Rest In Peace: The Great John Nash


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As Mark Twain once said, “‘The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

But, I must say, it was a bit of an odd and eery moment when the breaking news flashed across my cell phone, telling me John Nash was killed in a car accident in New Jersey.

After all, being a John Nash, I had to double check my own personal well-being before remembering that I suck very badly at math and thus there was no way a headline reading, “Mathematician John Nash, wife killed” would ever be written about me.

That being said, though, having one less John Nash in the world is a sad, sad thing — especially when it comes to the death of John Forbes Nash, Jr., whose story was brought to the world courtesy of the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind.”

I’ve always felt a kinship with “The Great John Nash” — the above film clip courtesy of youtube is my favorite part of the movie, for obvious ego-centric reasons — since I first learned of his existence.

John Nash (1928-2015)

John Nash (1928-2015)

Perhaps it was the identical name (no, we’re not related in real life, though I did claim him to be a great uncle back when the movie first came out). Perhaps, it was his battle with mental illness. Or maybe it was the fact he got to sleep with Jennifer Connolly — oh wait, I’m sorry, that was the movie version of John Nash, played brilliantly by Russell Crowe.

In truth, it just gave me a connection to somebody I wanted to know more about. I could simply Google myself to find out everything I needed to know about him.

Nash was born on June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia — so right away we share nothing but eight common letters. After all, I was born 38 years later, during which time he was fighting his on-going battle with schizophrenia, finding himself going in and out psychiatric hospitals as that beautiful mind battled inner demons against its inner brilliance.

Over the years, Nash attended Carnegie Mellon University (it was actually Carnegie Institute of Technology back in those days) and moved on to Princeton after that. (Side note: He picked Princeton over Harvard).

Me? I went to the University of Maine — not that there is anything wrong with that.

At Princeton, Nash came up with the Nash equilibrium, which I can explain, “is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy. If each player has chosen a strategy and no player can benefit by changing strategies while the other players keep theirs unchanged, then the current set of strategy choices and the corresponding payoffs constitutes a Nash equilibrium. The reality of the Nash equilibrium of a game can be tested using experimental economics method. Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision while Will’s decision remains unchanged, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision while Amy’s decision remains unchanged. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision possible, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game as long the other party’s decision remains unchanged.”

That came courtesy of Wikipedia and I’ve read it twice and still don’t understand it.

During my college years, I attempted my own quest at the Nash equilibrium, which was trying to stay upright for as long as I could while I was drunk.

Like I said, there is no comparison between me and John Nash except for the obvious.

Still, I mourn his loss. I really do.

Perhaps it’s because of what he meant to this world. He is, after all, a Nobel Prize winner and his theories are used in everything from economics, computer technology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics, and military theory … just to name a few.

Perhaps it’s because of the life-long battle he fought in his head — trying to live his life in reality when he didn’t always know what was real and what wasn’t.

Perhaps it was the relationship he had with his wife, Alicia, and how they first married in 1957 and were together in the end. Those who saw the movie and knew nothing more of John Nash’s life saw the touching speech at the end of the film where he professed his love for her because she stood by him for all those years.

And, in a way, she did, but she also divorced him in 1963 — though she always remained a part of his life through his struggles and fight against mental illness.

They remarried in 2001 — soulmates who lost their way to only to find each other once again when the universe allowed things to line up just right.

Sadly, Alicia Nash was killed in the same accident that took her husband’s life, as well.

On Saturday, they were riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike, near Monroe Township, N.J. The taxi driver lost control of his car while he was trying to pass another and struck a guard rail.

Both Nash and his wife, neither of whom were wearing seat belts, were thrown from the car and killed.

John Nash was 86 years old when he died. He is survived by his two sons and a grandson.

And a namesake who always admired him from afar.

Toasting Mary: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Mary Albl on the job covering a cross country meet at Wickham Park in East Hartford (Photo by John Nash)

Mary Albl, left, on the job covering a cross country meet at Wickham Park in East Hartford (Photo by John Nash)

Mary Albl is the future of our chosen profession and I sure hope the journalism industry lasts long enough so people can read her words and appreciate her ability, not to mention everything else she brings to the world of covering local high school sports and beyond.

And the reason I post this today is simple.

This is the tale of two stories. Mine and her’s. Literally.

Our subject was Hannah DeBalsi, one of the best high school distance runners in the country. As a freshman at Staples High School, DeBalsi burst onto the scene as a pretty good distance runner.

By the time her sophomore year ended, she had emerged as one of the greatest runners this country has ever seen for her age group.

DeBalsi’s out-of-nowhere story was one of those tales that deserved to be told and Mary and I, working for different “competing” news outlets, have been there to cover Hannah’s success pretty much every step of the way.

In October of 2013, I wrote a feature story on Hannah — The headline was “Holy Hannah” and you can read it by clicking here — and I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out.

It captured the mood Hannah’s emergence had brought to the state’s cross country and track and field scene and once it was written and put to bed it was one of those stories where I patted myself on the back (nobody else in this business does, it seems) and I moved on to the next story that needed to be told.

Almost one year later, Mary — a writer for the Digital First Media Group, which publishes a bevy of papers and websites just north of where my paper is located — penned her own feature story on Hannah, who was entering her junior season.

You can read Mary’s story by clicking here and I urge you to do so because her story blew my story out of the water. If we were both track runners, taking on a 3,200-meter run (which, I add, is Hannah’s on-track specialty), Mary would have lapped me and then some.

It was one of the finest pieces of journalism I’ve read since relocating to Connecticut eight years ago. What Mary did was capture the true essence of Hannah DeBalsi and the kind of kid she is both on the track and off it. It was great writing, great reporting and great packaging via the GameTimeCt.com website.

Today, I learned that Mary won first place for her feature story on Hannah in the Connecticut SPJ Excellence Awards.

It is such a deserved honor and I wanted to publicly congratulate Mary on the award.

Mary — who hails from Boise, Idaho — is often teased about her love of covering the sport of track and field, but she’s the best at giving a lot of athletes the credit they don’t get but fully deserve; at least compared to the traditional ball-playing athletes who suit up in shoulder pads on Friday nights, or drive through a winter’s night to make it rain 3-point shots, or those who have having the ability to hit a round ball with a round bat.

She is an outstanding writer who recognizes the stories that come out track and field are just as compelling as those that come from everywhere else and she carries that baton proudly.

As a 30-year veteran of covering high school sports, I’m proud to share the sidelines with somebody like Mary Albl — and if this newspaper business somehow survives for the long haul, then I know it’s in very capable hands with writers like her devoted to the job of telling great stories.

Congratulations, Mary. Job well done.

Good Bye Dave, Good Bye Another Lost Piece Of My Youth

US President Barack Obama and David Letterman speak during a break in the taping of the "Late Show with David Letterman" at the Ed Sullivan Theater on September 18, 2012 in New York, New York.   AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)

David Letterman

Twenty-three years ago today, Johnny Carson signed off from The Tonight Show for the final time. It was 1992 and he bid us all “a very heartfelt good night” and just like that he was gone.

I was 26 years old when Johnny said good-bye and I knew I was witnessing history, but I also knew that life would go on without Ed McMahon’s catch-phrase, “Heeeerrrreee’s Johnny!!” introducing the television legend at 11:30 every night.

Life went on, a watered-down version of “The Tonight Show” went on — with a far-less enigmatic and un-charismatic Jay Leno at the helm — and the torch of late night television was passed to David Letterman.

The King was dead (well gone); Long live the King.

On Wednesday, The King stepped down — David Letterman signed off, saying, “All right. That’s pretty much all I got. For the last time on a television program, thank you, and good night.”

No, Dave, thank you.

On Thursday night, CBS carried a rerun of “The Mentalist” — and that’s when it hit me.

David Letterman is gone.

Gone with him, is another piece of my youth, my past, my history.

In the summer before my freshman year in high school, David Letterman appeared before me on a morning television show.

From that day forward, he remained a part of my life; somebody who was always there for me when I needed to check my brain late at night and be entertained.

I don’t need to go into how he changed late night television — history has done that on its own — but Top 10 lists, Stupid Pet Tricks, Will It Float? all became part of my own personal water cooler discussions of my youth.

And now it’s gone.

I look at it far differently than Johnny’s good-bye simply because losing Dave feels like a younger part of me has gone away, fading away the same way Letterman did as his last showed faded to black.

Television, like music, is a time and place locked in my history. I remember watching “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.” I remember watching shows ranging from “M*A*S*H” to “Facts of Life.” I remember being enthralled by shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “The Sopranos” — and each show brings me back to a part of my life.

David Letterman’s career covered three decades of my life.

And now he’s gone, so is a another part of my past and my history.

That pretty much leaves “Saturday Night Live” and “60 Minutes” as the last two shows that have been with me for as long as I can remember.

It feels like every day I find another reason to hate getting older and on Wednesday as the “Foo Fighters” played behind a montage of classic photos that covered the Letterman Era, I found another reason to hate my aging process.

Time passes, life goes on, and the losses mount up.

Just like when Johnny exited stage left, life goes on.

This time, though, it feels different.

I feel the change.

And I hate it.

 

The 50th year

So begins the 50th year of my life; today, May 8, in the year of our Lord, 2015.

Now that doesn’t mean I have turned 50. Not yet. That milestone, God willing, will occur in 365 days — but just like the 52 weeks from the day of my birth was the first year of my life, today I begin the 50th year of my life.

I started this blog because, as I once stated, I felt like I was in the fall season of my life. Sometimes I write for you, the reader. Other times I write for me, the selfish.

Today is about me, so feel free to move on. I’m not here to bore you. I’m just here, trying to find the words.

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And on the first day …

Today, a year away from the big Five-Oh, it feels like winter’s coming. I can almost feel the chill in my bones, even as the spring heat grows toward another summer.

I’m doing what I can to ward things off, I suppose. I’m taking baby-steps toward the future, working on my mental health, my physical health; but it’s not easy.

I guess I’m stacking up the woodsheds of my mind and body in preparation of what is to come.

I’ve spent the last 20 years losing sight of all the tomorrows ahead of me. Instead of who I am (was?), I’ve fallen into the role of what I am — a journalist, a photographer, a writer — and I’ve put my “110 percent” in to that. Day time. Night time. My time.

That’s two decades of having nothing to do with you, but being all about me. There are people who tell me I’ve built a wall around myself and they’re not wrong. I didn’t mean for it to be a “Fuck you!” It’s been nothing more than a “Fuck me!” and it’s cost me a lot. I know that and I regret it. I do.

These days, I’m trying to find a better balance, but it’s not easy.

It was Led Zeppelin who once said, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run; There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

With 50 fast-approaching though, it feels like time is running out.

And, with apologies to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham (God rest his soul), “And it makes me wonder.”

I’m often haunted by the past, the choices I’ve made and, on a daily basis, I dance with the ghosts of my history, both the great and the bad. Some of my decisions have been spot on and taken me to great heights, others disastrous with life-altering results.

I have loved with every ounce of my being and been hurt by pain so great it still feels as though the chasm of loss could swallow me whole.

Yes, I know, that’s life in a nutshell.

Live. Love. Learn. (Did you know that was actually a title of a 1937 movie starring Robert Montgomery? Thanks Google).

There are still times when I feel as lost as I did that day when I was 14 and walked into a strange high school for the first time, surrounded by a few friends but many strangers; juggling the balance between fear and excitement of what was to come. That preceded some of my greatest years.

There are times when I’m as scared as the day I felt force-fed into going to Sunday School, where I refused to go into the building, even as my kid sister, Michelle, bravely walked through those doors and into the unknown. That preceded many questions and many doubts.

And there are times when I close my eyes and just breathe, letting everything else slip away into the darkness, and for a moment I can find myself — the old me, the real me that I know is still in there somewhere. That usually precedes a return to reality.

I hate birthdays, same as I do all holidays.

Yet when the girl behind the counter at store I visit every day walks out from behind the register to give me a hug because she knows my birthday is a day away; when one of my dearest friends sends me that Snapchat photo; when certain private Facebook messages pour in to touch the heart, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Acceptance.

I suppose that’s another baby step I need to take to forge ahead into the next year of tomorrows.