From the Zola System


New York, New York, USA
January 30
I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in the Zola System, my father’s philosophy of life. He taught my brothers and me the basic life skills: how to run a street hustle, perpetrate a con or recognize when you were being hustled or conned; information we needed so we could feed our families if another Hitler came to power. My father Aron Zola was a Romanian Jew, a holocaust survivor, a black marketeer, a gun runner, a successful entrepreneur, a true citizen of Detroit. When I was 18, I rebelled against the Zola System and moved to New York City. I was fascinated with cultural heroes – Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson and the aesthetic bohemian artist lifestyle that, in my naivete, I thought they lived. Now I see they were working their own hustles on the public, just like the Old Man. Even the Manhattan dating scene runs on the Zola System. To paraphrase Mark Twain, now that the Old Man is dead, I’m shocked how much he learned. I wrote reviews for SPIN, an unpublished brunch guide for New York City, covered the death penalty, reviewed books for the New York Law Journal and profiled sports stars for the Jewish Forward. I have two crime novels and a bartenders guide to New York City that I am trying to sell. After dabbling in so many genres, I finally realized I’d been running from my subject: my father and the Zola System. The Old Man is gone now and I am his eldest son carrying on as he wanted me to do. This was not supposed to happen.


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NOVEMBER 24, 2008 1:16AM

How I Learned to be a Masochist

Rate: 5 Flag

The NFL started its 89th season on 9/4/2008 with the New York Football Giants kicking off against the Washington Redskins at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  Until the first points were logged against your favorite team, hope sprung eternal.  There is always the chance, here in the age of league parity, your team will catch that lightning in a bottle, go to the Super Bowl and win the mythical World Championship.  There is only one group of fans that knows this will never happen to them.  They know they will never see the Lombardi Trophy raised over the head of their teams quarterback and the most valuable player of their team will not be going to Disney World.  I know because I am a member of that sad sack group – Detroit Lions fans.


Lions fans have endured a lot since that fateful day in 1958 when the team traded away legendary quarterback Bobby Layne: losing season by the dozens, poor Chuck Hughes having a heart attack and dying on the field during a game in 1971 and of course, driving the best pure running back the game had ever seen into retirement during his prime in 1999 are on the top of the lowlight reel. 


This past decade with Matt Millen at the helm hasn’t been any sort of walk on the beach.  Far from it, the Kitties have the worst winning percentage of any team in the NFL from 2000-2007.  The past two years, under head coach Rod Marinelli, things have begun to turn themselves around.  The guys look like a football team, you know, they score points and have more plays for positive yardage instead of negative.  They are even creeping close to the mythical .500 record, not seen by Detroit football fans since 1999.  Just when you thought it was safe to go into Ford Field and watch what maybe a season when the team might just compete, the nonsense starts all over again.


Rudi Johnson, a former Cincinnati running back noted for his tough inside running, was cut for a younger, cheaper replacement.  The Lions jumped at the chance for this free agent pick up and released Tatum Bell, a running back the team feels has grossly underachieved during his tenure on the active roster.  The two men briefly crossed paths as they went the respective ways and exchanged what both called pleasant words of encouragement.


According to a Detroit News article by John Niyo, the rest was caught on a surveillance camera.  Bell walked off Johnson’s Gucci bags.  Although they were returned, all of Johnson’s belongings, credit cards and cash were missing.  Initially Bell denied the whole incident.  When informed it was all on tape, he claimed he intended to grab the bags of another player who was cut.  Johnson thinks he was robbed, pure and simple, although he has elected not to involve the authorities.


This little tableau played out on ESPN and other networks, managing momentarily to upstage the Republican National Convention.  Frankly, it was embarrassing.  Why couldn’t one of our players get caught doing something sexy?  A DUI, drugs, steroids all would have been preferable to this sorted little tale of petty theft.  I feel bad for the father’s that are trying to take their kids to these games.  A losing franchise is bad enough but how do you explain it all to your son?


When I was 12, lo those many years past, the Lions were playing Pontiac at the Silverdome, about 10 miles from the house.  Scot, Joel and I would beg to be taken to a game or two every year.  Mom scoffed and Dad flatly refused.  His refusal, however, had nothing to do with his general hatred of American football.  No, it was on far more practical grounds.  “They’re a bunch of losers.  We can stay home and watch them lose just the same as going to the game,” Dad would say.


Now he had a point.  If Kitties have been bad these past seven years, they were arguably worse in the mid ‘80’s.  They were a team of no names that performed up to expectations – miserably.  Daryl Rogers, the head coach, once asked a reporter what he had to do to get fired.  But I was a fan.  I wanted to go to a game.  I had to find a solution.


The solution came from of all places, the Shul where my parents were members, B’Nai Israel.  The Shul, to make some extra money, had a concessions booth at the Silverdome.  It was open for concerts, events and of course for Detroit Lions games.  The man who ran the committee to staff the booth was always in need of people to work.  For a couple of seasons, I would faithfully sign up and report to the Shul parking lot early Sunday morning to hop on the bus to go to work.  Mother was happy I was volunteering my time and she or the Old Man would always come to get me at the Silverdome after the game.  What she didn’t know, at least initially, was I went just to see the game.  Michigan law states in order to work at any establishment that sells alcoholic beverages you must be eighteen years old and that included concessions booths at the various stadiums in the metro Detroit area.  So when I would show up, they couldn’t use me and I got to watch the Lions lose in person, for free.


After three or four weeks of me doing the same thing, Mom and Dad caught on but they didn’t put their foot down.  They thought it better than hanging out at the mall, I suppose. 


One late November Sunday, I crawled into the Old Man’s new Mercedes.  “So, how did they do,” he asked.


“They lost of course,” I replied, frustrated that the Lions had never heard of an innovation to the game of football that happened in the late 1800’s: the forward pass.


“You saw that game for free, that’s about what a loss is worth,” he replied.  


He had a point.


I continued doing the same thing on Sundays until I was 15, when I discovered girls and began an era of totally different frustrations.


So now as my boys are 0-11 and I think they will lose them all.  Anyone care to take that action? 


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I enjoyed this (and rated it).

Hey, at least you have the Pistons... and if you recognize hockey as real pro sport (I don't but I'm a southerner), you've got the wings.

As a lifelong Atlanta pro-sports nut, I've had quite a bit to cheer about. Even though the Hawks and Falcons have never won titles, the Braves gave the city one in '95. And in the present, the Hawks and Falcons are surprisingly interesting and exciting.

I once went to a game in the Silverdome--one of the most famous ones in recent memory, in fact. The high school band went to Detroit to play the Thanksgiving parade and the highlight of the trip was the Turkey Day game. It was '98 and my video game hero Barry Sanders was having another monstrous, yet meaningless year. Charlie Batch showed flashes of promise and Morton and Moore were still around catching balls all over the field.

The Steelers came in as big favorites. They were 7-4 and looked to be playoff bound. The Lions were a lousy 4-7, but the Falcons fan in me ensured that I'd be rooting for the underdogs. The Lions thrilled me by rallying to tie the game 13-13 with 10 points in the fourth. And then there was the notorious OT coin toss--where the Lions clearly lost the coin flip, but were somehow granted possession anyway. The Lions won on a field goal, the Steelers' season went into the tank (neither team won another game all season) and my Silverdome experience has been immortalized in a referee training classes as "The coin toss game."
And one more thing, I still follow the Lions.
My home town's most famous home-grown athlete, Calvin Johnson, is the one bright spot on your terrible team (he was terribly underutilized in high school).
Do you remember who the did the coin toss for the Steelers that game? Jerome Bettis, a Detroit native.

I actually wonder, as I am hoping to have children one day, whether raising your kids as Lions fans is child abuse.
Look at it this way, the Lions might set some sort of record. I was a Vikings fan for 40 years. I finally gave up. But we got to the BIG ONE four times and came back empty. But I also hung in their with the Twins and they finally came through twice in a five year period. Now that took the edge off. I do refuse to watch football, however. At any rate, the moral is to fall in love with your home teams in different sports. It increases your odds.
no, it ain't child abuse. It's educational. Just because the experience is painful does not prevent it from building character.
Watching the Lions over the past decade or so is a lot like watching a Lars Von Trier film (like "Dancer in the Dark," or "Breaking the Waves")... everything bad that could possibly happen is in fact happening to these lovable, good-hearted Von Trier protagonists--and just when you think they're going to get a break, things somehow get worse. Still, they're great films.

Just be glad you didn't grow up a diehard Seattle Supersonics fan or Montreal Expos enthusiast. Both of those teams once enjoyed some of the most dedicated followers in their respective leagues--yet both groups had their hearts permanently broken. With the Lions, there's still a possibility of glory somewhere around the distant bend.
Hey, don't lose hope. Rams fans probably felt like you do, and I know Pats fans did, and so did (do??) we Jets fans. Your team will be sold by Ford and bought by someone who actually wants to win.
As a fellow member of the sad sack group, I sympathize. I was mentally gearing up for a Matt Millen blog post earlier this year and then a few days later he got the boot (even the modicum of enjoyment I would get from venting about the most incompetent general manager in sports history was taken away from me! Damn this team!)

The fascinating aspect of fandom to me is they way in which one consistently tricks themselves into (false) hope for the next play, game, season, etc.... "Hey, we're a lock for a top three draft pick! I better study up on collegiate scouting reports!" or "Daunte Culpepper? Sure he's only played in a total of 18 games in the past three years and is slower than my mom... but he threw for 4,700 yards in a single season! Who cares if it was in 2004?!"

The last window of excitement I've left open for the entire season is the NFL Draft. The Lions always have a high pick, they always blow it, and yet I always watch. The cartoon equivalent of a Lions fan getting excited for the draft is Charlie Brown getting exciting to kick the football, right before Lucy pulls it away and he lands flat on his back. And to get it slightly closer to the Lions' deplorable drafting history, Lucy should probably kick dirt in Charlie's face, too. And then take his wallet.

The saddest of all? The consolation that 0-16 would at least land the Lions in the record books. Hey, it's something.
Well, it could be worse. You could be a Cubs fan, too.
I'm with you on this one. I grew up in Detroit and went to Lions games during the 50's and 60's. Joe Schmidt was my hero. Did you know that Milt Plum lives in Raleigh, NC (only 20 miles from me)? The year that William Clay Ford bought the Lions my dad took us to hear him speak at one of those sports talks at the War Memorial in GP. He was pretty lit (Ford, not my Dad) and he kept referring to the lineman as "hunks of beef." I think that was and is the extent of his football knowledge. He has done about as well with the Lions as the rest of the fam has done with the cars. In Detroit you can always tell a Ford, but you can't tell 'em much. I still watch them every Thanksgiving . Can't wait for this year's version of "Titan Slaughter." My 85 year-old dad still lives in Motown, and we talk and laugh about them every Sunday. At least some things stay constant in this crazy and changing world (the Lions, not my dad - he's enjoying dating the former Miss Denmark of 1955). Thanks for the trip down memory lane for this Lions' fan.