Category Archives: Non-sports

Rediscovering my love affair with Led Zeppelin

I was a Led Zeppelin fan in middle school all the way through high school. That was probably my dad’s influence. He didn’t have any of Zep’s vinyl LPs in his collection, which I loved thumbing through on occasion (mostly, probably, to see a certain Blind Faith album cover) but he introduced me to Zeppelin through the magic of compact discs.

The first real rock concert I ever attended was Aerosmith at Lakewood Amphitheater in 1994, but the first concert I was supposed to attend was an ill-fated Coverdale-Page show that was cancelled, apparently because of slow ticket sales. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the announcement on 96 Rock that the show would not go on, that I would not see Jimmy Page play with David Coverdale, and I’m sure my wailing that echoed through the two rooms of my parent’s basement could have competed with any of Robert Plant’s bluesy screaming on Led Zeppelin I.

I loved Led Zeppelin in my teenage year, more than I loved Pink Floyd, more than I loved Def Leppard, more than I loved most any other band that had ever existed.

But as many romances do, that infatuation faded after high school. In college, I listened to other genres – harder and faster music. Mike Patton and Ben Harper and the Pietasters and System of a Down and Sevendust. I owned all the Zeppelin albums, but they received less and less play as I got older. In fact, I only recently added the entire Zeppelin catalog to my iPod, and those songs only pop up randomly now and again when I’m on shuffle (curiously, I seem to get more songs from Coda than any other Zeppelin album).

I seem to recall the three surviving members of Zeppelin reuniting for one last show in London in 2007, but I barely put in the effort to find clips from the show on YouTube. I had moved on.

Recently, though, I found myself watching a Zeppelin press conference online to drum up publicity for the band releasing that live performance from ’07 on a DVD/CD called “Celebration Day.”

I sat transfixed for 45 minutes watching Robert Plant and Jimmy Page ignore questions about why they won’t reunite for a proper tour, and after Zeppelin was honored at the Kennedy Center Awards in December, I DVR’d the band’s appearance on the Letterman show.

Then, I was tooling around on YouTube a couple weeks ago, and I found this – probably the best version of Stairway to Heaven I’ve ever heard. Heart’s Ann Wilson wails on that song the way Plant used to sing it (but can’t anymore), Jason Bonham plays with the power and intensity of his late father, and the choir … my god, that choir. It’s brought a tear to my eye every time I watch it (not unlike Plant in the audience that night).

Since then, I’ve been on a Zeppelin kick. I downloaded “Celebration Day,” and I discovered it rocks hard enough to knock me back to high school. I’ve watched the Heart version of Stairway probably 10 times. And I thought back to Feb. 28, 1995, when some buddies and I saw Page and Plant play at the Omni in Atlanta when they toured to support their first faux Zeppelin album (John Paul Jones wasn’t involved in this project, leading him to joke later that Page and Plant must have misplaced his phone number).

That concert experience isn’t on my top-10 best list, but there’s one moment at that show that I’ll never forget. In fact, it might be the best song I’ve ever heard performed live.

Page/Plant were 10 songs through their 21-song set list, and up until that point, they sounded like so many of the Zeppelin bootlegs I had heard. Solid, but gritty. Decent, but rough. Powerful, but a little bit fuzzy. If you’ve ever heard the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same, you’ll know what I mean. Zeppelin sounds kick-ass, but the band doesn’t sound great either. If that makes sense.

On that winter night in 1995, though, the band kicked into “Achilles Last Stand,” and everything changed. The night, which had been mediocre so far, was saved by this 10 minute-piece of music. We were in this 15,000-seat arena, and until that point, it hadn’t felt intimate. But Page started on that slow, meandering guitar lick and Plant started on those vocals, and suddenly, a rock concert morphed into magic. I’d experienced that at a show once before (during “One of These Days” at a 1994 Pink Floyd concert when that bass line and my pounding heart melded into one), and since then, it’s happened maybe one other time (Faith No More playing “Caffeine” at the Masquerade in Atlanta in 1998).

An experience that can never be recreated, but one that never leaves your system. An experience that’s transcendental and ephemeral and utterly unforgettable.

A couple nights ago, I found that moment on YouTube.

You, of course, won’t feel what I experienced that night in Atlanta 17 years ago (if I had to pick the exact second that everything changed, it’s at the 1:57 mark). When I watched the video, I didn’t feel it either*. But I could see the moment was there. I couldn’t feel it the same way I did when I was 16, but I knew it existed in a past life. That has to be good enough for the present.

*Though I’d never seen any video from this show, I did have a bootleg recording of Page-Plant’s performance that night, so I’ve heard this version of the song, maybe, two dozen times. I’ve never had the same reaction that I had that night, though watching the video for the first time was pretty freakin’ awesome.

Now, the question Zeppelin receives in every media session in which they participate is why they won’t get back together and do one last tour. Sometimes, Jimmy Page is elusive and mystical. Sometimes, Robert Plant looks pissed that he’s even being asked the question. Sometimes, it seems like John Paul Jones can’t answer because he’s day-dreaming.

Apparently, it’s Plant that doesn’t want the reunion, and the rest of the band is at his mercy.

You know what? It’s kind of perfect that they’re probably done as Led Zeppelin. It preserves that night in 2007 when Zeppelin, 27 years after it had broken up following the death of John Bonham, returned for two hours of triumph to be rock gods one last time. It preserves that 10 minutes of “Achilles Last Stand” on Feb. 28, 1995. Zeppelin doesn’t need to be The Rolling Stones or The Who and tour on old songs and faded memories into their AARP years.

One perfect YouTube video will have to be good enough for me; it will have to be good enough for all of us.

And it’s comforting to know that I can see that moment whenever I want. When I can think about my dad and I listening to Zeppelin in his Mazda RX7, when Zeppelin was the best band in the world, when I screamed about a cancelled concert, when Plant’s voice sent chills up my back.

Rock gods don’t ever die. But sometimes, they realize that their time together is gone, that there are other aspects of life to explore. Sometimes, rock gods just want to move on while the love and everything you ever felt about them remains forever the same. But only in the past.

Living with war in a holy land

One of the gunmen who protected us eating a popsicle.

There was a time in my life when I believed I would keep track of Israel, stay up to date on the news halfway around the world, think about how the daily turmoil affects those who live in the threat of constant danger. Israel is the land of my people, the home of a few of my relatives and a significant symbol to those who cherish it and to those who hate it.

After college, my wife and I traveled there as members of a Birthright Israel trip, an organization that provides Israeli tours for young Jewish adults where the objective is “to change the course of Jewish history and ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and solidarity with Israel via an educational trip to Israel for Jewish young adults around the world.”

It was an incredible time. We had just graduated from college, and we went with two other friends (and several bus-loads of others just like us) to experience the culture, the beauty, the history and the importance of this country. We made friends that we’ll always remember fondly, we explored a country and culture we had never experienced, and we felt a sense of pride that we were visiting a dangerous land so our lives could be enriched.

I’m not a religious man, and this trip didn’t make me any more so (though the first time I touched the Western Wall, I felt a surge of spirituality ripple through me that I’d never felt before and have not felt since). At the end of the trip, as we sat on the beach of the Mediterranean, the group talked about its post-Israel goals and what we had learned from traveling the country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, from the Red Sea to the Dead, from the desert to the big city. I declared that I would follow the world of Israel from afar through newspapers and websites. I believed it was important that knowledge of the region would somehow make me a better, more informed Jew. That knowing what was happening in Israel would make me a better global citizen, a better person.

Naturally – and I probably could have predicted this at the time – my interest in Israel has wavered. I don’t keep up to date with the latest micro-conflicts. I know who the prime minister is and what American commenters think of him, but not much else.

This doesn’t make me a lousy Jew. It just makes me less informed than I once thought I should be.

These Israeli soldiers could have destroyed me.

There are waxes and wanes for the fighting that occurs in that holy land, and when we there in 2001, it was a relatively peaceful time. A day after spending our evening in the Russian Compound neighborhood in Jerusalem, though, a car bomb exploded there. A few weeks after we returned to the U.S., a Tel Aviv nightclub was blown up. We were told never to ride the buses while in Israel, and we were not allowed to visit any of the street markets. The danger never truly fades away.

Now that the conflict has begun again between Israel and those who want to destroy her – and the danger becomes a daily obstacle of life – I think of my relatives who live outside Tel Aviv and I wonder about their daily lives now that the bombing, the missiles and the fear have returned. I sent my relative a message the other day via Facebook, and here was his entire response.

It is, in my mind, beautifully-written and eye-opening.

Thanks for writing. I’m grateful for your concern. The situation is a little worrying but could be much worse.

We are located in the Sharon region which is outside the 40 km radius around the Gaza Strip which has been bearing the brunt of the attacks. It was pretty shocking that over the weekend, rockets were fired into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These targets have not been attacked in many decades, and Tel Aviv is much closer to us, and a reminder of our vulnerability. Of course, the people who do live in the 40 km radius (in major cities such as Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod) have been experiencing living hell for 12 years now, and a particular acute form of it over the last week or so when about 700 rockets were launched, each with mass-casualty-causing potential. Now, we who live in the center of the country are exposed more directly to the same terrors, though at a much lesser intensity. For the people in the South though, the terror is much more real. The missiles are landing in their cities and blowing up their apartments. I have a personal connection to the most serious attack which took place on Thursday where a rocket struck the fourth floor of an apartment building killing three people in the town of Kiryat Malachi. I was in Kiryat Malachi last month and had a meeting in a cafe a few blocks from where a rocket landed.

Everyone I know has the radio on almost 24/7 and at some times actually 24/7. Over the Sabbath, when those who are religiously observant do not operate electronic devices, I set up a radio in the corner of the apartment at a minimal volume so that it wouldn’t disturb our Sabbath experience but from which I could glean news updates when I got close and leaned my ear into the speaker. I’m at work now and am watching the TV which now is being broadcast 24 hours a day on the internet. The broadcast gets interrupted every 10 minutes or so with the presenter announcing in a panicked voice “Alert in Ashkelon. Alert in Ashkelon (or whatever the city the missiles are travelling to)” and the air raid sirens are sounded. Then the broadcasts switches from the studio to live feed from the border with Gaza and in real time you see the missiles taking off from Gaza and hurtling toward Israeli cities. One gets a very cold, life-draining jolt, viewing these projectiles, knowing that they are on their way to destroy lives, but not knowing on whose heads they are going to land, and possibly those of you and your family. As I am writing these words, the broadcast switched to show rockets on their way to Tel Aviv.

There was a large call up of reserves on the night between Friday and Saturday. Again, this had particular challenges for religiously observant reserve soldiers who don’t answer the phone on the Sabbath. There was an eerie feeling on Saturday morning when I was in synagogue and didn’t see several of my friends who prayed there with me on Friday night. After the service, I asked their wives what happened and they said that in the middle of the night, they got phone calls (which they never receive on the Sabbath) and when the phone kept ringing, they decided to answer. Although Sabbath violation is one of Judaism’s most serious sins, it is a commandment to violate the Sabbath to preserve human life and being called up to defend the country is considered preserving human life. The army sent buses and before the sun was up, my friends were driven out to their staging areas in different parts of the country.

In my family, there has been a lot of anxiety, despite our attempts to spare our children from the reality we face. It’s difficult to do since we’re tuned in to the news for so many of our waking hours. I’ve taken to walking around the apartment with a radio in my pocket and one earplug in my ear to keep up to date and not unnecessarily worry my family. On the first day of the war, I asked my wife to keep the kids close to home and that evening we did a missile drill where we descended from our fourth floor apartment to the stairwell of the second floor, which the home front command notes is the safest place to be.

My middle daughter is anxious about many things and predictably, the situation has brought out many of her latent fears about our enemies trying to kill her. My youngest daughter, who usually is sangfroid about everything, pleaded to be able to stay in our arms. My wife told her (somewhat disingenuously) that there’s nothing to worry about but she replied, “I know mommy, but my heart is beating so fast, and I’m just scared.” My older daughter, who has a better understanding of history and realpolitik, muses about whether this was what it felt like to be a Jew during the Holocaust. I tell her (not disingenuously) that this is nothing like the Holocaust, but at 13, and with rocket alerts on the screen every fifteen minutes, I can’t expect her to be sensitive to the differences.

There is a lot of anxiety and tension about what happens if and when the sirens go off in our city. First of all, unless it’s Saturday, it’s likely that we will all be in different places. My two younger daughters are in the same school, but my oldest daughter studies in another city and my wife and I work in two different cities. In addition, in the event of an attack, the city’s security forces will likely be called to other places and in the context of my police service I will be called up to command the city’s western police precinct. My wife and children are not appreciative of the possibility that I will be out of the apartment and dealing with the general safety of the city’s residents rather than being in the 2nd floor stairwell with them.

There are a few bright spots in an otherwise frightening reality. On the first day of the war, the air force knocked out about 100 long range rockets whose range would have allowed them to hit our area. This was a remarkable feat because the rocket silos were placed in crowded Gazan neighborhoods a dozen yards or so from mosques, playgrounds and schools. It takes a remarkable amount of precision to hit the rockets and not the civilians. So far, I’m grateful and full of awe, that only 30 Gazans have been killed, and most of them I believe are Hamas militants. Another source of wonder is the iron dome rocket interception system developed together with the U.S. These anti-missile missiles have successfully intercepted over 80% of the incoming rockets. It’s the only such system in the world and we’re grateful for it. It’s the reason only 3 Israelis have been killed so far, despite the nearly thousand rockets they’ve shot at us. Thirdly, there is an amazing sense of unity and kindness that comes out during these difficult times. Our community is hosting a number of families from the South, giving them a break from the hourly need to run to the shelter. People are increasing their good deeds and charity giving. Bitter political arguments that usually characterize our society have been put aside. In general, there’s a kinder, more loving tone in every day interactions.

Thanks again for your concern. I hope my letter finds you well and gave you some insight into our experience.

No matter what side you’ve taken, know that there are hundreds of thousands of people — Israelis and Palestinians — who live this life every day. One day before Thanksgiving, here’s hoping that some day all of them can find peace.

The newspaper guy who adapted to the present

I didn’t know Craig Stanke well. I met him face to face in June 2011 when we had a NFL get-together in Fort Lauderdale. The first night all of us (the writers, the bloggers and the editors) were in town, we ate dinner at a relatively expensive steakhouse, and afterward, Craig expressed disappointment, because – even though we had ordered plenty of alcohol, appetizers, steaks, seafood and dessert – the bill was too cheap for his CBS expense account.

We should have ordered an extra side of shrimp or the creamed spinach a la carte or that fourth Maker’s and ginger. We were supposed to make it hurt, and we had failed.

I remember thinking to myself as he laughed at our weak attempt to blow a small hole in the monetary budget, “This guy … well, this guy is a newspaper guy.”

The truth is, Stanke, who died in his sleep Monday night at the age of 56, seemed to love newspapers but he also seemed to have lost his lust for them. Like I said, I didn’t know him all that well,* but he was a guy who worked at south Florida newspapers before turning to the internet in 1997, where he eventually became the deputy managing editor at Basically, he was the guy who ran the day-to-day operations of the outfit. You had a story to pitch? You went to Stanke. You had a problem? You went to Stanke.

*To read an excellent column by one of his best friends, the L.A. Times’ T.J. Simers, click here, and this one from’s Scott Miller is a standout as well.

Craig and I were Facebook friends – it was through social media, really, that I got a sense of his wit and his love affair with running – and as his discontent with the South Florida Sun Sentinel grew, it seemed that his status updates regarding his hometown paper turned desperate. Eventually, he cancelled his subscription, and although the decision, I suppose, was inevitable, he seemed saddened by it. He was a newspaper guy living through the demise of his hometown rag. He had a great job in journalism’s present and was preparing hard for the future, but he also seemed disappointed that the newspaper era in which he had toiled for two decades was on the road to irrelevance.

Especially since he had made such an impact in newsprint. Not just in the south, mind you, but in the north and the west. From his LinkedIn page, this is was his career.

His last job was at, but suffice to say, he was a newspaper guy through and through.

Which is the attitude he took when he interacted with his writers.

I always got a kick out of his e-mails on style. You know, the kind of email where he’d chide remind us that Stanley Cup Final had no “S” at the end of Final or that NBA Finals did or informing us of the latest AP style changes or that it was coach Mike Shanahan and not head coach Mike Shanahan. He’d usually sign off with something like, “There shouldn’t be any questions, but if there are, ask.” I always laughed at that, probably because it reminded me of something my mentor, Conrad Fink, would have said. Like, “You should know better, but if I have to save your ass again, I guess that I will.”

He also helped get me into Super Bowl XLV. Originally, only two of the three Eye on Football bloggers were supposed to have seats in the auxiliary press box. I lost the lottery, meaning I would write from Dallas all Super Bowl week but I wouldn’t be in attendance at Cowboys Stadium. Until Stanke stepped in at the last minute and finagled for me a pass to the media workroom next to the field. I had to watch the game on TV, but I still was a part of the live coverage team (and truthfully, I sneaked into a sweet pregame party on field level that my brethren in the press box didn’t know about. I toasted my freshly-cut prime rib to Stanke that night). Anyway, when he called to tell me the good news, I asked him where the media center was, and he said in kind of an exasperated way, “I don’t know, Josh. But I got you into the stadium.” Indeed he did, and I appreciated it. I guess I never really told him that.

About a year ago, I wrote a piece for the website in which an NFL quarterback from the 1970s let loose a, “F— Drew Brees” comment. I wrote it – led with that quote, actually – and the day it appeared, the former QB called me. He was pissed, and he let me know about it. After spending 30 minutes on the phone with the QB, I dialed Stanke to give him the heads up that I had been called. Even though I was bugging him at home, Stanke took 10 minutes to let me know that everything was cool and that he stood with me behind that story and the way it had been presented.

I figured that story and that quote would blow over in a few days, and it did. And even though I wasn’t upset that the QB was upset at me, it was nice to hear Stanke’s voice of reassurance.

For a newspaper guy, he took to online journalism quite well. He landed a high-level job at one of the most prestigious national sites around, and he did something inventive with Twitter, where he used his account to tweet out the daily story budget. His nearly 1,300 followers got details every day about who was writing what and when it would be online. The point, I think, was so that the viewer could sit in virtually on the budget meetings, so that readers could go behind the scenes for a brief moment. This wasn’t the thought process of most newspaper guys, but like a buddy of mine said, Stanke was the kind of editor who could bridge the gap between the dead tree days and what it means to be an online journalist today.

Stanke’s twitter account was great, and that’s the kind of stuff that makes the internet great (I mean, Twitter and the Internet. Wrong style. Sorry, Stanke). Craig understood that.

The last 24 hours have been a time of sadness, and though I didn’t know him well, reading his Facebook page and his Twitter mentions shows that his impact on journalism and on the world in general was something to behold. I was excited to see him next week at this year’s NFL summit for us at I was ready to help make that dinner bill extravagantly expensive. Now, we’ll have to do it to honor for Stanke – the runner, the online adapter, the editor, the man who was loved by many and respected by even more.

Here’s hoping the Sun Sentinel runs a big obituary on Stanke in the newspaper on Tuesday, a 20-inch black and white eulogy with maybe a mug shot of Craig’s grinning face. One last toast to the man who left newspapers behind. I imagine he would have enjoyed that.

Do not – I repeat – do not …

… break your penis. This should be obvious, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a helpful reminder. And if you do happen to break your penis, please don’t show it to me in a public restroom. Unless, of course, I ask first.

For Fink – RIP, you rascal

The last time I saw Conrad Fink, I walked into his office while making a quick visit to the University of Georgia, and I stayed for probably 10 minutes. At that point, I could feel him wanting me to get the hell out of his office. He was a busy man, he had too much wisdom to impart on those journalistic students who committed daily atrocities. He couldn’t talk much about the past with a former student, because he had too many damn edits to make in the present.

I said my goodbye, shook his hand and walked away. This was probably 2002, so I haven’t seen Fink in about 10 years. I don’t remember much of our last conversation together, but I have never forgotten – nor will I ever let go – of the lessons he taught me.

He was the biggest influence in my journalistic life and my biggest mentor. He accomplished goals I can only dream about. He was a longtime Associated Press writer who traveled the world, told the biggest stories, went into management, worked as a professor and became a mentor for many of the journalism students that passed through the UGA Arch.

If you didn’t get to know Fink as a journalism student at UGA, what the hell was wrong with you? If Fink didn’t know you, why were you even bothering?

On Friday, after a 20-year battle with prostate cancer – a fight I was sure he was going to win – Fink died* at the age of 80.

*He would not have been pleased with me for burying the lede of this post.

He was important enough to me (that, or I realized the importance of needing every ounce of Fink I could imbibe) that I took all five of the classes he taught at UGA. My duties at the student paper, the Red & Black, oftentimes made it impossible for me to turn in assignments on time (or to make it to his classes at all). He understood that and he appreciated the students who recognized the importance of apprenticing at the student paper, but he also knew when it was time to bear down on me.

In two separate classes, he sent me the following note tapped on his ever-present typewriter: “Mr. Katzowitz, March 1 is semester midpoint. I recommend you withdraw from this course. I don’t think you can earn a passing grade in the time left.” The first time he gave that to me, it scared the shit out of me, and somehow, I willed myself to pass that class. The second time I got the note, I knew it was him telling me to start doing the work. In both classes, he gave me an ‘A.’

Sometimes, I disappointed him, especially during my senior year when I, as the paper’s sports editor, wrote a weekly football picks column that was sophomoric and disgusting and, ultimately, unfunny. I recently reread some of those columns, and I was embarrassed for my 21-year-old self. But Fink also understood the need to allow his students to grow. He said his piece, and when I ignored him and continued writing the column, he left me alone.


Fink was famous on campus for a few things: No. 1, his eyebrows. His bushy, bushy eyebrows that were almost impossible to believe. It was the first thing you noticed about him. But there was also an elegance to his eyebrows. They weren’t necessarily distinguished, but they also weren’t sloppy. They were Fink, and really, that’s the only description I can offer.

No. 2, the way he opened a vein before reading a student’s paper or article and then bleeding all over it. His red pen was brutal, and even on assignments that were well-received by Fink, he still destroyed each attempt with that damn red pen. He was to editing as Norman Bates was to women in the shower.

No. 3, his most famous in-class advice was, whenever you were writing a story, to always think about the little old lady from Keokuk, Iowa. In other words, explain it as simply as possible so that even an elderly woman in the Heartland could understand. That line made for great fodder – and no doubt, it’s a true idea – but that’s not really what I think about every day.

No, what I remember most is what he taught me about self-editing. After hashing out your story and rereading it once for editing purposes, he said, get up from the computer (or, in his case, the typewriter) before sending it to the copy desk. Take a breath, get your eyes focused on something else before you return for one last edit, slow down if even for an instance. His exact advice, in fact, was to “go to the john.” And whenever I was covering a late-night Cincinnati Reds game or finishing up my University of Cincinnati basketball gamer or banging out a Roger Federer piece for the NY Times, before I hit send, I always got up and went to the john. And yes, usually I thought about Fink while doing so.

I remembered his tales about his first newspaper job at the Daily Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill., and when I was on assignment covering a University of Cincinnati basketball game at Illinois State in Normal, not too far from Bloomington, I procured a copy of the Pantagraph. I sent him a note on Facebook telling Fink that I was thinking about him.

That’s the other thing about Fink. He never stopped evolving. He signed up for Facebook and instantly was connected to all his admirers. He was an old-school newspaper writer, but he also understood where the Internet was taking journalism. Did he understand the consequences on the newspaper business when I was in college? No, I don’t think so. He never thought newspapers would begin to become irrelevant. I think he was wrong about that. That might be the only thing about which he ever was wrong.

Yet, as evidenced by the clip below, it didn’t take him long to get it right.

Ah, I wish Fink had gotten on Twitter. I would have loved to hear about him washing his dog.


We kept in touch. Well, I kept in touch with him, and usually, he responded shortly and sweetly.

In May 2007, when I still lived in Cincinnati and was planning my itinerary for my brother’s wedding in Atlanta, I sent him an e-mail saying I would make a day-trip to Athens if he was around. He wrote back: “katzowitz, you rascal, you voice from my past! delighted hear from you. unfortunately am at my upstate ny farm clearing my head of undergraduate journalistic misdemeanors and felonies. try me again in late august. Fink”

On Feb. 29, 2008, I sent him a link to the most-impactful story I’ve ever written, a New York Times piece that made the sports front about a disabled wrestler from southwest Ohio. In the e-mail, I wrote, “How many of these bylines do I have to get before I get a free copy of your sports writing book?” He wrote back: “free? you rascal! i should be charging you. Fink”

When I wanted to send him a copy of my first book, Bearcats Rising, I asked for his address so I could send him a package, and he wrote back, “doesn’t tick, does it? fink.” In the acknowledgment section in the book, I penned, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for his guidance and help. He is my mentor, and even though he still refuses to send me any of his books unless he has my personal check in hand, I’ll always be grateful to the ink-stained wretch.” In response, he sent me this message: “katzowitz: enormously flattered by your acknowledgment of me in your book, which i will delight in reading. thanks, and great good luck. fink”

That was the last time we corresponded.

[UPDATE: Just got this e-mail from a former Fink-acolyte who overlapped with me at UGA: “He’d be proud of you, Josh. I know when I saw him in November he asked for an update on you.”

I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.]

He imparted so much knowledge on all of us, but he was not overly generous with his compliments, maybe because we all so badly wanted his respect. You know, he always talked about wordsmiths, those who could craft a story into a journalistic masterpiece. Usually, he was referring to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Steve Hummer when he used that term, but he probably harkened back to the days of Red Smith and Jim Murray. I once asked him if he ever thought I would be a wordsmith, and he said he believed that I would. It was, without a doubt, the nicest thing he ever said to me.

Fink, I’m still working to that goal, and I’m still remembering everything you taught me. I’m so sad I never made another visit to Athens to visit. But I’ll never forget you – not your bushy eyebrows, not your red ink, not your passion for journalism. Fink, you were more than a professor to me. You were my hero. And I, along with your students, am going to miss you greatly. Tonight, the little old lady from Keokuk, Iowa is weeping.


Twins blog: Long absence

In the dark night, with the runway lights illuminating little stretches of land and with airplanes screaming overhead, I searched the crowd of people waiting for the rides that would take them away from the airport.

Finally, I found her—a pretty brunette with a Baby Bjorn carrying another pretty brunette. I hadn’t seen my wife in a week, and as a result, I hadn’t seen my twins.

Continued here.

Completing the Crazy Diamond

On May 3, 1994, a few buddies and I took MARTA to the North Avenue station, walked west to Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium and prepared for the concert of our lives.

At the time, I don’t think I really appreciated what I was about to witness. I had been a Pink Floyd fan since, probably, seventh grade, and two years later, the final incarnation of the band released what would be its final studio album and gave its final world tour. At the time, I had seen one real rock concert – Aerosmith, with special guest Jackyl! – and I was pumped to see Dave Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason (sadly, Roger Waters had been out of the Pink Floyd picture for about a decade).

And it was incredible. Though I really only knew the Pink Floyd material that EVERYBODY knows (Dark Side, Wish You Were Here) and the last couple of new albums, it was incredible. I didn’t recognize “One of These Days” or “Astronomy Domine,” because I wasn’t familiar with those portions of Floyd’s catalog (really, you have to be a pretty intense fan to own “Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” I do, now.)

Sixteen years later, I remember the fog rolling into the stadium after a rainy day, making the night all the more surreal. I remember the older folks behind us asking us to sit down for the first act. I remember the Bill Clinton look-alike blowing the sax on “Us and Them” (Clinton was, in fact, in town that day). I remember “Time” and “Money” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” I remember the unbelievable light show.

A small taste here.

And here:

Tonight, I’ll complete the Floydian circle – or the crazy diamond, if you prefer.

The wife and I are going to see Roger Waters, the only original Pink Floyd member I didn’t see in 1994 (except, of course, for Syd Barrett). He’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Wall by playing it in its entirety. All the reviews I’ve read have been stunningly positive. The sound apparently is great, and the entire show (like the original Wall tour, building a Wall brick by brick before tearing it down at the end) is an amazing piece of work.

See part of the spectacle here (when the wall comes down).

I haven’t been this excited for a show in quite some time. Sixteen years later, I’m ready for something just as special as the night I walked into a stadium with a couple buddies and walked out having seen the best show of my life.

My legs are sore

I went for a run last night. Well, a run that was interrupted quite a few times by walking. It’s the first time I’ve jogged in, oh maybe, five years, and I’m trying to get back on track.

I used to jog all the time, though I never much liked it. I ran the Peachtree Road Race (10K) thrice in my teenage years, and I was in pretty decent shape. Not now. Now, I’m much heavier than I want to be. So I’ve started eating better, and I’ve begun to exercise.

The past few years, I’ve used our Elliptical to work up a sweat. But even so, I’d always feel a little guilty, like I could do a little more. Exercising while reading a magazine or watching a sitcom just doesn’t seem quite as sporting to me.

This column by Rick Reilly, when he was with Sports Illustrated, always stuck with me. Especially when he writes, “We’re here to sprint the last 100 yards and soak our shirts and be so tired we have to sit down to pee.” You don’t get that feeling by doing 45 minutes on an Elliptical. You just don’t. You can sweat and be tired and feel good about yourself. But you – and by “you,” I mean “me” – don’t push yourself to your limit. You can’t feel your heart jackhammering like a scared rabbit.

I wanted to feel that way again, especially since I’d like to run the Peachtree again next year on July 4.

So, I waited until about 8:30 p.m., so nobody could see my struggles (I figured this wasn’t going to be me at my best), and I went out. Thirty seconds into the nice, easy run, my back was killing me and my legs were heavier than bowling balls (the big-boy balls, not the little kids’ kind). I ran for probably 5 minutes before I was done with the whole running thing. It was a little nippy outside, but my lungs felt like they were breathing in Lake-Placid-in-February air. I kept walking, but clearly, I was a long way from … well … anywhere.

I walked a little. I ran a little. I began to feel better. I began to feel worse. My breathing was the same. Heavy.

Finally, about five minutes from the house, I began to jog for the final stretch. Suddenly and strangely, I smelled the odor which only emanates from a horse. “That’s weird,” I thought to myself. “Where could there possibly be a horse in range where I could smell it? Hmm, I must be having a stroke.” But I pressed on.

Until I could see my mailbox. Where I staggered for the final few steps of my journey. I felt breathless. I felt nauseous. I felt wonderful (not at all, actually). But I did begin to remember what Reilly had written 11 years ago.

I didn’t have to sit down to pee. But I felt wildly exhausted from my 33-minute excursion. I also felt I had made some progress. My heart was really pounding. A single bead of sweat ran down my forehand. This was exercise.

This was a first step.

Say it to my face

The wife and kids and I were at a get-together/barbecue yesterday, and I got into a conversation with one of our friends about anonymous e-mailers and the people who rip sports writers on blogs but refuse to use their own names.

I was making the point that one person who disagrees with something I wrote could have a field day with me from his keyboard. He could make fun of my name (it’s been done numerous times on the Internet with people who thought my opinions/writing were horse manure). He could label me an idiot (it’s one of the nicer names I’ve been called). He could say how crappy I am at my occupation and how he could do a much a better job (this comment, as it turns out, was made just the other day).

But …

What if he was to run into me in real life? What if he recognized me at the coffee shop or at the library or in the airport while waiting for my luggage? Would he ever say any of it to my face? No. No, he wouldn’t. He would ignore me, or he’d walk up to me, excitedly shake my hand and tell me how he checks out the blog/web site/whatever all the time and how he’s a big fan.

You know why? Because people, by and large, are hypocrites and cowardly. If somebody walked up to me, shook my hand and said, “You know what, I hate your writing and I piss on your opinions, but hey, it was good to meet you anyway, ” I’d respect the hell out of him. At least, it’d make for a good story.

Anyway, after having that conversation, I saw this post by Jeff Pearlman, one of my favorite sports writers, on his web site.

I don’t necessarily agree with a few of his points on here, but he details the story of how an e-mail-bashing coward approached him at a Starbucks and introduced himself.

And Pearlman proves my points. This guy called Pearlman “a Kotex” in an e-mail, and then when he recognized Pearlman, he went out of his way to introduce himself. Then, hiding behind another e-mail, he later admitted to Pearlman that it was he, in fact, who had called him a tampon/panty liner.

Pretty lame. But pretty typical.

To the people of Haiti

I just sent a $50 donation to the American Red Cross. It doesn’t feel like enough, but we have some major family changes coming in the next few months and we’re trying to watch our bottom line. Which, with what’s happened in Haiti, seems incredibly selfish. It’s a conundrum. How much can you give? How much should you give? How much should you weigh your own financial situation, and to answer that question with another question, how can you not? Does $50 make the guilt go away? $100? $1,000?

I don’t know, but I do know this: I wish the donation made me feel better. But, really, it doesn’t.