Federer and Ali, and us

The fifth set of the Federer-Nadal match reminded me of another greatest sporting event I witnessed.  The Muhammed Ali-George Foreman fight, which I saw live at Madison Square Garden.

You have to understand, people feared for Ali’s life before this fight.  He was adored, admired, an extraordinary career to that time, but seemingly past his prime.  Foreman had been crushing powerful opponents in single rounds, dispatching them quickly with punishing, relentless blows.

So when Ali survived the first round, there was a collective sigh of relief, he was still alive, let alone standing up.  The fear for him was real, palpable, as intense as mass love can be.

When Federer would in recent years fall behind, lose just so-close, it was unbearable.  I’d leave the room, the TV, go off to breathe and recover.  He has established strong attachments, with his grace and elegance, his amazing shot making, his dignity.  Ali could float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; Rajah could take a backhand behind him and turn it into a passing shot that seemed to defy physics.

Around the fifth round, something began to become apparent that if our perceptions weren’t so clouded with fearful expectations we might have seen sooner.  Foreman would lumber around the ring, throwing his killer punches, but they were falling short of their mark, not by accident but by the design of genius, an athlete who with intellect and the improvisational skill born of thousands of rounds, had figured out the puzzle of a seemingly unbeatable opponent.  And with less than a minute to go in those middle rounds, Ali would bounce in and score hits.

Death and redemption.  Survive and somehow thrive.  These great themes emerge.  Like the ’86 Mets in the sixth game of the World Series.  It seemed over for Roger immediately in the last set, quickly dropping a game, extending Nadal’s seemingly unbreakable presence from the fourth set, down in the last count of the last round.

But if we could see past our fears, we would have noticed how hard it was becoming for Nadal to hold his serve, how clarified Federer’s game had become.  Nor more unforced errors, no more forehand betrayals.  Nadal was punching hard, Federer was doing his rope-a-dope.

We didn’t know that was what it was going to be called, when we first saw it unfold, something new in the game.  But Ali knew, somehow, and by the time we realized the pattern, it was the eighth round, with a minute to go, and the dynamic shifted again, and this time, built on all the previous times, Foreman the invincible unbeatable went down.

Nobody is a fiercer competitor than Nadal, as we had seen in his five set triumph over Dimitrov, time and again punching his way to winning.  We admire it, the brute force of his game, but we don’t love it the way we do the grace and elegance, the capacity to surprise, of the Alis, the Federers.

And so Roger came back, and Nadal’s hat had run out of rabbits to hold his serve, and Roger broke him and broke him again, he didn’t have any more answers when Roger came off the ropes and knocked him down.  It was exhilarating, surprising, the joy of coming back from the brink far greater and sweeter, if more nerve-wracking! than if the outcome was more easily attained.

Nadal and Foreman, Federer and Ali.  Giants pummeling each other, and sometimes carrying the rest of us to their heights.

After the fight, all of New York for hours had people shouting in the streets, Ali! Ali!, a collective cry of triumph and thanks, reflecting amazement and appreciation, that we had seen such a man in action.

After Federer’s victory, it was 8am and we took a nap.  Circumstances lacked the communal sense the Ali moment had produced.  But it was full and warm and joyous just the same.

Here’s what Midwest Book Review has to say:

A World Between surveys a horrifying series of events: parts of the world have disappeared. At first (somehow) this doesn’t seem of concern; but as more and more voids disrupt human affairs, they lead to a desperate effort by some of the top scientists in the world to discover what is happening before everything disappears. As physics, politics, and human affairs collide, readers are treated to a sharply engrossing story that’s unpredictable and hard to put down as more and more of what is familiar turns out to be part of the past.

Remember, you too can still leave your review on Amazon!

  1. What is on your nightstand?

Six issues of the New Yorker, dating back to August; my iPad which I use at night for Kindle reading, (most recently The Sympathizer, an amazing book by Viet Thanh Nguyen), playing gin rummy, playing the NY Times Minipuzzle and checking the temperature of our house upstate; a Sharper Image white noise machine which I never use but there it sits; two connected wooden balls to massage my often aching back; the Consumer Reports 2016 Buyers Guide; Books: The Future of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology, Celebrating Stephen Hawking’s 60th Birthday (gift from a friend); Blood, Sweat and My Rock n’ Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star, by Steve Katz (I met him recently, he was in The Blues Project, one of my all time favorite groups); the Coming, by Andrej Nikolaidis; I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson; and Game for Five, by Marco Malvadi.

  1. What author would you totally fan?

If Shakespeare were alive I’d definitely be following, imagine his daily thoughts coming atcha! Ditto Bob Dylan. And John Burdett, his stories while set in Thailand have riffs on contemporary society and culture that are wildly insightful and imaginative.

  1. What makes you cringe?

After the election, I’m afraid that’s dominating my gag reflux. I grew up in the Sixties, and the thought of what will dominate policies and the courts for years to come around women’s rights, climate change, the treatment of different peoples, the callous indifference to the poor to benefit the rich, scares and saddens me, not the way I thought or hoped the world would turn out. Prior to the election, I would have said an abhorrence for when injustice goes unpunished, such as the spate of killings of young black men in this country, which I’m sure has been going on for a long time and we’re now only able to notice because of cell phone cameras.

  1. Do you obsessively plot out each point or just go with the flow?

It’s a mix, certainly first drafts stream with the river of my mind. Revisions are more detailed, especially in thinking through the timing of details when and how they are revealed, the relationship to each other across the flow of the book. Those foreshadowing elements… “It was the last time he would ever see her this way…” and such, to engage the reader. Since I love language, the turns of words and phrases that captivate, provoke and capture large thoughts in a few words, I do perhaps obsess more about that.

  1. Is there a word you love to use?

Hopefully the right one at the right time! If anything, I try not to be repetitive in the use of words, unless its for an effect. I will say I do love the word murmur. Also intrepid.

6. Also, if you have any pictures of your pet you would like to share, please attach them. My readers love animals!

Sorry, no pets. While I love dogs, I live in New York City, and I just won’t scoop poop. When I was a boy I had a beagle for a short time, and also a half moon parrot. Do the mice in our apartment count? We once found some swinging in our dishwasher like they were playing on the monkey bars!

As you can guess, it’s a struggle to get a debut novel in front of people.  So I’m particularly grateful when a well-known author comes to the rescue.  Brad Meltzer is a NY Times bestselling author of many wonderful thrillers, as well as a producer and developer of TV shows and an all-around impressive guy.  More about Brad at http://bradmeltzer.com/.  He was kind enough to post a Tweet recommending checking out A World Between, which you can find at https://twitter.com/bradmeltzer/status/795743862857854976.  I hope it inspires you to retweet to spread the word, and if you haven’t already, to get a copy of the book and even review it!

Some years ago I wrote a screenplay called Adjacent Beds, about a software company executive who’s pressured to compromise his integrity at work, while his mother becomes seriously ill. His life so unravels that he ends up in the hospital in the Adjacent Bed to his mother. There they begin to work things out.

His work is centered on the development of a very new kind of game, that I dreamt up. I didn’t know the word for it then, but hey, now it’s called augmented reality. Only my version is still a lot more interesting than what’s coming to market. Here’s the beginning of the screenplay, where the concept is introduced; if you want to read the rest, just contact me at zog@thezog.com, love to share work!

“Adjacent Beds”

written by

Robert M. Herzog

690 Washington Street
New York, New York 10014
212 929-0826; 917 743-4347
zog@thezog.com

©2016 Robert M. Herzog


INT. ESTABLISHING SHOT, OFFICES, NEW IMAGE SOFTWARE, INC.– DAY (MOVING)

Through a large open office, past computer geeks engulfed by elaborate electronic equipment, screens display game style graphic and programming work. Posters contain intense graphics – “Image Maker I: It Doesn’t get Realer than This!” And: “Image Maker II — As Real as It Can Get!”

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM, NEW IMAGE SOFTWARE – DAY

PAST a man seated at the head of a CONFERENCE TABLE, past other sitting people, onto a SCREEN at the end of the room.

OPENING CREDITS

A CURSOR moves as each title is manipulated, into 3-D, animated, letters change shape and color, morph into each other, morph into graphics. Each change is accompanied by the CLICK of hitting a computer keyboard. SOUNDS from people watching, grunts of approval and interest.

END CREDITS

SCREEN IMAGE

Image Maker III
The New Standard in Realism

PJ (O.S.)
There’s our ball game. Complete developers’ kit for interactive graphics on the Internet. It cuts production time from days to hours, will be a huge money saver.

The graphic DISSOLVES into:

IM III Sales Projections.

A bar chart shows sharp projected quarterly increases in sales.

PAUL JAMESON “PJ” STROUD, CEO, in his 60’s, full bodied, wears a bow tie, beams confidence. PJ talks in clipped, rapid phrases, as if he doesn’t have time for the small words. The slide REFLECTS on his face. At the end of the table to his left, empty chairs between them, PHILIP BERMAN hits a keyboard. Philip is a youngish mid-forties, slightly soft around the chin, good humor in his eyes, likable on sight.

PJ (CONT’D)
Plan to release it next month.

To PJ’s right sits SCHUYLER MORAN, elegant, patrician, eyes of steel. BUZZ FILDEN is to his right, in an Armani suit, dark t-shirt, hair clipped short, keen, edgy. Schuyler frequently pulls his shirt cuff down so the cuff-links show, straightens his Hermes tie, brushes off a minuscule piece of lint. Buzz constantly flips a pen in his hand.

SCHUYLER
You’re on calendar, PJ?

BUZZ
As Schuyler says, first mover eats the most cherries.

PJ
Then we’ll gorge. Phil tracks details.

PHILIP
Among other things. We’re debugging now. Next month’s tight, but doable.

PJ
Phil’s my go-to guy, best Chief Ops Officer in the biz.

SCHUYLER
With these projections, we could do an IPO, initial public offering, raise money in the stock market. You’d be worth millions… We’d also need to show a pipeline to future growth.

The DOOR OPENS. MARTY IVERSON ENTERS, nearly as big around as he is tall, unkempt beard and hair, thick glasses, rumpled plaid shirt with an overflowing pocket pen holder. He speaks with good cheer about everything. When he breathes deeply, the pens rise up, occasionally pop out.

MARTY
Greetings assembled chiefs. Phil, we need —

PJ
You know Marty Iverson, our head of Technology. Best in the biz.

MARTY
That software driver hasn’t arrived, now they’re saying —

PHIL
The contract’s on my desk. I made sure they included a delivery date.

Marty gives a slight bow, hands clasped, starts to leave.

SCHUYLER
Say, Marty. Working on anything else interesting?

MARTY
(reluctant)
We’re playing with some things….

PHILIP
We don’t want to lose focus —

PJ
Let’s not be shy. Crank up Sabertooth.

BUZZ
Sabertooth?

PJ
Code name. Great stuff. Marty.

Marty looks at Philip, who SHRUGS a concession.

PHILIP
It’s very early, you understand, not —

PJ
Phil. Skip knows development stages.

SCHUYLER
Just curious.

MARTY
We created this…

The screen shows an ANIMATION of a SABERTOOTH TIGER.

MARTY (CONT’D)
Then scanned this in…

There’s a NEW YORK CITY STREET SCENE, as might be seen from the window of the conference room.

SCHUYLER
Looks nice, but what’s the —

PHILIP
Then we superimposed, and…

Marty hits some keys. Suddenly, the Sabertooth JUMPS into the street scene, PROWLING amongst the people and cars. Schuyler and Buzz flinch at its sudden appearance.

PHILIP (O.S.)
This is pre-programmed. Imagine if we could take any environment — home, office, school, streets — and be able to interact with it in real time. For education, travel, acclimatization…

PJ (CONT’D)
Why bother? Huge bucks in games.

PHILIP
We could scan in people as players.

Marty pulls a small computer camera from behind the screen, points it into the room. He hits a key, and the Sabertooth morphs into Schuyler. The images FREEZE.

MARTY
Whoops. Hold on.

Marty hits a key, the Sabertooth reappears, motionless, then jumping out from the screen.

PJ (O.S.)
It’ll be the most compelling game ever created. Endless variations. Kids’ll never want to leave.

PHILIP (O.S.)
(excited in spite of himself)
We’d charge to create new environments, drop in faces, run it off our Website. It’ll constantly generate new revenues.

PJ
Billions.

To find out how Philip’s life unravels, to the point he ends up in the hospital, in the Adjacent Bed to his mother!

Contact me at zog@thezog.com.

As the conventions and campaigns come in full swing, the ceaseless commentary couches our politics as a clash between conservative and liberal. But the two sides of the fundamental dynamics of our political environment for several decades are better captured as venality vs. haplessness.

Here’s something a little off the fiction author path, an essay on the sad and scary state of our political situation. A few excerpts, and you can read the full essay at thezog.com.

Democrats fumble for any foothold or leverage, and continue to fail. A failure running parallel to their inability to enable a President to exercise a fundamental right and need of the nation, to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. While venality propels Republicans to block the process, in the hope for a future that maintains a Court steadfastly supporting their economic interests.

A partisanship based on ideas and conflicting philosophies is a healthy part of the democratic dialectic. As Gandhi put it, no person or side has a monopoly on truth. There is thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. But venality brooks no such perception and haplessness produces no resolution.

That relentless pursuit of power for its own sake and to further extremely narrow interests is well on display as Republicans fall into line to support Donald Trump, bending themselves into political pretzels to justify his shortcomings, his bigotry, woeful unpreparedness, repulsive temperament and pandering. For one thing, pandering has been the stock and trade of the party for a long time; for another, they have no moral compass with which to respond to him, having given any up any semblance of serving all in the nation a long time ago.

Social issues shape identity for enough people that they can be cynically manipulated by those whose interests are even simpler – money. The accumulation of wealth. The generational capacity to keep power through that wealth to maintain it. There are days now that foster empathy for what some Germans must have felt with the impending rise of their Nazi party; we assume it can’t happen here, as we watch it happen.

{And for more views on how bureaucracy and politicians respond to crises, read my novel A World Between.}

This meditation on the nature of characters was published on the Author’s First website.

It isn’t always so obvious, but a week in June, 2016 powerfully conveys an awareness of living through moments that are indeed history, that will resonate downstream with real consequences, such as:

• Brexit and the unsettling of a major world order
• the Democratic Congressional sit-in over guns
• the continued sense of why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders attract support

What these happenings convey to me is a heightened sense that history goes through cycles. And an awareness of the impact of or on the players who are either captured by or contribute to creating these cycles.

History alternates through ages of reaction and pro-action. The era we inhabit seems to be more of the former. We’re not only not building great public works or institutions, we’re also letting the existing ones decay and break down. Dissatisfaction dominates public spaces, fear and loathing over what is trumps seeking what could be. Societies aren’t anticipating great issues; they’re waiting for them to crash down on them. We replace building new icons for Carl Icahns looking to exploit the old ones.

Characters in fiction go through the same cycles. First, something happens. They weren’t prepared for it, or are overwhelmed by it. Then they try to do something about it:

• Shit happens
• The character is affected
• The character reacts (generally not optimally, unless it’s a Tom Clancy always-get-it-right-the-first-time kind of character)
• The character suffers consequences
• The character despairs (and we along with them, because the problem seems intractable, insurmountable)
• Finally, the character takes action, and pulls us cathartically along with them

Of course, the solution to one problem often creates the next problem, such as in classic science fiction, a series of Isaac Asimov puzzles on how to survive on Mars, as iterated recently in the movie The Martian. A book may encapsulate and compress many such cycles.

In my novel, A World Between, the central characters are confronted with an increasingly baffling series of circumstances: hearing about and seeing for themselves that parts of the earth – jungle, beach, mountain, canyon – are seemingly vanishing.

David Altaforce, the scientist at the heart of trying to understand a phenomenon which becomes more threatening the more people look into it, tries at first to deal with it rationally, without judgment, dispassionately examining an interesting problem to solve. Much to the irritation of Susan Corporell, a UN field worker who understands far better than David the real world impact of actions and consequences.

Characters move through time. Their actions convey their conditions and intent over time, so they are in fact not three-dimensional, as traditionally described, but four-dimensional. From Howard Bloom in Ulysses to Nick Carraway in Gatsby to Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, they are not static. Whether they are impinged on by internal demons or external events or a combination of the two – and those are the very best characters – they process and act within the historical cycle.

So over time, David tries to comprehend what force is causing the disappearances. Whether it’s some natural phenomenon, is driven by somebody, or even if, as his colleague Sebastian Driscoll suggests, it may have godlike origins. Trying to cope with these oddities leads the characters to increasingly dangerous situations – they watch as a bird disappears into a void; they nearly get pulled into a massive disturbance in the Grand Canyon while trying to observe it from a helicopter.

David runs out of scientific ways to figure out what’s going on, and it is Susan who guides him past that point of despair by suggesting they look for whomever could be responsible for shattering reality so sharply. And when they get an inkling, they come up with an experiment to push back at the malevolent force they’ve uncovered. Davis is excited, Susan ecstatic as she stands on the beach while they create a collision that in theory should force the conversion of matter back to its physical state.

It all goes terribly wrong with disastrous results, leaving David in further despair, now not only seemingly unable to fight back and restore the earth, but also overcome with a numbing, paralyzing grief. Getting him back into the fight is essential for the planet’s very survival, and from this groundwork the next parts of the story unfold.

As readers, we often don’t understand our own lives with the clarity we can see from the view above a good author provides. Generally, we’re swimming in our river just trying to keep our heads afloat – it takes someone standing on the shore to get perspective, to see the framework we are paddling in. So the pleasure, and with the greatest characters – the Hamlets – the increased understanding of our own situations, our expressions of the human conditions clarified through theirs, stems from watching a great character become affected, react, act, live with and try to impact the consequences. Heroes and villains alike share this essential human movement, propelling their bodies through time to create great 4D characters.

By thinking through characters as they evolve over time, you can pull the reader along with the character on the journey you’ve created for them. That can create a powerful connection between your work and the reader, the kind they think about, come back to, bring up in conversations. If you think about those characters that resonate with you, and look at them through the lens of four dimensions, bodies moving through time, changing, pulling us along with them, you can see they really are 4D, not the conventional 3D that we refer to them as.

As Hamlet said, “The World is out of joint. Oh cursed spite that I was ever born to set it right.”

There!!

President Obama speaking at Hiroshima: “Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us.” It was indeed one thing when the power mad or plain mad had arrows, even bullets, to contain their mayhem. We are in a different world where threats are greater but also harder to deter. Can we find a solution to human nature?

Had to try to tell about the book and intrigue an audience — in just two minutes.  Interesting challenge, which I have to say I really enjoyed.  Here’s what came out:

Parts of the world were disappearing; for a while nobody noticed.

These are the opening lines of my book, A World Between.

Imagine a world that was disappearing around you. With no way of knowing what was on the other side. If there’s a malevolent force at work, or something benign? If it’s natural evolution, or a horrendous danger? Terrified of what will happen if it is left unchecked?

While bureaucrats and politicians thwart your ability to try to fight it. And where your love for this world and those in it could be your greatest weakness.

Ultimately it’s up to a maverick physicist and a world weary UN field worker to fight what is indeed a threat to the very existence of the world as we know it, aided by an unyielding New York detective and a scientist questioning whether God could be involved.

A World Between weaves together my early love of physics with my later, rather less pure, experiences in politics, business and government. When I was reading Einstein at age 12, I thought he was an engineer of the universe, a proponent of essential truths. But not long after I discovered Nietzsche, who stated that a fact was only a truth when subjected to a human value system

My values began with my growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where we had to travel 40 minutes to get to a synagogue. That impressed on me the Jewish heritage of the profound importance of the pursuit of knowledge, and our legacy that we must take responsibility for our world, even when it is hostile to us, or we are treated as outsiders in it.

The book is for readers who see science, or technology, or stages of consciousness, as a means by which characters interact, with potentially profound consequences.

It is a book about people who encounter the facts of science and filter them through their values. Parts of our world are threatened. In Washington, the response is… business as usual, such as, how does it impact funding! Voting? Much as climate change is responded to today, some push to address the problem, others deny it. It is a slice of a world that could be, and a metaphor for the world that is.