Interrogating memories of the LAST Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl

Sometimes, when my psychotherapist and I are interrogating (my) memories, she brings up the Freudian concept of “screen memories,” in which we essentially replace a traumatic childhood memory with a more innocuous memory.  In her telling, a screen memory could be any set of memories which have become jumbled together, with the affect from an unpleasant event displaced onto a more pleasant event.

I will be making my way to San Francisco wicked early Thursday morning to attend my fifth consecutive NOIR CITY. As a result, I will not be updating this blog for up to three weeks, though I plan to write a comprehensive account of my time there when I return.

In the meantime, I thought I would present a possible “screen” memory for interrogation.

Let me preface by stating that while I vaguely root for all four major Philadelphia sports teams—the 76ers (basketball), Eagles (football), Flyers (hockey) and my beloved Philadelphia Phillies (baseball)—the only time I really follow any team other than the Phillies is when that team is in the playoffs, or on the verge of making the playoffs.

So it was with the 2017-18 Philadelphia Eagles, who on February 4, 2018 (the last day of NOIR CITY 16) at 6:30 PM EST (3:30 PM in San Francisco) will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

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I knew that the Eagles were playing well last fall, and I learned that they were being led by a phenomenal young quarterback named Carson Wentz. And, like the rest of Philadelphia, I thought their Super Bowl hopes were dashed when Wentz suffered a season-ending leg injury against the Los Angeles Rams on December 10, 2017; the Eagles had already won the National Football Conference (NFC) East.

But then Nick Foles stepped in as quarterback and played well enough to garner the Eagles a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That did not stop the Eagles from being slight underdogs to the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. Foles and the Eagles looked shaky early before pulling out a nail-biting 15-10 win.

This past Sunday, January 20, 2018, the Eagles were again slight underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game, although FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Eagles a 57% chance to win the game.

On their very first possession, Minnesota scored a touchdown (and extra point) to give them a quick 7-0 lead.

But then Foles and the Eagles’ defense took complete command of the game, leading them to a 38-7 victory and putting them in their first Super Bowl since 2005 (also against the Patriots) and third overall (1981 vs. the Oakland Raiders).

The Eagles lost to the Patriots 24-21 in 2005[1], having lost 27-10 to the Raiders in 1981.

So, the Eagles are still looking for their first Super Bowl victory, against possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady (as dangerous at 40 as he was at 27).

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Readers of this blog will know that, while I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs (NOT the city proper, as a cousin rarely fails to point out to me) I have lived in the Boston area for the last 12+ years (and for all but four years since September 1989). You would think that would lead to some deeply divided loyalties.

Umm…no, even considering the fact that my wife, a former elementary school teacher, has a personal connection to the team (I am respecting privacy here).

You can take the boy out of the Philly suburbs, but you can’t take the Philly suburbs out of the boy.

FLY, EAGLES, FLY!

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Shortly after the Eagles beat the Falcons, one of my closest friends wrote a touching blog post linking the success of the Eagles to his late father, who had passed in March 2016.

For the record, David’s extended family has been an alma familia to me for decades—at his wedding, his mother introduced me “as her third son” (which meant the world to me), perhaps channeling the middle school teacher who one day saw David and me sitting together in the cafeteria and asked if we were brothers.

But when David wrote that the Eagles had last been in the Super Bowl in 2005, I thought that was a typo or a simple mistake of memory.

I have a very clear memory of watching the Eagles lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX with my mother and stepfather in the living room of the house in which they lived until January 2004, collectively ruing the Eagles’ missed chances to win that game.

The thing is, though, my mother died in March 2004, and by January 2005, my stepfather and I were locked in a fierce legal battle over my mother’s estate; not anticipating how recalcitrant my stepfather would become, she had made us co-executors of her modest estate in her will.

So that Super Bowl had to have been in 2002 or 2003, right?

Wrong, as I have already noted.

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Confirming that the Super Bowl I had been picturing enjoying with my mother and stepfather (for three-plus quarters, at any rate) was in 2005, not in 2002 or 2003, was surprisingly rattling, akin to straining to determine whether a newly-hazy memory was of an actual event or of an exceptionally vivid dream[2]. It was as though a bank of thick fog had poured into my head, unnerving me and causing me literally to shake my head in frustration.

Just bear with me while I try to clear up this confusion to myself (I am literally researching this question as I write).

The simplest explanation is that I am remembering watching some other Eagles playoff loss with my mother and stepfather in that living room in Haverford. A little digging on line reminds me that the Eagles had also won the NFC East in 2002, 2003 and 2004, only to lose the NFC championship game all three years (29-24 to St. Louis, 27-10 to Tampa Bay and 14-3 to Carolina, respectively).

It could not have been the 2004 game, because by that point, my mother’s ovarian cancer had come back with a fatal vengeance, even as she and my stepfather were moving into a new house in Penn Valley.

So that leaves the 2002 and 2003 NFC championship games.

Looking at the scores of those games, something about the loss to Tampa Bay in 2003 rings a bell.

And a whole set of tumblers fall into place.

My mother’s ovarian cancer was first diagnosed in late 2002/early 2003. The Phillies were two years into a rebuilding phase that had begun in earnest when Jimmy Rollins became the Phillies regular shortstop in 2001 (becoming an All-Star as a rookie), leading them to a 16 win improvement (86-76) from 2000, though they missed winning the National League East or Wild Card by 2 games each.

Following the 2002 season, the Phillies opened their wallets and signed free agent third baseman David Bell (December 2, 2002) to a four-year, $17.0 million deal and first baseman Jim Thome (December 6, 2002) to a six-year, $81.2 million deal.

Those moves were exciting enough—especially acquiring Thome, a near-lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot on January 24—but then on December 20, the Phillies traded an unproven minor-league catcher named Johnny Estrada to the Atlanta Braves for right-handed starting pitcher Kevin Millwood (a former All-Star who had won 18 games in both 1999 and 2002[3]).

This felt like the final piece to the playoff puzzle for my long-suffering Phillies (one winning season between 1987 and 2000: 1993, when they lost the World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays).

I was ecstatic.

So much so that the very next day, I was prattling on about it to my mother, somewhere in the Poconos, a resort mountain area about a two-hour drive north of Philadelphia, where she and my stepfather would rent a place for a weeks every winter.

I had also just been promoted in September, with a substantial increase in salary (on top of some data analytic consulting). This increase in income enabled me (in late January 2003) to move into a much nicer apartment, complete with schmancy new furniture I bought with my consulting earnings, than the one in which I had been living the past year.

Making that day-trip to the Poconos even more joyous was that it was one full year since my mother’s ovarian cancer diagnosis, and it seemed to be fully in remission. Her illness had prevented her from helping me find a new apartment the previous year[4], and she was throwing herself into this round with gusto.

In the middle of all of this excitement, on Sunday, January 19, 2003, the Eagles lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-10.

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There is no doubt in my mind (for now, anyway) that THAT was the galling playoff loss I watched with my mother and stepfather in that Haverford living room. For some reason, over time I superimposed the positive affect, derived from the upbeat circumstances of my life, attached to the memory of a “tough Eagles playoff loss” in January 2003 onto the memory of a different “tough Eagles playoff loss” in a far-less-happy February 2005.

On February 6, 2005, my mother had been dead for almost one year (and I was still wrapping my head around the loss), my stepfather and I were bitterly speaking only through lawyers, my interest in my current position was waning, and mentally I already had one foot out the door to Boston (where I would move in September to pursue graduate degrees in biostatistics and epidemiology). Another very close friend, who lived in the area, was a few weeks away from becoming a father for the first time, which I knew would radically curtail his “let’s go do something” availability.

I do not think this is a “screen memory,” as Herr Freud envisioned it—no traumatic childhood memory I sought to repress—but it does show once again the need to interrogate memories carefully. Memories are remarkably fluid, with details often sacrificed to emotion to create the most positive possible affect.

And, yes, that was a very pretentious sentence, to which the only valid response is…

GO EAGLES!

Until next time…

[1] Coincidentally, the Eagles also beat the Vikings and Falcons to advance to the Super Bowl in 2005, though in reverse order.

[2] Or perhaps it is like waking up with snatches of memory together with long gaps and asking, “Just how much DID I drink last night?!?”

[3] And, ironically, is also on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. In the first 234 (out of a projected 424) ballots publicly-released, Millwood has received 0 votes.

[4] Basically, the third time was the charm in terms of finding the right apartment after I moved back to Philadelphia.

 

In which the objective is to get more…personal

I launched my blog on December 19, 2016 with this introductory post. It is ironic (even premonitory), given that I am now writing a book exploring facets of my identity, that I debuted with two radically different versions of my life story.

On December 17, 2017 I published this post, my 52nd in 52 weeks, exactly one a week for a year. I have not posted since then, for personal and introspective reasons. Thank you for “just bearing with me” in the interim.

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Channeling Muffy Tepperman for a moment, it behooves me to wish every reader (and their family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances) Chag Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Heri za Kwanzaa and Happy New Year! As you can see, we celebrate a little of everything in our home, despite the fact that I am a Jewish-raised agnostic-turned-atheist and Nell is an Episcopalian-raised agnostic.

Among the personal reasons for this four-week hiatus, besides the crush of holidays, are the winter break for our two daughters (bringing in its wake a tidal wave of play dates, sleepovers and other assorted mayhem), a looping series of vicious parental colds, and the celebration of our younger daughter’s 8th birthday.

Plus, I have re-immersed myself in writing my book (new working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search For Identity). While I am not nearly as far along as I had planned to be, I am happy to report that I have written 41,181 words (34,664 words of actual text, once you exclude “chapter” headings and endnotes) across parts of 13 chapters (or brief introductory/concluding sections).

The other day I was working at my computer and our older daughter came up behind my desk chair.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “You are already up to Chapter 9?”

“No,” I explained. “I am jumping around from chapter to chapter.”

Oh, she muttered in response, intently reading the words on the screen. After a few paragraphs relating to why I chose to major in political science at Yale instead of mathematics, she voiced her approval, saying it had “sucked her in.”

Here I proudly point out that she is a voracious reader, at a level far higher than fourth grade (in understanding, if not yet in content–THOSE conversations are still a few months, or a year, away).

My ultimate goal is at least 100,000 words, so I am more than one-third of the way there. So long as I stop getting sidetracked (or “distracted” as my therapist calls it) by my research, I should have a solid first draft by the time NOIR CITY Boston begins on June 8.

Speaking of which, I will be flying back to San Francisco wicked early on the morning of January 25 for my fifth consecutive NOIR CITY film festival (looking forward to seeing 14 of these 24 films for the first time). I encourage everyone who will be in the Bay Area between January 26 and February 4 to attend at least one of the screenings. The modest price of admission is worth it for the period attire alone.

But that means it will again be radio silence for this blog while I am in California, though I anticipate posting at least one comprehensive review of my trip when I return (an example of which can be found here).

Plus you can always follow me on Twitter using the handle @drnoir33. I expect to tweet multiple times each day about my experiences (I have a fetish for getting a photograph of every Castro Theatre marquee displayed during the festival—such as this photograph from the opening night of NOIR CITY 15 in January 2017).

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As for the introspective reasons…

After one year of publishing this blog, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon how what I have written aligns with what I had intended to write, and to decide what, if anything, I wanted to change.

To that end I present a brief numerical synopsis.

I originally planned to limit posts to roughly 1,000 words, driven by the desire to tell my data-driven stories briefly. Almost immediately, however, I realized that was far too limiting, leading to the awkward splitting of two early posts into three parts: my analysis of the popularity of episodes of the television program Doctor Who following its 2005 re-launch of the show and my exploration of the links between the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films and film noir.

Lesson learned.

My posts have averaged nearly twice as many words (1,944, with a median of 1,910) as planned, using the counts provided by WordPress. And they have gotten longer over time, at a rate of 129 words per month; my October-December 2017 posts averaged 2,773 words (median=2,684), while my December 2016-February 2017 posts averaged 1,255 words (median=1,036).

Interestingly, the increasing length of my posts has not deterred readers. Overall, my posts have been viewed an average of 20 times (median=17). This number has barely changed over time, increasing by an average of less than one view per month.

(Clearly this blog did not set any popularity records in its first year of existence, humbly grateful as I am to every single person—from the United States and 31 other nations—who has visited this blog. That may be because this is not a “blog” in the traditional sense: frequent short posts on a single subject or theme. It is more of a repository of esoteric short articles driven by the joint desire to disseminate data analyses and tell stories—a friend just referred to them, not inaccurately, as “monographs”).

No, what differentiates post readership is how “personal” posts are.

By my count, 33 of my 52 posts were purely “objective,” summarizing analyses of political (17 posts, or 52%) or other data (Charlie Chan films, Doctor Who episodes, epidemiology, baseball statistics, etc.) without explicitly revealing anything about me in the process. The remaining 19 posts partly or wholly consisted of stories from my own life (e.g., here, here, here, here, here and here).

My personal posts have been viewed an average of 28 times, while my objective posts have been viewed an average of 15 times, a difference of 13 views (95% confidence interval=6-20). That is, the posts in which I tell stories about my own life are nearly twice as popular as the posts in which I am analyzing, say, county-level election data from the 2016 presidential election.

So what does this mean for this blog going forward?

Let me answer this question by first reminding myself what I wrote about the purpose of this blog nearly 13 months ago:

This blog is devoted to telling entertaining data-driven stories, with occasional personal backstory for context. My meandering, perhaps-too-detailed storytelling style inspired the title of this blog, and it is reflected in the look on poor Louis Sorin’s face as Groucho confuses him more with each new word. Unlike Groucho, however, I do get to the point. Eventually.

From the start this blog was a jerry-rigged hybrid, inspired both by the groundbreaking data journalism of FiveThirtyEight and by my raconteur spirit. The fact that nearly one-third of my posts somehow deal with election data shows just how influenced I was by FiveThirtyEight, whose analyses of that year’s presidential and Senate elections first caught my attention in October 2008. The unexpected (though it should not have been) result of the 2016 presidential election also greatly impacted my choice of post topics.

I would strongly argue, then, that I have succeeded in the data-driven piece.

Where I am less pleased is with the “meandering storytelling” piece, the ones that capture how I tell stories verbally, with lots of asides and implied footnotes.

It may be that my training in the formal exposition of data analyses coupled with my deep admiration for the elegantly spare writing style of Dashiell Hammett has prevented me from writing these posts more in the way I had envisioned: looping and a bit rambling, but ultimately getting to the point.

This may be why I am proudest of those posts that do just that, such as this discourse on attitudes toward gun control (my single favorite post) and my argument for why pitcher Jamie Moyer absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame.

If you just bear with me a moment, I must decry the fact that the honorable crafty left-hander—who won 269 games (203 AFTER he turned 34 years old) with a fastball that barely cracked 83 MPH in the height of the steroids era—is unlikely to get even the 22 votes (5% of ballots submitted by 10+-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America) he needs to remain on the ballot after this year. As of this writing, Moyer’s name had been checked on only one ballot (voters can check up to 10 names), according to the “BBHOF Tracker” created by Ryan Thibodaux. Assuming a total of 424 ballots are cast, Moyer’s name would need to be checked on 8.7% (21) of the remaining 241 ballots to remain on the ballot.

It is not looking good, and here I denounce the “statheads” (yes, I have a Master’s Degree in biostatistics and I write a “data-driven” blog—the irony is not lost on me) that have taken over the way in which we think and talk about baseball.

Tilting at Hall of Fame voting windmills aside…even these more personal posts do not reveal as much as they could about, well, me. The life stories—my life stories—in them are still too often told as though they happened to some other Matt Berger. It is as though I cannot escape the voices in my head (OK, stop tittering out there) of academic advisors and others who tell me, “It’s not about you.”

Well, as the same wise friend who described my posts as monographs (and whose terrific blog I urge you to read) just told me: it is about me. Bloggers write blogs for—and about—themselves.

So I will close with a little insight into what makes me tick (no data this time, although data analysis will remain one of this blog’s raisons d’etre).

Ever since we moved Nell’s mother from Washington, DC to the Boston area four-plus years ago, we have hosted Thanksgiving at our home. There are always at least eight of us (Nell and I, our two daughters, Nell’s mother, a cousin and a married couple friends of ours), with as many as 12 some years.

I will confess that as much as I love the company and the food and the drinking and the conversation, what I most look forward to on these Thanksgivings is…the cleanup.

Seriously.

Before Thanksgiving, I create an iPod mix carefully sequenced so that tracks “flow” into each other musically. The mix is around four hours long, because I know from experience that is how long I will need.

Once the final guests have departed, just after 11 pm, and Nell and the girls have gone to bed, I (metaphorically) roll up my sleeves, plug in my earbuds and take a (literal) deep breath.

I then go into “the zone.”

Methodically, rhythmically, efficiently, I move all of the dirty dishes and mugs and glasses and silverware into the kitchen, where I have already stacked up the platters, pots and pans. Once that is done, I rearrange all of the living/dining room furniture, then put everything back into the living/dining room we had to remove to make room for our guests (and to make our child-dwelling home look as though adults also live there).

The wooden dining room and glass coffee tables get wiped down/Windexed, and all of the dirty linen gets tossed down the stairs (our apartment has two floors) to the floor outside the laundry room (also the downstairs bathroom).

When I have gotten the living room back into shape, I begin to tackle the kitchen. First, all of the leftovers (at which I am still picking) need to be stored in the refrigerator, requiring every spatial reasoning skill at my disposal.

Here I observe that, if memory serves, my IQ (which I freely admit is a nonsensical and invalid measure of the multi-dimensional concept called “intelligence”) would have been 139 but for the spatial reasoning portion of the examination. That portion knocked my score down to “only” 129. Somehow, though, I soldier on.

And then there is the actual washing of dishes. Being a bit of a compulsive perfectionist, EVERYTHING has to be put away before I am finished. That means that I will not leave the dishwasher to be emptied in the morning. But that also means that I need to get the dishwasher running quickly because it takes a bit over three hours to run.

There is also the matter of our (relatively) small sink, one of my very few complaints about our apartment. This involves more spatial reasoning, as I need to keep moving platters strategically around the counters and stovetop (and chairs) to juggle all of the washing.

We use the good china and the silver, umm silverware on Thanksgiving; I choose to wash every one of those pieces by hand in the sink. I have actually used up all of the hot water a few times, though not for the past two or three years.

All the while, I am dancing and singing and moving to the grooving (tip of the bellbottoms to Wild Cherry)—quietly, of course, so as not to wake up my sleeping wife and daughters.

Slowly, inexorably a clean kitchen emerges from the chaos and detritus of previous evening (it is now past midnight). All of the china and silverware and fancy schmancy wine glasses, all of the platters and pots and pans, have been washed, dried and put back on their shelves, or into their cabinets, or on top of the cabinets. The dishwasher has finished running; I empty it. I set up the coffee maker for the next morning (a habit I picked up as a single working man 15 years ago).

All that is left to do is put the dirty linen into the hamper, wash the kitchen floor (I sadly cannot vacuum—too loud) and take out all of the trash and recycling. Once that is done, I wash and wipe down the counters and stove top with a sponge, paper towels and Clorox wipes.

Ohhh, do I love Clorox wipes.

Last Thanksgiving, I finished the entire process with four tracks (out of 57, totaling four hours, eight minutes of music) to spare. I was exhausted—and blissed out.

It really is my “moment of zen,” looking around at a kitchen and living/dining room that show not a single sign of the festivities they had hosted only a few hours earlier.

I should start taking “before and after” pictures.

But now I need to empty the dishwasher.

Until next time…