: road trips, party mixes, CDs for girls I’m trying to impress, and once a year, a CD for you!

We’ve put together a mix of 11 of songs that have been methodically selected, arranged in just the right order, listened to and then re-listened to just to make sure the CD is pitch perfect.

Want a CD? E-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com by 11:59 pm on February 14 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.

A few things to keep in mind (like last year):

  • To my European friends who find this blog because they are still searching for photos of the Titanic, your request will be honored.
  • Limit first 100 requests. We came so close last year!

All you need to do to be part of this fledgling tradition is to e-mail thecompositeblog@gmail.com.

Watergate: A Novel – I’m Not a Book…You Should Read

Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon - Via PoliticalNewsNow.com

Watergate: A Novel by Thomas Mallon – Via PoliticalNewsNow.com

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always looked on the “historical fiction” genre with hesitant eyes. It seems to be the turf of guys like Newt Gingrich (and co-author) who take actual historical events and end up playing them out in an alternative universe. Not crazy stuff like aliens helping the Union Army at Gettysburg or a band of werewolves stopping the Great Chicago Fire. Instead, they play out the historical what ifs on par with the Confederacy winning the Civil War or a successful Axis ground invasion of Britain.

These books, to me at least, come off as the literary equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. History is too boring to be left to biographers and historians so we’re going to play make believe with real people, guessing how they would have handled situations they never found themselves in during their lives.

Thomas Mallon’s “Watergate: A Novel,” is a horse of a different color when it comes to historical fiction. Instead of giving us a history of the Nixon Administration where the Watergate burglars are never caught, the reader is treated to Mallon’s exploration of the time between the Watergate break-in and the last minutes of Nixon’s presidency. It seems like anyone was even tangentially related to the Watergate break-in and ensuing cover-up gets a spotlight shined on them in this scattered novel. From the wives of some of the burglars to Nixon himself, we are treated to their motivations for actions both important and irrelevant.

Oh no, I've given away the ending - Via WorldFamousPhotos.com

Oh no, I’ve given away the ending – Via WorldFamousPhotos.com

And there in lies one of (but not the biggest – we’ll get to that) problems with “Watergate.” Mallon spends so much time bouncing from one person’s perspective to another that we don’t get enough time with any one individual to find out what truly matters. By trying to combine history with a novel, we don’t get the character development one expects from fiction. Maybe it has something to do with an assumption by the author that the reader is already familiar with these historical figures, but no matter the underlying cause, it weakens “Watergate”

If the novel side of “Watergate” is hampered by too many characters, the non-fiction aspects are lost when Mallon overloads his book with secondary figures whose character arcs clutter the progress of the book and take away from the history at hand. We get a lot about journalist Joseph Alsop and Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt Lodge. Be it about Alsop’s sham of a marriage or Alice’s regrets over the loss of her daughter, these tangential explorations draw away from the titular subject: Watergate. The Saturday Night Massacre gets rushed through with nary a mention of Robert Bork yet we get page after page about Alsop and Alice.

All of these pale in comparison to what Mallon himself shares with the reader in the Acknowledgements section:

…I have operated along the always sliding scale of historical fiction. The text contains deviations from fact that some readers will regard as unpardonable, and other swill deem unworthy of notice. But this remains a work of fiction, not history.

Much as Mallon leaves the judgment up to the reader, I do the same with you. But I leave you with this. If Mallon wants us to look at Watergate from a new perspective and the key players in a different light by filling in what he believes were the conversations that happened in the Oval, on Air Force One, and in the Watergate, it is tough to get on board when the reader is unable to sort the fact from the fiction.

Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother? - Via Cleveland.com

Are You My Mother? – Via Cleveland.com

Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?”, is ostensibly an exploration of her relationship with her mom. But at the same time, it is so much more. The graphic memoir explores Bechdel’s relationships – with her therapists, her girlfriends, her parents, her writing and herself. As a way to figure out what has been going wrong the people and activities listed above, she explores the intersecting lives of Virginia Woolf and Dr. Donald Winnicott.

The tricky thing with parents is that no matter how old you are and how far away you get from them, in any measure of distance, their impact remains. It colors your professional and personal lives and as Bechdel struggles to unravel her complicated relationship with her mother, she has to dig deep into her own self to get where she needs to go. This awareness has its own drawbacks in her romantic relationships as she not only has to navigate the present with an eye to the future, but her past remains by her side.

While this is a memoir about her relationship with her mother, it is also about the writing of this very book, the writing of her previous memoir and how her mom responded to having the family’s baggage exposed for all the world to see. As a reader, especially one who isn’t familiar with Bechdel’s previous work, it takes a while to catch up with what feels like a pre-established narrative at the beginning of the memoir. The memoir kicks with a dream and jumps to the middle of a phone conversation between Bechdel and her mother while the author is driving to Pennsylvania.

Alison Bechdel - Via Barnes and Noble

Alison Bechdel – Via Barnes and Noble

Some of the most interesting moments come when Bechdel shares her experiences with her therapists. Three are featured in the memoir and they all play different, but important roles in her life. As someone who recently started seeing a psychiatrist, its amazing to read the thoughts of someone who has been in therapy for most, if not all, of their adult life, talk about the powerful impact it can have. It’s a testament to Bechdel’s willingness to share so much with her readers that we can see how her therapist’s world views eventually shape how she handles her own life.

“Are You My Mother” is broken up into a handful of chapters that all begin with the retelling of a dream. While these dreams give the reader an indication of what the chapter will cover, the more interesting feature about these dreams is that a few years pass after she has the dreams and only years later does Bechdel piece together the meaning of the dream and the role that lesson has in her life.

Inevitably, the story comes back to the mom. Even when Bechdel is writing about Virginia Woolf’s writing or Winnicott’s research into parent-child relationships, it all goes back to her efforts to create something with the mother who stopped kissing her goodnight when she was seven-years-old. While I won’t give away Bechdel’s realizations at the end of the memoir and where her and mom are at that point, tagging along with her as she gets to that destination, makes the ride worthwhile.

All Kinds of Time With Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Image via USA Today

Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Image via USA Today

One of the best songs written by Fountains of Wayne came from their 2003 album, Welcome Interstate Managers. “All Kinds of Time” tells the story of a young quarterback who in the middle of the game pieces it all together during one play.

Quarterback are at the center of the action. Fellow teammates on offense look to him for leadership. Either he calls the plays or relays them from the sidelines. The defense is watching him watch them as they line up. The QB can stick with the play or call an audible. All of this transpires in seconds. But it’s in the rush of the ensuing seconds between the snap and when the ball leaves the quarterback’s hands in flight down-field that 21 other players run, crash and push to either enable or stop the quarterback. It’s in these ticks of the clock where a quarterback has to scan the field for receivers and defenders alike. A half second there or a beat here is the difference between a sack or worse and a first down or better.

In “All Kinds of Time,” knowing that millions in the stands and at home tuned into their televisions are watching what he does, particularly his family around that flat screen, time slows down for him as he receives the snap. I remember reading as a kid that Michael Jordan was so good, he used to see plays develop before they actually happened. Fountain of Wayne’s quarterback seems to reach the same level.

As I read Ben Fountain’s novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” last week, I kept returning to this song. And not just because Drew Henson, one of just two non-fictional players referenced in the novel, never reached that level of ability in two professional sports. It’s because, in the hands of most writers, a character like Billy, a 21 year-old soldier with no college education who manages to have a deep reserve of natural intelligence and emotional intelligence, would seem like an unreasonable stretch of the imagination. But with Fountain, Billy’s almost preternatural internal dialogue seems like the natural outgrowth of his growing up in Texas and his experiences in Iraq with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad.

Fountain’s novel is set on Thanksgiving Day 2004, but the story is propelled by flashbacks to Bravo Squad’s time in Iraq, the doldrums during the squad’s national celebrity tour and the time he spends at home with his invalid father, his overrun mother, his two sisters and his rambunctious nephew.

In moments no longer than any given football play, but far more momentous, a few members of Bravo Squad found themselves under attack near a canal in Iraq. Other members of the squad arrive as back-up and take out the Iraqi attackers in a battle captured on film that was later aired by Fox and other news outlets, leading to the beautification of the soldiers back home as heroes. The death of one solider, Shroom, whose strong intellect and friendship with the squad’s leader, Dime, settles heavily on Billy, and the severe injury to another are brushed aside by everyone other than the squad during their national “victory” tour. The culmination of the tour is their attendance at the Cowboys game on Thanksgiving.

Without giving too much of the story away, the squad manages to make their way from the end zone and their field level seats to the bowels of the stadium for a press conference and a meet-and-greet with Cowboys cheerleaders to the owners luxury box. Spread across one afternoon, these interactions and developments flow naturally and occur in such a way that it seems totally reasonable that these ten guys who just weeks before were stuck in some god-forsaken desert in a country most Americans could barely locate on a map would be able to grip and grin with everyone from the Jerry Jones-esque owner of the Dallas Cowboys to the random fans coming up to them when recognized as Bravo Squad.

Welcome Interstate Managers - Image via Tradebit.com

Welcome Interstate Managers – Image via Tradebit.com

Getting back to that matter of moments, Billy’s life is full of them. From the situation that drove him to the army, to the reaction under fire to instances throughout the game where split second decisions, the story’s internal engine and his direction as a character are powered by these choices. And while they are made with limited life experience, there is also a presence of mind and composure that others pick up on from the start. From Albert, the Hollywood producer looking to turn Bravo’s story into a blockbuster movie to Dime who sees in Shroom’s loss a need for Billy to step up, to a Cowboy’s cheerleader whose heart is in the right place and even to the Cowboy’s owner who wants to negotiate with Albert and Billy after Dime goes bonkers, people see something special in Billy.

When writing in the past about the novels I’ve read, I have, from time to time compared certain books to Jonathan Franzen’s unwieldy “Freedom.” “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” captures what it was to live in America and be an American in a lot of ways, in the closing months of 2004. President Bush had won re-election with the held of some Swift Boating of his Democratic opponent, the foundation for the economic collapse at the end of the decade was being swiftly put on credit and the unwavering devotion to a foreign policy that was killing Americans on a daily basis and doing little to make us safer at home were going at full-speed still. All of these are on display in this book. Fountain weaves all this together naturally by writing about characters who are at the center of these events and developments.

The story ends soon after the Cowboys game concludes in a Dallas loss. As the soldiers leave the game, Billy has one last decision to make. And much like the quarterback in the Fountains of Wayne song, he has just seconds to make it, but by the end of novel, for him and for us, it feels like all kinds of time.

Really? With the Books? Again?

How many books do you think Ahab read in a year? (Forbes.com)

Having a blog is a lot like taking care of one of those gold fish you’d win as a child at a street festival or county fair. There was that initial exuberance and excitement. The next morning though, almost inevitably, you’d find the gold fish, for whom you’d already gone to the trouble of naming and after feeding that first evening, scaring the shit out of by shoving your face up to the bowl, dead. Our parents, quick to avoid any pesca-tragedy would dispose of the little fella via a quick flush to sea. While that was always the case with my not so lucky goldfish, there are some people whose ability to keep their goldfish alive opened their eyes to the possibility of fish tanks filled with colorful aquatic life and the responsibility that comes with taking care of a fledgling eco-system residing in your dorm room or home.

Flipping through some old photos at what was my mom’s home a few months ago led me to one shot of me as a toddler in my father’s arm at street fair. Standing next to us was my Uncle Johnny doing his best BALCO impersonation and in my tiny hands was the top of a bag holding this bright orange fish. That fish and this blog have some things in common. But lets start with what they don’t so that inconsistency can be addressed. Most obvious is that that fish is alive and in the strictest of senses, this blog is not. It is a combination of coding and letters that become words that turn into sentences and paragraphs before hopefully transforming into something thoughtful and interesting.

If you don’t care for the fish, it’s not going to last. Just as if you don’t take the time to care for a blog or anything you are trying to create, it isn’t going to survive. Since we already established it isn’t alive, the blog is not going to die but it will drift away slowly. You might check in once and awhile, but it isn’t enough. And that, dear reader, is what happened here with The Composite. Life has a way of getting in the way. Over the course of the last two years this site has embarked on the possibly Quixotic effort to read all 100 Books on the New York Times’ Notable Books list in each respective year.

Born out of a desire to read a wider array of books, I now almost feel like a Bibliophile Ahab. Stymied two years ago with the onset of a job that demanded the entirety of my time, energy and focus, I strongly believed that 2012 was going to be the year. By March, I had already hit the 30 book mark – easily on pace to if not reach 100, get real close. And then life, again, inserted itself in ways unimaginable. Reading memoirs of loss stung too much, non-fiction about wars and tragedy were of no comfort and the saddest of it all, was fiction, which as a child was a world for our young mind’s to escape reality for just a little while, but now was littered with books about dysfunctional families, destructive relationships, death and situations where the possibility of hope was no longer in the cards. Staring loss head on meant turning away from the books, on the list and most any other. Until this week, I can’t remember a single book I was able to finish since I finished The Art of Fielding in April.

But unlike the legions of goldfish lost and the libraries filled with fictional characters doomed to repeat their fates with every new reader, the living, the truly living, have the ability to continue. And part of that continuation, for me at least, is to once again to try and read all of the books on 2012 iteration of the New York Times’ Notable Books list. The list was released the Sunday before Thanksgiving last year. And this Sunday, if all goes as planned, the race to 100 will begin anew. Lets see 2013 has in store for us.