I will step aside and give my father the floor, in a quick second. The NCAA title has been decided and it has always been a shared family passion. With alumni from UCONN, Duke, Michigan, and Boston College in the same family, there was a lot to root for, me being a Carnegie Mellon alumnus, I got to enjoy the best of all worlds. I did pile on with my Mom and Dad and took the Huskies into my heart. What follows is a reprint of an article my Dad wrote, that appeared in the New York Times, after the nets came down.
An Angel on His Shoulder at the Final Four
date: 04-04-99 New York Times
By GEORGE De GREGORIO
Going to the Final Four is quite an experience, especially if you start out without a ticket.
The notion of attending this extravaganza, held this year in St. Petersburg, Fla., came to me several months ago. It would have its advantages for me: My son Steve lives and works in the area, and I would stay with him and his family and enjoy the grandchildren. I also had hope and faith that the University of Connecticut basketball team, which I have cheered and supported for 47 years, could at last attain the charmed circle of the Final Four and even go on to win the national title.
Not having a ticket, of course, is quite daunting. And on top of that, how about not being able to get a flight to Florida because all seats seemed to be sold out? What did I expect on a weekend when the Final Four, college spring break and religious observances took place at the same time.
On Wednesday I decided to pack a bag and go by train, a 24-hour trip. I would scrounge a ticket by hook or by crook. I had a limited budget of crazy money in case I caved to the scalpers.
I was off on a one-man odyssey. Before it was over, it would give me an exhilarating emotional experience, a kismet-like dimension — that was not supposed to happen in this kind of environment.
I had asked around The New York Times to see if there were any tickets available. No luck there. One editor thought he might be able to make a contact, but that fizzled. He also asked a basketball reporter to keep an eye open in case something turned up.
With the Saturday, March 27, semifinals a couple of hours away, I still did not have a ticket. UConn-Ohio State was scheduled for 5:42 p.m. I had staked out a spot near the gate for the news media, hoping to bump into someone I knew who could help me. It was hot; temperatures were in the 80s. Sweat poured off me. “I need one,” I chanted, shooting one finger skyward.
At about 4 p.m., two familiar faces bounded toward me — two reporters in ties and jackets and ready to write about the games for The New York Times. They knew of my plight, but had not come up with anything.
“Stick in there,” they said. “Something is bound to come up.”
I had become a UConn fan when I was a student there. After I graduated in 1952, I became a sports reporter for The New Haven Register and was assigned the UConn beat. Like the current coach, Jim Calhoun, I and many other fans had endured the rap that UConn was good to watch but not able to clear one hurdle, the leap to the Final Four.
As I waited, I chatted with a young reporter from The Orlando Sentinel. At that moment, I realized that at my age — old enough to retire — I must have looked odd and amusing to the young woman. I thought: what am I doing out here in this blazing sun, acting like a homeless vagabond, trying to crash an event in which young men in the springtime of their lives were reaching for a dream of excellence in a sport I once played, however tentatively, in my own springtime? And I realized that yes, that was reason enough for going.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see a lean, middle-aged man, wearing glasses and a gray cap with no insignia, standing behind me.
“Hi,” he said. “I guess you’re looking for a ticket. I’ve got an extra one you can have.”
“Yeah?” I said. “How much?”
“Nothing,” the man said. “You’ll be sitting next to me.”
“You sure I can’t pay you?” I said.
“You look like a fan. I don’t think you’ll try to sell it.”
I pointed to the turnstile at Gate 6. “I’m going right in now,” I said, trying to reassure him that I would indeed not sell the ticket. “I’ll see you in there,” he said.
I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t even look at the ticket to see if it was real or where the seat was situated.
I bought a hot dog and a soft drink and went to my seat — Section 314, Row R, Seat 24, on the aisle. I was way up there, but the view was unobstructed. I could see everything. On the scalpers’ listings, this one was going for $500.
Shortly before game time, the man arrived. Quiet and unassuming, he said he thought that of the four teams he would root for Michigan State, but he liked UConn’s chances. I asked him his name, but he refused to give it. I asked where he lived, and he refused to reveal that, too.
He was very savvy about the tactics and strategy of the games — the screening, the rebounding, the inside game, the press, the use of timeouts, fouling, and how it all might play out.
Between games, after UConn’s victory over Ohio State, I offered to buy refreshments. He refused. Again I offered to pay for the tickets. I asked for his name again, his address, his phone number. Each time he emphatically refused. “You’ll only send me money,” he said.
“This is a very unusual thing you’ve done,” I said. “Not many people would give these tickets away in this environment without seeking a big profit.”
“You’re a fan,” he said. “I know you wouldn’t sell it.”
He was the Anti-Scalper, the Anti-Profiteer. Maybe he got his kicks by standing firm in an age of fast-buck commercialism. He was taciturn, but I couldn’t call him strange or judge him. He might have thought the same about me, birds of a feather, and had picked me to receive his gift for that reason. Whatever, I was so engrossed in the UConn play and victory that I wound up hoarse.
At the end of the second game, when Duke beat Michigan State, he bounded into the crowd of more than 41,000, ignoring my pleas for information about him, and seemed to disappear.
The championship game was scheduled for 9:18 on Monday night. I was still clinging to my budget in case I had to yield to a scalper. This was one game I was not going to miss. At 6 p.m., I still did not have a ticket. UConn might become the national champion, and I might not see it happen.
I staked out the media entrance again. The same feeling I had had on Saturday came over me. The evening was cool. One fellow sported a sign reading: “Need One Ticket, Desperately. My Life Depends on It.” Panic time was setting in — surrender to the scalper or go watch it on TV.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see the same lean, unassuming man with the gray cap staring at me. He was selling nothing.
“I’ve got an extra ticket again,” he said, recognizing me. “It’s yours if you want it.”
“You got to let me pay you this time,” I said.
“No way,” he said. “I know you won’t sell it because you’re a fan. I’ll see you up there.”
When he took his spot beside me — Section 314, Row R, Seat 23 — he seemed to want to say he would be noncommittal about which team he favored, but he was as engrossed as I was throughout by the exceptional play between UConn and the powerful Duke team.
“One of the best games I’ve seen,” he said.
I managed to get him to say he was from Miami, but his name, address, phone number, occupation, family remained private.
I was able to buy him a cup of Carvel ice cream at halftime. He reluctantly accepted it, and he seemed to enjoy it.
He did not stay for the post-game ceremony after UConn’s victory, disappearing into the crowd as he had done on Saturday night. He went out of my little odyssey as mysteriously as he had come into it.
I would like to think he was a true basketball fan, one who saw too much crass commercialism in an event and a game that he loved and respected, and he would not sell out. Maybe he wanted to share that with somebody, thereby coming to the rescue of a kindred spirit.
I wish I knew who he was, but does it really matter?
The Holy Grail for a company is for their name or brand to become a verb. When was the last time you looked something up instead of Googling something? Sending something overnight, even at the post office, has become FedExing. You can Facebook someone, or aerobicize, or Victoria’s secrete, wait, that went too far, but you get what I’m saying.
People in the walk-a-day world are talking about branding themselves, because instead of rock stars we look up to business people. Seriously, guy-who-sells-books-on-the-street, you need to think about whether your brand message is working?
I can’t assume the pose of someone who hasn’t thought about this. I refer to myself in the third person on my website, have posed for pictures voluntarily, pass out business cards, and do intend to market myself. I just can’t find a way to make my name a verb.
To FedEx means to send mail or merchandise. To Google something means to search for information or nude celebrity photos. To Facebook is to waste time looking for bald high school friends or to brag about something in an effort to stave off feelings of desperation and inadequacy.
What is it to DeGregorio? Last night I had a set in Irvine and it didn’t go great, after the set I had an hour drive that was extended by a freeway closure. I was on the phone (hands-free) with my girlfriend and started complaining about my circumstance.
“I didn’t have to worry about this in New York, I live the life I live to not have to get stuck in traffic, it’s not like they have a solution after all this road work, I just ate shit and now I’m in my shitty car, changing gears manually, fogging my windows, what did I do wrong in my previous life?”
To which my girl replied, “Do you need to get off the phone?” Which is code for stop ranting or I’m hanging up. It worked to some degree and I didn’t explode.
So maybe we can get some traction that DeGregorio-ing is to have a verbal anxiety attack, extrapolating long term doom and gloom from simple hiccups and inconveniences of life. Not exactly the branding I was going for.
They say you start with the ideal for your brand and try to make it happen. I’d love for my brand to be about thoughtful humor, with hard work, and good bone-structure. I have to remember that I coined my brand as Carl D. does it, not complains about it. I have a lot of work to do.
When you lose someone, where do they go? That is a question that stirs us as a species. It is the reason we pray and congregate. Sometimes it’s why we war with each other. It’s a crummy truth and the question we ache after, and the first one to ask God. Why do we have to lose people we love? It’s probably the most profound way to realize how much we loved someone, that in their loss and absence we are spun out of control. We may react with rage, sorrow, hysteria, or catatonia, but we react.
The most optimistic view of the after-life is that we meet each other again. I picture a warm house party, with everyone, but where else might people have to go, you know how hard it is for couples to navigate the holidays down here. How is that problem solved? Well, time and space are different, you hear people tell you, like a Trekkie trying explain the Vulcan Mind-Meld.
The pessimistic view is one I won’t delve into because I’m attempting to change my attitude and the recent attitude adjustment has proven useful and possible and I think the worm food imagery is cliche. But, the worm food reality actually does provide some comfort.
My grandmother was in her 80’s when I was born and made it to 102, she knitted all of her grandchildren an afghan. One winter night, years after her passing, in New York, I pulled the afghan over me and said out loud, “Thank you, Grandma.” Not spine tingling, but her hands made that blanket, that blanket was in my hands, her presence was felt and it was comforting.
I lost a dear friend years ago, he was too young, and it rocked my core. He was a spiritual guy, in way I had never known before. He was cremated and his wish was to have his ashes spread under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I had never been and the beauty of the landscape helped me understand him more. We followed his wife over a fence and down the coastline. I was wearing white linen pants, cursing about the terrain, laughing to myself at how much this would have amused my friend. There was no ceremony on the shore, his wife released his ashes, people stared off and had their moment. On the way back up the embankment I picked up a rock. I wanted to have something to hold onto.
I kept it in my pocket, now I keep it on my desk. It is a piece of Earth. A piece of matter. We are all made up of matter, molecules. We all matter, and when we return to the Earth we are joined again, that is the comfort I can hold onto. It’s why I wear my father’s sweater, it’s why I hold this stone, it’s how I know we’ll meet again.
Today is my Father’s birthday. He’s no longer with us, and today I wish he was here more than most. That aside, it has dawned on me that he was born in February which is Black History Month. This was a later development and had nothing to do with my dad, but as I try and compose a post I bring it up.
I think Black History Month is misnamed, and I think it’s inadequate, and sad that we demarcate a mere month to the contributions of African Americans. It should be American Black History Month, and the history should be better known.
The other day I was at the Post Office, a place that comforts me for some reason, even if the line is long. I was there to send a registered letter, it was a letter to sever a business relationship and I was very anxious about the whole process.
As I waited, a tense exchange occurred between a white woman and a black man. The woman was a bit brusque about where the line ended. The gentleman informed her that he was at the end of the line, and she would need to wait like the rest of us. Perhaps, it was my discomfort to do what I was there to do, or my general lack of confrontational skills, but the situation was diffused both by humor and the man’s ability to stand his ground and to do it in a way that wasn’t personal. As the line moved, the two continued to talk, they opened up to one another, a micro-friendship bloomed. The man held the woman’s spot in line as she left to feed her parking meter.
The woman returned and they started talking about, of all things, anxiety. I was eavesdropping like a banshee and I heard a quote that sounded like it was spoken in my ear. “Anxiety robs you of joy.” I was wound up over a business decision and forgot to be happy about a better opportunity. A small thing, but those words stuck in my head and spoke directly to part of my soul. Worry has been a constant in my life and it seemed to be such a waste in that moment.
Later I told a friend about the quote and he said, “it wasn’t an accident, that you heard that conversation.” I don’t know where I stand on the whole universe speaking to you, or God whispering to you, but it would be dense of me to miss the wisdom of the moment.
What does this have to do with my dad’s birthday or Black History Month? I might have lost that thread, but I think I can bring it full circle. I made my way to the head of the line, playing that game of which of the three windows will open up for me. There was a an Asian woman and an Asian man, and the third window had an African American woman. The chime and number blinked on the screen telling me which window was ready to serve, I wound up at the black woman’s window. I had my forms and she processed my mail. She spoke the automatic up-sell line that all postal workers utter at the end of a transaction, “Do you need stamps?”
“Yes,” I said, and she pulled open her drawer. As I looked in the drawer, I saw the Liberty Bell Forever stamps and some other commemorative stamps, and then I saw a sheet and asked, “Can I have the Rosa Parks stamps?” There was a short pause and an unspoken shared smile, “You sure can,” she said perhaps surprised that a white guy would ask, or maybe just glad to sell an important stamp. I paid, told her to have a good day, and felt a certain peace wash over me. I had sent the letter, I had absorbed a nugget of wisdom, and I, and we, celebrated a brave woman who started a revolution, by standing her ground.
The Post Office is taking some hits lately, and maybe in some ways so has America, but our strength is in the people, the people who work at the Post Office, the people who need the Post Office, and the strength of one person like Rosa Parks, who remind us when we most need to be reminded, that our humanity must not be given to the powers that divide us. We have to stand up for each other and what’s right. And try to make each other proud as a people. That’s what those stamps are about, a man on the moon, a scientific breakthrough, and an African American woman getting her due in the history of her country.
I think my dad would appreciate such a sentiment. Happy Birthday, Dad.
I meltdown, I lose it sometimes. I have anxiety and I explode over small things way too often. Hearing other people do it makes me laugh, which is the worst thing to do when a dude is losing his shit. It is a wave that I sometimes can’t stop, and when I think of other people laughing at me it might actually help me stop. Here are a couple beauties you might not have heard.
It’s embarrassing that I have approached this level of bugging out, I have empathy because I’ve been there, and I have sympathy because so far these meltdowns have been private. Who knows how I’d come off if there was a camera or a live microphone.